Monday, 11 December 2017

The New River Dining Brownie

Terrible name: brownie. The Americans christened it. They aren't noted for their imagination in naming desserts. It's cooked so what shall we call it? A cookie. It's a pie with Key limes. Key lime pie! Ice cream in a split banana. Banana split. See. But surely they could have done better than this. It's brown. What shall we call it? Sheesh. It was Fannie Farmer apparently. Yes, a real name. She has form. It was her who popularised cups, the insane volumetric measuring system that reigns still today in the US. 

This delicious, fudgy dessert started as chocolate cookie but then Fannie made them as a tray bake and the brownie was born. I am very proud of my version but I use the same recipe as everyone else... with some tiny twists. I'm not being modest; they are tiny. Across all the books and the web, there isn't much variation. So if the recipe is the same the world over what makes a good brownie. Two things:

1. Quality of ingredient, but especially the chocolate. See those pale brown commercial things? Not enough cocoa. That's the chief brownie sin. They should be dark in colour; interestingly dark, like the back corner of a Jazz club. I use Valrhona, the world's best in my opinion. Also one of the most expensive. If not, use Lindt or Green and Blacks. Brownies are not good cheap. The chocolate should be dark - 70%. Milk chocolate is just too sweet and lacking in cocoa. 

2. Baking time. The other brownie sin is dryness. They should be gooey. If in doubt, under bake. They'll still be edible and delicious. You just might need a bowl. Commercial brownies are often light and dry from too much lost moisture. Don't let yours be. Their weight should sink a cardiologist's heart.

I use dried cherries and pecans but any nut will do. Pecans have a pleasing and easy crunch though. I've baked with soaked sultanas when I couldn't find cherries. They work but lack the tartness.

Makes 20 dessert size or 40 kid friendly bites.

Wonderful shiny mix. Don't eat it yet.
Soak 75g of dried cherries in hot water.

Melt  250g unsalted butter. Remove from the heat. To the warm pan add 250g of the best dark chocolate you are willing to afford. Stir in to melt the chocolate. This is my way; much quicker than the bowl perched over boiling water and mine's never split.

Mix together in a large bowl: a pinch of salt, 80g of best quality cocoa powder, 80g plain flour, a teaspoon of baking powder and 320g caster sugar. Into this, mix the still liquid buttery chocolate. Add four large beaten eggs and then the drained cherries along with 75g of chopped pecans (or any nut). Finally add two teaspoons of instant coffee dissolved in a little boiling water to make a paste.

Line a shallow 25cm baking tray (needs a decent side) with baking paper. Actually I use two oblong baking trays but that's only to ease cutting and improve presentation. The mix will rise about 20% when baked so don't brim the tin.

Bake for no more than 25 minutes at 180°C. The mix should be risen with a very thin crust but still sexually soft. Be brave. Being made of massive amounts of butter and chocolate, they will harden a lot on cooling. Just like your arteries! Allow to cool before trying to extract from the tin.

These demand to be eaten with vanilla ice cream or at the very least a gloop of double cream/blob of creme fraiche. This is not the time to be worrying about calories. In the supper club it's usually with some crystallised pecans and a salted caramel sauce; a proper, bitter caramel.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Cucumber gel. What?

Cucumber gel with glazed salmon on marinated courgette ribbons and garnished with red amaranth

Let's get the confession done early doors shall we?

I don't like cucumber in its natural firm form. I've always winced at the green tubes of vegetable slime, sliced or diced, especially with tuna. insipid and slippery stuff; like licking a sea cave wall.

However, juice the thing, season it, add a little apple for piquancy and acidity and you have a light, flavoursome sauce that's just perfect with fish, especially oily fish (as not pictured above. That's glazed salmon).

Saucing fish is a tricky business. Something as fragile a flavour as cod or sole needs respect and a tentative touch. I'm not a fan of piling on heavy cream or herby butter based concoctions And Tomato? Olives? Nooooo.

And I realise that it's winter and cucumber is the quintessential summer veg (technically it's a fruit of course. Of course), normally seen in delicate, decrusted bread triangles; nibbled with pinkie poised. But as I explained in an earlier blog, I'm rubbish at timing.

So much for the bantz. Shall we get on with the recipe?

Oh. No. One thing. A warning. The recipe uses a couple of unusual ingredients: agar agar and xanthan gum; normally found in the 'home baking' aisle where only the freaks and vegans huddle. Be careful with the xanthan gum. It's a very useful emulsifier and thickener often used in gluten free baking to add structure. BUT It is the very WORST thing to drop on your floor. Guess who did? All over. You will find any moisture turns your tiles into a slime rink. I had to scrub my floor eight times. Oh, it was hilarious.

Cucumber Gel.
Makes enough for 8 people as a main meal.
This is based on Stephen Smith's recipe.
You'll need a juicer. You could try blending the cucumbers and then fine sieving through muslin though.

In a small pan reduce 200ml of (not from concentrate) apple juice to a sticky syrup with a pinch of salt and two of sugar. Keep an eye on it. Don't let it burn.

Juice one and a half cucumbers. Add a quarter of the juice to the apple syrup in the pan along with 4g, just over half a packet, of agar agar - often sold as 'vege gel' or 'vegetarian gelatine'. Whisk in and bring to the boil. Simmer for no more than a minute. Set aside to cool and set. It may look very strange when cool. My first one did. Don't worry.
In the remaining juice, add a quarter teaspoon of xantham gum and whisk in. Add this to the agar agar/apple/cuc mix and blend until smooth. Put in the fridge to firm up. Remember this is a gel not a jelly. It should be pourable but not runny. If it blobs, whisk in a little water or (better) some more cucumber juice.

Not to worry
The reason it's done in two stages is because the cucumber juice discolours when heated with the agar agar. Adding the unboiled juice maintains a rich, fresh, grassy green. Boil the whole lot and although it'll taste the same, it looks murky and unattractive. Trust me. That was my second attempt after thinking, this is quite a palaver, why don't I just...

This works well as a sauce with all kinds of fish but also as a side salad with cheese. Mix it with more diced cucumber, diced apple, a little finely cut mint and some rape seed oil. The colour is fantastic.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Ham hock terrine (and pea and ham soup)

I'm really not very good at blogging. The actual writing bit I can manage, and the photography is improving, but, but, but, the social interfacing, the digital glad handing, the brand building... I'm woeful at. Other food bloggers match their writing to major events; so you'll get a build up to Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's, Easter, summer... Others, remembering that blogs are international and their readers aren't confined to Palmers Green, will include events from other populous parts of the world so they'll feature festivals such as Thanksgiving, the World Cup or Diwali. Not me.

But no more! Here's my dish to celebrate National Finland Day. December 6th. 100 years a country. Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää, Suomi!

No not really.

It is just by chance that I have recently made a dish that is perfect for Boxing day so I could pretend this is part of some advent recipe scheme. It's not. I wish. In fact, the next blog will be about a cucumber gel. About as Christmassy as flip flops.

Ham hock is a very popular, very cheap and very flavoursome joint of pork; even more so if it's smoked. Given the choice I prefer most things smoked. Apart from my house. Although Etien may disagree there. Very often when I'm enthusing with a skillet, he'll come in coughing conspicuously, turn the extractor to full and leave with a sanctimonious look skywards and a door slam. He's 17 now so obviously he is beyond reproach.

Making a terrine of the ham hock gives you a delicious, handy food item that can be left in the fridge and sliced as needed. Just dandy for that hungover December 26th dinner. Two hocks will cost about a tenner and serve 10-12 people.

It is a time consuming process but most of that time the pork is doing the work, not you. You will need a tin of some form but there is no reason why a terrine need be a long oblong. Go mad and make it circular.

There is a side benefit too. As part of the hock prep, you'll end up with a couple of litres of hock stock (ha). Boil this up with some frozen peas and you have a brilliant, next-to-no-cost pea and ham soup of a colour that will amaze your eyes.

A warning though: you will need some pig feet and these are only available from a butcher. My family seem to have an inexplicable revulsion to pig's toes. I know not why. But they will run out of the kitchen if I come at them brandishing a trotter. It's bizarre really because the hock is just the back of the foot really; the ankle.

Ham Hock Terrine.
Serves 10-12

From yoour butcher buy two ham hocks (smoked or not) and two trotters. Get the butcher to split the trotters. Small children will love inspecting the insides of the feet. Teenagers and adults will run away crying 'ew, ew, ew'.

In a large pot with plenty of water, bring the hocks of the feet to the boil. Skim scum. Boil for about ten minutes and then pour away the water. No, they're not cooked. That was merely the wash boil. Now replace the porky doings in the pot and add: a bottle of white wine, four tablespoons of cider or white wine vinegar, a handful of peppercorns, a couple of sticks of chopped celery, two bay leaves and a bunch of thymeparsley and rosemary. Top up the pot with cold water to cover the hocks and feet.

Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours, scum skimming occasionally. You'll know when the hams are done because the bones will be mobile. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the liquor. 

You're scum you are!
Now remove the hocks from the liquor. Keep the stock but throw away the trotters, or give to a delighted dog. Unwrap the hock skin and fat and pull out the bones. Pick the meat apart into nuggets, cleaning off any white fat.

Taste the cool ham stock. Hopefully not too salty. It should be flavoursome. This will be your terrine jelly. Take a litre, strain though a sieve, and add about 6g (a packet) of veggie-gelatine. It's actually agar agar. It's in the home baking section of the supermarket. I've found the ham stock by itself doesn't have enough gelatine to set properly. You could reduce the stock of course but that risks rendering it sea water salty. Whisk in the agar agar and bring to the boil for a few minutes. Allow to cool.

This makes quite a gentle jelly. I wanted a slippery mouth feel. I don't want rubbery. If you do. Add twice the amount of agar agar.

In a bowl, mix your ham pieces with a big handful of chopped parsley and a tablespoon of capers. You could also add small pieces of apple and/or cornichon. I didn't as I was serving mine with a pickled apple salad. Taste. Add some pepper maybe but no salt. Remember your stock is fairly salty.

This was my first terrine. The one that was tricky to cut. Lay your pieces across not along.

Line your terrine tin (bowl, tray, whatever) with two layers of cling film allowing a serious amount of overlap to cover the top of the terrine. Fill it full of the ham mix. I recommend lying the pieces sideways (parallel to the ends) rather than lengthways  This makes it much easier to cut, especially if, like me, you're after neat slices. Press the meat down firmly. Now pour in the agar agar stock to just cover the meat. Bang the terrine on the work surface to ensure the liquid fills every crevice. Cover with the cling film and refrigerate overnight.

Now it's ready to serve. Carefully turn out onto a board, remove the film and slice.

I served mine with some warm pease pudding (blog coming soon) and a pickled apple salad, which is one of the finest things I've ever come up with. It works brilliantly with pork.

And finally. You'll have a couple of litres probably of the ham stock. To make a startlingly tasty soup, strain the stock, add a kilo of frozen peas and bring to the boil. Simmer for no more than two minutes. Liquidise. Season. You know pea and ham soup is so often this dreary cardboard colour. Nuh huh. Not this. This is the colour of bright peas.

If you have some small pieces of the meat, so much the better. You could always add some bits of cooked bacon or pancetta, some chopped mint or a blob of creme fraiche. Free soup! For the day after boxing day.