Monday, 23 May 2011

Confessions of an Elderflower Perve

Every year, about half way through May I become an elderflower perve. Checking those plentiful bushes for the progress of their creamy blossoms, waiting for the right time to pick them for elderflower champagne. Elderflower is everywhere, and right now it's going bonkers. Although last year I spent so long lusting after the flowers, I never actually got round to doing it. I kept meaning to visit the brewing shop (which isn't open on a Sunday, which is the day I always remember to think about it) to buy a nice big brewing receptacle, but never made it, and hence the little white flowers withered and died, soon to be replaced by deep purple berries. Which I hate the taste of. Euurgh. This year, I still didn't manage to get to the brewing shop and resorted to brewing half the bubbles in a bucket and the other half in my big Le Creuset.

This is adapted from Hugh F-T's recipe for elderflower champagne, I made it for the first time a few years ago, it was great (except I would recommend leaving the fizz to brew a bit longer than he does, as it wasn't ready when I gave it the 8 days in the bottles that he suggests).

And now to wait...and wait...IS IT READY YET?
Go and snip off 25-30 elderflower heads (wooden 'I'm so country' trug optional), give each bloom a good shake as there will be a few bugs in there. Dissolve 2kg sugar in 4 litres of hot water in a very clean container (or two if you are me). Top up with another 2 litres of cold water. Add the zest and juice of 4 un-waxed lemons, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, the flowers, and stir gently. Cover with muslin and leave for 2 days in a cool airy place. Add a little pinch of yeast and stir, leave for another 4 days. Now strain through muslin and decant into very clean bottles (swing-top ones are the best but fizzy drinks ones are OK, just not as pretty). Seal and leave for another 10 days (if when you taste it, it's super sweet, a bit yeasty and just not that great, it's not ready, leave a bit longer), and serve chilled.

If you make this early enough in the season, you'll be able to make another batch, I've finally got hold of some citric acid (the boss must have been a bit surprised opening up a packet of white powder that arrived at my desk when I was away) so I can make cordial as well now. Best go and perve on some more elderflower...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Chicken Paprika - Check you actually have paprika first...

Don't forget the paprika. Or the chicken. 
You know when you have your mind set on a certain dish to cook for supper, and nothing else will do? Well all the way home on the train yesterday I was thinking about this dish, all content as I had all the ingredients and wouldn't have to rely on trusty M&S (the only shop open on a Sunday night when all the other shops have shut). There was a small problem, the chicken thighs were still in the freezer, so I did have to swing by M&S which was very stressful with my big weekend bag and narrow aisles but somehow I coped. Finally got home, and discovered  I had run out of paprika. I used a bit of smoked paprika, its sweet and smokey cousin, instead for a nice extra smokey flavour and it all worked out.

This feeds two. Pre-heat oven to 180. Brown seasoned chicken thighs (two small ones per person or one big one) in olive oil and set aside. Fry a chopped onion and a few chopped garlic cloves in the same oil and add a couple of chopped raw chorizo sausages (normal cooked could be used) and fry until all the lovely red oil comes out of the chorizo and the onions are softened. Add a chopped chilli, a few bay leaves, a teaspoon of smoked paprika (or normal), a tin of chopped tomatoes, a big splash of red wine, season and stir well. Pop the chicken back in the pan, add a chopped green pepper and put the whole lot in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes. By now the skin on the chicken will be all extra cripsy and golden. Serve with a blob of sour cream/creme fraiche and rice. 

The Rioja was open, Lady Gaga was on the telly and all was ok. Until the Boyfriend came home after a day on the lash at the Rubgy 7s and sprayed me with the hose through the kitchen window. Twice.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Scotch Eggs are Not Scottish

Runny yolks courtesy of Blumethal
According to Heston, that is, and who am I to argue? Apparently they were invented by Fortnum & Mason in the 19th century, especially for posh picnics. I like Fortnum & Mason and I also like Scotch Eggs. The butcher local to my parents sells home made ones and if you're lucky they're still hot when you get your greedy mitts on them. Last time I was home, I found myself alone in the kitchen and found...a Scotch egg in the fridge with my name on it. At least it should have had my name on it because I gobbled it down before even getting a plate and a dollop of mustard. I thought it was about time I had a go at making them, especially as Mum had told me they are very messy. Sounded like a challenge.

This recipe is adapted from the one Heston Blumenthal did for Waitrose, no dry ice in sight, but mercifully straighforward instructions. You can mess about with the sausage meat as much as you like, but what I did nick from him was his method for cooking the eggs, essential if you want runny yolks, and it worked perfectly, much to my surprise.

Makes 8. Pre-heat oven to 190. Place 8 eggs in a pan of cold water, put on a high heat and as soon as the water starts simmering set a timer for 1 minute 45 seconds. Seriously. Quickly fill a bowl with iced water and when the time is up remove the eggs and put them in the iced water. In a bowl mix the meat from 6 large (i.e. not chipolatas) decent sausages and mix with a big pinch of thyme, a tsp or two of mustard (any I reckon) a pinch of cayenne pepper, seasoning and a packet of chives, chopped, and a tiny splash of water. Roll into 8 balls and chill for 20 minutes.

Very gently, peel the eggs, this is not easy as they are soft boiled and very fragile, you will need patience and delicate fingers! Roll the eggs gently, this will crack the shell all over and help. Don't panic if you damage the eggs a bit, they will be covered up, no-one will know. Take 3 bowls and into them put a few tbsp plain flour, two beaten eggs with a splash of milk, and approx 150g breadcrumbs. Take a sausage ball, flatten between your hands, and with the meat covering the palm of one hand, place an egg in the middle and gentlly wrap the meat around, be gentle. When all the eggs have a meaty blanket heat some veg or groundnut oil (enough to cover 2 eggs) in a saucepan and heat until a cube of bread browns fairly quickly in it. Dip each meaty egg into the flour, then eggy milk, then the breadcrumbs, making sure the whole surface is covered. Very carefully plop them into the oil, only two at a time and deep fry until golden, two or three minutes. It's a good idea to give them a nudge every now and again to stop potential sticking. Drain on some kitchen roll. When they're all done give them 10 minutes in the oven and then serve immediately. Nice with a salad to counteract the richness.

The moment of truth is when you slice one open, and then, halleluja, the orange yolk oozes out all over the place and all is well in the world.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Beanz Meanz ummm not Heinz

On a normal week day, breakfast, if I manage it (those extra seconds in bed count you know), is a bowl of revolting bran flakes forced down, before I bolt out the door. Because it's healthy, and if I don't eat breakfast before I leave the house, the siren-like lure of the saturated-fat-laden mozzerella and tomato croissants at Pret become the only possible option. Never mind the little pots of healthy porridge and fruit compote, they are not contenders as far as I am concerned. Come the weekend, however, I often longingly pore over exciting and delicious morning recipes, the sophisticated brunch ideas far superior to the usual routine of bacon sarnies or soft boiled eggs. I was in a weekend breakfast rut and needed to get out of it.

It was quite simple, I just had to make one of the recipes I had stored away. So I did.

For a twist on beans on toast (for two) fry a sliced onion in olive oil until softened a bit. Add a chopped tomato (I had a really exciting green and red striped one, all that was left in Waitrose after the apocalyptic style grocery panic that a bank holiday causes), and a drained tin of cannelini beans and stir around the pan for three minutes. You don't want it to go to mush, just soften the tomato and heat the beans through. Add a tsp of red wine vinegar and season well. Toast two slices of bread (fancy pants sourdough would be nice, but normal, as I used was fine) and rub each piece of toast all over with a halved clove of garlic. Top with the beans, some chopped parsley and a nice dribble of extra virgin olive oil.

The vegetarian factor didn't impress the Boyfriend but his protests dimished significantly once he had my beans on toast in his gob.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Badass Seabass

Excessive meat consumption antidote
 After three barbies and one dodgy kebab too many, during this gloriously debauched bank holiday weekend, my stomach was moaning for something healthy and light, in other words, a fish dish. This recipe for seabass with onions, potato and lemon is heavenly quick and easy, and before I made it I never realised how lush the combo of lemons and potatoes are!

Feeds two: Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees. Slice as many potatoes as you fancy (I, gasp, use any tatties I have lying around, at the moment big new potatoes are delicious) and cut them into thin-ish rounds. Tip into a baking tray, pour over a glug of olive oil and mix really well with your hands. Season liberally. Put in the oven for about 6 minutes, until they are starting to go golden around the edges. Meanwhile slice an onion. Mix this onion in with the potatoes, coating the slices in oil. Back in the oven for another 6 minutes until they have started roasting and softening. Take the tray back out, lay a few sprigs of dill down on top of the onions and potatoes, in two lines, and place a fillet of seabass on top of each pile of dill. Squeeze a lemon over the whole tray, especially over the fish. Season the fish and dribble some more olive oil over it. Back in the oven for another 7 ish minutes, until the fish skin has gone nice and crispy. Plate up and serve with something green.

Then go and ruin all your good gastronomic behaviour by getting a chicken burger at two in the morning on your way home from a bar.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

A Right Royal Meaty Feast

No room for hippy bean burgers here
 So we've done the Royal breakfast, we've sipped our bubbles earlier than normally allowed (I love how a Royal Wedding permits, and even encourages pre-midday intoxication, not to mention A DAY OFF) and now it was time to skip down the road to Pip's house, where that strange English phenomenon known as the Street Party, was taking place. We had strict orders to pick up some pork from the legend that is Surbiton's Bulgarian Meat Man, also known as Kalin. It was all a bit mysterious and exciting, even more so when he was no-where to be found in the pub kitchen where we were meant to meet him. So we trotted off to the street party (where it was bunting and Union Jacks a go-go) to wait for him. Hopefully the pork would turn up. An hour later it did, Kalin came and dropped off what must have been about 8 or 9 kilos of beautiful pork loin. Kalin had been working in the pub kitchen all day and was happy to leave it to me to 'do something' with the pork. It HAD to be marinaded, we didn't have much time but a quick rub with something tasty would be better than nothing. After telling me she didn't have much in her kitchen, I found everything I needed at Pip's, and made two different flavours for our porcine friends.

Meaty treats
Forget everything the NHS tells you, when it comes to BBQs and pork, salt is your best friend. Use it liberally and you can't go wrong. For the first marinade bash up fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add lots of peeled garlic and bash that up with the seeds, adding a good helping of salt. That is it, fennel seeds, garlic and salt, like with the pork belly recipe I blogged in January, simplicity is key. Loosen with olive oil and smear all over the pork. Marinade number two is just bashed up coriander seeds and dried chilies, garlic, lemon juice, salt and again, loosen with olive oil then get smeary with it. Ideally let the piggy bathe in that for a good four hours or so, but the coals were ready and Kalin was looking anxious.

The pork was expertly cooked by Kalin, gently and slowly, this was a lot of meat and bloody pork was not the effect we were after. We sliced it all up, put it in baguettes, with some salad for the girls. We handed round the sliced pork and the gannets devoured the lot. Except for the vegetarian lady who longingly sighed at the heavy platter of heaven. God didn't give you those canines for nothing lady. The street party was a fantastic triumph, bringing out the community spirit in everyone, not to mention, the carnivore.

Nice Day For a Royal Wedding (and kedgeree)

Fit for a Princess, or a Duchess
Having previously tutted at the monumental hysteria caused by the Royal Wedding, I squealed with excitement all the way through, with my friend Pip fromt eh comfort of the sofa. I think our invites got lost in the post. Bloody Royal Mail. We oohed and aahed our way through the ceremony on BBC One, sipping on pink Cava and generally getting very silly with it all. Not to mention tipsy before midday. I had invited her over for bubbles and brunch, after hearing her boyfriend had chosen golf over Royal nuptials, what an outrage! The previous night, swimming in Sauvingnon Blanc, my sister gave me the idea to make kedgeree, perfect. I even had smoked haddock in the freezer, it was meant to be. Just like Wills and Kate.

Kedgeree is a slight faff, especially when you've just woken up, but oh so worth it. This feeds four. Hard boil four eggs. Poach two smoked haddock fillets by laying them skin side up in a big frying pan, cover with boiling water, add a bay leaf and a few peppercorns, and just simmer very gently for about 7 minutes. Then discard the water and let the fish cool a bit before peeling the skin off (should come away very easily, if not, it's not ready), flake and set aside. To make the magic sauce, fry a finely chopped onion in a big knob of butter until softened. Grind a tsp each of cumin and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, and add a clove of garlic and give that a good bash too. Add to onions and fry for 3 minutes. Squirt in a tsp tomato puree, add a tsp each of tumeric, curry powder, a pinch of saffron, a bay leaf and 150ml water and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes and season. Cook your rice (if I bother measuring I use half a cup per person). Now just combine everything, stir the sauce into the rice, gently stir in the fish without mushing it up, peel and quarter the eggs and top each bowl with them and some chopped parsley. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

This made a very suitable wedding breakfast, I'm pretty sure the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would have approved.