A little blog about food with recipes, reviews, commentary, and honesty.

I also offer event catering and private chef services; check out Earls Barton Eats! for more details.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Trend Aware for 2013: Intro

I believe I've expressed in a previous blog how intolerant I am to trends of any variety; be they food, or drink, or clothes, or authors, or dishcloths. I've never been a very 'trendy' person, even as a child I shunned the furbies and the tamagotchis and the pogs (and ultimately, friends). I haven't really put a lot of thought into why: maybe I'm just a contrary bastard, maybe I'm too cool, maybe I just can't be bothered with it all. 

We could go deep into the psychology of why some of us are compelled to worship the trendy and the popular and the new. Or I could not and we'd all be thankful for it. 

You see, I eat what I like when I damn well like. And I sort of resent being told that I have to go and eat something because it's IN or HIP or NOW. If you want to try something new then go out there and try it; whether it's the very latest in food-fashion or it's something your granny used to cook. I appreciate that sometimes we need a little nudge in the right direction, but please don't let yourself only be influenced by me (Lord, help you), or another blogger, or a journalist; be influenced by your own taste-buds and curiosity. 

And ultimately I feel very sorry for the foods who are deemed to be uncool or old-fashioned and I want to give them a little hug. In 2013 the utterly excellent macaroon is meant to make way for the not-so-elegant eclair. And fabulous, fresh noodle bars are being trounced by pie 'n' mash shops (the 'n' is somehow obligatory). 

Good food is for life, not just for trends. 

Then why, you must surely be asking, am I writing a series of blogs about the food trends of 2013? Well partly because, as I said before, I'm a contrary bastard. But mostly because they are foods that deserve a spotlight; not because they're HAPPENING but because they're really very good. 

Knowing about the latest food trends gives you an awareness of the variety of food that's out there; you can be trend aware without being a trend follower (or so the hipsters tell me). If you want to give them a go then do, if you glean some new ideas from them then excellent, but don't rush out on the next train and spuff half your month's wages in some hipster cafe in the East End because of a compulsion for keeping up with the Joneses. 

And no, I'm by no means the only food blogger who will be writing capaciously on this subject. But I may be the only one thinking more about the food than my own popularity. 

Don't fret, the rest of the year will be dedicated to unfashionable, dull, boring, brilliant, delicious food. 

Trend Aware for 2013, Part 1: Gourmet Hot Dogs - out on 03/01/12.

Friday, 21 December 2012

A Clichéd Christmas: Festive Party Nibbles

Onto another Christmas food cliché; the party nibble. For parties too drunken for them to be called 'canapés' and too aspirational to be called mere 'snacks', the 'nibble' is in all your faces at this time of year.  

The rules of party nibbles are such: they have to be small enough to eat in one bite or two, they're much cuter if they are in fact 'mini' versions of big food (OMGZ LOOK, IT'S MINI!), and the more bling the better. My party nibbles tick every box.

Throughout December you will be bombarded with glitzy TV adverts for supermarket party foods and, no doubt, be blinded with a vast array of foodie blog posts about them. But in this post taste is paramount, and relative ease for maximum nibble-osity is key.

(I say this post is about party nibbles, but frankly you can stuff your face with them all sat in front of the TV with your pyjamas for all I care.)

Mini Muffalettas

Full-size muffalettas are an iconic sandwich with it's origins in the Italian community of New Orleans. This nibble doesn't even need cooking; it's all in the assembly. See how good I am to you? 

Ingredients to make roughly 24:

1 square loaf of focaccia (you can use plain or any flavour, but I think slow-roasted tomato works best) 
3 slices of Emmenthal cheese
9 slices of salami Milano
8 slices of montadella
Baby spinach leaves
Roasted red pepper chutney (I use Tesco Finest)

Firstly to get the best shape trim the crusts off all four edges of the focaccia, and then slice in half through the centre to create one giant sandwich. 

Smother 3-4 of tablespoons of chutney over the soft side of each slice of focaccia, then cover the bottom slice with the baby spinach leaves. Then add two layers of the montadella (4 slices should completely cover the bread), followed by one layer of the Emmenthal, and finally one layer of the salami Milano. Top with the other slice of focaccia. 

Place the entire focaccia onto a solid board and cover with a length of clingfilm. Then put another board on top of the focaccia and weight down with a couple of tins. Leave this for at least 2 hours, or overnight if you have time, in order to squash the fillings together and prevent the muffalettas falling apart when cut up. 

When it's been sufficiently squished together remove the weights, board, and clingfilm and use a large knife to cut into small squares (about an inch square) and finish by piercing with a cocktail stick (for both practical and pretty reasons). 

Quail Scotch Eggs with smoked bacon

More OMGZ mini food now, but with a smoky bacon-y twist. 

Ingredients to make 12: 

12 quail's eggs (to make this even easier use ready-hard boiled and peeled eggs, available at Waitrose)
400g of sausage-meat
4 rashers of smoked back bacon
Salt and pepper
120g panko breadcrumbs (they're crispier than normal)
2 eggs, beaten 
4 tablespoons of plain flour
Vegetable oil, for deep frying

If you haven't taken my excellent advice or can't source the ready-prepped quail's eggs, start by boiling the eggs in water for 3 minutes, then plunge into iced water immediately. When they're cool carefully peel them, remembering to gently rinse off any leftover shell, and set aside. 

Fry the bacon in a tablespoon of oil until it's cooked, but not crispy, then remove the bacon from the pan and drain on a couple of sheets of kitchen roll. When it's cooled dice the slices reasonably finely. At this point you should also preheat the oil to 190c - it's safer and quicker to do this in a deep-fat fryer, but if you don't have one use a deep, heavy pan. Also preheat the oven to 200c (180c fan). 

Mix the sausage-meat with the oregano, seasoning, and diced bacon - I prefer to do this with my hands so that the ingredients are well and truly mixed together (and it's delightfully messy). 

Now set out the flour on a plate, the eggs in one bowl and the breadcrumbs in another. Take a small handful of the meat mixture (about twice the size of the egg) and roll into a ball using your hands. Then flatten the ball, place the egg in the middle, and fold the meat around it. When the egg is entirely covered roll in your hands again to regain the ball shape. 

Roll the egg in the flour and pat off any excess, then coat completely in the beaten egg, and then drop into the breadcrumbs and roll it around until it's covered. Fry the egg for 3-4 minutes until it's golden and crispy, then remove from the fryer and place on a couple of sheets of kitchen roll to drain. 

When all your eggs are fried put them on a baking tray and finish in the oven for 5 minutes. When they're done, allow to cool and then serve cut into halves. 

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tartlets

What am I forgetting? Oh yes - BLING. There are lots of ways to introduce the bling factor into your nibbles, but none as oozey or glam as these tartlets. 

Ingredients to make 12: 

320g of shortcrust pastry, ready-rolled (hey, it's Xmas, who wants to mess about with a rolling pin?)
200g of dark chocolate
175 of golden caster sugar
120ml of double cream
120g of butter, cubed (plus a little extra for greasing)
1/2 tsp of sea salt flakes
Gold leaf (for tarting up...) 

First preheat the oven to 200c (180c fan) and grease a 12-hole tartlet tray (the same you'd use for mince pies) with butter. Cut out circles of pastry with a pastry cutter that's slightly bigger than the diameter of the hole of the tray - this will ensure that the tartlet is the right shape and size. Place the pastry into the holes, prick the bottoms a few times with a fork, place a circle of greaseproof paper into each one, and finish with a few baking beans. Cook in the oven for 12 minutes, until crispy and cooked through. When they're done, remove from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack. 

In a heavy-bottomed pan gently heat the sugar with 3 tablespoons of water until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and then simmer for a couple of minutes until the syrup turns an amber, caramel colour (but don't stir!). Then carefully (it will spit) stir in the cream and salt, and then the butter. Leave aside to cool for a few minutes. While the caramel is cooling melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. 

When the caramel has cooled, but is still liquid, spoon into the tartlet cases. Fill them about 3/4 full. Then set aside to cool and firm up for about 10 minutes.  

When the caramel has firmed pour over a small amount of the melted chocolate, making sure the surface is level and shiny. While the chocolate is still liquid use a cocktail stick to carefully place a couple of flakes of gold leaf into the centre. Then place the tartlets into the fridge so that the chocolate cools and solidifies. 

The finished tartlets will be oozey in the centre and crisp on top. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A Clichéd Christmas: Cherry Tomato and Sweet Chilli Jam

I don't want to get all 'Kirstie's Homemade Christmas' on you but every year I make food hampers as gifts. Partly because I'm eternally poor and partly because I really like sharing my recipes with people and making them food which makes them smile. I'm such a cliché. 

As someone who is allergic to trends, I realise this may seem a bit faddy of me. But, in all honesty, I GOT THERE FIRST. I've been doing food hampers for ions, before it all got twee and fashionable and everyone from Nigella to Kirstie Bloody Allsopp was doing them. Every year I include staple items, which year on year everyone loves, and also new recipes and things I just fancy trying out. 

My cherry tomato and sweet chilli jam is one of the staples; it's perfect with crackers and cheese on Boxing Day or as a burger relish on NYE. It's a tingling combination of sweet, sour, and hot. I made my first batch this very morning, proving that it's the perfect thing to make as a last minute gift. 

Because I'm making this recipe at Christmas I've used tinned cherry tomatoes; in the summer please feel free to use an equal quantity of fresh British cherry tomatoes but in the winter you won't get the same flavour so use tinned instead. 

Ingredients to make 3 medium (8oz) jars: 

800g of tinned cherry tomatoes in natural juice (2 cans)
2 tsps of coriander seeds
2 tsps of cumin seeds
3 cloves of garlic
2 white onions
5cm lump of ginger
2 red chillies
300g of soft light brown sugar
250ml of white wine vinegar
2 tsps of dark soy sauce (for GF use a gluten-free soy sauce or you can leave it out completely and use a teaspoon of sea salt instead)
Olive oil

Firstly you need to make sure you sterilise your jars so that they're ready to use straight away when the jam is done. You can do this by putting them in the dishwasher, or a quick way is to put a drop of antibacterial washing liquid in each jar, fill to the brim with boiling water, and then leave the water to cool in the jar. 

Next you need to toast the coriander and cumin seeds so that they develop their full flavour and fragrance. I do this by using a specialist Indian tadka pan over an open flame, but it's just as good to use a small frying pan on the hob. Toast the seeds dry, without oil, on a medium heat for a few minutes until you hear the coriander seeds start to pop. Then remove from the heat and leave to cool before bashing them into a powder using a pestle and mortar. 

The jam uses a paste, sort of like a curry, for the base of it's flavour. To make this you need the onions, garlic, ginger, and chillies. I find it best to peel then chop all the ingredients and then pulse them to a smooth paste using a small food processor. If you don't have one and you possess ninja knife skills you can just dice the onion and chillies really finely, crush the garlic cloves, and grate the ginger. Whatever method you use leave the seeds in one of the chillies, for heat, and discard from the other, for flavour. When you've made the paste fry it off for a couple of minutes in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Next add the tomatoes and their juices to the paste in the saucepan and simmer over a medium heat. After a couple of minutes the tomatoes will become soft and you can squash them against the side of the pan with a spoon to release the juices. If you're using fresh cherry tomatoes it's best to halve them before adding them to the pan. 

Next add the spice powder to the pan, which will immediately turn the tomatoes a darker colour. Then add the sugar and vinegar and stir altogether. Bring the pan up to the boil for a couple of minutes then reduce so that the mixture simmers. You need to leave the pan simmering so that the mixture reduces until it's a jam-like consistency; this will take about 30-35 minutes. When the mixture is reduced you can remove it from the heat and stir in the soy sauce (or salt, if using). 

To help preserve the jam and keep it sterilised you need to fill the jars immediately, whilst the jam is still piping hot. But remember to pour the water out of them first! If you're messy like me it's easiest to use a jar funnel to do this so that the jam doesn't get everywhere, but if you have a steady hand you can do it without. Use a ladle to spoon the hot jam into the jars, right to the brim, and immediately seal with the lid. 

Leave the jam to cool inside the jars before you label them or put the jars into additional packaging.