Spontaneous Concoctions

posted in: Cooking | 0

I have been slacking with the meal planning and thus the food shopping. I don’t like to go shopping without a list because we end up with way too many things. I found out that once I started planning meals we were spending less money on groceries. I am not 100% strict about this but I do try.

Despite having a freezer and cabinets full food, as usual, there was nothing to eat. I had to improvise and make do with whatever I could find. This lead to a very interesting mix of foods. I wouldn’t have put this meal together if I was planning it in advance but it actually worked OK. I made grilled chicken with Emeril Essence seasoning, gratin dauphinois and mushy peas. I’m sure the French would cringe.

The highlight of the cooking process was using my new Le Creuset grill for the first time. The grill was a birthday present from my mother and father in law and it had been in its box, waiting to be used, since my birthday last month. I love it. The chicken cooked beautifully. It was nicely cooked inside without being charred outside. When I used to “grill” chicken on a skillet/frying pan, I’d turn the heat up nearly all the way and cook the chicken like that. This wasn’t very effective because the high heat would burn the outside while the inside was still raw. With the Le Creuset grill, and any other cast iron grill, things work a little different. Cast iron works best on medium to low heat and the heat retention is much better; this makes it possible for the chicken to cook all they way and not burn. Of course, if you leave the chicken on the heat for too long it will burn but you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?

I have made a similar but lighter version of the gratin dauphinois before so I was eager to try this one, with full fat cream and none of that chicken stock nonsense! I have read countless gratin dauphinois recipes and was surprised to find that some of them call for cheese (Gruyere most often) and some don’t. This one doesn’t. I used to think that it had to have cheese to be called a gratin but I was wrong; Béchamel Sauce is just as good.

There are very few kitchen gadgets that are truly essential but, unlike the potato chipper sitting in the back of a cabinet, a mandolin is a serious time saver. As a matter of fact, it’s downright imperative when you are trying to make a dish like this. You need the potatoes to be very thinly sliced and I know I wouldn’t want to do it by hand. I love my mandolin. I have only used one of the blade adapters but I love it all the same. Maybe I should try to julienne something at some point.

Gratin Dauphinois

5 potatoes

500 ml (18 fl oz) double (heavy) or whipping cream

Salt and pepper

Freshly ground nutmeg

1 clove of garlic, halved

Butter, for greasing

· Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2. Peel and slice the potatoes thinly (preferably using a mandolin). Do not put the potatoes in water as this will remove the starch needed to thicken the cream.

· Place the slices in a bowl, pour in the cream and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Carefully mix all the flavours together without breaking up the potatoes.

· Rub the base and sides of an earthenware dish with the garlic clove halves, squeezing well to release the juices, and smear the dish with butter. Later the creamy potatoes evenly and cover with buttered foil.

· Bake for 40 minutes, remove the foil and continue to bake for a further 20-30 minutes until golden and tender. Leave the potatoes to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

From “Keeping It Simple” by Gary Rhodes

As I have mentioned before, I cook for two so I halved the recipe and used to small dishes instead of one. I didn’t butter the dishes so I sprinkled the butter on top of the potatoes instead. I didn’t read about buttering the foil so I didn’t do it. The dish turned out great.

The mushy peas were far simpler to make and there really isn’t a recipe per se. Take some olive oil and warm it up in a pan. Add frozen petit pois, cover and let it cook for a few minutes. Take it off the heat and mash with a potato masher. Add some butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. That simple.

Mushy peas are usually made with marrowfat peas but I didn’t have any. In all honesty, I much prefer petit pois or average garden peas to marrowfat peas, especially since I’ve only ever had them out of a can. Contrary to popular belief, frozen vegetables does not automatically mean garbage. Peas are the perfect example of this. Unless you are using just picked peas, straight from your garden to the pot in a matter of minutes, there is absolutely no advantage in using fresh peas. After they are harvested, they go starchy pretty quickly and become next to useless. Frozen peas are frozen at their peak and therefore are far “fresher” than fresh peas. It may not make much sense but it is the honest to goodness truth. Frozen peas all the way.

In the spirit of using up ingredients that are lying around, I decided to make some dessert. I have a sweet tooth and I am a sucker for (nearly) anything French so I decided to make Petits Pots de Crème. Simple recipe, only 4 ingredients; 3 of which I’m sure most people have handy. The other ingredient, a vanilla pod, is not essential. If you have good quality vanilla essence, you can use that instead. It won’t be exactly the same but it will be close enough.

Petits Pots de Crème

410 ml (1 2/3 cups) milk

1 vanilla pod

3 egg yolks

1 egg

90 g (1/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar

· Preheat the oven to 140°C (275°F/Gas 1). Put the milk in a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod in two lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and add the pod and seeds to the milk. Bring the milk just to the boil.

· Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, egg and sugar. Strain the boiling milk over the egg mixture and stir well. Skim off the surface to remove any foam.

· Ladle into four 125ml (1/2 cup) ramekins and place in a roasting tin. Pour enough hot water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes or until the custards are firm to the touch. Leave the ramekins on a wire rack to cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves 4

This is a recipe I did not halve; instead, I used two bigger pots and poured half the mixture in each. Because the pots were bigger, I had to cook the custards for longer, about 45 minutes in total I think. I made a mistake with this dessert, I used semi-skimmed milk and it curdled a bit. Because of that, the custards weren’t as creamy as they should have been. Serves me right!

Leave a Reply