23 June 2016

Oops Moments in the Kitchen!

How to Salvage Cooking Disasters and Other Tips

As you know I am dead keen on everyone in the Whole Wide World learning to cook (or at least those who have access to food, I’m afraid that many people have much bigger problems to cope with) and to that end I have written a book of over 500 handy tips containing all the useful information I could think of to help with every aspect of cooking.

Whilst obviously I am not going to reproduce the entire book here I thought it would be useful, as a taster so to speak, to post some ways to salvage a tricky situation in the cooking department.

So – taken directly from ...

Click here for a great preview!

... and in no particular order:

Cheese Problems

Too Salty?

Lumpy Mash

Dish too Spicy

Meat Overcooked

Overdone Rice

Cooked the Veggies Too Long?

Sauce Broken ~ instead of being smooth and creamy it is watery with bits of fat floating in it.

No Self Raising Flour

Melted Chocolate has gone all strange and lumpy aka has seized.

Sadly Sunken Cake

To read the other 490 or so tips buy the book, it’s only £2.82 for digital and bit more in paperback. The eBook has colour pics but the paperback has nicer fonts – tricky choice, I know!

“500+ Truly Useful Cooking Tips & Techniques” also contains absolutely essential information, good ideas you should do, things you MUST NOT DO, storage tips, kitchen equipment info, conversion charts and miscellaneous stuff such as how to separate eggs without resorting to the popular plastic bottle “hack”.

I even enclose one or two helpful suggestions from other people in the know, eg. ...

In Other News ...

Nothing I can think of.  I’ve just voted in the referendum, I wonder what will happen next! 

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18 June 2016

Potato Salad ~ Make it Your Own!

I think we are at about the middle of the New Potato season and, of course, salad season in the UK so I thought I’d give some ideas for enjoying potato salads.

New potatoes are ideal candidates for salad as they have a waxy texture (and therefore don’t fall apart) and their skin is tender so there is no need to peel them, indeed doing so would detract from the dish.

Some suggestions ...

~   Add some flavouring when cooking the potatoes – mint leaves, whole cloves of garlic (which can then be mashed into the dressing) or whole spices for instance.

~   It is a good idea to add some of the dressing to the warm potatoes or at least sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of cider or white vinegar and then finish dressing shortly before serving. This will be absorbed and make the salad even deliciouser that if dressed cold.

~   For more of a main course salad add cooked chicken or chorizo or bacon bits or perhaps some smoked fish.  In the latter case the addition of whole grain mustard to the dressing would be beneficial.

Mayonnaise Ideas ...

~   Mayonnaise can be lightened with a little yogurt, crème fraiche or sour cream and flavoured with garlic, herbs, spices etc. according to your fancy and the other dishes in the meal.

 ~   Include something crunchy – thin slices of celery, red onion or radish for instance.

~   A very simple but impressive dressing is made by puréeing a bunch of spring onions OR watercress with the mayonnaise.  

~   Classic American potato salad is drizzled with vinegar as above and contains celery, red onion, pickle (NB. in America “pickle” refers only to a cucumber that's been pickled as in dill pickle or sweet pickle and has nothing to do with Piccalilli or Branston etc.) and, crucially, boiled eggs. In fact, once or twice when feeding Americans, I have been excoriated for not included boiled egg in potato salad as if such a thing is unthinkable which, of course, it is not!

 Vinaigrettes ...

Potato salads dressed with vinaigrette are equally as good as mayonnaise based salads and are lovely served warm.  For instance ...

Warm Potato Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette – serves 4

In two stages as the ingredients are somewhat repeated!

700g new potatoes – washed but not peeled
120ml good olive oil
2 tablespoons cider or white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt

~   If the potatoes are large cut them into attractive bit sized pieces.
~   Cook the potatoes in gently boiling water for about 15 minutes till tender.
~   Meanwhile whisk together the rest of the above ingredients
~   Drain the potatoes, cool for a few minutes and then toss gently with the dressing and set aside for about half an hour.

2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 finely chopped shallot
a small handful of chopped parsley
a small bunch of chives.

~   When the half hour is up gently stir this through the potatoes and serve.

If making ahead just re-warm the salad slightly when serving.

Kartoffelsalat - German Potato Salad

700g new potatoes – washed but not peeled
4 rashers smoked bacon
1 small red onion, diced
60ml cider or white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
 salt and pepper to taste
small bunch fresh parsley – chopped

~   Prepare and cook the potatoes as above.
~   Dice the bacon and fry till browned and crisp (you may need to add a drizzle of oil to the pan depending on what cut of bacon you are using).
~   Remove and set aside the bacon and add the onions to the residual fat in the pan.
~   Cook the onions till softening and starting to brown.
~   Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, bring to a boil.
~   Add the cooked potatoes to the pan together with half the bacon and half the parsley and when all heated through turn off the heat.
~   Serve warm garnished with the other half of the bacon and the parsley.

Inspired by writing this post have just had a lovely lunch of smoked salmon with new potatoes in a lemon and chive dressing with just a touch of Thai chilli sweet sauce.

Honey Mustard Dressing

This final recipe combines mayonnaise and vinaigrette to make a perfect dressing for potato salad to serve with ham.

60ml olive oil
60ml cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons of honey

~   Whisk all the ingredients together, taste and season and use to dress warm new potatoes.

Now it's your turn  make the potato salad of your dreams!

In Other News ~ Two Things ...

1.  I am back in whites – a bit! I have a part time job making the desserts for The Traveller’s Rest, a happy, friendly foodie pub not far from Newquay. Actually they are looking for a head chef and a sous chef (too much work for me at my age!) so if you are that way inclined get in touch with them. 

2.  I have just read another weird but fascinating book published by Legend Press. 

As I say on my review on both Amazon & Goodreads ...

I have just finished reading Wild Life, I read it very quickly, I was hooked from the start.
This unusual tale (Legend press seem to specialise in quirky different novels) tells the story of a guy who, down on his luck and desperate, is "adopted" by a group of similarly desperate and homeless men who live and survive together in a local park.
At first all goes well but things soon deteriorate and life becomes frightening, violent and barbaric, in some ways it reminds me of Lord of the Flies.
The book is well written, the characters are real, the story is believable and possibly serves as a warning of what could happen if society as we know it breaks down.
Go for it!

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3 June 2016

When life gives you Aubergines ...

Turns out there is such a thing as a free aubergine!

My real man works for Tesco and every month, to show their appreciation, workers are given a voucher for a freebie. Recently we received an aubergine! Now he doesn’t like aubergine (so far as he knows, I don’t think he’s tried it!) but I do.

If you work for Tesco and are the happy recipient of an aubergine or even if you have to purchase one here are half a dozen good ideas for enjoying it.

Before we start, many years ago it was considered a good idea to disgorge aubergine ie. salting to removed excess bitterness but this is really not necessary these days. I haven’t bothered for years to no detriment, perhaps “they” have bred the bitterness out.

1.   Crisp Aubergine Croutons with Feta Salad

Thanks to my friend Lynne (or Mrs. Gweenie as I call her) in Tortola for this.

Cut the aubi into crouton sized pieces.  Toss in a little seasoned flour to coat, then into beaten egg and finally coat with breadcrumbs and shallow fry in hot oil till crisp.  Serve with a salad containing crumbled feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, red onion and salad leaves in tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. 

2.   Aubergine Pizza

Here’s a lovely easy pizza dough recipe and the beauty of making your own is that you can have a thin and crispy or a thick crust or whatever you fancy.

The trick to making a good aubergine pizza is cooking the aubi a bit first. Cut the aubergine into 5mm or so slices, brush both sides with a little olive oil and season with salt plus anything else you fancy.  Spread in one layer on a baking tray and grill 3-5 minutes per side till tender and golden. Then continue with your pizza.  Good additions would be tomatoes and/or a rich tomato sauce, olives, feta cheese, basil and even, maybe, minced cooked lamb.

Another way to use these tender cooked slices is …

3.   Sandwich cooked slices of aubergine with cheese (feta or goat cheese are good) and something else delicious such a spicy tomato sauce, coat in breadcrumbs as with the aubergine croutons above and shallow fry on both sides till crisp out the outside and meltingly delicious in the middle.

4.   Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

You need a mixture of aubergine and other aubi friendly vegetables such peppers (red or yellow taste best), red onion, courgettes and garlic. Cut the veggies (except the garlic!) into similar sized pieces so that they cook at the same rate.  Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and maybe a little chilli and also the garlic. Roast in a medium hot oven, stirring occasionally, till all is tender and the onions and aubergines are beginning to char; they are delicious like that! Use as a side dish, a sandwich filling, with pasta or on pizza.

5.   Speaking of charring thinly sliced aubi is delicious if you brush lightly with oil, season to taste and grill or fry till soft and starting to blacken in places!  Serve with plain yogurt, garlicky yogurt or Tzatziki. OR as I have done here with yogurt and wild garlic oil (wild garlic leaves puréed with a little olive oil).

6.   Baigan Akari (aubi in the “pickling style”) – for 6

This was a real winner on our menu at The House on the Strand, a restaurant my sister and I owned in Cornwall throughout the 1980s. We got the recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking and after cooking it for years it may not be exactly as the original but it works really well.

2.5cm/1” fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
6 peeled garlic cloves
60ml water
500g aubergine in 1 cm - ish slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
350g aubergine
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
340g chopped tomatoes – from a tin or carton
2 teaspoons ground coriander
 ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
cayenne and salt to taste

~   Purée together the ginger and garlic in the water.
~   Heat the olive oil and brown the aubergine slices in a single layer cooking both sides, to a lovely reddish brown. If necessary, cook in two batches.  Lift the slices out of the oil and set aside in a sieve to drain off excess. 
~   Add the fennel and cumin seeds to the oil and when they darken slightly and smell fragrant add the chopped tomatoes, the garlic and ginger purée and the coriander and turmeric.
~   Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally till you have a very thick paste-like sauce.
~   Taste and season as you wish with salt and cayenne.
~   Add the aubergine slices and cook covered for about 10 minutes till utterly tender.

This is delicious served hot or cold.

Our free aubergine, it must be said, was very helpful as, I presume, is the one in the picture below.  I have no idea how I’d have coped with an uncooperative aubergine.  

In Totally Unrelated News ...

As a member of the Legend 100 Club I recently reviewed this book ...

When I read the blurb I was not particularly drawn in however as soon as I started reading I was delighted by the writing style and the great use of language which is, in fact, what the book is about; the protagonist, Miles Platting’s, quest for linguistic supremacy. Then, not far into the book, I was hooked!

Miles has established a company which promotes the regeneration of towns and villages by sponsorship from major companies in exchange for which the location changes its name so, for instance, much of the story takes place Birdseye which was previously Barrow in Furness. This, at first, seemed to me far-fetched but after a while I began to think that it is sort of thing that could actually happen!

The story is engrossing as Miles deals with the problems of corporate life and of promoting such an unpopular idea – I’ll say no more!

Legend Press seem to publish interestingly different books that really grab the attention and Lingua Franca by William Thacker is certainly of this ilk.

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17 May 2016

BBC Recipes – a Suggestion!

I see, as most of us do, that the BBC is to remove 11,000 or more free recipes from their website and that almost everyone is pissed off about this.  Me too! 

However ...

Whilst all the free recipes online (including mine!) are a great and useful resource what is even usefuller is learning some key recipes and taking it from there!
I recently wrote a post, titled “Why are Most Cookbooks the Same” because most recipes in books and online are just that – recipes. They give no further information on how to make the dish exactly the way you want it; how to vary the flavour, texture and finished result according to taste, what’s available and budget. 

On my blog and in my books instead of giving just a collection of recipes I try to help people learn and understand the basics of a dish and the many ways to vary it so they can eat exactly what they fancy every day of their life!

In the aforementioned post I remark that there are 2,592 recipes for hummus listed on Eat Your Books none of which you need if you know the basics of making hummus and other bean dips which are given here.

Suppose you want to make a salad dressing – all you really need to know is the proportions of oil to vinegar or other acid, how to make it emulsify (it’s a doddle) and some great additions all of which information is here.

A useful cookie recipe that can be varied with all sorts of additions?  Or maybe you'd like an easy to vary shortbread recipe.

Here is an honestly foolproof and failproof meringue recipe – with lots of variations.

Scones/Dumplings/Doughnuts?I have a great recipe which makes all these and much more but I’m afraid there’s so very much I can tell you about this recipe; (different fats, liquids, methods etc. I had to write a book about it but the ebook is only £1.99.

These are Sautéed Blueberry Scones!
Here is a simple but very useful and delicious cream sauce which can be varied and added to and used with pasta, fish, chicken, steak, mushrooms, as a dip and lots more. 

Ice Cream is another example – my very, very easy no-churn and egg-free ice cream recipe can be varied to make wonderful ices limited only by the imagination. 

I could go on!

Once you know these basic key recipes you can save them somewhere for easy reference, handy hint; don’t hide them like the Beeb. According to the ticker tape on BBC News – 

“recipes on the BBC website will become harder to find with an online search” 

so not gone, just hidden! 

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3 May 2016

The Crème Brulée Effect without a Blow Torch!

For ages now I’ve been craving a crème brulée. Not having a blow torch or a very hot grill, I have just gone on craving -  but enough is enough, I decided to have one (or several) anyway. I put my mind to the problem and decided to try four ways I might be able to enjoy this delectable dessert without the aforementioned equipment. 

The fourth way is the best but firstly ...

The Custard – makes enough for 4

You’ll need four ramekins, ceramic dishes, egg-dishes-with-ears or even into one large dish plus a roasting pan, or other deep ovenproof dish, to make this.

300ml double cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 vanilla pod (or other vanillary item – see below)
1 whole egg and 3 yolks

~   Preheat oven to 150ºC/300°F/130ºC fan/gas 2.
~   Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthways.
~   Put the cream and sugar into a small pan and put over medium heat stirring till the sugar has dissolved.
~   Add the vanilla pod halves and then bring almost to the boil, but not quite.
~   Set it aside to cool for a few minutes.
~   Remove the vanilla pods and strain the cream into a jug.
~   Scrape the tiny blacks seeds out of the vanilla pod into the cream.
~   Whisk together the yolks and whole egg and then gradually whisk in the hot-ish cream.
~   Divide the custard between your chosen dishes.
~   Bring a kettle of water to the boil
~   Put the roasting pan into the oven.
~   Gently and steadily place the dishes of cream mixture in the ovenproof dish.
~   Very carefully pour the hot water into the large dish to a depth of about 1.5 cm up the sides of the ramekins or similar.
~    Cook for about 20 minutes till just set, remove from the oven and from the hot water and set aside to cool.
~    Chill till needed.

Whilst the custards are cooking wash the vanilla pods under cold water, wipe well and leave somewhere warm such as the airing cupboard to dry out completely.  Pop them into your sugar container and leave them there to make vanilla sugar or they are also good in a bottle of rum!

Other “Vanillary Items”

If you don’t have a vanilla pod add a couple of drips of vanilla extract (NOT artificial essence) or a little vanilla paste – see here for more about vanilla.

The normal, and quite frankly, the best way to finish off a crème brulée is to gently spread a thin layer of caster sugar on the top and caramelise with a chef’s blow torch OR pop the sugared crème under a preheated hot grill to achieve the same effect.  The grill must, however, be very fast as otherwise you risk heating and overcooking the cool creamy custard.

Instead I have been playing with ways to add the caramel or a similar effect without the right equipment so, firstly ...

How to Make Caramel

You need to make caramel half an hour or so before using it, depending on your location, to let it fully harden.
100g caster sugar
60ml water

~   Lightly grease a baking tray with something tasteless in the vegetable oil department and put it close to the stove, standing on a wooden board or folded cloth; it will get very hot when the caramel is pour onto it.
~   In a pan over low heat stir together the sugar and the water till the sugar is dissolved and then bring to a boil.  Don’t stir once it boils but swirl about a bit when it begins turning colour.
~   Boil to a deep golden brown watching carefully.
~   Use immediately it reaches the right colour being very careful because it is very hot and burny.

Useful Tips When Making Caramel

~   Use a wooden spoon so that it neither gets too hot nor melts.
~   Use a capacious pan so that the caramel has plenty of room.
~   If possible don’t use a non-stick pan as they are too dark to see the colour of the caramel.
~   Equip yourself with a good heatproof cloth.
~   Put any additions immediately to hand beside the stove.
~   Never touch anything alive with hot caramel!

My Ideas and Findings ...

1.   Pour the caramel on top of the chilled custard.  I was worried this would damage the custard and it did! The custard closest to the caramel was grainy rather than creamy.

2.   Pour the caramel onto a greased baking tray. When cold and solid crush it and sprinkle on the custard.  My first try it looked pretty but was a bit too much caramel to cope with; made our teeth stick together. I tried again with finely crushed caramel and this was much nicer.

Crushing is achieved either by using a sturdy pestle in a rough grained mortar or by wrapping the caramel in a clean tea towel and bashing the bejesus out of it with a hammer or something similar.

3.   Drizzle a pretty caramel shape and serve with or on the custard – maybe even sprinkle a little crunchy sea salt onto the caramel too!  This was fiddly to do and didn’t give quite a high enough caramel to custard ration, although it was pretty – see next picture!

4.   The Winner ~ Crème Brulée Napoleon

This was an idea I came up with when working in a very small, very busy, very, very hot kitchen in the Caribbean.  The wait staff always served the desserts themselves from a desserts fridge in their own area.  Sugaring and caramelising the brulées was fraught and time consuming especially as it was such a popular dessert so I came up with a cunning plan. 

I prepared crisp sugary phyllo wafers which the girls (and one boy) served sandwiched with the chilled baked custard. It worked very well resulting in unfrazzled nerves, happy customers and speeded up service.
3 sheets phyllo pastry
60g butter – melted
about 85g caster sugar – or, even better, the vanilla sugar mentioned above

~   Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4.
~   Brush a little butter on ONE baking tray.
~   Lay the phyllo pastry sheets, in a stack, on a cutting board and firstly cut in half lengthways and then across ways into four to produce eight squares or oblongs (lovely word).
~   Lay the first 8 on the greased baking tray, a little apart, brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar.
~   Repeat twice so that you have 8 sugary, buttery stacks.
~   Bake for 10-15 minutes till crisp and golden.
~   Transfer to a rack to cool.
~   Serve sandwiched with cold baked custard.

The pastry is beautifully friable and crunchy and a perfect contrast to the smooth creaminess.  I thoroughly recommend this method.

As you can see I have decorated the napoleon with a drizzled caramel pattern.  If you go in for this sort of thing do explain the situation to your guests; I once had a furious customer who had found “glass” in his dessert. He rapidly turned into a sheepish and embarrassed customer when I explained his error!

Two other great ways to use caramel are ...

~   Wonderful No-Churn Caramel Ice Cream  this is seriously, seriously lush and so easy made using my genius recipe. In fact it’s so gorgeous I put a photo of it on the cover of my ice cream book  Luscious Ice Creams without a Machine.

Incidentally I had a little custard mix left after filling my dishes so poured it into a cup and, as an experiment, drizzled a little strong coffee onto it before baking.  It tasted good but I was disconcerted to find I had inadvertently drawn an evil cat licking its chops!

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