November 24, 2008
Plus ça c'est la même chose*....

So it feels like a lifetime ago that I was obsessively browsing the web, checking the US election polls, praying, hoping for change. I checked HuffPo on average, um, a few dozen times a day. Or maybe more, I'm too embarrassed to say. The children grew, as did the pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen. I felt like an obsessive sports fan who is convinced that if he takes his eye off the ball for one split second, fate will decree that the other team wins. As a left-winger and a Cubs fan, I know the pain of losing, let me tell you. And then it was over. We won. And strangely enough, there was a kind of a void in my life. For about a half a second.

And now? I obsessively browse the web preparing for Thanksgiving! Same dirty kids, same pile of dishes, new obsession. Such is my loyalty to our readers (or maybe I'm just trying to find a justification for the time I've wasted?) that I am going to share a few nuggets with you:

Pioneer Woman. If you don't know her, get yourself over to her site and introduce yourself. She is the Queen of Thanksgiving this year, with a dozen mouth-watering, waist-enlarging recipes. She likes to tell you not to skimp, oh Lordy. Personally, when I look at the volume of stuff she writes about and apparently does (raising children, home-schooling, cattle-farming, renovating, cooking, writing about it all) I am convinced that "she" is actually "a collection of Mormon wives looking after Marlboro Man and the kids". Seriously, does this woman sleep? Anyway, I'll be trying her Whisky Glazed Carrots this year and using her cornbread stuffing as a springboard for my recipe this year.

How about a nod to the multi-cultural aspect of our beloved nation? I came across a link to Asian Grandmothers Cookbook through Foodgoat and thought the Sticky Rice Stuffing looked just lovely. See what you think here. (And a big congratulations to FoodGoat and LadyGoat, by the way, on the arrival of GoatSpawn. If you haven't yet admired her, hop on over there and do some serious cooing at the screen!)

I think it's a really tribute to Shauna's beautiful prose and mouth-watering recipes that although I don't actually know a single person with Celiac disease I can't help checking the Gluten Free Girl's site at least once a day - just in case. Sometimes people update more than once a week you know. If you or someone you know needs to be gluten-free this Thanksgiving take a look at her comprehensive guide to a gluten-free holiday. And I won't tell on you if you admire her baby too, while you are at it. I like babies.

And lastly, here are a few favorites from our archives here on Too Many Chefs that you might find inspiring:

Oyster and Leek Stuffing

Mushroom Chestnut Stuffing

Stuffed Acorn Squash (a lovely main dish if you are going meat-free)

My grandmother's delicious Cranberry Rolls

And a super-easy tasty pumpkin pie

And I leave you with my favorite Thanksgiving comic strip, courtesy of Foxtrot. I'm sorry to infringe on their copyright but if anyone can tell me how to link to the right strip on their site I'd be more than happy to do so. Alternatively, I'd love to purchase a copy of the strip for framing, as it sums up our household so well!

* The more things change, the more it's the same...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:11 PM | Comments (1)
November 18, 2008
Nigel Slater's Pork Patties with Thyme and Mozzarella


"We tend to think of burgers as being made with minced beef, but pork is an excellent mince, too, offering plenty of succulence...The mozzarella is an unusual addition, and oozes seductively as you eat." - Nigel Slater, October 2008 Observer Food Monthly.

Looking at the above photo and contemplating oozing cheese - one of my weak points - I was seduced myself into trying this recipe myself last night. I had accidentally bought a package of minced pork back in August and it was waiting in the freezer for just such an occasion. (These things happen when you order online and don't read the details closely.) So when I came across this recipe in the food monthly, it looked perfect: interesting, easy to make, likely to please husband and children alike and most importantly, a way to use up that package of minced pork. I don't have a lot of ideas when it comes to minced pork.

Being me, I couldn't follow the recipe exactly, but I kept the spirit of it intact. I substituted anchovies for the pancetta and added a sprinkle of pepper flakes to please my dear Critic. Both moves were unqualified successes.

Unqualified success? Did I use those words in regard to this recipe? Because there is one aspect of the recipe to which those words could not be applied. Check out the photo above: crispy, succulent little meat patties with the cheese - as mentioned - oozing seductively. Here is a photo of my patties seconds after I put them in a nonstick pan. (With a little oil just for good measure - because I could see disaster looming and I was right.) And here is a photo of the pan when I took them out. The patties themselves were, shall was say, unphotogenic. Look at Nigel's photo if you want pretty: he probably has a food stylist. And he probably got the pan a lot hotter than I did before he started.

But even so, allowing for mistakes on my part, I think it is a basic flaw in the recipe. Next time, rather than mixing mozzarella into the mince as the recipe indicates, I'm going to form a ball around a pocket of cheese. Same oozing glory and none of the mess.

Otherwise, the recipe was a roaring success and I am - as always - indebted to Nigel for providing me with a new recipe that everyone in the family will love. The pork stayed moist and tender, the anchovies and pepper flakes gave it zing and the cheese was the icing on the proverbial cake. With a side of steamed broccoli and baked potato, it was just about perfect. If a bit ugly.

Nigel Slater's Pork Patties with Thyme and Mozzarella (with modifications noted in parentheses)

3-4 spring onions, finely sliced
2 juicy cloves of garlic, minced
a thick slice of butter (in fact, I used olive oil)
100 g cubed pancetta (or one tin of anchovies)
fresh thyme
350 g minced pork
the grated zest of half a lemon (I used a couple of tablespoons of juice as well, mainly because of the anchovies)
1 mozzarella ball, cut in small cubes
optional: a teaspoon of hot pepper flakes

Fry the garlic and onions in the butter or a few tablespoons of olive oil. When they are soft and fragrant, scoop them out (leaving as much fat as possible behind) and stir them into the minced pork. Fry the pancetta for a few minutes and then do the same, leaving the fat behind. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well if you are as talented as Mr. Slater at creating perfect little meaty patties. If you want to take my advice, though, you'll stir together everything but the mozzarella, then divide the cheese into six equal piles and form patties around each pile to make six little pork burgers with a cheesy center. As you can see in the photo of the patties in the pan, I opted to sprinkle the hot pepper flakes on the patties after they were formed, so that I could have some without flakes for the boys.

Turn up the heat on the pan very high and brown the patties on one side very quickly, about two or three minutes. When they are crispy and brown, flip them and cook on the second side until crispy and brown. Then turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook for 8-10 minutes, until the meat is cooked through and feels springy and firm to the touch.

Serve with mustard or just a drizzle of lemon juice over them. They will warm the cockles of your heart, especially when you hit the mother lode of cheese. Mmmm...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:39 AM | Comments (3)
November 10, 2008
Last of the summer tomatoes (part II)

the gaudiest tomatoes you'll ever seeIt's November, I know that. And I have stood on my soap box and loudly (and frequently) proclaimed the virtues of eating fresh vegetable in season and from local sources. I swear - and our friend Sam is my independent witness - that I made this dish just last week. With local and sustainably grown tomatoes. (You can ripen tomatoes until January, you know.) And if you'll allow me to get back on that soap box for just another brief moment, I will tell you that this is quite possibly the best tomato dish I have ever tasted, largely because the tomatoes were locally grown. It's simple and like all simple things it relies on the best and freshest ingredients. And the fact that this is probably the last time I'll taste fresh tomatoes (bar the occasional guilty indulgence) until next June at least, it had an emotional whammy that couldn't be beat. My mouth is watering just remembering it. I made it once, and then I made it again two days later and now all my tomatoes are gone, all gone. But I will remember this tart in June and we will start our love affair all over again.

Puff pastry. Tomatoes. Mustard. Cheese. It's that simple.

(Barrett, are you listening? For once, it's vegetarian too!)

I am grateful to Message, a group of Anglophone parents in Paris, for this recipe. Although I have left Paris in body, you'll see that I'm still lingering there in spirit in many ways and this is one of the benefits. (As is the recipe for Karena's Beef Rendang which I may have to write up one of these days: great for a crock pot and a crowd. But I digress.) So thank you to Jennie of Message for this great recipe. I have seen her comment on it several times on the members-only site and now that I have tried it I am eternally indebted. Yum.

A Tomato Tart To Die For (Serves one. Okay, really three or four as a starter, but you won't want to share.)

Jennie has written that even her French friends and in-laws adore this tart and I can well believe it. Her recipe called for fresh basil, but as I didn't have any I used fresh thyme and it was gorgeous. The next time, I dropped the thyme and hid some finely chopped spring onions under the tomatoes. Heaven.

1 puff pastry
2-3 heaping Tbs of good mustard (I use Maille)
1 1/2 cups of cherry tomatoes or a few ripe normal tomatoes: any variety providing they are ripe to the point of sweetness to make you swoon
1-2 Tbs fresh basil OR thyme OR spring onions (but not all three)
1 to 1 1/2 cups freshly grated cheese (gruyère or sharp cheddar, or a combination of Red Leciester, Cheddar and Wensledale if you really want to get fancy)

Roll out your puff pastry. With a dull knife, trace a line about a centimeter from the edge of the pastry all the way around. This will make your crust. Spread the mustard generously on the pastry. Sprinkle generously with cheese. Sprinkle with spring onions (if that is the optional seasoning you have chosen). Lay the tomatoes gently over the cheese, overlapping slightly so that no part of the tart will be untouched by its loveliness. Top with thyme or basil if you have opted for one of them as a seasoning.

Bake according to the instructions on the puff pastry box, which probably will be at 220C for 25 minutes or so. Don't be surprised if one corner of the pastry puffs up energetically and the tomatoes slide down to the center. Just pierce that puff when you remove the tart from the oven and pull the tomatoes back into place with a fork. It will still look, smell and (most importantly) taste gorgeous. Devour. Have a fork handy to poke any other hands that want to take the last piece.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:24 PM | Comments (4)
November 4, 2008
Scotch Broth: who would have thought the Scots would be good at antidotes for cold dark nights?

This barley has more air miles than Sarah Palin and I am ashamed."So, do you like the curly kale in the soup? Is it okay?" I asked nervously. (The Critic is not fond of exotic vegetables entering his dinner.) "Is that the Sugar-Puffs stuff?" he replied somewhat grumpily. "No, that's the barley. The kale is the leafy green stuff." "It's okay. Actually, the soup is surprisingly good," he allowed grudgingly. There was a reason I didn't tell him advance exactly what kind of soup I was making and it was so that I wouldn't go into the dinner already depressed and certain that no one would like it. In fact, it was delicious.

One of the effects our new lifestyle has had on my cooking is that it forces me to use new ingredients more often and this soup is a good case in point. The box of vegetables from the local organic farm included curly kale, something I would normally have had to seek out in Paris. And the leg of lamb I cooked a few weeks ago made a beautiful rich lamb stock that just begged to be paired with barley. When I realised that Scotch broth is a soup that traditionally calls for all these ingredients, well, the Critic's preferences went out the door, I'm afraid. I think he'll forgive me though. We had a filling, nutritious, delicious soup. Little brother and I had it for lunch the next day and it was even better then. I'll be making it again, especially now that I know I won't be the only one who likes it. When the rain is pittering on the roof of the conservatory and the skies are dark at four p.m., you need a soup with fortitude to get you through the night and this one fits the bill perfectly.

This is a deeply satisfying soup, especially if you have home made lamb stock on hand. If not, try using a combination of lamb gravy and beef stock, or home made beef stock. You could use canned beef stock, but bear in mind that it will be a lot saltier and not quite as nice. In any case, providing you have all the ingredients (roasted meat, stock) already in your refrigerator, it's a super simple (and cheap) way to make a wonderful dinner. Serve it with a nice buttered piece of seed-encrusted whole wheat bread.

Scotch Broth (serves 4-6 generously)

2 litres home made lamb broth
1 cup chopped roasted lamb meat
2 small onions, chopped
3 carrots
2 small potatoes
2/3 cup barley
2-3 cups chopped fresh curly kale
Fresh chopped rosemary and thyme to taste
2-3 Tbs butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in the bottom of a large soup pan. Add the onion and cook until softened and transparent, but not browned. Add the rest of the ingredients, aside from the kale. Simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until the barley is tender. Stir in the kale and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the kale is wilted and the soup is hot again. (Adding 2-3 cups of anything to soup will inevitably bring down the temperature temporarily.) Taste for salt and pepper. If you used home made stock, you'll need to be generous with both.

Serve in deep bowls with high quality bread and butter. Smile.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:17 AM
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