The voice of Love seemed to call to me, but it was a wrong number
Good afternoon food lovies and welcome to ample servings’ pink and fluffy Valentine’s Day edition. Oh yes indeedy, it’s that time of the year again when one can show their affection for friends, lovers, partners and anything in between by means of a miniature teddy bear clutching a soft, red heart. Eurgh I hear some of you mutter and feel free to do so! As you can probably tell the awkward, forced romance doesn’t quite float my boat either and yet, deep down I know I’m not alone in thinking that a handful of beautiful flowers wouldn’t sink my ship either! Therefore, today I have a smattering of affectionate based ideas that can be forged in your kitchen because as we all know, one way to a person’s heart is through their stomach! So, whether you fancy making a batch of heart-shaped biscuits for your best friend, a few pistachio macaroons for your mum and dad or slow roasted skirt of pork for your boyfriend, you are in the right place. I quite feel like embracing the love this week and it just so happens I have a lot to give! Prepare yourself for a foodie fiesta as I’ve been up to a lot of culinary good this week.
In preparation for attending cooking school, I’m trying to gain as much experience by means of cooking technique and specialising in different areas (such as; fish, meat etc) so that I am fully prepared for the task ahead. You fortunate souls have so far seen it all from successful patisserie to not so successful pasta….and back again to some very impressive latte art! And yet this week I have something even more exciting, drumroll please…food styling! Last Wednesday I took part as an assistant chef on a food photo shoot for a broadsheet weekend newspaper in Peckham. Head chef Dagmar and I, cooked from morning to night from a long list of recipes created by Gizzi Erskine and boy, it was fun! The themes of the day were cheap cuts of meat (and what to do with them) and British classics with a twist. Until the recipes are officially released I mustn’t say too much about how we cooked the dishes but I can certainly point you in the right direction.
Serving props and equipment
The working kitchen mid shoot
Four packs of beef fat. Vegetarians looks away! We were making chips…
Things to consider when cooking meat and classic dishes:
1. Always try to buy your meat from a butcher. It’s commonly thought that this means your meat will be ten times more expensive than a supermarket, that’s just not true. The thing is, your butcher knows meat and can advise you what cut to choose depending on what you would like to do with it. The meat is often not any more expensive and to be honest, you’re getting your money’s worth in more ways than one. An example of a cheap cut are chicken thighs. In my opinion they are far more delicious than chicken breasts but few people realise this! Thighs are a lot cheaper too. Most cheap cuts taste gorgeous marinated and cooked on a low heat for a good few hours such as pork knuckle or shins but if in doubt ask the man with the meat cutter what he does at home. They really do know their stuff plus, they know where your meat comes from which IS important. If you find yourself in South East London I recommend; Flock and Herd and Willliam Rose and if you find yourself in SW6 hit up the infamous organic Randalls Butchers. In the words of the man himself Brian Randall, he got ‘a lifetimes worth of knowledge’ about meat.
2. It seems to me that classic English dishes are often slated for their simplicity with comments such as, ‘oh I just made some boring mince for supper’ or ‘we’ve made a pretty standard pudding, don’t get too excited’ which is quite simply unfair. Classic dishes such as lasagne (not originally English but hey ho), sausages and mash and rice pudding can be made just as exciting, nutritious and most certainly delicious with some very easy twists. For example, mustard grain mash makes everything taste better! Try using different types of meat in your mince such as chicken livers, pork or even veal mince. Be adventurous with your herbs, season well and keep checking to taste. In my winter rice pudding I like using rose water and sprinkle with toasted pistachios and yet, a dollop of raspberry jam does the trick just as well. Why not try using stewed fruits such as apricots? The list is endless. The key message here is, in order to make our food more interesting, we have to be open to new ideas and ingredients.
Inspired by both my stepmother’s love of satay chicken and the idea of using cheap cuts from the shoot, feel free to try this very easy and yet absolutely delicious peanut curry made with chicken thighs.
Chilli Satay Curry
A box of four organic chicken thighs
One small jar of organic peanut butter
2 tins of coconut milk
One red chilli (add more if you like it hot, hot, hot)
One big onion
Two cloves of garlic, crushed
One box of stir fry vegetables (includes beansprouts, water chestnuts etc)
Tsp of cumin, one of ground coriander and one of turmeric
A small piece of lemongrass
One kaffir lime leaf
Splash of oil
Place a saucepan on a medium heat and place the oil, all the spices including the kaffir lime, lemongrass stick and chopped chillies and gently stir. After a few minutes, add the garlic and then the finely sliced onions and continue to stir them until they are translucent. Next add the chicken which should be cut into small pieces. Once the chicken is almost cooked through, add the vegetables. Once the chicken is cooked (juices run clear), empty in the peanut butter and two tins of coconut milk. Season the curry and mix well. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes and serve with basmati rice.
Last week I had a little adventure to Christ Church College in Oxford. On the Friday evening a big guest dinner was held for all the undergraduate students and oh my, there were some delightful dishes served. As I have been out and about this past week, I’m going to direct you to some wonderful tried and tested recipes that I often prepare for a dinner party at mine (sans images) inspired by the meal I heartily consumed with my red haired partner, the lovely Flora.
I do believe we should move on to some desserts now. I have no problem admitting that the past two days in the kitchen has left me very frustrated. Note to all cooks, French macaroons are not meant to be cooked in an aga. Not being able to see them rise, smell them baking or even control the temperature makes them a bit of a bugger to make. I’ve successfully made some pistachio macaroons from the goddess Nigella way back when but today, I made two batches (because the first were an absolute flop!) of pink almond macaroons with a chocolate ganache filling. My lovely photographer, Grace is hard at work organising a new exhibition so unfortunately you will have to succumb to my instagram snaps instead. The only thing I will say with French macaroons is, take your time reading the recipe. Oh, and keep extra supplies of ground almonds. Oops! That’s two things…hehe. Follow the link below to see the recipe I used which is from the Great British Bake Off!
Very mediocre in presentation but they did taste rather nice.
Another treat that has given me a bit o’ jip this week are my love buns (matron!). I saw this excellent picture of a cake cut in half with a heart shape inside of it and wanted to make my own. The process isn’t all that difficult and yet, when I practiced the technique with pink food colouring, the heart disappeared completely and I have no idea why! When I used cocoa to make a chocolate heart, the process worked. I am confodelled followers…..and quite miffed. For the blonde buns with a chocolate heart I used a simple Victoria Sponge foundation and cocoa for the heart and for the batch with the MISSING HEART (how sad!!) I made a lovely lemon and blueberry cake. I will continue to pursue my internal heart shaped cakes until perfect but until then, amuse yourself with my heartbreak!
(What they should look like)
4oz self-raising flour
4oz caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp of cocoa powder
Cream the butter and the sugar with a wooden spoon. When the mixture looks light and cream in colour add the flour, eggs and vanilla essence. Separate a little of the mixture, say three tablespoons worth and add the cocoa powder to it. Place the chocolate mixture in a small, rectangle tray lined with grease proof paper and bake in the oven at 180C for around 10-15 minutes. Once the sponge bounces back against your touch, it should be ready. Place on a cooling rack until cold. Then, cut little heart shaped shapes out of the chocolate sponge using a biscuit cutter. You could use any shape cutter here, I just chose hearts as it’s Valentine’s Day soon! Next, some papercases and pop them in a cupcake tin. Put a little victoria sponge mixture in the bottom and place the chocolate heart on top, standing tall. Cover the heart with your remaining vanilla mixture and bake again in the oven for 10-15 minutes further. Once cooked through, let them go cold on a cooling rack and choose whether you would like to put any icing on top. Butter icing is good here but so is a chocolate ganache or even icing sugar and lemon juice. You decide!
Lemon and Blueberry Cupcakes
4oz self-raising flour
4oz caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
Two handfuls of blueberries
Zest of one lemon
Tbsp of lemon juice
Similar to above, cream butter and the sugar and then add all the ingredients. Share out the mixture into paper cases and bake in the oven at 180C for 10-15 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack and then cover the top with a lemon and icing sugar topping. I used pink colouring in my icing mixture (as you can see) which actually made it look like a Valentine’s Day bear sneezed all over it. I was trying to cover up the fact I used golden icing sugar…never again. Always use normal white icing sugar for cupcakes as it is a much nicer colour! I didn’t include the heart technique here because it didn’t work. I promise to revisit this idea in the future.
Let’s move onto something a little more successful eh?! Next we have some homemade custard cream biscuits. My siblings scoffed these little hearts in an instant. I would recommend these highly, again another Nigella! A great recipe to make as a gift or with family and friends.
Lastly, I have something a little naughty for all you chocolate lovers! A raspberry, chocolate roulade from The Aga Bible. Yes, I decided to bake something Aga friendly just to be safe!
Chocolate and Raspberry Roulade
100g golden caster sugar
35g self-raising flour
35g cocoa powder
icing sugar for dusting
For the filling:
200ml creme fraiche
200ml double cream
150g white chocolate
Right, that’s it this week you lovely people. I’ll be back next week with stories from my trip to the meat market with Brian Randall!
Love to all and eat well,
oh, and don’t forget to buy that bear! I found mine on the haribo packet..
I was clearly delighted.
E. Wells Xx