Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Asian Smashed Cucumber Salad – Bish ! Bash ! Bosh !

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Is cucumber really at its happiest cut into slippery slices, the sole, straight-laced player in a sandwich for a prim tea with the vicar? 

Doesn't it secretly long to luxuriate in a dish of cool yoghurt, garlic and herbs as part of a classic Tzaziki? Wouldn't it be happier doing the backstroke in a bowl of Gazpacho

On its own, it is nothing. With the right company, it can be a star. Here, it is smashed into rough-edged chunks to join the riot that is Asian Smashed Cucumber Salad. Smash ! Mix ! Serve !

For a cucumber salad with personality you will need…
2 English cucumbers (long, narrow, smooth-skinned), ends removed

Dressing ingredients
3 tablespoons groundnut oil or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 red chilli (hot is best, but go mild if you must), very finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon of caster sugar
2 tablespoons of very finely chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon of very finely chopped fresh ginger (optional)

To serve
a handful of coriander leaf (cilantro)
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds (optional)
salt, to taste

Bish (well, bash really)

Bish:  to prepare the cucumber, place on a chopping board and bash with a rolling pin, mallet, or other suitable object, until broken (but not mashed). Discard any seeds that come loose and cut or break the cucumber into bite-sized pieces. (You may want to cover the cucumber with a clean tea towel to prevent splashes, and bits escaping).

Place the pieces in a colander, and place the colander in a bowl. Put a plate or saucer on top so that it is in contact with the cucumber. Weigh it down - with food cans, a water-filled saucepan, whatever - to help squeeze out the excess juice. Set aside for about 30 minutes while you make the dressing.

Bash: For the dressing, simply mix together the ingredients – I put them in a jar with a screw top lid, and give it a good shake.

Bash (well, mix really)

Drain and discard the juice from the cucumber and place the pieces in a shallow serving dish. Pour the dressing over. Cover and place in the fridge. Leave to bask in the reflected glory of the dressing for a few hours.

Bosh: When ready to serve, mix through the coriander leaf (and scatter with the toasted sesame seeds, if using). Taste and add a little salt and a touch more sugar only if necessary.

Bish, bash, bosh (but mostly bash, really).

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Courgette Soup with Mint and Lemon – how to make a glut vanish !

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At some stage over what remains of the summer, a friend will drop in with a slightly desperate look in their eye. They will ask you how you are and there will be small talk as you wait for the kettle to boil. The friend will be clutching (but studiously ignoring) a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel and you’ll frown and wonder if they bring it everywhere with them.

Halfway through a pot of tea, the friend will suddenly ‘remember’ the mysterious parcel and casually mumble through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit crumbs:  Oh, by the way, I brought you some courgettes, fresh from my garden.” If you haven’t got a courgette plant churning out the little blighters almost by the minute, accept gratefully and make this light, summery soup. If you have got a courgette plant, you’ll almost certainly produce a newspaper-wrapped parcel of your own as the friend takes their leave…

The friend will be clutching a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel...

For 3-4 servings of light summery soup you will need

25g butter (or 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest
500g courgettes, sliced
1 litre of well-flavoured chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of very finely chopped fresh mint

Melt the butter (or heat the olive oil) in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and lemon zest and cook gently without colouring for 8 - 10 minutes or until translucent. Add the sliced courgettes, followed by the stock. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the courgette is soft.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add in the fresh mint and blend until you’ve turned the vegetables into a smooth liquid – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this. Taste and add salt and pepper only if necessary.

Serve it just as it is, or with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and/or a swirl of cream.

OK, that's 3 courgettes taken care of. Only another 7 to go...

...What’s your favourite recipe – savoury or sweet - for making a crop of courgettes vanish?
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Friday, August 21, 2015

A 'dyschefull' of Apple Snowe - a hauntingly delicious dessert from medieval England

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England was on its very best 'green and pleasant land' behaviour for our recent visit - all blue skies and sunshine. We spent Sunday morning visiting the ancient bones of Henry VIII’s ship, the Mary Rose, in Portsmouth (wow, by the way – what a feat of marine archaeology!). However, there was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth when himself missed out on a change of plan and had to forego his much anticipated, post-sightseeing ye-olde-traditional-English-country-pub-Sunday-roast-dinner-with-all-the-trimmings.

He was like a dog with two tails when we got an unexpected invite to a delicious traditional-English-homecooked-Sunday-roast-dinner-with-all-the-trimmings… on the following Tuesday… in the garden of a gorgeous 350 year-old cottage, (complete with ghost, or so it is rumoured).

Leaving with very contented stomachs, we were further delighted to receive a bag of organically grown apples plucked from the two heavily-laden trees in the garden – one, deliciously zingy, rosy-cheeked eaters; the other, tart, green-skinned cookers. For some reason, Apple Snow sprang to mind immediately. This is a dyschefull the Tudors - perhaps even the bold Henry himself - would have enjoyed in one form or another. Maybe it was a favourite of the ghost

My version is soft meringue mixed with apple purée – an apple mousse if you will. You can serve it virtually fat-free as in this recipe, or fold in swirls of whipped cream and yet more apple purée  A drizzle of honey or maple syrup over the top won’t hurt if the apples you use are a little on the tart side. Scoop it up with shortbread fingers or langue de chat biscuits.

Note: As the meringue is so lightly cooked, it should not be given to pregnant women, infants, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Drop the prepared apple slices into water with a generous squeeze of lemon juice to stop them going brown

First, to make the apple purée you will need…

900g apples, uncooked weight, sliced (this was 8 medium apples, after peeling and coring. I dropped them into cold water with a generous squeeze of lemon juice to stop them going brown until I was ready to use them.)
50g caster sugar or honey
the zest (in slices) and juice of a lemon (you should have about 4 tablespoons of juice)
the zest of an orange
2 whole cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
3 drops almond extract

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan with a lid, over a medium heat. Cover the saucepan and cook the apples until soft (about 10-15 minutes) checking occasionally to make sure they haven’t boiled dry (if necessary, add a small amount of water, apple juice, or cider). When the apples are soft, remove the lid and if there is a lot of juice, continue cooking until any visible juice has evaporated.

Remove from the heat, cover, and leave to cool. Taste and add a little more sugar or honey if necessary.

Next, for the meringue you will need…
… a sugar thermometer and an electric whisk or stand mixer (or good strong muscles in your arms)

2 egg whites room at room temperature
60g caster sugar
3 tablespoons cold water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk until fluffy and the mixture flops into soft peaks when you remove the whisk.

Place the caster sugar, water, and vanilla extract in a small saucepan and place over a medium heat until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil the mixture until it reaches the ‘soft ball’ mark on your thermometer (or 118°C or 235°F).

Carefully remove the saucepan from the heat and drizzle the hot syrup slowly into the bowl of egg whites, whisking all the while. (Avoid drizzling the hot liquid directly onto the whisk unless you want to enamel your kitchen with molten sugar and quite possibly burn yourself into the bargain). Continue whisking until you have incorporated all the syrup, the mixture is thick and smooth and white and glossy, and a clean finger touched to the mixture tells you that the temperature has dropped to about room temperature (3 - 5 minutes).

The assembly job…

Next, remove the strips of zest, cinnamon stick and cloves from the cool apple mixture and pass it through a coarse sieve. Whisk the resulting apple purée into the meringue and chill until needed. It will keep for about 48 hours, covered, in the fridge.

When ready to serve, swirl into pretty glasses or bowls, and serve with shortbread biscuits or langue de chat. 

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

White Chocolate and Cherry Clafoutis - Simply Irresistible !

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The poet, Paul Valéry, said that a poem is never finished, only abandoned. I have that same feeling about recipes. From time to time, I can’t resist making just a tiny edit or two to an old favourite, on the hunch that it will make the dish even better.
Simply irresistible
I have revisited the first dish I ever did on Alchemy in the Kitchen, a whole 5 years ago Cherry Clafoutis - and I’ve made a few edits. One was the addition of chunks of good white chocolate - for me, the missing link in the evolution of clafoutis

I have also come down firmly on the side of de-stoned cherries for a number of reasons:

       multiple taste tests don’t reveal the almond flavour that the stones are supposed to impart (a touch of almond extract does it better!)

       de-stoned cherries leak their juice into the batter and even more juice evaporates, leaving a concentrated cherry flavour

       there is less risk of a tooth-shattering surprise.

Hungry caterpillar? No, cherry-stoner!

Unfortunately I had to buy the cherries for today’s clafoutis rather than being presented with a strange and marvellous bouquet as before.  
Life is ...
As I needed a decent amount of natural light for the photos, I made the dish this morning. Although I’m not in the habit of having dessert for breakfast, clafoutis is best eaten warm from the oven, so I had no option but to sample it there and then (good excuse eh?) and I have decided it wouldn’t be out of place at a special brunch.

For 4 servings you will preheat the oven to 170°C
A little butter for greasing 4 shallow ramekin dishes

50g ground almonds
25g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
a  pinch of fine table salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
50g runny honey
150mls fresh whole milk
½ teaspoon almond extract

300g ripe fresh cherries, stones removed (I prefer to leave the stalks on for presentation but take them off if you prefer).

75g good quality white chocolate, cut into 1cm chunks

With the butter, lightly rub the inside of the ramekin dishes and set aside.

Measure the ground almonds and flour into a mixing bowl and add the baking powder and salt. Add the eggs and whisk to a smooth batter. Add the honey (I weigh it directly into the bowl to save on washing up) and whisk until combined. Finally whisk in the milk and almond extract to give a consistency similar to single cream.

Divide the batter evenly between 4 shallow ramekin dishes, making sure not to fill beyond the half-way mark, then divide the cherries and chocolate chunks evenly between the 4 dishes.

One for me, one for the clafoutis, one for me...

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

Allow to cool slightly before dusting with icing sugar and serving with a jug of pouring cream. Mmmmm-mmmm-mmmmmmmmmm.

Note: Clafoutis sinks slightly as it cools – that’s just its nature
Note: Clafoutis vanishes quickly when cooked - that's just in its nature ...

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Pickled Fennel – Stealing the Show

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Midsummer … the woodland theatre at Kilruddery House’s 17th Century gardens. Could there be a more perfect setting for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  A light drizzle filtered through the woodland canopy and midges snacked on our ears as Titania and Oberon squabbled and Puck ran amok with a magic potion.
There was a smell of crushed grass and wet bark, mothballs and old attics as folk opened proper, wood-wormy, leather-strapped wicker baskets, quietly popped bubbly, or unscrewed interesting-looking/smelling/tasting flasks and jars. On that eerie, enchanted patch of damp grass, people shared… quietly… so as not to break the spell.
One jar that went home empty was a delicious fennel pickle. Sorry Shakespeare, it stole the show.
While I’m not the world’s greatest fan of either pickles or fennel, I can eat this fragrant crunchy pickle straight from the jar. It goes wonderfully with smoked mackerel pâté, white or oily fish­, and it has been the secret ingredient to lift a potato salad out of the ordinary.
About to get in a bit of a pickle...
For 1 x 500ml jar of show-stealing pickled fennel you will need…
1 fennel bulb, washed if necessary and trimmed of any blemishes
1 slice of lemon
1 fat clove of garlic sliced into about three thick slices
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon whole mustard seeds
½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
350mls white vinegar
150ml cold water
2 tablespoons each of sugar and salt
Slice as finely as you can...
Slice the fennel bulb as finely as you can then pack it into a wide-mouthed 500ml jar leaving about 2cm clear at the top. Tuck the lemon, garlic and bay leaf down the side

Pack into a wide-mouthed jar...
Place the peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a dry medium saucepan over a medium heat. When the seeds begin to pop add the rest of the ingredients.
Peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds... the supporting actors...
Simmer until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Carefully pour the hot liquid over the contents of the jar until everything is submerged. Poke with a skewer or chopstick to remove any bubbles of air that have become trapped before topping up the liquid if necessary. You’ll have a bit of the pickling liquid left over. Keep it in a non-reactive container and use it to make quick cucumber pickles.
Get rid of any air bubbles...
I usually leave the pickle in the fridge for at least three days before using to allow the flavours to develop (Alchemy...) and it will keep for up to a month, covered and refrigerated.
Alchemy at work...
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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lemon, Mint and Ginger Barley Water - more refreshing than a faceful of camel slobber...

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There is something about an instruction that starts Don’t … that incites my beloved to do the exact opposite. Don’t… is what got him to sit on the Pope’s throne at the Palais des Papes in Avignon. (I vanished into a passing tour group while security charged in his direction.)  Don’t… has inspired exits though alarmed doors, garnered speeding/parking tickets, missed ferries/flights. Don’t get me started!

His mother lived in one of the Woburn Abbey estate cottages deep in the English countryside and she organised tickets for us to visit the Abbey's safari park. I began to fret when I saw the list of Don’ts:

DON’T Open Car Windows;
DON’T Leave Your Car;
DON’T Antagonise the Lions;
Just DON’T, Ok!

There were just too many DON’Ts for him to handle.

Straight away he lowered the car window (Don’t Open Car Windows) and blew a loud raspberry at a passing camel. In a Jurassic Park moment, the camel’s very large face filled the open window and the creature cast disdainful eyes at the offending human before raspberrying right back. It was a most impressive raspberry and was accompanied by about half-a-gallon of camel spit. There is probably a sign somewhere that says Don’t Laugh Your Ass Off at the Bloke Covered in Camel-Slobber.

All that laughing makes you thirsty. What is needed for such an occasion is an appropriately restorative beverage. What could be more “English countryside” and restorative than Lemon, Mint and Ginger Barley Water. This is a glorious glassful of summer at any time.

For about 4 servings you will need…
100g pearl barley, washed
Juice and grated zest (yellow part only) of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon grated ginger
50g honey
1 litre of fresh water
a large bunch of mint

To serve
sprigs of mint
thin slices of lemon and fresh ginger
sparkling water / tonic water / sparkling white wine to dilute

Place all the ingredients – except the mint – in a saucepan. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes without a lid. You want the liquid to reduce by half.

Lightly bruise the bunch of mint and place in a heatproof jug. Strain the liquid over the mint and allow to cool. When cool, transfer to a glass bottle, seal and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Dilute to taste and serve over ice with a large sprig of mint and slices of lemon and ginger. I like to add bubbles – sparkling water, tonic water or sparkling white wine are all good.


Use the juice and peel of 4 limes in place of the lemon.
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