Random Cooking tips

Random Cooking tips
          People always ask me if there are any secret tips in cooking. There are a few things I’ve learnt over the years
       unless you’re baking, always put more butter in than less
       fresh herbs are usually better than dried/ mixing herbs an work really well
       Salt in everything, especially desserts
       BUT only use sea salt flakes, the stuff you get on diner tables is disgusting
       Vanilla should be used in all baking and even in some savoury (potatoes?)
       Truffle oil lifts any dish
       Sometimes your instincts are better than the recipe (people always tend to overcook chicken, fish and brownies)
       Your nose is a useful sensor – follow it
       Some things tend to continue cooking as you take them out (meat, brownies etc)
       BUT it is easy to undercook cakes – always check the centre of the cake
       Water is the enemy of chocolate BUT it can be saved with a little oil if the damage isn’t to heavy
       Always add twice as much garlic, so tasty, so good for you
       When roasting meat and veg, acidity+oil+salt = yummy, like dressing your veg before cooking them
       When cooking potatoes, add flavours to the water, the potatoes will soak up the flavour from the water (sciency bit=osmosis sort of)
       When cooking spinach, use a knob of butter, salt, pepper and a splash of water for a shiny finish
       Make sure your knives are sharp, it will make such a difference…
       And when chopping let the knife do the work, not your arm, move the knife forward as you chop
       Planning is the key for successful dinner parties, you can sometimes make more than you think in advance (e.g I often make potatoes/sauces earlier in the day and reheat)
       Add salt when you sweat onions, it will encourage the onions to release water faster

       If you do over salt, a potato will soak up the excess if you chuck it in

Cakes in Shapes

Cakes in Shapes
            For a while during year 13 I got momentarily obsessed with a show called Cake Boss. It is set in a New Jersey Bakery, a reality show around Buddy Valstro, an Italian American and his family. The main reason this particular show caught my eye was how they created cakes that were works of art; cakes that had firework displays, cake’s that moved, giant life size people. I wasn’t quite at that stage yet but I gradually began to have a go at making themed cakes. It started when a friend gave me a giant cupcake mould for my birthday, it came out well and I caught the bug. The next cake I made was a bra for a friend who always joked about her boobs. Another idea for a cake was a simple round cake, smothered in icing as a thank you to a show crew, all the cast signed it in edible pen and it ended up looking quite cool.
My sister’s 21stwas a simple 2 and a 1 with black notes, shopping bags and books all over. That September I got another two opportunities to experiment. Firstly I made a goodbye cake for a friend of ours who was going to the Caribbean. I made a tropical version of a carrot cake with pineapple and mango. Then I swirled blue food dye into buttercream icing to create a sea, then I used crushed digestives for sand, made a chocolate palm tree and decorated the beach with chocolate seashells. The other cake was for a joint 90th birthday for two of my grandparents. We were all going on a riverboats so the cake had to be transportable and themed yet not melt. I decided to make a buttercream and fondant covered vanilla sponge. I finished this with smaller cakes in the shape of an aeroplane and scrabble pieces. This is in homage to my grandpa who worked as an aeroplane engineer for years (he helped design the engine for concord) and my grandma who is a scrabble fiend at her nursing home.
The only person I haven’t got round to making a cake for is myself, but with my 21stbirthday coming up I’ll have to bite the bullet and do it.

An Indian Winter

An Indian Winter

Tonights meal actually had a little forethought – usually it is a case of whatever is in the freezer. But today I was feeling pretty pleased with myself having actually got some work done on my coursework so it felt I might actually have something to hand in at the end of the year. So I popped to Tesco’s and delved into the reduced items (ever the savvy student) and found some pork medallions. I am the first to admit that my meals tend to be mostly french or british inspired with the occasional foray into Moroccan or Oriental, but today i decided to tackle something I have never really attempted before, Indian. As I may have mentioned before my parents do not have the most adventurous taste buds (I’m training them) so the curry recipe below is VERY mild. My first problem with my wonderful idea was getting home and realising I had no cream or coconut milk…. I did however have creme fraiche (I know a seemingly never ending supply – maybe I should write a book, 101 ways with creme fraiche…) My second problematic encounter was realising I was trying to make yellow rice studded with raisins…..without any raisins, however I did have cranberries (you can see where this is going). The final problem I had was I only had a very small amount of gram masala and no curry powder, although I actually made it sort of work by bulking out the garem masala with turmeric and cardamon. If you have more Garem masala (and I expect this is probably the case) feel free to use just that. On the other hand the cranberries and creme fraiche worked rather well and it worked rather well.

Garem Masala crusted pork medallions, cranberry studded yellow rice and curried sauce

Serves 2

6 pork medallions
handful of breadcrumbs
2tsp of garem masala
2 tsp mustard powder
2-3 tsp dried coriander leaves
1 tbsp ground nut oil

wedge of butter
100-150g rice (however hungry you are) easy cook is best
couple of cardamon pods
1 tsp turmeric
handful cranberries

1tbsp groundnut oil
2-3 shallots, chopped into little squares
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1tsp garem masala
1tsp turmeric
couple of cardamon pods
dollop tomato puree
1 bay leaf
chopped coriander (we have frozen – I’d advise this)
2-3tbsp creme fraiche

1. Roll the outside of the medallions in the breadcrumbs, mixed with all the dry ingredients
2. Meanwhile sweat the shallots and garlic in the groundnut oil with a good sprinkling of salt.
3. after a few mins add the spices and cook for another minute.
4. Add the tomato puree, bay leaf and roughly 200-300ml water, let it bubble away for a bit until thickened a little.
5. Meanwhile place all the rice ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil
6. Sear the breadcrumbed sides of the pork in the groundnut oil (use tongs for this) then return all medallions to the pan and place in the oven at 180OC for 10mins
7. Before you are about to serve ( rice should have soaked up most of the water) stir the creme fraiche and coriander into the sauce.
8. Place a dollop of rice in the centre of the plate, top with 3 medallions each and drizzle over the sauce

New Years Eve

New Years Eve

I’ve tried the whole going to London, see the fireworks NYE. I’ve tried the going out concept, but found it expensive and too crazy. In my opinion the only way to spend New Years Eve is a dinner party, interspersed with cooking, singing and champagne. Luckily I had one such offer from the organist, and on top of that he wanted me to come early to help him cook. I was always going to love a kitchen that had an oven that had the appeal of an aga but with the functional qualities of an electric oven, and on top of that a fridge the size of a large man. My first job was to make the bread and butter pudding (my contribution to the meal. Same principle applied as to my custard from christmas, except this time it had a whole load of butter added to the mix as well. I left the butter, cream, milk (I know heart attack on a plate) mix to infuse for about an hour with a squashed orange and some basil leaves and a lot of vanilla extract. Meanwhile I mixed whole eggs (not egg yolks as you would expect for custard) and sugar in a bowl and added the warm milk mix, then poured the whole lot over some bog standard bread in a bowl-mould and cooked in a bain marie for 40mins-1hr. The remaining custard I used as a side and I just put the pudding aside till later when I heated it up. (for extra cheesy factor I turned the pudding out with a sprig of holly on top – but this isn’t necessary)

Meanwhile the organist had been co-ordinating the peeling and chopping of potatoes for Dauphinoise, as well as making a port and butter sauce for the main sauce (Duck – this was basically my calories for the week in a meal).

I was then delegated to add salt, pepper, lots of chopped garlic and a bay leaf to the potatoes before they were smothered in a cream and milk mix, sprinkled with a little cheese and put in the oven. Slowly other members of the party arrived while we made crab mayonnaise (amazingly delicious, simply red crab meat, mayonnaise, lemon salt and pepper but great on blinis) and the organist made a dill sauce and a scallop and bacon salad with a lime dressing, while I chopped some of Heston’s tea smoked salmon from wait rose which worked surprisingly well and had a nice tea flavour.
At some point during these proceedings R arrived to prepare the second pudding (I told you this meal was a mammoth ) for which he grated a mixture of marzipan and mincemeat over a puff pastry sheet before creating a puff lattice over the top to be cooked later in the evening.

We were strictly not allowed to start the champagne drinks reception till 8pm but that didn’t  stop us from having a cheeky beer (white wine for the girls) while we added the finishing touches, such as the dill for the top of the blinis.
I think I made the mistake of eating too much of the crab blinis during the hour long drinks reception, because I found it hard to finish all my food, which for me is a rare occurrence. We started with a simple seared scallops and bacon salad with a lime dressing.
Then I watched the maestro at work as he pan fried duck breasts, heated up the sauce and steamed some green veg.
Our main was duck with a port cherry sauce, dauphinoise potatoes and steamed greens. We then were allowed a short break while we played a game recently made popular by Sherlock, who plays it at Watson’s stag do.
Then the bread and butter pudding and mincemeat lattice and if that wasn’t enough (well I was certainly defeated by this point) we finished with enough cheese to feed at least 100 people and wonderful ‘cheese accompaniments’ and port. When it eventually got to midnight, for some reason we decided to ring the new year in not only with Auld Lang Syne, but also with drunk christmas carol sight-reading……musicians…..
The only way to cope with food/wine hangover of New Years Day, is to cook brunch. The organist was well prepared for this and provided us with bacon, scrambled eggs/smoked salmon hash, hot buttered toast, sausages and garlic mushrooms all served with copious amounts of coffee (I think I had about 5 cups). We were meant to be following this with a hearty New Years Day walk……

(Later that day I was forced to eat more food – I know poor me – and was introduced to a very tasty restaurant next to the Royal Opera House, La Ballerina. Had an amazingly tasty Aubergine Parmigiana – really good tomato sauce – and a wonderful marsala Zabiglione, light and frothy – I recommend checking this place out if you are nearby).

Fish Pie

Fish Pie

There is no point calling this post anything other than what it is, because this was simple, quick fish pie.
I don’t think any of us had really left the house for two days but the christmas food supplies were looking worryingly low…. One thing we yet again seemed to have multiplying supplies of creme fraiche. I have never knowingly made the same meal twice for my parents (so despite the fact I’ve been faced with this same predicament in the past, tonight I obviously had to brainstorm a completely new meal (damn my cooking obsession). We did however have a little prosecco left over from the parents’ recent christmas party, I used this as the starting point of my dish. What would I want to eat with a glass of prosecco?? I found some salmon in the freezer and a couple of prawns. The end result was fish pie with saffron mash
(I did also add crispy salmon to the top of the pie for texture, plus it is very easy , cook on both sides in a pan till crispy, plus I had some which I’d taken off the salmon, plus Yo Sushi may have got me addicted to the stuff..)

Fish Pie

3 salmon fillets
12 prawns
500ml stock (I only had chicken but fish would be better)
5tbsp creme fraiche
3 shallots
3 garlic cloves
1-2tbsp butter
pepper and salt
bay leaf
1/2 lemon
large handful of dill chopped
100ml white wine

750g charlotte potatoes (I just mashed them with skins on but feel free to peel)
bay leaf
few saffron strands
3-4 tbsp butter
2-3tbsp milk

1. Sweat the chopped shallots in the butter for 3-4mins with a good sprinkling of salt then add the garlic for a further 2-3mins
2. pour in the wine, add pepper and the lemon chopped into slices (yes I do mean whole) and the bay leaf
3. Let bubble for 1-2 mins before adding stock, let bubble for 5mins. Add creme fraiche and take off heat
4. Meanwhile boil potatoes with bay leaf, peppercorns, salt and saffron in water.
5. When soft, drain and mash using a handheld whisk (bizarre but good) with the butter, adding the milk to the end to have a thick creamy texture.
6. Place the salmon fillets, skinned and chopped into chunks into the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Add the prawns scattered around
7. Chop the door and mix in the sauce, pour over the fish. Top with the mash
8. Bake in the oven at 180OC for 10mins until lightly golden on top

The Posh Man’s Jagerbomb

The Posh Man’s Jagerbomb

My Dad has a new addiction, introduced to him by the man who lives upstairs.  His latest fix was obtained last night when he popped his head in to where I was working studiously at my desk (ok admittedly the Kitchen table and with How I met your Mother on in the background…) at 5 to 7 to declare that we were going out to dinner to Quod with the man who lives upstairs. (So that is how the parents avoid stepping foot in any actual supermarkets for food for the entire time I am away). Feeling that having eaten my calorie allowance for the week at a lavish New Years Eve dinner at the organist’s house, I opted for a light salmon salad. However my healthy intentions were scuppered when my father suggested dessert. His excuse was that it would ‘speed me on my way’ to drinks with friends and he was of course right, I’d much rather be able to order that in a club than a Jagerbomb, although I admit it would be harder to drink/eat while dancing…. It is rarely on the menu at a restaurant but waiters always seem incredibly pleased when you ask for it, it’s rather like being in an exclusive club, in the know. Recently my Dad has passed on this knowledge to me and I haven’t looked back. It’s a very simple, quick, easy and not heavy after a big meal, perfect dinner party fare. On top of all of this it carries the triple threat of a Jagerbomb: caffeine, alcohol and sugar, no wonder it hits the spot. This dessert is an Affogato. A single scoop of ice cream served with a shot of coffee and a shot of amaretto which is poured over for a lethally delicious hit. Zizzi’s served it with amaretti biscuits which worked very well crushed up on top and a shot of frangelico. In Quod they served it with langues de chat biscuits, in Pizza Express they served it in a teacup and at home I served it in a cocktail glass with crushed hazelnuts. I wonder if it would work with Ben and Jerry’s and mocha (the big kids version)