Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Do Ottolenghi recipes work?

Like most people who like cooking I've ended up with an Ottolenghi cookbook. I'm very happy about this. The recipes sound enticing, the pictures look great and the heritage is all there. But actually cooking the recipes, that's a different story.

My first venture was marinated turkey breast with cumin, coriander and white wine. In the little bit of blurb that goes with the recipe it suggests that the same sauce would work very well with lamb. The first clue that all may not be as it seems is that sentence, "would work very well with lamb", not 'does work very well with lamb'.

And it didn't. The marinade hadn't penetrated the meat at all despite the recommended 24 hour marinading time. In fact, the marinade seemed to have diminished the taste of the lamb. Heating and reducing the marinade to achieve a sauce wasn't successful either.

Maybe my mistake was to try this with lamb rather than turkey, but the recipe did say it would go well with either. Perhaps I'll try it with turkey one of these days, but turkey just isn't a meat I think about eating very often.

Undeterred I had a crack at another Ottolenghi recipe from the same book (Plenty) - Puy lentils with sour cherries, bacon and Gorgonzola. It's not an everyday sounding dish, but not one which demands the use of unusual ingredients that are hard to get a hold of.

Again, the write-up is rich with promise - "the sweet, sour and salty flavour...make a heady starter". All very enticing, and simple enough to make. But the end result just doesn't deliver. Interestingly this dish does not receive the glossy photograph treatment, perhaps because it doesn't look great - essentially a bowl of lentils with some blue cheese on top. The flavour? What you'd expect, sort of. You can taste everything, the lentils, the bacon, the sour cherries and the cheese. But I'm not convinced that they work together as a dish. I wouldn't cook it again, let's put it that way. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Madhur Jaffrey's Sri Lankan Beef Smore

The subtitle for this could be "When recipes go wrong!". Or maybe, "When recipes aren't tested", or even "Make sure you proof read".

We got this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Easy book. It's well presented with pictures that just make you want to cook the recipes. And the titles of the recipes are pretty good as well. Sri Lankan Beef Smore - sounds exotic, unusual and right up my street.

The recipe:

Braising beef - chuck, blade or brisket
Salt and pepper
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds - we used ground as we didn't have the seeds
4 tablespoons oil
5 cm stick of cinnamon
1 large onion - chopped
5 cm piece of ginger - grated
4 cloves garlic - chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
350ml stock - beef or chicken
1 teaspoon cayenne
250ml coconut milk

All good so far, as long as you've got a decent store cupboard. The problem lies with the instructions. The recipe calls for the toasting and grinding of the seeds. No problem. But then it doesn't tell you what to do with them! A bit of an oversight.

So we decided to treat it like the Jamie Oliver brisket chili recipe, and rubbed the ground seeds into the meat. Then it's into the pan to brown. Whilst that's doing fry the onion, ginger and garlic with the cinnamon.

After a few minutes and the vinegar, stock, cayenne, salt (lots of salt) and then the beef. Bring to the boil, cover and put in a low oven until the meat is tender - which will depend on how much you're cooking. For 2, about 2 and a half hours, for 4 more like 3 and a half. Add the coconut milk 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

In the end it turned out ok. Not great, not fantastic and not really very hot. But ok. If I did it again I'd have to throw some chillies in there. Hot ones. But there's other things I'd do before doing this again - no doubt the subject of my next blog posts!