Thursday, 17 April 2014

Storing egg yolks - a handy hint

Egg yolk in water
Here's one for the "you learn something new every day" file - at least, I hope I am not the last person to find this out. You can store egg yolks for a couple of days in a bit of water. Did you know that?

I was making something that needed an egg white but I didn't have a reason to use up the yolk. Separated egg whites keep quite well in the fridge but the yolks dry out and go rubbery. I googled, and came across this post, which had the half-hearted suggestion "you can probably keep the yolks whole in the water if you are careful". Well, I can be careful.

I separated my egg, being careful not to break the yolk, and slipped it gently into a ramekin half full of cold water. I covered it in cling film and popped it in the fridge. A couple of days later I was having an omelette for lunch so I gently fished the yolk out of the water to add to the other beaten eggs. It was in absolutely perfect condition - not at all dried out. I have tried this a second time, using milk instead of water because I was going to be putting the yolk in a custard, and again it worked brilliantly.

So there you go - pretty nifty, huh?

Two days later

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Ben & Jerry's Greek Style Frozen Yoghurt

I had such a good time at the launch of the Ben & Jerry's Core flavours last year that I jumped at the chance to go to another one of their events. This one was the launch of three flavours of frozen yoghurt made with Greek-style yoghurt.

This time I confess I was a little apprehensive. It was being held in a Greek restaurant in Covent Garden which gets quite negative reviews, and while I love Greek food (garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, what's not to love?) and love frozen yoghurt I did fear that crappy food would mar the experience.

However, I engineered things in my favour by arranging to meet a friend for a drink beforehand, thus ensuring that whatever else happened it wasn't a waste of tube fare. It was pretty tempting to stay drinking rosé in a quiet bar, but I did tear myself away at the appropriate time.

My heart sank as the waitress who greeted me in the restaurant stared blankly at me. Fortunately, a better-informed member of staff overheard and led me downstairs where, he said, "everyone" was waiting for me. Everyone turned out to be a small number of bloggers (several more trickled in after me) and several bottles of prosecco. The prosecco was very pleased to see me.

Generally I think the fact that we were in a windowless room that I suspect is usually used to store extra chairs put a bit of a damper on things. Certainly the atmosphere was a bit subdued.

But then the food started to come out and a bit of perkiness was restored. The food was very, very good! Some of the best tiropitakia I've had (lovely chilli kick), delicious fried halloumi, succulent meatball/kefte sort of patties and lots of good-looking (but unwieldy, so I didn't try it) aubergine.

I muscled my way into a very pleasant conversation with Dom from Cocoa Runners and Judith from Mostly About Chocolate and started to enjoy myself.

The buzz of nervous PRs gave the first indication that something had gone slightly wrong with the actual frozen yoghurt tasting. When the bowls came out it was clear what the problem was - the fro-yo wasn't fro, it was really just yo. The freezer wasn't working.

Still, it gave me enough of an idea of the flavours that I had a look online when I got home and discovered that Ocado had the Greek-style yoghurts half price. I popped two of the flavours in my shopping and prepared to do some independent "research".

Greek Strawberry Shortcake (Greek-style yoghurt, strawberries & shortcake chunks): strawberry ice cream is generally my favourite, and the Ben & Jerry strawberry cheesecake ice cream is a favourite among strawberries so I was very interested to see how this compared. This has a good, fruity flavour and subtle yoghurty tang. Unfortunately the tub I bought had too high a proportion of fairly bland shortcake pieces, although I suspect that varies a bit from tub to tub. It's a bit lower in calories than the strawberry cheesecake (190/100g instead of 250/100g) and has half the fat, so it is a slightly healthier option if you are keeping an eye on those things. I'm not sure that it is enough of a healthier option to displace the strawberry cheesecake in my affections though.

Greek Vanilla Honey Caramel (Greek-style yoghurt, vanilla & a honey caramel swirl): this looked to me like a direct competitor to the Yeo Valley organic Greek-style honey frozen yoghurt, which I really like, but I think the caramel swirl gives this one the edge (the Yeo Valley one is slightly lower in calories and fat). It has a lovely creamy texture and a bit of a tang.

Overall, I think the emphasis on these is "ice cream", not "frozen yoghurt". They don't taste particularly worthy and they avoid some of the pitfalls of some of the other supermarket brands I've tried (rock-hard, weird elastic texture, floury aftertaste). In a perfect world they'd have the really clean, pronounced tang of the softserve fro-yo from Snog or the one from Itsu, but if you don't have my taste for really tangy yoghurt this will definitely appeal.
Banana split - banana, Ben & Jerry's Greek Style frozen yoghurt and chilli-glazed nuts - these are really quite small scoops.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Spiced lamb & lentils

This is basically this Nigel Slater recipe. Although with a different ratio of lentils to meat. I'm not sure why they called the recipe "spiced", when it didn't have any spice in it, until you got to the suggested variations, but I thought spices sounded like a good idea. I added grated ginger and some cumin, coriander and turmeric to the lentils. I didn't have cream but I did have coconut cream, so I added a 50g sachet of that towards the end with some garam masala. A very low-effort and delicious meal.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Chilli salted caramel popcorn

My very successful maple bacon popcorn gave me a taste for the sweet and salty snack combination. We were, however, going to dinner with friends who don't eat bacon, so I needed to come up with an alternative. This version is, I think, even better. It has more caramel and a nice warm bite from the chilli.

Chilli Salted Caramel Popcorn

1tbs vegetable oil
100g popping corn
1/2tsp chilli flakes (I used chile de arbol)
1/2tsp Maldon salt (i.e good quality seasalt)
50g salted butter
75ml maple syrup
75ml golden syrup

Heat the oil in a large saucepan with a lid, and add the popping corn. Cover, and shake until the corn has popped, then pour into a large, heat-proof bowl or tray, holding back any unpopped kernels if possible.

Combine the chilli flakes and salt in a little eggcup or ramekin or something, for ease of access when the syrup is done. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, maple syrup and golden syrup over a medium heat, and swirl gently as it comes to the boil. Boil rapidly for a couple of minutes, or until it starts to change colour to a darker brown.

Take the caramel off the heat and tip the chilli and salt quickly into it. Keeping your fingers well clear, give it a stir with a silicon spatula and pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn. Stir it through. It won't coat all of the popcorn. Allow it to cools and set before eating. I suspect a handful of roasted peanuts combined with the popcorn before adding the caramel would also be welcome. That's for next time.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

British Turkey and a schnitzel with piquant sauce

I recently attended an event at Westminster Kingsway College, organised by British Turkey to try to raise the profile of turkey meat outside Christmas time. A gang of turkey professionals welcomed food bloggers and writers with copious quantities of prosecco before a demonstration by Phil Vickery (the chef not the rugby player) and a grand turkey dinner.

Turkey does have some image problems in this country, I think. If it isn't Jamie Oliver demonising Turkey Twizzlers, or accounts of gross animal cruelty coming out of some of the factory farms, then it is an endless parade of TV chefs explaining contradictory ways to avoid dryness in the Christmas bird.

Then, having mortgaged the house to buy the ethically sound, gently-nurtured rare breed turkey, consulted Delia, Nigella, Jamie, Hugh and a few cooks who need a surname, and ended up too overwrought to eat the bloody thing, your British home cook doesn't want to see or hear the word turkey again until she has to book her Christmas Ocado delivery next October.

It's not exactly a new problem. In 1955 Elizabeth David wrote "A young turkey weighing 7-9lb, roasted in butter with a fresh herb stuffing, makes a delightful change both from the more usual roast chicken and from the 25lb monsters which are such a tyranny to cook at Christmas time. Turkey breeders have been experimenting for some time in England with the supplying of small birds all the year round, and they are becoming more plentiful on the market".

There have been some improvements - a couple of years ago large increases in consumption were being reported - but I seemed to be one of the few bloggers at this event who cooks turkey reasonably frequently. Possibly because I don't usually do one at Christmas and I refuse to be intimidated by a bird. It is harder to find high-welfare turkey meat than high-welfare chicken, but most of the supermarkets do carry free-range turkey products year round.
I was a little disappointed by the ideas Phil demonstrated - I was hoping to see some different cuts utilised (since I personally favour dark meat), but it was all pieces of breast fillet. What he did do, which got people excited, was velvet the meat before cooking to maintain the texture and moisture. It's an extremely common Chinese technique, but I guess that greater exposure to Asian cooking is one of the advantages of being Australian.

The main thrust of the demonstration was the way turkey takes flavours. He did a tropical fruity one of mango and pineapple with lime and mint, which was delicious although I would have preferred those flavours without the turkey and with quite a lot of rum and ice. He did one with Indian spices. He did one with three colours of bell pepper, garlic, soy sauce and lemongrass. The one that was a real revelation to me was how well turkey matches with seafood - he stir-fried the velveted turkey with prawns and a bit of oyster sauce. The seafood flavours worked so well that I think a small roast turkey with a crayfish sauce, or possibly larded with anchovies like a gigot of lamb, may turn up on my table for Easter.

After the (somewhat hurried, with technical difficulties) demonstration we moved into the Escoffier Room for dinner. I believe this, the college's fine dining restaurant, is entirely staffed by students. Both the service and the food were considerably more accomplished than my food photography.
The dinner certainly furthered the cause of showing how versatile turkey can be. It began with consommé with a smoked turkey raviolo, savoy cabbage and wild mushrooms. The raviolo itself could have been cooked just a fraction longer, it was a little too al dente for my taste, but the woodsy combination of chestnut, smoked turkey and the various mushrooms in impeccably clear broth was my dish of the night.
The main course was a little bit less successful. The turkey breast was beautifully moist and tender, but whatever the gelatinous skin it was wrapped in was, it didn't taste of anything and had a slightly offputting texture. The foam added nothing, and the two cubes of different coloured heritage carrot were too hard to cut without flicking them off the plate and too large to eat in one bite. I would happily have made a meal entirely of the confit leg meat, tender spinach and delicious buttery potato, though.
Chocolate desserts are never my first choice, but the mousse was better than the overwrought presentation suggests. I haven't seen gel blobs like that on a dessert plate in years, and I can't say I have missed them.
A selection of excellent petits fours ended the dinner. I didn't try all of them, but the ones I did taste were very good. Even the marshmallow.

Dinner being over, I gave some thought to a dish of my own using British turkey. I'll often use it instead of chicken in a stir-fry. Both this chicken with cannellini beans and this tamarind chicken work extremely well with turkey. I've also made turkey parmigiana, turkey chilli, Swedish-style meatballs and turkey cannelloni. But after my very successful pork katsu, Paul has the taste for crumbed scallops of meat, so it had to be a turkey schnitzel.

A bit of sharpness works so well with turkey, and with crumbed meats, so I decided to make what Elizabeth David refers to as a sauce piquante à la crème - which is not at all like a Cajun sauce piquant. You reduce white wine vinegar down with chopped shallots, juniper berries and bayleaves, then strain it and use that essence, along with some rich stock, to make a lightly roux-thickened sauce. Then you enrich it with a slosh of cream. It sounds much more complicated than it is. The combination of cream and acidity was perfect with the rosemary-crumbed breast escallops, and we had them with some potatoes and steamed cabbage (so it was all very pallid and I didn't take a picture of the finished plate).

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Suffragette Fish Pie

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a bag of Purple Majesty potatoes. And then had a bit of a freak out because I couldn't actually bring myself to make purple mash.

Fortunately my sense of whimsy got the better of me, and I decided to use them to make a fish pie to honour the Suffragettes. The Women's Social and Political Union adopted the colours purple (for dignity), white (for purity) and green (for hope) in 1908, and used it on their campaign materials and in commemorative jewellery. Apparently it is only a myth that green, white and violet stood for "give women the vote", but it is a myth that I like. 

So - my Suffragette fish pie - a layer of spinach with spring onions mixed through, well-seasoned with nutmeg and pepper, a layer of smoked haddock and white "I don't need to label this, I will remember what it is" in a thick white sauce, made from the fish poaching liquor (milk and white wine, with bay leaves and pepper corns) and a top layer of purple mashed potato.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Maple bacon popcorn for Twain's Feast: cook the books

"In the winter of 1879, Mark Twain paused during a tour of Europe to compose a fantasy menu of the American dishes he missed the most. He was desperately sick of European hotel cooking, and his menu, made up of some eighty regional specialties, was a true love letter to American food...

When food writer Andrew Beahrs first read Twain's menu in the classic work A Tramp Abroad, he noticed the dishes were regional in the truest sense of the word-drawn fresh from grasslands, woods, and waters... In Twain's Feast, Beahrs sets out to discover whether eight of these forgotten regional specialties can still be found on American tables, tracing Twain's footsteps as he goes

Twain's Feast, this month's Cook the Books Club selection (this round hosted by Simona at Briciole) was not what I expected. I was vaguely aware of Samuel Clemens, but back when I studied Huckleberry Finn at school, we didn't go in for authorial intent so we never really looked at the lives of the authors. I thought of him as a wild-haired steamboat captain and never thought beyond that. The picture that emerges of him through this book is much more complex and bittersweet. A man with a passion for adventure and a huge capacity for joie de vivre, he also experienced bouts of depression and times of extraordinary grief and loss.

The fantasy menu that inspired Beahrs was more about how Clemens had felt eating those foods than the specific foods themselves, calling back wistfully to times and places when he was happy (and not living in cheap European hotels). Beahrs' exploration of those foods also tends to the wistful, with a side dish of Big Yellow Taxi. Wanton destruction of the environment, animals driven close to extinction and a lack of respect for natural resources emerge again and again as he traces what has become of those delicacies. He shows the devastating impact of white settlement on North America as a death march of deforestation, erosion and the exceptionally short-sighted civil projects of the Corps of Engineers.

It isn't all bad news, fortunately. Along the way Beahrs meets with several Native American groups who are working to rehabilitate or maintain their ancestral lands and educate others about the environment. He talks to farmers, environmentalists and fishermen trying to restore species. He also strives to pass on his own appreciation for the natural environment to his son, giving some hope for the next generation.

The most interesting part of the book for me, aside from Twain's own lyrical descriptions, were the investigations of the history of some of the foodstuffs. As an anthropologist, Beahrs seems most comfortable exploring the cultural milieu Twain was writing in. I'd never really appreciated the role African slave cooks played in creating what we now think of as Southern food, or the difference between the first Thanksgiving/harvest celebrations and what I now see on food blogs in November.

I wanted to make something from corn. One of the foods white settlers were introduced to by the Native Americans, it has also been the cause of massive losses of topsoil and polluted waterways. It has been suggested that growing corn, particularly for biofuels, is contributing to climate change. And the infiltration of corn into all parts of the modern American diet has been connected to the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes. So that's nice. I did contemplate making cornbread, but since Twain was so scathing of Northern attempts (and I do identify as Northern, even though I was raised further South than he would have imagined) I thought it was better not.

I also wanted to use maple syrup. Another food indigenous to North America and, apparently, one of the few mostly wild foods still popularly consumed. It was championed by abolitionists who were unwilling to eat sugar produced by slaves in the Caribbean. And it's something that I find absolutely magic - the notion of going out into a snowy wood, holding a bucket up to a tree and collecting sap, then boiling it to rich, sticky syrup is so amazing to me. The fact that Beahrs' nursery school had its own little sugaring shack was beyond astounding.

And, of course, bacon. After all, it is the internet. Plus I have noticed that bacon is something that Americans abroad really miss.
Maple candied bacon
Corn, maple syrup and bacon. These added up to a completely indulgent snack.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

3 rashers streaky bacon
2tbs maple syrup
1tbs vegetable oil
100g popping corn
1/2tsp hot pimenton or chilli flakes (optional)
1/2tsp salt
30g salted butter
75ml maple syrup, extra

Preheat oven to 200C. Line a tray with baking parchment. Place the bacon on the lined tray and drizzle with the maple syrup. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until completely crisp and caramelised. Remove the bacon from the tray and cool completely on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan with a lid, and add the popping corn. Cover, and shake until the corn has popped, then pour into a large, heat-proof bowl, holding back any unpopped kernels if possible. Sprinkle with the salt and pimenton. Crumble the slices of caramelised bacon over the top and give a little shake to distribute.

Shut children and pets out of the kitchen and ignore the telephone. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter and maple syrup over a medium heat, and swirl gently as it comes to the boil. Boil rapidly for a couple of minutes, or until it starts to change colour to a darker brown. Keeping your fingers well clear of it, pour the maple caramel quickly over the popcorn, using a silicon spatula to stir it through. It won't coat all of the popcorn, but try to get a fairly even distribution before it cools and sets. Eat in sweet, salty, spicy handfuls.

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