Category Archives: Technique

A Diamond Jubilee Diadem

This is my Jubilee tribute recipe which appears in the special edition of My St Margarets Magazine, out this week…

A crown of asparagus, surrounding a rich salmon mousse, topped with a 'cucumber caviar'.

My Diamond Jubilee Diadem of Salmon and Asparagus with Cucumber Caviar

Serendipitously a customer called in to ask if I could recommend a cheese for using in a salmon mousse just days after I had created this regal treat. And whilst the other principal players celebrate the best of British at this time of year – as well they ought for such a dish – the cheese which works best here is the French Delice de Bourgogne [or any of its triple cream cousins]. English asparagus is in season now so there is really no excuse for using anything else, and salmon are plentiful whether from the ocean or one’s own private loch. Though right royal purists might even opt for trout instead which was on the Queen’s coronation menu, right before the ‘Poulet Elizabeth’. Admittedly the Tonka bean is not native to the British Isles, but it does give a splendidly summery grassy note to the dish. I make no apologies for the fact that some effort is required for this recipe – it’s a celebration after all, and you’ll only have to make it once every 60 years!

This is a rich dish, again quite apt under the circumstances, so you need only small servings and very little by way of accompaniment – perhaps some melba toast points, or some Fine Cheese Co apricot and pistachio crackers. This quantity will make 6 to 8 servings depending on the size of your moulds, and any leftovers can be spread on toast as an indulgent supper, or used as a rather smart sandwich spread with some thinly sliced cucumber.

  • 240g poached salmon
  • 100g Delice de Bourgogne
  • 75g butter
  • 3 tbsps good French mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill
  • Blade mace
  • Tonka bean
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Paprika – a pinch
  • 1 tbsp single cream
  • Dill – a tbsp chopped
  • Cucumber
  • Chinese rice vinegar
  • Asparagus spears – enough to line your  5cm ring moulds when halved.

Trim your asparagus spears to the desired height – the tips should just stand proud of your ring moulds – and steam until tender, then refresh in iced water, drain, cut in half lengthways, and pat dry.

Melt the butter and add a few blades of mace and some finely shaved Tonka bean [no more than a quarter of a bean], and leave to infuse. Pop the salmon, mayonnaise, cream, cheese, and paprika into a food processor and blitz to a smooth paste. Pour in the melted butter through a strainer to remove the mace and blitz again. Turn out into a bowl and mix in the chopped dill and finely grated lemon zest by hand.

Cover a flat baking sheet with cling-film and place your rings on top. Put the salmon mousse into a piping bag and pipe a half centimetre layer into the bottom of each ring mould. Take your halved asparagus spears and carefully place them cut side outwards all around the edge of each mould, pushing the bottom of each into the layer of mousse. Finally use the piping bag to fill the centre of each ring; a smaller nozzle will help to push the mousse right up to and between the asparagus. Chill well, for a couple a hours or more.

Very finely dice [c.1mm] some cucumber and pat dry. Mix with some more chopped dill and sprinkle with a little rice vinegar. When you have carefully removed the diadems from their moulds top with a teaspoon or two of this ‘cucumber caviar’.

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Easter Eggsess – Again!

Sorry, not had much time to post lately. Bloody working for a living and all that. So until normal service resumes here’s a repeat from last Easter which went down very well at the time – both online and on the plate!

A rich chocolate and bourbon tart, topped with mini Easter eggs

Apologies for the James Martin style egg puns but this is an ideal recipe if you find yourself with too much Easter chocolate on your hands, especially if that includes 350g of dark chocolate and a packet of Cadbury’s mini eggs. I can take no credit for the recipe which belongs to Dan Lepard of the Guardian – only the  decorative tweaks and techniques are my own.

Dan’s recipe produces a very easy to work crust [although I used an extra egg yolk and a splash more water] which can be rolled to less than the thickness of a £1 coin. The key thing is the freeze chilling. I also doubled the quantity of bourbon in the filling [hic!].

To make a well in the centre which can be filled with mini eggs or whatever you fancy [raspberries would be good when in season] pour half the filling into the baked pastry base and chill to set. Meanwhile keep the rest of the filling liquid over a barely simmering bain marie [see the temperature guides in the original recipe]. When the first half has set [after about 10 to 15 minutes] place a glass or jar in the middle and pour the rest of the filling around. The first time I did this I used a metal moulding ring which was a mistake – a glass or jar gives you more purchase when you come to gently twist and remove it which you should do once everything is completely set and after the tart has been out of the fridge for a few minutes.

If using fruit pile it high and allow it to spill over the edges of the centre well. This is less easy however with chocolate eggs. And if you haven’t spent enough time recently in your local cardiac unit you could serve this with cream, but it is easily rich enough without.

Love Marmalade…?

You’ve still time to make this for Valentine’s Day and give your loved one a hearty breakfast! [sorry, had to get that one out of the way]

Orange marmalade with heart shaped peel pieces

A couple of years ago I saw some marmalade with heart-shaped peel pieces advertised in the run up to Valentine’s Day. It was only being sold in Fortnum and Mason’s so the schlep to the shops was a labour of love in itself, though it turns out this was as nothing when compared to making your own! But of course nothing says “I love you” quite like giving of your time, blood, sweat and tears. And as January and February make up the brief Seville orange season the timing is perfect for the feast of Saint Valentine.

Marmalade making has a bit of a reputation as a dark art where the magical mystery of the bitter orange’s own pectin provides the set, and timing and temperature are crucial components. Perhaps this is why for several years I’ve stocked up on Sevilles and then watched them shrivel before they could be preserved for posterity. Well not this year!

You’ll find any number of recipes online, I opted for that of baking guru Dan Lepard which you can find here. I didn’t think my oranges were providing enough juice for the amount of peel, so I juiced the same quantity again, but then used their peel too so I had the same ratio but double the quantity! When it came to cooking though I didn’t want to use too much water and ended up juicing a few more, and the result is certainly intensely orangey with a good balance of bitter and sweet. The main thing to get right seemingly is the liquid to sugar ratio [Dan gives detailed instructions], and to save every pectin-rich pip.

To make this Valentine’s version follow Dan’s recipe and these additional notes…

  • Equip yourself with a small heart-shaped cutter which you can find in the sugar crafts and baking section of your local cook shop.
  • Cut the heart shapes from the peel after their overnight soak in the orange juice. I found this worked best cutting with the pith side up, outer skin side down. If using a plain metal cutter [as opposed to a fancy plunger version] press down through a cloth, or you really might risk investing blood and tears!
  • Take some time to pare out about half the width of pith from the peel with a small sharp knife [not mentioned in the recipe] if you like a less chunky bite. I kept the papery internal membranes from the oranges too and threw them into the pot wrapped in muslin – I’ve no idea if this does any good but every other bit of the orange seems to have something to add so it seemed a shame not to!
  • You will end up with odd bits of off-cuts of peel when you’ve cut out the hearts. Don’t waste these but tie up in muslin too and add to the cooking liquor.
  • If you want a very clear jelly strain the juices through muslin before cooking. I didn’t, it’s up to you.
  • When the jelly is still hot and quite liquid the peel may congregate towards the surface. For more even distribution wait until the marmalade has cooled and set a little, then stir.

Now all you need is some pretty ribbon for decoration and voila – love in a jar.

Marmalade to spare? Why not try my brioche pudding recipe.

Last Days of Summer

As readers of My St Margarets Magazine will already know I’m about to welcome my first guest – Damon Hunt – who cooked the finest barbecue I have ever eaten earlier this summer. The man is a grilling hero. My barbecue is a feeble foldable affair like the one below, whilst Damon’s would require an extension to my garden. If you want to capture the last days of summer, get out in the garden and fire up your coals for his wonderful recipes…

Barbecue

Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto 

This all-time favourite can be pre-prepared and only takes minutes to cook.  It is a great starter whilst the steaks are cooking! Cooking time, just 3 to 4 minutes. Serves  4 to 6.

  • 16 fresh asparagus spears
  • 16 slices of prosciutto
  • 1 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Black pepper

Preheat the BBQ to medium-high heat. Trim the ends off of the asparagus. Take two asparagus spears and wrap them tightly in one slice of prosciutto around the middle. Brush lightly with the oil, minced garlic and black pepper mixture.  Place them onto the grill and cook them until the prosciutto goes crunchy.  Don’t overcook them or the asparagus will go limp!  Serve straight away. 

Grilled quail on a rocket salad 

Cooking quail on a BBQ can provide stunning results. They don’t take long to cook and only need a little extra bit of preparation to make sure the birds remain succulent. Serves 6.

  • 6 fresh, oven-ready quails
  • 1 litre of fresh chicken stock
  • Handful of thyme and rosemary sprigs
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 minced garlic cloves 

Truss the quails through their legs with a small bamboo skewer. Bring the chicken stock to the boil in a large saucepan and add the thyme.  Place 3 of the quails into the boiling stock and then reduce to a simmer.  Carefully remove the quails after 3 minutes. Bring the stock back to the boil and add the remaining quails.

Drain the quails in a colander and then pat dry with kitchen paper. Brush lightly with olive oil, salt, black pepper and garlic mix.  Insert the rosemary sprigs. Cook the quails on a hot BBQ for about 7-10 minutes.  Continue to baste and turn the quails whilst cooking until they are golden brown. Serve them on a rocket salad.

Homemade Mozzarella

Not my worst disaster, not my finest hour…

Homemade Mozzarella with heritage tomatoes, edible flowers and Parma ham

After four years of selling cheese, frankly it felt like high time I tried my hand at making some. I had been warned, by no less an authority than writer, columnist, restaurateur, TV chef, fish fight champion, and all round food hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that “making mozzarella is more difficult than today’s other cheeses”. Pah! What does he know? I’ve read the recipe, and I once saw a short video of skilled Campania artisans with decades of know how making the stuff. So what that I’ve never made so much as a simple strained curd before – how hard can it be…?

The vegetarian rennet had been sitting in the cupboard for a while, glaring at me with the resentment born of neglect every time I reached for the sea salt, and the award-winning Laverstoke Park have just opened a butchers in Twickenham which means ready access to buffalo milk. The only thing missing was citric acid, which my dad always had hanging around at home for his wine making, so I guessed it couldn’t be that hard to come by. 

What I’d missed in the follow-up correspondence from Hugh’s article, until the Anthropologist pointed it out to me, was that most household name chemists now refuse to stock the stuff because it’s used by dealers to ‘cut’ cocaine. And so it proved in my local Boots who “haven’t had that here for some time”, but who recommended, in hushed tones, and with much furtive sideways glancing, that I might try the small independent chemist round the corner. 

WFTTD: “But I only want it for making cheese.”
Chemist: “Yes sir, I’m sure you do.”

Bloody hell! I felt like a criminal already, and by the time I got to the little local shop I was in a cold sweat. I’d stayed outside to finish my fag – had they been watching me from behind the counter and wondering why I was loitering? Was I plucking up the courage for my clandestine purchase? I blurted out my request [why was my voice so high-pitched?] and then came “Certainly sir, how many packets would you like?” 

Yikes! Was this a cunning test? Could I ask for two, ‘one for a friend’? Or would that be classed as intent to supply?! I left with just the one, the suspicion that my name was already being placed on some sort of register, and nagging doubts about what my dad had been up to all those nights in the kitchen with his demijohns. If you have trouble tracking any down it might be easier just to ask your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer. 

Back in my crack den – sorry, kitchen – I got out another toy I’ve been dying to play with, my electronic food thermometer probe thingy, which would have been used for long slow roasts by now if my oven could be relied on to maintain an even low temperature [It can’t]. Happily the device is just as handy for measuring the precise milk and whey temperatures needed for this task, which by now was starting to feel more like a chemistry experiment than the production of food. And I was rubbish at chemistry at school. I’m rubbish at seeing blindingly obvious omens too. 

Mozzarella is a pasta filata or stretched-curd cheese. In other words the curd junket is heated in hot water or whey until elastic and pliable, and then stretched and folded. This creates long filaments of protein which when melted give the stringy cheese effect so beloved of pizza advertisers everywhere. But to achieve this you need a smooth, coagulated curd junket which I can now tell you won’t get if you don’t pay close attention to the instructions supplied with your rennet.

Hugh’s recipe stipulated a quarter teaspoon of rennet, and looking back it seems obvious that he was talking about powdered animal rennet. My liquid vegetable version says ten drops per pint of milk, but of course I hadn’t read that and ended up with about that amount in roughly four and a half pints. So the curds I needed to heat were not smooth but crumbly, and what should have been a gentle stretching and folding process was more akin to ‘pulling roughly apart and squashing hopefully back together’. 

Some white-ish, fairly bland balls of vaguely mozzarella like material were the result. But was it a complete disaster? My guests, who included the Shopkeeper’s Sister and her Spouse, made appreciative noises about the effort which had been gone to [though I made sure to serve some shop bought stuff on the side], and no one got sick or died, which is generally regarded as a plus when cooking. And it was a first attempt, and therefore a learning experience. 

My top learning tips for next time: 

  • Take recipe, or copy thereof, to shop to avoid repeated trips for more milk.
  • Find source of citric acid which doesn’t suggest criminal intent, or result in arrest.
  • READ INSTRUCTIONS on rennet!
  • Use more salt in the whey poaching bath.
  • Sprinkle with further salt once the cheese is cut. 

I’ll let you know how the next attempt turns out. In the meantime if you want to try this or one of Hugh’s other homemade cheese recipes you can find them here.

The Full English Breakfast – On a Stick!

OK, they might sound a tad unconventional at first, but I’m sharing one of my best kept secrets here, and after their first appearance I guarantee that you’ll be asked to make them again [and again…]

A tray full of Full English Breakfast canapes

My “full English breakfast on a stick” was invented over a dozen years ago when I was asked to help cater the 30th birthday party of an old friend. His then partner (now wife) didn’t share his fondness for baked beans and I was tasked with devising a comestible Trojan horse to sneak them into the feast. Deciding that a canapé can cover a multitude of sins I set about hatching my egg and beans plot, and now it’s become my drinks party must have. Besides, if a full English breakfast is such a good hangover cure, surely there must be some preventative benefit to be gained by eating one with your cocktails?

This canapé essentially consists of a ‘fried bread’ crouton with a layer of baked beans, a slice of sausage, a dollop of ketchup and a boiled quails egg. Allow 2 or 3 per guest – once over the initial shock they’ll be back for more.

You will need

  • Sliced white bread [this can be as cheap as you like, but everything else should be the best you can buy]
  • Good pork sausages
  • Olive oil
  • Baked beans [would you use anything other than Heinz?]
  • Tomato ketchup [see above]
  • Quail’s eggs

First grill the sausages and allow to cool. Each will probably yield about 7 or 8 slices around the thickness of a £1 coin. Simmer the baked beans for a few minutes, all the better if a few break up, and allow these to cool too. This thickens the sauce and makes it much easier to perch a few beans on each crouton.

Cut small circles from slices of the bread with a pastry cutter or liqueur glass and slather them with olive oil. You will get between 6 and 9 croutons from each slice depending on the size of the loaf. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and cook in a 180˚C oven for about 10 minutes until golden and crunchy, but do keep an eye on them – one minute they’re golden brown and the next they’re charcoal! Drain on kitchen paper and allow to cool.

For years I cooked my own quails eggs and laboriously shelled them, which is easier if you roll the egg between your palm and a hard surface to crack the shell, and then peel under a running tap. Now I buy them ready cooked and peeled and suggest you do the same. It saves hours.

Pour some tomato ketchup into a small bowl, arm yourself with a couple of teaspoons and some cocktail sticks, and you’re ready to assemble. First top each crouton with a few beans using a teaspoon. Then balance a sausage slice on each. Next use the other teaspoon to dab on a blob of ketchup. Skewer an egg with a cocktail stick and push the bottom of the stick through the middle of the canapé, squishing the egg into its ketchupy cushion.

And voila, full English breakfast on a stick! Even if it looks slightly daunting at first the whole thing should be taken in one mouthful to be best appreciated. Recently a four year old guest of mine managed it [several times!] so I’m sure you can.

As with most canapés the best way to present these is in repeating rows – they look particularly good on a black slate.

The Shopkeeper has always been egg-averse, which somewhat lessens his enjoyment of this otherwise remarkable morsel. If you find yourself with similarly afflicted guests then a quarter of a mushroom sautéed with garlic and rosemary can stand in for the egg.

Full English Breakfast with Mushroom

Easter Eggsess

A rich chocolate and bourbon tart, topped with mini Easter eggs

Apologies for the James Martin style egg puns but this is an ideal recipe if you find yourself with too much Easter chocolate on your hands, especially if that includes 350g of dark chocolate and a packet of Cadbury’s mini eggs. I can take no credit for the recipe which belongs to Dan Lepard of the Guardian – only the  decorative tweaks and techniques are my own.

Dan’s recipe produces a very easy to work crust [although I used an extra egg yolk and a splash more water] which can be rolled to less than the thickness of a £1 coin. The key thing is the freeze chilling. I also doubled the quantity of bourbon in the filling [hic!].

To make a well in the centre which can be filled with mini eggs or whatever you fancy [raspberries would be good when in season] pour half the filling into the baked pastry base and chill to set. Meanwhile keep the rest of the filling liquid over a barely simmering bain marie [see the temperature guides in the original recipe]. When the first half has set [after about 10 to 15 minutes] place a glass or jar in the middle and pour the rest of the filling around. The first time I did this I used a metal moulding ring which was a mistake – a glass or jar gives you more purchase when you come to gently twist and remove it which you should do once everything is completely set and after the tart has been out of the fridge for a few minutes.

If using fruit pile it high and allow it to spill over the edges of the centre well. This is less easy however with chocolate eggs. And if you haven’t spent enough time recently in your local cardiac unit you could serve this with cream, but it is easily rich enough without.