Monday, September 24, 2012

We Should Cocoa Challenge - inspired by Kir Royale

This month's We Should Cocoa challenge was to conjure up a chocolate dish that had been inspired by a cocktail.

Well after much procrastination and initial thoughts about eggnog cupcakes I decided to take my inspiration from the Kir Royal drink of cassis and champagne. 

I have attempted to morph this famous french tipple into a cake by making a swiss roll and filling it with home made blackcurrant jelly and a marc de champagne white chocolate ganache.

I have never yet made a good swiss roll sponge and today was no exception. They always end up with a grainy texture. I even whisked this one over a bain-marie in the hope that this would produce a more homogeneous batter but no, once again the sponge came out a little too coarse and grainy. Just as well then that I had a good thick layer of blackcurrant jelly and champange ganache to distract from the texture. If anyone can offer an explanation for the grainyness I would be very grateful.

I was quite pleased with the flavour though, particularly the wonderful intensity of the blackcurrant layer, and after allowing the ganache to set the roll was producing far neater slices when cut.

The swiss roll recipe was the usual ratios of 1 egg to 1oz of flour and 1oz of caster sugar with a few tabs of hot water and I used a 3 egg mix.

The blackcurrant jelly was made from home grown blackcurrants that had been simmered until soft and then sieved to remove the pips before adding just enough sugar to get a soft set gel when boiled.

The ganache was a tinker as you go along affair but the ingredients were white chocolate, butter, marc de champagne and a little hot water. I wanted a relatively soft ganache and not too rich hence adding water instead of cream.

I am submitting this to the organisers of the We Should Cocoa challenge Chocolate Teapot and  Chocolate Log Blog

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Random Recipes - Rock Cakes

This month the Random Recipe Challenge teams up with Tea Time Treats so we are looking for a randomly selected tea time treat. The instruction to 'select a book or collection of books that best represent what YOU think of as tea time food' was the hardest part for me.

I have a very constrained idea of what counts as a Tea Time food largely influenced by early childhood tea time memories. At home tea was the early evening meal we would eat on a Saturday and Sunday. Often a very plain salad, think limp lettuce and tinned ham, with bread and butter followed by bread and jam and a plain cake and of course pots of tea. 

Then there was the charming afternoon tea served at a local bakery/cafe, Peter's where delicate cream cakes would be presented on a tiered cake plate along with fine leaf tea served in traditional cups. Visits here were a great treat. You can read some lovely recollections of Peter's Bakery here at the Baker's daughter.

So my solution to making the random choice was to get out my box of recipe clippings and select a good handful that for me were tea time treats (sausage rolls, pork pies, scones, gingerbread, sponge cake...)  and then to ask my other half to give me a number and we ended up with Rock Cakes:

To make 12

  • 200g self raising flour
  • pinch salt
  • scant half tsp mixed spice
  • 75g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 80g mixed dried fruit
  • 1 standard egg
  • few tbs milk
  • demerara sugar to sprinkle

  1. Set Oven to 200C Gas 6
  2. Sieve flour, salt and spice into a bowl
  3. Rub in the butter to resemble fine crumbs
  4. stir in the sugar and dried fruit
  5. Stir in the egg a 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk to get a stiff rough textured dough
  6. Divide into 12 portions onto a greased or lined baking sheet
  7. Using a fork lightly rough the outside of each bun and sprinkle with the demerara sugar
  8. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Absolutely delicious whilst still just warm.

This recipe is being submitted for the September 2012  Random recipe #20 Challenge. There will be a full round up at the end of the month over at Dom's website so do look back Here, or take a look at Lavender and Lovage or What Kate Baked

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Best of British - London

This month the Best of British blog challenge is being hosted by Fiona of London Unattached and of course the area is London.

Not an easy one; and whilst I cannot pretend that my chosen subject of pigeons 'shows the best of London' the pigeon is certainly a lasting image for myself and many other visitors. The pigeon must be a good 'wooer' as so many people want to feed them resulting in no feeding signs appearing in multi lingual form.

So I have found my London icon but what to do with it? I was all set for a traditional rare cooked roast until the charming butcher I collected the birds from at Piper's Farm, Exeter proposed his favourite pigeon dish of a braised pigeon pie. The idea did not sink in until I sat down for lunch an hour later. Perhaps the morning coffee from the wonderful Exploding Bakery had finally woken me up but now Pigeon Pie and Mash were on the menu.

Pipers Farm Shop had some very fine looking meat on display and I was delighted to see how the birds I was buying were wrapped and tied up so elegantly, for a moment I felt I could have been in France.

So I braised the birds gently with some wine and herbs; pulled the meat off the carcass and then used the braising juices to make a well flavoured gravy along with some mushrooms, bacon, carrot and onion. I like my pies to be quite plain so I just made up a shortcrust pastry top.
Here is the pie about to go into the oven:

And here it is freshly out of the oven:

For a London challenge it had to be served with mashed potato and some rather fine carrots from my veg box. Not a pretty dish but a very tasty one.

For the round up of the Best of British London Challenge see The Face of New World at the end of September or London Unattached blog site. 

best of british London

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

POLPO Cookbook - A Journey

A few weeks ago I was the lucky winner of a copy of the Polpo cookbook. The prize came from a draw run by Fiona Beckett, author of the wonderful Matching Food and Wine website, and wine writer for the Guardian. Fiona's website is a treasure trove of information and some cracking competitions too.

The Polpo book is subtitled 'A Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts)' which had me intrigued as  I know nothing of Venetian food other than what I have seen on various TV programs. The story of the author's love for Venice and its food and their ultimate opening of a Venetian restaurant,  Polpo (now more than one) in London was truly engaging.

I totally respect chefs who write accessible cookbooks and I have a lot of chefs' books on my shelves that I cook from, but I am in no doubt that in many cases if they were to write out all of the instructions for one of their signature dishes it would run to many pages and take many hours of work. In all honesty even if I could source the quality of ingredients needed I stand little chance of reproducing the sort of dishes that I am likely to eat in their restaurants.  Elements of them maybe, but never the whole experience. 

Polpo, however, really offers the chance to cook like they do. There are some lines in the introduction to the book that really speak volumes to any lover of pared back simplicity: 'We have a rule in the restaurant that a dish is ready to put on the menu only when we have taken out as many of the ingredients as possible'. There is a lovely quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: 'Perfection is not achieved when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away'.

My eyes lit up when I read the line 'Polpo is a small plate restaurant, all the dishes are designed to be shared'. I have always had a grazing mentality towards food and thankfully my other half is always happy to share dishes, and choose items from a menu which allows us to sample as much as possible. It is just so much more fun than sitting down to a huge plate of one thing.

As the Polpo book is full of recipes suitable as sharing plates it is a brilliant source of ideas when you want a light but delicious snack or meal. Some of the recipes do not even require cooking; they are just perfect combinations of flavours as evidenced by my first dip into the book with the Zucchini, Basil and Parmesan Salad. The introduction to this recipe described it as 'a startlingly simple salad that is delightful and surprising'. I made this for a Sunday supper following a traditional Sunday lunch that we had eaten out and it was just the most perfect way to enjoy a light dish when you were not really hungry but love food so much you did not want to skip a meal.

So how do the authors achieve this transformation of ingredients?  I have made many a zucchini salad in my time, as the garden crop needs using up, but none of them have ever before passed the 'so what' test. Well perhaps not surprisingly the answer is in the detail. The recipe very clearly explains at the start that the trick is to slice the zucchini wafer thin and not to overdress the salad. Two very simple instructions, but critical none the less.

Every recipe has an introduction that entices you into cooking it, and nudges you in the direction of achieving a perfect result. What more could you ask from a book other than such attention to your own success with a dish the author loves and wants to share.

I have now worked through a good handful of recipes including the Warm Duck Salad (note you will get a much better presentation if you follow the recipe carefully which I sadly didn't):

I hope the authors will forgive me for trying this with fresh duck breast rather than duck leg confit. I had a bought a small pair of duck breasts from a local farmers market and wanted a light dish on a hot day. Neither did I have wet walnuts but got as close as I could. This made  a stunning light lunch with a little sourdough bread also from the market. 

Despite the wet summer my rosemary bushes have put on bountiful and fragrant growth, and a fine recipe to showcase this herb is the Roast Potatoes and Rosemary. The potatoes are cut relatively small making them a perfect snack on their own or an elegant side dish.  

And last night I made the Zucchino, Mint and Chilli Pizzetta. The zucchini, chilli and mint all came from the garden so I knew they were perfectly fresh. In making the pizza dough I kneaded for the full time suggested and actually checked the wall clock rather than my internal boredom monitor. The hardest part is shaping the dough into a good even and thin disk.

So here is the dish just before it goes into the oven:

And now just out from the oven but before I sprinkled the fresh mint over the top:

The combination of mint and chilli worked incredibly well. 

As I have no experience of Venetian food I feel like the book takes you on a mystery tour every time, but as each recipe delights I find myself wanting to quickly sign up for the next journey. I shall be in London for a day at the end of the month and am rather hoping I can make it over to one of the restaurants to sample the total experience. 

Thank you POLPO and Fiona Beckett