Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jamaican Buttermilk, Apple and Ginger Cake – resistance is futile !

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When the virtue of patience was being dished out, I was too darned impatient to wait in line. If only I’d known...
... You see, the thing with Jamaican Ginger Cake is, that while it takes under an hour from start to finish, it is best wrapped and left for 24 hours for the flavours to develop.
All those spices smell so good. I know from experience that I will probably unwrap a little corner to take a peak - just to make sure the Alchemy is working... (I’ve been know to dig up seeds to see if they have started developing roots yet...).
Before you know it, I’ll be cutting a wee slice - just a taste - and that tiny taste will call for another... the irresistible warmth of the spices... the tender sticky crumb and I’ll never learn just how good it can be when I include that missing ingredient, patience!
Up the ginger quotient by increasing the amount of allspice and fresh ginger to taste. A little finely chopped stem ginger stirred into the batter also heats things up a bit.
Will I be able to resist this time? We’ll see...
For one irresistible 1 x 2lb loaf you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 160˚C
 
Ingredients
a little butter for greasing a 2lb loaf tin
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground allspice* (not mixed spice!)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon fine table salt 
100g treacle
100g golden syrup
100g dark brown sugar
100g butter
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
125mls buttermilk**
150g unsweetened stewed apple***
1 egg, beaten 

Method
Grease and baseline a 2lb loaf tin (or line with a loaf tin liner).
Place the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground spices and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Weigh the treacle and golden syrup directly into a medium saucepan and add the sugar, butter, fresh ginger and vanilla extract and place over a low heat just until the butter has melted into the other ingredients. Remove from the heat immediately – at no point should it simmer or boil.
Meanwhile, mix together the buttermilk, stewed apple and beaten egg. Add this mixture to the flour mixture in the bowl and stir with a whisk until combined into a thick batter.
Melt, mix, stir, pour - it's that simple !

Add the warm mixture from the saucepan and whisk until combined into a smooth, fairly runny batter. Pour into the prepared loaf tin and transfer to the preheated oven.
Bake for 40 minutes or until well risen and the surface bounces back when lightly pressed. A cocktail stick inserted in the middle should come out clean, with no crumbs clinging. (Replace in the oven for a further 5 minutes if necessary and test again.)
Leave in the tin until completely cold, then remove from the tin and wrap in a layer of baking paper, then in cling film. Leave for at least 24 hours for the flavours to develop before cutting into thick slices and devouring with a decent cup of tea or coffee.
It is not the most beautiful cake in the world, but a dusting of icing sugar works wonders against the dark crumb of the cake, or you could drizzle with a water icing made according to the instructions on the packet.
 

Not the most beautiful cake in the world. A dusting of icing sugar works wonders !
 
*Allspice is a gorgeous warm aromatic dried berry – also called Jamaican Pepper – I grind the berries as I need them as they have a longer shelf life than ready ground – and there is the bonus of the lovely aroma they release when crushed.
Mixed spice is ... um... a mixture of spices.
**If you don’t have buttermilk, simply use the same amount of fresh milk to which you have added a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
***For the stewed apple, simply peel, core and slice a large Bramley apple or similar (prepared weight approximately 200g. Place the flesh of the apple in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water, apple juice or cider. Place over a medium heat. Cover and allow the apple to steam in its own juices – stirring occasionally - for about 15 minutes or until completely soft and the slices of apple can be easily mashed with a fork. Mash to a reasonably smooth puree and leave to cool before using as above.

 
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Friday, October 3, 2014

French Onion Soup – Ooh là là!

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The smell of frying onions reminds me of fairgrounds; of treasure hunting in a drizzly Camden Market; of hotdogs on a New York street corner; of the gently sizzling start of many a comforting soup, stew or casserole.  Proust, you can keep your Madeleines.

What I am after today is something even the fickle sugar rush of chocolate can’t provide. I need a bowl of no-nonsense, unapologetically pungent, solidly satisfying French onion soup with a lid of thick cheesy croutons.

Just as Ooh là là! has acquired a different meaning in English, French onion soup has come to mean an onion soup made with beef broth. However, if you can get someone to make you this dish in France, it is just as likely to be made with a chicken stock or just plain water. I’ve chosen a middle ground, going for chicken stock, as I find the beef version too ... well, too beefy. I’m in an onion sort of mood and that’s what I want this soup to sing of.

(The traditional method is to place the croutons on the soup, cover with cheese and put the whole lot under a hot grill but I find that preparing the croutons separately is quicker and safer.)

To create a little Ooh là là! for about 4 people you will need...
...for the soup
75g butter
1kg onions, peeled and sliced thinly into half moons
1L good chicken stock (or 350mls dry white wine and 650mls stock)
2 tablespoons of whiskey or brandy (optional)
a small bunch of thyme
2 or 3 bay leaves
time and patience (about 2 hours worth)
a little salt and black pepper to taste 

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat and add the onions. Turn down the heat and cook the onions gently until they have reduced dramatically in volume and have turned a deep caramel brown (anything up to 2 hours), stirring occasionally, particularly towards the end.

Add the stock, whiskey or brandy (if using), and the bunch of thyme and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

At this point it is ready to serve, however, I prefer to leave it cool, then chill it in the fridge overnight. I scrape off and discard any butter than has congealed on the top before reheating while I make the croutons.
Transform the humble onion into a pot of gold
 
 
... for the croutons
8 slices of baguette, about 1.5cm thick
1 clove garlic, peeled
100g Gruyere (or a mixture of Gruyere and Mozzarella) grated

Place the slices of baguette on a baking tray and bake at about 175°C for about 15 minutes or until golden, turning once about half way through the time. Leave to cool.

When the soup is ready to serve, rub the croutons lightly with the clove of garlic, place on a baking tray and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.

Ladle the soup into bowls and launch two croutons on the surface of each golden oniony sea. Serve immediately. Ooh là là !
Ooh là là !

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coffee and Honey Granita - I've got chills... they're multiplying...

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If you are cooking with wine, the rule is, make it, at the very least, one you would happily sip. The same is true for coffee, and when coffee is the star ingredient I like it to have a bit of personality.
Heathen that I am, I don’t have a proper grinder so I used my blender – not processor – to crush the single origin specialty roasted coffee beans sent to me by Hancock & Abberton. I used a caffetiere/French press to brew the resultant medium ‘grind’ (you may remember, I blew up my coffee machine...)

This Mexican coffee from Finca Muxbal, which stands on the slopes of the active Tacana volcano on the border with Guatemala, is billed as having “flavours of peaches, cream and sweet honey complemented by an exceptionally clean finish”. There was a fruitiness that may or may not have been peaches and I couldn’t detect the cream but there was rich sweetness to it. It was very smooth and the advertised ‘clean finish’ was there - perfect to round off a meal.
I'd originally planned to flavour the granita with Baileys. However, having tasted the coffee, I ditched the booze. There is enough going on in this cup o’ Joe to let it stand on its own two feet! It is best to end a lunch rather than a dinner with this dessert - unless you want your guests wide awake for the night.

For the lightest, simplest dessert imaginable, you will need...
500mls strong coffee, freshly brewed (I used double-strength)
90g runny honey (I used a light floral honey)

 To serve (optional)
Whipped cream
Finely chopped toasted walnuts or finely shredded lemon zest

 Method

Add the honey to the hot coffee and stir until dissolved. Pour into a shallow freezer-proof container with a lid. Leave to cool to room temperature. Cover and chill before transferring to the freezer. Set a timer for an hour then remove from the freezer and beat the mixture with a whisk or fork to break up the crystals that are starting to form. Replace in the freezer. Reset the timer and repeat the beating process. Repeat every hour until you have a coffee snow (it took me 5 hours but the actual work only takes a few minutes). Leave the lid off the container for another hour after the final whisking to let any excess liquid evaporate. That’s it! Granita done! Covered, it stores well in the freezer.
The 'puddle' stage... (I've got chills...)
 
The 'slush' stage... (They're multiplying...)
 
The 'perfect for skiing on' stage, and ready to eat  (You're the one that I want!)
 
To serve, fluff up the granita with a fork and scoop a portion about the size of an espresso into a pretty glass or cup. At this point it is a stunning, no fat dessert.
Throw caution to the wind and top with a little cream, and some chopped toasted walnuts or shredded lemon zest (delicious with this coffee snow), or both. You could add a little liqueur to the cream if you fancied it – Baileys, Tia Maria or Kahlua all work.


(Ooh, ooh, ooh, honey!)
 
Disclosure: These are my personal views. I have not received any compensation from, nor have I any material connection with, the brands, products, or services I have mentioned.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Luscious Lemonade (with magic ingredients)

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There are many recipes that claim to be the ‘best ever lemonade’ or the ‘perfect  lemonade’. I don’t make those claims for mine. It does, however, contain two magic ingredients that get my oven cleaned...
How?

Well, I take my inspiration from the bit in Tom Sawyer where Tom gets the neighbourhood kids to happily whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence using a little reverse psychology. Ok, it’s more bribery than reverse psychology in this case but hey…

Sigh,” I say to anyone within earshot...
“What’s up, Hester?”they say

“Well,” I say, “I was thinking of making a jug of my special lemonade... you know ... the one that tastes like summer…  the one with the magic ingredients… sigh
“Yes! Yes! Great idea!” they say.

“... but unfortunately, I won’t have time... because the oven really needs cleaning.”
“Oh,” they say.  “I’ll clean the oven, Hester; and you make the lemonade!”

“Really, you don’t have to...” I say, handing them the spray, the gauntlets, the sponge, the bucket, the protective goggles ...

Ok, it's time for me to get on with the lemonade to supply the thirsty worker(s). Salt and star anise are the magic ingredients. You won't taste them but they round out the flavour.

*BEFORE STARTING: How many lemons you use will depend on how juicy they are. I used 6 lemons for this batch. To get 25g of lemon zest for the recipe, I chose two with the most blemish-free skin, scrubbed them in hot water to remove any wax, then used a potato peeler to remove the yellow part of the zest, and further trimmed the strips of peel with a sharp knife to carefully remove any bitter white skin clinging to it. It is much easier to remove the zest BEFORE you squeeze out the juice.
It's easier to remove the zest BEFORE you squeeze out the juice

To make about 500ml of lemonade cordial (2-3 litres, diluted), you will need...
25g lemon zest (prepared weight) yellow part only*
250g caster sugar
250mls freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained to remove any pips or pulp
250mls water
¼ teaspoon fine table salt
1 point of a whole star anise


Take a moment to enjoy the gorgeous aromas

 Method
Place the prepared lemon zest and the sugar in a food processor and blitz until the zest is finely chopped.
Place this mixture in a medium saucepan with the rest of the ingredients and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
Cover and leave to cool. Strain to remove the piece of star anise and any bits of zest and transfer to a sterilised bottle or jar. Sealed, it stores in the fridge for up to a month.
Serve over ice, diluted with still or sparkling water to taste. Cheers!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Maple French Toast Sticks – it’s an emergency !

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I’ve always had a vague desire for a swimming pool and on Saturday morning, the gods granted my wish. I should have been more specific with my daydream as the pool was rather inconveniently located in the sitting room.  
 
Two plumbers later, there was a gaping hole in the floor and the need to call out an electrician to fix the cable they’d severed in the hunt for the leaking pipe which they were chasing rather alarmingly with a pneumatic drill. I left them to it and escaped to the supermarket.

Returning home, the car boot popped open and spread half the groceries down the road. Argh! Two girls stopped short of running over my scattered purchases and put their hazard lights on, allowing me to collect up my bits and pieces. The runaway groceries were a little battered and dented but the only real casualties were the beer (which was gushing spectacularly from several cans) and the roasted red peppers which had been destined for great things but which had smashed at the bottom of a bag and subsequently leaked oil all over the inside of the car. Oh you gods are capricious!

Back at the ranch, both water and electricity had been restored and although it was way past breakfast time, it is never too late for brunch. It had to be quick. It had to be easy. It had to make my day a whole lot better.

There was nothing else for it – I needed an emergency batch of Maple French Toast Sticks, and quickly.

Look Inside the preview of Alchemy – a Cookbook on Amazon for this quick, easy, make-your-day-a-whole-lot-better recipe.
And don't forget the icing sugar!
 
 
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Alchemy - A Cookbook... out now on Kindle Store

Pin It Whooops! I’ve let the 4th anniversary of Alchemy slide by, but I’ve been a little busy putting the finishing touches to Alchemy – A Cookbook, which is now available from the Kindle Store on Amazon.
Hester Casey, Alchemy - A Cookbook - buy it now on Amazon.com


Like the blog, the book is bursting with easy-to-follow recipes to help you turn simple ingredients into magical food.

Try Maple French Toast Sticks for a lazy brunch. Magic up a delicious, nutritious and ridiculously low fat ‘Some Like It Hot’ Courgette Vichyssoise, excellent with the ‘Frankly My Dear’ Bacon and Jalapeño Cornbread.  Fill your kitchen with the enticing aromas of Controversial Irish Stew, and win hearts with Chicken with Cointreau Cream.  Dive straight into dessert with a classic Bakewell Tart, the sinful Sour Cherry and Vanilla Wellington Squares or the light and delightful Pears in Cardamom and Chardonnay Syrup and lots, lots more.
 
BUY the book today from the Amazon Kindle Store and create a little magic in your own kitchen.
Then share the magic once you’ve got your copy, tell a good friend about it.

https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?text=I'm+turning+simple+ingredients+into+magical+food+with+ALCHEMY+-+A+COOKBOOK+-+get+yours+from+Amazon+now%20http://amzn.to/1ubwjh5  Alchemy - A Cookbook https://www.linkedin.com/shareArticle?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ealchemyinthekitchen%2Eie%2F2014%2F07%2Falchemy-cookbook-out-now-on-kindle-store%2Ehtml&mini=true
Don’t have a Kindle? Don’t need one! Read Alchemy – A Cookbook on your Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet.
Get the free app via Amazon
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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Gremolata Supplì – Surprise !

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Supplì was apparently word-napped from the French surprise because of the morsels – sometimes meat, often cheese - concealed behind the crusty facade, in the depths of the creamy rice filling.


Many recipes tell you that Supplì are made from leftover risotto. No one has that much risotto left over unless they’ve deliberately planned it, or are extremely bad at judging portion size. Making the risotto fresh also means that you can experiment with flavours and ingredients you mightn’t necessarily want to have as a full meal but would happily scoff as a snack.
The bunch of parsley I threw into the shopping basket yesterday was like a green beacon reminding me that the price had inflated by an outrageous 125% in a week. Is there a world shortage of parsley? The bright side of such a price hike is that rather than let it sit there masquerading largely as an edible bouquet until I throw it out, I was determined to put it to good use. I love gremolata – lemon zest, garlic, parsley – sprinkled over Ossobuco. Surprise! Here it is as a star ingredient.
I made the Supplì fairly large – about 100g each – as they were for lunch – 2 per portion. If you are making them as a canapé go smaller.)

For 12 Supplì (of about 100g each) you will need...

...For the risotto
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons of finely grated lemon zest (yellow part only)
250g risotto rice such as Arborio or Carnaroli
750mls hot chicken stock
250mls dry white wine
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
50g Parmesan cheese 
Method

First heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion. Cook without colouring until translucent—8–10 minutes.
Add the garlic and lemon zest, along with the rice and cook for a further minute, stirring to coat the rice with the oil.

Combine the stock and wine and add 250mls of this liquid to the pan, stirring frequently until the liquid is almost absorbed before adding the next 250mls of the liquid and again stirring frequently until almost absorbed. Repeat twice more until the entire litre of liquid is more or less absorbed and you have a creamy pot of rice. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste and add seasoning if necessary. Cover and allow to cool a little before placing in the fridge to chill thoroughly. 

To finish the Supplì
150g plain flour
3 eggs, beaten
200g fine breadcrumbs 

approximately 100g mozzarella, cut into 12 cubes of roughly 8g each
vegetable oil for deep frying (I use sunflower oil or olive oil) 
Method

Remove the chilled risotto from the fridge. Rinse your hands in cold water and shake off the excess moisture. Take about 2 tablespoons of the risotto at a time and, using your hands, mould it in your hands into a ball or egg shape. Bury a cube of mozzarella in the centre and close the rice around it to seal it in well. Chill for about 30 minutes before proceeding with the next step.
When the rice balls have chilled, set out three shallow containers with the flour in the first, the beaten egg in the second and the breadcrumbs in the third.

Supplì production line - flour, egg, breadcrumbs
 Coat each ball in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, making sure to cover the entire surface at each stage . (At this stage, you can freeze them on a tray and then wrap them for storage in the freezer, thawing before deep frying.) Chill for at least an hour before deep frying.
When ready to cook, heat the oil for deep frying to 180°C (350°F) and monitor the temperature during cooking. Any hotter than this and the Supplì will brown long before the cheese melts in the centre—not a complete disaster but isn’t melty mozzarella so much nicer... Carefully lower the Supplì into the hot fat being careful not to overcrowd the pan. You’ll need to cook them in batches. Fry until deep golden brown.
Transfer the cooked Supplì  to a warm dish lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess fat and leave to cook for a couple of minutes before serving - with a homemade tomato sauce, or garlic mayonnaise if you so desire.
This is street food so forget the cutlery and break them in two with your hands, stretching the “telephone wires” of mozzarella between the two halves in time-honoured tradition.

  

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