Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Slow-cooker Tuscan bean soup

Blogging is proving very comfortable these days, when I seem to make recipes that have been blogged or posted somewhere else and I choose the right language to share them ie no translation effort on my part.

Today's recipe is no exception, you will find it here. The book it's taken from, Slow Cooker Revolution, is not very recent but it is my new slow-cooker reference. I normally use the internet or the crockpot blog, because the book I bought when I first got my slow-cooker is useless, and it's useful to have guidelines for recipes because eyeballing it sometimes result in disaster...

As you can guess, America's Test Kitchen have produced a book so detailed and geeky that you can trust it with your eyes closed. It is quite meat-centric and American-oriented, but it provides hours of reading fun and many valuable tips on how to get the best use out of the pot.

This soup is my first recipe out of it. There's this slightly dangerous recipe for Fagioli al fiasco in Tuscany where you cook beans in one of those 1, 5 l wine bottles (the pear-shaped kind with the straw around the bottom). You must put that bottle, stuffed with cannelini beans and water, plus sage and so on, in some hot ashes/coal and leave it there for a couple of hours -slow cooking without any appliances.  Anyway, this is a take on that recipe.

Electric fagioli al fiasco

Did you know that soaking the beans in salted water helps them lose their tough exterior and keep their insides soft? I didn't. I always thought you shouldn't salt beans at all until they've finished cooking - unless you use the slow cooker because long, slow heat will break down even the toughest skin. Break it down so much so that they can get mushy. Salting the soaking water helps keep them whole apparently. To verify this, I used the oldest bag of beans I could find in my pantry. I know, I'm so crayzee! And...results! The beans became creamy and soft while keeping their shape. The stock was still clear and to my mind lacked the soupy appeal so I puréed some to give it a silky, creamy finish. It's not very appetizing on the picture, even with the rosemary, but it tasted really comforting. Like cassoulet. Beans and pork (minus duck). And with a nice undertone of fresh rosemary. Adults liked it a lot but I won't lie, I got the kids to eat it only under the threat of no with the promise of TV.

apologies for the minging photo

When I lifted off the lid to fish out the bay leaves, I was confused by the limp, tan rectangle among the beans. I had forgotten about the Parmesan rind, that's what slow-cooking does to you. Early senility after 9 hours, ha ha ha!

So, anyway, more about the book. It's not "chuck everything into the pot and leave it to work its magic for a whole day" kind of food. That doesn't work too well for the illustrated cooks gourmets. Some recipes are flagged as Easy Prep and require hardly any effort, but many require you to get your pans, sorry, skillets, out beforehand, and some even need using the oven grill after slow cooking (ribs, chicken wings, etc.) But on the other hand it doesn't rely on the use of canned soups and other cheat's ingredients. Be warned. I don't mind because on a day when I work I could turn to one of the easy prep recipes, whereas on a day when I don't have to work I could potter for a bit in the morning or early afternoon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Nigel's lentil bolognese

Everybody loves Nigel. And so do I. I like the way he talks about food, writes about food, and not only food but his kitchen, his garden, where he shops. His recipes aren't always great for me because some of his favourite ingredients don't go down so well with children but still he manages to inspire me.

So of course I had to get his newest book, Eat. And I like it because I think it's quite modern in his approach to midweek cooking.

But I have a complaint, and it's not really Nigel-related. Quite a few of his recipes call for cooking chorizo. I can't find it where I live! How sad is that. No way I can make his chorizo burgers though they sound so delicious!

Nigel's lentil bolognese

Oh, well, lentil bolognese it is. Surprisingly delicious. Vegetarian. Comforting. Recipe is here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hainanese chicken rice

Ages ago, W. travelled to Manila to work on a project. A Chinese guy he worked with took him to dinner at a Chinese restaurant and ordered an Asian feast in his honour. During dinner, the man told him his all-time favourite dish was chicken and rice. Pressed for more information, he said the chicken was just boiled in water. I found that really strange when he related this, but why not, after all chicken is comfort food all over the world, and rice is Asia's number one staple. But simple boiled chicken as a favourite dish?

Now I understand the concept, this man had probably never cooked it for himself so how could he know that water wasn't just water but had the added components of herbs and condiments to improve it? And that you need other seasonings and relishes to really make the humble poached chicken shine?

Hainanese chicken rice

I was inspired by food-loving friends to try this recipe, which had caught my eye ever since I got Bill's Every Day Asian book. It is very simple although it does take a little time and monitoring. I was really surprised at how the chicken was perfectly cooked despite the little time on the actual heat.

The absolute star of the recipe is the ginger relish. And I used my beloved sambal instead of slicing fresh chillies.
Poaching is a good way to bring out the flavour of the chicken meat, and with the resulting stock you then cook the rice (I made it in my rice cooker). My girls ate the chicken with just rice and soy sauce and asked for seconds. For dinner there'll be alphabet soup, sadly just our alphabet and no Chinese characters ;)

You will find the recipe online here on another blog. I'm pretty sure there are more traditional recipes with a longer list of ingredients but this Bill Granger version is delicious enough.