Posts Tagged ‘Fairtrade spices’

Cinnamongate: is cinnamon safe to eat?

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

We regularly get asked questions about the safety of cinnamon, e.g. “is cinnamon safe to consume?” or “how much coumarin is there in Steenbergs cinnamon?”  There’s a lot of chatter about this issue in webworld and in blogs.

Cinnamon Quills_02

Cinnamon quills packed into boxes from Sri Lanka

Because of these queries, I thought it useful to investigate the situation and find out the levels of coumarin in some Steenbergs’ products.

In summary:

  • Cassia cinnamon and true cinnamon are very different spices but both are generally sold as “cinnamon”
  • Steenbergs labels and sells true cinnamon as “cinnamon” and cassia cinnamon as “cassia”
  • Cassia cinnamon contains high levels of coumarin, but true cinnamon almost no coumarin
  • Coumarin, so cassia cinnamon, should be ingested in limited amounts:

No more than 1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon per day, based on EU recommendations for Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg bodyweight every day

  • Cinnamon (true cinnamon) is safe to eat in terms of coumarin and your health
  • Coumarin may cause liver damage in some susceptible people, but its effects usually appear to be  reversible and so overeating of cassia for short periods does not usually appear to be a problem

If you need further information, you should consult a doctor.  I have taken the data for this blog from official Government sources and current scientific papers, so it is up-to-date as of 19 July 2015.

MORE DETAIL

What is coumarin?
Coumarin is a naturally occurring volatile oil (benzo-α-pyrone), found in many plants, e.g. cassia, cinnamon, tonka beans, vanilla and woodruff.  It gives that pleasing and heady cinnamon aroma – a direct, sweet, fresh hay character.  It was first isolated in tonka beans in the 1820s and took its name from the old botanical name for tonka – Coumarouna which in turn came from the native French Guianan name for the tonka tree, kumarú.

Where is coumarin found?  As mentioned above, it is found in various spices.  However, the most important route of intake is via cassia or cassia cinnamon and this is the cinnamon that the various studies relate to.

This distinction is very important – true cinnamon (Cinnamon verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) contains much reduced levels of coumarin.  At Steenbergs, we only sell true cinnamon as cinnamon.  Also, we only use cinnamon as cinnamon in our blends, and if we use cassia it is labelled as cassia not cinnamon.  We do, also, sell cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia, a.k.a. Cinnamomum aromaticus or Cinnamon burmanii), but always label this as cassia and never as cinnamon.

You can tell the difference quite quickly – true cinnamon is a light tan and has a subtle woody aroma like box or sandalwood, with hints of cinnamon and citrus, whereas cassia cinnamon is a darker tan and has a more direct, blunter petrochemical aroma that is strongly “cinnamony” and reminiscent of German Christmas biscuits (Spekulatius or Zimtsterne) and Danish pastries.  As an aside, we are sometimes told Steenbergs cinnamon does not taste like cinnamon, but then find there has been confusion between cassia and cinnamon, because this is the more readily-found form of the spice.

The confusion arises because cassia cinnamon is quite legitimately, also, sold as cinnamon and is the cinnamon used in baking – hence, it’s other name “baker’s cinnamon”.

From a chemical view, cassia and cinnamon are noticeably different.  True cinnamon contains eugenol and benzyl-benzoate and no (or trace) coumarin.  In contrast, cassia cinnamon contains high amounts of coumarin.  Both cassia and cinnamon contain cinnamaldehyde.

In terms of levels of coumarin in powder versus quills, cassia quills have coumarin levels 75% lower than the powder.  For true cinnamon, quills have higher coumarin levels than powder, but both are still low.

Why is coumarin a concern? In high doses, coumarin can cause liver damage in small group of sensitive individuals.  However, only some individuals are susceptible to liver issues from coumarin, and those individuals would need to exceed the TDI for more than two weeks before liver issues might arise, then if they do occur the toxicity is reversible.  Maximum daily limits of coumarin have been set in the EU.

This issue originally arose with a report on cassia cinnamon in 2006 by the Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (“BfR”), the scientific agency charged with providing scientific evidence for consumer health protection in Germany.  This showed that consumption of foods containing cassia cinnamon can result in the TDI of coumarin being exceeded, because of the high levels of cassia cinnamon used in some recipes.  Consequently, there has been a knock-on impact for bakers of traditional European bakery goods, e.g. cinnamon rolls (Danish pastries/kanelsnegle) and cinnamon Christmas cookies (Zimtsterne) within Europe, and people who use cinnamon to reduce their sugar intake by sprinkling it onto their cereal.

EC Regulation 1334/2008 gives the following limits for coumarin, which specifically excludes spices and mixes of spices, herbs, teas and infusions:

Table 1: Limits for coumarin in particular food categories per EC Regulation 1334/2008


Compound food in which substance is restricted

Maximum level
mg/kg

Traditional and/or seasonal bakery ware containing a reference to cinnamon in the labelling

50

Breakfast cereals including muesli

20

Fine bakery ware, with the exception of traditional and seasonal bakery ware (above)

15

Desserts

5

The best technical information available is found at the BfR’s website.  There is an excellent FAQ that covers pretty much everything you need to know: http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/faq-on-coumarin-in-cinnamon-and-other-foods.pdf, and their latest opinion includes the following on consumption of spices (see http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/new-insights-into-coumarin-contained-in-cinnamon.pdf dated 2012)[1]:

“For cinnamon sticks and cinnamon powder as a spice for household use, no limit values have been defined, however.  If an average coumarin content in cassia cinnamon of 3000mg per kilogram of cinnamon is assumed, the TDI value can be exceeded by consumers who eat a great deal of cassia cinnamon.  For an adult with a body weight of 60kg, the TDI value is reached, if 2g of cassia cinnamon are consumed per day.  For an infant with a body weight of 15kg, this is the case if 0.5g of cassia cinnamon are consumed per day.  Overall exposure can be increased by other sources, for example coumarin-containing cosmetics.  Consumers who frequently and regularly eat cinnamon-containing foods should be aware of this.  The BfR still recommends that cassia cinnamon is consumed in moderation.  Consumers frequently using large quantities of cinnamon as a condiment should therefore opt for the low-coumarin Ceylon cinnamon.”

How much coumarin is there in Steenbergs spice products?  We have had some of our relevant spices tested for coumarin levels by Eurofins Analtytik GmbH, using high performance liquid chromatography.  The results are shown in the table below, together with results from peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Table 2: Coumarin content of cassia cinnamon, true cinnamon and spice blends


Name

Other names

Origin

Coumarin
mg kg-1

Coumarin
%

Cassia Baker’s cinnamon Vietnam

 2 900

0.3 

Cassia [2] Baker’s cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, bastard cinnamon

4 167

0.4

Cassia [3] Indonesia, Vietnam

3 856

0.4

Cassia [4] Indonesia, Vietnam

2 239

0.2

Cassia [5] China, Indonesia, Vietnam

3 016

0.3

Cassia [6]

3 250

0.3

Cassia [7] Indonesia

4 020

0.4

Cinnamon True cinnamon Sri Lanka

 31

– 

Cinnamon [2] True cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon Sri Lanka

68

Cinnamon [3] Sri Lanka

nd

Cinnamon [4] Sri Lanka

25

Cinnamon [5] Sri Lanka

nd

Cinnamon [6]

44

Cinnamon [7] Sri Lanka

64

Mixed spice   UK

 670

 0.1

Fairtrade mixed spice   UK

 22

 –

Pumpkin pie   UK

 22

 –

Tonka beans   Brazil

 52 000

 5.2

In conclusion, cassia cinnamon has coumarin levels of 2239 – 4167 mg kg-1, almost 100 times greater than levels in true cinnamon with the range of 0 – 68 mg kg-1.  Steenbergs spice mixes have low coumarin levels at 22 – 670 mg kg-1.  where one of the blends included about one-quarter cassia cinnamon.  In contrast, tonka beans have very high levels of coumarin of 52000 mg kg-1.

What does this mean in relation to safety to eat?  The BfR has issued guidance on the TDI that a person can eat daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk and this includes those sensitive to liver damage from coumarin[1].  The TDI is 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg bodyweight every day.  An adult of 60-70 kg (9½-11 stone) can, therefore, eat 6-7 mg of coumarin per day safely for the rest of their life.  Further, for a 20-30 kg (3-5 stone) child, the limit is 2-3 mg coumarin.  The European Food Safety Authority has calculated the same levels [8].  Even if this value is exceeded for a short while, this does not appear to pose any health risks per BfR and EFSA.

Translating this into teaspoons, an adult should not consume more than ½-1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon a day and a child no more than ¼-½ teaspoon of cassia a day.

Another way of thinking about it is that an adult can eat 68-120g of cassia cinnamon biscuits a day (10-24 biscuits) and children 17-30g of cassia cinnamon biscuits a day (4-6 biscuits)[1][5].  For cinnamon Danishes or buns, this is roughly 4 for adults and 1 for children per day.

These levels are relevant through time, so a child who eats his/her coumarin limit twice in a week only reaches 29% of his/her TDI (assuming no other cassia cinnamon is ingested).

In contrast, an adult can consume 55-104 teaspoons of true cinnamon and children 24-45 teaspoons.  Therefore, the levels of consumption for true cinnamon are effectively unlimited in terms of coumarin.

What can bakers do about this?  Ideally, you should get your cassia’s coumarin content tested and determine the final coumarin content of your bakery products.  Also, whenever food authorities have tested for coumarin, quite a number of products seem to exceed the legal limits – probably because people are unaware of the regulations.

However, we have created a practical guide as below.  If we assume the safe limits for coumarin consumption are those listed in the EC Regulation EC 1334/2008, then maximum levels for use of cassia and true cinnamon can be calculated and practical limits determined for bakers and other manufacturers.

Table 3: Practical guide for maximum levels of cassia cinnamon or true cinnamon to meet EC regulations on coumarin for specific food categories


Food category

Max level of coumarin
mg/kg

Max level of cassia(i)
mg/kg

Approximate teaspoons of cassia per kg(ii)

Max level of true cinnamon(i)
mg/kg

Approximate tsp cinnamon per kg(ii)

Traditional and/or seasonal bakery

50

7.9

797.4

399

Breakfast cereals

20

3.2

1

319.0

159

Fine bakery ware

15

2.4

¾

239.2

120

Desserts

5

0.8

¼

79.7

40

Notes:
(i) Maximum levels have been determined as the average coumarin content plus 2.58 x standard deviation; this means maximum amounts will not exceed coumarin content in 99% of cases.
(ii) Based on level teaspoons for cassia of 2.8g and cinnamon 2.0g.

References

[1] BfR (2012), New insights into coumarin contained in cinnamon, BfR opinion No. 036/2012, 27 September 2012, Berlin, Germany (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[2] BfR (2006) Consumers, who eat a lot of cinnamon, currently have an overly high exposure to coumarin, BfR Health Assessment No. 043/2006, 16 June 2006, Berlin, Germany (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[3] Blahová, J., Svobodová, Z. (2012) Assessment of coumarin levels in ground cinnamon available in the Czech retail market, The Scientific World Journal, 2012: 2863851, 4 pp, Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3385612/ (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[4] Lungarini, S., Aurelia, F., Coni , E. (2008) Coumarin and cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon marketed in Italy: A natural chemical hazard? Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, Volume 25, Issue 11, 31 October 2008, 1297-1305, Available online but not free (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[5] Sproll, C., Ruge, W., Andlauer, C., Godelmann, R., Lachenmeier, D. W. (2008) HPLC analysis and safety assessment of coumarin in foods, Food Chemistry 109, 462-469, 27 December 2007 (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[6] VKM (2010) Risk assessment of courmarin intake in the Norwegian population – opinion of the panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids, materials in contact with food and cosmetics of the Norwegian scientific committee for food safety (Rep. No. 09/405-2 final), Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety, 12 October 2010, Oslo, Norway, Available online at http://www.vkm.no/dav/271c242c20.pdf (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[7] Woehrlin, F., Fry, H., Abraham, K., Preiss-Weigert, A. (2010) Quantification of flavoring constituents in cinnamon: high variation of coumarin in cassia cark from the German retail market and in authentic samples from Indonesia, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, 2010, 58 (19), pp 10568–10575, Available online (but not free) at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf102112p (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[8} efsa (2008) Coumarin in flavourings and other food ingredients with flavouring properties, Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (AFC), The EFSA Journal (2008) 793, 1-15, 8 July 2008, Available online at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/scdocs/doc/793.pdf (Accessed 12/5/2015)

Dosas – Southern Indian Pancakes

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

My parents have recently come back from a wedding in Southern India and they have been to one of my favourite regions, Kerala.  They were blown away by the delicious food and already miss the flavours of their staple, the dosa.  At about the same time, Sophie has been chatting with The Curry Guy and liked his Masala Mashed Potatoes.  So using some recipes from The Curry Guy, some recipes my parents brought back and Das Sreedharan, I made dosas at the weekend.

The dosas were pretty good, especially after I overruled the recipe I had come up with and added more water – I later realised from Das Sreedharan’s book that there is a mysterious and innocuous line that I had missed which basically said “add more water until you are happy with the mixture”.  I added to this some Masala Mashed Potatoes and a fresh Coconut Chutney.

The only other key thing is a really good pan for making the dosas, ideally the best pancake pan you have, which if you are like me has been lovingly nurtured and cured with oil for years and years and has excellent heat transfer properties.

Keralan Style Dosa With Curried Mashed Potato Filling

Keralan Style Dosa With Curried Mashed Potato Filling

Curried Mashed Potatoes

Dosa Masala

Curried Mashed Potato


Ingredients

700g / 1lb 8oz floury potatoes, peeled and quartered
¼ cup full fat milk
100g / 3½oz peas
3tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, smashed and finely chopped
1 medium sized tomato, cut into eighths
1cm / 1 inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp garam masala
1tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch of sea salt

How to make

Boil the potatoes until soft, then drain and mash roughly with the full fat milk.

Boil the peas until soft, then drain.  If cooking from frozen, simply bring to the boil, then drain.

While the potatoes are cooking away, prepare the masala.  Heat the oil in a frying pan, then fry the onions over a medium heat for 4 -5 minutes until they start to brown at the edges, then add the chopped garlic and fry for another 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and fresh ginger, spices and salt and cook over a low heat for 3 – 5 minutes, making sure it does not burn or stick to the pan.

Add the mashed potatoes and peas, and stir these into the onion masala.  Cook for another 3 – 4 minutes until thoroughly infused with flavours.

These curried potatoes can be eaten with nearly anything and are a great way to jazz up excess mashed potato that has been made.  They can also be used to make great curried flavoured potato patties for eating with breakfast.  I love this recipe as it is easily tweaked to whatever ingredients you have kicking about, just like bubble & squeak or colcannon.

A Basic Dosa Recipe

It is quite a long process, but actually does not take a huge amount of actual working time, i.e. it is just a matter of thinking ahead.

Ingredients

295g / 10½oz long grain rice
75g / 3oz urad dal – dark brown lentils (I used yellow split peas, so any lentil or pea within reason works)
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
Pinch of sea salt
Water
Sunflower oil (for frying)

How to make

Put the rice in one bowl and the urad dal and fenugreek in another bowl.  Cover them in water with around 3cm (1 inch water above the grains).  Leave for 8 hours or overnight.

Drain separately.  Believe me it is key to keep them separate as the grinding process just will not work if done together, even if it seems more efficient.  Place the rice into a blender and grind for 3 minutes, slowly adding 125ml / 4 fl oz water, giving the rice a smooth paste texture.  Put the rice paste into a large bowl.

Rinse the blender.  Add the lentils and fenugreek seeds to the blender and grind for 5 minutes, slowly adding 5 tablespoons of water.  Add the dal paste to the rice paste and mix together.  Add a pinch of salt and stir in.  Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for 12 hours, allowing it to ferment.

When ready to cook, add some more water to get the pouring consistency correct.

Dosa Mix At Pouring Consistency

Dosa Mix At Pouring Consistency

Get your best pancake pan and heat until very hot.  Having a good pancake pan is vital for this, as it is in making good pancakes or omelette; weirdly the most highly promoted are not the best as you want one that has good heat transfer properties like an old steel pan that has been well oiled and greased over the years.  When you have the right pan, you will know and keep it lovingly forever.

Lightly grease the pan, then pour over a ladle of batter, then using the bottom of the ladle spread over the pan; I use a jug and spiral it from the centre of the pan outwards then using the tip of a spatula spread the batter over the gaps to give a smooth surface.  This bit is probably the hardest part as it often gloops up and becomes a disaster, but a little practise and trial & error and you will work out the best way.   The Curry Guy suggests cutting an onion in half then using this to spread out the oil, which he says will help to stop the dosa from sticking plus giving some extra flavour – I have not tried this but I like the idea of the discrete onion flavour.

Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until crisp and golden, then flip.

Most books suggest that if you are making a filling put this onto the uncooked top surface, fold and serve, but I cook both sides of the dosa then filling and serving.

To fill the dosa, add some curried mashed potato to the centre of the dosa in a line, then drizzle over some Fresh Coconut Chutney, fold, serve and enjoy.

Prepare Your Dosa With Curried Mash And Coconut Chutney

Prepare Your Dosa With Curried Mash And Coconut Chutney

Coconut Chutney

Fresh Coconut Chutney

Fresh Coconut Chutney

Ingredients

100g / 3½ oz creamed coconut block
¾ fresh green chilli (or more for extra heat)
2½cm / 1 inch cube of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
3tbsp plain yoghurt
Smallish handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped (should really be fresh curry leaves, but they are not easily available here in the sticks)
Pinch of sea salt
1stp black mustard seeds (ideally Indian ones for authenticity)

How to make

I began by preparing the green chilli.  As we were cooking for kids as well, I topped and tailed the chillis, then removed the seeds and removed the veins inside the chilli pod.  Next, I sliced it into medium sized slices.

I dry roasted the black mustard seeds in a pan, without any oil.  When the seeds begin to pop and hop about the pan, I took it off the heat and tipped them into a small serving bowl.

I added all the other ingredients – coconut, chilli, ginger, yoghurt, parsley and the sea salt – into a blender.  I whizzed all the ingredients up for 3 – 4 minutes, then tasted the flavours.  You may need to up the chilli content or add a tad of sea salt.

This is the scooped out into the serving bowl and mixed in with the toasted black mustard seeds.  This is lovely kit that adds a delightful freshness to your dosa and would go with most Indian curries.

Pretty Little Rich Cake

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

It was Sophie’s birthday the other day.  We went out en famille for a Chinese meal at Sweet Basil in Kirk Hammerton.  Sophie wanted a strawberry cake, so I felt like trying something a bit old-fashioned.  Before Bird and Dr Oetker independently came up with the idea of baking powder to put the fluff into your cakes through a bit of basic chemistry, cakes were made with more eggs and the air was physically put in through some hard grafted whisking.  Cakes were generally less light, but had a lot more body to them.  I also think that these old-fashioned cakes tend to soften over time rather than dry out as much as more modern cakes.

This little cake looks pretty, dressed in fluffy white cream and gorgeous pink strawberries, and is full of that extra rich taste from a profusion of eggs.  I like it much more than your typical sandwich type cake, and it is not much more complicated to make.

Strawberries & Cream Vanilla Cake

Ingredients

125g / 4½ oz / 1 cup organic plain flour
125g / 4½ oz / ½ cup organic caster sugar
4 medium free range eggs, at room temperature
1tsp organic Fairtrade vanilla extract
75g / 2¾ oz / ⅓ cups / ⅔ sticks butter, melted then cooled a bit
2tbsp strawberry jam/conserve
4-6 decent sized strawberries, quartered
125ml / ½ cup whipping cream
½-1tbsp vanilla sugar

How to make

Start by preparing two 20cm/9 inch round cake tins: lightly grease the tins, then line with base with some baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 180C/355F.

Sieve the plain flour then set it aside.

Add the caster sugar, eggs and vanilla extract into a heatproof bowl.  Boil a kettle of water and put into a pan, then reheat it until simmering.  Put the heatproof bowl with egg-sugar mix over the simmering water, using a hand-held electric whisk at the highest level for 5 minutes.  This will increase the volume to around three times the initial level and the colour to a creamy yellow colour.

Scoop about one-third of the sieved plain flour over the egg-sugar mixture, then using a big metal spoon fold the flour into the mixture.  Repeat for the remaining two thirds of plain flour.  Next drizzle the cooled liquid butter into the mix in thirds again, folding in carefully each time.  The key is do the minimal of folding to keep the air in the egg-sugar mixture as much as possible.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and then bake for 25 minutes.  Leave in the tins for a few minutes before turning out the baked tin, and allow it to cool down fully.

This cake is delicious on its own, but I wanted to make it into something a bit fancier for Sophie:

  • Firstly, I spooned some strawberry jam onto one of the cakes – not too much, but enough to stick the two cakes together.  Then I put the two cakes together.
  • Secondly, I whipped some cream with the vanilla sugar – pour the cream into a mixing bowl, then whisk until getting harder, when you should sprinkle over the caster sugar; whisk some more until the cream makes soft peaks.  Scoop and smooth over the top of the cake, then arrange the chopped strawberries in the whipped cream.
Strawberry & Cream Cake

Strawberry & Cream Cake

Enjoy on its own, or with a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea or First Flush Darjeeling.

Sophie Grigson Cookery Demonstration At The Oak Tree In Helperby

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
On Monday 26th, we had arranged a cookery demonstration by Sophie Grigson of some recipes from her new cookery book, Spices, followed by some fizz and a book signing session, before lunch. The event was hosted for Steenbergs at The Oak Tree in Helperby, which in a twist of fate celebrates it one year birthday after having been completely refurbished and reopened on 28 March 2011. The Oak Tree is part of Provenance Inns, a small and newish local chain of foodie pubs, run in a partnership between Chris Blundell and Michael Ibbotson (who owns the acclaimed The Durham Ox); they have, also, recently taken over The Punch Bowl in Marton cum Grafton and breathed life back into it and are developing a reputation for turning around pubs that have gone awry. Sophie Grigson’s demonstration was fantastically well supported with all available places being snapped up immediately they went on sale and the sun even came out, bathing us all in unexpected Yorkshire sun, so proving that North Yorkshire not only has excellent local provenance, fantastic food pubs in lovely villages, but also beautiful, sunny weather some of the time.
Axel Steenberg, Sophie Grigson And *

Axel Steenberg, Sophie Grigson And Kate Robey

Sophie Grigson was full of joie de vivre and enthusiasm for spices and as always was very approachable both in the way she explained how to make the recipes and afterwards in chatting with everyone.  She showed some unusual ways to use them, as well as some less well known spices. So we had sumac used to marinade an onion salad, red peppercorns for a prawn, mango & avocado salad, but I was really taken with vanilla chicken with peppers & white wine.   I loved the way vanilla was used for a savoury dish rather than its usual use in baking or sweet puddings, like creme brulee or panna cotta. And it tasted truly fabulous. It was so good that I cobbled something together for our evening meal, knowing that we had some chicken thighs out for defrosting.  It came out really well, especially as I had left her book at work so had to second guess the details, but then this is a really versatile dish and seems to be quite forgiving – now that’s a key factor for great home cooking , so thank you Sophie for this recipe. All in all I felt very excited and enthusiastic afterwards as I am sure everyone else did.
Sophie Grigson Sprinkling Spices Over Vanilla Chicken With Peppers

Sophie Grigson Sprinkling Spices Over Vanilla Chicken With Peppers

Vanilla Chicken With Peppers As Prepared By Sophie Grigson

Vanilla Chicken With Peppers As Prepared By Sophie Grigson

Here’s the recipe for vanilla chicken (but now please buy her book):

Ingredients

1½kg /3¼lb of free-range or organic chicken, jointed
3 red or yellow peppers
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100ml /3½ fl oz / 0.4 cup dry white wine
A few thyme sprigs

Spice rub

½tsp vanilla paste
½tsp coarse sea salt
½tsp thyme leaves
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
¼tsp freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the spice rub, just mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and turn them in the mixture, massaging them all over. Cover and leave for at least 1 hour, but far better a full 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7/428F. Halve, core and deseed the peppers, then cut into broad strips. Put the peppers and olive oil in a roasting tin or shallow ovenproof dish with a little salt (not too much as some will leach out of the chicken), and turn to coat the peppers lightly in oil.

Add the chicken to the tin, distributing the pieces amongst the peppers. Pour over the wine and scatter the thyme sprigs. Roast for 45 minutes or so, turning over the pieces and stirring around twice, until the chichen is cooked through. Check the seasoning.

Serve with rice.


When I made this in the evening after Sophie Grigson’s demo at The Oak Tree, and as I did not have the correct ingredients, I mixed together 1tbsp vanilla paste, 1tbsp honey, a good pinch of freshly ground pepper (I am using a new Epices Roellinger grinder from Peugeot in cherry red), a smidgeon of my Italian herbs blend, some olive oil and some sea salt. I used chicken thighs and cooked them at 180C in a fan assisted oven for 30 minutes. It seemed to do the trick.

Mint Choc Cupcakes

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Weren’t we all brought up on the luxury of After Eights or Elizabeth Shaw Mint Crisps or Matchmakers, those quintessentially 1970s pieces of sophistication?  Or was it just me?  So using our new mintier Organic Peppermint Extract, I decided to create these Mint Choc Cupcakes that bring together the luxury of chocolate cupcakes with a 1970s feel of mintiness coming from the peppermint flavours in the cake, chocolate topping and then sprinkled Matchmakers over the top.

Simple, delicious and so retro.

Mint Choc Cupcakes By Axel Steenberg

Mint Choc Cupcakes By Axel Steenberg

Mint Choc Cupcakes

80g / 2¾oz organic butter (at room temperature)
175g / 1 cup / 6oz Fairtrade caster sugar
1 large free range egg (at room temperature)
170g / 1 cup / 6oz organic self raising flour
1tbsp Fairtrade organic cocoa powder
100ml / ⅓ cup full fat milk
1tsp Steenbergs organic peppermint extract
150g / 5¼oz Fairtrade milk chocolate
50ml / ¼ cup double cream
¼tsp Steenbergs organic peppermint extract
Some Matchmakers or other crispy mint chocolate

1.  Preheat the oven to 160C / 320F.  Line a cupcake pan with 12 cupcake papers.

2.  Using an electric hand whisk cream together the butter and caster sugar until light.  Add the large egg and mix well.

3.  Add the self raising flour and cocoa in two halves and mix in thoroughly.  Add the milk and Steenbergs Organic Peppermint Extract until well mixed in.

4.  Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake papers.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until firm to touch.  Allow to cool for a couple of minutes then cool on a wire rack.  They must be totally cool before putting on the topping.

5.  Over a pan of boiling water, melt the milk chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Allow to cool a little, then thoroughly mix in the cream, the Steenbergs organic peppermint extract and allow to cool and thicken.

6.  Spread the chocolate frosting neatly over the cupcakes, then decorate with broken Matchmakers or other peppermint crisp.

Chocolate Ambassador

Friday, November 4th, 2011

At my father’s 75th birthday bash at the weekend, our children could not get enough of the Prinz Regenten Torte nor the Chocolate Ambassador.  Chocolate Ambassador turned out to be a rich chocolate mousse with raisins and biscuit within it.  As we were to have some friends around, I though I would have a go at mimicking it, but with a couple of tweaks that Jay thought about at the weekend – adding crunched up Crunchies or Maltesers.

Chocolate Ambassador

Chocolate Ambassador

North Yorkshire Chocolate Ambassador

255g/ 9oz dark chocolate
120g / ½ pint / ¼ cup full milk
1 pinch of Fairtrade cinnamon powder
2 large egg yolks
50g / 1¾ oz Crunchie, crunched up (or cinder or honeycomb toffee pieces)
6 large egg whites
65g/ 2oz / 3tbsp caster sugar
50g / 1¾ oz Maltesers, crunched up (or malted honeycomb pieces)

Break up the dark chocolate into smallish pieces and place into a small heatproof bowl, then melt these dark chocolate pieces over boiling water.  When melted, set aside to cool.

Put the milk and cinnamon powder into a small milk pan and heat until bubbles start to form at the edges.  Take off the heat and add to the melted dark chocolate, mixing in with a rubber spatula.

Make sure that the chocolate mixture is warm rather than hot, then add the egg yolks, stirring with the rubber spatula until just mixed in.  Mix in the crunched Crunchie pieces.

Place the egg whites in a separate mixing bowl, then with a hand held electric whisk mix up until the egg whites form stiff peaks.  Then slowly add the caster sugar and mix until all the caster sugar is mixed in.  The egg whites should still form stiff peaks and have a glossy finish.

Add half the egg whites to the milk-chocolate and fold in.  When just folded in, add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently until just mixed in.

Place in the fridge for at least an hour to let the mousse set.

Just before serving, crunch up the Maltesers and sprinkle evenly over the top.

How To Prepare The Meat For Your Burger

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

But the key to the recipe is the meat. You should not just get the nearest pack of mince that you can find, but should go to a proper butcher and get the mince made for you using the right types of meat.  The best beef for a burger comes from the top, so you are looking for neck, chuck & blade (in the US, this is chuck), rump (in the US, this is sirloin), silverside and topside (in the US, this is top round, i.e. from the top of the hind leg rather than towards the base); for UK cuts, you can see the attached website or in the US.  Each cut has different characteristics and pricing, but they are all great for burgers.   If you are going to buy your meat from the supermarket or preminced, try and get minced steak rather than minced beef, and organic or free range beef over factory farmed, so you are more likely to get a better quality cut and more ageing.  However, good mince and braising steak often comes straight from chuck so you could just go straight for these, then mince the braising steak yourself, but check with your butcher if you can. 

What you are looking for is a beef from the top of the cattle with a good level of marbling of 15% – 20% of the total meat.  A good level of marbling (the little veins of fat running through the beef) is vital as it melts as you cook, helping the beef to baste itself while cooking, so keeping the beef succulent and flavoursome.  Then you are looking for muscles that are worked and so have good flavour as in the hind leg or neck, rather than the soft, but less flavoursome cuts from the ribcage area, which are forerib and sirloin in the UK and rib and short loin in the US, however on the other side you do not want the overly tough meat from the lower round or brisket.  Then you are after an aged beef as this overcomes any possible issues from extra collagen from being worked hard.

As for breeds, the best beef comes from hardy Border and Scottish breeds, like the Aberdeen Angus and Galloway lines or Blue Grey, which is a Whitebred Shorthorn crossed with a Galloway.  Then for global beef afficionadoes there is Wagyu beef from the Japanese Wagyu cattle, which has intense marbling.  One thing I feel is that the best beef comes from hardy cattle that have been farmed in tough conditions where the beef has been grown properly rather than becoming flaccid and dull from easy living.

Heston Blumenthal goes into some detail and consideration of the types of beef to use in the perfect burger.  He uses a mix of chuck, aged short rib and brisket in a ratio of 1:2:1, with a 6 hour presalting of the chuck before grinding.  Personally, I think this is too complex, but agree that a mix of chuck and short rib (or rib eye) or rump, using 21+ day aged beef if you can get it, is a great idea, but you must still look for the right fat:meat ratio, i.e. marbling.  The idea of presalting the beef at this stage is interesting, but does not actually make any difference as I always suggest that you season the minced beef for at least an hour before you grill the burgers, so you draw the moisture out at that stage.  Some blog views on his burger can be found at http://www.mrmenu.net/discus/messages/18/61023.html and http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2008/05/the-blumenburger-the-most-laborintensive-hamburger-in-the-world.html.

Cutting through all this, I go for a 1:1 ratio of chuck steak to either ribeye steak or rump steak, with the picanha cut being a great rump cut to use.

Chuck Steak (left) And Rib Eye Steak (right)

Chuck Steak (left) And Rib Eye Steak (right)

No 8 Stainless Steel Hand Mincer

No 8 Stainless Steel Hand Mincer

The next thing to consider is the grind size for the beef.  The best way is to get your butcher to do this as they have the right equipment and good hygiene.  You should ask for the beef to be minced through a medium (4.5mm; 3/16 inch) setting, not finer like industrial pre-ground mince.  At home, I grind the meat once with the 4.5mm blade then again either with the same blade or a 6mm blade, as I find the double mince creates a smoother and less tough beef.  If you are going to do this at home, you must ensure that all the equipment is really, really clean and should scald the blades in boiling water to kill all the bacteria or use food grade cleaners and rinse off afterwards thoroughly; then refrigerate the equipment for 30 minutes to help to prevent the meat from sticking to it.  Once again, I would recommend Weschenfelder for a manual mincer and would plump for either the No 8 or No 10 stainless steel mincers on their site.  Heston Blumenthal suggests that you grind the meat then align the strands in parallel, but this is not worth the effort and also means that the burger has much less bindability and can easily fall apart.  The key is the quality of the meat, not in being overtly particular to align the strands of minced beef this way, i.e. don’t bother as it is a pain in the butt.

Mincing Beef Steak At Home

Mincing Beef Steak At Home

Maldon Sea Salt

Maldon Sea Salt

Having minced the meat, you should season it right through.  To do this, grind the salt to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle as you want this to be all the way through the beef.  You must use a sea salt for this and not an industrial salt.  For this, I would suggest either our fleur de sel, or be more British about it and use one of the wonderful crystal salts from Anglesey, Cornwall or Maldon.  The salt draws out some of the moisture in the beef creating a greater succulence and binding the beef together more, while subtly enhancing the umami tones within great beef.  Next get some coarsely ground good quality black peppercorns, which you can either do with your grinder on a coarse setting or buy a cracked black pepper (called crushed black pepper in the US and butcher’s cut in Germany).  This brings the characteristic warm, piperine flavour that wonderfully offsets the richness of the beef.  I think that you want bursts of flavour in this case rather than an even heat throughout, which would come from a ground pepper, essentially the opposite flavouring style to the sea salt.  I think our Steenbergs TGSEB from Kerala is the best pepper you could want, so that is what I use.  Finally, I add a small amount of fried grated onion, which is really my own personal preference – it is only a small amount and complements the meat nicely with a hint of sweetness.  For really good beef, you can, and I often do, drop this and rely on the salt and pepper, but I do like a little bit of fried onion in the burger mix, but this is optional.

Put the minced beef into a stainless steel bowl.  Having prepared the fine ground sea salt, the coarse ground black pepper and the grated onion, you should sprinkle these then mix through the ground beef as well as you can.  Use your hands here, making sure they are scrupulously clean.  Then cover the stainless steel bowl with a clingfilm and leave in refrigerator for at least one hour.

To make the patties, you should either shape them with clean hands or use a burger press like the ones I suggested from Weschenfelder or Scobies in East Kilbride.  If doing them by hand, shape them to 10-12cm (4 – 5 inches) in diameter and 4cm high (1½ inches), which is roughly palm-sized and about two fingers thick.  Place these burgers into the fridge until you are ready to fry or grill them.

Shaping The Ground Beef In A Burger Press

Shaping The Ground Beef In A Burger Press

Having explained the basics for making a burger and some of the kit to use, I will review some possible sources for where you can get great meat for making your burger at home, both through the supermarkets, local to the North East, some online speciality stores and a few other great places that are worth tracking down if you have the time and money to reach for greatness.  From there, we will go to ideas for sauces, burger buns and so on.

My Take On The Modern British Balti – A Recipe For Balti Masala

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

On Thursday, I was at home sorting out some domestic chores with some builders and my mind wandered to food and more specifically curry.  I craved a great balti, so I whipped one up, together with some dhal.

The balti is now a modern classic curry that came out of traditional curries from Northern Pakistan and was nurtured and loved within the Birmingham restaurant scene.  It is an inexpensive and simple way of making a curry once you know how.  Also, it fits well into the stir-fry & wok scene, so while not strictly fusion food it does cross-over nicely between the Chinese cooking styles and curry culture up here in the North. 

I love it because of its sheer flexibility – effectively you make up a sauce that is chocka with vegetables and add your meat to this. 

And of course while here we have made the masala mixes from scratch you can buy a balti masala curry mix or make your own and store it and seriously cut back the amount of thinking time to create a balanced meal.  We tend to eat ours with dhal – in fact we are always eating dhal and pureed pulses with everything – and mop it all up with naan bread. 

Stage 1: the smooth Balti tomato sauce

2tbsp butter, or ghee
1 medium onion (125g / 4½oz), roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2tsp freshly grated ginger
½tsp cumin seeds
½tsp coriander seeds
¼tsp fennel seeds
½ – 1tsp chilli powder (you could replace this for a fresh green chilli, deseeded)
½tsp Fairtrade turmeric
125g / 4½oz chopped tomatoes

The first stage is to make the balti tomato sauce.  In a heavy bottomed pan, dry roast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds for about 2 minutes, then take out of the pan and put on a cool plate.

Smooth Balti Tomato Sauce

Smooth Balti Tomato Sauce

Now add the butter (or ghee for a richer balti) to a heavy bottomed pan and heat to sizzling hot.  Add then stir fry the onion and garlic until translucent which will take about 4 – 5 minutes.  Add the fresh ginger and stir once.  Add the toasted spices and the spice powder and stir these in, turning for about half a minute, making sure it does not stick to the pan.  Finally add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Blitz the sauce either with a hand held blender or take out and pulse in a Magimix until smooth.  Return to the pan and keep on a very low heat with the lid on.

Stage 2: the Balti stir fry

3tbsp sunflower oil
500g / 1lb 2oz chicken breast, cut into 2cm x 2cm cubes
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
1 – 2 green chillis, deseeded, halved and thinly sliced (we have 1 chilli to keep heat lower)
100g / 4oz spring onions (or 150g / 5oz normal onions)
200g / 7oz button mushrooms, chopped in half
½tsp cumin powder
1tsp paprika
¼tsp fenugreek powder
1tsp turmeric
¼tsp cinnamon powder
¼tsp cardamom powder
2tbsp chopped tomatoes
1tsp Steenbergs garam masala
100ml / 3½ fl oz / ½ cup water
Handful chopped fresh coriander leaves

Heat the oven to 100C / 212F.  Add half of the sunflower oil to a wok and heat until smoking hot.  Stir fry the chicken cubes in batches until sealed.  Put the cooked chicken pieces into the warmed oven.  When complete, clean the wok.  While frying the chicken, measure out and mix the ground spices together. 

Stir Fry The Chopped Vegetables

Stir Fry The Chopped Vegetables

Add the remainder of the sunflower oil to the wok and heat until hot and smoking.  Add the red and green peppers, green chilli and button mushrooms and stir fry for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly, making sure it does not burn and is fried well.  Tip in the mixed spices and stir through twice, then add the smooth Balti tomato sauce and mix in, plus the tablespoons of chopped tomatoes.  Heat until simmering, then add the water and reheat to a simmer, mixing all together.  Cook on a gentle simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked chicken pieces and mix together.  Add the garam masala.  Cook for a further 10 minutes.  About 2 minutes before the end add the chopped fresh coriander and stir through.

Axel's Balti Served Outside

Axel's Balti Served Outside

Serve hot with naan, plus we like dhal with it.

Recipe For Vegan Tofu And Coconut Curry

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Continuing with our vegetarian fest after a successful week during National Vegetarian Week, I was craving a spicy curry that the kids would enjoy but would also be vegetarian – they are beginning to want some meat, but are just about hanging in there.  I came up with this quick and simple recipe for Tofu & Coconut Milk Curry, which we ate with plain boiled rice and red lentil dhal, plus poppadoms.  It is versatile so you can change the tofu for other vegetarian ingredients like Quorn or, if you are a pescatarian, white fish like cod or coley.

Axel’s Vegan Tofu & Coconut Curry

1 medium onion, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1cm / ½ inch cube of fresh ginger, grated finely
1 mild green chilli, sliced lengthways (optional)
2 tbsp organic sunflower oil
1tsp organic  vegetable curry powder, or other mild/medium curry powder
¼tsp organic Fairtrade turmeric powder
10 curry leaves, or bay leaf
400ml coconut milk
4 cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
1tbsp organic white wine vinegar (or cider vinegar)
1tbsp organic lemon juice
1tsp organic garam masala
1tbsp organic sunflower oil
300g tofu, drained then chopped into 1cm / ½ inch cubes
1tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Firstly, we prepare the tofu, by draining it, then placing it between two plates or wooden boards with a weight placed on top to remove the excess water.  This is worth doing as it removes extra water and gives a firmer texture for later.  After 1 hour, pour off excess water and chop into 1cm (½ inch) cubes.

Chop The Tofu Into 1cm Cubes

Chop The Tofu Into 1cm Cubes

Next, we make the coconut milk curry sauce.  Heat the sunflower oil in a heavy bottomed pan.  Add the onion, garlic and grated ginger and sauté on a low heat until translucent – this should take about 5 minutes, but make sure they do not crisp and brown at the edges.

Add the green chilli (if you are after some extra heat, but this is not necessary), curry powder, turmeric and curry leaves and stir in.  Fry gently for 1 minute.  Add the coconut milk and stir in.  Bring to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer.  Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar, lemon juice and garam masala, stir and simmer for another 1-2 minutes. then take off the heat.

Add the sunflower oil to a wok, or frying pan.  Heat until really hot, then add the tofu pieces and turn down the heat.  Fry until golden brown, turning over as they fry to make sure all edges get a nice crispy texture.

Stir Fry The Tofu Cubes

Stir Fry The Tofu Cubes

Until The Tofu Is A Golden Brown Colour

Until The Tofu Is A Golden Brown Colour

Add to the curry sauce and reheat to a boil.  Simmer for 5 minutes until thoroughly cooked through.  Add the chopped coriander leaves about 1 minute before the end.  Serve with plain boiled rice and dhal.

Vegan Tofu And Coconut Milk Curry

Vegan Tofu And Coconut Milk Curry

Recipe For Traditional Style Rogan Josh

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

As part of my ongoing attempts to create Indian recipes that have some bearing on genuineness, I have been fiddling around with rogan josh ideas.  Rogan josh is a signature dish for British curry houses, but was originally a North Indian meat dish that harks back to the exotic meals of the Moghul Courts when luxury was about food that was lavish, plentiful and took time.  Time still remains one of the key ingredients of cooking, especially as we rush around trying to whip something up fast and furious to feed the kids quickly, rustling up whatever we can from a paucity of ingredients in the cupboard and fridge, that always means you are missing something, whether the saffron or the yoghurt.

In this version, I have not ended up with a recipe that is particularly red in colour as I have not used tomatoes or any colouring, save for some token beetroot powder which does not really keep its colour under the heat of your cooking.  If you want to redden the sauce, you can change the water for chopped tomatoes, but I feel that tinned tomatoes are used a little too readily and I have had enough of them at the moment.  Also, the original rogan joshes of the Moghul Era would not have had tomatoes available to them, even though by later times they  could have done.

So here you have it, my version of a traditional rogan josh from India to North Yorkshire and the web.  It tastes better if you give it a day to infuse, so prepare the day before and then leave overnight before reheating.  Another key feature is to get some lamb bones into the sauce as they impart extra depth of character to the curry.

Axel’s Rogan Josh

Thinking About Rogan Josh

Thinking About Rogan Josh

For the meat:

750g / 1¾ lb lamb (I mixed 500g of lamb chopped into 2-3cm dices with 250g lamb breast with bones)
2tbsp sunflower oil
1 pinch asafoetida
200g / ½lb yoghurt
3cm fresh ginger, peeled then grated
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1½tbsp sunflower oil

For the masala:

½tsp chilli (for extra heat you could double or triple this to your heat requirement)
½tsp paprika
1tsp coriander seeds/powder
½tsp black peppercorns, or ground black pepper
¼tsp cloves/ cloves powder
½tsp cardamom powder
2tsp beetroot powder
1tsp sea salt
6½cm cinnamon quill
2 black cardamom pods
1 bay leaf

For the stock:

1 pinch saffron, soaked in 4tbsp cold water for 30 minutes
500ml / 1 pint water

Heat the first amount of sunflower oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan then add the lamb and pinch of asafoetida, then cook until lightly browned and sealed all over.  Set aside.

In a heavy bottomed pot, add next amount of sunflower oil and fry the onions, garlic and ginger until translucent.

While the onions-garlic-ginger are frying, we need to prepare the spices for the rogan josh masala.  Heat a small frying pan to dry fry some of the spices.  When hot, add the coriander seeds, black peppercorns and cloves and dry roast for about 2 minutes; however, watch over them and ensure that they do not burn.  Remove them from the heat and grind in a mortar with a pestle or a coffee grinder.  Add the other ground spices, the black cardamom pods, cinnamon quills and bay leaf.  You can simplify the mix by using ground spices and just mix them all together.

Masala For Rogan Josh

Spices For Rogan Josh

When the onion-garlic-ginger is translucent, turn down the heat and add the spice masala and throughly mix through, cooking gently for 1 minute.  Stir throughout as it can stick to the pot and then start to burn.

Add the yoghurt and mix thoroughly.  Place the top on the pan and heat up until just steaming, then remove lid.  Add the meat, then cover with just enough water to go over all the meat.  Bring to the boil, turn down the heat, place the lid on the pot and simmer for at least 1 hour.

Remove the lid, then add the saffron infused water and cook through thoroughly.

Axel's Rogan Josh Curry

Axel's Rogan Josh

Ready to serve with rice and dhal, however I like to cook this on the night before then reheat the next day  – this gives a much richer, deeper flavour and lets all the spices really meld together.

Tips: you can replace the water with chopped tomatoes to give a redder colour, but sometimes I have just had too much tomato and quite enjoy giving it a miss in this version of rogan josh.  For posh nosh, remove the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and black cardamom pods so no-one complains about chewing on one, but I quite like leaving them in for some extra authenticity and show everyone that you made this from scratch and not out of a jar.