Valentines Ruby Red Velvet Cake

Ruby Red Velvet cake is an American classic but easily adapted for a special Valentines treat. A traditional velvet cake has layers of moist deep red crumb cake with white vanilla buttercream or frosting. In the recipe below I have included a cream cheese frosting recipe. Ruby Red Velvet cake was made famous at  New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and in fact was named Waldorf-Astoria cake*, it is, however, a Southern recipe and is popular at restaurants such as the soul food based Amy Ruth’s in Harlem**. If you have ever seen the film Steel Magnolias the Armadillo shaped groom’s cake is a red velvet cake.

The Science Bit

Most modern recipes use red colouring but the traditionally the acids in the vinegar and buttermilk reacted with red anthocyanin in the cocoa and developed its colour. The buttermilk also helped keep the cake moist, light, and fluffy. Modern chocolate has often undergone Dutch processing, which prevents the colour change of the anthocyanins.  When foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beetroot juices to enhance the colour of their cakes. Sugarbeets are still found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also add sweetness and help to retain moisture, rather like the carrot in carrot cake. Adams Extract, a Texas company, is credited with bringing the red velvet cake to kitchens across America during the Great Depression era, by being one of the first to promote the use and sales of red food colouring use of point-of-sale posters and tear-off recipe cards.

I like this cake because if you follow the recipe it is light and moist and tastes delicious. The frosting is very rich but addictive, all in all, this is a real heart pleaser.

*Rather like the illustrious Savoy hotel in London the Waldorf-Astoria had a tradition of the Chef’s creating dishes for their guests, Thousand Island Dressing is another creation from the hotel’s kitchens that we still use today. At the Savoy the famous hotelier César Ritz and his Maitre de Cuisine  Auguste Escoffier created dishes like Pavlova and Omelette Arnold Bennett for their illustrious clients and for the famous Australian opera singer Nellie Melba both Peach Melba and Melba Toast.

**So Harlem is about as far from the deep south as physically and politically possible but it is where I first tried Velvet cake it’s on the menu as Inez Bass, named after the founder’s Mother. 

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Ruby Red Velvet Cake

For the Cake

250 gr Plain Flour

60 gr Cocoa Powder

150 gr soft Unsalted Butter

260 gr Caster Sugar

2 large free-range Eggs

200 ml Buttermilk

1 tablespoon Red Food Colouring ( approximately )

1 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon Distilled Vinegar

1 teaspoon Baking Soda

¼ teaspoon Salt

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

250 gr soft full fat Cream Cheese

250 gr Mascarpone Cheese

100 gr Icing Sugar

1 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract

175 ml Double Cream

For the Cake

Preheat your oven to 350F / 175C / Gas mark 3, then butter and line two twenty-centimetre cake tins with baking parchment. Into a large mixing bowl sift the flour and salt. In a second large bowl beat the butter until very soft, add the sugar to the butter and beat until light and aerated. Whisk the eggs together and slowly add to the butter and sugar, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Should the mix start to separate and curdle, beat in a little flour before adding more egg, when finished beat in the vanilla extract.

Whisk the buttermilk together with the red food colouring, you may need a little extra depending on the depth of colour. Fold in the buttermilk and flour to the creamed eggs, sugar and butter in three batches using the edge of a large metal spoon. In a small cup combine the vinegar and baking soda. Allow the mixture to begin to fizz up and then fold into the cake batter. Quickly divide the batter evenly between the two prepared tins and tap to remove any large air bubbles.

Bake in the oven for around twenty-five minutes until a metal skewer inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool totally. At this stage, you can freeze the cakes or wrap in cling film to store overnight.

For the Frosting

In a large mixing bowl beat together the cream cheese and mascarpone until smooth. Sieve in the icing sugar and add the vanilla, whisk until thoroughly combined. Slowly add the cream, whisking until a thick but spreadable consistency is achieved.

Using a large serrated knife carefully cut each cake layer in half. Spread three cake layers with a layer of frosting. Place all four layers of the cake on top of each other and frost the top and sides of the cake. The cake is traditionally garnished with fresh or desiccated coconut.

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Bramley Apple Week and the Perfect Apple Crumble

As we are in the middle of Bramley Apple Week, you knew that didn’t you, I wanted to give you a failsafe recipe for that most English of desserts the apple crumble, and you cannot make an apple crumble without a Bramley apple. In 1809 a Southwell* resident, Mary Ann Brailsford planted some apple pips one of which still bears fruit to this day. In 1846 her cottage and garden were sold to one Matthew Bramley and apart from shelling out the cash that is his total contribution. A local nurseryman admired the quality of the apples and asked to be allowed to take some grafts to develop more trees capable of producing the fruit. Matthew Bramley agreed to this on the condition that if the apples went on to any commercial success they would bear his name. The Bramley is now famous and cooks love it for its flavour and excellent cooking qualities. It remains one of the most widely grown British culinary apples.

bramleys

The crumble is a quick and easy pudding that can be adapted to suit the seasons and the different fruits available often partnering softer fruits with apples or pears and enhancing the flavour with the use of spices. Apple crumble is the most popular version of the dish and due to the keeping quality of apples traditionally a staple throughout long winters when very few fresh fruits were available. Apples such as Bramley’s would have been stored in a loft or attic to provide a valuable source of vitamin C from November to February. Today your apples are shipped into supermarkets from around the world to overcome seasonality.

However, if you want to go seasonal and reduce your carbon footprint here are a few ideas spring is when rhubarb comes into its own, I pre-bake mine with brown sugar, ginger orange juice, and zest to help keep the shape and prevent the crumble becoming soggy

During the summer there is an abundance of produce, tart gooseberries with plenty of sugar, cherries, or then raspberries, strawberries, and blackcurrants and that all liven up the last of the previous year’s apples when baked together. Spiced plums, pears, apples, and blackberries are the staples of autumn and on into winter.

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Crumbles are best enjoyed hot, with liberal dollops of custard, clotted cream or a scoop or two of ice cream. You can change the basic recipe for the crumble topping by mixing in oats or a sprinkling of chopped nuts and adding spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

* Now in passing most people will know Southwell for its pretty minster and horse racing track but now you dear reader know Southwell is the home of the English Bramley cooking apple. The town holds an annual festival each October to celebrate the Bramley.

My Apple Crumble

1kg Bramley Apples

3 tablespoons of Apple Juice or water

2 tablespoons Caster Sugar ( approximately )

Juice of half a Lemon

½ teaspoon freshly grated Nutmeg

120 gr Self Raising Flour

100 gr Caster Sugar

75 gr Butter

Optional

40 gr Rolled Oats

40 gr Demerara Sugar

Preheat your oven to 200 C / 400 F/ Gas 6. Wash the apples, peel and cut them into quarters. Remove the cores and slice each piece of apple in two. Put the apple pieces into a medium sized, heavy bottomed pan with the apple and lemon juice and cook over a low heat for about five minutes, until the apples start to soften. I like the apples to start to break up leaving some bigger pieces for texture. Taste the apples for sweetness, sprinkle with sugar as required and carefully stir in. Add the nutmeg and gently stir again. Transfer the apple mixture to a shallow ovenproof dish.

In a bowl blend the flour and butter together by rubbing with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, alternatively you can pulse together in a food processor for a few seconds. Blend in the caster sugar thoroughly ( at this point stir in the oats and the brown sugar if required ) and then loosely sprinkle the mix over the cooked apples in the dish. Place the crumble in the oven to bake for thirty minutes or until crunchy and golden-brown on top.

Serve with custard, cream or ice cream.

National Yorkshire Pudding Day and My Perfect Yorkies

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Let’s call Yorkshire pudding
A fortunate blunder:
It’s a sort of popover
That turned and popped under.

Ogden Nash

The Yorkshire pudding it is said can only successfully be made by someone from that august county of England. My mum is from Yorkshire and makes wonderful Yorkshire’s and perhaps the skill is inherited because I am pretty proud of most of my attempts. A Yorkshire pudding is made from a milk, egg and flour batter which was originally poured into a tin set under the roasting joint. The pudding cooked in the hot meat fat and absorbed any juices from the roast. A large slice was served to each dinner with meat gravy before the main course. The meat and vegetables then followed usually served with a parsley or white onion sauce.

In 1747 in ‘ The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy ‘ by Hannah Glasse, one of the first English female cookery writers, there is a recipe for Yorkshire pudding. This is the first time a batter or dripping pudding is recorded with the name, although a flatter less aerated dish had been cooked for many years previously. Traditionally any leftover pudding could be eaten as a dessert with sugar and perhaps orange juice.

The Yorkshire pudding recipe popped over to America ( excuse the pun ) and the first recipe for a Popover is recorded in ‘ Practical Cooking ‘ published in 1876 by M. N. Henderson. Popovers may be served either as a sweet, topped with fruit and whipped cream for breakfast or with afternoon tea or with meats at lunch and dinner. Popovers tend to be individually baked in muffin tins and often include herbs or garlic in the recipe other popular variation replaced some of the flour with pumpkin puree. The name popover originated from the fact that the cooked batter swells or pops over the top of the baking tin.

You can fill your fancy popovers or Yorkshires with just about anything that takes your fancy, here are a few ideas from some I made in Jersey today; Chicken Liver Parfait and Red Onion Marmalade, Goats Cheese, Rocket and Balsamic, Vanilla Ice Cream, Raspberries and White Chocolate Shavings and Apple Crumble and Custard.

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In 2008 the Royal Society of Chemistry held a competition carried out to create a vouchsafe Yorkshire Pudding recipe and decided that a true Yorkshire Pudding cannot be less than four inches tall. They examined the effects of temperature, ingredients and even altitude in the search for perfection. My knowledge of chemistry is limited to an ancient ‘ O ‘ level but quite simply the heat causes the two raising agents, the egg and beaten in air, to expand the batter mix. My tips for success are simple are make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature and get the fat in your baking tray smoking hot.

Individual Yorkshire puddings can be cooked after your joint while it is resting before carving.

Perfect Yorkshire Puddings

90 gr Plain Flour

1 Fresh free-range Egg

240 – 270 ml half Milk / half Water

¼ teaspoon Salt

A good pinch of freshly ground White Pepper

1-2 tablespoons of Beef Dripping

Preheat your oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7. Place a damp cloth on your work surface to stop your mixing bowl slipping. Sieve the flour, pepper and salt into your bowl, make a well in the middle and add the egg. Start to beat together then gradually add the milk / water. Continue adding the milk/ water until the batter is smooth and the consistency of pouring cream. Leave the mixture to stand for ten minutes. While the mixture stands divide the beef dripping into Yorkshire Pudding tins and place the tins in the oven until the fat starts to smoke. Give the batter a final stir and pour quickly into the tins. Put them back in the oven and cook until well risen and golden brown, this will take about fifteen to twenty-five minutes depending on the size of your tin.

For the full Royal Society of Chemistry press release

http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2008/PerfectYorkshire.asp

中国新的一年快乐 Happy Chinese New Year

( I hope this wishes everyone a happy Chinese New Year )

Following my post for Cantonese Pork and me highlighting authentic Chinese cuisine, I can only follow it by giving my version of a totally bastardised American Chinese dish. A sweet, slightly spicy and I am the first to admit very moreish dish called General Tso’s Chicken. The dish is named after General Tso Tsung-tang, a Qing dynasty general, and statesman, however any connection is very tenuous. The origins of the dishes invention are in the 1950’s influx of Chinese to the United States.

general-tso-chicken

The dish is reported to have been introduced to New York City in the early 1970s as an example of Hunan cooking, though it is not typical of Hunanese cuisine, which is traditionally very spicy and rarely sweet. Fuchsia Dunlop, in the New York Times, identified the claim of a Taiwan-based chef Peng Chang-kuei. Peng was the Nationalist government banquets’ chef and fled to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. In 1973 he moved to New York to open a restaurant and experimented and developed Hunanese-style cuisine adopting it for western tastes.

Other chefs claim that they created the dish or variations which include vegetables, meat other than chicken in a sweetened sauce. Later the chicken was deep fried before being added to the sauce, now almost every American Chinese restaurant has General Tso’s Chicken on the menu. Where the dish is cooked outside of the United States the dish is less sweet with more vinegar or rice wine vinegar and soy sauce in the ingredients, this is definitely more to my taste.

For more Chinese Recipes to celebrate in style with a Chinese Buffet go to my recipes for Crab and Sweetcorn Soup, Cantonese Pork, and Beef in Black Bean Sauce.

General Tso’s Chicken                                                             serves 4

As always a general note of caution

BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN FRYING IN HOT OIL.

For the Sauce

1 large Carrot, peeled and cut into fine strips

1 Red Pepper, diced

A small bunch of Spring Onions, washed and sliced in 1 inch pieces

1 small Red Chilli, finely sliced

3 cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

½ piece of Ginger, peeled and finely chopped ( approximately 1 tablespoon )

75 ml quality Chicken Stock

2 tablespoons of Olive Oil

2 tablespoons soft Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon Tomato Paste

2 tablespoons Sherry Vinegar

2 tablespoons Rice Wine

1 heaped tablespoon Corn Flour

2 Cloves

A good pinch of Chinese Five Spice

 

for the fried chicken

2 skinned Chicken Breasts, washed and diced

2 Egg Whites

Juice of 1 Lemon

75 gr Cornflour

Sea Salt and Cayenne Pepper

1 ½ liters neutral Vegetable Oil for frying

For the sauce heat the vegetable oil in a wok and stir-fry the carrots, mushrooms, garlic and ginger for two to three minutes being careful not to burn the garlic and then add the peppers. In a small pan heat the chicken stock, vinegar, rice wine, sugar, cloves and Chinese five spice and bring to the boil. Simmer for five minutes then thicken with the cornflour mixed with a little water and the tomato puree. After another five minutes simmering, strain into the wok and set on a very low heat.

For the chicken, sieve the cornflour into a large bowl and add a generous amount of salt and cayenne pepper the mix. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites and lemon juice. Then dip the chicken pieces into the corn flour, the egg whites and back into the corn flour. In a second wok or a large heavy bottomed pan heat the oil to 160°C / 320 F using a thermometer to check. If you do not have a thermometer have a few cubes of stale white bread to hand then place a bread cube in the oil if it rises to the surface and cooks to a golden brown in a couple of minutes the oil is hot enough.

Fry the chicken in batches carefully lowering into the hot oil, for around six to eight minutes or until the batter is crisp and golden, turning from time to time with a large slotted spoon.

When the chicken is cooked using the slotted spoon remove from the hot oil, drain on kitchen paper and place into the hot sauce. Simmer for two more minutes and then serve with steamed rice and garnish with a few finely sliced spring onion tops.

My Thanksgiving Ham Recipies

During the holiday season particularly for Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving in America, many families include a large cooked ham in the culinary celebrations. I first enjoyed this tradition when I was invited along with my then boss Steven ( the short wearing Springbok ) and his family to dine with Russ and Teresa. They lived with their lovely family near Cambridge and Teresa worked in the Red Lion with us. As a serving member of the American air force man, Russ bought a ham of epic proportions, ingeniously spirally sliced and then glazed, from the massive air force hypermarket on the local base. It was a stunning meal with great company and a great day.

The Thanksgiving meal has evolved like a traditional English Christmas dinner into a celebration of good food and a table laden with sides, sauces, and vegetables. Sweet potato casserole topped with fluffy toasted mallow pieces, cornbread dressing ( a type of stuffing ), cranberry sauce, creamed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese, wild rice pilaf, green beans with creamed mushrooms, glazed carrots and lots of pan gravy. Then to finish a veritable array of pies from pecan to pumpkin. Yummy.

traditional-baked-ham

Traditional Bake Ham

Ask your butcher to source a traditionally prepared dry cure ham and to tie it for you. A dry cure ham will shrink less during cooking and produce a better quality easier to cut joint of meat. Now for the crafty part, poaching the ham before finishing the joint in the oven also improves the carving quality and produces a flavoursome stock from which you can make traditional pea and ham soup. I added a selection of my favourite glazes for you to try out.

1 whole or piece of boned and rolled dry cured ham around 3 to 4 lb is a nice joint

( ask your butcher to weigh it this is important for cooking times )

1 to 2 White Onions, peeled and quartered

2 large Carrots, peeled and halved

2 sticks of Celery, washed

2 Bay Leaves

4 Cloves

Around 10 whole Coriander Seeds

5 or 6 Black Peppercorns

 

Place the ham in the pan and cover with cold water. Place on the cooker and bring to the boil. Carefully take to the sink and pour out the water and wash off any scum from the ham. This initial boiling will help reduce excess salt in the finished ham. Cover again with cold water and add the carrots, celery, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Pierce the bay leaves with the cloves, pin to the onions and add to the pan. Bring back to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and cover with lid. Cook for twenty minutes per pound of raw weight. Once the cooking time is finished turn off the heat and leave to go cold in the cooking liquor. This can be done the night before.

 

For the Delicious Glazes and Baking

 

Wholegrain Mustard and Honey

4 tablespoons Soft Brown Sugar

4 tablespoons Runny Honey

2 tablespoons Wholegrain Mustard

Mix the sugar and mustard together in a small bowl. Rub in half of the mustard and sugar mix. Pour over one tablespoon of honey and put in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining sugar, mustard and honey. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Spicy Mustard with Apricot and Peach Preserve

4 tablespoons of Apricot Jam or Preserve

1 fl oz Peach Schnapps

3 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

Heat the preserve in a small thick bottomed pan until it melts whisk in remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Spread half the mixture over the ham and place in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Wicked Bourbon and Coca-Cola Glaze

1 can of Coca Cola

2 fl oz Bourbon Whiskey

2 oz Soft Brown Sugar

½ teaspoon ground Allspice

½ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

Pour the coca cola into a small heavy bottomed pan. Reduce by two-thirds, simmering over a medium heat until you achieve a thin syrup. Add the sugar, whiskey, and spices and reduce again by half. Spread half the mixture over the ham and place in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Cinnamon and Mustard

2 oz Soft Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon French Mustard

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Spread half the mixture over the ham and place in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Traditional Spiced Christmas Ham

2 tablespoons soft Brown Sugar

2 tablespoons English mustard

½ teaspoon ground Allspice

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

A large handful of cloves

Mix all the ingredients, except the cloves, together in a small bowl. Spread half the mixture over the ham and then stud the fat with cloves pushing the pointed ends down in towards the meat. Place in the oven, after fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Quiche Lorraine

The Quiche Lorraine is a crisp pastry case filled with a thick layer of creamy, wobbly egg custard flavoured only with some fried cubes of really good bacon. Quiche Lorraine was originally an open pie, rustic in style, made with bread dough for the crust, in a cast iron pan. Today a rich shortcrust or flaky rough puff pastry is used to line a pie dish. Regional variations include adding Gruyère cheese which makes a Quiche Vosgienne and onions a Quiche Alsacienne. Adding tomato to the recipe creates a Quiche Provençal and spinach a quiche Florentine. This is my recipe for what is essentially a Quiche Alsacienne with Parmesan pastry for an extra tasty crisp crust.

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Quiche                                                                              serves 8 – 10

for the pastry

250 gr Strong White Flour

50 gr Cold Beef Dripping, cut into small pieces

50 gr Cold Butter, diced

50 gr finely grated Parmesan

2-3 tablespoons Ice Cold Water

A generous pinch of Salt

Quiche 2

for the filling

150 gr Bacon Lardons preferably cut from a thick piece of bacon

1 medium sized White Onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 free range Eggs

250 ml  Double Cream

25 gr Butter

1 tablespoon quality  Olive Oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped Parsley

2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and pureed

¼ teaspoon freshly grated Nutmeg

A generous pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8-inch flan ring ( at least 1 inch deep )

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add both fats and rub together with the fingertips lifting and separating the fat with the flour until you achieve the texture of bread crumbs. Add the Parmesan and pour in one tablespoon of water and gentle form together as a dough. Use more water as required. Do not knead the dough and treat gently for the best results.

PastryAlternatively, blitz ingredients to the crumb stage in a food processor, then add water until you get the same result. Wrap in cling film and chill in the refrigerator to relax for at least half an hour.

 

Rolling Pastry

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6. Roll out the chilled pastry on a clean, floured, work surface to a thickness of approximately a quarter of an inch. The pastry will need to be wide enough to line the bottom of the tin, the sides and provide a little overhang that will reduce as the pastry shrinks during cooking.

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Butter a flan dish or pie ring and carefully roll the pastry onto your rolling pin. Roll back over the flan dish and push to the edges trying not to split the pastry. If you do tear the pastry take a little surplus from the edge and gently push over the gap to patch the hole. Trim the edges leaving a half inch overhang over the lip of the pie dish.

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Chill again for half an hour then cover the pastry with a sheet of baking parchment and fill the dish with rice or baking beans.

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Place on a baking tray and put in the oven. After ten minutes turn the oven down to 375°F/fan 190°C/gas mark 5 and bake for fifteen more minutes. Carefully take out from the oven and remove the baking parchment and rice or beans. Beat up one of the eggs with a fork and brush the inside of the pastry case with a soft pastry brush . Bake in the oven for a further ten minutes until light gold in colour, this is to seal the tart. Take out and set aside to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. When cool trim off any excess pastry.

In a medium sized heavy bottomed frying pan, melt the butter in the olive oil over a low heat. Cook the onion for ten minutes without colouring then remove. Replace the onion with the bacon lardons and fry until crispy and light brown, add garlic and cook for one more minute then mix together with the onions. In a large bowl beat the remaining eggs with nutmeg, cayenne pepper and season sparingly as the bacon will naturally add salt. Whisk in the double cream and then strain into a jug to remove any strands of thick egg white. Take the pastry case and evenly spread with the cooked onion and bacon. Place baking tray with the pastry case onto the oven shelf, then pour in the custard mix, filling the case right to the top. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the filling has just set and is slightly wobbly to the touch and the top of the quiche is lovely and golden brown.

 

Weekend Top Tip

I’m pretty sure Frankie wasn’t talking about sirloins and saddles of lamb but the important word here is RELAX. Every chef I know worth their salt* and every TV chef you watch will all tell you to let cooked meat relax. It is just not important it is imperative ! An impeccably sourced, correctly seasoned piece of meat will be dry and tough if not allowed to rest. Simply after cooking keep a steak warm and covered with foil for 5 minutes before serving. For an average chicken or joint of meat cover with a foil tent and keep in a warm oven for 20 to 25 minutes. The core temperature will actually rise and the meat will reabsorb its natural juices making it tender and tasty. From a duck breast to a glazed ham to a whole side of beef , when allowed to relax the difference is truly amazing.

 * In ancient Rome soldiers were paid part of their wages in salt – from which the term salary derives

National Fish and Chips Day

Today is National Donut Day and National Fish and Chip Day, a very healthy pairing and sales of cooking oil must get a massive boost. I have to make a little admission for someone with the seaside on the doorstep I don’t eat fish and chips that regularly but when you’ve had a long walk on the beach and the sun is setting a steaming hot paper parcel of fresh fish and chips doused in salt and vinegar takes some beating. Now fish and chips have become a British institution served with Tartare sauce, a slice of white bread and butter and a mug of hot tea. Fish and chips have been deconstructed, updated, made into sophisticated Michelin-starred worth dishes is a staple of pub menus up and down the land but the true home of fish and chips is the Chip Shop.

Many fish and chip shops traditionally use a simple water and flour batter, adding a little sodium bicarbonate or baking soda and a little vinegar to create lightness, as they create bubbles of carbon dioxide in the batter. Many restaurants now use a beer batter as the naturally present carbon dioxide in the beer lends a lighter texture to the batter. The sugars present in the beer also help produce a wonderful golden brown colour on frying. A simple beer batter might consist of a 2:3 ratio of flour to beer by volume. The type of beer makes the batter taste different, the alcohol itself is cooked off, so little or none remains in the finished fried fish.

Battered Cod

I cannot state how simple my recipe is just beer, flour, and seasoning. No eggs, baking powder, turmeric for colour it could not be easier or tastier. Experiment with some local ales and lagers until you find your own favourite. Lagers are fine and produce very light fine results almost like tempura. I find a nice session bitter or IPA will create a nutty, tasty batter. Your batter is always better made slightly in advance to allow the flour to absorb a little of the liquid and let the gluten relax. Do not make it to early however as the raising agents will effervesce and disappear with time leaving a flat batter mix.

My Perfect Beer Battered Fish

4 thick white fish fillets ( around 220 gr  per portion )

150 gr Self-raising Flour plus a little for dredging the fish

A large Bottle of your favourite Beer

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

for the frying

2 kg Lard or Dripping to cook

Sieve the flour into a large bowl and add a generous amount of salt and pepper. With a whisk, mixing continuously, add the beer to the flour until you have a thick, smooth batter about the consistency of thick cream. Place the batter in the fridge to rest for between 30 minutes. In a large heavy bottom pan, heat the oil to 160°C / 320 F using a thermometer to check. If you do not have a thermometer have a few cubes of stale white bread to hand. Place a bread cube in the oil if it rises to the surface and cooks to a golden brown in a couple of minutes the oil is hot enough.

Take two tablespoons of flour and place in a shallow tray, season well. Dredge each fish fillet in the seasoned flour until covered. Shake off excess flour and dip into the batter mix before carefully lowering into the hot oil. Fry the fillets for around eight minutes or until the batter is crisp and golden, turning the fillets from time to time with a large slotted spoon.

When the fish is cooked using the slotted spoon remove the fish from the hot oil, drain on kitchen paper, cover with greaseproof paper and keep hot to serve with homemade chips, a big wedge of lemon and chunky tartare sauce.

(Fish and Chips are not as unhealthy as you would first think, fish and chips have 9.42 grams of fat per 100 grams – the average pizza has 11, a Big Mac meal with medium fries has 12.1. Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion with an average pizza around 871. For a healthier method of frying use vegetable oil instead of the beef dripping).

Weekend Top Tip

Rosemary Skewers

Bank holiday barbecuing for a truly  tantalizing taste bud treat use 12 – 15 cm pieces of woody rosemary stem to skewer meat or fish and vegetables for grilling and barbecuing. The skewers look great and add a fantastic flavour to your dish. Cut off the rosemary stems and pull off most of the lower leaves leaving around 2 cm at the top. Then soak the prepared stems in cold water for a couple hours, this will help prevent any skewer not covered with food from burning on the grill. Thread on your ingredients and cook.

Use marinated shoulder of lamb and peppers,  Monk fish and cherry tomatoes or king prawns and scallops wrapped in bacon.

Weekend Top Tip

Burger

As we are about to hit peak season for barbecues in the UK and everyone loves a char-grilled burger this is just a simple tip to help your delicious homemade burger keep its shape when cooking. All meat contracts slightly as it cooks and as the proteins in your burger heat up it will pull together. To keep a nice round shape simply press your thumb gently into the center of the burger as you put it on the grill leaving a slight imprint. As the meat contracts, the burger will not end up the shape of an orange but retain its perfect burger patty pattern.