Latest fad #47 : Burgers


Yep. Time for another random fad.  This one is not entirely my fault though, as I did receive a cook book entirely about making burgers at Christmas (a very aesthetically pleasing and readable one at that), so it's to be expected that I give it a try at some point.



There seemed to be quite a craze about home made burgers a few years back. I'm not sure if it was actually a national thing, or just a craze when I was younger/a student that students go through. Anyways, the craze back then was for non-burger burgers. By which I mean, they never actually resembled burgers you might be in a restaurant or burger place. They were typically big oval-ish balls of supermarket mincemeat with, at the very least, chopped onions, eggs and flour added, often lots of other things (herbs, cheese, etc).

Now I have nothing against this brand of home-made burgers, but really, as my tastes (and I suppose my understanding) has evolved, I am more inclined to make burger-burgers. The type that burger joints make, the type that I guess you could say burger-snobs prefer (if you can truly be a snob about something as dirty as a burger?).

There are lots of these burger purists about, on the internet, or in the aforementioned Hamburger Gourmet book, who focus on three things:

  1. The only ingredients in your patties should be: beef & salt
  2. Everyone has their own "secret" blend of three beef cuts that they use (for some reason, three is the magic number). Kenji over at the FoodLab has a great run down of different beef cuts for burgers along with tasting notes and fat content.
  3. Cooking technique is very important - They need to be seared at a high temperature (for the maillard reaction and to hold the patty together)

So I decided to have a pop. Due to a fairly limited choice at my local Waitrose meat counter, and on the basis that I was just testing out the technique, on Kenji's recommendation, I went with the standard chuck mince (no blend here!), which is more commonly braising steak in the UK.

I found it took quite a while to get my pan up to a high enough temperature to effectively sear the patties, I pre-heat for about 10 minutes but still didn't seem as hot as it should be. I will try a different pan next time.  Applying pressure whilst cooking also helps sear quicker (and also helps for a more "smashed" effect burger)

In the end, it tasted pretty good. The problem I have with burgers, is that for all the effort, they just taste like burgers. Now this isn't a bad thing, they are satisfying, warm, soft and definitely fill a need, but they rarely blow you away. Great burgers are great, but run of the mill burgers from half-decent fast food burger places can taste pretty great too..  For me, the magic really lies in the combination of cheese, relish (maybe mustard) and meat wrapped in soft bread soaking up the juices.  So for all the effort you put in, I'm not sure you really a proportional increase in return on your effort.

That said, its actually pretty low effort required, so I will do it again soon. Who knows, maybe this weekend..


rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Recipe: Lasagne


I have never understood people who don't like lasagne. Admittedly, I haven't met many of these people, so maybe they just don't exist? For all it's simplicity, I think the pairing of cheese and tomato has to be one of the greatest (I mean, just adding it to a piece of the most basic sliced white bread can make for an incredible snack when under the grill a la "toast pizza"), and throw in the warm, savoury meatiness and what more could you want, right?


(I know that's not a very appetising picture, to be honest I have been putting in less effort with my photos. I largely forget/don't get a chance to try and get good ones, and usually just use my phone)


Growing up, lasagne was always my favourite meal - although I did have the advantage of growing up with my mums lasagne, which is awesome. Maybe these mythical people who don't like lasagne simply grew up eating crappy lasagne (if such a thing exists?). I remember having the lasagne at the college canteen, which I think probably ranks as the worst of my lasagne experiences, but even so, lasagne-day in the canteen was still something to look forward to.

When I say it was my favourite meal, it's not that it's fallen out of favour in any way, its just that my tastes have expanded and some of my favourite meals now are the kind of thing that I would have groaned at on hearing they were planned for dinner as a kid (for some unknown, un-explicable reason, I was never that fussed for roast dinners, casseroles, stews etc - possibly just the fact that they had visibly whole vegetables in them?  Possibly just because I was a stupid child. Either way, these are now amongst my favourite meals).


Anyways, on to my lasagne.  This is not the recipe for the best lasagne, or a special lasagne, this is just the way I currently cook it. I feel like it should be better, but I can't really put my finger on what particular characteristics should be stronger.  It will undoubtedly go through changes each time, but either way, it seems to be well received on the occasions I have made it so far, so here it is..


Ingredients

The meat ragu:

  • 500 grams pork mince
  • 500 grams beef mince
  • 200 grams bacon lardons (or just chopped bacon)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • olive oil
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • three cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano (dried is fine)
  • 400 grams tinned tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Worcester sauce
  • 400 ml stock
  • milk (a few splashes)
  • 100 ml red wine 
  • flour
  • 3-4 bay leaves (optional)

Cheese Sauce (optional):

  •  1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • flour
  • 200 ml milk
  • 200 grams cheddar
  • optional: 1 bay leaf and nutmeg for grating

Essentials:

  • lasagne sheets
  • 100 grams fresh mozarella
  • 100 grams ricotta


Method

Pre-heat fan oven to 160 degrees centigrade

The meat:

  1. First, we will cook the meat sauce, that will go in the oven for a few hours giving us plenty of time for the cheese sauce right at the end. Melt the butter and a glug of olive oil in a big pan

  2. Cook the onions, garlic, carrots and celery in the butter and oil over a low heat until they are beautifully soft and aromatic - about ten minutes - at this point I don't really season with salt, as we will be adding bacon and stock later, which can both be salty.

  3. Add the bacon and teaspoon of oregano and cook for a further few minutes (don't worry about how cooked the bacon is, we will sit this in the oven later and it will become meltingly soft then)

  4. Remove the ingredients from the pan and sit aside, leaving a little of the oil/butter in the pan. Add the pork and beef, and brown, gently mixing and breaking up with a spoon.

  5. Once browned, stir the tomato puree through the mince and cook for a few more minutes.

  6. Add a tablespoon of flour or so to bring together the juices and stir through

  7. Next, we will de-glaze the pan with the red wine - pour it all in and cook for a further few minutes, the wine will probably reduce a but here

  8. Mix the cooked vegetables and all the oil/butter with them back into the meat and mix through

  9. Add the stock, Worcester sauce and bay leaves (if using them), stir through and stick in the oven. Cover the pan but slightly crack the lid (we want some reduction in the sauce).

  10. The meat can stay in the oven for as long as you need - if it is reducing too much just add a splash of water and reduce the temperature - I keep it in for about 2 hours, but depending on timing. Once done, pour a few splashes of milk in and stir through - this will bind it together and make it a little glossier (can also use cream for even more indulgence!)

The cheese:

Really, the sauce is optional - sometimes I just replace the cheese sauce entirely with torn mozzarella and ricotta, but if you are feeling more decadent, then you can make a bechamel sauce to top the lasagne for an extra cheese hit!
  1. We will put the constructed lasagne in the oven for about 40 minutes, so about an hour before you want to eat, start the white sauce

  2. This is a basic bechamel sauce, so make as you normally would - you can be as fancy as you like, adding bay leaves to the milk, grate in some nutmeg at the end, whatever. I normally keep this simple as there lots else going on and this is not the star of the show  - melt the butter, stir in the flour until it forms a a smooth paste, add the milk gradually, still over the heat, whisking it until smooth as you add it.

  3. Once the milk is added and sauce combined and starting to bubble, take off the heat and add the cheddar

Construction:

  1. Put a layer of lasagne sheets at the bottom of an oven dish, follow with a layer of meat sauce. Then using a teaspoon sprinkle a few blobs of ricotta on top of the meat, chop the mozzarella to approximately 1 cm cubes and sprinkle some of those on. Repeat the pasta-meat-cheese until all sauce used

  2. If using cheese sauce: top the lasagne (assuming your top layer is currently meat topped with ricotta and mozzarella) with sheets of pasta and then pour over the cheese sauce

  3. Put in the oven and cook for 40 minutes



rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Shortbread Swirls for children


The original recipe for this one came from a Green and Blacks chocolate recipe book.  As it is basically just shortbread, I just use my normal ratio that I use for brownbutter shortbread.



This is a really simple one, but more visually satisfying, which is good for doing with children (which is really the only time I make these).


Ingredients

  • 210 grams plain flour
  • 100 grams caster sugar
  • 10 grams cocoa powder
  • 150 grams choc chunks
  • 180 grams unsalted butter

Method

Pre-heat fan oven to 160 degrees centigrade
  1. In two separate batches, cream together 50 grams of sugar and 90 grams of butter

  2. In one batch mix in 110 grams of plain flour and beat further until combined

  3. In the other batch of sugar/butter mix the remaining 100 grams of plain flour and the 10 grams of cocoa powder

  4. Roll out the plain dough in to a rectangle, so its approximately 1/2 cm thick

  5. Roll out the cocoa dough to roughly the same size (these are very much rustic looking, so don't worry if they are wonk or not very rectangle - just rough rolling is fine)

  6. Lay the cocoa dough on top of the plain one, now spread the choc chunks across the top of the dough

  7. Carefully holding the dough, roll it up so it makes a cylindrical shape (like rolling up a rug!) - again, don't worry if bits of the dough break due to the choc chunks, just squeeze/pat it together

  8. Once rolled, cover it in clingfilm and pop in the fridge to cool a little, 30-60 minutes is probably fine

  9. Once chilled, remove the roll and slice into discs, about 1/2-1 inch thick, place on a lined baking tray and pop in the oven for about 15minutes, or until the plan dough starts to lightly brown
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

New York Style Pizza: Experiments


If you have read more than a few of my posts here, you will probably come to realise that I am a fairly suggestible guy. It takes just the briefest of mentions of mac & cheese during the week to get be obsessing about it right up until the weekend when I inevitably have to turn my thoughts into reality.



Well, this story starts no different. I can't really remember what made me think to start obsessing on pizza. I can only imagine I saw some writing about it somewhere, or maybe its the fact that I now have a pizza stone (which I actually purchased to cook my Christmas turkey, but that's a different story), either way, I decided I wanted to crack New York style pizza - specifically, the thin base with bigger crust.

Being as dough is such a scientific beast, I turned to a few recipes to get started with to try and benchmark my findings so I could start experimenting further.

Attempt 1: 4 day cold rise before a few hours at room temperature - I didn't seal the dough sufficiently so it dried out. I was using a non-kneading food processor approach recommended by the FoodLab RESULT: In the bin!

Attempt 2: Similar timings as my first attempt, but remembering to keep the dough in a ziplock freezer bag and with an amended recipe (but still using the food processor technique). RESULT: No visible rising, but was more or less edible (well, it served as the most basic of vessel for the tomato sauce and cheese!)

Attempt 3: I switched to a less pizza-purist dough recipe and tried a Jamie Oliver recipe that only took a few hours to rise  also switched to traditional kneading (via freestanding mixer) rather than food processor. RESULT: The dough tasted so-so, but was well risen with decent crust, the dough wasn't as strong as I had wanted and tore occasionally whilst stretching it out.

Attempt 4: Continued with Jamie Oliver's recipe, but adjust the quantity of salt to improve the flavour. RESULT: As expected, it did not rise as well as 3) but disappointingly no meaningful improvement in the flavour



And this is where we are up to so far - the good news is that I have a presentable pizza that tastes fine, but definitely still a long way to go.


Observations

The two main goals I am aiming for are: 1) be able to make amazing New York style pizzas (regardless of time) 2) make decent tasting pizzas in a day.

A lot of yeast sold in the UK is Instant Dried Yeast - which is different to Active Dried Yeast, that a lot of recipes will use. It's worth being aware of the differences - The dried yeast needs warm water to "activate" the yeast, and can take up to twice as long to work(!!)

I was originally using my measuring jug for the water (basically one of these), and decided to weigh the water - on repeated experiments filling the jug to the red line (by eye, leaving the water to settle before confirming)  for 150ml I found a variance of +/- 10grams, which seems remarkably high to me!

I believe the Food Lab is onto something with the theory behind the food processor technique, but I think for now I will stick to the kneading technique - even if only because it should more consistently work with any recipe, plus sticking the dough in the mixer and leaving it to knead on a low speed for 10 minutes really doesn't take much effort on my part.
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Recipe creation, the Adjacent Possible & my first Fish Pie


On the weekend I decided to cook a fish pie. I enjoy fish pies when I eat them, which is relatively infrequent - to the point that I can probably count the number of fish pies I have eaten in my lief on my hands (or at least fingers and toes!).  As you might imagine, having eaten so few fish pies, I have never cooked one myself.

Now when I cook, by and large, I like to freestyle it (with the exception of cakes, where I follow recipes, but I don't frequently bake cakes).  Which can be a challenge when it comes to attempting to cook something I have never cooked before, so I thought as well as writing up my final recipe for the pie (which turned out pretty tasty, in my opinion) I would write a bit about my process.

I say process. I mean bumbling around trying to read enough to make sense of what is going on and not ruining dinner for us all.



The recipes I post here are all devised by myself, but they always borrow from lots of sources.  I think everyone does really, and very few recipes are genuinely original thought.  A while ago, after cooking my sausage and apple pie, my mum (my parents were visiting at the time)  asked if I had invented the recipe up myself, I answered yes, but at that moment, I felt a little bad taking credit for it, as really it was just the culmination of years of more informed, practiced people's success.  I certainly wasn't the first person to pair pork and apple, nor pairing pork and mustard, nor undoubtedly the first to put pork and apple into a pie!


There's an idea that is often used in reference to in innovation and invention that is the Adjacent Possible

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. (Steven Johnson - The Origin of Good Ideas)


What it really means, is at any given time, given everything we know, understand and have, there is the next step on from that, which is where innovation happens - this can be seen throughout history through lots of remarkable discoveries being made simultaneously by different people, in different parts of the world - that is, innovation isn't happening in the large, its the small increments from where we are (hence, the adjacent possible - the next thing), which is why at the same time, lots of independent people come up with the same ideas at the same time.

And that's the way I look at recipe creation - the adjacent possible. It is a different chronology for sure, as some of the ideas I am working on are decades old, but its the same principle. I take lots of other people's good ideas, and mix them together as I fancy.



There are some things that need to be exact, and there are some things that can be messed with - but once you start to understand what is happening when you cook, then identifying what these are then the more freedom you get to experiment with the components that you know won't make or break your end meal.


For example, on the very exacting, precise side you have things like pizza dough - here, the small details matter, and bakers work with very precise percentages mastering those. It's a known fact that salt slows down the fermentation process in dough (which I have only recently learnt, having just tried to make pizza dough!), so if you play too much with your salt percentages, then you need to understand that you need to also change your timings, and too much salt is just going to effectively kill the process for you.  On the other hand, basic things like aromatics (onions, leeks etc) are pretty much always inter-changeable, as they are bringing flavour - and thats something you can play with, to suit your own tastes (or food supplies).


Let's take an example of any slow cooked casserole I have featured on this blog. As I have mentioned in some of the posts, they are pretty formulaic, and it's really the discovery of this approach and flexibility that got me started on home recipe invention and learning what can be experimented with.

The basic components of my slow cooked casseroles are:
  • Fat - most commonly butter or oil etc
  • Aromatics - onion, leek, celery, carrot, etc, 
  • Flavour - I'm just using this term to categorise additional flavouring mustard,Worcester sauce, vinegar, tomato puree, soy sauce, fish sauce, herbs/spices etc - basically a fairly intense flavour "hit"
  • Liquids - stock/alcohol/water
  • Meat - lamb/beef/pork etc


As I'm sure you can guess, as these all have multiple options listed, these are all interchangeable, and by-and-large if you take a random combination of those listed above, you will likely get something at least halfway decent.

However, there is one important factor in your casserole that can't be messed with (too much) - that's the meat. Slow cooking is, like all cooking, a scientific process.  When you cook, the heat, over time, is altering the make up of the meat - in slow cooking specifically it is breaking down the collagen (in the connective tissue) which dissolves to gelatin, making for really succulent, tender and flavourful meat. Which is great news for pieces of meat like lamb shanks or beef short rib, which are cheap cuts of meat but high in connective tissue, but is exactly why you will never have any success slow cooking chicken breast, as it has very little connective tissue and will just dry out (but luckily, chicken breast is quick to cook anyway, so there isn't really any need to slow cook it!).

Having identified the constraints on the approach (the meat), we can be confident experimenting with the other factors to suit our taste, imagination or cupboards!



So, back to my fish pie.

The first thing I wanted to do was understand what makes up a fish pie and what constraints there are.  My normal approach to a new meal is just reading. I like to read recipes, even recipes for things that I know how to cook, as its always interesting to read ways other people have tried things, or find any interesting insights they have which can be borrowed in the future.

So I read several fish pie recipes, there seemed to be some variations: some people pre-poach the fish in milk before putting in the pie, some people don't use potato for the topping, and the fish itself varies too.

I wanted to make a classic style fish pie (creamy filling, mash potato topping) and from what I could tell (and based on what I know about the different components) the only constraint seemed to be that the fish was cooked (and not over cooked), which left me quite a bit of freedom to just pick the ingredients and flavours I wanted.


Ingredients

  • One fillet of cod (MSC approved, of course) without skin/bones
  • one fillet of smoked haddock without skin/bones
  • a handful of king prawns (I used pre-cooked prawns)
  • a handful of strong cheddar, grated
  • a teaspoon of chopped dill (fresh)
  • half a lemon
  • 200ml milk
  • tablespoon butter
  • tablespoon of flour
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 3 large potatoes (for mashing to top)

Method

Preheat fan oven to 170 degrees centigrade
  1. Peel, chop and boil the potatoes to make the mash

  2. Heat the milk in a pan with the bay leaves

  3. Melt the butter in a pan, once melted add the flour and whisk into a smooth paste. Keeping over the heat, slowly add the milk, a little at a time - whisking each time until the mixture is smooth

  4. Chop the cod and haddock and toss into a casserole/pie dish a long with the prawns

  5. Throw in the chopped dill, a pinch of salt, the grated cheese and then squeeze the half lemon - stir the ingredients to mix through

  6. pour over the milk sauce (removing the bay leaves) and top with potato

  7. Put in the oven for about 40minutes, then serve


rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Recipe: Red wine & rosemary lamb shanks


It turns out I have quite a backlog of posts sitting around that I just haven't had the time to publish, so I will try and bang them out quickly now. This particular post seems sensible to go out first as it is the most recent in memory, and chances are given a few more weeks the exact details will be escaping me.

It was Mother's Day here in the UK on Sunday, so as well as a cake (see a forthcoming post!) I also cooked up some lamb shanks. The advantage of lamb shanks is, like much of my repertoire, it is slow cooked, so pretty easy to throw together whilst also looking after children (which is obviously my main purpose on Mother's Day).



It's a pretty easy dish to make, tastes great and as usual we just need to let time do its work.


Ingredients

  • Two lamb shanks
  • Tomato puree
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 leek
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground rosemary (dried is fine)
  • ~100ml red wine
  • ~400ml stock - vegetable, lamb, whatever
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Method

Takes about 20minutes prep, then 2 1/2-3 hours cooking. 
Preheat fan over to 170 degrees centigrade
  1. Add some olive oil to a pan and brown the lamb shanks over a high heat, once browned remove the lamb and set aside in a casserole dish.
  2. Chop the carrots, leek and celery and add to the pan, adding more oil if needed - there will probably be bits of lamb stuck to the pan in places, de-glaze with oil and the spoon and mix through. Add a pinch of salt and cook over a medium heat until soft, probably 8 minutes or so (side note: this will smell awesome!)
  3. Add a heaped tablespoon of tomato puree and a teaspoon of the ground rosemary, cook for another few minutes
  4. Sprinkle over the tablespoon of flour and mix through
  5. Add the red wine and mix through, de-glazing the pan
  6. Add the stock, then pour vegetable & liquid mixture over the lamb shanks in the casserole dish
  7. Cover the casserole dish and cook in the over for about 2 1/2 hours - depending on the size of your shanks, but you should be able to tell when the shanks are tender and soft
  8. Serve - if the sauce is too runny, then remove the shanks and return the liquid & vegetables to the pan on the hob and reduce until appropriate thickness.



rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Mothers Day Cake 2016


Yep, that time of year again, and of course, children have to be involved when it comes to a Mothers day cake, right?

Just days before, I had seen on some social media a rather impressive looking easter cake, and thought to myself, me and the boys should do that!

We didn't exactly follow the recipe, so our version is more inspired by the one above, all though I did follow the directions for making the chocolate ganache on the top (just chop chocolate and pour hot cream over the top).

The sponge was my go to food-processor sponge recipe from Nigella Lawson (I take it from her "Domestic Goddess" book, but the recipe can be found online), which is both incredibly easy/kid-friendly and seems to be pretty consistent in producing great Victoria sponges (note my highlighting! the food processor is the way to go, so don't be put off that it won't be good as traditional techniques!)

The buttercream was also a basic buttercream - based on BBC's basic buttercream recipe, which is basically a 2:1 sugar:butter ratio with a few spoons of milk as needed for consistency.


We went for a slightly more easter-y theme, and had a small chick popping out of the chocolate egg in the center, rather than just more eggs..



I believe the phrase that people use is #NailedIt
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen