Friday, 14 November 2014

Sous vide by Victoria Glass

A couple of years ago my friend and fellow caterer gave herself the mammoth task of cooking the entire alphabet over the course of 12 months. Each supper club had a designated letter and every fortnight Vic and her partner invited a varied selection of like-minded gluttons into their home for bacchanalian feasts that sometimes had as many as 13 courses. Let's just say she likes to cook. She likes to feed people. She likes people to be happy.

So when I received an email stating that she was cooking an entire meal in the sous vide and would I like to attend I pretty much cleared my diary. As a chef I've cooked in a sous vide before but it's honestly not an instrument I've used a lot. Each item is carefully vacuum packed or wrapped and then submerged into the water bath to be cooked at a very precise temperature. The results are astounding. Vegetables taste as vibrant and fresh as if they were raw, meat cooks evenly from end to end and turns into an almost butter like texture, and the texture of fish changes completely until you get an almost cevicche texture with a piercing fresh flavour..

Now I'm going to be honest here, while I love the flavours and textures produced by the sous vide this is not a method of cooking that is ideal for the home due to a certain level of hassle.  As mentioned there's the wrapping and you still have to seal/brown the meat if you want it to have that lovely crisp texture on the outside. I think if you were cooking one element in the machine for a dinner party it would be fine, but the challenge here was to cook everything. And this led to time constraints that wouldn't be necessary under less contrived circumstances. That was fine for us guests through, we all got on famously and we had plenty of wine to get through and even had some indoor fireworks to play with, what with it being bonfire weekend.

It was a Sunday Lunch. Naturally I got home just before midnight!

The menu was divine.  Our hostess is a heavenly cook, and can match flavours better than anyone I know. She really outdid herself here. I think if there was any weak element for me it would be the starter, a game bird terrine that somehow lacked the coherent textures I was expecting. The ham that was used to line the terrine still retained an oddly raw texture as a result of the sous vide procedure. The flavours however were delicious.

The main course is where the fireworks really started. The most succulent piece of pork belly I've ever tasted was served with a toffee apple, liquid smoke fondant potato, smoked garlic and pumpkin puree and kale. All lightly covered with a pork and port gravy that looked like velvet and tasted like ambrosia.

And the finale? Well I'm just going to describe it you. I think the ingredients say it all. Bonfire toffee, rum and ginger creme caramel using the sous vide machine as a precise bain marie. Creme caramel is my favourite dessert in the world, and since I've now shamelessly stolen her recipe this is the one I shall make forever more.

Sous Vide Bonfire Menu

Milli Taylor's spinach, fennel and cumin ricotta cakes 
from her new book, Party-perfect Bites.

Game Bird Terrine: pheasant, pigeon, partridge and guinea fowl 
(Apparently James I couldn't be contacted immediately about 
the gunpowder plot because he was off on a shoot!)

Pork belly served with toffee apple, liquid smoke fondant potato, 
smoked garlic and pumpkin puree, kale and pork and port gravy

Bonfire toffee, rum and ginger creme caramel

Milli's lovely spinach, fennel and cumin ricotta cakes.
Served with a glass of sparkly, naturally.
Game bird terrine

Pork belly served with toffee apple, liquid smoke fondant potato,
smoked garlic and pumpkin puree,
kale and pork and port gravy

Bonfire toffee, rum and ginger creme caramel
with dessert wine

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Perk up juice

I used to juice regularly but I somehow got out of the habit. I think I just got into blended smoothies a little more. But right now I'm trying to be as healthy as I can so I've gone back to using my juicer as a snack machine. By this I simply mean that I eat as healthier as I can across every single meal but rather than reaching for carb based snacks I'll opt of a juice. 

They are of course naturally very high in sugar so you have to be careful of your intake, but as an alternative to a couple of slices of toast, a cliff bar or (heaven forfend) a snickers, these are a great way of staving off your hunger with something sweet between meals at the same time as counting towards your 5-10 a day.

My afternoon pick me up tends to be this juice. The beetroot and apple add vitamin C, among other things, while the lettuce and celery bring an abundance of dietary fibre and also Vitamins A,C and K. The beetroot and apple lends a sweetness that stave off my chocolate cravings but the earthy flavour of the lettuce and celery balance it out so after you've drunk it you almost feel like you've had a meal. 

I love this juice.

  • 1 x juicer
  • 1 x glass
  • 1 x beetroot
  • 1 x apple
  • 1 x stick celery
  • 1 x romaine heart 

  1. Juice
  2. Pour
  3. Drink

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

All hail kale!

I'm having a bit of a love affair with kale at the moment. Those lovely thick, springy leaves offer so much in terms of health benefits, packed as they are with vitamins A, K and C, calcium, not to mention folic acid, magnesium and iron. And it's virtually fat free with a very low calorific content.

It's a powerhouse of a vegetable, it comes in many different forms, (curly, plain leaf, cavolo negro, purple, or spear) but the humble winter harvested brassica still has a bit of a bad rep. Despite all this good stuff it's too often associated with soggy, waterlogged leaves served in the deepest of winters, when everything else has given up the ghost. 

Such a shame, as it's just so versatile. Recently I've been using it raw in smoothies, or lightly blanched in salads but it can also be fried up all crispy with pork (think crispy seaweed), served with cream as a side dish, or added to dishes such as fish cakes, pies, risottos, curries, or omelettes. The irony tang goes exceptionally well with fish, bacon, goat's cheese, and pine nuts. 

This light salad is so quick and easy to prepare. I regularly roast a couple of chicken breasts to have with it or crisp up some pancetta to run through the salad. The dressing I use here is a very simple mix of shop bought mayonnaise, with a dash of white wine vinegar and sugar. It's also delicious with a homemade french vinaigrette or a caesar dressing. I'm a firm believer that there is a time and a place for hand made mayonnaise but a mid week, quick lunch is not one of them.

Cavolo negro, black bean and pine nut salad
  • 400g roughly shredded cavolo negro leaves
  • 150g black beans (ready to use not dry)
  • 50g pine nuts, toasted
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 1 inch or cucumber, finely sliced
For the dressing
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped dill

  1. Blanch the shredded kale in boiling water for approximately 5 minutes (until it has an al dente bite), drain and immediately plunge into ice cold water to stop it from cooking further. Then drain and squeeze any excess water out of the leaves.
  2. In a clean jam jar add all your dressing ingredients, screw on the lid and mix well by shaking the jar.
  3. Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl with the dressing.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Yorkshire parkin

It's Autumn, the leaves are falling, the smell of burning wood is in the air and you need some warming tlc. As a Yorkshirewoman this next recipe is very close to my heart. I remember eating it on a cold damp Bonfire Night. Tucking into it with a cup of tea at my Grandma's house, as a school dessert with custard and just as a general treat. But almost exclusively in November.

There are many different recipes around for this traditional cake. Some contain oats, some contain treacle. There's another recipe on this very blog for a parkin biscuit that is traditional in Yorkshire, but in other parts of the country might be referred to as ginger bread or ginger biscuit.

This is my Grandma's recipe that I've tweaked here and there over the years (sorry Grandma). I like to make this in a loaf and then use it as a treat after long runs through the hills. The fabulous thing about it is that it matures with age so you don't have to worry about eating it all within 2 days. Perfect if there isn't a huge family waiting to swarm over it the minute it is out of the oven. Just wrap it in greaseproof paper once it's cold and you'll find that after 3-4 days you have a lovely sticky ginger cake that acts as the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
  • 220g/8oz self raising flour
  • 220g/8oz pale muscovado sugar
  • 85g/3oz unsalted butter
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 egg
  • 200ml/7fl oz milk
  • 60g/2oz golden syrup
  • 60g/2oz black treacle
  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Line a 2lb loaf tin
  2. Sift the flour, ginger, salt and bicarb into a large bowl
  3. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle in a small pan
  4. Beat the egg and milk together
  5. Pour the melted butter and syrup into the dry ingredients and slowly combine until smooth and thick
  6. Gently stir in the milk and egg mixture and pour the fully combined batter into the lined tin
  7. Bake for 1 hour or until the cake skewer is clean