Summer Garden Party

 

Thanks to the Not Forgotten Association for organising a lunchtime musical entertainment at the Grange, near Arlesford in Hampshire, this week.

Amidst the singalong sessions, the high spots were: The venerable gentlemen of the Glen Miller Tribute Band, complete with huge American flags; the ladies of a certain age from a care home winning their champagne prize for distinctive pink wigs – definitely the Best Dressed; the owner of the striking 5 litre Audi v10 car who opened his rear engine compartment to show everyone his parts; the stream of volunteers from the military and business who’d given up their time to assist – even sprays of water in the hot September sun.   There was no doubt that songs over 50 years old got the best reception but nothing stopped the mature jivers strutting their stuff.

Lord Ashburton told us a little about the Grange’s history: originally a simple brick building, an ambitious owner centuries ago had commissioned the National Gallery architect to create something more splendid.   The result was a new-build: large and impressive with striking Doric portico.   Not to be outdone, a subsequent owner had added a flashy Ionic portico at the other end (in front of the old orangery).   Nowadays, the orangery has been replaced with a new building hosting opera and other events while the house is too dilapidated for occupation and has passed into the grasp of English Heritage.

At our more humble home, apples are still thumping off the trees.   Homemade Christmas mincemeat is one solution for using about a pound of peeled, cored and chopped fruit.   I’ll be doing an on-line demonstration of this at 1030 on Monday 13 September – sign up for a free ticket: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week we have also been managing a glut of tomatoes and decided to dry them.   The result is not quite the authentic “sun-blushed” type but will be good to bring the taste of summer into winter dishes.

Many people simply place dried tomatoes in jars covered with olive oil.   I was trying an extra step by using heat to both expel all air from the jar and avoid botulism.   I’m told that the bug is killed at 85C for 5 minutes.   I gave the jar 30 minutes at a degree higher to allow the temperature to fully penetrate the contents.   If I’m dead next year, you’ll know it didn’t work!

 

ripe tomatoes.

sea salt and ground black pepper.

a little vinegar (optional).

olive oil.

 

Halve or quarter the tomatoes and dip the cut sides in a mix of the salt and pepper.

Place on racks in a dehydrator or on parchment paper lined trays in the oven (150C, Gas 2).

Keep drying until they feel leathery.

Place in a jar or airtight container for 24 hours to “condition “.   The degree of driedness equals out between the tomato pieces.

If using, briefly dip in vinegar to offset the tomato sweetness with a little acidity.

Pack in a jar with a silicone ring and metal clip, topping up with oil.

Place the clipped closed jar in a sous-vide waterbath or saucepan and bring the temperature to 86C for 30 minutes.

Remove and cool in cold water.

Honey plus a workhorse of a tart

Life is picking up pace after the leisurely months of lock-down.   This week has included the monthly Open Sight cooking session https://youtu.be/jRIznF2wFAY plus our first substantial harvest of honey.

The dribbles extracted late last summer and earlier this Spring were simply the overtures to the symphony of delectable stickiness that pervaded every surface.   The whole process had been pre-scripted and thought-through: honeycomb frames from the hives; removing the wax cell cappings; extracting honey in a sort of handraulic spin-dryer; filtering out odd bee legs, pollen and dust.  Of course, the best laid plans and all that went awry, and every surface was sticky.   Thank goodness for the vinegar advice following a recent icing sugar disaster: a couple of capfuls into the bucket for the fourth attempt to wash the floor worked.

Now we have a tank of glorious golden honey that has been settling for a couple of days.   It is good enough to eat now but conditioning for 30 minutes at 62C will help maintain the runny consistency.   The fabulous sous-vide water-bath is in action again.   It is proving invaluable for basic cooking, making yoghurt and, now, getting the honey ready for jars.   More of this saga next time.

Meanwhile, this is the savoury tart we blind cooks made together on-line recently.   It has endless uses and combinations.   I’ve slightly adapted the pastry from versions I learned in San Francisco and from the blessed Delia.   It has my special methods for baking that suit a blind cook or anyone else.

 

110g butter, frozen, grated and re-frozen.

220g plain flour, chilled in the fridge overnight.

1 teaspoon salt.

1 egg.

a little cold water.

 

4 leeks, finely sliced and washed.

4 eggs, beaten.

2 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche.

Salt and pepper.

 

(To prepare the butter: freeze the block then coarsely grate before placing in a bag or box and re-freezing.)

Mix the frozen butter into the chilled flour and salt, breaking down the butter to about the size of a grain of rice.

Beat the egg in about the same volume of water and gradually mix into the flour mix, adding a little more water, until the pastry comes together.

Chill the pastry for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and line a large loose-bottomed tart tin.   Press the pastry into the corners and prick all over with a fork.

Line the pastry-filled tin with kitchen foil, pressing down in the corners and covering the edges.

Chill for 30 minutes.

Bake at 180C, Gas 4 for 12 minutes – this is “baking blind”.

Break the eggs for the filling into a bowl and beat.

Remove the foil, brush the base and internal sides of the pastry with some of the beaten egg and return to the oven for another 3 minutes.

Remove the pastry case and brush again with beaten egg.   Ideally, allow to cool and rest for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the leeks in the microwave until soft and allow to cool.

Beat the crème fraîche and seasoning into the eggs.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the leeks and place in tart

Place the whole tart tin on a large piece of kitchen foil.

Fill the tart with the egg mixture.

Fold the foil over the tart to make a loose tent and bake for at least 40 minutes until the centre is just setting.   The foil catches any spills and protects the pastry from getting overcooked.

Allow to cool a little before serving warm.

 

This seems a long recipe but keeping some frozen and/or grated butter ready in the freezer makes it simple.   I also make the pastry and freeze it for using later and even freeze the pre-cooked tart cases too.   A little time on this preparation makes the final stages quick and easy.

There is no end to the fillings with the savoury custard but most need to be at least part-cooked e.g.   mushrooms with the leeks; smoked salmon or trout with chopped dill and a spoonful of horseradish sauce; asparagus and chopped ham; courgettes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, black olives.

The pastry case has other potential: fill with cooked apple puree, top with slices of eating apple plus a dusting of sugar and butter knobs before returning to the oven for about 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Desserts from leftovers

 

Another week of culinary experiments – it is good to have the leisure with lock-down.

Firstly, I’m proud to report that the sous chef’s panettoni was magnificent on the second try and made full use of the faffing candied Seville orange peel from a few weeks ago.

 

But it did produce spare egg whites and I’d already done macaroons last time.  I made up this chocolate mousse dessert with what was to hand including some rather mature 70% cocoa solids chocolate that had developed a bloom (not mould but just the surface discolouring).  I used cream to replace the egg yolks and, only having single cream, three threw in some milk powder.  Thanks to a super American cup measure, it is easy for me to put the ingredients together when using American measures in recipes:

 

200g dark chocolate.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

3 egg whites.

 

Very gently heat the chocolate, cream and milk powder in a pan until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients can be mixed together.  Allow to cool.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peak.

Place a quarter of the egg whites in a bowl and fold in the chocolate mix.

Add a further quarter of the egg whites and fold in.  Repeat twice.

Place the mousse mix in containers and chill for at least 12 hours.

I made four huge servings – these amounts would really do 6-8 of normal size.

 

I wanted to use more of the spare single cream so knocked up some very simple egg custards to turn in to crème brulée using the trusty sous-vide.

 

2 eggs.

¼ cup sugar.

1 cup single cream.

1/3 cup milk powder.

½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

Small pinch salt.

 

 

Place all the ingredients in a jug and whizz with a wand-blender for one minute.

Pour the mix in to bottling jars (the sort with rubber seals and clips or screw tops).

Place in a sous-vide water bath, covered with water and cook at 81.5C for an hour.

Chill and turn out on to a plate.

Top with a little caster sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch (others with no sight like me may care to entrust this bit to the sous chef).

Serve with some fresh fruit to pretend it is healthy.

These quantities made 4 servings (normal size!) but we ate them before remembering to take a picture.

 

 

 

 

 

Visit to the physiotherapist

It was all a bit traumatic: still wary of being in a car since the accident; the first time in another enclosed space for many months;  having to go through all the injuries from nearly three years ago.  The final straw was the utterly awful blaring radio playing in the waiting room.

We were gratefully wafted aloft in the lift and I went through the now rather tedious litany of damage, pain and limitations.  A thorough inspection and a trio of exercises to practice over the next few weeks and we were out and back to the lift.

My trusty escort was mightily impressed that the Covid-secure precautions had extended to a plastic label over the call buttons to make cleaning easier.  But the lift refused to budge: the doors opened and shut; the announcement said “Going Down”; increasingly frantic button presses gained reaction but no descent.  The escort disappeared to investigate an alternative route via stairs.

The lift ping-ed, the doors opened and someone stepped out.  “Is it working?”  I asked and the engineer replied, “Not at the moment.  I’m servicing it.  There’s a sign on the buttons saying “Do Not Use” “.  But he relented and we went rather shame-faced on our way.

Two morals to this tale: don’t trust (male) partners to read even three-word instructions and please try to service lifts after disabled people have left the building.

Oriental-style duck.

1 duck breast (about 250g).

1 teaspoon honey.

1 flat teaspoon five spice mix.

A pinch each of salt and pepper.

A dash of soy sauce.

A portion of GGG.*

A tiny amount of oil.

 

Place all the ingredients except the oil in a bag and vacuum pack.

Place in a sous vide water bath or pan of water, ensuring the bag is submerged, and cook at 55C.

When cooking like this at a constant water temperature, the timing depends on how long the heat takes to penetrate the meat.  As the temperature is constant, the meat can be left in the water bath until you are ready for it – with this recipe, I’d left the duck in the sous vide for three hours although 45-60 minutes would probably be long enough.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and place the duck breast in it, skin side down.

Cook for about 5 minutes until the skin is browning and crisping.

Remove the duck and keep warm while it rests and then slice thinly to make two servings.

Meanwhile, pour all the liquid from the bag in to the pan and reduce to a syrupy sauce to pour over the duck.

 

  • GGG is 4 parts fresh root ginger (peeled and roughly chopped), 2 parts garlic (peeled) and 1 part green chillies (de-seeded). Put everything in a food processor and whizz to a rough paste.  Freeze in teaspoon portions and use in curries and oriental dishes.

 

 

Terrine de campagne.

One of my long-term ambitions has been to make the sort of terrines, pâtés and cooked meats in storage jars that you can buy in France.  With the Covid situation continuing and Brexit looming on the horizon with all the possibilities of food shortages and power cuts, I have the excuse to try some preserving that doesn’t rely on a freezer.  And having a great local butcher who will select and mince exactly the right meat makes a huge difference.

I used the type of glass jars that have a rubber seal and metal clips.  This recipe is my adaptation of the Le Parfait terrine that you can find on-line https://leparfait.co.uk  (they make the jars):

5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped.

1 glass of white wine.

500g pork meat (100% lean, minced

500g pork meat (50% lean, 50% fat), minced

500g chicken livers, chopped.

2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped.

1 egg

3 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 teaspoon mace

1 teaspoon salt

A good slug of brandy.

 

Place the garlic and wine in a pan and gently heat to soften the garlic (or microwave in a bowl).

Get a very large bowl and add all the ingredients – I used my hands so had a bowl of hot soapy water ready.

When thoroughly mixed, fill the jars to the neck, fit the seal to the lid and clamp shut.

Place in a large pan and cover with at least an inch of water.

Bring to a simmer (100°C) for three hours.

Allow to cool in the pan.

When the jars are cool enough to handle, release the clip and try to lift the lid.  If it is not possible, you have a good vacuum seal so replace the clip and store.

I also filled a silicone loaf mould with the terrine mix, on top of three bay leaves, vacuum packed it and cooked it in the sous-vide for 6 hours at 70°C.

Alternatively, you could cover loosely with foil and place in a roasting tray filled with water.  Cook in a moderate oven (Gas 4) and cook for a couple of hours – until a cooking thermometer shows 70°C.

Served with the damson and apple, date and walnut chutneys, homemade bread rolls and salad garnish.  Excellent.

 

 

 

Suck it up

Stuffing a curved banana in to the hollowed-out centre of a pineapple was the most difficult bit of this great desserthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8b3NfXTJ4TY&feature=youtu.be.  And we could hardly restrain our giggles.

Jennison, all the way from Silicon Valley, California, was learning more new cooking equipment with me.  The snazzy cutter produces a neat spiral of pineapple and leaves the centre ready for that banana.  Simply put it in a plastic bag with some brown sugar and raisins soaked in rum before sucking hard!  The aim is to get as much air out as possible before tying off.  Then, together, we tackled the vacuum packer – no problem at all for two blind people if you can remember the two simple buttons and hear the click when the seal has been made.  It’s as simple as that.

The water bath isn’t difficult for visually impaired people either.  We could feel the maximum and minimum water markers on the inside and, with the addition of some tactile “bump-ons”, the external controls don’t need sight either.  But the manufacturer still warns that some disabled people shouldn’t use the equipment without supervision!  Amazing that, in this day and age of equality legislation, they still have the cheek to design out accessibility.

The double-bagged pineapple goes in to the water at 73 degrees Centigrade to emerge 24 hours later soft, warm and utterly delicious.  Eat your heart out sous-vide designers.

Next time, I’m making Christmas mincemeat with two of the local Talking Newspapers’ team.