Thursday, 29 April 2010

One-Pot Wonderful

As much as love a day spent in the kitchen or with a big hunk of pork slowly roasting away in the oven, sometimes the thought of a house filled for a whole day with the smell of hot meat just isn't appetizing. Especially with the weather warming up, it's far nicer to be able to whip something tasty up that can be done in one pot so you don't have to spend an hour washing up afterward.

This is a pretty simple chicken biryani dish made with lots of fragrant but not too hot spices and takes less than an hour from start to finish. I have made a simple fresh shallot and cucumber relish to add a little fresh lift and texture contrast.

I have used the dark meat of the chicken, as I usually do with curry dishes, but you could use breast meat instead, just cook it for a shorter time before adding the rice as it will overcook and become dry and stringy otherwise.

Chicken Biryani with Shallot and Cucumber Relish
serves 4, takes less than one hour

2 each chicken thighs, wings and drumsticks, skinned and boned (leave the wings on the bone)
1 large onion, sliced
500ml plain yoghurt
1 cup basmati rice
2 cups water
3cm piece ginger
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1/2 tsp ground chilli (or to taste)
4 cardomom pods
2 bay leaves
pinch, saffron
salt to taste
3 tbsp ghee or sunflower oil

Cut the chicken into large bite size chunks, then mix together the yoghurt and half each of the garlic and ginger and stir in the chicken well. Set aside at room temp for 30 minutes while you do the onions. *you could also do the marinade the day before and refrigerate it over night for an even fuller flavour.

Slice the onions thinly and fry with 1 tbsp of the ghee in a large sautee pan on a med-high heat until dark golden brown-chestnut, then remove them and allow them to drain on some paper towel.

After the chicken has marinated for half an hour, heat the rest of the ghee/oil in the same pan that you cooked the onions in and tip in the rest of the ginger, garlic and the spices. Fry for a minute or so until very fragrant but not burnt or browned, then tip in the chicken pieces, including and stir-fry for 5-6 minutes, until most of the liquid has cooked away and you have a thick, fragrant sauce and the oil is starting to separate.

Stir in the rice well, season with some salt and add the water, then bring to the boil and immediately lower the temperature to a low simmer, cover and leave to cook for 10-12 minutes, until all of the water has been absorbed by the rice. Try not to stir the rice once the water is boiling, as it will break up the starch in the raice and make the dish sticky, instead of fluffy and loose.

While the rice is cooking, you can make a small side dish of shallot and cucumber relish:

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
6cm (2 1/2") cucumber (English) seeds removed and chopped into a small dice
1 green chilli, seeds and membrane removed, finely chopped
7-8 fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade)
a few coriander (cilantro) leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
pinch, red chilli flakes
2 2tbsp white wine vinegar

Put the sliced shallots into a small bowl of ice water to crisp them up and take the edge off a little, drain when ready to mix the relish, right before serving

Mix the sugar, chilli flakes and salt with a couple of tbsp of boiling water and stir to dissolve then add the vinegar.
When ready to serve, mix the shallots, cucumber, mint, coriander and dressing.

When the rice is cooked, spoon directly onto serving plates and scatter with the fried onions. Serve with the relish and some plain or spiced poppadums.

Chicken Biryani on FoodistaChicken Biryani

Bathed in Warm Olive Oil. Not Me, The Pig.

We've eaten a LOT of pork lately. It's totally my favourite meat, especially since moving back to the UK, where the free-range stuff is so darn tasty and affordable. Since our porky outing to the farmers market last weekend, I've also picked up some nice cuts at Waitrose and have done a little experimenting.
I have wanted to try confiting pork belly in olive oil for a while now and finally decided to give it a go the other day after stumbling across a similar recipe on Great British Menu last week.

This is definitely a weekend endeavour because you need to start pretty early in the day, but it's worth the time it takes. There's not really much effort or expertise required, just a little patience and quite a lot of olive oil, which can be re-used if you filter it out afterward.

I wasn't sure whether to post this, because it wasn't a 100% success. The crackling wasn't ready in time to serve with dinner and the meat was a little on the salty side.
But I committed to posting the good and the bad, the successes, the failures and the in-betweens, so here we are. The first few bites of pork were groan-oh-my-GOOOOD tasty, but by about halfway through, the level of seasoning starts to feel a little much.
I'm going to do this again, no doubt, but I think next time, I'll leave the salt on for maybe seven hours instead of 12 and I'll shave most of the fat off the skin before I roast it.
I wont bother with the recipe per se, but I will show you what I did and how it all worked out. If my next endeavour works as well as I think it might, I'll post detailed instructions, as this has the makings of a show stopper (If I could be bothered to plate better and get a camera instead of using my iPhone....)
So here it went:

I bashed up 100g of Maldon sea salt with 5 halved cloves of garlic, a large sprig of rosemary, some thyme and black pepper corns.
I sprinkled approximately 1/2 of this mixture into the bottom of a baking dish, then sliced the skin off a 1kg (2 lb)pork belly and pressed the meat down onto the salt mixture.
I sprinkled the rest of the salt mixture over the pork and rubbed and pressed it well into all the nooks and crannies, covered it and put it in the fridge over night (12 hours)

I then rinsed the meat well (perhaps not well enough? maybe I should have used warmer water to get rid of more of the salt?) and I patted the meat dry before putting it back in the (cleaned) baking dish and pouring a little over a litre (2 pints) of olive oil, enough to completely sumberge the meat.If you have a lot of room around the meat in the pan, a clean, empty jam jar will take up some room so you don't need to use as much oil.
I roasted this for 4 1/2 hours at 90C (194F) until tender but not flaking-falling apart.

Then I drained off all of the oil* and put the meat between two layers of parchment paper in the baking sheet, with another baking sheet on top, weighted down with a granite pestle and mortar and some canned tomatoes for two hours.
One hour before I wanted to eat, I took the meat out of the fridge so that it could come up to room temperature and I cut the meat into 4 serving- size pieces.

(The meat did not shrink much- the picture to the right was taken in a larger baking dish, so it looks a lot smaller.)

I put the skin (scored on both sides) between two pieces of parchment and baking trays, rubbed it with salt and weighted it down with the same mortar, pestle and canned tomatoes (20 minutes later, the oven door was blown open and the interior of my oven and everything in it was splatted with crushed tomatoes :-) and I roasted the skin at 200C (400F) for what was supposed to be 40 minutes, but ended up being closer to 90, in order to get a perfectly crisp crackling. I know this method is successful because I've seen it done and even chatted with the tutor at my cookery class. I have done some research since and think that I needed to trim off most of the subcutaneous fat before roasting. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Right before serving, I brought some of the confit oil up over a fairly high heat in an iron skillet and I seared the pork on each side for about 2 minutes, creating a golden crust and warming the meat through completely.

To serve, I made some carrots cooked in reduced chicken stock and honey, scattered with fresh mint and roasted some new potatoes with their skins on.

* To filter the oil, let it settle for a while in a tall jug or pitcher, so that the liquid that has come out of the pork collects at the bottom. Pour the oil through a funnel lined with dampened paper towel into a bottle (label it so you don't mix it up with other oils) and be careful not to pour in any of the liquid at the bottom. When you get to the last inch or so of oil, it might be easier to use a spoon. The pork liquid will coagulate into a jelly at room temperature, so that makes it easier to keep it separate. Keep the porky jelly to flavour soups, and sauces but be careful not to use too much, as it is salty.
You can now use the filtered olive oil in any other cooked dish and it will be fine for several weeks if you keep it in the fridge. It will have a garlicky, herby flavour, so keep that in mind when adding it to dishes.

If you have any crackling advice for me, or have tried this method for cooking pork and have had similar or more successful results, I'd love to hear about it.

Have a brilliant weekend!

PS. I had another sourdough success!! This time following HFW's River Cottage method. Absolutely fantastic bread, we couldn't stop eating it!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Posh Pork and Beans

My life has been one long catalogue of obsessions. Before you start imagining me hiding in some completely unaware guy's garden bushes, watching him play guitar on his bed, while I cry and cut myself, the kind of obsessions I'm talking about are far more harmless (usually).

It was gymnastics and my pet rabbits when I was little, painting and depressing music in my teens, jewelry making and fashion in my twenties and so far in my thirties, it's been growing veg and sewing. Along the way, cooking has been the one constant thing that I never got bored with but even so, there have been several ingredients, techniques and ethnicities that I become enamoured with for a period of time until I move on to the next. I spent much of my teens trying to perfect a simple Bolognese sauce, used chipotle in far too many things in my twenties, and so far in my thirties, have gone nuts with stock making, bread baking, cakes, pies and pastries, as well as slow roasts, Mexican and custard dishes.At the moment, my fascination is with sous vide, and I know I'm not alone. All over the food blogiverse, there are tales of home attempts, successes and failures and of course, it's something I have just had to try for myself. Last week I tried doing some chicken breasts this way and was really happy with the results, even though I was overly cautious with the temperature and length of cooking. At Waitrose this week, they had pork fillet (tenderloin) on sale, and so I thought I'd try again, but this time at a much lower temperature and for a shorter time. The result was a beautifully tender and juicy piece of pork which required barely any effort to cut. It took only a little more time to cook than conventional cooking and so is how I will definitely cook this cut from now on.

I've served the pork with haricot beans which I dressed in a ginger, tomato and chilli vinaigrette I learned to make at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons during my class on Monday. The dish we made was with squid and chick peas (garbanzo beans) and I loved this dressing so much I had to use it here.
Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin with Haricot Beans
Serves 2, takes 7 hours, including brining. 1 hour actual work.

1 decent-size free-range pork tenderloin, about 600g (1+lbs)

For the brine:
200ml (7 oz) boiling water
800ml (27 oz) cold water
4 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 sprig sage, leaves picked
1 sprig thyme
1 small sprig rosemary, leaves picked
3 cloves garlic, peels on, halved
10 peppercorns
the zest of one lemon, sliced
a large handful of ice cubes
2 bay leaves

For the beans:
150g dried organic haricot beans, soaked overnight and simmered for 2 hours in plain water
3cm piece fresh ginger rot, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 ripe Roma tomatoes (or other nice, ripe tomatoes) chopped
1 large red chilli, de-seeded and sliced
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp water
100ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of 1/2 a lemon*

To serve:
Washed baby spinach and rocket (arugula) leaves
French breakfast radishes, halved

Make the brine first, by crushing the salt, sugar , garlic, lemon zest, herbs and peppercorns together in a pestle and mortar until the herbs are well bruised and the salt is going green.
Put the salt and herb mixture into a small bowl, boil about 200ml (7 oz) of the water and pour it over the salt mixture, stirring until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Pour the cold water in and add the ice cubes. Put the pork into the bowl and make sure that it is completely submerged in the brine. Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.

Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry. Lay two overlapping pieces of cling film onthe counter top and lay the pork, just below the halfway point, parallel with the counter then wrap the film over the pork, away from you. Roll the pork away from you, wrapping as tightly as possible in the cling film,twisting a little if necessary to ensure that there are no gaps or air pockets. Using a ruler to help tuck while you roll might be useful.
You should have a few inches of cling film hanging over the ends of the pork. Pinch and twist the loose ends and tie into a tight knot as close to the meat as you can.

Fill your largest pot (I use my big stock pot) with hot tap water, which should be fairly close to 60C (140F), which is the temperature at which you want to cook the pork. Pop the pan onto (or half-way onto) your smallest burner, on the lowest setting (A heat diffuser might be useful here) to achieve or maintain the ideal temperature. Use a probe thermometer to check the temperature and drop the pork in, it should drop to the bottom of the pan. After you drop the pork in, the temperature of the water will begin to drop slightly, so you'll need to give it a little more heat to bring it back up. Cook the pork for 35-40 minutes, checking the temperature regularly to maintain the ideal temperature, moving the pan slightly off the heat if the temp starts to climb above 60c (140F)

When you check the internal temperature of the pork by inserting the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, it should read 60C (140F). If not quite up to temp, put the meat into a zip-top bag, squeeze as much air out as you can and give it a few more minutes. When the meat is done, remove it from the heat, unwrap it and pat it dry.

While the pork is cooking, start the dressing for the beans. In a small frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and sear toss in the ginger, chilli and tomatoes, leaving them undisturbed for a few minutes so that they can caramelize well. When the veggies are beginning to soften, add the white wine vinegar and water, cooking for a minute or so to reduce the liquid a little.
Tip the hot vegetables into a blender and blitz into a fine puree, then add the salt and pepper and the lemon juice. With the blender running, drizzle the 100ml of olive oil in in a thin stream to combine into a loose, cohesive dressing, much like a vinaigrette.

Tip the dressing back into the pan you cooked the veggies in and add the pre-cooked beans, warming slowly on a low heat while you sear the pork.

In a skillet, warm 1 tbsp of olive oil over a med-high heat until shimmery-hot. Carefully place the pork in the hot oil and don't touch it for about 30 seconds, allowing it to go a little golden on the bottom before giving it a third-turn, brown and turn one more time. You don't want to leave the pork in the pan for longer than you have to because you'll undo the past 45 minutes' work. Deglaze the pan with the remaining juice of half a lemon and a little water.

To serve, arrange the rocket and spinach leaves on a plate and spoon the warm beans on top. Slice the pork into approx 1cm (1/2") thick slices and lay on top of the beans then drizzle with the pan juices.

Look at the difference between the pork tenderloin cooked this way and the conventionally cooked one in the link below:
Marinated Pork Tenderloin on FoodistaMarinated Pork Tenderloin

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Offally Good Surf and Turf

Given that my husband is an annoyingly picky eater, it came as a bit of a surprise when we discovered that he really likes black pudding. The first time we went to Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Las Vegas was on the evening of our wedding (yes, we got married in Vegas) and Drew ordered the boudin noir with caramelized apples and pommes puree. I was convinced that he wouldn't like it, but he enjoyed it so much, he ordered it on two subsequent visits, which I think is an insane thing to do when you're presented with other such amazing dishes....
Black pudding isn't something we tend to buy very often, but whenever we come across a nice looking one at a farmers' market we'll snap it up. Last weekend, at the farmers' market in Newbury, Oxfordshire pork farmers Eadles had some beautiful stuff on display, including a lovely bit of black pudding that Drew quickly grabbed.

Often, I'll cook it as a part of a full English breakfast or similar but tonight I thought I'd something similar to his favourite dish with the caramelized apples and potatoes but with a few tweaks.
It seems that these days, whenever you see black pudding on a gastro-pub menu, it's been paired with scallops. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I mean they're a lovely pairing of tender and sweet with more dense and earthy but I wanted to try something a little different.

A prawn cake sounded like a nice idea to me, as well as a spring colcannon made with spinach instead of kale or cabbage. I used an eating apple (Cox) to garnish, as cooking apples disintegrate too easily. A Braeburn, Gala or Jazz would work very well.

It goes without saying that the quality of ingredients is hugely important. This is not the time for Tesco Value black pudding (but then, when IS the time for Tesco Value ?) And it's important not to use prawns which are already cooked. Save your prawn shells and freeze them for later use in stocks or sauces.

Black Pudding with Prawn Cakes, Caramelized Apples and Spring Colcannon
Serves 2, takes 1 hour or a little more

300g (10.5oz) free range black pudding
1 tbsp olive oil

For the Prawn Cakes:
250g uncooked prawns, shelled and deveined
large handful rocket, (arugula) chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp coarse, panko-style bread crumbs
1 egg white

For the Colcannon:
400g good mashing potatoes, such as Accent or Desiree
100g fresh spinach, washed
pinch, freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp butter
100 ml cream
50 ml milk (approx)
salt and pepper to taste

For the Apples:
1 nice eating apple, peeled peeled and cored, cut into 8ths
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Put all of the ingredients for the prawn cakes except for the breadcrumbs into a food processor and pulse a few times until just chopped and combined, but not a smooth paste, tip into a bowl and stir in the breadcrumbs.
Put a sheet of cling film on a baking tray, then smear the inside of a 5cm (2") ring mould or cookie cutter* with a little oil and set it on the cling film. Spoon 2 level tbsp of the prawn mixture into the mould and spread out evenly. Lift the mould and repeat 7 more times until you have 8 small, round patties on the sheet. Refrigerate these while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Peel the potatoes and boil in a pan of liberally salted water for 12-17 minutes, until tender to the tip of a knife, then drain completely and set aside until cooled a little then put them through a ricer.

While the potatoes are boiling, cook the black pudding and the apples.

Remove the casing from the black pudding and slice off eight pieces about half an inch thick.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat and fry the black pudding for 2-3 minutes per side, until slightly crusty/crunchy around the edges and well browned. Move to a plate and keep warm in a low oven.

Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan over a medium heat and sprinkle the sugar into the pan. When the sugar begins to go golden brown, add the butter and stir well, then add the apple pieces. Cook the apple in the caramel for a few minutes before tossing to turn over and cook all over. When just tender, tip into a bowl and put in the warm oven with the black pudding.

Put a little butter in the large frying pan that you cooked the black pudding in and heat over a medium flame. When the butter and residual oil is nice and hot cook the prawn cakes for a couple of minutes until golden brown on one side, then turn over and finish on the second side.

While the prawn cakes are cooking, melt the 2 tbsp of butter over a medium heat with the salt and pepper and the nutmeg. Once the butter has melted, add the spinach and stir in well until soft and wilted, then add in the riced potatoes and stir in the cream. Stir the mixture well, adding enough of the milk to make a soft but not sloppy mixture. Test for seasoning, then serve the prawn cakes and black pudding with a spoonful of the colcannon and the caramelized apples.

*You don't NEED to use a mould, you can just form roughly round patties with teaspoons or your fingers dipped in cold water.

Black Pudding on FoodistaBlack Pudding

Simple Suppers for Two

One of the best things about this time of year is the evenings getting incrementally longer until the Summer solstice. Somehow it's difficult to turn my attention to things like housework or even cooking, when I could be wandering around the garden with a cup of coffee, talking to veggie seedlings and trying to figure out what the heck is living in the compost bin. Over the past few weeks, since the clocks went forward I've realized that it's almost past dinner time and my tummy is grumbling. The best thing to do in those situations is a quick fridge and store cupboard inventory and throw together a meal I can get on the table with minimal fuss.
This dish only takes as long as it takes to boil a pan of salted water and cook the pasta and is made from a few simple bits, which could easily be substituted with whatever else you might have sitting in the fridge.
I've used unsmoked bacon here, and while you could use smoked, I think that it would rather overpower the rest of the flavours. If you can't get unsmoked bacon, blanch the smoked stuff in a pan of boiling water for five minutes to dampen the smoky flavour a little, then dry it and cook as below.

Linguine with Bacon, Taleggio Cheese and Green Leaves
Serves 2, Takes roughly 20 minutes.

200g dried linguine
3 slices, un-smoked, dry-cured back bacon (skin on if you can get it) cut into thin strips
2 large handfuls, spinach
1 large handful, rocket (arugula)
2 cloves, garlic, crushed
8 kalamata olives, pitted and roughly quartered
1 courgette (zucchini) quartered length-wise, core removed, sliced diagonally
3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded (pulp and seeds reserved) and diced
50g (1.75 oz) taleggio cheese, diced about 1 cm (1/2)
2 tbsp nice E.V. olive oil

Pop a pan of salted water on to boil for your pasta and do your prep. Heat the olive over a moderate heat in a medium saute pan and add your bacon. Fry for a few minutes until it begins to colour, then stir in the garlic.
Put the pasta on to cook, testing for doneness by biting when close to the indicated cooking time on the package, then drain and set aside for a sec.
Cook the bacon for a further minute until the garlic begins to smell nutty and fragrant, but not brown, then stir in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 4-5 minutes, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if it becomes too dry. Pass the pulp and seeds from the tomatoes through a sieve to get all the juices into the sauce, discard the seeds.
Stir in the courgette and cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the spinach and rocket. Cook for less than a minute and turn off the heat, then add the olives and taleggio. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss well enough to combine, but try not to mix so well that the cheese disperses too well into the sauce.

Serve with chilli flakes and a wedge of lemon.

Spring Linguine

The Happy 101 Award!

What a lovely thing to wake up to!
My first little kudo from a fellow blogger Sara over at The Lonely Radish gave me this shiny award for being food bloggerific, which is a real honour coming from her, because her blog is enviably well written and compelling.

So here are the rules:

1) Copy and paste the award onto your blog
2)Link to the person who gave you the award,
3) List ten things that make you happy
4) Pass the award on to your favorite bloggers and let them know about the award.

10 things that make me happy:

1. When my husband shaves

2. Practically everything my dogs do

3. Growing my own vegetables

4. Borough Market when it's not super busy

5. Talking to my BFF

6. Conquering a difficult dish, especially pastries

7. Reading in the garden

8. The English countryside

9. Bees

10. Blog comments

Who I'm passing this on to:

Stella at The Witchy Kitchen

Liam at My So Called Knife

Ali at Three Baking Sheets to the Wind

Sarah at No Thank You Bite

and Bill at Freestyle Cooking

Because these guys guys make me want to be a better blogger.

Thanks again Sara! xo

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Rosy Stems of Tart Perfection

I know I should be patient and wait for our rhubarb to be ready to pick, but we've got a good couple of weeks before we can touch it and we couldn't pick so much as one stem last year, as the plants were still babies. Drew has been very patient and Hampshire rhubarb is on sale at Waitrose right now for something like £1.30 a bunch, so I snapped some up. I had the idea to do a jelly instead of a crumble or pie and I wanted to make a stem ginger ice cream to serve with it. It turns out, my idea was a good one and what we had was a zingy, refreshing dessert that was just right for this time of year.

I went charity shop hopping yesterday and found a couple of pretty, old jelly moulds for a few quid, so I was very excited about that. I made the rhubarb compote first and refrigerated it for use in a couple of ways, including as an accompaniment to some creme brulees I made the other day, but you could make it right before making the jelly and it would work just as well, it would just take a little longer to set. You will not need all of the compote you make, but you can always keep it in the fridge or freeze it for future use.

This is a great dinner party dish because besides plating, it can all be done the day before, but it's very pretty and has lovely layers of flavour.

Rhubarb Jelly and Stem Ginger Ice Cream
Serves 8, takes approx 45 minutes plus chilling time

For the jelly:
500g (1 lb) stalks rhubarb, cut into 1" chunks
8 tbsp golden caster sugar
2 tbsp water

2 sachets powdered gelatine
100ml white wine
300ml boiling water
100ml rhubarb cordial (optional)

2- 500ml (1 pint) jelly moulds or 8 individual ones*

In a non-stick or stainless steel saucepan, sprinkle the rhubarb chunks with half of the sugar and the 2 tbsp of water. Stir gently and heat gradually over a low-medium heat. Cover the pan and let the rhubarb cook gently and undisturbed for about 5 minutes, checking with the back of a knife to check that the rhubarb is done. You want it to be very tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat and leave uncovered until you're ready to use it.

Tip the gelatine and remaining sugar into a heat-proof measuring jug and pour over the 300 ml of the boiling water and stir well to dissolve. If the gelatine isn't dissolving completely, pop the just into a small pan of barely simmering water and stir for a few minutes until completely clear.
Add the rhubarb cordial (if using. If not, add 100ml more water) and the white wine and stir into 500ml of the rhubarb compote in a bowl. Taste the mixture for sweetness, adding more sugar if necessary, but be careful not to make it too sweet.
Spoon the mixture into the jelly moulds and refrigerate until set firm. Depending on whether you started out with warm or cold compote, this could take up to 5 hours.

To serve the jelly, dip the moulds in a bowl full of boiling water for a few seconds before turning out onto a plate. It should be firm enough that when you cut a wedge, it should just about stand up.

For the ice cream:
2 large, free-range eggs
1 free range egg yolk
400ml double cream (heavy whipping cream)
200 ml whole milk
3/4 cup golden caster sugar
syrup from a jar of stem ginger
3 large knobs of stem ginger, one finely grated, two diced about 4mm(3/16")

Beat the eggs, egg yolk and sugar together well, until very pale and fluffy.
Drizzle in the ginger syrup while the machine is still running, then the cream and milk on a lower speed.

Pour the mixture into the canister of your ice cream machine and churn until 99% set (about half an hour, follow the manufacturer's instructions)
When the mixture is almost there, add in the grated ginger and churn for a further minute or two, then add the chopped ginger and give it one more minute.

Scrape into a clean, airtight container and allow to finish setting in the freezer for an hour or so.

Turn the jelly out onto a plate and cut carefully with a knife dipped in hot water.
Scoop (or if you're fancy, make a quenelle) your ice cream onto small plates and garnish with extra long langue du chat cookies or vanilla tuille cookies.

And I will sit and eat mine while I'm waiting for my lovely red veggie to grow....

Any day now, any day.

*If you you don't have jelly moulds, you could just as easily make the jelly in pretty glasses and put the scoop of ice cream on top.

Rhubarb Jelly on FoodistaRhubarb Jelly

A Day At Le Manoir.

By now, there aren't many foodies in Britain who don't know who Chef Raymond Blanc is. Having now had three series of his cooking competition show The Restaurant, where couples compete for the opportunity to go into business with Raymond, he is well known for his exacting standards and passion for sustainability. (Don't get me started on JJ and James winning last season..) Now, with his BBC 2 show Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, we're learning about some of the methods Raymond uses in his two Michelin star restaurant Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, which has featured in both series.
Almost two weeks ago, we had an incredible evening at Le Manoir and ate some of the most beautifully prepared food we've ever had. From the hors d'oeuvres served in the lounge before we went to our table, to the five course seasonal menu, absolutely every bite was a delight, as were the staff, and the setting. I was most excited because I knew I would be returning ten days later for a day-long cookery class.

Le Manoir is only a 45 minute drive from my home, which is incredibly lucky for me. I gave myself an extra hour to account for morning rush-hour traffic but there was none on Monday, so I arrived over an hour early. I had a little wander around the same gardens we had seen at dusk on our previous visit, then I went to reception, where I was greeted and taken through to a small lounge with a burning fire and a cup of coffee.

After my fellow classmates arrived, we were joined by our tutor Joel Moroney, a gregarious and patient American chap who has been with Le Manoir for three years, working his way up to Chef Tournant before becoming a cookery school tutor six months ago. Joel distributed chefs' whites and aprons to us all and took us back through reception and the courtyard to the purpose-built teaching kitchen. The class I was attending was the Blanc Vite, which is aimed at cooks with at least basic kitchen skills and general enthusiasm for cookery and like everything else at Le Manoir, is geared around creating seasonally relevant dishes.

We were paired up into teams and were taken through the schedule for the day. We were shown how to poach eggs properly, which is something I've never felt completely confident doing, so it was brilliant to see it done in front of us and then turn around and do it ourselves. We made our own breakfast of poached egg, asparagus and spinach and were served teas and coffees while we ate and watched further demonstrations by Joel and Junior Tutor Emily Sneddon, who showed us how to make a rough puff pastry that we were to use for a tart later on.

Over the course of the morning and earlier part of the afternoon, we learned some beautiful seafood techniques, including pan-frying the perfect piece of salmon and sauteed squid and steaming mussels in a coconut broth. Not only were we shown some lovely recipes and able to ask all kinds of questions, but were given the scientific reasons behind why you must do certain things in a specific way.

The passion of Raymond Blanc and the chefs for the highest quality, ethically-sourced food rings through everything you see and learn. A massive binder on the shelf houses lists of the producers he uses for everything from the pine nuts to the name of the fisherman who caught the squid and the farmer who makes the buffalo mozzerella in Wales.

We put all of our veggie scraps into a compost pot in one corner, and when I asked Joel "Should I compost the egg shells?" He said "No, because they encourage rodents."
So THAT explains why I have an uninvited guest (or two) living in my freaken compost bin! The little bugger moved literally three bucket-fuls of compost through a tunnel and into the greenhouse yesterday. I don't know whether to be outraged or grateful!

So we had a lunch that we cooked ourselves, consisting of a fresh and zingy Thai green papaya salad with a firey dressing and then a wonderful piece of pan-fried salmon over spring vegetables from the garden outside. Joel showed us how to make a perfect roast chicken, as well as poaching one gently in aromatics. We drank a lovely glass of wine while we ate our own creations and both of Joel's chickens and were then taken for a walk through the gardens.
We were able to talk to Jo the head gardener about what is growing in the vegetable patches and the poly tunnels, all of which are completely organic, learned about the history of some of the many beautiful bronze sculptures around the grounds and saw how they grow the incredible micro herbs they use in the kitchen.

After returning to the kitchen for the remainder of the lessons we were shown how to make a beautiful caramelized banana souffle and crepes. Two things that were fairly simple but that I had never quite mastered before.
We made a small cherry tomato tart with the puff pastry we'd made earlier and some onions which had been confited in olive oil.

We boxed up our tomato tarts to take home with us and were presented with certificates for completing the course. We also got to keep our chef's white jacket and were given a 12cm santoku knife from Chef Blanc's range for Anolon, which is fantastic.

Before leaving, Joel took us for a proper tour of the restaurant's kitchens, which made me drool with equipment envy, especially the sous vide baths and circulators.
Our day was over and I was so sad, because I'd had such a lovely day. I learned how to poach eggs properly and why my pancakes were never quite right (I was cooking them in butter) as well as why I have a family of rodents chillin in my compost bin. It would have been nice to work individually rather than in pairs and to have done more of the cookery ourselves, instead of watching so much, but in reality, it would have taken two days to cover everything we did that day had it been structured any other way.

I came home with my skills refined and with a new confidence to try dishes which had previously intimidated me. I've made poached eggs for my last two breakfasts and am going to make a cheese souffle for my supper tonight.

The class is not cheap, at £325 per person, but really is worth every single last penny. The day is filled with learning, pampering and tasting, leaving you with a feeling much like when you were a kid and you'd spent all day at an amusement park, full in your heart and stomach, wishing it wasn't over yet and knowing you'd sleep like a rock that night.

I absolutely will go back when I can scrape together a few shekels for the Artisan Bread class, as the bread they make at this place is nothing short of miraculous and I've told you all about my struggles with bread making.

Now I'm off to my own kitchen for more practice, still slightly giddy from that brilliant day..

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Revenge On The Nettles

As a child, one of the things that was sure to spoil a day in the park was a leg covered in welts from having run into a patch of stinging nettles.
I know that nettle tea has been used for a long time to treat everything from arthritis and allergies to intestinal and urinary problems but it wasn't until a few years ago that I started seeing recipes for things like soups and gnocchi featuring what I always thought of as an evil weed.

Widely recognized as a superfood, nettles are incredibly high in vitamins A and C and rich in nutrients including calcium, choline, magnesium, boron, iron, iodine, silica, sulfur, potassium, chlorophyll, histamine, serotonin and amino acids.

I have made a few dishes with them over the past few springs and really enjoy their gorgeous colour, while their flavour is reminiscent of the smell of spring, almost straw-like. I used them to stuff these homemade ravioli, which were very simple and totally delicious. The stings disappear after just thirty seconds or so of blanching, so they become safe to handle and become so incredibly bright green.

I collected my nettles from the woods behind our house, taking care to wear boots, wear gloves and select just the new tops of the nettles farther from the path, which were unlikely to have been anointed with dog pee.

Nettle Ravioli with Sage and Pine Nut Butter
serves 2, takes 1 hour, 45 including dough chilling time

200g (7 oz) tipo 00 flour
2 eggs
1 tsp water (maybe)
pinch salt

150g fresh ball mozerella
1 clove garlic, crushed
about 30 young nettle tops
sea salt to taste
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan

1oog (3.5 oz) good quality butter
small handful pine nuts
2 sprigs sage, leaves picked

Make the dough first by putting the flour and the eggs and a pinch of salt into a food processor. Pulse on high for a 30 seconds or so, until combined well into a smooth, pliable dough, adding a little water if the mixture is too dry.
Knead the dough together for a minute before wrapping in cling film and chilling for an hour.

Blanch the nettles for 30 seconds in boiling water, then drain and plunge into very cold tap water or ice water to stop the cooking, drain well.
Tear the mozzerella into chunks and put into the food processor with the nettles and garlic and pulse until fine but not paste-like, you want to keep a little texture in the nettles.
Stir the salt and parmesan into the mixture and set aside until you're ready to use it.

Cut the ball of dough into two and on a floured surface, roll each half into a long sheet thin enough to read the paper through. If you have a pasta maker, all the better. I, on the other hand am po', so I have yet to buy one.
Brush excess flour off each sheet using a pastry brush.

Use a teaspoon to put equal amounts of the filling along the sheet in two rows, keeping about 3cm (1 1/2") in between.

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil.

Use a pastry brush to wet the pasta a little all around the filling, then carefully lower the top sheet of pasta over the top.
Use your fingers to press down around the mounds of filling, taking care to push out any air and then use a pizza cutter to trim down all four sides of the dough and then to divide the individual ravioli.
Check again for air pockets and make sure all the edges are sealed, then drop them one at a time into the pot of boiling water. Boil for 10-12 minutes, until pale and tender but not soggy.

While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat, then add the pine nuts and fry for a minute, until both the pine nuts and butter are starting to go golden, then turn off the heat and stir in the sage leaves.

Drain the ravioli and spoon into bowls. Drizzle with the butter and scatter the pine nuts all over the top. Grate a little more parmesan over the top and eat immediately with a big glass of champagne.
Nettles on FoodistaNettles

Sous Vide For Peasants

Ever since I first read Heston Blumenthal's incredible book The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, I have been fascinated by the idea of sous vide cookery. Literally translated from the French for Under Vacuum, this technique requires cooking food (usually meat or fish) for a long time in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, in a bath of water kept at a constant, precisely-controlled, low temperatures.
The science behind this method of cooking is basically that when cooked at high temperatures, meat and fish fibres contract, squeezing out valuable moisture. By the time the centre of the meat is cooked through, the outside is overdone. By using a low, but safe temperature for a long time, you can create a piece of meat which is incredibly moist and tender, creating textures which are not obtainable by any other method.I am by no means anywhere near an authority on the subject, just a conscientious amateur, so I wont pretend to give advice or claim to know how it's supposed to be done properly. I do have Thomas Keller's book Under Pressure on my Amazon wish list, which will be my next purchase, but for now, I relied on random other posts online and some advice from my cheffy friend Dave.

This is how it went down for me. I learned quite a bit, including that I could have cooked at a lower temp for less time, but the results were still astonishingly good and far better than using traditional methods. I'm itching to try something else next week, probably a pork tenderloin or lovely piece of steak. This time I used chicken breasts, which are notorious for going dry and fibrous when overcooked. Even my harshest culinary critic, Drew was surprised by what a difference this method acheived.

Again, I am NOT an expert, so if you copy this and end up on the loo or in the hospital for a few days, don't blame me. This post looks like one that might be a good one to try and is what looks like a fairly close copy of David Chang's Ghetto Sous Vide hangar steak.

As I'm writing this, I'm watching the Hairy Bikers and they're interviewing the chef/owner of a pub in Oxfordhire. She used to work with Heston at the Fat Duck and is using the sous vide water bath to confit partridge in goose fat.

It's not fair that I'm not allowed to spend roughly £900 on equipment. My husband is completely unreasonable.

So here is basically how it went:

I brined my chicken breasts, minus the tenderloins and skin in a solution of 7% salt water with sugar, chilli flakes, peppercorns, bay, garlic and onion for about six hours. I would have done it overnight if I'd thought about it, but as it was, the few hours was fine.

I took the chicken and brine out of the fridge about an hour and a half before I planned to cook it, so that I wouldn't lower the temperature of the water too much when I added the meat.

I filled my largest stock pot with hot tap water and brought it to 68C (155F) with a low flame.
Unless you have sous vide equipment, a probe thermometer is essential, as you need to keep an eye on the temperature.

I popped a couple of sage leaves on the outside of the chicken breast and then wrapped it tightly with thinly sliced prosciutto and carefully put them into sandwich-size, press-seal freezer bags. Before I put the chicken in the bags, I folded the bags about halfway inside-out, like a cuff, so that I could put the meat in without it touching the opening.
After the meat was safely in, I pushed as much as the air as possible out and sealed them, almost all the way, leaving an opening at one corner through which to suck the rest of the air out. Once I had as much air out as possible and while still sucking, I finished sealing the bags.

I lowered the bags of chicken to the pot and they sunk to the bottom because there was no air left.

The temperature dropped to 62C (145F) at which I now think I should have left it but I was being cautious because it was my first time.

I brought the heat back up to 155 and left the chicken to cook for an hour, checking the temperature regularly, stirring the pot to circulate the heat and adding cold water as necessary when the temperature started to creep up.

I was definitely playing it super safe, so the chicken spent close to an hour and a half in the hot water, including the time that it took for the pan to come back up to temperature. Next time I'm going to follow my chef friend's advice and shoot for 58C (136) for an hour instead.

So because there was no high, dry heat, what came out of the bags was, unsurprisingly, pale and soft and unappealing looking. To get the lovely golden brown I was after, I heated a cast iron skillet and gave the chicken about 20 seconds on each side.

I served the chicken with some simple garlic sauteed potatoes and a spring leaf (from our garden!) salad.

The chicken was slightly pink throughout, but that is pretty much all the case when brine is involved.

I had read that herbs can over power when cooked this way and this is true. The sage maintained an unpleasantly strong flavour but when pulled off to the side, it left a lovely flavour behind.

The chicken was so tender that a knife became unnecessary for all but the prosciutto and incredibly moist. There is no doubt that this technique works incredibly well and I will definitely give it a try again soon but with slightly less caution and a different meat.

At the Fat Duck, several of the dishes we ate were cooked sous vide, but the one that stands out to me the most was the salmon poached in liquorice. The salmon had the most incredible texture, almost like raw but ever so slightly flaky. Incredible.

Sous Vide on FoodistaSous Vide