Saturday, January 21, 2017

Simple home-made Caesar salad dressing and mayonnaise

When I did a Caesar salad post back in 2012, it was very well received.  My cos lettuce crop this year has been a complete failure, but when my lovely neighbour Helen gave me a bag of fresh cos leaves from her garden this week, my first thought was Caesar salad.
         I knew we'd run out of Paul Newman Caesar dressing, so I trotted off with it on my shopping list - and then completely overlooked buying it. I have an excuse - I was distracted by Jonathan's plea for a supermarket steak and kidney pie, which he had a sudden yen for. Only they don't actually make those family pies any more, apparently. Countdown had pale mince ones, and New World had some not-very-appetising steak and cheese ones. But they also had a posh (and much more expensive) version with Angus steak and red onions. In the modern fashion, the label featured a prominent list of what it did NOT contain: no palm oil (good on them), no MSG (surely you wouldn't expect that in a pie anyway?), no preservatives, artificial colouring or flavouring. So we'll give it a go tomorrow night. [PS - it was okay, but not worth buying again.]
         I had no intention of going back out for the dressing, so I decided I'd look up a recipe online, because (thanks to Mr Newman) I've never actually made it before. It was the usual story with a classic creation: ten different recipes, all claiming to be authentic and all featuring a roughly similar list of ingredients, only in differing quantities and combined by different methods.
         They all include grated Parmesan, though some prefer to leave it out of the actual dressing and just toss it with the undressed lettuce first, and most add more Parmesan on top at the end.  (It tastes very much better to get a piece and grate it yourself, rather than using the kind sold already grated, which is really not worth eating. A piece of Parmesan is expensive, but you don't need a lot, and it lasts for a long time in the fridge.)
          After extensive research, I settled for a slightly adapted version of the recipe offered by Serious Eats. To start with, it gives by far the best background, based on Julia Child's childhood memories of Caesar salad and very good sources from the restaurant where it's said to have originated (see my previous post). It has all the basic ingredients, but doesn't contain any harsh vinegar (which, judging by Paul's, I think would be too strong). It uses a stick blender, which I know will work because my friend Ali has given me a brilliant mayonnaise recipe using one (see below). And it brings up the problem I've had with olive oil tasting bitter when you use a blender, and explains how to avoid it. Genius. I'll probably still keep Paul's handy when pressed for time, but now I can do it myself - very satisfying.

Caesar salad dressing
(Serious Eats)
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 to 6 anchovies
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, crushed
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine egg yolk, lemon juice, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, crushed garlic, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese in the bottom of a cup or beaker that just fits the head of a stick blender. With blender running, slowly drizzle in canola oil* until a smooth emulsion forms. (Or do it all at once - it still seems to thicken nicely.) Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste generously with salt and pepper.
* "Just as with a regular mayonnaise, you don't want to use extra-virgin olive oil with an electric blender. It causes the olive oil to break down and turn bitter. Instead, use a neutral oil like canola to begin your emulsion. Then, when it's stable, whisk in the extra-virgin by hand."

Mayonnaise in a moment
Adapted from Ali's version, with a different combination of oils. She says, "This  is Alison Holst's recipe, which we've been using for years (the garlic is our addition).” She points out that you can add your own variations, such as different vinegars, using more or less garlic, or none, or stirring in finely chopped tarragon at the very end. Excellent for potato salad.

1 egg

2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil - mild flavour works best
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
several grinds of black pepper
Optional: 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

Place all ingredients except the olive oil in the container of your stick blender and process for 8-10 seconds, moving the blender gently up and down to make sure all the oil is incorporated. Put mayonnaise in a bowl and slowly add the olive oil, whisking it in by hand. OR for a very mild mayonnaise, you can use all canola oil (or another vegetable oil) and omit this last addition.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The perfect fillet - and trifle to follow

For Christmas this year we were house-sitting at Eastbourne. The day started splendidly with breakfast at Ali and David's next door  (it was thanks to her that we had found the house).  Gorgeous fruit salad, Ali's home-made Christmas bread wreath, and mimosas - half orange juice, half bubbly.

I kept my own cooking as simple as possible, because I wasn't in my own kitchen, and the last thing I wanted was too many complications.  It all went very well, especially the beef fillet. I think it was only the fourth or fifth one I've ever dealt with, and up until now I felt I'd always slightly over-cooked it. But this year I got it just right - tender, juicy, nicely "set" slices showing the perfect medium rare shade of raspberry pink.
           The recipe I use comes from my friend Lesley, who has been cooking fillets for years. I thought I'd already posted, but I haven't, so here it is. I tend to do the searing and coating well in advance of the actual roasting. The cooking time does depend on the fillet and the oven, so you'll have to be a bit cautious - I start checking it at 20 minutes and then every few minutes after that. I also let the meat rest for plenty of time, at least an hour. It doesn't need to be piping hot when it's eaten. A 1 kg fillet is enough for 6 to 8 of my moderate-eating  friends (and as there were only five of us this year, Jonathan and I managed to get two more delicious small dinners from it).

Fillet of beef
(Lesley Hill)

1 fillet of beef
enough soft butter or oil to coat fillet lightly
grainy mustard
a few cloves of garlic
red wine for roasting dish

Take the fillet out of the fridge an hour before starting to prepare it.
Heat a large heavy frypan thoroughly.
Smear soft butter, or oil, very lightly all over the fillet.
When the pan is really hot, sear the fillet very quickly all over.
Using the back of a tablespoon, coat it all over with grainy mustard and some crushed garlic.
Put it in on a rack in a roasting dish and cover it lightly with a teatowel.
About two hours before you want to eat, set the oven to 220C.
When it reaches the temperature, put in the fillet and turn the oven down to 200C (fan-forced).

After 20 minutes, use a meat thermometer to check the temperature in the middle.
For me, the perfect temperature for medium rare - still really bright pink, but not bloody - is about 60C. The juices that come out of the hole where the meat thermometer went in will be pink but not bright red.
The finger test is useful too: it should be a little resistant when you press it.
If you want it a little more done, but still a bit pink, 63-65C is about right.
Once it starts getting near the desired temperature, it goes up quite fast, so if it needs just a little more cooking, check every 3 minutes. This year my just-over-1 kg fillet took slightly under 30 minutes.
Rest the fillet for 15 minutes, collecting any juices and adding them to the wine in the pan (see below).
To make some jus (rather than gravy), after you take out the fillet, add a glass of red wine to the dish and put it back for a few minutes to bubble up, then scrape the dish. (If you forget, as I often do, you can do this bit at the end - put the dish on the cooktop to heat the wine instead.)
Once the fillet has rested for 15 minutes, put it on a warm platter and cover it lightly with foil until ready to carve.

Of course I forgot to take a photo. Too bad. You'll just have to take my word for how good those slices looked.
     Here's my friend Lynne's delicious trifle instead, with the trifle recipe from my memoir underneath.

Proper trifle
(From The Colour of Food: A memoir of life, love and dinner, Awa Press, 2014)
In my opinion jelly has no place in a proper trifle, but sherry is essential – I prefer medium to sweet. The trifle sponge needs to be dry and I buy it, as my mother did. Dark berries are the best fruit to use because their colour and sharpness contrast so well with the sponge, custard and cream. My mother used custard powder but real egg custard tastes better. The cornflour in the recipe prevents the custard curdling and makes it slightly thicker, though it’s still thinner and lighter than the ready-made custard alternative.

For the custard (makes about 700 ml):
6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornflour
750 ml standard milk
2–4 tablespoons sugar (depending how sweet you like it)
1 large vanilla pod, split or 2 teaspoons vanilla essence

·     Beat yolks with a fork. Mix cornflour with a little cold milk in a small bowl.
·     Pour milk into a saucepan which can fit well over another pan of water. Add vanilla and sugar. Heat slowly to boiling point, stirring with a wooden spoon.
·     Remove from heat and take out vanilla pod. Pour milk onto yolks, stirring well. Add cornflour mixed with milk and stir well.
·     Return mixture to pan and heat over simmering water, stirring gently, until it thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon, and there is no taste of cornflour.
·     Pour into a jug and cool thoroughly before using, with a piece of cling-film pressed down onto the surface of the custard to prevent skin forming.

For the trifle:
700 g dark berries, one kind or mixed, fresh or frozen
caster sugar to taste
1 large trifle sponge
6 tablespoons medium sherry
700 ml custard, home-made or bought 
300 ml cream
deep glass serving bowl (preferably with a wide base, so that the sponge at the bottom is a similar width to the other layers - Lynne's was perfect)

·     If using frozen berries, take out ahead of time and defrost before using.
·     Place berries in a wide shallow dish. Sprinkle with enough sugar to achieve desired sweetness. (Slightly tart berries taste better.) Leave for 1 hour.
·     Drain off juice. If there is more than ½ cup juice, reduce carefully over a high heat. Pour it back over berries and cool thoroughly.
·     At least 2 hours ahead of serving, break sponge into rough squares and fit into as even a layer as possible in base of serving bowl. Sprinkle evenly with sherry and leave for 1 hour.
·     Cover with a thick layer of berries and juice, then a thick layer of custard.
·     Cover with cling-film and leave in refrigerator.
·     Take out 30 minutes before serving. Just before serving, whip cream and spread over or around the custard, or serve it on the side (as Lynne did).