Thursday, 26 November 2009

The probe Doctor

As I mentioned a recent trip to Ikea saw the purchase of a Fantast meat thermometer which has been a boon in fudge making (more of which will probably happen tonight, using maple syrup as a kind of thanksgivingy treat)

On Sunday I used it for its designed purpose to test how cooked the lamb joint (from half a lamb ) was. Personally I'm a fan of rare, medium rare at a push, but there were other diners to satisfy, so I went to 65 c. It was perfectly done as medium, but like I say I'd have taken it out at 60-62 myself.

So if you are in the market for a cooking thermometer & can deal with going to Ikea (it doesn't appear to be available on line) then this is a cheap & reasonable solution.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Apple pie

I've always loved apple pie, prefereably the really tart kind to lurk under sweet custard. My nan usually made it on a blue & white enemal pie plate (just like this) I'm very happy to have one of my own, but due to a packed table I had to use a bigger dish.

Now I never realised that the filling needed a recipe, its just apple & sugar, maybe some spice if you are being fancy, chuck it on a low light & wait till its done. then stuff that on your pastry lined plate and bung a pastry lid on top.

What I needed was a good sweet pastry recipe, Jamie Oliver came up with the goods first so away I went (I made it in a mixing bowl, other wise flour seems to go everywhere). Both him & Heston Blumenthal advocate rolling the pastry out between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper, that's good enough for me (and less flour to go all over). I made the classic mistake of not making the lid quite large enough, so there was an ugly patch .

  This is it just out of the oven, unfortunately the timing of things meant that we couldn't cut & eat it straightaway, so it got served up a la modé. Which although not my favourite way to eat apple pie is good enough. Next time though it's custard for sure, the proper stuff made from powder out of a red,blue, and yellow tin (*)

(*) Yes I'm perfectly aware that this isn't proper custard, thank you, however proper custard isn't pyrophyrric or none newtonian. It's not just a kitchen it's a place for SCIENCE

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Odd things in the globe o booze

I have several quite odd concoctions on the liquor shelf. Several made by me (not in a distilled way as that is both illegal & dangerous) including Earl grey gin, Blueberry vodka, Blackberry gin & Damson brandy.

I also have several manufactured oddities too. St Germain elderflower  liqueur,  very handy in a number of gin & champagne confections. Creme de violette which makes the fabulous "Arsenic & old lace". Maraschino a bit part player in several very good drinks. Qi black tea liqueur a lovely smokey brew. Then there is the small bottle of celery bitters, which is why I'm writing this.

Fentimans  make lovely non-alcoholic drinks, their Curiosity Cola is a favourite. Today though my Fentimans supplier had a groovy little box of tonic waters. Now I fully expected this to be a really full on bitter tonic, I wasn't off the mark, the quinine note is right upfront, a great tonic. Which of course requires a great mix to fully appreciate. I give you the garden tonic.

Large measure of Gin (always a good start)
1/2 measure marschino
dashes of celery bitters (2-3 depending on taste)
top of with tonic

A strong bitter grown up drink, excellent long drink, I heartily recommend it.

Makin' Bacon

A bit of a blow on my trumpet for the bacon infused bourbon.
My molecular mixology friend took some to another cutting edge mixologist, the short story is use organic smoked collar. It infuses powerfully, enough so you can use a 2:1 ratio of bourbon to bacon bourbon.

We played a little more with the stockbrokers breakfast idea & ended up with a nice bacon & orange confection, still needs some tweaking though.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fudge 2

I grabbed the internet and had a search for peanut butter fudge. Most of the recipes seemed to use marshmallow or the microwave, neither of which were solutions I was interested in.

Time for Harold McGee. As suspected he had a whole chapter about sweets and in it was a nice bit of theory about fudges & fondants. This made me think a straight forward substitution of peanut butter for butter would work, a little more thinking led me to the conclusion a mixture of the 2 would be better, so half & half it was.

Next time it'll be 75% butter 25% peanut butter. There was one big problem, peanut butter doesn't lubricate as well as actual butter & one small problem, the end product is very rich indeed.Still people are enjoying it so not a complete disaster.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


  I guess most reasonable people are fond of fudge. Its been my culinary bête noir for some time. Every attempt I've made has resulted in some semi-inedible beige sludge. However I saw a cheap digital cooking thermometer the other day, and instantly bought it (C'mon "meat probe" who'd pass that up ?). I've used the soft/hard ball/crack system succesful for treacle toffee (though my gran taught me how to make that) and cinder toffee (Again, pouring soda into boiling sugar what's not to like ?).

The recipe I found was for a butter & milk fudge, with a half carton of double cream getting ever closer to the end of its life I went for the richer option of 1/3rd cream 2/3rds milk. Also because of my previous fudge failings I refused to use a real vanila pod and went with essance.

It turned out as fudge, in colour and in texture which is apretty good start.You'll notice I'm not mentioning flavour in that list, because that's the weakpoint of this fudge. The fudge tastes more custardy than fudgey, not in an unpleasant way but not the rich fudge flavour I like.

Anyway its been a hit with various friends and volunteers, so they've asked about more (Especially with christmas looming). So I'm looking at richer recipes (maple syrup & real vanilla next time)

Monday, 16 November 2009

lemon meringue (with a perfect burger side)

Lemon meringue is one of my favourite desserts, I could rattle on about it for sometime (do remind me though to tell some stories about Paris).

I often watch Something for the weekend usually for recipes or cocktails, they don't have a huge hit rate as I have a peculiar palate, and they like to use feature ingredients, sometimes following trends I have no interest in. Vanilla Vodka gets a fair bit of use and generally I'm not a big fan, but its ubiquitous enough for me to make & keep a small batch of. On of Sunday's recipes included one of my favourite things Lemon curd. I've had a weakness for it for as long as I can remember, so when I saw a cocktail using it, it had to be tried

They called it A lemon butter sour but it tastes like a glass full of lemon meringue, so if you've the ingredients I give it a bash, I skipped the gomme as it was already sweet enough to my taste, but you might want to experiment with the lemon juice & lemon curd.

That was served as a prelude to a perfect burger tea in front of Dr Who with friends. Friends that had just returned from New York, so this was going to be a fair test. One thing I got wrong last time (& didn't quite fix this) was teh temprature of the skillet, it needs to be outrageously hot, I don't think you can have it too hot, so whilst my burgers took more like 6mins to get to 52 deg internally I reckon I can get the cooking time down to the recommended 4. So how did they fair ? Pretty well, being almost as good as the $15 empire burger, given that they were about $2 apeice I'm quite happy. (oh yes, they freeze very well indeed, just wrap them seperately)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Perfect Burgers ? (pt2)

Time to take the logs of meat from the fridge & turn them into burgers. They ought to be approx the same diametre as the buns and about 2 fingers thick, the cold & the cling film combine to make this step a bit easier. then roughly shape them into burgers

There they are, if you have more burgers than people, wrap them in baking paper and then freeze them, they should be good for 3 months, but I doubt they'll get a chance to last that long.

So to cook them, get a skillet very hot (5-10 mins on full heat) and oil it lightly.
Then put the burgers in.

Now the instructions say turn every 30s, this allows a crust to form on the outside, but keeps the centre moist. I don't think I'd managed to get the pan hot enough, because after 2 mins they were more blue than rare/medium rare, so more flipping and more cooking.

Hot hot hot, flipping every 30s there is almost bound to be a casualty or two, in this case it was light flaking of the burgers.
Since I'd skipped out on doing the whole job, I'd got some buns, cheese & Mr Hienz's ketchup. Instead of going to the chip-shop I made some wedges, the healthy alternative.

That's making me hungry to look at now.

So are they perfect burgers ?
I honestly don't know, they are very good, but this is the first time I've made burgers from scratch, and having traceable meat meant I could eat them much rarer than I would dare with store burgers.
The texture is very good, does aligning the mince make it so ? Probably.
Am I going to do it again ? well not for a while, I've still 10-12 burgers in the freezer, and they are reasonably expensive (Figure about £1:50 per burger, obviously it depends on the cost of the meat though, if you are going to do the whole thing, its going to be closer to £5 per burger.

Its shown me a couple of bugbears with the book, that I'm more prepared for now. Kitchen organization is an absolute must, because the odds are you are working in a family kitchen, complete with all the things competing for that space. Several of the recipes call for long processes, 6 hours in the fridge is nothing compared to making a pre-ferment 24hrs early (thats if you want to use the HB buns) or the amount of cooking the Chili uses, that said, its not exactly arduous and with a bit of experience I'm sure you can adapt the recipes to be even more usable in an average home.

I don't know if the burgers are served at the "hinds head" in bray, but I'd not be suprised to see them on the menu at around £15 which doesn't seem that unreasonable, especially if they come with triple cooked chips.

I did notice the mincer has a sausage nozzle, the book has a bangers & mash recipe and it appears that Heston & I share a taste in sausages (Pork, a little spicing, no herbs or that kind of nonsense) so I could try that next.

Perfect Burgers ? (pt1)

At some point I made a rash comment I was going to make something  out of one of Heston Blumenthal's cookbooks. A chance encounter with a cut price mincer lead me to his Hamburger recipe. The full thing which includes making buns & cheese slices is a somewhat daunting 30+ hour oddesy. So I chickened out and went for just the burgers, the theory being that when I come to do a full recipe I'll have an idea of the pitfalls.

First set up a workspace, its probably not going to be big enough, because its very unlikely you are a michelin starred chef , even if the perfection recipes are meant for the home cook (A slightly nerdy obsessive one at that).

There we go, ahh the folly of youth. Then meat, specifically beef,more specifically 625g chuck, 625g brisket, 1.2kg short rib.

Short rib is a bit of an odd cut, after much discussion with 3 butchers (including a South African (I mention it as they really seem to know meat))
flat rib was suggested as the correct cut.

First off dice the chuck and then put it in a dish with some salt (a teaspoon full ) and then let it sit in the fridge so the salt can draw out the juices.

Looks good, but no time to admire it as there are 2 more cuts to dice

And then mince, not once, but twice, through a reasonably fine mincer too. My mincer is a hand crank one, this is going to give me lats that some would kill for.

 Lots of mincing happens, fortunately I'm getting 4-5 hours rest whilst the chuck & salt do their thing, unfortunately this meant I was getting rest from the kitchen, there were other chores to do.

 Now I've got a bowl of twice minced beef & a bowl of unminced chuck, that all needs mixing together, this is almost the home straight.

Or so you'd think, however this next mincing has an attention to detail that is a hallmark of molecular gastronomy. Several tests Had Heston thinking about the texture of his burger, he solved it by putting the final mince through a coarse plate, and most importantly keeping the mince aligned as it came out.
The stage is a bit awkward, even with an extra pair of hands. It should be coming out on to cling film, then you can wrap it into a beef log.

You can probably see meat in the bowl behind the log, there was no way the entire amount could go in one log & the fridge, so I separated the mass into two. Logs safely rolled it was time for more chilling. The vaguries of the weekend meant that the actual cooking would be the next day.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Old Fashioned

When it comes to cocktails, there are about a 100 million different theories about the name & origin, most people agree though that the old fashioned was an early contender.

It sounds pretty simple, whiskey, sugar, water (a mere splash) bitters and an orange twist. The devil is however in the details (Some thing the fountain room at the Bellagio would do well to remember). Here is how it ought to be done.

Put a teaspoon of sugar in an Old fashioned glass and add bitters (2-5 dashes), add a drop of water, stir, slowly add whiskey & ice stirring till the sugar is dissolved, it'll take a good 5-10 minutes, add an orange twist. (M.A.S.H. ever the arbiter of cocktail taste give this advice from hotlips "An old fashioned, not a fruit salad). Some how ever insist on a cherry.

When done right it's a great drink, let us not get into what happens when it's done wrong.

In a molecular mixology style there is a great recipe involving bacon infused bourbon, maple syrup & bitters. Here is the finished article

 It tastes wonderful, if you've ever had maple cure bacon or maple syrup bacon pancakes you'll recognize it imeadiately, but it is really subtle. Next time though a touch more bitters & a touch less syrup. 

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Consider the oyster

Whilst fact checking for my edit on oysters I kept comming across the book whose title graces this edit. I'm rather glad I did as it's a splendid little book ranging from the life of an oyster to what to drink whilst eating them. It's studded with recipes too though several will need deep pockets & a measure of gastronomic bravery. The book is well written in a conversational style and the author loves her oysters. I'm not sure I'm ready for oyster stew just yet (it's incredibley rich & none of the ingredients are cheap ) but some of the simpler hot oyster recipes are very tempting indeed. You may be an oyster lover or not, but if food writing interests you in any way you really ought to track down this book. Who knows it may even tempt you into sea food and that oddest of molluscs the oyster.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Pi Chorlton

Pi shop is a studenty cafe bar in chorlton, Serving a range of beers and of course pie.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of a Dutch "brown cafe", that comfortable relaxing buzz with customers coming & going rather than settling by a TV to watch sport. (This was last night, in Manchester, United were playing CSK Moscow, if they were going to show sport, it would have been then). The beer menu is nicely laid out, by country, with spirits, non-alcholoic drinks and so on at the back. Austria and Belgium have the biggest sections, and oddly Holland is not represented at all (This could be due to the Dutch habit of keeping their best stuff to themselves). Since I was driving no beer for me.

The other main event is PIE, these come with a choice of sides and a little jug of gravy. Sides are a small selection, with Mash & Mushy peas leading the pack. The pies themselves are from Pieminister an award winning Pie maker (who it has to be said I normally pass over for Lime tree pantry, but thats mainly to do with size). Pieminster say their pastry is one of the things that makes them special, and they're right. No puff pastry hats here, these are proper crusted pies. Mum and I tried to disect the pastry, but beyond short crust & flakey it wasn't succesful. Inside are the fillings, some of which are quite novel such as the "Heidi" a vegetarian pie in which goats cheese plays a large part. I went for steak & kidney, after all if they can't get that right...

No such worries, its a rich pie with an ale gravy, and just the right amount too, its not going to flood the plate when you cut into it, neither is it going to leave you with dry crust. The mash was smooth (Smoother than I really like) and creamy, the board said it was made with local desiree potatoes, I find it hard to argue that it wasn't. The jug of gravy on the side was a great touch, we are all different in our gravy tastes (I like to add none) and the dished plate allowed for you to swamp everything, if thats the way your tastes run.

Its not the biggest of places and it seems reasonably popular so if you like beer or pies go along and try (quick before the 2010 good beer guide comes out). Oh and the largers ? Well if its in a bottle they'll do you an off-sale, so now I have the record holding Samiclaus beer to try, that though ought to wait till the 6/12/??
But fear not, I'll report on it here

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ho's bakery

I think I was about 15 the first time I went to Ho's. It hit that magic spot between exotic & familiar. The exotic was pretty much supplied by the Chinese arch that's such a feature of Manchester's china town, the familiar by it being a bakery. A bakery of the kind that has pretty much gone now, replaced by Greggs & the like. The food wasn't too threatening either, OK some of the dumplings looked pretty weird & I really wasn't sure about the amount of seasame seeds around. Then I saw a sight to gladen any heart "roast pork buns" a phrase that has no negatives at all. Next to them nestled egg tarts, they looked a lot like egg custards (sure there didn't appear to be any nutmeg and they were in puff pastry cases but hey).

So I dipped my toe into another world & ordered. The pork bun was a revelation. Firstly where was the pork ? Sealed inside the bun, of course it was red char-sui rather than slices of roast pork, and the bun was much sweeter than expected. It was worlds away from stuffing & apple sauce, yet it wasn't, it was a lovely roast pork bun. That dispatched it was time for the egg tart, the puff pastry  was well just not what I was used to, the custard though was rich,sweet, and warm. Lovely.

Ever since if I've had chance I've popped into Ho's and had a pork bun & egg tart. Guess what I had for lunch :-)

-- Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Molecular mixology

On Friday my barmonkey was experimenting with bacon bourbon & maple syrup. The final version (that I'm keeping under wraps for now) needs a bit more work.

The bacon infusion though pricked my curiosity. Time to get to the kitchen & bust out some science. Well after a conversation with the butcher, who provided some lovely smoked collar.

First job a slow fry to render out some fat

Next up some Bourbon

Ok I know it's not bourbon, but the charcoal filtering gives a usable flavour profile. Time to get infusing.

This looks pretty grotty I have to say but it's going to be worth it.

After several hours this goes into the freezer. The whiskey won't freeze but the fat will, this looks even worse.

Next job scoop out the fat using a slotted spoon, best to dispose of that. Mind you with the winter coming on you could use it to make fat balls for the birds.
Then strain for errant BCBs and bottle.

Preliminary tasting went well, next up cocktail ideas & balancing.

-- Posted from my iPhone