Thursday 31 December 2015

Adult ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, rum & raisin

My family has gifted me a proper ice cream maker. This means frozen desserts in under an hour. No more freezing freezy things for 24 hours beforehand. And it might just be the death of me. Gelatified.

It was one of those: 'a gift for Christmas and birthday'. Yes, I am blighted with having being born on December 28th. It's a terrible date for a celebration, caught in the listless slack-water between the high tides of Christmas and New Year's Eve. It's a day when nothing much is open and friends are either driving from the outlaws, hangover sitting or bloated and corpulent... or some tedious combination.

It is a wonderful present but I may regret its purchase. I have made ice cream every day for six days. I have eaten the same. All in the name of research you understand. I do so you don't have to. You're welcome.

For some reason I've never thought ice cream should be simply iced cream, it was only because it was the first recipe in the Cuisinart instruction manual that I considered it. I've always potched about with eggs and custard. Boy, have I had a damascene conversion  Ice cream made with milk and cream is simple, delicious and has a wonderfully smooth and fudgy texture.

The three recipes here have almost identical bases. They can be made in all manner of makers you don't need a self chilling one.

You should look at my sugar wafer blog too. They were literally made for each other.

Vanilla Ice Cream
Makes just over a litre.

Make sure all your liquids are fridge cold. In a bowl, whisk together 450ml of double cream with 220ml of milk. Add 140g of caster sugar and whisk until dissolved. Add a good teaspoon of vanilla paste/extract or the seeds from two squishy pods.

Churn in your machine for 40 minutes. Eat or freeze.

That's it.

Rum & Raisin Ice Cream
Makes just over a litre.

This uses unadulterated rum so you might want to think before offering it to children, muslims and recovering alcoholics. It has quite a kick. It does partner brilliantly with Christmas pudding. The alcohol makes it a soft set ice cream.

Soak about 150g of raisins, sultanas etc in about 100ml of your rum of choice. I used a spiced number, because I'll never drink it otherwise. Leave covered for a few hours or, better, overnight.

Strain the fruit in a sieve, reserving the rum.

In a bowl whisk together 40g muscovado sugar, 100g caster sugar with 200ml milk. Once smooth add  450ml double cream. Churn for 40 minutes. 

Now add the steeped fruit and a couple of tablespoons of the reserved rum. If you add more than this your ice cream will never really set; the alcohol lowering the freezing point. 

ice cream and cone: New River Dining.
Ring and purple blouse: model's own.
Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
Makes just over a litre.

I am a bit of a chocolate nazi. Cadbury's Dairy Milk is an insult to humanity and will never pass these lips. And Hershey's!  Dear god. How did that become so popular?! For this reason I buy Valrhona chocolate in bulk. I have three kilos or their fabulous cocoa powder in my larder. I appreciate that most people don't and it is an internet purchase for most people. I think Waitrose (UK) stock it though.

I won't pretend this is bitter, but I would call it an adult ice cream - all about a deep, dark chocolate flavour. You can add more sugar or cream if you like but I urge you not to. A very good dark cocoa powder is needed for a very good ice cream so try and find some Valrhona, or failing that, Green & Black's. Please don't use Cadbury's or Kraft or some own brand nonsense. It's not often I actually say 'oh my god!' with my own cooking... but I did with this.

In a bowl, mix 120g caster sugar, 80g good quality cocoa powder and a rounded teaspoon of instant espresso coffee powder. Add a couple of tablespoons of milk and blend to a paste. Add a further 200ml of milk and mix well. Blend in 450ml double cream.

Churn for at least 30 minutes. Eat or freeze.

Tuile / sugar wafer

Made largely as a response to the glut of ice cream churning through my kitchen this Christmas, these tuile biscuits are buttery, crisp and delicate but while warm, flexible enough to be moulded into a variety of shapes, including the traditional cone.

The secret to their wafer-thinness is an old cheffy trick of using a cardboard template. Using a piece of thick card, cut out any shape (yes, would work well for your children's thing or that hen party! Don't get the two confused though.) and spread the mix evenly with a palette knife, then lift the card away carefully. The batter hardly expands on cooking so you can bake quite sharp lines and points.

Sugar Tuile
Makes many, many, many. Freeze any left over.

Beat together 100g caster sugar with 50g melted butter. Add in 100g plain flour, a pinch of table salt, 35g of honey or maple syrup and finally 100g of egg white (about three medium eggs).

Spread the batter very thinly on a non stick baking surface; Silpat is ideal but baking parchment or silicon will do. Bake at 160°C for around six minutes. You have to judge this yourself depending on your oven. You're looking for a pale gold colour with darker edges.

Let the tuile cool for a few seconds before lifting the pliable biscuits off with a clean palette knife. These maybe moulded to any shape now - I've even seen wooden spoon spirals. Return the tuile to the oven briefly if they start to harden. Be bold. You can even squeeze circles between two tartlet or cake tins that have been warmed in a very low oven.

Here I've made three shapes: dramatic pointy things, the traditional cone - made from large circles of batter rolled around a mould (or a dibber or lemon squeezer) and a 'basket' made from an upturned glass tumbler.

Is this a dagger I see before me? No Ma'am, it's more like a delicious biscuit.

Baskety thing just waiting for ice cream and fruit.

Glass man wearing biscuit baseball hat.

Metal horn mould being used.

Ta-dah. See, quite dramatic. 

Monday 21 December 2015

Chicken liver and sherry paté

Two big issues with this recipe blog.

One. The photography. Think it's hard to make paté look even edible in an amateur photograph? That thing above is my best effort. Look, I even stuck the stuff on a nice olive wood board and put pointless tomatoes and green things (spinach) in the background. But do you think FoodGawker and the other kitchen porn sites will accept it? No chance. Pink paté quickly turns... let's call it khaki - no one wants to eat 'grey/green' meat product do they? Still it looks just a little bit like something once wild that now has been strangely decapitated by bread (perhaps a sharp sourdough loaf that fell from the Ocado van?) If you Google 'chicken liver paté' you'll find a smorgasbord of horror shots, from the permanently  preternaturally pink to the sludge scary grey of cardboard box road kill, after a week of sleet. I know, this is making you so hungry. Mmmmm. Just call me Nigella.

Right now try and make actual chicken livers look sexy? They just don't, and that's after you've cut off the excess fat and 'stringy veins' that all the recipes take a perverse pleasure in detailing. No one wants to photograph 'stringy veins', let alone eat them. Yeah, so I haven't. Yeah, so...

Problem two is offal. Livers are offal. People don't like offal. It's the most frequently proscribed foodstuff in the dining club. "We're easy. We eat anything. Apart from offal, of course." Funny then that despite these protestations, paté is one of the most popular starter in most restaurants. It's even served at banquets where most anything outré is eschewed. But like things once grimaced at, you only have to blend it with butter and/or deep fry it in batter and most people will happily snarf a handful.

This is based on Heston's famous parfait; the one he uses to make his meat fruit. I find the port in his recipe a little... intrusive, so go with a dry sherry instead. It is a deeply flavourful paté, creamy and earthy, much more so than all but the very best shop bought. It's also something of a bargain. Chicken livers are cheap. You pay in time, of course. This isn't quick. But you can bulk it. It's Christmas. Make many.

I've decided to do a little summary in my recipes. I'm fed up of being presented with two pages of instructions for a laborious preparation. You read it twice and still have no idea of what to do. Sounds daft maybe, but by the end, you've forgotten the start; much like some of my very long sentences. Who else uses this many semi-colons?

Paté of chicken livers and sherry.
Makes a block that will feed 16 as a starter.

Make a reduction of spirits, herbs and shallots
Blend warmed livers and eggs with melted butter.
Add reduction.
Add cream.
Cook in a bain-marie.
Set overnight in fridge.
You will need a temperature probe.


Add the following to a bowl and leave overnight, or as long as possible: 100g finely chopped shallots (two or three), a clove of garlic, big bunch of thyme, two bay leaves, small bunch of rosemary, 100ml brandy, 150ml dry sherry (Manzanilla) and 150ml dry madeira.

Reduce the mix to a thin syrup, stirring constantly towards the end to prevent sticking and burning. Remove the herbs but leave the garlic and shallot. 

Livers, eggs and butter.

Take 400g of well trimmed livers. Well trimmed? this means no fat or visible veins. I get mine from star butchers F. Norman of Oakwood and they arrive, thankfully, very well trimmed. I admit I'm not keen on visible veins. Place the livers in a sandwich bag/freezer bag with 20g table salt. Looks like a lot but this is the seasoning for the entire paté not just the livers. 

Some people like to soak their livers in milk or water to remove 'bitterness'. I'm not convinced but if you are, go ahead. I'm not the man to dissuade you. It won't harm the dish. It will waste a little milk though. If your livers are 'bitter', perhaps use different livers? Remember people used to salt perfectly good aubergines, to 'degorge' them? No one does that any more either.

In another sandwich bag place four large eggs.

In a pan, mix equal amounts of just boiled water and cold water. This should bring the temperature to around (maths!) 50°C. Place the bags in the water so the contents are immersed. Make sure the bags won't slip. You don't want water in them. I use pegs to secure. Leave for 20 minutes. The water should be kept around that temperature. 
I use my sous vide machine to keep the water at 50°C. But you can just top up with hot water occasionally. Check with your probe.

Meanwhile, melt 400g unsalted butter and allow to cool.

Set the oven to 110°C.

Put the warm eggs, livers and alcohol/shallot reduction in a blender. Add the butter while blending. Blend until very smooth.

Yes, it's a faff but I do it this way (as I presume does Mr Blumenthal) to preserve the livers' colour and texture. Some recipes fry the livers first. That has to result in a coat of grey, friable material. Not good.

Sieve the mix into a bowl, pressing through with the back of a ladle.

Now add 150ml double cream

Butter and line a tin or ceramic terrine dish (I used a loaf tin) with baking paper. You will need to be able to fold over a few layers of paper to protect the mix while it cooks. The mix will not expand much while cooking.

Place the tin in a roasting tin and fill up to halfway with more freshly boiled water. Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes. Check with the probe though. The paté should be at 64°C (different recipes vary between 62 and 65). The outside will discolour but a gentle knife scrape should reveal a pale, delicate pink.

Remove and allow to cool before chilling overnight. Once set it's quite easy to remove. It won't be a hard slab like the supermarket stuff though so use a gentle hand. The flavour and texture are nothing like the supermarkets either, being far less coarse with no graininess. There's a real depth and a 'height' to the flavour - Belinda describes it as like blue cheese. No, you won't be tasting Stilton but I know what she means.

Best cut with a warm, wet knife. That will give you smooth slices, if you care about the presentation. Sprinkle with a decent, crunchy, sea salt like Maldon.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Women in black, Christmas jumpers and our first 80th

A final photo flourish of pictures; the last few gigs of the  2015 supper club. Not everyone will like every photo. There maybe, I'm sure, individuals worrying after some aspect of their physicality - I know I do, hence my non inclusion. Not everyone is beaming - we don't always.  But all the shots here make me smile. Most are about moments of shared celebration, support and the reassurance that few things are better than simply sharing food and histories with people we love. And some are just bits of pork. Not everyone is here, sadly. I'm not the best photographer; I keep the lights fairly low so many things end up blurred or eyes-half-shut, and you all have this annoying habit of moving around.

Thanks to hosts: Carol and her ladies in black; to Karen and her Mum's 80th birthday and to Jan for the pre Christmas meal with friends and jumpers and a turkey hat. I hope to see you all again very soon (not the jumpers).

We are closing doors now until it's 2016 and I'm no longer hungover. I had some very good work news (my real work - writing) in December. More on that in the new year.

Happy Christmas.

Monday 14 December 2015

Roast Potatoes

Golden and crunchy

The executive summary: take some evenly sized, dry, parboiled, Maris Pipers. Baste them in hot fat and roast for at least an hour.

I have a few rules, most of which you'll probably be familiar with. We are a post-Delia nation after all.
  • Use Maris Pipers. These are the least wet spuds available. If not MPs go for King Edwards. It's all about the starch. Lots of dry matter in the potato gives you a fluffy finish, little dry matter and you have a soapy texture. Do you like soap?
  • Make sure the potatoes are evenly sized.It's just obvious: same size = same cooking time
  • Parboil the potatoes. Heston does it almost to destruction but that's a world of pain. I usually dance around 12 minutes.
  • Dry the potatoes after boiling. Space them out on a clean tea towel and allow them to steam themselves dry. You can rough up the surface by gently shuffling them about too. You don't need to shake them furiously. I find this result in a pan full of spud-slush and many breakages.
  • Heat the roasting pan on the hob or in the oven if you have space. Either way, make sure your oil is very hot. Same principle as when making Yorkshire puddings. Using tongs, roll the pots in the oil, covering all sides. You don't need a swimming pool of oil but there should be a slick. Fat should flow when you tip the pan. If you don't have enough oil, the potatoes will develop leathery jackets.
  • Use goose fat. I'm not as fascist about this I once was. I've used sunflower oil with decent results. Beef fat tastes beefy, fine with a forerib, less so with chicken. Personally I think olive oil imparts the wrong flavour.
Flavouring the oil with shallots, thyme and marrowbone
  • Flavour the oil. Fry up some rough cut onion or shallots first and leave in. The allium can also be served up. Add offcuts of the meat joint or hunks of bone marrow if you have them. Ask you butcher to split some beef bones... although this may offend your vegetarian guests (mind, so would the dead geese). Woody herbs like thyme and rosemary are good too but watch for hot spitting oil when you place them in. Soft leafy herbs like basil will simply cinder and taint.
  • Give the potatoes space in the roasting pan. Too crowded and they will steam together like fat, white men in a sauna. No one wants that. Steam is the enemy of crisp.
  • Turn the potatoes half way through the cooking. This makes more golden, glassy sides.
  • Cook for at least an hour. Ignore recipes that pretend you can do it in less. I don't even think the temperature matters as much as the time. I tend to go for 90 minutes at 180°C. Much above 200°C and things can char to bitterness. You can always take them out early. If you want crisp pots quicker, try my 'crash potatoes'.
  • Roast pots will reheat without worry. A ten minute blast at 180-220°C - depending what else is in your oven. If your oven is small, do the pots first, then the main joint, then reheat the roasties while the meat is resting.
Further recipes and reading: Yorkshires.   Beef Rib.   A better way to roast beef.

Saturday 12 December 2015

Vegan dessert: spiced, poached apple with granola and coconut ice-cream.

It had to happen sometime.

Sylviane was on the phone, talking me through the various dietary considerations for the Positive Money group booking in her delightful, slightly halting, Belgian lilt. I'm making notes.
"Four vegetarians, four don't mind but Graham can't eat eggs..."
"No problem, I often do split courses."
"...And two vegan."

And there it was. Cue the staccato chords in a minor key. The vegans are coming! 

Vegan kitchen prep. Colourful stuff.
incidentally, this is why we can't cater for more than ten guests. See how things are stacked?
And this is only part of two courses.

I have no problem with vegan cooking... in principle. In practise, my love of butter confounds my good intentions. I cook in a Northern European style. Butter is my default; my go-to grease; my foundation fat. In the end, I had to physically remove the golden stuff, so entrenched are my behaviours. I searched on-line for alternatives, chatting to a fee Twitter friends and vegi-experts: Urvashi Roe and Kerstin Rodgers. The non diary fat of choice seems to be coconut oil. Often seen in hair, or slathered on beach bodies in the 70s - when burning was a badge of honour. Coconut oil does have a flavour. It's not neutral. Mind, neither is butter. It tastes... buttery. Mmm. Coconut oil is pricey, this Waitrose pot was twice the cost of even the best French butter.

Actually I do have an issue with vegan and vegetarian cooking, some of it. It's this willingness to try and ape carnivore cuisine. Cooking should be about celebrating your chosen ingredient, not demeaning it with conceit and fakery. Have some pride! You can draw a pig face on a marrow and stick a curly tail at the other end. That won't make it bacon. I've seen vegan lasagne! What's this obsession with appearance? Something with no cheese, white sauce or meat is not lasagne. Make a layered squash bake instead. Good food is honest. I want to make a dish that just happens to be vegetarian or vegan, not one that smugly presents as such, full of moral bombast.

I often cook vegetarian dishes; most of my starters are such. But many involve cheese or eggs. Happily I've just started serving a salad of green beans and roasted cauliflower. That was easy to make vegan. 

Dessert was the problem. No eggs means no rich pastry or lemon tarts, custards, brioche, panna cotta. No diary means no cream, iced or otherwise. Even chocolate is problematic. I couldn't even have honey! Google reveals vegan dessert to typically involve raw fruit or be a butter-less brownie. This may be fine in sunny California, close to the sun baked groves but we were in the midst of the British winter with drizzle and salt strewn roads. There is no good fruit; none at least that hasn't racked up several thousand carbon miles and lost any flavour along the way (it seems). On the night, Drew, one of the vegan diners told me that of his recent conversion, dessert was the most testing time. While others guzzled profiteroles and sticky toffee pudding he was often presented with a plate of insipid orange slices, sometimes drizzled with agave syrup.

But in my haste to reach for the exotic, for mango, paw-paw and orange, I'd forgotten the most obvious solution. Yes, there is no good fruit... bar one. The winter apple. There was my dessert. I would repurpose one of my poached pear recipes.

An apple is more tender than a pear so some crunch was needed in the final dish. Vegan granola is another easy convert. I replaced the butter with coconut oil. It needs about twice as much oil and you still don't get the snap of the butter stuff. I wonder if simple (and cheap) vegetable shortening wouldn't do a better job? I'll report back.

And something sweet and unctuous to compliment the fruit. I had no access to ice-cream, custard, mascarpone, ricotta. Again, I turn to the coconut; its milk rich with fat. With the addition of some thickening corn starch, this can be turned into an excellent... what to call it? Oh, let's roll with 'ice cream'.

Many of the vegan recipes for coconut ice-cream seemed excessively sweet to me. Maybe it's because many are American? They do seem to like their sweets... sweet. Ever had key lime or pecan pie?! Wow. I feared the insta-diabetes would send me blind before I could reach for a second helping. The ice cream recipe is simplicity. There are only three ingredients that you boil together. No tricky crème Anglaise base here. You will need an ice-cream maker though.

I was very pleased with the final combinations. The spiced syrup made the whole house smell convincingly of Christmas too.

Poached Apple
Enough to poach ten apples. Scale down for fewer.

Stir 600 caster sugar and 200g muscovado sugar into 500ml of water and bring slowly to the boil. While it's heating, add your aromatics: two large cinnamon sticks, a vanilla pod, three cloves, six allspice berries and a single cardamom. I added a good few glugs of an apple liqueur. Maybe use some apple brandy or Calvados? It all helps but it's optional. Hell, everything is optional. You could just eat raw apples.

You need to do this in a pan large enough to accommodate all your apples. Something shallow and wide, a very clean frying pan can work.

Core and peel the apples. I used fairly sweet Pink Lady. If you're peeling lots, plop them into water with a dash of lemon juice to prevent premature browning.

Once the syrup is rolling, add the apples. Careful. They will bob to the surface. Poach for five minutes and then turn them over in the syrup. Another five minutes, then turn again and allow to cool in the syrup. They should be tender but retain their shape. No one wants apple mush. Cover with a lid or a piece of baking paper.

OK, you might have noticed these are pears but you get the idea.
These can either be eaten cold or popped back into the warmed syrup for another few minutes just before serving.

Vegan Granola
Makes enough for ten.

In a bowl, combine: 50g of rolled oats, 25g of bran (breakfast stuff is fine) 40g of malted flour, 50g of crunched up mixed nuts, big pinch of salt and 50g of caster sugar. Mix well. You could add spices or zest at this stage. Perhaps ginger, cinnamon or cloves for a fruit topping. I added a big pinch of ground cloves. Pour over 100g of melted, coconut oil and mix in.

Because you needed a picture showing you how to mix stuff in a bowl yeah?

Spread the mix in a shallow tray or baking sheet lined with baking paper or silicone and bake at 180°C for fifteen to twenty minutes. The longer: the darker: the more flavour, but be careful not to burn it. Allow to cool and crisp up.

Now baked.

Coconut ice-cream
Makes enough for ten at least.

Take three 400ml tins of coconut milk, the full fat variety. Hey it's vegan, live a little! Add most of the milk to a pan with 250g of caster sugar and heat gently. Add the remaining milk to three level tablespoons of cornflour. Mix well then add this to the heating milk in the pan. Stir while you bring to the boil. It will thicken considerably. Allow to cool in the fridge overnight or for at least four hours. Churn in your machine.

To serve

Take the ice cream out of the freezer. You should allow it to defrost for twenty minutes. See the pictures? That's too hard. That's a forearm forge. That's why the balls look like that. Don't do that! Wait for the soft stuff.

Take a third of your apple syrup and reduce it to about a third. you want to make a sticky glaze. If you go too far you'll have toffee - delicious but not very useful here.

With the back of a spoon, rub some glaze on your plates. This is the glue. Crumble some granola onto the plate; a good thick bed. On this place your cold or warm apple. Ladle more glaze over the fruit and spoon a little more around. Add a scoop (or a quenelle if you're so skilled) of the coconut ice-cream. Garnish with a few blueberries.