Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Huts and Pasta

Jenny and I went to visit the Bath Christmas Market this year. It was a surprisingly British assault of the senses - politely queuing crowds, neat rows of wooden huts and a pervasive sweet, slightly spicy smell. This it transpired was one of the several stalls selling caramelised nuts, roasted in big round copper pans right there on the stalls. To further the culinary excitement hiding round the corner was a very friendly French man from near Lyons selling half a dozen types of saucisson from which we purchased a paprika saucisson - to be enjoyed over Christmas.

One of the reasons for visiting bath was to go out for dinner with a friend, and Jamie's Italian seemed like a suitable destination. This was a refreshing reminder of how simple pasta can be. All three of us ordered a pasta dish, and none of them came with a highly complex sauce that took days to make. They were all undeniably tasty. Having made a few pasta dishes in the past year I felt challenged to take this concept of simple pasta and cook something. The result is below. I also discovered a chocolate tart recipe in my Italian cookery book. Chocolate crème patisserie in a citrus pastry case topped with almonds! I would share the recipe but that would be plagarism. Instead try getting this out of your local library (or ordering one)!

Joe's Chicken and Tarragon Pasta

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Two large chicken breasts
  • One serving spoon of tarragon
  • One lemon
  • 50g Butter
  • 100ml White wine
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Pasta for four
    • 3 Eggs
    • 300g 00 Flour
Make the pasta using your preferred method - find one you like and have adjusted. I tend to use three eggs and 300g of flour to make enough pasta for four people. Whilst the pasta is resting melt the butter and lightly fry the garlic. Once the garlic is colouring add the lemon zest, half the tarragon and remove from the heat.
Dice the chicken into small pieces and fry using some of the garlic butter until golden brown. Whilst this is frying cook the pasta. Add some more butter and de-glaze the pan with the white wine and the juice from half the lemon. Add the remaining tarragon and reduce the sauce a little. Pour the cooking liquor over the pasta and toss it lightly. Serve the pasta and place the chicken and tarragon on top. Top with grated Parmesan.


Sunday, 4 November 2012

New Houses, Autumn and Peanut Brittle

A lot of changes have happened since my last post. Since my birthday we have gone house hunting, bought one, moved in, done a whole load of d.i.y. and now are starting to settle. Autumn seems to have crept up on me and it is already showing signs of being over! Autumn is the time for lighting fires (our new house has a wood burning stove in the lounge!),  apples and burnt sugar. This week I have enjoyed all these things.
ApplesI have wanted to plant apple trees the moment we had our own house but deciding what varieties will be a challenge. Today was Chepstow's "Apple Day" so the wife and I went down to try the varieties on sale. It is very satisfying to now be sat looking at 4 different types of apple sat on our work surface awaiting further contemplation! Some culinary work will be needed to assess each apple. It may be a difficult week in the Hickson household - apple based puddings all week! All this in the hope that in a few years time we may be able to pick apples in the garden that we like. You can't get fewer food miles than that and hopefully they will be local varieties too.
I thought I would share this weeks burnt sugar recipe with you. By burnt sugar I mean caramelised sugar - if its actually burnt that is probably a step too far! My choice of burnt sugar recipe was inspired from a few hours in Stratford-upon-Avon. Whilst wandering the town we went past a sweet shop with great piles of peanut brittle in the window. Having spent our pennies (and most of our weeks calorie allowance) in Hobsons patisserie I decided to save peanut brittle for some home experimentation. A few batches later and a recipe has emerged. It turns out peanut brittle is rather easy to make so this will be a quick recipe!

Peanut Brittle

  • 300g Sugar
  • 60ml Water
  • 200g Salted Peanuts
Grease a tray to set the brittle in.
Dissolve the sugar in the water over a gentle heat and once it is all dissolved turn the heat up and boil until a medium colour caramel is achieved. This should be about 160 degrees Celsius if you like temperatures but the colour is a better guide.
Remove from the heat and stir in the peanuts, quickly turning it out into the greased tray (adding cold peanuts makes this mixture go very stiff).
Once the mix has cooled, turn it out onto a chopping board and smack it with something hard to break it up. A rolling pin is my preferred weapon.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Lemon Sorbet

One of my fondest memories of the Italian exchange (way back in my school days) was eating gelato with friends almost every day. If we were on a trip somewhere we would find a gelateria, and if we were spending a day in the local town, then there was a gelateria beside the river that we would all descend upon. Ever since then I have had a love of lemon sorbet.
I was delighted to discover how simple it is to make lemon sorbet - provided you have a few hours to interrupt regularly or an ice-cream machine! Alas this is one of the kitchen gadgets I lack so it was time to become well acquainted with our freezer!

Recipe:

  • 200g sugar
  • 350ml water
  • 6 unwaxed lemons
Add the sugar to half the water until the sugar dissolvesr. Zest the lemons and juice. Mix everything together and chill. If you have an ice-cream machine use it now. For the rest of us, put all the ingredients in a glass bowl and sit it in the freezer. Once it starts to freeze stir it every 15 minutes. If it seems a bit coarse blend it until smooth again. And you're done!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Salmon Gravlax with Sourdough

Jenny and I first encountered gravlax whilst on honeymoon in Scotland. We decided to treat ourselves to dinner out at a nice pub and, being near Aviemore, wound up at The Old Bridge Inn. Being  indecisive we got a starter to share and, having never had gravlax, we decided to try it. Having thoroughly enjoyed our dinner I wanted to learn more about how it was made. The finished dish is rather akin to smoked salmon but without the smoke.
Upon returning home to the joys of google, I was intrigued to discover that gravlax required only store cupboard ingredients, dill, salmon and a fridge (ticking some of my "like to cure / preserve traditionally" boxes). I have now made this a few times and it is one I like to pull out as a starter - British salmon that I have cured myself is very satisfying.
In my opinion, cured salmon sits wonderfully on a good solid loaf. Rather than just bake a wholemeal loaf, I decided on a fresh sourdough starter to bake a loaf with more tang. For those who haven't come across sourdough before, it's a loaf baked with natural yeast and bacteria, in this case out of the air (some people use grape skins that have collected the natural yeast on the outside).  It makes a slower-rising loaf that has lots of tangy flavour. One word of warning - you need 48 hours to make this dish!

Recipe:

  • 1 quantity sourdough starter
  • 400g wholemeal bread flour
  • water
  • 1 side of salmon (about 600g)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp juniper berries
  • 1 small bunch of dill plus a sprig for the dressing
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp salad oil
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar
  • a pinch of lecethin or other emulsifier (optional)
  • Salad

For the sourdough, mix the starter with 1/2 the flour and enough water to make a wet dough. Leave this overnight to sponge. Knead in the remaining flour to form a nice dough and leave to rise in a covered bowl for an hour. Knock back and allow to rise (I have taken to using a well-floured basket to give a nice texture). Bake the bread at 200C for 45 minutes, with a tin of boiling water on the shelf underneath. Allow to cool.


For the gravlax - grind up the salt and pepper coarsely, add the juniper berries and crush lightly before mixing in the sugar. Sprinkle this over the side of salmon and add the coarsely-chopped dill. Wrap the salmon up tight and leave in the bottom of the fridge for 36-48 hours, depending on thickness, turning regularly to ensure the cure is worked in. 
Once cured, rinse well, pat dry with kitchen towel and slice thinly with a very sharp knife - cured salmon gets very sticky.

To make the dressing, grind the mustard with a little salt and add the remaining dill, grinding to a paste. Add the vinegar, oil and lecethin and mix to a smooth consistency (so I got lazy adding the emulsifier - I just happened to have some around as I was making apple foam).





The Birthday Dinner

For some crazy reason, this year I decided to cook a dinner in honour of my birthday. "Why not?" I foolishly thought. So after many weeks of head-scratching and much practice, the menu was pinned down as follows:


Gravlax and Sourdough
Traditionally cured salmon served on fresh sourdough, with a leafy salad and a dill mustard sauce

Lemon Sorbet

Haggis Ravioli
Fresh Ravioli filled with haggis and served with a whisky cream sauce

Baby Plum Tomatoes and Pesto Topping

Baked Hake
Hake baked whole on-the-bone, served with a butterbean puree and crispy bacon

Apple Foam

Triple Beef Pie
Slowly-cooked brisket, chuck and shin of local beef served in a suet pie with mashed potato

Rosebud Tea Granita

Profiteroles
A trio of flavoured profiteroles, berries, white chocolate and caramel

Caramel Macchiato Panna Cotta

Coffee and Chocolate Terrine
A dark chocolate terrine served with fruit coulis


Six full dishes, 5 smaller between course things. To add to my burden I thought I would try and record it all for your reading pleasure. I was hampered by a combination of forgetting to take photos at key stages and a flat battery half way through service so I might fail on my original plan of writing up every dish, but expect to see more posts over the next few weeks!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Excuses

January has passed and it transpires I haven't written a single post since before Christmas! My sincerest apologies. I have been working on learning lots of new skills and planning a dinner party for the end of the month. All of the recipes will be being blogged after the event to try and make up for this long silence. To help you wait here are just a few of the things I have been working on:
Fresh Ravioli

Cooking with Bones

Curing Fish


Sous vide

Sourdough

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

All Butter Shortbread

December is now creeping past and it's time to do one of our usual Christmas treats. Shortbread is something that is just right for this time of year. A recent trip to Scotland has only heightened my seasonal desire for this traditional treat! Rather than just opting for the usual recipe, I decided to take a little longer over this one - and it has been a while in the baking: 8 kg of shortbread mix has been made to multiple recipes, 9 different flavours have been tested and different shapes have been baked. The winning four flavours are listed below, along with the best base recipe.

There are at least three ingredients in traditional shortbread and generally all in a fixed ratio. 1 part sugar (normally caster, sometimes icing), 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour. Its that last part that differs from recipe to recipe (according to whose 'Scottish grandmother' you ask). The flour part is generally subdivided into two parts plain flour and one part something else: semolina, ground rice, rice flour or corn flour. The test bakes with semolina and ground rice came out wonderfully crumbly but after a few chews left something reminiscent of eating biscuits on a sandy beach. I even tried using all plain flour but this came out more like a biscuit than shortbread!

Recipe:

  • 125g sugar 
  • 250g butter 
  • 250g plain flour 
  • 125g corn flour 
  • pinch of salt 
Plus choose one flavour:
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
    • Zest of one lemon
    • 3 tsp green tea, ground
    • 25g very fine milk chocolate (the sort used for making fancy hot chocolate) plus 50g dark cooking chocolate, chopped.




  1. Rub in the butter with the base ingredients. In my case I just put it all into the kenwood. 
  2. Once it reaches a fine powdery consistency add the flavouring and continue to work until it comes together as a nice dough.
  3. Roll out on a well floured surface to a thickness of 1/2 cm and cut into circles. If the dough is too stiff to roll, knead it for a few moments to help ease up the mix (you can even knead it in batches if its really stiff). The lazy alternative at this point is to roll a thick sausage of dough and slice it thinly but it is hard to get a perfectly round biscuit.
  4. Bake on a greaseproof sheet at 170 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until starting to colour. The mix will spread a little so give enough space between the rounds!
  5. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.