Le Serre Nuove – Thoughts from Glasshouses

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Blueberry & Chocolate Ice Cream

The New Year begins with detox. The Christmas excess and the couple of extra pounds your girth is showing implies that the resolutions of the New Year should be of healthier eating and more exercise. The promises to eat more certain types of food and the promises to cut down on the things that are worse for you; I had made a similar resolution to do that, but I got a new toy for christmas, a new ice cream machine, and was itching to have a play with it. So I lasted three days.

Two of my favourite ingredients are Cacao and Blueberries. Cacao is basically raw chocolate – or more specifically cocoa solids without any cocoa butter, and has gained increasingly popularity in the UK not least as a result of the efforts by Willie Harcourt Cooze, who launched his own series of Cacao products and ‘delectable’ chocolate range. It is amazingly versatile and can be used in a variety of ways (see my earlier post for Venison Stew as an example). The thing I like about it the most is that you can determine how ‘chocolately’ you want to make it, by reducing or adding more sugar, cream or butter. I’ve made this previously by using very little sugar, it is very bitter and a little sour, but a fantastic flavour. Blueberries too, are a very sweet fruit, and very refreshing, and the sweetness of the blueberries compliments, and contrasts, the bitterness of the cacao.

I decided to make this as a chocolate ice cream with a blueberry purée through it. If you wish, you may prefer to simply make a chocolate ice cream, and serve with fresh blueberries.

Blueberry & Chocolate Ice Cream
For the Chocolate (for a Ganache)
100g Cacao
100g Cream
30g Sugar (or to taste)

Grate the cacao and melt over a ban-marie. Add the sugar and cream and mix together until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool and thicken.

For the Ice Cream
700 ml Milk (I used Jersey Cow’s Milk in this instance)
6 egg yolks
75g sugar

Separate the egg yolks and whisk together in a large bowl. In a pan hit the milk and sugar over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved (do not let it boil). Slowly, and ensuring you are whisking all the time, gradually add the milk and sugar mixture to the egg yolks. Whisk until the mixture has combined. Return to the heat to allow the mixture to thicken slightly, until it coats the back of a spoon. Mix the ice cream and ganache together and chill for about 6 hours.

Meanwhile, blend 400g of blueberries in a food processor. Pass through a sieve to form a purée.

Once the custard has chilled, churn in your ice cream machine (per your manufactures instructions), normally about 30 minutes. You can either add the purée five minutes before it has finished churning or simply mix together before hand. Serve immediately or freeze for up to a week.

Given how cold Scotland has been recently, and even though we have just had Christmas, this did not feel out-of-place in the depths of winter. It is was a welcome change to some of the food we’ve had recently, and certainly made me start thinking about the summer and not about VAT increase.

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How to Warm Up: C&C Soup

Tonight I got cold. I have been quite lucky with the weather recently, because I am fortunate enough not to have to worry about getting to work, mainly because I walk and it takes about 25 minutes whatever the weather, or other daily banalities as I can do must things that way. Edinburgh is nothing more than an ice rink at the moment, this probably sums up the worst weather in 50 years the best, with temperatures averaging about -10 (14). Of course, there are worse places in the world to be but the bureaucratic efficiency of this country has shown its hand again. But the one thing I wasn’t expecting was the heating to break. That really got me today. And I really started to feel it. Even the dogs couldn’t keep me warm. The thing I turn to most when I am really cold is soup. I find there is nothing better than warming me up. I don’t really care what it is, be it tinned Tomato Soup, homemade pumpkin Soup or Beer and Cheese Soup, but it hearty soul food.

With that in mind I attempted to dissect the contents of my cupboards. There isn’t really a lot in there at the best of times, as my wife and I have a habit of getting every few days to try to keep things fresh and varied, and just what we are going to eat. I don’t often eat Celeriac, and I really enjoy it as an accompaniment to fish, The bitter flavour’s help give it a nice sharpness, and I love the combination of this with cider, it is common to see it with apples but I like the added sweetness of the cider.

Cider and Celeriac Soup

500g Celeriac
400 ml Cider (or more to taste)
35g Butter
400 ml vegetable stock
40g Onion (or 1 medium)
90 ml Double Cream

Melt the butter in a pan, and add the onions. Cook for a minute or so until translucent, and add the celeriac. Cook over a medium heat, ensuring the celeriac does not brown, for about 5 minutes. Add the cider and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend. Stir in the cream just before serving to give it additional richness.

Perfect for when you get really quite cold.

Stories from the City

To badly paraphrase a P.J. Harvey record, and whilst walking the dog one evening, I wondered about the food history of Edinburgh and the food that has been made famous here. There are a significant number of Scottish dishes that we all know and love, from haggis to deep-fried Mars bars, and the outstanding quality of the produce you can find is second to none but what is Auld Reckie famous for?

My mind almost instantly turned to a couple of things: chippie sauce on your fish supper and Cock-o-Leekie soup. Even then I only really know Cock-o-Leekie soup as an Edinburgh dish because it has local twist to it: adding whisky. There is also a variant on oatcakes, that get called ‘Midlothian Oatcakes’, which are not as heavy on the oats, and use flour in the recipe producing a crisper texture. Of course, lest we forget that you can get Edinburgh Rock, but for the most part that’s all I could find. Chippie Sauce doesn’t really count as a ‘recipe’, although it is a strange Edinburgh custom. It’s a mixture of Brown Sauce and Malt Vinegar, and a fish supper would be poorer without it. I once mistakenly asked for it in London and got Kebab sauce. You live and learn.

Even consulting the bible of Scottish Cooking – The Scots Kitchen: Its Traditions and Lore with Old-time Recipes – Florence Marian McNeill, first published in 1929 and probably the Scottish equivalent to the Silver Spoon, did not really yield any more results. There is also another book, Edinburgh ‘A La Carte’ – The history of food in Edinburgh – but I think I will need to root round the second-hand bookshops to have any luck in finding. I did eventually find one other dish, something which I have not heard of before and certainly not tried – Edinburgh Fog. It sounds like a play on cranachan, but I hope that it might be tasty with the almonds.

Edinburgh ‘Fog’

300ml double cream
30g castor (fine granulated) sugar
50g small almond ratafia biscuits (macaroon biscuits are a normally substituted for these)
Almond essence
Drambuie / Whisky to taste
30g flaked almonds

Whip the cream until it is stiff and fold in the sugar, almond essence and whisky.  Crush the macaroon biscuits,  and mix well with the cream.  Serve well chilled as a luxury dessert. Sprinkle the almonds over the desert before serving.

What other dishes do you know that originate in Edinburgh? What other dishes should I try? Do you like Edinburgh Fog? Do you have a copy of Edinburgh ‘A La Carte’?

Hefeweizen and Goats Cheese Soup continued…

Following on from my previous post about the Beer and Cheese soup, here is a pictorial guide to my efforts this afternoon. I changed a couple of things compared to the original recipe, as this was proving to be very sweet, so I had to find ways to cut through it, and jingle with the ingredients.
First off… Goats Cheese:

Lots of Goats Cheese

I am quite lucky really to have a great Cheesemonger, Ian Mellis, at the end of my street. They have a wide variety of Cheeses to choose from, highlighting the best you can get in the UK, and I spent an age tasting them. I plumped for the Golden Cross in the end, as it has a good richness to it, but was not too sweet.

Beer and Cheese

As I have mentioned in the original post I was going to make it with Stewart Brewing’s new version of the Hefewiezen. First time I sampled it in bottle, and the carbonation really cuts down the banana flavour. It works a lot better in the bottle, and will be something that I have to search out a bit more.

I decided to cut down the amount of flour and milk in the recipe as well, as I did not want to use as much cheese as if it was a hard cheese. The soup would tend to be a bit floury otherwise. I also decided to add a bit more mustard too (a further half tbs), and to season it at the very end, which helped cut down the sweetness significantly, and balance it a lot more. The key was to cook the soup relatively slowly which prevented it from spoiling. I also added the ingredients gradually to ensure they did not overpower each other – this was particularly important when adding the goats cheese. In order for this to avoid lumps too from the Goats Cheese I removed the wax, and grated it, breaking down the texture.

So here are some snaps:

Melting the butter: the start of it all

Stock, veg, flour

Adding the Beer

Let it simmer

Blend

Adding the Cheese

This turned out to be a very warming soup, the flavours of the beer and cheese worked well together, without being too sweet. My wife had a number of reservations that this would not work – Thankfully I managed to proved her wrong!

Soup!

Beer, Cheese, Hefeweizen. Soup?

Is there nothing more satisfying than a decent pint of beer? It has been remarked recently the beer renaissance the UK is going through, and living in Scotland there are whole host of fabulous Brewery’s making different and intriguing beers. Being Edinburgh based you cannot escape the fabulous local brews from Stewart Brewing – who have recently branched out into bottles and I went to their launch night of their first Wheat beer, Hefeweizen, this week.

Intense banana flavour, but with the soft clove and wheat notes you would expect from this type of beer, and clean on the palate, it was a very complex beer that did justice to its name. It is the first time I have ever had that style of beer uncarbonated, which gave way to the stronger fruit flavours, it is refreshingly different and goes to show the versatility and innovation of the UK beer scene, and the plethora of styles and beers that are starting to immerge. Great brewery’s to sample? Anything from Marble, Lovibonds, Kernel, Highland, Dark Star, Thornbridge to name a few, and let’s not forgot Brewdog – who for all their shouting do actually know how to make decent beer. The increase in the availability of US ‘craft’ brews has diversified the market and we are not short of great beer; long may it continue.

In honour of all these great beers, here is a traditional American recipe that I have never seen in the UK. There are great ways to play around with this, mixing the styles of beer and cheese, finding things to add it, and the qualities you use in the recipe for each. Beer is perhaps the perfect combination with cheese. The malt and hops bring out so many different flavours; it brings a completely different slant to the cheese. Perhaps this is why it is the perfect accompaniment to Pizza. This is traditional in the Mid – west where they make some of the best beers about.

Beer Cheese Soup

40 g butter
100g minced celery
100g minced carrots
100g minced onion
100g flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
300 ml chicken broth
500 ml beer (or a pint)*
300 ml milk
400g cheese*
Popcorn to serve

In a soup pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onions, sauté until tender (about 6-8 minutes). Stir in flour and mustard and whisk constantly until smooth and bubbly. Add broth and beer. Cook until thickened. Put mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return mixture to pot. Gradually stir in milk, stirring to avoid scorching. Simmer for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Stir in cheese and continue to cook until cheese has melted, stirring frequently for about 15 minutes.

Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with popcorn and serve hot.

* Different Beer styles suit different cheeses … Brooklyn Brewery from NYC recommends the following…

– Sharp Cheddar – Pale Ale
– Feta – Wheat Beer
– Mascarpone – Fruit Beer
– American Cheese – Pilsner
– Colby – Brown Ale
– Gorgonzola – Barleywine
– Gruyere – Bock Beer
– Swiss cheese – Octoberfest Beer
– Parmesan – Amber Lager

For me, there is nothing better than the first one, Cheddar and Pale Ale, or more specifically a really hoppy India Pale Ale. I would also add:

Stilton (or strong blue cheese) – Stout
Caerphilly (or mild nutty cheeses) – Milds (i.e. dark malty beers) or Red Ales
Goats Cheese – Hefeweizen

I am going to pick up some of the aforementioned Stewart Brewing Hefeweizen this weekend, some fabulous Goat’s Cheese from Ian Mellis and try this again over the weekend…

Something warm and refreshing whilst freezing at Murrayfield!

Look out on Twitter for the results…

Welsh Curiosity

There are certain things that the forces of nurture impress upon you. Growing up with a Welsh Dad, and with members of family still living in Cardiff, for me that was alcohol, socialism, rugby and laverbread. Being Welsh or more specifically scouse born, home county raised, half Welsh, these things were unescapable,  as they were traits that emerged at certain times of the year. Most obviously whenever the six nations came about (particularly 1993 and Ieuan Evans’ try), they would lurk in the background and shoot at me when I least expect it. During my student days too, I would invariably get packets in the post from my Gran containing a whole heap of goodies – predominantly her Welsh Cakes. They are unequalled. Period.

Talking of my Gran, she used to threaten me with laverbread whenever I came to stay. Laver is seaweed found on the Gower coast plucked from the rocks at low tide. To make Laverbread it is boiled for several hours and then minced. I think the notion of eating seaweed would always put me off, and that it looks like black mush. Then she cooked me a traditional Welsh breakfast (you get it with cockles nowadays but this is a traditional South Wales miners breakfast) of laverbread, bacon, mushrooms and sausages, when I was about 18 and boy did I realise how good it is. I was amazed about how fresh it tasted and how it tasted like the sea. I found it quite salty, but it compliments the meat really well. With seaweed being increasing popular with the rise of sushi and the significant health benefits it brings, it is a great thing to cook with and something that I really enjoy, particularly when I now go down to the Valleys. Steven Terry is a big fan (from the Hardwick Inn) and here is a great recipe of his here. Below is a great dish I have made a couple of times and I think helps show how versatile the dish is, and what a curiosity it is.

Monkfish & Laverbread Cakes

Monkfish fillets
100g fresh or tinned laverbread
35g fine oatmeal
10g Parsley
6 rashers of bacon (keep the fat)

Grill the bacon over a medium heat, ensuring you keep the fat, until cooked.  Place on a paper towel to remove excess fat. Dice the cooked bacon, and combine the laverbread, parsley and oatmeal in a bowl. Shape into 6 small cakes, about 5cm wide and 2cm thick.  Heat the bacon fat in a frying pan (or use the same pan as you cooked the bacon in), and gently slide the cakes into the hot fry, turning occasionally until crisp on both sides. Drizzle with some lemon juice just before serving if you wish.

To roast the monkfish, season the fillets with salt and pepper, heat a large ovenproof frying pan with some olive oil, and fry the fillets in the pan for 2 minutes. Turn them over and put the pan in a preheated oven (about 220°C) for 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. Serve with the laverbread cakes.

Yr un peth eto, os gwelwch yn dda.

Sausage Squash

A guest blog! Well kind of. This is something that my wife has introduced to me from her American roots. I believe it is described as ‘southern’ cooking, which often is considered just the Cajun and Creole food of Louisiana, but that is just a particular aspect of it. The primary basis of southern cuisine is corn, and hence cornmeal, which you see used in a variety of ways. I will leave it for another occasion to tell you about ‘Biscuits and Gravy’, and the story of Hush Puppies (deep-fried cornmeal), but it is amazing how varied it is. There is a cookbook called ‘What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking’ from 1881, which is written by a former slave and demonstrates the nature of the way the African-American food culture, and ultimately ‘southern’ food, emerged. It is quite an incredible read, very different to modern-day cookbooks, and worth finding out about.

This southern recipe my wife cooks for me frequently. It is a straightforward dish to do, and a great easy supper. I really like it, and it is very tasty. You can serve it as a side dish or as a main, although we normally serve it with some simple green beans and toasted walnuts. You could serve it with some creole rice or even mac and cheese!

Sausage Squash

4 Sausages (pork / venison work best) – (two per person)

2 acorn squashes (or one per person)

20 g Breadcrumbs

25 g Parmesan Cheese

Salt and Pepper

Cut the squash in half, removing the seeds and fibres. Place the halved squash in a roasting tin half filled with water, and roast until tender (about 25 minutes, depending on the size of the squash, the ones we get in the UK are fairly small so this should be sufficient) at 180ºC. Meanwhile fry the sausages and chopped into small pieces and set aside. Once the squash has roasted scoop out the pulp and mix together with the chopped sausages, seasoning, breadcrumbs and about half of the cheese. Return the combined mixture to the squash shells and cover with the remaining cheese. Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes or until everything has warmed through. Serve in their shell.

My Favorite Stew

I cannot remember where this came from, but this is one of my favourite recipes that I have played around with recently. I love the way in which venison and chocolate work so well together (Richard Corrigan serves a wonderful chocolate ravioli with venison) and Rowley Leigh was the first chef who I really saw use these ingredients together. The chocolate cuts through the flavours of the meat and really strengthens the taste, adding bitterness and a great sharpness to it. The darker the chocolate the better too (or go the whole hog and use Cacao it is certainly worth it).

Chocolate Venison Stew

1 kilo shoulder (or haunch) venison, diced,
A bottle of red wine (a good Merlot based one would work best.. or a Rioja)
2 tablespoons of olive oil,
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
2 crushed garlic cloves,
a handful of rosemary and thyme,
2 bay leaves,
1 teaspoon of crushed juniper berries,
Half a teaspoon of crushed peppercorns,
Half a teaspoon of salt.

Combine the ingredients into a marinade, add the meat  and leave overnight.

When you are ready to cook you will also need:
2 tablespoons of oil,
100g of Serrano ham fat or fatty bacon, cubed.
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
70 grams of bitter black chocolate, grated.
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the ham or bacon in a casserole dish. Remove just before it the oil discolors, and keep to one side. Pat the meat dry (who make also wish to flour the meat) and gently brown before removing and leaving to one side.. Add the onions and carrots and soften over a medium heat in the same pan. Add the marinade, and bring it to a simmering point (that it when it starts to gently bubble). Return both the venison and ham to the dish, and add the spices. Cook in a low-medium oven (i.e. at about 150) for 1 1/2 hours until the meat is tender. You make want to add a drop of water to ensure the meat does not dry out. Return to the hob, and grate the chocolate into the dish, bringing the sauce back to a simmer point or until the sauce is of a decent thickness. Serve immediately.

This is like cooking the Julia Childs version of Beef Burguignon,  as it take can take a few hours, and most of the techniques are classical: Cooking each element in the same dish first, adding and returning them add at different points as it cooks. Try not to use a too spicy wine (like a Syrah) as it can kill the chocolate flavour, and do not go over board with the chocolate – Dairy Milk will not work either!

Regardless of how long it takes to cook – it is worth the wait and great to banish the Autumn blues.

A Pumpkin Obsession

Pumpkins. For me it is officially the end of summer when they first start appearing in the shops and the kids have gone back to school. It is the thing that the supermarkets can sort of fudge to hide getting the Christmas goods in. With all the Halloween festive additions of chocolates and sweeties (and it seems that since Kraft took over Cadbury they have gone for this market quite significantly), they stand out like a sore thumb. Big and cumbersome, they look battered and bruised and never tempting to eat, disappearing as soon as Halloween is over.

David Bowman is the UK’s biggest seller of pumpkins, shifting around 2 million of the things – they even sponsor a pumpkin festival (sadly gone for this year) in Spalding, Lincolnshire, which is the defacto pumpkin capital of the UK – and suggests that 99% of all pumpkins are used for carving. It surprises me that so few people eat it; although that’s probably not true given the poor bland watery quality of most of them that you can buy. But I still remember the first time I ate it, tortelli de zucca.

The Italian town of Mantova, Lombardy – or Mantua, as the natives call it – and its ‘tortelli di zucca have a sacral quality’ –  is the home of this venerable dish. It has been around since the 1500’s apparently, and the locals are fiercely proud of its origins. It is a traditional Christmas Eve dish, and one of the few non-meat dishes Italians will eat. Indeed, the proprietor who sold it to me the first time said it is the only vegetarian dish he would eat. It didn’t take long for me to be completely smitten. Its flavours are so mellow and warming, with a such a gentle sweetness that makes the harsh autumnal blues float away. I am not sure whether it is the amaretti biscuits or the apple mustard that really gives it its distinctive flavour, but it completely changed my perception of those orange things that I had only ever really used for Jack O’Lanterns.

I am now completely obsessed. If there is ever anything on the menu that pumpkin is in, I will order it. Even when it is bad, I love it. I once made a pumpkin risotto without steaming it, and it was really hard and chewy and not sweet at all, but that didn’t stop me. You increasingly see it in thai fusion cooking as the combination of sweet, sour, hot and spicy work well with it. I really enjoy simply roasting it in sage and olive and oil and eating in with some salad greens and goats cheese. There is no question that it makes a fantastic soup (I really enjoy it with some red pepper), and or course, risotto’s are an easy thing way to enjoy it (as long as you don’t make my mistake). I have not as yet tried to make it from scratch but pumpkin gnocchi, either in a sage butter or a plain tomato sauce, is also very tasty. Even just roast it and sticking it on a margarita pizza.

There are over 50 varieties of pumpkins, and the more flavourful are the smaller and perhaps, un-orange skin ones. Marina di Chioggia, the main varietal from Italy is in fact green, are the one I was recommended to cook with. I really enjoy cooking with munchkins too, but it is best not to use the larger varieties for savoury dishes, and if you want to make pie, use the New England versions as they are naturally sweeter.

Pumpkin Pie. It was never something that appealed to me, and something that I used to dismiss as a silly American thing. Since meeting my wife (who hails from the Sunshine State), I now celebrate Thanksgiving with her and made it my mission to make pie every year. I used to just stick with the Libby’s version, because it is such a fail safe – and that’s what you do right?, but one year someone brought their own, homemade version. Then I discovered an ice cream shop in NYC that made Pumpkin Pie ice cream. I had to do both. So last year for Thanksgiving I made my own pie and, even though Scotland has got incredibly cold recently, I wanted to finally make ice cream. Here is a version of a pie recipe that I have altered to work as an ice cream.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
100g caster sugar
450 g (1 lb) pumpkin flesh, cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) chunks
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
275 ml (10 fl.oz) double cream
Shortbread biscuits (as many as you want – 5/6 should be sufficient)

Steam the pumpkin, then put it in a sieve and press lightly to extract any excess water. Then lightly whisk the eggs and the extra yolk together in a large bowl. Place the sugar, spices and cream in a pan, bring them to simmering point, stirring with a whisk regularly. Then pour this mixture over the eggs and whisk it again briefly. Return the mixture into the saucepan containing the rest of the cream and continue cooking gently for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and now add the pumpkin pureé whisking everything thoroughly until combined. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and churn for 2 hours. Crumble shortbread into the mixture as it churns or add when serving as desired.

Serve with cognac.

Simply exquisite.

veritable

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