Sunday, 10 July 2011

Crispy Calamari with Samphire & Ginger Aioli

I'm back I'm back I'm back! We fiiiiiiiinally got a phone line put in at our new house on Friday and so I am back with you in the online land of the living! Let's celebrate with some tasty fried food, deal?

Well it's safe to say that the last few months have been eventful to say the least - Pete, Cleo and I moved into a gorgeous Grade II listed terrace that we are all in love with. It was completely refurbished shortly before we moved in and has an adorable little private garden at the back with raised decking where I can sit barbecuing and drinking Pimms. I was a little worried as my new kitchen is quite a bit smaller than the last, but I'm coping ok - I am having to keep some of my kitchen appliances on top of the wall units but its a small sacrifice to pay to have such a lovely home.

I have also passed my driving test (first time, POW!) and properly opened my little bakery business It's still only in my free time from my full time job but its a start and its going really well - I am supplying the coffee shop of my local department store Tylers with my cakes and bakes as well as doing any custom orders I am receiving. But anyway, onto the food...

You can guarantee that if there is calamari on the menu I will order it. I love love love the stuff but find that I can often be disappointed at either a too heavy batter or over cooked rubbery squid. It's also not the kind of thing I'd like to cook a lot myself. Aside from the calorie content I really do hate deep frying stuff as I mentioned in my very first post - the things I do for you guys huh?

Now I buy my squid frozen in boxes from my local Chinese supermarket, but this means I have to prepare it myself as they are whole. One of the perks of this is that you get the tentacles, and they are my favourite part to eat. Preparing it yourself is a little messy and time consuming and I know some people will be too squeamish, but don't worry, you can buy cleaned squid tubes and even pre-cut squid rings from most supermarkets now. If you would like to try preparing it yourself, you can either shoot me an email via the link at the side, or just Google for instructions - there are even some videos on YouTube if you prefer to learn visually.

The samphire also needs a little preparation work and is now available from most fishmongers and I believe Asda now sell packets of it. I got mine from one of the stalls on Loughborough Market - a nice handful is more than you need and despite it being the new in food to eat it only cost £1.40. To prepare it all you need to do is pull off any thick roots or discoloured parts and give it a good wash with cold water. Easy. You'll probably have some leftover, so I suggest throwing it in a little potato salad or adding it to some pasta with flaked salmon, lemon juice and parmesan.

The actual deep frying itself is I admit very easy, just make sure you use a splash guard as it can be prone to spit fat when you add the squid. Don't be afraid, it is so very worth it! You want to start by preparing the aioli, so lets get straight to it...

Samphire and Ginger Aioli
Makes about 1 cup

1 large clove of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk, from a large room temperature egg
150ml extra virgin olive oil
100ml standard olive oil
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp runny honey
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
25g samphire, steamed for 3-4 minutes and finely chopped

Crush the garlic clove with the salt into a paste and put into a large bowl with the egg yolk and whisk together. You now need to combine the oils and drizzle them into the egg yolk mixture very very slowly as you whisk - I did this with the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid but you could either use a food processor or do it by hand. Just make sure the oil is added slowly and in a very thin stream - you can see the technique on one of the pictures above.

Once all the oil has been added and the aioli has thickened up it's time to add the flavourings. You want to whisk in the ginger, honey and vinegars and then mix the finely chopped samphire in with a spoon. Keep the aioli covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter

500g squid rings (and tentacles if you can get them)
2 tbsp cornflour
4 tbsp fine cornmeal / semolina
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
enough vegetable oil to fill your pan 1.5-2" deep

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan over a high heat.

Put the cornfour, cornmeal, salt and paprika into a zipper top food bag and mix around before adding the squid. Zip up the bag and give it a good shake around making sure you coat all the squid.

When your oil looks like it is shimmering test that it is hot enough by adding a little pinch of flour. If it sizzles you're ready to go.

Fry the squid in batches until it reaches a crispy golden brown colour - this will only take a minute or two - and remove it to some kitchen paper to drain off any excess oil.

Serve up with the aioli and a little salad and dig in!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie or Pete's Birthday 'Cake'

I should have known when I handed Pete copies of the two books by the 'Baked' duo and asked him to choose his birthday cake that it wouldn't end up the way I had planned. I was hoping that he'd go for the grasshopper or chocolate malt ball layer cakes, but it only took him about a minute to hand the book back pointing at page 97 with an 'I want that one' expression on his face. My response - "Well that's not a cake but if that's what you really want for your birthday...". I couldn't exactly say no could I?

As usual the thing Pete most desired required one of the few kitchen items I didn't have so an emergency shopping trip ensued for a correctly sized pie pan and a giant bag of pecan nuts. That's where my griping ends however because I really liked making this recipe - baking up a pie makes me feel incredibly housewifey. I can imagine myself in a little wooden house in Texas whipping up pastry in a gingham clad kitchen, leaving the finished pie to cool on the window sill. Yes I am ridiculous, and I love it.

The pastry recipe was perfect coming together perfectly with the exact liquid amount stated and giving a smooth, easily rollable texture that didn't tear at all. The filling was very easy to prepare too. Please remember that the pastry needs to chill for an hour in the fridge before you roll it and line the pie dish and then needs to freeze for at least 3 hours before you add te filling and bake - I made, chilled, rolled it and then popped it into the freezer and then went to do my chores in town so when I got back I was ready to fill and bake it.

I agree with the lovely Baked boys that you should be generous with the bourbon - I used Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select which you can buy in most supermarkets now. It costs more than your standard bourbon but it's worth it - Pete likes bourbon straight up and the cheaper ones just aren't that nice that way. Unless you're exceedingly rock n roll of course, but we both drink for the taste not for the side affects!

Serve this pie at room temperature with a good quality vanilla ice cream at a dinner party or sat on the sofa while watching something appropriate like Boardwalk Empire and drift off into a time gone by where dinner parties were daily, men had impressive moustaches and ladies were only happy if they looked picture perfect. Can I go back there please?

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie
Serves 8-10
Taken from 'Baked : New Frontiers in Baking' by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Pie Dough Ingredients
200g plain flour
1.5 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
125g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes
100ml ice cold water

Filling Ingredients
250g pecan halves, toasted in a 200 C / 400 F oven for 10 minutes
3 large eggs
180ml golden syrup or runny honey (or light corn syrup if you can get it)
4 tbsp dark brown sugar (packed into the spoon)
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
pinch of fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp bourbon
200g dark chocolate in chips or chunks (or a half and half mix of dark and milk if you prefer)

Pie Dough Method
In a bowl whisk together the flour, sugar and salt and then add the butter cubes and toss to coat them. Pour into a food processor and give it a few pulses until the butter is in little pieces about the size of a hazelnut. Now drizzle in the ice cold water through the feed tube while pulsing the machine until it comes together as a ball - keep your eye on it as you may not need all the water.

As soon as this happens remove the dough from the processor, give it a very quick few kneads and then flatten into a disc and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate for a minimum of one hour and a maximum of 3 days.

When chilled remove from the fridge and roll out on a floured surface to about a 12" round. Drape over the pie dish and gently work it in folding any overhanging pastry under before crimping the edge. Wrap in cling film and freeze for a minimum of 3 hours (maximum 3 months) before filling and baking.

Filling Method
Preheat the oven to 170 C / 325 F then take 100g of the toasted pecans and chop roughly before setting aside.

Lighlty whisk the eggs in a large bowl until just combined and then add the syrup/honey, sugars, melter butter, salt, vanilla and bourbon. Whisk again until combined and then stir in the chopped pecans.

Remove your frozen pie shell from the oven and evenly sprinkle in the chocolate chunks. Pour over the filling and then top with the remaining pecan halves.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes, then remove and cover the pie edges with tin foil before returning to the oven for another 30 minutes. Test to see if the pie is done by inserting a knife into its centre - if it comes out clean it is done, if it comes out with clumps of filling stuck to it you need to bake for another 5 minutes and then test again.

Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature. This pie can be kept covered in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Earl Grey Tea Smoked Chicken Breast

OK so I'm a little late for Chinese New Year but I wanted to get my Valentines post out last weekend so anyone that wanted to had time to make the cookies for their sweety - maybe you can make this for them for dinner and then give the cookies as dessert?

Anyway, this is a very simple recipe - don't let the whole smoking thing scare you. You need to have a window open and an extractor on if possible, and if you are making this for your hot date I would suggest smoking it earlier in the day and re-heating it wrapped in foil in the oven just before serving - then you can get changed and perfume yourself up again so you don't smell like a smokehouse.

Remember to double layer your foil and try to seal it as well as poissible so the least amount of smoke possible escapes. You could use any kind of black tea you like, I am a big Earl Grey fan so used that but I have had salmon smoked with lapsang souchong too which was very lovely. I'd like to try langoustines cooked in this method soon too.

As you can see I've served the chicken with a little salad but it's very nice over rice too with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and finely chopped nori seaweed sheet. I get these little sachets of rice seasoning from my local chinese which had sesame seeds, shreds of nori and some chicken/seafood/vegetable flavoured salt that you just mix in.

Earl Grey Tea Smoked Chicken Breast
Serves 2

2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp mirin / rice wine
1 tsp five spice
2 tbsp earl grey tea leaves
3 tbsp rice (any kind)
1 tbsp sugar

You will also need a good amount of tin foil, a wok and a steamer basket that will fit inside it.

Place your chicken breasts into a dish or plastic bag and pour in the soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin and five spice. Make sure all the chicken is covered and then put in the fridge to marinate for at least one hour.

When ready to cook remove the chicken from the fridge and set to one side. Now line the bottom of your wok with a double layer of tin foil big enough to overlap the rim by a good 2 inches. Sprinkle in the tea leaves, rice and sugar and then put in the steamer basket. Now turn the hob on to high heat.

Pat the chicken breasts dry with some kitchen roll and then cut each one lengthways into two pieces. When the tea and rice starts to smoke, arrange the chicken evenly on the steamer and then cover the wok with another double layer of tin foil, rolling it in with the overlap from the bottom layer to seal in the smoke.

Cook for 12 minutes and them remove from the heat, open up and cut into one of the chicken pieces to see if it is cooked. If not, just seal the pan up again and smoke for a little longer until it is.

Slice the cooked chicken into thin pieces and serve any way you wish.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Langues Du Chat Cookies for Valentines Day and a Free Printable Cookie Box

Yes fine readers, it is that time of year again. The shops are filled with overpriced boxes of choccies and cards featuring disgustingly cute little teddy bears thrusting love hearts into our faces. No I am not bitter, I am not single, I just think all these things are complete rubbish and that Valentines Day is a truly materialistic 'holiday'.

You should show your partner how much you love them every single day, and not by buying them stuffed animals and other equally shoddy goods, but with your words and actions and most importantly, home baked treats.

Now as you may know I cannot resist a chance to theme something in any way I can, and if it involves glitter and sprinkles all the better, so Valentines Day is one such reason I have grabbed hold of and gone with.

I decided to make these cookies after one of my in bed recipe book browsing sessions - everyone does that right? I was looking through this book, one of the prettiest I own. It has a felted textured cover and gilt edges and comes wrapped in lavender tissue paper in a beautiful pale pistachio green box. I don't even care that it is entirely in French, the photographs are so beautiful you don't need words. Of course it is a recipe book, so you kind of do need words, but I remember enough from school to get by.

Langues du chat or 'cat's tongue' cookies are delicious crisp little almondy bites which you usually serve with coffee or ice cream, or with nothing at all if your name is Nancy. You use a very different technique to make these than you would a normal cookie but they are still very easy, the hardest part is piping them onto the baking sheet in straight lines so they bake evenly.

You would not usually decorate langues du chat, although Ladurée always enrobe one end in a lovely pastel colour. I thought this was an excuse to get my sprinkle collection out so used metallic sugar crystals, pearlised sugar dragees and tiny pink sugar hearts - you can of course use less twee decorations or none at all, it is completely up to you. Given as a gift with some good coffee or ice cream I think they would make any food fan feel more loved and appreciated.

I've given two options for the box base - one to keep your love guessing and the other with a space for you to write your name, as they will obviously want to track down their baking admirer to thank you and probably propose.

Just click the small images below and download the templates, then print them onto any colour card you desire. Cut them out, fold and stick them in place and then load them up with cookies - love in a box!

Cookie Box Top Cookie Box Bottom One Cookie Box Bottom Two

Langues Du Chat or 'Cat's Tongue' Cookies
Makes 20-30 (depending how big you pipe them)

75g butter, softened
115g icing sugar
2 large egg whites
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
75g plain flour, sifted

a piping bag with a 8-10mm round nozzle

100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
assorted sprinkles, dragees, sugar decorations (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and icing sugar together for 2-3 minutes until it's pale and fluffy then set aside for a moment while you whisk the egg whites to soft peak stage, now add the caster sugar one tablespoon at a time mixing well after each addition. When you have a glossy meringue like mixture that will hold peaks pour it into the bowl with the butter mix and extracts and fold together gently for a minute or so until most of the lumps are gone. Now add the plain flour in three parts mixing after each. Keep folding together until you have a lump free batter - it will feel a little elastic.

Spoon the batter into the piping bag and pipe onto the baking sheet in 6-7cm lines - try and keep them as straight as possible so they cook up neatly and leave around 5cm space between each one.

Bake in batches for 5-7 minutes turning the baking sheet halfway through so they cook evenly. They should have lightly browned edges but still be pale golden in the middle. Remove to a rack to cool down.

Melt the chopped white chocolate in the microwave or a bain marie and then dip one end of each cookie into it and place back onto the cooling rack. If you are using decorations you will need to use them quickly after dipping each one - if you are too slow the chocolate will set before you get to put them on and won't stick.

Let dry and then place into the box and give to your true love!

If you aren't eating them within the first day you'll need to store them in an air tight container so they don't soften - they'll keep for up to three days.