29 June 2012

Chocolate & Cherry Pots - using Picota cherries

When I was offered a small amount of Picota Cherries to try, I didn't have to think too hard about it.  You see, we all love cherries - but hubby more than any of us.  Any cherry that comes into our kitchen isn't going to last terribly long - not even long enough to put its suitcase down and start looking for the Sangria.

So before we go any further, what makes a Picota cherry different from any other cherry?  Well, mostly the fact that it has been grown in a particular area of Spain - but I'm also reliably informed by the "Eat Spanish" website that :

"Flavor is the main distinguishing characteristic of Jerte cherries, both because of their high sugar content and the balance between sweetness and sharpness. The flesh is juicy and usually crisp. Color depends on the variety - from red juice and red flesh, to colorless juice and yellow or cream flesh. The color of the flesh and juice is usually stable, especially that of the juice. The flesh in the varieties named above is medium firm to very firm".

I have to agree with them.  Picota (Jerte) cherries are indeed crisp, sweet and a beautiful colour.  They also come without their stalks, which is something of a shame as I quite enjoy hanging a double cherry over my ears and exclaiming about my new earrings.  (Yes, well, we all have our juvenile moments).

So.  What to do with these lovely cherries, that might do them rather more justice than simply scoffing them until they're all gone and just a particularly lovely memory?

I've been wanting to make a cherry clafoutis for (probably) years now - but it seemed as though everyone was making cherry clafoutis and if you know anything about me, you'll know that I do like to be a little bit different.  I gave up dyeing my hair purple when the grey threatened to take over, so I have to make my difference in other ways these days.


On went the thinking cap and I started with the usual question of "what flavours go particularly well with cherries?".  Well chocolate was the first one to immediately spring to mind, quickly followed by alcohol (red wine, port and Kirsch, for instance) and cream.


Sounded like the bones of a very acceptable dessert, to me!


Having had a rummage in the alcohol corner - no, we don't have a wine cellar (what are you like?) - it seemed we had both red and white wine and no Kirsch, but we did have some Creme de Cassis which seemed to me to be something of a better prospect.  Kirsch can be a bit harsh sometimes, I think, whereas the softness of the blackcurrant Creme de Cassis would complement the flavour of the cherries.


Now, what about the chocolate?  Milk or dark?  Hmmmn, cherries and dark chocolate always speaks of luxury and decadence, to me.  If I was to make a mousse or a kind of ganache with the chocolate and lay that on top of some soused or macerated cherries?  Aha!  I think we have it!


Hic! You're my best mate, you are ..
So I got on with macerating the cherries by stoning them (at which point I was glad I didn't have so very many, as I don't have a cherry stoner!) and mixing them through with two dessertspoons (and a bit for luck) of Creme de Cassis.  I left them to get thoroughly drunk for the next two hours.


Next job was to make up the chocolate component, which was so diabolically easy that I am sure I shall be making this again with raspberries or clementines or any other fruit that goes well with chocolate!


Basically, it involves melting some 85% dark chocolate in a bowl over some simmering water but without stirring it more than once.  Then, set it to one side to cool slightly whilst you divide the cherries up amongst the dishes - I used glass bowls so that you could see the lushness within - and then stir Greek yoghurt and runny honey into the chocolate.  Once it is mixed through, divide up into the bowls, sprinkle with a little more chocolate and chill.


From being a soft, mousse like consistency, the chocolate sets up into more of a firm ganache type of consistency.  However, once you get a little onto your tongue it just melts and the flavour of the chocolate, with the flavour of the cherries is just beyond divine.


You get a hint of the almost smokiness of the honey, with the tang of the Greek yoghurt, all smoothed over by the unctuous chocolate, which is then washed away with the cherry juice and smooth, gentle liqueur.  Fabulous.


If you're not a person who has alcohol in the house - do not despair!  I am sure that if you were to use a cordial - cherry, blackcurrant, or even elderflower would be nice and every bit as good as the liqueur.


In the same way, if you find 85% dark chocolate to be too dark for your taste, then lighten it up a bit by using a lighter grade of chocolate - I am absolutely sure it would work perfectly.


It seems to be something of a discovery, this recipe.  Both hubby and son & heir despatched their portions with many approving mumbles and murmers - the point (in hubby's case) of the brain knowing he should have stopped eating a while ago, but the tummy saying "no! Carry on!".  It's not the best dessert for a diabetic, it's true - between the sugars of the chocolate, cherries, honey and liqueur, there's just no getting away from them.  However, at least with the use of Greek yoghurt it's not as bad as it might have been from a fat point of view.  *cough*


As an easy make and one which can be both successfully prepared prior to the event and scaled up numbers-wise, this dessert would be absolutely perfect for a meal with friends, a birthday or any get together where you want to impress.  It impressed the heck out of me, and I made it!


CHOCOLATE & CHERRY POTS   (serves 3)


Ingredients :


Sufficient cherries to cover the base of your three individual-sized serving dishes
2-3 dessertspoonfuls of Creme de Cassis
100g dark chocolate (I used 85%)
250g Greek yoghurt
2 dessertspoonfuls of runny honey
chocolate shavings to decorate.

Method :

1.  Stone the cherries (I cut them in half, but if you've a cherry stoner, use it!) and place into a bowl.  Sprinkle over the Creme de Cassis and thoroughly mix it through, ensuring that every cherry is well coated.

2.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for the next 2 hours.

3.  Break the chocolate into a large bowl that will fit over a saucepan of simmering water, without touching the surface of the water.  Allow the chocolate to melt, without stirring.  Once well melted, stir gently just sufficient to mix it through and then leave to one side, to cool slightly.

4.  In the meantime, divide the cherries up between the serving dishes.

5.  To the chocolate, add the Greek yoghurt and the honey and stir through using a cutting and folding motion until you've a smooth mousse-like texture.

6.  Lastly, simply divide the mousse between the three bowls and top with the chocolate shavings.

7.  Refrigerate until time to serve.

Printable version


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27 June 2012

Mediterranean style giant couscous with barbecue pork chops

If you're me, you'd look at that title and have to come and see what it's on about!  After all, giant couscous?

It really isn't so long ago that I was bewailing not being able to get enough flavour into normal couscous, without venturing into giant couscous - or Mograbiah, to give it its proper name.

Mograbiah does bear plenty of similarity to ordinary couscous in that both of them are round in shape, made from pasta dough and are vehicles for other flavoursHowever, where they differ (apart from the obvious size) is that where ordinary couscous is prepared by putting in a bowl and pouring a small amount of boiling water onto it, giant couscous is prepared by putting into a saucepan, pouring a slightly larger amount of water (or stock) on and heating gently or simmering until the majority of the water is absorbed, then you can leave it to soak up the remainder of the liquid.

It has a different texture too, well okay each grain is a lot larger so that would follow, but it also has a slightly slippery texture that can make eating it a bit of a challenge for youngsters who haven't yet learned that they eat with their mouth closed.  Son and heir had no problem with it, but then there's little that disappears into his maw that ever sees the light of day again.

As with all couscous, its own flavour is very bland and it is entirely reliant upon what you put with it, for flavour.  As such, cooking it in stock is a very good start.

With our Mograbiah, I decided to go for one last mediterranean style dish and roasted some courgette, aubergine, butternut squash, red pepper and red onion and dressed the lot with fresh mint and coriander plus a lemon juice and olive oil dressing.

For a welcome zing, I baked the pork chops in some of the excellent Mic's Chilli El Loco BBQ Sauce.  The highly flavoured pork went so well with the calming influence of the roasted vegetables and zesty dressing.  A real ying/yang thing was going on there!

Of course, it isn't essential that you put a barbecue pork chop with your giant couscous - you can use it however you fancy and with whatever you fancy.  I found my pack of Mograbiah in my local Asda, which has a particularly good World Foods section.  However, I'm sure you would be able to find some at your local ethnic food store - for instance, I know that Makkah's on the Ashley Road, Poole, definitely carries it.  For me, it makes a nice change from ordinary couscous - and as I often have problems trying to decide upon the carbohydrate element in a meal, anything that extends my options can't be bad!


MEDITERRANEAN STYLE GIANT COUSCOUS (MOGRABIAH)  (feeds 3)

Ingredients :

1 tablespoonful of giant couscous pearls per person, plus a little for luck
vegetable or chicken stock (home-made, powder, cube or Knorr stock pot - all are good)
half a butternut squash, cut into half inch dice
a red pepper, seeds removed and cut into one inch sheets
a courgette, cut into half inch dice
half an aubergine, cut into half inch dice
a red onion, peeled and cut into thin wedges
olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
a handful of mint leaves, shredded
a handful of coriander, chopped finely.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.

2.  Check the cooking instructions on the side of the packet of Mograbiah and follow them, substituting stock for water.

3.  While the couscous (Mograbiah) is cooling, place the vegetables (without the herbs) onto a baking sheet that has been lined with non-stick silver foil.  Drizzle the olive oil over and season well.  Toss the vegetables in the oil and seasoning, then place them into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes or until tender.

4.  Just before the vegetables are finished cooking, mix together the dressing for the couscous by placing the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and some seasoning into a small bowl and whisk together.

5.  Shred the mint leaves and chop the coriander.

6.  When the vegetables are cooked, tip them from the baking sheet directly onto the couscous.  Stir through gently, taking care not to break up the pieces of vegetable.

7.  Add the dressing and herbs and gently stir through again and serve before the herbs have a chance to wilt.

Printable version
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26 June 2012

Roasted Vegetable & Bacon Pasta

I am one of those people who believes that everything can be made better by including bacon with it.  Got to wait in the car for hours?  Have a bacon sandwich - makes it better straight away.  Got a boring old chicken recipe on the list for dinner?  Put some bacon with it - that'll cheer it up no end.  Got to stand on the touchline watching your son put his best foot forward for the local footie team?  A bacon roll can save the day.  So I wasn't wrong when I chose bacon for the meat aspect of this pasta dish.

From hubby's point of view, it could have been made better by losing the garlic and adding some oregano.  I thoroughly agree with him where the oregano is concerned - and have reflected that in the recipe set out below.  I'm not so sure about the garlic, however, as I feel it lent a lovely savoury depth to the entire dish which helped to make it a cohesive whole as opposed to a number of different ingredients on the same plate.

Son & heir had a friend over for tea that day and I felt I was taking something of a risk presenting said friend with a) courgette & aubergine, b) cooked tomatoes and c) goat's cheese.  However, I had confidence in the ability of the bacon to carry us through.  I was using some of Spring Fields Butchers' beautiful smoked back bacon which is always fabulous in that the rashers are huge, thickly cut and tasty as anything.  I would definitely go for some substantially sized rashers if you're going to be cooking this one - as limp thin bacon could wind up being too chewy when accompanying the soft vegetables and pasta.

We got a "thumbs up" from both boys, as they both cleared their plate and declared it to be "lovely" (and without a hint of sarcasm, too!).  Amazing.  Made me wish I'd included mushrooms in the mix!  (Which is a very good idea, if you like mushrooms, by the way).

Hubby wasn't too keen on the fact that the dish didn't have a sauce with it - just relying on the juiciness of the roasted vegetables and goat's cheese wasn't enough for him.  I suspect it's pure and simply a preference thing, as I was quite happy with the "sauceless" state and - to be honest - it made a pleasant change to not have an overwhelming cheese or tomato sauce.  I felt it gave the vegetables a chance to shine on their own, without being overshadowed by a sauce.  The rapeseed oil that I'd used to roast the vegetables was a lovely nutty flavoured one and the cherry tomatoes lent their juice to the overall picture.

The only thing missing was a lovely glass of wine, a patio and a warm evening!

ROASTED VEGETABLE AND BACON PASTA   (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

1 courgette , cut into one inch dice
half an aubergine, cut into one inch dice
a handful of cherry tomatoes, split across the stem end
1 red onion, halved and each half cut into four wedges
two cloves of garlic
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tsp dried or fresh oregano
2 tbsp rapeseed oil or olive oil
500g back bacon
400g spirali pasta
50-100g Parmesan cheese (to taste)
a handful of fresh basil leaves, shredded
130g soft goat's cheese.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas4 and prepare a baking tray large enough to carry all the vegetables.  I usually cover the tray with non-stick silver foil, just because it makes the washing up easier!

2.   Place all the vegetables, including the garlic, onto the roasting tray and sprinkle with seasoning, oregano and the oil.  Using your fingers, toss the vegetables until they are well coated with the oil.

3.  Place the tray into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to caramelise.

4.  In the meantime, get a big pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta and grill the bacon, cutting each rasher into largeish pieces with some scissors and retain, somewhere warm.

5.  Once the pasta water boils, get the pasta in and cooking according to the packet instructions - usually 9-11 minutes.

6.  Once the vegetables are tender, take them out of the oven and squash the two cloves of garlic into a paste.

7.  When the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction, drain well and add the vegetables, bacon, parmesan, basil and some seasoning and mix gently to combine.

8.  Spoon the pasta mixture onto warmed plates and break pieces of goats cheese over the top.

Serve.

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Apologies for being random!

Yes, I must apologise for being very random at the moment.

You see, my Dad is on the verge (tomorrow, it seems) of being admitted to hospital for heart surgery and it's throwing us all into disarray.  He should have gone in on Monday, but they didn't have a bed available, nor one today.  So, we're crossing our fingers for tomorrow and are playing each day by ear at the moment.

As a consequence, there's not much new cooking going on.  However, we are breaking out lots of good family favourites - Cottage Pie, Pork Ragu, Tuna Pasta Bake and Kedgeree seem to feature on the beginning of this week's menu plan!

Hopefully, once Dad is safely in hospital, had his operation and into recovery, things will quieten down a wee bit and normal blogging can be resumed.  There's lots of good things coming up - more mediterranean recipes, hopefully one for Chocolate Cherry Pots and maybe even a Chicken Chasseur will be amongst them!

23 June 2012

Smoked mackerel & Mediterranean potato salad - Mediterranean week gets under way!

It seems as though we may very well have had our summer - but in the two days of sunshine that came our way just recently, it sparked off a desire for Mediterranean-style eating.

Ever hopeful that we might get a day or so of sun before winter is upon us again, I thought I'd share the best of the recipes.

Now you know how much hubby loves his smoked mackerel - and I do too, but to a slightly lesser degree.  Hubby will eat his smoked mackerel any way he can get it - hot or cold - but I find that a hot mackerel dish will repeat on me for a month of Sundays.  Now for all that repeated burping causes some hilarity amongst the family, it does get a bit much when it's followed by terminal heartburn - or is that too much information?

As a result, the first dish of our Mediterranean week is smoked mackerel, served cold, with an accompanying warm Mediterranean Potato Salad and a tomato & red onion salad.  If you prefer your mackerel hot, then by all means warm it up - it won't make a jot of difference to the dish.

I spotted the Mediterranean Potato Salad in the BBC Good Food Magazine and it ticked all the right boxes for both son & heir and myself.  I wasn't too sure about hubby, though, as we all know his relationship with potatoes isn't great.  Still, I crossed my fingers that the use of Jersey Royal new potatoes, together with the roasted red peppers and black olives in the dish (both of which are particular favourites), paired with mackerel might do the trick.

Well, it almost did.  It was the garlic that did for him - and oddly, it seemed to be the pairing of garlic and tomato.  Still, there's no accounting for taste - and it will be easy to leave the garlic out next time.

Both son & heir and I really liked the warm salad.  It was a lovely departure and a welcome change from using Jersey Royal New Potatoes in a traditional way (i.e. with butter and mint).  I have also taken to using English rapeseed oil instead of olive oil, now that we have found a couple of suppliers that provide affordable rapeseed oil.  This was, pretty much, my first voyage with using the oil in a salad sense - and we like it.  Rapeseed oil has a much nuttier flavour than olive (not surprisingly) and I've found that it blends very easily with Mediterranean style flavours.  Well worth doing, when you consider all the health benefits of rapeseed oil over olive oil.  If you thought olive oil was good for you, have a look at a comparison between the two.  With half the saturated fat of olive oil and a higher flashpoint which means it can be used in roasting and stir frying, it wins my vote!

It did occur to me, that the salad could be made even more Mediterranean style, by using sun dried tomatoes instead of the tin of tomatoes - but I have yet to try this theory out!

The Mediterranean Potato Salad as it stands, is simplicity itself to make and the sauce can be put together as the potatoes cook.  Paired with the simple tomato & red onion salad and an even simpler smoked mackerel, this really is a meal that takes minutes to prepare - and is good for you on all sorts of levels!

MEDITERRANEAN POTATO SALAD   (feeds 3)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil (I used Rapeseed Oil)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove (optional, leave it out of you're sensitive to garlic)
1-2 tsp oregano, either fresh or dried
200g tinned cherry tomatoes (I used the other half for breakfast the next day!)
100g roasted red peppers, sliced (I used them from a jar and rinsed off the vinegar)
300g new potatoes, halved if large
25g black olives, sliced
handful of basil leaves, torn.

Method :

1.  In a small saucepan, heat the oil and add the onion.  Cook on a gentle to medium heat for 5-10 minutes until soft.

2.  Add the oregano and continue to cook for another minute.

3.  Add the tomatoes and peppers, season well and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a pan of boiling salted water for 10-15 minutes or until tender.  Drain well, mix with the sauce and serve warm, sprinkled with olives and basil.

Printable version
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21 June 2012

Chilled Spiced Satsuma & Cranberry Soup for the New Covent Garden Soup Company


Last week, I had an email inviting me to devise a soup for the New Covent Garden Soup Company's "Soup of the Month" competition, for Christmas.

Now I know that it's currently June and you really don't want to be hearing about Christmas and I sympathise, I really do.  You should know, however, that it takes New Covent Garden a fair old while to get the processing sorted out for a new soup, so they needed to start early!

Immediately upon hearing that it was to be a Christmas soup, I started to think about what flavours and smells say "Christmas" to you - even in the middle of June.  I asked on Twitter and I asked the family, but in the end, I went with my own definition of what smells and tastes like Christmas to me.

First on the list was Satsumas.  No matter when I break into a Satsuma or a Clementine, be it summer or winter, it immediately says "Christmas".  I've even been know to go into the living room where son & heir has been munching on a Satsuma and say "smells like Christmas in here!".

Second on the list was Cloves.  Now for all that I hate the little misbegotten spawn of the devil - sorry, was that a bit strong? *chuckle* - their aroma is just redolent of shiny baubles, robins wearing santa hats and tinsel.  Every year, we make two or three satsumas studded with cloves and tied with a ribbon, to go on the Christmas tree - so I guess it isn't hard to see where the connection is!

Thirdly, is Cinnamon.  Not necessarily the ground cinnamon, but cinnamon sticks.  They have an earthier aroma than the ground version, I think.  Again, we tie a few of those onto the Christmas tree each year.

Thinking on, I suppose I could have come over all Great British Menu and gone into the garden for some Douglas Fir needles - but (probably thankfully), I didn't think of that at the time.  I was aiming for a light dessert soup that would be suitable for those who just don't fancy a big dessert after their Christmas dinner - or any big dinner, come to that!

Beautiful little cranberry jewels!
I tossed around various combinations to go with the citrus - things like chestnut, figs, dates, chocolate, rum, brandy - but nothing really "clicked", until I hit upon the cranberries.  I remembered how the cranberries kind of dissolved when I cooked Red Cabbage and Cranberries and that made sense as far as the texture of the soup was concerned.  I needed something to give the soup body and flavour - and they seemed perfect.

After that, it was just a matter of deciding upon the spicing.  Cloves and cinnamon were a shoe-in, but after that we went through the entire gamut of spices that we had in the cupboard and rejected the like of star anise, nutmeg and mixed spice, in favour of green cardamom.  The selection process was fairly scientific - we had the plain soup in front of us and could have a wee taste or a big sniff, then sniff the spice in its jar - and from that, it would tell you whether it would go or not.  The cardamom, with its citrussy notes, was just perfect.

Yesterday morning, hubby and I set to in our test kitchen.  Okay, it's the ordinary kitchen - but for the purpose, it became a test kitchen, alright?  It felt important, that way.

Without cream - so that you can see the segment pieces
We halved and squashed an inordinate amount of citrus fruit, cooked cranberries, dibbled in jars of sweet stuff, sieved, stirred, tasted, cooled, heated, stirred a bit more, zested, grated, tasted again, counted whole spices, stirred some more, heated a bit again, did lots more tasting (we went through an awful lot of teaspoons) - and left it to infuse.

Two hours later, we had the most fabulous, refreshing yet rich, zestily citrus, fruitily cranberry, beautifully spiced soup.  I spent a frustrating few minutes unzipping some more citrus segments from their pith - and the soup went into the fridge to chill.

I was a bit concerned that the chilling might kill off some of the spicing, but no - when it came out and was dressed with its celebratory swirl of whipped cream and the shreds of zest, it both looked beautiful and tasted amazing.

Everyone loved the soup.  When I asked son & heir what he thought, completely unbidden, he said "tastes like Christmas".  Ha!  Mission accomplished, I thought! I'm not sure what degree of Vitamin C remains after the cooking process is done, but between the citrus fruit and the cranberries, surely there has to be a fair amount.

Mixed 50:50 with Shiraz and warmed - gorgeous!
Then, however, we got to thinking (as we often do) about what else we could use the soup for.  Hubby immediately came up with the idea of mixing it 50:50 with a red wine and heating it through to create a mulled wine.  We tried it out - and boy, was it good!  We used a Shiraz and they combined beautifully.  I could just imagine going out Christmas carol singing and coming back to a steaming glass of "warms the cockles of your heart" and could feel a rousing chorus of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" all ready to burst into life.

Next up was my idea of using it as the base for a jelly.  Heat it through, add some gelatine, pour into a jelly mould, chill and eat for dessert, or at a summer High Tea!  So it's not just a Christmas soup!

In fact, with my next suggestion, it very definitely found its place as an "anytime" soup, as it occurred to me that if you reduced it down by half in a saucepan, it would make a fabulous jus to pair up with poached pears.

The possibilities are endless!

Now - I've a favour to ask of you.  If you can bear it, could you go along to the New Covent Garden Soup Company's website and register, then vote for my soup?  ~looks appealing, with puppy dog eyes and everything~  I'll be your best pal, honest!




SPICED SATSUMA AND CRANBERRY SOUP  (serves 3-4)

Ingredients :

1.5kg satsumas
1 orange
75g cranberries, to make 1.5 dessertspoons of cranberry puree
2 tsp syrup from stem ginger jar
2 tsp runny honey
2 green cardamom, unbroken
3 cloves
a thumb-sized piece of Cinnamon bark 

Method :

1.  Place the cranberries into a small saucepan with a touch of water & cook on a medium heat to soften, until easily squashed with the back of a spoon.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

2.  Separate out 3 satsumas and reserve.  Juice the remainder through a sieve, into a bowl (to make a minimum of 400ml).

3.  Take the orange and with a zester, cut sufficient long strips of zest for decoration and reserve.  Using a microplane grater, grate the remainder of the zest finely and reserve.  Juice the orange through a sieve into the satsuma juice in the bowl.

4.  Press the cranberries through a sieve into another bowl, to remove large pips and most of the skin.  You’ll need to scrape the puree from the underside of the sieve.

5.  Add cranberry puree to the satsuma juice by degrees, tasting as you go, to ensure the cranberries don’t overpower the citrus.  Once you are happy with the balance, transfer to the small saucepan and begin to warm through on a low heat.

6.  Add the ginger syrup, honey, spices and 1.5 teaspoons of the fine grated orange zest and stir to combine.  Allow the liquid to warm through until steaming, but do not simmer or boil.  Once steaming, cover with a lid and remove from the heat.

7. Allow the spices to infuse for 2 hours, then pick them out and discard.

8.  Taking the reserved satsumas, peel and segment them.  Then remove the pith from around each segment and, breaking each segment into pieces, add the flesh to the cooled liquid.

9.  Place into the fridge to chill and serve in glass bowls with a swirl of whipped cream and the shreds of zest to decorate.

Printable version
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19 June 2012

Suddenly, there I was on the radio!

It's true!

We set off on our Saturday rounds of dropping son & heir at the local shops, visiting Sainsbury's for a few bits we'd forgotten to buy and back home again.

Having got back home, I opened up my laptop, got Rhubarb & Ginger upon screen, Twitter in the next window, Gmail in the next window and Facebook in the last window (I'm nothing if not a creature of habit) and went back to Twitter to sort out some thank you posts for various "follow Friday" wishes.  As I was going through the messages, out popped one from @nickcoffer.  Now Nick has a blog and a radio show on BBC Three Counties Radio during the weekday afternoons and a Saturday show, called "Weekend Kitchen".  He's also written a recipe book entitled "My Daddy Cooks", which details family recipes that you can cook with a young'un alongside - a copy of which I recently won as the prize for Ren Behan's "Food on Fridays" feature.

In his message, he said " hi Jenny, would you be around for a quick phone interview today at 13.15 for my radio show's food site of the week slot?".  Erm .. ~blink~ .. did I read that right?  So I read it again - and squealed "like a Tyrannosaurus Rex was eating my toes" (to quote hubby, who has a vivid imagination).

Cor, would I?  You bet I would!  Only - by this time - there was just an hour and quarter to go.  Oh dear, had I left it too late to contact him back?  So I dashed off a "you betcha" message (which included my telephone number) and crossed my fingers.

This was me, for a lot of the time!
Then I remembered my "episode" (as the doctors called it) some years back which turned out to be something rather closer to a stroke and which left me almost devoid of vocabulary.  I could remember the ands, ifs and buts, but anything outside of ordinary speech was a sore trial.  I had lost a significant degree of short term memory - I was sure the Prime Minister was Tony Blair, for instance.  It has taken me a couple of years and consistent work to get back to where I am now - which is fine where the written word is concerned, but not so good with spoken.  For instance, I was typing the above and ground to a halt with the word "vocabulary".  I couldn't remember it and the only word my brain was sending out was "parallellogram" - which isn't anything like it.  I have various tricks and trails that I send my brain along when this happens, to grasp at the lost word and very often I can find it.  However, sometimes it just evades me and I have to go to Google and search for it in random sentences that might use it.  I got "vocabulary" by eventually imagining myself reacting to someone who swears a lot - in which case I'd habitually say "hmmn, he can't have a great vocabulary if he's resorting to swearing".  Bingo!  Vocabulary - got it.

None of which would work well on radio!  *gulp*

Well, I was committed by then and could just console myself with the fact that a) the interview would be short and b) I knew Rhubarb & Ginger inside out (or so I thought).

The phone rang and it was Nick's Producer (so sorry, I've forgotten her name!) to check out whether I was okay for the interview etc etc.  She said she'd ring back when it was time to go on air.

Why, I do believe that's Jenny Eatwell!
The phone rang again and after a short moment or two, I could hear the radio show going on - and then it was my interview.  Now listening to it after the event, I had no idea at the time, how many times I said "err" or "umm".  Oh my god - if I'd have cut out all the erring and umming, I could have said a lot more!  However, it's the erring and umming that fill in the gaps when my brain is fishing around for the proper words to answer the question!  To be honest, I don't think I did too badly.  I didn't grind to a halt over any content on Rhubarb & Ginger - just the URL!  I couldn't remember if I had to say http:// or www!

Nick was very easy to talk to - I had resolved that I would treat it just like speaking to someone for the first time on the telephone and studiously forget about the radio audience behind the programme.  I don't think I did Rhubarb & Ginger justice at all - I could have been so much more coherent about it.  However, all things taken in to consideration - it could have been so much worse!  lol

If you want to have a listen, it is available on the IPlayer at http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00t232y/

If you don't want to listen to the whole show (it's a goodie, so if you've got time, do!) you'll need to scroll through to 1 hour 19mins to find the interview.  It is probably only available up until the end of this week (23 June 2012), but I'm hoping to get a recording of it that I'll be able to post up for perpetuity.

My gosh, but what an excitement it all was!  My thanks go out to Nick Coffer and his team - and my apologies for not being more coherent!

18 June 2012

British Rose Veal in a mushroom, tarragon & cider sauce

I'm going against my self-inflicted conventions in writing to tell you all about this veal dish so soon after making it - and I hope you realise that it's sending my inner English teacher into a flat spin.  However, I had to bump it up the list of "things requiring blogging about", as it was so good!

Over the course of the last few weeks, you may have noticed my interest in the whole process of the production of British Rose Veal.  Now just in case you've missed all the furore, you can catch up and get in the swim by having a peep at this post and this one, which will save me having to bore everyone else by going on about it all over again.

Beautifully lean and close-textured
As a result of all this, I was offered a pack of British Rose Veal to sample and devise some interesting recipes with, by the lovely people at Farmer's Choice Free Range from Fareham in Hampshire.  Not surprisingly, I said "yes please!" and was the very grateful recipient of some minced veal (probably destined for burgers, unless we have a brilliant idea in the meantime), some veal escalopes (currently the subject of a battle between Wiener Schnitzels and a stuffed, rolled veal dish) and two roasting joints - the larger of which is destined for a Sunday roast and the smaller of which was used in today's recipe.

Now, first of all, let me put my hands up and admit that I had not sampled veal before last Saturday when I made this dish.  Up until very recently, I was one of the millions who believed that veal was ethically undesirable due to its production techniques.  Having seen the light, I have been as keen as proverbial mustard to get my paws on some to try.

Having done so - tried some, that is - I can quite categorically say that I love it.  I have always liked beef and so the transition to liking veal really wasn't that difficult.  It does have a different flavour from beef (which I was glad about, to be honest, as it would be a bit of a disappointment to find that it was just a paler version) and we are still trying to put our fingers on the complete range of flavour.  However, the best I can do at the moment (other than say "well, it just tastes like veal") is to say that the flavour is somewhere between the strength of beef and the sweetness and mildness of a piece of lean pork, with a good bite to it.  Veal doesn't melt on your tongue, but then neither is it as robust as a slice of roast beef would be.  It has almost a crispness where the bite is concerned and a very irony finish to the flavour that is nothing like as powerful as liver, but has a liverish note to it.  Veal is also a very satisfying meat to consume, in that you know you've eaten something at the end of it!

The recipe that I devised for the veal, it would appear, has been done before (not surprisingly) and the additional flavours of the cider, chestnut mushrooms and tarragon lived very happily alongside it.  I can see it also being happy to accompany some chestnuts at Christmas and roasted root vegetables.

I was a little bit disappointed in the sauce/gravy as it lost a lot of thickness in the oven, so I have reflected the alteration to the cooking method in the recipe below to take account of that.  Hopefully this way will provide a sauce with some body, but I will own up and say that I haven't tried it as yet - so let me know if it lets you down!

So, having had this first go at British Rose Veal, I am even more firmly of the opinion that everyone should have the opportunity of accessing it.  If the farmers can support the production, I'm quite sure that having tasted it, many people would be following in my stead and be keen to buy either direct from the farm or from a supplier.  Don't go looking for veal in your local supermarket - have a look online and see if there's anyone near you who can supply you with some.  If more of us could do that, I'm sure the demand would increase and prices would reduce - which can only be good for everyone.


BRITISH ROSE VEAL STEAKS IN MUSHROOM, TARRAGON & CIDER SAUCE (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium (or 1 large) onions, chopped finely
100g chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1kg piece of roasting veal , cut across the grain into 8-10 steaks
500ml (or slightly less) medium cider
1 tsp dried tarragon or slightly more if using fresh, chopped
2 tbsp creme fraiche
finely ground black pepper, to taste
a Knorr vegetable Stock Pot or 1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
2-3 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp water.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas4.  In a large flat-bottomed frying pan, heat the oil and add the onions.  Cook the onions until transparent and just beginning to brown.  Add the mushrooms and cook them gently until they are beginning to soften.  Remove the onions & mushrooms to a warmed dish and retain.

2.  You may need to add a little more oil while you increase the heat under the pan and seal off the veal steaks.  You aren't looking to cook them through - and they will cook incredibly quickly - so keep a close eye on them.  Some thirty seconds a side in a blisteringly hot pan should be enough to colour each side.  You will need to cook them in batches, so as not to overload the pan and reduce its temperature.  Place the steaks into a casserole dish to keep warm while you prepare the sauce.


3.  Return the onions and mushrooms to the pan and add a good two thirds of the bottle of cider.  Allow to bubble and give it a good stir, to release the flavours and de-glaze the pan.

4.  Add the tarragon and some finely ground black pepper.  Stir to combine.

5.  Reduce the heat and when the mixture has slowed down to a simmer, add the creme fraiche and the contents of the Knorr Stock Pot (or the vegetable bouillon powder).  Stir gently but well, to combine.

6.  Pour the mixture onto the veal steaks, cover and place into the oven for an hour and a quarter.

7.  When the time is up, remove the casserole dish from the oven and drain off the gravy into a saucepan.  Put on a medium heat to simmer and in a separate small bowl, mix the cornflour together with the tablespoonful of water.

8.  Stirring constantly, pour the cornflour mixture into the gravy which should immediately thicken.  If it doesn't thicken to your preference, simply add a little more cornflour.  Make sure to stir well as you add the cornflour, or you'll land up with a blob of half cooked cornflour and a thin sauce!

9.  Once your sauce is to the consistency you prefer, serve up the steaks and pour over the sauce.

Printable version
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14 June 2012

Lovely, lovely White Line Pure Fresh Tea!

Recently, Pure Fresh Tea were kind enough to send me three of their White Line tea bags - Bombay Chai, Golden Chamomile and Black Lavender - to try.

These little tea bags are packaged in the cutest little pyramidical boxes, which are so very smart with their clean presentation.

Inside was a single tea bag - but no paper bags here, oh no.  These tea bags are made from biodegradable organza.  Impressed?  You should be!  Although there is one aspect of the construction and presentation of the bag that puzzled me.  You undo the box and remove the teabag, which has a little thread with a paper tag attached, as one has come to expect.  The only thing is, the little paper tag is glued - yes, glued - to the organza of the teabag.  I really hope that the glue is some kind of inert substance, as it leaves an impression upon the fabric of the bag.

That aside, where the Golden Chamomile and Black Lavender are concerned, I can safely say that I can't remember the last time I had such a nice cup of tea - especially the chamomile.

However, the Bombay Chai (with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and black tea) left a little bit to be desired.  You see, I was measuring it against our favourite blend of Chai teabag - which is (believe it or not) Asda's.  Pure Fresh Tea's area of difference to all other teas is that their quality is so good.  However, where Chai is concerned, I've come to the conclusion that a little bit of rough is exactly what is required.  Pure Fresh Tea's Chai is so well behaved.  Yes, it is beautifully rounded and soft on the tongue - but then I prefer my Chai to let me know it is there.  I want to taste the spices, experience the tea and feel it doing me good.  I'm really not sure that Pure Fresh Tea's Chai could ever have done the first two - but you could definitely feel it doing you good!

I was actually a bit scared of their Black Lavender blend.  Not because it had big teeth or growled a lot, but because I could read from the packaging that it contained Tian Hu Shan black tea (mmmn, nice!), French lavender leaves (ooh no, it might be like furniture polish - and I HATE lavender furniture polish!) and bergamot oil (quelle horreur! The last time I tried anything with bergamot in it, it gave me a blinding headache).  So can you understand my reticence about this one?

Well.  That tea was lovely.  No - honestly!  It was very subtle, very refined (not in a processed way, but in a polite, well behaved, sort of way) with just a hint of lavender and the merest smidgen of bergamot.  I'd have been happy to have drunk Black Lavender on a regular basis, but for ....ah, but I run on ahead of myself.


What about the Golden Chamomile?  Now this one was my favourite of the bunch.  I was very sad to think that I wouldn't ever drink another Pure Fresh Tea Golden Chamomile when I am in my nightie and slippers, with a warm Jack Russell terrier snuggled up against my back and a good book on the Kindle in my other hand - just before bed.

Now, fair reader, I've drunk a lot of chamomile teas.  No, really - a LOT.  It used to be one of the few things that kept my head from exploding when I worked in Marketing.  It used to lull me to sleep when I lay nervously hugging Gyp my lurcher dog, in my bed behind a firmly locked door in a shared house in New Malden, whilst one of the other tenants slit his wrists regularly each night.  It would carry me off to dreamland on a wave of daisies, after a busy day spent showing my ponies at a blisteringly hot (what happened to those, eh?) County Showground. 

So, as you can see, I've a bit of history with chamomile tea - and this, Golden Chamomile, is by far and away the best camomile tea I've had to date.  It has such a cleanliness to it.  An unadulterated flavour of camomile - which is all that there is in the teabag.  You can actually see the whole flowers through the organza of the bag - so cute!

Now you might be wondering why I'd reject ever having Pure Fresh Tea's products again, if they're so good.   Well, don't let me stand in your way if you want to buy them - by all means go ahead.  However, for me, I just cannot justify the price.

Let's take the Golden Chamomile, as an example.  We did a little research and discovered that pure dried chamomile flowers - no dust, no rubbish - can be bought for the equivalent of 4p per teabag (minus production costs and materials).  Pure Fresh Tea are charging ~wince~ in the range of 36p per teabag (inclusive of production costs & materials), which is a vast markup of some 900% and can only lead me to believe that the packaging could quite possibly be worth more (particularly in invested cash) than the contents.  Now that'd be okay if the price went down once the design and production costs on the packaging had been recouped - but I suspect we all know that's not going to happen.

I know - I loved the tea.  Even in the knowledge that each teabag can be used more than once, it still doesn't justify the price, for me.  Even loving the tea as I did, I have to admit that each teabag did for just the one cup.  I couldn't face re-using an already used bag.

It just makes me so sad.  I perked up momentarily when I discovered that there is range - the Black Line - that is (and I quote) "more competitively priced than the White Line due to mechanized packing.  This range has been designed to bring you Pure Tea to drink every day".  The tea bags come in boxes of 40 individually foil wrapped envelopes and the Golden Chamomile costs £9.90 per box - which equates to 25p per cup.

Now, I suppose 25p once a day isn't too terrible - until you discover Asda's chamomile tea, which is £1 for 40 tea bags, equating to 2.5p per cup - and although it isn't quite as smooth and rounded a flavour, is still the second best cup of camomile tea I've ever had!

What more can I say?  On their website, Pure Fresh Tea have a FAQ page, on which is the following :

Q. What is the difference between your tea and the tea in the supermarket?
A. Our tea is premium, loose-leaf tea, supplied in an organza pyramid bag and all of our ingredients are 100% organic. It is processed using traditional methods and is extremely fresh and delicious. With tea, you get exactly what you pay for. Cheaper teas really aren't comparable to the tea we supply and generally taste bitter. Tea supplied in a standard tea bag generally contains a lot of dust, stalks and other parts of the leaf, so you won't get the same great taste or health benefits as with high grade tea.

So I suppose there you have it.  I loved Pure Fresh Tea's products that I tried.  Try them yourself if you can justify the price and I'll bet you'll love them too.

Maybe I've lived on a budget for too long, or maybe I just have a sneaking suspicion that in the price of the tea bags is a huge percentage for smart liveried packaging, a great website, sheets upon sheet of organza and organic ingredients.   ~shrug~  I'll leave the final judgement up to you.

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13 June 2012

Rose Veal - the continuing story!

Pic c/o http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t0bv
Did you see Countryfile (on BBC1) this week?  If not, I'm sure it is available still on the Iplayer (here), so you can have a peek if you want.  I only mention it because they re-visited the issue of rose veal.  (Incidentally, is there a definitive version for the name "Rose" or "Rosé" veal?).


Since my earlier rant on the subject (see here), I have had cause to talk to many different people (thank you, one and all) who seem to be coming at the veal thing from lots of different angles and with lots of different viewpoints.  The amazing point about all this, is that everyone seems to have a differing view on where the veal situation is at in Great Britain.


It is staggering, to me, how many people who are supposedly working in the area of veal - in one way or another - have no idea about how the welfare standards for the production of veal in this country have improved.  So many of them still believe that veal is produced in the appalling crate system, which has been abolished in this country - and has been for years.  On the continent and if you're particularly looking for so-called "milk veal" or "white veal", then you can expect to find veal that has been produced in this barbaric way - although having said that, the welfare standards in some countries are fast following in GB's wake.


So if the people who are working in meat production/butchery/meat supply still believe that British Rose Veal is produced in this manner - is it any wonder that the public are still in the dark?  


This is why programmes such as Countryfile - that go out in a prime time evening slot and broadcast the good news about Rose Veal, are so important.


We have to get the message across to the general public that Rose Veal is as viable a product as any other meat product - and that the old (justified) reasons for outlawing it are over, provided you opt for British Rose Veal.


So let's take a look at what happens, currently - and as far as I understand it - to a male calf born to a dairy cow.


In some dairies, male calves are shot within days of having been born.  This is because of a) the understanding that it is uneconomical to produce these calves to an age where they can become meat producing, and b) the understanding (incorrect) that dairy breeds are incapable of producing enough musculature to make them viable for meat.


Now, personally, I would far rather these unfortunate calves are shot at an early age, if their only other alternative is to be shipped out to meat producers who might be some hours away - or even, God forbid, in another country.  The miserable conditions that calves often have to endure - and very often die on the way - in circumstances such as these would, I think, make anyone want to end their suffering before it happens.


However, this isn't their only alternative.


Now I do realise that not every diary farmer is able to do this - but I feel sure that those who, for reasons of space, or manpower, or whatever, can't keep their bull calves at home, with some co-operation between farms, should be able to send their calves a short distance to a farm that can keep them at home and produce them up to an appropriate age for the production of Rose Veal.  After all, it would seem that there are farms out there that do just that - take calves from dairies and produce Rose Veal, as their main source of income.


Ah, but - and you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you - let's think about the calves' death.  Yes, I know, it's difficult - but if you're going to eat meat then how the animals die should be as much on your agenda as how they lived.


You see, this is where the supermarkets aren't helping matters.  It would seem - on the surface - that to be a veal producer for a supermarket would be a good thing.  Assured income for a steady supply.  However, look at the arrangements for converting the "on the hoof" veal to "in the polystyrene tray" veal and the rot begins to set in.  As a veal producer for a supermarket, you cannot take your calves to your local abbatoir (where you may very well know the workers, know their practices and be extremely happy that your animals will be respected and treated with care right through to an easy end) because said supermarket has a designated abbatoir which has been checked out by the supermarket as meeting all its requirements for animal welfare etc.  The problem is, that this designated abbatoir may very well be some six hours or more away from the farm.  Not good - not good at all.  Have you seen those diabolical multi-storey animal carriers?  I wouldn't want any veal calf of mine to have to travel to its end on one of those.  Call me a softie, but that's the way it is.  I just don't see why the veal can't travel once it has no pulse.


The obvious way around all this, it would seem to me, would be if more farms would be prepared to market and sell their own meat.  There would be multiple benefits to doing this, as from the animals' point of view it would cut down on the undesirable welfare issues I've set out above and from the consumer's point of view, it would cut out the middle men who consistently put their mark-up onto a piece of veal, until it reaches the astronomical prices being asked by the supermarkets - which would result in lower prices to the consumer.  From the farmer's point of view, it puts the money directly into their pocket with the added benefit of being able to provide the kind of life - and the kind of death - that the majority of farmers would choose for their animals.


c/o "Cows that Type" by Doreen Cronin
Now this all depends, of course, on how much it costs a farmer to take a new born dairy bull calf and produce it up to veal age.  On this subject, I've received no end of conflicting information - and again, it all depends who you speak to and what their angle is.  So, to get the true low-down on the subject, the lovely Louise Trowbridge of The Uncommon Pig has got in touch with me and offered to link me in on their project to raise two of their own dairy bull veal calves for a charity supper in November.  Louise is proposing to follow the costs of raising these two, from which I hope we'll be able to have a fairly (allowing for differences in cost across the country) definitive view of just how much it is likely to cost a farmer to raise a calf for veal.


I find this whole question of veal to be enormously interesting and filled with more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel.  As such, this story is by no means over and I think you can expect to find more blog posts appearing that deal with veal as Louise and I establish a method to work together  - but I also hope that you'll find your curiosity piqued by the insight into how the meat producing machine works in the U.K. - as written by a relative newbie to the whole process!

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