Friday 30 April 2010

Cheese making for beginners!




The fault lies purely with a colleague. You see, she happened to have a pint, well litre, of full fat, rich and creamy, Jersey and Guernsey cow milk, or should I say cream? Being used to skimmed milk, I was desperate to at least try some of this but needed a valid excuse really, as I couldn’t justify simply drinking a whole litre of this divine looking stuff.

So, what to do with it? My thoughts happened to coincide with Linda of withknifeandfork ‘s latest blog post ‘In Season: Cheese and Onion’, one of the idea being to cover homemade curd cheese with said leaves and flowers.



She used an adapted recipe from the Casa Moro Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark, and I again adapted this via a River Cottage recipe, combining the two.

I used:

750ml milk – I used full-fat ‘posh’ stuff from nice cows!

1 tbsp essence of rennet

1/2 tsp salt

Don’t forget, this is already diluted, and can be bought in the baking department of Waitrose! Thanks again Linda!


Warm the milk to between 32-40C. I don’t have a cooking thermometer, so tested it on my wrist and when it was slightly hotter than my wrist, continued as below! Not very scientific I know but it seemed to work!

Remove from the heat, add the rennet and stir. Then cover and leave in warm place for the curds to set. You’ll know they’re done, as when you stick a skewer or knife in, it’ll come out clean. This should happen between 30 minutes and an hour.

Next, cut the curds into a ‘grid’ and leave for another hour or so.



Pop it all into a cheese-cloth, or a piece of muslin and set over a bowl overnight so the whey to fully drain. Again, I used a clean j-cloth in a sieve! And again, it seemed to work!

When the curds are no longer watery, mix with the salt, then push into a ramekin or mould, and leave in the fridge to take its shape.



I felt it really needed the salt to give it some flavour as it’s a very mellow cheese. If you’re using it in cooking or stirring into some hot pasta, then salting the food would be enough rather than the cheese as well. I chose to make 5 very small ‘individual’ portions, each rolled in a different flavour, Just to see! So, we had one in freshly ground pepper, one in chilli flakes (!), one in freshly cut chives, one in other freshly cut herbs, and one left plain, so we could actually taste the cheese itself. To follow etiquette, before just diving in, which was what I really wanted to do, I arrange them from mildest to 'hottest’ so no flavours would be lost: plain, herbs, chives, pepper and chilli. The chilli flakes ‘pat’ ended up bitter and slightly chewy (?), the plain one was just that, and the chive one was half-way to Boursin – now I need to read the ‘real’ ingredients to see what to add! My favourite was definitely the pepper coated, while the OH decided upon the mixed herbs one, particularly liking the lemon-thyme flavour. I was also pleased I added in the salt too. They were all washed down with a large glass of red, needless to say. Well, you can’t just have cheese: the wine improves the flavour surely?!

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Croissants – April’s ‘Fresh from the Oven’ Challenge!


Things were never going to be good from the start. Regular readers will know my fear of sticking to recipes, but also that, when baking, I try to make a concerted effort, in the hopes it will turn out as it should. This method seemed to work well for March’s challenge, Kringel, but I chose to make this when visiting mum and dad up in Chester. My first question of, do you have any bread flour or yeast was met with ‘No, but Sainsburys do’, so that was our first port of call. After returning home, I asked where the dough hooks were…or perhaps a set of scales…in metric rather than imperial?

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Oh well, we tried our best to convert, then half, then weigh the ingredients, as 24-28 croissants between 3 of us seemed a bit greedy to be honest! We thought we were on to a winner when we had a measuring jug and it was even marked in the correct units; until, that was, we noticed that having halved the ingredients, the measurement we needed on the jug was rather worn.


So, I’m writing this between days: the dough is resting overnight in the fridge after ‘Part 1’ of the method. We’ll see how it turns out tomorrow!

In the mean time, this month’s challenge was hosted by Corrie from Hot Potato. She swears by River Cottage’s Bread Handbook, by Dan, and it was there she found this recipe.

Makes 24-28 croissants
1 kg strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
20g salt
330 ml warm water
330 ml warm milk
10g powdered dried yeast (instant/bread machine yeast)
140g caster sugar/white sugar
500g unsalted butter
For glaze:
2 medium egg yolks
50ml milk

Mix all the ingredients, except the butter, into the mixer bowl and fit the dough hook. Knead on low to medium speed until the dough is soft, stretchy and satiny – about 10 minutes. Put the dough in a decent sized polythene bag (it needs room to rise), suck out the air, tie a knot in the bag and put it in the fridge to rest over night.

First thing in the morning, get the butter out of the fridge. When it becomes easy to roll out, lightly flour the butter, lay it between two sheets of cling film and bat it out with a rolling pin to a fairly neat square about 1cm thick. Take your time to get the thickness and shape as even as possible, then put it to one side. (I just battered it until it looked like a cross between an oblong and a square.

Take your dough out of the fridge, flour it and roll out to a rectangle, a little more than twice the size of the butter (allow a couple of centimetres extra all around). Now lay the butter on one half leaving a border, fold the other half over and press down all the way round to seal the butter in.
Next roll the dough away from you until it is twice its original length, then fold the top and bottom edges in by one sixth. Fold them in again by another sixth, so the folds meet in the middle, then fold one on top of the other.

Give the dough a quarter turn and roll it out again to about the same size as before, fold the top and bottom edges in to meet at the middle, then fold one on top of the other. Roll this out slightly and seal the edges with the rolling pin.
Put the dough back in the plastic bag and return it to the fridge to rest for an hour or so. I left mine overnight as recommended by Corrie.

In the meantime, you need to cut a template from a piece of cardboard (the back of a cereal box or something similar). You want an isosceles triangle, measuring 20cm across the base and 25cm tall. (The easiest way is to draw an upside down capital T and join the points, like a cartoon sail).

When your dough has rested, unwrap and roll it out to a neat rectangle, a little larger than 140cm x 50cm. Now trim the rectangle to these measurements leaving perfectly straight edges. Cut the rectangle in two lengthwise, to give two 25cm wide strips. Now using your template as a guide, cute 12-14 triangles from each strip.


Lay each triangle away from you and roll it up from the base. Wet the pointed end and seal it.


Curl the tips around to form a crescent and pinch them together to hold them in place; or you can leave them straight if you prefer. (At this point you could freeze some if you like. Space them out on a tray and freeze, then pack into bags. Allow an extra hour for rising when you come to use themSDC11995).SDC11996








Lay your croissants with the sealed point underneath, on baking trays lined with greased baking parchment or (better still) silicone mats. Cover with cling film or a bin liner and leave to rise until doubled in side. As the dough is cold, this could take a couple of hours, or longer. I was surprised how much my croissants enjoyed this part, they sort of spread themselves out to fill the tray, which, in turn, led to not very croissanty shaped croissants. Tasty nonetheless!

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When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C/400F /Gas Mark 6. Beat the egg yolk and the milk together, then gently brush all over the croissants.

Bake for about 10 minutes, then lower the setting to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until they look beautifully golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly, while you make coffee.


I took each part stage by stage, and, as Corrie says, each part is easy and quick; it’s the waiting for it to rest in between that takes the time. And unless you actually get up very early for the last stage, in order to give the dough time to prove and rise before popping in a hot oven, you’ll have to have them for afternoon tea instead! Which isn’t really a problem! We saved a batch once risen in the fridge to bake the next morning. After all the difficulties of actually making the original dough, I was amazed how well they turned out: even dad wanted to know if I’d actually done it all myself. Tips for next time? Smaller triangles and less rising time (not in hot conservatory for the whole day)! This ‘following recipes’ idea is a really good one. I’ll try it again next month. Have a look at Fresh from the Oven for the round-up of our bakers’ efforts!


Sunday 25 April 2010

Leftover Amuse Bouche – Mushroom and Potato a la Crème

Having made the Veau a la Crème after our lovely visit to Ludlow, I had a little of the ‘crème’ leftover, and couldn’t bear to throw it away as it was so thick, sticky and yummy. So, I scraped it from the pan and put it in a pot, doing to same with the leftover roast new potatoes.


The next morning, the OH ‘found’ said pot, and looked in disgust: “What’s This? Are we going to eat it?” After being convinced it would actually be ok, and that I wasn’t going to force it down his throat for breakfast, his worries receded. So, before our evening meal (I can’t say dinner, as I’m a Northerner and haven’t worked out yet if, ‘down here’, Dinner is lunch or tea, those being my two preferred words. Again though, just to stray from the original point a little more, when I ask friends to come for ‘tea’, I have to qualify that with “You know, your tea – food,” otherwise they turn up having eaten or prepared a dinner, thinking ‘tea’ was just that!)…I’ll begin that last sentence again so you don’t have the struggle of finding whence it began!


So, before our evening meal, I chopped the new potatoes, spooned them into the sauce, and reheated the lot in the microwave until bubbling. If you’re making this from scratch, simply fry off some sliced mushrooms in butter until browned, remove from pan and fry finely chopped shallots. Return the mushrooms, add a splash of dry sherry, or white wine, lots of salt and pepper and double cream, or crème fraiche for a lighter version. A sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley will lighten it further. A small blob of each went onto each amuse-bouche server and was promptly delivered to the table. The OH’s reaction was much better than the original, and it was a great way to use up that little drizzle of sauce and three new potatoes that would otherwise have been wasted. Not a great waste I know, but better to use it up, all the same.

Friday 23 April 2010

Cod with Herb Crust and warm potato salad

Again, the OH brought home a huge, fresh side of cod from Aldeburgh so it seemed that was on the menu, despite all the food I’d filled the fridge with the day before! Well, you can’t let fresh fish, brought in on the early morning boat longer than absolutely necessary. But, what to do with it? I needed something quick and easy as I’d brought yet more work home, so decided up Cod with a herb crust. I found the recipe online from The Times, and it’s a very basic, but delicious crust.


You’ll need:

Firm white fish

Lemon – juice and zest

Chopped chives

Chopped parsley


Country bread – a crust end will serve two portions

salt and pepper

Dijon mustard

olive oil

peeled and chopped potatoes

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees c.

Combine the bread, lemon zest, half the herbs, butter, salt and pepper in a processor.

Brush a light coating of mustard on to the top of each fillet.

Form the butter crust into suitable sized ‘pats’ and lay on top of each fillet.


Place in a roasting tin and pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets.

Boil the potatoes and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, mix up the dressing for the potatoes: Combine the lemon juice, other half of the herbs and salt and pepper.


Pour the dressing over the potatoes while they’re still hot.

Serve the fish on top of the potatoes and drizzle and remaining dressing around the plate.


Not only did I manage to prepare this in about 10 minutes, it also tasted really good! The tang of mustard alongside the zesty lemon flavour and the delicate cod was a great combination. Whilst the crunchiness of the crust added a much needed crispness to the dish. The verdict – perfect for summer as it is, or for a more wintery version, roast new potatoes whole.


Wednesday 21 April 2010

Tarte Tatin – a la Jamie



Peter recommended the Beef Tagine to try from the new Jamie book, ‘Jamie Does…’ first, but the French section was pulling me towards it and I couldn’t resist trying the Tarte Tatin, a classic French dish that’s just so easy, but always looks so impressive.


In fact, I made this dish twice in two days – once to take as dessert as a final farewell meal to my brother-in-law and once to celebrate returning home for a few days at Easter. Both times worked brilliantly: the first, the apples were more caramelly and glossier, but the second time, the pastry was crispier and more fluffy. Those who know me also know I believe that life is too short for making pastry, especially the flaky ones, so mine was unashamedly shop-bought and ready-rolled.

You'll need:

4 small eating apples – a bag of value / basics will do fine

100g caster or white sugar

100ml calvados

vanilla pod and seeds

50g butter

puff pastry


Heat oven to 190 degrees c.

Heat the sugar, calvados, vanilla pod, with the seeds scraped out and also added, in an oven-proof frying pan.

Melt until you get a bubbly caramel.

Whilst this is bubbling away, peel halve horizontally and core your apples. Add to the pan once the caramel has begun to thicken.

To ensure they are glazed and brownish, stir for several minutes to soften, then turn rounded-side down and let sit in a hot pan for a few minutes.

Add the cubed butter and tuck the pastry over the top.



Pop into the oven until the top is brown, crispy and risen.

Turn out onto a plate and serve with a blob of expensive vanilla ice cream.









Jamie’s                                                                               Mine

This was perfect. Sweet, sticky and delicious  

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And these are both my versions!







Monday 19 April 2010

British Rose Veal – Veau a la Crème


I know this will, in all probability, split readers down the middle. But it shouldn’t. Even those who are regular meat-eaters may draw the line at veal. Imagining those baby cows is enough, I know, to put you off. But, more importantly, the reasons most of us are not keen is due to the cruel way many young calves are reared on the continent: The calf is confined to a crate, restricting it’s movements to weaken and decrease the size of the muscles. Combined with only a liquid diet low in iron and roughage, the meat is tender and pale, or white. Although crates have been banned since 2007 (1990 in the UK), slatted floors are still allowed, meaning the calf struggles to stand, and the space per animal is small. They have lower quantities of fibre in their diet than the UK minimum requirement.

So what happens to the male calves born to dairy cows? Well, since they don’t make good ‘beef’ and the demand for veal in the UK is minimal, many are shot within days of being born or exported to the continent, where they’re subjected to the above inhumane conditions.

In the UK, however, welfare standards are much higher. Crating has been illegal since 1990, and we have much stricter rules. British ‘rosé ’ veal, as it’s known, has pinkish, tender flesh. The calves lead a good quality life, being suckled by their mothers, eating natural food and living outdoors in the summer. Most calves actually enjoy a longer life than many pigs, living for about six months.

Now I don’t often get on my soapbox, but about this issue, there seems only one solution. It’s actually us, yes, you and me, who are subjecting the male dairy calves in the UK to being shot or sold abroad to lead an unenviable life. How? By not creating a great enough market so the British farmers can sell their young calves to local butchers and, dare I say it, supermarkets.

So I urge you to consider British Veal as an option next time you shop for your meat. It’s tender, tasty and, most of all, you’ll know that because the calves were raised in the UK, they enjoyed their short time on earth.


Taken from a recent Sunday Times supplement, this Veau a la Crème recipe seemed a fitting end to our night away in Ludlow, Shropshire, especially since the calves were born and raised on a farm in Bishops Castle, only 18 miles from where we bought it. The butcher had several cuts and could tell us all about the life it had. What more could you ask about your meat? 

It’s really a classic combination, basically a mushroom and onion cream and white wine (ish) sauce, served over the fillets.  But don’t forget, either flash-fry or slow cook your meat.

You’ll need:



dry sherry

double cream

chicken stock

British veal




Fry the mushrooms in butter and a little olive oil in a hot pan with a good seasoning. Set to one side once browned.

Add a little more butter and wait until it’s foaming. Fry the veal slices quickly on each side. You may need to ‘batter’ them out a little first so they’re about a centimetre thick. Leave to one side nad keep warm.

Fry off the onions in the same pan, add a glass of sherry and a glass of stock. Leave to thicken and gloss, then add the cream. Tip the mushrooms back in once it’s thickened.

Check seasoning, return the veal slices to the pan to warm through and serve with squashed new potatoes and green vegetables. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Read more about ‘The Veal Debate’ here.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Dinham Hall, Ludlow


What a two-rosette restaurant should be (according to the AA!):

Two Rosettes
Excellent restaurants that aim for and achieve higher standards and better consistency. A greater precision is apparent in the cooking, and there will be obvious attention to the selection of quality ingredients.

These restaurants are also noted in the 2010 Michelin Guide.

We happened to be lucky enough to eat in two such establishments; well, in Ludlow, it’s hard not to! The first was The Clive, just outside the market town in Bromfield. We only popped in for a bar snack: The OH had a croque monsieur, which looked delicious. I opted for smoked salmon pieces mixed with dill and crème fraiche in rye bread. Equally lovely. It was a bit pricier than the usual pub fayre, but of a higher quality, and both were served with salad, one with chips too. The setting, despite being next to a main road, was quiet and calm, but held a bubbling atmosphere inside. Relaxing, friendly and tasty. A cut above the rest.


Second, and a quick change from our original plan of grabbing some more ‘good pub grub’ at The Unicorn, (a good decision when you read the reviews on their own website, although the food is meant to be nice enough), was the beautiful, Georgian Dinham Hall. With a three-course menu at £35 (although they only charged £32.50 when the bill arrived!), aperitifs and amuse-bouche to boot, this was excellent value.


Drinks and menus were served in the lounge, with an open fire (not, unfortunately, lit as it was a warm, spring day), comfy chairs and a range of books to browse. Aperitifs of roasted almonds, black olives and cheese sticks were followed with a roast pepper and tomato veloute served ‘a la table’.


Pressing of confit duck and foie gras was on order for me, and a cured salmon for the OH. My ‘pate’ of the two, served alongside crispy duck-skin and thin slices of pink breast were rich but lightened by the pea shoots. I wasn’t so enamoured with the celeriac cream however. It appeared to be a set egg white, a little like the ‘Iles Flottante’ meringues, and very sweet. The OH, on the other hand, thought they really set it off, so, as usual when it comes to food, it was a subjective addition to the plate!


Presentation throughout all dishes was brilliant; each taste and flavour was set apart where necessary and combined to perfection on the plate. The Salmon starter was no exception and a poached quail’s egg on top gave a rustic touch.


I’m not sure I’ve eaten Guinea Fowl before, but this was certainly very good. Little ‘rounds’ wrapped in crispy skin were perfectly soft and juicy, and the red wine sauce and cooking to perfection meant they fell apart in your mouth! There was no onion puree, as per the menu, but little caramelised silverskin onions gave the sweetness needed. Balanced with salty mushroom and Parma ham, this really couldn’t have been better.



Again, the OH’s main course was amazingly presented on a polished granite slab. With pink lamb, soft fondant potatoes, silky leeks and fresh pea shoots, the local ingredients really were the stars of the show.


Although I have a very sweet tooth, pudding is my least favourite of the three courses: I’d usually opt for two starters, or starter and main rather than a main and pudding. Since, however, there were three courses on offer no matter what, I chose the Caramel Parfait with Chocolate Ice-cream and Banana Bread while the OH decided upon Rhubarb cream with compote.


My plate was so exciting, I couldn’t decide what to eat first! I had a thin crisp of baked banana, three slices of caramelised banana, a blob of chocolate sauce, crispy banana bread on chocolate ice-cream and a ball of parfaited caramel rolled in crispy biscuit crumbs! After a spoonful of the caramel, which had that added crunchy texture, the flavour developed in the mouth. And combined with the sweet banana…well, like I said, I’m not one for puddings, but this was my favourite course of the three! It was so delicious, I didn’t even try the OH’s!


Each dish on this menu had obviously been thought through very carefully, with a combination of savoury and sweet, sugar and salt, silkiness and crunchiness. Presentation was outstanding throughout and the service, exemplary. Trusting that all ingredients were local and fresh, I would highly recommend this restaurant to everybody! The only fault I could find was that there weren’t more people dining; although the atmosphere was convivial, with just 6 of us under the stars in the conservatory, I couldn’t believe this beautiful house and restaurant wasn’t full to the rafters. And was it an “Excellent restaurant that aims for and achieves higher standards and better consistency”? Did it have “A greater precision apparent in the cooking, (with) obvious attention to the selection of quality ingredients”?

Yes, yes and yes again.

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