Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ginger Nuts – to dunk or not to dunk, that is the question ...

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Dunk (verb) to dip (bread or other food) into a drink or soup before eating it.
"I dunked a biscuit into the cup of scalding tea"

Blasphemous” talk about HRH - or any British royal for that matter; mobile phone use; slouching; or resting your elbows on the table are all behaviours likely to get you into trouble in a controversial Brighton tearooms. Conversation shouldn’t be more than “two tones above the chink of a teacup” – somewhat hard to measure as teacup-chinking and teaspoon-clinking are also frowned upon. Under NO circumstances drink from the saucer- you could be sent to the Tower.

The Tea Cosy has also prohibited dunking. Engaging in the “unsavoury habit ... will result in you being asked to leave”.

Unsavoury habit? Really? Dunking is an art that has been practiced for aeons. Would The Tea Cosy have evicted Proust for executing one of the most famous literary dunks in history—a madeleine dipped in tea?

We learn to dunk early. For centuries, children have known the pleasures of dunking toast soldiers into the molten centre of a soft-boiled egg. With the arrival of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, dunking has become much more skilled.

According to research from the University of Bristol, dunking a biscuit releases up to ten times more flavour than a dry biscuit. A successful dunk is when the biscuit absorbs enough liquid to release all that extra flavour but not so much that the sugar melts and the structural integrity of the biscuit fails, leaving biscuit-y sludge at the bottom of your cup.

Factors that have to be taken into account are:

Temperature—the hotter the liquid, the faster the sugar melts.

Angle—this is more important with chocolate biscuits and a very shallow angle, chocolate-side-up, is advised as the chocolate provides support. For all others, a 90° angle was found to be better.

Length of timeJammie Dodgers and Rich Tea have considerable staying power—able to withstand a 20-second dunk. Digestives, Hobnobs and Ginger Nuts will start to dissolve after just 2.92 seconds.

I don’t mind the Ginger Nut’s lack of staying power. There is an alchemy in the combination of strong, hot tea (particularly Assam) and the spicy heat released by the biscuit that makes this combination greater than the sum of its parts.

For about 30 biscuits (cookies), you will need...
150g caster sugar (or dark brown sugar)
125g butter
50g black treacle
50g golden syrup
1 small egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10g mixed peel (or candied orange peel) very finely chopped (optional)
10g preserved ginger in syrup, very finely chopped (optional)
325g plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 allspice berries, crushed to a fine powder (or ¼ teaspoon of ground allspice)
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt 

Extra caster sugar for rolling the cookie dough in before baking


Place the sugar, butter, treacle, and golden syrup in a bowl and beat until paler in colour and lighter in texture. 

Continue beating while you add the egg and vanilla extract (along with the mixed peel and preserved ginger if using). Beat until combined. 

Mix together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt and add to the mixture in the bowl, beating all the while. 

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line 2 or 3 baking sheets (depending on how big your oven is) with non-stick baking parchment.  

Rinse your hands with cold water and shake off any excess moisture. This will help stop the dough sticking too much. Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of dough and form them into balls. Dip the balls in the extra sugar (this gives them a lovely sparkle) before placing on the baking sheets, at least 5cm apart to give them room to spread out. There's no need to flatten them - the heat will do all the work.

No need to flatten them out - the heat will do all the work

Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 17 minutes. At 15 minutes they are cooked but a little chewy. I always remove one tray of the cookies at this point because I like this chewiness, but they are ginger nuts which are supposed to be crunchy so I let the rest cook to full crunchiness.

Shush! Don't tell anyone or we'll be thrown out.
To dunk or not to dunk - that is a question of personal taste. But if you don’t, you won’t know what you’re missing.
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chargrilled Salmon with ‘Irelandaise’ - forty shades of green for Lá Fhéile Pádraig

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After the Rugby yesterday, we should be celebrating St Brian's Day, but let's talk about St Patrick. How very 'Irish' of us to have a patron saint who wasn’t even, well, Irish! Maybe he was chosen because we owe him. 

You see, we ... um... kinda... um... kidnapped the boy Patrick back in the 5th century from our neighbours, the Romans, next door in Wales. Legend has it, we enslaved the poor lad for seven years in miserable conditions. We didn’t even have the good grace to give him back. He escaped in the end.

Perhaps suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, Patrick returned and – according to myth – spent 30 years preaching and rooting out snakes (aka pagans) – although it is entirely possible that legend has him confused with another Roman who was also wandering the island at around the same time trying to convert us heathen folk into god-fearing Christians.
Moving swiftly on, by 15 centuries or so, and things have changed quite a bit. We no longer have to kidnap people to bring them to our shores. They come quite willingly.
People come for the breath-taking scenery (Put Glendalough on your “Things to do before I die” list. As far as I’m concerned, on a sunny day, there is no better place.)

They come for the renowned cead mile failte – ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’ – it may have slipped to ‘ninety-nine thousand welcomes’ over the Celtic tiger years but you’ll still find most of the 5 million or so natives more than friendly and helpful.
People come for the culture, the music, the literature (every last one of us is a writer – it’s obligatory).

They may not come specifically for the Guinness, however (despite Diageo’s protests to the contrary) Guinness definitely tastes better in Ireland than anywhere else, and even then there are some places which can pull a better pint than others.
People come for the food – for the cold, clear seas that produce wonderful seafood; for the clean rivers that surrender salmon and trout to patient souls; for rolling countryside (available in at least forty shades of green) that yields gold ingots of outstanding butter, and superb lamb and beef.

The food traditionally associated with Patrick’s Day isn’t particularly lavish – it’s simple, filling, peasant grub which is exactly what you’ll need to shore you up if you are planning to attend a parade. If however, like me, you are planning a lazy day punctuated with bouts of reclining in front of the telly, here’s a quick and easy dish that uses butter instead of oil in a mayonnaise-style sauce - 'Irelandaise'. This recipe makes about 8 times more sauce than you need but that's good news as it is great on steamed veg, baked potatoes, grilled chops etc.

For a lazy fish dish for 2, you will need

1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I prefer the extra strong variety)
¼ teaspoon salt
150g butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 

2 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped capers 

Grilled Salmon
2 salmon steaks or fillets
a little extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper

[This sauce contains raw egg - the usual warnings apply]
First make the ‘Irelandaise’: Place the egg yolk in a bowl and add the mustard and salt. Whisk together until the mixture thickens slightly. An electric whisk is best for this.
Trickle about a teaspoon of melted butter into the mixture and whisk until it has completely disappeared. If you add the butter too fast the mixture will split. (See the fix at the end of this recipe to remedy this if necessary.) Repeat this trickling and whisking process until you have used about a third of the butter, allowing it to disappear into the mixture before adding the next drizzle. The mixture should start to thicken.
Slowly and steadily, trickle another third of the butter into the mixture, whisking all the time. The sauce should be thick and creamy by now. Now add the lemon juice, which will thin it out a little, and whisk until combined before whisking in the remaining butter at a slow trickle.
Stir in the herbs and capers. Cover until required. At room temperature this will remain soft, and similar in texture to mayo. In the fridge, it will harden. Either way, it goes beautifully with grilled fish, and is pretty good used for garlic bread, on baked potatoes, on steamed vegetables.
For the grilled salmon: lightly oil the fish and season it with salt and black pepper. Place on a medium-hot grill pan (or frying pan). Cook for about 3 minutes, skin-side down. You'll see the colour change as the fish cooks. When it has crept about half-way up the fish, gently turn it and finish cooking on the other side for a further 3 or so minutes, or until the flesh is not longer translucent.  The crispy skin is delicious too.

Serve with vegetables and a swirl of ‘Irelandaise’.

If your ‘Irelandaise’ splits (or curdles) simply take a fresh bowl, add a new egg yolk, and slowly add the curdled mixture, a little at a time, beating between additions until the curdled mix is incorporated.
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