Sunday, 30 August 2009

TGRWT #18 - Plum and Blue Cheese

This month's TGRWT hosted at Aiden Brooks: Trainee Chef seemed, to me, like a winner from the off. Something about the creamy strength of a blue cheese and the relatively quiet flavour, but great refreshing burst from the bite of a plum made Blue Cheese and Plum as good a pairing, in my mind, a .. well, cheese and grapes.
The biggest challenge that I've had this month has been living (temporarily) in a studio flat with a kitchen obviously designed for people who never cook - it has a microwave and one of these terrible halogen style hobs.
Perhaps, in the circumstances, it was a little overambitious to try a recipe with set custard and puff pastry, but I've been waiting for an excuse to try my hand at puff pastry making and the dessert competition element was such an excuse, and I like a challenge (I have also, pretty succesfully, been "baking" bread in the microwave).

Blue Cheese pastry with a Plum Custard shell

To flavour the puff pastry I took a Heston Blumenthal method of cutting slices of butter and blue cheese (a Danish Blue) and layering them, then I left them in the fridge for almost a week while I finally got around to carrying on with recipe (I meant to leave them for a day).
I made a dough with some flour, salt and water, kneading a fair bit to get some good gluten bonds, then folded it around the butter. I rolled this out and put in the fridge. Then folded and rolled and in the fridge, and so on until I'd done this... I forget how many times.

To cook I rolled thin and flat strips of pastry and then put in the microwave on high for anything from 1 to 3 minutes (took a lot of experimenting). The flavour of the cheese just wasn't enough from the flavoured butter, despite the extra time they'd had together, so sprinkled some cheese between two strips of pastry and rolled out. This made really tasty blue cheese puff pastry sticks(and surprisingly crunchy for having been made in the microwave).

To make the set custard I made up a usual custard recipe (Egg yolks, sugar and cream) and put them in the microwave for about 2 minutes on high. I cut up and reduced the plums into a thick syrup with some sugar and mixed this into the custard, then cooked on medium for a further 10 minutes or so, until it was looking like it would be set soon. Then took it out of the microwave to continue its cooking on its own (as seems to be the method with microwave cooking). Then put it in the fridge to set more (and, in the case of one of my bowls of custard, accumulate some of the smells from its neighbours on the shelf, not very pleasant).

I formed the, now cold, custard into an egg shape and wrapped around the pastry stick. Then I added some slices of plum which I'd added towards the end of the cooking of the plum syrup.
A smattering of very bitter chocolate finished it off.

I would definitely like to explore this recipe at the helm of a real kitchen, rather than the paddling with one broken oar style of cooking that I've been reduced to in this one (although it has enlightened me to some of the subtleties of microwave cooking that I'd not been aware of - such as very well broken down collagen in long cooked stews, anyway I digress).
As you can see from the photos one problem that I had (as I see Erik from fooducation also had) was that the dairy in the custard and the acid from the plums caused slight curdling, which doesn't look very nice.
The main plum flavour came from the slices which I placed on top, and not from the custard which tasted very much of custard (the plum flavour not being strong enough to break through) . With the bitterness of the chocolate, sweetness of the custard, tartness of the plum and saltiness of the cheese this is certainly a good mix, and I think that all of the flavours could be beefed up a bit, so as to rise above the custard taste (which should not have been the star player) and make it a well balanced pudding (dessert). I think that dried or candied plum blended into the custard might get rid of the curdling problem and also add a stronger flavour.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

TGRWT #17: Rose and Apple Hot Honey Toddy.

This month is National Whisky Month in Scotland. It has also the middle of National Honey Week this week. Naturally I decided to try and celebrate these two events by smooshing them into this month's TGRWT: Apple and Rose.
I've not done a cocktail in a while so I decided that rather than making more ice-cream (which I imagine would work well), having still not finished all the Chicken and Rose from last TGRWT, I would celebrate whisky month with a good old fashioned Scottish Cocktail: The Hot Toddy.

A Hot Toddy, for those who don't know, is a mixture of honey, whisky, hot water and lemon. It's great for cold nights, sore throats and flu (even swine flu). It's also just a cracking drink.

I couldn't afford a decent whisky or some proper heather honey this week, although I think that they would make a huge improvement to the drink. I ended up with Scotmid's own blend whisky (which is not all that bad really) and a Chilean honey, which has a nice taste of honeysuckle flowers but doesn't really enter into the spirit of a British Honey Week.
If you have some homemade apple juice I'm sure that will make a better drink too.

Here's the drink I made:

Rose and Apple Hot Honey Toddy.

Heat up enough apple juice to fill your mug.
Take off the heat and put in a handfull of dried rose petals.
Leave for 3 or 4 minutes and strain.
Stir in a couple of teaspoons of honey (to taste).
Add a generous slug of whisky (Scotch thankyou very much)
Taste and add some rose water if you think it needs it.


This really is quite a posh version of a very un-posh drink but it tastes great. As I've said some better ingredients would lift it up to being an exceptional drink (the version I made was more a proof-of-concept as much as anything else, but a very enjoyable one).
The balance of rose is quite a delicate thing so be slow with the amount of rose water you add. If you put the petals in when the apple juice is still over the heat they can go a bit mushy.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

TGRWT #16 - Chicken and Rose Ice Cream

This dish has brought many an eyebrow raise among those who I've mentioned it to. It's probably the strangest thing I've ever made. No, tell a lie, when I was a child I decided I wanted to make a pudding/dessert with cheese. So I asked my mum what went well with cheese. She said to check the cupboard and to ask her if I wasn't sure something would work. So I went away and came back.
"Do dates go with cheese?" "Ah, yes I suppose they would."
Came back later.
"How about raisins, do they go with cheese" "Yes, they do"
"Does Ragu sauce go with cheese" "Yes of course"
So I layered them all on top of each other: cheese, dates, cheese, raisins, cheese, cheese and ragu sauce, then baked it in the oven. My mum's reaction was "Well it's certainly not a pudding".
Maybe all the ingredients did go with cheese, but perhaps not with each other, or in that way.

Does rose go with ice cream? Yes, very much so: turkish delight and ice cream - a perfect match.
Does rose go with chicken? Well that's what we're trying to find out in this month's TGRWT.
Does chicken go with ice cream? Well, in my mind why not? And look the Japanese have tried it, amongst other strange things like eel ice cream.... and David Lebowitz has just made some bacon ice cream - and he must know what he's doing, he's an expert.

So, gung ho I jumped into my first bash at making ice cream. Here's the resultant recipe:

Rose Ice Cream (adapted from Geoff Lindsey's recipe)
250ml milk
15g dried rose petals
125g caster sugar

4 egg yolks 68g

250ml cream (35% butterfat)

50ml rosewater

Bring the milk and half the sugar to the boil. Pour slowlyish onto the egg yolks in a bowl with the rest of the sugar, whisking constantly. Put back on heat to thicken into a custard. Strain into a bowl (metal) over an ice bath and stir while it cools. Whisk in the rest of the cream and the rose water and churn in an ice cream maker (I was all set to make mine in the freezer but then I found one of these for a tenner in a charity shop - strange coincidence). Put in the rose petals just before you stop the churning and then put in the freezer.

[NOTE: This isn't exactly the recipe I used, I didn't have any cream at this point so tried to make some with some xanthan gum and milk. This worked okay, but the ice cream sets very hard and then melts quickly when removed from freezer (as opposed to the chicken ice cream which behaves properly). I suppose the clue is in the name: you've gotta have Cream in iceCream]

Chicken Ice Cream (adapted from David Lebowitz's - bacon ice cream recipe

For the caramelised chicken:
500g of small, tasty chicken legs
(i.e. not pumped full of water from a supermarket, you'll be drying them out so it'd take ages)
Lots of brown sugar.

For the ice cream custard:
3 tablespoons (45g) salted butter
¾ cup (packed) brown sugar (170g), light or dark (you can use either)
2¾ (675ml) cup half-and-half
5 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons dark rum or whiskey
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Cover the chicken legs in sugar and put under a medium hot grill/broiler. Basically just add more sugar every so often and turn. After a while it'll look like they're over cooked. Take them out of the grill and pull off the bone. Pull the meat apart (don't cut) into the thinnest amount possible and then charge up with more sugar and put back in the grill. The skin will cook quickest so you might want to take it out before it burns. Keep adding the sugar. At the end you'll end up with a load of chewy, really sweet chicken. This is really tasty, but don't eat it all. Cut it into tiny wee chunks and put in the fridge.

Make the ice cream as with the rose, adding the vanilla and rum (I used calvados as it's all I had) at the point where you added the rose water. Stir in the chicken where you stirred in the rose petals.

Make some little oblong moulds the size of the cross section of your ice cream tub. Alternate the chicken and the rose ice creams along your tub by first getting the shape with the mould and then turning out into the tub (you might need to use cling film to stop it sticking).

The world seems to be divided on whether this dish works or not. For example: My flatmates and I really like it; My sister thinks it may be almost as bad as garlic soup (the only food she doesn't like). The average seems to be "Hmmm, wellll......".
The taste begins with the rose ice cream, which is a very strong flavour. The chicken ice cream itself does not have a strong taste in comparison to this and so the caramelised chicken is only really noticable when most of the other ice cream has melted leaving you with a nugget of caramel and chickenyness.
This seems to be the main point of divide: some people look forward to this slow morph from very perfumy to vaguely savoury - it certainly makes you want another bite (if only to get you back to a puddingy taste). Others think that chicken just shouldn't be in ice cream.
One thing great that did come out of this (as there has been no definitive decision as to whether the dish is great) was heavily caramelised chicken skin. I used some of this to make into sprinkles and they work amazingly. There isn't the lagging chewyness of the flesh and the flavour is full of that which makes the bits of chicken go well with the rose (and it does, but I can't tell you exactly how, just something about it). Next time I may incorporate some of this skin earlier on in the recipe (when thickening the custard maybe), so it is strained and the flavour is there, but you're not left chewing chicken - which, as I've said some people like and some don't.
Next time I will also make the rose ice cream less rosy, and out of cream not just milk.

Friday, 27 February 2009

TGRWT #15 - Spinach and Aubergine Salad with Dark Chocolate and Smoked Salmon Dressing

As always several strands of ideas, inspirations and events converged to form my dish for this month's TGRWT: The pairing, Dark Chocolate and Smoked Salmon, brought the flavour. Jacob at Free Culinary School's "homework" (construct a salad and accompanying dressing) brought the form and a pending romantic dinner, for which I had next to no time to prepare, the setting.
The result was a light, quick and very interesting dish that I am sure I will use again and again: Spinach and Aubergine salad with Dark Chocolate and Smoked Salmon dressing.

Here's the recipe(I haven't added amounts and will leave it up to your tastebuds):
  • Groundnut (or other fairly neutral) Oil
  • Red wine vinegar (white would probably do)
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Chocolate Extract
  • Melted Dark Chocolate
  • Chilli Powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lemon Juice

Mix the oil and vinegar in your favourite ratio. Then add melted chocolate – cool it down with some of your oil to stop it cooking the salmon and keep it it liquid. Chop up the salmon really small (so it doesn't get stuck in the top of your squeezy bottle). Add a splash of chocolate extract. Have a look here for some interesting stuff on chocolate extract - I found mine in Waitrose if you're looking for some.

Add a touch of chilli powder, enough that the dressing nips the back of your tongue for only a moment. Add salt, pepper and a bit of lemon juice to taste.

Shake up, done.


  • Baby Spinach leaves - thickly shredded
  • Thinly shredded endive/chickory
  • Thin batons of aubergine
  • Melted Chocolate
  • Chopped Smoked salmon
  • Groundnut oil
Take half the aubergine and marinade in a mix of chocolate and oil. Marinade the other half in a mix of smoked salmon and oil. Just before serving, quickly fry in their respective marinades and sprinkle into salad of mostly spinach, with a little endive to add bitterness. The salmon aubergine can be cooked for longer than the chocolate (which will burn pretty fast) and the longer you do the more chewy the little bits of salmon that will jump out at you from the salad occasionally - chewy is good.

I served this salad with some lightly squashed new potatoes and grilled salmon. This is a cracking combination and the salad surprises you all the way through eating, as refreshing spinach crunch turns into a nip of chilli which falls away to intriguing tasty chocolate and creamy smoked salmon. The bursts of aubergine are a delight and and leaves you wanting eat it all over. It's a light meal, so you might even manage another one. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Dehydration Day: Drying for Dummies: TGRWT #11

And with that shameless flexing of my alliteration muscle we're into the eleventh, and my second, They Go Really Well Together.

It was a culmination of a lot of different, erratic thought strands that led me, on hearing the topic for this month's TGRWT, to immediately think Clove Dried Banana!!

Largely it's because I've “had preserving on the brain recently” (sounds vaguely Ancient Egyptian doesn't it?) that drying seemed the obvious choice. Also, Lidl just had a huge half price sale of fruit. I had bought some dried pineapple and mango from a real foods shop and thought “This is great but it's way too expensive. An apple is, what, 20p? and for what must be one apples worth of dried slices it costs over £1. Surely I can do it cheaper.” This is the motivation for a lot of my culinary exploits at the moment.

I dried apples, mango, kiwi, banana and orange. It's a really simple way to keep fruit and really useful for a new set of zangy flavours to play with .

Here they are:

Now. The bananas. I had a decision to make before drying. Would I:

(a) Stick the cloves into the banana first, leave it to absorb the flavour and then cut into slices?

(b) Cut the banana into slices then stick in cloves?

(c) Grind up the cloves and sprinkle on the slices?


[A] Skin on? For apples, kiwi and orange, skin on was fine. Orange skin produces a very strong flavour but it is traditional to leave it on. I tried skin off oranges a bit but cut them too thick and they never dried properly – I'll have to explore further.

[B] Skin off? Mango skin produces a far too bitter flavour and so needs to be removed. Would it be the same for banana?

I prepared the following combinations:

  1. (a)[A] - I stuck some cloves in a banana and left for a couple of days in the fridge to absorb the flavour then dried the slices skin on.

  2. (b)[B] - Cut the slices, skin off, and stuck in the cloves for drying.

  3. (c)[A] - Cut the slices, skin on, and sprinkled fine clove powder on them.

  4. (c)[B] - Cut the slices, skin off, and sprinkled fine clove powder on them.

The actual drying process is just a matter of putting all your slices on racks in an oven at a very low temperature, with the door slightly open to aid air circulation, and leaving it for ages. I kept mine at around 40 degrees C, and checked by keeping a cup of water in it and taking its temperature every so often.

I don't know how long it took, as I stopped and started the drying several times, for others to use the oven and also to go to bed – restarting the drying when it was available again, or I was awake again. Despite this the dried fruit still dried properly, with no spoilage, apart from the skin off oranges which, as I said, were too thick anyway. If the fruit isn't too wet before you turn it off then you can restart it without worrying.

How did they taste?

1. Despite being in the fridge for three days, as opposed to the one day I had intended, the cloves had very little effect on these slices. The skin flavour is strong but not unpleasant. This wasn't a remarkable combination.

2. This is a great way to dry the slices. I was surprised how much flavour got into the bananas, considering I had only stuck the cloves in moments before drying. You have to pick out the cloves before you eat the slice or you'll just get a whack of clove. A really good snack to eat on its own, probably not a strong enough all round taste for most culinary uses though.

3. and 4. These should be discussed together, as they are essentially the same. This is probably the best combination as the clove taste is strong enough, also you can adjust this by sprinkling more or less ground clove on the slices. The skin on/off difference is really a matter of what you're using them for: to eat as a snack skin off is more balanced but for cooking (I use them a lot mixed in with porridge) the skin on gives a more prominent flavour.

I would suggest not drying out the banana too much, although I've never been a big fan of those crunchy slices you get in breakfast cereal. Stopping the drying when there's still a bit of stickiness in the middle of each slice leaves them nice and chewy but not too tough.

Dish ideas

I was meaning to make a banana split out of these with ground dried banana on top of it. I haven't gotten around to this yet. They can pretty much be used to add bursts of flavour or texture to anything. Homemade banana ice cream with chunks? Or toffee ice cream to make an overall banoffee flavour. I have even cut these up and stuck bits into a fresh banana, just to get some interesting chunks of chewiness to break up the usual monotonous squishy texture.

If you are drying stuff I highly recommend thin slices of dried kiwi. They are amazing.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Halloween Molecular

Well. I've taken my first stab at, what I call, "the poncy bit" of molecular mixology - turning stuff into foams and gels. Here's my halloween cocktail (made with rum, lemonade, caramel/blue curacao syrup. Making the sugar into caramel before adding the water to my syrup was a stroke of genius and made what was going to be a sweet, tasteless cocktail, abeit pretty, into something a bit more multi layered (tastewise). The poncy bit is the orbs, which are just orange and blackcurrant juice which i've spherificated (is that a word? oh well the whole field is full of made up words, why not add a new one) with agar.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Banana Octopus

What would you do with some leftover pastry?

I had some shortcrust pastry left over from a batch of chicken, onion and mushroom pasties. I also had a mushy banana that needed using. Hence:

Banana Octopus!!

Here it is:

and after I went a bit crazy with The Gimp:

Sure he's a bit burnt, but at least it means he's got real eyes.

He went really well with the homemade marmalade I made last night.