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.

 

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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’.

Kitchen Tip #20 Easy Lining for Cake Tins

Cutting roughly round the tin

Cutting roughly round the tin

I would love to pretend that I have reusable, pre-cut liners for all my cake tins that I wash after every use and pop back in the tins, ready to use next time.  The reality is that it is quite a way down my list of priorities and I always use greaseproof paper.  Lining round cake tins is a pain; the drawing round and the cutting out, which never ends up right anyway. However, I have found a cunning way of making it very quick and it always works. You don’t even need scissors for this, as you can just tear the paper where necessary.

Folding the paper

Folding the paper

Place your tin on top of the grease proof paper so that the edge of the tin lines up roughly with the edge of the paper. Cut straight down near the other side of the tin so you have a square which is roughly the diameter of the cake tin. You really don’t need to be accurate, as long as it is bigger than the cake tin.

Take the tin off the paper. Fold the paper in half, turn 90 degrees, then half again and once more. Turn the tin upside down and put the tip of the folded paper at roughly the centre of the tin.

Measuring the cake tin with the paper

Measuring the cake tin with the paper

Make a rough mental note of where the paper comes to at the edge of the tin. Take your scissors again and cut the paper at this point.  Unfold and there you have it. A perfectly lined cake tin in about 20 seconds.

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Kitchen Tip #19 Grating Butter into Pastry

Pastry

Pastry

This year I am determined to crack pastry. It has always been a bit of a nemesis of mine. Rubbing the fat into the four is an essential part of the process, but often the mixture remains lumpy or the butter starts to melt.

Through experimenting, I have come across a great way to get the butter rubbed into the flour in a matter seconds, rather than going through the rather tedious process of ‘rubbing in’.

When asked to rub the butter into the flour, simply put your butter in the freezer an hour or so before you want to start. Then, when hard, grate the butter on a fairly fine side of a box grater and sprinkle into the flour. You will then be able to ‘rub’ the butter into the flour with a few stirs of a spoon, or using the tips of your fingers. It saves so much time, effort and stops the butter from melting if you have warm hands.

Kitchen Tip #18 Wine Ice Cubes

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Chilled White Wine

 It’s hot. Yes, not much of a revelation, but one which causes us Brits various and many problems every time the temperature goes up just a little; from melting train lines, to drought, to flooding.

One such less than major issue is how to keep a cold glass of wine chilled on a very hot day. Some would say only pour a little at a time (impractical), stand inside or in the shade (not likely) or add ice (unthinkable!!!!!).

Now ice has its place; in a spritzer it is a must, but a spritzer can be made with any old plonk. To add ice to good wine is akin to eating truffles with tomato ketchup. I have only done it once and regretted it-not the truffle thing obviously.

Purists may still baulk at my suggestion, but one solution is to make ice cubes with the wine itself. This must, needless to say, be the same wine as you are drinking. This way, the melting cube is of the same taste with no dilution, but just a throughly chilled and unadulterated glass of something lovely. Cheers.

Kitchen Tip #17 Helping Scones Rise.

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Having made several batches of scones for my previous recipe of Summertime Scones with Strawberry and Basil Compote it reminded me of how often my scones used to turn out lopsided at best or totally misshapen at worst.

The solution is really simple. First, flour your cutter. Second, NEVER twist as you cut. Simply press down and turn out. It seems quite a natural action to twist as you cut out but this way scone disappointment lies. If you twist the cutter, it’s almost impossible for a scone ( or any other baked good) to rise up evenly, as you will have disturbed the delicate sides as you twist.

Happy scones, happy baker.

How to Make Fresh Pasta

Fresh Pasta Ingredients

Fresh Pasta Ingredients

You may have noticed that I am a huge fan of pasta; fresh or dried. I have often been aware of an unfathomable snobbery about using dried pasta rather than fresh, that fresh pasta is superior in some way. I cannot understand this. It is not the case of one being better than the other because fundamentally they are very different creatures.

Unless it is specified, dried pasta is often made with just flour and water, no eggs. By Italian law dried pasta must be made with 100% durum semolina flour and water. It is more robust in texture than fresh pasta and suits oily, rich tomato-based sauces. Dried pasta, especially the more complex shapes (such as radiatore) are designed for grabbing and holding onto sauces. Dried tube pasta (ziti or penne) often has ridges or slight abrasions on the surface to hold onto the pasta sauce as well. These ridges and bumps are created during the extrusion process, when the pasta is forced from a copper mold and cut to desired length before drying. However most producers worldwide use steel molds for the sake of faster and cheaper production. The steel molds produce pasta that is a bit too smooth to hold onto sauce. Fortunately more pasta makers outside of Italy are starting to use the older style copper molds; this pasta tends to be more expensive, but you will taste a difference.

Fresh pasta is much more delicate; it suits lighter sauces and will usually contain eggs. It cooks in a matter of moments and is much easier to spoil than dried. Filled pasta such as ravioli or tortelloni will always be available as fresh. In its place, fresh pasta is truly wonderful and a very special thing to eat.

Often, it is actually more important how to cook the pasta as whether pasta is dried or fresh, if it is not cooked properly, it will not be great.

There is no way that I can make the case for making fresh pasta by saying it is quicker than buying a packet, but I can say that it is worth the effort. If you want to make your own filled pasta, there is not any other option. It is a slow process when you first start, but with practice, you will be able to knock up a batch in no time. If you mess it up, do not worry-it is only flour and eggs after all. Pasta machines are not expensive and make this process so much easier, but it you are not sure how often you will use it, simply use a rolling pin. You will not get incredibly thin and delicate pasta, but it’s a good place to start.

Once you get the hang of it, it can be quite addictive. There are infinite shapes and fillings you can make. The pasta itself can also be adapted to your mood; try adding some cracked black pepper for texture, some fresh beetroot juice for amazing colour or the blackest squid ink for incredible flavour. But the main bit of advice is to keep trying; even those Italian mammas have to start somewhere.

How to Make Fresh Pasta

Ingredients
per person
100g good quality flour-00 Italian flour is best
1 medium organic egg
pinch of salt
semolina flour to dust

Method

Mix Eggs and Flour

Mix Eggs and Flour

Put the flour and eggs in a bowl and mix together using your hand into a rough mixture. Just use one hand as it is easier to keep one dirty and one clean.

Dough coming together

Dough coming together

Tip the mixture onto a counter and bring together into a rough ball; it may seem too sticky or dry, but do not be tempted to add flour or water at this point.

Ball of dough

Ball of dough

Knead the dough as you would work bread, until it starts to come together and feel more malleable. Keep going; you will need to work at it for a good five minutes or so until it starts to feel soft, with a texture like firm Play Doh. This is part of the relationship with the dough; you will get to know when it starts to feel right. This just takes practice, but keep going and it will come together into a smooth ball eventually. There are tiny variations in the way the flour has been milled or how old it, or indeed how warm your kitchen is, that will make a difference to how easily and how quickly the pasta comes together. If it refuses to come together after 10 minutes of effort, add a teaspoon of water and try again. Pasta dough that is too wet will stick to the pasta machine and adding too much flour will make it heavy. When the ball of dough has come together, wrap the ball in cling film and put aside for an hour or so to rest. You can leave it for longer if convenient, but that is the minimum if possible, as it allows the gluten to develop and the dough to relax, which makes it much easier to roll out.

Putting through the pasta machine

Putting through the pasta machine

If you have a pasta machine, set it up on the widest setting. Dust the worktop with a tiny bit of semolina flour if you have it, if not, ordinary flour will do fine. Roll or press the dough out to flatten it out, then feed the dough through the pasta machine, slowly.

Feeding the pasta dough through the machine

Feeding the pasta dough through the machine

Try to keep the pace consistent if you can. Double the dough over and feed through at the same setting again.

Using the back of your hand

Using the back of your hand

Here is is important to consider how you are handling the dough. As it gets thinner, if you pick it up in the usual manner, it is likely your fingers will go through it. It is therefore important to try and get into the habit of using the back of your hand when you are guiding the pasta out from the bottom on the machine and when you are feeding it through again.

Cutting the lengths of dough

Cutting the lengths of dough

If you are making pasta for more than one person, you will need to cut the dough and feed it through the machine in stages, otherwise the pasta will get too long to handle. When you have processed all the pasta through the machine down to the thinnest setting, dust the counter and lay the pasta flat.

Rolling the pasta up

Rolling the pasta up

If you want to make thick ribbons such as tagliatelle or pappadelle, gently roll each flat piece of pasta up into a loose roll.

Cutting the ribbons

Cutting the ribbons

Take a very sharp knife and gently cut through the rolls to make the individual ribbons. Let the weight of the knife glide through the dough to keep each ribbon separate. Work though the rest of the dough and shake out the ribbons.

Pasta ribbons

Pasta ribbons

Dust the ribbons with semolina flour. To cook, drop into boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Serve with your favourite sauce.

Kitchen Tip #15 Pastry Pressing

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Pastry is often the nemesis of the most experienced cook; it certainly has been one of mine.

One of the issues I used to have was making the raw pastry fit into the tin snugly. By pressing with your fingers, you often push right through the pastry and make unsightly holes or marks with your fingertips or nails. This is especially true if your pastry is very thin and if you are using fluted tart tins.

The trick is very simple. Simply roll a small ball of pastry and use this to gently ease the pastry into the edges of your tin. No holes, no fuss.

Kitchen Tip #14 Berry Nice!

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I am a big fan of my freezer. In a way it’s like a super-charged version of the fridge. You can store food for so much longer and, if you know how to prepare it, it means most fresh produce never need go to waste.

Fruit has gone up in price by about 30% in the last year but it is often the thing people throw away the most. Soft berries in particular do not keep long and spoil very easily. The reality is that you never need to waste them as they all freeze incredibly well.

The trick is to lay the berries out in a flat surface like a baking tray to freeze initially. After that you can put them into containers or freezer bags and they will sit quite happily for about 8 months.

The very best use for frozen berries is a smoothie but you can put them straight into cake or pancake batter and they will cook perfectly.

It is worth remembering that if you want to defrost the berries to eat, strawberries and raspberries do not defrost well- their structure is affected too much by the ice crystals which form during freezing. However, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants all defrost very well.