Search blog.co.uk

  • Yellow Plum and Vanilla Jam

    yellow-plums2
    photo by kind permission ©Alison Brierley

    Jam is easier to make than most people think and definately a thrifty thing to do if your sister has a garden full of fruit trees.

    English yellow plums are also know as Pershore plum or egg plums, can sometimes be a little pappy if you choose to eat them as a fruit but they make a truly wonderful jam.  The Harvest time can vary depending on location and weather patterns but usually runs from mid August until mid September.   When British yellow plums are out of season you can still find them in your supermarkets from warmer climates like Italy.

    Jam Notes:

    If you've ever tried to make jam and failed there are usually 3 main reasons:

    The number  one thing you need for successful  jam making is an accurate thermometer.

    Forget Grandma's set in a saucer method because it is too hit and miss,

    Accurate temperature is the number one way to increase your chances of a jam that sets.

    That does not necessarily mean an expensive one in fact I prefer the "pen" type that you can clip to your pocket just like a pen.  The thermometer in this photo I have had for years.

     Thermometer

    If you live in the UK you can buy one here just for £4.80 + P&P

    http://www.russums-shop.co.uk/i/q/SH969/thermometer-general-purpose

    Or perhaps this one that has a useful clip on it so you can clip it to the side of your saucepan.

    http://www.russums-shop.co.uk/i/q/SH935/frothing-thermometer

    The second most important thing is sugar content, too little and it doesn't set, too much and it's too sweet.  When I was putting together this recipe I originally tried using 2kilo of sugar for 1.5kilo of fruit and it set fantastically but was just too sweet.  So my second attempt I cut the sugar in half down to the 1 kilo of sugar you see in my finished recipe.  But my point is when you are trying a new recipe stick to it exactly!!  before you start tinkering.

    The third reason a jam can fail is low pectin content and to make it more complicated, different fruits have different levels of pectin.   If you're lucky enough to have fruit trees in your garden you can presume that when the fruit is at its peak then the pectin level is at its highest.    You can add extra pectin by using fresh squeezed lemon juice and skin*.

    Yellow Plum and Vanilla Jam © Kevin Ashton 2014

    1.5 kilos of yellow plum (destoned)

    1 kilo of granulated sugar

    1 lemon *(peel and juice)

    28grams of unsalted butter

    2 small vanilla pods

    100ml cold water

    Method:

    1. Wash and dry your plums and then cut them in half and remove the  stone.  The easiest way I find to do this is to cut down from the top of the plum either side of the stone to give yourself 2 halves (as I have done in photo A).  Then cut as much of the flesh off the stone (see photo B) so you don't waste any.

    plums A + B 

    2. Use a sharp peeler and peel the skin from the lemon without any white pith, try to keep the lemon peel in big pieces. Reserve the peel and squeeze the juice and reserve that to.

    3. Place the plum flesh (remember my recipe calls for 1.5lkilo destoned weight) into a heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan together with the cold water.    Cover with a lid and heat  the fruit with a medium heat.  Remove the lid and stir the fruit every couple minutes to make sure it isn't sticking to the pan.  Cook until the fruit is just tender and remove the lid and then add the sugar, lemon juice and lemon peel.  Stir well until the sugar has completely dissolved.

    4. Cut the vanilla pods lengthwise, scrap out the vanilla seeds and add to the jam, stirring them in well.   Now add the unsalted butter and again stir in (the butter adds richness and also lessens the amount of foaming the jam produces.  For the more experienced cooks you can also skim off any scum that floats to the top.  The trick is to throw away the scum without throwing away half the jam.   Removing the scum will help give you a clearer and shinier finished jam.

    5. Continue monitoring the jam stirring occasionally until the jam reaches setting point 220F / 104C for at least 3 minutes. Once ready remove from the heat and remove the lemon peel, carefully pour the jam into clean, warm sterilised jam jars. If you see any air bubbles remove them. Seal and label the jars while they are still warm. Allow them to cool completely then store.

    Chef's tips:

    The empty vanilla pods can be chopped up and stored in caster sugar which over time infuses the sugar with vanilla flavour.
    Before you start your jam, make sure all of your jars are still airtight, then wash them and set to dry.   
    An easy way to sterilise your jam jars is wash them in your dishwasher, so they come out sterilised, hot and dry and ready to use.

    jam5
    © 2002-- © 2014 Kevin Ashton All rights reserved. No content of his website including, but not limited to, text and photography may not be reproduced without prior explicit written consent.

  • Tip Of the Week-Piccolo Parsnips

    Tip Of the Week-Piccolo Parsnips

    In the last couple of years they have begun to appear in the produce section of your supermarkets.
    Piccolo parsnips are a baby version of one of Britain's favourite vegetables and I want to share with my readers a few different ideas of how to use them. Don't just think of using them for your Sunday roast, they are great in salads, starters and even breads.  These baby versions will still need blanching (in boiling salted water) if you intend to cook them, but for salads and coleslaws just treat them as you would raw carrots.

    Winter parnsip and root vegetable slaw with festive ham (5)ParsnipsLogo
    Winter Piccolo Parsnip and Root Vegetable Slaw with Apple

    ½ small red cabbage
    ½ small Savoy cabbage
    1 Pink Lady apple, cored and cut into quarters
    2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
    4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
    150g Piccolo parsnips, washed, trimmed and cut into julienne strips
    Sea salt and black pepper

    Parsnip Coleslaw:

    Shred the cabbage on a mandolin or chop finely with a knife. Slice the apple very finely and mix together with the parsley, cabbage, spring onion and Piccolo parsnips. Season with sea salt and black pepper and add the dressing to the coleslaw, mix well.

    Mustard Dressing:

    1 tbsp grain mustard
    1 tbsp Dijon mustard
    2 tbsp honey
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
    1 tbsp red wine vinegar
    4 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
    Sea salt and black pepper

    Method:
    Mix all of the dressing ingredients together.

    Chef's Tip: I sometimes add yoghurt or crème fraiche to this to make a creamy version ? delicious. You can also use chopped walnuts or toasted pine nuts as well if you wish.

    Serve with Festive Ham (recipe below)

    Festive Ham

    1 un-smoked boneless gammon, weighing about 5kg cooked
    1/2 tbsp each coriander and fennel seeds
    30 cloves, approximately
    1 small star anise
    3 juniper berries
    300g Demerara sugar
    250g pot Dijon mustard
    Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7

    Method:

    Toast the spices apart from the cloves in a dry frying pan until they release their fragrance. Grind in a pestle and mortar, then tip into a food processer with the sugar and blitz everything to make a spice mix.

    Score the fat of the ham in a criss-cross and brush with the spice mix and push a clove into each square of fat. Roast for 30-35 minute until the glaze has completely caramelized and becomes sticky. Allow the ham to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving

    Chef's Tip: To boil the ham, cover the ham in cold water in a large pan and add 1 onion peeled and cut in half, 8 peppercorns 1 tbsp cider vinegar and 1 tbsp brown soft sugar.   Bring to the boil and skim any deposits off the water and simmer very gently until cooked, 25-30 minutes per 500g of ham or gammon.

    For this next recipe think of cool autumn lunches where you need something more substantial than a sandwich.  Here the combination of poached egg, smoky taste of Haddock with a creamy sauce to bring all the flavours together.

     Smoked Haddock & Piccolo Parsnip Hash (3)

     Smoked Haddock and Piccolo Parsnip Hash, Poached Eggs and Cream sauce 

    1 pint of milk
    1 onion, peeled and halved
    1 fresh bay leaf
    400g naturally smoked haddock fillet*
    A sprig of thyme
    2 large potatoes peeled, cut into chunks
    1 tbsp rapeseed oil 
    50g butter
    150g Piccolo parsnips, washed, trimmed and blanched
    1 leek, trimmed, cut in small rings
    100g bacon lardons
    2 tbsp chopped parsley
    Sea salt and black pepper 
    4 large very fresh eggs
    Cream sauce:
    290ml cream

    1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
    Juice of ½ lemon
    zest of 1 lemon
    Sea salt and black pepper


    Method:
    For the cream sauce; heat the cream until boiling, then boil for 3 minutes to reduce.  Add the mustard, lemon juice and zest then sea salt and black pepper. The sauce will thicken. Season to taste and set aside.

    To cook the Piccolo Parsnip Hash; place the milk in a saucepan with the onion and bay leaf and bring to just below boiling point, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Return the pan back to the heat and add the smoked haddock fillet. Bring to a simmer and cook for 6-8 minutes. Remove the fish and set aside, strain the cooking liquid and reserve.

    Place the cooking milk back in a clean pan, add a sprig of thyme and add the potatoes and cook them until just tender, about 10 minutes drain well and discard the milk.

    Flake the fish, discarding any bones or skin and set aside.

    Heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan and then add the bacon lardons and fry until slightly brown then add the potatoes and parsnips, and fry for a further 4-5 minutes or until they are cooked and slightly coloured.

    Turn down the heat and add the leeks cooking until they are soft.    Remove from the heat and stir in the flaked haddock and chopped parsley then season with sea salt and black pepper.

    Next, poach the eggs in simmering water, seasoned with salt pepper a 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar for every litre of water. Crack a very fresh egg into a coffee cup and stir the water and slide the egg in to the centre of the pan after 2-3 minutes of cooking. Lift the eggs out with a slotted spoon and lower them into iced water to stop the cooking process.

    To Serve:

    Divide the Smoked Haddock and Parsnip Hash between 4 warm pasta bowls.
    Reheat poached eggs by gently dropping them into the boiling poaching water for 30 seconds. 
    Drain with a slotted spoon a place an egg on each portion of hash and the drizzle over the warm cream sauce and serve.

    Chef's Tip:
    *When ever possible buy naturally smoked Haddock rather the bright yellow/orange stuff.

    For this final recipe, I wanted to show how truely versatile parsnips can be.

    Parsnip and Rosemary Bread (1)
    Piccolo Parsnip and Rosemary Bread
     (Serves 4-6)

    25g butter
    1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
    250g self-raising flour
    A good pinch of mustard powder
    1 tsp sea salt and black pepper
    175g Piccolo parsnips, washed and trimmed
    75g Parmesan or mature cheddar, finely grated
    1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
    2 large eggs, beaten
    1 tbsp milk
    Rosemary sprigs, to decorate the top
    A little rapeseed oil

    Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5
    Method:
    Heat a small frying pan over a gentle heat, add the butter and sweat the onion in the butter until soft, but not coloured and leave to cool.

    Sift the flour, mustard powder and salt into a large bowl; grate the Piccolo parsnips, skin as well into the flour. Add 50g of the parmesan or cheddar cheese, along with chopped rosemary and onion. Season with a little black pepper. Now lightly beat the eggs and milk together, add a little at a time to the flour mixture, mixing with a palette knife until you have rough, loose sticky dough. Place the dough on a greased baking sheet and with floured hands shape it into a 15cm/6inch rough round, then make a cross with the back of the knife. Scatter with the extra 25g of cheese and sprinkle with a little flour. Dip some rosemary sprigs into a little rapeseed oil and place on top of the bread. Bake at the top of the oven for 40-45 minutes until golden and the bread sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Serve it warm with lashings of butter.

    Chef's Tip: You can blitz the Piccolo parsnips to a fine chop in the food processor, it's quicker and easier) also with the piccolo you do not have to peel them, that's so good.

    A big thanks to the good people of www.piccoloparsnip.co.uk for the photos and for the samples they gave me to play with.

    Food Facts
    Two little known facts about parsnips are that that they taste really good raw and they make great ice cream!
    In Tudor times, in England, parsnips were a common ingredient in bread.   Indeed in Elizabethan times parsnips were often used to sweeten recipes because they were so much cheaper than using sugar.
    In Scotland parsnips are still known as White Carrots.
    In Roman times parsnips were believed to have been an aphrodisiac.  
    Parsnips can be made into wine or a parsnip fizz and Irish beer is often made from the roots of parsnips boiled in water and hops. Parsnips are commonly served fried, roasted, boiled or steamed and can be used as a thickener in certain types of soup.
    Parsnips are a root vegetable related to the carrot family.

     

  • Roasted Beetroot Salad with Walnuts and Dolcelatte © 2014

    Beetroot Salad 1

    This weekend I will be pulling up the rest of my beetroots from my raised beds and the pickling process will begin in earnest.
    The difference between home produced and store bought is like night and day.  That said I also want to pontificate for a moment about the wonderful taste sensation of freshly roasted beetroot. The complex sweet and earthy elements make this still undervalued vegetable good enough to feature in a first course. Add to that walnuts, a delicate Italian blue cheese Dolelatte, a good dressing and a tiny touch of fresh Rosemary and a star is born!

    Raw Beetroot 2 smallBeetroot ready for roastingsmall

    Roasted Beetroot Salad with Walnuts and Dolcelatte © 2014 serves 4

    700 g raw beetroot (minus the leaves)
    125g Dolcelatte
    1 bag of mix leaves that includes rocket (arugala)
    24 Good quality walnut halves

    Balsamic dressing*

    3tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
    1/4 teaspoon very finely chopped rosemary
    salt and pepper

    Chef's Notes: 
    Roasting beetroot retains so much more of the flavour than the traditional boiling in water, preserving the natural sweetness and earthy tones of this vegetable.
    * Normally vinaigrette recipes have a ratio of 3 parts oil and 1 part vinegar, but for this dish the recipe needs more vinegar.

    Method

    1.) Preheat oven to 180 C gas mark 4 (with fan on)
    2.) Wash the trimmed beetroot and dry with paper towel.
    3.) Place each beetroot on a square of aluminium foil and then drizzle with olive oil and then season with salt and pepper.
    4.) Cook the beetroot for about 1hour until the beetroot feel firm soft, then allow them to cool down still wrapped.
    5.) When the beetroot is still warm you can easily rub the skins off (this is because the steam during the cool down has gotten under
         the skins).  If any of the skins resist then a quick rinse should expedite things, then  rewrap the skinned beetroot to retain some        
         warmth.
    6.) Wash and spin the salad leaves.
    7.) Combine the dressing ingredients in a small a small plastic container and shake well
    8.) Toss the walnut halves into a hot non-stick frying pan with a little of olive oil and season.

    To Serve
    Make a mound of salad leaves in the centre of each plate.
    Slice up the warm beetroot into about 6 wedges per plate.
    Arrange and then add the walnut halves and few small teaspoons of Dolcelatte.
    Finally, spoon a little of the dressing on each wedge of beetroot and serve.

    Tasting notes:
    The reason I chose Dolcelette (a sweet and mild blue cheese) was because I didn't want the cheese to overpower the dish.
    Remember that rosemary is a strong herb so less is more and it must be chopped very finely.

    A very special thanks to John Miles CEO of Steelite International for his very generous gift of plates.
    http://www.steelite.com/tableware/alumina-vitrified/steelite-performance/craft-cookware.html
    John and I met whilst judging a cooking contest in Spain a while back.
    Steelite is recognised throughout the world as a top creator of professional tableware.

  • Tip Of The Week-How to store mushrooms in your fridge

    Wrapped Mushrooms

    Mushrooms
    Most people buy a punnet of mushrooms from their local supermarket and put them straight in one of the crisper boxes at the bottom of their fridge/freezer. The problem with that is within a few days the mushrooms are wet and starting to go bad. This is because mushrooms attract a lot of moisture, particularly wild mushrooms such as oysters or shitake.

    So here is what you do......
    Before touching any food stuffs, wash your hands well using antibacterial soap making sure your hands are scrupulously clean and dry. Clean hands will increase the shelf life of all fresh foods.
    Remove the cellophane and check there are no wet mushrooms at the bottom of the punnet.

    mushrooms on counter 

    If there was any condensation underneath the cellophane then remove all the mushroom onto a clean dry surface, line the punnet with a sheet of paper towel and then gently put back the mushrooms. Now store them in the fridge but not in the crisper /salad box, instead place them on the shelf just above leaving them uncovered so they stay dry (see photo below).
    Stored Mushrooms
    After some days they will start to dehydrate and go wrinkly but that is fine, its just extending the shelflife. If you did place a sheet of papertowel in the punnet change it if it is wet.

    Wild Mushrooms
    Most wild mushrooms particularly Oyster and Enoki mushrooms absorb moisture quicker than ordinary button mushrooms so be sure to inspect them carefully before you buy.  When you get them home (if you are not intending to use them that day) remove the cellophane and after checking them out definitely line the punnet with paper towel and place the Oyster mushrooms fin side down on the towel and replace the towel if it gets wet.

    Oyster mushrooms Enoki mushrooms
    If your Enoki (straw) mushrooms are starting to get wet you can also trim off 2cm (1 inch) off the bottom (the root part that holds the mushrooms together) to seperate the mushrooms and put them on dry paper towel.


    Crisper boxes

    I usually use one box for the vegetables and the other for the salad, fruit and herbs so the light items are not being squashed by the heavy items. I usually line each crisper box with 2 sheets of paper towel to make sure the box stays dry.

    General Advice

    If you notice a lot of moisture in the bag when you buy vegetables then open the bag and dry them on paper towel before putting them into the crisper box.  For more fridge tips keep watching this space!

  • Tip Of The Week -Instant Boiling Water

    Image 3Image 1
    Instant Boiling Water

    Having a hot water boiler installed in your kitchen can speed up the process of getting dinner on the table. Busy families trying to catch a healthy dinner between school and evening activities can cook soups, pasta or other hot dishes quickly with the help of instant boiling waters. Hot drinks like tea and cocoa take just moments to make with convenient boiling water taps that can be installed on almost any sink. There are many other benefits to this convenient addition to the kitchen.

    A Time Saver
    The baby is crying loudly and you are willing the water in the pot to hurry and heat up the baby's bottle faster, but water on the stove will only heat so fast. You cannot use the microwave, because it will kill the important nutrients in the milk. You may need to look at instant water boilers for your kitchen, and choose the right one for your family. Instant boiling waters will get your hungry baby fed faster.

    Easy Maintenance
    Hot water boilers take up very little space, and can be installed in almost any kitchen. There is very little maintenance required to keep a water boiler in good working order. The tap can be kept clean by using a damp cloth to wipe away occasional residue that accumulates. The tanks can be easily emptied and cleaned twice a year depending on instructions in the owner's manual. The boiler will last for years making cooking easier, faster and more convenient for busy individuals and families.

    Less Equipment Required
    An instant hot water boiler is not just for a home kitchen. It will also work well in a bathroom, as well as in commercial break rooms where employees may gather for a quick cup of tea, coffee or even soup. Large, bulky kettles will no longer be needed once a water boiler is installed. A cup of tea or coffee can be prepared in seconds with the instant boiler, both at home and at work. People can spend more time enjoying their breaks and less time preparing their hot drinks. Kitchens and break rooms are also less crowded without the space taken up by large kettles.

    Energy Efficiency
    Both home and business owners are almost always looking for ways to be more energy efficient, and hot water boilers contribute to overall energy efficiency. Less power is used for making hot drinks, soups, pastas and other foods, because people do not have to use the stove or microwave to heat up the liquid or food. In addition, people only need to boil the exact amount of water they need for their snack or meal. There is no need to heat excess water that will have to be discarded. The water is heated only when needed; therefore no extra hot water has to be stored in a tank and kept heated for later use. Over time, energy usage is lowered and utility costs are less.

    Convenience
    People who have small kitchens like myself are constantly looking for ways to declutter their countertops, and free up some valuable space that is taken up with kettles and the like.  Or perhaps due a lack of space you can't fit a dishwasher in and thus forced to do the washing up by hand in the sink. Even though hot water is available from the water tank, the tank may not be big enough to hold enough hot water for all of your needs when the familiy is around. 
    Image 4 

    An instant hot water boiler is an even more attractive investment when you consider how easy it is to install. Whether installed in a home, office or industrial building, an instant hot water tap is a wonderful convenience that makes meal and snack preparation faster and easier for everyone.

  • Vanilla Pecan and Damson Ice Cream

    Vanilla Peacan Damson Ice Cream2Andrew James 3

    Vanilla Pecan and Damson Ice Cream © Kevin Ashton 2013

    Yes, I know my last recipe also had Pecan nuts in but circumstances conspired to make this so.
    First, I picked several kilo of Damsons from the trees in my sister's garden. Anyone who has damson trees knows
    that when the fruit is ripe you only have a few days to pick them at their best.

    Secondly, Andrew James asked me to review their 7 litre table top mixer, which I will write about in some detail in the coming weeks after putting the machine through it paces.

    Then the idea of combining a rich vanilla ice cream, pecan nuts which are in season and damsons
    into an ice cream just jumped out of my head. The idea was to start with a vanilla ice cream add pecan nuts when the custard
    was still warm to bring out the flavour of the nuts. When the ice cream is almost set then I will swirl the damson puree through it so as to taste all 3 components in the ice cream.

    *Recipe produces 2 x 1 litre of ice cream so you could halve the recipe if you wish.

    1.5 kilo damsons
    3 Tbsp Clear honey
    600 ml Double cream
    568 ml semi skimmed milk
    6 large egg yolks
    1 vanilla pod
    200 g caster sugar
    150g pecan halves

    Method
    1.) Wash and sort 1.5 kilos of the best damsons, put into a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan and 100ml cold water.
    2.) Cook with the lid on on a medium high heat until the skins of the damsons are broken, then remove the lid so the liquid
    evaporates some and continue to cook for another 8 minutes turning the heat down to a medium heat.
    3.) Remove from the heat and pass fruit through a sieve trying to keep as much of the fruit pulp as possible.
    Add the honey then set to one side to cool.
    4.) In a separate saucepan combine the milk,cream and the vanilla seeds+ pod. Heat liquid until almost boiling and allow the vanilla to infuse.
    5.) In the mixer cream the caster sugar and the egg yolks until light, fluffy and smooth.
    6.) On a slow speed mix the cream/milk mixture into the creamed eggs an mix thoroughly.
    7.) Pour the mix back into a clean heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan and cook (stiring constantly) until the custard coats the back of the spoon (see photo*).

    custard coated spoon

    8.) Pour the custard back into the mixing bowl,add the pecan nuts and allow to cool.
    9.) Pour the cooled custard into 2 clean 1 litre plastic containers and place in the freezer.
    10.) When the mix is semi set swirl in the chilled damson puree and return to the freezer.

    To Serve
    Chill overnight and serve with a selection of wafers.

    First Impressions of Andrews James 7 litre machine

    So far I am very impressed with the size and quality of the 7 litre mixer.
    I wish my Kitchen Aid at work was as large as this one.
    For around £130 if your in the market for a new table top mixer pay this serious attention and keep watching this space.

  • Chocolate Pecan Pie & Bourbon Raspberries

    Chocolate Pecan Pie.edited
    When I first created this recipe in America back in 1992 several well know magazines asked me for the recipe and I stoutly refused because my philosophy back then was if you liked that dish you would come to my restaurant.  

    Pecan nuts are under used and thus pecans are usually still cheaper than Walnuts in the UK.  A pecan, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, is not truly a nut, but is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk.  The US grows between 80%-95% of the world's pecans. October is the harvest time in the US so if you're ever in Georgia in October make a point of tasting the fresh buttery tasting crop of pecans.

    Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon Raspberries (serves 8)
                              © Kevin Ashton 1992


    *You'll need a 10-11 inch glass or ceramic pie dish.

    350g (14 oz) Sweet Pastry
    200g (8oz) Dark (70%) chocolate
    5 large eggs
    300g (12oz) Pecan Halves
    50g (2oz) Butter
    1tsp instant coffee
    235ml Maple syrup (make sure your syrup is 100% maple syrup and not a blend)
    100g (4oz) Caster sugar
    350g (14oz) Raspberries
    4-5 Tbsp Bourbon Whisky

    1. Roll out your sweet pastry even and thin, lightly butter the pie dish and then line it with the pastry.
    2. Refrigerate the pastry case, whilst you make the filling and preheat the oven 180 C gas mark 4.
    3. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over warm/hot water.
    4. When the chocolate is fully melted turn off the heat and stir in the butter and the coffee, remove the melted chocolate and allow to cool.
    5. In a non-stick saucepan pour the maple syrup and sugar and cook on a low heat until the sugar has completely melted into maple syrup, then allow it to cool.
    6. Beat the eggs and gradually add them to the chocolate mix.
    7. Stir and fold in ¾ of the maple syrup mixture.
    8. Now fold in the pecan nuts, and then pour the mix into the pastry case.
    9. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20 minutes then move to the lowest shelf and bake for a further 20 minutes.
    10. Whilst the pie is cooking make the Bourbon Raspberries by adding the bourbon to the remaining maple syrup and stir occasionally.
    11. Cook the Bourbon for 2-3 minutes then allow the syrup to cool.

    To Serve

    Mix the raspberries into the bourbon mix and serve a good spoonful with a slice of warm pie.

    Chef's Tips
    If you want you can make you own sweet pastry, just make sure you rest it for 30 minutes before trying to roll the pastry out. A good dollop of unsweetened whipped cream or sour cream would also go well with this pie.

  • Pag-The Undiscovered Country

    Pag coastline2
    Like many others I had never heard of Pag and that it's an island that is part of Croatia which officially became part of the EU as of July 1st.   I love travelling to new places and even better when I learn they have a growing reputation as a foodie destination, but I must admit I'm torn between sharing this gem of a place and keeping it a secret just a little longer.

    scuba diving
    The hidden treasures of Pag
    Croatia's island of Pag is a foodie tourist's dream, and yet it's still undiscovered and unspoilt.  Full of award winning cheese's, mouth watering lamb (because of the mix of herbs and grasses the sheep eat), sage scented honey, olives from 1,500 year old olive trees, very fresh seafood and seriously good wines.

    My adventure began with an early morning start of 4.30am in Worcestershire, needing to drive to Stanstead for my flight.
    Some hours later I exited Zadar's small air terminal looking for the chap I was supposed to meet, a worker for the cheese maker who had invited me to the island.  The warm afternoon Croatian sunshine greeted me, it was clear that summer had already started in mid May.

    Dario greeted me with a warm friendly smile, he explained I need to follow him in my hire car for the hour's journey back to Pag. He told me not too worry and that he would drive slowly, which he did at first until we were out of the car park.

    Steep mountainous roads and overtaking aren't my favourite mix but I was following the guy that knew the way what choice did I have but to keep up and it definitely added a sense of adventure to the beginning of my holiday.

    The road to Pag was itself worth the flight, a mixture of its different Mediterranean influences as we left the outskirts of Zadar and into the countryside.

    Once we had left Zadar the vista constantly changed, lush landscapes scented with pine trees, then a majestic view of mountains. We crossed the new bridge onto the island itself as the mid afternoon sun shimmered on the calm Mediterranean water. Winding down the windows I could from time to time enjoy the different scents from the herbs and the wild flowers.
    coastal view pag
    Equally striking were the barren baked hills on parts of the island in stark contrast to the island's greener pastures. This barrenness is cause by the often warm winds the locals call Bora (northern winds) Far from being a bad thing the wind brings the sea salt which influences the flavour of the grasses and the herbs which lie at the heart of the secret of its cheeses and lamb.

    I was based at a wonderful boutique hotel called Boskinac which is located in the countryside a couple miles from Novalja, which is the main town on the island. The hotel is owned by Boris Suljic who is not only a seriously good chef but also a much respected wine producer.

    In the early evening after a long day, I dined on the large veranda which overlooks the sloping vineyard. The sun helped light up the wonderful backdrop and the birds still played and sang in the trees, a warm gentle breeze gave a welcome respite. My waiter suggested that I tried the chef's tasting menu and each delicious course was accompanied with a different wine which was thoughtfully chosen. The hotel also has a popular taverna which also doubles as the wine shop. Here you can eat more cheaply and sample the wines, perhaps buy a few bottles to bring home. Having only 11 bedrooms I would definitely recommend booking your rooms well in advance at http://www.i-escape.com/hotel-boskinac/overview. The site has more details about this little gem including room rates.

    paski close-up
    Paski Sir Cheese
    My first experience with Pag cheese came in 2010 at The World Cheese Awards where I sampled Paski Sir made by the Gligoran family. Made from only local sheep's milk from 200 small herds, one of which I watched being milked in the field early the next morning. Paski Sir is a natural hard rind cheese similar to Spanish Manchego but with a richer fuller flavour, a slight graininess that becomes more pronounced as the cheese matures and just a hint of the herbs that the sheep were grazing on.
    This cheese is hard to find outside of Croatia because the cheese is made in limited quantity because it's strictly made using only milk of the autochthonous sheep on the island. Paski Sir is the most awarded ewes milk cheese in all of Croatia.
    international_taste_and_qualityivan_gligora_bestnewwca2012bglobal-cheese-awards-2Austrian Cheese Awards
    In fact since 2002 Paski Sir has won many major awards including 3 Gold medals at the World Cheese Awards 2010 and judged to be in the top ten cheeses of the world. 2011 saw them win ITQI awards in Brussels for the fourth year in a row receiving the maximum 3 stars as a world beating product. For more information about the artisanal cheeses
    made at the Gligora Dairy together with wine pairings http://paskisir.wordpress.com.
    cheese tastingFactory cheese shop
    The Gligora dairy do tours by request in (small numbers)and the dairy is well worth a visit for their daily cheese tastings and then you can buy your favourites in the dairy's shop. http://www.sirena.hr/en/dairy-gligora-s1.htm
    pag sheep herd_smallHomemade cheese
    As a contrast to the largest and most famous of Pag cheese producers the next day my guide took to a small family producer who made cheese in her kitchen. We spend the next couple of hours watching the process as she made Paski Sir this time from un-pasteurised milk. Later she made fresh cheese which is similar to Ricotta from the whey, this secondary process creates a soft cheese that is then hung up outside in cheesecloth to drain.

    Being fairly neutral in flavour we tried this cheese with both sweet and savoury accompaniments of first local olives and then sage honey. They sell their fresh cheese to other locals but their Pag Cheese will be matured and then sold on the roadside shop during the tourist season.

    Many of the locals are still very connected to the land, often the family have a second job growing almonds, figs, sour cherries and making speciality items for the tourist to buy.
    Such was the case of ----- whose husband owns a restaurant. We tasted a selection of her delicious hand made treats and my favourite was the dried figs made with almonds, orange and lemon rind, spices and a little splash of olive oil.
    BeekeepersmallBee&Wild flowersnarrow
    The well-known master beekeeper who lived close by was kind enough to talk to us after a long day tending his bees. A very vigorous and active working man of 76, he claimed his long life and good health was down to a regular diet of Pag honey and he certainly looked well on it. He explained that the bees got lots of the nectar from the sage flowers hence the hint of sage in the delicious taste.

    Ancient Olive tree_small
    The Ancient Forest of Lun
    A trip to Pag would not be complete without a trip to the legendary olive tree forest at Lun.  Lun is a small village of some 337 inhabitants in the far northern tip of the island. Lun is a small village half a mile in from the coast with a few scattered restaurants and bed and breakfast places open during the season.   There is also a port at Lun which is called Tovarnele which a sleepy little fishing port so if your looking to get away from everyone this could be the place.

    Lun Forest is one of only three locations in the world to still have a large concentration of wild olive trees (Olea oleaster).
    Seeing so many ancient olives trees in one place is a breath taking and magical sight, it really conjured images of ancient Rome and the Holy land. Lots of the trees date back 1,500 years and yet they are still producing a crop every year. Many of the islanders own an olive tree or three and each year they gather as a family in November to harvest the olives. The harvested olives are then taken to one of Pag's pressing plants for turning into olive oil.  The owner of the plant presses the olives into oil in return he keep a percent of the oil to sell himself.  This year Lun olive oil won gold medals at the prestigious competition in Krasici.  
    For more information on Lun and the surrounding area click on this link  http://www.lun.hr/ which also offers an English translation.

    Getting Around
    I travelled from Standstead to Zadar, an airport on the Croatian mainland which is an hour's drive from Pag itself. I would recommend hiring a car from the airport so you can fully explore Pag. Taxis are available but buses are few and far between, so to explore and enjoy the rugged and out of the way places on the island, a car is essential.

    Places to Stay
    As I mentioned earlier, I stayed at a wonderful boutique hotel and vineyard called Boskinac, an oasis of peace with wonderful food and wine. If you're on a tighter budget there are plenty of apartments to rent or a large well appointed camp site Strasko, which is located right on the beach at Novalja.  You can also rent a static caravan, pitch your own or rent a tent. The friendly people at the shop on the site can rent you a fridge, bike, scooter, kayak or even a boat.

    Beaches
    Most of the islands beaches are clean, safe pebble beaches and often in the low season it is easy to find your own little spot to relax in peace and quiet. The island has 27km of beaches, the most famous being Janjece vode and Tri glave and most of the beaches are accessible by car.

    Sports and Recreation
    Lovers of active holidays can hire bikes to enjoy the rugged natural vistas, with 115 km of biking trails that were developed on what used to be the ancient shepherd's trails.

    If you want to explore the exceptionally marine life around the island, scuba diving equipment can be hired by certified divers in Pag town.  Sailing and windsurfing can also be enjoyed in and around Pag Bay. In the Lokunje area there is also the Olympic Center which has tennis courts, 5 a side soccer pitch, basketball court and a volley ball court on the beach.
    Extra photos from my Trip

    Excursions
    On the quayside in Novalja, usually parked outside the hotel Liburnija you find an excursion boat or two that offer three different excursions including one they call the "Dolphin Trail”.

    An hour from the island is Croatia's biggest National park called Kornati. It's a wonderful archipelago of little islands. The north on the Croatian mainland is Plitvicka Lakes, where you can walk through the lush pine forests and see the magnificent falls.

    Brief History
    Just like the little known great foods from the island uncovering its history is a long project and one that is relatively just begun. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC the Roman state expanded across the Adriatic Sea, quelling the numerous rebelling Illyrian tribes. The Romans built an island network of wells and an Aqueduct across the island to transport and share the water resources. Part of the aqueduct was tunnelled through solid rock and it's entrance can still be seen in the basement of the museum in Novalja.

    Over centuries many of the stones from Roman buildings got reused several times, walking around Novalja you can spot roman column remnants in garden walls, which I guess these days would be considered pretty green. The museum also holds an interesting collection of amphora that where recovered from a 1st century BC shipwreck. The merchant ship was discovered in 2004 by Drazen Peraniae in Vlaska Mala bay. The wreck continues to be researched in situ and is now protected by an iron cage. Between 1443-1474 the town of Pag was moved to its current location. Before that time the inhabitants of Pag had lived in the old town which an archaeological site today.

    Seasonal events
    In the summertime there is a number of cultural events held in the town of Pag the most famous being Pasko Ljeto (Pag Summer) which a music and arts festival which include musical performances, theatre and art exhibitions. Another event worth looking out for is

    Summer Pag Carnival in which the town's brass band play music as locals dressed in traditional costumes perform the Pag wheel dance in Petar Kresimir IV Square.  Folk songs and plays are also performed.

    Simi_editedOutside dairy
    Special thanks

    To the people at the Gligora Dairy in Kolan who made my whole trip possible, in particular Simi Gligora who is now taken over as the driving force behind  the dairy's many award winning cheese's and to the tireless work of Simon Kerr.   
    Also to the i-escape site who kindly let me use some of their photos and the Croatian Tourist board.

    Just like other little known parts of Italy, France, Greece and Turkey the people of Pag are wedded to the land, through tradition, through passion through their love for their island and they love to share their magical island with visitors.  Go and have a great time, respect the land and it's people but let's keep it our secret .....just a little longer please.

  • Tip of the Week-Smart Sizzors

    Close up Smart Sizzors
    Many homes have a 2-3 pairs of blunt unusable scissors, don't you?

    But finding a good pair of scissors is not an easy thing to do and finding a decent pair of kitchen shears is even harder. You know…the ones you can cut through chicken cartilage, fish fins and the like, but strong enough to last.

    Yes there are many cheap and cheerful pairs but when you need them will they do the job?
    One of the biggest problems of modern scissors is that the metal ends as soon as they reach the handle which greatly reduce the over strength and leverage of the scissors.

    So I both pleasantly surprised and sceptical when I was offered a pair of Smart Sizzors to try out,but after really putting them through there paces I was just impressed, very impressed.

    As my readers know I don't recommend many products, but the ones I do you can rest assured I like whole heartedly and use in my home. These are well made from quality materials and come with hardened steel razor sharp blades.

    smart-sizzors-secSMART SIZZORS
    I used them to cut paper, open packets, to strip wire when I was putting a new plug on a hairdryer. I tried out the bottle opener, the nut cracker, I trimmed up trout and other fish. I even cut through the cartilage in a chicken.

    Having large hands myself, comfort can also be an issue but not a problem with Smart Sizzors.
    because they have soft grip handles which are also designed for both left hand and right handed use.

    I would also urge chefs to take a serious look at these when shopping for kitchen shears at currently selling on Amazon UK for £9.99 it's a bargain!

    For more information about this product 
    http://www.anysharp.com/sizzors-smart-scissors.html

  • Roasted Rhubarb Flan © Kevin Ashton 2013

    Rhurbarb flan edited
    Roasted Rhubarb Flan with Cinnamon Crème Fraiche

    Although so far this Spring has been mostly cool this hasn't bother my rhubarb patch at all.

    Even though I hacked it back to the crown at the end of last season, its already producing more rhubarb that I can cope with.  After making some jam and giving some to friends and neighbours I still have a kilo left, so I thought I would make a flan.

    Wanting the rhubarb to keeps it's attractive red hue I decided I would roast the rhubarb first. As you can see from my photo it did indeed stay red/pink which makes the rhubarb look as good as it tastes.

    Ingredients-pastry
    225g Plain flour
    120g Unsalted butter
    1 large egg
    25g caster sugar

    Rhubarb -filling
    1kg washed Rhubarb storks
    juice 1 lemon
    juice 1 orange
    150g caster sugar
    4 Tbsp cherry jam
    1 teaspoon cornflour
    4 Tbsp cherry jam

    Custard Mix
    4 large eggs
    100g caster sugar
    ½ vanilla pod
    175ml double cream
    50ml milk

    Method

    Pastry
    1. Make the pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour and separately whisk 25g sugar into the egg then gently stir into the pastry
    bringing the mix together.
    Allow the pastry to rest in a cool place for 10 minutes before rolling out 3-4 mm thick.
    2. Butter a 12 inch ceramic quiche dish and then line it with the pastry and then pierce the pastry with a fork. Rest pastry case
    in the fridge.

    Rhubarb Mix
    3. Preheat your oven to 190 C. On a low heat mix the sugar orange and lemon juice heavy bottomed saucepan and cook
    until you have a syrup.
    Place rhubarb in wire rack and set on a baking tray. Brush the syrup onto the rhubarb and roast in the middle of the oven until it is tender enough to take the point of a knife (about 10-15 minutes.
    4.    Save the liquid and pour into your syrup saucepan and allow to the rhubarb to cool on the wire rack Cut the rhubarb into bite
    sized pieces and divide into two halves.
    5.    Place half of the rhubarb into the pastry shell, evenly spaced.

    Custard Mix
    6.    In a large bowl whisk the eggs, add the vanilla seeds from the pod, sugar, milk and cream. Gently pour custard into pastry
    shell.
    Bake on the middle shelf for 20 minutes and then lower the heat to 175 C and bake for another 25 minutes until set
    and lightly brown.

    Remaining rhubarb
    7.   Put the remaining 500g rhubarb into the syrup,add the cherry jam and cook on a low heat until fully cook. Make a paste with
    the cornflour and a little cold water and stir in the thicken up the syrup. Continue to stir for 1-2 minutes then allow to cool.

    Cinnamon Creme Fraiche
    8.   Stir ¾ teaspoon of cinnamon into a small tub of crème fraiche and transfer into a small serving bowl.


    To Serve 
    Serve the flan warm with the extra rhubarb and Cinnamon Crème Fraiche cold.

     

Footer:

The content of this website belongs to a private person, blog.co.uk is not responsible for the content of this website.