Posts Tagged ‘sea salt’

Steenbergs Tasting Panel results – Spices 1

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

 

Spice Tastings

Welcome to 2014 and a review of our exciting new Taster Panels!  Back in October 2013, we asked all of our lovely customers if any of you would like to be tea and spice tasters for us and luckily lots of you agreed! Thank you so much to all of you who have kindly spiced, seasoned and savoured for us, so that we can help improve our products and ultimately give you all more of what you would like to see from Steenbergs.

If you have a point of view about either of these products, please don’t hesitate to comment at the end.

Our volunteer spice panellists were sent 2 very different blends to try: Steenbergs organic Perfect Salt, which is the ultimate all-round seasoning, first introduced by Steenbergs in their first summer back in 2004 and the brand new Steenbergs organic Apple Pie Mix, a comforting blend of warming spices, perfect for all kinds of home-baking.

 

1. Perfect Salt

We had a fantastic response to our Perfect Salt sample with 85% of you loving its great versatility, using it in recipes ranging from scrambled eggs to tomato salad, and from stews to breadcrumb toppings, as a cooking ingredient as well as a condiment.  60% of you loved it with roasted vegetables, with potatoes being by far the favourite.  The majority of you loved the crunchy texture of the blend but some of you chose to use a grinder for finer application.  The herbs and pepper were a welcome combination but a couple of you made the helpful suggestion that perhaps this should be called ‘Perfect Seasoning’ rather than Perfect Salt due to the balance of other flavours.  Cosy, homely times with friends and family were the ideal way to enjoy this product, although Tom Kerridge and Italy also made an appearance – showing its versatility in a new light!

Steenbergs Organic Perfect Salt Mix - ideal for seasoning savoury products or as a table condiment.

Steenbergs Organic Perfect Salt Blend


 

Key Phrases for Perfect Salt:

‘Herbs bring a warming balance and flavour’; ‘tangy sea salt’; ‘adds an extra dynamic to food’; ‘rich and versatile product that no good cook or kitchen should be without!’; ‘use with everything!’; ‘Salt & pepper with a herby bite’; ‘A one-stop-shop for seasoning’; ‘really versatile’; ‘a quick addition of umami’; ‘works in/on anything savoury’; ‘a real all-purpose product’; ‘the potential uses for this are unlimited’; ‘one pot for a lot of flavour’

 

Steenbergs Organic Perfect Salt Wordle

What the Steenbergs Taster Panel thinks about Steenbergs organic perfect salt blend

 

 

 

 

 

4. Apple Pie Spice Mix

We received a definite response to our Apple Pie Mix, with cries of Christmas, winter, log fires and baking.  Even with a relatively specific product name, the versatility of the product was enjoyed and thoroughly put to the test with everything from the more obvious fruit pies and crumbles through to North African tagines, chai tea, mulled wine and pumpkin soup.  Over half of you wanted to enjoy this at home in some wintery or autumnal context although the Caribbean was mentioned!  Along with family and friends, Paul Hollywood and children also featured as your preferred guests to enjoy some cosy family baking courtesy of the Apple Pie spice blend.

Steenbergs spice mix for apple pies

Steenbergs Organic Apple Pie Mix

 

 

Key Phrases for Apple Pie Spice Mix:

‘A mouth-watering blend of organic bliss!’; ‘It inspires flavourful pie making’; ‘this took me back to my Nan’s apple pie’; ‘liked that it had no sugar’; ‘not limited to apple pie’; ‘an aromatic blend to enliven any pie/crumble’; ‘lovely and warm and cosy’; ‘good spice with roundness and a hint of vanilla’; ‘warm & wintery flavours’; ‘warm, Christmassy spice’; ‘like Grandma’s mince pies’; ’It smells like Christmas and tastes like Heaven!’

What Steenbergs Taster Panel think of Steenbergs Apple Pie Mix

What the Steenbergs Taster Panel think of Steenbergs Apple Pie Mix

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

Lamb Stew With Rosemary & Lemon

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

I was pottering around the shops the other day and their was some good looking shoulder of lamb.  They called out to me “Cook me, take me”, so I asked the butcher for them and popped them in the basket.  Back at home, I found some lemons that need using up, picked some rosemary from the garden, then set to it. 

The key on this versatile stew is to cook long and slow, which gives time for the collagen and tougher bits on these cuts of lamb to break down, while the fat keeps the meat deliciously moist.  It  tastes even better if you cook it slowly one day, then come back to it the next night, when the flavours really do infuse throughout the meat.  The other thing is the temperature of 160C, since as the lamb gets to this temperature the collagen liquifies into gelatin, giving the meat that “melt-in-the-mouth” tenderness, as well as killing off any bugs that might be in the meat.

Lamb Stew With Rosemary & Lemon

2kg / 4½lb stewing lamb, ideally on the bone – shoulder is good
6tbsp olive oil
Juice of 3 lemons
1 glass of dry white wine
2tbsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
2 cinnamon quills
Salt & pepper

Prepare the lamb if it is shoulder by cutting off most of the meat and chopping into 2cm x 2cm (1 inch x 1 inch) cubes.  Keep some of the meat on the bone as this will become easy to cut off after cooking.  Put the meat pieces and bones into a large pot.

Add the olive oil, juice of the lemons and glass of white wine to the meat.

Add the cinnamon quills, chopped rosemary, one or two grinds of black pepper and a pinch of salt.  Give it all a stir around.

Lamb Stew Before Cooking

Lamb Stew Before Cooking

Put the oven on to 160C / 320F.  Put the lid onto the pot, then heat the meat over a gentle heat on the hob, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Open the lid, give the stew a stir, then replace the lid and put into the oven.  Cook for 2 – 3 hours.

Lamb Stew With Lemon And Rosemary

Lamb Stew With Lemon And Rosemary

Either eat straight away or the next day.  Serve with rice (we had saffron rice) and vegetables, then use some freshly baked bread to soak up any of the dripping on your plate.

Gorgeous and so, so very simple.

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.

Starting Out – The Basics For A Simple Homemade Burger

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Some time ago, I started a quest for a great burger, then stopped that search as things at Steenbergs gave me less time than I had needed.  But I think I am ready to start that hunt again.

In the meantime, I have not been completely idle..well, a little perhaps…and have tweaked my core simple burger recipe, reducing the seasoning to let the flavour of the meat come through more.  However, it is completely a matter of taste as to how much seasoning you want to complement the beef flavours, plus an element of how good the meat itself is, where the better the flavours in the meat, the less seasoning you should be adding.

So here is my amended Simple Burger recipe:

450g / 1lb ground chuck, rib eye, rump, silverside or topside beef
1tbsp grated or minced onion (optional especially for top notch 21+ days’ beef, but ideal for shop bought mince), lightly fried then cooled
½tsp sea salt
¼tsp cracked black pepper

If doing the onion, fry gently in ½tbsp of sunflower oil until clear, then cool until chilled in the fridge. 

Next, clean your hands.  Then, in a clean stainless steel bowl, mix together all the ingredients using your hands, making sure all the ingredients are spread evenly through the mix.  Leave in the fridge for at least an hour and ideally overnight (or 6 hours).  Form the burger mix into patties that are 2cm (¾ inch) thick with your hands or in a burger press.

Season With Mince With Salt & Pepper

Season With Mince With Salt & Pepper

Shape The Burgers In A Pattie Press Or By Hand

Shape The Burgers In A Pattie Press Or By Hand

Homemade Burger Patties

Burger Patties Made At Home

Lightly brush with sunflower oil on each side, then either grill them over a barbecue or in a good cast-iron frying pan over a medium-high heat to the desired degree of doneness – around 4 – 5 minutes per side for medium rare; 5 – 6 minutes for medium.  However, the degree of doneness is not an exact science and depends a lot on the actual temperatures used and the meat, so be flexible rather than rigid in these guides.

Burger Press From Weschenfelder

Burger Press From Weschenfelder

To shape the burgers, I just use my hands.  However, Lakeland have a burger press that would do the job if you do not like the feel of meat, or you could try Twenga where there seem to be loads of alternatives over a wide price bracket.  Better still there is a range of burger presses from £7 – £300 at one of my favourite web secrets, Weschenfelder.

If you find that your burgers are falling apart, you may find that the meat you are using is not moist enough.  Alternatively, you could add some breadcrumbs, which will help to bind the meat together more.  In my homemade burger recipe via the main Steenbergs website, I use these in a more involved burger recipe.  The other possibility is that the burger is being turned too much or you are pressing it down, so releasing the juices that would bind the meat together, as below.

If you wish to barbecue them, a charcoal fire is much better rather than a gas grill, but obviously comes with more of a hassle factor.  Here are some basic burger cooking rules:

  1. Turn the burger only once – flipping might make the burger fall apart, while turning it back and forth will dry it out without letting the burger cook through.
  2. Don’t squash down the burger while it is cooking.  It does not speed up the cooking time much and squeezes out the juices, so ensuring your burger will become dry and solid rather than succulent & delicious.
  3. Finally, make sure your frying pan or grill is hot before you start cooking, but you don’t want a mega hot flame that chars the burgers to a crisp, cinder, better to be white hot charcoals than big flickering flames.  Impatience will not help the best flavours to develop.

But the key to any burger recipe is the meat.

Spices, spices everywhere

Friday, May 13th, 2011

We had a visit recently from Helen Best-Shaw of FussFreeFlavours, who is a lovely lady – other bloggers welcome.  She asked many interesting questions and one of them got me thinking and that was why are we so interested in spices.  It certainly is not the money as I think we are successfully proving that there are no fortunes to be made in spices anymore.

But what it is, I think, is the sheer complexity of them.  Spices, herbs and salts are the essence of cuisine that takes food away from being the source of the raw materials of life into cooking, i.e. something that is human, cultural, social and learned rather than just a bunch of proteins, carbohydrates and fats etc.

Spices, herbs and salt have the key things that make food truly great and tickle the senses:

  1. Aroma – smell
  2. Flavour – taste
  3. Heat – temperature
  4. Colour – sight
  5. Texture – touch
  6. Context – knowledge

For me, context is one of the key things that our spices can give you.  They create a story of where the cuisine has come from – Britain, Thailand, Japan or India, for example – and a sense of our life story and what we have learnt through our travels and experiences, from other people (whether in cookbooks, websites, from mum or the TV) and through experimentation. They offer a leitmotif to our world.  Context tells us whether they are organic or not, whether the people who grew them have been fairly treated or exploited, creating a depth and connection back to farmers who have toiled to bring us these gems of flavour.

When I blend a spice, all these things get wrapped up into the experience.  For example, today I made some ras al-hanut.  It takes an age to weigh out all the ingredients and then mix them up, all of which we do all by hand.  I use a unique recipe that includes 22 ingredients and took about 3 weeks and many years to perfect.  It harks back to when we started Steenbergs in 2004, so has context for me as I remember really struggling with the blend, but it also has context as it is based on the Moroccan blend – ras el hanout  – which is the master blend of the spice merchants in traditional bazaars across North Africa and into the Levant.  It connects Steenbergs back to other spice merchants and we have been indulgent, like you should, as this is not a blend to scrape and pinch like an accountant for bits of profit here and there, it is a thing of character and blend of excellence designed to show off our prowess and balances the flavours, aromas and colours of a stupidly wide selection of spices from a ridiculously wide geographic range of countries.

So we have – galangal from Vietnam; cassia and cubeb pepper from Indonesia; ginger and turmeric from India; cardamom from Sri Lanka; orris root from Italy; paprika and saffron from Spain; black cardamom from Pakistan; dill seed from Turkey; roses from Iran; bay, caraway and fennel from Turkey; and allspice from Guatemala – all of which are blended by hand in rural North Yorkshire.  We can travel the world with our flavours and ingredients.  Then there are the chromatics of the smells, flavours and colours that are carefully balanced to sing together in harmony and create something that has a bottomless depth of gorgeous sensation that is deliciously exotic – much better than each individually and full of pure intensity.  For a little flair, we add some texture by including whole dill seeds and deep purple rose petals that add an extra dimension to a blend of powders.  Then there are the colours from the exuberant deep purple of the damask roses, the mute yellow of turmeric, the blacks and browns of black cardamom, cassia, galangal, cubebs, the greens of cardamom and bay and the reds of paprika and saffron.  All these heats and flavours and colours meld seamlessly into a flavour bomb of depth and intensity that I just love to blend up.

Or we can enjoy something perhaps more mundane like our garam masala, where you can enjoy the flavour mix as well as its context.  The recipe is based on a Punjabi recipe that has been tweaked here in North Yorkshire, then has the context of being organic and Fairtrade, so you get kit that tastes fantastic, is good for the environment and has great social welfare attributes.

And it is not just about blends of spices and herbs, but we also go that extra mile for customers, searching out variety within individual spices.  There is a vast range of peppers, from the basic black peppercorns and white peppercorns through to speciality black pepper like the TGSEB we get from friends in Northern Kerala, the Wayanad Social Service Society and the more unusual peppers like cubeb pepper, long pepper and Madagascan wild pepper.  Or you could try some of the ersatz peppers, such as grains of paradise (Melagueta pepper), allspice (Jamaican pepper), Moor pepper or our vast range of chillies, that includes the mega-hot Naga Jolokia.

But I am particularly proud of Steenbergs vanilla.  As a standard, we have delicious, fragrant, succulent and sensual Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar.  It is organic and Fairtrade, and we use these for the base of our organic Fairtrade vanilla extract as well.  Then there is variety with vanilla from Congo that has tobacco notes to it, from Tahiti that is more floral and succulent than that of Madagascar.  I just love the vanilla.  Then there is the context of these that are grown with so much patience and effort by lovely rural communities in Northern Madagascar, for example around Mananara.

For me, what becomes more amazing as time goes by is the sense of community effort that goes into these small gems that are spices and herbs.  I am not really meaning the work that we do at Steenbergs, but rather the culture, the social structures, the economies and the people that go into growing that extra special vanilla or that amazing peppercorn.  It is they that are the true heroes and heroines and we should salute them by indulging ourselves to enjoy what they have spent time and effort creating, yet they have so little.  That for me is what I mean by context and that community effort gives Steenbergs that little bit more to it than just a rigid focus on the mechanics and standards of quality and value as demanded by those faceless high street and big brand corporations.

A Journey Back To True Korma Recipes (Part 2) – Banquet Style Korma

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Since my blog the other week, I have looked further into the concept and style of traditional korma recipes and have found them a fascinating social history and felt that a korma would be ideal for Diwali.  They seem to be a fusion recipe in the first place, so when Islam swept through Northern India and the Mughal Emperors became rulers of much of India with many smaller Princely States also being Islamic, they turned Westwards to Shiraz and the Royal Courts of Persia for inspiration in the arts and cuisine.  So korma morphed from a Persian style of food into an Indian cuisine, influenced by the nuances, tastes and flavours of the local culture and palates.

It is a showy style of food, which includes the more exclusive and so expensive spices and dried fruits and nuts.  We may not think of these as rich foods, but (at this time of year) think of Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and mincemeat – they are heavily spiced and full of dried fruits and nuts, all of which were expensive and exclusive ingredients for a feast day.  So it felt just ideal to make this korma for Diwali, Axel’s Diwali Korma, followed by a party-style Tea Infused Indian Rice Pudding, which will follow in a later blog.

So I took two recipes that read well and gave me the feeling that they would be good, then I adjusted the seasonings from grams to teaspoons and lowered the salt level, coming up with my own version of a true Imperial korma recipe.  My version is very light on chilli heat as I cook for our family, but you can tweak and adjust the level of heat to whatever you wish, but remember this is not a hot curry but a spiced and rich meal, so better to have a small bowl with fresh chillis in it for everyone to increase the heat themselves to suit their tastes rather than change the balance of the spice blend.  The key is adding saffron water at the end to add more liquid to the largely dried out yoghurt as well as to give my korma a rich intensity.

Adapted from Korma Asafjahi from Nizam of Hyderabad and Korma Shirazi from”Cooking delights Of The Maharajas” by Digvijaya Singh.

500g /1 lb lamb, chopped into 2cm / ½ inch dice
70g / 2½ oz ghee, sunflower or vegetable oil
25g / 1 oz flaked almonds
25g / 1 oz dried apricots, chopped into raisin sized pieces
12g / ½ oz raisins, soaked in water
5 cloves garlic, chopped finely
½ medium onion, chopped finely
2cm/ ½ inch  fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp chilli powder
1½ tsp paprika
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black pepper powder
1 tsp ground green cardamom
1½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1 green chilli, finely chopped and without seeds (optional, plus more if you want more heat)
Pinch of saffron, diluted in water*
300g / ½ lb thick yoghurt
4 eggs, hard boiled then cut into halves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.  Meaures out the spices and mix them together.

Korma Spices Measured Out

Korma Spices Measured Out

Onions, Ginger And Garlic

Onions, Ginger And Garlic

In a frying pan, heat half the ghee until hot, add the lamb pieces and fry quickly on a high heat until fully sealed.  Take off the heat and keep to the side.

Seal The Lamb By Frying In Ghee

Seal The Lamb By Frying In Ghee

In a separate casserole pot, heat the remaining ghee.  Fry the almonds and raisins separately to a golden colour and then set aside.  In the same ghee, fry the chopped onions, garlic and fresh ginger until golden brown, then add the spices and sugar and fry for 1 minute; add 2 tablespoons of water and cook until the water has dried up. 

Lightly Fried Almonds, Apricots and Raisins

Lightly Fried Almonds, Apricots and Raisins

Fry The Onions, Then Add The Spices And Fry Together

Fry The Onions, Then Add The Spices And Fry Together

Add the lamb to the onion-spice mix and stir.  Now add the yoghurt, stir well and cook until simmering, then place into oven for 1 hour, or (if cooking on hob) reduce the heat and cook for 1 hour, stirring occassionally to ensure the mix does not stick on the base of the pan.

Cook The Lamb In The Korma Sauce

Cook The Lamb In The Korma Sauce

When the meat is tender, add the almonds, apricots and raisins and stir quickly and cook for 1 minute at medium heat.  Finally, add the saffron infused water and coriander leaves, stir and cook for another 4 minutes on a low heat.

Lamb Korma

Lamb Korma

Imperial Style Korma Curry

Imperial Style Korma Curry

Serve immediately, decorated with the sliced eggs.  We ate ours with chana masala and homemade naan bread, which I am still experimenting with – this version was a bit heavy and thick, but was a much better recipe than the last which was way too yeasty.

* For an Imperial and more Arabian style flavour, infuse the saffron in 30ml of rose water.  Our kids do not like the flavour of rose water in their meat so we skip that added flavour.

Recipe For Chicken Tikka Masala

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

We had to rearrange our weekend as our daughter got chicken pox mid week, which meant her birthday party needed to be rearranged, childcare and cover at work needed to be sorted.  So with no baking to do for the weekend, I felt like making some of the Anglo-Indian curry classics  We start with the quintessential of fusion meals, Chicken Tikka Masala, which has become one of the icons of modern British food.

I like it in part because it tastes good, but also because it really is one of those evil meals that makes use of ingredients that I would never normally touch – Heinz tomato ketchup and Heinz tomato soup.  I know you can make a more authentic Indian sauce without these ingredients, but that misses the point about Chicken Tikka Masala, i.e. that it is tandoori chicken with a lightly spiced tomato-curry sauce using quick-to-hand ingredients; you can feel the panic of the chef who invented it – what do I do to make a tomato curry sauce? Oh I know tomato soup, tomato ketchup, tomato, cream and some spices with a dash of sourness from vinegar and see what happens.

So here is my version, which can be made hotter but this is designed to be child-friendly rather than adult-authentic, so if you want some heat added just add 2 – 4 green chillis to the tikka masala sauce and you should be okay.  Also, you could circumvent all the spices by using a tandoori masala for the chicken-yoghurt marinade and a tikka or Madras curry powder in the tikka sauce.

We also made lamb korma which I will write about soon.

Axel’s Chicken Tikka Masala

Stage 1: To marinade and roast the spiced chicken

1tsp organic paprika
½ tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted then ground in pestle & mortar
½ tsp nutmeg powder
½ tsp coriander powder
¼ tsp yellow mustard powder
1tsp garam masala
4 green cardamom pods, opened so the flavour from the seeds comes out
1 green chilli (medium heat), deseeded and chopped
2tbsp lime juice
3tbsp plain yoghurt
500g / 1lb chicken breast, chopped into 2cm / 1 inch cubes

Spices For Tikka Marinade

Spices For Tikka Marinade

Firstly prepare the spices, dry roasting the cumin and deseeding the green chilli.  Add all these to a metal or glass mixing bowl.  Stir in the lime juice until you have a paste, then add the yoghurt and mix through all the flavours. 

Finally, with the best chicken you can find or are happy buying, chop this into cubes and then add to the spicy marinade and stir through throughly.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in fridge to infuse with the flavours.  I try and leave it overnight but a minimum of 3 hours is fine. 

Chicken Pieces Infusing With Spices In Yoghurt Marinade

Chicken Pieces Infusing With Spices In Yoghurt Marinade

As for chilli, you can increase or decrease those quantities to suit your desire for heat; as we have two children, they are not too enamoured of over hot food so I tend to keep the heat quotient down for them.

On the next day, while you are making the tikka masala sauce, roast these curry flavoured chicken pieces by placing them evenly on a baking tray and cooking in a 180C / 350F oven for 20 – 25 minutes until nicely browned.

Roasted Tikka Chicken Pieces

Roasted Tikka Chicken Pieces

Stage 2: Making the tikka masala sauce

2tbsp ghee or sunflower/vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 large onion (1½ medium onions), chopped finely
½ sweet pepper (red or green), chopped into small dices
1cm / ½ inch fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp medium curry powder
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp coriander powder
¼ tsp chilli powder (or more to taste)
1tbsp white wine vinegar
4tbsp chopped tomatoes from a tin
1tbsp tomato ketchup, ideally Heinz as it should be slightly sweet
175ml  / ¾ cup tomato soup, once again ideally Heinz as the colour and sweetness is right
100ml / ½ cup single cream
½ tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped finely
½ tsp sea salt, or chaat masala

Spice Mix For Tikka Sauce

Spice Mix For Tikka Sauce

Start by preparing the spice mix that is needed for the sauce, i.e. the fresh ginger to coriander powder in the list.  When done, heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a frying pan.  Add the onions and garlic cloves and fry gently for 3 minutes until starting to get translucent, then add the chopped bell pepper and fry for another 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the spice mix to the onion-garlic-pepper and mix throughly and fry for about 1 minute. 

Gently Fry Onions, Garlic And Ginger In Ghee

Gently Fry Onions, Garlic And Ginger In Ghee

Now add all the liquid ingredients to the onion mix and stir completely – that is the white wine vinegar, chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato ketchup, Heinz tomato soup and single cream.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.  Then add in the garam masala, fresh coriander leaves and chaat masala/ salt.

Stage 3: Fusion Time – bringing it all together

As a final stage, add the roasted spicy chicken pieces to the tikka sauce.  Stir it together and let cook together for about 15 minutes.

Homemade Chicken Tikka Masala

Homemade Chicken Tikka Masala

Serve with rice and naan bread.

Perfecting A Carrot Cake Recipe

Thursday, October 14th, 2010
A Slice Of Carrot Cake

A Slice Of Carrot Cake

Jay kept on calling my “gingerbread” “carrot cake” over the last few weeks, so I took the hint and started trying to perfect a carrot cake recipe. 

The first few attempts did not go down with the kids as firstly they contained walnuts (“I always have hated walnuts” was the response, but in our household it is more of a case that if I can see it then I cannot/must not like it) and then I found them a bit too dry.  So walnuts removed and buttermilk added, I have come up with a carrot cake recipe that passes muster – moist and tasty.  You can always add the walnuts back in again should you so wish; I would suggest 115g / 4oz / 1 cup of chopped walnuts.

The kids got to the icing and topped it with a vast amount of sprinkles which they loved eating as much as the cake itself.  Overall, it is not a bad way to claim you have eaten one of your 5 -a-day.

For the cake:

175g / 6oz / ¾ cup unsalted butter
175g / 6oz / ¾ cup light muscovado sugar
3 egg yolks at room temperature and gently whisked
3 egg whites at room temperature
30ml / 2 tbsp sunflower oil or buttermilk 
175g / 6oz / 1½ cups organic self-raising flour
5ml /1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt, finely ground
¾ tsp organic cinnamon powder
½ tsp organic ground nutmeg
50g / 2oz / ½ cup ground almonds
225g / 8 oz / 1½ cups freshly grated carrot

For the icing:

175g / 6oz / ¾ cup mascarpone cheese, or cream cheese
40g / 1½oz / 3tbsp icing sugar
1tbsp lemon juice
Walnuts or sprinkles to decorate

Set the oven to 160C / 325F.  Line a large loaf tin with baking parchment (dimensions: 12 x 19cm; 4½ x 7½ inches).

Sieve the self-raising flour, salt, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder and baking powder together into a large mixing bowl.  Separate the egg yolks and whites; mix the egg yolks together gently with a fork or a whisk and set the egg whites aside. 

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a mixing bowl, then add in the soft brown sugar.  Cream together the butter and soft brown sugar.  Add the egg yolks and the buttermilk or oil and whisk until thoroughly mixed in.

Put Butter And Sugar In Mixing Bowl

Put Butter And Sugar In Mixing Bowl

Cream The Butter And Sugar

Cream The Butter And Sugar

Add the self-raising flour together with the other dry ingredients and the ground almonds; mix it all up with a silicone spatula or hand whisk. 

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add this and the grated carrots to the cake batter and fold in fully.

Add The Whipped Egg Whites And Stir In

Add The Whipped Egg Whites And Stir In

Scoop the carrot cake batter into the prepared loaf tin. 

Scoop The Carrot Cake Batter Into The Loaf Tin

Scoop The Carrot Cake Batter Into The Loaf Tin

Put into the centre of the warmed oven and bake for about 70 minutes.  As the hour comes up, start checking the carrot cake by gently pressing the top in the centre to feel whether it feels springy and spongy rather than liquidy; when done a skewer should come out without any dampness on it.

Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then turn out of loaf tin, remove the baking paper and allow to cool on a wire rack. 

Baked Carrot Cake, Cooled And Ready For Icing

Baked Carrot Cake, Cooled And Ready For Icing

When cool, it is time to start preparing the mascarpone ice cream.  To make the cream cheese icing, put all the icing ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix together thoroughly.  Spread this over the top of the carrot cake and decorate with sprinkles or walnuts or other nuts for that matter.

Spread The Mascarpone Icing Over The Carrot Cake

Spread The Mascarpone Icing Over The Carrot Cake

Decorate Your Carrot Cake

Decorate Your Carrot Cake

Enjoy with tea or a coffee, or indulge yourself and enjoy as is and without the excuse of a beverage.

Recipe For Rich Apple Cake

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The idea for this cake comes from the wonderful cook book “European Peasant Cookery” by Elisabeth Luard; it is her recipe for Apple Cake or Æblekage, which comes from Denmark.  “European Peasant Cookery” is one of those great cookbooks that is packed with recipes that will inspire you and has no pretty pictures to beguile you and get in the way of the cookery.

A Slice Of Rich Apple Cake

A Slice Of Rich Apple Cake

I have changed it quite a lot, switching self rasing flour for plain and increasing the number of eggs used, but the underlying concept remains the same – a rich, moist apple cake.  The result came out as a rich and fulsome apple cake that can be eaten hot or cold, as a cake or a pudding with custard or cream.  It is a delicious balance between the sweetness of the cake with the tart freshness of the cooking apples; it reminds me of Zwetschgendatschi, which is one of my favourite flavour memories buried deep in my soul from holidays spent in Bavaria around the Chiemsee.

Axel’s Apple Cake

500g / 1lb cooking apples, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 pinches of organic Fairtrade mixed spice
1tbsp Fairtrade caster sugar, or flavoured sugar like cinnamon or lemon sugar (if using cinnamon sugar, drop the mixed spice)
225g / 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature and chopped into cubes
195g / 6¾ oz Fairtrade caster sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature and whisked gently
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
195g / 6¾ oz organic plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp sea salt
½ tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
75g / 2½ oz organic ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F.  Take a 23cm / 9 inch cake tin and lightly oil the tin, remove any excess oil, then line the base with baking paper.

Windfall Apples From The Garden

Windfall Apples From The Garden

Go pick your apples, peel and core them, then slice thinly.  Place in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice over them all, then sprinkle with the caster sugar and a couple of pinches of mixed spice.  Thoroughly mix it up to make sure all slices are nicely coated with sugar and spice.  Leave until later.

Grind the ground almonds in a food processor to make them finer – I know it sounds weird but they are usually just too coarse.  Put to the side for use later in the recipe.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and Steenbergs vanilla extract and whisk up fully.  Sieve together the flour, baking powder, sea salt and cinnamon powder.  Add the flour mix into the cake batter and throughly mix up, then add the ground almonds and mix into the batter.

Sugar And Butter Ready For Mixing

Sugar And Butter Ready For Mixing

Cream The Sugar And Butter

Cream The Sugar And Butter

Mix In The Eggs And Flour Mix

Mix In The Eggs And Flour Mix

Pour half the cake batter into the cake tin, then layer over half the apple slices.  Cover with rest of cake mixture and then layer rest of apple slices over the top of the cake. 

Layer The Apples On The Cake Batter

Layer The Apples On The Cake Batter

Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  At around 1 hour, sprinkle the top of the cake with 1 tablespoon of sugar and start looking and checking the cake to ensure you catch it just when it is cooked.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in tin for about 10 minutes then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Home Made Apple Cake

Home Made Apple Cake

Serve warm with custard or whipped cream, or cold as a cake with double cream or on its own.