Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Ginger Magician



The Ginger Magician Cocktail

All good cocktails have good names and if you look into the history of its conception, there will be a good story behind it too. The tale of The Ginger Magician has it roots back in a time when I was young, carefree and slightly reckless. I don’t really want to divulge the full details of the story but let’s just say that a display of flagrant dancing, atop a bar, in some dodgy nightclub led to swift ejection. The only defence I had at the time, was to tearfully shout and protest that I was indeed The Ginger Magician. Adding in a slurred - “Don’t you know who I am?!” “Don’t you know who I am?”

Of course friends overheard all the clamor and like good friends do, they simply laughed as I was carted off into the distance. And from therein, that became my nickname. The Ginger Magician. I even have it inscribed on a plaque. Somewhere.

Fast forward to present day and now I am a fully grown man, responsible adult and father; so those heady times are well and truly behind me. In fact, now that all that fabulous ginger hair has gone, I am not even sure I can truly honor that nickname these days.

So when I got down to thinking about making a cocktail using Jeeves, a quintessentially British mixer that you would normally use for making a summer punch, I felt that an injection of danger and spirit should go into the mix. In memoriam. And of course it had to be called ‘The Ginger Magician’.


There were a couple of incarnations along the way; such as Jeeves, rosewater and Midori, which was terrible and I was able to laugh back at one of my ‘friends’ for suggesting that one. Far too sweet. It was also tricky working out whether we should go down the highball route and make a tall, refreshing glass. Or whether to make something short, sturdy and stout.

In the end the latter won and although fruity, there is hint of bitterness in Jeeves, when sampled straight (ahem). So the final result, with the introduction of gin and Campari, was not too far off a Negroni. Which really is an adult drink.

Ginger still had to make its mark though. So I decided to make a light granita using the fiery stuff, to scoop into the tumbler right at the end. Like a sort of spicy wizards hat. And it works really well, in my humble opinion. Especially when supped at the end of a long, hot and frenetic day.

I say that because the last time I had a GM was right at the end of our twins’ recent birthday party. Once they were in bed, I made one and sat in the garden exhausted, surveying the damage around me. The grass was strewn with toys, fallen chairs and paper plates. Plus a dismembered piñata that had been bashed to pieces by a thousand screaming children just a couple of hours before. It was my boy who delivered the fatal blow, to send packets of Haribo flying up into the air, to great cheers and applause. And as he turned to look at me, face beaming with a bright and rather naughty glint in his eye, I began to worry. Worrying that in the not so distant horizon, another ‘magician’ will soon be coming, lolloping into view. 

The Ginger Magician

Now, you can make this in large quantities for parties if you wish, just as long as you stick to the ratios.

Ingredients

1 part Jeeves
1 part gin
1 part Campari
For the light ginger granita
150ml water
50gms caster sugar
1 piece of ginger, about 30gms, finely grated
Strip of orange peel and extra crushed ice, for decoration

Method

First make the granita by mixing the ingredients into a saucepan and gently heating on the hob. There is no need to bring it up to boil, just make sure that the sugar blends in. Then leave to infuse for 30 mins. 

Pour into the liquid into a shallow container, through a sieve to catch the ginger, and leave until completely cool. Then place into a freezer, returning every hour or so to stir and fluff it up with a fork. Slowly it will start to crystalise and form into a granita. It usually takes about 4 hours.

To make the cocktail, take a large tumbler and place some crushed ice into the bottom. Pour in an equal measure of Jeeves, gin and Campari (25mls each is fine, 50mls if it has been a hard day). Stir briefly and add the orange peel and then scoop a spoon of ginger granita into the middle.

Sláinte

An edited version of this post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog




Friday, 12 June 2015

How To Eat Outside by Genevieve Taylor


Now ordinarily, I would have a big problem with a book that tells me how to do to something. Especially a book that specifically sets out to show me how, just how to eat outside. Because I have been eating outside all my life. From since I was a wee nipper, pickernicking in Hyde Park, getting chased by geese, whilst holding a current bun in the air, screaming, to the amusement of my sadistic parents. Through to cooking with a Trangia at music festivals and squinting over the burner, to see if the methylated spirits were alight or not, and getting my eyebrows singed in the process. Finishing, if it's not too cold, with the almost weekly and somewhat spiritual building of a pyre in my very knackered and very rusty barbecue. Who is fast going the way of Betty.

In fact, as a practitioner of the gross method of eating on the hoof, ne'er a day goes by when I am not stuffing my mouth in the bright, wide, open air (I blame the surgence of street food for this). So what the hell could a book teach me, a Jedi knight of alfresco dining and masticating, about the subject of eating outside?

Well, quite a lot it seems.

When I received Genevieve Taylor's new book for review, which if you hadn't already guessed is called How To Eat Outside, I have to admit, the press release that accompanied it did make me smirk a little. Because billing itself as the 'ultimate bible' for outdoor cooking is quite a strong statement. There is a whole mountain of cookbooks out there on the subject and I often find that they all go down the same, well-worn track. Also included, was a shaky prediction that this summer was set to be one the warmest in decades. Which is the sort of marketing proclamation that makes us Michael Fish types go "Nah, don't say that. I am holidaying in Devon this year. Don't jinx it man."

Then I opened the book, had a flick through and scanned a generous amount of original ideas and recipes inside. Springing from the pages in no particular order were suggestions such as kiwi-marinated squid with chermoula, Middle Eastern lamb and date burgers, Thai prawn pot noodle (using your good old fashioned Thermos flask) and a mouthwatering bread and butter pudding with marmalade and chocolate. To achieve making the latter, that would warrant investing in one of those tripod BBQ's for fire pit cooking and showing the picture to Mrs FU may have clinched it. So happy days there.

However, to paraphrase Jerry Maguire, Genevieve had me at the suggestion of crisp butties for picnics. We all know that crisp sandwiches are bloody fantastic but for me, this was a great no-nonsense inclusion. Along with hard-boiled eggs, a simple ploughman's and a tin of tuna. In a world of stylised, over-wrought exhortations for anything to do with food, all wrapped in furry string and gingham (hello lifestyle people!) I really appreciated this ballsy, 'it ain't rocket science' approach and this theme runs through the whole book. It is quite obvious that Genevieve is also a full-time parent, so short cuts and quick tricks are very much the order of the day. Some may blanch at buying ready made ingredients such as jerk paste and utter "No waaay am I going to use Dunns River! Not when I've got these gorgeous scotch bonnets, yaah?"

But when you are frantically packing the car at five in the morning and your little one comes scuffling out onto the street with their jeans and pants around their ankles, asking for toilet roll, you are not going to give two fingers of fudge about authenticity. You just want to get on the road.

Permeating throughout all the instructions, stories and handsome pictures of food then, is this sense of simply going out to have fun and adventure in the great outdoors. And like I said, if you do have children, this is a great book to keep on hand, should you be mad enough to go camping this summer. All of her desserts will keep them quiet for ten minutes at least. Offering a safe but brief haven for when it more than likely pisses down with rain.

I am going camping on three separate occasions this year by the way.

The one recipe really sprung out for me though was her Campfire calzone pizzas. Giving a good nod to scouting efficiency when it comes to entertaining young minds, I tried this out with the twins last night and it went down a storm. After stoking up some flames and laying out our ingredients, all finesse went out the window and most of the toppings made their way into mouths before cooking. Yet in fairness, their smaller stuffed pizzas came out slightly better than my Big Daddy one, which was slightly undercooked when I unwrapped it. It really could have done with five minutes more but I was starving and after seeing their red, dappled mouths, I couldn't wait any longer to get stuck into my own slice of gooey mozzarella and spicy pepperoni. The greatest achievement though came afterwards, when my daughter shouted proudly over the garden fence to another little but equally loud voice next door, booming that she had just made pizza on the barbecue:

"We just cooked pizza on a BBQ!"

"You can't cook pizza on a BBQ!"

"Yes you can, my Dad showed us how to do it!"

"Well, not really Schmicks," I whispered. "A lady called Genevieve showed us how to do it."

How To Eat Outside: Fabulous Al Fresco Food for BBQs, Bonfires, Camping and More is published by Bantam Press and hits the shelves on June 18th 2015.

And here is the recipe, given with kind permission from Genevieve Taylor and Bantam Press.

Campfire calzone pizza - makes 6

For the dough
600g strong white bread flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
350ml hand-hot water

For the topping
Selection of toppings for people to choose from, such as sweetcorn, pepperoni slices, chopped ham, flaked tuna, sliced peppers or mushrooms, olives, chopped fresh basil 
1 x 200g carton passata
2 x 125g balls mozzarella, torn into pieces

You will also need 6 large sheets of foil, lightly oiled on one side.

First make the dough. Add the flour, salt, dried herbs and yeast to a large mixing bowl and stir until evenly mixed. Pour in the oil and hand-hot water, mixing with a wooden spoon until you have a rough, crumbly dough. Add a little more water if it looks too dry, or a little more flour if it looks too wet.

Drizzle a little oil on the worktop, spreading it around with your hands. Tip the dough on to it, then knead well until smooth and stretchy, about 5–8 minutes. 

Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces, place each one in the centre of an oiled sheet of foil and loosely fold over the foil to enclose the dough. Pack away in a box with a lid, ready to transport to your cooking site. Get ready a selection of your chosen toppings and pack those away too. The dough will be quite happy at room temperature for a couple of hours; any longer and I would store it in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook, lay out the bowls of toppings, ideally on a camp table, and give the kids a package of dough each. Get them to press it out flat into a pizza shape, about 1cm thick. Spread a little passata on one half of each round, leaving a border around the edge, and then top with the mozzarella and whatever else you want. For each calzone, fold the dough in half over the filling and crimp all around the edges to seal the filling inside (as if you were making a pasty).

Loosely fold over the foil again, sealing it completely, and place on the grill over a medium-hot fire to cook, turning over every now and then. Depending on the heat of the fire, they will take around 20–30 minutes. Unfold one carefully to peek inside; it should be crisp and cooked through, not raw and doughy. If not, reseal and cook for another few minutes. Once ready, they will be scorching hot, so let them cool for a few minutes before tucking in.


Friday, 5 June 2015

Elderflower Champagne


If you have never dipped your toe into the heady, rambunctious and sometimes sulfurous pool of home brewing before but have always fancied a go, I'd kick off your experimentation by making elderflower champagne if I were you. Because out of all the countless ways to convert simple 'matter' into booze, this has to be the easiest and quite possibly most impressive method of alcoholifrication, outside of prison hooch that is.

I am not talking here as a seasoned home brewer by the way. I have had some modest success with wine, port and marrow rum yes but my kitchen isn't awash with demijohns and bubbling air-locks. Nor do I have a mini mash tun and cooling coil sneaked away in the shed, pumping out gallons of Baz Vegas Otter IPA. Although that wouldn't be a bad idea. I am just talking from experience, having made this wonderful 'shampagne' a few times over the years. And every time, I have always been tickled pink by the transformation of this faintly cat piss smelling flower into light, evanescent fizz.

The biggest thumbs up came last year when I entered a bottle of the stuff into Siptemberfest, which is a small home brewing competition set up amongst friends. Ordinarily you are only allowed to submit really horrible beer, that has been lashed with yeast in an effort to pump up the volume, which in turn gives you the most foulest stinking farts the next day. However, the rules were relaxed in September and so I brought along a bottle of the stuff for people to sample. After every sip, eyebrows were raised in the kind of way that said - "Bugger, Danny has brought along something we can all actually drink."

Which was very pleasing and I very nearly won the coveted over-sized yellow felt jacket, that someone found in a charity shop. But instead I came second in our little tournament, losing out to an excellent chilli-flavoured lager and in hindsight, I shouldn't have scored it so high.

BECAUSE THEN I WOULD HAVE WON AND NOT LOST TO A GIRL!

(Damn you girls, and your impressive beer making abilities.)

Still, that I was able to turn a load of heads onto elderflower champagne is testimony in itself. Especially since it is not really that alcoholic, probably 2.. 3% tops, if left long enough. Yet when quenched ice cold, on a hot summer's day, there is nothing finer and you'll soon be reaching for that plastic lemonade bottle for another glass in no time.

Oh yes, make you sure you build up a collection of plastic bottles for when you strain and rack the fizz off, which will be four days tops after starting the process. Because everything is still fermenting, the build up of carbon dioxide will cause the bottles to expand and this is OK, I haven't had a plastic bottle burst on me yet. But I have had a glass one explode.

Recipes for elderflower champagne do vary slightly and yet in essence remain the same, so I normally rely on the advice of wild booze brewer and jack of all trades, the Other Andy Hamilton. This slightly abbreviated recipe can be found in his book Booze For Free and if I remember rightly, it's not even his to own, so I am sure it is good to share.

The elderflower tree is the giving tree after all.

Elderflower Champagne

Ingredients

8 large heads of elderflower
1 kg sugar
4 lemons, 2 juiced, 2 sliced up
3 tbs white wine vinegar
6 ltrs water

You will also need a bucket that has been cleaned and sterilised.

Method

First, pour the sugar into the bucket and heat up half the water (3 litres) on the hob in a large saucepan. Just before the water comes to the boil, take off the heat and pour over the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves and then pour in the remaining 3 litres of water to cool. Then throw the elderflower heads in, with the lemon juice, lemon juice and slices and white wine vinegar  Mix together and then cover the bucket with a tea towel and leave in a quiet spot in the kitchen.

After a day or two, it should start to ferment and foam. Leave it for four days maximum and the strain off through a muslin and pour it into your plastic bottles that you have saved. Keep in the fridge for up to two months, checking every now and then on the size of the bottles. If they look dangerously swollen, just release a bit of gas to ease the pressure.

My elderflower shampagne is still a work in progress but once I have got it bottled, I shall ping up some more photos of the results.

Sliced lemon
Strange brew
STOP PRESS!

OK, after giving out pearls of wisdom about using plastic bottles for elderflower champagne in case of explosions, glass splinters, killing the cat, blah blah blah, you can see from the photo below that I have seemingly rescinded on that sound advice. But the explanation is simple. You see, I had a collection of old soft drinks bottles all ready for decanting and yet when it came to finding the time to do so the other day, I was in a bit of a rush. Feverishly, I threw them into the sink and thought quickly to myself about sterilising them, before realising that we had no sterilising solution.

"We've run out of Milton!" I screamed to myself. Followed by "What to do? What to do?"

So, unwittingly, I filled the kettle up, boiled up some water to a fierce roll, poured the scorching hot liquid into the PLASTIC bottles aaaaaaand promptly melted everything.

What. A. Stupid. Sod.

That said, it is best that likes of I do these sorts of things, as a sort of public service to others. Ahem. I have now since procured some proper cleansing powder and I will never, ever do it again. Especiallt since I have another batch on the go. In the meantime, I shall be keeping a distant eye on these bottles. Because they were the only things I had to hand at the time.

Danger, danger, high voltage!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Lamb with pearl barley, root vegetables and port gravy


This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog back in March and as such, is slightly of date of date season wise. But it's a good 'un, so I wanted to also post on here.

This dish, using succulent shoulder of lamb, which has been braised in some stock, with vegetables and herbs, slowly, over many hours and then picked by hand (once cooled), then rolled and wrapped in clingfilm, left in a fridge overnight, and then unwrapped the next day and pan-fried to create a crispy outer coating, and then roasted for a further 10 minutes, in a hot oven, to ensure even cooking, might not be the simplest approach. But if you want to wow your friends and family this coming Easter with an alternative take on that traditional Sunday roast, then it is well worth taking the time with this one.

I use the wow word with confidence here because I have made this several times for my own friends and family now and have witnessed first hand, much licking of fingers and plates. So I know it is good and as such, I proudly call this one of my signature dishes.

Except it's not really a signature dish because I discovered the technique in Jason Atherton's Gourmet Food for a Fiver. I also pinched his celeriac purée too. But I have put some of my own original flourishes to this dish. Namely the pearl barley and the port gravy, which both benefit from the intense lamb stock that results from the initial cooking. In the past, I have simply relied on rummaging through the freezer to see what benign, frozen, yellowish lumps of carcass liquor (i.e. long forgotten chicken stock) I’ve got stored away as a base for the braise.


However, this time around, I used some powered lamb stock from Essential Cuisine to kick start proceedings. Boasting a strap-line of producing ‘professional cooking stocks for the home chef,’ the general thought process for using it went along the lines of “I wonder how more lamby can this lamb dish be?” The likely response being “None, none more lamby.” Although you would have to be a fan of Spinal Tap to get that joke.

Did this all lean towards lamb overkill though? No, not at all. In my opinion, using this rich, tasty stock really broadened the overall savoury quality and countered any cloying sweetness that may have been apparent before. Especially in the port gravy, where I also snaffled in a glug of veal stock, the professional chef’s favourite.

Full of heartwarming vitality, comfort and wonderful, healthy fibre, you might say that this is really something you should eat on a cold, winter's day and oversteps the mark season-wise. But I say nay, this can be dish with its feet firmly planted in verdant spring. Just replace the roots with new vegetables such as purple sprouting broccoli, watercress or asparagus, which will be in abundance soon.

But maybe don’t leave out the creamy celeriac. That really goes well with the lamb. As does everything else. In fact, don’t change anything. It is my signature dish after all. 

(And partly Jason Atherton’s).

Lamb with pearl barley, root vegetables and port gravy


Ingredients

1 large shoulder of lamb bone in, approx 1.2 kgs
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
Half a bulb of garlic, chopped
Few sprigs of thyme and rosemary
Tomato puree
Half bottle of white wine
1 litre of Essential Cuisine Lamb Stock
Oil, for browning

For the pearl barley


250gm pearl barley
600mls lamb stock (should be enough left over from the braise or make up some more using Essential Cuisine lamb stock)
1 onion, finely chopped
Large bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Knob of butter

For the celeriac puree
1 large celeriac, peeled and diced
100 ml cream

For the root vegetables
6 carrots, chopped into large batons
6 parsnips, halved

For the gravy
500mls Ruby Port
300mls Essential Cuisine lamb stock
300mls Essential Cusine veal stock
1 onion, sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper
 
To garnish
1 tbsp of chopped mint leaves

Method


First brown the lamb all over by frying in little bit of oil in a large stock pot. Remove and then do the same with the onion, carrot, celery, thyme and rosemary. When they begin to soften, add the garlic and tomato sauce and cook for a minute or two, then add the wine and reduce right down.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Return the lamb to the pan and make sure its submerged in the cooking liquor, add water if necessary. Bring the heat so that everything gently simmers, cover with foil or a lid and cook for 2 and half to three hours. Leave to cool and then remove the lamb, reserving the cooking liquor.


Pull the meat apart with your fingers, removing the bone and any gristle and fat so that you just have the slivers of meat.

Lay a triple layer of cling film on the worktop and spoon the lamb along one end to form a log. Roll up the lamb tightly, twisting the ends and chill overnight.

Strain the reserved liquor and leave that in a bowl in the fridge overnight. All the fat from the lamb will rise to the top and solidify, which will make it easy to remove, leaving behind the clear stock.



Next day, make your celeriac puree by placing into a pan with a covering of water. Bring to the boil and then cook the celeriac over a medium-low heat for 10 mins or until it goes soft. Drain and tip into a blender, adding the cream and blitz until smooth. Season to taste then put to one side and reheat when ready.


For the pearl barley, gently fry the onion in a pan until becomes soft and then add the pearl barley and then add the lamb stock. Gently simmer until all the lamb stock is absorbed and then add the parsley and lemon juice right at the end and stir through.

Parboil your carrots and parsnips in some boiling water for five minutes, drain and then roast in the oven (preheated to180C) for 20 minutes.


For the gravy, place the onion into a pan with a splash oil and put on a hob to soften. After 5 minutes add the thyme and stir through and then pour the port into a pan and reduce by half. Sieve into a clean pan to remove the thyme and onion, then add the lamb and veal stock, pace back on the heat and keep reducing until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Right at the end, add a knob of butter for bit of sheen.


For the lamb, about 45 mins before plating up, take the lamb out of the fridge to come up to room temperature and then unwrap and cut the lamb log into even portions. Place a frying pan on the hob with a splash of oil and fry off the portions so the outside becomes crispy all over and cook through in the oven for another 10 mins.

To plate up, spoon the puree in the centre of the plate, spoon some pearl barley to the side and place the lamb on top. Add the roasted carrots and parsnips and drizzle all over a generous helping of port gravy. Finish by scattering a pinch of mint across the meat.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A conversation about brinner

All Day Breakfast


I introduced the high end concept of breakfast at dinnertime to the children last week. An idea that was born out of not having that much in the fridge; apart from eggs, bacon, sausage and mushrooms (not forgetting beans from the cupboard and some old spuds, just starting to shoot). 

Plus I really couldn’t bothered to cook anything proper. No dangerous frisking with mandolins. No sous vide quackery. No fine, delicate plating, with micro herbs, using tweezers.  No, I really couldn’t be arsed with any of that. So a fry up seemed to be the order of the day. Besides, it was about time that the twins were familiarised with the mighty ‘All Day Breakfast’. Which are arguably the three best words you can ever find on a menu.

But to keep on trend, I decided to announce that we were having “brinner” that evening. As everyone seems to be doing it these days.

Anyway, the response was muted, puzzled and slightly flabbergasted at the whole prospect and it was my son who took up the mantle, to challenge this stray into unfamiliar territory. Dinner is obviously very important to this young chap and shouldn’t be messed with and this was his reasoning:

“Hey guys, I thought we would have something a bit different tonight, how do you fancy some BRINNER tonight?!”

“What?”

“Brinner Fin! It’s like breakfast, but you have it at dinnertime.”

“What… are we having Rice Crispies for dinner Daddy?”

“No, we are having an English breakfast. Bacon, eggs, beans, you know, the sort of thing we have on a Sunday morning sometimes.”

“Is that healthy?”

“Erm, well, yes and no.” 

“Shouldn’t we have porridge instead then?”

“No, porridge for dinner would be silly.”

“Why?”

“Because porridge is silly full stop.”

“Can we have pancakes then?”

“No, you always put far too much sugar and lemon on them and that is not healthy.”

“But we can have bacon and sausages for dinner?”

“Yes.”

“But bacon and sausages aren’t very healthy are they.”

“No, they’re not really.”

“Can I have porridge then?”

“No!”

“Why not?”

“Because porridge isn’t dinner…”

“You mean brinner.”

“Yes, I mean brinner, you can’t have porridge for dinner.” 

“Bri…."

“BRINNER! I mean brinner.”

“Well I am confused Daddy because if we can have porridge for breakfast, why can’t we have porridge for brinner? Because that would be a lot healthier than having bacon and sausages wouldn’t it?"

*pause*

“You…….you just don’t have porridge for brinner……..that’s all. It’s um, a breakfast…. breakfast food. Not a dinner….breakfast food. I mean brinner. What I mean is Fin, porridge isn’t really what you’d call a…… brinner…. brinner food. Do you get what I mean?”

*pause*

“Well, brinner sounds stupid then.”

And you know what? He is right. Brinner is a stupid idea.  But then again, maybe I didn’t execute the concept clearly. Maybe I am too narrow minded? Maybe I simply have to face up to the fact that I clearly hate porridge. Lots of questions remain unanswered after that night

Didn’t stop him eating the bacon and sausage though.