Thursday, 27 March 2014

Glamorgan Sausages

Brown sauce. . . . . .bliss!

I grew up in Wales, on a hill farm, three miles from the nearest village and a million miles away from the idea of vegetarianism. You can imagine how surprised I was when, in my twenties I discovered Glamorgan sausages; sausage shaped and delicious, they were and always had been meat free.

Ask the average member of a meat eating household if they eat vegetarian food and the likely answer is no and yet in the UK we do have dishes which are served to the family, with no meat in them, we just don't label them as vegetarian. Cauliflower cheese, is a good example and clearly in the south of Wales, in Glamorgan, this sausage is another. If you have the odd crust of some good sourdough bread, these sausages offer a perfect opportunity to transform the bread into something delicious, excellent served with what one of my grandmothers called ponch meip, whereas the other grandmother from 21 miles away, called stump, a blend of swede and potato, cooked together and mashed with butter and seasoning.

Welcome Chile! bringing the number up to 127.

For this recipe you will need;
125g of 2 or 3 day old sourdough bread
200g of cheddar cheese
1 small, (50g) onion finely chopped
2 large eggs
4 sage leaves
1 teaspoon of mustard powder
Bouillon powder or salt
Lots of freshly ground white pepper.

Begin by making the breadcrumbs, I do this in the food processor and I add the sage leaves so that they get chopped up finely and become evenly distributed. Add the cheese and process until that too is finely grated and evenly mixed. Finally add the chopped onion, eggs, mustard and seasoning, I find a teaspoon of bouillon powder or 1/2 teaspoon of salt is enough. Process for no more than half a minute to produce a coarse paste.
At this point it's entirely possible to take tablespoonfuls of the mix and roll in some plain flour and fry gently until golden brown, however I like to form the sausages into more perfect shapes by placing a tablespoonful onto a sheet of clingfilm and rolling it up, before twisting both ends to form a tight sausage shape. I tie the ends together which secures them. I then poach them in simmering water for 10 minutes. At this point you can cool them and leave them in the fridge until you need them (up to 3 days). Unwrap the sausages and fry them gently in a little oil until golden brown on all sides.

The forming of these using clingfilm may feel like too much effort, but it takes less than 10 minutes and the result is very pleasing. I do think it also creates a better crust to the sausage once fried.
You can vary these sausages by adding different herbs, using leeks or spring onion in place of onion and of course using other cheeses.

Sweet Pastry

If you have a food processor, making pastry is really easy. I make all manner of pastry in mine but here is my recipe for sweet pastry, it makes a smooth textured crust, ideal for tarts. This recipe makes a tad over 600g and I usually freeze half of it.

For this recipe you will need;
320g of plain flour
180g of unsalted butter (at room temperature)
40g of caster sugar
1 medium egg
1/4 teaspoon of salt
40ml of chilled water

Begin by blending together the egg, butter, salt and sugar in a food processor to form a smooth paste. Add the flour and pulse for a minute until you have a fine texture, add the water and process until it all comes together to form a ball of pastry.
Always rest the pastry in a cool place for at least an hour before using.

Blending the butter, egg and sugar before adding the flour ensures a perfectly even, crisp biscuit like crust.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Egg Fried Rice with Vegetables

This is an easy dish, perfect for using left over rice and/or vegetables and a great accompaniment to other Oriental style dishes. If like me you plan to cook rice especially for this dish, cook the rice a few hours before hand and make sure you give the rice enough opportunity to dry out and much as possible. I place it in a large shallow bowl, break it up with a fork and turn it every now and again. One of the secrets to making successful fried rice is to have good rice, which has not been overcooked and has nice, dry separate grains.

50 years ago I tasted my first fried rice in a Chinese restaurant in Oswestry, Shropshire. It was the only thing I could afford on the menu but it was so unlike anything I had ever tasted before. Rice was something my mother made rice pudding with and it was certainly not anything I had experienced in a savoury form. I was 14 years old and I was smitten, I knew that I would no longer be content with the food of my childhood and I would spend time from then trying my best to recreate all manner of food from exotic foreign lands. Decades later I went along to a Chinese restaurant with someone who asked if all the MSG could be left out of the food we were to eat, at that time she believed she was allergic to it. It was then that I realised the fried rice we were eating tasted exactly the same as the rice I had cooked over the years and the one crucial ingredient that had been missing was the MSG. From that time on of course, I have always used it. I buy a vegetable based form from the Chinese supermarket and it's an invaluable ingredient in my pantry. MSG naturally occurs in many vegetables and of course there is lots in parmesan cheese, though the folk who believe themselves to be allergic to it never seem to have the same problem with parmesan.

For this recipe you will need;
650g of cooked rice
200g (roughly) of vegetables, must include spring onions
1 egg, beaten
1 fat clove of garlic finely chopped
100g of mushrooms, I used shitake and portobello
A thumb size piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 tablespoon of light flavoured oil
Soy sauce
Umami (MSG)

Begin by preparing whatever vegetables you are using, if for instance you are using flat beans or runner beans, blanch them briefly in boiling water. Pak choi or peppers, will cook sufficiently without blanching.
Slice up the mushrooms and fry gently in the oil in a large pan or wok until they have taken on colour. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and continue frying for a further 2 or 3 minutes before adding the remaining vegetables. Add the rice and working quickly, keep moving the mixture to ensure all the rice gets heated through. Make a well in the middle of the rice and add the egg, quickly break the egg up and keep moving the mixture around to cook the egg thoroughly. Finally season with soy sauce and umami and serve with chopped fresh coriander

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Spotted Dick

A classic British pudding which it's still possible to bring a twist to and make your own. I remember well how my mother would steam puddings for far longer than suggested and the result was, in my opinion, much better. The pudding would take on a degree of caramelisation, and develop a greater depth of flavour. I steam my puddings for 2 hours rather than 1, but you can decide for yourself whether or not to do this. In this pudding I use Lexia raisins, I love how plump and full of flavour they are; it's always possible to substitute other dried fruit, golden sultanas would be good or dried sour cherries.

For this pudding, enough for 4, you will need;
150g of Lexia raisins soaked in 100ml of amaretto liqueur
150g of Self Raising flour
100g of chilled butter
80g of caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Begin by soaking the raisins in the liqueur overnight. If you don't have the time, you can always pop the raisins and liqueur into the microwave for 1 minute before leaving to cool completely.
Grease a 1 litre pudding basin with a little butter and place a disc of baking parchment in the bottom to make releasing the steamed pudding easier.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt; rub in the chilled butter to form a breadcrumb consistency. Place the eggs into a measuring jug along with any liqueur leftover after draining the raisins. Bring the volume up to 200ml with milk and beat together with a fork to break up the eggs. Add the raisins to the flour mix and finally pour in the egg and milk mixture. Mix to a soft dropping consistency and pour it into the prepared pudding basin. Cover with a disc of baking parchment and a piece of kitchen foil. Turn over the edges to seal and place the basin in a steamer to steam for 1 to 2 hours (see above).

I like to serve this pudding with home made custard, but softly whipped double cream works well too, as the cream melts onto the hot pudding, it forms a light and delicious foam, something you would be charged extra for in a restaurant.
I am beginning to find photographs of puddings are of a lower quality, I think it must be because by the time pudding is served, I have enjoyed a couple of martinis and nearly half a bottle of wine, at that stage I am less likely to adjust the focus setting as much as I should - apologies.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Wild Mushroom Ragu

I use large mushrooms for this recipe, I find something appealing about the need to cut up food while I am eating it, all too often an activity denied those who don't eat meat. I use a mixture of cultivated large mushrooms, shitake mushrooms and dried porcini mushrooms. If you have access to edible wild mushrooms then of course that's even better. I serve this dish with creamy herb polenta, chargrilled shallots and trufle oil. It's a wonderful autumn dish but is comforting even now when the days are sunny and the evenings very chilly, here in the UK.

Bringing the number up to 126, Cuba - welcome!

For this recipe you will need; (serves 4)
400g of mixed mushrooms, (see above)
30g of dried porcini mushrooms
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
400g of chopped tomatoes or passata
100ml of Noilly Prat
3 pickled walnuts, sliced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Seasoning, I use marigold bouillon powder in place of salt, and ground black pepper.

Pickled Walnuts
For the polenta;
500ml of vegetable stock
100g of polenta
2 tablespoons of creme fraiche
100g of parmesan cheese, grated.
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley and chives.
salt and white pepper.

For the char grilled shallots;
4 Banana shallots cut in half, lengthways.

Begin by soaking the dried porcini mushrooms in 100ml of boiling water. Cut up the fresh mushrooms into large chunks and fry in the olive oil on a gentle heat until they have taken on colour. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a minute or two before adding the Noilly Prat. When the vermouth has cooked off almost completely, add the rehydrated dried mushrooms along with the soaking liquid. Be careful not to add the last few drops, there is sometimes a small amount of grit in the bottom of the bowl. Add the chopped tomatoes or passata and cook on a low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Sufficient time to make the polenta.

Rub the cut surface of the shallots with a little olive oil and place them cut side down on a medium heat griddle for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they have taken on a little colour, turn the shallots over and switch the heat off, the shallots will finish cooking in the residual heat.

Chop up the parsley and chives. Bring the vegetable stock up to a simmer and gradually sprinkle on the polenta, whisking in with each addition. The polenta will thicken gradually as the mix comes back up to the boil.  Continue stirring as the polenta cooks and thickens, I find using a whisk to do this produces a smoother, lump free result. add the creme fraiche which will slacken it back down again and a couple of minutes before serving, add the herbs (keep a little parsley back to garnish) and the grated parmesan, this will also slacken off the polenta, but if you like it even wetter than this, add a little more creme fraiche. Adjust the seasoning, with salt and white pepper.

Gently stir the sliced pickled walnuts into the ragu just before serving. Serve with a portion of the polenta, topped with the ragu, the grilled shallots on the side and a drizzle of truffle oil and parsley.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Vanilla Extract

It looks like really stewed tea!

A month or two ago, I watched a programme where a scientist analysed vanilla flavouring and extract available to the public. This included the synthetic version, which of course contains no vanillin whatsoever, to the most expensive vanilla extract which to his amazement contained so little vanillin, it was impossible to measure. I use vanilla regularly and although I use the seeds themselves often, I rely on a bottle of what Ina Garten, bless her, calls good vanilla. Keep the jar on the kitchen table and you'll find as I do, your visitors will do the shaking for you.
I set about making my own vanilla extract and here is my recipe.

Crystals of vanillin on vanilla beans
Take 40 vanilla beans and cut them up into 2 centimetre lengths. Now I know the idea of buying 40 vanilla beans is daunting, I thought so too, but then I looked on eBay and to my amazement there are suppliers of what turned out to be excellent, plump, moist beans and for an incredibly low price. Place the cut up beans in a kilner jar and pour on a 75 centilitre bottle of vodka. Screw down the lid well and shake the jar every day, for a week or two, then whenever you think about it for another 10 weeks before decanting the vanilla scented liquer into a clean bottle. Now here is the good bit, pour another 75 centilitre bottle of vodka onto the beans, they have in the first flush given up barely half of their treasure. This time shake the jar every day for a couple of weeks then occasionally over the next 8 months, before decanting another brew of the best vanilla extract.
It doesn't stop there; I plan to put the contents of the jar along with a third bottle of vodka into a blender and blend for a minute before returning the mix to the jar and leaving for a few weeks. This should produce a third and last batch of intense vanilla extract.

This vanilla keeps indefinitely so if like me, you use it regularly, having a litre and a half of it in the store cupboard will not be unwelcome. However, you may well choose to do this with a friend or two and share the results or give it away to friends who bake, as gifts. Either way you'll find that the overall cost ends up being a fraction of the cost of flavouring commercially available and of course it will deliver a far better flavour.
Since the flavour of the vanillla is so strong the vodka can be the cheaper variety
Ive just read the ingredients on the (expensive) bottle of vanilla extract in my cupboard, it reads, Water, Alcohol (36%) bourbon-madagascar vanilla bean extractives. What exactly are extractives? it sounds very much to me like a customised word that allows for some sort of practice that is best hidden.