Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Plums, Passion and Pudding

Our Czar Plum tree is festooned with fruit this year and I have a fantastic crop of plums. Czar Plums are traditional culinary plums, a lovely blue / black colour and have yellow insides. They originated in Hertfordshire in 1871 thanks to one family's passion for fruit growing. The Rivers family came to Sawbridgeworth in 1725 and established a nursery there – it's said to be Britain's oldest Nursery and is still run today by volunteers.

Much of the River's family's business was providing plants and trees for great houses with estate gardens. Successive generations of the family introduced some familar plants we have in our gardens today - the standard rose being one of them. The family bred more than 75 new varieties of apple, peach, nectarine, plum, cherry, apricot and pear as well as publishing books on the topic. They developed the Conference Pear and went on to supply Charles Darwin with an almond and peach trees for his garden. The Czar Plum was raised from a cross between Prince Englebert and Rivers Early Prolific Plums. As the Russian Emperor was on a visit to the UK at the time the variety was named 'Czar' in his honour.

Although Plum jam is my favourite you can only make so much of it so I have been looking for alternative ways of using them up. Plums and chocolate go really well together, in the same way that black cherries and chocolate do (I'm thinking of Black Forest Gateau!). You can also use Plums to make cheesecakes, ice creams, tarts, mousse and to moisten cakes.

I've found a lovely Romanian recipe that uses Plum mousse in layers with chocolate cake
here but have opted to make a Plum Flummery. It's light and easy to make – just right for late Summer days.

Flummery is an old British pudding that was popular in the 17th – 19th centuries. They were traditionally made with oat meal and flummeries still use it today although gelatine has taken its place in many modern recipes.

Plum and Almond Flummery

500g (1 lb) plums, stoned and sliced
1 tbsp water
2 leaves of gelatin
120ml hot water
120g caster sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
120ml evaporated milk
couple of drops of almond essence
flaked almonds to garnish
sliced plums to garnish

Put the plums and a tbsp of water in a saucepan and simmer for 5 – 10 mins until they are soft. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Dissolve the gelatin in a cup of hot water and stir into the cooled plums. Add the sugar, lemon juice and almond essence. Stir well until the gelatin and sugar have dissolved. Chill the mixture in the fridge until it starts to thicken. Whip the evaporated milk in a bowl until thick and then fold into the plum mixture. Whip the mixture until it is fluffy and then chill for a few hours before serving. Garnish with plum slices and flaked almonds.

Recommended Wine:

A glass of pink fizz! Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir and is a pale salmon pink in colour with shades of rose petals. With a bouquet of red and black currants, cherry and quince this is a lovely wine. In the mouth it is expressive, well balanced and refreshing with a dense, very fine mousse lasting to the very last sip in the glass. It is a super aperitif but is also great with desserts!


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Three Great Kebab Recipes for Bank Holiday Barbecues

With the last Bank Holiday of the Summer fast approaching I thought it would be a good idea to share some great kebab recipes to spice up the barbecue! I have kept the core ingredients very simple so you can add to them – or even mix and match!

If you are using wooden skewers soak them in a bowl of water for around half an hour before using them on the barbecue.

Monkfish Mushroom and Smoked Bacon Kebabs

Monkfish are firm textured and meaty white fish so they won't fall to bits on the barbecue. We normally buy the tails from the shops and they have a flavour similar to lobster.

1kg monkfish tails, cut into cubes
250g rindless smoked bacon
150g small button mushrooms
6 to 8 skewers
olive oil for brushing

There are two ways you can prepare these kebabs: one is to wrap each cube of monkfish with a rasher of smoked bacon and then stick it on the skewer followed by a mushroom, alternating until the skewer is full. The other is to stretch a rasher of smoked bacon with the back of a knife and thread it on to a skewer, weaving it between cubes of monkfish and bacon.

Place the kebabs on a hot barbecue and cook for between 10 - 15 minutes, or until done through. As you turn the kebabs brush them with olive oil. Serve hot.

Recommended Wines: Try Bordeaux Rosés or Clairets – they pair beautifully with seafood, fish, hams, bacon, chorizo and salamis.

Steak and Halloumi Cheese Kebabs

Halloumi cheese comes from Cyprus and is brilliant for using on barbecues as it keeps its shape and doesn't melt into a mess all over the place. It's a little like Mozzarella in texture and you can find it in most supermarkets. It's made from goat's and sheep's milk and has a nice tangy flavour.

600g rump steak, cut into cubes
250g haloumi cheese, cut into cubes
olive oil for brushing

Season your cubes of rump steak and thread them on to the skewer, alternating with the Halloumi cheese. Brush the kebabs with olive oil and place on a hot barbecue. Cook for 2 minutes on each side. As you turn the kebabs brush them with olive oil. Serve hot.

Recommended Wines: Good Clarets go very well with steaks and strong cheeses so a Bordeaux red wine would be perfect.

Lamb and Mango Kebabs

Mangoes are delicious when barbecued (you can cook them separately as a dessert if you like – just cut them in half and coat them with honey so that they caramelise on contact with the barbecue). When making Lamb and Mango Kebabs make sure you cut the mango into quite large cubes as they will soften and shrink on the barbecue (smaller pieces are prone to fall off).

450g lamb, cut into cubes
60ml hoisin sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large mangoes

Marinade the cubes of lamb in the hoisin sauce, light soy sauce, vinegar and oil overnight in the fridge. Thread the skewers with alternating cubes of lamb and mango. Place on a hot barbecue and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Serve hot.

Recommended Wines: There are a couple of choices here – Sparkling Wine is great with Chinese cuisine and copes with the sweet/sour flavours. Alternatively if you prefer an off-dry, slightly sweet white wine try a Bordeaux Moelleux as they are excellent food wines that marry up with Asian cuisine remarkably well.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Chicory, Camp Coffee and Sauternes

My wild chicory plant in the kitchen garden has loved the hot summer weather this year and each morning it is festooned with sky blue flowers. Sadly they don't last long as by the evening they are over but I am treated to another great show the following morning. I decided to grow it from seed having seen it flourishing by the roadside and I loved the pretty flowers. It's a big plant, well over a metre tall and next year I'll try using the spring leaves in cooking. They taste a little bitter but apparently when cooked you can use them like spinach.

I have grown cultivated Chicory as a vegetable (Radicchio, Sugarloaf and Belgian Endive are all types of chicory) but I've never tried growing Root Chicory before. This is the variety that's used as a coffee substitute. I have nostalgic memories of 'Camp' from when I was younger. Camp Chicory and Coffee Essence originated in Scotland and was produced in 1876 by Paterson & Sons Ltd. I like the taste - roasted Chicory root has a sweeter aroma, sort of like caramel or chocolate.

Chicory has been used as a coffee substitute for 2 centuries. It seems it was first roasted in Holland around 1750 and in a short period of time it became a replacement for coffee. In 1766 Frederick the Great banned the imports of coffee into Prussia hoping to bolster sagging beer sales. An innkeeper developed a chicory substitute and manufactured it in Brunswick and Berlin. By 1795 there were up to 24 factories producing it.

France adopted the practice and in 1806 when Napoleon attempted to make France totally self sufficient chicory replaced coffee there entirely for a while. Today Leroux is Europe's largest chicory producer. Established in France in 1858 it processes 125,000 metric tons of chicory root in Orchies, near the border with Belgium. Their website has some lovely recipes using roasted chicory

Roasted Chicory root is also used to add flavour to beers and stouts and there are even a few recipes for making home made liqueurs and wines from it (especially in France). The only commercial Chicory liqueur I know of is produced in Mississippi by the Bottle Tree Beverage Co and is made at Cathead Distillery. It's called
Hoodoo and was launched last year.

I love coffee ice cream and have a recipe that is really delicious. I use Camp in it but you can use liquid Chicory essence if you prefer.

Chicory Coffee Ice Cream

4 eggs, separated
100g fine brown sugar
300ml double cream
3 tbsp Camp Coffee (or liquid Chicory essence)
2 tbsp brandy

Add the egg yolks and brown sugar to a bowl and beat until thick. In a separate bowl whip the double cream and add the Camp Coffee (or liquid Chicory essence) and brandy when the mixture begins to thicken. Continue to whip until stiff. Fold the egg yolks and sugar mixture into the whipped cream.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold the stiffened egg whites into the egg yolk/cream/ chicory mixture.

Spoon into a container, cover with lid and freeze for 4 – 6 hours until it is firm.

Try serving it with a chilled Sauternes – Baron Philippe Rothschild famously used to serve his Sauternes (a bottle of First Growth Chateau d'Yquem no less) so cold at the end of the meal that it was nearly frozen. It's said that at his chateau, Mouton Rothschild, the d'Yquem used to arrive at table encased in a block of ice which absolutely infuriated the Marquis de Lur Saluces the owner of d'Yquem! Admittedly this is extreme and served this cold you would lose some of its fragrance and flavour but served chilled between 10 – 12ºC Sauternes is lovely with desserts.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Martini Cocktails, Vermouth and Olive Liqueur

A chilled Martini garnished with cocktail olives is heavenly on hot summer days. I love the olives that are stuffed with anchovies as their briny flavour gives a salty tang to the sweetness of the drink and starts your mouth watering. There are traditionally 3 olives in a Martini cocktail, the first is eaten after the first sip, the second midway through and the last is saved till the drink has finished. It soaks up some of the flavours of the Martini and is very moreish.

Traditional Three Olive Martini

2 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
3 green olives skewered on a pick for garnish

Pour the gin and dry vermouth into a mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the olives.

The Martini dates back to the late 19th century and no one knows where it originated or who invented it but in 1863 an Italian Vermouth maker started marketing their product under the brand name of Martini & Rossi. Vermouth is a fortified wine flavoured with herbs, spices, barks, roots and seeds. Its name comes from the German word 'Wermut' for Wormwood and it was made in Germany, the Piedmont in Italy and France in the 16th century.

Vermouth was usually made from the white grapes Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), Clairette Blanche, Piquepoul and Catarratto, flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, quinine, citrus peel , cardamom, marjoram, chamomile, coriander, juniper, hyssop, gentian, nutmeg and ginger. Grape spirit (Brandy or Eau de Vie de Vin) was added to fortify the wine and in sweeter versions sugar syrup was added.

Vermouths can come in dry white versions but are also made golden, ros
é and red versions – Chambéry (Savoie) in France has its own AOC for Vermouths produced there, which include a strawberry one called Chambéryzette. I can remember my grand mother drinking the very dry white Noilly Prat Vermouth whose company is based in Marseillan in the Languedoc Roussilon. It was founded in 1813 by Joseph Noilly who matured wines in oak barrels outside in the open air as part of the process. (If you'd like to know more about Vermouth check out Nick's blog on Fortified Wines, Ancient Egypt and Vermouth).

Strangely enough there is actually a liqueur made from olives that is made in Italy. It's made in the home or by artisan producers. It's made from olive leaves and bark steeped in Grappa. Dante mentions it in his poetry so it has been made since at least the 13
th century.

Producers are
Giuliano Berloni, (Marche) Liquor d'Ulivi, the Cazzetta family, Infusione di Olive a Base di Grappa (Apuila) and Masseria Il Frantoio (Apuila) – which is a farm, guest house and restaurant and produce several liqueurs, Rosoli di Foglie d'Olivo.

There are some producers in France that make Olive Liqueur as well: Philippe Bronzini of Moulin de Chartreuse and the Manguin Distillerie in Villeneuve les Avignon near Nimes in the Languedoc Roussillon. I have never tasted an Olive Liqueur before but they are said to have digestive virtues, a sweet balsamic flavour and can be slightly bitter. It does sound like an acquired taste – has anyone tried it?