Kitchen Tip #22 Saving Curdled Coconut Milk

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Coconut

Coconut milk is essential in the kitchen, especially if you cook Thai curries at lot. I have often found that it splits, even if the cooking temperature is low. The result still tastes lovely, but it doesn’t look very appealing.

The key is the use of chemical emulsifiers and stabilisers in the brand of coconut milk you buy such as guar gum; emulsifiers bind and stabilise so splitting does not occur. Some brands contain these emulsifiers, but some do not. If they don’t, when you open the tin, you will notice that the coconut cream and the coconut water are separate and need to be mixed together.

This is the kind I prefer to use, as I like to use the coconut cream a lot. If this is your preference, you may find that the mixture often curdles and splits as you heat it.

The solution is very quick and easy. Simply add 1 tablespoon of cornflower per 400ml (a normal sized tin) to stabilise the mixture. Make a thin paste by adding a small amount of the coconut milk to the cornflower, then add to the mixture and cook through.

This mixture will now be stable and will not split or curdle as you heat it. Make sure you cook out for at least 10 minutes to avoid any floury taste. This trick will also work if the mixture has already split.

 

Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

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Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

When I’m on holiday, especially in Italy, one great pleasure is to skip a mediocre restaurant dessert and find an authentic Gelateria, preferably one with a queue, marvel at the vast array of colours and flavours, perhaps taste a few and then wander back to my hotel, happily licking drips from my wrist. Ice cream just seems to taste better on holiday and it’s not unusual for me to eat it every day of my time away.

In comparison, ice cream culture at home is somewhat disappointing. There are some amazing ice cream shops to be found in various cities across the country and, if you’re lucky, on a local high street, but what most of us eat at home is bought in a supermarket. I find most of the big brands are overly sweet and sometimes a little synthetic as they often contain various emulsifiers and preservatives. As a result, ice cream is not something I usually eat regularly at home.

Homemade ice cream has not been successful for me in the past. It doesn’t seem to matter which recipe reassures me that you do not need an ice cream machine to make good ice cream, I find that making it without one is not very satisfying. It’s true that you can get fairly good results by beating away the ice crystals by hand, as they form in the freezing mixture, but it’s never quite right. The ice crystals are too large and really change the way the ice cream dissolves on your tongue.

With this in mind, I decided to go for it and invest in a proper ice cream machine. They vary massively in price, but you can get a basic one for about £30. That’s the equivalent of about seven tubs of a premium ice cream brand, so pretty good value, even if you only use it a few times a year.

Once you have an ice cream machine, the world is your oyster ; you can make ice cream of course, but you can also make gelato (an Italian, softer, milk-based ice cream), sorbet and frozen yoghurt.

Frozen yoghurt is arguably the easiest thing to make, as you do not have to make a custard and risk it splitting;  you can simply pick your favourite yoghurt and churn it. It sounds too easy, but that’s how it works-it is literally yoghurt that is frozen. It can also be a lighter choice when you do not want to be eating masses of eggs and cream. You can simply pick your favourite flavours and add them to plain yoghurt to make amazing frozen desserts.

Since obtaining my ice cream machine I have tried so many flavours out, but this is one of my favourites. Mango and mint go so well together as the mint gives a small wave of freshness to the aromatic sweetness of the mango. Natural Greek yoghurt is a great vehicle for these flavours as it has a slight tang and just enough creaminess to feel indulgent while still being refreshing. It is an exotic taste of summer. Ice cream and frozen desserts often contain a lot of sugar, as the act of freezing something dulls the flavour and so it is needed. There is very little sugar in this recipe, as if you can get ripe mangos, you do not need much. In addition, do not be tempted to add more peppermint extract: this stuff is super powerful and you genuinely only need a few drops.

Ripe mangos are a true treat. You will know if they are ripe as they will fill the air of your kitchen with their beautiful aroma before they are even cut. Once you pierce the yielding flesh, the smell intensifies and you instantly become covered with masses of gorgeous, sweet juice. If you cannot get ripe mangos (the supermarkets ones are so often hard and sad), do not add more sugar, but buy a bag of the frozen chunks. It works very well here as you are pureeing the flesh and so it does not matter is it is a bit soggy when it defrosts. This will always be riper than a slightly hard fresh mango.

If you don’t like mint here, you can leave it out, or add the juice of a lime for extra zing.

Mango & Mint Frozen Yoghurt

Makes 1 litre

Ingredients

3 large ripe mangos, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1kg)

500ml Natural Greek yoghurt

75g icing sugar

3-4 drops natural peppermint extract (not essence) or the juice of 1 large lime

Method

1.  Puree the mango with a stick blender or normal blender

2. Mix the puree with the yoghurt, sugar and peppermint essence

3. Churn in your ice cream machine according to the instructions

4. Scoop into a 1 litre plastic tub with lid and freeze

5. Remove from the freezer  5 minutes before you want to serve it. Decorate with fresh raspberries if you wish

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A Double-Baked Brownie Conundrum 

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Double-Baked Brownies

I am a little torn. On one hand I feel quite strongly that the Internet does not need another brownie recipe. On the other hand, I’m rather excited by the success of this recipe. I have been on a long quest to find the perfect brownie recipe and this one happened quite by accident.

I must have made close to a hundred batches of brownies over the years, using a wide variety of recipes, ingredients and techniques. The difficulty is that people often want different things from a brownie. Some want a dryer, cakey texture, others want something more fudgy and gooey. Some like nuts, others are vehemently against this addition. The type of chocolate and sugar you use, how much flour you add, how long you beat your eggs (if at all) along with the size and depth of your baking pan all make small but crucial differences to the end product.

For me, I am devotedly in the fudgy and nutless camp. Nuts have no place in brownies as far as I’m concerned. I am aware I am likely to have some opposition to this standpoint, so please feel free to add them if you really want to. My ideal brownie is very rich, densely chocolatey and more like a dessert than cake, especially in the centre. The more it sticks to my teeth in a rather unattractive but highly necessary way, the better! I like a very thin, crunchy crust on top and a slightly dense, more risen edge. It’s a long list of requirements for a humble brownie. It is also one that is rarely fulfilled.

As with many great discoveries, this recipe came about by a total accident. In essence, this was a slightly new twist on a recipe I have used many times before. This particular trial was using slightly less flour and cooking for longer at a lower temperature. Fate intervened ten minutes before the end of cooking time and I had to get the brownies out and leave them on the kitchen top.

A few hours later, I returned to the batch to find it completely cool but also very undercooked, especially in the centre. I’m all for a fudgy brownie, but this was essentially a raw mixture. I decided to return it to a hot oven to see what happened. The first time I tried, it was overbaked, dry and too crumbly at the edges and the next time it burnt on the top, but I could see the potential for the idea of baking it twice. After several further attempts, I believe I have it cracked. Essentially the double-baking allows for a crispy, slightly chewy edge to the brownie, whilst maintaining a really moist and dense centre, which would be overcooked if you baked the brownies once but for longer.

The chocolate you use for the recipe is crucial. For the main brownie element, you need to use good quality cocoa powder (not hot chocolate powder) and dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solid content. Any less, and the brownies will taste sickly sweet rather than sweet and rich. For the chopped chocolate to mix in, feel free to use whatever you like. I like milk, but white, dark or a mixture is equally good. The main thing is to keep the chopped chunks fairly large, or they will just melt into the cooked mixture, rather than staying in lovely chunks. Using golden caster sugar is also important, as it adds a slight caramel flavour to the brownie, rather than just straight sweetness. If you must add nuts, use 100g of roughly chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, adding along with the chopped chocolate. But I would really rather you didn’t.

Double-Baked Brownies

Makes about 15 squares

Ingredients

  • 185g soft salted butter
  • 185g dark chocolate-at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan or 150°C for an ordinary oven and line a 15cm square tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Melt the dark chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a simmering pan of water. Stir slowly until the mixture is shiny and all the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

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Butter and chocolate melted together

3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until very light and fluffy. The texture should be like a frothy milkshake.

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Whisked eggs and sugar

4. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and fold in. Try to do this as gently as possible to trap the air from the eggs.

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Folding the mixture

5. Chop the milk chocolate into large chunks of about 1cm diameter.

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Chopped chocolate

6. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into the mixture.

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Sieved cocoa powder and flour

7. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder until the mixture is smooth.

8. Add the chopped chocolate and gently mix.

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Add chopped chocolate

9. Gently pour the mixture into the lined tin. Slide onto the middle self of the oven and bake for 25 minutes.

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About to go into the oven

10. Remove from oven. When they have cooled completely, return to the oven for 15 minutes.

11. When cooled for the second time, remove from the tin and cut into generous squares.

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Best-ever brownies?

 

 

Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

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Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

There are certain things that you can’t always see the point of until you cook them. It is usually very simple things with straightforward recipes and few ingredients. Very often we look for inspiration and exotic concoctions, rather than old-fashioned and easy things.

A loaf cake definitely falls into this category. The concept seems to be almost pointless. Why would you bother to make or eat a cake without a filling, without icing and jam? The shape of a loaf cake is pedestrian and dull; there is no fancy decoration, usually no buttercream, no edible glitter or roses made from icing. However, this is actually where the appeal of the loaf cake lies; it is the utter simplicity of texture and flavour that is comforting and utterly satisfying. It is homely, warming and nostalgic, like something your grandma would always have in the cake tin. It is essentially, a hug in cake form.

This light sponge, spiked with a tangy citrus syrup will not win any competitions for novelty baking, but it is all the better for it. It is also the easiest cake you can make, with no layers or icing to worry about. You can use a stand mixer, or just a wooden spoon and bowl. The syrup also creates so much extra moisture, it will keep for days.

Lemon & Lime Syrup Loaf Cake

You will need a 1lb or 450g loaf tin
Ingredients
125 g softened butter
175 g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lime
175 g self raising flour or plain flour with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
splash of milk
For the syrup
100g icing or caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon and 2 limes

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180 °C.
2. Line the loaf tin. I use baking tin liners for ease.

3. Cream together butter and sugar until the mixture lightens in colour a little

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Whipped butter and sugar

4. Add eggs and zest, beating them in well. The mixture will look curdled-do not worry, this is normal.

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Curdled-looking mixture

5. Add the flour and mix well. Add the milk. The consistency should be slightly firmer than dropping consistency-this means when you take a spoonful of batter and tilt it, it will fall off the spoon slowly.

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Mixture consistency

6.  Spoon the batter into your prepared tin and bake for 45 mins or until cake tester comes out clean.

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Ready for the oven

7. While the cake is cooking, put the lemon and lime juices and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

8. As soon as cake is out of oven, puncture all over with skewer and slowly spoon  over the syrup. Don’t worry if the cake drops a little. Leave cake to cool completely before removing from the tin.

This recipe also works incredibly well with just lemons or just limes. For lime, just add the zest of 2 limes to the cake mixture and then use the juice of 4 for the syrup. For lemon, add the zest of one lemon and the juice of 2.

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Kitchen Tip #21 The Rule of Thumb-How to Cook Steaks

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Medium-Rare Roast Hoggett at La Trompette Restaurant

Everyone is who eats meat knows how they like it cooked. Whether you prefer it rare and pooling with bloody juices, or as grey as shoe leather, cooking meat is fraught with perceived difficulties. There is no doubt that it is very hard to gauge how ‘done’ meat is, without cutting into it and having a look. Lots of books give guidelines as to how long you need to cook meat to achieve rare, medium and well-done. The problem is that there are so many factors that affect how meat cooks, such as thickness of the meat, temperature of the pan etc, that these are not always accurate.

Two things are always the same, whatever type of meat you are cooking:

  1. Bring your meat to room temperature before you cook it. It will not go off. Fridge-cold meat will not cook properly or evenly. Ever.
  2. Rest your meat. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. When you have finished cooking, take your meat out of the cooking pan, place on a warmed plate and cover loosely with foil. Then just leave it for at least half the time you have cooked it. Longer if possible. It will not go cold. Resting allows the meat to relax and the juices inside to disperse and ensure a really juicy piece of meat.

The very best guide to whether meat is done is by texture and feel. Rare meat feels very soft, medium-rare is firmer and well-done feels very firm. With practice, there is no need to cut into a steak to see if it has cooked enough. Not only does this spoil the look of the steak, but all those amazing juices inside the meat that ensure the meat does not taste dry are lost.

This is where the Rule of Thumb comes in. This method is as simple as it sounds, but also incredibly accurate. It is based on how the fleshy base of the thumb feels as it is moved along to different fingers on the same hand and comparing it to how the meat you are cooking feels. With practice, this will become the only way you will assess cooked meat and you will be right every time.

  1. Uncooked. When the hand and the thumb is relaxed, the base of the thumb feels soft and quite flabby. This is how uncooked meat feels when pressed.
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Rule of Thumb-Uncooked

  1. Rare. When the thumb is held against the base of the index finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb feels softly springy. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is rare.
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Rule of Thumb-Rare

  1. Medium-rare. If the tip of the thumb is moved to the base of the middle finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb becomes firmer. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is medium-rare.
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Rule of Thumb-Medium-rare

  1. Medium. If the tip of the thumb is moved to the base of the ring finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb firms even more and feels quite springy to the the touch. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is medium.
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Rule of Thumb-Medium

  1. Well-done. Finally, when the thumb moves to touch the base of the little finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb becomes firm and has no spring to it. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is well-done.
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Rule of Thumb-Well-done

This method is just for small joints and steaks. Large roasting joints, such as rib of beef must be assessed by time, oven temperature and, best of all, a meat thermometer, as touch is not accurate enough to assess ‘doneness’.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

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Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

A friend of mine recently went vegan. I have been a vegetarian and pescatarian in my past life, but I have never gone the whole hog-if you will forgive the terrible pun. It has always seemed a difficult choice, with many people, food outlets and restaurants unwilling to adapt their menus to it. There are lots of convincing arguments for veganism; a plant-based diet avoids any ethical or moral problems about food production. We are aware that we eat too much meat as a society, which impacts on our health, animal welfare and the environment. Although I dislike the concept of ‘clean eating’, as it implies other ways of eating are somehow ‘dirty’, focussing on fruit, pulses and vegetables as the basis of your diet does appear to be a healthier way of eating.

Despite these convincing reasons, my overall opinion is that this diet is not for me. I decided a long time ago to make specific decisions about the items that veganism excludes; I buy less meat, but make sure it is free-range or organic. I buy free range or organic eggs and dairy products. I have at least two meat-free days a week. I ask about ingredients in restaurants and sometimes avoid ordering certain items because of the answers. In reality, I love many meats and fish, but dairy and eggs form a huge part of my diet too.

However, I have respect and admiration for those who wish to eat this way; it appeals to my creative side, as you have to be inventive to avoid eating mushroom risotto at every meal. There is also the necessity to be very mindful of what you are putting into your body, to ensure a nutritional balance. I know vegans who have tried to live on cereal bars and juices and the result is not too pretty.

I cook things that I enjoy, with flavours that will stimulate, comfort or satisfy, according to how I feel at that particular time. It started me thinking about how much that I cook is vegan, just by coincidence. Lots of southern Mediterranean and Indian food happens to be vegan and Middle Eastern flavours seem to compliment this way of eating brilliantly. Punchy spices, pulses and an abundance of vegetables and fresh herbs does not immediately strike you as a diet based around restriction.

Cauliflower has cast off it’s reputation as a soggy, flavourless vegetable, cooked to death for school lunches and leaving the smell of old socks behind it. It seems a very fashionable ingredient at the moment, being used as ‘couscous’ and in salads and soups. It is incredibly versatile, feels surprisingly substantial and responds well to many ways of cooking, but roasting it brings a lovely smoky dimension to it. Cauliflower has unique flavour and a wonderful texture that I urge you to revisit.

This salad is a variation on one that Nigella Lawson features in her latest book. It keeps brilliantly in the fridge. It is great on its own and makes lunchtimes much more interesting rather than grabbing yet another limp sandwich.

So, if you are a vegan or a full on carnivore, please make this recipe knowing that it is vegan, but that it is also delicious.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

Serves 2 hungry people

Ingredients

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 small head cauliflower trimmed and divided into very small florets

400g tin of chickpeas

1–2 tbsp harissa

150g cherry or baby vine tomatoes, halved

A large bunch of flatleaf parsley

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 220C.

2. Pour the oil into a large bowl, add the cinnamon and cumin seeds, and stir. Tip in the cauliflower and toss to coat. Pour into a small oven tray  and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until it starts to catch a little.

3. Add the chickpeas to the bowl, and add the harissa, tasting it after adding the first tablespoon to see if you want both. Toss to coat. Add the tomatoes to the bowl, and mix.

4. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower. Toss to combine and return to the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender.

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Roasted in the tray

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close up

5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, add the chopped parsley. Taste and season again if necessary. You can add extra chilli if you like a real kick.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. You can add yoghurt or feta for more protein, but this will, of course, cancel out the vegan element of the dish.

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Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

Madeleines

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Madeleines

For the literary fans amongst you, madeleines may evoke thoughts of Proust. For me, they are an integral part of  the most fabulous petit fours I have ever had in Paris over ten years ago, where these babies were like little clouds on my tongue.

Until about a month ago, I had never made madeleines. In the back of my mind, these beautifully delicate shell-like cakes have been linked to the category of very tricky baking and patisserie and something that needs hours to prepare. They are also made with a genoise sponge, which I rarely make as it does not keep for very long .

An important breakfast meeting prompted the need to make something a little more delicate than bacon sandwiches and so I was inspired to try them. Since then, hundreds have seen their way through my kitchen. I would like to attribute this to the fact that I have been so diligent in preparing this recipe that I have made multiple batches, just for testing, but it is more the fault of Michel Roux Jr, who states in his recipe that they should be eaten within an hour of cooking.

Based on a genoise sponge, these little shell cakes are made with little fat, lots of eggs and even more elbow grease. This is unless you have an electric mixer, in which case it is the work of moments. The result is a mouthful full of rich, buttery flavour and featherlight texture. Michel Roux Jr is correct in his assertion that they should be eaten soon after baking. Not only are they even better eaten warm, but as time goes on, the delicate internal fluffiness starts to collapse, making them denser and slightly chewy. Therefore, although they are very easy and quick to make, you need to time them so they are consumed in their optimal state.

The only specialist equipment you will need is a madeleine tray. Purists may prefer a metal one, but after trying both, I find a silicone one makes it easier to remove the cakes while they are warm. I like a hint of lemon in mine, but you could add orange zest and a little juice, or honey. Another great addition is to full the shell section of the tray halfway, add a little raspberry jam and cover with more batter on top. This is the basic recipe, but the only limit is your imagination.

Madeleines

Makes about 15

Ingredients

2 free-range eggs

100g caster sugar

100g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 lemon, juice and zest

¾ tsp baking powder

100g butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing

Method

1.Preheat the oven to 200°C. Brush the madeleine tray with melted butter then shake in a little flour to coat, tapping out the excess.

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Buttered and floured Madeleine tray

2. Whisk together the eggs and the sugar in a bowl until they become much lighter in colour and very frothy.

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Frothy eggs and sugar

3. Lightly whisk in the remaining ingredients. Leave to stand for 20 minutes before carefully pouring into the prepared madeleine tray.

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture has risen a little in the middle and is fully cooked through.

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Madeleines in the oven

5. Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes to cool slightly. Depending on how many sections your tray has, you may need to do more than one batch. These are best eaten within an hour of cooking.

Perfect with a cup of tea!

Perfect with a cup of tea!

Cauliflower Cheese Soup

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Cauliflower Cheese Soup With Rye Croutons

On those days when you are struggling through rush hour as the biting wind whips right through you, after your boss has blamed you for the system failure again and no-one even offered to make you a cup of tea, you need food that will sooth and nourish. You need comfort in a bowl.

Sometimes, soup is the only solution. It is simple, warming and, more importantly, easy to make and eat. One of the few benefits of wintertime is the opportunity to eat more of it. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a carton off the supermarket shelf once in a while, but they are often loaded with salt and sugar and sometimes taste a bit thin and souless.

Cauliflower cheese has got to be on a lot of people’s winter comfort food list. It’s a combination that works partly because it’s so simple and yet, totally delicious. One particularly bitter winter’s night a few years ago, it suddenly seemed to make complete sense to make it into a hearty and totally satisfying soup. It’s rather bland appearance belies the incredible depth of flavour; it is rich, smooth and deeply reassuring. Life cannot be so bad when dinner tastes so wonderful.

Most soup is quite easy to make, but this is a ridiculously simple recipe, yet tastes like you have slaved for hours. It will keep for a week in the fridge, but it also freezes well.

The success of this soup does depend on the cheese. I like to use the strongest Cheddar I can find; Keens is excellent here if you can get it. No other type of cheese had quite the right acidic tang, which offsets the richness of the soup. Rye bread works especially well here, as it is slightly nutty and robust enough to stand up to the strong flavours in the soup, but you can use any bread you have in the house.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Ingredients

1 large cauliflower, broken into florets

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 small potato, peeled and roughly chopped

100g of strong, hard cheese-preferably Cheddar

1 tbs English mustard

1/4 of a freshly grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

600ml vegetable stock

400 ml whole milk

Salt and pepper to taste

3-4 slices of rye bread

Method

1) Pop the cauliflower, potato and onion in a large pan and add the milk, bay leaf and stock.

2) Bring up to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20-25 minutes until the cauliflower is very tender.

3) Remove the bay leaf. Blitz in a blender until very smooth. Add some more milk if it is rather thick then return to the pan.

4) Add the mustard, nutmeg and grated cheese. On a low heat, stir until the cheese has melted. Season to taste and put aside to keep warm.

5) Make some croutons with the rye bread: simply cut into cubes, toss with a little olive oil and bake on a low heat for about 15 minutes, until crisp and dried out.

6) To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, scatter with the croutons and sprinkle with a little more grated cheese.

Food Waste vs Food Safety

Lixo-reciclável-UFRNSo, it’s a new year again. Doubtless many of you will be in the throes of some hideous new eating and/or exercise regime which focuses on abject deprivation and much soul-searching as you route around the fridge at 3am, desperately looking for something which contains more calories than a rice cake.

I always see a new year as a punctuation mark; a comma rather than a full stop. Take a breath and reassess.

Over the festive period, I happened to visit many different homes. I was shocked to see how much food was thrown away after meals and parties. One person even threw out their leftover turkey because they didn’t want to strip the meat from the carcass. It seems it’s time to reassess our attitudes to food waste.

In the UK, there has been a welcome new wave of awareness about this kind of waste recently. At the end of last year, maverick chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launched his latest campaign; Hugh’s War on Waste. Much of this campaign is aimed at the food waste created by supermarkets through their rejection of less than visually perfect produce and the perfectly edible food they actually throw out at the end of every day.

Another aspect of the campaign is very much domestic. The average UK household throws away £700 worth of food a year. In 2013, the Office for National Statistics revealed that the average family spent £56.80 a week on food and non-alcoholic drinks. That means that the average household is throwing away over twelve weeks worth of food every year. Yet, The Trussell Trust, who runs 425 of the UK’s food banks, reports that from 2014-2015 over 1 million people were given emergency food. This is an insane imbalance.

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It is time to start making intelligent and informed choices about the food in our homes. Most of us buy the majority of our food at supermarkets and there is a lot of confusion about the different labels and dates on all our packaged food. Every year in the UK we throw away 7.2m tonnes of food and drink, most of which could have been eaten if we were a bit more knowledgable about labelling.

Supermarket food labels explained

  • ‘Best Before’ dates are about quality, not safety. When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, simply that it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. It is still perfectly safe to eat.
  • ‘Use By’ dates do refer to food safety. The NHS guidelines recommend you do not consume anything after its ‘Use By’ date in case it does you harm.
  • ‘Display Until’ or ‘Sell By’ often appear near or next to the ‘Best Before’ or “Use By’ date. These are instructions for shop staff, not for shoppers, so you can safely ignore them.

It goes without saying that food safety should be of the highest importance in the kitchen. There are certain foods that should not be eaten if out of date. Meat, fish and eggs can all cause horrendous illnesses if consumed when they have gone off. However, due to all the red tape supermarkets have to adhere to, some of these dates are flexible. Food is often safe to eat after these dates provided that it looks and smells ok and that it is cooked properly if necessary.

Butchers, fishmongers and  greengrocers are not subject to the same health and safety guidelines and red tape as the supermarkets. Carrots from your local greengrocers or farmers market don’t come with a use by date.  Our grandparents did not have access to date-stamped food and just used their common sense.

Use your senses

  • Sight-If food has any kind of mould or looks very bruised or discoloured this is not a good sign. If that bag of spinach is weeping mass of mulch then clearly there is nothing to be done but if that block of cheese looks and smells fine, it probably is. You would not eat a bruised and wrinkled apple; that is from using your sight, not from what the packet may say.
  • Smell-I have a habit of smelling milk every time I open it. Everyone recognises the sour smell of milk that has gone off so if milk smells fresh, that usually means it is, whether it is later than the date on the label.
  • Taste-If it looks and smells ok, taste it. Trust your tastebuds. You will be able to tell if that yoghurt really has gone off. The human body is programmed to let you know if it doesn’t think something is fit for it to consume.

Sensible shopping

It is not rocket science to understand that eating what you buy saves money. If you throw out less food, you are wasting less money. Much of our eating habits depend on our shopping habits.

  • Make a shopping list. Try and plan out what you actually need before you enter the shop, rather than randomly grabbing what you think you want. Make a list and stick to it.
  • Never go shopping after exercise or if you are hungry. That niggle in your tummy will make you buy things you would never normally consider. I have brought home bags of  unnecessary food, as if in some sort of hunger-trance, after going to the gym. Worrying, pointless and expensive.
  • Think before you buy- will you eat those three packets of cereal before they go off, even though they are such a good deal?
  • Organise your fridge. When you unpack your shopping, don’t just shove everything in, so things get lost at the back-move the newest food to the back of the fridge and the older to the front, so that the older items get eaten first.

Leftovers

Just as some people delight in a fridge full of plastic containers and half eaten scraps, some people lose the will to live when they witness the same. If you like leftovers, then great. If you don’t, you have to work a bit harder to make sure they don’t end up in the bin. Just make sure you never put anything that is still warm into your fridge; this raises the internal temperature of the fridge and makes food prone to develop dangerous bacteria.

Try new recipes. Everyone opens the cupboard and feels utterly uninspired sometimes, so it helps to have a few things in the house that can used to jazz up the most mundane of ingredients. Tinned tomatoes, chilli flakes, honey, good olive oil, wholegrain and French mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ginger and garlic are just some of the things that always help a cook add essential layers of flavour.

The freezer is your friend

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I never have enough room in my freezer, as I use it like another food cupboard.

You can freeze so many things. If you know the whole loaf of bread won’t be eaten, freeze half of it. Milk, cheese and even raw eggs (separated) can also be frozen.

You can freeze all meat and fish for up to a year, just make sure it is well wrapped so it doesn’t get freezer burn. As long as any meat used was not frozen to start with, you can freeze things like curries, stews and soup after you have made them. Label them properly to avoid any surprises and make sure they are piping hot when you reheat them after defrosting, to get rid of any nasty bacteria. And never re-freeze something that was frozen.

You really can freeze most things. In reality, it is quicker and easier to give a list of things you cannot freeze. The basis is usually water content-the higher the water content, the mushier a food will be when it is defrosted.

  • Vegetables: Celery, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, peppers (especially green), potatoes (especially raw), radishes, sprouts, salad greens
  • Fruit: Apples, grapefruit, grapes (unless you’re planning on eating them frozen) lemons, limes, oranges, watermelon, avocado, tomatoes (unless you are cooking them when defrosted)
  • Dairy: soft cheeses, cottage cheese, cream cheese, custard, eggs in shells, mayonnaise, sour cream
  • Soft Herbs: Basil, chives, parsley, etc

It’s actually a combination of small changes that make a difference. Less food waste means less money wasted, less environmental impact and less guilt. That’s a good enough resolution for me this January.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagliatelle Fatte a Mano con Funghi Porcini – Hand Made Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms

Tagliatelle with porcini

Tagliatelle with porcini

One of the very best things about this time of year is the arrival of wild mushrooms. The UK is home to more than 15,000 varieties of wild funghi; some edible, some very much not. We are incredibly lucky to get beautiful chanterelles, morels, chicken of the woods, puffballs and many more varieties growing wild in our woods. What is so special is that they are truly seasonal and so you have to grab them when you can.

All our native mushrooms are wonderful, but if you are fortunate you might come across some porcini mushrooms in a local deli or larger food market. These are Italian cep mushrooms and the literal translation of the name is ‘piglets’. These are the mushrooms you can buy dried and soak them to add a deep richness in cooking, but fresh they are in a different league. The flavour is earthy, nutty, rich and meaty. It is unrivalled and truly worth the shockingly high prices as a seasonal treat.

Porcini in Borough Market, London

Porcini in Borough Market, London

Choose your mushrooms wisely when you are shelling out so much for them. They should be firm, dry and with as few dents and gauges as possible. Do not be alarmed about the dirt on them; this means they have come straight from the ground rather than being processed in a factory. Never wash mushrooms, as they will soak up water like a sponge and be ruined. Instead, use a clean cloth or soft nail brush to gently brush off as much dirt and debris as you can.

Porcini close up

Porcini close up

Pasta is a perfect partner to porcini and this is a very simple recipe; the mushrooms are so rich that you only want additional ingredients that will enhance, rather than mask the porcini. If you cannot find porcini, you can use a variety of supermarket mushrooms and add a few dried porcini that you have pre-soaked. It will not taste the same, but it will still be very good.

The only time consuming thing is making the pasta. You can, of course, buy fresh tagliatelle, but I would not use dried for this recipe. Porcini are so special they deserve the extra effort.

Tagliatelle Fatte a Mano con Funghi Porcini

serves 2 hungry people

Ingredients

For the pasta

200g 00 flour

2 large eggs

pinch of salt

fine semolina for dusting

For the sauce

250g fresh porcini mushrooms (or a variety of others such as portobello, chestnut and chantarelles)

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 large handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

3tbs extra virgin olive oil

75g butter

Large splash of dry white wine

Squeeze of lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated parmesan to serve

Method

  1. Make the pasta.
  2. Clean and slice the porcini.
  3. Add the butter and olive oil to a large frying pan, warm over a medium heat until the butter starts to foam and add the chopped garlic. Fry for a few moments, making sure the garlic does not colour.
  4. Add the porcini to the garlic, butter and oil and cook down. Meanwhile, boil the water for the pasta.
  5. Add a large slosh of white wine and cook down until you cannot smell the alcohol anymore. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, which will only be a matter of moments.
  6. Taste the sauce, season and add the parsley. Add a squeeze of lemon juice.
  7. Drain the pasta, making sure to reserve some of the cooking water. Add immediately to the pan of sauce and mix well, adding small amounts of cooking water until the pasta is coated and glossy.
  8. Serve immediately with grated parmesan and a sharp Italian white wine.

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