Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Mustard-Braised Brussels Sprouts


January has so much potential to be rubbish. Christmas is over, and everyone's a bit hungover and a bit podgy; all the Christmas decorations are taken down and put away, yet you still keep stabbing your foot on pine needles which miraculously resist the hoover. Your last pay-cheque is oh so very long ago, and there are weeks and weeks until your next will arrive and save you from the inevitable Christmas spending hangover. It's still bloody cold, dark and drizzly, and the compensating glow of Christmas lights has been cruelly removed. And then people stupidly compound their misery by doomed efforts to stop drinking or start running or go on diets.

So, yes, January could be pretty depressing. But it would be completely impossible to depress me now in New (!) House (!), so I'm still irritatingly perky. It's a new year! A new start! Daffodils are in the shops, Hot Cross Buns are coming soon and it's already getting lighter as I leave work. Plus, you know, we have moved into our new house. This is a good time!

I've always loved rib-sticking winter food (ahem, Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder, Butternut and Chestnut Risotto, Spiced Chocolate Tart and Spiced Ginger Flapjacks, I could go on) but to prevent January slipping into the slough of despond, I think it's time to brighten up. Sharper, livelier flavours are the key to stopping January from feeling like an endless Narnia of winter without Christmas. The Clementine Cheesecake was a first step but these brussels show exactly what I mean - much as I adore the Christmas dinner bacon/chestnut/sprout combo, this recipe from Smitten Kitchen just seemed livelier.

And the result? The sprouts were delicious - but way, way overcooked for my tastes. I'd worried that would happen and I cut her suggested cooking time accordingly, but they still came out pretty mushy. As for the sauce, I realized pretty quickly that it was identical to the one that my mum makes to go with pork, and my friend makes to go with chicken. So slightly less bright and new than I was expecting, then. Never mind! It was still delicious, we're still in our new house, and February starts tomorrow. New house!  

Mustard-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
For 2
about 12-14 brussels sprouts, peeled and halved, depending on how many you think you can eat  
- butter, olive oil, salt and pepper
- half a glass of white wine
- half a chicken or vegetable stock cube
- an onion, finely sliced
- a couple of tablespoons of cream (we had double but single, creme fraiche, sour etc would all be fine)
- a tablespoon or so of dijon mustard (we also added in some grainy, just because we like it)
- a handful of chopped fresh parsley
Melt a knob of butter and a drizzle of oil in a big frying pan over a medium heat, then add the sprouts. Grind over some salt and pepper and brown them for 5 minutes or so, tossing around every few minutes. Add the onion, wine and stock cube, pour over boiling water to cover the sprouts, and bring to the boil. Then simmer the whole lot gently, covered, for about 10 minutes. Go five minutes longer still if you like your sprouts really mushy (we don't). 
At the end of that time, test to check that the brussels are tender to a fork - then pour in the cream and stir well over the heat for a couple of minutes. Stir in the mustard and parsley and serve. 

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Clementine Cheesecake


When I was little and there was something great on the horizon - Christmas, a birthday, a special trip - I used to look forward to it so eagerly that when the longed-for day arrived, it was invariably a massive anti-climax. Even if the event itself was brilliant, nothing could ever have lived up to the fantasies I'd concocted in my head. But now I'm a grown-up, things have changed. I've just achieved something I've longed for and it is absolutely bloody brilliant.




Yes, after whinging at you and everyone else I know for months and months, we have FINALLY moved into our new house! We have our own front door. Our own fireplace. Our own garden, and garden shed; walls, windows and window-boxes. We can cook in our own kitchen, watch our own telly and sleep in our own bed. And despite the fact that I've been anticipating this moment for days and weeks and months, it is so much better than I even imagined. I imagined it would be wonderful. And it's better.




For the first parental lunch party, we wanted something for pudding which would be fresh, light and, most importantly, which could be prepared the night before. An abundance of cream cheese in the fridge suggested a cheesecake, and as Mr DIne at Mine made the startling revelation that he doesn't like baked cheesecakes, a fridge one it had to be. 




I can't get enough clementines in winter (I choose to think that they're inoculating me from colds and flu) so I wanted to try making a clementine one, but it seems that no one else in the world agreed with me. At least, no one who's putting recipes on the internet. So I went the time-honoured route of finding a simple-looking recipe and hacking it - and, if I say so myself, it worked brilliantly. And so much easier than a baked one! No water bath, no cracks, no trauma. 




But the real reason why we chose to make a cheesecake is shown in these pictures. Notice how they look like a Which? catalogue? All appliances and high-shine gadgetry? These are our wedding presents - locked away in storage for seven long months while we waited for our new home. Now we're in! In our new home, new kitchen and new chance to pick up our life where it left off in September. We're finally opening up our presents, stroking our new cutlery and plates, making up the bed with fresh, starched sheets and playing with our new, whizzy gadgets. It's bliss. Living in our own house is bliss!


 


Clementine Cheesecake
Adapted from here


For the base
- 100g digestive biscuits
- 25g demerara sugar
- 50g butter, melted


For the filling
- 500g full fat cream cheese
- 100g icing sugar (we didn't have any, so just used caster)
- the juice of three clementines and half a lemon
- 200ml double cream


Crush the biscuits into fine crumb - either in a new food processor (!), or just with a big, heavy rolling pin. Stir in the sugar, then add the melted butter and mix well. Pour it out into a 20cm springform tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon, pushing it up slightly around the edge. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.


Beat together (in our new Kitchen Aid! Or, you know, a bowl) the cream cheese, sugar, juice and cream, until well combined. Taste to check if it's sweet enough or clementine-y enough, then get out the base from the  fridge and flop the creamy mix on top. Smooth it out, swirl the top, then put the whole thing in the fridge for at least an hour (it'll happily sit for a day or so). I put some slices of peeled clementine on top and I could have used more, to be honest, so be generous. 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Cheese Straws




When I first started this blog, I was determined never to write any of those "sorry I haven't blogged for a while" posts. You know the ones, where people trot out a succession of lame excuses for months of silence, all of which ultimately boil down to the fact that they got bored or busy? I always hated those. It felt so presumptuous, as though they assumed that the world was waiting with baited breath for their next momentous utterance, as though they had to apologise to their (possibly single digit) readership for depriving them of the blog's company. No, no, I was never going to do one of them. Never complain, never explain, Kate Moss got that much right.


So rather than explain this unprecedented hiatus at Dine at Mine, or complain about the reasons, I'll offer a quick haiku. 


Post-Christmas torpor
Meets work promotion head on:
Dine at Mine loses.



Right! Let's talk about food, shall we?


 


This is possibly the most inappropriate recipe which I could possibly choose for the start of January. It's ludicrously unhealthy, designed for parties, and perfect as a little unholy smackerel to nibble with something chilled and bubbly. And, of course, I'm not talking about chilled mineral water. Just because everyone abstains from alcohol in January doesn't mean I can't remember the magnum of champagne that featured - among many other bottles - in our New Year's Eve celebrations. Come to think of it, that might be one of the reasons why we're abstaining from alcohol now. I admit nothing.


 


But I'm going to tell you about these anyway, because they were quick, easy and delicious. To be honest, when you're working with puff pastry and cheese the results are always going to be good. But I added poppy seeds and cheese flakes to these cheese straws and they turned out even more delectable than normal - albeit just as unhealthy.


 


Another huge advantage is that they were fun to make, so you could always give them a go under the pretence that they're a sort of craft. That would fulfil any New Year's resolution to get more hobbies. And didn't you also make a resolution to keep your flat tidy? Looks like you'd better eat them up too. Warm from the oven is great - you can, ahem, trust me on that. And you know, if you want to try combining them with a teeny weeny glass of booze? Don't worry, I won't tell. After all, January is a very looooong month.


 


Cheese Straws
- I pack of all-butter ready-made puff pastry
- a good hunk of cheddar (ideally extra-mature, so it has a really strong flavour)
- an egg, beaten
- a few good handfuls of poppy seeds
- dried chilli flakes
Preheat the oven to about 190C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Roll out the puff pastry to a thin rectangle and grate a heavy layer of cheddar on top. Fold the pastry in half and roll again until it's reasonably thin, so that the cheese forms a layer in the middle of the pastry.
Brush beaten egg over the top and scatter with more grated cheese, poppy seeds and a reasonable scattering of chilli flakes. Cut into strips and transfer to the lined baking tray, then twist each end until you've made two or three turns along the length of the straw (this is really much easier to see in the photo than to describe). Keep going with the rest of the strips, positioning them on the baking tray with enough room around each one for them to puff up as they bake. You can pick up any fallen bits of topping and drop them back on top of the straws, but hopefully the egg wash will have helped them to stick in place.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and crunchy. Then either eat immediately (tempting) or transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before whacking them in an air tight container. They should last for a few days, and can be gently warmed back to crunchiness in the oven.
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