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The Mysterious Ploughman's Lunch

Posted on 2009.08.14 at 10:59
The day before yesterday, I decided I wanted a Ploughman's lunch. I think it was really that I wanted to make some bread.....

So I started off at the beginning, with a Cottage Loaf:

More-or-less taken from RecipeTips. It's nothing too outlandish--a pretty standard recipe that produces a fine-grained white sandwich bread (though people often add some wholemeal flour to the bread to give it additional character). The whimsical part is the snowman shape--one small ball of dough sitting atop a much larger one, meaning that a slice of Cottage Loaf often takes the form of a wedge.

I tried looking up the origins of the name, but didn't get much that was satisfactory. Some people seem to think that "Cottage Loaf" refers to the cottage-like shape of the finished bread, which makes sense if you live in Smurf Village, but pretty much no place else. I suspect the name is due to it being a simple, rustic bread that most people could make at home, if they had access to an oven. Ockham's Razor, people. Ockham's Razor.

The origins of the Ploughman's itself are equally murky. Go to Wikipedia, and you'll see a surprisingly long and tedious parsing out of whether or not the whole thing is a c 1955 creation of Britain's Milk Marketing Board, attempting to sell more cheese in pubs.

Well, sure. The marketing campaign seems to have moved bread and cheese like nobody's business, and pubs throughout the land rejoiced. But I'm not seeing how that means that a Ploughman's (i.e. a meal of bread and cheese and beer or cider or whatever) never existed before 1955. I'm pretty sure some bright spark thought up that one soon after the invention of cheese, bread, and beverages.

In the end, it just makes more sense to settle yourself down with your hunk of bread and piece of cheese (and in my case, some other tasty stuff as well), and have lunch.

Ploughman's Lunch

This one's pretty simple. Just gather some of the following items and start eating lunch. Bread and cheese are required; everything else is optional.

* Generous piece of good bread. Butter for the bread is optional.
* Correspondingly generous piece of good cheese
* Pickles of some kind (In this case, pickled onions. Branston Pickle is popular if you can get it.).
* A hard boiled egg.
* A crisp, tart apple.
* Cold meat or sausage.
* Mustard. For the cold meat or sausage (or the bread and cheese, I guess, if that's your thing.

It was the eyes that were the problem.....

Posted on 2009.07.18 at 19:23
Tags: , ,

I'm not one of those people who are squeamish about food prep. I understand why some people are grossed out by the mere thought of touching raw chicken (slimy!) or steaks (ditto) or ground meat (squishy, and it coats your fingers with a fatty film....), but none of those things bother me in the least.

Nor does the thought of offing lobsters give me pause (After I've sent the unfortunate Homarus Americanus for a short sabbatical in the freezer, of course...). I'm perfectly happy to drop them in a pot of steaming water. I'll even split a lobster in half before cooking, dispatching him with a swift, decisive cut through the middle of his body, in preparation for pan-roasting.

Whole fish? Not an issue. Crawfish? No problemo. Shrimp with the heads on? I merely laugh. But the squid--the squid--that nearly stopped me in my tracks.

I'd started off the week as usual, planning out my meals, making a shopping list. Last week, I remembered, there'd been some packages of frozen squid at the local Market Basket. Awesome! I love calamari! And they were dirt cheap, too--the one pound package was only $1.99. What could be better?

Of course, though I'd eaten lots of squid in my time, I'd never cooked it from scratch before. I'd had breaded frozen squid rings, and ones without breading, too, but they were all precooked, which meant that reheating them turned them into not particularly toothsome rubber bands. Certainly not worth repeating. So starting with raw it was.

I'd seen people clean and cook squid a hundred times on TV--it couldn't be that hard. Pull squid head from squid body. Clean squid body in cool water. Remove the cuttlebone. Chop tentacles from head. Peel off squid skin. To avoid vulcanization, you either cooked your cleaned squid fast, or cooked it forever. Cake.

So I headed home with my squid, and the fixings for Chez Etienne's Pan-Fried Calamari with Garlic and Parsley (plus a lemon, which seemed a scandalous omission--I mean, who would eat pan fried seafood without having a lemon somewhere around). I stowed my box of squid in the freezer and promptly began ignoring it.

First I had to make Maman's Cheese Souffle (a great recipe, btw--I highly recommend it, even--perhaps especially--for the souffle-phobic). Then there was the butterflied leg of lamb with chili-lime rub. And tacos with an avocado/lime/cilantro relish, made with the leftovers, and lambwiches, also made with the leftovers, and finally, cold sliced lamb with tomato paella on the side.
With all those leftovers, my poor squid and the rest of the ingredients had to hang out for a week before I finally got around to them, but last night I finally pulled the squid out of the freezer and stuck it in the fridge to defrost.

So tonight, when I start collecting and prepping my ingredients--I find that my parsley (which was from a week prior--waste not want not) wasn't bad, but wasn't good enough for pan fried squid with garlic and parsley, either(In the end, it went into the bag of veggie scraps that I keep in the freezer for making stocks.). And the lack of lemon in the recipe did seem just, well, wrong. So I wound up substantially modifying the recipe on the fly. No parsley? No problem! I still have a bunch of fresh cilantro in the fridge, left over from the avocado relish for those lamb tacos. And if we're talking swapping out parsley for cilantro, well, then the logical thing to do is to season the flour coating to death with tons of salt and black pepper--and just a little cayenne--for a riff on Salt and Pepper squid.

Which brings us to the squid themselves. I remove the now-defrosted box from the fridge and open it up. Inside lies a plastic bag. A plastic bag full of squid eyes, looking up at me. It was like a tiny tiny version of

All those unblinking squid eyes, below a translucent veil of squid flesh. Yipes. Could I do this? Fish eyes were nowhere near this disturbing.....

So I head for my shiny new copy of Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. Jacques, of course, does not fail me. He has clear instructions for cleaning squid, to refresh any details I may have forgotten from my long-ago cooking-show-watching. Fortunately without any close-up illustrations. I've got quite enough creepy squid eyes right here, thanks.

I did, in the end, get over the creepy unblinking squid eye thing. If I didn't, I wouldn't have had this for dinner:

Pan-Fried Squid with Chili, Garlic, and Cilantro

Makes one generous entree serving, or two appetizer servings.

This is on the fast side of "cook it fast or cook it forever", so make sure all of your ingredients are prepped and waiting for you before you put the squid in the pan.

Light tasting oil with a high smoke point--canola, safflower, grape seed, or peanut work well
1 lb cleaned squid
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Generous pinch red pepper flakes (leave these out if you don't like spicy food, or add more if you like spicy food a lot)
1/2 lemon, sliced lengthwise into three wedges

Cut the squid bodies in half lengthwise, then in half again width-wise. You'll have rectangles of squid that are 1 inch by 2 inches, more or less.

Put a large non-stick skillet on medium to medium-high heat. Add enough oil so that there is 1/3 of an inch in the pan. Test the oil by putting the tip of a bamboo chopstick or skewer into the pan. If small bubbles form around the chopstick, the oil is hot enough.

Add the squid in a single layer. Fry 1 minute, until the squid is golden brown and crisp, with especially dark, crisp edges. Turn the squid pieces and continue cooking for another minute.

Remove the squid to paper towels or newspaper to drain.

Pour out the oil in the pan, leaving 1 or 2 teaspoons. Add the garlic and chili flakes, and stir until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the squid to the pan, add the cilantro, and the juice of one lemon wedge. Toss to combine the seasonings with the squid. Serve immediately, with the remaining lemon wedges on the side.

Some days, you wake up and feel inspired.

Posted on 2007.10.28 at 18:39
Tags: , , , , , , ,

God knows where the inspiration comes from, especially when it's inspiration that involves a metric ton of work. I suppose it's the rain's fault, since rainy gray chilly weather tends to make soup sound good. Or maybe it's the consomme's fault, because I was riding high on actually having produced a flawlessly clear and intensely flavored chicken consomme (thanks to Harold McGee and the New York Times. Most likely, it was because I was feeling fidgety and just a bit bored. But whatever the reason, on Saturday it seemed like a good idea to make pelmeni. From scratch.

For those of you who have never had pelmeni, think of them as siberian ravioli--little pockets of pasta filled with ground meat that has been flavored with chopped onions, salt, and pepper (I like to add a little garlic to mine, too, but it is traditionally made without). It's one of those things that is really simple in terms of ingredients, but the loveliness of the finished product belies the handful of ingredients that go into it. Cooked pelmeni, often served with butter, salt, pepper, and sour cream, or (my favorite) floating in consomme and speckled with flecks of fresh dill or (in my case) chives, have delicate and tender pasta wrapped around a savory filling that brings out the flavor of the meat.

But they take forever to make. Good thing they freeze well. And are a good project for a rainy day.
Makes about 100 Pelmeni--enough for 10 people as a main course, or 20 as a first course served in broth.

The Dough
2 cups (10 oz) All purpose flour
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup warm water

Combine the flour, salt, and oil in a food processor. Pulse 3 or 4 times to combine. Turn on the processor and add the egg through the feed tube. With the machine still running, add enough water to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic, 3-5 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it aside to rest for 1-2 hours.

The Filling
1 small onion
1 clove garlic (optional)
1/4 tsp each salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 lb 90 percent lean ground beef
1 lb ground pork

Peel the onion and chop in into large chunks. Put the onion and garlic (if using) into the food processor and process until very finely chopped--almost a puree. You'll have to scrape down the bowl once or twice during this process.

Turn the onions out into a bowl and add the meat, salt, and pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

Making the Dumplings

Divide the dough into thirds, keeping the unused portions covered with plastic wrap. On a well floured counter, roll the dough to 1/8 in thick (a pasta machine is good for this, too). Cut the dough into circles with a juice glass or other round cutter about 2 in in diameter.

Scoop up about 1/2 tsp of meat filling and roll it into a ball. Place the filling in the center of a pasta circle and fold the dough over to make a half moon, enclosing the meat in the center. The dough should be very supple and elastic, so if you're careful, it will stretch to fit over the little ball of filling.

Pinch the edges to seal, then pinch the two bottom ends of the dough together (like you would if you were making tortellini). Repeat until all the dough and filling are gone, re-rolling the scraps of dough to make more wrappers.

Put the pelmeni on cookie sheets that have been lightly dusted with flour, making sure that the dumplings don't touch each other. Freeze the dumplings for 1-2 hours, until they're fairly solid. You can now portion the dumplings into ziploc bags for storage--about 10 dumplings per person. Freeze the dumplings until you're ready to eat them.

To cook, boil the pelmeni in a copious amount of water, stirring immediately after you add them to the pot to prevent sticking. Watch for the dumplings to rise to the surface of the pot, then cook them 3 minutes more.

Drain and serve with butter, salt, and pepper, or in chicken or veal broth as a soup (a garnish of minced fresh chives or dill is nice in either case).

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