Thursday, July 14, 2011

Greece Greece you sexy beast – the week of heat or tales from the barbecue

Sitting here in sussex looking out at the blank greyness of yet another summer’s day, it is difficult to believe that just over a week and a half ago I was eating far more than is good for me, drinking far more than is good for me and sunning myself on the sunny shores of Greece’s Pelopponesse.

The Peloponnesse, a peninsula off the mainland, is often overlooked by tourists, who instead seek the cultural immersion of Athens or island adventures. Their loss was indeed my gain. The peninsula is huge, with some glorious beaches and stunning mountain landscapes laid out at our fingertips (well, at the wheels of our little rented bipabout).

Our villa was amazing and our hosts Jackie and Pete, who lived in the villa next door were the best source of knowledge for exploring the area. A big thank you!

Obviously, being the gluttonous little lady that I am I was very very interested in the food and it did not prove to be a disappointment – it was unabashedly punchy sunshine food. Food that you couldn't possibly eat in the depths of winter (unless you are under one of those fake sun simulator things) but that makes you revel in the summer sun like a pig in shit.

Want an experience? held on a Wednesday and Saturday, this is the place to go to get your fresh produce. I don’t know whether I’ve been going to the wrong markets recently but in comparison to those I go to at home, it was so down to earth – take it at face value.

There were no fancy labels, extortionate prices, sellers yelling in your ear. In fact, half of the stallholders looked like they were plump and ready for their siesta, whether you bought the produce was up to you. But of course you were going to. Why? Because it was fresh and lovely. The market sellers didn’t have to do the shouting. The food did it for them. Although sometimes it was shouting something on the gorier side of things.

Based in Kalamata, it would have been a sin not to try an olive or two. Or three. But there’s more to the story than just popping olives. No no my friends, Jon and I geared ourselves up for some serious eating pleasure. We ate deep fried anchovies and sprats drizzled with lemon juice, moussaka, kleftico with hefty chunks of lamb sitting on the plate, salted pork by the sea and obviously mounds and mounds of greek salad with slabs of shiny white feta perched atop the veg.

But as much as eating out was a pleasure, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun cooking as we did that week.

The first thing we rolled out on the barbeque were some pork and vegetable kebabs with our very own Greek salad.

There was a return of one of my favourite ever Nigella recipes quick preserved lemons with sea bass, in bastardised form with a local fish (what it was we never quite discovered but dammit it flaked like a lovvie and soaked up the flavour of the preserved lemon marinade beautifully so thank you to the fish man). Ps if anyone can read Greek, help would be appreciated in solving the fish mystery, it was wonderful and I would like to get it again...

Although the making of the preserved lemon syrup takes a little bit of time, it’s not remotely fiddly and, once it’s done you can just slap it onto the fish, wrap it in foil and put it on the barbeque. It is every bit as easy as it sounds.

From that particularly gory little lamb pictured earlier, we had a very meagre but flavoursome rack of ribs, marinated with a little bit of oregano and olive oil, again barbequed for a quick meal. We served it with courgette flowers stuffed with beetroot, feta and chilli and quickly fried.

I still dream about that dinner.

And the last barbecue - king prawns and Greek sausage with butter bean salad and our local vineyard wine... four euros for 1.5 litres. And it was NICE. I know you won't believe me but it really was. Thank God booze isn’t that cheap here (unless you make it) or I could run into a few problems.

To wind it all up, I’d love to say we had a smooth trip back but no, there was a 6 hour delay in Kalamata Airport. Our local Morrissons is bigger than that airport, not fun and Thomas Cook were right old pains in the arses but, it was a brilliant trip. Get to Kalamata my friends.

Sweet and savoury and all things nice.... Truffles and Pickles

It was coming up to Father’s Day and I was stuck in the yearly bind of what to get my pops for his special day. When I was younger so assured was I in my father’s love for cricket and Bruce Lee that I used to get him something every year, without fail, in some way connected with one of those two things. But you know, by the age of 25, you’d hope that I’d come up with something new. So I did. Part one was that time tested and rather tasty pressie. Truffles.

Truffles are so simple but so very munchable. Week after week I teach hen parties and corporate parties at My Chocolate how to make a simple dark chocolate truffle and week after week people literally squeal with joy when they taste their hand made, dipped truffles. I’m sure that half of them do not make it home to the husbands/ wives/ flatmates/ kids eagerly awaiting some chocolaty treats. While I wasn’t counting on my father squealing with delight, it seemed fitting that I took my work home with me and improvised a bit.

Although I’m a fan of the dark chocolate truffle, I wanted something that would look pretty. Also bearing in mind that when the inevitable happened and my little bros and sisters dipped their hands into dad’s stash, I didn’t want them to think I was trying to poison them with such strong flavours. So I settled on a whisky milk chocolate truffle dipped in white chocolate.

Whisky truffles dipped in white chocolate

200g milk chocolate melted
4 tablespoons double cream
4 tablespoons whisky (or whichever spirit of choice)
Makes around 30 truffles

Making a truffle is pretty simple – two parts chocolate to one part cream. You want to get the chocolate to around 32-34 degrees Celsius (do this by adding chocolate solids to the hot melted chocolate until a ribbon of chocolate drizzled on the top will stand for a few seconds before melting into the rest of the bowl) and then mix it with cold cream to make a ganache.

There are plenty of ganache recipes that do it the other way round i.e hot cream and cold chocolate, but I find this easier and it still makes for a brilliant truffle. To make your truffle boozy, simply replace half the cream with alcohol and bobs your uncle.

Pipe the ganache onto a sheet of baking paper and leave to set.

Whilst the truffles are setting, melt the white chocolate on a bain marie....

Once the truffles are set, dip them into the white chocolate and set them back onto the baking parchment. Drizzle with a bit of milk chocolate, leave to dry and voila. So simple but so tasty...

The savoury part of the present was an incredibly delicious cucumber dill and onion pickle from my new favourite food writer Joanna Farrow's Seasonal Preserves. Again, something so simple (and, might I point out, so cheap) but with a result that will make the most jaded eater sit up and pay attention.

One of the best things of all is you can pretty much eat the pickle straight away. The flavour develops with time but we went for a walk on the Seven Sisters the next day and packed the pickle into our cheddar cheese sandwiches and it was heavenly. If all sandwiches tasted like that I wouldn’t steer such a wide berth when I encountered them on my supermarket lunch hunts.

Cucumber dill and mustard pickle

2 large cucumbers
2 red onions thinly sliced
6 tbsp sea salt
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tso celery seeds
25g dill finely chopped
600ml white wine vinegar
175g granulated sugar

Slice the cucumbers thinly and layer in a colander with onions and salt.

Leave to stand over a bowl for two hours. Rinse well and drain.
Heat the seeds in a saucepan until the mustard seeds start to pop. Put into a bowl with the cucumbers, onions and dill and mix thoroughly.

Pack into your preserving jars. Heat the vinegar and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the pickle and seal the jars. All done.
(Will store for up to 9 months)

And Dad’s reaction was pretty positive. There was no squealing but they both disappeared pretty sharpish. And that is the highest praise of all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The second eldergoose episode

Alas, the season has now passed for elderflowers but I’m a bit behind on t
he blog posts and thought I’d put this up for people to bear in mind next year!

A short blog piece, in homage to John of River Cottage fame for this brilliant recipe.... ours has just finished bubbling so we will be siphoning it off soon and tasting the fruits of our labour. Excellent. Don’t get too worried if you don’t hear from me for a few weeks. I’ll be basking in a self-indulgent but happy elderflower and gooseberry wine stupor. I suppose I should let it develop for a few months but will definitely sneak a glass or two from the demijohn first.

The original recipe
2kg green gooseberries (washed, frozen, then defrosted)
Florets from 10 elderflower sprays
1.2kg sugar
3.5 litres water
1 sachet white wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 teaspoon grape tannin (optional – it fills a "gap" in the palate with many wines)
1 level teaspoon pectolase (there is a lot of pectin in gooseberries which must be removed to prevent cloudiness)

The mucking about with freezing the gooseberries breaks down the cell walls to release the juices and makes the difficult mashing process a bit easier. Place the defrosted gooseberries in a clean ceramic mixing bowl and gently crush them with the end of a clean rolling pin. It is important not to crush the pips too much as this will release more pectin (and why a blender is no use).

The whole business is messy, with gooseberry juice squirting everywhere. Never mind. Once it is all nicely pulped, transfer to a large, food grade plastic bucket and pour on about three litres of cold water. Add all the other ingredients and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cover and leave for three days, stirring occasionally.

Strain through a sterilized, doubled muslin cloth, squeezing out as much juice as you can into a clean bucket. Make the quantity up to 4.5 litres with more water.

Siphon into a demi-john and fit a bubble-trap. Rack off into a new demi-john at least once, then, when all fermentation has ceased and the wine has cleared, siphon into bottles.