Saturday, 30 July 2011

Issy's 21st Birthday Cake- Raspberry and Rosewater.

My lovely friend Issy turned 21 in June, and this cake recipe was made especially for her. We both love rose flavoured things, and I'm very keen on rosewater with raspberries. I like to think the combination evokes the feel of an English garden, something summery and fragrant.

The cake itself is simply a victoria sponge recipe with rosewater in place of vanilla essence. I prefer making the sponge by hand instead of a food processor, just because I always have done and I find the ritual of it comforting. But if you go down the modern route (and there is no shame in it) all the ingredients go in the processor together with the addition of a teaspoon of baking powder.

For the cake:
225g butter,at room temperature
225g caster sugar
4 medium eggs, room temperature, beaten
1 tbsp rosewater
225g self raising flour
approx 2 tbsp milk

Get the boring parts out of the way; preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease and line 2 x 18cm/7in cake tins with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in a quarter of the egg mix with a tablespoon of the flour, repeat until all the egg is used. Stir in the rosewater. Sift the flour into the bowl and fold in with a large metal spoon until well combined. The mixture should be a soft 'dropping' consistency- i.e. it should fall off the spoon in thick lumps. Divide between the two cake tins, smoothing the top with a knife or spatula. Back for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer pierced in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

For the filling:
284ml tub of double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1tbsp rosewater
good quality raspberry jam
small punnet of raspberries

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, then fold in the sugar and rosewater. Turn the less attractive cake upside down onto a plate and spread with the jam, and place the raspberries on top. Spoon over the rose-cream mix, even out the spoonfuls with a knife. Sit the other cake, right way up this time, on top. Decorate with rose petals if you are so inclined.

Salt Beef Sandwiches

The salt beef now brined, salted, cooked and cooled, I could move on to actually eating it. My first thought was to recreate the Reuben sandwich that I ate in the Carnegie Deli in New York. In the end I felt that location was too important a factor, it just wouldn't be the same in your living room in the West-Midlands, however delicious the end result.  I settled for a much simpler affair- this is not to say casual, there is an art to making a sandwich that is truly worth eating. Generous quantities of meat, sliced thinly and piled high, some searing English mustard, and homemade mayonnaise, in good bread.
I didn't bother with salad, I wanted it as simple as possible for my first meal with the salt beef in. I think a pickle on the side would have gone down well though, an appreciative nod to the New York deli.

Home-Cured Salt Beef

Last Saturday was Leamington farmers market, which I go to every month. I have to limit myself to a single purchase, or I would spend far too much. I chose for this month's buy a small joint of beef brisket, a hard-working piece of the animal that is not as popular as it should be. It's cheap and delicious, but requires slow cooking to break down the connective tissue and turn it into good eating.

There were several routes I could go down- brisket is a traditional cut in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, where it turns up as a pot roast, or the prune-sweetened beef tsimmes. The Chinese stew it, or put it in soup with noodles. This particular brisket was to become salt beef.

After a bit of cookery book consultation, I used a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book Meat. I had to downscale it slightly- he writes in terms of joint of around 3kgs, whereas I had mere slice of beef, weighing in at 800 grams. I halved the brine quantities, and only left the meat in it for 3 days as opposed to the suggested 7-10. I also decided to leave out the optional saltpetre, which is used to keep the meat a more attractive pink colour instead of stewed brown-grey. If you decide to use go down the more attractive route, saltpetre is available in larger pharmacies.

Here is the recipe in it's original form, it is up to the reader to implement any changes:

For the brining stage:
3kg brisket
5L water
500g demerera sugar
1.5kg salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
5 cloves
4 bay leaves
30g saltpetre

Put all the ingredients except for the beef in a saucepan and bring to the boil- give it the odd stir to help the sugar and salt dissolve, if like me, you hate feeling uninvolved with the cooking going on. Once it has reached boiling, take it off the heat and allow it to cool completely.
Put the meat and brine in a non-reactive container (i.e. tupperware or similar, nothing metallic). You may need something to way down the meat to keep it submerged; Hugh suggests a piece of wood,I used a small plate. You can keep it in a cool place, as suggested. I decided to keep it in the fridge as my flat is too warm for me to feel comfortable to do so.
After your brining time (see above for notes on this), remove the meat from the brine. The joint will feel firm, and also be a rather unappetising brown. But have faith. Now you need to remove excess salt by soaking it in fresh water for 24-48 hours, depending on the size of your joint. The water needs to be changed at least once. After this rather uninteresting stage, we move onto cooking.

For the cooking:
1 bouquet garni
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 carrot
1 stick celery
1 leek
1/2 head garlic

Put all the ingredients, plus your beef and water to cover in a casserole and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for around 2-3 hours, till the meat is tender. You can either eat it hot there and then, or have it cold. Personally I prefer it cold, so I allowed it to cool overnight in the cooking liquid before removing.
Salt beef, pre-cooking...

......and post cooking... 
...and mid slicing, please note the essential accompaniment alongside.

Friday, 29 July 2011


I like making mayonnaise, there is something incredibly satisfying about turning two egg yolks, seasoning and oil into an unctuous, wobbly bowl of deliciousness. People might try to scare you out of making it- not only can it curdle, but it has raw egg yolks in it. Ignore any naysayers, and make something that's worth dipping your frites into.

This is a classic recipe, no innovation or twists on my part. I wouldn't dream of it.

Approximately 250ml groundnut oil
2 eggs yolks only
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 heaped tsp mustard powder
1 level tsp fine salt
freshly ground pepper- white if you want to avoid black specks
1 tsp white wine vinegar

Combine the egg yolks, garlic, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Give them a whisk to combine them. Drop by drop, add the oil, whisking as you go. Go cautiously at first, make sure each addition of oil has been combined into the egg mixture before the next. Soon your mixture will stiffen, so add the vinegar. Now you can relax slightly, and pour the oil in a thin stream into the eggs with one hand, whisking with the other. When all the oil is added (more or less, depending on how you like it), taste, and adjust the seasoning according to your taste.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Leamington Spa, you're not so bad.

Although in my heart I still feel very much a Londoner-albeit a rather suburban one-I've been living in the West Midlands for the last few years. There has been the occasional setback caused by living in Not London (a minor tantrum based on not being able to locate filo pastry for love nor money is particularly memorable), but they are balanced out Leamington Spa's foodie gems. In no logical order:

Millennium Sweet House
If you like sugary Indian sweets, this is the place for you. Ask for the gulab jamun, and have the number of your dentist to hand.

Bridges Newsagent
From the outside, a newsagent. From the inside...still a newsagent. But at the back, you can stock up on storecupboard ingredients for Indian cooking, such as big bags of whole or ground spices, pulses and nuts. Its far cheaper than the supermarket too.

KL Oriental Supermarket
Well stocked South-East Asian food store, with an emphasis on Thai ingredients. You can get fresh lemongrass, holy basil and tamarind among other exotic goodies. You can get all the ingredients for this recipe here, or good quality ready made paste if you're feeling lazy. I get frozen raw prawns from there too, it's cheaper than anywhere else I've found. Word of warning: they don't sell rice in bags smaller than 5 kilos, so come feeling strong.

Aubrey Allan
Moving into the upmarket territory here. Fantastic meats and deli products served by incredibly helpful and friendly staff. You get the same charming service if you are buying (or rather being bought by your very kind mother) steak, or going there begging for free pork rind to enrich a stew.

S.H. Jones Wines
Great range of hard-to-get spirits, such as 100% agave tequila. Admittedly I've never bought anything there, I just like to look and dream, but the staff are very nice and don't seem to mind. I can't say much for the wine range- not because it's bad, but because I know nothing about wine.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thai Red Curry Paste

This recipe comes via a member of the BBC Food Message Board, in turn coming from their friend from Thailand.I made double the quantities, as my Magimix works better with large quantities, and it lasts a few weeks in the fridge and can be frozen in portions.

4-6 dried red chillies
2 small brown onions
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp freshly toasted ground cumin seeds
1 Tblsp freshly toasted ground coriander seeds
2 generous tbsp of chopped coriander, including root if available
1 tsp salt
4-6 fresh Kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp laos (dried galangal) powder
1 tsp serai (dried lemongrass) powder OR stalk Lemongrass, tough outer layers removed then roughly chopped
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 tsp kapee (shrimp paste)
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp paprika
Coconut or groundnut oil

Blend/process all the ingredients except for the oil. You'll almost certainly have to stop and use a spatula to scrape down the sides of your blender a few times before it is blitzed enough. Of course, you could always go down the truly authentic route and use a pestle and mortar, in which case you are a better person than me.  Pour in enough oil down the funnel to make it into a paste. If you a keeping in the fridge, a thin layer of oil on top will help it keep.

Flavoured Vodka

I like vodka. Or, I like getting drunk. Maybe both. Flavouring your own vodkas is a great way to feel superior to your run-of-the-mill lush. There's even something slightly wholesome about having a cupboard dedicated to glass jars filled with fruit macerating in alcohol. Maybe not so much as jam making, say, but certainly a lot less effort.Over the past year there has been raspberry, blackberry, quince, cranberry, lychee, passionfruit, rhubarb, kiwi, gooseberry, and currently peach vodkas made and drank. And they've all been great nights.

All you need is a glass jar (Kilner or otherwise), cheap vodka, sugar, and your chosen fruit. Mash/crush/grate your fruit, depending on what sort it is, add sugar to taste, top up with vodka. Shake the jar every day for the first two weeks or so, and leave for a few weeks more. Hard fruit like quince needs a longer time then something soft like raspberries. But you can keep tasting until you are happy with the result. Strain into a clean bottle, and serve very, very cold.

The only non-fruit vodka I have made is vanilla vodka. It has the benefit of having a short flavouring period, and not needing to strain it, so it's even easier than fruit vodka. The same principle applies here, only use a vanilla pod in place of fruit. I leave the pod in when I bottle it, I think it looks quite beautiful. Vanilla vodka is an essential ingredient for Orange Creamsicles, the recipe for which can be found here.

25/7/11-Chestnut Fudge Sauce

Perhaps a recipe that didn't turn out the way you intend is not the most promising for a first blog post. I originally intended to make chestnut fudge, but a lack of sugar thermometer, and the virtue of patience meant I the result was still unset even after 24 hours in the fridge. A first-time success of making clotted cream fudge at the weekend had also slightly gone to my head, so foolish pride was also partly to blame. But no matter. Heated and poured over vanilla ice-cream, it's a dream.

Clotted cream is maybe gilding the lily for a sauce that is pretty damn rich anyway, maybe save the calories (ha!) and just go for double. I was lucky enough to get the clotted cream and chestnut purée cheaply, so this wasn't as much of an expensive mistake as it might seem at first glance.

Really, this is just the recipe for clotted cream fudge from The Great British Menu website, with the addition of half a tin of unsweetened chestnut purée. The fudge in its unadulterated form is wonderful.

275 grams Caster sugar 
100 grams golden syrup 
225 grams clotted cream
1/2 tin unsweetened chestnut purée

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, cover and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to boil for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and beat until the mixture becomes thick. Allow to cool slightly before serving over ice  cream.