Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Looks Like Shit, But That's Not It #1

Today in Looks Like Shit But That's Not It: Chicken in Black Bean Lava!

There's not much background to this dish: my fiancé likes beans and we try to eat relatively healthy recently, as serious cutting back on booze is not an option. So, here it goes.


  • chicken breasts, about 1lb / 500g
  • black beans, soaked and cooked or canned, about 1 can / glass
  • 1/2 red onion (or one small)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 chili pepper (or more, if you like it hot)
  • 1/2 glass olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Heat the oven to 190C / 375F / gas mark 5

Using a blender, combine the olive oil with chopped onion, garlic and chili (you can also squeeze in a half of lime and/or add some corriander leaves), then add the beans and pulse until at least half of it turns into a smooth paste. Take an oven friendly dish and place the chicken breasts there after rubbing some olive oil, salt and pepper on them. Now, cover them completely with the paste. Roast for about 45-50 minutes, watch an episode of Breaking Bad or something, think of how I went all Walter White on Mexican inspirations. Voila.

Now you can serve your loved ones with a dish that looks truly disgusting, but, surprisingly, the texture and flavour are quite great. The bean coat should be crispy on the outside and soft closer to the chicken. The chicken itself, when I made it, remained soft and moist, as it should be.

PS: the black bean paste itself is a great dip or spread!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

test - baking bread in silicone form

I grew tired with removing pieces of parchment from every bread I bake, so I decided to see how a silicone form would work. This one is the 22,5 cm Bake It form from Duka. And it worked pretty great.

The bread may seem flat, but it's not the form's fault - I fell asleep while the dough was proofing and it collapsed before I put it in the oven and had no more strength to grow. That's the thing with baking your own bread - you need to be patient and alert at the same time.

Back to the form - the best thing about it is the removal - with just one move you take out a neat loaf of bread, it doesn't stick at all. I imagined it would require a bit less cleaning, but, to be honest, that was a bit unreasonable - you really just need to wipe it once and rinse it properly.

As for the baking, the bread was baked evenly throughout and less burnt on the sides, as it tends to be in metal forms. All in all, I consider the test to be successful and I'll definitely be using the silicone form again.

UPDATE: my second attempt has shown me, that it wasn't entirely my fault that the bread was flat - because the form is soft, any slight movement causes the dough to lose air and collapse. So I have to switch from proofing it in the oven to some other place, so that I don't have to move it around too much.

UPDATE 2: using the silicone form as a lining for a metal form seems to be the perfect solution, bake on.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

cheap, easy and fast - a whore of a dish

This is the cheapest and fastest meal that I know and, in my opinion, it tastes great, especially if you love pasta and spring onions like I do.

All you need is some pasta (preferably spaghetti, and don't try to save a few cents by buying the cheapest one, it's not worth it), cottage cheese, chives and one egg. If you don't have the time to spare or you just don't want to eat white carbs or whatever, just substitute the pasta with another egg.

Cook the pasta and chop the spring onions in the meantime, throw the pasta on a heated frying pan, quickly add the rest, season with salt and pepper, stir until the egg is ready and there, it's ready.

We call this type of dish in Poland "student food", so if you're not in a hurry go on and drink a not-too-expensive beer with it, like I did today.

I realized I didn't address this issue earlier - the eggs. I only use eggs from free range chickens. I don't want to sound holier-than-thou or anything, but this day and age you really voice your opinions through money and money only. By buying eggs from caged chickens you show your support to this stupid cruelty, but if you pay some more for free range eggs, you show the people to make the effort to produce them in a humane way, that it's the right way to go. And, believe me, those eggs taste much, much better.

Friday, April 19, 2013

cherish your bread

The first bread after a long break is like the first crepe - you don't really want to show it to anyone, you just eat it as fast as you can and pretend it was never there. Now, the second bread, remembering the disaster from the day before, the second one you want to treat as good as you can, it's so pretty, it grew so nicely, the crust is so crispy...

My second bread this year was, as usual, spelt on rye, this time with some pumpkin seeds. I baked it in the morning and without really waiting for it to cool down, made breakfast with it.

I went with fresh spinach (which I only rinsed in boiling water), put two loafs of warm bread on top, then a slice of bacon and sprinkled it generously with some grated gruyere (with a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg). I grilled it until the cheese melted (about 3 minutes), put a poached egg on top, a pinch of salt here and there, some freshly ground pepper and voila.

It took much less time than I thought it would and also it was more than enough for breakfast, more like a lunch serving for me, actually. And it was really, really great.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

waking up

There's something about spring, the sunshine, the smell in the air, that makes me want to bake bread. This will be the first one this year, the usual - spelt on rye leaven. I dug up the leaven I've been saving since the first time I baked bread and used it to set up this one. Now I just have to wait.

The Beef Wellington experiment finale (so far)

Beef Wellington is one of my favourite meals to make - it's relatively easy to make and the effects are absolutely stunning. But I knew, while simplicity is key, I can still make it better.
I went through all recipes for Beef Wellington from Gordon Ramsay I could find and combined the most interesting elements while also adjusting it to what's available in Poland. So, here it is:

  • a good beef fillet of around 0,5kg / 1lb
  • some olive oil
  • 150g / 5oz champignons
  • 1tsp butter
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (not too big, they're really aromatic)
  • a bottle of dry white wine, refrigerated (come on, who'd want to drink warm white wine?)
  • 7 slices prosciutto
  • 250 g / 0,5 lb pack puff pastry, thawed if frozen - and this is important - you can only use butter based puff pastry - margarine just won't to, believe me, I tried
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water
  • freshly ground pepper
  • coarse sea salt

oven: 220C/fan 200C/gas 7

Open the wine bottle and pour yourself a glass - you need to see if it's right, don't you? Then start with the mushrooms - clean them, cut them and throw them in a food processor - you'll want them chopped in little pieces, but not blended. Melt some butter on a pan and throw in the mushrooms, add the thyme sprig and a splash of wine. Now that you don't need the wine anymore you can drink the rest. If there's someone in your kitchen that doesn't get in your way - share.
Now, the thing about the thyme sprig is, it will add a hell lot of aroma - you don't want it too big, as it will simply kill the flavour of the mushrooms. Fry the mushrooms until they loose all the liquid (remember to move them around every once in a while, so that they don't stick to the pan and/or burn).

When ready, take out the thyme sprig, put the mushrooms in a bowl and just wipe the pan with a paper towel - I'm not a fan of doing the dishes, so I try to use as little things as possible when cooking. It's your home, not a restaurant, it's mostly about your convenience and fun. Now comes a quite important step - you have to "close" the beef, so that it doesn't "leak" later - if it does, it's not only going to lose a lot of flavour, but also the pastry will be soggy and no-one want's that. So heat up some olive oil on the pan and throw in the fillet, just sear it quickly on every side, so that you don't see any redness lurking on the surface, set it aside and season it with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

This is when we're getting to the assembly. For that you will need cling film and a lot of patience if, like me, you are utterly terified of using cling film. So, unroll some cling film, let's say 2x longer than the meat you have. Place the prosciutto slices on the cling film, so that they slightly overlap. Eat the last one or feed it to your non-annoying companion. Then spread the mushrooms on the ham and put the meat on those layers. Now gently wrap it all up - remember not to overlap cling film with the rest - it has to be the outer layer. Then grab the excess foil on the sides and twist it as strong as possible - this is important for shaping the thing evenly, and regular shapes seem to be key to impressive presentation. Put the meat in the refridgerator and go watch an episode of some show.

If at this point you have a thawed margarine-based puff pastry laying in front of you, throw it out and go buy one made on butter. Don't worry about the meat in your fridge, it can stay there until tomorrow if it has to. Now that you have proper puff pastry, roll it out on the table and prepare another sheet of cling film. Strip the meat from the foil and put it in the middle of the puff pastry. Use the egg wash on all the sides of the pastry then wrap the meat in it as if you would wrap a present. Cut the excess pastry away (but not too much, as it won't hold when it grows in the oven). Now repeat what you did with the cling film before - wrap, squeeze tightly and put in the fridge.

At this point you can do whatever - you can leave the prepared wellington in the fridge until next evening, or just for one hour, as you wish. When you take it out just paint it with the remaining egg wash and put it in the pre-heatet oven for about half an hour. Take it out, let it rest for 15 minutes, amaze your guests. The last time (picture above) I served it with this amazing salad from Sass and Veracity and it worked great together.

Recipe notes:

  • use butter based puff pastry, never margarine - unless you're vegan there's no reason to poison yourself with that stuff, but if you were vegan you wouldn't be reading this recipe, would you?
  • don't add too much thyme to the mushrooms as it will dominate the whole thing
  • I've read recipes for a 1kg (2lbs) piece of meat - don't do that, it doesn't make much sense - if you want to serve more people just make two smaller wellingtons, like I did recently (fed 6 and had a small bit for breakfast)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

growing up

Before the long overdue end of winter I realized a change occured in me - I just couldn't wait for the summer, not because of the weather, but because of the fresh vegetables. I can't stop thinking about asparagus, fennel, green beans, artichokes, new potatoes and what I will do to them once I get them in my hands. All the pasta, the soups, the shaving, the grilling... I consider it a sign of me growing up, not that I can really explain it. I seek out more and more challenges in the kitchen and vegetables make for a vast world of amazing possibilities.