16 April 2016

The Vegetable Butcher ~ a Review

As you may know I have reviewed quite a few cookbooks over the years and they have all been interesting, entertaining, nicely presented, good recipes, fun, etc. but this one is different!

I have just received a review copy of “The Vegetable Butcher” by Cara Mangini and can honestly say it is one of the best new cookbooks I have seen in years.

Unlike so many cookbooks this one actually teaches, advises and encourages the reader to be creative (as do my own).

The book starts with information on knife skills and other useful kitchen info.  This is followed by  sections each dealing with a over 100 vegetables with pretty well all the information you’ll ever need – varieties, season, what to look for, storage, what to pair it with, how to prepare it, different cooking methods, ways to vary dishes, recipes for accompaniments, what to do with leftovers and over 150 rather delicious sounding recipes, such as ...

Caramelized Broccoli with Chile Oil and Parmesan

I decided to try this as I had a splendid head of broccoli in the fridge but once I started I had a brief moment of uncertainty. I wasn’t quite sure about the combination of Parmesan, chilli, garlic and lemon and not only that the kitchen was beginning to smell a bit odd with the roasting broccoli, but ... it was gorgeous! As I had no idea what to have for dinner I ate it with some penne pasta (and a glass of red) and enjoyed every mouthful.

... and ...

Sweet Potato Latkes

These are really quick and easy and they are also just my sort of thing; delicious.  I ate them pretty much as suggested in the recipe with sour cream and chilli jam; Cara Mangini does give a recipe for Cranberry Chipotle Jam which sounds gorgeous but I already had chilli jam in the fridge and used that.

I shall definitely be making both these recipes again and no doubt lots more from The Vegetable Butcher.

The book is somewhat American – eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), fava (broad) beans, arugula (rocket)  and rutabaga (swede) and the occasional cup measurement but nothing you can’t cope with.  There are also a few ingredients one would be lucky to find in the UK – crosnes, fiddlehead ferns (I’d love to try them!) and jicama, for instance – but also lots of more normal veggies; asparagus, avocados, cauliflower, onions, potatoes, celery, spinach, radishes and, a bit of a surprise, rhubarb although it is indeed a vegetable.

Beautifully illustrated with very detailed visual instructions, this book is exceptional. I have a friend who runs the vegetarian Café Cinnamon in Falmouth and she’d love this book but tough!! She can borrow it but I’m afraid it’s a keeper!

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4 April 2016

Browned Butter ~ so Easy, so Delicious and so Useful!

I was talking to my friend Debs who runs the Café Cinnamon in Falmouth  about Hollandaise Sauce as she intends putting Eggs Benedict on the menu and wondered how to keep the sauce warm during service.  I told her my own brilliant idea *** – keep it in a vacuum/thermos flask.

This got me thinking about brown butter aka beurre noisette and the possibility of using it in Hollandaise – so I tried it (using my normal Hollandaise recipe here but browning the butter – see below) and blimey, delicious! 

Brown butter is very easy to make, you can keep it in the fridge for weeks and there are so many delicious ways to use it.  Recipe first …

How to Brown Butter

~   Dice a block of butter (unsalted is apparently best for this but I can vouch that salted works well too because that is what I have just used!). 
~   Melt it in a light coloured pan (so that you can easily see and judge the colour change when it happens) over medium heat.
~   Once melted swirl occasionally to help it cook evenly and watch carefully – the solids in the butter will sink and start to brown and then the butter will gradually change colour from yellow to light golden to nutty brown at which stage it will also smell gorgeous.
~   Immediately remove the pan from the heat, spoon off and set aside any foam, and pour the butter into a fresh heatproof container to cool.  If you leave it in in the original pan it will continue to cook in its residual heat.
~   Once cold carefully pour the clear liquid butter into yet another clean container leaving the solids OR …
~   Keep the solids too, it’s a matter of personal preference!

I add the buttery foam to the next batch of mashed potatoes, which is usually within a few hours!

So here’s some ideas …

~   Melt over freshly cooked vegetables – lovely on asparagus.
~   Toss freshly cooked new potatoes (in the shops any minute now) in melted brown butter.  Taste first as they may be delicious just as they are and then season as you will, maybe some fresh herbs.
~   Butternut squash gratin – toss cooked butternut with browned butter and fresh sage, decant into ovenproof dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake to hot and crisp top.  Great with roast chicken!
~   A classic sauce for fish is simply melted brown butter with capers and lemon juice stirred in.  I don’t like capers so just use brown butter and lemon which makes a lovely sauce and is so quick and easy. After cooking the fish wipe out the pan and melt a knob of brown butter, add a squeeze of lemon and it's ready.

~   Cook a little crushed garlic in browned butter and toss with freshly cooked pasta (preferably a ribbon variety) and finish with plenty of fresh grated Parmesan (make sure it’s the real stuff! ) and then maybe sprinkle with the following …

~   Melt a little browned butter, add a handful of fresh breadcrumbs and cook till crisp and browned to make a lovely caramelly buttery Pangrattato.  
 ~   Toss freshly popped corn with brown butter together with, perhaps, toasted nuts and a sprinkle of sugar.
~   Use instead of un-browned butter in baking, it will add a new depth of flavour to all your old favourites.  I thought for this post I’d bake some …

Brown Butter Cookies

These have a lovely uber butterscotch taste.

110g butter
100g soft light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
125g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
a little milk!

~   Brown the butter as above and when to your liking pour into a heatproof bowl to cool and solidify.
~   Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4 and lightly grease a baking tray.
~   When it’s done that cream the browned butter together with the sugar and vanilla.
~   Sift together the flour and baking powder and mix into the brown butter and sugar.
~   Add just enough milk to form a cohesive dough.
~   Roll into the traditional “walnut sized” balls, arrange on the baking tray (you might even need two trays) with quite a gap between then and flatten slightly and gently. 
~   Bake for 20-25 minutes till firm and turning (more) golden round the edges.
~   Cool on a baking tray and maybe serve with …

Laphroaig & Brown Butter Ice Cream!

Almost every ingredient I play with (even some savoury and peculiar ones) I try incorporating into my genius ice creamrecipe.  In this case I was a bit worried because I knew that just adding brown butter to the mix would result in very firm ice cream – tasty but it would certainly need some softening before serving.  Then I thought, as I often do, of alcohol and decided whisky was about the right flavour.  All we had was Laphroaig which is quite a strong and controversial taste but it worked. My real man is very pleased with the result which is just as well as it is his whisky!

70g butter
200g condensed milk
250ml double cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
30ml whisky – Laphroaig in this case
~   Brown the butter as above then stir in the condensed milk.
~   Set aside to cool.
~   Once cold whisk together the cream, vanilla extract and whisky to thick.
~   Fold the two mixes together (and if it seems a bit lumpy then give in another whisk).
~   Freeze

Serves 3-4

I have, of course, cooked with beurre noisette before but have never had a real play with the stuff. It takes minutes to make and keeps very well in the fridge so I shall from now on keep a batch ready to add to dishes as the whim takes me. I suggest you do the same.

In Other News ...

"Armadillos" by P.K. Lynch 

This is another book sent to me to review by Legend Press and at first my heart sank, this not my normal reading of choice. I don't usually read such dark stories but I enjoyed this book so very much more than I expected to! It was so well written, so absorbing that I could hardly put it down.

It is the tale of 15 year old Aggie's escape from her abusive family life, what happens to her, and how she survives. This involves much of the darker side of life; homelessness, drugs, self-harming, stealing and so on.  Poor Aggie, I was rooting for her and also some of the other, often very strange people in the book, especially the Beast Woman!

Sometimes I don’t realise how lucky I am - not only have I a home and a loving family and partner I also keep being sent great books to read!

Speaking of books ...

*** This is just one of the splendidly useful tips in my book Cooking Tips &Techniques but even though I’ve told you this tip now it’s still worth getting the book as there are at least 500 more quality tips of this calibre!  However …

Maybe you’d like to hang on for a few days before rushing to buy a copy as I am about to publish it in paperback too via Createspace.  Ebooks are very convenient but I do think a hard copy is better in the case of reference books.

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20 March 2016

What to do if you Feel Like Someone Shouted Boo!

Recently I have had several episodes where I have felt as if someone has just shouted …

… really loudly, or as if I’d just been in a near-miss accident.  Sort of really shaken up but for no reason.  I didn’t feel worried, depressed, anxious or scared, just puzzled and shaky.  

I wondered if it was caffeine causing the problem. Then suddenly, out of the blue, I was asked if I’d like to try some caffeine free teas  made by Bellevue Tea.  Talk about timing!

I was sent 3 flavours to try …

Berry Infusion ~ smells absolutely delicious and tastes good too, especially with a spoonful of sugar.

This tea, however, also makes a great syrup which is the  basis for a great iced tea (just dilute to taste and pour over ice) or refreshing sparkling drink (add sparkling water) or sorbet.


~   Make double strength using 2 tea bags per cup of water. 
~   Allow to steep (mast, sudgel, infuse or whatever you call it) for 10 minutes. 
~   Remove the tea bags, giving a good squeeze first, and measure the resulting tea. 
~   Add three quarters of its weight in caster sugar and stir to dissolved. 


~   Make the above syrup and cool.
~   Freeze et voila

Apple & Tea Crumble! – very useful when blackberries are out of season.

This is very small because I only had one apple in the house which I sliced and cooked in the Berry Infusion tea together with a tablespoon of sugar.  Once the apple was cooked I transferred it to a ramekin and boiled down the sugary tea till syrupy.  Topped with crumble and a lovely little treat!  Crumble recipe here. 

Ginger and Lemon Infusion ~ my favourite of the three, it tastes good on its own, great with a little honey added and gorgeous sweetened, chilled and served over ice with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Not only have I drunk nearly all of these I also tried poaching salmon in it! 

I simply made a cup of Ginger & Lemon Tea in a pan, added a piece of salmon, turned off the heat and put on the lid so the salmon could cook gently in the residual heat. Once cold I had a perfectly cooked lemon and ginger infused piece of salmon – perfect for lunch (a sudden lunch if you will) with salad.

Camomile ~ I was a bit scared of this one as my friend told me not to try it till bed time as it makes you very sleepy.  I like things that make me sleepy at bedtime so I did what I was told and I did have a good sleep, not sure if it was a coincidence or not. I must admit, though, that I wasn’t very keen on the flavour, maybe just because it was unfamiliar, but it certainly improved with the addition of honey.  

Camomile has so many health benefits that it is certainly worth persevering, I think I’ll try mint or maybe orange next.

So, in short … nice and I feel so very much better without caffeine! 

Bellevue Teas do a great range in tea bags and as loose leaf tea including “real” tea too and the good news is you can get healthier whilst drinking something delicious (maybe not the camomile!).

In Other News …

1.   As you may remember I am now a member of the Legend 100 Club whereby I am sent review copies of soon to be released books. A few weeks ago I reviewed Fractured by Clár Ní Chonghaile 
My second book to review was  When We Were Alive by C.J. Fisher.

I found this quite hard to get into but I've had this problem occasionally with other good books so didn't give up and I'm glad I persevered. It's a complicated story about three seemingly (but not really) disconnected people in different times but it all ties up beautifully, eventually, so bear with it.

The book is sad and poignant in places and is not light reading but it is beautifully and intelligently written and is certainly different so if you are not scared off by the blurb, as I almost was, then I recommend this interesting book.
Speaking of books …

2.   I am doing a serious update of my cooking tips book which has now more than doubled in size from 219 to something over really useful 500 tips (none of them silly like these!) 

In addition to the ebook I’ve decided to publish via Createspace so it’s also available in paperback - in the case of reference books I think a hard copy is always a good thing. I am not quite ready to press the publish button yet but in the meantime would appreciate your help. For this new edition I have tried a couple of different covers but am not sure which one to choose, what do you think? 

3.   We had wander around Mevagissey in the sunshine the other day and saw some seals in the harbor. Just saying!

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28 February 2016

A Dozen Great Ideas for Marmalade

Today is the start of National Marmalade Week and whilst there are many national days (a while ago was #nationaldrinkwineday which sounds reasonable) and weeks this one is rather special. Not only is it to promote the buying, making and eating of marmalade but, even more importantly, there are lots of marmaladious events and competitions organized to raise money for hospices all over the world. ***

National Marmalade Week starts off with a race auspiciously led by the great Paddington Bear and a Marmalade 'Peel of Bells’ with Oranges & Lemons, the famous nursery rhyme being rung by campanologists all over the country. People will even be wearing orange to celebrate the occasion. There are all sorts of ways to get involved – see here for more details 

Mackays,  who make the UK’s best selling and remarkably good marmalade, have sent me a few jars of their produce to play with.  See here for the whole range.

Here are 12 ways to use marmalade but I’d like to start with handy hint (or “hack”as they are now called) – if doing anything other than spreading your marmalade on toast it is a good idea to stir it a bit first which liquefies it somewhat and makes it easier to assimilate into dishes.

1.  Duck a l’Orange …

…as we say in England for some reason – I wonder if they say Canard with Orange in France! Many ears ago I used to make a very acceptable (enough to mentioned in the Good Food Guide!) Duck a l’Orange by deglazing the duck pan with port and stirring in orange marmalade, however I like this way even more …

2 duck breasts
100g orange marmalade
1 tablespoon soy sauce

~   Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/200ºC fan/gas 7.
~   Cut the duck fat in the traditional criss-cross fashion.
~   Stir together the marmalade and soy sauce in the pan you intend to roast the duck.
~   Pan fry the duck breasts skin side down for 2-3 minutes till golden, turn and cook just a minute to brown the underside.
~   Place in the roasting tin with the marmalade mixture. I used to turn the duck to coat but prefer leaving the fat uncoated so that it stays crisp.
~   Roast for 8-10 minutes then set aside to rest.
~   Stir the juices in the pan over a medium heat till syrupy.
~   Slice the duck breasts and serve drizzled with the glaze.

This is absolutely gorgeous served with roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes and here’s a picture of a cook’s treat I had when testing the syrupiness of the sauce.

2.  Marmalade on Salmon!  make a glaze for fresh or, even better, hot smoked salmon by stirring together a little marmalade (I used the lemon and lime) and some sweet chilli sauce and brushing over the fish before baking or grilling.

3.  Vinaigrette

Whisk or shake a little marmalade into vinaigrette, orange or orange & ginger for duck, lemon and lime for shrimp – vinaigrette basics here 

4.   Marmalade IN Toast!

It’s really French Toast – make a marmalade sandwich with some appropriate bread, nothing too heavy, brioche would be good. Beat together the following ingredients and soak the sarnie for about 10 mins, turning once. Don’t let it get too soggy.  Fry in butter.
1 egg
½ tablespoon sugar
50ml milk or cream or a mixture
½ teaspoon grated orange zest – if possible
pinch salt

5.  Marmalade Ripple Ice Cream

This quick, easy, egg-free, no-churn ice cream is made using my genius recipe, adding a nip of whisky makes for a very soft and delicious ice cream but less than perfect for breakfast; difficult to keep on the toast.

500ml double cream
a wee nip of whisky – optional
200g condensed milk
425g marmalade
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons more marmalade

~   Whip the cream, together with whisky if using, till thick
~   Fold in the condensed milk.
~   Fold in the marmalade.
~   Decant into chosen container.
~   Stir together the zest, orange juice and 2 tablespoons of marmalade and drizzle over the ice cream in a figure of 8, or any other enthusiastic swirly shape. Stir it through just once or twice making sure to do a large expansive sort of stir down to the bottom and out to the sides of the mixture. 
~   Freeze. 

When the ice cream is served the cutting, scooping and spooning will cause it to ripple further.

I am always creating new ice creams with my “genius recipe” but we do have our favourites (Buttered Rum & Ginger, Hot Cross Bun Ice Cream and Maple Syrup); Marmalade Ripple has now joined this auspicious list.

6.  Marmalade Sorbet – So Easy!

100g caster sugar
250ml hot water
200g marmalade

~   Stir the ingredients together till fully amalgamated.
~   Cool.
~   Freeze.

That’s it – delicious!  I’ve written a small ebook about sorbets as part of my Genius Recipes series and they are all a doddle bit I think this one wins!

I also tried making a drink out of it by just topping up with sparkling water and it was really, really  good – must try to remember it just in case summer ever comes!

7.  Frosting/Topping

Sweeten and flavour cream cheese with marmalade and maybe a little liqueur, soften with cream if necessary and use as a topping, frosting or filling for cakes and desserts.

8.  Marmalade Flapjacks

180g butter
120g marmalade
½ tablespoon of Golden Syrup
30g soft light brown sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated zest to match your marmalade
250g porridge oats

~   Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325°F/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Butter a 20cm square (or similar) cake tin.
~   Melt together everything but the oats over low heat, stirring occasionally.
~   Stir in the oats and decant the mixture into the cake tin.
~   Bake for about 25 minutes till the top is golden and the whole place smells delicious.
~   Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting into 9 squares (or whatever you like!)

As Marmalade week is intending to raise money for hospices I might (if we haven’t eaten them all by then) take a few of these next time I “work” sorting books at Cornwall Hospice Care. 

9.  Manly Marmalade Bread Pudding 

Not the wobbly creamy bread and butter pudding type thing – see below for that.

225g stale bread torn into pieces
125g dried fruit plus 2 tablespoons rum or brandy or whisky (or, even better alcohol soaked fruit from your storecupboard)
70g brown sugar
180g marmalade
1 egg

~ Cover the bread with cold water and set aside half an hour or so.
~ Preheat oven to 350˚F/180˚C/No. 4.
~ Use your hands to squeeze the bread out as dry as poss and put into a mixing bowl.
~ Add all the other ingredients and whisk or beat (or manually munge) to completely combined.
~ Turn into a greased ovenproof dish and bake for about an hour till firm.
~ Cool and cut into squares or wedges. 

Good with clotted cream but then what isn't?

10.  Bread & No Butter Marmalade Pudding (the wobbly, creamy kind) - serves four

Traditionally this comprises slices of buttered bread layered up and baked in a custard but I don’t think there is much to be gained by the butter and, if you don’t have to butter it, random pieces of leftover bread are easier to use.

If the bread isn’t stale dice or tear into pieces and either leave it around the place for an hour or so or put it on a baking tray and pop in the oven for a few minutes.

100g-150g stale bread in small chunks
3 tablespoons orange marmalade plus another one!
200ml milk
100ml double cream
2 eggs
75g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lovely orange

~   Put the bread into a lightly greased ovenproof dish or divide between ramekins.
~    Stir the 3 tablespoons of marmalade to liquefy and then drizzle over the bread. Turn the bread around in it.
~   Whisk together all the other ingredients and pour over pushing the bread under the surface to soak it. Set aside for 30 minutes or more – even overnight will do.
~   Preheat oven to 350˚F/180˚C/160˚C Fan/gas 4.
~   Bake for about 40 minutes till risen, golden and slightly wobbly when nudged.
~   Either dust with sugar or icing sugar brush with the glaze below.

Serve hot, warm or cold but warm is best.

11.  Alcoholic Marmalade Glaze

Stir together 3 tablespoons of orange marmalade and  1 tablespoon orange liqueur (Grand Marnier of Cointreau) briefly over low heat till runny and merged together. Brush over warm, fresh out the oven cakes, scones, buns or the bread pudding above.

12.  Wee Punch

When I lived in the West Indies ‘Ti Punch (short for Petit Punch) was my favouritest Caribbean rum drink ever. The proportions are given in this traditional poem, and the ingredients are simply lime juice, cane or sugar syrup, rum and water (supposedly – not everyone agrees with this last ingredient!). I tried it making it with orange juice and strained marmalade instead or lime and syrup – no water, of course. Very good!

This was a lovely drink on a disconcertingly sunny afternoon!
Cocktails made with marmalade are, of course, entirely suitable for breakfast.

Marmalade is, of course, very important. I once sailed with an old man of the sea who one time, when passage making and not having seen another vessel for several days, sighted a yacht in the distance who radioed him to ask if he had any marmalade. He replied yes and was then asked if it was Dundee (fussy buggers) which it was so they met up!

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