Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Pepper and Chilli Jam

Last year I grew a Scotch Bonnet chilli plant. It was hot, of course. This year I thought I should grow one that was a little less hot. I chose a plant called Paper Lantern because it looked pretty on the label. I hadn't quite grasped the fact that it's also very hot. In fact, hotter than the Scotch Bonnet. So I had a lot of hot chillies to use up.
Paper Lantern Chillies
To turn the heat down a notch or two, I combined the chillies with plain old peppers (sweet or bell peppers that is) and made this Pepper and Chilli Jam, which will spread nicely on such things as burgers and sausages but will also stir easily into casseroles and stir fries without causing you to reach for too much iced water.

Not that there's anything wrong with a hot sauce in my view. I used up the rest of the chillies by making some of my usual Tomato and Chilli Jam, some hot Chilli Ketchup (a similar sort of recipe but a thinner result) and some Caribbean Pepper Sauce. I used the recipe you can find here for the latter. It's a nice variation on the classic pepper sauce with a good hit of lime and plenty of heat.
Chilli Sauces and Jams
There's not much in the way of pectin in a pepper, so this won't set like a classic fruit jam without a little help. If you want a reasonably firm set then use jam sugar but if you'd prefer a softer set then add just a little pectin (see the recipe below). If you don't add any pectin then the result will probably be more like a ketchup, but that's no bad thing if that's what you fancy.  This will make around 3 small jars.

6 red, yellow or orange peppers (sweet or bell peppers)
2 decent sized shallots
3 hot chillies (more if they’re a milder variety)
1 tsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
170 ml water
210 ml white wine vinegar
360 g jam sugar (or 360 g granulated sugar plus 1 or 2 tsp pectin for a soft set)

Core and deseed the peppers. Slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Either seal them in a plastic bag or place in a bowl and cover them. Either way, leave them until they're cool enough to handle and then peel off and discard the blackened skin.

Peel and roughly chop the shallots. Deseed the chillies and chop the flesh roughly. Wizz the flesh of the peppers, the chillies, shallots, soy sauce and fish sauce in a blender or small processor until you get a fine purée. Put the purée in a non-reactive pan with the water and vinegar. Add the sugar and pectin if you're using it and place the pan on a medium heat. Stir regularly until the sugar has dissolved and then bring the pan to the boil. Boil the mixture with plenty of stirring until you get the degree of set you want. This is likely to take very roughly 8 - 10 minutes but it's best to do a classic wrinkle test to check the consistency. Chill a few saucers in the freezer, take one out and put a small dollop of the jam on it, wait a moment or two and push the jam with your finger. If it clearly wrinkles when you push it, then it will have a classic jam set consistency. If it offers some resistance without wrinkling, then it's at a soft set consistency. If it offers little or no resistance, then it's more of a sauce and you might want to boil it a little longer and repeat the test.

Allow the jam to cool a little and pour into sterilised jars. I keep the quantities quite low and so the jam doesn't stay around for long, but I've no reason to believe that it won't keep well. I tend to store it in the fridge partly to ensure that there's no danger of it spoiling but partly because I simply prefer to serve it cold.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Yoghurt Lamb and Redcurrant Mayo

This recipe is in two parts, both of them resurrected from the 1980s. The yoghurt coated lamb is based on the dishes that I ate in the Indian restaurants of south London in that strangely beguiling decade. It was made with larger cuts of lamb back then (leg usually) and used to cost a fair bit. Since I didn't have much money, it wasn't long before I tried making my own version. I think I first used a recipe from the Curry Club but I've played around with it over the years since.

I find that this is a good way to use those small (and hopefully cheap) cuts of lamb from the supermarket. Quite often the smaller cuts can be a little dry once cooked but the yoghurt and spice mix will seal in the juices and keep the lamb full of flavour as well as moist. Of course, you can serve this lamb hot alongside vegetable or lentil curries but I've always enjoyed eating the leftovers so much that I thought I'd make some specifically as a cold dish instead.

The redcurrant “mayo” is a real joy - sharp, creamy and a ridiculous colour (very 1980s actually). It's easy, if a little messy, to make and can be used alongside many cold dishes but is especially good with richer meats such as lamb or duck. The extra bit of good news is that it can be made with (defrosted) frozen redcurrants when the fresh berries aren't around.
Yoghurt Lamb and Redcurrant Mayo
This will serve 2 but is at its very best when combined with other dishes in a mezze style meal for a larger group.

Yoghurt Coated Lamb

Small piece of rolled boneless lamb shoulder (around 400 - 500 g)
125 ml yoghurt - a thicker Greek style is best and 0% fat will be fine although it might be a little less easy to handle
2 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp coconut powder
1 shallot or small onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ chilli, deseeded (add more if you like or replace with some dried chilli flakes if you don’t have fresh)
Seeds from 1 black cardamom pod (green will be fine too but the smokiness of black does add extra depth of flavour)
2 tsp dried mint (you can use fresh instead but the dried seems to give a more rounded flavour)
A generous pinch of freshly-ground black pepper
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted (or use another plain oil)

Put the shallot (or onion), garlic, fennel, chilli, cardamom, mint, pepper and oil in a blender or processor and whiz until smooth (or reasonably smooth). Stir this mixture into the yoghurt together with the ground almonds and coconut powder. Place the lamb in a small bowl and coat it thoroughly all over with the yoghurt mixture. Cover and place in the fridge overnight or, at least, for several hours.

Preheat the oven to 140ºC. Place the lamb on a small oven tray without disturbing the yoghurt coating if at all possible (it's best to line the tray with foil - ideally non-stick - if you want to avoid some challenging washing up). Roast for 2 - 2½ hours until the lamb is very tender. Pull the lamb apart, discarding any large pieces of fat and put the lamb, together with as much of the yoghurt coating as you like into a bowl. Either serve at once while the lamb is still hot (or, at least, warm) or allow to cool, cover and place in the fridge until needed. Take out in advance and allow to come close to room temperature before serving.

Redcurrant Mayo

This will probably make a little more than you need for 2 people but I've found that smaller amounts are difficult to handle.

100 g redcurrants, frozen and defrosted if fresh aren't available
2 - 4 tsp agave nectar, or just use icing sugar if you don't have any
2 - 4 tbsp sunflower oil, or another lightly-flavoured oil

Place the redcurrants, the nectar (or sugar) and a little salt and pepper into a blender or food processor and whiz until reasonably smooth. With the motor still running, slowly pour in enough oil to obtain a mayo consistency and until the mixture takes on a slightly disturbing pink colour. Serve at once or store in the fridge until needed - this won't be as stable as a classic mayonnaise so it's best to avoid storing for too long just in case. Take the mayo out of the fridge a short while before serving.
Haigha's Flying Hat Double 2

So why have I felt compelled to revisit the 1980s like this? I think I know who to blame for this fit of nostalgia. There's a reborn version of The Immaculate Fools with a new album and a tour of Spain. I'm certainly not selected or enchanted any longer but I honestly never thought I'd live to see a revived Fools and I can't deny that it's a very good thing.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Crème de Mûres Sauvages

I could have called this 'Bramble Liqueur' but it's a French recipe and 'Crème de Mûres Sauvages' sounded so much better. It goes to show that I can be just as pretentious as le prochain homme. Whatever you call it, this is the ideal solution for the time when you've come home from picking blackberries with an embarrassingly large amount of fruit and no idea what to do with it. It will be perfect for making reviving kirs or dolloping onto desserts in the dark, winter months to come.

This is a pretty simple and very classic French method for making crème de mûres and it turns out that the old ways are the best. I've tried more complex and modern recipes with less good results. The type of red wine you use isn't absolutely critical but there's not a lot of point in choosing a really expensive one. It's also best to avoid one that's particularly tannic. The type recommended to me was a light pinot noir and, if you can find a decent one at a reasonable price, then that's a pretty good recommendation. 
Crème de Mûres
This will make roughly 750 - 800 ml of liqueur.

500 g blackberries, washed and dried
500 ml red wine (such as a light pinot noir, see above)
175 ml vodka (or, if you happen to live in or visit France, Alcool pour Fruits)
400 g sugar

Put the blackberries in a non-reactive bowl and crush them lightly using a potato masher or anything heavy and hygienic that comes to hand. Pour the wine and the vodka (or alcool) over the berries. Either cover the bowl or, better still, transfer the contents to a preserving jar and seal. Leave in a cool, dark place for 3 days, shaking the jar (or stirring the bowl) every now and then.

Strain the mixture through muslin into a large, non-reactive saucepan. This will take a while, so allow a fair bit of time. (You could speed the process up a little by passing the mixture through a non-reactive sieve first before straining through the muslin.) Add the sugar and place the saucepan on a medium heat. Bring the mixture to the boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has reached boiling point, turn down the heat and simmer gently for 5 - 10 minutes. At the end of this time the mixture should be a little syrupy but not too thick or gloopy. 

Allow to cool, pour into suitable bottles and seal. Unlike many fruit liqueurs, this doesn't need time to mature, although some traditionalists insist that it should be left for a day or two before drinking. It should keep well if stored away from too much light or heat but, personally, I think that even expensive, commercial products lose a little of their flavour and freshness if kept for too long. There's no reason to suppose that it won't last until next year's berries are ready for picking, though, even if that's profoundly unlikely in my house.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Chocolate “Mousse” and “Parfait” with Meringue Shards and No Shopping

This may not be the most serious dessert I've ever made but it's a fine store cupboard treat for chocolate lovers. It uses two types of chocolate (dark and white), egg whites, sugar and water - and that's it. I could tell you that this was a personal challenge to create a dessert from the ingredients lying around in the kitchen or I could admit that I was far too busy watching old Keith Floyd episodes to bother going to the shops.

The usual rule for chocolate desserts is ‘thou shalt never mix chocolate and water’ but this dessert depends upon the Hervé This method of doing exactly that to create a chocolate cream or mousse. I tried this technique for the first time a couple of years ago and I'm still deeply impressed by it. It's the intensity and purity of the flavour that I like so much. Let's face it, Mr This is a genius and should have several parks named after him.

I layered and arranged the chocolate elements with meringue shards, but you can forget the meringue and just place the two chocolate preparations in a suitable glass if you'd prefer a simpler life or if you have too much TV to watch. A few raspberries make a fine addition and luckily there were some in the garden.
Chocolate Mousse and Parfait with Meringue Shards
Mixing water and chocolate might seem slightly odd but don't be put off, it's very easy and surprisingly forgiving. Although you really do need an electric mixer. Don't think about whisking by hand unless you're extremely fit or just showing off in an unnecessary manner. This should be enough chocolate pleasure for 4 people - it's fairly rich, after all.

The Meringue Shards

You can use pretty much any French meringue recipe you like for the shards - this is just the combination that I used this time. It will probably produce more meringue than you need and you could halve the quantities. The truth is that I find it's a bit irritating trying to whisk less than 2 egg whites and, anyway, spare meringue is not a bad thing.

2 large egg whites
120 g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 120ºC. Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar a little at a time while continuing to whisk until the mixture is glossy and relatively firm, although still spreadable. Spread a thin layer of the meringue (no more than 5 mm thick, ideally) over a baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment or, probably better still, a silicone baking sheet. (A palette knife is the best tool for this, if you have one, but any spatula will do.)

Place in the oven until dried and set. This will probably take around 50 - 60 minutes depending on thickness. Lift the meringue off the tray once cool - it will break into random shards no matter how careful you are. Store the shards in an airtight container until needed.

The Dark Chocolate “Mousse”

150 g dark chocolate, around 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
135 ml water

Take two bowls - one a little larger than the other - and put some ice into the larger bowl. Place the smaller bowl inside the larger on top of the ice. Put the water and chocolate into a pan, place on a low heat and stir now and then until the chocolate has melted.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the smaller bowl (keeping it on the ice) and use an electric mixer to whisk the chocolate as it cools.The mixture will thicken to a smooth, mousse-like consistency. At that point, stop whisking and keep the mousse cool until needed. If you fancy, you could add some orange extract or even substitute filtered orange juice for some of the water.

The White Chocolate “Parfait”

The above process is fine for dark chocolate but you're never going to make a successful emulsion in quite the same way with white chocolate. I've played around with a few ideas, though, and I'm happy to report that by adapting the technique you can make a very fine white chocolate parfait. (OK, it's not strictly speaking a parfait - that’s usually defined as an iced dessert using cream - but this does have a texture similar to a smooth parfait.) It's pretty much pure chocolate in a different form so the flavour is more intense than most mousses or ice creams. In other words, a small portion will give you plenty of flavour.

250 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
220 ml water

Prepare the bowls and melt the chocolate and water together as above. (Melting white chocolate can be a lengthy process but keep stirring and it will get there). Once melted, whisk as you did for the dark chocolate. The white chocolate will not behave in quite the same way. You need to whisk quite vigorously until the mixture is reasonably chilled, a little frothy and has thickened somewhat to resemble a pouring cream. If you whisk too much beyond this point, the mixture will start to separate and look horrible but if the dreaded separation happens then shrug your shoulders and put it back on the heat. With a bit of stirring it will come back together and you can simply try again.

As soon as you have your white chocolate cream, pour it into a suitable container and freeze until needed. The frozen white chocolate is creamy and smooth and doesn't need to go near an ice cream machine, but it's not going to behave like a classic ice cream or parfait. It will remain relatively unstable and will melt quickly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just make sure that you take it out of the freezer immediately before serving.

Layer or arrange the chocolate and the meringue in whatever way you fancy and serve immediately before your guests realise that you just couldn't be bothered to do any shopping for them.

It’s a while since I took part in the We Should Cocoa challenge hosted by Choclette at Tin and Thyme but this month the theme is anything goes as long as chocolate is the star of the show. The only thing to distract from chocolate here is water and very thin meringue so I think it fits the theme just fine.
We Should Cocoa

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce

A quick plea for the underused gooseberry before the season is gone for another year. At least, I think the poor old gooseberry is underused. They're lovely in puddings and ices and they make very fine jam but I look forward to gooseberry season so that I can use them in savoury dishes.

I've wittered on about gooseberry sauces before but this year I've tried combining them with fennel and a fine combination it turned out to be. This sauce is very easy to make and freezes well. It works beautifully with simply cooked white fish, such as bream, but will also sit very happily alongside chicken or richer meats like duck or pork. I use the classic, sharper gooseberries for this kind of sauce rather than the sweeter, modern dessert types.
Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce
This sauce is not short of flavour and so should make plenty for four people.  

1 small to medium bulb of fennel, chopped quite finely
400 g gooseberries
50 g dried apricots, soaked if they need it
½ tsp dark soy sauce
A generous pinch or two of pepper
A dash of water
1 - 2 (and possibly a few more) tsp sugar, if the sauce needs it

Put all the ingredients except the sugar into a non-reactive pan and place on a gentle heat. Cover and let it simmer until the fennel has softened, the gooseberries have collapsed and the apricots have swollen up and softened. Let the mixture cool a little then liquidise the whole lot. Add a little more water if the sauce seems too thick. Taste and add as much sugar as you think you need. Reheat to serve.
Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce

Monday, 22 June 2015

Marmalade Frozen Yoghurt

I first came across marmalade ice cream sometime in the 1980s when Sophie Grigson published the recipe in a London evening newspaper. At least, that's if my memory is to be trusted, which it's not for the most part. Essentially the recipe is a simple combination of double cream and marmalade and produces a rich, no churn ice cream beloved by just about anyone who tries it. Very similar recipes have appeared quite often over the years since then.

I thought I'd try making a lighter version of this little treat using zero fat yoghurt and I'm pleased to say that it works well. Let's not pretend that it's healthy, though: there's virtually a whole jar of marmalade in this recipe. Until recently I would usually strain low fat Greek style yoghurts when making frozen desserts but there are some in the shops now that are thick enough to make that unnecessary.

I've tried making this by simply putting the mixture in the freezer and also by using my very basic ice cream machine and, although it works well using the no churn method, it's a little smoother if you can face using a machine.

Sometime in the 1980s I went with a friend to a party somewhere in Fulham and having enjoyed a few refreshing, cold drinks, I spent a couple of hours passionately talking food to a woman that I was sure was Sophie G. I have a nasty feeling that I was explaining my theory about British regional food. I did that a lot back then. These days I can't quite remember what that theory was. My friend told me afterwards that it most definitely wasn't Sophie G and didn't even look vaguely like her. But, then again, around the same time this same friend mistook Tom Robinson for a waiter, so who knows? Sophie or not, I can only apologise 30 years too late to that poor, bored woman. I went home alone on the night bus.
Marmalade Frozen Yoghurt
300 g thick 0% fat yoghurt
350 g lemon and lime marmalade
3 tsp limoncello

If you want a very smooth frozen yoghurt then you could sieve out any peel from the marmalade, but I wouldn't usually bother. Whisk the marmalade lightly to loosen it and stir in the yoghurt and limoncello. Put the mixture in the fridge to chill thoroughly. Put into the ice cream machine and let it churn in the recommended way. Alternatively, just place in a suitable container in the freezer and let it get on with it. It won't be quite as smooth, but life's not always totally smooth either.

This recipe will work with other types of marmalade, of course. For instance, you could use a thin-cut orange marmalade and substitute an orange liqueur for the limoncello.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Asparagus and Almond Milk Risotto

When it's in season I never really get bored with simply cooked asparagus but, just for a change, I do use it in some slightly more involved recipes. I've often made a simple asparagus risotto in the past but this year I've played around with different flavours that complement and enhance the asparagus.  Almond milk provides a good background flavour and gives the risotto a creamier texture.  It might sound odd but I think that a little ginger in the stock intensifies and highlights the taste of the asparagus.  Don’t overdo the ginger, though, or you won’t taste much else. The easiest way to create a little ginger juice is to squeeze about ½ - 1 inch of peeled fresh ginger in a garlic press; although you could use a commercial ginger extract instead.

I served this risotto with a little jamón ibérico (I do mean a little - I can't afford a lot) and a small, simple salad of red pepper. I love both of those flavours with asparagus but in a way they're just icing on the cake and the risotto will stand on its own slightly sloppy feet perfectly well.

I feel I should apologise for specifying yet again how to make a risotto. I do pretty much the same as everyone else so there's nothing stopping you using your own method or a risotto machine if you have one. The ratio of liquid to rice given here is only a guide. The exact amount of liquid needed will depend on the type of rice, how quickly you cook it and, of course, the texture you prefer in the finished dish.

Asparagus and Almond Milk Risotto

This will serve 2.

1 red pepper
About ½ onion, chopped quite finely
1 medium-sized carrot, cut into small dice
1 stick of celery, chopped quite finely
A small glass of white wine
120 g carnaroli (or other risotto) rice
300 ml vegetable stock
700 ml unsweetened almond milk
A small bundle of asparagus (6 - 8 spears, depending on their size)
About ½ tsp of ginger juice (see above)
A small handful of fennel fronds
White balsamic vinegar to dress the pepper
A few small slices of jamón ibérico, or another cured ham

Core and deseed the pepper, slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Place in a plastic bag or in a covered bowl and keep the pepper sealed up until cool. Peel off and discard the blackened skin and slice the flesh into strips.

Fry the onion, carrot and celery very gently in a little oil until they soften. While that’s happening, mix the stock, almond milk and ginger juice, heat to simmering point and keep at a gentle simmer.

Pour the wine into the softened onion mixture, turn up the heat a little and, when the wine has has almost disappeared, add the rice and stir around. (It's more usual to add the wine after the rice but lately I've been following Simon Hopkinson's advice and not allowing the rice to absorb the flavour of the raw alcohol). Add a ladleful of the simmering stock and almond milk mixture to the rice and stir until the stock is pretty much absorbed. Repeat a ladleful at a time until the rice is fully cooked and the texture of the risotto is to your liking.

While that’s going on cook the asparagus (I usually steam it, but boil or grill if you prefer), then cut into bite-sized chunks. When the rice is ready, stir in the asparagus pieces and about half of the fennel fronds. Add some salt and pepper but don't overdo the salt if you’re serving with salty ham and use white pepper if you want to avoid seeing specks of pepper (personally, I don't really care about specks).

To serve, dress the red pepper with a little white balsamic and put a small pile on each plate. Surround with the jamón ibérico. Put a portion of the risotto alongside the pepper and ham and sprinkle on the remaining fennel fronds.