Chocolate Pot

DSCF4686

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

DSCF4697

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.

Advertisements

Lambs Kidneys with Anchovy and Rosemary Butter

After making a stock from pigs ears and feet a few weeks ago, I feel ready to face any part of the animal that crosses my path. The thought of eating charred, slightly pink in the middle kidney seems a trifle in comparison. The role of the kidneys is to filter excess water and waste products from the blood and for this reason I searched out the freshest organic kidneys in Norwich. I arrived at Harvey’s Organic Butchers just after the lamb delivery, so the kidneys couldn’t have been much fresher; the butcher brought them out still wrapped in their suet jackets, which he gave me for free to go in the freezer for dumplings.

The recipe I followed is from Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories. I’ve read that veal kidneys are one of the best things you can eat, but I couldn’t find any; the lamb kidneys that I used were delicious anyway.

Ingredients

  • 50g tin of anchovies, drained of oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 rosemary sprig, leaves only
  • black pepper and salt
  • 2 veal kidneys, suet removed and trimmed of any excess fat and membrane (I used lambs kidneys)
  • Watercress and lemon wedges to garnish

*I halved these quantities to make enough for two.

Instructions; (paraphrased)

  1. Puree together the anchovies, lemon juice, butter, garlic, rosemary and pepper. Check for salt, pass through a sieve and refrigerate for at least four hours.
  2. Cut the kidneys into 5mm slices, season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil and sear on a very hot griddle for no more than 45 seconds-1 minute.
  3. Serve with a piece of the butter and the lemon and watercress.

*I served them with roast parsnips and a salad.

Searing hot griddle

Searing hot griddle

Roast ParsnipsNeeps and garlic pre-roasting

Lambs Kidneys with Anchovy and Rosemary Butter

Lambs Kidneys with Anchovy and Rosemary Butter

One of the benefits of working for a deli is occasionally using the wholesale discount we get from our suppliers. For £3.60 I picked up half a dozen local oysters to guzzle down as a starter; I had one au naturel, one with lemon juice and one with lemon juice and finely chopped parsley. The first is the purest way, an unadulterated shot of Davey Jones’ Locker, but my favourite was the third option as the lemon and parsley leave a lovely fresh taste in the mouth.

Oysters and kidneys, this was probably one of the most adventurous meals I have eaten. You might have noticed the lamb leg steak on the left hand side of the griddle; Annabel was not feeling quite so intrepid! Kidneys are a great source of vitamins and minerals and the tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture of fresh young lambs kidneys is a real treat. Because there is not much demand for offal nowadays, they hardly broke the bank; four for just £1.50.

 

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.

Ears, Trotters and Trimmings; a Perfectly Porky Pie

My ongoing quest to find traditional British food has lead me to a 14th century pork pie recipe in Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England; 

‘Flea Pyg and cut him in pieces, season with pepper and salt, and nutmeg , and large mace and lay in your coffin good store of raisins and currans, and fill with sweet butter and close it and serve hot or cold’.

After consulting a few more recent recipes, I decided to give it a go. I made my ‘coffin’ out of hot-water pastry moulded around a jam jar. The filling is pork trimmings and smoked bacon from my local butcher. The jelly is made from trotters and ears boiled with carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns and sea salt. This concoction is boiled for three hours and then cooled overnight. The fat is skimmed off the top and it is boiled again, before being poured into the pie through a hole in the pastry lid.

Over the last few days the kitchen has filled with a catalogue of porky smells; from the foul steam pouring off a pan of simmering ears and trotters to the delightful aroma of hot-water pastry baked in a hot oven.

The famous Melton Mowbray pork pie is made using a pastry case that has been ‘raised up’ around a pie mould or jam jar, filled with seasoned pork and topped with a pastry lid. Like Westcountry Farmhouse Cheddar and Jersey Royal potatoes, The Melton Mowbray pie has had a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) since 1993. Other pies make use of a band to prevent the bowing of the sides, or a pie tin with a removable bottom; some pies use minced, cured pork and different spices, but none of these pies can be called Melton Mowbray pies by European Law.

The jelly ingredients

The Jelly ingredients

Jam jar and pastry dough

Jam jar and a ball of pastry dough

The pastry raised around the jar

The pastry raised around the jar

Out comes the jar, in goes the pie filling

Out comes the jar, in goes the pie filling

The lid crimped, the foil belt fastened

The lid is crimped, the foil belt fastened

The finished pies

The finished pies

After cooling on a rack, the pies are refrigerated to allow the jelly to set. They should be eaten at room temperature with chutney or piccalilli.

I find it Ironic that many of today’s meat eaters shun cuts like offal and trotters while scoffing processed meat products by the kilo. This is an unsustainable way of eating meat. Using the whole animal is the best way to respect a creature that has been sacrificed for our tables and cooking from scratch is the only way to respect our own bodies. I have decided recently to eat less meat, and when I do to seek out the most weird and wonderful cuts on offer in my local butcher. If I’m going to dine on pigs ears I at least want the bragging rights of knowingly doing so.

The lesson we need to learn from the horse meat scandal is not to tighten up regulations and increase spot checks, but to stop eating processed meat all together.

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.

.

Pie vegetables

Vegetables

20130305_192248The fish laid in the par-baked pastry.

Experimenting with Sourdough

Every sourdough bakery across the land houses a bucket of gently bubbling, slowly fermenting batter made from flour and water. Some bakers call it a culture because much like yoghurt it contains friendly bacteria. I’ve also heard it referred to as sourdough mother or a starter because each and every new loaf is made using some of the original ongoing mix. Whatever you decide to call it, this simple mix is the baker’s supply of fresh wild yeasts. Adding more flour and water every day keeps these yeasts healthy and happy and it also means that the baker never runs out of culture. Bread leavened with a natural culture like this has been made for thousands of years.

Making sourdough involves a series of six or seven short processes with one or two hour interludes. This morning I fed my mother at 9am and again at 11am before going to work, then I left it warming in the sun on a south-facing window ledge. After my shift I checked the starter; it had become bubbly, giving off a sweet fermenting smell.

Starter Starter

I deemed the starter sufficiently active to make bread with, so I put 100g, along with 500g of bread flour, 300g of lukewarm water and 1tsp of salt into the food processor for three minutes, using the dough hook attachment. Alternatively this could be done by hand, mixed in a bowl then kneaded on a work surface. The resulting dough goes into an oiled bowl with clingfilm over the top to keep in the moisture. At 5.30 I put the bowl near the radiator, then I went for a climb.

Just mixed dough Just mixed dough

I got back from the climbing centre aching all over and excited to see how much my dough had risen. I am always slightly awed by the process, after all the only ingredients are flour water and salt. The stringy bits are where the gluten molecules have joined together to form long chains. This network of stretchy protein is then slowly aerated by carbon dioxide; produced as a byproduct when yeasts convert starch into sugar to feed on.

Dough after four hours Dough after four hours

The dough gets stretched over a wiped, oiled table which both stretches the gluten chains and, when carefully folded up again, aerates the dough. Dad stretches each batch of dough twice at Tracebridge Sourdough, but tonight I only had time for the once.

Stretching the dough

Stretching the dough

The dough is folded up and then shaped into a boule as gently as possible; it is important not to knead the dough at this stage. Sourdough is less robust and springy than packet yeasted bread which means that it needs some tlc. At 10pm the boule was ready to go into my swanky silicone bread tin for an hour’s final prove under some oiled cling film. At 11pm I removed the cling and put the dough into an oven preheated to 200 celcius for 40 minutes.

The finished loaf

The finished loaf

Cooling

Cooling

Cross-section

Cross-section

When I peeped through the oven door I found that my dough had grown and developed a beautiful golden crust. It is definitely a long process, but results like this make it worth while!

Valentine’s day photos

As promised here are the photos from the Valentine’s day menu I posted last week. I ended up omitting the prosciutto from the starter; my Italian employer told me that meat doesn’t go on bruschetta, and it did seem like overkill. I got to the  fishmonger on Magdalen Street just in time after work and I bought mussels, prawns and a big piece of coley; a white fish which is similar to cod. Having chopped the veg, scraped the mussel shells and blitzed the rouille beforehand, the meal was a simple assembly job when Annabel arrived.

After seasoning the soup, in went the seafood for no more than three minutes; just enough time for the prawns to turn bright pink, the fish to become flaky and tender and the mussels to hinge open revealing their hidden orange treasures.

Charred red peppers

Charred red peppers

Cumin, coriander and fennel seeds

Coriander, cumin and fennel seeds

Saffron strands filling the air with their pungent aroma

Saffron strands filling the kitchen with their pungent aroma

In go the fish and the prawns

In go the fish and the prawns

The finished stew

The finished stew

Artechoke Bruschetta

Artichoke Bruschetta

Tunisian Fish Stew

Tunisian Fish Stew

Panpepato and coffee Panpepato and coffee

Valentines’ recipes

The sous-chef and I have got together and decided on some recipes for Thursday, so with no more gilding of the lily, and absolutely no further ado, here is what we went for:

Artichoke Starter

This green and purple thistle is one of Annabel’s favourite things. In Rome they eat them cooked in butter, garlic and wild mint, but seeing as they are not in season I’ll pick up some preserved artichoke hearts from Amaretto, Norwich’s best delicatessen. We are going to combine them with prosciutto and griddled sourdough bread to make a simple bruschetta starter. This will go well with a glass of cold bubbly!

Tunisian fish Stew

I promised Annabel no fish heads this time, so we are compromising with a few shell-on prawns. I’m basically going to use a Boulliabase recipe that I’ve made before and integrate Tunisian spices; coriander, cumin and saffron. I’ll fry coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in hot oil, then add an onion, a finely chopped bulb of fennel, garlic, and fresh tomatoes; added just in time for their juice to prevent the spices from burning on the bottom of the pan. Into this fragrant bubbling concoction I’ll add fish stock and a good pinch of saffron – making sure the soup doesn’t heat beyond a simmer. As soon as the fennel starts to become tender I’ll add a tot of Pernod, then in go the mussels, shell-on prawns, a big handful of white fish chunks and salt and pepper to season.

Each bowl of soup will get a handful of crunchy sourdough croutons, some fresh parsley and a dollop of char-grilled red pepper and chilli rouille made with plenty of garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

Panpepato

I know this is a bit of a cheat, but I’m going to follow a recipe seeing as I have never done it before. The benefit of this dessert is that it can be made the day before to take the pressure off. Here it is, lifted off the Waitrose website;

Ingredients

  • Rice paper
  • 100g walnut pieces
  • 100g whole blanched hazelnuts
  • 100g blanched almonds
  • 200g mixed peel or candied citrus peel, chopped
  • 50g plain flour
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 225g runny honey
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • Icing sugar, for dredging

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Lightly butter an 18cm-square loose-bottomed tin and line the base and sides with rice paper. Bake the nuts on a tray for 12-15 minutes till golden brown. Cool, then roughly chop and transfer into a bowl with the peel and sift in the flour, cocoa and spices. Turn the oven down to 150°C, gas mark 2.
  2. Put the sugar, honey, and butter in a saucepan and gently heat, stirring till dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil until it reaches the ‘soft ball’ stage (113°C-118°C on a sugar thermometer). To test this, you can also scoop some out on a spoon and drop into a jug of water: it should go into a soft ball. Stir in the nut mixture, pour into the tin and smooth the surface with an oiled potato masher. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to firm up in the tin on a cooling rack. Remove the tin, trim the paper, sieve over some icing sugar and cut into slices or cubes.

Annabel has promised to combine the roles of Sous-chef and photographer on thursday, so expect some cracking photos this time next week!

Pickled Dill Cucumbers

Sliced cucumbers

Sliced cucumbers

I had the good fortune to come across a glut of reduced cucumbers today and I immediately thought of making a big batch of pickled dill cucumbers. The recipe comes from Diana Henry’s book Roast Figs Sugar Snow, where they are partnered with juniper infused pickled prunes and roast belly pork. In the past I have sliced them by hand, meticulously shaving millimetre wafers in a process that has me gradually stooping closer to my chopping board in the

attempt to achieve the perfect slice. But to save time and reduce back ache I’m using the slicing attachment on the food processor this time. The following recipe is plenty for four people; I am multiplying the quantities by five.

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber
  • 3 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill

Instructions

  1. Slice the cucumbers very finely and layer them in a colander, sprinkling salt between each layer. Leave for five to ten hours over a drip catcher.
  2. Rinse under cold running water, then gently squeeze the remaining moisture out of the fruit.
  3.  In a bowl or kilner jar, mix the sugar and vinegar until the sugar has dissolved; then add the cucumbers and dill and stir. Store in the fridge and eat within ten days.

A wafer thin sliceA wafer thin slice

Sea salt drawing out the liquid

Sea salt drawing out the liquid

Finished pickles

The finished pickles