cacao and cardamom sauce

100g pure cacao (70-90% chocolate would suffice)
8 cardamom pods
2-4 tablespoons of sticky dark brown sugar
butter (unsalted or otherwise)
double cream (if necessary)

makes about a cupful of sauce

crush the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife and remove the seeds, discarding the husks. dry fry the seeds on a cast iron skillet on a high heat for about a minute or until you get the smell of cardamom. put into a mortar and crush to within an inch of its life.

break up the cacao (or grate it in a whirly cheese grater for added silliness) and place in a bowl on a bain-marie (on a saucepan full of hot water on the hob) and melt slowly. add the butter (about a centimetre thick cross-section of a half-pound block), two tablespoons of sugar and the ground cardamom.

stir and warm until everything has melted completely and the sauce has a nice sheen (from the butter).

the cacao and cardamom will make the sauce somewhat gritty (like very strong chocolate) which will work well to accompany very sweet dishes but if you need a more rounded sauce add more butter (unsalted if you are using lots), sugar and/or double cream to taste.

works suspiciously well with pears poached in red wine (I am somewhat skeptical about this but I have been assured it is the case.)

When it cools it will solidify but can be melted and used again (though for how many times I’m not sure, and being paranoid about food safety myself I wouldn’t be handing out any advice on how long to keep it. i would be especially wary of reheating the sauce if you have put cream in it – for no real reason other than urgh).

pears poached in red wine

4-6 (hard, unripe) pears
one bottle red wine (cheap, i used merlot)
1.5-2 mugs dark sticky brown sugar
one cinnamon stick, broken in two
6-10 cloves
4 cardamom pods
1-3 slices of lemon

serves 4-6

put everything apart from the pears into a small/medium saucepan. the pot should be big enough to hold the six pears and the wine but small enough so that the pears are completely covered at all times. turn hob onto a medium heat.

while this mixture is warming slice the bottom off the pears and core it from below (take out just enough so the pips and nasty bits are gone: a cone about 3cm in diameter and 5cm high. ish). peel the pears all the way to the stalk, leaving the stalk on makes it prettier and also easier to deal with when cooking.

when all the sugar has dissolved put the pears into the pot. they will float to the top of the liquid, the best way I found to keep them submerged was the lid of a much smaller pot: it pushes the pears down; leaves plenty of room around the edge for steam to escape; and the handle makes it easy to lift off. all-in-all very clever.

let boil for 25-30 mins, moving the pears around every so often to ensure even cooking/absorption of the lovely flavours. the longer the pears are left the more flavour they get but the mushier they become.

take the pears out, put in a baking dish, cover with aluminium foil and put in a warm (80C) oven to keep.

Here’s the tricky bit. You want to boil the sauce away to leave a syrup. This can go very wrong very fast. Stop boiling too soon and you have a watery liquid, leave it too long and you have a boiled sweet at the bottom of the pot.

The liquid should boil for quite a while and reduce to about two mugs worth of syrup. When you remove it, it should still pour like water but as it cools it will gradually get thicker.

Place one pear upright on each plate with the sauce around, beside or poured over the pear. A chocolate sauce would be quick and easy to make while the syrup is reducing or cooling; vanilla ice cream would also work a treat.

thoughts/criticisms/suggestions welcome

okay, so there was a request for this i’m not (just) stroking my ego here.

Pinto bean and chorizo stew:

500g dried pinto beans
1 300g chorizo (or more depending on savagery)
2 tins of tomatoes
1 bulb of garlic
2 hot chilies (or more depending on masochism)
2 onions
some oregano
less basil
3 bay leaves
shitloads of whole cumin
black pepper to taste
150g of bacon lard-ons
sunflower oil

serves 4-8

soak the pinto beans overnight in lots of water (i change the water once but i’m not sure if that’s necessary)

very finely chop the garlic (6 cloves -1 bulb to taste), chilies and onions and put in a heavy-bottomed oven-friendly pot.

pour in just enough sunflower oil to fry what’s in the pot and add the bacon lard-ons (the fat from the chorizo and bacon will more than make up for skimping on the sunflower oil, just make sure they fry rather than burn)

fry for long enough to cook the lard-ons through, basically long enough to cook the bacon but not long enough to burn the garlic.

pour in water (i boil it in the kettle first, just to make sure everything stays cooking) up to about two inches below the lip of the pot (enough so the beans, chorizo and tins tomatoes won’t cause overflowage – you can always add in more if necessary, but do make sure the beans are well-covered so they cook properly)

add in the oregano, basil and bay leaves. loads of oregano – i thought i’d put in too much, it looked like really herby soup. some basil, about a big heaped teaspoon i’d say, maybe two. bring to the bubble.

drain the beans and add them to the pot. while the pot heats up again, skin the chorizo (if you could be fucked) and chop into whatever size chunks you prefer, though for consistancy I would have one dimension being at least 2cm. Add the chorizo to the pot and while its boiling away take two good handfuls of whole cumin seeds and dry fry (preferably in a cast iron pan for slickness) after the first few seeds pop, pour the now hot cumin into a mortar and bash with a pestle until it’s nicely ground or you get sick of it. then chuck the cumin into the pot and stir well.

throw in the two tins of tomatoes and let boil uncovered for about half an hour – just enough time to make sure it all looks okay and will survive well in the oven.

preheat the oven to about 160C, put the lid on the pot and throw in the oven (put on a baking tray or put a baking tray below in case the pot boils over).

you can boil this indefinitely, periodically reducing the temperature by 20C each time (maybe after every hour), providing you stir regularly (about every 30mins) as the fat will tend to rise and the flavour won’t go into the beans. Keep also an eye on the liquid level to make sure the beans have enough to cook in. I would have the food in the oven for at least 3 hours.

Remove the bay leaves before serving with a salad and crusty bread (the salad may be ignored).

Thoughts:

In my opinion there’s no extra salt needed – the bacon and chorizo will work plenty magic.

Two tins of tomatoes is enough to give the stew some flavour but not make it a tomato stew, but one or two more tins won’t ruin it, just add some sugar to counteract the acidity.

I can’t think of a way to present this daintily.

I think of this cooking method as about half way between feijoada, cassoulet and a moorish stew.

If you do it veggie add loads of veg (esp. carrots for body) and lots of extra salt and a lot more olive oil.

Any other beans could be substituted (haricot beans could be brilliant with it), chick peas would be good but would change the texture of the dish completely.

any questions/thoughts/criticisms welcome.

…and

15/02/2010

apologies for the hiatus. new cool shit on the way. promise.