22 November 2013

Fish fingers and custard with smashed Sontarans

If I say “fish fingers and custard” what pops into your mind?

No.  I’ve not joined some weird food blogging event sponsored by a multiconglomerate of processed “food” manufacturers daring participants to combine two unlikely products and pretend that they are fit for human consumption (individually or together).

No.  I’ve not accidentally typed “fish” when I meant “lady.”

No.  I’m not pregnant (but yes, I am still looking for a decent guy…in case anyone out there knows of one).

Yes.  I’m a Whovian. 

So what’s the big deal with Doctor Who?  Why has this TV series about a Time Lord and his companions hurtling through time and space in the TARDIS captivated so many worldwide? It’s not a big US “a big budget automatically makes it good” production--in fact, production values are traditionally low.  Really…have you seen a Dalek?  They look like overgrown pepperpots with a toilet plunger as one arm and a paint roller (or is it an elongated eggbeater) as the other, with a camera lens on a stick as an eye.  That's what they look like. In reality they're heartless, angry squid creatures who hide out in the pepperpot shells.

I think it works because when you strip away the sexy fish vampires, killer mannequins, battle-obsessed potato people, farting aliens, and cyborgs at its heart Doctor Who is about a drifter with a dark and mysterious past, who when he sees bad things happening, does something about it.  His friends and comrades are often recognizable to the average viewer—students, shopgirls, people just trying to get their act together—and together they get to the bottom of issues and generally make things better.

And for me…the cleverness of the baddie pretence is irresistible.  For 50 years writers have taken everyday items and made them terrifying: shop mannequins, stone angels, your neighbour's voice crying for help, your television set.  I've always known diet pills are evil.  As to The Doctor: he's eccentric. And he's smart.  How could I not be attracted to that?

Throughout the past half-century the Doctor has remained an enigma.  In as much as he’s an optimist, he reveals himself in bits and pieces.  Sometimes he references the Time War or other fights he’s been in.  Sometimes he talks about the people he’s lost. Sometimes his reactions tell the tale.  Whatever it is…there's a lot of darkness that he keeps at bay.

One of the things I find interesting is how fans interpret the words and deeds found within the canon.  Many have extrapolated life lessons, such as the ones I found that speak to PR and strategic communications.

Okay fine.  But what does all this have to do with fish fingers and custard?

Well…the Doctor has a few food peculiarities.  Pears are bad.  Jammy Dodgers save the day.  He likes to offer people Jelly Babies.  Celery is a boutonnière.  And then there’s the entire banana thing.

Long story short, after regenerating into the 11th Incarnation, the doctor got hungry and after rejecting many foods, he was satisfied with fish fingers and custard.

I’m sure Stephen Moffat came up with that combination to see what Whovians would do with it. And yes, a number of people have created their own recipes, including Alton Brown, this sweet version using cookies.

So…a challenge.  And I’m up for it in honour of Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary celebrations this weekend.

The fish part is a fairly easy non-recipe recipe: dust fish goujeons with seasoned flour, dip in an egg wash and then coat in panko crumbs mixed with herbs (such as parsley or dill).   You could also just go out and buy a packet of fish fingers…but where’s the fun in that?

As to the custard, I knew I didn’t want to play around with a savoury milk pudding spiked with saffron, turmeric or mustard.  So I took the easy route and zhuzhed up a homemade aioli.  No my custard (or TARDIS sauce) isn’t electric yellow, nor is it cooked, but it does have dairy and egg.  I will say, the sauce is also good with roast potatoes.

And well…what’s fish without chips? You could do fries or good, chunky chips…but given how battle-loving the potato-like Sontarans are, I decided to make some crispy, smashed Sontarans. 

Fish fingers
500g (1lb) firm white fish such as cod or haddock, cut into finger-like pieces.
All purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 beaten egg
100g (1.5 c) panko breadcrumbs mixed
1Tbsp  chopped fresh herbs (such as dill or parsley)
Oil, for frying

Lightly salt the fish fingers and refrigerate, uncovered for 20 minutes.

Heat  enough oil so you can either deep fry or shallow fry the fish. 

Dab off any wetness from the flesh, then dredge in the seasoned flour, dip in egg and then cover in the herbed panko crumbs.

Fry until the fingers are cooked.

Custard Sauce/Tardis Sauce
For the Aioli
1 egg yolk
2 grated garlic cloves (as paste-like in consistency, as you can get it)
7.5ml (0.5Tbsp) Dijon mustard (smooth or grainy)
60ml (0.25c) flavourless oil
60ml (0.25c) extra virgin olive oil
7.5ml (0.5Tbsp) warmed white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine egg and garlic with mustard, salt and pepper.  Whisk in the oils in a steady stream.  Keep whisking until fully incorporated and then whisk hard for about a minute to make the mix thick and glossy.  Add the vinegar and whisk some more.  Balance flavours to taste.

You’ll get about 125ml (1/2c) of aioli from the above recipe

To turn the aioli into TARDIS sauce, mix together the following ingredients
60ml (0.25c)  aioli
60ml (0.25c) sour cream
7ml (1.5tsp) prepared horseradish
5ml (1tsp) Dijon mustard (smooth or grainy)
5ml (1tsp) prepared English mustard
2ml (0.25tsp) cayenne pepper (or to taste)
2ml (0.25tsp) onion powder

Balance flavours to taste.

Smashed Sontarans
Again, this is another non-recipe recipe.

Baby potatoes (about 5cm/2” in length) OR regular potatoes, cut  into 5cm/2”  chunks. Leave the skins on
Salted water (for boiling)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Other seasonings, you see fit.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Slick a cookie sheet with olive oil

Parboil the potatoes in the salted water.  Drain and tumble onto the oiled cookie sheet.

Press the down on the potatoes with a  spoon, fork or the bottom of a sauce pan.  You can smash flatish or just press down enough to rough up the surface.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper and other herbs and spices as you see fit. 

Drizzle more olive oil on top.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are cooked, with crispy brown bits.

I'm a quill for hire!

15 November 2013

Daring Bakers, Tribute To Lis: Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels

La Mia Cucina's Lis Cifelli, Daring Bakers and Daring Kitchen co-founder died  of a heart attack earlier this week.  She was 46.

Many things flicked through my mind when my BlackBerry binged about a dozen times over the course of a few minutes.  That only happens when something's very wrong…but when I saw a distribution list of a couple dozen foodbloggers, including old-school names, my heart stopped.  We lost one of our own.

Later that  evening a few of us who were part of foodblogging's salad days were in a twitter chat about those old days, especially the Daring Bakers' early days.

The Daring Bakers started off in 2006 as two online friends--Lis and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice--daring one another to try the same recipe and post their results.  It looked like fun and fit in well with foodblogging's early days which were marked by fun, encouragement and a prevailing feeling of "we're all in it together."  Many of my foodblogging friends were in the first groups and I was christened a DB within seven months of the Lis and Ivonne's inaugural challenge.

As the group grew, so did our collective skill, knowledge and well as our individual friendships.  Apart from encouraging me to bake my first macarons and try my hand at pasta making, I also found my go-to cheesecake recipe and made some good friends.  In 2009 I even hosted a the Bakewell Tart challenge--ably assisted by my dear Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar.

Time and energy are limited, and I (like several early members) simply faded out of the challenges so we could concentrate on what we wanted our lives and blogs to become  and left the DBs to the next generation who continue to to challenge each other with new adventures (yes, I did peek at this month's challenge recipe: it looks like an amazing one).

So when that FB chat turned to how we could memorialise Lis and all she did to contribute to foodblogging's community building, we decided to brush off our DB skills and return to a challenge recipe, prepare it and post it in her honour.  But which one to choose? If I were to do one that makes me smile every time, it would be my friend Shuna Fish Lydon's Caramel Cake

Given what Lis and Ivonne did for foodblogging, and the memories Lis' passing brought me, I thought it was appropriate to post the very first Daring Bakers' challenge: Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels.

I'll admit to not really being a pretzel-eater, simply because My Dear Little Cardamummy never kept them in the house (truthfully, she thought they were dog food and was repulsed by the idea that anyone would eat them).  But these aren't those hard, dry twigs.  These are soft, bready and buttery….and really, really easy to make.

But not so easy that I couldn't make a couple of oopsies.  Apart from missing the 15-minute rise before baking, after I pulled them out of the oven I realised I used bread flour instead of AP.  Quite honestly--the oversights weren't showstoppers and I really don't think the pretzels suffered from my inattentiveness.

The recipe called for an optional salt sprinkle, which I did, but I also decided to take a couple of liberties with some of the breaded knots and made rosemary-black pepper-Parmesan and  cinnamon-sugar toppings,  and made little sesame seed-coated twisted pretzel sticks.

Recipe: Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels
DB Challenge Recipe: Cream Puffs In Venice: Perfect Pretzels
Original Recipe:  King Arthur Flour: Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels


I'm a quill for hire!