The Brazillian GP – The final race of the season and some more street food!

November 29, 2011

So we’ve finally reached the end of the season and so it was time to celebrate with some Brazilian food. Brazilian cuisine draws on many influences, starting with Portuguese and also incorporating other European and African influences.

I enjoy tactile food and Brazil is another country with a great street food culture. As a result I chose to make two different snacks for us to nibble upon. The first dish was Coxinhas, deep fried chicken croquettes in the shape of little chicken thighs, and Acarajè, which are black eye pea fritters filled with onions and prawns.

The Coxinhas required the most preparation and so I started on these first.  In order to make 4 (2 each) I needed:

  • 125g of chicken breast
  • 180ml water
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 cocktail tomatoes (about 4 cherry ones)
  • 30ml of cream cheese (I did this by eye)
  • ½ cup of plain flour
  • 10mls oil
  • An egg
  • Breadcrumbs

The first thing I needed to do was to simmer the chicken in the water for 20 minutes with the lid on, leaving me with nice soft chicken and a sort of stock.  When it was done I drained the chicken, reserving the liquid, and allowed it to cool.

I then topped the liquid back up to 125ml (despite having the lid on the pan I lost quite a bit!), put it back in the saucepan and added the flour and oil along with some salt and pepper.  This resulted in something that looked like wallpaper paste, but the addition of heat and a lot of stirring eventually resulted in a ball of dough, although it was touch and go for a while!  The pastry then also went to one side to cool down.

While the chicken was cooling I finely diced my two shallots and the flesh of the tomatoes.   I then shredded the chicken when I was able.

The shallots went into a pan with some oil for a couple of minutes, and when they were soft the tomatoes joined them.  Finally the chicken was added along with seasoning, followed by a good dollop of cream cheese to hold everything together.

When the pastry was cool enough to work with (about 30 minutes in the fridge) I split of into four and began assembling the Coxinhas.  The pastry was quite sticky and so I used plenty of flour on my hands and the work surface.  I stretched each piece of pastry into an approximation of a circle and placed a quarter of my filling in the middle.

I then brought up the sides to encase the filling, creating a point at the top and generally trying to make a shape resembling a chicken thigh (this was not my most artistic moment I will admit).

These were then dipped in beaten and then breadcrumbs (I did this twice to give a good coating) before being deep fried.  I don’t own an oil thermometer or professional fryer so I had to guess the temperature of the oil. \But it only needed to be fairly low so to to crisp the outside and gently warm the Coxinhas through.  After about 5 minutes in each in the oil (I managed to fit two at a time in my pan) I drained them on some kitchen towel and they were ready.

So, while the filling and dough for the Coxinhas were cooling I was actually preparing my Acarajè with a plan to serving the two together.  There was a lot less cooking involved in the Acarajè, largely because I was using tinned black eyed peas.  If I had gone for fresh I would have needed to soak them overnight and then boil them, but as it was I could just use them straight away.  To make the Acarajè I needed:

  • 200g of black eyed peas
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • Half a red chilli
  • 100g prawns (I used quite large ones)

The black eyed peas went into my mini chopper to be blitzed to a pulse.  These then went into a bowl and the chilli, the garlic and half the onion were next into the chopper (you can do this in one stage if you have a full size processor, I really need to get round to getting one!) and when finely chopped were added to the black eyed peas.

The other half of the onion was finely sliced and went into a small frying pan to gently sweat down.  To be traditional this should have been cooked in palm oil, but unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of any.  When the onion was lovely and soft the prawn were added and cooked through and the filling was finished.

To make the fritters I shaped the mixture into six balls which I then fried.  In a pan, trying my best to make sure that the entire outside touched the pan at some point and crisped up – this was more or less successful, but I think if I was to make these again in the future it might be easier to just quickly deep fry them!

I have to say I really enjoyed both dishes.  I though the Coxinhas were really great and I loved that you could taste a certain chickenyness in the pastry.  My partner wasn’t so keen as he thought the texture was a bit soft, but they were right up my alley!  The Acarajè were slightly tricky to eat, my filling kept making a break for it, but were also very tasty with a nice bit of heat to give some life to the beans.

The race itself, well Vettel didn’t win this one.  A gearbox problem left him travelling just slow enough that his teammate needed to pass him, but quick enough to keep him in front of everyone else.  For the rest, Hamilton also suffered gearbox issues and had to retire two thirds of the way through, Rosberg continued his run of finishing where he qualified or just slightly back, but managed to outperform Schumacher once again after Schuchy had a coming together with Senna.  The race was interesting, fun while it lasted, but not terribly memorable.

I’ve really enjoyed my tour around the globe cooking the cuisines of each of the race locations.  I’ve cooked a lot of dishes that I don’t think I would have tried otherwise, and have found some new favourites.  It’s not all been easy and it hasn’t all worked, but I’ve learnt a lot and I feel quite sad now it’s all over and I don’t have another race to plan for.  I need to find a new project!

Abu Dhabi GP – Trying out some Emirati cuisine

November 14, 2011

As a result of the cancellation of the Bahrain GP this was Formula 1’s first visit to the Persian Gulf this year and therefore my first chance to try out the cuisine of the region.  The cuisine is traditionally a fragrant one of rich spices, rice and meat.  I cooked two dishes over two days.  The first (for the Saturday qualifying) was from the modern cuisine of the regions, a Shawarma chicken kebab.  For the race itself I made something a lot more traditional – a chicken Kabsa (كبسة).

So, my Saturday night ‘Quali kebabs’ (my partner works Saturdays so I catch up on quail in the evening).  For these I used:

  • 2 breasts of chicken
  • Lebanese flat breads (or any Arabic bread or pitas)
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Harrisa powder
  • Lemon juice
  • Garlic
  • Yogurt
  • Dried mint
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes

Despite this long list of ingredients this is a really simple dish to make and it took about 10 minutes start to finish.  I began by flattening my chicken breasts, coving them in cling film and hitting them with a rolling pin.  Next I prepared the spices to go on them.  I mixed ½ teaspoon each of cumin and coriander with ¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon and harrisa (I bought my harissa several years ago in Morocco and it’s incredibly strong so you may want to use more!). To this I added 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and another or oil (I used peanut) and smothered the resulting marinade over the chicken.

I then cooked the chicken in a griddle pan for ¾ minutes each side so that the chicken was cooked but still moist.

While the chicken was cooking I quickly whipped up the accompaniments.  Some cherry plum tomatoes were sliced and some lettuce was shredded!  For the sauce I combined half a little tub of yogurt (about 60g) with ½ teaspoon of dried mint and a good squirt of garlic puree (I would guess about 2 cloves worth).  Finally I sliced the cooked chicken into strips about 1cm wide and it was time to assemble the kebabs!

Onto each flatbread went the shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes.  The chicken went onto and then plenty of garlic sauce finished things nicely.  The amounts I have given made three kebabs, two for the hungry boy and one for me, but you could also make two deep filled kebabs!

I really enjoyed these kebabs, they were quick to make and fine to eat.  The bread I had let things down a little, it was quite dry and sweet, but that’s my own fault for buying the pre-packaged version as the fresh was sold out.  The chicken itself was wonderfully tasty and the garlic sauce was to die for.  I think that it may soon be accompanying many of my meals.

The chicken Kabsa was not so quick to make, but still pretty straight forward.  For two I used:

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • A carrot
  • A tomato
  • An onion
  • A small tin of tomato puree (140g)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Orange peel (Satsuma peel in my case)
  • 8 ounces of long grain rice
  • Flaked almonds
  • Raisins
  • Two cardamom pods
  • Two small cinnamon sticks
  • Two cloves

The cooking started, as so many great dishes do, with the browning of the onions.  To the onions I added the chicken thighs, the chopped flesh of the tomato, two crushed garlic cloves and the tomato puree.  This combination was stirred and left to cook for 5 minutes.

Next into the pot went the carrot, which had been grated, the satsuma rind and the spices along with 375ml of hot water.  The lid went onto the pot at this point and everything was left to simmer for 25 minutes.

Once the chicken was cooked I removed it from the pan and placed it, covered, in a dish in a warm oven to keep it hot.  The rice was then added to the cooking liquor and the lid went back on for another 30 minutes for the rice to cook and absorb all the juices.

When the rice was done it was time to serve.  The chicken thighs were retrieved from the oven and served on top of the rice, then the sliced almonds and raisins were sprinkled on top.

I really enjoyed this dish.  The chicken was wonderfully soft and the rice had loads of flavour.  My partner wasn’t particularly keen on the fruitiness that resulted from the peel, but I loved it (spicy fruity couscous is one of my favourite meals, but he won’t go near it!).  This dish had no spice, but it still had plenty of flavour.  The amounts I’ve given should have served two, but it produced loads of rice!  With a bit more chicken it would go much further and as it is I will be using the spare rice as a lunch this week.

As for the race, Vettel didn’t win for a change.  Unfortunately this wasn’t because he was fairly beaten but because he fell off the track at the second corner with an unexplained right rear puncture which ended his race.  Hamilton was quick to take advantage of this and speed off into the lead, with Alsono in pursuit with both of them barely seen for the rest of the race.  The top end of the field was mainly about strategy, with not much overtaking, the main highlight being Buttons intermittent KERS system .  Further back there were plenty of squabbles as the lower teams fought hard for non points places in an effort to secure their seats for next season.  All in all this wasn’t the most exciting of races, but it wasn’t the worst either, and hard though it may have been on Vettel, it was great to see Lewis back to his winning ways.

The Indian GP – Indian Street Food

November 7, 2011

On the 30th October the inaugural Indian GP took place.  Unfortunately I was away with work and unable to watch it live.  After two days of desperately trying to avoid news on the race (largely succeeding, but I did find out about Hamilton’s and Massa’s crash!) I managed to watch a recording of it on the Tuesday evening once I was back home.

In terms of what to cook I didn’t want to go for the obvious choice of a curry, plus there are so many varieties of curry that I wouldn’t have been sure where to start.  Instead I thought it would be interesting to try and recreate some of the wonderful street food that is so prevalent and popular throughout the sub continent.

Trying to get a list of some good street food to cook proved to be more of a challenge than I expected.  The majority of Indian food sites I found just had food to cook at home; no one had any lists of street food.  Then I remembered, back in Cardiff there is a restaurant that specializes in Indian street food – Chai Street, and so in the end I looked at the food on their menu and found some recipes based on that.

The dishes I decided to cook were Poricha Kozhi (fried spiced chicken) and stuffed bread pakoras (a kind of deep fried potato sandwich).

The first thing I needed to do was to marinate my chicken legs for the Poricha Kozhi.  The marinade for 2 persons (4 chicken legs) was:

  • A small onion
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 125ml of yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of ground fennel seeds.

The onion, ginger and garlic all went into my mini chopper and were blitzed till almost a paste.   They then were added to the rest of the ingredients to make the marinade.  I scored the chicken legs and smothered them in the marinade and left everything for a couple of hours.To cook the chicken they went into a nice heavy bottomed pan with 125ml of water.  The water was brought to a simmer and the chicken cooked uncovered for about 20 minutes till the water had evaporated. With the water gone and the chicken nice and tender I added some oil to the pan to crisp the chicken up and that was it – done!The bread pakoras would be stuffed with mash potato and so the mash was the first thing I needed to make.  To 4 medium potatoes worth of mash I added:

  • A sliced green chilli
  • Half a bunch of chopped coriander (stalks included)
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of black onion seedsThe batter for the pakoras were made from:
  • A cup of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • A pinch of salt

To this I added enough water to create a very thick batter.To make the pakoras I took 6 slices of bread and removed the crust.  I spread the mash potato on three of the slices giving a layer about 1cm think.  I then put the other pieces of bread on top and cut the ‘sandwiches’ to get 6 triangles. Each triangle was coated in the batter and fried in some oil for around 5 minutes till all the batter was  cooked.I served up two pieces of chicken and three stuffed break pakoras each.The chicken was delicious.  There was a gentle heat but the overall flavour was more fragrant than spicy, it had also penetrated right into the meat which was great.  The meat was soft and came easily away from the bone.  The pakoras were a lot spicier, particularly if you got a bit of the sliced chilli! For me, I felt the texture of the pakoras was a bit soft.  The batter had crisped as it cooked, but the bread and the mash were very soft and this made them a little hard to eat overall.  There were still pretty tasty though!

So, the race.  Well once again Vettel had pole position and comfortably led the race from start to finish, pinching Nigel Mansells record for most laps led in a season in the process (and with 2 races to go!).  The result of this was that we saw very little of Vettel all race as he cruised round by himself.  Behind him there was a bit racing to watch.  The usual first corner carnage resulted in 4 cars needing to pit, but the big talking point of the race was Massa and Hamiltons coming together, something that has happened too many time this season.  The feud between these two is really heating up.  This time it was Massa who turned into Hamilton as he tried to pass.  Both cars managed to carry on but Massa received a penalty and then had to retire later in the race after breaking his suspension on a monster curb.  All in all this race was not as exciting as I would have hoped.  The track looks great, but the dusty conditions meant that it was hard to go offline and so there wasn’t as much overtaking as I would have liked.

The Korean GP – Bulgogi (BBQ Beef!)

October 20, 2011

Before looking for dishes for this GP I didn’t really have much of an idea of what Korean food was.  A quick search revealed a nation that loves its BBQ and its beef so Bulgogi seemed the quintessential meal to make.  Bulgogi actually means ‘fire meat’ and refers to the method of cooking since the chicken, beef and pork versions each have a different marinade.

The beef version consists of sirloin or rump steaks marinated for several hours and then grilled or BBQ’ed.  It was recently voted number 23 in CNN’s 50 most delicious foods, so even though I had never heard of it before it must be pretty popular!

I was making enough marinade for two bits of meat, although seeing what it made I think it would also coat 3 very well and 4 at a push!  The marinade consisted of:

  • 2 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • Approximately 1 inch cubed of ginger – grated
  • 1 very large spring onion (2/3 normal spring onions) finely chopped
  • 50ml of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • ½ tablespoon of sesame seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon of coarsely crushed black peppercorns.

    the ingredients for the marinade

These were all mixed in a bowl.  I then scored my steaks (a little too thickly if I’m honest – I made more of a slash than a score!) and placed them in the marinade where they stayed for 3 hours.  They went in the fridge for 3 hours but I got the mix out half an hour before cooking so it could get to room temperature.

the beef in the marinade

To cook the meat I used a very hot grill pan as I don’t have a BBQ (plus it wasn’t really the weather for cooking outide!).  Most pictures I’ve seen of this dish have the meat cooked through, but personally I hate fully cooked beef unless it’s been stewed for several hours, so my steaks were cooked for ¾ minutes each side so that they were caramelized on the outside and pink in the middle.

starting to cook the beef

the beef nearly done

After cooking I let the steaks rest for a little while and then sliced them up.  I served the steak with some Thai jasmine rice and poured the cooking juices from the resting plate over the top to give a little sauce.

the finished dish

This was another really fragrant dish.  I was worried from the colour of the marinade that the say sauce might be overpowering but in the end it was quite mild.  There was no chilli but the black pepper gave everything a nice mellow heat.  The grill pan had cooked the meat nicely, but you could tell that the smokeyness of a real BBQ would have really enhanced the flavours that were there.

Now that the World Championship is over, it was thought that Vettel might give everyone a chance at winning. The young German champion, however, had no intention of doing so. The out of form Lewis Hamilton, who has struggled for at least half the season, raised his game and managed to put the Mclaren on pole, closely followed by Vettel and then team-mate Jenson Button.

Vettel blew past Hamilton on the first lap and then was unassailable in the lead. Lewis and Red Bull’s Mark Webber then joined a great race-long battle for second place, including through the pit-stops, which Lewis won by holding Mark off for at least fifty laps. Both drivers, despite a gripping battle, looked upset at the their lack of success at the race’s end.

Meanwhile, the unfancied Torro Rosso team managed to get both cars in the points, beating one of the Mercedes cars on pace. Michael Schumacher once more got taken out, this time by Visaly Petrov who missed his braking point down into turn seven and destroyed his own car as well. All in all, a surprisingly hard fought race. No rain like last year though…

The Japanese GP – home made Sushi!

October 15, 2011

Last Sunday was the Japanese GP and there was never any doubt in my mind as to what I would make.  I love sushi, but have never really given it a go at home so this seemed like the perfect excuse to try.  Sushi seems to be quite popular over here as well, there are an awful lot of sushi bars around.  You can also buy the rice and nori sheets in the supermarket.  The one thing you can’t get though is rice vinegar, which is a little frustrating as sushi is vingared rice, the plain stuff just doesn’t cut it!

Before starting my sushi I took to the web looking for tips.  The one I found most useful was Ian & Sue Mitchell’s How to Make Sushi site.  It was their advice that I followed for the tricky part – cooking the rice!

I used a cup of rice (this made enough sushi for 2 with some spare) and washed the rice until the water ran clear.  I then placed the rice in a heavy pan with 1 and a half cups of cold water and brought everything to the boil.  Once the water was boiling the heat was turned down low, a lid put on the pan and everything was left for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes I turned the heat off  but didn’t take the lid off, leaving the pan for a further 10 nerve racking minutes.

Finally after this time as up I could look at the rice.  It was perfectly cooked.  The rice was soft and the grains separated easily.  It hadn’t caught to the bottom and it wasn’t too glutinous!  I was very relieved!

While the rice was cooking I had made my vinegar mixture.  For this quantity of rice I heated two tablespoons of white wine vinegar (instead of the proper rice vinegar) with two tablespoons of caster sugar and half a teaspoon of salt.  Once the sugar and salt has dissolved (and the room smelt of vinegar!) I turned off the heat and let the mix cool.

With the rice ready it went into a large plastic bowl along with the vinegar mix and I ‘fluffed’ and cooled the rice moving it around with a pair of chopsticks.  After about 5 minutes of fluffing and fanning the rice with some paper I then left it to cool by itself for an hour or so.With the rice cool I began to make my sushi.  I started off with some Nigiri.  This involved making some small sausages of rice which would then be topped with tuna or salmon.  On first picking up the rice I quickly discovered just how stick the vinegar/sugar mix had made it.  By wetting my hands first I was able to handle and shape the rice without the majority of it sticking to my palms.

I made 10 little sausages and then cut my toppings, 5 tuna and 5 salmon.  My fish was raw and so you have to be careful.  I’m quite lucky in that although I’m pretty far from the sea, salmon tartare is very popular in this region and so you can still get very fresh fish.  A Migros 15 minutes away from me has a very good fish counter where the quality is very high and so I felt confident enough in the fish I had to happily eat it uncooked.  I cut five slices each approximately 2 cm by 5cm from my salmon and my tuna and placed them on top of the rice along with a little wasabi.  I then cut some small strips of nori to secure the toppings to the rice.Next I had a go at  making maki rolls.  The amount of rice I had let me try two varieties and so I made some avocado and salmon ones and some tuna and fresh red and yellow pepper one.  To make the maki I placed a sheet of nori onto a bamboo place mat (you can get proper sushi mats, but my place mat worked just fine) and spread my rice over ¾ of a nori sheet.  I then placed my toppings along what would be the length of the roll and added some daubes of wasabi before proceeding to try and roll everything.  This is not as easy as it sounds and as when making a roulade or swiss roll, taking things slowly seemed the way forward.  I carefully rolled things trying to keep everything tucked in and tight and eventually I was left with a large green sausage of sushi.The next challenge was trying to cut the sushi.  I had a very sharp knife, but it obviously wasn’t sharp enough as it just pulled and torn the sushi.  In the end the best thing I found was a serrated bread knife.  This did flatten the circle slightly (something I could kind of fix one the sushi was in bits), but at least I was able to get bite size pieces.  From my two rolls of nori I made about 12 individual pieces (plus the ends which were just as tasty but not as pretty) and these went onto my plate with the nigiri.I finished things off by cutting some slices of salmon sashimi for my partner and I and then we were ready to tuck in.  I have to say I was pretty impressed.  For a first attempt everything looks pretty professional when it was all together on a plate.  When I tried the rice by itself I felt it was maybe a little sweet, but with the toppings/filings and the wasabi it was just right.  Aside from preparing the rice I was surprised how straight forward actually making the sushi was.  I had always thought that sushi must be quite difficult and, I’m not saying it was easy peasy, but I feel I could do this again once evening for tea rather than needing to set aside a whole afternoon to prepare everything.  All in all I was very pleased with how things went!

The race was a triumph for the two fastest men within it. The championship is really a two horse race, with Vettel needing one point in the rest of the season to clinch his second world title, while Jenson Button needs victories in every single race.

Button did his job but Vettel singly failed to read the script, driving the Red Bull home safely in third. Despite losing his momentary pole to Vettel who drove him off the track, Button came back using tire strategy and jumped the Red Bull in the pits stops. From there he was unstoppable, bring the car home with over two seconds in hand.

Singapore GP – Laksa

September 30, 2011

Sunday was the Singapore GP and for the first time I have had difficulty deciding what to cook.  The cuisine of Singapore is a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian all cooked with their own local twist, but I struggled to find a dish that was native to Singapore (please let me know if you have a suggestion for a dish that is!).  In the end I settled on cooking Laksa because it’s really popular!

Laksa is a noodle curry/soup that comes in many variations.  As a fusion of Chinese and Malay styles of cooking it is a regular street food in Singapore.  I decided to create my own prawn and chicken version inspired by the recipes I found on the internet.

The first thing I needed to make was my paste.  For this I needed 5cm of fresh ginger, 3 shallots, 1 clove of garlic, 3 macadamia nuts, 1 red chilli, half a bunch of coriander and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric (as usual this is for 2).  All this went into my mini chopper with a little water and was blitzed to form a paste.  My mini chopper isn’t the best in the world and although everything came out very small, it wasn’t really paste like.  I decided to try and fix this by pounding it in my pestle and mortar but this didn’t really make much of a different either.

Making the Paste

With the paste as ready as it was ever going to be, I got on with preparing the rest of my ingredients.  I defrosted my prawns and took the meat off two chicken thighs.  The skin, bones and other assorted bit’s of the chicken were browned in a pan and then covered with 200ml of water to form a stock that would later go in my sauce.  I then sliced up two (rather large) spring onions, fished 50g of beansprouts out of the jar (I couldn’t get fresh) and I was ready to cook.

Preparing the chicken and making stock

The first thing to do was to cook my paste.  It went into a thick bottomed pan with some groundnut oil and cooked gently for 10 minutes.  I then drained my chicken stock and added this to the pan to create the beginnings of the sauce/soup.  This was allowed to simmer for another 7-8 minutes before I added the final bit of the sauce – 200ml of coconut milk.  The soup/sauce was then left on a gentle heat while I cooked everything else.

Making the sauce/soup

I started cooking the chicken in a pan and after a couple of minutes added the spring onions.  Two more minutes and it was time for the beansprouts to go in as well.  Finally, with everything else nearly done I added the prawn.  While the meat and veg were cooking I also cooked my noodles.  I had been unable to find rice noodles as suggested by the recipes I had found and had to settle for soya noodles, something I hadn’t used before.  These cooked in a couple of minutes and looked quite gelatinous!Cooking the other bits!

With everything cooked I assembled my dish.  In two bowls I placed some of the noodles and then topped them with the meat and veg.  The sauce/soup was then ladled on top and everything was ready.

Assembling the dish

I haven’t ever eaten Laksa so I have no idea how authentic mine tasted, however I really enjoyed it.  There as a nice warm hit of chilli that was strong without being overpowering.  The whole dish was fragrant and very light.  The coconut made it rich and creamy and took away any harshness that could have come from the chilli or the ginger.  I had my reservations about the noodles I used when I saw them cooked, but with the sauce they were delicious.  This is defiantly something I would make again; I think I might try it when I have guests sometime as a lot of it can be prepared ahead and you can pull the dish together in about 5 minutes when people are ready to eat.

As for the race, well, the result was never in doubt. A shining blue and red car owned by a certain energy drinks company had blitzed the field in qualifying, and the rapidly maturing Vettel barely saw the rest of the race as he took a unchallengeable lights to flag victory. Mathematically the German  had the chance of wrapping up his championship for the second year in a row at this race. But it wasn’t to be as the rest of the field conspired to make sure the contest was dragged out to at least the race in Japan.

However, like any race with twenty four high speed participants, there was plenty to keep the audience attention. Michael Schumacher, decided that he obviously preferred flying to driving that day, attempted to launch his appropriately named silver arrow off the back of the unwilling Sergie Perez  in an effort, moth like, to reach the lights surrounding the track of this night race. Failing this, he merely smashed the car against the barriers. Not an overtake the old master will ever be proud off.

Lewis Hamilton, seeing red in the form of Felipe Massa’s scarlet Ferrari, then smashed off his front wing against the rear right hand tyre of the other car. Having returned to the pits to have a new nose fitted by his mechanics, he then returned once more to serve a penalty metted out by the stewards. His Maclaren, having started the day 4th, ended up in 15th and was only helped by the safety car being deployed for Schumacher’s crash landing. He recovered, slicing his way through the field, to a respectable fifth, one place down from where he started.

Jenson Button, finding the Maclaren the second quickest car in the field, drove a lonely race against Vettel whom he only saw vanishing around corners ahead of him. After holding his position at the start, tyre choice allowed him to maintain this and his consistent lap times led him to a well deserved second place, his second of two races. The pressure is now one at Maclaren for Hamilton to prove he is still their best driver.

The Italian GP – My first homemade pasta!

September 16, 2011

When I moved from Cardiff to Geneva I brought an awful lot of cooking stuff with me.  Included in this was an unused pasta machine (I just hadn’t found the time to give it a go!) and an unopened bag of pasta flour that I had bought from Carluccio’s with the best intentions of making lots of fresh pasta at home.  Last Sunday was the Italian GP at Monza and although Monza is in the North of Italy, an area more famous for its risottos than its pasta dishes, I thought this was the perfect time to finally crack open the pasta machine and flour.

Feeling ambitious I thought I’d have a go at making some filled pasta little realizing just how much work this would involve.  The filling I decided on was squash and sage and I started by preparing this.  I cut about 150g of squash into small pieces and steamed them till they were soft.  I then left the squash to cool before mashing it with about 50g of ricotta, 2 tablespoons of grated pecorino (it’s from the North!) and 5 chopped sage leaves (from my balcony!).

Making the squash and sage filling

With my filling done it was time to have a go at the pasta.  The recipe on the side of the flour bag recommended making the dough on a marble worktop, but lacking one of these I had to go with my bog standard formica.  I poured 200g of the flour onto the work surface and made a well in the middle into which I placed two eggs as directed.  I then attempted the beat the eggs together with a form and slowly incorporate the flour.  This proved tricky and I some of the egg escaped my flour pile.

Eventually I had formed a firm dough (there was a fair amount of flour left over so my eggs must have been small) and it was time to knead.  I kneaded the dough for 10 minutes until it started to look glossy and then wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge for half an hour to rest.  It was then time to roll it out!

Making the pasta dough

It turned out that, although one skilled person can do this easily, when novices are involved this is a job for two – one to feed the pasta through and one to turn the handle!  I was the feeder and my partner was on handle duty.  We broke small pieces off our lump of pasta and slowly turned these into thin wide ribbons of pasta by slowly decreasing the space between the two rollers.

Rolling out the dough

We then tried to cut out small circles with which to make our filled pasta.  Unfortunately my cutter was made of plastic not metal and was not sharp enough to go right through the pasta but instead sort of perforated it.  This meant we had to carefully extract each circle form the surrounding pasta, an excruciating process.  The cut circled were floured and put to one side.  After we had rolled and cut about half the pasta we were starving and so we decided to assemble some of the pastas.

To my dismay it turned out that with the later circles I had not dusted them with enough flour and quite a few of them had stuck.  We managed to salvage 24 circles, enough for 12 filled pastas, not a huge meal for 2!  Trying to not be too disappointed we got on with the assembly.  Placing a teaspoon of the squash filling on a circle, wetting the pasta edges with water and then sealing it with another pasta circle.  There were a couple more casualties where some of the pastas developed small holes, but with so few we decided to go ahead and cook them anyway.

Assembling the filled pasta

So it was into plenty of boiling salted water that our little parcels went.  They took about 2 minutes to cook through and the ones with holes in help up surprisingly well.  Rather than drain them properly and risk damaging them, I fished the fragile pastas out individually with a slotted spoon and served them up.  I topped them with a sage butter, simple but tasty!

Cooking the filled pasta

My partner wasn’t too keen on the sage butter but enjoyed the pastas.  I was really impressed, for a first attempt they weren’t bad!  They may have looked like mini fried eggs but they tasted pretty good!  The pasta itself was really thin and just slipped down.  I think the filling could have been a bit more “squashy” but other than that I was really pleased.  We were still starving though as 6 small filled pasta, even accompanied with a glass of lovely Prosecco, does not fill up an adult!

The pasta served up

We thought the best thing to do would be to turn the rest of the pasta into tagliatelle and whip up a quick sauce.  We put the cutting attachment on the pasta maker and got to work rolling out, this was even more so a job for two as catching the strands whilst turning the needle was nigh on impossible!  Lacking a pasta stand (I just knew I needed more equipment :-p) we draped the strands over the back of a chair.

The pasta hanging on the chair

The tagliatelle was cooked in more salted water and I quickly fried some garlic in some olive oil before adding a couple of chopped deseeded tomatoes.  The pasta was drained and mixed with the sauce before being served topped with some pecorino – simple and absolutely delicious.

The pasta served

The fresh pasta was a lot of work to make, but it was also great fun!  It tasted a lot better than the dried pasta and I think the knowledge that we had made it ourselves (or the Prosecco) made it better even than shop bought fresh pasta.  Not something for a busy work night, but something I would love to try again when my partner and I both have plenty of time to enjoy making it.

The race was a spectacle be-fitting the legacy and importance of Monza, a heritage track and one which a long history in Formula. This is a uniquely high-speed circuit where speeds can reach over 340 km’s an hour. The track is a series of straight with only four real corners, which lends itself to high speed, wheel to wheel racing and some eye-pulpingly quick braking.

The start featured a bold and characteristically brilliant move from Fernando Alonso, whose Ferrari screamed up the inside of the track, inches from the concrete wall and grabbed the lead from pole sitter Vettel. Behind them, into the first chicane, the out of control HRT of Luizzi slid across the grass and smashed through the field, taking out two other cars (including the well placed Nico Rosburg in a fast Mercedes) and causing an immediate safety car to be deployed.

At the restart, Alonso didn’t have the speed to hold off Vettel, but he didn’t make it easy, holding off the quicker Red Bull for three laps until Vettel drove around the outside, throwing up grass from the verge where he touched it.  From there in the lead, the Red Bull was untouchable, once more driving in a class of its own. However, his team mate Webber smashed off his front wing on the back of the other Ferrari, and found his brakes no longer worked. Moments later, a collision with the barriers ended his race.

But that wasn’t the whole story done. The winner was assured, but the rest of the podium places were still scrapped over with an epic race long battle between Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. On the straights, the Mclaren could not keep up with the quicker Mercedes, and canny driving allow the old master to hold off the younger man for over twenty laps, at one point forcing him onto the grass. Jenson Button, racing around this battle Royale, intuitively took a great opportunity and passed both of the combatants quickly wearing out their tyres.

After the first round of pit-stops, the battle resumed, but eventually Schumacher conceded and Lewis took a hard earned fourth place. A relieved Alsonso kept Ferraris pride intact by getting third, while Button took second pace after driving the second half of the race almost on his own. But the day was Vettels, undoubtedly fine with both his pace and his over-taking. Another win for the young German, and that’s the championship all sewn up…

The Belgian GP – The first GP I have missed!

August 31, 2011

So last weekend was the Belgian GP and I was away at a wedding.  I didn’t get back home until the evening of the Sunday and so I missed the entire race.  My partner however watched and enjoyed it, and gave me a blow by blow account of all the action when I got back.  I’ve also co-opted him write the race report at the end of this post!

In addition to missing the race it was also too late to cook by the time I got home and so I cooked my meal on the Monday instead.  This time out the meal was beef carbonnade with real chips and homemade mayo.  This seemed like an unusual combination but I wanted to have both dishes so I thought I’d have a go.

Chips and mayo is an absolute favourite of mine, it’s also extremely popular in Belgium!  I have never made real mayo before and thought this was the perfect excuse to have a go.  Despite much browsing of the internet for tips and recipes I had no idea just how much work making mayonnaise would be.

I started off with two egg yolks, a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard and some salt.  These were given a good whisking before any oil was added.  The oil I had chosen to use was groundnut (peanut!) oil as this is pretty flavourless,  I didn’t want the mayo to taste too much of the oil as can happen with olive oils etc.   I started by adding single drops of oil to the egg mix and beating each in well.  After about 5 minutes of this I felt confident enough to go for some slightly larger quantities of oil.  All in all it took me 10 minutes to beat in 50ml of oil.  By this time you could see that the mix was starting to change and look a bit like mayo.

Over another 10 minutes I incorporated another 125ml of the oil by which time the mixture was almost solid and my arm felt like it would fall off.  The recipes I had seen used 200-250mls of oil for two yolks, but I found that 175ml was the absolute limit for mine, they must have been small!  There was one more thing to add to finish the mayo and that was 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar.  Once I had beaten this in the mixture slackened a bit to a more appetizing consistency and also lightened up looking more cream than yellow.  The mayo was ready and it tasted amazing!

Making my mayonnaise!!

Beef carbonnade is a sweet sour beef dish made with beer.  The process of making it was pretty similar to the goulash.  First I browned 1.4kg of beef which had been cut into chunks before removing them and cooking 700g of sliced white onions in the pan.  When the onion had softened a little I added 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 4 crushed garlic cloves and let everything cook some more.

Cooking the meat and the onions

After another 5 minutes I added 3 tablespoons of flour and then 600mls of beer.  As with any wine, the quality is important.  I used Chimay, which is a traditional Belgian beer brewed by monks.  I don’t drink beer myself, but my partner got very excited when he found this in the shop so I knew it was good!

Chimay!

After adding the beer I returned the beef to the pan, added a bay leaf, a couple of springs of thyme and 300mls of beef stock.  I then stirred everything, brought it to the boil, covered and put in the oven for 2 hours on 150C.

Making the sauce

Half an hour before the beef was due to come out of the oven I started on the chips.  There was no great skill involved in these, I peeled and chopped some potatoes and then deep fried them in hot oil for 15 minutes until they had started to colour and crisp up.  Then I drained them on kitchen paper to get rid of the excess fat.  I was then ready to serve up.

All served up!

The sauce of the carbonnade was amazing despite the fact I realized that I had forgotten to add the sour element, some white wine vinegar!  Unfortunately though the meat was tough.  Unlike the meat I used for my goulash this was pre-cut and I don’t think the quality was as good.  It was edible, but there was a lot of chewing involved and this let the rest of the meal down.  The chips were lovely, as anything that is deep fried is, and the mayo was magnificent.  It was definitely worth the effort!

The race itself was a mix of high triumph and disaster. After a chaotic first corner and the first outbreak this season of proper carbon fibre confetti, the young Mercedes driver Nico Rosburg managed to grab the lead from pole sitter Seb Vettel. But Vettel came back and re-took the lead. Then Lewis Hamilton had a massive collision with Kumai Kobashi, nosing into the wall at about 240km an hour, which unsurprisingly brought out the safety car. This allowed Vettel, having jumped everyone by pitting early, to get to the lead but it also brought Schumacher, who had started last, and Jenson Button back into the fray, allowing them to close up. Once the re-start, passing broke out throughout the field, and Button managed to come from 13th to 3th in the matter of twenty laps. Schumacher, pursuing him, managed to overtake his team-mate Nico Rosburg and grab a hard fought fifth. But Vettel, riding his Red Bull rocketship, pointed it at the horizon and was never really seen again, effectively wrapping up the 2011 World Championship. Everyone else’s opinion: He’s just too good.

The Hungarian GP – Goulash!

August 5, 2011

Last weekend was the Hungarian GP and after a less than successful attempt at German cuisine I was feeling a bit nervous.  I decided that I would focus on cooking one dish well.  Given that the race was in Hungary there was never any doubt about what I would cook – Goulash!  I had a look around the web for recipes and settled on one by the infallible Delia. There were going to be no failures this week!

The night before the race we were visiting some of our new neighbours, who happen to be Austrian.  Telling them of my planned meal they quickly informed me that the secret to a good goulash is to use the same weight in onions as meat.  They also agreed to come over after the race and taste my efforts!

On the day of the race I got up early to get on with my cooking.  The recipe required the goulash to be in the oven for two and a half hours, but not being that familiar with the French cuts of meat (they butcher the animals differently over here) I wanted to make sure that the meat was tender. So I wanted to ensure it was in the oven for as long as possible.

My slab of meat

From my local Carrefour (the good butcher is on holiday) I bought a large slab of beef weighing around nine hundred words.  I cut this up into approximately one inch cubes and browned these in batches in a large oven proof pan before putting them to one side.  Next up was the onions.  Nine hundred grams turned out to be eight large onions rather than the three required in the recipe.  The onions were then roughly chopped and then put into the pan the meat had been browned in.

This quantity of onions took a lot of cooking and it was about fifteen minutes later, when the onions had begun to brown and caramelize, that I was able to return the meat and juices to the pan along with two cloves of crushed garlic.

Browning the meat and onions

To this I then added one tablespoon of hot paprika, one of sweet smoked paprika and two of plain flour, giving everything a stir to create a paste with the juices.  Finally I added three dried bay leave (from my mum’s garden back home!) and two tins of chopped tomatoes.  On went the lid and then the pan went into the oven at one hundred and forty degrees centigrade.

Making the sauce

Three Hours later I gave everything a stir and added two red peppers which I had de-seeded and roughly chopped before putting the lid back on and the pan back in the oven.

Just out of the oven after 5 1/2 hours

We finally ate the Goulash five and a half hours after it went in the oven!   By this time the stew was a deep brown/red and the meat was falling apart.  I had cooked some rice to go with the dish, but the Austrians recommended we just had bread.  I also omitted the crème fraiche which was to added at the last minute on their recommendation.  The stew was delicious, it was full of flavour and oh so soft.  There was a great depth and richness to the sauce and a hint of spiciness which brought everything to life.   It went down rally well with the Austrians, we demolished the lot!  I would love to cook this again; it’s a great cook and leave dish for when you have guests round.

The delicious goulash served up

The race was another exciting spectacle.  It started under damp conditions and the road dried through-out the race. Once again there was plenty of action with many overtaking manoeuvres and cars that were squirming all over in the wet conditions.  The two Maclaren team mates gave an incredible demonstration of expert driving, passing and re-passing on the narrow track over the course of six or seven laps. This was complimented by Nick Heldfield’s Renault catching fire, then, sans driver, exploding (but only a little).  The race was eventually won by Jenson Button, the master of the drying track, with Seb Vettle in second.  It’s great to see that some of the other teams have finally caught the Red Bulls up, the result is some fantastic competitive races.

German GP – A great race and some not so great food.

July 28, 2011

When I thought about German food and what to cook for the German GP the first thing that came to mind was sausages! After a moments consideration I decided that I wasn’t really equipped to make my own sausages and so I tried to think again.  The next thing that sprang into my mind was the ever kitsch and wonderful Black Forest Gateau.  I also wanted to cook something savory, and after a little bit of internet research I decided up spatzle (with some rather less German roast chicken and Madeira sauce).

The first thing I made was the Black Forest Gateau.   I had made my own version of this a university without the benefit of a recipe by making a basic chocolate sponge and smothering it with cherries, whipped cream, booze and chocolate.  This time I thought I’d try and go for something a bit more authentic and spent a while looking up recipes.  It turns out that Black Forest Gateau is actually a torte and subsequently the recipes contain very little flour and the batter is extremely runny!

The recipe I used required me to beat 150g of caster sugar into 6 eggs (no double yokers this week!) for 5 minutes until I had a light fluffy mixture.  I then added 125g of self raising flour and two tablespoons of cocoa powder to the mix ending up with something that looked like a thin chocolate soup.  This mixture then needed to be split between three greased and buttered tins.  Rummaging through my cupboards the best I could manage was two identical tins and one a little larger – not a great start.  I divided up the mixture as instructed and was disappointed to find that this resulted in only a very thin layer in each.  The mixture barely covered the bottom of the tins!

Making the Black Forest cake batter

The cakes went into the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes.  When they came out of the oven I could see straight away that I had a problem.  Completely ignoring the fact that one layer was about an inch wider in diameter than the other two I could see that although the cakes had risen a bit in the middle (although nowhere near as much as I would have liked), the edges were extremely thin – about 1/2cm thick at best!

While my little ‘pancakes’ were cooling I whipped up 150 ml of double cream, de-stoned and halved my cherries and combined about 4 tablespoons of the cherry syrup with 4 tablespoons of kirsch.  I then poured the syrup/kirsch mixture over the cakes slowly allowing it to soak in (and making a bit of a mess!).  Finally I set to work assembling my cake.  I placed the first layer on a large plate and spread 1 third of the cream over it.  I then placed ½ my cherries around, put the second layer on top of this and repeated the process.  Finally I added the top layer of my cake, spread with the remaining cream and grated chocolate on top to finish everything.

Assembling the cake

The result was not the sumptuous looking tower of chocolate cherries and cream that I had envisaged but more a rather sparse biscuity looking cake.  Cutting a slice things did improve a bit, at least towards the middle where the cake had risen things were a little thicker and less gappy, however overall I found that cake far too dense, not sweet enough and heavy.  The cherry syrup and liquor helped to give a soft moistness to the cake, but overall it was a bit dry and cloying in the mouth.  Defiantly not a triumph!  I think next time I want to make a Black Forest Gateau I’ll stick my less authentic conversion of a basic chocolate sponge!

A slice of gateau

Later on, with my cake hidden in the corner, I cooked my savoury meal.  The first thing I had to get on was my roast chicken.  My chicken was only little and so took about an hour to cook through.  I tucked some cloves of garlic and springs of thyme (from my balcony!) between the legs and the body to give a bit of flavour then put salt and pepper on the skin before pouring over some olive oil and putting the bird in the oven.

When the chicken was nearly done I started on my sauce.  I sautéed two finely chopped shallots in some olive oil for 5 minutes until they were translucent.  I then added 100ml of Madeira, a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf and let the mixture reduce for another 5 minutes or so.  Next I added the roasting juices from my chicken, topped up with a little bit of chicken stock (from a cube) so that it came to 150ml and once again reduced the mixture.  The final addition to the sauce was 150ml of double cream and once this was in I left the sauce to simmer gently for another 5 minutes of so.

While the sauce was reducing and simmering I prepared my spatzle.  This was the one German element of my main course and the bit that gave me the most trouble!  Things started easily enough.  I mixed 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks with 500g of plain flour, 35 ml of olive oil and 100mls of water.  This was supposed to give a “firm paste” but I found that a lot of my mixture hadn’t even come together.  I added some more water (another 50ml or so) until it came together as a, rather sticky, dough.  This dough then needed to be put through some sort of hole and boiled to cook the spatzle.  The recipe I used recommended a piping bag, but after struggling to get my mixture into the bag I found that the dough was for too dense to squeeze through the nozzle.  After much struggling I gave up and scraped as much of the mixture as I could out of the piping bag (I think that kit may need to go in the bin, this mixture did not want to come off!).

Attempting to make spaztle

Not giving up I decided to have a go with a potato ricer.  This was slightly more successful, but did require a strong man and an awful lot of effort to get the dough through the holes.  When we had strings of about 2 inches we cut them from the holes with a knife, but this caused the stings to clump together!  In the water I mixed things vigorously and poked at the clumps to try to get them to separate.  In fairness, about 2/3rds of the strands did come apart and I thought things were finally going in the right direction.  To finish the spatzle you are supposed to fry them in some oil and butter and so I drained them, dried the pan and attempted to do this.  Unfortunately, despite the addition of plenty of oil and butter (about 2 tablespoons of each) the spatzle did not crisp of turn a lovely golden brown but instead stuck to the bottom of the pan!  Giving up at that point I went ahead and served my meal.

Continuing to try and make spatzle

This turned out to be a rather beige and rather unappetizing looking meal, however it tasted okay.  The spatzle themselves had an okay texture despite not crisping, but not a lot of flavour, however I wasn;t expecting them to taste great on their own.  The chicken was lovely, still moist and with plenty of flavour.  The star of the show (and indeed the whole day) was the non-German Madeira sauce!  This was rich and sweet and absolutely divine.  It lifted the chicken and the spatzle and made the whole dish delicious, in the end it saved my day!

A meal that tasted much better than it looks!

The race itself was easily the best of the season.  Hamilton snuck into the lead at the start and the top three then proceeded to tussle for places for the rest of the race!  Much shouting and cheering at the happened throughout the race as the drivers fought with one another.  Hamilton eventually won the GP and for the first time this season Vettel was missing from the Podium!


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