maandag 22 november 2010

Recipe request: Churros

I am the one generally responsible for what is on our daily menu at home. Sometimes it can be a bit daunting, trying to come up with interesting variation in the diet and not falling back to my all time favourites. I am not only open, but encourage suggestions but they all seem happy to leave the task to me.
It is that I know that my family are quite satisfied with what I come up with, because my 'boys' are not exactly generous with their compliments. Sadly, in general I only hear when something doesn't go down too well- typical men! Comments about the dishes are not often made unless I initiate. Usually with a simple Dutch "lekker?" don't ask me to translate- it isn't really 'tasty' that is smakelijk, it isn't 'nice' that is more leuk. But on the other hand, contented faces- and empty plates speak volumes. And they have been known to lick their plates- something I don't encourage!
Recently I got a recipe request from my youngest son that I became quite intrigued by- Churros. These are Spanish dough-snacks in the form of sticks that I had never actually eaten. The very next time I saw them on a street stall I immediately bought a portion- purely for research mind- not because I actually wanted to eat these sweet smelling long fluted sticks. It was interesting watching them being made by the street vendor and judging by the long queue, they are pretty popular. They are made per customer request so piping hot and fresh. I wasn't disappointed- these 'doughnuts' were quite pleasant, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and coated in cinnamon sugar- delicious.
Before I had the chance to try to reproduce Churros myself my son decided with a group of friends to try it himself. I think they turned out pretty ok- apart from a (my) ripped piping bag that is.

I did a bit of research and discovered that Churros are found all over Spain and often eaten as a breakfast treat with a cup of chocolate milk (thicker than we are accustomed to drinking) The ultimate experience is, so they say, to dunk your Churros!
The dough is prepared similar to choux pastry. The snacks can be straight or curled, and often made with wheat four or alternatively potato. It seems that they are becoming quite popular at festivals, fairs, and at (Disney) attraction parks. They are not only found in Spain but also Mexico and other Latin American countries, as well as USA, and is also available in the form of a 'mix'.
The best way to eat them is hot and fresh from the fryer- they can't really be re-heated- but don't worry- there will probably be none leftover anyway!
Next time you spot them try them and experience a part of Spanish culture and then try making them yourself . They are absolutely delicious but be warned- quite more-ish. You'll be craving for your next 'fix' soon enough.

A photo taken by my other son last week in Spain. A high calorie breakfast with real Spanish Churros central.

As you would expect from any fried snack- Churros are not a dish for the health conscious or weight-watchers among us!
To be honest I actually forgot my promise to replicate the Churros- (is this why they don't make requests?) until the other day. I was watching Nigella's kitchen she was true to form,- it is an absolute a joy to watch her indulge on calorie rich food. Guess what was on the menu? Yes! Churros!
Her recipe was so simple with minimal ingredients- I decided to try it at the next opportunity. The dough/ batter is literally made in minutes. It then needs to be squeezed out of piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle to become long fluted sticks. This is what ensures that the Churrros are of the correct texture (crispy outside/ soft inside)
I was quite surprised that her recipe was eggless and googled to discover that authentic Spanish Churros doesn't actually contain egg. Or cinnamon.
The indulgent Nigella paired her Churros up with chocolate sauce- I didn't. (this time) I haphazardly mixed a bit of caster sugar with some cinnamon- you have to draw the line somewhere- they is too much of a good thing.
Although they actually turned out quite well and they are quite fun and simple to prepare- I will try adding a bit of butter and maybe an egg next time for a bit of nutrition and variation. Or even a grated lemon/ orange or perhaps a savoury version. They would certainly be a great party pleasers. Cheap and cheerful.
Where does the name Churros come from you may wonder- well the Navajo-Churro sheep of course- take a look at these horns! The recipe was developed by shepherds tending their sheep.
Luckily I found the Nigella recipe here so no need to have to jot everything down while pausing the video recorder!
If you want to go the whole way click over to Nigella and enjoy dunking your Churros in chocolate. If you want to keep it simple this time read on.

Nigella's Churros
125g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp olive oil
250ml freshly boiled water
A mix of caster sugar and cinnamon to your own taste.

To make the churros, put the flour into a bowl and stir in the baking powder, then beat in the olive oil and freshly boiled water from a kettle. Keep mixing until you have a warm, sticky dough, and leave to rest for about 10 minutes or for as long as it takes for the corn (or vegetable) oil to heat up.
When you are ready, load up a piping bag with a large star-shaped nozzl and fill with the churros dough. In my opinion the star nozzle I used wasn't quite big enough. And can you believe I actually ripped another brand new piping bag! I may use my aluminum cookie gun next time.
Squeeze short lengths (I made longer ones than Nigella) of dough into the hot oil, snipping them off with a pair of scissors as you go.
I turned them once during cooking. Once they turn a rich golden-brown, fish them out of the oil with a slotted spoon, spatula or tongs onto a baking sheet lined with some kitchen roll.
Nigella recommends: To keep the cooked churros warm while you fry the remaining dough, blot with kitchen roll, transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in a low oven (100C/220F/Gas ¼). Even if you want to eat them immediately, they do need 5–10 minutes to rest before you eat them, to allow them to set inside.
(As it is such a small batch I didn't bother)
Just before serving, toss all the hot churros in the sugar and cinnamon mixture and shake them about to get a good covering.

Apologies for the awful photo's- the Churros were gobbled up before I could get a good shot of them!
The best laugh of the day was that hubby misunderstood me- he thought he heard me say I was making 'Gyros' instead of 'Churros'. Being a meat lover he was needless to say rather disappointed......can't please everyone....

zaterdag 6 november 2010

From sticky rice to perfect risotto

What is your biggest fear in the kitchen? Everyone surely must have something, a dish or ingredient that constantly goes wrong. I certainly do, or dare I say I did. Don't asume it is something elaborate like a Soufflé but one of the all time basics- RICE, YES really! Sticky / gooey/ wet or worse unevenly cooked- believe me- my family has experienced it all!
But what is more satisfying than facing up to your culinary fears (how could one possible scrap rice from the diet being a staple food for nearly one half of the world's population!?) and finding the skills to conquer them!
I used to have a big problem with Quiches which I quite successfully managed to overcome but as far as rice is concerned, just when I think I've mastered it and I'm used to turning out light, fluffy, perfect separate grained rice, I go and spoil it by producing a batch that makes me what to go and hang my head in shame!
Last year I held a Indian themed dinner party- it was a great success- apart from my Basmati rice- which was an absolute disaster! Overcooked and mushy on the bottom but hard on the top! OK it hasn't happened since but it shouldn't happen at all! How difficult can it be? The fault was in the pan (don't believe the saying a good craftsman never blames his tools!), because I was catering for a large group I used a different pan with a thinner bottom than I am accustomed to using.
For those who still struggle with rice see below for the absolute foolproof way of cooking rice. (as long as you use the right pan that is ;-) )

Something I very much enjoy is a Risotto. Because of my rice phobia I had for a long time I avoided making Risotto. The thought alone made me nervous! I had only ever made it a handful of times but now it is almost weekly on the menu!
A bit worrying is the saying: "risotto waits for no one" It must be cooked, served and eaten at once! Failure to do so will result in disappointment and disaster- as it continues to cook in it's own heat and become sticky and dry. I've often wondered how they are prepared to such perfection in restaurants, I understand they are 'half' cooked and finished off to order.
Risotto making is quite labour intensive (but not nearly as bad a polenta) It does require constant attention and regular stirring however- stick to this and all will be well (how do you like my positive thinking?!) I have made very bad risotto in the past, but with my new found confidence with rice, it now turns out perfect every time!.
I became particularly fond of Risotto during my visits to Italy. Not surprising since it originates from Northern Italy. It has restaurant status there. You can usually choose in every restaurant out of a wide range on the menu. It is so creamy, flavourful and satisfying. It a wonderful comfort' food, ideal at this time of the year.

The type of rice to use in risotto is the medium/short round grain. Varieties include: Carnaroli, Vialone Nano and the more common Arborio. Strange enough the first two are the easiest to cook but a little more expensive. Risotto can be made with many kinds of vegetables, meats and herbs.
If you adhere to a few simple steps & add a ladle full of patience then YOU could be turning out the prima donna of Italian cuisine!.
Always use 'risotto' rice.
Never wash the rice prior to cooking!
Fry the rice in butter/oil before adding stock. Always use hot stock. Add the stock one ladle at a time, make use nearly all the water has been absorbed before adding more. Don't worry if you don't need all the liquid and if you don't have enough just boil some extra water.

Basic method for Risotto:
1. Start with the 'Soffritto' which is a mixture finely chopped vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and celery, that is sautéed in butter/olive oil and used as a base for many Italian dishes. Use a large wide pan and heat the oil/butter. Add the finely chopped onions and sweat them for several minutes (do not brown) Add garlic finely chopped celery or other vegetables.
2. Vegetables or meat that require longer cooking times should be added at this stage. (Sausage/ pumpkin/ butternut squash/ fennel /mushrooms/peppers)
3.Add the rice, increase the heat and fry for approx 4 minutes stirring well. This is known as 'toasting the rice' the rice should be fully coated with oil, and warmed through, and appear translucent (not brown!)
4. Add the wine/ vermouth, the alcohol will cook out quickly but the delicious essence will be left behind. And smell like heaven!
5. Once the wine/ vermouth has become absorbed, begin adding the hot stock. The water used to reconstitute dried mushrooms can also be used. Ladle for ladle Your pot should be at a constant, moderate heat throughout. As each addition of liquid becomes absorbed/ evaporates add more. You may have stock over or you may need to boil more water- no worries.
6. Add any vegetables, seafood, or meat that need short cooking heating though accordingly. (cooked/ smoked chicken/shrimps/ tomatoes/peas)
7.After 17 minutes begin tasting the rice at regular intervals, reduce the quantity of stock towards the end ( to 1/2 ladle) Generally it should be ready in 20 minutes. You are looking for 'al dente' rice but certainly not hard. It should have a creamy consistency.
8. Once you are satisfied with the rice and sauce you are ready for the final stage: 'mantecatura'. Turn off the heat and add a large knob of butter and parmesan cheese (if not using fish), stir well and let it sit for a few minutes.
9. Add extra herbs if desired i.e. parsley.
10. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve immediately.

This versatile recipe is easily adaptable to suit many ingredients. Once you have mastered the basic technique you are open to many delicious flavour combinations. Keep it simple with not too many flavours- very typical of Italian cuisine and it will be at it's very best. I have done a run on sausage meat, strange enough I'm not a great lover of sausages! You could also use (smoked)chicken, or bacon, prawns even left over meats or even go vegetarian. Further recipes coming soon. Great combinations are so easy to come up with. Let a particular herb lead the taste or try the flavourful gorgonzola cheese as basis. I certainly will never bore of Risotto.
I use fresh herbs. I am lucky enough to have Thyme, Sage and Rosemary available all year round in my garden. You could of course substitute dried herbs.

Sausage thyme risotto
Sorry no photo's of this one, these were on the laptop that got stolen. This is a fairly basic recipe flavoured with fresh Thyme. I think this was one of my first risotto successes.

Serves 4
300gr Arborio rice
850ml stock, hot
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1-2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
olive oil
500gr sausages, skin removed cut in slices/pieces
100ml vermouth
few sprigs of fresh thyme
chopped parsley about 1 tbsp.
40gr butter
40gr parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Follow the steps for basic Risotto above adding chopped/skinned sauages at step 2 and cook for a few minutes. Add thyme leaves stripped of the stalks.
Continue until step 10 with adding parsley/extra thyme at step 9
Serve with a sprig of thyme.

Chirozo thyme risotto with cherry tomatoes
The sausages I used in this recipe were bought in AH, (five in a packet) This is certainly one of my favourites. The cherry tomatoes add a little explosion of flavour. (don't forget to pierce them or they will literally ‘explode’ when you try to fork them)

Serves 4
300gr Arborio rice
850ml stock, hot
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1-2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
paprika powder (sweet)
350gr Chirozo sausage, skin removed cut in slices/pieces
150ml vermouth
8-10 cherry tomatoes, kept whole but pierced
few sprigs of fresh thyme
chopped parsley, approx 1-2 tbsp.
40gr butter
40gr parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Follow the steps for basic Risotto above adding chopped/skinned chirozo at step 2 and cook for a few minutes. Add thyme leaves stripped of the stalks and paprika.
Continue with the steps, adding the whole tomatoes when the risotto is almost cooked. Add parsley/extra thyme at step 9
Serve with a sprig of thyme and a sprinkling of parsley.

Butternut squash risotto with sage
I love pumpkin and butter nut squash. This year I even managed to grow a few in my garden. As I did with the pumpkin pasta I chopped the butter nut in varying sizes In this way you get a creamy sauce with an occasional bite of pumpkin. Pumpkin and sage go very well indeed. Don't forget to crisp the sage leaves for topping prior to cooking. This is a lovely colourful creamy risotto. My photographs (still learning to work with my new camera) certainly does it no justice at all. The colours are vibrant in real life!

Serves 4
300gr Arborio
1 onion, diced
1 small butternut squash (or small pumpkin), peel and dice in varying sized cubes
3 sausages, skinned, cut into slices
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
150ml vermouth
850ml stock, hot
sage leaves, washed and thoroughly dried or dried sage (I used about 20 small leaves)
knob butter
100ml creme fraiche
30gr parmesan (I use Grana Padano)
salt and pepper
chili flakes
olive oil / Excellent chili oil
pine nuts (optional) toasted in a dry pan

Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry about 9 of the (washed and thoroughly dried) sage leaves until crisp. Place on a piece of kitchen roll.
Using the same pan, add a little more olive oil and begin with the steps for basic risotto.
When you get to Step 2 add first the butternut squash fry for a few minutes, then add the sausages, remaining sage leaves, finely chopped and a shake of chili flakes.
Proceed through the Steps, at Stage 8 (add the creme fraiche with the butter and cheese) until completed.
Serve with the crispy sage leaves, sprinkle with parmesan and chili oil. Pine nuts optional.

Rosemary Chirozo Risotto
This time chirozo combined with rosemary. You could use wine or vermouth but this time I opted for balsamic vinegar/ red wine vinegar. The crispy rosemary on top is absolutely delicious.

Serves 4
300gr Arborio rice
1 liter stock, hot
olive oil
5 chirozo sausages, skinned and sliced
2 red onions, finely diced
2 celery sticks finely diced
rosemary, handful, washed and thoroughly dried
4 small garlic, sliced finely
1/2 red bell pepper (capsicum) finely diced
paprika pepper (sweet)
4-5 tomatoes (or 9 whole cherry tomatoes pierced)
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
20gr parmesan
20gr butter
20gr pine nuts
olive oil/ Excellent chili olive oil

Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan for a few minutes (don't leave them- like I always do! They will burn quickly) Leave to cool.
Pick out 4 rosemary stalks. Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry the (washed and thoroughly dried) rosemary until crisp. Place on a piece of kitchen roll.
Using the same pan, add a little more olive oil and begin with the steps for basic risotto.
When you get to Step 2 add the chirozo sausages, remaining rosemary, finely chopped, red pepper and paprika.
At Step 4 substitute vermouth/ wine for balsamic/ red wine vinegar.
Add tomatoes about 5 minutes before you anticipate the rice will be cooked.
Serve with the crispy rosemary, pine nuts and a sprinkling of parmesan and chili oil if desired.

Perfect Basmati rice
From one type of rice to another.
If we are eating Indian I use Basmati rice and follow the "absorption method" this works for me, is simple and reliable. It is where just sufficient water is added to the rice resulting in all the water being fully absorbed by the rice. No wet sticky rice hooray. There is a ratio of 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups water.
You also need a fairly thick flat bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid. The rice will considerably increase in volume so make sure the pan is large enough. I love plain white rice, it is simple and fragrant, I never add salt or fats to the rice. Whether I rinse the rice prior to cooking or not depends on the directions on the packaging. Sometimes I soak the rice which does give good results if you have the time, but not absolutely necessary. The measured rice and water is brought to the boil, stirred the lid is placed in position, the temperature reduced and now you must resist peeking for 10 minutes. Try the rice, cook if necessary for a couple of minutes more but ten minutes is usually fine. Let stand for a minimum of ten minutes with the lid firmly in place and just before serving 'fluff' the rice.
If we are eating Thai, then I use Pandan rice which is stickier than Basmati. I still follow the absorption method as above.

And remember- if at first you don't succeed.....
The more you learn and practice, the more confident you will become.
Good Luck!