“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
. . .
Or Lemon Sorbet. Or Lemon Bavois. Or cut a slice and stick it in a Gin and Tonic. Lemon. Another sure fire ingredient that I didn’t hesitate to include in this list. Sure, we could have chosen lamb or langoustine, maybe lime or lychee. But the lemon undoubtedly came out on top!
Versatility is the key. A lemon can be the star of the show just as easily as it can be the flavour in the background; merely changing the complexity of a dish. It can be featured on a starter or dessert alike. It compliments fish as easily as it can be used with a dark, red meat like lamb. I find it extremely hard to think of any menu where I haven’t used lemon in some form. It’s just one of those basic ingredients that you should always have hanging around in your pantry.
Lemons are acidic. This means they go great with fatty foods. I can recall stopping at a pub restaurant near Reading on a long journey back from London and choosing to have the Chicken Risotto. When it arrived, I was pleased with my choice. It was full of butter, cream and cheese and was undoubtedly very flavoursome. However, when something contains so much fat, you will find that the fatty globules will coat the tongue and leave a real greasy after taste in the mouth. This results ultimately in a loss of flavour and it is the greasiness that prevails. To my surprise, when I asked for a lemon to squeeze over my meal, my request was met with much incredulity and astonishment. Luckily, I was granted this simple request and the lemon served to cut through the greasy layer that had already begun to coat my tongue. The acidity nullified the after effects of the high fat content and allowed me to enjoy the meal I had ordered.
I could explain the origin and the history of the lemon but a simple Google search can bring up what you are looking for. I could talk about the lemon that rolled down the hill, but it ran out of juice. . . I could bring up the story about the depressed lemon that had lost it’s zest for life . . I could keep going with the puns, but I wouldn’t want to leave you sour!
So instead I’m going to leave you with a recipe. The recipe that I have chosen this week is for Lemon Curd. I originally used this to make a Lemon Ravioli to serve with Strawberry and Champagne Soup. However, as with all things ‘lemon’, it can be used for a host of different recipes or simply be spread on a piece of toast. It can make an awesome base for a lemon meringue pie and is also a cheat way to make a Lemon Tart if you are pushed for time or suitable cooking utensils.
All you need is
Then, place on top of a pan of boiling water and reduce to a simmer.
Carefully stir the mixture, repeatedly scraping away from the sides of the bowl.
When the mixture has thickened and sticks to the back of the spoon, remove from the heat and poor directly into a container.
Place cling film or baking parchment directly on top to prevent a skin forming.
Finally, allow to chill and serve in whatever way you so desire.
If you find the mix has gone lumpy then your eggs have overcooked and it's time to throw it away. If you find that the mix is not setting then you haven't cooked it for long enough. Things can go wrong, but don't be disheartened by it. Keep trying
So another insightful and thrilling blog has come to an end. Next week I have decided to take a break from the A-Z and give you a little look into my new venture. We have starte making our own sausages. I decided it would be fun to share some of my experiences in this enlightening process.
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Kale. There you go. No beating around the bush this week - Kale is the one for me. I love the stuff. I love its deep, rich, iron taste. I love how it can go fresh into a salad or be cooked down with bacon and cream. It’s so versatile and I guess that’s why it was the first ingredient that I knew I wanted.
If we take a step back to where this all began; just like the Anchovy, Kale is something that I definitely didn’t appreciate as a child. In fact, looking back at the 11 blogs I’ve written so far, it appears that I didn’t really like anything to eat as a child! This is actually as far away from the truth as possible, as I used to eat everything that was put in front of me. Quite honestly, the story so far makes me wonder how I ever came to be a chef - with such a distaste for so many ingredients! But I guess that it’s the old mind playing tricks again (although I know I hated honey!!!).
So, Kale. It’s definitely one of those ingredients that, if not prepared correctly, can be more of a ‘turn off’ than a ‘turn on’. In my time, I’ve been served it overcooked, under seasoned, so insipid that it would make even the happiest of eaters turn their nose up. However, I’ve also enjoyed perfectly cooked kale with bacon and cream, to accompany a succulent piece of cod. Delightful!
Kale comes from the Brassica family or, as us laymen like to refer to it, the Cabbage family. Other members of this culinary dynasty are collards, brussel sprouts and broccoli. There has been a recent upturn in the amount of these vegetables that are being used. A lot of that can be put down to the fact that they are purported to have great health benefits. That would take another whole blog to go through, but let’s just say that the benefits are large and actually proven.
Kale itself comes in a variety of forms. The ones that I use most often are the Curly Kale and the darker variety known as Cavolo Nero (very predominant in Italian Cooking). Both are equally as excellent as the other but the Cavolo Nero does have a much stronger and richer taste. Personally, I find the curly Kale is better for drying out and eating crispy.
So that leads me onto another recipe I have for you. When we lived in America, we frequented a grocery store known as Trader Joes. Throughout my travels, I would have to say that Trader Joes in Piper Glen, Charlotte is probably my favourite food shop in the whole world. It had some of the best produce and the friendliest staff partnered with the most reasonable prices. New products were regularly gracing their shelves and at the back of the store, they had a mini kitchen where they would prepare these wares allowing customers to ‘try before they buy!’ On one (of our many) visits, there was a bag of Kale Crisps available to sample. This was to be the first time I’d ever tried them like that. Crispy and salty and full of flavor - they just melted in the mouth. I don’t really feel I can do it justice, so let me point you in the direction of the company themselves http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article/799
That got me thinking – could I do something similar at home? Many a subsequent hour was spent burning kale or waiting for the crisp crunch only to be met with a soggy, oily bite. However, after several attempts, I finally found what I was looking for. This recipe is even easier than last weeks. It’s also a 1000 times more nutritious and a lot healthier.
Set the oven to 175C.
Layer a baking tray with a piece of baking parchment.
Make sure to wash the kale and dry in a salad spinner.
Remove the stalks (if purchased whole) as these are nigh on inedible.
Place the Kale leaves into a bowl and add Olive Oil and Seasonings. Toss together.
Spread on baking sheet making sure that leaves are not stacked on top of each other.
You may have to do 2 batches if you have a small baking tray.
Place in oven for approx. 15 minutes - until crisp.
Remove from the oven and either eat straight away or allow to cool and eat later (store in an airtight container if you want to have it even later)
Therefore I decided to go with the Juniper Berry (although not actually a berry) - so from here I shall refer to is as ‘juniper’.
So what is the Juniper? For those uneducated in the dark arts of alcohol consumption, Juniper is the main flavouring for Gin. Gin is the main ingredient of the Gin and Tonic. A nice cold G and T is just what the Dr ordered on a hot summers evening. . . I digress. . .
Now, I don’t normally like to do this, but in these circumstances I feel that it is the easiest way to get down what I want and describe what a Juniper is. I am going to quote the great font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia (no hard statistics so there is less likelihood it’s terribly wrong).
‘A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers.
It is not a true berry but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a
However, it is worth noting how juniper compliments this, and other strongly flavoured game. It has a fruity flavor with overtones of citrus (hence gin goes well with tonic!) That fruitiness offsets the game flavours helping to cut through the meatiness and fattiness. Juniper is also a predominant ingredient in Sauerkraut (sadly not something I am wholly versed in making.)
Consequently, I thought I would give you my favorite recipe that uses Juniper. This one is definitely not for those averse to sweet things. It is one of those recipes that was the product of a large amount of experimentation with flavours and ideas. We were lucky enough to find a large supply of dried Junipers hanging around in the kitchen one day whilst I was working in the Pastry section. So, I bring to you, the Gin and Tonic White Chocolate Truffle!
1. Mix the Tonic, Gin, Sugar, Lemon Zest and Juniper Berries together and reduce by half.
2. Cool and then add the cream. Leave overnight to infuse
3. The next day, bring the cream mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat.
4. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then strain the cream mixture through a sieve onto the melted chocolate.
5. Mix together then put to the side and allow to cool.
6. Next, put the butter in a mixing bowl and whisk (using an electric mixer is probably easiest) until it has turned lighter and appears fluffy.
7. When the white chocolate mix has cooled to around 25-30°C, mix thoroughly with the butter and place into a tray lined with cling film to about an inch deep.
8. Place in the fridge and leave overnight.
9. Finally, take out the next day and either eat using a spoon or roll into small balls of about an inch in diameter and toss in cocoa powder and eat. Alternatively, you could melt some chocolate and dip the balls into this using a cocktail stick before chilling in the fridge again and then eating.
If you are not a fan of White Chocolate then you can replace with Dark Chocolate. The only thing to note would be that the resulting truffle mix will be harder and less pliable to roll. You will find that you have to cut it over rolling it. Still tasty though!
Well that brings to an end the letter J. Next week will be K. It was going to be an ‘offally’ obvious choice with Kidney, but decided against that . . .
So, I had a long, hard deliberation about what I could talk about for the letter I. I asked for suggestions and to be honest, there wasn’t many forthcoming. This could be down to the fact that the letter I is limited in the cooking department.
‘Iceberg’ lettuce (usable - but not a favourite)
Ink Squid (ok but, again, not a favourite)
Icing Sugar (Not sure if it's technically an I?)
. . . or even Irish Stout (maybe a bit dubious for I)
However, two occurrences happening almost simultaneously lead me to my choice for this letter. Firstly, a suggestion came in from an old University friend. This was then followed by a day in the kitchen making cakes, that made me realise how his suggestion was even more poignant.
In my A-Z of ingredients, I feel that “I” should represent the Ingredients themselves. Specifically, the importance of using the best ingredients when and where you can. It is easy, in this money conscious day and age, to want to buy the cheapest ingredients. Now in some cases, this will make little difference to the finished product. Take the example of a cucumber. To me there is little to no difference between a 39p cucumber and a 99p cucumber when you are blending it up and using the juice. However, let me take you back to my cake making adventure.
My brief was to make 2 Victoria Sponge Cakes. They had to be of equal size, so I chose to make 2 separate mixes rather than making a single mix and splitting it in half. Off I went to shop for ingredients. Where I brought two different types of butter. One was an expensive named brand and the other was the supermarket’s own brand. I’m not sure quite what possessed me to do this, but I feel it may have been some kind of subliminal fate casting its spell over me!
In the interest of fairness, I should point out that both makes of butter were treated in exactly the same manner. Both went into the same bag, both were out of the fridge the same period of time and both were diced and place into the bowl for the same period of time. So one wasn’t treated more favourably than the other.
The recipe I followed for the Victoria sponge required mixing together equal amounts of butter and sugar until they become light and fluffy. In the case of the more expensive butter, this was exactly what happened. It whipped up perfectly, eggs and flour were added and the mix was smooth, light and ‘cake like’. This is where things got interesting. I proceeded with the same method for the second cake with the cheaper butter. Rather than becoming light and fluffy, the butter split (or as some may call it, curdled). Now this mixture can still be baked and eaten, but the result is nowhere near as light as when it is made with a perfect batter.
So, I did some research on the reasons this may have happened. The most commonly accepted explanation is that the temperature of the ingredients were wrong. However, knowing that I did exactly the same for each cake, that doesn’t give me any answers. The only difference was the butter used. I looked at what they contained and saw there was a slight difference between them. Therefore, this led me to thinking about other ingredients. Why does cost make a difference?
Chickens are a classic example. Have you ever wondered why it cost less than 3 pounds for a chicken? Isn’t is a little odd that it costs so little for something that has been grown, killed, processed, packed and transported? There must be a reason that it’s so cheap – and quite possibly tasteless. Compare that to a free range, organically reared chicken. The price is definitely more, but the end result and flavour is so much greater. If you choose to cook a chicken dish with the latter, you will clearly notice the difference.
In my Honey blog, I referenced Manuka Honey. At one point, more of it was sold in a year than was actually produced. This was allegedly because certain countries were selling regular Honey and Sugar mix with a Manuka Honey label on it. Why, when we produce so much of something in this country, do we feel the need to import from these less than auspicious countries who are out to make a fast buck? Check the labels of what you buy. Be wary of imported goods and ask yourself why would it need to come from there?
Also, ask yourself why something is so cheap? I recently shopped with my daughter for Peanut Butter. I was horrified at what I discovered. Peanut Butter should be simply Peanuts and sometimes salt. I found makes of Peanut Butter with 8-10 ingredients on them. There is no reason for this, other than filling out a product with cheap ingredients, and perhaps giving it a slightly longer shelf life.
I don’t want to sit here and say that everyone should use organic, free range and extremely expensive ingredients in their cooking. I don’t believe that should be the case. But I do believe that we should think about where our ingredients are coming from and not buy products from afar that we can buy locally for near enough the same price. I believe that when you cook, spending a little bit extra on better ingredients can make the difference between a good dish and an excellent dish.
For my final thought, I will leave you with the ingredient - crab. We live on the doorstep of some of the best Crab available in the country. Restaurants in London pay to bring up Portland Crab, such is the quality of it. Compare that to a tin of Crab meat imported from abroad. There can be no contest when it comes to an ingredient like that.
Again, as is always the case, I feel I could talk for hours and hours about this subject. I could give a million examples. But again, time (and internet space), is limited.
Take stock, next time you go shopping. Have a look at what you buy and maybe spend a few extra pennies on that better quality ingredient.
Thanks for taking the time to read this again. I decided against pictures in this one as I couldn’t decide on what would be best for this one. The next blog is on the letter “J”. I was wondering if Jellied Eel was an ingredient or not? But whatever it is, I will have a few photos for you (and a bit more humour)