Chocolate Pot

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Scraping the vanilla seeds

This pot of vanilla infused dark chocolate is gently baked in a bain marie before chilling in the fridge for six hours; you have to break through a firm crust to get to the thick baked mousse underneath. This is a recipe from  the Chocolate chapter of Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories. The chapter is dedicated to unadulterated decadence; every recipe rich with dark chocolate and double cream. I chose this one in particular because I like serving desserts baked in individual portion-sized ramekins.

We have Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés to thank for this pud, who is said to have introduced both vanilla and chocolate to Europe on his return from Central America. Vanilla is the sun-dried seed pod of a climbing orchid. It is the most expensive spice after Saffron because the flowers must be hand pollinated and the pods dried very slowly.

Ingredients:

  • 175ml double cream
  • 1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 75ml milk
  • 125g dark, bitter chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 2 small egg yolks (size 5-6)
  • 1 heaped tbsp icing sugar

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 140°C, warm the cream with the vanilla pod, whisk to disperse the seeds then leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
  2. Melt the chocolate in the milk. Beat together the egg yolks and the sugar, add the chocolate milk and vanilla cream  and blend thoroughly.
  3. Pass through a fine sieve and pour into small ramekins. Bake for 45 mins-1 hour or until slightly puffed up and spongy.
  4. Cool thoroughly in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving.

DSCF4695 Egg yolks and icing sugar

DSCF4689Broken chocolate and milk in a bain marie

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Ready for the oven, what a mess!

DSCF4702The finished desert, you can see the spongy texture

I left the pots to cool on an improvised chopstick rack before refrigerating them. Six hours later we served them with some stewed strawberries and plums.

Brandy Apple Pie with Cheddar Pastry

The pie filled with apple slices

The pie filled with apple slices

My roots are in the lush pasture and laden orchards of Somerset. I love this time of year in the West Country, when the countryside turns bright green as the weather gets warmer. This pie uses some of Somerset’s most prolific ingredients; apples and cheddar cheese. Like the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, West Country Farmhouse Cheddar has a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) which means that it must be made in Somerset by European Law. The soil and climate are also perfect for growing apples; such is the abundance of the fruit, the local farmers brew gallons of invariably strong if variably tasty cider.

If I was a self-sufficient small-holder then this pie would use up the end of last autumn’s wrinkly apples from the pantry. Alas the only thing I am growing in my Norwich flat is a pepper plant on the window-sill, so I have bought some bramleys. The Idea came from the April chapter of The Times’ The Cookery Year, which accredits the custom of serving cheese with apple pie. I then tweaked the recipe by adding brandy and spices.

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 level teaspoon salt
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 110g strong cheddar cheese

For the filling:

  • 900g cooking apples
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg for glazing

Instructions:

  1. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix with the flour until crumbly.
  2. Add the salt, grated cheese and a little cold water and mix into a ball.
  3. Divide the pastry into two, roll one half into a sheet and line a 7 inch pie tin.
  4. Peel, core and slice the apples and lay them in the pie. Sprinkle over the sugar, spices and the brandy.
  5. Roll out the second half of the pastry, wet the edges of the lining and lay over the lid.
  6. Trim the edge, then crimp and decorate with the trimmings.
  7. Brush with a whisked egg, pierce an air hole in the top and bake for 35-40 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 220°C.

Crimped and Decorated

Crimped and decorated

The finished pie

In my excitement at cutting apple shapes out of the trimmings I completely forgot to pierce an air hole in the pastry lid, resulting in a big air pocket above the fruit. It ruined the aesthetic of the slice, but luckily it didn’t ruin the flavour. I cut the rest of the pastry trimmings into strips, glazed them and baked them for 20 minutes to make cheese straws. The top was very brown when I took them out, so I covered it with tin foil to stop it from burning.

The bite of strong cheddar along with the tartness of bramley apples is a real taste of Somerset. All I need now is a pint of scrumpey and the Wurzels on loud to transport me back to the West Country.

Spinach Saffron Pearl Barley with Roasted Vegetables

Spinach saffron pearl barley with roasted vegetables

Spinach saffron pearl barley with roasted vegetables

When its cold, wet and dark outside, the oven-side is the best place to be. From the moment the dial is turned to the rush of hot air exploding into the room when the door is opened and the dish removed, the prospect of a delicious meal in a cozy kitchen banishes winter doom and gloom. Through the oven door the Butternut squash gradually softens as the edges of the onions begin to crisp. The shells of the garlic cloves split and the skin on the bell pepper shrivels. In the yellow glow of the oven light the olive oil bubbles and spits in the tray while the whole kitchen fills with the roasting smell of natural sugars caramelizing.

Roasted vegetables

                                                     Roasted vegetables
On the stove top the pearl barley gently simmers away. I like pearl barley because It is rich in fiber and has a wholesome chewiness. Adults need 21 to 38 g of fiber a day; I have found that eating high fiber foods makes me feel healthier, gives me more energy and makes me happier. 
Saffron seeped in warm water

Saffron steeped in warm water

For the vegetables;

  • 1 red pepper
  • I courgette
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 a butternut squash
  • 6 big cloves of garlic
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, or enough to coat all the veg
  • sea salt and black pepper

For the pearl barley;

  • 200g pearl barley
  • enough boiling water to cover
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • a few big handfuls of spinach
  • a pinch of saffron strands
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • a splash of olive oil

Instructions;

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees, roughly chop all of the veg, toss them in a bowl with the oil, thyme and seasoning then distribute on a tray in the oven.
  2. Steep a pinch of saffron strands in a little warm water and set aside. Bring the pearl barley to the boil in the salted water and simmer for 35 minutes or until nearly cooked.
  3. Drain the barley and dry the pan. Put the pan back on the heat and gently fry the garlic. Add the barley back in along with the saffron water and the spinach and stir for a few minutes until the spinach is cooked. By this time the Vegetables should be done; either mix the two dishes in a big bowl or serve side by side. Garnish with chopped parsley.

It is delicious as is (and totally vegan), or even better with a slice of warmed sourdough spread with pesto. This meal has the healthiness of a fiber-rich grain, the sweetness of roasted vegetables and an exotic saffron touch. An impressive meal that is very easy to assemble!

Stargazy Pie

Stargazy Pie

Stargazy Pie

I accredit my particular liking of oily fish to two childhood memories: The first is of a fisherman at Branscome beach on the Dorset coast who takes groups mackerel fishing in the summer. We would spend an hour racing to see who could catch the most and then barbecue the lot on the beach that evening. The second memory is from one of my favourite children’s books, The Mousehole Cat. Based on true events, the story tells of Cornish fisherman Tom Bawcock and his trusty cat Mowzer who brave the winter storm in their fishing boat to save the starving people of Mousehole.

Mousehole Cat

Mowzer soothing the raging sea-cat

In the book the storm is personified as a raging storm-cat who is soothed by Mowzer’s purring. When the intrepid duo return they bake their catch into an enormous Stargazy Pie to feed the villagers. Traditionally this pie uses whole sardines whose heads poke through the pastry crust to gaze at the stars. Baked in this way the oil released from the fish during cooking is contained within the pie. Folk lore tells that Stargazy Pie, along with other unusual Cornish pies, prevented the Devil from crossing the Tamar into Cornwall. He reasoned that the Cornish seem to put anything and everything into a pie and decided to return to Devon before they take a fancy to ‘Devilly Pie’.

In Dorothy Hartley’s book Food in England she claims that ‘the vegetable or herb that the beast feeds upon is the best condiment to it when cooked… thus, Thyme for mountain grayling, watercress for brook trout’. Now, I’m not claiming that pilchards feed upon the following, but I think that bacon lardons, mushrooms, leeks and a mustard sauce compliment their flavoursome oily meat in my Stargazy Pie.

Instructions

First of all make 350g of pastry an hour or so in advance and let it sit in the fridge.  Crisp up bacon lardons in an oiled saucepan and add the vegetables to soften with a lid on. In a separate pan boil two or three hard boiled eggs.

Meanwhile roll out enough pastry to cover the bottom of your greased pie dish and par-bake. When it comes out of the oven, lay six gutted, deboned sardines on top of the pastry with their tails meeting in the middle and their heads poking out of the side of the dish.

Spoon over the fish the sliced eggs, vegetables and a sauce made from flour, butter, milk and mustard. Then cover with another layer of pastry so that the heads are poking out like the handles of a ship’s wheel. Crimp the edges and brush over with an egg glaze.

Bake at 220 celcius for 15 minutes, then turn down to 180 for a further 25-30 minutes. Serve with boiled potatoes and steamed broccoli.

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Pie vegetables

Vegetables

20130305_192248The fish laid in the par-baked pastry.

Feeding the climbers

View from the cragView from the crag

At the weekend I joined the UEA Climbing Club on a trip to the Peak District National Park. We stayed in a hut with a big kitchen and a communal area with a log burning stove; when you’ve spent all day climbing in the cold, this is all you need! On Saturday evening as the flames greedily consumed logs and coal, the ten of us defrosted with a beer and a plate of hot stodgy food.

The food routine is well established; on the way there on Friday we stop in Newark for pie and chips and on the way back on Sunday we stop for a burger. The Student Union allows a food budget of £5 each per weekend which covers porridge, two days’ lunches and dinner on Saturday night. £50 went on sandwich materials and fruit for lunches and ingredients to make a cauldron of mushroom risotto. We used three 500g boxes of arborio rice, two large punnets of mushrooms, a pack of 9p stock cubes, half a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a large block of value tasty cheddar left over from the sandwiches. I supplemented this with a big handful of mixed dried mushrooms from my stash at home. By the time the risotto was ready I was so hungry I forgot to take any photos! I have included some climbing photos instead;

Ultimate Gritetone Experience

Ultimate Gritetone Experience

20130224_150831View from the top of Curbar, near Art of Japan

The temperature stayed close to zero all weekend and the threat of snow was ever present. From a distance we must have looked like lizards crawling on the rocks; basking in the sun when it peeped through the clouds.

No Mere Mushroom Risotto

Dried porcini mushrooms

Dried porcini mushrooms

Rice first arrived in Italy and Spain in the Middle Ages from the Arab states. The humidity of the Mediterranean climate best facilitated the growing of short grain, starchy rice; perfect for making a dish with a luscious sauce. The first ever risotto was made in Milan, containing locally grown rice and saffron. Milan was ruled by the Spanish at the time, which is why short grain rice and saffron pop up in the Spanish paella as well.

In order to make a mushroom risotto that stands out from the crowd I went for the sweetness of forestière and the intensity of dried porcini.

Ingredients

  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Half an onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 250g arborio risotto rice
  • 200ml white wine
  • 250g forestière mushrooms
  • 500ml stock (home-made is best, Marigold Bouillon otherwise)
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp grated parmesan

Instructions

  1. Pour boiling water into a mug containing the porcini mushrooms. Slice the forestière mushrooms and set aside
  2. Warm the oil on a medium heat, dice the onion, crush the garlic and toss them into the pan until soft
  3. Make up your stock and keep hot in a pan on another burner
  4. Add the rice and stir to coat each and every grain with oil. From this moment the risotto needs to be continuously stirred. Set the timer for 10 minutes
  5. Strain the porcini; add the liquid to the stock pan and the mushrooms to the risotto pan
  6. When the rice has absorbed the wine, ladle in the stock, only adding more as the last ladleful has been absorbed
  7. When your timer goes off, add the forestière shrooms. Keep stirring and adding stock. After 10 minutes test the firmness of the rice. It should be slightly al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste
  8. Take off the heat, add 2 tablespoons of the parmesan and stir; keep 1 tablespoon to sprinkle on top.

Don't stop stirring!

Don’t stop stirring!

Rehydrated porciniRehydrated porcini

Mushroom risotto

Mushroom risotto

The end result was a powerfully shroomy flavour and a deliciously creamy texture; this is a food that is high up on my list of comfort eats!

Mulligatawny

Today I decided to kill two birds with one soup; feeding my girlfriend an invigorating meal to help her as she revises for an exam, and practicing a dish that I’m thinking of suggesting to the deli where I work. Over the last few weeks my thoughts have turned to India regularly due to our cricket team currently playing a test match series out there. Perhaps thats why I had the sudden urge to make this dish; or then again it might have been the alluring prospect of hearty sizzling beef mince and warm spiced aromas filling the kitchen as I walked home from work on a freezing Norfolk night.

I followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe ‘Mighty Mulligatawny’  which can be found in ‘Jamie’s Great Britain’.  I’ve listed Jamie’s ingredients with any changes that I made alongside. The Instructions are a simplified version of those in the book.

Ingredients

  • 250g quality minced beef
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped (I used a white onion)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
  • a 3cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (I used double this)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Patak’s Madras curry paste (I used Patak’s Tikka Masala)
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato puree (I used ketchup)
  • sea salt and ground pepper
  • I heaped tablespoon HP sauce
  • 1.5 litres organic beef stock (I used powdered Marigold Bouillon)
  • 1/2 a butternut squash (roughly 350g) cut into centimeter cubes
  • a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme , leaves picked
  • a couple of pinches of garam masala (I used a good teaspoon because my garam masala is not the freshest)
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • natural yoghurt to serve
  • (I also used a small bunch of flat leaved parsley)

Instructions

  1. fry the beef in a big glug of olive oil on a high heat until golden brown (around 6 minutes)
  2. add the next 5 ingredients and  sauté on a medium heat for another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir every 2 or 3 minutes
  3. add the puree, curry paste and HP sauce and a good pinch of salt and pepper and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t stick
  4. add the stock and simmer gently for 40 minutes.
  1. take another pan and set it on a medium heat
  2. give the pan a big glug of olive oil and fry the squash with the thyme and garam masala for 10 minutes, stirring so as not to burn the bottom
  3. add a cup of rice, and using the same cup add two cups of water
  4. cook for 10 minutes with the lid on, then take off the heat and leave to steam for another 8 minutes.
  5. mix the rice and squash into the soup and serve with a dollop of yoghurt, lots of fresh coriander and some slices of chilli

Ingredients

Ingredients

Chopped ginger, garlic, onion and chilly

Chopped ginger, garlic, onion and chilli

The squash cooking with thyme and Garam Masala

The squash cooking with thyme and garam masala

Flat leaf parsley and butternut squashFlat leaf parsley and butternut squash

In tupperware ready to be transported to Annabel'sFrom the left; the soup, the rice and squash, a jar of coriander and a jar of yoghurt

I tupperwared it all up and put it in my panier to cycle over to Annabel’s. I highly recommend this soup. It tasted fantastic; a real spicy winter warmer!

Minestrone made with punchy tomato and anchovy paste

Minestrone

I have always loved pasta in all of its forms and I think that putting little bits of it in a vegetable soup is a brilliant idea. A glance at Elizabeth David‘s Italian Food reveals the importance of fresh parsley and green vegetables in minestrone; spinach and beans work well, alongside whatever other vegetables are in season. Regional variations of this classic dish might include salted pork rind, ham or bacon and the Genovese add pesto. A handful of freshly grated parmesan, sprinkled on top to serve is also widely recommended.

I made this soup on the cheap and therefore left out the pig, parmesan and parsley. The following made enough for two portions;

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small parsnip
  • 3 cauliflower florets
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbs tomato and anchovy paste* / regular tomato paste
  • 1 tsp mixed dried herbs
  • 500mls Marigold Boullion
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 handful of minestrone pasta
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste

*We made pizzas on the weekend and I cooked onion, garlic, mixed herbs and a tin of anchovies into passata to make the sauce. Reduced down, this makes the best tomato paste I have ever tasted!

Instructions

  1. Dice the first four ingredients into 7mm chunks and sweat them in a pan with the lid on. This should be on a medium heat with a good swig of olive oil
  2. Crush and add the garlic
  3. After a few minutes, add the paste and the herbs and stir in.
  4. Add the stock and paprika and bring to a simmer (not a rolling boil)
  5. Now stir in the pasta and cook for another three minutes. Test the pasta to know when the soup is done.

Those Italians really know how to make food that is both deeply satisfying and healthy. The pasta soaks up the wholesomeness of the vegetables and the salty flavour of the tomato and anchovy paste. Hot, savoury and filling, minestrone is one of my favourite comfort foods.

My recent experimentations with canning have revolutionised my cooking world. I wonder if it is possible to can a big batch of tomato and anchovy paste?