Modernist Cuisine mac & cheese
This is quite a revelation. It’s based on a simple idea: a cheese sauce is an emulsion, a smooth mixture of tiny particles of fat (from the cheese) evenly distributed through the water base of the sauce. But flour is a pretty poor quality emulsifying agent, so the fat particles clump together in larger lumps than we’d like, which can make makes the sauce pasty or gritty at worst. Even at best, it can still have a cloying mouthfeel.
So why not use a more powerful emulsifying agent? Modernist Cuisine suggests trisodium citrate, which is a commercial food additive. By molecular gastronomy standards, this recipe is very easy to make, requiring nothing more complex than a precision weighing scales (accurate down to 0.1 g), the additive itself (easily and cheaply available online, I paid £3 for a 500 g pot which is probably a lifetime’s supply) and an immersion blender.
I’ve made it a couple of times now and if anything the method is more straightforward than the traditional make-a-roux, add-milk, stir-in-cheese approach. You dissolve the trisodium citrate in cold water, bring to a simmer, and add grated cheese a spoonful at a time. Between each addition of cheese you blend the sauce with an immersion blender to ensure it is thoroughly mixed. The results are glorious: a perfectly smooth sauce which packs a real wallop of strong cheese flavour. And it passes my unofficial cheese sauce test — it’s so strong it’s hard at room temperature!
In the picture above, I added to the base sauce a caramelised leek and some chopped ham, stirred it through pasta, then baked with Panko breadcrumbs on top mixed with pecorino. The cheese mix was 80 g mature cheddar, 110 g gouda, and 20 g pecorino. This produced a good mixture of balanced flavours but of course you can take the cheese mix in any direction you want.
A simple and light barbecued dinner for a blazingly hot Sunday: Simon and Garfunkel grilled chicken (because it’s seasoned with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme…), caramelised baby leeks, caprese couscous salad. The chicken and leeks were cooked on the barbecue with applewood chips.
The herby dry-rubbed chicken was an experiment, the first time I’d tried this seasoning mix. It was very good and was a nice change from the more typical barbecue flavours like paprika, sugar, and cayenne. I think you could serve this as part of a meal with pulled pork or brisket or pork ribs and it would be able to hold its own, to still have a sense of identity.
Tomato, courgette and chorizo risotto
Very pleased with this, I’d was craving a tomato risotto for a while and improvised this together based on what I had in the fridge. To be fair, it’s hard to go far wrong with risotto…
Fried one courgette (diced), half an onion (diced), a clove of garlic (minced) and 100 g of cooking chorizo (also diced). Added the rice (200 g). Added about 4 Tbsp of double concentrate tomato puree and continued to fry briefly. Made the risotto as usual with chicken stock (about 0.75 l). At the end, I stirred in a few Tbsp of mascarpone cheese and some grated parmesan, left it to stand for a few minutes with a lid on, then stirred throughly before serving with roasted Tomkin tomatoes.
Lemon, garlic, and rosemary hasselback potatoes
This is long one of my favourite ways to cook potatoes, being surprisingly easy to do for a result that looks great and is uncommon enough to impress guests. You take a baking potato, slice a bit off one side so it sits flat, then make lots of parallel cuts almost — but not quite — all the way through. You can put a chopstick or wooden spoon on either side of the potato and use that as a guide for how deep to cut. Then roast as with a normal potato. You get fluffy roast-potato texture at the bottom, and crisp fried-potato texture at the top.
Tonight I tried a slightly different technique from Chris Scheuer that involves brushing the potatoes a few times during cooking with melted butter and oil infused with garlic, lemon zest, and rosemary. I tasted plenty of lemon in the finished potato but less garlic than I wanted (disclaimer: I really like garlic). I will probably revert back to my earlier method of placing a sliver of raw garlic into each cut in the potato next time.
One of my favourite things to eat (and by extension, cook) is a traditional British Sunday lunch and my go-to meat to roast is chicken (because I can’t afford a rib of beef ever week!) Of course, having gone to the effort of roasting a whole chicken for just me and Danielle, I typically choose a big one so there’s leftover meat to use in a quick weeknight dinner or two.
This means I’m often trying to come up with ways to use up leftover roast chicken, which is admittedly no bad problem to have. This week, I decided I was bored of fajitas and stir-fries, and I’d already used some of my leftovers to make a tomato pasta sauce we’d eaten with gnocchi. So I was searching for inspiration. Pies are another obvious answer for leftover meat of all kinds but it’s rather a lengthy process for a weeknight dinner, even with store-bought pastry.
So I decided to cheat, sort-of make the pie filling (but leave the pie out) and serve with some vegetables that I had lying around and needed eating up.
Here’s how I made the sauce, if you’re curious. Note that this was a rather improvised process, so all quantities are approximate.
I served this with some charred purple sprouting broccoli and some sweet potato wedges, roasted with cumin, paprika, and smoked sea salt.
Tonight’s dinner: haddock with leek and potato sauce and sautéed potatoes, from Heston Blumenthal At Home
My first chance to use both birthday gifts I received from my sister Hayley: a Kenwood hand blender (which I used to make the sauce) and a copy of Heston Blumenthal At Home (from which I took the recipe).
Turned out pretty good. Perhaps a little elaborate for a weeknight meal — the recipe (with some minor alterations) can be seen here if you’re curious. Wasn’t my prettiest plate of food; the fish had been manhandled by the fish counter staff in Morrisons so wasn’t holding together very well, unfortunately. I’m pleased with the composition of the plate, though. I’ve been putting a lot more work into how I present my food lately, and although I still have a long way to go, I feel like I’m at least making progress.
Dinner tonight: risotto alla milanese, roasted silverside of veal, glazed carrots
The risotto was by the numbers. The veal was the last piece I bought from a food festival late last year, left to languish in the freezer ever since; I wrapped it in bacon to roast it, as silverside is a pretty lean cut and the delicate veal meat needs some protective fat to protect it from drying out. The carrots were glazed to the recipe from Heston Blumenthal At Home, which means they are essentially deep fried in melted butter. I was fine with that, although I’m not planning on making a habit of cooking carrots this way for obvious health-related reasons. One small variation there: I swapped the sugar out for a touch of maple syrup.
The veal came from Bocaddon Farm, which means it’s ethical veal. It’s true that veal has a very bad reputation, with many Brits associating it with distasteful animal welfare issues on the Continent. But the fact is that veal is a byproduct of all dairy farms; the male calves born to the cows are often shot at birth, as many as 150,000 a year, because there is no market for them.
Farmers like Bocaddon Farm and Jimmy Doherty are trying to reverse that wastage by creating a domestic market for so-called “rose veal” (because the calves are fed normal cow feed, rather than the traditional milk, so the meat is pinkish rather than the more typical off-white). It’s certainly an argument that makes sense to me, and I’ll be looking out for rose veal in my local markets in the future.