Friday, 30 January 2015

Tasty things in my kitchen round up #4

It's been a while since I last posted one of these round ups so here are reviews of some new products that I have been given to try over the past couple of months.

Jamon Privé Iberico ham and chorizo

Jamon Privé are an online company who specialise in selling Spanish Iberico ham and other cured meats throughout Europe directly from the producers to the customers. Their method of delivery uses a drop shipping system that is integrated with TNT which is a cost effective option as it means that the products are sent directly rather than through a retailer. Jamon Privé sell a range of different Spanish hams including whole serrano hams and a selection of ready sliced meats. They sent me two products to try, some chorizo Ibérico by Revisan and Iberian ham from Dehesa Casablanca. The chorizo is made from grass fed Iberian pork and flavoured using salt, paprika and other spices to a traditional recipe. It has a much richer flavour than sliced chorizo available from the supermarkets and has a slightly smokey taste to it which I really enjoyed. In Spanish the chorizo is known as "Chorizo ibérico de cebo de campo Revisan Ibéricos loncheado", and it is from Castilla y León and has been cured for 6 months. The chorizo is available in 100g packs for €3.24 including VAT.

The Iberian ham is made from acorn fed pork in the Castilla y León region of Spain, the pigs were able to roam freely and forage on a range of wild foods including acorns which helps to give the meat it's distinctive flavour. The ham has been cured for 40 months and is presented in wafer thin slices separated by sheets of plastic. The Spanish name for this ham sounds so elegant "Jamón ibérico de bellota Ibéricos Dehesa Casablanca loncheado a máquina". This was the first time I'd tried proper Iberian ham and I was very impressed with the quality. As the ham is so thinly sliced it just melts in the mouth and is definitely something to be savoured and enjoyed. The ham is more expensive as it is a premium product and is available for €11.94 for a 100g packet.

The delivery costs to the UK are quite high and vary depending on the weight of your order. For smaller orders (up to a weight of 5kg) the shipping costs are €15.82 to the UK for arrival within 2-3 working days. Though for larger orders over €250 they do offer free shipping. So not something for every day consumption but worth trying for a treat.

Doves Farm gluten free flours and grains

Doves Farm have a new selection of gluten free flours and grains that are available in small pack sizes which are useful if you want to experiment with different flours or grains for a specific recipe but don't want to buy a big packet. The flours in particular would be very handy if you wanted to do any gluten free baking to cater for a friend with allergies or intolerances but don't want to be left with loads of flour afterwards. Each packet of flour and grains comes with a recipe on the pack and the photos above show my efforts at trying out two of the recipes. I used the teff flour to make brownies and the millet flour to make sultana cookies. I added some pistachios to the brownies to substitute for chocolate chips in the recipe as I had some in the cupboard. The brownies were lighter than I'd normally expect for a brownie recipe but they were very moreish and didn't last long. Due to the size of the teff grain, it's absolutely tiny, the flour is wholegrain and it added a lovely wholesome flavour to the brownies. The cookies made with the millet flour were also very good, the yellow millet gives a welcoming golden colour to the cookies as well as a hint of flavour. I've not baked with the other flours yet but I am looking forward to trying them out very soon.

I've tried using all of the grains in various casseroles, soups and stews over the winter and each one has added a different dimension to the dishes. Quinoa and buckwheat are the grains that most people have probably heard of and they both work well as substitutes for rice or couscous. The millet is excellent in casseroles and is a good way to make a dish more filling. As the teff is such a tiny grain, it looks like sand, it helps thicken and add a bit of texture to stews. Each of the gluten free flours and grains are available in pack sizes ranging from 110g to 160g and prices for the flours vary from £1.49 to £3.05 and for the grains the price range is £1.49 to £3.29. The cheapest grain is buckwheat and the most expensive is quinoa.

Cranes alcoholic cranberry drinks

I met the people behind Cranes Drinks at the BBC Good Food show at Olympia in London back in November and was instantly drawn to their stand when I saw that they had a cranberry based drink. They had launched the day before so it was exciting to find out more about a brand new product. You all know how much I love cranberries so I had to go over and find out more. The drink is made from fermented cranberries in a similar way to how cider is made from fermented apples. This produces a drink with 4% alcohol and Cranes have blended it with fruit juices to create 3 different flavours. These are original cranberry, raspberry and pomegranate, and strawberry and kiwi. I had a taste of all them of them at the show and they kindly gave me a bottle each of the cranberry and the raspberry and pomegranate. I wasn't keen on the strawberry and kiwi flavour so didn't take a bottle home, but I'm very fussy with strawberry flavoured food and drink so this is probably just me being awkward.

The drinks are produced in smaller bottle sizes (275ml) with 1.1 units of alcohol per bottle and only 99 calories each. The team behind Cranes are twin brothers Dan and Ben from Cambridge and whilst at uni they noticed that their female friends apparently preferred smaller drink sizes e.g. wine or cocktails but were sometimes worried about the calorie content and this is what inspired their decision to make a drink that would be lower in calories and would appeal to women. I'll be honest this approach doesn't work for me because I have always drunk pints and calories are never on my mind when going out for a drink. I accept though that perhaps I am not their target market.

The drinks are lightly sparkling and taste fruity without being too sweet which I liked. I normally avoid any kind of fruity alcoholic drinks as they are usually far too sweet for me. The cranberry drink was nice and had a good cranberry flavour. With the raspberry and pomegranate, I wasn't sure that I could taste the pomegranate though it was still nice and fruity. I was a bit disappointed to read on the label that although they use sweeteners instead of sugar. I detected a slight aftertaste which is why I checked the label. However I would still consider buying one of these if I just wanted to go for a quick drink after work. Currently Cranes drinks are only available to buy in selected locations in Cambridge, though they are looking to expand into London soon.

Seasoned Pioneers spices

Seasoned Pioneers offered me a couple of products to try out, they have an extensive range of spices and lots of different spice blends but I asked if I could try out their vanilla pods and cinnamon as I just happened to need some at the time. The spices are packaged in handy resealable pouches which helps to keep them fresh. The vanilla is sold as a pack containing two vanilla pods for £2.50 and the cinnamon bark is in a 10g pack sold for £1.95, I also received a copy of their worldwide seasoning reference guide which contains a few recipe tips and serving suggestions along with the whole range of exotic spice blends available from Seasoned Pioneers representing virtually all global cuisines.

The vanilla pods were plump and fresh with an intoxicating aroma and a strong vanilla flavour. I used one of these pods to make my pear and vanilla pies. I've not seen cinnamon advertised as cinnamon bark before, usually just as cinnamon sticks or the ground spice so I wasn't quite sure what I'd be getting. Inside the packet there were two pieces of chunky cinnamon and a few little pieces that had flaked off. I used some to add spice my cranberry sauce over Christmas and it gave a good cinnamon flavour. The smaller pieces have been placed in a small jar of sugar to infuse it ready for baking with at some point.

Thanks to all of the brands who sent me samples. As always all opinions are my own and I was not paid for any part of this post.

Monday, 26 January 2015

New on my bookshelf

I love reading cook books and I've been sent a couple of new ones recently to review. The first of these is French Regional Food by Joël Robuchon, recently crowned 'Chef of the century' by the Gault Millau guide, and Loïc Bienassis a specialist in French culinary heritage. A beautifully presented hardback book that covers the whole range of regional food available in France. The authors have divided French cuisine into regions based on their culinary identity and cooking techniques rather than using the borders imposed by the French administration. As a fan of French food I've enjoyed browsing through the book and admiring the excellent photography and dreaming of future foodie holidays in France. I also liked the fact there were several pages devoted to the region of France my parents spent over 8 years living in. This is the Limousin, which is a stunning part of the country though perhaps less well known than the other more famous regions as it is inland and not a wine producing area. There is a recipe for black cherry clafoutis from the Limousin that looks delicious. Other regional dishes that caught my eye included the cassoulet from Toulouse and the sauerkraut au saumon from the Alsace, a good example of German influence on the food of the region.

Even though it is a large book (312 pages) it only contains 50 recipes (not all have an accompanying picture), however there is a lot of information about the myriad of regional specialities in France with well researched information on over 200 local ingredients including a wide selection ranging from the fabulous seafood of Brittany to some of the lesser known cheeses in smaller regions of France such as Valençay, a soft goats cheese made in the Berry region and shaped into a pyramid then dusted with charcoal. Whilst it is no doubt a well thought out book, I do think it is more of a reference book than a recipe book, perfect for those who would like to research a region before visiting. Or perhaps to find out more about a dish or an ingredient that you may have come across on holiday. I think that if you consider yourself to be a Francophile then this is a great book to have to get more insight and background into French food.

French Regional Food is published by Frances Lincoln in hardback and available to buy now from all book retailers for £25 RRP.

The second book that I have received recently is Greens 24/7 by Jessica Nadel, a Canadian blogger who writes at Cupcakes and Kale. This is a book with over 100 recipes all designed to get you to eat more green veg. Not just the leafy greens like kale either, pretty much all of the green vegetables you can think of from asparagus and courgette to pea and watercress are included in this book. Each of the recipes has a photo (sometimes on the opposite page) alongside the nutritional breakdown. At the beginning of the book there is a guide to all of the green vegetables featured and some sample menu plans. As this is a vegan book there is also a page devoted to introducing some of the other possibly less familiar ingredients used throughout such as tofu and chia seeds. The rest of the book is divided into chapters for smoothies and breakfasts, green sides and small bites, green soups and salads, green main meals and finally green cakes and desserts.

Although I haven't made anything from the book yet I have been feeling inspired to eat a lot more green veg after reading the recipes. Our diet is generally pretty good though lately we've not been eating quite as well as we should due to me not having been in the mood to cook properly some nights. A few of the recipes that have grabbed my attention and that I will be trying out soon include broccoli and greens 'quiche', kale and walnut pesto, sweet potato and greens burger, chocolate hazelnut avocado torte and finally spinach ginger cookies, these sound particularly interesting. I'm very impressed with the creative ways that Jessica has managed to work greens into so many different desserts, there are 20 recipes in this chapter each containing some green veg, albeit only in very small amounts in a few of the recipes. The smoothie recipes also look great with a good range of different flavoured green smoothies which I'm looking forward to trying when I replace my broken blender. Overall I think this book has lots of clever ideas to help incorporate more green vegetables into your diet without it seeming like too much of a chore.

Greens 24/7 is published by Apple Press in paperback and is available to buy now from all book retailers for £14.99 RRP.

Disclaimers: I was sent these books by the publishers to review. I was not required to write positive reviews and all opinions are my own. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Pear & vanilla pies with sweet almond pastry

It's done, it's finally all over (almost). For those who may not have seen me excitedly tweeting and posting on Facebook last week, I passed my PhD viva last Monday. It's a very strange feeling that after just over 9 years of being a student (3 years undergrad, 2 years P/T masters and 4 years PhD) I have now finally finished and can now call myself Dr Price! Well almost, I still have to make a few minor revisions to my thesis but once my examiner is happy with them then I will have officially finished and be able to graduate this summer. I wanted to write this post sooner, but after having been very nervous and stressed in the weeks leading up to my viva I ended up spending most of the last 10 days sleeping a lot and not feeling very well. I never used to get particularly worried before exams but the thought of having to spend a couple of hours answering questions and defending my work was quite a scary prospect. Fortunately my examiners were both lovely and they asked some really interesting questions (I've forgotten most of them now) which lead into some good discussions about the science in my field. They were both very keen for me to write up my results into papers for academic journals so I'll be getting started on that soon which is quite exciting.

As I've not really been feeling up to much lately I haven't really been doing much interesting cooking and virtually no baking though I did knock up these pies a couple of weeks ago after picking up a packet of reduced price pears. Before Christmas I made loads of mince pies and froze them and my boyfriend enjoyed being able to take one to work in his lunchbox every day. Once they were all gone he asked if I could make some different pies for him to take in. I also liked having little pies on hand in the freezer ready to defrost for a quick snack so I came up with these. The almond pastry wasn't really planned, I was looking up a recipe for sweet shortcrust pastry in the Higgidy cookbook and one of the variations was to add finely chopped almonds. I had just enough almonds in the cupboard and I thought this would make a nice change from normal pastry.

These pies are easy to make though it does take a while to make the filling as the pears release a lot of liquid which needs to reduce down before being wrapped in pastry. I originally decided to just go for vanilla as the main flavouring but felt like the filling was missing something so I flicked through my copy of the Flavour Thesaurus, a great resource to have, and it suggested cardamom and cinnamon work well with pear. I added a pinch of each as I just wanted to add a very subtle hint of spice without overwhelming the quite delicate pear and vanilla combination. I'm glad I added the spices as they complemented the pear very well and also worked well with the almond pastry. Now I've seen how tasty nutty pastry can be I want to bake with it more often, it also adds an extra little crunch which is very satisfying.

I ended up freezing most of these pies and they defrosted nicely, the only problem is that I didn't make enough and there are no more pies left now! I'm going to have a play around with other fruits soon to come up with more pies as they really are handy for lunchboxes.

Ingredients - makes 20

For the filling:
6 ripe pears, cored and roughly chopped
knob of butter
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
45g golden caster sugar
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cardamom

For the pastry: (Adapted from 'The Higgidy Cookbook')
250g plain flour plus extra for dusting
50g icing sugar
pinch of salt
135g butter, cold and cut into small cubes
50g finely chopped almonds
1 medium egg, beaten
2-3 tbsp cold water

To finish:
beaten egg for glazing
icing sugar for dusting

  • Start by making the filling, place all of the ingredients in a medium sized pan, heat until the butter is melted, stir well and bring to the boil then simmer until the pears have broken down and most of the liquid has evaporated. This will take about 30-45 minutes depending on how juicy your pears are. Remove from the heat and leave the filling to cool, this stage can be done in advance and the filling stored in the fridge overnight if you prefer. 
  • For the pastry add the flour, icing sugar, salt and butter to the bowl of a food processor and blend briefly until you get a breadcrumb like texture. Next add the almonds and pulse briefly to combine then add the egg and water and pulse until the pastry starts to come together. Use your hands to bring it all together into a ball and knead briefly. Alternatively make by hand by rubbing the butter into the flour and sugar, then mixing through the almonds before adding the egg and water and stirring through with a round bladed knife. All pastry recipes tell you to rest the pastry before rolling out, I hardly ever bother and didn't rest it for these pies. But if unlike me you're not impatient then shape the pastry into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour. 
  • Preheat the oven to 180C and line a couple of baking trays. Dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with a little flour and roll out the pastry to about 3-4mm thick and cut out circles using a 10cm round pastry cutter. Re roll the trimmings and repeat until you have used all the pastry.
  • Divide the filling evenly between the pastry circles placing it in the middle of each one, dip your finger in a cup of water and use this to moisten the edges of the pastry all the way round. Then carefully fold over the pastry to seal in the filling and create a half moon shape. Press down lightly along the edges with your fingers to seal then use a fork to create indentations along the edge. Poke a few steam holes in the top of each pie then transfer to the baking trays and brush all over with the beaten egg. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the bottoms are done, we don't want soggy bottoms! 
  • Cool on a wire rack then dust with icing sugar just before serving. These are best eaten still slightly warm with a cup of tea. 

I posted a teaser photo of these pies on Instagram after I baked them a couple of weeks ago so I could show off a cool little present my friend bought me for Christmas.

I've had a look for more pear recipes to try next time I see them for a good price and here are a few that I'd like to try. 

Finally, this seems like a long post for my first one for a while, I'm linking up with a few blogging challenges.

Credit Crunch Munch run by Helen (current host) and Camilla as I used reduced price fruit, Bake of The Week, Cook Blog Share, Recipe of the Week. Teat Time Treats run by Karen and Jane (current host) as the theme is lunchbox treats and that's what I baked these pies for, and The Biscuit Barrel challenge run by Laura, hosted this month by Alexandra, where the theme is something new, for me the almond pastry was a new technique.