Friday 28 June 2013

Ask Foodycat: braised veg

On my last post, Kavey wrote "Would love you to post some more about your vegetable braise recipe, or guidelines. Not done that before, I think."

As it happens, I was planning to do a post on the veg, because it is a really good technique. But I am delighted to turn this into an Ask Foodycat, in order to have an excuse to use the picture. Lovely Mac, the beautiful boy in the picture, has recently left us, which is going to leave a terrible gap when I go back to Oz next month.

So, to the vegetables (the cooking thereof Mac knew nothing about, although he was very keen on helping in the veggie garden). It's similar to the spring vegetable stew I have blogged about before, but I'll give a specific recipe this time! It's very adaptable to whatever is in season though.

Braised veg (serves 4 as a side dish)

Knob of butter
1 large leek, thoroughly washed and chopped
150g broad beans (podded & peeled weight)
150g peas
350g asparagus, cut into inch long pieces
1 baby gem lettuce, cut into shreds
250ml vegetable stock
handful of mint, sliced into a chiffonade

Melt the butter in a shallow pan that has a lid. When it starts to foam, add the leek and soften gently for about 10 minutes. If you are trying to be organised, this is a good point to get to early on in the day, then you can turn off the heat, leave the lid on and let it wait for your convenience.

Add the broad beans, peas and the asparagus stalks (hold the tips back) and vegetable stock and simmer with the lid on for about 5 minutes. Then add the shredded lettuce and asparagus tips. This is another good point to turn the heat off and let things wait if you need to! Otherwise, simmer another few minutes with the lid off until the asparagus tips are tender, the lettuce is wilted and the stock is reduced to a light sauce around the veg.

Sprinkle with the mint, season with black pepper.

For a vegetarian main course, toss through some orecchiette and top with grated parmesan or combine with boiled new potatoes and chunks of a melty cheese.

Outside asparagus season use some fine green beans, or baby courgettes. Maybe use sliced, fresh artichoke hearts or some spring or savoy cabbage leaves (add cabbage towards the end, sliced very finely - if I use cabbage I add a grating of nutmeg). I wouldn't use fennel because it overpowers everything else, but most other green veg are fair game. If you have what some people know as "leftover white wine" or a bit of vermouth, you can use half wine and half stock later in the year when the veg is less beautiful.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Sunday roasts

We love a Sunday roast. Not always on a Sunday. It's pretty much the easiest thing in the world to prepare and it can be adapted to almost any number of people. People talk a lot of rubbish about tricky timing to get everything ready at the same moment but unless your palate is sensitive enough to discern just a degree or two difference in temperature, it really is nothing to worry about. One or more elements will comfortably hang around until everything is ready.

The big things about making a roast good are choosing good quality meat and not being a slave to it. If your roast tastes of fatigue and resentment because you've been up since 7am preparing ten different vegetables, then no one is going to enjoy it. We tend to take a few shortcuts.

We'll make a slightly sauce-y braise of vegetables, and not make a gravy. Or we'll skip the roast potatoes in favour of a creamy gratin and keep everything else very plain and simple. Or we'll do several different roast vegetables and steam a single green veg. Each way is delicious, and it mixes things up a bit.
Roast lamb saddle, roast potatoes, spring vegetable braise
Beef roasted in the barbecue, potato gratin and snow peas and runner beans
Roast chicken, roast potatoes and pumpkin, mushroom gravy, asparagus and bread sauce
I had a weird hankering for bread sauce a while ago. It's one of the traditional accompaniments for roast poultry but it isn't something I have often had. My step-father is a huge fan of it though, so I got my mother's recipe.

Cat's Mother's bread sauce (makes lots - it's delicious)

Infuse about 400ml milk with onion / bay / cloves. i.e warm the milk in small saucepan, add halved onion etc and then leave to one side for a couple of hours.

Soon before serving the meal retrieve flavouring bits (strain if you want but I don’t), reheat milk and add a good handful of breadcrumbs (4 slices of a stale shop loaf with crusts trimmed. Give trimmed crusts to Jake & Watson.) Stir until bubbling and then I add grated nutmeg & ~ 15g butter to enrich. Serve.
Watson - one of the enthusiastic recipients of trimmed crusts

Saturday 22 June 2013

Full English bread pudding

This is one of those prepare-ahead dishes that the Americans tend to call casseroles, or strata. But really, it's a bread and butter pudding, made savoury with a layer of all the delicious elements of a full English breakfast. For a brunch or special breakfast where you don't want to be jumping up and down frying eggs for 6 people, make it the night before and refrigerate it. We had it for dinner over a couple of evenings - reheating it didn't totally destroy it, although it was nicer fresh, of course.
It's pretty adaptable, and I have said that the black pudding is optional, but I thought it was the best bit. So maybe this should be the first, non-threatening introduction to black pudding for the squeamish? Anyway, it's delicious and actually demands making in advance, so it needs a bit of pre-planning but once it is in the fridge you can suit yourself when you bake it.
Full English Bread Pudding (serves 6-8 for brunch, 4-6 large appetites for supper)

500g stale bread (I used a poppyseed bloomer)
olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
450g pork sausages, removed from their casings and rolled into walnut-size balls
100g bacon, cut into small pieces
200g mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
1 big handful parsley, finely chopped
150g black pudding, crumbled (optional, but really good)
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
4 eggs
800ml milk
150g grated cheese (something that melts well. I used gruyere)
Black pepper
Nutmeg (optional - but I am almost incapable of seeing cheese without reaching for nutmeg)

The first bit is the most difficult - figuring out how many slices you need to cut your bread into in order to make two layers of bread slices. That will determine how thickly you need to cut it. Slice the bread and set aside.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent, then add the balls of sausage meat and brown well. Add the bacon, mushrooms and garlic and saute for another few minutes or until the sausage balls are cooked through and the mushrooms have given off some of their liquid and reduced a bit. Stir in the spring onions and parsley, season with black pepper and allow to cool.

Place a layer of bread slices on the bottom of a deep-ish ovenproof dish (I used a pyrex lasagne dish). Spread the cooled mushroom and sausage mixture over the bread, then scatter with the black pudding and cherry tomatoes. Top with the second layer of bread.

Beat the eggs into the milk. If you have some on hand and you are making this for supper, you could add a slosh of vermouth at this point. It's a good addition but I didn't have any. Carefully (because it's going to want to skate off the top of the bread and make a mess) pour the eggy milk all over the bread. It should come up to the top of the sausage mixture.

Sprinkle with grated cheese, a grating more black pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Cover with clingfilm. Now, gently but firmly, press it down with both hands so that the top layer of bread gets pushed down into the custard mixture. Leave in the fridge for a bit - an hour, two hours, overnight, whatever suits you, but it does need a little rest to allow the custard to soak into the bread.

When you are ready to cook it, remove the cling film and bake it at 180 for 45 minutes or until it looks bubbly, golden and set. Serve hot.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Ottolenghing - barbecued lamb and flatbreads

In the weekend's FT (you might need to sign up to view this link) Tim Hayward wrote a great piece on the cookbooks that define eras of dinner party entertaining. He concluded that Yotam Ottolenghi's "fantastically eclectic vision of Middle Eastern street and home food has seized the imagination of the fooderati" and suggests "to Ottoleng" as a verb. He's not wrong. Within minutes of me reading the article, Paul suggested that we re-watch an episode of Ottolenghi's Mediterranean Feast to gain inspiration for our Sunday night supper.

This provided the starting point for our meal. I marinated some lamb shoulder steaks, using the skin of two preserved lemons instead of the fresh rind and zest called for in the recipe. Then I made the almond and orange blossom sauce, using a little less honey and the parsley which I inexplicably bought instead of coriander.

We had a couple of courgettes in the fridge that wanted using, and I thawed a ball of bread dough.
Then everything went on the barbecue. I would have preferred to use my pizza stone for the breads, but there wasn't room for that and all the veg, so skillet it was.
Look at me using my left hand like an ambidextrous person!
While the lamb rested, I scraped the flesh from the charred aubergine skin and mashed it into some yoghurty dip that was lurking in the back of the fridge, soon to hit its use-by date. That went into the middle of my platter, surrounded by the flatbreads, courgettes, peppers and sliced lamb. Then the fragrant mint sauce (left quite thick, like a pesto) went on top of that.

The main criticism of Ottolenghi's recipes is that they usually have a lot of ingredients - some hard to come by - in them. While this was pretty involved, the complexity of the flavours made it worthwhile. It definitely was not your mother's Sunday lamb and mint sauce.

Monday 17 June 2013

BSFIC: goats cheese, thyme and honey semifreddo

IceCreamChallenge The theme for the summer BSFIC challenge is herbs. I was initially stumped - I couldn't think of anything other than luridly green mint choc chip - but eventually my ideas did crystallise.

My favourite ice cream from last year was the blue cheese, quince, olive oil and pistachio concoction I arrived at for the savoury ice cream challenge in November. So I decided to play around with a similar family of flavours. A cheese, a dried fruit, a nut and a luscious Mediterranean sweetness from thyme-infused honey.

I had half a log of soft, mild goats cheese in the fridge (I've been indulging in goats cheese and persimmon toast for breakfast again), so that was my cheese component sorted. I also had half a pack of chopped walnuts and a few baby marinated figs in the pantry. The only things I actually needed to buy were thyme and a pot of cream.
I separated out a few of the smallest and most tender thyme leaves, to fold through the mixture. There were a few flowers on the branches, so I kept them as well.
I brought honey to the boil with a big handful of thyme and allowed it to infuse for 10 minutes, then strained it while it was still quite warm and runny.
I whipped cream and goats cheese to soft peaks.
I beat egg whites to firm peaks. Then I poured the runny, fragrant honey into the egg yolks and beat them to a froth. After that it was just a matter of folding everything together, pouring it into a tin and freezing it. Very straightforward, although it did use a LOT of bowls.

The flavour was excellent. First up on the nose and palate is the honey, with a little sharp lemonyness from the thyme, then a very subtle savouryness from the goats cheese. All interspersed with the soft grainy figs and chunks of walnut. Really delicious, and probably a good starting point for anyone who is sceptical about cheesy ice cream. Not as good a flavour as the blue cheese and quince though...

Goats cheese, thyme and honey semifreddo (makes 6-8 slices)

150g honey
big handful lemon thyme
170ml double cream (or 150 or 200ml - it comes in a 170ml pot)
75g soft goats cheese
2 eggs, separated
50g chopped walnuts
50g miniature preserved figs, chopped
1/2 tsp very small thyme leaves & flowers, extra

Firstly reserve some of the smallest thyme leaves and any flowers in the bunch. Combine the honey and a big handful of thyme in a small saucepan (easiest to weigh the honey straight into the saucepan) and put over a low heat, bringing gently to the boil, then removing from the heat and allowing to sit and infuse for about 10 minutes (or as long as it takes to do the rest of it).

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks in one bowl. Mash the goats cheese in another bowl with a fork, gradually adding the cream until smooth. Whip the cheesy cream to soft peaks (I do egg whites then cream so I can use the same beaters without washing them in between - it doesn't hurt the cream to have a bit of egg white still on them).

Whisk the egg yolks in yet another bowl, pouring the strained honey into them gradually. Whisk to a froth.

Fold together the contents of the three bowls, trying not to lose too much volume but without leaving white streaks of cream or egg white. Then fold in the reserved thyme leaves and flowers, chopped walnuts and chopped figs.

Pour into a cling-film lined loaf tin, cover with more cling film and freeze.

Serve, cut into slices, with a little scattering of more thyme leaves as a garnish.

Saturday 15 June 2013

The end of the affair - The Crown at Amersham

A few years back I had a brief, tempestuous romance with a pub. I fell for it hard, won over by Rosie Sykes' impeccably crafted menus and some very assured, very British cooking. A couple of Sunday lunches as good as you will find anywhere and a wine tasting dinner that I look on with misty-eyed nostalgia and I was thoroughly besotted.

Then it broke my heart. A lack of consistency, chaotic service, decreasing quality and an occasion where a chunk of metal turned up in a tomato sauce left me so sad and disillusioned and wistful for what might have been that we hadn't been back for about three years. Occasionally reading the menus for Rosie's current venture, Fitzbillies in Cambridge, has filled the self-flagellating role of looking at an ex-boyfriend's wedding photos.

Last weekend, we were thinking about Sunday lunch and it occurred to me to check their website. Even though the sample Sunday lunch menu hadn't been updated since April, it looked promising. We decided on a tentative approach at reconciliation.

At 1.30pm on a Sunday, we were the only people in the dining room. This, in an area where most of the pubs pack two sittings for a Sunday lunch, was not promising. But the menu looked good and they had a couple of good local beers on tap so we persevered.
They even coped with our somewhat eccentric ordering technique of naming four dishes and saying we'd decide who ate what when it arrived.

To start we had the brawn and the parfait. I'd like to draw your attention to the generous portion of toast with each serving. Such a rare treat to be offered enough toast to spread your pâté on!
The brawn was a teensy bit firm, but nicely porky. On the sample menu from the website a "ham hock terrine" had been listed, which I suspect was indistinguishable from this - the waitress certainly referred to it as ham hock terrine. The meat did have more of a hock than cheek texture. It was well-flavoured but I probably wouldn't have complained if there had been just a little more salt in it. The piccalilli was absolutely lovely though; not at all the neon yellow mush of harshly vinegared vegetables that it can be. The vegetables were crunchy and lightly dressed. Perfect with the rich pork.
The parfait was served on a disconcerting brown smear which I think was a spiced pear puree. It was absolutely perfect. Velvety smooth, rich and just what you want a liver parfait to be, with a scoop of rillettes on the side to add a bit more duckiness and textural contrast.

Things went unfortunately downhill with the mains.
We were very impressed when the maître d' announced that the jacket potatoes were not up to scratch and asked whether we'd prefer chips or roast potatoes with the barbecue special. Such integrity and commitment to quality! But if the jacket potatoes weren't fit to serve I honestly can't imagine how bad they were, because the roasties (we asked for a mix of chips and roasties) were absolutely awful. Leathery, with that weird shrunken interior that suggests sitting for a long time before reheating in a microwave.

The plate that had promised so much was let down on presentation and contained a very strange mixture. A delicious pork chop, excellent black pudding, then an unfortunate chicken kebab (chicken and aubergine have very different cook-times and make unhappy skewer-mates). Flabby beetroot with aggressive pickled onions and a few bits of undressed cucumber and firm tomato were the salad component. A bit of good coleslaw would have been so much better. As it was the whole thing was a bit dry and a waste of good quality meat.

The plaice with shrimp noisette was better but still flawed. Can you spot the problem? The total lack of shrimp, perhaps? What I was expecting were little brown shrimp in a brown butter sauce, poured over the fish. What I got was more like a sauce vierge - shallots, capers and tomatoes - nice, but not a shrimp noisette. When I mentioned the mislabelling, the waitress wasn't remotely bothered although she did offer to tell the kitchen that there was no shrimp in the shrimp. It was a shame, because it was a lovely piece of fish, cooked well, and the asparagus and new potatoes were also good (Paul felt the new potatoes were a little underdone, I thought they were fine).

By the time we finished our lunch, another couple had joined us in the dining room. Four covers for a Sunday lunch doesn't really make it worth opening, so we may have been witnesses to the dying breaths of a loved one. We certainly saw enough to remember why we broke up with the Crown in the first place.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Gypsy tart

I love a bit of kitchen alchemy but this has me absolutely stumped. How is it that evaporated milk and sugar can set to a frothy but stable mousse without any eggs or gelatine or anything? Baffling.

Ever since I first started reading the BBC Food Boards (RIP) about 12 years ago, I have seen people begging for foolproof gypsy tart recipes. Apparently gypsy tart is a regional specialty from Kent which for many people is the one element of school dinners that is fondly remembered. And the filling is just evaporated milk and dark muscovado sugar.

Finally the curiosity became unbearable and I had to make it. I read a lot of recipes. Consensus seemed to be that the evaporated milk needed to be chilled, the sugar had to be dark muscovado and the two had to be whipped together for 15 minutes before pouring the froth into a blind-baked pastry case, and finished in the oven for a few minutes.

Because the tart itself was going to be so sweet, I made a little not-very-sweet compote of peaches with vanilla bean and a dash of rum to serve on the side.

Then I embarked on the tart itself. I decided to use Mark Sargeant's recipe. A Kentish boy who grew up to be a much-lauded chef had to know what he was about, surely? Although his proportions were a bit different to the other recipes I looked at...

I did leave the sugar out of the pastry because I felt that there was more than enough sugar in the dish without it. And maybe that was why the pastry turned out to be absolutely unworkable. Even chilled for 45 minutes it was still too soft to handle and I ended up having to just press it into the pie dish in a rather thicker layer than I wanted, and then chill it again before blind baking.

I don't have a 21cm tart tin, so I used a 23cm pie plate. So you'd think the filling would be a more sparse layer. No. The filling made twice as much as necessary. I poured the rest into a little glass baking dish and baked it in a bain marie.
Everything else went according to plan. The filling puffed up beautifully, sinking back again as it cooled, leaving a small rim of the caramelly insides revealed. The pastry wasn't as leathery as I had feared, given the way I treated it, although it certainly wasn't an epic bake.

And it tasted good! The very dark sugar gave some interesting caramel notes so it wasn't just unrelieved sweetness and the light, moussey texture was lovely. If you do try to make this recipe I would use the full 500g of pastry in a 28cm dish OR make half the amount of filling for a 21cm pie. Personally, my curiosity has been sated. It was really delicious (especially with the peaches) but I will not make it again unless specially requested. For some reason, it gave me absolutely shocking heartburn. But don't let that put you off...

Sunday 9 June 2013

Soho Food Feast 2013

I wrote last year about the Soho Food Feast, the inspired fundraiser for the Soho Parish Primary School. Yesterday, it was on again. After the success of last year's, this one was on a larger scale. The entry tickets were £15, not £4, and they are running it over both days of the weekend. But food tokens were still £2, the sun shone again and the array of food on offer was again impressive. Although we stuck to a really delicious dry prosecco from The French House this year because the delicious Milk & Honey mojitos went up from £7.50 to £10...
They sold a lot more tickets this year too.
My first port of call was the cook book swap table - the nine hardback books I culled from my stash were weighing me down a bit. As the table had only two books on it before I arrived I think they were quite glad to see me! And I very determinedly left without taking another book.

Then, after a circuit of the tent to plan our campaign, we hit the food. Last year's only disappointment for Penny was that the majority of vendors had done a pork dish. This year there wasn't a lot of pork but loads of seafood. Everything from burgers to pot-stickers to chocolate caramel tart looked and smelt very good.
First dish of the day - delicious fish dog from Hix. Fried to order by charming young men, a sustainable coley fillet, minted mushy peas and a choice of ketchup or tartare sauce
Burnt chilli chicken with masala mashed potatoes from Cinnamon Soho. Absolutely delicious. Next time I make a curry I am serving it with spicy mash.
Angela Hartnett did another cooking demonstration. Very funny and a joy to watch someone cook so deftly.
She made a girolle, broad bean and pea ragu pasta
St John sold out of their famous doughnuts very quickly. The queue for their ox heart buns wasn't quite so long... It's nose-to-tail fortnight but ox heart didn't appeal

Delicious, firey and sharp seabass and sweet potato ceviche from Ceviche
Fresh, milky mozzarella and tomato salad from Natoora
Duck, watermelon and pickled ginger salad from The Ivy. The watermelon had been sitting, cut, for a bit too long but I think freshly done this would be an unbeatable dish.
As a final savoury dish Penny had Mahon cheese from Brindisa, served with tomato jam...
... while I had a roast beef and horseradish manchet from Quo Vadis. It was beautifully balanced and darling Jeremy Lee did a wonderful job of selling it to me but I was a little bit too full to totally appreciate a carby treat at this point.
I'd been carefully keeping back a final token for Gelupo ice cream. But then it turned out they were charging two tokens for an ice cream cone, so I had to scuttle off and buy another. The ricotta gelato with sour cherry swirl was well worth it.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Toast festival - food and migration panel

Last weekend was the inaugural Toast festival - a weekend of discussions and workshops about food, raising money for Action Against Hunger. I already had plans for Saturday, but the Sunday morning panel debate on Food & Migration caught my eye. Promising Paul a nice lunch in Shoreditch got him enthused as well, although pointing out that we needed to leave the house before 10am took the gilt off the gingerbread for him a bit.
I really liked these cocktail prints but they were outside my budget

Fortunately one of the attractions of Toast was coffee from DunneFrankowski, so after two rapidly-inhaled strong cappucinos he'd woken up a bit and was ready to listen to the debate. It was an impressive panel - Anissa Helou, Fuchsia Dunlop, Lizzie Collingham and Iqbal Wahhab - but unfortunately the actual debate was disappointing.

The pitch for the debate was "London has been a magnet for immigration for centuries. Waves of Huguenots, Irish, Eastern European Jews, Afro-Caribbeans, and South Asians (among many others) have come to the metropolis seeking new opportunities. But how has this changed how we eat, especially over the past five decades? Do elements of cuisine get lost of [sic] translation? And does eating food from many different countries mean that we’re more culturally aware?" but none of those points were really covered. Each panellist told (interesting) anecdotes but there was a lack of connectedness to it and a lack of follow-up on points that were made.

Partly I think this was down to poor moderation. The session was also very short. Had it not been for charity I would have felt that the ticket price was quite inflated. There was very little time for questions at the end, which was disappointing because one question led to the most important point of the session, I thought. One audience member asked if the panel thought that food was a way into social integration, and Lizzie said "We are very good at accepting the food while rejecting the people". I think that was worth a lot of interrogation but there wasn't time.

So we stepped, blinking owlishly, into the light (the debate was held in a slightly dank basement, and it was lovely and sunny outside) and went off for a little stroll around Old St before lunch.

Paul's request for lunch was pho, which is very easily provided in that neck of the woods. We sat down in Cay Tre and explored the menu. A little shared starter of prawn rolls, generous bowls of Saigon beef pho and a delicious Saigon lime soda (which is now my third favourite non-alcoholic beverage in a restaurant, after the Wahaca citrus fizz and the Dumplings Legend lemon iced tea).

The prawn rolls missed the mark a little for me - not as herbal as I like and I prefer a mixture of pork and prawn, which they don't have on the menu. The pho was excellent. Usually we order it with just lean beef fillet, but the Saigon-style had a mixture of brisket slices and other textures of beef which I think will be my new go-to. The broth was also very fragrant and deep-flavoured, although Paul felt it needed a bit more fish-sauce and star anise to match up to his favourite pho from under Wynyard station in Sydney.

Unfortunately a very early lunch (we sat down just before noon) meant that when we got home we needed to think about dinner. We got a piece of pork fillet out of the freezer and proceeded with Helen Graves' recipe for Nigerian BBQ. The meat was still quite frozen when I sliced it, so it was easy enough to cut into long thin strips.
I love those skewers - best thing ever left by a former housemate.

Preparing this dish made me think more about the food and migration thing. In answer to the question about WHY Britain has adopted the food of migrants so readily when other countries haven't, the panel gave a pretty glib "British food is horrible" response, instead of going into why British food is horrible or whether other countries have had the same level of migration. They also didn't look really at the role of British travellers developing a taste for foreign foods and bringing dishes back with them.

My grandfather did a stint working in Nigeria many years ago, and although I remember him talking about a peanut stew he had there, I will have to ask whether he ever tried Nigerian barbecue. Not having tried this dish before I am not sure whether it is authentic. But it was good! I think the pork fillet was the wrong cut of meat for it - too lean - but the flavours of the marinade/rub were wonderful. Next time we'll try it with a fattier cut of pork or beef, I think.

Monday 3 June 2013

Meat Free Monday: oeufs dur mayonnaise

My mother will tell you that when I was a very small foodycat I was addicted to the egg mayonnaise at Cranks in Guildford. I think I have a clear memory of how it tasted, and brown pottery plates, but seeing as it was thirty-five plus years ago I think it is safe to say that my memories may be inaccurate. At least in part because I remember the mayonnaise tasting very much like Heinz salad cream, and I don't honestly see how that is possible if it was home made.

Elizabeth David writes in French Provincial Cooking "It may seem superfluous to give a recipe for so basic a dish as egg mayonnaise, but sometimes, in the search for originality, the most obvious dishes are forgotten. No one ever need be ashamed to offer their guests a well-made dish of egg mayonnaise, for it is always appreciated". I don't know if it was the search for originality or the lingering fear of cholesterol - the dietary bogeyman of my teenage years - but I certainly haven't made, eaten or even thought about egg mayonnaise in a very long time. But old-fashioned French-style brasseries are having a bit of a moment in London and places like Brasserie Zedel are putting it back on the menu.

One day last week it seemed like a very good idea. I had a nice chunk of olive sourdough bread that was really calling out for something gentle and soothing to eat with it. Home made mayonnaise is the easiest thing in the world but I had some good-quality bought mayo so I didn't bother. I also couldn't quite bring myself to present it in the Mrs David-approved fashion, smearing mayonnaise thickly across the plate and topping it with halved eggs and parsley sprinkles. I put my eggs on a bed of lettuce, dolloped a little mayonnaise on top and revelled in nostalgia.

Saturday 1 June 2013

BSFIC: PB&J for grownups

IceCreamChallenge_thumb1One thing I have learnt about creativity is that there really is no such thing as an original idea. Every time I think of something, a couple of seconds on the internet search engine of my choice throws up thousands of other people who have had the same idea first.

I'm OK with that. Really.

But I only realised just how accustomed I was to the situation when I had an idea, googled it and got no hits. I used every combination of search terms I could think of and came up with nothing. I started to panic. How could I have come up with something original? Surely someone else had thought of it first? Had everyone already had the idea, seen it was flawed and discarded it?

Apparently I am not psychologically suited to being a trailblazer.

I thought about it a bit more and decided that the only way forward was to have a go and see if it worked. So my entry for this month's Bloggers scream for ice cream event, with an "edible containers" theme, is in part an entirely original idea.

You see, ever since I tasted the Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Me Up I have been wondering about the best way to combine the flavours of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in an ice cream. And one idea I came up with was to make a raspberry choux paste and fill the profiteroles with peanut butter ice cream. But every way I searched for flavoured choux pastes turned up profiteroles filled with flavouring, not being inherently flavoured themselves.

What I did was puree some frozen raspberries that were languishing in the freezer, strain them and use that (it was about 1/4 cup) as part of the liquid in the choux. It went OK initially, but I think my eggs were too big - I should have added them more gradually, because the paste went from feeling fine to being too wet, so I knew it probably wasn't going to rise and dry out properly. I also mixed through some freeze-dried raspberry pieces, to boost the flavour and add a bit of textural interest.
Next time I'm adding some food colouring

I spooned (no hope of it holding for piping) mounds of the too-sloppy paste and topped them with some pearl sugar and a few more pieces of the dried raspberry. This was another error of judgement - I should have waited until the buns were cooked and then stuck the bits on with some edible glue, because the sugar melted and the raspberries lost their colour.

So they had a good raspberry aroma and subtle raspberry jam flavour, but were not the crisp, airy puffs I had been envisaging. I still think my totally original idea is sound though.

For the ice cream element I made a peanut butter ice cream with boozy butterscotch ripple. I thought it was lovely, but Paul felt that it was a bit hard going - too nutty and not creamy enough and not as nice as my Seville orange ice cream. A friend who gave the recipe a go agreed with him (she served hers with pan-fried bananas which sounds like a very good idea to me). So if I were to make this again and intended to share, I'd use 50% more cream and condensed milk and leave the other quantities the same.

Peanut butter scotch ice cream

150g condensed milk (225g if you have Paul's wimpy palate)
150g peanut butter (I prefer crunchy peanut butter with salt but no added sugar and I think it is the right thing for this - gives a good texture and the salt enhances the flavours)
2tbs scotch whisky
130ml double cream (200ml i.y.h.P.w.p)
2tbs caster sugar
2tbs water
40ml double cream, extra
2tbs scotch whisky, extra

In one bowl, mix the condensed milk, peanut butter and scotch.

In another whisk the cream to fairly firm peaks, fold the cream into the condensed milk mixture and freeze in a plastic box for an hour.

While it is freezing, caramelise the caster sugar in the water. Mix the extra cream and scotch together. When the sugar forms a nice amber caramel, remove from heat and immediately stir in the cream and whisky mixture. It'll spit and bubble, but stir to a smooth sauce. Cool.

Take the semi-frozen ice cream from the freezer, pour dollops of the sauce over, giving them a bit of a fold through. Freeze.

Serve scoops of the ice cream in raspberry choux buns. Or with fried bananas.


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