Saturday, 30 June 2007

Lego Salt and Pepper Shaker

I am in love with my Lego Salt and Pepper Shakers even though both are pretty much unusable from a cooking point of view! Especially if you are using proper salt and pepper.

They are guaranteed to cause a stir.


I used to use Malden Sea Salt which is great but then I found Noirmoutier Fleur de Sel. It looks a bit like crushed, crystally marble. It's almost sharp to the touch but sprinkles on food like snow and I love it!

Wikipedia says Fleur de Sel is best used like a herb; simply sprinkled on food just before serving.

"Fleur de sel ("Flower of salt" in French) is a hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Traditional French fleur de sel is collected off the coast of Brittany & Noirmoutier, and is slightly grey due to the sandy minerals collected in the process of harvesting the salt from the pans. It is also produced in Camargue.

Also known in Portuguese as "flor de sal", the hand-harvested variant from the Algarve region of Portugal is becoming known, as it is of similar quality to the French fleur de sel or better. In addition, it has the advantage of being pure white and usually sells for half the price of the french fleur de sel.

Fleur de sel is best used similarly to fresh herbs, sprinkling it onto food just before serving."


Good pepper makes such a difference. It's nose-tingling, lively, feisty and the making of many a meal.

A quick look at Wikipedia reveals all:

"Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The same fruit is also used to produce white pepper and green pepper. Black pepper is native to South India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is a small drupe five millimetres in diameter, dark red when fully mature, containing a single seed.

Dried ground pepper is one of the most common spices in European cuisine and its descendants, having been known and prized since antiquity for both its flavour and its use as a medicine. The spiciness of black pepper is due to the chemical piperine. Ground black peppercorn, usually referred to simply as "pepper", may be found on nearly every dinner table in some parts of the world, often alongside table salt.

The word "pepper" is derived from the Sanskrit pippali, the word for long pepper via the Latin piper which was by the Romans to refer both to pepper and long pepper, as the Romans erroneously believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant. The English word for pepper is derived from the Old English pipor. The Latin word is also the source of German pfeffer, French poivre, Dutch peper, and other similar forms. In the 16th century, pepper started referring to the unrelated New World chile peppers as well. "Pepper" was used in a figurative sense to mean "spirit" or "energy" at least as far back as the 1840s; in the early 20th century, this was shortened to pep.

Pepper gets its spicy heat mostly from the piperine compound, which is found both in the outer fruit and in the seed. Refined piperine, milligram-for-milligram, is about one per cent as hot as the capsaicin in chile peppers. The outer fruit layer, left on black pepper, also contains important odour-contributing terpenes including pinene, sabinene, limonene, caryophyllene, and linalool, which give citrusy, woody, and floral notes. These scents are mostly missing in white pepper, which is stripped of the fruit layer. White pepper can gain some different odours (including musty notes) from its longer fermentation stage.

Pepper loses flavour and aroma through evaporation, so airtight storage helps preserve pepper's original spiciness longer. Pepper can also lose flavour when exposed to light, which can transform piperine into nearly tasteless isochavicine. Once ground, pepper's aromatics can evaporate quickly; most culinary sources recommend grinding whole peppercorns immediately before use for this reason."

So pepper is a fruit! Never knew that.

Here's the pepper I've been using recently. I bought it from the pepper man at Borough market...

It's called Tellicherry Garbled Extra Special Bold and is superb. I love the way all the pepper corns look like mini footballs. Just don't spill it all over the floor!

With such good pepper, it would be sacrilege to use a crappy pepper grinder... so I invested in my pride and joy... my baseball bat pepper grinder.

Tomato Pasta

Hardly original but incredibly tasty and very satisfying to make. I was made in Italy and so was this recipe. Having not been food shopping since visiting Borough Market last week I was forced to delve inside our empty fridge and erratically stocked cupboards.

I had a bag of large bag of baby tomatoes bought from a very nice man at Borough Market, some smoked garlic from the garlic specialists on the Isle of White and some old red wine. So I cooked the tomatoes down into rich red goo and threw in a generous amount of sticky, sweet, smoked garlic. This all simmered away getting sweeter and more unctuous by the second. A good sprinkling of fleur de mer sea salt, some chili, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes from a tin and some red wine were added half way through to help pad it out and add some spice.

Just before serving it I grabbed some basil and thyme from my herb pot that's doing very well in this rainy June weather and served it up. The pasta only boiled for 6 minutes so it still had a bit of bite. I stirred it all together in the pan to make sure all the pasta was coated in the sauce and then tucked in.

It was so satisfying cooking this delicious dish from scratch and only having a handful of ingredients to work with apart from some amazing tomatoes! Next time I'll make my own pasta too. I just need some more 00 flour. It's great to have the time to cook properly. It makes life so much better.

Hannah's Floral Cookery Demonstration

Last weekend was very special. Mum had around 400 people around our garden for charity despite the horrible rain. Hannah gave 2 brilliant demonstrations of how to make delicious desserts including a sinful Toblerone tiramisu, a ginger cheesecake, a strawberry tart and some fantastic lavender shortcake.

Here are some of the snaps I took:

Hannah signing autographs...

Everyone in the audience loved the demonstration and Hannah was an inspiration. There was a collective intake of breath as the fifth layer of double cream was layered on top of the tiramisu! And you've never seen desserts guzzled more quickly than when Hannah's creations were handed around the audience. It was as if no one had eaten for 40 days or nights!

My Mum's Ice Bowl

My Mum is a genius in the garden and writes wonderful gardening and cookery books. But I would say that wouldn't I! I remember when I was at school she was writing The Edible Flower Garden.

I would come back from school and be used as a guinea pig trying all sorts of floral treats such as this delicious rose petal cake is a winner. I've never seen it go down badly!

And better still Mum's incredible Ice Bowl... I haven't got a copy of Mum's book with me so I have had to steal the recipe from RecipeZaar... just hope Mum forgives me!

Here's how you make it thanks to RecipeZaar...

1. Fill a metal or ceramic bowl 3/4 full with water and the flower petals.
2. Place a smaller bowl inside the first bowl and anchor with duct tape to keep it centered.
3. Freeze bowls overnight.
4. When ready to serve, remove duct tape and the small bowl.
5. If you happen to have a blow torch, flash the larger bowl to release the finished ice bowl-- but don't worry, room temperature will release the bowl in 10-15 minutes.
6. Fill with something colorful and yummy and serve!

It looks stunning when full of ice cream or a nice gazpacho. Although you've got to eat it quickly! It is certainly a good conversations starter.

Mum is having great fun teaming up with Master Chef's brilliant country cook Hannah Miles dreaming up new flowery recipes and generally getting very enthusiastic about cooking with beautiful flowers. This is the link to Hannah's demonstration from last weekend.

Here's the link to Mum's garden where we have regular garden openings throughout the summer. The next one is on July 29th.

Now that's what I call a BBQ

This is the most incredible BBQ I've ever seen. I love how Americans don't do things by thirds let alone halves - if that makes sense!

It's just what I need for my mega summer BBQ. I was planning to do a fire pit cook off with an underground fire pit but this could work instead. This fella could probably cook a whole zoo in one go.

Meat Marinading

I seriously want one of these bad boys. I got an email from This Next recommending a whole bunch of meat related goodies and this popped. It sucks the air out of the chamber and then tumbles the meat around in the marinade and your meat pops out tender, juicy and oh so tasty. I've just got to get my hands on one now!

From This Next:

"Reveo MariVac Food Tumbler brings the commercial marinating technology of meat processors and butchers into the home. Marinates meats, poultry, fish, veggies, tofu, fruit in just 5 to 20 minutes and does a better job than 24 hours of pan or bag soak marination. The Patent-pending MariVac process uses a commercial-grade vacuum pump, which removes the air from the barrel causing the food's fibers to relax and stretch open to absorb substantially more marinade than pan soaking. Then the tumbling action massages and works the marinade deep into the food for moist fall-off -the-fork tender flavorful results. Triple the flavor with less than half the marinade in a fraction of the time."

You can buy one here.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Taste of London Festival

Cowie and I had been looking forward to our gastronomic trip to Regent's Park for around a month now. Needless to say, I was late meeting Cowie. After a brief bit of frostiness we pottered up to the Park praying that it wasn't going to rain.

Here's a very brief run down of what we got up to at Taste of London:

Theo Randall's Scallops were really tasty and perfectly cooked but we weren't convinced by the bed of lentils they sat on.

Tom Aitken's sole goujons with chips and tartare sauce were simply amazing. So juicy. So tasty. So well battered. And the tartare sauce was very delicate. Great capers and very good herbyness. You can see how much I loved them below!

Surf and turf from Zilli's was excellent, if a little on the cold side. Juicy lamb and very strong tasting prawns came with a wonderfully oily tomato sauce.

Our favourite dish of the night came from the lads at Cinnamon Club. Curried tilapia with a yoghurt rice and carrot and coconut mousse was sensational. Cowie liked it most cos it made me hiccup!

The Gavroche stand was swarming with people, celebrities and film crews. Steven Wallis from Masterchef and M. Roux were serving out lobster bisque and daube of beef. Both were mindblowingly rich - but amazing! I washed down the little piece of lobster tail that was in the bottom of my sampling mug with a well earned sample of Penfold's chardonay! Text book!

Other highlights included some tremendous tuna sushi with truffle cream from Samosuma and seeing a whole host of very busy celebrity chefs.

Hero Fearnley Wittingstall - we're off on Hugh's mushromm foraging activity day in October which should be fun.

Wozza furiously slicing pork

I think this man's called Zilli

We left with sore feet and very stretched tummies having spent a wonderful evening sniffing, gobbling and tasting the best that London has to offer. Looking forward to next year.

Cumin and Yoghurt BBQ'd Chicken

This is a wonderful recipe I first saw on Saturday Kitchen, by Rachel Allen.

"For the marinade
300ml/11fl oz natural yoghurt
2 tbsp mint or coriander, finely chopped
1 lemon, juice only
1 tbsp crushed cumin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely grated or crushed
good pinch of pepper"

I have tried it a couple of times now and have adapted it slightly to be more spicy, herby and crucially BBQ'd. The yoghurt, cumin, chilli and garlic marinade helps to keep the chicken incredibly succulent and gives the skin a fantastic sticky charred taste after it's lapped by the flames. I also added a heap of thyme and some rosemary, mainly cos Mum's got so much growing everywhere!

So, spatchcook your chicken, which is great fun, then throw it flesh side down into your yoghurty marindae and then leave for as long as you can. Tonight it only marinaded for about an hour... overnight is the recommendation.

In the meantime get your BBQ revved up and grill the chicken bone side down for aroudn 20 minutes to make sure the middle bit is cooked. Then, add whatever marinade you have left to the fleshy side and turn over. Cook for about 25 minutes with the lid down and the flame on medium/low. In the meantime, rustle up a tasty green salad - or get your sister to do it. Then check the chicken is done and tuck in!

Cougettes topped with capers accompanied by mixed peppers filled with goats cheese and balsamic vinegar did a great job of keeping the chicken company. As did our home grown puffball!

Saturday, 23 June 2007

BBQ'd Puffball Mushroom with Garlic

Dad called me out to the garden to help with his leaf vacuum cleaner. Whilst watching him hoover up a bunch of leaves I was drawn to the magnetic presence of a puff ball mushroom. Clearly, the rain we've had over the last few days coupled with our warmish summer weather had triggered its growth. Mum has often sent me photos of puffballs in the past, but I have never seen one like this before. They're normally a bit past it and shriveled up like an old man with bladder problems. This one was primed and ready to be eaten like you see in Borough Market. The fact that this one had little nibble marks on its skin was a good sign. If it's good enough for the wildlife it's fine for us.

The recipe, if you can call it that is simple:

Wipe dirt off mushroom.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped garlic.
Toss onto BBQ and season with black pepper and a bit of salt.
Turn after a couple of minutes and add a bit of butter.
Remove from BBQ and devour!

For best results eat straight off the BBQ before tucking into some BBQ'd chicken.


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