So rewarding, and so simple to make. No need for mysterious powder or ominously yellow stuff from a tetra pack; just make your own. It’s quick and easy to make, delicious, and free from artificial stabilisers, preservatives, colouring, other E-numbers and whatnots. You don’t even have to faff about with the Bain-Marie if you are careful.
Follow these steps:
Have 5 fresh medium sized free-range eggs ready at room temperature.
Mix half a pint of double cream with half a pint of whole milk and gently heat the mix in a saucepan. Use one with a heavy bottom so that it retains some heat when taken off the fire.
Meanwhile, separate the five eggs. Keep the whites for something useful; we only need the yolks for custard. Whisk the yolks with four to five generous tablespoons of sugar (80 to 100 g) until foamy. Add the seeds from one vanilla pod, or an equivalent amount of vanilla essence.
When the milk-cream-mix reaches boiling point, remove it from the heat, then whisk in the egg mix. Whisk vigorously for one minute more than you think necessary. The residual heat is enough to cook the egg but you must avoid scrambled egg, especially near the bottom and the edges of the pan.
Pour into a suitable jug or container and let cool down to room temperature, then chill in the fridge until it is time to serve it, perhaps with a fruit crumble.
Well that’s a very simple recipe, but it has a place here because I keep forgetting the correct proportions. For the record:
To make four portions of fruit-crumble-and-custard, mix
50 g butter, soft but not runny,
50 g ground almonds,
50 g white wheat flour and
50 g caster sugar.
Its 1 : 1 : 1 : 1, how hard can it be to remember?
I make this hours before the meal. Bring the four ingredients together with an electric mixer, add a handful chopped toasted hazelnuts at the end, and put in the fridge until it is time to bake the fruit crumble for approximately 18 minutes at 180 C.
Following on with the theme and tone set by the Sexy Salads article, this is about Sexy Soups. Soups which surprise, which take you on a journey of discovery through different colours, textures and tastes, soups for more than just to stain your shirtfront.
They can be vegetarian, but I confess that pork belly with crisp skin, or a juicy chicken breast, a pink seared duck breast, some prawns or at least a poached egg or a poached egg yolk are normally my very personal star of the show.
I usually begin with chicken stock, nice and easy to make and less overpowering when compared to a beef stock. I get a whole chicken, fill it with plenty of grated fresh ginger and garlic, then add enough cold water for the soup I need. This will gently simmer for 90 minutes, after which I remove the pot from the heat but leave everything to cool down as is.
One idea is to remove the breast before the cooking. They don’t really add to the soup but can be seared with rosemary butter, then served with the soup. It all depends on your plans for the soup and tomorrow’s meal.
When the soup has cooled down, remove the meat and discard the bones. The meat should make for a fabulous Chicken Fricassee on the next day, or perhaps a quick Coq au Moutarde or a sexy chicken salad with the remaining fennel, apples, oranges and bitter chicory.
A little extra effort pays dividends: whisk up one or two egg whites until they are just foamy, then add to the cold soup. Gently bring it back to the boil, occasionally lifting the egg white very gently off the pot’s bottom in the beginning to prevent it from sticking. Once the soup is at the boiling point and all the egg whites are floating on the surface, drain through a mousseline sheet or at least a very, very fine sieve to complete the clarification.
The rest is up to you, your imagination and whatever you’ll find in the back of the fridge or kitchen larder: croutons from garlic bread are always nice with a broth, and so are mustard greens, skinned cherry tomatoes or charred little Gem lettuce. Mushrooms and egg noodles perhaps, or fresh garden peas and a poached duck egg yolk?
It always pays to heat some clarified butter and crisp fresh Sage leaves to top the soup, but young pea shoots, cress, radish or mustard shoots are also nice for visual appeal, a bit of a spicy bite and a fresh taste.
Friend Linda declined the honour, but she gets it anyway as she introduced me to these very lovely Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti. They are easy to make, lovely looking, perfect with the coffee after a meal, or just at any time.
It’s an American recipe and comes in cup measures, but I added a translation. This is my version of it:
2 cups white wheat flour (250 g)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter (110 g)
3/4 cup sugar (100 g)
2 large free range eggs
1/2 vanilla pod
1 cup shelled pistachios (two handful)
1 cup dried cranberries, alternatively dried cherries or blueberries (two handful)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Roast the pistachios lightly in a non-sticking frying pan. Wrap the hot pistachios in a tea towel and rub the chaff off, then set aside to cool down a little.
Beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the seeds from the vanilla pod. Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt.
Toss the berries with the cinnamon. Add the pistachios and fruit to the dough mix, stir in well.
Cover a flat tray with baking parchment. Form two logs from the dough, about 1 inch high and 1 .. 2 inch wide. Leave 3 inches between the logs.
Bake at 160 C (325 F) until golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool down at least for 30 minutes, then slice and bake the slices for approximately 7 minutes on each side until they begin to colour.
Another base recipe for which I keep forgetting the proportions, so here’s my standard shortcrust base for the record:
200 g white wheat flour,
100 g butter (soft but not runny).
Whisk together vigorously with an electric mixer, adding one egg and a teaspoon of cold water over time.
This makes a sticky dough.
Many suggest to clingfilm it, then chill and roll when cold.
I prefer to get it done there and then. I roll it immediately between two sheets of baking parchment or greaseproof paper, then cut to size. Now I let it rest in a cool place until I need it, for example when making Apple Tarte Tatin for dessert.
I suppose you might be tempted to sweeten the dough for a sweet cake, such as a thin apple cake glazed with Calvados and apricot jam. I don’t have a very sweet tooth and usually find that the sweet topping is sweet enough so I don’t need to add sugar to the base but it’s up to you!
This is a lovely meal, but as most good soups go, it is not quite a one pot wonder. It pleased the good wife last night though, what more can I ask?
Then she took photos almost more delicious than the meal itself, don’t you agree?
I prepared each element separately to do it justice: a slightly creamy soup made from crayfish bisque, Monkfish gently seared in Rosemary butter, king prawn tails seared in chilly oil and garlic, mussels steamed with shallots and white wine.
There are no carbohydrates to spoil it, so you should probably start with a bread dough to have fresh, crispy and piping hot bread to go with it. I usually make a simple plain Fougasse from 120 g flour per diner, which is great for texture and for mopping up the remaining bisque.
While the dough is proving, cut a bulb of fennel, a red onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and set aside. Dice a large handful of tomatoes and set aside.
Now prepare two large handfuls of king prawns, tiger prawns or similar variety. It is tempting to purchase the readily cleaned frozen stuff, but here it is essential to use whole prawns, defrosted if previously frozen.
Trim the head off and set aside. Skin the tail, optionally leaving the last element of skin at the very tail on. This makes eating messy but more engaged and more fun. Keep the skin with the heads, slice the top of the tail lengthwise and remove the intestines.
Heat a large pan, melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Sear the fennel, onions and garlic until they begin to caramelise, then add the prawn offcuts, heads, skin and all. Keep going at a fairly high heat, stirring occasionally, until the prawns also caramelise. Add a dried red chilly and a star anise, a pinch of salt.
(Now is the perfect time for putting the bread in the oven.)
Add the tomatoes, a glass of white wine, a glass of cold water. Turn down the heat, cover and slowly bring to a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, clean the Monkfish. Your fishmonger probably skinned it for you, but you must go over it again and very thoroughly remove the thin layers of skin. These skins turn hard when cooking and are the first reliable sign of quality cooking, or the absence thereof, when ordering a Monkfish-based dish in a restaurant. Discard the skins and set the fish aside.
Clean the mussels: discard the dead ones (those which are open and aren’t closing when knocked gently). Remove all dirt from the living ones by scraping off smaller barnacles, remove the bast, brush the outside under clean water.
Now drain the soup through a sieve, squeezing it thoroughly to get all the lovely juices out. Use the same pot to melt two tablespoons of butter until is beginning to turn brown, whisk in one tablespoon of white wheat flour, then slowly whisk in the strained soup. Turn the heat down to avoid it boiling again, add a generous splash of double cream and season to taste with salt. Set aside on very low heat.
Rub some stale white bread with garlic and tomato and gently fry into croutons, adding olive oil as late as possible, as little as possible.
Heat a tablespoon of butter, add a splash of olive oil, and gently sear the Monkfish. Add fresh rosemary or thyme if you can. Keep on moderate heat, turn over once in a while and spoon some of the herb-infused butter over it all the time.
Dice a small onion, perhaps a clove of garlic. Melt in some oil quickly, add the mussels and half a glass of white wine. Put the lid on, steam for 3 minutes.
Meanwhile heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add a dried red chilly or a teaspoon of chilly flakes and gently stir-fry the prawn tails while beginning to plate up:
The croutons form the centrepiece because they also make a little podium for the Monkfish, which I will cut into thick slices for serving. Add the soup, add the prawns and mussels.
Dress with spring onions, chopped parsley, cress, pea or mustard shoots.
Add a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar glaze, pumpkin oil or chilly oil for that extra professional look, although I don’t think this adds appeal on this occasion.
We love sexy salads, by which I mean complex salads with layers and multitudes of flavours, colours and textures. The in-house joke is to quickly make a salad but these are of course anything but quickly made. They’re much better when you take your time for preparation and execution. Just like sex, really.
This is not so much a recipe but a concept, and an invitation to become creative even if it is only about an assortment of leftovers.
The must recent sexy salad was based on Lambs Lettuce with a Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing, supported by charred little Gem lettuce, red and yellow cherry tomatoes. Raddish and spring onions in a soured cream dressing, beetroot dressed in Balsamic Vinegar, cress and slices of fresh pear and avocado complete the support team to feature slices of our recently made Game Terrine, crisped Black Pudding, soft-boiled quail eggs dressed with fennel seeds and baked goats cheese. Oh, and a gorgeous drizzle made from reducing pear poaching liquor with Japanese rice vinegar.
That, and a glass of wine, and a fresh bread, and Bob’s your uncle.
Other variations of this theme featured chicken livers, Feta or goats cheese, chicken breast. Poached eggs or poached egg yolks, Raspberries when in season, scallops, prawns and just about anything else you can imagine: sauteed or pickled mushrooms, caramelised onions, pickled onions and vegetables, fennel shavings, grilled summer vegetables or green asparagus, fresh mango, fresh broad beans all worked well on many prior occasions. Croutons can provide extra crunch.
Few things are better than a real and really fresh Focaccia straight from the oven. The extraordinary amounts consumed with enthusiasm at our house on various occasions are simply stunning.
It is very easy to make, but you need to be around to see to it every 20 minutes over two or three hours:
Make a basic bread dough from 65 ml water on 100 ml white wheat flour. Use 400 g flour for a standard square baking tray, 250 g for a round one.
Prepare the dough. Roll it out after the second kneading and put it on baking parchment onto the tray.
Infuse 120 ml olive oil with a crushed glove of garlic and 4 crushed dried red chillies. (100 ml for a round tray).
Let the dough rise for 20 minutes, then apply the following treatment:
Use a fork to prick the dough. Penetrate the surface and 2/3 of the depth but don’t go all the way through. Then brush on as much of the oil as the dough will take; don’t let puddles sit on the surface but let it sink into your holes.
Repeat this every 20 to 30 minutes, at least four or five times or until all the oil has been absorbed. Then sprinkle with chopped rosemary and sea salt, optionally adding more red chilly flakes. Give it another 30 minutes to recover from this treatment.
Bake at 210 C (410 F) until it looks right, about 25 minutes.
Transfer on a cooling rack, cut and eat just as soon as you dare.
This is not so much a precise recipe than a concept, a base for improvisation. I expect that no two of these game terrine will ever be the same, but they will all be rather nice as a starter, or as a light lunch with fresh bread and a light salad.
I use 200 g each of venison leg, duck breast and fatty minced pork, and 100 g butter. The pork is already minced, so I chop the venison into coarse mince and cut the duck breast into strips after taking the skin off just so that I get a variety in texture rather than a smooth blend throughout.
Put into a mixing bowl, and add on beaten egg, one tablespoon of breadcrumbs, optionally two tablespoons Brandy. A handful of chopped dried Apricots, a handful of toasted pistachio nuts, Macadamia nuts or pumpkin seeds.
I season this with a tablespoon each of fennel seeds, allspice and sea salt, all finely ground.
Mix thoroughly and let rest for a while.
Meanwhile, I crisp rashers of bacon enough to line the terrine tray. Baking parchment comes first, then the crisped Bacon, then the meat mix. Pack this firmly to minimise trapped air, cover with the folded over baking parchment and bake at 160 C for 60 minutes.
Let cool down completely before opening the terrine.
A tangy Greek yogurt ice cream served with poached pears and nuts.
For the ice cream, I make a custard from 250 ml double cream, 60 g sugar, four free-range egg yolks and half a vanilla pod. Whisk in a paste made from a heaped tablespoon of corn starch, this helps keeping the ice cream in shape later.
Whisk in 500 ml of Greek Yogurt in the last few seconds, remove from the heat. Let cool down, then chill. Churn it just after the main course; chilled well, this only takes about 30 minutes in the ice cream machine.
Poach one or two pealed and cored pears with 1 tablespoon of sugar and one start anise each in 250 ml water or rice wine vinegar. Take the fruit out after approximately 30 minutes, increase the heat and reduce the liquor to a thick honey consistency.
Poaching in rice wine vinegar will probably need sweetening with honey or apply jelly but makes a nice sharp contrast to the sweet ice cream.
The version in these photos uses a Balsamic Caramel. Good old Salted Caramel or simple Balsamic Glaze would also be nice, and so would be natural dark honey.
Add some toasted and chopped pistacho or macadamia nuts for added crunch and good looks.