Sunday, May 3, 2020

Aubergine Involtini – from aloof to alive and about to burst into song!

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I have mixed feelings about aubergine (eggplant). All flawless purple skin and gloss and youthful glow, it is the supermodel of the vegetable patch. I arrange it in the vegetable basket, surrounded by other shining beauties – ripe red tomatoes, peppers, and perhaps a lemon or two just because they are opposites on the colour wheel and provide a pleasing colour contrast.

Aubergines - about to burst into song! 

One by one the contents of that basket are plucked and used: the tomato sliced and sprinkled with salt, eaten just as it is; the pepper might be cut into strips as a crisp sweet snack; the lemons will probably end up juiced into hot water as an alternative to tea.
Too late I’ll remember the aubergine because it does not grab attention in the same way as its companions. It is downright boring on its own and needs the right sort company to bring it to life. Too often I forget to introduce it to complementary flavours and end up having to consign its shrivelled remains to the compost heap.
Introduce aubergine to a lemon and watch the sparks fly...
Niki Segnit of The Flavour Thesaurus has similar feelings about this vegetable describing it as “unpredictable, often bitter, and needing a lot of attention (or an unhealthy amount of lubrication) to cajole it into a companionable mood.” - you know the type!
If you were to seat Aubergine at a dinner party, you’d make sure it was next to Garlic, Parsley, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil. Such great company transforms it from aloof to alive. Next thing you know, it’ll be singing!

As a starter (or light lunch) for 2 you will need...
1 medium aubergine
100g cottage cheese*
100g feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch of whole chives

1         Remove both ends of the aubergine and slice lengthways into ½ cm slices – a mandolin is best for this job but mind your fingers (I speak from experience - ouch!). There is no need to salt and drain modern varieties of aubergine to leach out bitterness. 
2         Heat a ridged grill pan (or a frying pan) over a medium heat. Brush the slices with olive oil and cook in a single layer, for approximately 2 minutes each side. You’ll probably have to do this in a couple of batches. Carefully remove the cooked slices from the grill pan and leave to cool completely.

Aubergine gets a grilling

3          Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, mash the cottage cheese together with the feta cheese, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper. No need to use salt as the feta will be salty and there are plenty of strong flavours in the mix.

Seat aubergine next to garlic, parsley, and lemon juice to transform it from aloof to alive!

4         Select the best 6 slices of aubergine (any reject slices can be used on crostini) and lay them out on a flat surface. Place 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture at the fatter end of each slice, about 2cm from the short edge. Lay a few whole chives across this and starting at the fat end, roll the aubergine slice so that it encloses the filling, with a plume of chives emerging from one end. Leave the finished roll on its side and repeat the process with the remaining 5 slices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5         To serve, arrange upright (see photo) - 3 per portion. Diced cherry tomatoes make a colourful addition and if serving for lunch, a green salad completes the picture.
*I’ve used cottage cheese to bind the mixture because, post Lockdown, the bathroom scales has taken to saying “Gerroff will ya!”.  Ricotta or Philadelphia would be suitable full fat alternatives for this dish.

Updated and savoured with renewed appreciation - originally published January 2011
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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Keep Calm and Carry on Cooking - Cookbook Giveaway

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You may be home at the moment through no choice of your own, trying to keep your spirits up and perhaps with kids to keep entertained.
Keep Calm and Carry on Baking Cupcakes
I’m giving away my Kindle cookbook, Alchemy: Simple Ingredients, Magical Food, for the next 5 days, starting today, Thursday 19th March. I invite you to download it and try some of the recipes.
Click the image to go to the book
Make stuff with your kids as an activity – try the Cupcakes; the Carrot  Cake is always a hit; if you don’t have condensed milk and chocolate, then Wellington Squares can stop at Shortbread – simple and delicious!
Try Buttermilk Pancakes for breakfast (even if you don’t have buttermilk), or one of my favourites, Maple French Toast Sticks (without the maple if it means a special trip to the shops – choose your own flavours).
Keep Calm and Carry on Pouring Maple Syrup over French Toast Sticks
If you have panicked and bought a ton of pasta, there’s always Macaroni Cheese with Bells & Whistles.
Keep Calm and Carry on Eating Your Greens
There are lots of tips so you can adapt the recipes to suit you.
Keep Calm and Carry on Pouring Maple Syrup over French Toast Sticks
Keep Calm and Carry on Cooking!
Keep Calm and Carry on Eating Cake for Breakfast
Keep Calm and Carry on Finding New Uses for the Peppers at the Bottom of Your Fridge
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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Mardi Gras - the world is your Pancake!!!

Pin It PANCAKE DAY!!!!!  Mardi-Gras-in-the-kitchen day!!!!

Pancakes and crêpes are nothing on their own. Left to their own devices they would never go out. Savoury or sweet, they depend on fillings and dressings to give them a social life.

Though I’m a fiend for maple syrup, sometimes something as simple as a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice is just the thing to make a pancake interesting. However, for a real taste of Carnival, my current favourite is the zingy vanilla orange caramel sauce at the end of this page.  Pour the hot syrup over pancakes or crêpes and feel your taste buds samba! Or perhaps you'd like to try some of my other favourites from the Alchemy archive


Try...

Boxty - traditional Irish potato pancakes, sweet or savoury?
Out of the laundry room and into the frying pan
(the gorgeous bowl and jug are by my aunt, Patricia Casey, artist and potter extraordinaire)

Or perhaps...
Cider and Cinnamon Crêpes - Time to practice your pancake-flipping skills!

Or will you go off-piste altogether and opt for Pączki Tuesday - instead with these gorgeous Polish doughnuts


It's Stomp's fault... (you'll have to read the article to find out why)

If you are going for savoury, you could go gallic with buckwheat galettes

Or try this sensational Vanilla Orange Caramel sauce drizzled over a crepe - which to choose? The world is your pancake!

My choice? Yup! You've guessed it!  And yours? Let me know in the comments below.




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Sunday, February 9, 2020

Magical Marmalade - as Scottish as the Bonnie Prince!

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Bring some sunshine to the table
Who can hear the word ‘marmalade’ without tartan and bagpipes dancing across their mind?  Och, sure isn’t marmalade as Scottish as wee Bonnie Prince Charlie... as shortbread... as Irn-Bru, and Whisky without the ‘e’ ...  isn’t it?

Well, while there is a tale about a storm-battered ship, a load of sea-sick oranges and an enterprising couple named James and Janet Keiller, it appears that Dundee’s claim to be the birthplace of marmalade might be an “alternative fact”. 

It turns out that there are several recipes in archives around England that pre-date the Keiller’s 1797 marmalade factory by almost a century. However, even before that, various mermeladas were being made across Europe, (although not necessarily containing oranges) and even the Romans were known to partake of marmelo - preserved quince, pounded and mixed with honey. The Bonnie Prince himself was born in... Rome! ... so perhaps he knew a thing or two about marmalade long before it made an appearance in Dundee. 

A Spanish friend gave me the rough method for this marmalade. It’s all about proportions and once you stick to the proportions - and as long as the fruit contains enough pectin to set the marmalade - the citrus fruit content and any flavourings you choose to add are up to you. Seville oranges have a very high pectin content.  If I’m using any other orange, I include the juice of 2 lemons  to increase the pectin content. 

Because the St Clement's Marmalade recipe below contains both Seville oranges, and lemons, there is no need to add any extra lemon juice. Why is orange and lemon marmalade called St Clement's? Apparently citrus fruits used to be offloaded on the wharves of the Thames within the sound of the bells of St Clement's church in Eastcheap. 'Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement's.'

This marmalade doesn’t store for more than a few months outside the fridge due to the relatively low sugar content so I like to make small amounts that can be eaten quickly.

It is ready to eat straight away but the flavours develop wonderfully after a few weeks.
What this magical marmalade tastes like!

For 5 x 360g jars of magical marmalade you will need
1.5kg Seville oranges or a mixture of citrus fruits, untreated if possible
(I used 4 Seville oranges, 2 lemons and the rest eating oranges)

Approximately 1kg caster sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

You will also need:
A piece of muslin cloth / cheese cloth to enclose all pips and any stray pith
A plate or shallow bowl to catch any juices as you cut up the fruit
A jam pan (Maslin pan) or a large heavy bottomed pot
A ½ litre measuring jug (or equivalent) and a weighing scales
A sugar thermometer
Sterilised jam jars* (I used 5 recycled Bonne Maman jars – they take 360g each, or about 12oz)
Jam pot covers - they normally come in a packet which includes waxed discs, cellophane discs, elastic bands and labels
A jam funnel makes life a lot easier

Method
First wash the fruit, then place in a jam pan or a large pot and cover with water. If necessary, place a heatproof plate on top of the fruit to weigh it down to keep it submerged in the water. Bring the pan to the boil and leave it to simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the fruit is easily pierced with a fork. Leave to cool.


There's nothing like a hot bath to soften the skin...

Once cool, drain away the water and taking each piece of fruit in turn, halve it across the middle. Using a fork, rake out any pips, and any tough white membrane snagged by the fork, placing them in the muslin cloth. This will provide the pectin that will set your marmalade. 



Using a fork, rake out any pips, placing them in the muslin cloth

Using a sharp knife, slice each piece of fruit into shreds as thin or as thick as you like and tip into a large bowl along with any juices that have escaped. When you have finished preparing the fruit, you will need to measure it and add sugar in a ratio of 5:4. Put away the calculator! It’s simple.

Slice each piece of fruit into shreds as thin or as thick as you like

Take your measuring jug and fill it to the 500ml mark with the prepared fruit. Tip back into the jam pan or into a large heavy bottomed pot. Continue measuring until you have accounted for all the fruit.



For every 500ml of prepared fruit, add 400g of caster sugar

Now, for every 500ml of prepared fruit, add 400g of caster sugar to the pan. (I ended up with 1250mls of prepared fruit on this occasion. So, I added exactly 1kg of sugar to the pan.)


Make a little purse of the pips, wrapping them in the muslin or cheese cloth and tying the neck securely with string.  Tie the string to the handle of the pan so that the package is suspended in the mixture. Bring the pan slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Pips and stray pulp ready to be packaged.

Once the sugar has dissolved, let the mixture come to a rapid (or rolling) boil, allowing it to bubble for between 8 and 10 minutes – stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure it isn’t burning on the bottom - then pop your sugar thermometer into the jam pan and wait for the temperature to hit 220°F/221°F for a nicely set marmalade. Below that, it tends to be too runny. At 222°F you’ll get a pretty solid set. At 223°F it starts to darken and become bitter. After that, you are heading into toffee territory.


A rapid or rolling boil full of bursting bubbles

You could also try the famous wrinkle test – pop three metal spoons in the freezer while you are boiling the marmalade. After 10 minutes take the marmalade off the heat and drop a small amount of marmalade onto one of the spoons. As soon as it is cool enough to touch, push gently with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, the marmalade will set. If not, continue boiling for another minute and test again with the second spoon. Repeat until you can see the wrinkles appear.

I prefer to rely on the thermometer as this test gives me wrinkles.

Once the marmalade has reached setting point, stir in the vanilla extract and remove the pan from the heat. (If you prefer, you could stir in 100mls of whiskey to the pan at this stage) Take the muslin bag out of the marmalade (carefully – it’s very, very hot!) and as soon as it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out any remaining pectin-rich juices and stir into the marmalade. Let the marmalade sit for a total of 15 minutes. This ensures that the fruit will be distributed evenly throughout the preserve when you transfer it to the jars.

Carefully transfer to the sterilised jars –it is still piping hot. A jam funnel makes life much easier and helps keep the jars drip free. Press waxed jam discs against the surface of the marmalade then seal with cellophane covers, or use Le Parfait ''kiln-clip’’ jars.

A jam funnel makes life much easier and helps keep the jars drip free
 
Store in a cool dark place for a couple of months or keep in the fridge.

*Sterilise your jam jars by putting them through the dishwasher on whatever cycle you use to wash glasses, or do as my mum does and wash them thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinse and allow to dry in your oven at 100°C (or 212°F).

First published 8 February 2017 Pin It