Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cooking In A Kettle: Cheese And Ham Omelette

I watched a documentary the other night which featured a former jailbird who was giving advice to his wayward, younger brother in an attempt to keep him on the straight and narrow. He was having little success, despite his accounts of how grim life behind bars could be.

But he said it had made him a better cook, and boasted of the number of dishes he could cook in his cell using just a kettle. He seemed very proud of his "apple crumble", which involved putting slices of apple in a plastic bag, and them boiling for a couple of minutes in a kettle until they had turned into a "mush". "You then crunch loads of digestive biscuits and bung them in for the crumble bit," he told the camera.

It reminded me of my attempts at cooking in a kettle when I lived in budget hotels in Asia for a couple of years. And after flicking through some photos of Cambodia I thought I'd lost, and feeling a wave of numbing nostalgia taking me, I thought I'd have another go at 'cooking in a kettle' - this time a foray into the realms of the omelette. I must say it tastes better than it looks, but it works and, more importantly, you'll win the bet.

One kettle (preferably one where the element is concealed)
1 litre cold water
One zipper-seal freezer bag
2 eggs
2 slices of serrano or similar ham, sliced
8 thin slices of cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp oil
A small glug of cooking lager (optional)

Crack the two eggs into the freezer bag, and gripping the zipper end, mush them with your other hand. Add the salt and pepper, and oil and shake the bag again,

Add the cheese, ham and beer (the latter is a nice touch I got from watching the French film Le Diner De Cons, when two of the characters discuss the best way to make an omelette) and scrunch up again.

Seal the zipper on the bag, making sure all the air is removed - you can do this by keeping a corner open and sucking any remaining air out of the bag. Put about one litre of water in the kettle - it should be about two-thirds full. Then roll up the sealed bag into a sort of cylinder shape as best you can, and pop it into the kettle.

Put the lid back on. Switch the kettle on and let it boil. When it has switched itself off, leave the bag in there for one minute, then switch the kettle on again. When it has boiled again and switched off, leave the bag in there for another minute and carefully take out and serve.

:: Cooking In A Kettle: Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bread Pudding - A 30,000-Year-Old Recipe

Bread pudding probably dates back about 30,000 years to when our ancestors first started growing cereal grains. No doubt they would have pounded the grains into a paste with water, and baked the dough on hot stones beside the fire to make some form of flatbread.

At some point they would have been left with stale bread on their hands, and some bright spark would have had the idea of tearing it up, adding water, and baking it to form a cooked stodge. Someone would have said 'that's not bad, but what about adding nuts and berries or honey or something', and the rudiments of this lovely pudding would have been born.

Their wood-fire baking would have been a far cry from the swanky Rational combi ovens we're lucky enough to be using on our cheffing apprenticeship, but the principal is the same - not wasting food by finding recipes to use up leftovers.

So last week when the first-year students were let loose for their first bread-making lesson, and produced two crates of what can only be described as a varied selection of loaves, ranging in hue from umber to charcoal black, we were given the task of hacksawing off the crusts and making bread pudding for the college restaurant.

There are of course hundreds of variations of bread pudding around the world. A version is eaten in Mexico during Lent, and there is a very good one called Wet Nelly (not to be confused with the James Bond car) which is a favourite in Liverpool and involves baking the pudding in pastry.

The one we made is an industry standard, which can be tinkered with the addition of flavourings like rosewater and nutmeg, and different dried fruits and nuts. I recommend adding walnuts and chopped dried apricots along with the sultanas.

Another good one which will help use up your windfall apples, if you're lucky enough to have an apple tree in the garden, or even a garden, is to peel and core the apples, cut into quarters and cook into a mush with a little water, adding sugar to taste. Add the apple puree to the bread mixture, following the recipe below.

Cinnamon Bread Pudding
(Makes 10 portions)

1.25kg stale bread, crusts removed
300g white sugar
300g currants
1.5 tsps ground cinnamon
1.5 tsps mixed spice
180g butter
3 eggs

Cut the crusts off the bread and tear it into strips. Put in a bowl and add about a third of its volume in water. Squeeze the bread between your fingers for a few minutes to make a mush.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small squares and add to the eggs. Beat together and add three-quarters of the sugar. Beat again and mix in the spices and currants, or what other fruits you're using.

Lift out the bread mush, squeezing out excess water with each handful, and add to the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Grease a large baking tray and line with baking paper. Add the pudding mix and smooth the top.

Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for one hour. Let it cool and cut into 10 portions. Serve hot or cold with custard, cream, ice cream or caramel sauce.