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.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Stock Ruined


Just woke up to find I'd left what would have been a great stock boiling all night. Now it is a burnt mess.

Moral: Check that your cooker is off before you go to bed.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Preserved Duck - Confit

My recent delve into stews and soups began with an experiment into something I have come back to in the last week (in the form of dried and preserved fruit) - Preserving.
I hadn't come across Duck Confit and sort of stumbled upon it one day. I had discovered that Lidl and Farmfoods were selling frozen duck for a fiver and was looking for an excuse to buy one. I had also been reading "Floyd on France" and had come across a recipe for "Preserved Goose". It involes frying goose in its own fat and canning the pieces within the fat. I thought "Duck's pretty fatty, I reckon it might work".

I wasn't sure whether defrosting a duck then cooking it and preserving it, to possibly keep for a long time would be safe. Defrosted food, especially poultry, can be dodgy and I didn't want to do anything that would be likely to produce anarchic bacteria. A bit of research and questioning my local butcher revealed that it shouldn't be a problem. Properly cooked, the bacteria would all be killed. It seems pretty obvious, and I know I knew it before, but I've been brought up always to be wary of defrosted food.


I defrosted the duck in the fridge (which took double the two days the wrapping indicated) and jointed it.

I then put a thick layer of salt in a baking tin, then a layer of duck pieces, then a layer of salt and so on until the salt completely encased the duck.
The tin I used was really too narrow, there was about three layers of duck, so the liquid drawn out sunk to the bottom. This meant the lower layers had less liquid drawn out of them than the top layers.
Also, I was using table salt, a much finer ground salt, which made the duck a saltier than it would have been had I used, what the americans call, kosher salt, a bigger grain.

After two days in the fridge I washed off the salt, dried the pieces and fried them until cooked in the duck fat.
Then came the canning.

I had never canned anything before and I'm pretty sure I didn't do it properly. It turns out that duck confit can keep in its own fat for up to six months anyway so this wasn't a big problem.
I won't go into it here, I'll learn how to can things properly and write up my findings.

Basically I took some jars, put a leg and a wing in two of them, sliced the breast into pieces and put these into two others. I then poured the hot duck fat over them. There wasn't enough fat so I got a tub of dripping from the butchers, as they didn't have the pig fat that Floyd recommended.

This duck has been the basis of some amazing meals, from chunky stews to a great addition to eggs benedict. The fat is can be used to fry anything, giving sauces an amazing other level. I have only one little jar left.

I have a rather crazy recipe for a duck confit stew that I wrote for my sister which I will type up and post here.

I heartily recommend making duck confit as having it in the fridge makes you really look forward to cooking when you come home after a day of work. As part of a breakfast it puts a smile on your face when you remember it through the day.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Lashings of Cream

I looked at the title of this Mixology Monday (MixMo XXXII - "Guilty Pleasures") and thought “well none of the cocktails I like are really that bad for you”. I'm not a fan of really sugary, sweet drinks, not being one of the army of orange tanned, pink clad girls who say:

“Aye? I dinnae ken whit a Sidecar iz. Ah' like them cocktails though, sweet yins that ye' cannae taste the alcohol in.”

(Translation for non-Scots: “Yes? I don't know what a Sidecar is. However I like cocktails, the sweet ones in which you can't taste the alcohol”)

But a guilty pleasure doesn't have to be sugar fuelled, although I can hardly say I don't have a sweet tooth (I eat brown sugar cubes for goodness sake! - there's a guilty pleasure for you). What will it be? Piles of E numbers? Tubs of fat? Buckets of alcohol? What do I drink that people keep telling me is bad for me?

Nothing really.

I have the view that “if you don't want to get fat then just do more exercise and eat what you want” - food is far too important and should be celebrated. Why eat crap that makes you miserable? My peers and family know my views, I'm pretty outspoken, so they don't warn me of the “bad stuff” I eat or drink - they just want a quiet life.

The main fact is: I don't feel guilty by what I consume. Life's too short.

Of course, it goes without saying: everything in moderation... but things lose some of their pleasure if you have them too much, so as long as you stop when you don't want it any more then it should be self-regulating.

With all that in mind though, I will have to choose a drink and I've come up with a corker:

The White Russian

I discovered the Caucasian, as many others before, from the film The Big Lebowski. Immediately after the film I rushed out and bought some cream.

4 parts Vodka (I have no preference to the type)

2 parts Kaluha

3 parts Cream

Build over ice in a rocks glass

It was great. Not too sweet. Dark. So creamy that it enveloped the cockles of your heart (not just warming them). Enough of an alcohol edge that you didn't gulp it down.

I finished it and.... no I shouldn't have another one. Okay I won't. One's enough...... but.. I've got all of that cream, and I'm not going to use it for anything else, and it's not as if the drink is hugely alcoholic.... okay then... one more.

And that is why I've chosen the White Russian as my guilty pleasure. Most drinks you can make up out of a well stocked cocktail cupboard at any time. If you decide to make a Caucasian... you're going to need cream. And there's no point getting one of the piddly little tubs, they cost almost as much as a pint. If you don't drink it, the cream'll go off. So you might as well just have another one.

I'm not complaining.

{image from}

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Peasant Food

In my cooking I tend to get very interested in one area or world cuisine, say sushi, pasta, french, czech, mushrooms, and just learn as much as I can about it, cook as much as I can within that area until I get interested in something else and go off and do that for a while.
Having decided I needed a new interest, and coupled with the general "credit crunch" feeling (hmm.. I wonder how easy it is to make cereal - "Credit Crunch" might be an idea) I have recently been delving into what I've loosely termed "Peasant Food".
By this I mean stews, pies, soups, etc. The stuff you can make cheaply for lots of people, usually the warming winter food.. but let's face it - it's basically winter now, and has been since June.
I'll be posting up the recipes for the dishes I've been making, including duck confit stew, mince and potato pies, ham and cabbage soup. It's turning out to be an interesting adventure - I can't believe I've spent so long learning "fiddly" dishes and not explored these fundamental "hearty" meals.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Cabana Cachaca

This time on Monday I was in London for a cocktail competition to promote Cabana Cachaca. It was held in the Floridita. An interesting atmosphere change from the one I did in September up in Edinburgh (I don't know why I'm saying "up", I'm here all the time) in that it seemed to be more about image and the pazazz (sp?) of the presentation, than of the drinks themselves.. although there were 40 odd entrants so I imagine that they start to blur into each other a bit. I didn't mind it really (being at home in a, .. well .. acting essentially, environment).
Anyway. Here's my two drinks. The usual setup: One twist on a classic and one "contemporary" (although by contemporary I don't mean as in dance - "My drink is an empty coconut shell, to reflect the inner turmoil of an unenlightened being" :> )

Drink 1: A Burst of Passion.
(Recipe is for 2 drinks and measures in 25ml)
2 measures Cabana Cachaca
1 measure Gomme
1/2 measure Lemon Juice
Flesh and seeds of 4 passion fruits

Method: Shake vigorously and double strain into glasses.
Glass: Sours glasses
Garnish: None

It's a "Three twist drink".
1- A twist on a sour (usually just spirit, gomme and lemon juice).
2- A twist on a Batitda (see Batida de maracuja). Batitas are made with a variety of different fruit juices, as well as coconut milk and condensed milk.
3- A twist on a passion fruit: The experience of crunching down on passion fruit seeds is much like a sour should be - The sour hit of the seeds complimented by the sweetness of the flesh. My analogy of a good sour (a really good sour, and I'm not saying this one fits that description, as it just doesn't have enough kick) is that it should slap you, apologise and then give you a kiss that leaves you wanting another sip. Those being the sour hit, the refreshing middle and the sweet curl as you swallow.

This one went down pretty well, although it could have been less sweet I think. I may try grinding up some seeds to see if they add to the kick at all.

Drink 2: Cabana Cachaca Cashew
(Recipe is also for 2 drinks and measures are still in 25ml)
3 measures Cabana Cachaca
3 measures sweetened coconut milk (2/3 coconut milk, 1/3 gomme)
1 measure Franglelico
2/3 of a cup whole cashew nuts ground to a paste.

Method: Shake the nut paste and coconut milk with some ice, to make it easier to blend. Then blend this along with everything else and strain over crushed ice.
Glass: Rocks glasses
Garnish: Cashew nuts and chocolate powder. I had been wanting to use grated hazelnut instead of chocolate, but it turns out that they are not brown inside, so asthetically wasn't as pleasing.

The inspiration for this came from a traditional way of drinking cachaca called a Caju Amigo (Friendly Cashew) (this is also mentioned on this page). The way this is done is to take a cachew nut, chew it and take a shot of cachaca. I wanted to make a drink that used this interesting flavour match. Now, there is a recipe for a Batida that uses cachew juice, and I didn't know about this at time of competition. I'll try and get my hands on some cachew juice (I've now idea how one juices a cachew - research time I think!) and see how similar it is to my drink. It's a great drink though, one of my favourites at the moment, and a really good one for a caipirinha party as it is creamy and so contrasts with the lime acidity of the caipirinhas.

Anyway, Competition was much fun and met loads of great people - I network like a maniac after a couple of drinks!


Saturday, 1 March 2008

Synchronicity and Ketchup

  Isn't it odd how people come up with the same things at the same time. I have been wanting to do a dish with a sweet, tomato ketchup style sauce for ages . 
  I made the dish (I'll post it soon, honest, I've just forgotten to bring my camera with the photos on it on the trip I am on) and had some of the tomatoes left over. I also had a mango, that was quickly going off, and some strawberries (both also left over from the dish). Seeing as the sauce for the dish had turned out so well, yesterday I decided to use up these ingredients making a tomato, mango and strawberry ketchup.
  The recipe was derived from the recipe in "In Search of Perfection" (by Heston Blumenthal) for a strong tomato ketchup which he uses for his hamburger. 

Loose Recipe: 
  Take some ripe tomatoes (I used plum and cherry) and chop them up roughly. Simmer them in a pan until they are soft. Push through a sieve into another pan. 
  Take the flesh of a ripe mango and do the same (sieving into the same pan as the tomato). 
  Do the same for the strawberries.
  Simmer this melange of fine fruit pulp until the consistency of ketchup. 
  Add salt and vinegar to taste (you might not need vinegar... you might not even need salt.. it's up to you).

  My ketchup turned out really well.
  Here's the strange thing, as I was simmering the sauce I went into my living room and caught the end of Jamie Oliver's show... He Was Making Ketchup!! ... Isn't that a coincidence!
  I just checked my rss reader for the first time today and saw this from Ideas in Food: Home Made Ketcup. Now I may have just watched Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure too many times, but this all seems very coincidental to me.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Some Butchered Binoculars, A new grape and a Macro Camera

This was my wine last night. A very nice Rhone Valley wine made from the Tannat grape, a little used grape found in France and Uruguay wine making I'm told. I was recommended it as a one step sideways from my usual 'big' Aussie shirazs, while still being in the realm of the bold and fruity. It was lovely and full of buttery blackcurrant, I spent double the time drinking it just smelling it. Accompanying it was a Chaplin film (my dad is currently into the Chaplin collection), although I forget which one - it was about factory work and criminality, a bit disjointed and without much conclusion but enjoyable nonetheless.
[Chateau d'Aydie, Madiran - between £8 and £9 in Nicolas]

As you can see from my picture above the quality of my new digital camera at close range is not great (even though it is a 7 megapixel and supposedly has a macro function). I was wondering over this and thinking I may have to take it back to argos (it was only around £50 but seeing as I got it for blogging I really need it to be able to do macro). Ever the engineer I decided I would give modifying it a go before resorting to such drastic measures as searching for the receipt, and what a success!

Here is a photo of some saffron before my modifications:

As you can see the saffron, which I am trying to take the photo of, is completely blurred but the stuff in the background is in focus. This is the cameras 'macro' setting.

Here is a photo (taken on the camera of my eepc) of my modified camera along with the pair of binoculars that I had to rip apart to get a lens - it started with me trying to do it without breaking anything but in the end I had to split some plastic. Now I have an awkwardly shaped telescope.

The lens is stuck on with electrical tape which I have stuck double thickness, sticky bit to sticky bit, and then attached to the camera with blu-tak, so that I don't get the sticky stuff from the tape on the camera permenantly.

Anyway, importantly here is the resulting photograph. I am very impressed how much clearer it is than before (even though I didn't do it with very great lighting):

All in all, a success, and definitely worth breaking my binoculars which, lets face it, were very cheap from a market in Palafrugel, Spain, several years ago and which I've only ever used twice.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Cape Grace - Chardonnay Semillon

Here's my wine for tonight (I realise that the last post was also posted tonight, it was in fact started on saturday but I only finished it today). It is a Cape Grace Chardonnay - Semillon from South Africa.. and Somerfield, again. It is pretty drinkable, but not overwhelmingly full of flavour. In fact, I couldn't name a flavour at all at first drink. I checked the online reviews (I always feel like I'm cheating or something doing this, but my flat mates aren't exactly into tasting what they consume, at least not enough to be bothered to try and describe it, so it's the closest I've got to having someone to bounce ideas off) and it was described as a pear tasting wine. I'm sorry I just couldn't taste it.

That is, I couldn't taste it until I had had a mouthful of my meal (thyme rainbow trout with rosemary new potato mash). The slurp I had after this was full of fruit , especially pear, flavours. I'm back to drinking it sans food now and, though it's drinkable, there's nothing much going on again. How interesting!

This wine is obviously one that is great with food, but on it's own lacks much punch. I continue to learn, and be utterly amazed.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Terra Organica - Bonarda Sangiovese

I had a really interesting wine the other day. It was interesting because it made me change the way I thought about wine. This happens every few wines I drink at the moment, as I have decided that I don't know enough about wine (although I know a fair bit about cocktails and spirits) so am very early on in my learning 'adventure'. In fact I had a couple of really interesting white wines today as well, but I'll mention that later.

It was a Bonarda Sangiovese from Argentina.. and somerfield. I had decided I would go above the usual £5-7 mark but then this one caught my eye (at a fiver I think) and so I thought, what the hell, I know nothing about either of these grapes.

First taste and I thought, hmm this is interesting - it's not got much of an obviously apparent taste, but it is very drinkable. I couldn't put a name to any of the tastes I was experiencing so I had to look the wine up. I looked up Sangiovese in the Matt Skinner book, as it didn't have bonarda. He described it as earthy, which I could agree with, but it isn't a flavour you can grab hold. Let me explain that until now I have been a fan of really big, fruity wines - my favourite being big Australian Shirazs.

I looked up this particular wine on the web and discovered a great site called love wine which allows me to look up the particular wines in my local supermarket. It described it as a having cherry flavours, which I can accept but wouldn't jump to automatically, but more importantly said that it was great with something like a steak, as it cut through the fats. This I could see as completely true, of course that was what this wine was for, how could I have not seen it before?

So my revelation, sort of, was that different wines can be like completely different drinks. I wouldn't make the same cocktail to sit and drink on its own than I would make to say, accompany a steak, or a salad or whatever. Wine is like this too and so now, after this one wine, I have started to look at the wines I drink as completely different drinks, as opposed to in contrast to each other.


P.S. The whites that I mentioned at the start of this post were two very fruity (one overwhelmingly strawberry and the other peachy), not sweet but very well balanced ones that I tried while watching the sun set across the Firth of Forth (as always, setting is at least half of the experience). This experience made me stop thinking of white wine as something that I had tried but just didn't see the attraction and start thinking of it as a drink as complex and interesting taste wise as red wine.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

TGRWT #9 - Well.... this is fun!

Well, this flavour pairing thing is interesting isn't it!

I apologise profusely, before I get started, for the terrible photography in this post. I'm an avid fan of film photography over digital, but since 15 films of photos (of an unrepeatable extended family get together) were lost in the post I've been kind of reluctant to pick up my camera. I think I'll have to give in and get a digital one. Basically, these photos have been taken by the webcam on my eeepc, so absolutely no macro whatsoever. Anyway...

It was pancake day on tuesday. I started making a pancake for breakfast and had just put some saffron in, just to see how it would go (I've yet to be totally convinced by it) and then remembered the parmesan and chocolate/cocoa foodmatch.. so I shoved in some chocolate and then shaved some parmesan onto the finished pancake. Disgusting!... but it made me wonder.

Here's the finished product, and a sort of recipe, after which are musings on what I can improve - as this is by no means a finished recipe, more an idea to expand on.

Chocolate Pancakes/Blinis
1 medium egg
10g chocolate powder
50g plain chocolate -melted
Whisk egg, chocolate and powder. Add flour until a thick paste then add milk until the consistency of chocolate ice cream sauce... if you know what I mean.

Parmesan & White chocolate Sauce
Finely ground parmesan
50g white chocolate
vegetable oil

Melt chocolate and add parmesan and pepper. Thin with vegetable oil until a "saucy" consistency

The chocolate pancakes worked out pretty well, in fact I will probably use them next time I need an interesting savoury blini thing - would be a great idea for an interesting canapee. The sauce itself demonstrated how well parmesan and chocolate go well together, which was interesting as white chocolate seems sweeter than others so I thought that it would be more difficult to go put together with cheese.

Here are my notes for possible improvement:

I used chicken boiled in apple juice - an idea that, sadly, didn't really have much effect on the chicken - for my meat. I was really looking for something more interesting but just couldn't think of anything. I will of course keep experimenting with this dish idea, as it definitely has promise, I just wanted to get this post out within a crows spit of pancake day (as it was there that the idea occured).

The flavours are very delicate and really I would like a way of beefing them up. I could have used a lot more parmesan than I did and more salt in both the sauce and the pancakes. The big problem is that while I can beef up the sauce by adding more parmesan and pepper this then makes the pancakes almost unnoticeable.

Another problem is that the sauce is grainy. I started by using grated parmesan, which was far to grainy. This time I grated then finely ground the parmesan.. however it was still too grainy. I will have a look around the other blogs and see how they got around this.

Anyway, I've rambled on for far too long. Any suggestions then leave me a comment.