Tag Archives: Technique

Custard – a Step by Step Guide

You may have noticed by now that I am rather fond of dishes that involve custard. This is partly because I can only get Vla in the Netherlands, which is too sweet for use on desserts, and has been thickened with flour; but partly because homemade custard is much more tasty than it’s packet counterpart . It would, indeed, be possible to add Bird’s Custard to the list of Stuff Visitors Must Bring From the Motherland, but actually, making custard is relatively easy, so I don’t usually bother.

As it is so easy, and I have a couple of recipes coming up that require custard (and many more to follow, I’m sure) I thought that I would give a quick step-by-step guide, to save me typing out the method all the time.  The recipe calls for the use of vanilla bean. I know they are expensive, but they really are superior to using vanilla extract, so try to get them if you can. There is a good vanilla bean paste on the market too, that would be a better substitute if you really have to. Of course, I have managed to find a way to eke out the most value from a single vanilla bean, and nothing is wasted!

Most of the time, a recipe will call for you to split a vanilla pod in half, then add all of the seeds, and the pod to the warming milk/ milk replacement. I usually only ever scrape half of the bean, and add the seeds to the liquid. The exception to this is when making ice cream, or a LOT of custard, as these will require a whole pod.  I always add the split pod too, but when the milk has warmed through, I remove the pod, rinse, and dry the halves. When they are dry, I put them aside in an airtight container (a small jar with a lid). The next time that I need to make a custard, I still have seeds from half of the pod, and the old pod to add to the milk, so I get double the custard for the price of one.

Still not done, you can then dry the pods for a second time, and snip them into shorter lengths. Add these to an airtight jar filled with sugar. The remaining oils in the pod will infuse, leaving you with vanilla sugar. This is a much more acceptable substitute for vanilla pods in your next batch of custard, than using vanilla extract. There are many other recipes that you can use this in. I find stewing fruit with a little of this sugar is a really great addition. The vanilla pods will continue to be useful in this way for a few weeks. When they are dried up, they have imparted all their flavour to the sugar, and only then should you discard (or better yet, compost) them. That is a lot of value from one lowly bean, making it all a lot more worthwhile!

I have not given proportions here, as this will vary from recipe to recipe, whether you are using milk, cream, soya milk or even coconut milk (which is excellent in custard – I recommend that you give it a go). You can also make savoury custards but the methodology differs, so this is for sweet custards only.

STEP ONE – The Milk

Flavoured milk, just below boilng point

When the milk looks like this, remove from the heat

The milk (or replacement) has to carry the flavour. Usually, this will be vanilla, but could also be cocoa, ginger or fruit syrups. Whatever flavour you are adding needs to get heated with the milk. Some flavours, like the vanilla will infuse sufficiently having been brought up to the boiling point. Others will need to steep for a while before you heat the milk, to intensify their flavour.

Whichever way, you will need to gently bring the milk up to boiling point, but try not to let it boil. You will have reached this point when there are small bubbles at the sides of the pan. Take it off the heat at this point.

STEP TWO – The Eggs

While the milk is slowly coming to the boil, separate your eggs. I have assumed that a picture is not necessary for this part of step two. Be careful not to get yolk in your whites. I advise breaking each egg over a small, separate container before adding the whites and the yolks to the main batches. This way if any do break, you haven’t lost the lot. I have also taken a risk on scooping out some egg yolk when I managed to get a little bit (and I stress it was little) of yolk in my whites once when I didn’t follow my own advice, and it turned out OK, with no discernible effect on the yolks, but it was not great worrying about it.

Don’t throw away the egg whites. They make great meringues and macarons. They also freeze well, if you don’t have time to do something with them straight away. I would love to hear any other suggestions for using up egg whites, particularly in savoury dishes, if you have them. Although egg white omlets need not apply!

Egg yolks and sugar, whisked until pale

Egg yolks and sugar, whisked until pale

Once you have your egg yolks, you need to combine with the sugar, by whisking them together, until the mixture is pale.

A tip here is not to add the sugar to the egg yolks unless you are going to whisk them straight away. If sugar is left on the yolks, it will change them, and a skin will form, making the end result a little bit lumpy. This would be the time not to answer the phone if anyone rings!

It is the yolks that act as the thickening agent. I have heard that it is possible to make a sort of vegan custard, using soy flour as a thickener, and coconut milk, but I have never tried this method. Anyway, my point in telling you this is that you need the egg yolks – don’t be tempted to cut down on these, unless you also cut down on liquid too.

STEP THREE – Combining Eggs and Milk

Adding milk to eggs to make custard, slowly at first

Add a small amount of milk first

Some people will tell you that this is the hard part of the custard making process. As long as you don’t let it intimidate you, and you have a bit of patience, it need not be difficult. There is a risk that you could scramble the eggs, if you heat them up too quickly in one spot. This only happens if you apply direct heat to them, or if you try to add too much hot liquid at once.

An easy way to get around this is to only add a small amount of milk at first (really, only 20-30 ml), and make sure that you have whisked it in well before adding the next lot of milk.

You will need to put a damp cloth under your bowl, as I have done here, to stop it sliding around as you whisk, which leaves you with both hands for custard, not bowl-stabilisation.

Whisking in the first bit of milk

Thoroughly combine the first bit of milk before adding more

You can gradually increase the amount that you add each time. At some point, the egg will become quite liquid, at which point you have custard – congratulations! You  can add the remaining milk in a continuous stream, as long as you continue to whisk the custard all the time as you do so.

Adding Milk faster, continuing to whisk

You can start to add the milk faster, but continue whisking

I usually continue to whisk the custard for a little while, once all the milk has been added, more from habit than anything else, I think.

Whisking well to make sure the milk & eggs are thoroughly combined

Give the custard a whisk after all the milk is added, to ensure it is all combined well

STEP FOUR – Thickening the Custard

Custard, not yet thickened

When you return the custard to the pan, it will look like this

Next, the custard needs to be thickened. If you are making custard from scratch, you will need to stir it constantly. There is no getting away from this. I like to see it as spending time with the custard rather than getting impatient about it. Making custard can be relaxing, and fairly zen, if you let it.

Return the custard to the pan that you heated your milk in. Put it on a low heat and start to stir. You need to try to stir so that you are  moving the wooden spoon over all of the base of the pan, so that no custard can catch on the bottom, and cause lumps.

As it cooks, the custard will gradually start to thicken. When you draw a line on the back of the spoon, and the line stays there, and does not run, then your custard is done.

Thickened, Warm Custard

You know your custard is done when you get a line on your spoon

Never allow the custard to boil at this stage. If it boils, you will split it, and will end up with lumpy, scrambled custard, which will taste nice, but will look awful and the texture in your mouth will be horrible.

If this does happen, don’t despair too much. It can be salvaged to make it passable again, but it will have lost a little of the rich, silky texture that good custard is known for.

You can let the split custard cool a little, then put it into a food processor. Start it on a low setting, and gradually increase the speed and keep going until it is smooth again. I got this tip from the Accidental Hedonist a very long time ago, when I first started making custards, and one split on me (or rather, I split it, if we are going for full disclosure…). It really works, and the custard will be almost as good as new.

You can pour custard, hot, onto pies and puddings, baked fruits, or fresh ones. You can chill it for use in trifles or flans. Once chilled, you can cover  it with sugar that you burn under a blow torch, or a very hot grill for a créme brulée. You can bake it in the oven. You can even bathe in it to demonstrate how wacky you can be to raise money for charity, if you really must (not recommended, better use Bird’s for this purpose). Whatever you do with it, you will have a lovely homemade treat that will impress your friends, and that you can be very proud of.

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Bun’s the Word for Chinese New Year

Dragon in China

Lóng Nián Kuài Lè Happy Year of the Dragon

(c) M. Medeiros 2010

Monday was Chinese New Year, so I decided that I would cook Chinese food. The Lunar New Year is the most part of the most important festival in the Chinese calendar, Chūn Jié (Spring Festival). Anyone who has Chinatown in a part of their city will know what a great party it is. It started on Monday, and will go on until the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar, when it will end with the  Festival of Lanterns.

The Chinese have a number of traditional foods for their Lunar New Year celebrations. They like to eat noodles, which must remain uncut for longevity. I cheated a bit and decided that the noodles in the Pho would have to do for this. It was eaten for the same meal, so it counts, right?

They also eat chicken, to represent good fortune, and shiitake mushrooms to fulfill wishes. I had some shredded chicken in the fridge that I had stripped from chicken carcasses that I used for stock, and I had to get some shiitake mushrooms for the pho anyway, so I wanted to use these as the basis for my Chinese meal.

I know that I am going on about it a bit, but we were lucky enough to sample some amazing Chinese food in Sydney. Some of which I blogged about, but a lot of which I didn’t. My recent experience led me to recall the vegan yum cha at Bodhi, where the Hom Bao (steamed buns) were incredible.

Hom Bao would also help me hit some more New Year’s Resolutions;  make more asian food, and bake more bread. Given that I coud also use up leftovers, there were really few other options for my first chinese meal of the year.

So, I threw myself right in at the deep end, and decided to make two fillings for Hom Bao, made two ways.  One was meaty, and used the chicken, and the other was vegetarian. It would have been vegan, but vegetarian oyster sauce has milk protein in it apparently. Who knew?

I am not going to lie, these buns are not a trivial undertaking, and involve several techniques. However, the results are really worth it, with a casing of sweet, soft dough, and rich savoury fillings.

Next time, I will make sure that I have some guests to share them with.

Recipe: Hom Bao

Ingredients

For the bun starter:

1 sachet dry active yeast

4 tbsp plain flour

4 tbsp warm (not hot, you need to be able to comfortably put a finger in it) water

1 tsp caster sugar

For the bun dough:

110 ml lukewarm water – if you can’t measure this accurately in a jug, weigh it (110 g)

200 g plain flour

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp vegetable oil (not one with a strong flavour)

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp baking Powder

For the Chicken Filling:

100 g cooked chicken, shredded

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 spring onions, sliced thinly

1 tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp sugar

For the Mushroom Filling:

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 cm lump root ginger

½ leek

100 g shiitake mushrooms, or mix of shiitake & oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped.

1 tsp chinese five spice powder

1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce (or make your own, and you can make it vegan)

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp mirin (rice wine)

Method

Firstly, make the bun starter. Mix together the flour, water & sugar so the sugar starts to dissolve. Sprinkle in the yeast. and mix well.

Bun dough starter

Starter at the very beginning

Set it aside for 30 minutes to allow the yeast to start to work.

Bun dough starter after 30 mins

The starter develops bubbles and will rise a little

Add the rest of the dough ingredients, except for the baking powder, and combine well, until it comes together into a dough.

Bun dough

Dough formed

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, by holding onto the end of the dough with the fingers of one hand, then pushing the top of the dough down and away from you with the other hand. Fold it in half, then make a quarter turn.  Keep repeating the kneading action until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. This should take about 10 minutes. If you over or under knead the dough, it will affect the bread, but it is easy to know when to stop kneading, this will be at the point when a finger jabbed into the dough stays there, and does not disappear.

dough, after first knead

Fingers sticking – good

Then put it into a lightly oiled bowl (a large one). The oil should not be strongly flavoured, but you need it to stop the dough from sticking to the bowl.

Dough ball before rising

Dough balls!

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, and place it in a warm place. I use the top of my stairs, which is the warmest place in my flat, due to there being a door at the top of them. You can put it in your warmest room, or an airing cupboard if you have one. Don’t put the bowl directly on a radiator, and keep it out of draughts if you can. Leave it to prove for a few hours (maybe 2-3) until the dough has tripled in size

Dough after proving

Proved, you have large dough balls

While the dough is proving, make the fillings, then set them both aside to go cold.

For the chicken filling, gently sweat the onion and the garlic until translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix thoroughly. The mixture should not be very liquid, so if it is, slake a little bit of cornflour, and stir it in.

Cicken & Soy Filling

Soy Chicken Lickin’

For the mushroom filling, sweat the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and the ginger and cook until you can smell them.

You will have julienned the leek as part of the preparations. the julienne need to be small.

Julienned leek

Fine cuts

Add these and the mushrooms to the pan, and cook down until the leeks are silken. You will need to stir this so that the leeks don’t burn. The observant may notice that I have sliced my mushrooms instead of chopping them. Don’t do this, it makes the buns harder to stuff. Chopped will be better.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Again, you don’t want it too liquid, so cook it down if it is runny.

Mushroom Filling

Oyster mushroom filling – much tastier than it looks

When your dough has risen, knock it down (give it a punch until the air goes out of it), then spread it onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle evenly with the baking powder, then knead it again for about 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into 2, using a sharp knife. Put one half back into the oiled bowl, and cover it again. Roll the other half into a sausage, then divide it up into 8-12 pieces.

Divide the dough ino bun size

Bun Size Dough Balls

Put any dough that you are not working on back into your bowl and cover it over.

Shape each small dough piece into a round, then flatten with your hands

Flattening the dough

As flat as a Hom Bao

Place about a tablespoon of filling into the centre of the flattened disk.

Buns and filling

Filling

Then draw up the sides of the bun as follows:

Half & pinch

Fold in half over the filling & pinch the dough together

Stretch out sides

Stretch the sides out a bit

Be careful not to stretch the dough too thin,or tear it, because it will split when you cook it.

Pinch together

Pinch the sides together

Then bring the ‘gaps’ to the centre and pinch them all together to form a seal.

Sealed Hom Bao

Sealed Hom Bao

Place, sealed side down, on a 10 cm square of greaseproof paper.

The finished bun

The Finished Bun

Put the bun aside in a warm room, covered with a clean tea towel to prove for a bit more. You should find that you get better as you go along, my last buns were certainly a lot quicker than the first ones.

Repeat until you have finished the dough. You might have a little bit of filling left over, but that’s OK. I used my leftover mushroom mixture up in an omlette, and I intend to have the chicken with a jacket potato.

After about 30 minutes, the buns will have risen a bit more, and should look puffy.

Hom Boa after final proving

Buns – done!

You can then steam the buns over a little water, or brush them with egg wash and bake them in the centre of an oven at 180°C. Either way, they will take about 15-20 minutes, until they are fluffy and hot.

Hom Bao two ways

Hom Bao Two Ways – Golden and Steamed

I split the bao in the front, to show you the filling. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the steam, but there was a lot.

You cannot freeze the baked bao, but the steamed version freezes beautifully, and they will last a long time. Freeze after steaming, by placing on it’s cooking paper into one of those plastic takeaway cartons. You can fit three or four in each, depending on the size of of your bao.

Steam from frozen, still on the paper. Stick a  knife in to make sure they are warm all the way through before serving.

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Making Meringues

I am sure that you may have noticed by now that I use a lot of egg yolks – in stuff like custards, mayonnaises, pasta, pastry and sauces. This leaves me with a lot of egg whites to use up.  Since I hate waste, I try always to use them, which invariably means making macaroons, and meringues. I need to expand this repertoire, so expect to see consommés and more stir fries appearing here soon. If you have other suggestions for using up egg whites (although not the egg-white omelette, please, some things are a step too far, even for me!) feel free to leave them in the comments.

I had originally intended to make advocaat, in keeping with the Anglo-Dutch theme for my party, but I ran out of time. However, this time, the advocaat was actually the by-product of the intention to make meringues, instead of the usual situation where I have a load of egg whites left over from something else. No one missed the advocaat, anyway!

Since I make them so much, I thought that I would share my technique here. I haven’t given a recipe, as it will depend on how many egg whites you have and to some extent how old they are.

Start by heating the oven to 110°C. Then measure out  45 g sugar for each egg white. I like to use raw cane sugar, but you can also use caster, granulated or icing sugar. I have also seen sugar solution, but that seems to be for Italian or Swiss style meringues, and I tend to stick with French. It is possible to use soft brown sugar, but be aware that this makes it very hard to get a crisp, dry meringue. I think this technique may be best left alone or, if you insist, only use it to top lemon meringue pie.

Put the egg whites in a very clean bowl. There must be no fat or detergent in it. If you are unsure, wipe it with the cut side of a lemon (or other citrus), which will act as a degreaser. If the bowl has any fat, it may affect the ability of the eggs to maintain the air that you are about to whip into them. The same goes if there are any traces of egg yolk, so be careful when separating the egg, too. Note that the fresher the egg, the less likely that the egg yolk is to break when you separate it.

Next, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. This is when the egg whites look drier, the whisk or a spoon will create peaks when you remove it from the mixture, and if you are brave, you can upend the bowl and the egg white will not slide out. I would advise using an electric whisk if you don’t want it to take you hours.

Egg Whites at the Stiff Peak stage

The stiff peak - sadly lacking in many ski resorts this year

Then, a tablespoon at a time, add the sugar and whisk in thoroughly before you add the next spoonful. The egg white will stiffen further, as you add the sugar. At this stage, you are beating to incorporate the sugar, not to add any further air, so it won’t increase in volume.

Egg Whites plus half the required sugar

About half way through - stiffer and peakier, but not more voluminous

Keep adding the sugar, and whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Eventually, the mixture will become really stiff, to the point of being really hard to work,  and will look shiny. This is when you stop adding sugar. Because I use cane sugar, I find I need less than the stated 45 g per egg white. If you are using caster or icing sugar, you may find that you need to use all of it. This is also fine.

Finished Meringue mix

The final product - glossy, thick and much harder to beat

Don’t add more sugar than needed to get to this stiff consistency (or than the 45 g, whichever happens to come first), otherwise your meringues will leach sugar. This does not really affect the taste, but it does give them a rather unattractive look. A bit like a tree that is leaching sap.

Now your meringue is ready to be shaped. You need to line a baking sheet with some greaseproof paper. You can stick it down with oil or by dabbing a bit of the meringue in each corner and the centre of the paper and using this as glue to stick it to the baking sheet. Once the baking sheet is ready, you need to choose what shape and size you are going to have your meringue. You may wish to have it as a pavlova, in which case you need to shape one large disc, with slightly elevated sides, to hold the fruit in. I normally go for individual ones, because these are better for parties or for sharing. Most commonly, I will get two spoons and shape individual quenelles, which can then be stuck together with cream and fruit in a sandwich. However, I wanted to fill these with Chestnut Jam, so I decided that mini versions of the pavlova-style would be better suited to the task.

Some people would use a piping bag for that, but I lack the finesse, and the piping bags, so I made do with shaping them with two spoons. You can try either, I think both are just as good. I made them vaguely circular, like a nest.

Meringue nests

Not sure what I did here, but you get the meringue nest picture

Then it is ready to go in the oven. Bake the meringues for up to 1 ½ hours (but check after 1). If you have made one large pavlova style meringue, you will need longer – check after 1 ½, and leave in the oven up to 2 hours.

A Meringue nest

Meringue nest - a better view

The idea is not really that the meringue cooks, more that it dries out. You need to check that it is no longer soggy to the touch, and that it generates a hollow sound when tapped very gently on the base.It will have darkened a little, even if you use icing sugar. Mine are generally more golden than off-white, because the unrefined sugar I use is a light brown.

When you get the hollow sound, it is done. If it is at all possible, turn off the oven, but leave the meringue in there to continue to dry overnight. This will give the best result, but it will be OK if you leave it to cool outside the confines of the oven.

Once it is done, fill it with fruit, cream, fruit and cream, jam, or serve it with ice cream, mash it up with fruit and cream to make Eton Mess – whatever you like, really.

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Vegan Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

A lot of people (including me before I really thought about it) think that it is difficult to cook for vegans. However, with a little forethought, and some minor adjustments, it isn’t actually that difficult.

If you make it yourself, pastry is one of the easiest recipes to adapt to a vegan diet. When I was younger, and the world hadn’t woken up to the horrors of transfat, my mother used a special kind of margarine that as a solid at room temperature, and as a vivid yellow colour.I have no idea what was in it, and I am probably a bit afraid to find out!  Nowadays you can get a number of olive and vegetable oil-based ones. These are not so yellow either.

The following recipe is enough to give you the base for a large tart, or several smaller ones. I got 24 mince pies using this recipe.

Recipe: Vegan Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

Ingredients

250 g plain flour

125 g block margarine (not the stuff that you spread on your bread – it needs to be more solid)

50 g icing sugar

Zest of a lemon

Method

First, measure the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl, and zest the lemon into a separate container. Take the margarine out of the fridge, and try to work with it as cold as you can. Cut the margarine into cubes and add to the flour. Try to hold as little of it in your hand as possible, to avoid melting.  Rub the flour, sugar and margarine to a fine breadcrumb, by rubbing your hands through the flour and margarine with your thumb over your upturned fingers. When you are done it should look like this:

flour dough as breadcrumbs - before you ad liquid.

The breadcrumb effect

At this point, mix in the lemon zest.

Then get some cold water in a jug – run the tap a little first to make sure that it is as cold as you can. Pour a little at a time into the flour and margarine mix and stir with your hands until it comes together to form a nice dough. At this point cover tightly with either cling film, greaseproof paper or foil. I never use cling film, so I just wrap my dough with whichever of the other two I have to hand. refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow the pastry to relax. If you don’t do this, the pastry will be difficult to work with, and may be too sticky or too short (crumbly).

Roll the pastry out thinly on a well floured surface. To get it even, turn it 90 degrees after each roll, and this should give you an almost circular piece of dough to work with. If you do not need all the dough at once, cut it in half, and put the bit you are not working with back in the fridge,after you have wrapped it up again, until you need it

Use in any recipes that require pastry, but that would be otherwise suitable for vegans. Instead of greasing the tin you are going to bake it in with butter, just use a liberal coating of olive oil.

Wherever you would use an egg/milk wash – i.e. any part of the finished product where the dough will be on display, such as pie crusts; or where you may need to add a liquid filling after a prebake, such as tart bases, then simply brush with water.

The resulting dough is quite short, but a bit denser in texture than all butter dough, and it is paler. My take on it is though, if you have one vegan guest, the other can eat vegetables, whereas your vegan friend cannot eat their food. This dough certainly passes muster for people who are used to eating animal products, so no need to cook special food for one or two.

UPDATE: I have now tested this same pastry with ground almonds, and it makes the pastry richer, and has a lot of flavour. For the amounts given in this recipe, add an additional 75 g ground almonds with the flour, and work with the butter, as above.

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Risotto “Masterclass”

Versatile flavours

So many flavours from one basic dish

I was talking about risotto the other day, when a few friends persuaded me that I should do a ‘risotto masterclass’. I suspect the fact that I have a larger than average kitchen (not difficult in a city where a ‘kitchen’ constitutes having a microwave on a shelf and a hob in many of the flats in the rental sector!) also had something to do with it, but I was flattered enough to go ahead.

We made three flavours of risotto – fennel, lemon and ricotta; pumpkin; and mushroom.

This is not to say that I made three risottos initially. My friends wanted to have a class so I wanted to show them how versatile risotto is with adding flavour, and how simple it is as a method. So, I started with a simple, white risotto, and we took it from there.

A good time was had by all, and I hope that they went away feeling more confident in making risotto, and experimenting with flavour.

Of course, there are more complex ways of building up flavour within the risotto, but adding ingredients at the end is a good way to get started!

I do most of my cooking by eye – especially as I wanted to make this one large enough to split into three, but the recipe that I give below should be enough to serve 2 people with leftovers. Leftover risotto is so versatile, that it really is worth making the extra.

Recipe: White Risotto

Ingredients

150 g risotto rice (risotto rice comes in a number of varieties, or is probably labelled just ‘risotto rice’ in your local supermarket. We used arborio for this one)

1 medium chopped onion,

1 tbsp olive oil

1 glass white wine (or you can use vermouth or another spirit relevant to your flavouring, such as Pernod, etc)

750 ml – 1 l stock (the stock you use can depend on what you are going to add. On this occasion I used vegetable stock)

Thyme

Knob of butter, or dash of cream or oil

50 g parmesan, freshly grated

Method

Sweat the onion in the olive oil until it is translucent, but not coloured. Add the rice, and stir until the rice is slightly translucent round the edges. Add the thyme at this stage too – the leaves but not the stalks.

Meanwhile, Bring the stock to the boil, and then leave it on a gentle simmer. I always make my own stock and freeze it in roughly  500 ml portions, so I use one of these, then add hot water as I run out. If you want a particularly ‘meaty’ flavour in the risotto, there is no reason why you cannot use all stock. It is important that you are adding warm stock to the rice, so I just leave it on the hob while I am cooking the risotto.

Turn up the heat a little and add the wine. Allow the alcohol to burn off and the rice to absorb the liquid. If you don’t want to have alcohol, this step can also be missed out altogether.

Add your stock, starting with just enough to cover the rice. Allow this to absorb completely before adding more, then add more a ladleful or so at a time. You will need to stir the risotto to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan. Much better chefs  than me (well, chefs, in fact) say that the more that you stir it, the creamier it will be, especially at the end stages. This will reduce the amount of butter or cream that you need to add at the end.

Taste the rice as you go. Before it is ready, it has a chalky quality to the grains. It is ready when this chalkiness is lost, but the grains are still a little al dente (especially important if you don’t want claggy leftovers). At this point, stop adding more stock.

Take it off the heat, ad beat in the butter or cream (which must be cold). Add the parmesan and seasoning. You will need quite a lot of pepper.

This is the basic recipe. Then you can flavour it by adding herbs, veg, meat. Whatever you like really.

The flavours I added for the three risottos were as follows:

Fennel, Ricotta and Lemon

I sliced a fennel bulb thinly, lengthways. Then I braised this gently in olive oil, with 2 garlic cloves, also sliced thinly. I added all the vegetables and the oil to the rice, mixed in a little ricotta, and the grated zest of the lemon. I then added the lemon juice, a little at a time to balance out the other flavours. I added the chopped fronds of the fennel as a garnish.

Pumpkin

I made a large dice of about 1/4 of an orange fleshed pumpkin, and roasted this, with some unpeeled garlic cloves, and some crumbled dried chillies in some olive oil with sprigs of thyme. This took about 3/4 hour at 180 degrees. I stirred these in at the end of cooking the risotto, and served with taleggio. If you wanted you could halve the above pumpkin, and boil half. Adding it with some of the last stock, which will make the risotto orange, and help build up the flavour. Roast and add the rest as above.

Mushroom

I fried a selection of sliced mushrooms in butter and garlic, with a generous amount of thyme leaves. I stirred them in at the end of cooking the risotto, and stirred through some fresh chopped tarragon. To build up the flavour even more, you could use a mushroom stock, or add the soaking liquor from dried porcinis to the stock as you cook it.

The recipes are simple, as I said, but adding your favourite flavours like this is an easy way to make a risotto recipe your own.

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Handmade Ice Cream

Hi, my name is Mel, and I am a gadget-ophobe.

Well, I guess that is not strictly true, I just don’t see the point of most of them. I suppose this comes partly from the make-do-and-mend attitude I have retained since my uni days, when all I had was a block of knives, a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and a balloon whisk. Anything else I had to improvise with a wine bottle (useful as a blender and a rolling pin!), or whatever else was to hand.

Obviously, I have got many more of the basics now, which allows me to do much more, but I still have not been suckered by many of the more ‘faddish’ gadgets, such as a breadmaker, or ice cream machine. I enjoy making bread, and take great pleasure from trying to get a tight round, or a nice airy foccacia.

I have never really attempted ice cream before now though, because I was under the impression it was difficult. It was also not easy to find a recipe that did not involve the instructions to “place all of the ingredients into an ice-cream machine”.

Stages of hand made ice cream

Stage 1: an hour in the freezer, before whisking

Anyway, a bit of hunting around, and a lucky episode of Masterchef Australia left me a bit more encouraged try to make my own, especially since they recommend a custard base, and I do like a good custard. Because I wanted something to serve with rhubarb, I chose to flavour this one with ginger.

Here is how I did it:

Ingredients

5 Egg Yolks

100 g Sugar

400 ml Double cream

400 ml Milk

50 g Stem Ginger

1 Tbsp Syrup from the ginger jar

Making Custard

Finely chop the ginger, and add that to the milk and the cream in a pan. heat to just below boiling point.Set aside to steep for 20 minutes. Pass the liquid through a sieve to remove the pieces of ginger, but set them aside though, because you will use some later. Bring the liquid back up to boiling point.

In general, for flavoured custards, you add the flavouring to the milk – you also do this with the vanilla pod if you are making custard to go with your apple pie. So, if you want to make mint ice cream, and the essence to the milk, add cocoa or melted chocolate for chocolate ice cream and so on.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until they thicken quite a bit. Now for the tricky bit (or so they tell you). Very slowly at first, add the warm milk to the egg mixture. I do this by adding a little, and making sure it is whisked in before I add more. Once you have combined a fair amount, you can add the rest of the liquid much faster.

Once the egg and cream  is combined, returned to the heat and heat gently. Do not allow it to boil, or it will curdle. The custard will thicken, and when it leaves a line on the back of your wooden spoon then it is thick enough. Remove from the heat.

Stages of Ice Cream Making

Stage 2: Not much further than stage 1

The Ice Cream Bit

The custard needs to cool completely before you try to freeze it (not least for energy efficiency of the freezer!). You can either set it aside to cool, or a better way is to put it in a bowl, which is sitting in some ice in another bowl (or the sink) and stir it to dissipate the heat faster.

Once the custard is cold, then you need to put it in the freezer. Most sources I read said that you should put it in a bowl for this stage. Unfortunately, I didn’t read that until after I had frozen it, so I put it in an ice cream tub (recycled, of course). As long as the custard does not fill more than 3/4 of the vessel, it will be fine.

In order to make ice cream, er, creamy, you need to try to keep the ice crystals from getting too big. To do this, put it in the freezer for an hour, then take it out and whisk it. Repeat this process until you have a smooth, thick ice cream.For this recipe, I found it took four times to create the smoothness required.

Because I like ginger, I stirred in some of the chopped ginger from the custard making at the last stage of the whisk and freeze cycle. You could also add anything that you like at this stage – nuts, mint chips, chocolate chips, fruit.

Stages of Ice Cram Making

Stage 4: Thick, and after adding the ginger

The ice cream should last a few weeks in the freezer (in theory!), just don’t forget to take it out of the freezer about 10-15 minutes before you want to serve it.

I served mine with the aforementioned poached rhubarb, and some meringue. Well, I needed to use up those egg whites somehow!

Poached rhubarb, stem ginger ice cream & meringue

The finished product

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