Sunday, 11 October 2015

The trouble with salads....

The Autumn has arrived and with it, my interest in real cooking. Having spent the summer enjoying the odd BBQ, tapas and a lot of salad there has been little to write about here. Now that the nights are drawing in and the chill is at the door I find I am drawn back to real cooking.

Earlier today, on a wonderful sunny autumn afternoon, I pottered up to the shops to see what would light my imagination with regards to a supper tonight. I soon found four leg steaks on offer and decided to be a little creative with them.

 I recently joined the fad and purchsed a Nutribullet. While I have enjoyed the affectionatly known 'sludge' for breakfast and sometimes lunch, it is hardly cooking. The resulting 'sludge' has ignited the odd thought with regards to sauces and rubs so I decided to employ it in tonight's preparations. Firstly, I put two long peppers ( into a Nutribullet cup along with some a dried chili, a teaspoon of white peppercorns, two cloves and a teaspoon of juniper berries and a pinch of oak smoked sea salt. I blitzed this and added it to some plain flour to dust the meat with.

I cut the meat into 1" cubes and rolled it in the flour and spice mixture before browning it in a very hot iron casserole pot. Meanwhile, I put a handful of fresh sage, 3 garlic cloves, 2 eating apples, a red/orange pepper, 2 shallots and some water into a large Nutribullet cup and blitzed that. I added two coarsely cut red onions and a chopped red./orange pepper to the meat and stirred it for a minute or two before adding the blitzed fruit/herb mix. I added a pint of pork stock and brought the dish to the boil. I then simmered it for 40 minutes with a bouquet garni.

I added a can of chick peas and 100g of chestnuts and cooked this on for another 10 minutes, finally I added some button mushrooms and left this on the heat while I floured and fried some fresh courgette from the garden.

I served the pork on a bed of wild rice and quinoa with the courgette as a side. Welcome back Autumn :)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Ok. I'm sorry. I have neglected this blog somewhat over the past few months but perhaps this will start afresh.

It's been an age since I had the pleasure of visiting Hammet House but I finally managed to tie up all the loose ends and spent a wonderful evening there last night. I loved the product of their last chef Andy Beaumont​ and it was with no little trepidation that I sat down to a meal from their new chef Matt Smith. I was worried that old menus would be 're-wrapped' or that standards would fall but my worries were unsubstantiated.  We were presented with an exciting and different menu that lit the blue touch paper on the imagination. While we chose, an amuse bouche of cheesy chips and a chicken truffle helped get the juices started.  After sitting at the table a stunning bread board arrived with a sodabread accompanied by Welsh butter, a leek and Perl Las role with crab butter, salt glazed with a herb butter and a granary with a walnut and balsamic vinagar. It was clear that if the rest of the meal was as good as the bread we were in for a treat.

There was a tough choice from the start(er). Diver XL scallop with chicken wing (my wife's choice) or Smoked salmon with cucumber ketchup, wasabi snow. While we waited for our starter to arrive, a second amuse bouche of pea and parmesan arrived.

The salmon was dramatically served in a dome filled with smoke that was a bit of a let down as it smelt of burnt paper rather than a good smoking recipe but the effect was theatrical . I am told there is a Smoking Gun ( ) in the kitchen and I suggest green tea or fruit wood chips would have given a better aroma. The salmon was served with a wasabi snow that complimented the dish well and gave me some ideas as a larger amount of Zorbit ( )would create a foam over the salmon rather than the snow that I look forward to trying out.

My main course was never in doubt.  While we waited for it to arrive a treat of sewin with samphire arrived. Perfectly cooked and perfectly delicious. When the main course arrived  my wife enjoyed scorched langoustines with slow cook pork belly while I tucked into lamb loin and sweetbread. Excellent wine was available and enjoyed. The service was unintrusive but attentive.

As we contemplated dessert a pre-dessert was served, described as a gooseberry pebble it looked remarkably like a slate pebble dredged from the river Teifi outside but was light and delicious.

When we arrived at dessert we had already hit the full mertre but the menu was exciting enough to bend the needle a little. My Mum had joined us for the meal ( for the detail entranced - no starter and the same main as me) so we chose three desserts to share: honey roasted peach with lavender, lemon curd with toasted meringue and ponzu pineapple and tahini. The mix was perfect and we all enjoyed tucking in to each of the temptations before retiring to the bar for a digestif.

Thank you to all at Hammet House who made this another wonderful evening. Also thanks to the very comfy bed in room 3 that gave me a quiet and relaxed sleep to help digest the repast. Needless to say that after such a sumptuous meal the night before, breakfast was not partaken of.

I would love to provide a full section of food porn photographs but after the food started to arrive I forgot to use the camera.

All in all, I miss Andy's exquisite pallate (and will track it down again soon) but Matt did not fail to deliver on an exciting food adventure.  Take my advice and book soon.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Celebration Cake ?

I was recently asked to make the celebration cake for a family do. A dual Birthday and a Wedding Anniversary. In addition it needed to be able to cope with the 'does not like marzipan/royal icing/fruit cake/sponge cake requirements. An easy brief then added to by my insistence not to create 'the usual' style cake. The answer:

Blueberry and Pistachio Cake with Cardamom flavoured cream. I had seen a recipe online that seemed to fit the bill. Complicated in that it started with a whipped custard base but the idea seemed nice. A test bake proved not all that satisfying. The Cake was neither light nor moist so I decided to take the idea and modify the method.

Firstly, I took 8 egg yolks ( I needed a big cake so feel free to half the quantities), 500 g of caster sugar and 350 g of melted and cooled butter and mixed them together in the food processor. While they blended I whipped the 8 egg whites to soft peaks. I then folded the blended ingredients carefully into the egg whites. Finally I folded 170 g of ground unsalted pistachios and 150 g of fresh blueberries in before splitting it into 2 x 23 cm and 1 x 20 cm sandwich tins that I had lined with oiled baking parchment. Into a preheated oven at 180 C for 30 minutes (check with a skewer and let it cook a little longer if not cooked) .

I left the cakes to cool. Next I blended 200 g of unsalted butter with 400 ml of double cream, 400 g of icing sugar and the seeds from 12  cardamom pods, ground. The layers were sandwiched with this and the remainder put over the top before sprinkling with 400 g of blueberries and 190 g of roughly chopped pistachios.

An expensive cake, destructive to any diet but looked great and tasted even better.

I have listed the ingredients  for half the quantities below that should provide two 20 cm sandwich tin layers

4 eggs
250 g caster sugar
175 g of melted cooled butter
85 g of ground pistachio nuts
75 g of blueberries

for the decoration

100 g unsalted butter
200 ml of double cream
the ground seeds from 6 cardamom pods
85 g or roughly chopped pistachio nuts
75 g of blueberries

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Dehydrator snacks - Lemon Jeremys

I followed the crackers up selection of sweet dehydrator snacks. The first of these was a great success with my wife who took some in to work as an alternative to lunch. They are very filling and as they are basically raw seeds then the energy is released slowly keeping you feeling full for longer. In an e-mail telling me how much she liked them she asked what they were called. I flippantly replied that they were 'Lemon Jeremys' this has now stuck so all of my sweet dehydrator cookies are affectionately known as Jeremys.

The Lemon Jeremys are particularly satisfying with a great lemon taste and are so simple to make.

150 g Ground Cashew nuts or Almonds
150 g desiccated coconut or dried shredded coconut
Rind and juice of 1 Lemon
1 Tbsp of agave nectar

Mix these together in a bowl and when the mixture has pulled together take small balls of the mix and press onto a board to form 0.5 cm thick cookie shapes. Lift these carefully and place in your dehydrator. Dehydrate at 50 C for around 8 to 12 hours.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Alchemy - Springtime, smoke and fire

A favorite tree died a year or so ago in the garden. It gave great shade during the Summer and stunning colour in the Autumn since we moved in. We finally decided to give up on any possible resurrection and so it was brought down and turned to logs and kindling. Today, being the first day we could spend in the garden this year, I decided to clean out the fire pit and use a few of the logs and burn off the twigs etc. to keep warm and to clear the rubbish. With a great bed of white ash and hot charcoal in the pit it seemed like a good time to begin the out-door cooking for 2015. I dug out my lodge pot and fixed it in the hot ash. In went some home made pancetta trimmings (the pancetta is drying in the conservatory and should be perfect by the end of March.)

Next, a half shoulder of lamb was seared on this very hot pan.

Next, I de-glazed the pan with 500ml of merlot, Added small onions, coarsely cut leeks, carrots and squash. sliced garlic, fresh herbs and seasoning.

500ml of stock and on with the lid for an hour or so. 

I had to top up the liquid a few times as the fire was hot. When the meat looked cooked (shrunk back on the bone) I steamed some sugar snap peas and purple sprouting broccoli ready for serving. The broccoli was placed in a vey hot oven for a few minutes with some grated cheddar and Parmesan long enough for it to melt. Meanwhile I added a tablespoon or two of maple syrup to the lodge pot to finish the sauce. The result was a wonderful, smokey meal and a great way to use the garden fire to create a memorable and tasty Sunday supper.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Dehydrator snacks - Crackers for cheese

I used to enjoy my boxes from but now I have more time on my hands I thought I would create my own tasty and filling snacks at home. After research and a little trial and error I now have some great tasting recipes that are easy to put together and are very tasty. The first is a full flavoured cracker that goes well with a little soft cheese but is equally capable of supporting a strong cheddar.

You will need a dehydrator to dry the crackers or you could try drying them in a cool fan oven

Soak 1 cup of sunflower seeds (hulled) for 2 hours before running through a food processor until it forms a paste.
Grind 1 cup of golden linseed in a spice mill to a coarse flour.
Grind 3 tbsp of caraway and 1 tbsp of fennel seed
Coarsely chop two medium to large red onions.

Add all of this to a large mixing bowl and add 100ml of dark soy sauce and 150ml of basil infused olive oil.

Mix this all together and press onto parchment or Teflon baking sheet cut to fit your dehydrator. Place in the dehydrator for 12 hours at 50C. You can either make these into individual crackers or do as I do, make large round sheets of the cracker that I then cut into portions with a sharp knife.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Sorry guys - I forgot this. Still, there is next Christmas.

I have just realised that I didn't post up the three awesome Christmas drinks I knocked together just before the big day. To be honest they are not season specific so you can always give them a go. On top of which, if you don't have a sous vide and a ziplock bag or chamber vacuum sealer then it's going to take a few months to get the same result so here goes for next Christmas.

I had been into our local Costco and picked up some dried cherries, blueberries and cranberries. The primary reason was a little more healthy than these recipes and that was to mix them with nuts for some healthy snacks. I just happened to be reading up on recipes for bitters and decided I fancied trying to create a Cherry bitters so I popped a bottle of blended whiskey, 4 vanilla beans split in two, a teaspoons of fennel seeds, two star anise and a crushed stalk of lemongrass into a bag along with a cup of dried cherries. Vac sealed and into the sous vide for 2 hours at 70C and on to the next recipe.

My wife is a sucker for a Cosmopolitan cocktail and I thought that something along those lines would make a great gift. A litre of vodka, a cup of dried cranberries and the rind of an orange were popped into a vac pack bag and joined the cherry bitters in the sous vide.

Now the question was what to do with the dried blueberries ? A little research on flavours and recipes led me to another litre of vodka, a cup of dried blueberries and the rind of a lemon heading in to a vacuum bag and joining the other two bags in the sous vide.

Two hours passed and the contents of each of the bags were strained. I retained the now spirit plumped fruit for use in a Christmas cake ( that turned out to be a good decision ). The only variation was the blueberry vodka that I poured over a bunch of fresh bruised basil while it cooled.

Once the items were cool enough to try I discovered that they needed no more sweetening for our taste but you can always add a simple sugar syrup to sweeten to taste.

The cherry bitters makes a great addition to a simple gin and tonic. A few drops can add a great edge to such a simple drink. I also enjoy a few dashes in tonic water if I want a low alcohol drink.

The cranberry and orange vodka was put in the freezer for 24 hours. This thickened it up and created a great frozen shot but it was best served as two measures of the vodka to 1 measure of bitter lemon or lemonade and squeeze fresh lime juice to create a great alternative to a Cosmo.

As for the blueberry vodka. I tasted this and found the rich flavour delicious. It has yet to be drunk but I think this will be another frozen shot that will be perfect on a summers day.

If you don't have the luxury of a sous vide then the same recipes put into a sealed storage jar and left in a dark cupboard for 3 to 6 months should produce similar if not richer results.

As for the Christmas cake. That will be for another post .....

Saturday, 10 January 2015

New Year - New recipes. Updated

I've been out of the loop for a while after a major operation. Although there has been a little creativity in the kitchen it has taken a while for me to get back in my stride. Now the Near Year has arrived and my health is back it is time to get back to the kitchen and this blog.

Over Christmas I tried to make a maple cured bacon but the result was a little too salty. Having reviewed my recipe and carried out a little more research I am trying again. I managed to pick up a nice 2 kg loin of pork in my shopping today at an excellent price  so I decided to use this.

Firstly, I mixed the cure, making it very simple and lower in salt than the last attempt.

The cure.
4 tbsp of caster sugar
4 tbsp of fine sea salt
4 tbsp of maple syrup

Having mixed the ingredients together I washed the pork joint with vinegar. I then coated the joint in the cure and placed it in a vacuum bag. I put the remaining cure into the bag and sealed it. I then placed this in the fridge where it will live for the next 8 days. I will rub and turn the bag each day to ensure the cure coats the joint evenly. I'll wash it off next week and let you know how it tastes.

Well, 7 days have passed so I thought I'd wash the bacon off and have a little taste for lunch. The result, scrummy. A perfect sweet cured bacon. It is currently hanging in the conservatory drying before I slice and pack it. Next time I may add a little nutmeg to the cure just for a little something extra in the taste but it is still my best bacon yet.