Friday 26 July 2013

The Rhubarb Tumble

It's very, very hard to create a new cocktail. It's easy to mix a new drink yeah, but is it original... everywhere? Probably not. Anything that can be mixed has been mixed already, many times over. All the good ones have been claimed and written down.  Within minutes of a new spirit/liqueur/mixer arriving in the shops, cocktail people the world over will be fervently combining it. Actually, scratch that, invariably the manufacturer will have employed a PR to get a known mixologist (hate that word) to create a whole array of cocktails using said ingredient to feature in magazine puff pieces, lifestyle articles etc.

However. I've not seen this mix anywhere else. And yes, I have really searched (the internet) so I think I can put my flag in it. I like the Britishness of it. Pink rhubarb is a national treasure and it's a damn shame that the liqueur I use is French!

In 2006, I was making a D.N.A. (a gin martini style drink with apricot flavouringwhen my youngest son Etien asked what would happen if I replaced the apricot with the rhubarb liqueur I'd taken delivery of that day. You may ask why a five year old is showing such a keen interest in, and knowledge of,  his father's spirits but that's how we roll in Palmers Green. I made the substitute, and a few more changes - vanilla sugar syrup and vanilla vodka - and the Rhubarb Tumble was born. Like all good cocktails it's a balance of sweet and sour with a strong base. It is a mix of sweet vanilla and sharp rhubarb.

I've not yet met anyone who didn't like it.

Before you make it, you'll need some vanilla sugar syrup. This takes about a week, so I hope you weren't thirsty. There is no substitute I'm afraid. 

Take equal weights of water and sugar and slowly bring to the boil until the sugar has dissolved. Once cool, decant this into a bottle with a screwcap/cork. Now push in at least six vanilla pods. You can also use the deseeded pods from cooking. Leave this for at least a week in the fridge, shaking occasionally. The resulting syrup will be deep with flavour. It's a handy thing to have anyway. I have six home-made syrups in the fridge... but that's for another post.

You'll also need rhubarb liqueur and the ONLY ONE worth bothering with is Rhubarbe by Giffard. You'll probably have to web buy it. I've not seen it in the shops. All the other commercially available rhubarbs are bobbins (yes, I love that word). Trust me, I've tried them.

To my palate, Stolichnaya make the best tasting vanilla vodka. Get it if you can but the Absolut isn't at all bad and is in most supermarkets.

I'll give you the ratios here. 1 measure would normally equal 25ml, that's one bar shot.

1 of lemon juice,
1 of vodka, 
1 of vanilla vodka,
.75 of Rhubarbe and
.25 of vanilla sugar syrup. 

You can add a hint of a dash of grenadine for colour; it depends how gay you want it to look. Shake or stir with plenty of ice, strain and serve in a small martini glass or champagne saucer.

Contains about 2.5 shots of alcohol, about the same as a pint of strong lager... so be careful. Or not.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Orange almond tuile (baskets)

One I made earlier

I think that's so fetching, like edible lace. Why would you want to eat lace? No idea. 

I've been experimenting with ways to serve my poached peach with the tuiles. I've balanced the tuile on top but that looked like a bloody baseball hat. I've made C-shapes that the peach anchors at the bottom (no, anchors at the top! Duh) but that was prone to droopage, especially in our new heatwave (30°C). So finally I settle (until I change my mind) on the old basket.

The tuile here is a version of the Escoffier paste tuile - something like a brandy snap. Crispy, buttery, the perfect foil to soft fruit. This is Michel Roux Snr's recipe  one I've used for many years. This are quick and they are easy PROVIDED you have certain bits of kit. Let me spell these out:

1. A good, flat baking tray. One that won't warp. If it does, the tuile mix will tilt and pool and be all obnoxious.

2. Silpat. No matter how good your nonstick, a warm tuile will still stick to it like (insert pithy epithet here)... like sticky stuff to stuff that shouldn't stick, but does.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix 125g caster sugar, 40g plain flour, 65g flaked almonds and 50g soft butter with the grated zest of an orange. Add to this 50ml of strained orange juice. Spoon (or pipe) blobs onto the Silpat covered baking trays. Either circles or lengths. Leave lots of room for expansion. Now leave some more. Press down with the back of a fork to ensure an even thickness.

Now... Mr Roux Snr is a very great chef but his printed timing for this recipe is bobbins! He says 4 - 5 minutes. After this long at that temp, you will have pale, insipid tuiles and that won't do. I've found it needs between 8 and 10. They have to be a proper deep golden brown when they come out or they will never crisp when cool. Do one or two single tuiles to see what works in your oven. Stand on oven guard for those last few seconds else a bitter mouth party awaits.

When the tuiles are at the right colour, remove from the oven. Then remove the silpat from the hot baking tray. Then, leave them alone for at least three minutes. If you try and slide a palette knife under them now they will snag and pull into some unsightly sculpture (and still be delicious and very edible, but one for the family maybe and not paying guests). 

They should be this colour. Any lighter and they won't crisp properly.
After the mentioned minutes, test an edge, it should now be firm(ish). Slide the palette knife under and waggle it. The flexible tuile will lift. You can mould it on a rolling pin for that traditional shape or, in this case, over the top of a pudding mould for a basket. You can also twist, tear and stretch them into some abstract obscenity if you so choose. Whatever, they will take some abuse while still warm. It's only when they've cooled that you have to be VERY careful. Remove them from the mould when the shape is set... a matter of minutes. They are very buttery so this isn't usually difficult.

Keeren's School Outing

I know I've used this shot format many times before  but unless I ask my guests to move and pose I think I'm stuck with only a few angles. I definitely need a deeper depth of field. Keeren's there at the end and she's barely in focus. What a way to treat my host.

This was the first group ever that didn't seem to like my nuts. I must find out why. 

Anthony Webb came to dinner

Palmers Green's premier estate agents benefitted from a recently modernised pea bavarois, an original roast pork loin with tomatoes and black eyed peas and a newly developed poached peach dessert. There was ample parking and easy access to local amenities (the bathroom). Irrigation opportunities were excellent.

This was taken while they were all still sober. For details of what happened after that, please ask them.

Small Potatoes

Well, I'll be scaling back the plans for self sufficiency, to be sure. That's it! Four potatoes from one plant. That's exactly half of Farmer Jason's potato harvest 2013. But picked fresh from the ground, gently scrubbed clean, barely boiled and rolled in Lescure butter and Maldon sea salt... were they delicious? No. They were bloody awful; very floury.

However, all is not lost (yet). Take a look at the rest of the raised bed. 

It does look messy. I can't pretend this is what I wanted. But then, I am very much the neglectful grower; hoping that if I leave it, it will grow... and grow beautifully. That turned out to be bollox. Didn't notice any pests though. I expect they're all underground, getting it all nice and homely.

The weather, of course, has been bizarre this year. We seemed to bypass spring completely, then a largely grey May and June was followed by heatwave July. It's been 32°C here in Palmers Green. Maybe this is bad weather for potatoes? During the non-spring, at least one fox gained access and dug at the roots for some reason, so I lost at least one plant; can't remember what it was. My peas shrivelled and died. I mean, they didn't even try.

However, the tomatoes are there, still green and the courgettes are flowering. But, best of all, success with strawberries. I put in at least six varieties to see a. which would be most fecund(!) and b. to ensure a longer fruiting season (that's what the man with the flat cap and the gillet in the shop said). They are fruiting and the fruit is sweet. The wild strawberries in particular are wonderful. Although tiny and clustered with seed, they taste almost perfumed.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Pea bavarois and mint sauce. The perfect summer starter?

Perfect? I think so. This is summery and sweet and savoury. Essentially a chilled mousse, this is, of course, posh mushy peas and vinegar. Like all fine food, the roots are in the soil. Bavarois is a pain in the arse to pronounce. The French just slur the whole word, of course. But, as I am in possession of a slightly soft 'r', mine comes out something like 'bumble-waz'. However, this is one of those cooking words for which there is no english equivalent. Mousse it isn't. Bavarois (meaning Bavarian in French) is a puree of fruit or veg, folded with whipped cream and set, in the fridge with gelatine (or some modern chemical that doesn't involve the 'murder' of the innocent - ahem).

This is a joy for dinner parties as you only have to turn them out from the moulds and make pretty, in my case with pea shoots, bacon, Jersey Royal potatoes, a mint sauce and a garnish of onion crisps...

Ah yes... onion crisps. One of my first posts ever was about my difficulty making crisp, delicate, desiccated onion slice. In fact, I didn't ever finish the post, probably because I had to admit defeat then. I suppose it shows that I have learned something these past nine months that I forgot that I didn't know how to make them and just got on with it. But first the Bavarois recipe.

This is enough for eight starter servings (of the size in the pic above). Finely chop 1 large or two small shallots. Gently fry this in 25g of unsalted butter until soft and translucent. To the pan add 300ml of milk and bring to a simmer. Add 500g of frozen petit pois. Don't use garden peas as they are not as sweet. Simmer the peas for two minutes until just tender. Now blend well and pass through a fine sieve. Soak two leaves of gelatine (four small ones) and mix in with the warm puree. Vegies can use about four teaspoons of agar agar powder (boiled in water as per instructions). This will change the texture though, giving a firmer set.

Whip 150ml of double cream to soft peaks. You know they say 'don't over-whip, invariably without qualifying what over-whipping looks like? This is one occasion when it's important. Over-whipped cream is when it stops being cream and starts being butter: it gets claggy. I can't say 'whipped' any more without thinking of Stewie and Brian in Family Guy. Anyway, mix the pea puree with the cream. Taste and season. It will need salt and maybe some white pepper.

Oil some dariole moulds or small pudding moulds with a thin coating of something neutral tasting, like grape-seed oil. Fill the moulds with the pea mix and chill for at least two hours. No harm will become if you leave them for a couple of days in the fridge. 

To release, dip the moulds in hot water for a few seconds and then bring the mould down sharply on the plate. They will ease out. Serve soon afterwards; a warm room will bring about their collapse.

These benefit hugely from a little minty acidity. I add crispy bacon and onion crisps for crunchy contrast and small potatoes for carbo-bulk.

So... onion crisps. Fine slice some onion with a mandolin  On Silpat lined trays, bake at 80°C for two hours. Remove. Raise the oven to 120°C. Brush the onion carefully with a little oil, sprinkle a little Maldon from a height (a couple of feet, no need for the ladders) and return to the oven for a few minutes. Don't wander off! Stay with the oven and watch these mothers. You want a tasty gold. In unwatched seconds they will go a bitter brown or a binnable black and then you've wasted all that effort.