Tips: Pickling

Pickling is awesome. It’s more than likely that you will have most (if not all) the ingredients needed to pickle vegetables already at home, if not then you shouldn’t expect to pay out too much to start. Pickling is an effective way of preserving and adding flavour to food, and it’s not a lot of effort to do either. Here’s a rather basic, but (in my opinion) one of the best pickling liquor recipes:

  • 150g white wine vinegar
  • 150g water
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 1tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1tsp chilli flakes
  • 1tsp table salt

You can of course alter this to your own liking. Mustard seeds are pretty much a must; they add a taste that’s hard to describe, but if you’ve ever eaten a pickle you’ll be more than familiar with the smell and taste of these bad boys. I like to add chilli flakes because it adds a satisfying amount of heat to the sweet and sour taste – it just works.

Enough backstory, so first thing’s first: sterilise your jar(s). Preheat your oven to 140°c – things are about to get wild.

20180705_181102[1]
Wash first, realise you left the label on later
From this point forward, I’m going to assume that you’re taking the time to sterilise just one jar like I did (gotta save money, you know). After you’ve washed the jar with hot, soapy water, you’ll need to dry it with a clean cloth and then take it apart – it’s a lot of effort, I know. Place your jar on a tray (minus all the metal bits and the label) and place in the oven for 15 minutes.

20180705_181850[1]
I didn’t know at this point what I know now – I’m not qualified to reconstruct jars in a timely manner.
Put your jar back together again (quicker than I did, hopefully) and prepare the liquor. It’s quite simple, you just need to add everything into the jar and stir it a bit – the sugar will dissolve in good time after being annihilated by the vinegar, so don’t worry. I decided to pickle some shallot, which I used later for a salad. I’m a fan of slicing these into rings because it means that they pickle (taking on the liquors’ flavour) in a shorter amount of time. I would allow about a week before eating these – they will have softened up nicely by this point.

Place your sliced shallots into the liquor, and just like that you’re ready to forget about them until you wake up at 2am and need a snack. Unfortunately pickled shallots lose their nice pink complexion (as you can tell from the cover photo on this blog post), but we can’t have everything we want now, can we?

20180705_185938[1]
That’s gotta be uncomfortable, right?

Cherry Bakewell Sponge

If you can’t be bothered to make frangipane (but enjoy cherry Bakewells), then you may be interested in what I have to offer.

Makes approx. 20 small (but fat) slices:

  • 210g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 210g golden caster sugar
  • 210g self-raising flour
  • 210g ground almonds
  • 3 medium-sized eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Flaked almonds to decorate

For the jam:

  • 200g pitted cherries (fresh or frozen)
  • 150g raspberries (also fresh or frozen)
  • 125g caster sugar

First and foremost, pre-heat your oven to 160°C if it’s fan-assisted, or 170°C if you’re stuck in the dark ages. Line a square/rectangular tray with baking parchment in preparation (the one I used was roughly 13 x 9 inches).

You’ll ideally need to have your jam made before you start mixing the cake batter, so I’ll list this in incredible detail as it’s basically rocket science. Weigh out your fruit and caster sugar (not the golden stuff), stick it in a saucepan and place it on a medium-high heat. You’ll need to boil this until it thickens up slightly (about 10 minutes). Be sure to taste the jam before you proceed with the next step – you may need to add some extra sugar if the fruit is particularly bitter.

When it reaches this stage, I would recommend straining this through a sieve (unless you like having raspberry seeds in your jam, in which case I won’t judge you too hard for skipping this step).

20180702_173617
This tastes better than it looks

Set this aside for the moment, as it’s time to either wash-up or make the cake. If you have a mixer, you can add all of the cake ingredients in at once and stir it a bit until everything’s nicely incorporated. If you’re like me and you don’t have access to this next-gen equipment, cream together the butter and golden caster sugar. Add in your eggs and mix the monstrosity until it looks slightly less monstrous.

20180702_171032
This is what butter and sugar looks like in its least natural form

Next, add everything else (except for the flaked almonds) and mix until it’s all incorporated.

20180702_171939
Almonds were harmed in the making of this blog post

Measure out half of your cake mix (roughly 500g) and spread this out evenly into your cake tin – using a metal spoon or your fingers is best. This will have an effect on how ‘normal’ your cakes will look when they’re cooked, as this will affect the ‘jam line’ (excuse the scientific term). You’ll then need to take your jam and spoon it over the sponge as evenly as you can – don’t worry if you missed some spots, you won’t notice this when you’re eating it as this will spread out somewhat while baking.

20180702_174013
I didn’t kill anyone, I promise

Now comes the horrible part if you’re a self-confessed perfectionist. Distribute the rest of the batter on top of this as evenly as you can. It will be very difficult to even the sponge out without mixing some of the jam in with the cake mix – this however won’t really matter once it’s baked. Sprinkle as many flaked almonds as you like onto the surface – it’s up to you how crazy you go.

20180702_174958

Place your soon-to-be cake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes. It should come away from the sides of the pan, but you may need to test it with a skewer to be certain if you’re not confident.

20180702_190535
Mr Kipling would be furious

Allow your cake to cool before slicing – I decorated mine with a touch of icing sugar, but this isn’t completely necessary. If you would like to have your cakes be more uniform, you can turn it upside-down while cooling to flatten the top a little. I wasn’t feeling it, so mine are uneven – sometimes rustic is best.

The Idea

Hello theoretical audience. I feel like an initial blog is something I don’t really need, but this site made it look like I needed to write one – so here it is. I suppose it could be useful to give anyone who may be reading this a little bit of a backstory into why this page now exists.

20150409_203212000_iOS
Note: This was the first dessert I ever created for a restaurant. First blog post, first dessert?

Reason Number 1: Boredom

I used to be a chef and I like to eat and cook. That sentence couldn’t have been more boring if I tried, but long story short, that is the biggest reason for why I’ve decided to write about food. My plan is to update this blog every now and then with pictures of food, recipes of my own, and give some tips and techniques that I’ve learnt from my time in the industry.

I was going to write more reasons, but really that’s the gist of it. This isn’t going to be another food blog that you see online that takes itself incredibly seriously, I’m not about that. Cooking is relatively straightforward when you understand the basics and my hope is to maybe help some readers think the same way a chef does.

Lemon Sponge (With Icing)

This recipe is pretty simple, but it does take time to make. You won’t need to stand in the kitchen for extended periods of time though, as you’ll mostly be waiting for cakes/icing to cool down before you can proceed with the rest of the recipe.

(Makes 8-10 slices)

For The Sponge:                                            

225g Unsalted Butter

225g Caster Sugar

225g Self-Raising Flour

4 Medium-Sized Eggs

1 Lemon’s Finely Grated Zest

 

For The Icing:

300g Icing Sugar

3 tbsp Boiling Water

1 Lemon, Juiced

 

Preheat your oven to 180°c before you start anything else. Now you’ve got the hard part out of the way, make sure your butter is at room temperature, or at least soft enough to be workable (the microwave is a viable option). Measure out the sugar and the butter into a mixing bowl, and cream together until it thoroughly combines. This step is a lot simpler if you have a mixer of some description. I don’t as I’m living in the stone ages. To combat this, there is a cheat you can do if you don’t want to cream sugar and butter together for ages.

 

If you combine the sugar and butter and add in your eggs and whisk, you can simulate what you’d be doing if you had decent cooking equipment. It turns out it’s a lot easier to whisk a loose liquid than it is to mix two thick substances with a spoon. Who knew?

Note: If you have a mixer, you can add in everything all at once and mix to save time and effort. The ‘all-in-one’ method is completely viable.

Once you’ve creamed the sugar, butter, and eggs, you can now sift in your flour. Before you mix, add in your finely grated lemon zest and save yourself some time.

20180613_151857
*Whisk sold separately*

Mix this just enough to incorporate, and stop when you think it looks like cake batter. This is what cake batter looks like:

20180613_152322
– Cake batter

You’ll need to line the bottom of your cake tin with parchment paper so it doesn’t stick. The best way to do this is to keep hold of the butter wrapper and use the remnants to lightly grease the tin – this will allow your parchment to sit nicely in place.

20180613_144431
Snug

When you’re confident that everything looks as it should, pour the batter into your cake tin. You’ll need to smooth the mix out to achieve even cooking – the best way to do this is with a tablespoon.

20180613_152616
Close enough

Once you’re happy with your newly acquired qualification as a plasterer, you can get cooking. Put your sponge into the centre of the oven, cooking at 180°c for 18 minutes. Make sure you don’t open the oven door for any reason, unless you’re feeling a little sadistic and enjoy wasting your time ruining cakes.

When the 18 minutes are up, you’ll need to turn the oven down to 150°c and continue to cook for 8 minutes. This helps to cook the inside of the cake without browning the outside more than what is necessary. When the time comes to remove your sponge from the oven, you’ll need to leave it in the tin for 10 extra minutes. You can tell when a cake is cooked because it comes away from the sides. However if you’re unsure and you don’t trust this recipe, you can always poke it with a skewer in the centre to see if your cake is adequately cooked.

 

Prepare a sheet of parchment paper that is big enough to comfortably cover your sponge. Once the 10 minutes of tin resting is over, place this additional parchment over the top and flip the tin over (as pictured) onto a baking tray or whatever you have that is flat and will comfortably fit in the fridge. The reason for flipping is to flatten the top as much as possible to give a consistent shape to your sponge when you portion it later on. Place in the fridge for at least an hour.

It isn’t completely necessary to do this next step, but feel free to join my wasteful habits in order to create the Mr Kipling effect. Now your sponge is cold enough to work with, trim the top to create a flat surface. You’ll be pouring the icing on top of what was the bottom of the cake in this instance – trimming the top as best as you can will result in a better-presented sponge.

The icing is the easiest part of this recipe – you don’t even have to sieve the icing sugar (I learnt this because I’m lazy). Simply combine your weighed out icing sugar with the hot water and lemon juice. It will be difficult to whisk at first, but should all come together nicely once the liquid is incorporated. Add extra water if needed, but bear in mind that you will need to have the icing thick so it sets nicely at room temperature.

20180613_183216[1]
*Not Meringue*
Once you’re happy with the consistency, pour it over your sponge. Make sure it covers the sides (obviously) and that it’s coated as evenly as possible. You can tip the tray while holding onto the parchment underneath the sponge to manipulate the icing. Refrigerate again for another hour or so.

Now comes the fun part where you get to eat the trimmings. Using a serrated blade, square off your cake. You can then portion your slices in whichever shape/size you like – I went with 8 rectangles.

20180613_230212[1]
Just like the ones my school used to make
You can stop here if you can’t be bothered to wait any longer. However, I felt the need to pipe some chocolate onto the top of mine to make them look slightly more edible. I did this by taking 50g of milk chocolate and microwaving it in the piping bag. I zigzagged the chocolate, but you don’t have to commit to such a crazy act if you don’t feel like it.

As a side note, I made the cakes pictured in support of the Alzheimer’s Society. It’s a worthy cause, and it’s a great way of raising money while eating cake. It’s a win-win really.

20180614_053049[1]
I felt like cutting the chocolate ones differently ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (sue me)

Tips: Cooking Pork Loin

There’s all sorts of different advice you can read from different chefs regarding food. Some are scientifically proven and others… Not so much. My aim here is to provide tips for somewhat simple tasks that will make your life easier, and will (hopefully) take some of the stress out of cooking.

Pork is arguably the tastiest and cheapest meat you can buy, and learning how to cook it properly is something I would recommend. In this example, I’m using pork loin steaks, which you can buy from pretty much every supermarket out there for under £3.

The first thing to note about pork, is that it has been acceptable to serve it pink for over 7 years, but restaurants and home cooks seem late to adopt this change. Previously, the FDA recommended that pork be served with an internal temperature of 71°c (well-done), but they now recommend 63°c (medium). If you’ve cooked pork loins before, you may have noticed that it’s possible to cook them to an internal ‘medium’ temperature, but the inside is mostly grey as opposed to staying nice and pink like you would experience with beef. This disappoints me, let’s riot.

20180607_1237045545060620360524936.jpg
Make sure you season before cooking. It looks tasty and sets the mood.

The most important part about cooking meat is the heat. Unfortunately, when you buy pork loin steaks in a supermarket, they’re pretty much always cut really thin. If you don’t want to overcook your meat, you’ll need to do the opposite of what sounds normal: turn the heat up as high as possible. This not only creates a nice browning on the outside of the meat, but it also creates texture and allows you to get this desired colour before overcooking internally.

Place a frying pan on the highest heat you can, and wait until the oil gets ‘smoky’. Bear in mind that once you add the pork into the pan, the temperature will drop.

 

20180607_1239115980532963849572562.jpg
If I set the heat any higher, my hob will explode.

You’ll need to render the fat down first, and the best way of doing this is to tip the pan forward. This allows the oil and fat in the pan to gather, where you’re able to essentially ‘deep-fry’ the fatty side of the steaks.

20180607_1559147906486667348279334.jpg
Exhibit A

Once you’ve adequately rendered the fat of the meat, begin step 2 (this is coming up, keep reading). At a high heat, you should only need to flip the steaks 4 times in total. Do this every 15 seconds – this will maximise the time you have to get a nice colour on the outside before the internal temperature rises too much.

20180607_1601142996515662279548861.jpg
First flip; the beginning of colour (the name of my upcoming album).

If you’re not confident at winging the timings, you can alternatively use a thermometer to take an educated guess as to when to take the meat away from the heat. Depending on how well-done you like to eat your pork dictates when you will need to take the steaks out of the pan. Keep in mind that you will need to rest the meat for at least 3 minutes, and every minute the internal temperature will rise by 1°c while it continues to cook from the residual heat. If you like your pork cooked all the way through, aim for 65°c and rest the meat for 5 minutes. For medium, aim for 57°c.

20180607_1601404710020793369680387.jpg
Pro tip: don’t attempt to take a picture of a thermometer whilst the food is still in the pan.

Once you’ve reached the desired temperature, take the meat out of the pan and wrap it in clingfilm. This sounds gross and strange, but you’ll thank me later (probably). This keeps the steaks warm and will allow you to easily collect the resting juices for use in sauces (should you choose to).

20180607_1601598633553636589618908.jpg
Disgusting.

As I had the time and ingredients to do so, I sliced some shallots to serve alongside my steaks. I prefer these to white/red onions, as they’re sweeter and make me sound like I’m posher than I actually am. They also cook quickly too – I fried these in the pan juices with a little salt.

 

Creamy Pasta with Chicken and Bacon

Do you like bacon? Cool.

You will need to buy or scavenge (Serves 4):

  • 250g Chicken Breast
  • 150g Smoked Bacon (back or streaky, your preference)
  • 375g Fusilli Pasta
  • 300g Double Cream
  • 1 Small White Onion
  • 200g Chestnut Mushrooms
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 60ml White Wine
  • 1 tsp Parsley (preferably fresh)

 

First things first, I should say that the above recipe is to only be used as a guide. This is a somewhat obvious statement, but I should let you know that most (all) chefs don’t weigh out ingredients for recipes like this one. You’ll see from the pictures below that I used slightly different ingredient amounts because I only need to cook for 2 people – you may need to adjust to suit your household.

Prepped Onions
Start by preparing all of the ingredients before you start cooking. As with most pasta dishes, you can get everything cooked in less time than it would take most people to chop vegetables.

Stick a pan of salted water on a high heat (you’ll need it at boiling point, so start this early on). You’ll then need to finely dice the onions, mushrooms, and garlic. If you can’t be bothered to chop the garlic, you can instead use a cheese grater to achieve a similar size. Stack the rashers of bacon on top of each other, cut into long, thin strips and finely dice this too. Back bacon would be better to use as there’s less fat to trim (I used leftover streaky bacon, so don’t judge). I’m not going to describe how to cut chicken, I hope you can figure this out on your own.

Place a large saucepan on a high heat, drizzle a little oil in the pan and wait. Once it starts to ‘smoke’, add your bacon in and cook until the fat renders down. Add in your chopped veg and meat then continue cooking until everything is adequately cooked through.

pjimage (1)
Normally you would need to brown off your chicken, but as it’s cut small there’s no need to waste time on this step.

Once you’ve brought the pan of water up to boiling point, add in the dried pasta and cook per instruction on the pack, minus 2 minutes. Once the pasta is ready to come off the heat, run cold water over it to stop it from overcooking. Drain the pasta through a colander and reserve until you need it later on.

The next step is to deglaze the pan with the white wine. I went with a cheap Pinot Grigio that I bought from Sainsbury’s about 5 months ago – you wouldn’t be able to tell. Don’t get roped into buying expensive wines to cook with, the difference in quality is negligible after the alcohol is cooked out. Once the liquor has reduced, you’ll need to add in most of your cream. It’s worth reserving some in the event that your sauce ends up too thick, just add in extra if this is the case – it’s a lot easier to add than it is to take away.

Add in your parsley, and season with salt and a touch of black pepper if you wish. I used dried parsley for convenience’ sake, although fresh is always better. It’s worth noting that your cream sauce will become thicker once you add in the pasta because of the starch content, so keep it looser than you think you’ll need it at this stage.

20180605_004932
Note: If I find you sprinkling chopped parsley around the plate for decorative purposes, I will hunt you down.

To finish off, you’ll need to add your (now cooled) pasta into your sauce. Remember that it’s currently al dente, so you’ll need to reheat it for a couple of minutes to finish off the cooking process. Check your seasoning and make sure the pasta is cooked, then serve.

pjimage (2)
Congratulations, you made a thing.