Thursday, August 29, 2013

Boxty – out of the laundry room and into the frying pan

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Out of the laundry room and into the frying pan

Writing in The Medical Times and Gazette in 1865, Henry MacCormac M.D., of Belfast, mentions the preparation of Boxty or ‘poorhouse bread’.

“The country people prepare, for purposes of laundry, potato starch. Raw potatoes are peeled, grated and washed. The gratings from which the boxty cake is made remain in the colander. This boxty cake … has a peculiar but not unpleasant flavour. I remember having partaken of it… in one of the houses of the peasantry.”

Thanks Henry, I know there were particular reasons for such frugality at the time, but that sounds really, really grim. No wonder Boxty isn’t our national dish!

As if that weren’t bad enough, a traditional rhyme suggests that if you were a female at that time, and this concoction wasn’t in your repertoire, you were in big trouble: Boxty on the griddle /Boxty in the pan / If you can’t make boxty / You’ll never get a man. Yikes!

Mercifully, laundry methods, society, and potato cuisine have all moved on since the dark days of the nineteenth century. You'll find that Boxty can be a type of potato cake, a dumpling or a pancake. Today’s recipe is for the pancake. My preference is for the floury Rooster potato but any floury potato will do.

For approximately 12 boxty pancakes you will need…

350g freshly boiled and mashed potato
50g butter
250g raw potato, finely grated
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon bread soda
350mls buttermilk

A little sunflower oil or extra virgin olive oil for frying

Mix the butter with the freshly made mashed potato while it is still hot. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, wring the grated potato out in a clean tea towel to extract as much liquid as possible. (Discard the liquid.)  Add the grated potato to the cooked mashed potato along with the flour, salt, baking powder and bread soda and mix to combine.

Gradually mix in the buttermilk to form a thick batter.

Now, heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Wipe the hot pan with a wad of kitchen paper dipped in sunflower oil, giving the pan the barest sheen of oil. (Keep the oily paper to wipe the frying pan between cooking each pancake.)

Fry gently until the surface of the batter has set

Scoop about 80mls of batter into the pan and quickly smooth it out to form a circle. Fry gently until the surface of the batter has set, then flip the pancake over. Continue cooking for a further 30 seconds or so, or until the pancake is golden brown. Repeat until all the batter has been used up, keeping the cooked pancakes warm in a low oven.

Serve as part of a cooked breakfast or drizzled in maple syrup.

I make tiny versions of these as an alternative to blinis and serve with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Quick Blackcurrant and Rhubarb Jelly – Appeals to my inner cave-dweller !

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From disgusting to delicious in about 20 minutes

As a devoted eater, I love trying tastes new to me. This isn't always a success initially. I often need to try a food several times to check if I still don’t like it, or whether the taste is something I could get used to – or might even get to like.

Among the foods that have grown on me over time are: avocados, anchovies, olives, asparagus, some blue cheeses, oysters, smoked fish, snails, liver (but only in certain guises) – I could go on but there’s quite a list. 

We can acquire a taste for something previously repellent, but it needs repeated trials before your inner cave dweller will accept that you are not trying to poison yourself.

When it comes to blackcurrants, however, repeated trials have failed … eh… repeatedly. The cave-dwelling part of my brain flatly refuses to allow fresh blackcurrants past my lips. The taste of this beautiful little berry nauseates me... which is funny because if I could eat just one jelly or jam for the rest of my life, I would probably choose blackcurrant. There is obviously some alchemy in the cooking that magically transforms the taste from disgusting to delicious.

For a small pot of jelly (approximately 400g) you will need…

260g blackcurrants
140g rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1cm chunks
4 tablespoons unsweetened apple juice (or water)
400g sugar
4 tablespoon lemon juice

Wash the blackcurrants and pick them over to remove any stray leaves etc. You needn’t be too fussy about removing the stalks as the solids will be sieved out at the end.

You’ll need to select a saucepan large enough to allow the ingredients to expand up to 5 times without bubbling over. Place the washed berries in the saucepan with the rhubarb and apple juice (or water). Cook for about 20 minutes over a medium-low heat until the fruit has softened.

Meanwhile, place 3 saucers in the freezer – use these later to check if the jelly will set.

Add the sugar and lemon juice and keep the heat low until the sugar has completely dissolved. (If you stir the mixture with a wooden spoon, you will feel any undissolved grains of sugar on the bottom of the pan.)

When the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat so that the mixture begins to boil energetically. Boil for 6 minutes before testing to see if the end product will set.

To test that the jelly will set: remove one of the saucers from the freezer and spoon a little of the mixture onto it. Let it cool for a minute then push your finger through it. The surface should wrinkle and your finger should leave a clear path. If not, continue to cook for a further minute or two before testing again on another cold saucer.

Pour the mixture into a metal sieve set over a bowl to catch the liquid. Press the fruit with the back of a spoon to extract as much juice and pulp as possible (We’re not aiming for a clear jelly here). Transfer the contents of the bowl to a *sterilised jar and discard the solids left in the sieve. 

This quick and easy preserve will keep for up to a month in the fridge and is delicious on toast, with goats cheese, or as an unusual filling in a Victoria Sponge.

The End

What foods have you come to like over time? What tastes are still to pass the cave-dweller test?

*The easiest way to sterilise jars is to run them through a hot cycle of the dishwasher. Otherwise, wash in hot soapy water, rinse, and dry in the oven at 100°C. 

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rhubarb and Strawberry Popsicles - a sophi-stick-ated Summer treat !

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Sophi-stick-ated !

It’s been over a hundred years since the 11-year-old Frank Epperson went to bed, leaving a soda on his porch (so the story goes). After a freezing night, he reclaimed his drink, which had frozen around a stir stick left in the glass. I don’t imagine the soda remained untouched by the local fauna overnight and I guess if he’d looked closely he would probably have seen one or two drowned insects trapped in the world’s first recorded ice pop.

In 1923, Frank patented this frozen treat (insects not included!), calling it the “Epsicle”. His kids had a better name for it and it’s been the “Popsicle” ever since - that’s Ice Pop or Ice Lol(ly) to you and me depending on what part of the country you are from.  Anyway, whatever you call it, Summer just wouldn’t be the same without flavoured ice on a stick.

Over the years, I have gone through various unsophisticated favourites: the luridly lime-y Loop the Loop, the Iceberger, the Wibbly Wobbly Wonder, Solero, and Magnum but I have less of a sweet tooth now.

Sweetened poached fruit combined with Greek yoghurt makes a creamy but relatively healthy (and sophi-stick-ated) alternative. 

Ice pop molds are available in most supermarkets and kitchen stores at this time of year.

For 12 – 16 popsicles (depending on the size of mold) you will need…
600g rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
200g strawberries, sliced
3 tablespoons unsweetened apple juice (or water)
200g honey (or sugar)
500g Greek yoghurt
a few sliced strawberries to decorate

Put the fruit in a medium saucepan with the apple juice or water. Place over a medium heat, and cover. As it cooks, the rhubarb will release a lot of juice, which will provide enough liquid to poach the fruit.

When the fruit is soft (after approximately 15 minutes), remove from the heat. Add the honey (or sugar) and taste. (I don’t have a very sweet tooth but you may prefer a sweeter mix. If so add more honey or sugar to your own taste.)

Place the fruit in a sieve over a bowl and leave to cool, catching any excess fruit syrup in the bowl.

Next, place the yoghurt in a bowl and stir the cooled fruit through. (It is delicious just like this, served up with a little fruit syrup drizzled over.)

Line popsicle molds with slices of strawberris and drizzle over a little of the syrup to form a thin outside layer on one side of the popsicle. (If you are using upright molds, this won’t be possible so just mix some chopped strawberries through the yoghurt before freezing.) Place in the freezer until the thin layer of syrup has frozen. Spoon the yoghurt mixture into the molds, insert popsicle sticks and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.

You will have some fruit syrup left over. This will store in the fridge for up to a week and is delicious mixed with sparkling water or dry cava.

Taste-tester verdicts
Sister: “Mmmm! Very refreshing.
Niece (2½): “Euugh! I don’ like it!”
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