Sep 6, 2012

Beetroot Gnocchi

Its been such a long time since I last wrote anything. I would love to blame pure laziness but working and studying full time along with insane weekends of pure adventures has made it impossible to not only write but get into my kitchen to cook. The lovely Mr.B was concerned I had fallen off the blog wagon which I had but I've jumped back onboard now. 

Today I had a rare day to myself, Mr.B is away on business and I had a clean empty kitchen and lots and lots of freshly picked beetroot. What to do with all of them? Well most went to be pickled as I adore pickled beetroot sandwiches and I can safely say that I have enough to feed our little family for the next year. Even with all the jars filled and cooling I had more left. I have been making gnocchi for a long time but it never even crossed my mind to combine in some pureed beetroot with delicious fluffy gnocchi heaven balls (Well that's what I call them). Can you put beetroot in gnocchi? Will it taste good? Who cares I want gnocchi!! The earthy taste of the beets with the soft almost sweet fluffy potato is incredible, plus the hot pink color is just too pretty to not have a bite. These were so good that I stayed up late and made even more. Glutton, perhaps but I need them!

Gnocchi recipes are renowned for the fact that weights and quantities depend on the type of potato, how you cook it, how wet your potatoes are and even the temperature of the room your in. So use what I have below as a guideline, practice getting your gnocchi consistency right and you will never need a recipe to follow again. I like to make a big batch of gnocchi and freeze them for later use. But I would recommend trying a small batch first to ensure you enjoy them.

Recipe: Feeds 3 

2 large Potatoes ( Baked, peeled and mashed )
2 large Beetroots ( Pureed )
Salt and Pepper to taste 
Plain Flour

For the Gnocchi:
  1. Bake the potatoes in an oven or boil until cooked. Peel and mash while hot and leave to cool slightly.
  2. Grate or puree the beetroot into the mashed potato and mix well. Season to taste.
  3. Add a little flour to the mixture, one tablespoon at a time, incorporating each before adding the next.
  4. Add enough flour so the mixture is not sticky and resembles shortcrust pastry.
  5. Cut the dough ball into four equal pieces.

Making the Gnocchi:

Take each quarter and roll into a long sausage shape.

Cut each roll into 1 inch pieces.

Gently press a small indentation in the gnocchi pieces, this will allow sauce to stick to the pieces.

When finished lay the pieces floured and separated on a board ready to be cooked or frozen.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer.
  2. Drop in your gnocchi.
  3. When the gnocchi float to the surface they are ready.
  4. Remove with a slotted spoon to either a warm plate or to a pan with melted butter to fry gently.
  5. When all the gnocchi have been cooked, drench in lashings of your favorite sauce and top with freshly grated mozzarella.

Dec 6, 2011

Princess Cake - Princesstårta

The inevitable happened this week, Fika (Coffee and Cake) which everyone in work loves was forgotten. Cue panic buying of shop bought cake and disappointed work colleagues. Between Christmas shopping, redecorating, sitting Swedish final exams and the other 5 million (slight exaggeration) things I had to do Fika day was sadly at the very end of the list. So the price i had to pay for bringing *gasps* store bought cake into a group of seasoned bakers, a 2nd round of Fika and this time i needed to pull out all the stops. That meant one thing the dreaded princess tårta.

I love this cake and so does everyone else which is the main problem, and as I'm not Swedish and have made it only for non-Swedes I was terrified. What if they hate it? What if they chase me with pitchforks? What if I disgrace their favorite cake? OK so slightly over the top but all valid if your competing with people who take pastry courses. I shouldn't have been so worried. The resulting cakes were fabulous mini-me versions and were devoured and the recipe demanded. The only critique I did receive was that my marzipan coating was a little too crumpled at the end. All i will say is at 9pm on a school night ensuring the marzipan was neat was the last of my worries but next time they will be perfect (at least I hope so).

Now you can be lazy and I have been on occasion and just bought a basic sponge cake and cut it in three equal pieces or if you really want to be fancy or have to appease the wrath of bakers like me then make your own sponge. What I love about this cake is there are no rules, use the flavor combinations you love and hide all mistakes with a decadent layer of marzipan. The marzipan is shop bought because its just so good here and to make it would take forever. For my cake, I have many subtle flavors from a zesty lemon sponge, vanilla custard, pear marzipan and blueberry and raspberry jam. Sounds weird but oddly works. The trick is to have not so sweet cream otherwise it can be very sickly sweet. Enjoy with a large coffee or if you like in a bowl of sweet custard.

For the Lemon Sponge
4oz Plain Flour
4oz Margarine
4oz Caster Sugar
1 Tsp Baking Powder
Zest and juice of half a lemon
2 Medium Eggs
Little Milk (If mixture is too dry)

For the Vanilla Custard
2 Medium Egg Yolks
2 Tbsp Caster Sugar
1 Vanilla Pod / 1 heaped Tsp Vanilla sugar
30ml Milk

Begin by making the sponge. 
  1. Into a large bowl put the margarine and the sugar and beat together until creamy and sugar has incorporated fully.
  2. Add one egg and mix fully into the creamed sugar and margarine.
  3. Add little by little the flour, baking powder, remaining egg, lemon zest and juice and mix fully.
  4. At this point the mixture should barely cling to the spoon. If its a little dry add a little milk to obtain the desired consistency.
  5. Bake at 180°C for about 25mins for a 8 inch tin or 20 min's for regular sized cupcakes.
  6. To test the sponge simply insert a cocktail stick into the centre of the cakes, if the cocktail stick comes out clean the sponge is done.
  7. Cool on a wire rack before filling.  

Now for the Custard
  1. Over a bain marie whisk the eggs with the sugar until incorporated.
  2. Whisk continuously for about 2 min's until frothy.
  3. At this stage gradually add the milk and vanilla pod. 
  4. Keep gently whisking until the custard begins to thicken.
  5. Remove from heat and cool fully.

  1. If making mini-version use two cupcakes and cut each into halves.
  2. On the bottom layer, spread a generous layer of any jam you love.
  3. Place another sponge lid on top and cover the top with the cooled custard.
  4. Add another sponge lid on top and spread another generous layer of jam.
  5. Finally place the final sponge lid on top and cover thickly with whipped cream.
  6. Roll out your marzipan at least 3 times the size of the cupcake. 
  7. Cover entire cupcake with the marzipan and decorate as you wish.
  8. A common decoration in Sweden is a rose made from fondant.

Nov 9, 2011

Cauliflower Cheese Tart

Times flies when your having fun and Mr.B and myself have been having way too much fun. Can you have way to much fun? So much fun in fact that I have been a naughty blogger again and not written anything in ages. My very poor excuse is that we have been immersing ourselves in Swedish culture for a whole month now. We tend to go do something different every holiday season and this year was Ljusfesten (Lights Party). Bonfires, sky lanterns, the coastline of the island covered with huge tea lights and of course the obligatory Fika (coffee and cake). We recently found a quaint little cafe situated on the lake which makes the most gluttonous cakes I have ever eaten and it was here the party was set. If you come to Stockholm, try it out, you wont be disappointed.     

But today is not about cakes, its about what I make when I need a taste of home and that is my mom the ever glamorous Mrs.B's cauliflower cheese quiche. Now I hear you say that so easy to make and I totally agree with you. But it was the first thing my mom made me when I first became a vegetarian and it reminds me of her panicking at the thought of how she was going to feed me. Now 17 years on she is a pro at making veggie dinners she even makes 2 Christmas dinners! My mom is definitely someone I aspire to be and I would love to have her wisdom and patience but I got her fieriness and passion for baking instead. Sorry I tend to ramble as you probably have already noticed, I get that from my always hilarious father along with my love of science. Anyway her first concoction for me was her cauliflower cheese quiche and when I eat it I'm transported back home to Ireland. Some days I really miss home but then I just put on the kettle, brew some strong tea and have a skype chat with my mom and its like sitting in her kitchen, having a laugh and cooking together.

Now this dish is a little different, its not quite a quiche and not really a pie, its more of a tart. I call it cauliflower cheese meets pie crust! I love the texture of the buttery, crumbly shortcrust pastry and the rich decadent filling of cauliflower, cream, cheese and eggs. The shortcrust pastry is my grandmothers recipe and her pastry was renowned so give it a try and see for yourself.

Makes 2 Tarts (14cm Pie Tin):

Shortcrust Pastry
4oz Plain Flour
2oz Cold Butter
Pinch Salt
30ml Ice Cold Water

1 Large Potato sliced thinly
Cauliflower Florets (Large Handful)
1 Large Egg
½ Cup Strong Cheddar Cheese
1-2 Tbsp Cream
Salt and Pepper

For the shortcrust pastry:
  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into small pieces and using your fingertips rub butter into flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the water a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. It should come away easily from the side of the bowl and should not be sticky or too dry.
  4. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour. This will prevent skrinkage when rolling.
  5. When rolling out do not use excessive flour as this will make the dough tough. The dough will most likely crack but you can fill in gaps when the pastry is in the dish. Cracking usually gives a good crumbly crust.
  6. Blind bake the crust for 15 mins until a slight golden color develops. Allow to cool before adding filling.

For the Filling:
  1. Wash the cauliflower well and cut into small florets.
  2. Peel and thinly slice the potato.
  3. In a bowl beat together the cream, egg, salt, pepper and half the cheese.
  4. Fill the now cooled pastry case with the raw cauliflower and top with the thin slices of potato.
  5. Pour the beaten egg mixture over the cauliflower and potato ensuring everything is nearly covered.
  6. Finally take the remaining cheese and scatter over the top.
  7. Bake at 180°C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4 until golden and set.

Oct 7, 2011

Beetroot Beanballs

So, the weekend is nearing, the weather has turned unfathomably cold and wet, the house is warm and cosy and the kitchen pristine. It's definitely time to destroy the kitchen with my weird and sometimes wonderful creations once again. This time of year I want comfort food, warming, delicious and wholesome. Now that the kayaking season has ended for another year my thoughts turn to what to do next? Well I have to do some exercise to burn off all the cookies and cakes I'm going to cook before Christmas and it will be my old friend the snowboard who will help me be a total glutton! With thoughts of snowboarding filling my head, my attention turns to suppers. We spend hours on the local slopes so when we get home I want something that can be prepared quickly. Daylight is scarce here in winter in Sweden, the days get dark quick and the evenings are cold and snowy. Perfect conditions for warming winter suppers.

Now a few months ago I wrote about köttbullar (Swedish meatballs), Mr.B adores them, so much so the recipe was changed to elk meat to support his love of game. But as a vegetarian looking for an alternative I have been disappointed. Processed soyaballs are bland and unappealing on the eye so the only option was to make my own. With the ever approaching winter, and the cold nights setting in, I find myself wanting to make my beetroot bean balls. I made these for the first time years ago as burgers and was so impressed by the texture and flavor that they were added immediately to the monthly rotation of winter suppers.

Now they do take some time to prepare but if you make up a large batch and freeze them, you can have convienient and tasty suppers to hand at any time. The bean element of the dish changes regularly depending on whats available and whats left in the cupboard. Mungbean and chickpea in my humble opinion make the best flavour, deep and rich. Split peas are used here as I had lots to use up quickly. Split peas need a little extra flavor but the beetroot gives not only a vibrant colour but a fresh earthy taste which is unmistakable. Depending on your tastes or if they are for kids you can add or remove the garlic and cumin, but they both give this dish remarkable flavour so try it first to see if you like it. The kids love to make these and you get so many veggies into them with no tantrums or tears, I think its the pink color that does it! One note if you are having the kids help, grate and drain the beetroot yourself or face cleaning pink dye off walls and faces!

For the Meatballs:
100g dried beans (Mungbean, Chickpea, Split pea)
3 Large Beetroots
1 Small Onion
3 Cloves Garlic
1 Large Carrot
2-3 tsp Cumin
1 Medium Egg 
Salt and Pepper

Prepare the beans as per instructions on packet. After you have cooked your beans allow them to cool thoroughly. In a large bowl grate the beetroot on a coarse grater. You need all the water removed from the beetroot. Take the grated beetroot and squeeze it between your hands to remove the water. Grate the carrot and remove the water in the same way.

In a small saucepan soften the onions and garlic. When the onions are just soft add the cumin and allow to cook for a further minute. Set aside to cool.

Take your now cooled bean mixture and either blitz or roughly smash up your beans to a small piece consistency or smooth if for small children. Add the carrot, beetroot, onion and garlic and finally salt and pepper to taste. Depending on the consistency you can add a little egg if you feel its too dry. Add the egg a little at a time until a soft pliable consistency is achieved.

Take a small amount of the mixture, I use an icecream scoop so they are all the same size and roll the mixture between the palms of your hand until you get a round ball shape. Roll in a little egg wash and then in breadcrumbs for a crunchy exterior when cooking.

To cook, you can either fry gently on all sides for 6-7mins depending on size of meatball or you can bake them in the oven at 150C for 15 mins brush gently with oil to get a crunchier exterior.

Sep 30, 2011

Lemon Cheesecake

I've been a very bad blogger lately. No new posts, but I have been cooking up a storm in the kitchen, from huge dinner parties to simple suppers for two, and from small homemade biscuits to elaborate and decadent cakes. I have been a very busy girl! The last 6 weeks have been crazy with lots of our lovely family visiting and sickness the likes never seen before! But all that is over now and my appetite has returned with gusto and possibly a little more! Today's post is cheesecake, a firm favorite in our household. It was a few weeks ago that this cheesecake was quickly rustled up and I must note Mr.B is an master taster of cheesecakes, so when he was shown the pictures of the last one created he replied ''mmm is there some in the kitchen''. He looked so sad when I said no, so it will definitely be made again.

I find cooking really does suit my mood and what I cook or bake really is a reflection of my state of mind. So when sickness rears its ugly head I bake! Recently I have become obsessed with baking and reading about baking! I love the old cookbooks which always had the fantastic tips on how to get dough just right. The chefs these days will say getting the ingredients to the exact gram is the way forward. I must say having used this method with terrible results I resorted to my great grandmothers method, also known as 'by touch alone'. Not everything came out as well as it should but not awful either. I find that as I use this method my touch becomes a lot better. The last dish to be prepared this way was carrot cake and I have to admit it was the lightest cake I have made yet. So who is right? Well Nanna F would be very pleased to know that I will be using her method from now on!

So from cakes to cheesecake. This cheesecake was a spur of the moment kind of thing. The always crazy Mr.B had unfortunately left some quite expensive biscuits out which had gone a little soft so instead of throwing them out it was decided they would be fantastic as a bottom layer in a cheesecake. Lemon was the flavor chosen as its always rattling round for dressings and for preserving for tagines. This is probably the easiest cheesecake ever, with very little preparation but maximum satisfaction. Its especially handy when you know a few hungry people will want feeding. Its light but filling and you will be left with no leftovers although you might wish you had some the next day!

Serves: 6 or 1 Hungry Mr.B

For the Base:
100g Biscuits (Any ones you have, be creative and try a few together)
30g Melted Butter

For the Cream Cheese Filling:
200g Cream Cheese
100ml Cream
50g Icing Sugar
Zest and Juice of a lemon
2 Leaves of Gelatin

Place the biscuits in a zip lock bag and using either a flat bottom pot or a rolling pin bash up the biscuits. Be careful not to pulverise them. You want some chunks of biscuits in the base too. Add this to the melted butter and stir well until all the biscuit has been covered in the butter. Quickly spread the biscuit base into a spring form tin and chill until set. 

While this is chilling you can prepare the filling. In a large bowl whip the cream until soft peaks begin to form. Slowly add this to the cream cheese mixing well. Soften the gelatin leaves in a little cold water, remove and squeeze excess water from the leaves. Add them to a very small amount of warming lemon juice until dissolved. Allow to cool a little. Then add the gelatin mix, icing sugar, zest and any remaining juice of the lemon to the filling and mix well.

Spread the filling over the base and chill again for at least an hour before serving. 

Garnish with some lemon zest and serve with hot coffee!

Aug 8, 2011

Irish Scones - Granny G's Finest!

Its a gloriously wet and windy day outside, the perfect weather for baking!! The weekend has been too bad to do any sea kayaking so a day of indulgent bakíng is needed. On days like these I usually set myself the task of doing something unusual and time consuming as I have plenty of time, but today I just want to relax, enjoy some home comforts and have a little trip down memory lane.

You might remember me talking about my grandmother who was a huge influence not only in my personal life but in my baking life too. She created some of the most stunning cakes and biscuits I have ever eaten. People used to fight over her coffee cream cake and I can tell you that it was incredible. She was quite the baker! It would have been her birthday this weekend and she was in my thoughts as she usually is when I bake. I can almost hear her telling me off for doing something wrong in the kitchen. She did that a lot and was always right!

The one baked item that she did religiously every weekend and almost too well was Irish Scones. Now, I use her recipe and her exact method but all i can say is that although mine are damn tasty I wish you could have tasted hers. They were huge, light, fluffy and delicious. Mine im afraid would never stand up next to hers but they are a firm favorite in this house and with the ever crazy Mr.B who usually eats four at one sitting and is still as skinny as a rake! I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Makes 5 large or 10 small Scones:

4oz Plain Flour
2oz Margarine
2oz Raisins
2oz Caster Sugar
Pinch Salt
2 Tsps of Baking Powder
Large Egg

Chill a large mixing bowl in the fridge for 30mins this will ensure your dough is cold. To a large mixing bowl sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix well. Cut the margarine into small cubes and add to the flour. Keep the margarine in the fridge until needed as the colder the dough the better. Using just your finger tips rub the dough between your fingers to create a breadcrumb like consistency.

Now add the sugar and mix well. In a small bowl, mix the egg and a little milk just to bind the dough together. Add a little of the egg mixture to the dough, incorporating all the egg before adding more. Every dough is different so exact amounts never work with the liquid. Judge the dough for yourself, it should not be too dry nor should it be too wet.

Once the dough has been brought together, wrap it in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30mins. This will allow the dough to rest and prevent shrinking when cooking. Once the dough has rested, remove from fridge and place on a floured surface.

Roll the dough to about half an inch thick (I use an old bottle filled with ice water to keep the dough cold). Using either a pastry cutter or a cup, cut out the scones. Place the scones on a piece of baking paper to prevent sticking. Brush the tops with any remaining egg wash or a little milk. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 10-12 mins. The scones are ready when thetop is a golden color and the underneath has no soft, wet center remaining.

Serve warm with whipped cream and any jam you like. A nice strong cup of black tea makes it all the more Irish!

1. Use a bottle filled with iced water to roll the dough and keep it cold.
2. Do not move dough cutter side to side as this can make your scones drop on one side.
3. Do not open door of oven for first 10 mins. The scones can collapse.

Jul 28, 2011

Gyoza - Japanese Dumplings

Wow Its been a long two weeks. I have been desperately ill for the last week or so but the ever patient Mr.B has been looking after me so well. Unfortunately as I'm not allowed to prepare any food i have been unable to make my final two sauces to share with you this week. But instead i have a lovely Japanese treat to tempt you with. Gyoza dumplings. They are a favorite with me and Mr.B and we make them quite regularly, so much so that i even had photos from the last time.  The first time i made these lovely Japanese treats i made a total disaster of them and i have to say that they come out a lot better when using pre-made gyoza skins or wonton skins if you prefer. Well it was cold, torrential raining and I was too lazy to go and buy some so decided i would use my own skins. A little more work but worth the effort. They tend not to crimp at the edges as well as the pre-made skins but they don't leak so that's all that matters.Plus you get great satisfaction from making the whole thing from scratch!

So whats a Gyoza? Gyoza dumplings usually consist of a ground meat filling with veggies (I use pork) wrapped in a thinly rolled piece of dough which is crimped at the edges unlike wontons. It is then firstly shallow steamed in a little water and then fried for a crispy shell. I like to serve mine with a ginger soy dipping sauce. They are great as finger food at parties or as a late night snack. Make them in large quantities and freeze, they are so handy to have frozen and a few minutes in some boiling water is all they need. I have included both vegetarian and meat versions. I'm reliably informed that the pork ones are delicious. Play around with flavor combinations and different cooking techniques like deep frying, boiling and steaming. どうぞめしあがれ (douzo meshiagare) = Bon appetit!

Makes about 25 medium Gyoza

For the Gyoza Skins / Pastry:

150g All purpose / Plain Flour
70-80ml Lukewarm Water
Pinch of Sea Salt

Gyoza Skin Preparation:

Place the flour in a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix.
Gently add the water mixing in with your hands until a soft dough is created.
Knead for 5 Min's until the dough is springy to the touch. The dough should not be wet.

Roll into a long sausage shape using your hands it should be about 2 inches in width.

Cut into 1cm sized pieces.

Liberally flour all the pieces on your board, this will prevent sticking.

Roll each piece into rounds using your hands.

Using a rolling pin, roll into rounds about 2 inches in width.

For the Gyoza Filling ( Meat ):                                                                                 
4oz / 115g Pork Mince
1 Clove Garlic
1 Cup Shredded Cabbage
½ Medium Carrot
½ Spring Onion
½ Tsp Fish Sauce
1 Tsp Sesame Oil
2 Tsp Soy Sauce
Chili Flakes (opt)
Thumb Sized Piece of Ginger

For the Vegetarian Filling:
½ Cup Cubed Tofu
1 Clove Garlic
1 Cup Shredded Cabbage
½ Medium Carrot
½ Spring Onion
1 Tsp Sesame Oil
2 Tsp Soy Sauce
Chili Flakes (opt)
Thumb Sized Piece of Ginger
Sea Weed Flakes (opt)

Ginger Soy Sauce:
Thumb Sized Piece of Ginger (Grated Finely)
1 Tsp Rice Vinegar
1 Tsp Fish Sauce
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tsp Chili Oil
½ Tsp Toasted Sesame Oil

Preparation of Filling:
This is the easiest part, simply cut all vegetables into the smallest pieces possible. I usually grate the ginger, cabbage, carrot and carrot for a smoother consistency. For the Meat Gyoza, add the vegetables to your pork mince and mix with your hands. This is so therapeutic and also great to help break down some of the fat in the mince. It also gives it a lovely consistency.

Assembly of Gyoza: 
Place one of the pre-rolled gyoza skins in the palm of your hand. Spoon a little of the mixture into the centre of the skin. Remember not to overfill as you need to crimp the edges of the skin and more filling usually results in a leaky dumpling. 

To the outer edges of the skin wipe with a little water, this helps stick the edges together. Fold a little of one side of the skin into a fan shape and crimp to side of skin. Continue until all edges are crimped and no openings are left. You can use the edge of a fork if you prefer but this is the traditional method. It should look a little like below.

At this point you can freeze the Gyoza or eat straight away! To cook, simply add a little vegetable oil to a pan and add enough water to just come half way up the gyoza. Put a lid on your pan or some tin foil if you don't have a lid to fit and allow to steam until all the water has evaporated. Finally when all the water has evaporated, allow the Gyoza to fry on both sides and get golden and crispy. They will only need 1-2 Min's on a medium heat. Serve with a ginger soy sauce!

Jul 6, 2011

Bechamel sauce - White Sauce

Another week, another sauce. So I am down to the last three of the mother sauces and as the wonderful Mr.B is working on a huge project I could not make my Espagnole as planned. But next week I promise its coming as its Mr.B's favorite. Instead I decided to make a decadent treat for myself, cauliflower cheese using the delightfully opulent Béchamel sauce. I had a glut of cauliflowers this year so my freezer is full to capacity, plus I need the room for more of my concoctions!

Having tried and tested Béchamel sauces from packets and used the supposed fresh variety found in the chilled section what always annoys me is the inflated price and the lack of any real flavor of these so called cheats sauces. They are aptly named as they cheat you out of what a good Béchamel sauce is all about FLAVOR! Not being able to stand another bland tasteless sauce I decided many years ago to make my own and I have never looked back. I have even given the recipe to people in supermarkets to save their tastebuds! Now many people think sauce making is hard but with a little practice and sense of humor anyone can make a knockout sauce. The most important element of sauce making is to learn how to make the dreaded roux. But once you learn to make a roux you can pretty much make any sauce your heart desires and some that have not been thought of yet! 

Béchamel sometime refered to as a white sauce is the basic version  which can be used on its own or as a base for other flavor combinations such as cheese for a Mornay sauce, Dijon for a mustard sauce and sweated onions for a Soubise sauce. But in its basic form it is mainly used in Italian cuisine especially in my favorite lasagna. To make the Béchamel sauce you will first need to know how to make a roux. A roux is made up of equal parts clarified butter and flour heated to a paste and loosened with milk to achieve the desired consistency.  

Making the roux depends largely on which method you choose. I find this one the easiest and the one with which you achieve the smoothest texture. Flour is folded into melted butter over a medium heat into a thick smooth paste and until all the flour has cooked out. Depending on the amount of flour this can take anywhere from 1-3 min's. Then cold milk is added very slowly to the roux, mixing first with a spatula incorporating all of the milk before adding more. This is very important, if you decide to make a hot roux the milk added must be cold. Never add hot to hot or you will achieve the lumpiest Béchamel sauce ever created. Trust me i have tried it and it doesn't work! Eventually you will reach a point where the roux becomes loose and you can use a whisk to incorporate the last of the milk. 

Depending on what you want to use your Béchamel sauce you can alter the amount of milk added to make a looser or thicker sauce. Or add different herbs and spices to create different sauces. The recipes here are for Lasagna and Mornay sauce. Bon appetit!

Basic Béchamel Sauce: 
2oz All Purpose Flour                                                                                       
2oz Butter
600ml Full Fat Milk
Sea Salt and White Pepper

Mornay Sauce:

2oz All Purpose Flour                                                                                       
2oz Butter
400ml Full Fat Milk
100g Cheddar Cheese
1 Tbsp Cream Cheese
Sea Salt and White Pepper

Firstly prepare the roux. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pot, ensure the butter does not scorch. To the melted butter add the flour and using a spatula mix until all the flour is incorporated into the butter. It should resemble a ball of dough which will turn to a thick smooth paste. With constant mixing, on a medium heat cook out the flour for 1-2 min's to remove any taste of uncooked flour. This can give your sauce a bitter unpleasant taste.

To the roux add the cold milk a little at a time and ensure the milk is fully incorporated before adding more. When the sauce becomes a little loose you can switch from spatula to whisk. At this point incorporate any additional milk, salt and pepper for the basic Béchamel sauce. Allow to cook out for 10 min's with stirring for a thicker sauce.

For the Mornay sauce, prepare the basic Béchamel sauce, after all milk has been incorporated add the grated cheese and allow to melt into sauce with whisking. Finally for a creamier more indulgent sauce whisk in a little cream cheese. Season to taste and enjoy!

Jun 22, 2011

Hollandaise Sauce

This past week has been absolutely crazy! So much work and lots of kayaking. I'm an avid sea kayaker, so a few days touring around the little Islands was sorely needed for some 'relaxation'. With severe pains coursing through my body from being battered by the sea I decided I had done more than enough exercise to warrant some fantastic food splurging. In keeping with my sauce posts promise I settled on Hollandaise for its rich velvety taste and calorific goodness. Eggs Benedict is one of my favorite recipes utilising this delicious sauce but one that should only be made on special occasions due to its huge fat content. But hey you only live once! Try this sauce over fresh asparagus for a simply heavenly brunch or side dish.

What is hollandaise? Well it's an emulsion of egg yolk, butter and originally lemon juice although I prefer apple cider vinegar. Hollandaise is notoriously hard to prepare or so they would make us believe. There are a couple of ways to make hollandaise, but the way I prepare it is the easiest and quickest using the bain marie method. What is a bain marie? Well it's a french term for a pot of gently warming water with a smaller container (bowl) which is immersed 3/4 into the boiling water. This allows the contents of the smaller container to be kept warm and at a constant temperature. This is very important as you need to be able to control the heat and rate at which your sauce cooks. It may take 1-2 tries to get the sauce right but remember you can always take the sauce off the heat if you feel its cooking too quickly. Follow the tips and enjoy this heavenly sauce... not too often though!!

Serves 2-4

1 Egg Yolk
4oz / 5 Tbsp Clarified Butter
50 ml Apple Cider Vinegar
Sea Salt
White Pepper

First set up your bain marie. Basically a saucepan with some warming water and a bowl sitting in the saucepan. The bottom of the bowl should sit about ½ way into the water.

 Separate the yolk into the bowl and beat gently using a balloon whisk. Do not place on the heat yet until all the separate elements are ready.

In a second saucepan gently melt the butter and allow to cool slightly.

In a third saucepan simmer and reduce by half the apple cider vinegar. Allow to cool.

Now that all elements are ready you can begin assembly of the sauce. Place the bowl containing your pre-whisked egg yolk onto onto the simmering water and whisk vigorously for about 1 min. If you think the heat is too high and the yolk may scramble remove immediately from the heat.

Now very carefully and slowly add the reduced apple cider vinegar to the yolk whisking as you add. Remember add a little at a time to ensure that it emulsifies with the yolk. Keep a close eye on the mixture and if you feel its getting too hot remove from heat.

Now the final part. Take your now warm butter and again slowly add with whisking into your yolk mixture. Do this over the heat. Whisk vigorously. You will begin to see the mixture thicken as you whisk. Finally add the sea salt and white pepper and whisk in. Serve over poached eggs or asparagus. Always serve warm never hot. You can keep the Hollandaise warm using the bain marie, remember to give it a whisk every few minutes to prevent a crust forming.

Top Tip: If the sauce begins to split whisk in a little ice cold water.

Jun 10, 2011

Homemade Italian Tomato (Marinara) Sauce

Recently I had a friend ask for my help when cooking, she was in need of recipes for a posh dinner party and was beginning to lose control! I can safely say we have never had a posh dinner party as we prefer food that everyone can share and have fun with. But I agreed to help, this was going to be tough. So as we normally do we sent back and forth recipes until she stumbled upon one she liked. The problem was she had never made a basic tomato sauce or a roux before. I have to say i was shocked, but then i began to see people in the supermarket buying hollandaise and bechamel sauces and they are not cheap! After a lengthy tutorial in sauce making she practiced and had a wonderful dinner party but the thing that still stuck in my mind was the lack of knowledge of basic sauce making. So the next 5 posts shall concern the 5 mother sauces!

The First Mother Sauce - Marinara - Basic Tomato

OK so what are the 5 mother sauces, well they were a creation by the king of chefs, French chef Antoine Careme who is probably better known as the father of French Haute Cuisine. They are the 5 basic sauces on which all sauces are created. They are Bechamel, Veloute, Espangole, Hollandaise / Mayonnaise and Tomato (Pomodoro/Marinara).The tomato sauce was added later to the list due to its versatility.

Each of these is essential to learn as they feature quite heavily in a lot of recipes. For example bechamel can be used as a base for cheese sauce, parsley sauce, as a white sauce for lasagna and cannelloni and as a seafood sauce. Veloute can be flavoured with fish, meat or fruit making it a very versatile sauce to have in your recipe kit. Espangole is a heavier style sauce and one which goes very well with robust cuts of meat, its particularly good in beef Bourguignonne. 

Hollandaise and Mayonnaise are two of the hardest sauces you will learn to cook but when you get them right I promise you will never ever buy the shop bought stuff again. Its always nice to see peoples reactions when you tell them that you made the sauce, have a pen and paper handy as you will be giving the recipe out constantly. Hollandaise is so widely used a base for many sauces, but my favorites would have to be Bearnaise, Vin Blanc, Dijon and Beurre Noisette. Mayonnaise again is another sauce that loves to have flavour added whether that's ketchup, dijon, dill, garlic (aioli), lemon or just plain mayonnaise to dunk your fries into.

Finally and I leave the best till last as its the one you will use the most in your cooking is the tomato based sauce. Friends and family have all asked for this recipe and it is the first thing I teach to new cooks. It breeds confidence into a person when they taste their creation and urges them on to learn and create new dishes with this delicious sauce. It is so versatile and can be used as a sauce for cannelloni, lasagna, wet burritos, curry,  in minestrone soup, or as a sauce over meat and fish. Its especially good in moules provencale.

So in keeping with my five sauce posts promise here is the first, my basic Italian tomato sauce, feel free to leave out the bay leaf and thyme or add/reduce the garlic to your taste or substitute with other flavours to create new dishes. Add some homemade curry paste or preserved lemons for curries and tagines for example. The fun is in the experimentation! With this Italian tomato sauce always make more than you need, not only does it freeze so well but the larger the amount the better the flavour. Also you wont have it long sitting in the freezer. Mine stays in no longer than a week! Buon Appetito!

Makes 2 litres

2 Large Onions
6 Cloves Garlic
6 Large Ripe Tomatoes
4 x 400g Tin Plum tomatoes
2-3 Bay Leafs
Sprig of Thyme
Handful of Basil (Opt)
2 Vegetable Stock cubes / 100ml Fresh stock
Sugar (Only use if bitter taste to sauce)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

To a large saucepan add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and heat gently. Be generous as it will infuse great flavour in your sauce. Finely chop your onion and sweat with no color until soft and opaque. Crush in the garlic and cook for a further minute. Make sure your garlic does not burn as it will give your sauce a bitter taste.

Add your roughly chopped fresh tomatoes and your tins of plum tomatoes. Mix well. Add the 2 stock cubes or even better the 100mls of fresh stock and stir again. If the sauce tastes a little bitter you can add a little sugar to sweeten. This usually only happens with not quite ripe tomatoes or cheap tinned tomatoes.

Throw in a couple of bay leafs and a sprig of thyme. Simmer for 20 mins then remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig. Do not leave this in the sauce as it will make it bitter. At the very end of cooking add the torn basil leaves and mix through gently. Adjust seasoning if required and freeze in handy batches for use later.