Thursday, 24 July 2014

buffalo mozzarella

girella brioche and possibly the worlds best chocolate ice cream

... when mum told us we were coming to Italy for her 70th birthday I knew I was in for a culinary feast but I had no idea just how close to food-heaven I would actually come.  We're staying on the western coast just south of Napoli and Salerno which just so happens to be mozzarella country.  You should know at this stage that I simply adore buffalo mozzarella, that wonderful creamy cheese that tastes so beautiful served simply with tomato and olive oil, or melted into pizza... but I naively had no idea just how versatile it truly is.

making the mozzarella by hand and the glorious beasts taking a shower

We've just spent the morning at Tenuta Vannulo, an organic buffalo ranch where they have a heard of over 600 majestic beasts.  It's quite an incredible lesson on how to do animal husbandry in a most spectacular fashion.  They treat the animals so well, using avant-garde techniques such as playing them soothing music, hanging large brushes from the ceiling that they seem to adore rubbing up against, plus they use an amazing milking robot that allows the buffalo to self-milk so that they're not stressed out by the rigorous process that many industrial-sized dairies use to produce the massive amounts of milk that we globally consume.  I was very impressed and of course this all meant that the mozzarella itself was without doubt the finest I had ever tasted... creamy with a beautiful texture.

buffala heritage

The great thing about the farm is that they also make sure there is no wastage, so as well as churning butter to make glorious cakes and brioche, they make stunning ice-cream and yoghurts as well as using hide from the un-wanted male calfs to create leather products.  They are also in the process of building a chocolate factory but sadly we were a year to early to see the completion of this building... Naturally I was drawn to the cakes and ice creams.  The chocolate ice cream was honestly un-like any i've had before.  The richness of the milk produced by the buffalo was clearly evident and they had spared no expense on the quality of chocolate used.

and of course, the mozzarella itself!

Being the nosey food-writer that I am I managed to tease a recipe for the wonderful Girella - a kind of ultra-soft swirly brioche cake, from the chef in the cafe and I will of course be attempting to make this and share the recipe with you good people on my return... until then you;ll have to be satisfied with these pictures and the promise that they tasted spectacular!

... even though I didn't make the ice-cream myself I am entering the picture into two blogging challenges this month... the first is for the wonderful Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog and her brilliant we should cocoa challenge - hosted this month by Elizabeth from Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary who set the theme of ice cream... and of course this goes out to Kavey from Kavey Eats and her brilliant BSFIC challenge... I hope they can both forgive me my lack of actual self-production...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

raspberry mojito

a version of this recipe will appear in the August edition of Lincolnshire Life Magazine

as you know, i'm pretty much obsessed with cocktails at the moment... what with my random recipes challenge (did you know that i've added the prize of a bottle of Stoli vodka for the best entry,) my recipe development for Martell and my sojourn at the Benefit Gabbi's Head pub i've become a little bit of a cocktail fanatic.  Don't get me wrong, if you're a follower of my instagram feed you'll know that i've always been a lover of a good cocktail but it really has only been this year that i've started making them regularly.  I know that sometimes they can be a bit of a faff to make but if you think of them more as the starter to a meal than something extra to get stressed about and then you'll have much more fun.  As with most things in the kitchen, the correct tools and some key ingredients will help enhance your cocktail-making experience but there are many alternatives you'll already have in the kitchen that would work just as well.  Here are a few tips.

crushed ice - your cocktails will take on a completely different edge swapping ice cubes for the crushed stuff... many supermarkets have crushed ice as well as ice cubes in their freezers but anyone with a decent blender can whip themselves up crushed ice in seconds

sugar syrup - you can buy syrup de gomme but this is essentailly sugar syrup which you can make yourself by gently heating sugar in a few drops of water and it will keep bottled for a month... making your own fruit purees is also a great idea and can be done by simply heating your fruit with a little sugar until it turns into a pulp

muddlers and stirrers - if you can, invest in a long twisted mixing spoon such as this one which helps mix the cocktail and bring the ingredients to the top but to be honest a long spoon will do... a muddler (which is like a thin rolling pin with a ridged end) is useful but to be honest a rolling pin will do the job

raspberry mojito
you will need what is commonly known as a ‘highball’ glass for this, which is simply any tall glass. The current trend for swerving cocktails in jam jars would work perfectly for this.  The mojito also calls for crushed ice which you can make very easily from ice cubes in a blender but many supermarkets now sell bags of crushed ice too so there really are no excuses.

Ingredients per glass

50ml White Rum (Bacardi is great)
4-5 lime wedges
small handful mint leaves
10 ml framboise - you can create your own raspberry syrup by simple heating a punnet of fresh raspberries and 1 tablespoon sugar over heat. 
1 tsp sugar (or 2 tsp if not using framboise)
fresh raspberries
crushed ice
soda water

place the sugar and limes in the glass and muddle using a muddler
or the end of a rolling pin. Make sure you really squeeze the juice out of the limes, allowing the sugar and lime to mingle.

add the rum, the raspberries and if using add the framboise and stir

next add the whole leaves of mint to the glass and very lightly muddle again  - being careful not to break the leaves as this releases chlorophyll, making the drink taste bitter. 

next, half fill the glass with crushed ice, stirring the ingredients up through the ice to blend together, then fill the rest of the glass with crushed ice, pushing the ice down into the glass, place a napkin or tea-towel over the top and stir the drink again, twisting the spoon and bringing the spoon up the glass as you twist -  a long bar spoon would do this well but a teaspoon or skewer would work too.

top with a dash of soda water, garnish and serve.

to be in with a chance of winning a bottle of Stoli Vodka, don't forget to take part in this months random recipes bloggers challenge

drink and of course, enjoy!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

cognac poached pear and frangipane tart

... we're told that the residents of the UK should brace themselves for another heat wave about to sweep the nation.  This time this fabulous warmth will be gently blown here from Spain and Italy and it's funny because my family and I are all about to head off in the opposite direct for a little break in Southern Italy to celebrate my mums 70th birthday... we're flying into Naples and then driving south to a little town called Santa Maria Di Castelbatte.  It looks glorious and  I'm actually really excited because i've always been a Spain kind of guy and I know very little about Italy in general other than it's the provider of some of the worlds very best food and ingredients, so expect plenty of instagram pictures, tweets, facebook updates and of course the odd blog post about my travels... in the meantime, here's something sweet with pears...

Frangipane Tart with Martell VSOP poached pears
this is the last of my Martell Very Special Nights posts and I really wanted to create a sweet treat to end the perfect meal.  Pears work beautifully with cognac and the rich fruity tones of the Martell VSOP compliment them perfectly, plus the almonds in the frangipane make a really rich dessert out of some very basic ingredients.

I use a 15cm fluted flan dish with a loose bottom which I grease liberally with butter, ensuring all the grooves are coated.  I also cheated on the pastry by purchasing a 300g ready-rolled shortcrust sheet but if you want to make your own, I have a delicious, sweet shortcrust pastry recipe which can be found here.

For the poached pears:
3 large conference pears, peeled and halved lengthways from stalk to root
roughly half a glass of Martell VSOP
3 tablespoons caster sugar
the juice of one orange

For the frangipane filling:
3 large free-range eggs
150g ground almonds
125g butter
125g caster sugar
50g plain flour
1 tablespoon Martell VSOP
apricot jam
pre-heat the oven to 180C

even though I’ve purchased ready-rolled pastry I still like to roll it out a little thinner as I feel a really thin crust is more elegant so I start by generously flouring the work surface and roll out the pastry before lining the tart case – do this gently and make sure to push the pastry well into the grooves of the fluted pan

scrunch up a large square of parchment paper into a tight ball and then un-wrap it and place this on top of the pastry followed by enough baking beans to spread out evenly

bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the parchment and beans and pop it back into the oven for another 5 minutes to turn a little golden – remove from the oven and set aside to cool

in a large pan add all the poaching liquid and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and add the pears, cut side down and let them simmer gently for roughly 8 mins.  You want them to get a little caramelised without going too soft

to make the filling beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy, then add the ground almonds, flour and eggs and beat in again, stir in the Martel VSOP

spread a little apricot jam over the inside of the pastry case then pour in the frangipane and then lay the pears in with the pointy ends together in the middle pushing them down into the batter

bake for 25-30 mins until risen and gloriously golden

eat and of course, enjoy!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

roasted vegetable fajitas

... when I was seventeen-ish I went to visit one of my closest friends at her university in Ponoma, Southern California.  Shannon and I have been friends since we were both at school in London way too many decades ago to mention in polite company and after we both left school she made the choice to go back to her parents native America to study whilst I stayed in london and went to art school.  Shannon and her family had always been a bit nomadic and I think she carried this on into her university years as Ponoma wasn't the only school she studied at but I remember going to visit her there and in particular I remember a night out with her and her parents who also happened to be visiting at the time... we went to a Mexican restaurant and as Ponoma is quite far in-land it has a close afinity to all things Mexican.  It was a very very good restaurant.  The food was good enough for me to remember it all these years later and of course i've loved Mexican food ever since... but I particularly remember the margeritas... funny that?

roasted vegetable fajitas
Of course i've been searching for that authentic taste ever since and these wonderful Old El Paso spice blends go some way to bring that taste of Mexico back to me.  This is a very lazy-man's way to cook the vegetables (no surprises there from me then...) and can be done either in the oven or wrapped in foil on the barbecue, which I think is rather wonderful as it means you're not standing over a hot stove frying all night and can have fun with your guests instead! - I've also included a recipe for homemade soft tortilla which in my opinion makes a lovely rustic difference to the proceedings but if you don't have the time or inclination then of course there is a plethora of decent shop-bought ones readily available.

Serves 6
For the vegetables:
1 packet of OEP Original Smokey BBQ Fajitas
2 large onions – halved and sliced
2 packets of baby sweetcorn – halved lengthways
4 large Portobello or field mushrooms – thickly sliced
1 yellow pepper – sliced
1 red pepper – sliced
2 medium red chillis - whole
3 cloves garlic – skin on
3 tablespoons olive oil

For the soft flour tortillas
400g plain flour
300ml water
1 teaspoon quick active yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

start by making the tortilla by combining all the ingredients in a large bowl, bring the dough together and then let it rest, covered for 10 minutes before doing anything

after 10 minutes pour a little olive oil on your work surface and knead the dough for 5 mins, then place it back in the oiled bowl, cover with cling film and let it rise for at leats an hour or until doubled in size

after an hour, remove the dough and on an oiled work surface, cut into 12 equally sized pieces.  Roll these pieces into balls and flatten into round tortilla shapes.  You can either set these aside, separated by sheets of greased-proof paper, or you can cook them now

to cook them, simply heat a large frying pan and dry fry them for roughly 2 mins on either side.  You are looking for a few small brown spots to know they are ready

to make the roasted vegetables on the BBQ, simply pace all the vegetables into a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and then sprinkle with the packet of OEP – stir around to ensure all the veg are coated and then pour all the vegetables into the centre of a large sheet of foil.  Fold up the edges of the foil to create a little foil teepee and place on a warm BBQ for 20 mins – open the teepee after this tie and let the veg crisp up a little for a further 5 mins (the same can be done in the oven in a large casserole dish covered in foil)

serve with sour cream and smashed avocado and lime juice, rolled inside the fresh tortilla

eat and of course, enjoy!

I was commissioned to write this article by the kindly people at Old El Paso and a version of this recipe will be published on their website

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

lemon curd and greek yoghurt eton mess tarts

...oh what a summer it's turning out to be.  A few cloudy spells aside we've had wall to wall sunshine for most of June here in the UK and it looks as though July is going to turn into a beautiful month too.  I don't know what it is about the summer but I often feel as though i'm walking around with my head in the clouds as one warm and sunny day blurs into the next and this summer is no exception with busy days blurring into weekends and weeks fizzing into months... I spent the whole day yesterday thinking it was Thursday.  In one way I love it but in another way i'm worried the whole summer is going to swim past so fast I won't get to see it and sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy those long lazy afternoons with a cup of tea and something deliciously creamy and fruity that can only really be delivered via the summer in all its freshness...

lemon curd and greek yoghurt eton mess tarts
these are really just the left-overs from the Stoli Lemonade cake I made a few weekends ago... as is always the case, I made way too much filling for that cake and because I'm so lazy and couldn't be bothered to look for a container to keep it in so I reached into the fridge and grabbed one of those giant pots of TOTAL Greek Yoghurt, which was only about a third full and squished the filling into it.  When I came to make up these tarts I simply stirred it all together, added a little more lemon curd for extra zingyness and created this yummy filling...

makes 12 mini tarts

for the almond pastry

200g plain flour
150g butter
75g cream cheese
50g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
50g sugar

pre-heat the oven to 140C and dust a 12 hole tart tray

in a large bowl crumble the butter into the flour using your hands, until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add the rest of the ingredients bringing it together with a little water or milk until you have a soft dough – wrap in cling-film and pop in the fridge for 30 mins

dust your work surface and roll the pastry out as thin as possible then cut out 12 circles a little larger than needed for your tarts and lay them into the tart tray and bake for 15 mins or until golden - set aside to cool

for the filling
350ml double cream
2 small pre-bought meringue nests - crushed
3 tablespoons lemon curd
4 tablespoons TOTAl Greek Yoghurt
the juice and zest of 2 lemons
2 or 3 teaspoons of elderflower cordial according to taste
a selection of your favourite summer fruit
extra lemon curd

make the filling by beating the cream until thick, then gently fold in the lemon curd , TOTAL Greek Yoghurt and crushed meringue, juice and zest of the lemons

once the tarts are ready, fill each one with a generous dollop of cream then a teaspoon of extra lemon curd and top with your favourite fruit... a little too easy like a summer's afternoon...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 7 July 2014

blue cheese on the inside burgers with cognac sauted mushrooms

... anyone who’s even attempted to throw a special night at home knows it can be a stressful affair, as well as making all the food I always feel responsible for creating the right atmosphere by styling the house a little , making sure the lighting is right, ensuring there’s plenty of comfy furniture (even though everyone inevitably always ends up perched somewhere in the kitchen and that the music is the right balance of happy tunes over volume.

Over the years, and yes, it has taken years to learn this stuff, I’ve realised that it’s my controlling nature in the kitchen that makes it so stressful and what I now try really hard to do is let go a little, if people offer help, don’t turn them away.  Enjoy the ‘everybody mucks in’ attitude, in fact,  as my first tip advises…

 embrace the help of others… don’t be the control freak.  We’ve all reached the stage in our lives where we know who our friends are and which of them are best at what, so make your special nights ‘all involving’… I always find that the best parties are when everyone one brings something, whether it’s a dish or the music, let them in!

be prepared… like every good scout or girl-guide knows, preparation is the key to success and this can’t be more prevalent than at a special night.  All the dishes I’ve suggested for my Very Special Night can be made in advance and then simply pulled together on the night.  Food should be a communal experience so I try not to have to make food that leaves me stuck in the kitchen all night or that I have to plate up, make look pretty and serve.  I prefer the type of food that goes onto the table and everyone constructs their own plates… I always think this is more special in a way.

don’t sweat the small stuff… I’m a food writer and people always expect me to have made all the teeniest details in my food from scratch and mostly I do, I find pastry really simple to make but if I’m cooking in volume or time is not on my side then I’ll purchase ready rolled pastry and I don’t sweat it.  It’s the stuff that’s going into the pastry that matters and quite frankly, who needs to know.

share the music… I learnt a long time ago that not everyone likes Kylie blaring at full whack whilst tucking into a bowl of penne arrabiata but there’s no accounting for taste!  The best nights have a rhythm of their own so instead of going crazy worrying what kind of music to bring together for the perfect night what I now do is ask everyone who’s coming to suggest 3 songs to add to the play list for the evening.  It’s always fun to find out who’s suggested what and then everyone is happy and you don’t have to take the slack for one too many ‘un-cool’ tunes!

a little something goes a long way… I always treat myself to a special little tipple an hour or so before anyone arrives.  It calms my nerves and helps me relax into the evening… but be warned, make sure you don’t go crazy before the firsts guests have even crossed the threshold, there’s nothing worse than an inebriated host and you don’t want to end up embarrising anyone, yourself included.

Cheese-on-the-inside burgers with Saint Agur blue cheese and Martel VS sauted mushrooms
This is a really special, grown-up burger and so I would insist purchasing the best mince steak you can find and a really good French blue cheese, it will make all the difference in the end.  These can be made well in advance and wrapped in cling-film and kept in the fridge for 24 hours or even frozen and fully defrosted before serving.  You can grill these or barbeque these but I always have the oven on full blast too so they all go in on a roasting tray whilst you’re cooking the rest which means you’re less stressed and you can serve them all at the same time… another tip is to arrange all the burger buns, fillings and sauces on the table and let your guests construct the burgers themselves… serve these with French fries of course!

for 6 people
500g Steak mince
200g Mushrooms – very finely chopped
salt and pepper
fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons Martell VS
butter and olive oil
Saint Agur blue cheese
Brioche burger buns
Salad and sauces of your choice

heat a little oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the mushrooms and let them gently sweat and saute. Add seasoning, the Martell and a little pinch or two of freshly chopped rosemary, turn up the heat and let them sweat for another 6 minutes or so until the Martell has bubbled away and reduced - set aside to cool

place the mince into a bowl, season well and add a drizzle of olive oil and the mushrooms and bring together with your hands

form the meat and mushroom mix into 12 small balls and set aside

take one ball and flatten it in the palm of your hand, then place a wedge or two of cheese on top and place a second meatball on top and form the patty, sealing the two halves together

I like to pan fry these in my griddle pan until just done and then keep them warm in the oven for a final blast of heat once all 6 are made

build your burger as you like it

eat and of course, enjoy!



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