Fresh Cheese – In the Gnudi

Ricotta Gnudi and Tomato Chilli Sauce

Naked Food

Following on from my cheese making efforts, I thought that I could have a go at making ricotta. Literally translated as “twice cooked”, ricotta is right up my alley, as a way to reduce waste, and maximise leftovers. So I set about gently heating the whey left from my mozzarella to 92ºC,  and left it to cool to about 60ºC, before straining it through a thick muslin. I was so dismayed to find that it yielded next to no additional curds – 35 g to be precise.

35 g Ricotta

Bitter curds

Convinced it was something I had done badly, I turned to Google for reassurance. Whilst the technique was sound, it appears that the whey is acid, which is not conducive to making ricotta, which needs a “sweet whey”, or one that is produced from bacterial coagulation, instead of one brought on by acid. I probably should have done a bit more homework on that before I started, it would have saved time and gas!

Not one to be put off by such things, I bottled up the whey for later use. And made more mozzarella with unpasteurised milk. Having nothing to lose, and because I wanted the whey from this batch, I decided to try and extract more curds in the only way I knew.This time, I also strained it through cheesecloth, although I found that I couldn’t squeeze this out, because the curds simply fell through it.

The difference was amazing, I got 200 g of fresh, soft curds! Whilst it is perfectly possible to make cheese with any kind of milk, I think using unpasteurised milk pays off, if you can get it. I may also have a go with milk powder just to see if this is a cheaper alternative. Plus I have a lot of rennet that I need to use up now.

I have always fancied having a go at ricotta gnudi – soft Italian pillows, not dissimilar to light gnocchi. Gnudi (pronounced nyoo-dee) are, as the name suggests, “naked” ravioli. That is; they are the ravioli filling, naked of its customary pasta. They are best served with the simplest of sauces. The Big Guy and I were both coming down with colds, and so I wanted some chilli spikes in this sauce. I wavered over chilli, garlic and olive oil; but in the end settled on a tomato sauce with chilli, in order to take it from a starter to more of a main course with the addition of a nice green salad.

As well as a delivering a lovely pasta dish, my inner four year old enjoys sniggering when I announce what is on the menu. Reports that such pronouncements were accompanied with an impromptu dance of joy are totally unfounded. Cheese Please blog badge As you have probably guessed by now, This is yet another entry for the Cheese, Please! fresh cheese challenge. I have enjoyed myself this month, and you know I hate waste, so I’m determined to use up every last bit of the milk.

Recipe: Ricotta Gnudi With Tomato and Chilli Sauce

Ingredients

For the Ricotta:
Whey from making any type of cheese, the best being sweet whey from bacterial coagulation, otherwise unpasteurised acid whey will be good.

For the Pasta Sauce:
1 tbsp oil
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped, removing the seeds are optional
1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
250 g tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper

For The Gnudi:
200 g ricotta
Zest of one lemon
Good grind of black pepper
1 tsp thyme leaves
40 g parmesan, plus more for garnish
1 egg, lightly beaten
Approx 70 g plain flour
Large knob of butter, 1 tsp and the thyme stalks for cooking

Method

Heating whey to 92ºC to make ricotta

It’s Getting Hot in Here

Make ricotta by heating the whey gently to a temperature of 92ºC. You will need to watch it, especially as the temperature exceeds 85ºC, because you do not want this to boil over, unless you especially like cleaning. Allow the whey to cool again, to a minimum of 60ºC, but preferably lower.

Strain through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth into a container large enough to hold the whey. Keep this for more things later – such as some pizza dough, other bread, stock, soups, and something else I have up my sleeve for later this week.

What you have left is ricotta. You will need to use a spoon or a spatula to remove it from the cloth. If you have left it to dry long enough, you may have to crumble it off. This is great in sweet and savoury dishes – I’ve even found recipes for ice cream. What you do with it is up to you.

For the sauce, sweat the onion in the oil until translucent. Add  the chilli and the garlic to the pan, and allow to cook for a minute. Next, add the tomatoes, and cook them down on a low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent them sticking. When the sauce is thick and the gnudi are ready,  season to taste.

While the sauce is cooking, make the gnudi. Mix together the ricotta, zest, thyme, pepper, parmesan cheese and the egg. Gradually add the flour, and mix in until the mixture forms a ball. It may take a bit more or a bit less than 70 g flour.

Shape the gnudi with wet hands. A lot of people shape them into balls, but I liked to form more elliptical gnudi. Put them on baking paper, or another non-stick surface.

Get a deep pan full of boiling water with the salt, butter and thyme stalks in. It is important to have the pan at a rolling boil. Put the gnudi into the water and cook for about 5 minutes. When they are cooked, they will float. Drain with a slotted spoon, and add to the sauce. You may also need a tablespoon or two of the water that you cooked the gnudi in to loosen up the sauce.

Coat the gnudi with the sauce, then serve immediately with a sprinkling of extra parmesan cheese.

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A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza Party

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza

 

Do you remember those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you had as a child? The ones where if you wanted your hero to fight the dragon, you should turn to page eight, but if you preferred her to choose the better part of valour and retreat to come up with a cunning plan, then you should head straight for page thirty-four. All of the building blocks were there; you just had to decide how to put them all together to come up with what you hoped would be a sensible plot. I have stumbled upon the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure pizza as the perfect way to cater a party.

Of course, I cannot lay claim to the invention of choosing toppings for pizza any more than I can, or would, the adventure books. Children’s cafés have been doing this for years. What I didn’t foresee was what a low stress way it would be to feed adults too, nor how much fun they would have doing it either.

Picking out the perfect pizza - fun for kids and adults

Relaxed dining

Normally, I am rushing about at dinner parties, because I make a lot of food, often that has to be prepared at once. I am not one of these people who comes up with dishes that can be prepared in advance. If you are like me, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure pizza party is a great way to allow you to relax. Everything was made in good time for the guests to arrive, or sliced, as appropriate, and laid out on the dining room table so people could choose what to put on it.

Of course, because it was me, I had made most of the components, including the mozzarella, and the smoked mozzarella, as well as the dough, and the pizza sauce. I didn’t make the charcuterie, though, maybe that is for another pizza party another time. But in general, it was pretty relaxed, with no fancy elements to put on, or to be pureeing as the guests arrived. I also split the dough into individual portions, and placed them ready and waiting for the final proving inside a ziploc bag. All in all, it was a success, low stress, meant I got time with my guests to have fun, and they got time to make the pizza of their choice.

Breakfast Pizza - Bacon, sausage, mushrooms, spinach and egg

Breakfast Pizza

We even had two servings of dough and just enough pizza sauce leftover the next day to make the perfect hangover breakfast, with bacon, sausage, mushroom, spinach and the egg. The dough kept well in the fridge, and should freeze well too.

Made with Love Mondays

And, because I made all of the elements of the pizzas, and my friends loved to make their own, I’ve decided to enter them into this week’s Made with Love Monday hosted by Mark of Javelin Warrior. Of course, it will also appear in the round-up post for this month’s Cheese, Please! because I used the fresh cheeses that I made, and the dough had the whey from the cheese in it.

Also,

Recipe: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza

Ingredients

Home-made mozzarella

Home-smoked mozzarella

Pizza dough – I made 2 double batches of this recipe,which is really great, but I used whey from the cheese making in place of the water, which worked out really well

For the Pizza Sauce:
The amounts given below is enough for 4 individual pizzas. I made enough for 20, but I’ve scaled it down here.
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic
Splash red wine
200  g tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano (flowers and all), or 1 tsp dried

For the Toppings:
Whatever you feel appropriate, really. I used
Red onion, sliced
Raw mushrooms, sliced,
Raw pepper, deseeded and sliced
Artichoke hearts
Blue cheese
Ham
Chorizo
Fennel sausage
Speck
Cooked spinach
Eggs
Olives
Method

On the morning of your party, make the mozzarella, and bodge up a smoker to smoke about half (or buy both, I won’t judge).

Make up the dough, according to the recipe I’ve linked to – or use another favourite of yours. Allow to prove for 90 minutes. You can totally relax or eat lunch, or do whatever you like for a bit at this point – most unusual for getting ready to host a crowd.

At some point chop up and lay out your toppings, in a very leisurely fashion. You even have time to decide you should offer pineapple after all, and run out to get some. It’s up to you.

Fold over the dough, as Dan shows you in the recipe I linked to. Leave it to sit for another half an hour. Treat yourself to a cup of tea – or something stronger if you prefer.

Divide the dough into your ziploc bags, and place them on the table with the rest of your toppings.

Then you need to make up your sauce. In a frying pan, so that you can get a lot of evaporation, soften the red onion. Add the garlic and cook off until the scent hits you.

Splash a good helping of red wine into the pan and cook until it has almost evaporated. Finally, add the tomatoes and oregano. Cover the pan with a lid for about five minutes, until the tomatoes breakdown a little. Remove the lid and cook on a medium heat, until the sauce is really thick. Put this in a large bowl on the centre of the table.

Serve up the mozzarella, and open the smoker, hoping you still have resplendent balls, and not smoky little discs, unlike mine. Even if they are, use them anyway.

Stand back and watch the children show the adults how to get stuck into the shaping and topping of their pizzas, closely followed by the adults trying to top one another’s efforts.

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Goodness Gracious! Great Balls of Smoke?

Smoked Mozzarella

Holy Smokes!

Having made my own mozzarella, I got a little bolder with my cheese, and decided that I should smoke it. I was given a hot smoker for my birthday and I was going to use it. A quick scour of the internet later, and again mostly inspired by The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, I realised that all of the smoking is done in a cold smoker, which I don’t have. Not one to be put off by such things, I thought that I could rig something up with the hot smoker, to do just as well. So the Big Guy and I put our heads together and decided upon what I still think is a very good bodge job.

As you can see from the photo above, I didn’t quite manage it, but I am onto something, and think with a few more goes I could get it right. The lovely round balls on the right here are scamorza that I bought from the market to try to determine what wood they use for the smoke. I managed to make great discs of smoke, rather than the balls I’d hoped would be there.However, the smoke flavour was very good, and so I was happy enough with the result.

So, in case you are ever mad enough to try hot smoking cheese yourself, this is how I did it.

Improvising a cold smoker from a hot one

Smoking Rig

Firstly, I knew I had to elevate the cheese as far away from the flame as I could, while still being within the realm that I could feasibly wrap in foil, which I would need to seal in the smoke, because the lid would not allow me to elevate the cheese. I have a small shopping basket thing that I was given one Christmas. It’s supposed to be a kitchen or bathroom tidy, but was metal and grill shaped, so perfect for my needs. You could also use the racks you find in combi microwaves, or invent your own bodge job.

Alder and Oak chips for smoking mozzarella

Smoking Mix

For the smoking mix, I thought that I’d chance my arm with a mix of alder and oak chips. I wanted all oak smoke, which is stronger, but I also needed something to have enough size to keep smoking when I turned off the heat source – because the cheese really would not hold up to continuous heat. As you can see from the photo, the oak chips on the top are really small, and I couldn’t be sure that they would continue to smoke without help, so I added the alder in an attempt to keep it smoking for longer.

Concertinering foil to make a larger smoker

Concertina Action

We tried to wrap the foil using the lip around the smoker, but could not get a good enough seal, so we decided that we would have to wrap the whole smoker up in a parcel. To seal the seams, we had to concertina long strips of foil, large enough to encase the smoker. We needed four widths, so it is a lot more foil than you think you will need.

A Frame for the cheese to rest on

A is for Almost an A Frame

Then I rigged up the cheese platform. I draped a simple piece of cheesecloth over the kitchen tidy, butI didn’t want the foil to fall in on the cheese, in case it conducted heat straight onto it.  So, I rigged up a kind of A-frame with some chopsticks, and I placed some pastry dough scraps I had leftover from cooking an apple pie over the top to prevent them piercing the foil.

Foil wrapped smoker

Fumer en Papillote

Then I wrapped the whole thing in foil, and sealed it tightly by scrunching up the edges. I put it on the smallest hob on my stove, and heated gently to make the smoke start. When the smell of smoke was pretty strong, I would turn off the heat, and just allow the cheese to sit in the smoke that was created. When I could no longer smell the smoke, about every 10-15 minutes, I would turn the heat on again, for a few minutes, and then let the cheese sit in the smoke again. I did this for 2 hours.

After an hour, I checked the cheese by opening a little of one seam and shining a torch into the gap. They were definitely still whole and plump and round then. I think that the problem was that in the second hour, I got distracted by cutting up toppings for the pizzas, and the heat may have stayed on a little longer than I had hoped for a couple of the times. I think if I make sure that I am not distracted, and leave the heat on for no more than two minutes each time, then I will be more successful.

Cheese Please blog badge

I was very pleased with the smoke, and I would use the smoke mix again. The flavour was rich, but not overwhelming. And I still believe that the gentle heat and then allowing the cheese to sit will work, maybe I need to experiment with the total time that the cheeses smoke for. However, I want to enter this to Cheese, Please! hosted by Fromage Homage, and so I have posted these very tasty smoke discs, in order to qualify in time.

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Speculoos Ice Cream; Get Some Special Lotus in Your Life

Speculaas Ice Cream

Lotus Paste Without the Postage

When I used to do Foodie Penpals, many people would yearn for a jar of Speculoos (or Biscoff) paste in their parcel, and would covet jars sent to others. Since I live in the Netherlands, I have ready access to a supply from Lotus (original and best), if I should want any, which I mostly don’t. But, posting jars is expensive, especially since the smallest size they make is 400 g, so I decided to make my own. People make their own nut butters and choc-nut butters, so it couldn’t be that hard, right?  So I thought, until I actually looked at the ingredients.

It is mostly oil – palm, and rapeseed; sugar of one kind or another; rice and soya flours; and stabilisers. I won’t buy palm oil, so I  would really struggle to get the consistency right.

Last summer, I happened to read this recipe for Specunana Brownies. I won’t be making these, because I can’t eat bananas. But, Camilla’s photo with the brownies and ice cream really inspired me. I knew then that the best way to give speculoos to others without having to pay excess postage would be to make a speculoos ice cream, and write down the recipe for you all to enjoy.

I have entire notebooks (and a draft blog post) where I scribble down ideas that I have. If I live to be a million, I won’t live long enough to make them all, but it doesn’t stop me. Every so often, I go back over them, and I came across this one again recently. I had some egg yolks going spare, so I decided to give speculoos ice cream a go.

Speculaas Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, aniseeds, cloves, peppercorns

Speculaas Spices

David Lebovitz makes a cinnamon ice cream using whole spices. I like this approach, and so I based my own recipe on as much whole spice as I could, whilst remaining true to the speculaas spice. As David suggests, you also have the option of adding more ground speculaas spice mix before you freeze it. If you aren’t near the Netherlands around the beginning of December, then you can always make up the spice mix I have used for my Kruidnoten. I found that with the amounts I used, I didn’t need it, but the strength of spice can vary hugely. I waited only until the custard had cooled, because I was happy with the taste – anything eaten cold will lose flavour, so the original base must have real depth. You can leave it overnight to be sure, if you prefer. If you do need to add some ground spice, add half a teaspoon at a time, mix well (there may be lumps), and taste before adding more.

Another main ingredient in the Lotus speculoos spread is brown sugar. I knew it would give the ice cream its classic colour, but I didn’t want it to be the dominant flavour. So I settled for a couple of tablespoons, which worked perfectly.

I don’t have an ice cream machine, so I made mine by hand. It will be quicker, but just as good if you use a machine, I’m sure.

This ice cream is a smooth and as tasty as the original spread,  just colder. So, instead of having Speculoos/ Biscoff envy, why not make your own?

Spice Trail Blog Badge

And since there is plenty of ginger in this recipe, I’m going to enter it for the Bangers and Mash Spice Trail.

Recipe: Speculoos Ice Cream

Ingredients

500 ml double cream
700 ml milk
5 cinnamon sticks
About 1/4 whole nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground ginger
10 cloves
1/4 tsp aniseed
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
100 g caster sugar
2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
6 egg yolks

Method

I made a handmade ice cream before, with pictures. The ice cream may be a different colour, but the steps are the same.

Break up the cinnamon sticks slightly into big chunks with a pestle. Then place the milk, cream and all of the spices into a saucepan. Heat to just below boiling point. Remove from the heat, and set aside for at least half an hour to steep. Once the spices have worked their magic, strain through a fine sieve.

Bring the milk back up to just under boiling point. Whisk together the egg yolks and both sugars until they are light and creamy. You’ll be making a custard base for the ice cream.

Put the bowl containing the eggs and sugar onto a damp cloth, so you can pour and whisk without the custard going everywhere. Very slowly, add the warm milk to the eggs and sugar, whisking all of the time. You must take your time with this stage, or the egg will scramble.

Once all of the milk and egg are combined, return it to the pan. Heat gently, stirring constantly to stop the milk from catching on the bottom. Do not allow the milk to boil; again, you’ll get spicy, scrambled eggs. When the custard has thickened so that  it leaves a line when you run a finger down the back of the spoon you are stirring with, it is done. Return it to the bowl you used to beat the eggs and sugar in.

Now you need to cool it down quickly. Run a sink full of the coldest water you can manage. You need enough water to come most of the way up the bowl that you are using, but the water must not get into the custard, or it won’t thicken. Place the bowl of custard in the sink and stir while it cools.

Taste the custard. If the flavour is already really deep, then you can proceed to freezing. If you are at all unsure, then refrigerate the custard overnight, and see how it tastes when it is much colder. If you don’t think there is enough flavour, then by all means add some ground speculaas spice. If you need to add ground spice, then you will need to give the custard a really good whisk, to avoid lumps of spice in the mix.

Pour into freezable containers with a lid on. I use recycled ice cream containers, which are perfect for the job.  Put the lids on, and freeze for an hour.

I always make custard with a balloon whisk, because it gives me more control, and doesn’t make the custard froth too much, which will give a weird consistency. However, I always churn the ice cream with an electric whisk, to really make smooth ice cream. Remove the ice cream into a mixing bowl, using a spatula to make sure there are no crystals left around the edges. Churn the ice cream until smooth, using the electric whisk. Return to the container, and refreeze. Repeat churning and refreezing until you have a thick, but smooth ice cream, then leave to freeze completely overnight.

Remove from the freezer about 10 minutes before serving.

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From Milk to Mozzarella

Home made Mozarella balls

Milk Solids

This month, I have got quite a few cheese posts on the way, inspired by the Cheese, Please! Challenge over at Fromage Homage. As soon as she announced that the challenge this month was to be fresh cheese, I knew I wanted to play. My mind was racing over the possibilities (of which, more to come), but I have a birthday party coming up and I want to let the kids make pizzas (with ingredients made from scratch, of course!). The obvious place to start on my fresh cheese odyssey is with mozzarella. I’m probably going to enter all of my recipes in one larger round-up post at the end of the month, but I am going to share the individual recipes that I make with all the fresh cheeses too.

So, we’ll start at the very beginning; a very good place to start; mozzarella, a fresh cheese with bounce!

I looked around online, and decided that mozzarella from scratch can’t be that hard, can it? I quickly found a few nice recipes, which I cobbled together to come up with my techniques I share here. Most of the recipes include using a microwave, which I don’t have. Instead I have been most inspired by the Barefoot Kitchen Witch and the techniques used in this post from the New England Cheese Supply Company.

Cheese Please blog badge

Making one’s own mozzarella counts as a fresh cheese recipe, doesn’t it? So I think it will be a great entry for Cheese, Please! And even if it is really only precursor for the actual recipes, it doesn’t matter, it was pretty simple, I had a lot of fun, and I have the softest hands I have had in ages, so that’s an added bonus!

Recipe: Home Made Mozzarella

Ingredients

2 l milk – you can use whole, semi skimmed, pastuerised or whatever you like really. The only milk that doesn’t work is UHT.
¾ tsp citric acid, dissolved in 60 ml blood temp water
2 drops vegetarian rennet in 30 ml cold water
Salt to taste

If you do not have a measuring jug that allows you to measure such small amounts of liquid, remember that 1 ml of water =1 g, so you might find it a lot easier to simply weigh the water.

In the Netherlands, rennet is called stremsel, which I personally think sounds a lot nicer. The great news, whatever you call it, is that vegetarian and original rennet are widely available. My regular online brewshop stocks all varieties, as well as citric acid, which is great for me!

In addition to the ingredients, it is a good idea to gather together the equipment you will need before you start.

Equipment

Large saucepan
Thermometer, preferably one that can measure low temps
Cheesecloth or muslin, sterilised by boiling
Sieve
Slotted spoon
At least four large bowls
Boiling water
Ice

Method

Curds after citric acid and gentle heat

Lemon/ Curd

Add the milk to your saucepan, with the dissolved citric acid. Heat gently until it gets to 32ºC. If, like me, your thermometer will not measure that low (I used my jam thermometer, which starts at 60ºC), heat very gently until your curds look like the photo above. When you stick a (clean) finger in it, it will feel cooler than you, but not that much.

Curds after adding rennet and heating

Rennet Ready

Add the rennet water, and heat a little bit more to 37-38 degrees. Again, if your thermometer doesn’t go that low, then use the photo above. You will not feel a temperature difference if you stick your finger in this liquid.

Curds after rennet and with rest

Curd Wayhey!

Take the curds from the heat, then allow to sit for 5 minutes or so. You will clearly see the separation of the curds and the whey, which will look more watery. Cut the curds crossways with a sharp knife.

Fresh Curds

Fresh Curds

Line your sieve with a cheesecloth, or muslin square, and place over one of the bowls. With a slotted spoon, remove the curds from the pan, and put them in the sieve. They will look quite wet, like above. Cut and fold them over with the slotted spoon, to get rid of some more of the whey.

Curds, after most of the whey has run off

Whey Less!

The curds will go from watery to looking much drier, and will lose quite a lot of volume. Don’t throw away the whey, it has a lot of uses, and keeps for a long time in the fridge.

Curds, after initial kneading

Curd Need

Remove the curds to a separate bowl, and knead for a little bit, until it looks a lot less lumpy. Boil enough water to allow you to sit your sieve on a third bowl, so that the sievey bit is submerged. Get a different bowl of iced water ready as well.

Place the curds in the sieve in the hot water, and allow them to pour, stretch and fold off the slotted spoon. I’m sorry, I didn’t get a good picture of this, because it’s pretty hard to do this and photograph yourself, and the Big Guy was at work. Anyway, it will start to get more stretchy and smoother as you go on.

Curds getting smoother and sretchier

Come Together

As the water cools, the cheese will stop stretching. Once this happens, boil a kettle again. While it is boiling, remove the curds to the bowl and knead some more. At this stage, add some salt to taste, and knead to mix well.

Stretchy Cheese

Nearly There

Repeat submerging in the boiled water, stretching and then kneading until you have a stretchy, pliable cheese. You can either shape this as one large ball, or divide it into smaller balls if you prefer.

Shaped Mozzarella ball

Cheese Balls

I found it easier to use the hot water for one final shaping. I used the sieve and the slotted spoon to roll the cheese around in the hot water to make a ball shape.

Once you have shaped the cheese, submerge in iced water. Mozzarella should be used fresh, but can be stored in briney water the fridge for up to 4 days.

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Aye Crumble!

Apple Crumble and Custard

A Faithful Friend

Today’s post is for my Brother Out-Law (since the Big Guy and I are not married, otherwise he would be my in-law!). Whenever I need a relatively simple dessert, that I can  make up quickly, but that can sit in the oven while we eat a main course, I always fall back on a crumble. Good, comforting, and a great way of using up fruit if you find yourself with a glut; or if you were tempted at the market, but now they are sitting there looking sad, and you need something to use them up with.

I made a pear and apple crumble for the Big Guy’s sister and her family for just such an occasion over Christmas. They asked if I would be blogging the recipe. At first, I resisted, because it is a common dessert. Except, it is a common British Dessert (and in the US, where it is called a Crisp, for reasons I am unable to fathom). It was quickly pointed out that a lot of different people read my blog, including my Swedish family, and they may not think it that common. So, I relented, and here is my version of crumble.

Let’s be honest, crumble is never going to be fine dining, but it is always a great dish to have as a standby for when you need to serve up a tasty dessert.

You can, and probably should, serve a crumble with ice cream, custard or pouring cream. I served this one for dessert after the Beer Can Chicken with some warm, thick custard that I made up using my usual custard methodology. This may have been served in the Netherlands, but you really can’t get more British than that.

Made with Love Mondays

Since I always make crumble and custard from scratch, and always with a lot of love, I’m going to add this to this week’s Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Mark at Javelin Warrior. I haven’t joined this in quite a while, but I always enjoy the posts.

Ingredients
For the crumble:
120 g plain flour
40 g cold butter
50 g rolled oats (you may need a bit more if you use cut oats, for texture)
50 g nuts, roughly chopped
3 tbsp demerara sugar
Fruit of your choice
Butter to grease the dish and dot on the top of the crumble
For the custard:
2oo ml double cream
150 ml milk
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
65 g caster sugar

Method

Rubbing in the Flour and the Butter

Rubbing in the Flour and the Butter

Make the crumble mix. Cut the butter into small cubes, and add to the flour and then rub into the flour, using your fingers and thumbs. Keep going until they look like fine breadcrumbs.

Flour and butter at the fine breadcrumb stage

Stop When the Mixture Looks Like This

You can use rolled or cut oats in this mix, but since their inclusion is as much about texture as they are about flavour, you will need more if you use cut oats.

Roughly chopped nuts

Roughly Chopped for Texture

You can also use whatever nuts you like, or leave them out altogether if you prefer. I have happily used whole almonds, blanched, or flaked, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts. I’ve also used pumpkin seeds, although these burn a bit easier than nuts. I’m confident that walnuts, pecans or brazil nuts will work just as well. They do not top my list of favourite nuts, so I rarely have them in the house.

This another one of those recipes where you can play fairly fast and loose with what you add. For a real crumble you must have the flour, butter and sugar. I personally think that oats are essential, although this may be controversial in some quarters. In fact, I have also used muesli at a push, which I substituted for both the oats and the nuts. I did remove the dried grapes, because the layers you use are thin, and the currants/ raisins will burn. I dislike burnt currants, but you may be of a different opinion, in which case, use muesli and leave the dried grapes in to your heart’s desire.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the flour and butter, except one tbsp of the sugar, and mix thoroughly.

Then, grease an oven proof dish well with butter. Place large chunks of fruit across the base of the dish in a single layer. Again, it is pretty much anything goes. You can use a single fruit, like the traditional apple, or more unusual peach. You can mix it up; combinations like rhubarb and strawberry, or apple and pear work well. I have added chopped crystallised ginger, and herbs and spices. What you add is up to you. If you are adding fruits that will exude a lot of liquid, such as rhubarb, plums or peaches, then you may find stirring a tablespoon of plain flour through the fruit before you put it in the dish will help stop the juices soaking into the crumble topping, and leaving you with a steaming bowl of soggy disappointment.

Pre-Baked Crumble

Pre-Baked Crumble

Sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit in a thin layer. It needs to coat the fruit, but not be too thick, or it will be claggy when you come to eat it. If there is any topping leftover, don’t worry, this mixture freezes really well, and you can save it for a time when you want to make a smaller crumble – maybe one just for yourself, made in a smaller pot or ramekin. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the crumble, and dot here and there with a little butter.

Put in the centre of the hot oven, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the fruit is cooked, and topping is golden brown. If you have quick cooking fruit, cook in the oven until the fruit is done, then finish browning the topping under the grill.

Serve warm with custard or ice cream.

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Beer Can Chicken and Gravy: Is This The Perfect Roast?

Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken: Tasty, Crispy-Skinned, Moist.

For a while now, the internet has been going on about beer can chickens. As the name suggests, this is chicken, usually cooked over a barbecue, with a beer can inserted where the sun don’t shine.

The other day, the Big Guy wanted a simple roast, and I have been thinking about giving this a go, since I saw Lisa Allen do something similar in the Great British Menu. Like me, she wasn’t going to light a barbecue just for the one dish. I am glad for this, since February in the Netherlands is the perfect time for roasting meat, but not the perfect time for barbecues.

Anyway, I think that is where the similarity ends. I vaguely remembered her rubbing a marinade on the chicken, with which she used paprika and mustard, but didn’t actually look this recipe up until the chicken was roasting away quite happily. She marinated hers in beer overnight, which I didn’t. And she used pale ale, whereas I just used any old lager I found in the cupboard. Our spice rub was similar, but not identical, and she rubbed butter under the skin, which, again, I did not do. Do you know what? I’ve no idea how her chicken would have tasted, but this was blooming delicious.

Having the bird propped upright during the cooking process actually gives a more even roast. Even with a grill to allow the meat juices to pass through, a normally-cooked chicken does not really get the same crisp to the skin, and having the legs falling away from the bird meant that I didn’t get the normal issue of the breast meat cooking before the legs did. The beer kept it moist, and helped to make the gravy really tasty. It also needs a bit less cooking time. It did just start to catch on the top, as you can see, so you do need to watch it towards the end of the cooking time, in case it, like all good conspiracy theorists, could do with a tin foil hat.

Since I never cook a roast just for the Big Guy and I, I invited a newly-resident friend over, to welcome her to the Netherlands. For some reason, we started talking about gravy browning (I’ve no idea how these things come up in conversation, really). She was curious how to see how I made gravy. She said her Danish grandmother would not approve of my method, but she was impressed with the colour I managed to get, despite not using gravy browning. I agreed that I would add the recipe to this post, so that she can practice coloured gravy without the browning.

The Perfect Roast: Beer Can Chicken, Gravy and Veg

The Perfect Roast

I think this could be the best way to roast a bird; producing succulent meat, and crispy skin. I’m sure that this could be a controversial position, however. What do you think is the best roast?

Recipe: Beer Can Chicken and Gravy

Ingredients

For the Chicken:
1 whole chicken
150 ml of beer, kept in the can it comes in, otherwise this won’t be beer can chicken, plus 2 tbsp for the marinade
½ tsp English mustard powder
½ tsp chili powder
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp dark muscovado sugar

For the Gravy:
Meat juices and a little of the fat from the pan,
2 tbsp plain flour
200 ml beer, from cooking the chicken
200 ml chicken stock
Pinch of salt

Method

Beer Can Chicken, before Roasting

Oven-Ready Chicken

Make paste with 2 tbsp beer, the spices and the sugar. Rub into the chicken and marinate for a while. I did an hour but longer would be better, up to 4 hours would be ideal. Keep any leftover marinade for later.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

When the chicken has finished marinating, pierce 4-5 holes in the sides of the can, near the top, so that they are clear of the remaining liquid.  This is easily achieved with an old-fashioned can opener, or corkscrew. Then place the chicken over the can, so it goes into the cavity from the leg side. As long as the chicken can stand on the can, it doesn’t matter too much how far it inserts, but it mustn’t topple over.

Rub or paint a little more marinade over the chicken, and put it in the oven, standing up on the can. The chicken should stand clear of the top by at least 5 cm. After 20 minutes, baste the chicken with any leftover marinade, and the pan juices, and turn the oven down to 160°C. Roast for a total of 45 mins, to one hour, depending on the size of the bird. Mine was 1.6 kg, and took about 50 minutes. Test to see if it  is done, by piercing the thickest part of the thigh, and seeing if the juices run clear.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove the beer can carefully from the cavity. Tent it loosely with aluminium foil, not too tightly,  or the chicken will continue to cook. Leave to rest for 20 minutes.

While the bird is resting, get the gravy going.

Remove most of the fat from the pan, being very careful not to pour off the precious meat juice. You will see the difference – the fat is clear and the meat juices are brown and beautiful. Once you have removed as much as you can, put the roasting pan on your hob, so that it rests over two rings. Turn on the one closest to you, on a low heat, you don’t want both on at this stage, because all the precious scrapings from the pan could burn. Add the flour over the ring that you have just turned on. Add a spoonful of the fat back to the pan, along with the flour, mix well, and keep stirring to cook the flour through until it turns a light brown.

Turn on both rings of the hob on a high heat, and add the beer from the chicken cavity. Stir like crazy while the pan comes to the boil. Deglaze the pan, which will flavour and bring depth to your gravy. Once the beer is boiling, add the stock. If  you prefer, you can now remove the gravy to a saucepan, which reduces the risk of things burning. Stir well, and cook over a medium heat until the gravy thickens a little. Season to taste.

Serve the gravy piping hot over your well rested meat, and with the vegetables of your choice.

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Show Some Love This Valentine’s – If You Must

melting moents with grapefruit cream

Melting Moments – When Your Work’s Worth Sharing

I come from a fairly stoical family, who are not big on physical affection. We prefer friendly pats on the back to full-blown hugs.  When I got my A Level results, my Mum had to tell my Dad to give me a hug to show he was proud of me. I knew anyway, and he knew that I knew; but we hugged for my Mum’s sake, and it was awkward. That hug has stuck with me for 20 years, so it just goes to show that it was a Momentous Occasion. We show love through our merciless mickey-taking – and long may it continue!

It will come as no surprise whatsoever to you then, when I confess that I do not have a romantic bone in my body (and whenever I have spare bones hanging about, I tend to make stock from them, so even if I had, it wouldn’t have lasted that long). Cut flowers and chocolates will not woo me (although edible seeds and chocolate as an ingredient would win my heart  in a flash). George, from the Famous Five, was more my style than Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty. I have never dreamed of fairytale weddings, or handsome princes. My dreams were more likely to feature horses and hansom cabs! The Big Guy and I have never celebrated Valentine’s Day. I think he would love to be a bit more romantic on a more consistent basis, but I don’t like all that soppy stuff.

So, in light of this information, you may surprised to find a Valentine’s post on Edible Things. Not to worry, I am not being inconsistent. We have an organisation-wide meeting on today, and the HR department thought it would be a good excuse to have a bit of a celebration, so they asked us all to show our colleagues some love for Valentine’s, by making each other some fair food.

This set me off in a bit of a panic; if I can’t see what is romantic about a meal for the Big Guy, how was I ever going to come up with something original and interesting for my workmates? So, I turned to Facebook (whilst love may make me queasy, I’m always happy for people to show their likes…) to ask folks over there what they thought. I got some great suggestions but when Emma mentioned melting moments, with a passion fruit filling, I knew this was the perfect thing to serve up. And that I was going to make and blog about passion fruit curd. To me, this is the king of the fruit curds, tart and sweet. Unfortunately, no passion fruits were to be found, so I settled for the next best thing; ruby grapefruit. Once citrus is well cooked, most of it will go orange, so don’t be disappointed to find that you haven’t got a ruby coloured curd.

Ruby Grapefruit Curd

You Ain’t in Kansas Anymore

The curd needs to have time to cool before you use it in the filling, so you should make it the day before you bake the biscuits.

These easy and delicious treats look, and taste impressive. When all’s said and done, what better way to show your colleagues that you are fond of them?

Recipe: Melting Moments With Grapefruit Curd Filling

Ingredients

For the Curd (makes 2 jars):

Zest of one, unwaxed grapefruit

200 ml grapefruit juice

125 g butter

450 g sugar

200 ml beaten egg (about 4)

For the Melting Moments:

125 g softened butter

115 g plain flour

45 g icing sugar

50 g custard powder (or cornflour and a tsp of vanilla extract)

For the Filling:

200 ml double cream

Method

Making the curd isn’t hard, but does require patience. Firstly, sterilise your jars, by washing in hot water and placing in a low oven, or by running them and the lids through a hot cycle on the dishwasher. You can seal curd with cellophane,  but if you use lids, these will need to be boiled as the curd is approaching doneness.

There are two methods for cooking curd – direct and indirect heat. The direct method is quicker, but there is a greater risk of the egg scrambling. Sometimes, with very vigorous whisking off the heat, you can save it, as long as you notice as soon as it starts to curdle. The indirect method runs much lower risk of splitting, but it does take a lot more time. If you want to use indirect heat, you will need to cook the mixture in a double boiler, making sure the water at the bottom does not touch the bottom of the bowl, and check it occasionally to make sure the water has not evaporated.

Whichever method you choose, combine the grapefruit zest and juice, butter and sugar, and heat gently, until all of the butter has melted.

Making the curd - after the egg is added

Curd Away

Over a low heat, slowly add the egg to the buttery mixture, whisking vigourously as you go. When all of the egg is combined, increase the heat to medium, and stir until the mixture is thick and creamy. This could take a while, so settle in with a good book, but make sure you don’t allow the curd to catch on the bottom, and remember to scrape down the sides too.

Once the pouring consistency reaches thick ribbons, put it in the hot jars, and fill to 3 mm from the top. Cover with a wax disc, and seal immediately. The curd will last up to 4 weeks. Once opened, store in the fridge.

To make the melting moments, preheat the oven to 160°C, and line two cookie sheets with baking paper.

Beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Add the flour, icing sugar and custard powder, and mix well. This is a pretty dry mix, but it should all come together. There is no need to bother with seiving the dry ingredients.

Formed melting moments

Not as Flat as a Pancake!

Roll small lumps of the dough into balls. This amount of dough should give you about 26 biscuits. Place them on the cookie sheets, then flatten them with the back of a fork, which you should dust occasionally with icing sugar.

Bake them for 15-20 minutes, until crisp. Be aware that these biscuits should come out of the oven pale, as they will continue to cook, and colour more while cooling. Allow to cool.

Whip up the cream until it is pretty stiff, and stir through 3 tbsp of the curd. You can leave it as swirls through the cream, if you want. Place a little curd on the base of a biscuit, add a tiny dollop of the cream (or you will lose it out of the sides) and sandwich it together with a second. Sit back, and enjoy a melting moment.

In theory, these should last a couple of days in an airtight container, but I’ve not yet been able to test this theory.

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Simple, Cleansing Pork Pho

Pork Pho

A Fantasticaly Fresh TV Dinner

I have eaten rather well lately: at new lunch spots with my ladies; a rich lamb tagine, cooked for me by my friend from the Morning Claret; and a veritable feast of dim sum that I cooked up last Sunday, for the lunar new year. I had great fun doing it, but I did learn that it is probably OK to make some things in advance and heat them through on the day. There are so many intricate little dishes to make for a proper dim sum feast. I made char sui pork, with which I then made sticky rice and char sui bao (as well as chicken and mushroom hom bao). I made crispy seaweed (with curly kale), pak choi in garlic, and braised aubergine. I also made these excellent vegetarian shumai that Petra from Food Eat Love posted the other day. They were delicious, and gave me the courage to try other dumplings too. I’ve never quite understood how to tuck up the dumplings, but Petra’s clear instructions just clicked with me, and so I gave them a go. Unfortunately, I need a bit more practice before they look lovely, so there are no photos.

Encouraged by the success of the shumai, I decided to go all out, and have a go at xiao long bao, or the special pork dumplings, that are filled with mince and pork. Mine were loosely based on the Serious Eats Soup Dumplings. Nothing like a good bit of over-reaching to really show your skill. Or the limitations of it, in any case. More practice needed there, too, I think.

Don’t get me wrong, they were delicious, but not that soupy, as I managed to put slightly too much meat in the filling, and so the thin and delicate pastry broke. I’m not going to be put off, however. I was very pleased with them, and I will get better, I’m sure.

I made the Serious Eats stock for the bao, but I deviated a bit from the filling. For one thing, I don’t eat prawns, because I can’t really find any that could be said to be produced sustainably. Instead, I grated in ginger and garlic, and I put coriander through the pork mince.

After all that eating, today I was in search of something cleaner, and simpler. The Big Guy was out for dinner tonight with work, so as well as clean flavours, I wanted something simple, but that was comforting enough to settle in on the sofa with to catch up on some TV.

Having feasted so well at the weekend, I was not without leftovers, particularly the very good stock, and some of the xiao long bao filling. Despite needing the practice, I wasn’t in the mood for more dumplings, so I ventured further south for tonight’s dinner. Just like I deviated a bit from the Serious Eats filling, I have deviated a bit from a traditional Vietnamese Pho, but the resulting soup was just as fresh and comforting as I’d imagined it would be.

Cooking-with-Herbs-300x252

Since this dish contains herbs (and if I’d have had Vietnamese mint, I’d have added that too), and is Chinese/Vietnamese inspired, I have also decided that it is perfect for this month’s Cooking with Herbs, run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. She is also hoping for recipes inspired by romance for this month, in light of it being Valentine’s day soon. I’m not so sure about all the romance, but I do know this soup is a great way to show yourself some love if you have over-indulged, or if you have a night to yourself.

Recipe: Pork Pho

The amounts given here are enough for one person.

Ingredients

For the Meatballs:

100 g minced pork

½ tsp soy sauce

1½ tsp rice wine

A pinch of sugar

A small clove of garlic, finely grated

A 1 cm piece of ginger, finely grated

Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

For the Pho

400 ml good stock – I used chicken and pork from Serious Eats. Just chicken stock is also fine, but please don’t use stock cubes

½ tbsp fish sauce

½ carrot, cut into thin batons

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 cm ginger, cut into thin batons

40 g rice noodles

2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

20 g mange tout, sliced on the diagonal

1 chilli, seeds in or out, whichever you prefer, sliced thinly on the diagonal

3-4 sprigs of coriander, leaves whole and the stalks finely chopped

Pinch of salt

Juice of about a quarter of a lime

Method

First, mix all of the meatball ingredients together, then roll them into small balls. You want them to be about marble size. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to help them to keep their shape.

Cook the stock with the fish sauce, garlic, ginger and carrots. Add the pork balls, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles. When cooked, drain, and add them and the vegetables to a deep bowl. Sprinkle  the herbs on the top.

Season the soup with salt, as required. Pour the soup over the noodles and the vegetables in the bowl, and squeeze in lime juice to taste.

Serve immediately, in front of the TV, and enjoy in peace.

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A Summer Soup for Winter, Mostly From a Cupboard

Winter Vegetable Soupe au Pistou

A Staples Stand-By

The Big Guy has been worrying about our plants. More specifically, he has been fretting over a rather leggy basil plant, that really was on its last legs. After the third day of him agonising, I decided that we should use up the whole plant. Whilst mulling over winter uses of basil, I kept coming back to the thought of soupe au pistou; the Provençal summer soup.

Try as I might, I kept returning to the pistou, which is like pesto, but without the pine nuts. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything else, so I gave in. Instead of courgettes and peas, it had to be about what I had knocking about. Between the fridge and the garden, I knew that I could come up with the goods.

Despite the name, the original recipe is more like a summer vegetable stew;  thick with beans, squash, tomatoes and alliums, as well as vermicelli. I could easily substitute most of these for suitable winter vegetables, so I went on a domestic forage.  As well as the basil, I grew thyme, garlic, carrots and cavalo nero (amongst other things), so these were definitely going in. The fridge yielded half a butternut squash, some aging tomatoes and a leek. If I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, I would have substituted these for half a tin of chopped tomatoes. That’s the brilliant thing about store cupboard soups – you use what you have.

I was also excited to experiment with cooking dried beans in my new pressure cooker. I’m dying to test the assertion that you can cook dried beans without a pre-soak, which will be amazing for someone who can forget to do the little things, like me. However, when I went to look, the cupboard was bare of dried beans, apart from some kidney beans I have, which wouldn’t have tasted right in this soup. I am still reluctant to forego the pre-soak for these beans, due to the toxins they contain. With a sigh, I added dried beans to my shopping list and went for tinned instead. I generally prefer dried beans for taste and texture, but I always have a tin or two on stand-by, because I am also a realist about my lack of foresight. Since this was a root-around, use-up, make-d0 type of soup, I wasn’t going to go shopping for beans, so I made use of what I had.

The classic soupe au pistou always contains starch. I used vermicelli, because I had some. Other pasta shapes (especially the small ones, such as ditolini, risoni, or stellini) are fine – or you could break up spaghetti into small bits and use those. You could add rice to this soup, in case you don’t have any pasta, or you can’t eat wheat. If you use rice you’ll need to add it much earlier than I suggest adding the pasta, or use pre-cooked rice.

This soup may be a winter version of a summer classic, but the intense smell as you mash the pistou is like a shot of glorious summer in a winter kitchen.

Since this is a winter warmer, and definitely comforting, I’m entering it into this month’s Cheese Please, over at Fromage Homage. There are some really great recipes there this month, so do come over and have a look.

Cheese Please blog badge

Recipe: Soupe au Pistou du Placard

Ingredients

For the Pistou:

1 fat garlic clove

A good pinch of salt

30 g basil leaves

About 60 ml extra virgin olive oil

About 40 g parmesan cheese, finely grated (or mature vegetarian cheddar, since parmesan is not vegetarian)

1 tomato, peeled and de-seeded (optional)

For the soup:

1 leek, washed and sliced

2 carrots, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp dried thyme

1.5 l vegetable stock

400 g butternut squash, or pumpkin, diced

100 g cavalo nero

400 g can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium tomatoes, diced; or half a tin of chopped tomatoes

100 g vermicelli noodles, rice or any other small pasta shape

Method

Make the pistou. I like to use a pestle and mortar, but you can also use a small food processor. If you are using the food processor, either mince the garlic first with a chef’s knife and the salt, or grate it on a microplaner before adding it to the processor.

Whichever method you are using to make the pistou, add and blend the ingredients in this order: garlic and salt, basil, some of the oil and cheese. Be sparing with the both the oil and the cheese. You must taste as you add these, because all basil will vary. You want  fairly thick pesto, but it still needs to be flavoursome. Once the pistou is to your liking, stop adding things.

Make a concasse of the tomato and stir it through the pistou. Traditionally soupe au pistou has tomato flesh gently crushed into the pistou with a pestle and mortar, which you can also do if you prefer. If you are using tinned tomatoes, omit the tomato from the pistou, or you risk diluting it too much.

Prepare all of the vegetables for the soup. I decided to cook the cavalo nero stalks separate to the leafy greens. So, I stripped the greens from the stalks, and sliced both. Slice the stalks into 1cm chunks, like the rest of the vegetables. Slice the greens thinly, and keep them separate.

Sweat  the leek, carrot and the bay leaf in the olive oil in a deep pan, until the leek turns a vibrant green. Add the garlic and thyme and sweat off for another minute or so.

Add the stock, and simmer for a few minutes, or none at all, if you prefer your carrots crunchy. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Add the pumpkin and cook until you can just pierce it with the point of your knife. The time required will depend on the size of your dice. It took me about 5 minutes, based on 1cm dice.

Chuck in the beans, chopped tomatoes, and cavalo nero stalks, and allow them to simmer for five minutes, before adding the vermicelli and the greens.

Allow the soupe to cook until the pasta is al dente. Check for seasoning, and serve in deep bowls, topped with a large dollop of the pistou.

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