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.