Friday, August 26, 2011

Bramley Brulée – So Tempting, It’s Criminal

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I am not one to hold a grudge. I believe in forgive and forget... let bygones be bygones... bury the hatchet... kiss and make up. 

There is just one crime that I have been unable to pardon. Tears still well up (sniff) when I recall that dreadful moment.

The innocent victim...

I had organised a Christmas party for a group of friends and made sure that my favourite dessert was included on the menu. Mmmmm Crème Brulée... sigh! I had been dreaming about the moment when the spoon would shatter the caramelised sugar crust sending splinters of sweetness into the creamy custard. The starter and main course – delicious though they were – were merely a prelude to this delight.
As the empty plates were cleared away for the next course, I did a quick tour of the room to make sure all the guests were in good spirits. As dessert was being dished up, I made my way back to my table. Oh such sweet anticipation.
Aaaaaaaaarrrrggh! It took mere moments for the crime to be committed. There, in my place, was an EMPTY, licked-clean dish, with the merest trace of burnt sugar still clinging to the sides. “Ooops, I thought it was a spare,” said the heartless thief my dining companion who must have inhaled the dessert so quickly did it vanish, “let's order you another one.”

We're obviously not Bramleys... but we are a windfall!

His crime was not to be erased that easily. The caterers had been exact and there was (sniff) no more (sob) Crème Brulée (wail). While I have tried to find it in my heart to forgive this dessert-stealing fiend good friend, I know I will never forget...
Here’s my prize-winning Crème Brulée with Bramley apple compote. I used Bramleys because at the time I wrote this recipe, it was the 200th anniversary of the variety. You could use any sweet/sharp apple. Just don't leave your dessert unattended!
For 6 servings you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 140°C (when you have finished making the compote)

Apple compote
2 large Bramley apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon runny honey

Crème brulée
6 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
500mls double cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Sugar crust
75g caster sugar

1          For the apple compote: First, place all the compote ingredients in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the apple is tender, stirring occasionally. Pour off any excess juice and divide the apple mixture between 6 shallow ramekin dishes. Leave to cool. Place the ramekins in a roasting tray or similar. Now, preheat your oven to 140°C.
2          For the custard: Place the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl and whisk together until pale yellow in colour. Pour the cream into a medium saucepan, and add the cinnamon. Heat gently to just boiling then - very slowly - pour onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Now, divide the mixture between the ramekins. Transfer the ramekins to the oven and carefully pour boiling water into the roasting tray until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the custards are just set. Remove the ramekins from the water and allow cool.
3          Finally, the topping: evenly sprinkle each of the cooled Bramley Brulées with the caster sugar and either place under a very hot grill until the sugar is golden and bubbling, or use a blowtorch to achieve the same effect. Cool before serving, but do not refrigerate.

Scatter a layer of fresh raspberries in the bottom of each ramekin instead of the apple compote. Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the cream in place of cinnamon.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Allendale Courgette and Cheese Soup – a game of Farmers’ Market Roulette

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Some years ago, while hiking in Snowdonia in Wales, I shared a hostel kitchen with three girl guides as they prepared lunch for their troop. 
I speak Geordie... This is A bool a kyle ... apparently
The first girl guide slathered margarine on the bread...
the second girl guide filled the sandwiches with square ham and plastic cheese...
the third girl guide painstakingly nibbled away any filling that peeped over the edge of the crust, before wrapping the completed sandwiches... Bleaugh!
That memory popped into my head because my beloved was recently reunited with his scout troop - the 4th Ilford - after more years than they care to remember.  These former boy scouts assured me that their food prep was much more conscientious.

Our visit to Allendale, near Newcastle in Northumberland, coincided with the Allen Mill Farmers’ Market, run by our delightful hosts, Anne and Chris Bacon at Allen Mill.

Farmers' Market Roulette - some of the contributors

There, David Harris (aka The Cookery Coach and self-confessed “Diet Satan”) was conducting a demonstration of “Farmers’ Market Roulette”.  Farmers’ Market Roulette is when David arrives more or less empty-handed and charms the stall holders into swapping some of their produce for publicity. He then conjures a dish from the ingredients collected.
On the menu was a courgette soup with a mellow cheddar-style cheese from Birdoswald Organic Cheese. Birdoswald cheese has quite a pedigree - the recipe originally coming from Ireland in 1688.  

David Harris converting local produce into a feast!

The courgettes were grown by Bluebell Organics, who produce organic vegetables, fruit juices and chutneys.
David served the soup with a hunk of Sunday Bread from Allendale Bakery and Cafe

Also featuring in David’s food roulette were pork escallopes from Hallsford Farm – a rare-breeds farm producing Llanwenog Lamb (and Mutton in season), Shorthorn Beef and Saddleback Pig. The sauce for the pork contained mustard from Marilyn Avens and Geoff Cole at Cumberland Honey Mustard. I tasted the Seville – tangy with a hint of orange - and the wonderfully nutty Original Honey Mustard. Marilyn and Geoff also produce a range of relishes, vinegars and vinaigrettes, pickled fruits, and jams.

Cumberland Honey Mustard - it's hot stuff!
This is the soup David made from his Farmers’ Market bounty. (I've reduced the quantities to suit a family-sized pot)
For 3 - 4 servings you will need...
2 shallots (or 1 onion) roughly chopped
1 fat clove garlic, roughly chopped
50g streaky bacon, cut into small pieces (a kitchen scissors is great for this job)
500g courgettes, cut into large cubes
1 litre good chicken (or vegetable stock)
100g Birdoswald Organic Cheese (or any good cheddar-style cheese)
Salt and pepper to taste

1          Heat a tablespoon of oil (light olive oil or sunflower etc) in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the shallots, garlic and bacon. Fry gently for about 2 minutes until the bacon is cooked, then add the courgettes. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, giving the courgettes time to absorb the flavours from the other ingredients.
2          Add the stock to the saucepan. When it has come to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the grated cheese. Blend to a smooth liquid – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this. Taste and add salt and pepper only if necessary.

A landscape made famous by Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Take a Farmers' Market picnic to this famous spot on nearby Hadrian's Wall

Allen Mill Farmers’ Market and Car Boot Sale runs on the 3rd Sunday of the Month, July – December, 10.30am to 3pm. Aside from the market, Allen Mill is open all week and offers a range of local North Pennines crafts and produce, micro brewery, art centre and printmaking studio with antique presses. The mill is in an area of outstanding natural beauty and archaeological importance. It is within striking distance of Hadrian’s Wall, and the medieval market town of Hexham.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Classic Wedding Cake – Oh Crumbs!

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I have Lemmings Disorder – that’s when you see the “cliff-edge” in any given situation and feel compelled to head directly towards it.
Here’s a good example: I was utterly delighted when my brother announced his engagement to the lovely Rosie – a true treasure who has been part of our family for quite some time now. I was so busy being thrilled, that I didn’t notice that my mouth hadn’t stopped at “Congratulations! Fantastic! When’s the big day?”
At the last moment, my brain noticed what was about to happen. Nooooooo! it yelled, trying to head me off at the pass. Remember what happened the last time?!!!!!
But there was no stopping that mouth. It just kept right on going...
            “I’ll make the wedding cake if you like!” I announced 
                                                              ...straight over that cliff.
I was touched by the happy couple’s faith in me, particularly as they had been present the last time.

Now, some of you will know what happened the last time and will have had the same concerns as my brain. That infamous “last time”, my engineering skills failed me and most of my sister’s wedding cake ended up in crumbs on the floor. Oooops!

Remember 'last time' - Oh crumbs!

The bride selected ‘Champagne Bubbles’ - a design by May Clee-Cadman, from Sweet and Simple Party Cakes– an elegant classic, decorated with fresh flowers to echo her bouquet.
The cake consisted of an e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s fruitcake, baked by Marie, the bride’s mother. I made two smaller tiers of vanilla sponge and buttercream.
Thirteen kilos (that’s about 26 pounds) of sugarpaste covered the multi-storey construction, which was dotted with 1,668 royal icing “champagne bubbles”.  My (fairy) Godmother conjured up the gorgeous flowers that made up the mezzanine tiers and crowned the cake.

It survived the trip from Wicklow to Cavan – a miracle because in parts, the main highway resembles a cart-track. So far, so good!

"I could get used to this"

All the time, my brain waited, ready with a smug “I knew this was going to happen!” or a scornful “I told you so!”

"I caught the bouquet!"

After the ceremony, I disappeared to start the construction. There were pins, dowels and glue. There were mathematical equations and a spirit level. The confectionary skyscraper rose storey, by snowy-white storey. With the last ribbons in place and a meadow of flowers scattered around the base, I took photos to prove that - whatever happened now - it had once been standing.

All through the reception, I held my breath. The last time the cake had made it this far too. When the joyful new Mr and Mrs rose to cut the cake, I crossed my fingers - hard. Would the bank of cameras snap the moment the cake collapsed and send it all over Facebook to my eternal mortification? Or had my engineering skills been up to the task this time? 
Does “Phew!” answer your question?

"I'm still standing..."
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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cajun Sausage Sliders with Mozzarella – From the Surreptitious Chef

Pin It We stayed with friends near Bergerac in Dordogne earlier this summer. The sky was a strange blue colour not often seen by Irish people and there was a big golden disc high up in the atmosphere. That’s the Sun, my friends said, seeing my puzzled expression. They explained that it was an object of worship. I was introduced to a ceremony which locals call Le Pique-Nique - a form of Sun worship. Apparently people in Dordogne regularly practice this form of reverence which involves dining al fresco while basking in a warm glow called Sunshine - also unheard of in Ireland.

Cajun Sausage Sliders ... the surprise hit from the Surreptitious Chef!
“Let’s have a gourmet Pique-Nique!” my beloved announced with the zeal of the newly converted. “Everyone must produce a dish.”

“Groan,” said the other men in the party, greeting his suggestion with great enthusiasm.
Recipe for a gourmet Pique-Nique: Great food, great company, perfect location

The menu included prawns and scallops to be cooked on site, bacon-wrapped asparagus, Caprese salad, salty-sweet Parma-wrapped Charantais melon, egg mayo, the obligatory potato salad, plenty of local rosé and a stunning lakeside location. From the man’s man, the bloke’s bloke, the guy’s guy of the party, came a surprise hit – these spicy sausage sliders with a melting cheesy centre.

I asked this surreptitious chef if I could feature his idea on my blog. “Sure,” he said, “just so long as you don’t tell anyone who I am. You’ll destroy my street cred!”

Don’t worry - your secret is safe with me, Trevor. Ooops!

For 10 sliders you will need...

Cajun Spice Mix

1 small clove garlic
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

500g good quality meaty sausages (pork, lamb, beef – your choice)
100g Mozzarella, divided into 10 even pieces
A little olive oil or sunflower oil for cooking

Cajun Spice Mix - some like it hot!

1                    Using a pestle and mortar, pound all the spice mix ingredients together until the garlic is reduced to pulp and mixed to a damp powder with the herbs and spices – a food processor will do the trick too.
2                    Remove the sausages from their skins and place in a bowl. Mix until the meat forms a ball (hands are best for this job). Divide the mixture into 10 portions and form each into a ball. Make a dent in the centre of each portion and press a piece of mozzarella into each. Cover over with the meat, sealing the cheese inside. Flatten each portion into a patty. Sprinkle the spice mix over the patties, turning to ensure an even coating. Chill until ready to use.
3                    Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a gentle heat and cook the patties for about 4 minutes each side. You want a gentle sizzle going on so that the inside is cooked through long before the outside even thinks about burning.
4                    Sandwich between mini-burger buns, or mini pita rounds, or ciabatta as I’ve done with these. Serve with your favourite slider accompaniments.

My Cajun spice mix has a bit of a kick. If you can’t stand the heat, take it down a notch by reducing the amount of white pepper and cayenne.
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