Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kitchen Diary #8 My Home Made Christmas Chocolates

For the last week and a bit I have been making quite a few of my Christmas chocolates.  I have been dabbling for quite a few years now at making my own chocolates and have bought some toys over the years to try and make production a little easier and more reliable. Notably the chocolate melters that hold the chocolate at the right temperature and a range of polycarbonate moulds to make all those pretty shapes you see in the chocolate shops.
When I started out making chocolates the moulds were not available in shops but recently I have seen some in Lakeland and even Ikea now has a few for sale. Most of mine came second hand from ebay or from chocolate wholesalers.
If you are thinking of getting into chocolate making seriously then a good starting place for supplies in the UK is the home chocolate factory website. They sell equipment and a basic range of chocolate couvertures to work with. If you want to purchase some of the higher quality chocolate makes then take a look at the chocolate trading company. There are some quite technical books available by skilled chocolatiers such as Peter Grewelling from the US and William Curley and Paul A Young, from the UK.

There is nothing like watching a technique being done and you can find numerous YouTube clips by professional chocolatiers that are really useful.  In the early stages I learnt a huge amount following the chocolate making threads on the US website egullet. The members of the egullet community are incredibly supportive and very quick to answer any questions, and to share recipes.  Here is a link to the pastry & baking forum. To post you have to be signed up but I really think it is worth it. There are numerous courses to be found and I started out at a one day taster course at my local technical college. If you are going to spend a lot of money on a course try to find one where the group size is small and where you will have plenty of time to get help from the tutor.
To get professional results with chocolate you have to learn to 'temper' the chocolate. If you just quickly melt and use chocolate, much of the cocoa butter contained in the chocolate will set into a form that produces a cloudy bloom on the surface and the chocolate will not have a nice snap to it when set. It may even feel grainy or fudge like when you eat it. To get the chocolate to set with a nice snap and a good silky finish you have to control the temperatures that you melt and then hold the chocolate at while you are working with it. I use the seeding method of tempering chocolate as I am way too messy and clumsy to work with the traditional 'tabling' of pools of chocolate on a marble slab. The seeding method lets you heat the main portion of chocolate to a temperature high enough to melt all of the cocoa butter, and then you cool it rapidly by adding in enough already tempered chocolate and stirring slowly until the pot reaches the desired temperature (dark 31-32C/milk 30C/white 29C). There is a fairly humorous description of the different methods of tempering chocolate in this Hope & Greenwood extract published by the Guardian.
You will need a thermometre that is graduated in 1 degree C intervals and that is accurate in the 25-50C temperature range. Once the chocolate is at the right temperature it needs to be held there, which is where a melter is really useful. You must keep stirring the chocolate and testing the temperature, nudging the heat up or down as needed. Well tempered chocolate shrinks slightly when it sets which is how you get the chocolates out of the moulds (or not!). If it does not shrink enough you can find yourself banging the moulds quite physically to get them out. I am not very good at moulding figures; so often they crack or get huge air bubbles on their noses but I do like this snowman so I like to make a few of these.

Working with chocolate can be messy so make sure there is nothing near by that cannot be wiped clean. When you are tapping moulds to remove air bubbles or drain out excess chocolate it is surprising how far little splashes of melted chocolate can fly around your kitchen.

For piping the fillings into the chocolate shells I use those plastic disposable piping bags. In an emergency I have used a plastic bag with one corner cut off but that is much harder to control.  Most of the fillings I make are based on a truffle mix of chocolate, cream, flavouring/alcohol and glucose/invert sugar. I also really like flavoured caramel centres. Once the fillings are piped into the moulds they have to be left to set and form a dry surface, usually overnight. The next day you temper some more chocolate and then pour a backing layer over the fillings. Once this has set properly you can turn out your chocolates.
Buying packaging in small quantities is very expensive so I usually just present chocolates in cellophane bags but boxes can display them much better.
I have tried some new recipes this year a couple of which are off the internet. From Paul A Young this Prune & Porter truffle was really quite unusual. Here is a link to a clip of Paul A Young doing a Prune and Porter promotional truffle demo during which he shows all the stages including table top tempering. It really is a joy to watch someone so skilled handling chocolate so effortlessly though he does talk rather a lot about prunes to start with! The second recipe was for a sichuan pepper and orange truffle that had a really spicy kick and would suit those fans of chilli and chocolate.
Soft Caramel Milk Chocolate Lanterns
Hand chocolate making is time consuming but at Christmas it always seems worth it and packages of home made chocolates make perfect gifts.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Spice Trail Challenge: Pepper

I couldn't decide what to cook for Vanesther's latest Spice Trail Challenge which this month is focused on Pepper so in the last few weeks I have been playing with a range of dishes where pepper is a predominant flavouring, and loving every one. The dish I have finally chosen to feature though is Cambodian Green Peppercorn Prawns, a variation on a dish that would traditionally be made with soft shell crab and which uses fresh green peppercorns which I bought at an asian market.
I took a lot of my inspiration from Rick Stein's book Far Eastern Odyssey which has a whole section on Cambodia and where according to the author some of the finest pepper is produced, in the area around Kampot. I love this book and have cooked many recipes from it that are now favourites, it is one of the last ones I would give up if space became limited.
Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey
 I was delighted to find Kampot pepper could be ordered in the UK from The Spicery online spice shop and promptly put in an order for that and several other pepper spices.
I really like the small sampler packs you can order, as sometimes you know you just want a tiny amount. I did order full size packs of the two black peppers though, and have been delighted and surprised by how fragrant they are. My early memories of black pepper involved nasty stale tubs of powdered stuff liberally sprinkled on overcooked cabbage. It put me off pepper for a long time.
The packaging from The Spicery is really attractive and would make a nice present of any order. They also do monthly spice packs which include recipe cards and the website is full of useful information and inspiration. I particularly like the Spice Travels section and they are based in Bristol which is one of my favourite cities.

So as soft shell crabs are not so easily available in rural North Devon I hunted around for an alternative and found this recipe for  Green Peppercorn Prawns on the UK  Channel 4 website which was part of the 2012 series 'Spice Trip'. There is also a book of the series titled Spice Trip written by Stevie Parle and Emma Grazette.
Kampot Green Pepper Prawns
Serves 2
1-2 tsp vegetable oil for frying
2cm piece peeled ginger root finely chopped
1 large clove garlic thinly sliced
250-300g large peeled and deveined prawns
1 tbs fresh green peppercorns or pickled green peppercorns rinsed
3-4 kaffir dried lime leaves soaked in water until supple and sliced into strips
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbs light soy sauce
1 tbs fish sauce
2 tomatoes skinned and finely diced (at room temperature)
fresh coriander to garnish (I leave this out as I dislike fresh coriander)
juice of half a lime
small amount of freshly ground black pepper (preferably from kampot)
  • Heat a wok or frying pan on a high heat and add the vegetable oil
  • Add the garlic and ginger root and fry until just starting to brown.
  • Add the prawns, green peppercorns and shredded lime leaves and stir while cooking for 1 minute.
  • Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce and cook just enough to heat the prawns through.
  • Add the diced tomato, coriander if using, lime juice, and a little ground black pepper and serve.
For a light lunch I just serve this with watercress but would serve rice too for a main meal.

So that is my chosen recipe but the others I have been having fun with include Beef steak with kampot pepper and lime dipping sauce from the Rick Stein book.
A home made fresh black pepper pasta carbonara where the freshly ground black pepper was incorporated into the pasta dough. Now this one I would not do again as I really don't think the pasta tasted any better than adding a good measure of freshly ground black pepper to the dish and it made the pasta turn a little greyish in tone!
And no photo for this but I also made this recipe for sichuan pepper orange truffles from the Peppermongers website. Peppermongers are another UK source of  various quality pepper spices recipes and information.

So that concludes my November Pepper Spice Trail

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kitchen Diary #7

Toad in the Hole is my idea of a perfect simple Sunday lunch at home; more than a snack but far less effort to make than a roast. It's success relies on first finding some good sausages, which seems like a constant quest for me. So often as soon as I find some sausages I really like, the makers change the formula, or stop coming to the markets where I could buy them so the search starts over again. These were new ones bought this week mail order from Albert Matthews who are based in Lancashire, UK. I will definitely buy them again as they were nice and lean, good porky flavour with no nasty gristly bits at all.

I have been experimenting with black pepper this week in practice for another blog challenge and this next dish is a fresh pasta carbonara with plenty of freshly ground black pepper added to the pasta dough.  I thought the pepper would make a good contrast to the otherwise slightly bland creaminess of the egg and cream sauce, which it did, but the pasta turned a rather unattractive greyish hue with all the pepper. So it tasted a lot better than it looked. I was also having another attempt at making fresh pasta with the pasta attachment I have for my Kenwood mixer, but for small amounts I really think it is easier to work by hand. I find it very difficult to get the texture of the pasta mix dry enough that it does not all stick together as it is extruded from the mixer attachment.
Another pepper dish that I have tried is this Rick Stein recipe for Cambodian marinated beef with lime and black pepper dipping sauce, which is made with Campot black pepper. The cut of beef was rump steak which stood up to the strong flavours and I skipped the peanut garnish as I didn't have any. It made a good Saturday night supper with minimal cooking needed at the end.

Bread & Cake Baking

My bread bake this week was this walnut loaf  which is made with a malted flour.
The recipe comes from an excellent bread book by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou who now teaches at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire, UK. They run an excellent range of courses in Baking, Cheesemaking, Butchery and much more, at both a professional and home cook level. I bought this book for the stollen recipe which I had heard was good but of course I have yet to try it even though I have had the book well over a year now.
Product Details

This week the BBC tv station ran their annual appeal for the Children in Need fundraiser and I took some bakes into work to raise a little money. I made jam dodger biscuits from this daily delicious jolly jammers blog recipe. The cookie base is a french style sable type biscuit which just melts in the mouth but is a little difficult to handle if not well rested and chilled. There are many delicious baking recipes on the Daily Delicious site including a number of cookies I want to try.
My other bake was a reworking of my halloween rice crispie monsters but this time just made up into squares with the spotty decoration associated with the Children in Need mascot Pudsey Bear.
We raised £50 and had a very sweet Friday so a good way to end the working week. Next week there will be much more chocolate on the blog!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Kitchen Diary #6

The highlight of my week has been a day trip to London where I had a rather grand lunch at the The Gilbert Scott restaurant which is housed the magnificent St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

The dining room is a very light and airy room and although it has its own street entrance my sense of direction is so bad I could only find my way to the main hotel entrance so I did get to see a little more of the inside of the hotel too.
To get to the restaurant from the main lobby I had to walk through some very ornate pillared corridors and passed this rather aptly named Grand Staircase.
The restaurant is described as a British style Brasserie and there was certainly an excellent range of British produce on the menu. As I now live in Devon I was pleased to see two Devon produced cheeses, Sharpham goats brie and Beenleigh Blue, were featured. I went for the set priced weekday menu which offers three courses for £25 and this is what I had:

Smoked trout with beetroots, sour cream, rye crumbs
Chargrilled saddleback pork chop with pickled mustard seeds, crab apple, brussel sprout tops with bacon
Banana bread and butter pudding with chocolate jelly, rum ice cream

I was actually pretty full after the main course but you don't travel all this way to wimp out before dessert and I was really intrigued by the sound of a chocolate jelly. Well it turned out to not really be that much like jelly but more like a water based ganache, but it was delicious with the pudding and the rum ice-cream. I could have just had a nap in the bar area afterwards but there was more work to be done so fortified by an espresso I headed off to Chinatown to check out the Chinese Bakery's and supermarkets.  I wanted some snacks for the train journey home so some filled Chinese buns seemed a good plan. They make these with such tender and lightly sweet dough, I just love them when they are still really fresh. I bought a bbq pork filled bun and a custard filled bun. The window display was quite beautiful if cakes and buns are your thing.
The little animal cakes were very cute.
I wandered through Soho stopping off at Paul A Young's chocolate shop and another coffee stop at Princi where you can get some really nice pizza and pastries and then a quick look in Liberty's because I just love the building and they sell chocolate too!  Finally over to Waterstones in Picadilly to look at the huge cookery book selection they have. I didn't buy any this time. After a bit of a scrum in the rush hour tube journey to Paddington I was back on the train down country.

Quick Recipe - Chai Tea
I have been drinking more chai spiced tea recently and those prepacked tea bags are quite expensive so if you like chai tea and fancy mixing up your own spices here you go:

recipe based on one from 'Food of the Grand Trunk Road' by Anirudh Arora & Hardeep Singh Kohli

For 1 mug of chai tea
  1 tsp loose leaf black Indian tea leaves
  2 green cardamom pods
  2 black peppercorns
  1 clove
  3-4 cm piece cinnamon stick 
  1 tsp grated or finely sliced fresh ginger root
  160 ml water
  80 ml milk
  sugar to taste
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and add the tea and the spices.
  2. Simmer gently for 2 minutes
  3. Add the milk and continue to simmer for 5 more minutes
  4. Strain into a mug through a fine sieve and sweeten to taste
Bread & Baking
My bread bake of the week was an apple kuchen based on this Plum Kuchen recipe from blog Grown to Cook. I just made it with home grown thinly sliced apples instead of plums and also about a half size batch as I really think this sort of bake is so much better when freshly baked and there were only two of us to eat it up.
My entry for the #SundayBakeClub challenge this week was Garibaldi biscuits. We had to make biscuits, not cookies, and that stipulation had me puzzling for quite some time as to when a cookie was not a biscuit? Whatever the answer might be, Garibaldis are definitely biscuits, and this recipe from blogger  Poires au Chocolat made a very tasty batch of what some folks also all squashed fly biscuits.

Events - Saturday Night Melting Pot in Bideford
The monthly Saturday night 'Melting Pots' in my local town had eluded me for a few months but this Saturday I finally stumbled across the event notice and encouraged by the promise of Mexican and Carribean street food promptly changed plans and headed into town. They had put on some live music and there were about four or five different food vendors there and despite the drizzle they did seem to have a steady flow of punters. I had a Caribbean shoulder of pork stew with eddoes, carrots, rice and beans, coleslaw and sweet chilli sauce. The photo does not do it justice but bear in mind this is take out food photographed at night with a very basic camera. It tasted really rather good and the guys on the Carribean stall were really charming, offering people small tasters if they were not sure what a dish would be like.
So that is all for this last week, thoughts are now turning to Christmas chocolate making and if that goes well I will put up some pictures. If I don't you will know I have had some chocolate disasters.

Have a good week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Kitchen Diary #5

If you carved a pumpkin lantern this last weekend you may also have made a huge batch of pumpkin soup. Now pumpkin soup can be a bit bland so a lovely way to brighten up the flavour is to add a nugget of spiced butter and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Normally I would make this type of soup with one of the winter squash that are more rich in flavour than pumpkin, and also quite plentiful now, but pumpkin can be good too. The spiced butter is flavoured with chilli and smoked paprika which gives a great earthy kick to the soup.

I have taken this recipe from a lovely blog called  Eggs on the Roof where you will also find a good recipe for butternut squash soup. So to make enough butter for 4 bowls of soup you need:

20g of softened butter
half a teaspoon of chilli powder*
half teaspoon of smoked paprika
a pinch of sea salt if using unsalted butter

Pumpkin seeds to garnish

  • Knead the spices and salt into the butter and then place on a square of nonstick paper. Roll the butter into a sausage shape and chill. When firm cut into rounds, 1 for each bowl of soup. 
  • The pumpkin seeds are just dry toasted in a frying pan until they start to pop.
  • To serve, pour your hot soup into the bowls, drop a nugget of spiced butter into the centre of each bowl and sprinkle around the toasted pumpkin seeds. 

*I use the mild new mexico chilli powder but just be sure you have checked the heat level of whatever you use.

As the butter melts it forms a gorgeous little puddle and the toasted seeds add colour, flavour and texture.

Bread & Cakes
Last Wednesday was our cake club meeting and I made a ginger and marmalade cake for our breakfast cakes theme. I had been intending to take a Dutch breakfast cake but after two attempts both of which sank badly I gave up. I am wondering if my baking powder has 'gone off'. Anyway the marmalade cake was tasty so all ended well. The marmalade cake recipe came from Sugar & Spice by Kate Weatherell which has a wonderful eclectic mix of sweet recipes from around that world that showcase different spices. I'm looking forward to trying the sticky medjool date pudding with middle eastern spices next.
My Bread Bake of the week was a cardamom spiced fruit loaf from Warm Bread Honey & Cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra
The dried fruits in this loaf are a mix of dried cranberries, sultanas, candied orange and currants. It makes wonderful toast the day after baking.
Simple Meals
I was hunting around for another recipe altogether when I came across this Omelette Molière with croutons. A plain omelette is filled with a few freshly made croutons, small cubes of gruyère cheese, grated parmesan and a little double cream.
This makes a perfect quick meal for one but home made croutons make all the difference. When I was at school we had quite an ambitious cookery teacher who insisted we made croutons to serve with our vegetable soup. In those days frying bread cubes in loads of butter and oil was not seen as gratuitous other than the cost of the butter. Now I prefer a lower fat version so make mine in the oven as in this recipe from the Kitchn website: how to make croutons

So make a basic 3 egg omelette in a good sized frying pan so the omelette is  not too thick.
When the eggs have just set scatter on a handful of freshly made croutons, about 1 tbs diced gruyère cheese, 1 tbs grated parmesan cheese and 1 tbs of double cream.
Using a palette knife to start flipping over one edge of the omelette gently roll the omelette out of the pan onto your warm serving plate. Garnish with some salad greens and enjoy.
These leaves are the rather bitter endive and are some of the last salad leaves I will pick this year. The dry summer helped them escape damage by slugs which is a first in my garden.
I'm going to London for a day later this week so hoping to try a new restaurant and buy lots of food treats for Christmas and check out lots of cookery books at the huge Waterstones in Picadilly. Looking forward to it, hope you are having a good week too.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October Spice Trail Challenge: Fiery Pineapple Chutney

Vanesther of Bangers and Mash blog has chosen Preserves & Pickles as the theme for this October’s Spice Trail challenge, and as pineapples go so well with so many spices and are currently very cheap and plentiful I have picked this 'fiery pineapple chutney' for my entry.
My recipe is based on one from which I found playing around with the yummly recipe search site. I do like some of the search options they have used so you can put emphasis on tastes such as saltiness, bitterness and also filter by seasons, cooking methods, diet restrictions etc.
I am still using up the chilli crop so any recipe which includes chillis is a bonus right now. I only changed the recipe a little to use more whole spices than powdered ones and also to miss out the pureeing of some of the pineapple at the beginning.

I think this would go very well with a chicken or pork curry or bbq dish if you wanted to have a home made relish to serve alongside. The chutney is quite low in the usual preservatives of vinegar sugar and salt so would have to be kept in the fridge and used up a lot faster than a traditional chutney. After making the original version (left spoon) I made a spicier and dryer version (right spoon) to see if it would store longer but I actually prefer the flavour of the original batch which was far more fruity.
Equipment: stick blender/mini chopper/liquidiser

1 large pineapple
150g caster sugar
1.5 tsp cumin seed
0.25 tsp ground cinnamon
0.25tsp chilli pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (I use Turkish or Korean pepper flakes)
0.25tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 rounded tsp freshly grated ginger root
1 level tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
2 red chill peppers chopped (heat level to your own taste!)
a small mild flavoured onion thinly sliced

to serve 1 tsp freshly chopped mint (optional)
  • Peel and core the pineapple and chop into roughly 2cm cubes/chunks.
  • Place all of the ingredients except the mint into a saucepan and bring to a boil stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  • Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook for 25-30 minutes stirring regularly until the pineapple is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.
  • Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. 
  • Using a stick blender part puree the mix. You want to end up with about half puree / half chunks or just puree until you have the texture you would like. If you do not have a stick blender and are using a mini chopper or liquidiser just remove a portion of the chutney and blend briefly before adding it back to the main pan.
  • Check for seasoning and chilli heat. You could add extra chilli flakes at this stage.
  • Quickly bring back to the boil and then pour into a heat proof bowl and allow to completely cool.
Allow the chutney to sit for at least a few hours before using. If you want the add the mint, then this goes in just before serving.  I didn't add any to mine but would if it was being served with something like a chicken curry.

This chutney does however, go extremely well with toasted cheese and I never thought I liked cheese and pineapple!

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