Sunday, 29 June 2014

RHUBARB AND ELDERFLOWER GIN

Rhubarb is saccharine pink, the colour of those softly chewy sweets you can still find in old-fashioned confectionery jars, so sugar-rich they bring on a headache; in reality, though, raw rhubarb is coarse and sharp, so crisply sour in hurts.
Elderflowers form delicate galaxies of tiny stars which hang heavily from green stems of elder, gently perfuming the air with their heady scent.  What you see (and smell and taste) is what you get.
Strange bedfellows these two.  Yet mix them together with gin, sugar and lemon juice and a mysterious alchemy takes place.  Wait a few weeks and a shiny golden-pink, sweetly floral liquor develops, as if by magic. You can discard the now brown and dull mangle of elderflower and rhubarb waste.



Macerate the rhubarb              Place the elderflower in the jar           Mix with sugar and gin
i)   Slice 12 sticks of cleaned pink rhubarb into 5cm lengths, and stir in 50g white sugar, leaving it to macerate for an hour.
ii)   Collect 15 or so fresh, white elderflower heads (no brown or wilted flowers). Tap them to knock out ants and bugs (rinsing washes out the flavour); cut away leaves and larger stalks; then place the elderflowers in a sterilised, airtight jar.
iii)   Add the macerated rhubarb and sugar (+ all the juices) to the jar. Add 2 tbs of extra sugar and juice of a lemon, and cover with 1litre of gin.
iv)   Seal and shake.
v)    Store in a cool, dark place for two weeks, shaking every other day.
vi)   Strain the liquid carefully, using a coffee filter or similar (there may be a sediment at the bottom which will otherwise cloud the eventual liquor); bottle and keep in a cool, dark place.  

It is ready for use now, but goes on improving with time. A twist on the classic G and T is an easy way forward, but the colour and complex flavours demand more imaginative uses, in delicate, summery cocktails or long refreshing coolers. 


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

LELUU'S VIETNAMESE COOKING CLASS

Spices for Pho Bo
"Vietnamese people believe good food is a gift to the mouth."  Fresh, top quality ingredients, sharp flavours, and a careful balance of textures and "heating" and "cooling" foods: this is the way to good health. So says Uyen, aka Leluu, food blogger, pioneer of London's supper clubs, cookery book writer and, today, host of our cookery class.
Preparing pork and quail's eggs under Uyen's watchful eye
To show us what she means, Uyen takes us through breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner, all within the space of an afternoon of cooking and eating. She later guides us around a nearby Vietnamese supermarket showing how to source our own future meals.

Pho spices and stock bones
Pho is the iconic dish of Vietnam, and though every family knows that its version is the right one, it is a uniting force: the way the nation starts the day. As the body has "cooled" overnight, it needs this meat based broth to "heat" it to get ready to face the rigours of work.  The key is the creation of a high quality stock, to which is added bean sprouts, plenty of herbs, noodles, thinly sliced chilli and herbs, and slices of beef. Hot, soothing, full of flavour, we slurp our bowls of pho in quiet contemplation of the treats to come.
The Vietnamese are grazers: bustling street food stalls and tiny red stools fill every street and alleyway and are always busy serving quick snacks (pork skewers for example, or banh  mi - stuffed baguettes) to those on the move. Lemongrass beef in betel leaf are bite-sized flavour-packed morsels, and easy to make, but it's a good idea to get the whole family around the table to roll them up.

Lemongrass beef in Betel Leaf and Vietnamese Salad


















As another quick snack, Uyen shows us how the prepare the light, herb-infused summer rolls that are ideal for a mouthful of intense flavour on the move through the markets. 
Uyen demonstrates summer rolls
The French influence is very evident in banh xeo (crepe-style wraps).  Fry some prawns and pork belly, add the rice-flour and coconut milk batter with some bean sprouts, and cover.  Fold the crisp pancake and serve with dipping sauce.

Making banh xeo
With our pork and quail's egg stew bubbling away and her mother getting a few more dishes ready for a final feast, Uyen takes us off to the supermarket and gives us a masterclass tour of the enormous range of Vietnamese ingredients available nowadays - many of them grown or made locally.
Shopping
 Appetites sharpened by all the possibilities we have seen (and with bulging shopping bags), we return to a feast: the pork and quail's egg stew is ready, two fish dishes, winter melon soup with tofu, stir-fried morning glory.
 


Monday, 5 May 2014

CIAMBELLONE TOSCANA

Vanilla, egg, butter, sugar, lemon: these are the aromas that drift around the house as the Ciambellone is baking: it is the smell of Italy.  We were introduced to this cake by the doyenne of Italian supperclubs, Francesca
It is delicious.  And very easy to make.
 
100g melted butter
150g sugar
2 eggs
2 egg whites
50g tapioca flour (or potato flour)
150g plain flour
1 lemon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence

2 tbsp milk


Heat the oven to 180C. Grease the tin and flour it.
Whisk the melted butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue whisking. Zest the lemons and add the zest to the mixture, and then add the vanilla essence; stir together well.
Whisk the egg whites until firm and set aside. Mix together the plain flour, the potato flour and the baking powder, and sift into the egg mixture and beat together. Add the milk to create a runnier texture.
Using a metal spoon, fold in the beaten egg whites until they are well mixed in. Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake in the oven 25 minutes. When cooked, turn out the cake onto a rack. Dust the top with icing sugar.

If you can, leave it to cool before eating, with an espresso of course (though it goes just as well with tea in the afternoon). Serve with whipped cream or mascarpone and a spoonful of tart gooseberry compote.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

BILDER AND DE CLERQ, AMSTERDAM - FIRST ANNIVERSARY


Balloons and bunting
Daffodils and roses are already blooming in Amsterdam's quietly raffish Oude Pijp district (think Shoreditch with canals and bicycles rather than end-to-end traffic and crowds). Our gently aimless Saturday morning stroll past Sarphati Park is suddenly transformed: we have stumbled unexpectedly into the balloons and bunting of Bilder and De Clercq deli's first anniversary party, a celebration of their big new idea.  In business, the first year is when new ideas either wither and die, or put down roots for a robust future: it seems B&dC are well on their way, given the packed, good-natured support in the café and browsing the deli shelves.

The novel food stations
B&dC is not your usual deli: its USP, its new idea, is the "meal station". Across the store are a dozen or so of these separate stations, each dedicated to a particular dish, and each containing a recipe card and all the listed ingredients in appropriate quantities.  A cheerful assistant explains (while she dispenses anniversary snacks): choose your menu and then simply load up the ingredients which are laid out ready at the station and in its mini-freezer - and there are well-matched wines available to reduce decision making even further. Large, colourful images of plated up meals stand above each station to draw your eye and stimulate your culinary imagination - and your appetite. B&dC source as much as possible locally, though their recipe vision is international: Thailand and Indonesia, The Middle East and Singapore are represented in addition to Europe. 

The station for Thai Mussels
Each recipe card is designed for two, though it is easy to multiply up for a feast; it costs between €5 and €7 a head. So if you are in a hurry or haven't planned ahead, the hard part (ie: deciding what to cook and sourcing the ingredients) has already been done. Sounds like a brilliant idea!

Monday, 30 December 2013

LE LINGUE DEL DIAVOLO - DEVIL'S TONGUE CRISPBREADS

In this joyous season of Santa and carolling angels, there comes a time to cut against the grain of general goodwill to mankind. So, these wafer-thin crisp-breads are not afraid of their inner dark side: mis-shapen and generally rather ragged, they are all the more attractive for being rough around the edges in a "Robert Johnson, wrong side of the tracks kinda way." 
Resist the sweetest blandishments of another mince pie or slice of panforte. Match le lingue del diavolo with salty-savoury chunks of parmesan (or a wisp or two of prosciutto-style, smoked reindeer) and let the Devil do the talking.

Ingredients:
220g   plain flour
200g   sourdough starter (100% hydration)
100g   plain yoghurt
40g     light olive oil
2 tsp   poppy seeds
a pinch of salt.
Plus olive oil, sea salt flakes, chilli flakes or fennel seeds for scattering on top of the biscuits before cooking.
(Makes 8)

Mix together and knead to a smooth dough. Let the dough stand for a couple of hours in a covered bowl.
Half an hour before you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 200 degree C and place a baking stone on the middle rack.
Knead the dough briefly and divide into eight small balls.
On a floured surface, roll out each ball until very thin and tongue-shaped. Just before baking, brush the surface of each one gently with a tiny amount of olive oil and scatter with salt (or chilli flakes and/or fennel seeds, to taste); then place on the hot baking stone (or a flat baking tray).  Bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until crisp and pale golden brown with darker blotches.  Place the biscuits straight onto a rack and let them cool and crisp up. They can be stored in an air-tight container, but are best eaten fresh while still at peak crispness. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

APPLE AND SALTED CARAMEL ICE-CREAM

Autumn's here and the clocks went back by an hour last night. Meanwhile the biggest storm of the century (so far) is predicted later this weekend. Time to hunker down then and to use up some of our glut of apples. This ice-cream has an unusual combination of sweet, sharp and bitter flavours (think toffee apples); it is soft textured, with chewy bits of apple and contrasting shards of brittle/melting caramel.
Ingredients

For the caramel brittle:
100g  granulated white sugar
¾ tsp  flakes of sea salt.


For the ice cream custard:
400ml  unsweetened apple juice
juice of ½ lemon
250ml  milk

300g  granulated white sugar
60 gr  salted butter
½ tsp  flakes of sea salt
200ml  double cream
300g  apple
5  egg whites
100g granulated white sugar.
 
1   Make the caramel brittle
     Place a silicone/Teflon mat (or a lightly oiled sheet of baking parchment) on a baking tray. Have this close to hand when cooking the caramel.
     Scatter the sugar evenly across a heavy bottomed pan and heat gently until it melts. Opinion is divided about whether or not to stir the sugar as it melts - safer to roll it around the pan until all is melted. For the proper bitter flavour, let the mixture brown until just before it burns - your nose is the best guide here. Then IMMEDIATELY scatter ¾ teaspoon of flaked sea salt into the pan and pour the caramel evenly over the prepared silicone sheet, tilting the tray to help it spread as evenly and thinly as possible. Once it has cooled and set hard, shatter the caramel into small shards which will be folded into the ice-cream as it freezes.

2   Prepare for making the ice cream.
     Simmer apple juice (freshly juiced if possible) and juice of half a lemon until reduced to 200ml.  Cool and keep to one side.
     Core, peel and dice the apple (into approx. 2cm squares) and plunge into cold water with juice of half a lemon to prevent discolouring.
     Half fill a large bowl with ice and water, and set a smaller bowl in the water - the ice bath will cool the ice cream mixture quickly. Place the milk in the bowl to cool.
3   Make the ice cream
     Prepare caramel in exactly the same way as before, with 300g sugar. As soon as it is ready, remove from the heat a stir in the slightly salted butter. Once the butter has melted, add the salt and cream and mix.
     Return the pan to a low heat; any lumps that have formed will melt away. Stir in the drained diced apple and let it cook for a couple of minutes; do not allow the apple to get soft. Pour in the prepared reduced apple juice and add the whole mixture to the milk in the ice bath and let it cool.
 
      Whip the egg whites to soft peaks and then beat in the sugar. Once the ice-cream mixture is cool, gently fold in the soft meringue, keeping the air in as far as possible. It won't necessarily all mix smoothly initially, but repeated folding as it sets in the freezer will solve this; it is easier to control the texture of this particular ice cream by using the freezer and by repeatedly folding from sides to centre, but churn in an ice-cream maker if preferred. Once the ice-cream is almost firm but before it freezes hard, stir in the small shards of caramel brittle.
     Because of the caramel, the ice cream never sets too hard, so can usually be served direct from the freezer. Serve it with extra caramel and thin slices of fresh apple - or even caramelised apple slices for a bit more sweetness; alternatively, sticks of shortbread work well, and add another texture and flavour.

 
 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

E5 BAKEHOUSE, LONDON FIELDS

artisan; sustainable; volunteer bakers;
railway arches; Hackney; community; sourdough; lost traditions; natural;
environmentally friendly; small; locally sourced; kitchen-table start-up;
hand-crafted. 
 
Most of today's on-trend foodie buzz words describe The E5 Bakehouse pretty accurately: in fact, many can be found on their website. It is no surprise, therefore, that the E5 bicycle-delivery-service has to pedal further and faster each day, spreading its range of excellent sourdough loaves to an ever increasing number of outlets. No wonder the queue for fresh bread stretches so far each morning, lured in by the smell fresh baking and the tang of sourdough.

And there are few better ways to while away a weekend (or weekday) morning than breakfasting in the small rough-and-ready café at the front of the bakery - or even sunning yourself on the pavement outside on a good day.  So alongside sleek i-pads or laptops are chunky slabs of toast (made from the fresh bread that steadily emerges from the ovens) slathered with home made jam - try a slice of their signature loaf, the Hackney Wild; alternatively, go for healthy bowls of muesli or granola.
Meanwhile, the bakery, which has been busy since the early hours, continues to bustle along behind the counter, hand-crafting artisan sourdough loaves from locally sourced and organic ingredients to feed the long line of bread lovers waiting patiently to be served.