Posts Tagged ‘organic food blog’

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.

A Better Version Of Simnel Cake Than My Last Attempt

Monday, March 19th, 2012
A year or so ago I made a simnel cake, but it came out rather squat and a tad heavy. The squatness was easily remedied with a smaller baking tin, while the texture was improved through using a lighter recipe with more eggs. I have, also, used an idea that was given to me, and the marzipan is incorporated into the cake itself rather than as a layer between two halves.

I made this cake on Saturday and we tried a few pieces today for Mothering Sunday. The fourth Sunday in Lent in England is Mothering Sunday. This celebration is based on the day’s appointed old testament reading (Isaiah 66) for the Church of England, which includes the lines “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be ye glad with her“, combined with the day’s new testament lesson (Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians) which speaks of Jerusalem as “the mother of us all“.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake

Combined with this, Mothering Sunday was the day when, prior to the First World War, servants were the given the day off to visit their mothers. In the Victorian period, some 50% of all employment was in domestic service, of which a goodly chunk was unmarried girls. These young women were given free rein in the kitchen to make a cake to show off their skills to their mothers, and so they devised a rich, fruit cake that they then carried home and it was stored until Easter, some three Sundays thereafter. This gave the cake ample time to mature nicely ready to be decorated with marzipan. It is worth remembering in these profligate times (if pretty austere economically) that fruits, nuts and sugar were relative expensive items back in the nineteenth century unlike today where they are comparatively cheap.

As for the marzipanning, the cake is topped with rich marzipan that is then baked to a golden brown, and around the top there are either 12 or 11 balls. I must admit to always decorating with 11 balls for the eleven disciples, although Elisabeth Luard says it should be 12 to signify the 11 disciples and Jesus, which may be more correct as it reflects the British superstition for the number 13 and is a lot easier to balance out on the top of the cake. The missing ball is for Judas Iscariot who is no longer a disciple by Easter.

The Steenbergs’ Simnel Cake Recipe

The marzipan:

250g / 9oz caster sugar
250g / 9oz ground almonds
2 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
1tsp of almond extract
1 medium free range egg, lightly beaten (keep in mug or cup for the glaze later on)

The Cake:

110g / 3¾oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 medium free-range eggs, lightly beaten
110g / 3¾oz soft brown sugar
150g / 5¼oz plain flour
Pinch of sea salt
150g / 5¼oz raisins
50g /1¾oz currants
150g /5¼ oz sultanas
55g / 2oz candied mixed peel
2tsp orange extract
2tbsp apricot jam
1tsp mixed spice
½tsp ground cloves
1tsp ground cinnamon

What to do?

Pre heat the oven to 140C/285F. Prepare an 18cm/ 7 inch and quite tall cake tin, by lightly oiling it all over, then lining it with baking parchment.

To make the marzipan: place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl, then add the 2 lightly beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the almond essence and knead for a minute or two until it becomes smooth and soft. Divide the marzipan into 3 roughly equal portions.

Next, I start by preparing the flour and dried fruit:
  • Sieve the plain flour, baking spices together into a mixing bowl.
  • Mix the dried fruit together in a big mixing bowl either with a spoon or your hands. I prefer hands as cooking should be a tactile experience, but also it enables you to break up the fruit which is usually quite stuck together. Next add the mixed peel and spread that through the mix, using your fingers. Finally, I mix through 1tbsp of the flour mix, which will stop the fruit dropping to the bottom of the cake in the oven.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy in a decent sized mixing bowl using a hand-held electric whisk. Add the lightly beaten eggs and orange extract until well mixed together. Then add the flour-spices mix and mix together thoroughly.

Now take one of the pieces of marzipan and break into small chunks. Add these to the cake mix and gently fold into the cake batter, trying to keep them as intact as possible.

Spoon the simnel cake mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place into the centre of the pre heated oven and cook for one hour and thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. After 15 minutes turn out and place on wire rack to cool down.

Baked Simnel Fruit Cake

Baked Simnel Fruit Cake

When cooled down, brush the top of the cake with the apricot jam. Next, dust a rolling surface with icing sugar and a rolling pin also with icing sugar (otherwise it sticks to everything), then roll out one of the remaining pieces of marzipan. Place this rolled marzipan over the top of the cake, cutting off the edges (they taste nice so enjoy these as a cook’s perk). With the final third of marzipan, split it into 11 (or 12) equal pieces and roll into balls and place these around the edge of the cake. Finally, glaze the marzipan with the beaten egg.

Put the cake under a hot grill and brown the top of the cake lightly, then leave to cool.

Simnel Cake With Baked Marzipan

Simnel Cake With Baked Marzipan

Delicious (Though I Say It Myself) Orange And Earl Grey Cake

Saturday, February 25th, 2012
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Recipe For A Thoroughly Modern Vegetarian Balti

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Once in a while, I really need to go without meat of any form and I am going through one of those patches at the moment.  So I have tweaked my Chicken Balti Recipe from earlier this year to be more tofu friendly and so usable as a vegetarian dish. At the same time, I have simplified the spices in the recipe to make the whole thing a bit quicker; if you want to mix the spice blend from scratch, I have put the spices as a note to the whole recipe. Now it is something that you can whizz up quickly at the end of the day and keep the whole family happy – for a short while as well.

Vegetarian Tofu Balti

Vegetarian Tofu Balti

Stage 1: the smooth Balti tomato sauce

3tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion (125g / 4½oz), roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2cm fresh ginger, grated finely
2tsp Steenbergs Balti curry powder
150g / 4½oz chopped tomatoes

Firstly, we need to make the base balti sauce. Add the sunflower oil to a heavy bottomed pan and heat to sizzling hot. Add, then stir fry the onion and garlic until translucent which will take about 3 – 4 minutes. Add the fresh ginger and stir once. Add the Steenbergs Balti Curry Powder and stir in, turning for about half a minute, making sure it does not stick to the pan. Finally add the chopped tomatoes and simmer gently for about 5 minutes.

Blitz the sauce either with a hand held blender or take out and pulse in a Magimix until smooth. Set aside until later.

Stage 2: the Balti stir fry

3tbsp sunflower oil
500g / 1lb 2oz Quorn or tofu, cut into 2cm x 2cm cubes
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
150g / 5oz onion, finely chopped
150g / 5oz button mushrooms, chopped in half or quarters
3tsp Steenbergs vegetable curry 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 Quorn or tofu in batches until lightly browned. Put the cooked Quorn and tofu into the warmed oven. When complete, clean the wok.

Add the remainder of the sunflower oil to the wok and heat until hot and smoking. Add the green peppers, 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 vegetable curry powder and stir through twice, then add the smooth balti tomato sauce and mix in plus the 2 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 Quorn or tofu 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.

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

Spice blends for those doing the spices from scratch:

Spice mix for Balti sauce (1)

½tsp cumin seeds
½tsp coriander seeds
¼tsp fennel seeds
½tsp chilli powder
½tsp Fairtrade turmeric

For these, mix together then either grind iun an electric coffee grinder or break up in mortar and pastle.  Alternatively you could use powders rather than whole seeds.

Spice mix for Balti stir fry (2), instead of vegetable curry powder

½tsp cumin powder
1tsp paprika
¼tsp fenugreek powder
1tsp turmeric
¼tsp cinnamon powder
¼tsp cardamom powder

Recipe For Nurnberger Christmas Cookies – German Lebkuchen

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Following on from the spekulatius blog, we have been having fun trying to make German lebkuchen cookies.

There really is something Christmassy about the spices used in these Christmas biscuits – it’s that glorious mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and that extra richness from the cloves.  Everything about Christmas smells seems to revolve around cloves whether it is the Christmas cake, lebkuchen cookies or making your pomander.  And cloves are such a tricky spice that can completely overpower many spice blends, but seem to conjur up the right flavour for this festive period.

After a few goes at this recipe, this is where we have gotten to this year, but just like for the spekulaas I need to invest in some festive cookie shapes for next year.  Also, I think it would work well with a light chocolate glaze as an alternative to the icing sugar glaze.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Lebkuchen Cookies

Lebkuchen Recipe

Working On The Lebkuchen Recipe

Working On The Lebkuchen Recipe

The ingredients bit:

250g / 9oz / 1¾ cups plus 1tbsp organic plain flour
85g / 3oz / ¾ cup ground almonds
2½tsp Steenbergs lebkuchen spice mix*
1tsp baking powder
½tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
175ml / ¾ cup clear honey (or golden syrup)
85g / 3oz softened unsalted butter
½tbsp lemon juice (this is lemon from ½ lemon)
½ lemon, finely grated zest (or combine to 1 lemon zested)
½ orange, finely grated zest
Some flaked or half blanched almonds (optional)

For the icing:

100g / 4oz / 1 cup icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
1 egg white, beaten

The recipe part:

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Warm the honey and butter in a pan over a low heat until the butter melts, then pour these into the flour mixture.  Add the lemon juice and lemon & orange zest.  Mix well with a hand held whisk until the dough is throughly combined.  Cover and leave to cool overnight, or for at least 2 hours. to let the flavours meld together and work that festive magic.

Heat oven to 180C/ 350F / Gas Mark 4.

Roll the lebkuchen dough in your hands into around 25 balls, each 3cm wide (1 inch wide), then flatten each one slightly into a disc.  Into the centre of the discs, place an almond flake. 

Divide the lebkuchen mixture between 3 baking trays lined with baking parchment, or ideally with an edible baking paper, with a decent amount of room for them to expand into.

Bake for 13 – 15 mins, or until when touched lightly no imprint remains, then cool on a wire rack.  While still warm, glaze the lebkuchen with the icing glaze, made as below.

Brush The Lebkuchen With Glazing Icing

Brush The Lebkuchen With Glazing Icing

While the cookies are baking, make your glazing icing: mix together the icing sugar and egg white to form a smooth, runny icing.

Brush the top of each biscuit with the glazing icing.  Leave to dry out.  I then glazed the top of the icing to give the lebkuchen a shinier lustre, but this is optional.

For the glaze, I took 100g (½ cup) caster sugar and 50ml (¼ cup) of water, melting these in a pan.  Then, I boiled the mix to 90C/200F, when I added 15g (1 tablespoon) of icing sugar.  This glaze was then bushed over the icing.  Granted that it is extra fussy, but then it is Christmas.

You should ideally, allow these Christmas cookies to mellow.  To do this, you should store the lebkuchen in an airtight container for a day or two to allow the flavours to mellow and the cookies to become softer.  To improve the flavours, you could include a few pieces of sliced orange or lemon, but make sure that they are not touching the lebkuchen as this will make them soggy and change the fruit every day to stop them going stale or mouldy.

* To make your own lebkuchen spice mix: ¼tsp ground cloves, ½tsp allspice powder, ½tsp nutmeg powder, 1¼tsp cinnamon

A Truly British Cup Of Tea

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Taking all the information in my previous blog, here is my stab at how to make a cracking cup of tea:

1.  Fill the kettle with freshly-drawn cold water which is well mixed with oxygen (boiled water has lost much of oxygen). Oxygen is vital to bring out the taste and aroma.  When drawing from the tap, let the water run a bit first, so you do not get the slightly flat and stale water that is hanging around in the tap near the end of the faucet.

2.  Ceramic, china or earthenware teapots are the best for making teas – they keep warmer for longer and do not taint the organic tea.  Never ever bleach the teapot, even though some older books suggest adding bicarbonate of soda.

3.  Fill the tea-pot with boiling water to warm the tea-pot and so prevent the brew from cooling too quickly then pour out as more water comes to the boil and add the tea leaves.  Alternatively, quarter fill the tea pot with water, then place into a microwave and heat at full power for 1 minute, then pour out as the water in the kettle comes to the boil and add the tea leaves.  If you are making a mug of tea, you should warm the mug in the same way as you would warm the teapot; in fact, it is even more important, since mugs usually have no lids so loose heat even more rapidly than a tea-pot with lid.  The art is timing the heating of the teapot with the spooning in of the tea leaves and the pouring over of the freshly boiled water; I tend to premeasure the tea leaves into a ramekin so you can just tip them all in at the right moment rather than hurredly measuring them out at the crucial moment and missing the pot with some of the leaves in the panic.

4.  For a 1136ml or traditional quart-sized tea pot, add 6 heaped teaspoons or 15g (½oz) of loose leaf tea to the pot; this equates to 1 heaped teaspoon per mug plus 1 for the pot, where a quart-sized tea pot does 5 mugs.  For a 225ml mug (i.e. a mug with volume of 1 cup), add a heaped teaspoon or 2.6g to the permanent tea filter.  A teaspoon roughly equates to a teabag, which is usually 2.5 – 3.0g, with the higher average weight compensating for the slowing down of infusion caused by the tea bag filter paper itself.

5.  As for the tea, books and whole businesses are based on getting the right teas for the tea drinker.  In a nutshell, tea leaves are the best, rather than tea bags.  Orthodox teas are better than CTC style teas.  Blended teas, like an English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast, are also great as they provide consistency of general flavour and colour profile, enabling you to leave the problems of blending the appropriate flavours to others with more time on their hands.  However, if you get the chance to blend your own teas, have a crack at it as it is not as hard as most tea businesses will tell you; see my blogs on blending breakfast teas.  I, also, change the leaf size depending on the time of day, so would go for a small leafed blend of 2 – 3mm in the morning, but let the tea leaves increase in size as the day goes on to around 6 – 7mm; this gives me strength and colour in the morning, then more floweriness and flavour as the day progresses and my taste buds are able to understand the subtleties in tea; later in the afternoon, I switch to lighter teas like a Darjeeling, China or Ceylon tea and by late afternoon, I veer towards Darjeeling or green teas.

6.  Fill the kettle with more freshly-drawn cold water, pour away the warm water in tea-pot just as the water is coming to the boil.  Add the tea leaves.  Pour the new water into the pot as it boils, because off-the-boil water makes very dull tea.  At this stage, the water will be in the range of 96 – 98C (205 – 210F).

7.  Give the tea leaves a quick stir with a warmed teaspoon.

8.  Infuse for 3 – 5 minutes.  A quick brew never gets the full flavour from the organic tea leaves, whereas a long brew is astringent.  This part depends a lot on the type of tea leaves you are using as well as your own tea flavour preferences, i.e. I like a stronger brew, but use a tea blend with little astringency in the brew, so can steep for 5 minutes, but others recommend 3 – 4 minutes.  At the end of the brew, the temperature of the infusion should be in the range of 70 – 80C (160 – 175F), and ideally at the top end of the range.

9.  Add 25 – 30ml (1 fl oz) of milk per 225ml  mug (a mug with volume of 1 cup).  Make sure the milk is at room temperature then add it first (not second), because milk does not superheat as much if added at this stage, so keeping the taste and mouth feel of the milk right.  It must be real milk and should at least be semi-skimmed in standard, never homogenised, and if using classic milk, the cream should be poured off the top into a jug to leave the milk below.  Others, for example Tony Benn and George Orwell, say add milk afterwards because you can regulate the amount of milk you add much better that way.  There is no answer to this core disagreement amongst tea drinkers and never the twain shall meet, i.e. it is really just a matter of taste and habit.

10.  Leave to cool until the tea is around 60 – 65C (140 – 150F), then start to drink, but do not slurp as it is uncouth.  Do not leave until the tea becomes too cold, with an upper limit of 17½ minutes, and lower temperature limit of 50C (122F).

11.  Sit back, relax and enjoy!  The best place is where no-one will hassle you and annoy you, so you can have a little bit of peace.

Please note this is my template for making a good old cup of strong black tea and does not work for green or white teas, nor more delicate Darjeelings or oolongs.  Therefore, you should use it as a template and through practise learn how to make your cup of tea, as yours will always be the best, since it will take into account your favourite type of tea, your local water and your own taste preferences.  In other words, there is no perfect way of making tea, but there are some no-nos, and, as in most walks of life, practise makes perfect.

Four Days In Munich – Some Traditional Restaurants (19 – 22 August 2011)

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

I went to Munich with our eldest, Jay, the other weekend ostensibly to show him Germany and visit my aunts and uncle.  However, we managed to sneak in a match at the Alliance Arena between FC Bayern Műnchen and Hamburger SV, where Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and team blew Hamburger apart 5:0 and should have had more and the Boulder World Cup 2011 at the Olympia Stadium.  The weather was blisteringly hot at 35oC in the day and 25oC at night; way too hot for country boys from the North of England.  We enjoyed ice creams on the Starnberger See and lolled around the Ungererbad in Munich.  We were not the only people suffering as the locals were packed like sardines along the shoreline of the Starnberger See and covered almost all the lawns and edges of the swimming pools at the Ungerer Bad.

But it was the changes that struck me more than the heat.  I have been coming to Bayern all my life, yet have not been back for maybe 7 or 8 years, seeming to go to Nűrnberg, which while technically part of Bavaria is so very different – a bit like North Yorkshire being significantly different culturally from South Yorkshire, i.e. same county but different ways of life.  Everyone was more cosmopolitan in style, so where the Bavarian style of dressing had its own look which often seemed jarring – bright orange jackets, dark grey trousers and white socks – nowadays the way of dressing was international urban chic, so the young could almost have been from any US or British TV show.  Yes, there were still a few people wearing lederhosen and dirndls, but they were largely for tourists or dressing up for special occasions like some young ladies out for a hen party that we saw at the Chinesischer Turm in the Englischer Garten.  However, this change in style did mask little difference in racial make-up which was largely white German with a smattering of Turkish and Vietnamese, but few African, Chinese or Indian.  So while in London, you get every language being spoken, in Munich it remains a German sound, albeit with a thick Bavarian accent.  Another example of our shrinking world was the ice creams we had from a kiosk by the Starnberger See, where the ice cream was sold in as local (which it probably was), but is actually made by part of Richmond Ice Cream via Roncardin Ice Cream that is based near us in North Yorkshire and is now the largest private label ice cream manufacturer in Europe – Jamie Lambert has come a really long way since he set it up as a way to utilise the excess milk available in the UK and won a contract from own label ice cream with a small, but growing Morrisons Supermarket.  The local mineral waters are all owned by Nestlé.

Nuernberger Glockl Am Dom

Nuernberger Glockl Am Dom

Then there was the change in cuisine.  Speaking to my aunts and uncle, they have said that most of the traditional restaurants have shut and opened as ethnic restaurants with the ubiquitous burger bars, pizzerias, Chinese, Indian and Turkish restaurants.  There are fewer local style restaurants about, but the tourist driven ones like the Hofbräuhaus and Nűrnberger Bratwurst Glockl am Dom will probably survive.  We wandered through the Hofbrauhaus, enjoying looking at the huge hall upstairs with vaulted roof, and ate 8 bratwursts with sauerkraut at one of the tables outside.  My father and mother ate 4 weiβwűrst, which were lovely but I was not in the mood.  The good bratwűrsts were excellent, but 2 of them were charred to hell by the chef, who was cooking them without much love or care over a barbecue inside, which was disappointing as was the brusque service and a refusal to give us some potatoes with the sausages.

Nurnberger Sausages With Sauerkraut

Nurnberger Sausages With Sauerkraut

Osterwaldgarten Restaurant In Munich

Osterwaldgarten Restaurant In Munich

We stayed at the Hotel Biederstein in Schwabing, so we ate a few suppers at Osterwaldgarten, which is another traditional restaurant, where we once again ate outside.  Here, we had several delicious simple meals, including: schnitzel, fried potatoes and salad; pfifferlinge and lightly-fried Serrano ham salad and baked saubling with fries and salad.  The beer is Franziskaner and Spaten beer.  All were delicious, the atmosphere was wonderful and friendly (geműtlich) and genuine rather than the slightly touristy style of the restaurants in the centre of Munich.

This style of cuisine was continued at Sankt Emmerams, which is on the northern side of the Englischen Garten.  This is on the site of an old mill that was here from the 1400s until 1866 when the owners started selling beer and breads, then by 1890 it had become closer to its current style of restaurant.  Here, we ate: roast pork in dark beer sauce (dunkelbier) with potato knodel and cabbage with speck salad; roast shoulder of pork in dark beer sauce, potato knődel and salad and roast duck with knodel and red cabbage.  All washed down with Franziskaner weiβbier, Spaten pils and spezi – a Bavarian speciality of cola mixed with orangeade, which is delicious yet curiously not drunk elsewhere.  Sankt Emmerams is an excellent location, hidden away from tourists.  On the downside, the food was heavy on the salt, especially the jus, but the pork and duck were excellent, while the potato knodel were fine, even if still an acquired taste.

On the Sunday, we took the S-Bahn out to Starnberg.  Usually, we go on to Tutzing and enjoy a meal at the Hotel Am See in Tutzing.  From Starnberg, we took the short round trip, alighting at Leoni near to where mad-King Lűdwig died in mysterious circumstances while swimming the lake in 1886.  The Starnberger See is a gorgeous lake and so close to central Munich.  You have the Alps lurking in mysterious blue towards the South, then all manner of different boats floating around the lake from motorboats to sailboats, or canoes and stand-up surfboards.  We ate at the Seehotel Leoni which is a fabulous luxury hotel right on the lake.  Kids were diving off the side of the hotel balcony and from the wooden piers into the lake, and having a whale of a time.  We ate: gazpacho; spaghetti with tiger prawns; homecured herrings with apple (Matjesfilet mit Apfelspalten) and new potatoes; and renke (a local lake species close to trout) on tabouleh with courgettes.  The cuisine was mostly nouvelle Bayern cuisine, bringing local ingredients and local food to a more modern style.  Light, tasty and exciting.  We liked it all.

Marinaded Herrings With Apple Plus New Potatoes And Salad

Marinaded Herrings With Apple Plus New Potatoes And Salad

Renke With Courgettes On Tabouleh

Renke With Courgettes On Tabouleh

For me, Seehotel Leoni showed me some of the way.  What makes Bayern special is its local culture and food, created by its traditional isolation, adherence to its own culture (for good and ill) and the Alpine climate.  It must keep what is unique, but modernise wherever necessary and possible, so if this means renke direct from the Starnberger See that is good, or roast pork in dunkelbier jus that is perfect, but where it falls flat is when you get burnt bratwurst with bad service and a unbalanced plate or too much salt in the gravy.  In much the same way that Britain has rediscovered its traditional food heritage, so must Bavaria play to its strengths – excellent beer, great freshwater fish and pork, sometimes amazing sausages – and reduce the times it fails like the barely warm, industrial bockwurst and bratwurst that we had at the Kleinehesseloher See or the Ungerer Bad.  McDonalds and KFC are here to stay, but not all of us want to eat industrial food that has no soul.

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.