17 September 2017

Sherried rhubarb crumble - only for grown ups!

As most of you know, we grow rhubarb in our garden.  It all started with the one plant - called Ruby - who grew so much we had to split her in half and so she spawned her daughter, RubyTwo.  Well, the years have gone past and the pair of them are now busting out of the brick planters they are in and three times a year (or more) threaten world domination unless we harvest them and share them around the neighbours.  So, as you can imagine, obtaining rhubarb isn't exactly a challenge.  In fact, for this recipe, hubby went out and cut the 500g required and it was in the oven half an hour later. Can't get a lot fresher than that!

With this crumble, I wanted very much to just celebrate the joy that is rhubarb.  Not dilute it with apple, or confuse matters by adding blackberries.  No, I wanted it to be simply rhubarb.  Our rhubarb is so tasty - it's a champagne variety - that I always think it's a shame to mask its deliciousness with other flavours.

However, that didn't stop me from having a rush of blood to the head and adding sherry.  *chuckle*  Well, I figured that as we've had a rhubarb trifle with sherry in the past - which was delicious, why not?  I used a medium sherry - Harvey's Bristol Cream, in fact.  It definitely lent the dish a certain something and I'd definitely do that again.

What did it taste like?  Oh, it was beautiful.  Sweet, sharp, deep rich flavours of rhubarb with the slight headiness of sherry, balanced against the buttery, oaty, slightly toffee flavoured crumble that just melted in the mouth. Heavenly. Especially with vanilla custard, which is just the perfect accompaniment.


I have two Cook's Tips for you, which are as follows :

Lots of crumble recipes tell you to pre-cook the fruit, but I didn't want rhubarb slush, I wanted pieces of rhubarb that still had their shape and a little of the crunch.  Cutting the pieces slightly smaller than usual, managed to achieve that very nicely across the 30 minute cooking time.   If however, you prefer your rhubarb to be softer then make sure to cook it on for another 10 minutes or so.

I'm sure we've all made fruit crumbles that wind up being all juice.  For me, too much juice can almost ruin a crumble as it tends to steam the underside of the crumble top and you end up with a yukky sludgy uncooked layer and the fruit swimming in juice.  To offset this, I mixed in some cornflour (or perhaps corn starch where you are) with the raw fruit and sugar, which has the effect of thickening the juice and so preventing both the sludge and the pool.  You don't even notice it's there, so it's a sneaky tip to remember for fruit pies, too!


Maybe the very next time you lay your hands on some rhubarb, you can give this crumble a go.  Your family will thank you!

SHERRIED RHUBARB CRUMBLE    (serves 4-5)

Ingredients :

500g rhubarb, washed, dried and cut into 1cm pieces
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
3-4 tbsp of medium sweet sherry.

For the crumble :

130g self raising flour
50g light brown muscovado sugar
30g rolled porridge oats
90g slightly salted, chilled butter.

Method :

Pre-heat your oven to 190degC/375degF/Gas 5.

Place the chopped rhubarb into a deep sided casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle over the caster sugar and cornflour and mix together thoroughly until each piece of rhubarb is coated.

Sprinkle the sherry over the rhubarb and set aside while you make the crumble.

Weigh the self raising flour, muscovado sugar and porridge oats into a large bowl and lightly stir together.

Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the dry ingredients until everything is buttery and breadcrumb-like.

Spread the crumble across the top of the fruit mix and level the surface without pressing down or compacting the crumble at all.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or 40 minutes if you like your fruit softer.

Serve with vanilla custard, or double cream if you must.  *wink*

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16 September 2017

Chicken sausage, pea & courgette risotto - fresh and tasty!

As much as I would like to, I can't take credit for this delicious risotto recipe. No, that accolade needs to go to Heck Sausages. However, I found the recipe because it was featured on lovefood.com 
with credit going to Heck - so I suppose this is the great-grand daughter recipe recommendation, if you like!  I have changed the recipe a tiny bit, but it's only re-organising the order of play and not changing the ingredients.  Now I could have just placed the link here and not bothered to reproduce the recipe, but I have learned that sometimes favourite recipes disappear from the internet never to be found again - so I'm immortalising it here for future reference.

If you're still with me after such a meandering explanation, well done.  LOL


It has been ages since I made a risotto.  Hubby is ordinarily the risotto chef in our house - and he does a cracking job at it too.  However, he was otherwise engaged so I decided to give it a go.  I'd made some good risottos in the past, so my track record wasn't bad.

For all that it is currently autumn - and a good time for risotto - I have to say that this recipe would be very much at home in a springtime capacity.

The addition of the courgette and petit pois, with the light touch of the chicken sausages, definitely made us think of the relief of coming out of the heaviness of winter and into a relatively lighter menu, as spring comes around.  However, as all the ingredients aren't reliant upon seasonal produce (although, again, it is the perfect time for young courgettes), you can enjoy its fresh tasting loveliness at any time of the year.

As with all risottos, they live or die on the quality of the stock you are using. So at this point I have to blow my Essential Cuisine trumpet once again.  I used 75% Essential Cuisine chicken stock and 25% Essential Cuisine vegetable stock for this risotto and it was fantastic.  The very best part of the Essential Cuisine stable of stocks is their wonderfully intense flavours, however, because they are a stock powder (and they have a new range of liquid stocks, too) it is so simple to just increase the intensity by adding another half a teaspoonful as required.  For a risotto stock, this works perfectly.  So - I recommend them.  'Nuff said.


As for Cook's Tips, I have two :

Firstly, I wasn't looking forward to the unzipping the sausages and separating the sausagemeat into individual little meatballs.  It's a gacky thing to have to do, even if you baste your hands liberally with cold water so that the sausagemeat doesn't stick.  Then, I had this brilliant idea.  I unzipped each sausage from its skin, ran my chef's knife under the cold water and chopped each sausage into five pieces.  It worked, too!  You have to wet the knife in between each sausage, but it is SO much more of a pleasant way to do it.

Lastly, if you're wondering what pan to use to cook the risotto in, well I used our new wok.  It's quite compact, with high walls and fits nicely onto each burner so there are no cold spots to contend with.  So if, like me, you were worried about the rice catching on the bottom of your pan and/or can't see in to the top of a tall pan (alright, so I'm short and most unhelpfully, have to sit to cook), consider using a wok.  It worked absolutely perfectly for me.

So, without further ado, here's your recipe :

CHICKEN SAUSAGE, PEA & COURGETTE RISOTTO    (serves 3-4)

Ingredients :

1-2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
8 chicken sausages (Heck or Asda are our favourites), skinned and each sausage formed into 5 small meatballs
450g approx of courgettes, cut into half centimetre dice
1 sweet onion, diced small
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
125g Arborio risotto rice
pinch of sea salt
quarter of a tsp ground black pepper
1 litre of good quality hot chicken stock, or chicken/vegetable combined
half a tsp of ground nutmeg
1 heaped tsp of Dijon mustard
300g defrosted petit pois (peas)
1 handful basil leaves (I used Thai basil as we prefer it)
grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese to garnish.

Method :

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and once heated, add the sausagemeat balls. Fry on a medium/hot heat until deeply golden on at least three sides, then remove from the pan into a bowl and reserve.

In the meantime, make up the stock in another saucepan and place on the heat to simmer.

Leaving the sausage flavoured fat in the pan, add the chopped courgettes and fry until just beginning to soften and take on colour.  Remove from the pan to the same bowl as the sausage balls and reserve.

Decant what little fat is left into a high sided saucepan or wok and add a little more oil if necessary.  Once the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and fry over a medium/hot heat until softened and transparent.  Add the sea salt and black pepper and stir through.

Increase the heat under the pan to maximum and add the dry rice.  Stir well, to cover the rice in the flavoured oil and cook until you can see the rice is beginning to toast.  Add a ladleful of the stock and stir well, to release the starch from the rice.  Add the nutmeg and Dijon mustard and stir in.  Once the stock has all but disappeared, pour in another ladleful and stir consistently - it is the stirring that ensures you wind up with a creamy texture to your risotto. Once the pan is again almost dry, repeat with another ladleful of stock and continue this way until the rice is very nearly cooked through.  You may find that you have a little too much stock, or you may need to add a little boiling water as your last ladleful - it all depends on how much you stir and how starchy your rice is.

Add the petit pois along with your last ladleful of stock and stir through, then add the courgette/meatball combination and stir through.  Make sure to bring the pan contents to piping hot and add the torn basil.

Serve immediately, on warmed plates and with grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese as garnish.

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27 August 2017

Chicken in a Marsala & mustard cream sauce - as easy as winking!

Chicken in a Marsala & mustard cream sauce is quite probably my absolute favourite chicken dish from my repertoire. I've used Marsala wine, our home made Mead and even sherry in it, with excellent results for all three. I've also swapped out the wholegrain mustard for Dijon and loved that version too. So, it's a very flexible and forgiving recipe that provides incredibly yummy results.

Right at this moment, I'm on a white meat only diet following on from a really bad gout attack and I'm so glad that I remembered this one. Eating just chicken, turkey and white fish can get a bit ho hum, even after just a week. So it was nice to have chicken with a lovely unctuous, tasty sauce and I'm only surprised that I haven't got around to blogging it before now!



Another good thing about this recipe is that if you ever find yourself with no onions but a tub of cream in the fridge and chicken in the freezer, you're half way there. It's not often, these days, you find a recipe that doesn't include onion. I've often pondered on including a sauteed onion or maybe some garlic in the sauce but always reject the idea on the basis that the sauce is so good without it, why mess with perfection?


As for Cook's Notes, there's really only one you need to be aware of which is to monitor the temperature of the pan when you're frying the chicken. Of course, you don't want your chicken to burn, but equally you really don't want it to be more than a gentle golden brown or your sauce could end up a little bitter. It all depends on your particular pan. You know it best, so just keep your eye on it during the cooking.

Mmmmnnn, I could eat this all over again today if I had the chicken!

CHICKEN IN A MARSALA & MUSTARD CREAM SAUCE (serves 3)

Ingredients :

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
a pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
120ml Marsala wine (or Mead, or Sherry)
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
100ml water
1 tsp low salt chicken stock granules (or half a low salt stock cube)
a pinch of ground black pepper
1 tsp thyme
150ml double cream
1 tsp cornflour, let down with a small amount of water.

Method :

Trim each chicken breast of any gristle or fat, then slice each breast through horizontally from the thick end to the thin end, creating two thin halves.

Place the olive or rapeseed oil into a frying pan and heat until sizzly. Gently lay each chicken breast down - and leave it alone apart from to sprinkle with a small amount of sea salt. You are aiming to achieve some colour on the chicken breasts, so they will need to stay in one position until they achieve a lovely golden colour.

Flip each breast over onto the other side and again, leave it alone to cook and gain colour for another few minutes.

Remove the chicken to a warmed plate, it doesn't matter if it isn't quite cooked through - it will finish cooking once it is in the sauce.

Pour the wine into the pan and deglaze by stirring and releasing any crispy bits that may be stuck to the pan. All these are flavour!

Once the wine has reduced by half, add the mustard, water, stock granules, black pepper and thyme. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Add the cream and stir through, then return the chicken to the pan, together with any juices that have accumulated under the chicken. Stir gently and allow the sauce to simmer.

When you are satisfied that the chicken is cooked through, if necessary add the cornflour/water mix and stir to combine. Once the sauce has thickened to your preferred consistency, serve with a selection of steamed vegetables and new potatoes.

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12 August 2017

Reduced sugar Lemon & Courgette Loaf - perfect with a cup of tea

If you are anything like me and enjoy a good ramble through recipe websites and magazines, you can't help but have noticed the trend towards including vegetables in sweet cakes and loaves.  I think it has largely come over from the States, but I also can't help thinking that perhaps this is what used to go on during the war when sugar was rationed and cake ingredients were at a premium.

Anyway, this was my first go with including courgette - and it's very good!  With the lemon in there too, you don't notice the courgette flavour but it has a distinct effect upon the texture of the cake/loaf.  (I can't help but call it a cake, because it looks so much like one and tastes so much like one!  However, the original recipe touts it as an American breakfast bread.  Well, considering cornbread, I suppose it fits!).  This is a very robust cake in that the texture of the cake crumb is almost bouncy.  Not rubbery, it just has a degree of resistance to the tooth, without being dry or crumbly.  I like it a lot.



My lovely Facebook friend Ann recommended the loaf to me - for which thank you very much, Ann!  The original recipe came from the Lemon Tree Dwelling blog (see here) - where, incidentally, it is referred to as a "bread".


Now, along with trying to reduce our consumption of carbohydrates (Conscience : "Oh yes? Why are you making cake then, Jenny, eh?", me : "Shut up and get back in your bed!"), we have also been trying to reduce our consumption of processed sugar.  That's a real tricky one where sweet baking is concerned.  I won't entertain the use of lots of the sweeteners that are out there today - and particularly not anything with aspartame or acesulfame in it. However, we have found that Truvia (a stevia based sweetener) is acceptable.

Hence, you will find that the ingredients include a quantity of Truvia along with a much reduced quantity of caster sugar.  The original quantity of sugar is 0.75 of a cup, so if you want to make a full sugar version - there you go.  :)  That may also help you in calculating how much of another sweetener of your choice, you are likely to need.

Oh and yes, because this is an American recipe (originally), the ingredients are in cups. All I can suggest is that if you haven't already, you get yourself a set of cup measures.  SO much easier than trying to convert from cups to grams!



One other thing - the original recipe says to use vegetable oil.  Because I'm me and butter tastes SO much nicer, I just melted the right amount of butter in the microwave and used that instead.  ~proud face~  What?  It was low calorie enough, alright?

Right then, excuses over, I thoroughly recommend you give this recipe a try.  Make sure to have it baked and iced before cup of tea time in the afternoon, right?  You'll be glad you did.

REDUCED SUGAR LEMON & COURGETTE LOAF   (makes around 12 slices)

Ingredients :

One and a half cups of plain flour
A half tsp bicarbonate of soda
A quarter tsp baking powder
A quarter tsp salt
A third cup of Truvia

A quarter cup of caster sugar
1 cup of finely grated, unpeeled courgette
A quarter cup of melted butter
1 egg
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest

For the drizzle icing :

Half a cup of icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest

Method :

Prepare a 1lb loaf tin by either greasing and lining with baking parchment, or by use of a ready made loaf tin liner.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.


In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir them together thoroughly and set aside.

In a separate, large, mixing bowl combine the Truvia, sugar, grated courgette, melted butter, egg, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Stir to combine.

Add the contents of the dry ingredients bowl to the courgette mixture and stir just until combined.  You may need to add a wee drop of warm water, if the mix appears too stiff.

Spoon the mixture into your prepared loaf tin and level the surface.

Bake for 50-55 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for a few minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and cool completely.

Once cool, combine the ingredients for the icing and drizzle over the loaf.  Allow a little time for the drizzle to dry - while you're making a cup of tea is about perfect.


11 August 2017

Cheese making post no. 1 : Cream Cheese

This marks the beginning of a new venture for Rhubarb & Ginger - cheese making!  Not your actual cheddar (although I don't rule anything out!), that's a bit advanced for me just yet. No, I'm starting with soft cheeses.

You see, for my recent birthday my hubby bought me all the extra paraphernalia I needed for cheese making - cheesecloth, a digital thermometer, some vegetable rennet and the very important book of recipes. The book came from Lakeland and is written by Gerard Baker, a chef who I have seen on t.v. on occasion but who has more recently been on active duty as a chef and lecturer in Antarctica!

Home made cream cheese with smoked salmon & cucumber panino
So, getting back to the cheese.  I chose this recipe for Cream Cheese to start with as it seemed fairly simple and I could pretty much guarantee that so long as the cheese at the end of everything was good, the menfolk would eat it. All of which is fairly critical as I suspected we were going to have quite a bit to wade through!

The process itself is really very simple, which is nice.  You do need some particular items in order to make clean, untainted cheese - such as stainless steel pots, pans, a colander and cutlery, glass bowls, cheesecloth and a digital thermometer to ensure that the milk mixture reaches the right temperature. You also need to ensure that everything is absolutely spanking clean and free from all chemicals, so rinse - rinse everything copiously with clean water.

My first go - edible but unexceptional
Now I will admit that this was my second go at making cheese - the first one was a bit of a failure.  However, it was worth the failure as it taught me a lot about how to heat the milk, what quantities I can easily cope with and what to expect from the curds themselves. I shall pass on as much as I can in this blog post, so that your first go will be rather more successful.

So, the initial process is to heat the 500ml of whole, full fat milk and 500ml of single cream (light cream in the USA, table cream in Canada) together in the one pan. You're not heating it very much, just to 29°C, so the easiest way (avoiding the possibility of burning the milk on the bottom of the pan) is to employ a Bain Marie style arrangement with a pyrex bowl containing the milk/cream mixture sat on the top of simmering water in a pan underneath. This way, if the contents heat too quickly or too much, it is easy to remove from the heat.  In fact, my milk/cream zoomed up to 34° at the speed of light and I had to place the bowl in a sink of cold water to bring it back down to the right temperature.  Ah well, live and learn.

Home made cream cheese with smoked salmon and cress
oven bottom muffin
It was important to reduce the temperature as the next step was to add the live yoghurt (I used Yeo Valley yoghurt and very nice it was too!) and had the milk/cream been too hot, it would have killed the live cultures within it.  So, in goes the 200ml yoghurt and half a teaspoonful of diluted rennet.  Make sure to stir gently but regularly so that the rennet is mixed in quickly and effectively as it begins working quickly.  One of the things I learned in my first attempt with rennet was that my rennet - it is vegetable rennet - is very weak.  As a result, I used twice the amount required.  You will only know how your rennet performs by using it, unfortunately.

Following 30 minutes of exercising of what little patience I possess, I took a look inside the bowl.  Honestly, the satisfaction of finding a bowl full of coagulated curds and whey is quite ridiculous and almost as good as the next stage of cutting the curd.  It is worthwhile popping your (very clean) little pinky finger into the curd to check whether it splits cleanly before cutting the curd.  If it doesn't break cleanly, leave it for another 15 minutes or so until it does.


The next stage, cutting the curd, is my favourite bit.  ~shrug~  I have no idea why. Anyway, find yourself a super-clean, fine bladed, stainless steel carving knife type of knife and cut the curds into squares (well, rectangles in fact, but they look like squares from the surface!).  Believe it or not, this helps to release the whey from the curd.

A word about cheesecloth.  If you're using a new piece of cheesecloth, it is essential to give it a good rinse through to ensure that any loose threads have been cleared before using it in anger.  I usually do this bit before doing anything else and leave it sat on the side in a dish.

So the next bit is to line your stainless steel colander with cheesecloth and place it over a big bowl.  Then gently spoon the cut curds into the cheesecloth. About now, you should start feeling a little bit like a cheese maker.  *chuckle* Immediately, you will see the whey begin to drain from the curds - which is what you're after.  If you're in the U.K., you can probably leave the cheese out of the fridge for the next six or seven hours as it drains.  However if you live somewhere hot, it's best to put it in the fridge.  Good luck with finding room for a large bowl and colander in the fridge.  We had to play some serious fridge tetris to get ours in!  Take a look at it from time to time and drain off the whey.  I kept mine and drank it with a little cherry syrup added.  Major lushness.

You will need to put the cheese into the fridge overnight (complete with colander and bowl), however at around the 8 hour mark, it is worthwhile very gently turning the sides of the curd to the middle, just to ensure that the centre of the curds get to drain properly.  I did this just before it went into the fridge.  Sneak a flavour now too - isn't it divine?


The following day, simply peel the cheesecloth away from the cheese curds and spoon them into a storage bowl with good fitting lid.  Hey presto - your cream cheese is ready for use.  Break out the smoked salmon and celebrate, you're a cheese maker!

The yield you will get depends entirely on the degree of milk solids in your milk products.  I'm afraid I can't tell you how much mine made because we'd eaten a third of it before I remembered I should have weighed it.  I guess if you think of a standard 180g pack of Philadelphia cream cheese, I must have made approximately four of those - so around 700-800g in total.

What all this fuss has been about - home made cream cheese!

Another thing is your milk.  Without doubt, raw milk is the best.  However, finding it is like finding rocking horse poo.  So don't be worried about using homogenised, pasteurised milk - it's what I used.  So long as the cream is accompanying the milk, the cream molecules will be able to help the homogenised cream molecules work in the required fashion for cream cheese.

I suppose I'd better provide a smaller, more concise version of the above recipe, *chuckle*, but I'd recommend if you're new to this process, you read all the above before getting cracking.

CREAM CHEESE   

Ingredients :

500ml whole, full fat milk
500ml single cream
200ml live plain yoghurt
0.5 tsp rennet, diluted in 15ml warm water.

Method :

To begin with, rinse a large piece of cheesecloth through and place to one side in a bowl.

Place a large pyrex bowl over the top of a saucepan containing a small amount of simmering water.  (Or use a double boiler, if you're lucky enough to have one)  Add the milk and cream to the bowl and slowly bring to a temperature of 29°C (84°F) stirring gently all the time.

Remove from the heat and stir the yoghurt into the milk mixture.  Mix the rennet with the water and stir them into the milk mixture, making sure to stir right through to the bottom of the bowl.

Set the bowl aside in a warm place for 30 minutes.  The milk should have coagulated into curds and whey.  Test the curds by inserting your pinky finger to break the curds.  If they break cleanly, proceed to the next step.  If a bit of a ragged break, leave the curds for another 15 minutes.

Take your knife and gently cut the curds in a chequer board pattern, so as to create squares.

Line a stainless steel colander with the rinsed cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl.  Gently spoon the curds into the centre of the colander.  You will see the whey begin to drain.  Set the cheese aside to drain, checking it from time to time and emptying the bowl of whey.

At the end of some 8 hours (or overnight), gently fold the cheese from the sides to the middle, so as to help the draining process.  Place the whole lot (colander, bowl and all) in the fridge overnight or until the curds have virtually stopped draining.

Spoon the drained curds into a super-clean, lidded storage container and plan your lunch.

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