Friday, 29 July 2011

Broad Beans, Baby Carrots, Mint and Manchego

True love shouldn't be measured in bunches of flowers and bottles of champagne, but how many broad beans you're prepared to double pod for someone.

Broad beans are marvellous things; creamy, sweet and with the most vibrant green colour.  In order to see them at their best - unless they're baby beans no bigger than a little fingernail - you really need to remove not just the outer pod, but the leathery grey jackets too.

This is pretty tedious prep, I plodded through my podding while watching the British Open on TV (although some may argue golf is equally boring!), but it will reward you with a beautiful bounty that will shine in any dish you use them in.  As well as making a great addition to summery salads, a handful of broad beans go very nicely with bacon, in a simple omelette or tossed into pasta.

I got my beans for this recipe from my local PYO.  I already had plans to use them with a wheel of Manchego I had carted back from Spain, along with some fresh mint from the garden.  A patch of baby carrots, about the length of a index finger, were too lovely to pass by, and so I threw a few of them in too.  As well as adding a splash of vibrant orange they provided a welcome bitterness and crunch.

As with most salads, this is an easily adaptable dish.  The cheese can be swapped for a goat, feta, or an English sheep's cheese like Berkswell.  Mint can be swapped for some summery basil, dill or parsley, and even the beans, star of the show, can be swapped for a handful of fresh peas.

Broad Beans, Baby Carrots, Mint and Manchego

Take a large handful of broad beans per person and lightly steam for a few minutes. 
Allow beans to cool slightly and pod, removing grey skin if necessary.
While podding beans, steam a few baby carrots per person so they retain a slight crunch.
Put warm veg into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, sherry vinegar.  Add chopped mint and season well.
Allow to sit and marinade for 15 minutes, then spread veg on a large plate and cover with wafer thin slices of manchego.  (a potato peeler is the best thing for this)
Drizzle with more oil and mint leaves and serve.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Almond Ice Cream with Amaretto Poached Apricots

Apricots: sweet bundles of summer sunshine or musty, orange cotton wool balls?  I must say I've never been much of a fan.  The rattling stone and powdery flesh of an apricot that's past its best is a depressing thing indeed.  Even the most perfect, honeyed specimen looses out to plums and peaches in my fruit bowl.

Apricot will always find a friend in almonds, and after finding a fabulously easy recipe for almond ice cream in Sam and Eddie Hart's 'Modern Spanish Cooking' I knew it was time to give the fuzzy fruit another chance.  While I can't say that I'm a complete convert, the little golden globes, at the height of ripeness, made a surprisingly sour foil for the gentle sweetness of the ice cream.  Any other stone fruit, or a few fresh raspberries or blackberries, would make a decent substitution for the apricots.

This ice cream is very simple to make, and has a wonderfully subtle, clean, milky flavour.  The lack of cream or eggs really lets the toasted nuts shine through.  It does seem freeze to very hard, so give it a good few minutes out of the freezer before serving.

Almond Ice Cream

200g Blanched almonds
600ml Full fat milk
100g Caster sugar
200ml Water

Pre-heat oven to 180c and toast almond on a baking tray for 10 minutes, or until lightly golden.
Put almonds, milk, sugar and water into a large saucepan and heat until sugar has dissolved.
Bring mixture to the boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
Blend cooled mixture thoroughly.
Sieve mixture and add 50g of the ground almonds back into the sieved liquid for texture (I added a little more to mine)
Place mixture in fridge to chill.
Churn chilled mixture in an ice cream maker until frozen.

Poached Apricots
Apricots, two or three per person
Sugar syrup, to cover (1:1 sugar to water, brown is good)
1 tsp Vanilla
Amaretto (or other liqueur) to taste

Cut apricots in half and remove stones.
Place sugar syrup in pan, add fruit and vanilla and gently cook for 5-10 minutes, until fruit is soft.
Remove fruit with a slotted spoon, add liqueur and boil to reduce to a syrupy consistency.
Strain syrup and add to fruit.
Serve warm or chilled with ice cream above, cream or yogurt.

Friday, 22 July 2011

So Schmeckt Berlin - Part 2

On the trail of the best wurst...

A trip to Germany wouldn't be complete with out some wurst.  Currywurst is a Berlin staple, invented here in the 1940's and available at imbiss (snack stops) all over the city. A pork sausage is fried until crispy, chopped up and served with a curried ketchup and a sprinkling of curry powder.

The first ones we tried were at the famous Ku'Damm 195 Currywurst, located in the West of the city and famed for serving their sausages on plates, washed down with champagne if you want it. The Germans are not famed for the spice in their food, and the 'curry' element in this seemed very tame.  A nice enough snack, but better was the bockwurst I also tried; a juicy smoked sausage served with a roll and German mustard.

I did enjoy a final fling with a currywurst on my last night in Berlin, this time from Curry 61 onOranienburger Straße.  I don't know whether it was the sadness of going home the next day, or too much beer, but this wurst seemed much better.  A tangier sauce and good bread rolls shaped like a mini loaf.

Another Berlin invention, and street corner staple, is the doner kebab.  This much derided revolving skewer of meat, sliced and served in bread, with salad and sauce, can be a fabulous snack when executed properly.  Despite not having eaten a doner while sober for a fair few years this example - ordered from a stand in the road in Kreuzberg, the Turkish centre of the city - was glorious.  The bread was especially good, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, perfect for soaking up the 'special sauce' and meaty juices.  I still couldn't convince the Ewing of their merits though.

Also in Kreuzberg is the Turkish Market, held every Tuesday and Friday afternoon.  We chanced upon this accidentally after going down for a lovely breakfast by the canal - I'd highly recommend the
Ankerklause for french toast and fine views - The market was fabulous; buzzing with life and filled with stalls selling fruit, spices, bread, clothes and cheese, and stands selling hot börek and falafel.  Although we were still full from breakfast there is somehow always room for a honey soaked pastry and some wonderfully ripe plums.

BurgerMeister, a cult burger joint housed in an old Prussian pubic loo, on a traffic island under a railway bridge.  Thankfully the burger lived up to the great setting; My cooked to order chilli cheeseburger  featured a thin patty, charred but still pink , proper plastic burger cheese, jalapeños , chilli sauce and salad.  Wunderbar!

While walking back to Kottbusser Tor U Bahn station we stopped in at Angry Chicken, a new Korean wing joint on Skalitzer Strasse.  The only things on the menu are wings, chips, soft drinks and beer, so I had high hopes.  While the chicken was good, cooked to order and encased in a crispy, greaseless crust, the spicing level of the 'angry' chicken was very tame.  If I'm ever back again I'll be trying the 'furious',  an extra hot version.

Some proper schwein!  The top picture is the Berliner specialty Eisbein, a boiled pork knuckle served with sauerkruat, split peas and boiled potatoes.  Although not perhaps the most visually appealing dish this was a beautiful contrast of sweet, salty and sour.  Removing the protective layer of fat from the pork hock revealed succulent strands of dark pink meat that fell away from the bone.  The split peas were particularly good, studded with chunks of crispy bacon.

The bottom picture is Knusprige Grillhaxe, a crispy pork knuckle served with red cabbage and potato dumplings.  I ate this in the pretty little courtyard of  Zur Letzten Instanz, a traditional restaurant dating back to 1621.  Apparently Napolean was a fan, and after our dinner here I can understand why.

Schnitzels and noodles at the Markthalle, hard to think of this pairing without images of Julie Andrews dancing around the Alps with her guitar.  While perhaps not my quite favourite things I certainly always have time for more pork and pasta.

The Ewing ordered the schnitzel, an unusual choice for her but she wolfed down the 'kleine', although still pretty substantial, portion of crispy coated meat and tangy potato salad.  I had the spätzle, home made Swabian potato noodles, here served with speck, cheese and fried onions.  Despite the rivers of melted dairy and chunks of bacon this was surprisingly light, and very moreish.

Although we both chose the, bargain, small portions, and went easy on the dunkel bier, the apple strudel was still beyond us. Vielleicht beim nächsten Mal!

Monday, 18 July 2011

So Schmeckt Berlin - Part 1

Much maligned for it's hearty fare, rather than haute cusine, I was nonetheless looking forward to eating my way around Berlin on my recent trip.  Meals based around pig and beer; surely there can be nothing finer?  As it turned out the food was fabulous, and, after plenty of great eating, I've spilt my Deutsch dining adventures into two parts.

First up breakfast, cakes, cola and an afternoon in the beiergarten.

Breakfast at restaurant Käfer, found on the roof of the German parliament.  Booking a table here not only guarantees you a meal with a view, you also get to explore the roof top and Norman Foster's glass dome after you have eaten. After having our passports checked, and going through airport style security gates we were accompanied up to the roof. The beautiful, sunny weather meant we could sit out on the terrace to eat.  The food isn't especially cheap (watch out for the 9.5 Euro bottle of water) but it is delicious and there's plenty of it. I chose the Bavarian breakfast; a selection of breads and jams accompanied by a fresh pretzel, Weißwurst, cheese, ham and Waldorf salad.  It also came with a Weißbier, the perfect thirst quencher for a hot morning.
The 'superfrustuck' at our local restaurant, Cafe Stresemann. This was a great little find, while hungry and tired, on our first night.  As well as an airy, old fashioned, interior there is also a lovely, shaded beer garden you can eat in.  The breakfast was great;  a traditional German selection of ham, cheese, pate, rye bread and a boiled egg, followed by rolls with butter and jam. The only let down was the coffee, usually pretty decent in Deuschland.

The traditional Cafe Sybille on Karl Marx Allee.  Featuring a museum at the back, based around the famous road on which it stands, this is a perfect stop for Kaffee und Kuchen.  The Apfelstrudel cake may have looked a little plain and uninspired, but was lovely and moist, with a layer of sharp fruit and a crunchy crumble topping.

The famous 'Berliner' doughnut, or Pfannkuchen as it is known in Berlin.  I bought this from a bakery at Tegel Airport, and didn't hold out too much hope for it.  It turned out to be one of the best yeast doughnuts I have eaten; both crispy and soft and full of jam. Sadly I had already gone through security, or I would have gone back to try the iced version.

A refreshing glass of Berliner Weisse the famous cloudy, sour wheat beer from Northern Germany.  It's a weak beer, usually around 3% alcohol, that is deliberately soured by a second bottle fermentation.  Traditionally it is served either rot oder grün (with raspberry or woodruff syrup) in bowl shaped glasses.  Although its popularity has waned in recent years it still makes a wonderful sweet/sour drink on a summer's day.

Ice creams from Eisladen, a mini chain of independent, ice cream shops that have some unusual flavours and use organic milk for their products.  This branch was down a small side street, surrounded by businesses, and it was funny to see groups in suits emerging with their lunchtime cones.

After making the difficult of which flavours to choose we sat outside in the sun to enjoy our goodies.  I chose the black vanilla, coloured with a natural soot, Milchreis, a rice pudding ice cream, and a sea buckthorn sorbet.  All were lovely, the sea buckthorn was gloriously tart and especially refreshing

On Sunday afternoon, beaten by the heat, we repaired to Cafe am Neuen See, a traditional, Bavarian style Biergarten in the Tiergaren.  Many locals had also had the same idea, but luckily there was plenty of room and we grabbed a table under the shade of the trees.  A few steins of Hacker Pschorr lager later and we were ready for another snack.  As well as the more usual pretzels and meat loaf there are also delicious, and cheap, wood fired pizzas available topped with either mozzarella and basil, or spicy sausage and chilli.

No trip to a new city would be complete without a visit to a supermarket or two.  Berlin supermarkets are pretty basic, and seem to be based around the 'pile it high, sell it cheap' philosophy, with lots of people still visiting the local butcher, baker, greengrocer for their fresh food.

One of my favourite finds was Spezi, a mixed orange and cola drink.  Pepsi make a version called  Schwip Schwap, or there is Mezzo Mix, made by Coca Cola.  I also found Vita Cola, a East German drink whose popularity has been revived by Ostologie, or a nostalgia for the East. Slightly less sweet than 'regular' cola, it also has a citrussy flavour.

And a very small selection of the magnificent wurst on offer. Here we have a jar of Pferdewürstchen, or horse sausages, and some Halberstädter Würstchen - described as 'real sausage for real men'. Sadly, after all the Ritter Sport and Haribo we bought, there wasn't room in my luggage for these.  Maybe next time...

Friday, 15 July 2011

Bundaberg Flamed Pineapple with Mint Cream

In honour of our recent Antipodean house guests I decided it was time to dig out the bottle of Bundaberg Red we had bought back from our last trip to Oz. Apart from a few dark and stormies the bottle had thus far remained unloved at the back of the cupboard and was now attracting layers of dust alongside the aquavit, creme de cassis and melon liqueur.

Taking advantage of my recent pineapple love in, and finding some giant specimens for a quid at my local market, I decided to caremelise them along with some brown sugar, a little lime and a healthy slug of rum.  A good dollop of whipped cream, with mint from the garden and a little more booze, rounded things off nicely.

A brilliantly simple summer pud, just try and take more care than I did if you're flaming alcohol.  Rather stupidly I leant over over the stove while igniting the rum and later that evening the Ewing had to point out that half my hair and one eyebrow had been singed.  Not a great look.

Rum Glazed Pineapple with Mint Cream
Per person

2/3 Slices of pineapple, peeled and cut into rounds
1 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Large Slug of Rum
A good squeeze of lime

To serve
Double or whipping cream
Brown sugar
Splash of rum
Handful of fresh chopped mint

Heat butter and sugar in a frying pan until a the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is starting to turn into caramel.
Add pineapple slices and cook until golden on both sides.
Add a healthy slug of rum and ignite.
When the alcohol has burnt off place pineapple slices on plate and pour syrup on top.
Serve with mint cream.

For the mint cream lightly whip cream until it stands in soft peaks.
Add chopped mint, sugar and rum to taste.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Dark Chocolate Sorbet

After a magnificently hot Easter the British summer seems to have reverted back to type. Despite the recent thunderstorms and rain I have got my frozen dessert mojo back, and dusted off the faithful ice cream machine.

The Ewing loves chocolate, and I love the Ewing, so I thought it would be nice to make something to satisfy those cocoa cravings. I got my inspiration for this recipe from a chocolate sorbet that I had eaten at Scoop in Soho a little while back.  I was impressed with the richness and the velvety smooth texture they had achieved without any eggs or cream, and more impressed that it's really simple to make at home.  The lack of dairy products in this means you can really taste the bitter, clean flavour of the cocoa, using decent dark chocolate makes a big difference.

The main problem with making sorbets are ice crystals or a grainy texture.  To prevent crystals don't be tempted to cut out any sugar, as it stops the mixture freezing too hard. I also used a spoonful of liquid glucose and some Amaretto (you could also try a splash of rum, brandy or orange liqueur) to help keep the texture smooth. Remember though, too much alcohol and the sorbet may not set at all. Sieving the cocoa should help prevent graininess, but if the mixture seems gritty before you churn it then sieve through a fine mesh strainer.

Dark Chocolate Sorbet

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups Water
2 Tbsp Cocoa Powder sieved
1 Tbsp Liquid Glucose (optional)
100g 70% Dark Chocolate chopped into small pieces
 Pinch Salt
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Tbsp Amaretto (optional)

Put the water into a large pan and bring to the boil. Add the sugar and dissolve.
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the chocolate, cocoa, salt and liquid glucose. Whisk until chocolate has completely melted.
Pour mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for several hours.
If mixture has separated whisk again and then pour into your ice cream machine.
Churn until glossy (about 20 minutes) then pour into a container and place back in freezer to harden. Bring it out of the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving.

This was lovely; smooth, rich and not too sweet.  The Ewing liked it just as it was but I also tried serving it with cherries in kirsch, left over from Christmas, poured over the top.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Lamb, Satwell, Oxfordshire

While my sister was recently visiting from Oz I was keen to take her back to a good old fashioned English pub, preferably with good food and beer, in a nice country setting.  The Lamb at Satwell seemed to fit the bill; food recommended in the Good Pub Guide, supplied with an exclusive brew from the local Loddon Brewery and only about half an hours drive from our door through the gently rolling Chilterns.

Despite nursing sore heads from the night before we set off in good spirits, and were not even deterred by the sat nav leading us into a lay by nowhere near the pub before announcing; 'you have reached your destination'.  The pub itself is charming, a 16 century building, with nooks and crannies full of knick knacks, and a lovely sunny garden.  As the weather was typically English we chose to sit inside and got on with ordering a pint of the the decent Leaping lamb ale and a couple of glasses of wine.

The Ewing ordered the two courses and a drink for £15 from the set meal, (advertised on the website and on the pub's walls as being available all lunchtime, and before 7.00) tucked in the main menu.  Unfortunately, after taking our order, they informed us that as they were so busy earlier the deal was off.  Kindly, after checking with the kitchen, the waiter said they could still do it, less OK was the fact they still charged us full price on the final bill.

Her starter of potted shrimps came as a generous portion covered in delicious clarified butter and not served fridge cold, as is often their downfall.  The tiny pink commas of prawn were unusually, but successfully, cooked with a sweet mirepoix of celery, carrot and onion.

The Ewing's main was kipper with poached egg, sauteed potatoes and mustard sauce.  Rich and creamy, the smokiness nicely complimented with the tang of the mustard and chives.  It was a rich dish and would have been good with some bitter salad leaves, or green veg on the side to mop up the sauce and cut through the strong flavours.

My sister and mum shared the smoked mackerel with a poached egg and hollandaise, (requested on the side) and a braised shoulder a and grilled rack of lamb between them.  The fish came covered in hollandaise.  A shame as it was reported as being rather good once most of the sauce was scraped to the side.  The eggs come from the chickens kept out in he back garden, and this one was poached perfectly.

The lamb was the standout dish of the night, somewhat apt considering the pub's name.  Sticky strands of slow cooked shoulder and three fat pink grilled chops in a puddle of properly glossy gravy.  Accompanied by green beans and crispy roasties a small pile of gnawed bones was the only evidence left on the plate.

I chose the guinea fowl with red cabbage, roasted celariac and Penny Bun mushroom butter.  The meat was juicy while the red cabbage and celariac cake added a earthy sweetness.  Standout was the mushroom butter, a delicious, creamy addition with a deep fungal flavour.  Again the gravy was exemplary, although, like the Ewing's main, with all the rich, sweet flavours perhaps the whole dish was lacking a little zing of freshness.

The Ewing and I struggled on to pudding (in the name of research of course).  After a mix up that saw the table next to us served our original puddings we finally received roasted plums with amaretti and mascapone, and steamed apple and ginger pudding with ice cream.  Although she was rather quiet while eating her fruit the Ewing proclaimed it 'really rather good' later that evening.  Picking out the contrast between the soft fruit and crunchy almond biscuits as being particularly nice.

My choice was a proper rib sticker that had managed to retain the fluffy interior of a good steamed
pud. The ginger was a good addition and the cold vanilla ice cream the perfect foil. Even my sister, normally a shunner of all things sweet, enjoyed it leaving me to defend my desert from the probing fork on the other side of the table.

Overall a pleasant and enjoyable meal if slightly shadowed by a few small service errors.  The prices are pretty fair, the cooking good and the staff friendly.  The lovely countryside setting setting with big beer garden and barbecue area also make it an attractive prospect for a summers afternoon.  Especially if they're planning one of their advertised hog roasts.  For a pint of Leaping Lamb and a pig bap I may well be back.