Monday, 6 June 2011

Terre a Terror: When Oranges Attack

Earlier this year I missed a friend's birthday dinner at Terre a Terre - one of my, and his, favourite restaurants. Feeling rather guilty of neglect, I invited him to stay for the weekend and planned a belated birthday meal from the restaurant's cookbook. I wouldn't normally cook anything this complex and have only attempted a couple recipes from this book before, but I convinced myself that I should give it another go.

I chose to make the "Kibbi Our Soles" recipe and the result was 50% perfect, 25% bearable and, in my opinion, 25% inedible! Ok, so I chose a recipe with oranges in it - the only common foodstuff that I absolutely detest - but I picked this one anyway because, as another friend (Babraaaa) remarked, there were fewer ingredients akin to unicorn's tears in it.

It was also one of the few mains that didn't require any deep frying. Last year I had a memorable food failure with another component of a Terre a Terre recipe - salsify goujons. In that case I had mucked about with the method though: I attempted to oven bake followed by shallow frying, rather than deep frying them (I don't have a fryer and can't bring myself to do it using the old fashioned, chip pan, 3rd degree burns method)
They were horrible but I suspect they would have been fine if deep fried as per the instructions, so that was my lesson learned - every now and again you have to follow a recipe exactly, particularly the first time you do it.

If you do ever feel like trying this meal out then I can give you two, extremely important peices of advice regarding the kibbi and the tagine:

1) Do not use their measurements when adding the orange juice and zest. Halve it, quarter it or, even better, completely omit the horrid stuff. Although it might sound like the orange factor is just me and my biased hatred of the fruit, both my friend and my husband agreed it was overpowering in both the kibbi and the butterbean casserole, although they did eat it bless them. Personally, I would also treat the suggested volume of preserved lemon peel with suspicion.

2) The recipe serves 6 and the instructions tell you to create 6 kibbis. The photograph, however, shows 3 kibbis on a single dinner plate. Try making 18 small ones, like in their picture, and ignore the written instructions. If you only make six they are too big, too dense and definitely don't cook through in "15-20 minutes".

Ok, so I'm going to go through the various components, starting with the dishes that did work perfectly. We'll end on the most genuinely horrible dish to come out of my kitchen for months.

"Kibbi Our Soles" from Terre A Terre (p116)

Chermoula Spice Seasoning
50g coriander seeds, 2 tbsp fennel seeds, 2 tbsp cumin seeds, 2 tbsp sumac, 1/4 tsp of salt. Toast everything except the sumac and salt, grind them (use a coffee grinder), mix with the sumac and salt, keep in an airtight container.
Note: you don't need this much - the recipe doesn't use it all.

Olive, Sultana and Bulgur Wheat Salad
300ml stock, 60g sultanas, 200g bulgar wheat, 2 tbsp olive oil, 100g onions (sliced), 20g preserved lemon peel (diced), 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 80g stoned green olives, 200g curly leaf parsley (finely chopped), 100g mint leaves, 200g pine nuts (toasted), 2tsp chermoula spice seasoning, 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Heat up the stock until simmering and add the sultanas, leave until they are swollen, then pour over the bulgar wheat in a big bowl and cover. Leave for about half an hour and fluff up with a fork.

Fry up the onions in the oil until soft, then add the lemon peel, cinnamon and olives, and take off the heat. The instructions didn't say to break up the olives but I quartered them and stand by the decision. Add the onion mixture to the bulgur and sultanas. Toast the bajillion pine nuts and add them in just before you eat, along with the parsley and mint, lemon and seasoning. I had to do the parsley and mint in the food processor; 300g of leafy herbs is a lot of leafage to do by hand. 

Verdict: Love it.

Kitchen Sink Pickles
200g cucumber, 180g carrots, 200g red onions, 1 red pepper (deseeded), 120g white cabbage (shredded), 100g stoned green olives, 250ml argan oil (ahem, unicorn's tears) or olive oil, 125ml white wine vinegar, 3 tbsp chopped thyme, 3 tbsp chopped oregano, 1 tbsp cumin seeds (toasted and cracked), 1tbsp coriander seeds (toasted and cracked), a pinch of saffron, infused orange juice [reserved from the kibbi, there was less than a tablespoon], salt and pepper.

Halve the cucumber lengthways, deseed and slice pretty finely. Halve the carrot and slice the same way. Halve the onion, remove the core, then dice. Cut the pepper into small squares. Mix all of the ingredients together in a big bowl and leave at room temperature for 3 hours before putting in the fridge.

Verdict: Love it.

Big Bean Tagine
200g (a tin of) butter beans [the recipe calls for dried butterbeans, soaked, then boiled until cooked. Which is basically what a tin of butterbeans is], 4 tbsp olive oil, 200g shallots, 200g red peppers (deseeded and chopped), 1 onion (chopped), 25g garlic (chopped), 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger, 1/2 tsp saffron strands, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, grated zest of 1 orange [optional, I recommend against!], 1 tbsp diced preserved lemon peel, 500g ripe tomatoes (chopped), 100ml stock, 3 tbsp orange juice [again, I really recommend against this], 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt, 1tbsp argan oil (unicorn tears), 2 tbsp torn coriander.

Fry the shallots, peppers, onion and garlic in the oil for 5 minutes, before adding the cinnamon, ginger, saffron and pepper and cooking for another 5 minutes. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the unicorn's tears and coriander. 

Honestly... I forgot to add the coriander before serving up. I'm sure this would have improved it a bit but there is no way some chopped herb and a drizzle of argan oil would have disguised what I can only describe as an orange punch to the face with each mouthful. Saying that, the aftertaste was actually quite nice, so I think there's hope for this dish and I will make it again with some adjustments.

Verdict: Edible but not great. Take out a lot of the orange and you'll have a much nicer dish.

Halloumi and Almond Kibbi
100ml orange juice [this is too much!], 2 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 15 fennel seeds, 250g halloumi cheese (washed and finely grated), 200g cream cheese, 200g pressed tofu (drained, put in paper towels and weighted down to squeeze out excess liquid), 400g ground almonds, 100g gram (chickpea) flour, 2 tbsp cumin seeds (toasted and cracked), 2 tbsp coriander seeds (toasted and cracked), 75g preserved lemon peel (finely chopped), grated zest of 2 oranges [NoOOOOoooOOOOoooo!], grated zest of 2 lemons, 70g flat leaf parsley, 50g coriander (chopped), salt and pepper, 450g aubergines (sliced lengthways), 2 tbsp whole milk, 4 tbsp rice flour, olive oil for brushing, chermoula spice seasoning, sunflower oil.

The recipe calls for bringing the orange juice up to the boil with the star anise, cinnamon and fennel seeds, then leaving to infuse. I would suggest using a lot less orange if any at all; alongside the insanely large amount of preserved lemon peel and fresh zests, it's all just too citrusy.

Grate the halloumi and tofu into a big mixing bowl, add the cream cheese, ground almonds, gram flour, ground cumin and coriander seeds, preserved lemon, orange and lemon zest (don't!), parsley, coriander and seasoning and mix well with(OUT) 4 tbsp of the orange juice. Put in the fridge for 2 hours to firm up. Then mould into eighteen conical shapes, or at least twelve, not six as the recipe says.

Dip the aubergine slices in the milk and then coat in the rice flour. I had to use two aubergine slices each to wrap around my kibbi, secured with a skewer, for the smaller ones you'll only need one.

Brush them with olive oil and roll them in the chermoula seasoning, before frying them for 2 minutes in the sunflower oil. Put them on a baking tray and into the oven at 180 degrees. The recipe says 15-20 minutes, which probably would work with the smaller kibbi, it wasn't enough for these large ones though.

Verdict: Horrible. An orange assault on the senses and a textural disaster. They would probably be ok with the two adjustments to the recipe I've mentioned: drastically reduce the citrus ingredients and make smaller kibbi. 

"The Big Lemon" from Terre A Terre (p172)

Gin and Tonic Sorbet
350ml sugar syrup, 250ml tonic water, 75ml gin, juice of half a lemon.
Combine the above and sling them in an ice cream maker to churn. Watch it after the first 45 minutes though, it will get a sorbet-like look to it but there's a point at which it won't get any thicker and it does need to go into the freezer to set.

The Pastry
250g plain flour, 60g icing sugar (sifted), grated zest of 1/2 unwaxed lemon, 100g unsalted butter (cubed), 1 egg and 1 yolk, plus another beaten egg to glaze.
Sift the flour and icing sugar together, add the lemon zest and butter and rub until it goes breadcrumby. Add the egg and yolk and mix together. It does actually need a bit of kneading to bring it together properly. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge. I made the pastry the day before I did the tart itself, so it did get a proper overnight chilling.

The recipe asks for a "30cm loose based tart ring", I don't know if you've got one of these lying around in the cupboard but I certainly didn't. I used my pyrex flan/quiche dish with the crimped edge, it measures at 28cm across and is quite shallow. I ended up with a fair amount of leftover filling, but the tart itself didn't suffer. 

Roll the pastry out until it's big enough to line your baking dish. As mine is glass I just rubbed it with butter rather than lining it with greaseproof paper. The pastry, in its dish, now goes back into the fridge for another hour, before being baked blind for 15-20 mins at 180 degrees. It then comes back out for a quick glaze with the beaten egg and back into the oven for another two minutes. I use this technique when making savoury quiches and pies, using just the white, as it keeps the pastry from getting soggy.

The Filling
150g caster sugar, grated zest and juice of 6 lemons, 6 large eggs (beaten), 600ml double cream.
Bring the sugar, lemon zest and juice to a boil on the stove, then pour into a bowl containing the eggs, whisking the whole time. Then add the cream immediately after. Strain through a sieve and pour into the pastry. It bakes at 130 degrees for about 40 minutes. 

The tart needs to go cold and be refrigerated before you eat it and just before you do, if you have a cook's blowtorch, dust the whole thing with icing sugar and give it a blasting. Raspberries would have been lovely with it but we didn't have any, I had meant to serve it with blueberries instead but I forgot them!

One thing: don't use a blunt cake knife to cut it like I did, the jaggedy edges don't do it justice. I also wish I hadn't served it on too-small plates with patterns on, it would have looked much better on a larger, plainer plate.

Verdict: Lovely.

A Quick Comment

Every time I've cooked from this book there have been some components that have worked out beautifully and some that didn't. My advice is to accept the expense and make these at least once before giving them to other people, as adjustments are usually necessary. The recipes are too complex to "wing it" if you want to stay true to the intended dish, and too unusual to rely on your instincts to tell you what the problems will be, at least the first time you make them.

However, when it goes right, the food is wonderful and some components of these meals could easily become favourites. The tabbouleh-style and lightly pickled salads above were both beautiful, as was the lemon tart and sorbet. From previous experiences, the miso mash (p96) and the tomato bouillabaisse, braised artichokes and haricot brandade (p45-46) are all delicious first-time too.

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