Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Pizza with little people

I found myself babysitting, so I thought we could make pizza. After all it's a pretty simple dough (Flour water yeast) and if I cut up the toppings & manned the oven a five yr-old could do most of the work right ?

I got Them to test the water for the yeast (like Goldilocks, not too hot, not too cold) and to mix up the dough.

The stickiness of this step was not entirely welcome, but making a well in the flour & then pouring water into it seemed to be about the best fun you could have. That said we ended up with a ball of dough that wasn't too bad after 5-10 minutes and some deft avuncular handy work.

We took a break at this point, the recipe I'm using for the dough doesn't need to rest, but the little fingers appreciated it. I shooed them out of the kitchen, cranked the oven up & chopped a few toppings.

The salami is really for my benefit, and I know pineapple on pizza isn't great, but I didn't want to make food that was too new/unusual/weird.
Anyway everyone love smooshing out dough into a rough pizza shape. Everyone except my nephew every time it got thin enough he'd roll it back up & start again.

We eventually got a pizza shape everybody was happy with, I assisted in covering them with sauce and then it was time to make some Pizza. Somebody was insistent that theirs was a face, somebody else was more interested in how much stuff would fit on the base.

Not bad though, minimal interference from me (though I admit to not braving making tomato sauce with them & using a jar of pasta sauce instead). Popping them in the oven wasn't greeted with enthusiasm, in fact there were a couple of howls of dismay. Until we realized that they could be seen through the door.

10 minutes later and :-

Hmm maybe I let him pile a little too much ham on there. I've not got any eating photos as we were a bit on the busy side at that point. We managed to join the clean plate club too. First outing cooking with the tinnies was definitely a success. What to do next time ?

Monday, 30 August 2010

Mixmo:- Brown,Bitter and stirred

Mixmo, Manhattans, Interesting.

A number of writers place the Manhattan up with the Martini, a couple even give it the crown as the king of cocktails. In short it has a reputation, one which for once is richly deserved. Every now & then a bit of a tinker with it is in order, what makes the Manhattan's magic ? For one drinker I know its all about the cherry. With that in mind, I went all out for the Cerise Manhattan.

Simply I swapped cherry brandy in for the vermouth and Kirsch in for the bitters so

45 ml Bourbon (drinkers choice)
15 ml Cherry Brandy
2 dashes of Kirsch

Stir over ice, strain.
Lift a maraschino cherry with your barspoon & drop it (with attendant syrup) through the drink.

This was a massive DRY cherry hit. I was using home made cherry brandy, so that wasn't as sweet as the commercial stuff (I'm stingy with sugar) which might have made some of the difference. However I think that cutting the cherry brandy with half red vermouth might well produce a more balanced drink.

I guess I'm just going to have to keep experimenting till I find an acceptable cherry Manhattan, could take me a while, but I'll sacrifice myself like that since it's unlikely that I'll mix up anything utterly unpalatable.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The hound of the Baskerville's remix

Last Blackberry season I made this we settled on calling it "the hound of the Baskerville's". Leaving work recently I've noticed a lot of blackberries, so I went to pick some. Unfortunately some were out of my reach, so I didn't grab that many.

Having arrived at the bar I decided I'd introduce the guys to this one.

Hound of the Baskerville's

1pt creme de murre
1pt sweet vermouth
2pts dry vermouth
6pts dry gin
handful of blackberries

Muddle the blackberries down, add a large handful of ice and the rest of the ingredients, stir hard till very cold, strain & serve. The Borage flower on the top is a nice touch, I'd normally serve with a small reserved berry.

As you can see it is a variation on the "Bloodhound" and a bit more refined than my original attempts. It was pretty well received. So if you are keen on classic type cocktails and a fan of seasonal fruits take the time over the next couple of weeks to grab a handful of nice blackberries from an overlooked briar patch and mix up a couple of these.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Watermelon Jelly

I had a plan for going off recipe with jelly, then a free watermelon arrived & the plan changed, more about the original plan later.

Seriously though how hard can it be ?
Step 1 check your fruit doesn't have any dodgy enzymes which interfere with Gelatine. (That's kiwi,pineapple,papaya, and figs as far as I know).
Step 2 Juice your fruit
Step 3 Make the juice upto 500ml. This is where you adjust the sweetness add booze and otherwise adulterate the juice to provide a better jelly.
Step 4 Make a Gelatine solution
Step 5 Set
Step 6 EAT

Nobody seemed to think watermelon and gelatine presented any problems, so it was juicing time, slice the melon up (catching any juice from this stage) and pulp in a blender, pass through a sieve and away you go.
Step 3 had me worried, melon is a delicate flavour and I didn't want to wreck it, so I added a dash of white rum, a spoonful of sugar and made it up with water. At this point I remembered something from the Fat Duck Cookbook about adding malic acid, so I added 1/2 a teaspoon.

Hours later and the jellies smelt fantastic, time to unmould & taste.

Fortunately they tasted as good as they smelt. I'll be adding watermelon to my list 

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


A simple BBQ plum dessert

First off mix up a honey simple syrup, and infuse lavender & rosemary into it (Couple of teaspoons of honey, double the amount of water, a sprig of rosemary & a fresh lavender flower head). While that is heating (you don't want it to boil) halve & stone plums. Lay them in a fireproof bowl & pour over your syrup.

When all the meat has been consumed from the BBQ , but it's still fairly hot cover the dish with foil & put it on the grill, after about 10-15mins it should be bubbling away. Lift it off, carefully peel back the foil and serve spoonfuls of hot plum with a good vanilla ice-cream.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Double Plum Jelly

There are going to be quite a few plum posts, as I seem to have gained an embarrassing excess.

This is a simple "technique" jelly, in which sliced plums are held in a plum jelly. The recipe calls for the plums to be simmered in Riesling, but I switched it to half water half wine, mainly because that was the amount of wine that was spare. Halve & stone you plums, add sugar to taste cover with wine/water and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Push the mixture through a fine sieve into a jar & make up to 500ml with water. Do the usual jelly routine of softening & melting the gelatine. Line your mould with halved plums and then pour in enough jelly mixture to just cover them. Fresh fruit floats in jelly, so if you want it at the top of your decanted jelly you have to let the first pour thicken. If you stand you mould(s) in a bowl of ice water the process goes that bit quicker.
After an hour or so the plum layer should be gelled enough to add the rest. Due to the slightly magical nature of gelatine, the top should set faster then you'd expect. Chill for a couple of hours & then serve. I didn't unmould this one, serving it instead in glasses, but it looked good & tasted great (quite a grownup taste due to the sourness that comes with plums)

Monday, 9 August 2010


Since my first run of "Perfection burgers" I've been wanting to try a good restaurant burger to compare these too.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found that GBK was coming to town. At last something to measure my burger against, after all Gourmet is in their name. They claim a 100% aberdeen angus beef in the burgers, so it had to be worth a go. Unfortunately whilst the burgers are fine, they aren't great. I was asked how I'd like my burger so said (almost by reflex) "Rare please". Apparently that's not possible, would medium rare do. When the burger came, it was more medium than medium rare. In a nutshell that's what I found wrong with GBK. They go further than most burger providers but they don't go far enough to justify their pricing. The bun comes stacked with stuff, but its mostly salad giving the illusion of height, not a thick burger. Sorry GBK.

To cheer myself up I took a batch of "perfection burgers" along to our neighbour's allotment BBQ. Since they'd just started to harvest the onions it seemed rude not to turn one of them into a good onion relish , pile it on the Burger and enjoy it in the setting sun.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


The Gimlet

a really old fashioned cocktail, great for warm summer nights.
It is just gin & Rose's Lime juice. Some people say 50-50, others (myself included disagree).

1 Part Rose's Lime Juice(*)
4 Parts good dry gin

stir over ice till brutally cold, serve.

There is a theory (quite a romantic one, which I like) that the drink is named after a royal navy surgeon, one Surgeon General Sir Thomas D. Gimlette, KCB  who introduced the drink to the officers mess as a way of making the scurvy preventing lime ration palatable. The ratings of course took theirs with rum, making grog. Alternatively it is named after the tool, due to the penetrating nature of the drink on the imbibers sobriety. Like I said I'm going with sir Thomas, because a drink this good has to be good for you.

(*)Rose's Lime juice is a cordial (also with a fine naval history) most authorities agree that it is required in a proper gimlet. Ersatz versions can be made with lime juice & gomme or other lime syrups and for those desperate to ruin a fine drink vodka can of course be substituted for gin, but why would you want to do that ?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Irish Calzone

In the pizza experiments, using the BBQ kept turning up as an idea. It is quite a reasonable one too, as the barbie gets a lot hotter than my oven. So I used the dough recipe to make some thin crusts and gave it a go. The main problem is wrestling the floppy topping charged dough on & off the hot grill. I simple answer is to fold your pizza in half. Ok its not a true calzone, but its close enough.

The  Prosciutto & potato pizza made a big impression, an excess of potato (yeah its the cheaper ingredient) & dough led to experimentation, I mean Ham & Bacon are basically the same right ? Getting to the bottom of the sauce led me to adding onions . VoilĂ   the Irish calzone. Bacon,potato,onion and cheese, grilled quickly over a high heat for a minute or 2 each side. The photo above doesn't do it real justice, but next time you are making pizzas give this one a go.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Lavender Lamb

I have a pretty small garden, with not even enough room for the number of roses I'd like to grow, so I appreciate multi-purpose plants, lavender fits this quite nicely. It can be used for more than toiletries though.

First get a leg (or part leg) of lamb, size depends on the number of people you want to feed (800g will feed 3 adults), then get it butterflied. You can do that yourself if you have the knives & the skill, but a decent butcher will do for you as part of buying the meat.

Next you'll need some lavender, you just want the flowers and since they are currently in bloom use fresh ones, you need a handful (if you have to use dried, they are more intense, so halve the amount), a couple of sprigs of rosemary and 4-5 garlic gloves. Grind it together with some pepper & salt and then add a dash of olive oil to bind it. Coat the lamb & leave it for a couple of hours.

You'll want a fairly hot BBQ/Grill. The lamb wants 10-15 minutes a side, I'm using a meat thermometer & its set at 65c which is the bottom end of well done. Normally I'd have lamb rarer than that, but I was cooking for a couple of other people that wanted/needed it well done. Once you time has elapsed or your chosen internal temperature is reached then take the lamb off & let it rest. It will produce a reasonable amount of juices, which can be used for sauce/stock/gravy. Most of the herb crust will have charred, so you can scrape that off, it's job is done now. Slice and serve

The lavender is quite a delicate flavour, which comes as a bit of a shock after the grinding (which can make your kitchen smell like a natural trust gift shop) and really complements the lamb well.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Jelly vs Jelly

In the yellow corner we have
Hartley's lemon flavour jelly.
40p a packet at Sainsbury's

In the other yellow corner we have home made lemon jelly
Needs a few more ingredients than the Hartley's and a bit more equipment, oh it costs more too, about £1:60 for the amount of ingredients used.

The packet jelly goes in the jug with 100ml of water and into the microwave for a minute, the water & molten jelly don't really mix, so when you make it upto 500ml (or a UK pint) you have to stir it a fair bit to get an even mixture. Then you pour it into your moulds and put it in the fridge, total time ?About 4 minutes. Over in the real jelly corner the first job is a simple sugar syrup. 125ml of boiling water gets 125g of sugar dumped in and stirred till its all dissolved. Actually I let it stand and stirred in between my juicings. The sharp eyed amongst you will have spotted an orange, this has 2 uses. 1 it dilutes the citric acid from the lemons.
Second it improves the colour, giving you a strong yellow, rather than a vaguely murky translucence. That's the jelly liquid on the left ready for actual jelling.  First of cut up 5 leaves of good gelatin and then just cover them with your jelly liquid. They are going to sit there softening for about 10mins. Whilst that's happening bring a pan of water upto simmer. The bowl with the softened gelatine is going to sit on that till all the jelly dissolves (another 10 mins) once that is done stir in the rest of the liquid. Pour through a sieve and or a strainer into your moulds and put it into the fridge. All the hard work is now done, spend the next few hours doing other things and not frequently going in the fridge to see how your Jellies are doing.

At this point I think its worth pointing out that the Hartley's jelly uses no artificial flavourings or colourings. Look at the packet closely and you'll see its lemon flavoured jelly. It doesn't use any lemons either. The citric acid might come from them I guess and the coyly named "natural flavourings" may use lemon oils, but the colour comes from beta-carotene and curcumin, thats carrots & tumeric to us. Here are the end results.

That's Hartley's on the left, and mine on the right. They are obviously quite different looking, fortunately a brave volunteer offered to do a blind tasting.

It probably comes as no surprise that the packet jelly didn't fare to well, at first it appeared to have a more subtle flavour than the home made jelly. On a second tasting this was declared to be a lack of flavour. The home made jelly packs a hefty citrus punch and has a much longer finish (and greater depth). Pretty much all my taste testers preferred the home made one. I'm not bothered by the fact its 4x dearer or that it takes about 10x as long to make, it is a glorious lemony summer dessert.