Saturday, 7 September 2019

Barbecued chicken wings - a summer's work

Work in progress - April. Excellent colour but not much crunch
For inexplicable reasons, Paul's never been much of a fan of chicken wings. He'd always opt for a drumstick or a piece of breast or something first. I, on the other hand, love them. Deep-fried and crisp or richly sticky with a sweet marinade, I think they are delicious little morsels and well worth nibbling around the bones.

Just as inexplicable as Paul's traditional lack of interest in chicken wings has been his sudden enthusiasm for them this year. Chances are it was kicked off by something he saw on youtube, but I really don't remember what it was. But he wanted chicken wings and he wanted them barbecued. However it started, we've had a summer-long pursuit of the perfect barbecued chicken wing.

Chicken is supposed to be quite tricky to barbecue. Certainly anyone who has ever been faced with bloody-at-the-bone drumsticks with a charred outer layer would tell you that it's not that easy. But you certainly don't have to par-cook it and finish it on the barbecue, the way a lot of recipes suggest.
August: method perfected, experimenting with flavours
It took some trial and error, but we've hit on a really, really good method for barbecued wings. Paul thinks the theory is sound for bone-in chicken thighs, but we haven't tested that yet. The key is a long, off-set cook, so that the meat is cooked through, gently enough that the connective tissues are starting to melt as well.

Sometimes with barbecued chicken, the smoke, while giving the meat a delicious flavour, makes the skin leathery. We've discovered that a spoonful of cornflour in the marinade counteracts that leatheriness, leaving a lovely crisp skin and also helping the seasonings to adhere.
So good. Succulent all the way through, crisp outside.
The basic principle is a spoonful of cornflour, a spoonful of vegetable oil and your choice of seasonings. From that framework, it's really adaptable. We've done fish sauce and garlic, inspired by the famous Pok Pok wings. We've done kim chi juice, which has a delicious fermented funk. We've gone Greek-ish, using olive oil instead of vegetable oil and seasoning with lemon juice, garlic and oregano. We've done soy sauce, ginger and garlic. We haven't yet tried saucing them afterwards, a la buffalo wings, but I am sure that would work too.
The calamondin almost died over winter 2017/18, but it's back on track
This version, with fruit from our bonsai calamondin tree, is particularly successful. The main flavour is the bittersweet not-quite-orange flavour of the calamondin, with a subtle warmth from the chilli and the (for me) essential garlic.

Calamondin and Garlic Chicken Wings

1kg chicken wings (we get the ones with the wing tips removed - 1kg is 12-14 wings)
1tbs cornflour
1tbs vegetable oil
1tbs light soy sauce
3 calamondins, cut into rough chunks, seeds removed (if you don't have access to fresh calamondins - and I can see why you wouldn't - use 1 medium tangerine)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into rough chunks
1tsp chilli flakes
Pinch of salt

In a small processor, combine everything except the chicken wings. Pulse to a thick puree - it doesn't have to be completely smooth. Pour the puree over the chicken wings and turn to give a good coating. I used to do this in a ziplock bag, which is just the right thing for smooshing sauces into all the nooks, but I am trying to cut down on single use plastics so now I do it in a pyrex dish with a lid and just give them a good stir.

Refrigerate until ready to cook. An hour in the marinade is better than no time at all, but 6-8 hours is better. I try to do it just after breakfast for eating in the evening.

A kilo of wings takes up quite a bit of space, so you'll need to build a fire set off as far to the side of the barbecue as you can. We start with a bag of easy-light charcoal and then add a thick layer of lumpwood - the fire needs to last a while and burn pretty hot.

Arrange the wings. Barbecue, lid down, with the vent over the wings and open a little bit to encourage the heat to flow over them, for 45 minutes to an hour.
Calamondin & Garlic wings. Slightly caught on the outside, absolutely delicious.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Mars Bar Slice

On Saturday, it was the kids day at the farm where Paul shoots. Last year was the first time he'd been involved - the day before we smoked and wrapped two shoulders of lamb with a lot of harissa, garlic and preserved lemons. They, along with everything else on offer, disappeared as if a plague of locusts had been let loose.

This year, they were determined to out-do themselves. They had four kettle barbecues set up for slow roasting and a gas grill for burgers. Paul acted as pitmaster. Starting at 7am they cooked through until about 4pm, getting through 1.5 sheep (in various cuts), 3 small deer, 160 pheasant, duck and venison burgers and some sausages. All meat either produced or shot on the farm. There was also a bakery full of bread and buns, salads and a vast array of confectionary. He got home sunburnt and too tired to speak and slept for 12 hours.

My small contribution was a tray of Mars Bar Slice. Always a crowd-pleaser. Although given that the locusts left not a single bite of anything, it's hard to adequately assess the popularity with this particular crowd.

Mars Bar Slice (makes lots)

100g butter
2 tbs golden syrup
More-or-less 500g mars bars (they keep changing the size, but anything from 450-550g total weight is absolutely fine). 1/4 of them finely chopped, the rest cut into rough chunks.
120g rice krispies
200g milk chocolate
200g dark chocolate - or you could use 400g milk chocolate, but I like that touch less sweetness from combining the two
30g coconut oil
Pinch of salt
Sprinkles (optional)

Line a tin with non-stick baking parchment. I used a 20 x 30cm pyrex lasagne dish, but an inch either side of those measurements isn't a problem.

Combine the butter, golden syrup and the roughly chopped mars bars in a medium pan, and melt gently over a low heat, stirring constantly until smooth, then remove from heat.

Put the rice krispies in a large bowl with the finely chopped mars bars. With your hands, gently toss the mixture together to separate out the pieces of mars bar, which have a tendency to cling together.

Stir the melted mars bar mixture through the rice krispies. Scrape into the prepared tin and press down well with a spatula. Cool for an hour to set.

Combine the milk and dark chocolate, chopped into chunks, with the coconut oil and a small pinch of salt in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water (not letting the water touch the base of the bowl) and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the melted chocolate over the set slice and tilt the pan around to make the coating even. If you are using sprinkles, allow the chocolate to cool for about 5 minutes before adding them, so they don't just sink straight through. I used some very glamorous bronze crunch sprinkles which I think make everything look classy. They'll probably turn up on cauliflower cheese at some point.

Allow to cool for 30-45 minutes at room temperature before cutting into small squares with a sharp knife. Store in the fridge if it's warm or humid.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

White chocolate sour cherry cheesecake

White chocolate sour cherry cheesecake
We had a house guest staying last weekend. He's a friend of Paul's who comes over 3-4 times a year, but he lives a 3 hour train trip away. So if he comes to visit he stays the night so they can sit in the living room talking shit for hours. I assume - I usually go to bed. I limit my hostessing to washing the spare room sheets, cleaning the bathroom and making a salad.

Any excuse to make a pudding, however. The last time he came over I made Felicity Cloake's perfect pecan pie. Which was SO darn good. Really. Best pecan pie I have ever eaten. I've made it again subsequently and it's actually a bit tricky to think of other desserts to make when that exists in the world. It also makes other pies and tarts feel a bit shy. How can they live up to that?! Paul ended up solving the dilemma, when he asked for a cheesecake with a layer of a tart fruit jam on top.

It's quite a dense, baked cheesecake, and not too sweet (unusually for white chocolate). I used a very nice 70% fruit sour cherry preserve, which was just the thing.

White chocolate sour cherry cheesecake (serves 8-10)

120g ginger nut biscuits
50g butter
pinch salt
200g white chocolate
300g sour cherry jam, divided in half
300g cream cheese
300g sour cream
50g caster sugar
2tbs cornflour
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1tbs kirsch (or other booze)

Preheat oven to 180C, with a metal oven tray on the middle shelf.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and set aside to cool.

Melt the butter in a small pan. Using a rolling pin, crush the biscuits in a plastic bag until they are mostly fine crumbs, with the occasional bigger bit. Mix the crumbs into the melted butter, add a pinch of salt and stir well.

Line a deep 20cm round cake tin with a removable base (you don't really have to, especially if you are using a springform tin, but it helps avoid the cheesecake's tendency to crack as it cools because the lining moves with it) and firmly press the buttery crumbs into the base of the tin.

Bake the base on the preheated oven tray for 15 minutes.

Remove the tin from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 110C.

Dollop half the jam over the hot biscuit base, and spread gently around as it melts.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, cornflour, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth. Fold in the cooled white chocolate and pour into the tin, over the base. It's quite runny, so it should self-level well.

Bake for 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours, until set but still slightly wobbly in the middle. If you didn't line your tin, when you pull the tin out of the oven, run a palette knife all the way around the cake to make sure it's loosened from the sides of the tin (again, helps avoid cracking). Allow to cool completely.

In a small pan, warm the remaining half of the sour cherry jam with the kirsch until it's a bit runnier. Spread over the cold cheesecake. Chill before serving.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

A good start to the year: garlic thyme potatoes

Finger lime
Happy New Year! 2019 is currently feeling overwhelming and fairly terrifying, so my main hope for us all is that it won't be as bad as it looks.

Last night, as is our preference, we stayed home and ate a delicious dinner. I had planned our traditional fondue, but then when the groceries were delivered my cheese wasn't in it. I couldn't quite face the prospect of a trip to the shops, so I re-thought, and came up with a very good plan using the available ingredients.

Fortunately, our starter was not affected by the lack of cheese. When I did the seafood platter for last week's Christmas Eve meal, Paul was smitten with the finger limes. He decided that if it could be had, some caviar would be a perfect New Year's Eve nibble, garnished with the finger lime beads. Caviar was obtainable (at predictably terrible price, but hey, we didn't have to pay for taxis last night), and it was a perfect combination. The matching size and texture and contrasting flavour and colour was excellent. It would even have been worth brushing my hair and leaving the house for, but fortunately I didn't have to go to those lengths.

For our not-fondue main course, I pulled some flatiron steaks out of the freezer, which we grilled over charcoal, braised some chicory and made these fab, meltingly delicious potatoes. It's the same potato dish I made for Christmas, and I think making it 2 weeks running means it's worth writing up the recipe. It's still very buttery, so it's not a low-calorie option, but it's much lighter than a dauphinoise.
You can see how sticky and melting they are
Garlic thyme potatoes (serves 2)

3-4 medium Charlotte potatoes (or other waxy or all-purpose variety), peeled and thinly sliced
45-60g (3-4tbs) salted butter
1 big sprig fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine or white vermouth
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C

Grease the base of a small casserole dish thickly with 1tbs butter. Arrange half the potatoes evenly in it. Scatter the garlic, thyme leaves, a good grinding of pepper and half the remaining butter on the potatoes, then add the remaining potatoes.

Pour over the wine and stock - it should come up about 2/3 of the way up the potatoes. Press down on the spuds so they are briefly submerged. Scatter with knobs of the remaining butter and another grinding of pepper.

Bake for half an hour or so, until the potatoes are golden on top, melting in the middle and most of the juices have evaporated. If your dish is deep rather than long it'll take longer. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

2018 Christmas Feasting

Merry Christmas, all! Hope you had the best possible day yesterday.

Last year, of course, we ate mostly vegetarian over the festive period - and very nice it was too. This year we were back on the beasts. And it was just us so we pared things back to a few indulgent meals.
Solstice dinner
We started on Friday, to mark the Solstice. A roast rack of cured pork, with roast autumn vegetables (a Diana Henry recipe), steamed kalettes and parsley sauce. We had some gorgeous Somerset cider brandy later on, to toast the turning of the wheel and the return of the sun.

There was loads of pork leftover. The bones and some of the meat made a lovely thick bean stew, and the rest of the meat went into sandwiches.
Stollen buns
I made a big batch of Spiced and Fruity Stollen Buns for our breakfasts this week. I don't think we'll get through them before they go stale, but the last few are going to make a magnificent bread and butter pudding.
Miso-butter double salmon rillettes
For Christmas Eve we had seafood. Mostly a bought seafood platter - which was vast, we have loads of prawns left - but I also made these absolutely gorgeous miso-butter double salmon rillettes. The miso gives the rillettes an extra deep savour. We had some of the leftover for lunch on Christmas Day, on toasted olive bread, and we're very happy to still have some tucked in the fridge.
Salmon rillettes on chicory leaves, garnished with finger lime
Seafood platter
We had our Christmas Dinner in the evening. As people who don't have a carved-in-stone traditional Christmas meal, it's snuck up on me that my most enduring tradition is Diana Henry's persimmon and chicory salad, which has adorned our Christmas table on three of the last four years, only missing Christmas 2015 because I couldn't get persimmons. This year I left out the pomegranate, because they were really expensive for just a bit of garnish. We had a really lovely lightly-smoked venison rack, and sort-of confit potatoes, cooked slowly with loads of garlic and thyme, and white wine, butter and vegetable stock.

Going easy on the main course left us with space for a very boozy almond tiramisu, made with an abundance of amaretto. And I used Paul's decaf coffee, so we both got a good night's sleep afterwards. 

Friday, 21 December 2018

Christmas Venison Sausage Rolls

The snowflake is optional
I originally thought I would make a batch of Rudolf Rolls for Paul's last shoot before Christmas. But the thought of making my own blue cheese puff pastry in the time I had available felt a bit like a stressful Bake Off challenge. This, then, has similar flavours but is very quick to pull together.

Christmas Venison Sausage Rolls (makes 16 chunky ones, 8 lunch-sized ones)

500g minced venison (I minced cubed venison through a medium screen)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tbs butter
6 juniper berries, crushed
50g fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbs cranberry sauce (I used a particularly nice Manfood cranberry, chilli and orange one)
100g strong blue cheese
1 egg
Salt & pepper
1 egg, extra
2 x 320g sheets ready rolled puff pastry

Preheat oven to 200C (fan).

Gently saute the onion in the butter until translucent. Don't rush it, it'll take a solid 10 minutes with an occasional stir. Set aside to cool.

Combine minced venison, cooled onion, juniper berries, breadcrumbs, cranberry sauce, crumbled blue cheese and the egg in a medium bowl. Season well with salt and pepper and mix well.

Unroll the sheets of puff pastry, leaving it on the paper it's rolled in, and brush with the extra egg, beaten (I find this helps the sausage to stick to the pastry).

Divide the venison mixture into 4. Take a portion, pat it into a sausage shape with your hands and place at one end of one of the sheets of pastry and squidge it until it's the same length as the pastry and an even thickness. Repeat with a second portion and place at the other end of the pastry, then repeat twice more with the other sheet of pastry.

You'll have 2 long sheets of pastry with a sausage at each short end. In case you are having trouble visualising.

With the help of the backing paper to keep it tight, roll the sausage over so it's covered by the pastry, then brush that strip of pastry with a bit more egg and roll again. So you have a sausage roll with a tidy top and a double layer of pastry on the bottom. Repeat from the other end, then repeat with the other sausages and sheets of pastry.

You now have 4 sausage rolls, still joined in the middle of the two sheets of pastry. Using a sharp knife, cut between the sausage rolls, then cut each sausage roll in 2 or 4, depending on your plans for them.

Transfer them to baking paper-lined baking sheets, leaving a good space to expand.

Brush them with more of the beaten egg. If I'd had any leftover pastry, I would have cut out Christmassy decorations to put on top, but I didn't. So I pressed a snowflake cookie cutter into the tops, cutting through a couple of layers of the lamination but not all the way through. I should have pressed just a little harder to make the patterns a little more distinct.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a rich gold. You'll probably need to rotate the sheets at half time so they cook evenly. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Boozy Christmas Pudding Truffles

So-named because they contain Christmas pudding, not because they look like them. Although you could definitely take a leaf out of Nigella's Christmas Puddini Bonbons book and decorate them with white chocolate and glace cherries. They are basically a rum ball but I didn't use rum and bourbon balls doesn't quite capture it.

I had an out-of-date Christmas pudding that I wanted rid of before all my shopping arrived for this Christmas, so I opened it and gave it a sniff (seemed fine) then cooked it and ate a bit, to no ill-effect. I figured it was worth a gamble.

They are very dense and gooey and intensely flavoured. Even Paul and his lack of sweet tooth was impressed. He took them on a shoot, where they were rapidly re-named "Reindeer Poop" and devoured. Why you would want to eat something that you'd called poop is beyond me.

Boozy Christmas Pudding Truffles (makes 35+, depending on how big you make them)

600g leftover (cooked and cooled) Christmas pudding
200g dark chocolate
60g cream cheese
1/4 cup your choice of delicious brown liquor (rum, bourbon, brandy, whisky - I had bourbon)
100g dark chocolate, extra
sprinkles, to decorate

Place the 200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces, into a medium-sized glass mixing bowl. Put the bowl over a pan of simmering water (making sure the water doesn't touch the glass) and gently melt the chocolate. I've never got the hang of melting chocolate in the microwave, but if you can you should.

While the chocolate melts, break the pudding into small chunks.

When the chocolate has melted, beat in the cream cheese, then the pudding chunks and alcohol, and stir well until it's all combined. The pudding will pretty much disintegrate. Chill in the fridge for about half an hour.

Set out paper (or foil, if you are feeling very fancy) petit fours cases on a baking sheet.

Roll heaped teaspoonfuls of the cooled mixture between your hands into tidy-ish compact balls and place into the petit fours cases. Return to the fridge for half an hour.

Melt the extra chocolate in a small bowl over simmering water. Drip half-teaspoonfuls of the chocolate over the truffles and then spread the chocolate out a bit with the back of a teaspoon. I find a swirly motion is the most efficient. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle with whatever sprinkles you are using to decorate.

Chill overnight, but serve at room temperature.


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