Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Fabulous feasts

I think its fairly obvious I'm a fan of Heston Blumenthal, so I'm an avid watcher of his TV shows. Here in the UK Channel 4 are well into the second season of fantastic feasts. The first series was responsible for my wallet damaging trip to Bray, to experience the Fat Duck for myself (nutshell, its worth it). This time round I've noticed more about how he reuses and revisits ideas & techniques.

Last weeks camel burgers are a straight remake of the perfection burger with camel instead of beef, served with the famous triple cooked chips (which once I get a digital sugar thermometer I'll be making). Last night he used the blood/black pudding recipe from "Balotine of Anjou Pigeon" in several places.The butter salted caramel from millionaires shortbread, also saw some use (in the fabulous graveyard dessert). I'd decided that I was going to use that if/when I next needed a caramel myself (of course I'll need the thermometer).

Anyway having made another batch of the burgers (the farm shop had some beef on offer & it seemed to make sense) ready for the BBQ I'm unlikely to use a different burger recipe as the results are so good, just goes to show how what initially seemed to be cutting edge & outre techniques are a lot more reusable than they first appear.

Monday, 26 April 2010


I'm not keen on waste (who is, its expensive and annoying) so when I found I had 3 large egg-whites left over I thought hmmm what to do with them ?

Meringues was the answer I came up with. Due to my ISP not playing I had to hit the books. Harold McGee knows about egg foams so that's where I went first, I couldn't find the cream of tartar but I did have malic acid to hand. The slightly annoying thing about my whisk is that when you turn it on, it jumps to medium rather than slow. That aside after 5 minutes I had some fluffy meringue, 10 mins after that I'd made a sheet full of passable shapes.

As you can see my oven did it's usual trick of being hotter than expected and singed them slightly. (actually it ruined the other sheet, but that meant I had test pieces for what came next).

When I was younger, the cake shops used to sell 2 large meringue shells glued together with whipped cream and decorate with a glacé cherry and perhaps some angelica.

I thought it was time to give that a bit of a home grown twist. I found some spiced orange chocolate, which I thought would make a good coating and then thought about the centres. Whipped cream lead quite naturally to syllabub. A quick look through various books furnished me with a basic recipe (1 tsp alcohol, juice of 1 citrus fruit 2 Tbsp sugar 250ml cream). I had spare oranges and I thought the carry through from the chocolate would be quite nice. So I whipped up a quick orange syllabub, and added the orange zest as well as the juice.

For an operation in using up leftovers it turned out really well, even after what was quite a filling meal they only lasted moments.

I am worried though that I may have started off on a quest for the perfect meringue, before you know it I'll be buying a copper bowl and a more specialist oven so they turn out perfectly white.

Friday, 23 April 2010


I have to admit I don't really get vodka. I have some good potato vodka in my drink cabinet, you can tell it apart from grain vodka by mouthfeel but generally I go for a low end triple or more filtered brand. It doesn't see a lot of cocktail action, getting used when fresh grapefruit is available in the salty dog. In high summer in cucumber Martinis or in Vespers.

One thing that vodka is good for though is creating cordials or liqueurs.
Do yourself a favour though & use reasonable ingredients.

1st Vanilla vodka.
1 Bottle of Smirnoff red or similar quality vodka
1 Vanilla pod.

Drop the pod in the bottle, let it sit for a couple of days and remove the pod. Don't leave it to long or the flavour will become bitter.

2 Generic fruit vodka

The trick with fruit vodka is balancing the sweetness, most soft fruits are quite acid and the result of just fruit is sometimes to dry to drink, so add a little sugar, if it's still too dry add a little more.

I'm currently trying a ginger vodka to replace Jamaica Ginger, I'll let you know how it goes and what drinks it ends up in.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Gin,Elderflower & dreams of summer

Gin & elderflower go well together, you can go the whole hog & get gin with elderflower in the botanical mix . You can make G&T with elderflower cordial (or ditch the tonic & go with elderflower pressé). There is St Germain which you can switch for the vermouth in a Martini or you can make some grown up "Jello shots".

Gin & Elderflower Jelly
Following last weeks experiments with tea jelly, I wanted something similar with a delicate taste to follow on from the Salmon. I did some reading about Gelatin & gelling to find out what the malic acid was for (it's a flavour enhancer) in the fact duck recipe and then I tweaked it to my own ends. First off I dropped the unrefined sugar as I wanted a clear end product. Then I made up a Gin & St Germain mixture & replaced the Lemon juice with that, adding an extra 5ml or so to account for an alcohol loss whilst the jelly was hot. More importantly I left myself more time. I think I can now conclusively say that I'm using water with too little calcium & I'll have to go hunting for something nearer the 200mg/L concentration.

I ended up with quite a loose set, but a good clarity & a very good taste. Hopefully with just a little more refinement this will become a great summer BBQ dessert.

Meanwhile that Martini in full

8pts Gin (drier the better)
1pt St Geramian
1pt Noilly Prat

Stir over ice, make sure its very very cold & serve.

(I'd recommend making the Martini with some "spare" and using that to make the jelly)

Monday, 19 April 2010

Bradan Orach

Bradan Orach is a smoke roast salmon.

Whilst tidying the cellar I found some peat chips (probably knocked of some of these, and yes I know). I thought hey these would make some good smoke.

So hot smoked salmon, seemed to be the best way to go. That,s the salmon over there, with delicious peat smoke curling all round it.

Now I'm going to fess up, I bought good quality salmon, because I figured I could always eat it raw in sashimi/sushi fashion. I was worried about over cooking so I don't think I got enough heat in the system before starting up the smoke.

After about 30 minutes the salmon looked pretty good & my temperature probe was giving me a safe reading, unfortunately some dust had got blown around through the vents
It looks worse than it is due to the camera flash. the very top of the salmon is pretty much raw, but smoked, the bottom is reasonably well done (If you've had one-side cooked salmon you'll know it quite well). It tasted pretty good with a lingering peat smoke, but it would have been better if I'd either generated more smoke at a higher temperature or if I'd left it for another hour or so.

I'm going to keep playing with smoking over the summer (I've just gained quite a lot of birch chips) and this is bound to make a re-appearance. Hopefully I'll be able to set up some cold smoking too.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


This is a classic prohibition cocktail of gin, fruit juice and modifier. Designed with knocking the rough edges off bathtub gin in mind it still stands up now good gin is available.

4 pts Gin
2 pts Orange juice
1 pt apricot brandy

Today this stands or falls on the orange juice as it would be horribley easy to make it over sweet.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Michelin star recipe == Michelin star food ?

Of course not, that ought to be self-evident, but why not ?

I think there are 3 reasons

  • Ethos
  • Training
  • Equipment
Equipment is the easiest to tackle, I'm not talking about the kind of molecular gastronomy stuff like thermo-blends & sous-vide units. Most of us home cooks have to put up with ovens that are temperamental or have odd hot/cold spots, our fridges & freezers have to keep the food we need on a day to day basis. Its no wonder when we put them to the precise requirements of haute cuisine they are found wanting. Unless you plan to be a chef or have mild OCD then your knives & pans are probably not quite up to it either.

Training, I can make a fine pastry. To make the kind of pastry that haute cuisine requires with equal amounts of fat & flour takes me hours. Rolling & wrapping meat/fish/veggies into clingfilm logs goes wrong more often than it goes right and well its going to be quite some time before I get the hang of quenelles. I've got a job and a social life that isn't all cooking & cocktails, so I don't have the time to practice, which brings me to ethos.

Ethos. I'm a cook, I want most of my food out on the plate & eaten. I'm not always prepared to cut & chuck good food in order to make a better looking dish. I'm cooking for 2-6 people not a full service 2-3 times a day. I'm cooking for fun (or hunger) not for a living. I'm coming from a completely different place, a different starting point & pretty much ending in a different place.

Ethos is the big difference, I can't really make the investment required to turn out one plate of star grade food. I don't have the time to practice that one dish over & over till it's perfect. And frankly I'm not great at cleaning ovens, fridges & so on, sure its all hygienic but its not enough to coax the constant & consistent performance from my kit.

One day I might by luck & skill combined turn out that plate, but I'm not counting on it. It's not going to stop me buying serious cookery books & attempting the recipes though. I'll just try to be a little less harsh on myself when it doesn't come out exactly as it might at a restaurant.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Tea Jelly

Another mention of that restaurant.

A couple of things left me with very strong taste memories, the first was the Douglas fir sherbet. I was out mountain biking a couple of months after eating at the fat duck & passed through a Douglas fir stand, instant hunger.

The second was tea jelly, I was reminded of it whilst doing research for the shortbread, since the chocolate wine was a definite no-go maybe the tea jelly would be good ? I wasn't holding out much hope due to the presence of exotic gelling agents in HB's cookery. Fortunately this used good old Gelatin. Malic acid was the weird ingredient, but its easy to get at homebrew shops.

The book is very precise about the water used, it needs to have a calcium level of 100-400ppm. I had a slight factor of 10 issue when converting to milligrams so ended up with a water having 36ppm of calcium (this may be important later).

It also needs 3 different types of tea, calling for earl grey, Darjeeling & green. I've got a fairly good idea about tea, so I used my favourite smoked earl grey and swapped the Darjeeling for a maloom and used a gunpowder green for the green tea .
Anyway you make a syrup of 2 kinds of sugar & then cool it to 4c. Then the lemon juice, malic acid and teas go in to infuse for a couple of hours, which you then strain to clear (I used 2 strainers, you can use a muslin if you want it really clear). Add the leaf gelatine to the mixture and heat gently till it's dissolved and refrigerate till it sets.

I'd not left myself a lot of time, and it didn't seem to be setting, so I panicked and put it in the freezer, all the while trying to work out if I had got my factors of 10 confused. I served it (more than a little dispiritedly) as a failed tea ice. The taste was pretty much spot on (I'm ridiculously happy about this as its a taste I really enjoyed and I can make it whenever I want) and it had started to gel so maybe my failure was time based ?
I've found a water with the correct calcium ratio, so I'll be having another attempt and I'll leave myself some more time.

Note for Americans, jelly in this case is similar to jello, not a preserve for spreading on bread.

Millionaires shortbread

Or as its sometimes known caramel shortbread squares.

Last year I ate at the fat duck in Bray, I got to eat many wonderful things and was given a copy of the big fat duck cookbook, the original giant 5.6Kg format. Now its a very very nice book, but it is full of recipes and they demand to be used. The shortbread (and accompanying chocolate wine) wasn't on the menu when I was there but I really wanted to taste it.

Some of the recipes in here are scary, the chocolate wine being a case in point, a centrifuge ? whey powder ? Gellan ? I know why these ingredients & techniques are used, but it can''t really happen in my kitchen. The millionaires shortbread didn't seem too scary. I couldn't get T45 flour, but knowing its a plain fine white flour allowed me to substitute.

 Those are the ingredients for the shortbread. The method and measures are precise (this is a feature of Heston Blumenthal (HB) recipes). I needed 45g of egg yolk (turns out that is almost 2 co-op large eggs) and actual vanilla seeds, also required was olive oil, which came as a bit of a shock since I'm used to butter being the only fat in short bread. Due to a cockup with the amount of olive oil I had in I had to add a little mandrine olive oil. The dough comes together remarkably well but feels a bit sticky. It goes in the fridge to rest for 24hrs (look at the treacle tart recipe for HB's take on pastry resting) When it comes out you've got a rich firm dough, which you roll out very thin & return to the fridge to rest for a couple more hours.

Whilst that's happening let's make a start on the caramel. The glucose is easy to get hold of, just go to your local pharmacy and they have it. You are going to end up with a pretty rich caramel. I had a little issue in that my thermometer only goes up to 130c & I needed a temperature of 147c so a bit of science got involved. unsurprisingly once the caramel is done (and stirring in the cream to the hot sugar mixture is one of those scary cookery procedures) that needs to go into the fridge too, this time its going to set.
That leaves the chocolate top. The recipe calls for 24hrs of sous-vide but a bit of reading suggested that this was to temper the chocolate, a bit of reading suggested some work with a digital thermometer would allow me to temper the chocolate reasonably well, so I got that all set up & ready.

The shortbread goes into a slow oven (gas 2) for 15 minutes, you've rolled it out pretty thin, so it doesn't take long. At this point I realized I had a lot more caramel & chocolate than shortbread, but never mind I had a plan.

The book calls for 1cm x 4cm slices, which I felt were a little small so we went with 4cm squares instead. The caramel is a bit of a bugger to work with, that could quite easily be me not getting it to the correct temperature or just my lack of skill with caramel.

That's the final assembled product. I had gold leaf, not powder so I scribbled gold onto the chocolate rather than gold coating the salt crystals. Once again hard work with a worthwhile outcome. 

The left over caramel got used with a more ordinary millionaires shortbread that we christened "public sector shortbread". I used a straight flour & butter shortbread & just spread the top with melted chocolate, which gives a very different mouth feel from the sharp snap of the tempered chocolate. We gave it a light gold scribble because as we all know the public sector isn't that rich

All jolly tasty and I''ll definitely give it another go when I've got a better thermometer and a smooth sided & bottomed pan for the caramel.


A pastrami sandwich is a good thing, I think most meat eaters will agree. How about home made pastrami ? It turns out you can, you just need brisket, spices, salt and smoke. Oh and time.
First step is to get a nice bit of brisket, ask the butcher nicely and tell them what its for. I had a nice slab just over a kilo in weight and it cost me £7:00. This needs to be brined to make a salt cured beef. Put the brisket in a pan and cover with water, then take the brisket out and pour salt into the water still it stops dissolving, add herbs & spices and heat gently and add a bit more salt. Let it cool and use it to cover the brisket, then put it somewhere cool and dark (like the veg drawer in your fridge). The internet has all kinds of time-scales for the brining part, 3 weeks cropped up a lot and fitted in quite well with my schedule, so that's what I went for.

If you are brining for that long its a good idea to soak it over night in clean fresh water to reduce the saltiness.

Then its time for the exciting stuff, making rub. There are all kinds of rub recipes on the internet, so I read a bunch of them to get a feel for ingredients & quantities and then made my own.
Garlic,Peppercorns,Mustard seeds and Juniper berries seem to be common ingredients I added a couple of cloves some brown sugar, a bit of fenugreek a splash of hot sauce, a splash of Jack Daniels and some smoked paprika. All the dry spice went into the pestle & mortar whilst the garlic cloves & wet stuff went into mini-chop. Once the dry stuff was nicely crushed that went into mini-chop for a quick blast too et viola rub.

Pastrami needs smoking and again opinion was divided over hot or cold. I went with hot, because I was going to have to fettle up a smoker.
If you are used to indirect grilling with your BBQ kit this is a fairly easy job. Rub the beef with your rub, and let it sit in the fridge (in a sealed container, unless you want everything to be pastrami flavour) whilst you go sort out smoking.
I had a bit of luck my neighbours have just taken charge of an allotment, there was a lot of applewood available, so that was smoking wood sorted. Pile all your fuel (Charcoal in this case) on one side of the grill. Then make a divider out of foil. Light the charcoal & let it get to temperature, then put your wood (dampen it with water to get a better smoke) on the other side of the divider. The meat is going to want to sit directly over the wood, so it gets cooked by the hot wood smoke & not directly from the charcoal.

Smoking takes a couple of hours or so, I aimed for an internal temperature of 50c in the thickest parts of the meat. If you can't get it even don't worry you can finish the meat off in a slow oven. Slice & serve. It's great hot, but even better cold on sandwiches, your bread, your trimmings.

I've got a few more photos here.
Price wise I think I'm saving 50% on supermarket pastrami and getting the bonus of being able to make it as spicy as I like.


More chocolate.

I like Chocolate brownies (like most people) and they shouldn't be too hard to make at home right ?

First I tried Nigella and much as I like her & her recipes she does like to add chopped nuts to her brownies, not what I wanted at all. Many of the other recipes I found were also unsatisfactory, a large number choosing to involve nuts/dates raisins & so on and a smaller but equally significant number being light on the chocolate.

Then I found cooking for engineer's recipe Dark chocolate & no nuts.

Its a nice simple recipe, most of the work being done in a double boiler (or in my case a pyrex bowl balanced over a pan of boiling water). Not just diving into a bowl of glossy chocolate & butter before adding the rest of the ingredients is a bit hard to resist because it looks so very good.

Once you've got the batter together (the only tricky bit being incorporating the eggs) pour it into a tray and slide it into the oven. Of course with all the best things that go in the oven opening the door is a no no, even if your kitchen is smelling wonderful.

Once its out of the oven let it cool for a while and then slice it into squares and as the cook exercise your privilege and eat all the offcuts/ edge bits and then pile the good looking ones onto a plate & watch them disappear. 

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The well tempered gourmand

Oh dear a punning title and warning of a glut of edits.

Anyway this is about chocolate. Hard as it maybe to believe chocolate is pretty complicated stuff, it exists in 6 different crystal forms. The one we really want is the β crystal and to get that we have to temper the chocolate.
Normally chocolate already comes in this form, by melting it we mess that up, this is where tempering comes in. The old fashioned method involves heating the chocolate till its fully melted and up around a temperature of 41c. Then removing 3/4 and working that on a cool marble slab down to 28c then adding that to the remaining 1/4 and bringing it to a temperature of 31c.
However we can take advantage of a bit of science and do this in a slightly easier way, using seed crystals. Since our chocolate is already tempered,we can reserve a bit and use its crystals to get the melted chocolate to behave. A bit of reading suggests about 10% is enough. So put the remaining 90% in your double boiler and melt it, stirring to bring the whole lot to a uniform temperature of 41c. Take it off the heat, and drop in the reserved chocolate, stir till the whole lot is at 32c, the chocolate ought to be tempered. Its then time to use the chocolate, of course if it goes above 32c you'll have to temper again.

You should end up with a glossy chocolate that snaps very definitely. It is a bit of fuss, but it does provide a much better chocolate for some applications.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Violet cream showdown

On the left (in the case) is the Fortnum & Mason Violet cream on the right Hotel chocolat's offering.

Hotel Chocolat
This is a thin square of violet cream, liberally coated in 72% cocoa solid dark chocolate. The chocolate here is the main event, the violet cream being unfortunately overshadowed by it (the rose creams slightly less so). The fondant has a fairly stiff texture and is pretty much as the box says "scented" with violets. On the whole whilst I happy to eat these I'd rather have something with a bit more punch in the violet.

Fortnum & Mason
This is a more traditional type of cream a good solid block of cream enrobed in dark chocolate (60% cocoa solid this time). For me the balance is better, the chocolate provides the right amount of bitterness to foil the violet cream, which this time has a strong floral flavour. Its more harmonious than the hotel chocolat square with a long tail of rich chocolate and violet after.

Out of these two its the Fortnum & Mason for me, but I'm going to have to try it against the Charbonnel et Walker violet creams, which hold first place in my memory.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Breakfast of champions

Yes along with Kurt Vonnegut I think the Martini is an under rated breakfast. This is the king of breakfast Martinis, the marmalade.
Marmalade or Breakfast Martini
 This is my recipe

1 barspoon of good maramalade
1 dash orange bitters
1 good measure gin.

Harry Craddock goes with

1 barspoon maramalade
1 good measure gin
1/2 a small measure lemon juice

Normally I don't drink for breakfast, but there is a bit of a good reason today. Whilst in Vegas we took the adage "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" to heart and attempted to order this cocktail at several hotel bars. Most barstaff looked at us as if we'd grown horns or something. One however said "what goes in that then", I explained that we were after a very dry Martini with  a spoon full of marmalade "you mean like orange jelly ?" (actually no, I mean marmalade, which is a jam & a particular one at that) "yes, the stuff you put on toast" 
"in a drink ?"
"yes, its very good"
"jelly ! in a drink !  If I had any I'd make you some "
I should have dashed over to the breakfast bar and liberated a couple of those plastic boxes of marmalade, but it didn't occur to me.

So there you go a breakfast cocktail, its really worth drinking if you get the chance.