gherkin soup

Gherkin Soup

gherkin soupI have several loves in my life. Black eyeliner. Slow cookers. Carmex. But my heart really belongs to gherkins. Just say the word to yourself. It’s delightful to utter. It looks comical to write. And you get to decide how deep your relationships with people will be depending how they feel about them in burgers.

I always keep a jar in the house and have to ration myself from crunching through a gherkin every time I open the fridge (and yes, I know pickling preserves them. There’s just more room in there.) I garnish sandwiches with them and add them to salads, but I’ve never cooked with them.

Like most people, by late August, I’m in courgette apathy. Allotmenteers have gluts of them, but for fodmappers like me, this lasts all year as they are one of the few vegetables I can eat.

Staring glumly at a courgette on a chilly August lunchtime, I wondered how I could perk things up a bit. Deciding soup would be more acceptable than turning the heating on, I used a jar of gherkins to add some bite and interest to the whole thing. My Polish friends might clutch their pearls in horror at how inauthentic it all is but it tasted great and made courgettes interesting again.

Gherkin Soup (serves 2)

  • 1 large courgette, grated
  • 1 large potato, grated
  • 1 parmesan rind or 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 450ml stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 100g gherkins, chopped finely
  • 25g fresh dill or parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream

This is so easy and quick, writing the recipe out as a blogpost definitely took longer than cooking it from scratch (and I’m a speedy writer!)

Peel the potato and grate it and the courgette on the largest hole of a box grater and put into a large saucepan and cover with the stock. Add the anchovy fillet and the parmesan rind if you are using it. I stash mine in the freezer in a Tupperware until needed.

Simmer for about 10 minutes until the veg is soft and the anchovy has dissolved. I’m still working on a homemade fodmap friendly stock as it’s the place I miss the depth of onion the most, but I’m using the Knorr Touch of Taste one from a bottle. It’s onion and chicory fibre free for fodmappers and the least cheap roast chicken crisp flavoured commercial one I’ve found. Stop me if I sound too like Marco Pierre White though…

Fish the parmesan rind out and add in the chopped gherkins. Chuck in the grated parmesan if you’re using it instead and carefully blitz the soup with a stick blender, remembering hot liquids expand.

Add the chopped dill (I went fancy and added the parsley too. Mint would work if you are a dill-phobe) and stir in the sour cream and serve. It’s the perfect late summer soup, all fresh and tangy but warming and soothing at the same time. I’ve made it twice in a week which means my gherkin usage is about to fill my whole recycling bag singlehanded, but who cares when it’s this good?

 

coconut tart

Coconut Spelt Tart

 

coconut tart

I have to say, I don’t really get the current coconut craze where it seems to be the new food Messiah du jour. I’m a fructose malabsorber so coconut milk doesn’t agree with me, mainly use coconut oil in the shower rather than cooking with it due to its strong coconut flavour and tend to only drink coconut water when hungover when I don’t mind the mustiness it has.

The one way I really like coconut is desiccated which I think is a throwback to my Northern Irish Proddy background where it crept into all kinds of traybakes and sweet treats promising ‘a taste of paradise‘ in a small grey skied country with small minded views. I love a bit of it on a Fifteen or a raspberry ruffle bar and occasionally inhale a dark chocolate Bounty with indecent speed.

I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth so it takes a lot for a dessert to knock my socks off but the treacle tart I had at the Rochelle Canteen a few months ago was so good I’m still thinking about it. The lightest pastry and butteriest filling, it was dessert perfection in my eyes and I’ve been itching to play around with it since.

I volunteered to bring dessert for book group the other week and needed something that was non wheat, low fodmap, low fructose and without chocolate or caffeine to fit all our dietary requirements and the idea of reworking that treacle tart into a coconut version popped into my head. I’ll leave to the utter brilliant Low Fodmap for Life to pick apart the coconut question for hardcore Fodmappers here and get on with baking.

This recipe is one of the few times you see me pick coconut oil over butter for cooking (even I draw the line at using butter as body moisturiser or hair conditioner though!) I wanted that extra heft of coconut flavour but if you don’t have any, just sub in butter. Please don’t ask me if you can use other liquid sweetners such as honey or agave syrup instead of golden syrup as they are incredibly problematic on the Fodmap diet and I never use them.

Coconut Spelt Tart (makes one 9 inch tart)

For the pastry: (adapted from Dan Lepard’s sweet shortcrust pastry)

  • 250g white spelt flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 125g cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • scant tablespoon ice cold water
  • pinch salt

For the tart:

  • 200g desiccated coconut, toasted
  • 125g brown sugar
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 120ml water
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

I am not a good pastry maker despite having deathly cold hands. It can sense my fear I think and shrinks away from me. I think I often add too much liquid to it but this Dan Lepard version for sweet shortcrust is the best version I’ve used. (I know it looks like it shrank in the photos, but I actually cut the block I rolled slightly too small.)

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the icing sugar and salt. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it disappears. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the cold water and beat it into the mix. I use a fork to just combine it and then switch to my hands to bring the pastry together.

It’s quite a soft almost sticky pastry and it needs a serious chill to be able to roll it. I usually put it in the freezer for 10 minutes and then fridge for 30 minutes if I need it then and there, but find it works best chilled overnight. Cut the block of pastry in two and roll one out to fit a 9 inch tart tin and then freeze the lined tin for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180℃ and spread the desiccated coconut out on two lined baking trays and toast it for about 7 minutes. Hover awkwardly by the oven keeping an eye on it as it browns as it goes from slightly tanned to smouldering almost instantly. Take out and allow to cool.

Line your tart tin with foil or baking paper and fill with baking beans or rice and blind bake for 25 minutes. I don’t prick spelt pastry usually as it’s lower gluten and doesn’t seem to like it. I have no idea if there’s science behind this or me just being superstitious, but I’m sticking to it.

Put the brown sugar, coconut oil, golden syrup and water in a saucepan and heat to melt it all together. (If you do it in that order the golden syrup behaves itself nicely on an oiled spoon and cuts down sticky drips in the kitchen.) Add the toasted coconut and allow it to absorb some of the liquid for 2-3 minutes before turning the mix out into a big mixing bowl to cool.

Once it’s not hot to the touch, separate your eggs and add in the yolks along with the vanilla extract and salt and allow to sit for a few minutes. Take the baking beans out of the tart tin and bake it for another 5 minutes to crisp up slightly.

Beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until they are peaked and pillowy and then fold them into the coconut mixture. Pour the coconut filling straight into the tart tin and bake for 15 minutes until set in the middle. You might have a tiny bit of coconut mix that doesn’t fit the tin but it can be baked pastry free in a ramekin if you can want to serve a gluten free version of the dessert.

Take the tart out before it looks dry and don’t worry if there is a hint of moisture to the very middle when you test it with a skewer. It’ll be grand when you come to eat it. Cool on a rack completely. I baked mine the night before and it kept fine wrapped in a tea towel.

Serve in slices with some thick cream or creme fraiche on the side. It’s surprisingly buttery despite using coconut oil and not too sweet compared to some desserts so I liked something slightly lactic on the side as contrast. I was really pleased with how this tart worked out and would definitely make it again. The only time the book group was silent was when they were eating this which I’ll take as a good sign!

 

teff cookies

Teff and Spelt Brown Butter Cookies

teff cookiesMy lovely blog readers know this already, but many people don’t know that gluten free doesn’t automatically mean wheat free. My wheat free Fodmap friends have to explain this one everytime and I’m guilty of it myself when checking labels for them, seeing gluten free and assuming it’ll be fine. Ahem…

I’ve been on a mission to try and make desserts for a friend who can’t do lactose or wheat while I can’t do fruit. It’s incredibly difficult. A dry meringue? Dark chocolate? That’s about it so far and just to be helpful, I hate dark chocolate on its own. Far too worthy for me when I occasionally crave something sweet.

I’ve been reading up about baking with non wheat flours that are Fodmap friendly and then when I went to the Nour Cash and Carry in Brixton a few days ago, they had bags of red teff flour for under £2 which is a massive bargain. (I also got millet and sorghum to try as well as I’m trying to cut down my wheat consumption so I don’t overload my temperamental body any further.)

I was in the mood to bake and while cleaning out my fridge, found a bar of dark chocolate that might have been in there as long as the beetroot that expired last May. I needed to distract myself from my poor housekeeping and thought chocolate chip cookies would be an idea as teff flour is supposed to have a rich cocoa flavour that works well with butter and chocolate.

Teff flour

I adapted this recipe for a no chill dough that uses melted butter to give a chewier cookie, subbing spelt and teff flours in and browning the butter. They tasted amazing but were a little dry on the first go. I’ve reduced the teff flour as it absorbs liquid which is lower here because of browning the butter.

I’ve also made the cookies are smaller than the original writer suggests to keep them softer. You also need to work the spelt more to activate the gluten it does have which is a big adjustment for me since I’ve trained myself never to overwork wheat gluten. This is all part of the fun of trying new baking!

Spelt and Teff Brown Butter Cookies (makes 24)

  • 120g butter, browned (see below)
  • 75g white sugar
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 200g white spelt flour
  • 50g red teff flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 bar dark chocolate

Some people with very high lactose sensitivity may not be able to handle the butter here, but for me, vegan baking is a big no-no. Not only is butter the closest thing I get to a religion, the vegan substitutes of chickpea water, applesauce and flax egg are all massive Fodmap triggers for me. I also can’t have honey or agave. My body wants Tate and Lyle and proper butter or it will have a digestive tantrum. And if my body demands butter, who am I to argue?

Start by browning the butter. Put the butter in a pan and melt it well, turning the heat up slightly once it is liquid to get it to foam and reduce some of the water content. Keep stirring it and let it heat until the butter turns brown and smells nutty but not burned. Watch it closely and take it off the heat at this point, pouring it into a bowl to cool slightly.

Give it five minutes and then use an electric whisk to beat the sugars in until it is a gorgeous creamy toffee coloured emulsion. Add the egg and beat in lightly and then add the vanilla.

Sift in the spelt flour. I find it clumps a lot in the packet and can be lumpy when you bake with it if you don’t sift or sieve it well. Mix it in well and add the teff flour and baking powder. The dough should come together in a soft ball that comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate. I bashed my bar up with a rolling pin and chopped it roughly so the chunks were big.

teff dough

Pull balls of the dough off and roll into walnut sized balls. Flatten them with a fork on trays lined with baking paper. Don’t go crazy handling the dough but don’t worry about playing around with it. Spelt likes a bit of affection. Bake for 7-8 minutes on 180℃. The dough will be very dark when it goes in and come out considerably paler. Don’t let the cookies look cooked as you want them to stay as soft as possible.

Cool on the tray for 2 minutes and then onto a rack and allow to cool slowly. They will be deliciously chocolately and buttery with the best flavour of a cookie I’ve had in a long time and softer and chewier than my first batch. I still want to refine them further so if you have any tips on teff or spelt or make these, let me know in the comments. I’ll get some lactose free milk in for you…

choux

Spelt Choux Pastry

chouxI love choux pastry. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a Paris-Brest, a profiterole or an éclair, I adore it. Not even having grown up with tales of my mum’s summer job at Bird’s Eye on the frozen éclair line and still being traumatised at the sight of one decades later could convince me otherwise.

But oddly enough I’d never made choux pastry, thinking it was incredibly difficult and demanding to do. But when I decided to throw a party the other week, I immediately decided to do difficult and demanding because God forbid you’d make entertaining easy in my mind. I’m surprised I didn’t decide to go full croquembouche just to be sure I gave myself real stress.

My only choux dilemma was if you could make it with spelt flour to be wheat free for a fellow Fodmapper. Spoiler alert: it works just fine. This is because spelt still contains gluten so gets a nice texture and structure. You just need slightly more liquid than with wheat flour or it gets almost impossible to beat even with an electric whisk.

I found making the choux incredibly easy and kept thinking something was bound to go wrong because it just seemed *too* simple (why yes, I do collect anxiety disorders like cookbooks since you ask.) Nothing malfunctioned, but I discovered I hate hate hate piping choux pastry so gave up and just dolloped it on the baking tray instead before I turned the air blue and my hand white with squeezing the piping bag.

I filled the choux with creme patisserie which also worked marvellously and then whipped up a few coffee mini pavlovas with the remaining egg whites to be economical. This would have worked better if I hadn’t forgotten about a tray of them and found them cooled in the oven a week later. But honestly, with a bit of mise-en-place and good music on the radio, this was a great way to cater for a party of people with food intolerances with minimum trickiness.

Spelt Choux Pastry (makes approx 40 large profiteroles)

  • 120g butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 350ml water or half and half water and milk
  • 300g spelt flour, sifted well
  • 6 eggs

I do have one piece of sad news from the world of choux. When researching recipes, I discovered it is the first time Dan Lepard has ever let me down. There was no indication how much pastry the recipe made and it took me a moment or two to stop reeling and start doing some maths to adapt this internet based recipe into one that worked and served enough people.

Start by heating the butter, salt and water together until the butter is melted and reaches boiling point. Lower the heat and add the sifted spelt flour. I sifted mine twice as spelt has a tendency to clumping and one does not want clumpy choux. Stir it all well until combined until the mix pulls away from the sides of the pan. Mine did it almost instantly.

Take it off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Beat each whole egg in one at a time until well combined. This is best with an electric mixer. My fifth egg caused my slightly dry choux to pull up the beater like a tornado so I had to hand mix the last one in. It should be glossy and just the stiff side of sloppy.

I then tried to pipe my slightly too stiff choux out of a slightly too small nozzle and ended up with tiny pointed topped buns and a general sense of rage. I switched to using a warmed spoon to dollop out blobs onto trays lined with baking paper before baking the buns at 200℃ for 20 minutes. I then reduced the heat to 170℃ for another 20 minutes to allow the choux to dry out slightly.

Once lifted out of the oven, I used rubber gloves to lift them off the trays and poked a hole in the base of each one to let the steam out as they cooled to stop them going soft. Then they then cooled on a rack while I made creme pat.

This is another one of those things people talk about in terms of being tricky and it might well be and I only had beginners’ luck, but I used my other baking bible in Rachel Allen’s fabulous Bake and it was easier to make than falling off a log. It will need to come back to room temperature to be easier to pipe though if you make it in advance. I used cornflour to keep it wheat and gluten free.

Creme Patisserie (will fill all those choux buns)

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g sugar
  • 25g cornflour
  • 350ml milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Begin by beating the sugar and egg yolks together in a large bowl until as light and fluffy as possible. I used the electric whisk. I also never use caster sugar because I’m not organised enough to buy it and granulated works fine for me. Stir in the cornflour.

Warm the milk in a saucepan until it just starts to boil and then gently pour the milk over the egg and sugar mix, beating continuously so it doesn’t scramble. I used the electric mixer again as it seemed to require less hand eye co-ordination.

Pour it all back into the saucepan and bring to the boil, continuing to whisk constantly. Mine foamed as it came to the boil and then flattened down as it thickened as it came to the boil and it made it easier to see what it was doing. I cooked it for a minute or two and then removed it from the heat and beat the vanilla into it.

I poured it into a bowl and allowed to cool slightly before covering well and chilling overnight. It set firmly in the fridge and I left it it out for about an hour before piping into the choux. I had intended to mix the creme pat with some apricot jam for an Austrian vibe but I totally forgot. The choux buns went down well despite this. I suspect I’ll be doing the whole thing again very soon anyway.

 

 

duck bacon

Duck Ham or Prosciutto

duck bacon

A few years ago, I discovered how easy it was to make your own bacon and Mister North and our mum followed suit, making their own guanciale and bacon on several occasions. It’s certainly given carbonara and an Ulster Fry a new lease of life in our family.

I’d wondered for a while if you could cure pig’s jowls or belly, what else could get the sugar-salt-saltpetre treatment and decided to try making duck bacon for Christmas. I got massively distracted and the duck breasts I bought for the purpose got left in the freezer until a few weeks ago. I wanted something simple but effective to make while working on other stuff and this seemed just the ticket.

On a semantic note, I found it hard to tell what the difference between duck ham and duck bacon was when researching the idea. Tim Hayward in Food DIY uses a cure close to my bacon recipe but calls it ham and most recipes from American food bloggers seemed to call it bacon when it had been smoked rather than simply cured and air dried. Lots of other people described it as duck prosciutto. I’m still not sure what to call it apart from very easy and incredibly delicious.

Duck Ham/Prosciutto/Bacon

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 200g sea salt
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or treacle
  • 1 tablespoon lapsang souchoung tea leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon saltpetre (optional)

This is ridiculously easy and works just as well without the saltpetre as with, but had a slightly richer more ruby colour to the meat when I used it. The lapsang souchoung tea leaves add a smoky note that works beautifully without having to start rigging up a smoker or adding the heat of any kind of chilli.

Lay the duck breasts skin side up in a non reactive container. I used one of my many many tupperware boxes after having had ziplock bag disasters before.

Mix the salt, sugar, herbs, pepper and tea leaves (and saltpetre) together and add the maple syrup or treacle to it all to make a thick barely spreadable paste. Smear some onto the skin of the duck breasts and then turn over and cover the meat well.

Put the lid on the box and leave it all to cure in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. The cure will create a brine and it’s best to turn the breasts everyday in this to cure it evenly. I forgot about mine after 3 days and left it for another 2, ignoring it somewhat.

When you remember about it again, take the breasts out of the cure and wrap in a clean muslin cloth. Hang this little muslin parcel up somewhere not too warm and away from pets to air dry. I use the clothes airer in my bedroom but it would be fine in a garage or cold hallway as well.

After 5 days, unwrap your duck breasts and slice as thinly as possible to serve. It will have a subtle smoky and herby flavour that goes very well with a kale salad and roasted tomatoes for lunch or topped with sauerkraut, pickles and cheese in a Reuben inspired sandwich along with a quick Thousand Island style dressing with mayonnaise, ketchup, onion, gherkin and a little green chilli all blitzed up together. This was so delicious I forgot to take any kind of photograph of it. I think I barely used a plate I was so keen to eat it.

This is a great way to make a duck breast go a long way and serve several people making it both economical and incredibly impressive looking as a dish. Your use of it is only limited by your imagination!