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Hibiscus Barley Water

sorrel drink

It’s Wimbledon fortnight and here in SW9, I am feeling the excitement building in my nearby borough. I’ve been sneaking a peek when Andy Murray is playing because I’m not sure I can take more tears this year, but I know others are glued to the screen all day everyday. So it seemed appropriate to create a drink that would capture that British tradition of this time of year and accidentally make dinner at the same time…

Barley water is just that. It’s the water in which pearl barley has been cooked, strained off and flavoured with something sharp or citrussy to refresh on humid summer days. Reputed to be as excellent for one’s system as cranberry juice, it’s a healthy and cheap thing to make from scratch. I’ve flavoured mine with hibiscus or as it’s known in Jamaica, sorrel for a scarlet twist on the more classic lemon version.

It also means you have delicious nutty barley cooked and ready to eat. I’ve made a fresh salad, stuffed full of grilled courgette, scallion and fennel, studded with emerald green broad beans and salty capers before being dressed with mint and olive oil. Make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for a tasty lunch or dinner when you can’t leave Centre Court for long. It’s fabulous as it is or with cold chicken or grilled halloumi on the side.

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Jibarito or Fried Plantain Sandwiches

jibarito

The idea of gluten free eating has become better known in the last few years, bringing great joy to those who are coeliac or gluten intolerant. Brixton is lucky to have the fabulous WAG Bakery, but many people complain that gluten free eating, although good for their health, can feel lacking in excitement and treats. For those people, here is the jibarito or fried plantain sandwich which can be described as many things, but health food isn’t really one of them…

Originally published in the Brixton Bugle…

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Chocolate Liquorice Cake or how to perk up a prune…

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur of new tastes and food experiences and travel and general activity. I’ve had great company and great meals, but I’ve been yearning to get back in the kitchen and play with my new finds. Mister North had very kindly shared some of his Lakrids Liquorice Powder from a Harvey Nicks bloggers’ lunch and I was intrigued as to what on earth to do with it since the package gives no clues and the site is entirely in Danish and my Sarah Lund fixation really only gives me rudimentary Danish vocab for the world of crime, not cooking.

I’d been eyeing up this David Lebovitz chocolate and prune cake for a while. Luscious with dark chocolate and butter, it’s a flour free number with a squidgy mousse-like consistency and having never made a cake like this before, I couldn’t wait to give it ago. I decided to give it an extra edge by adding some of the liquorice powder to the cake as liquorice is many times sweeter than sugar and I liked the idea of using it to smooth out the sharpness of the dark chocolate and give the prunes an extra earthiness.

 

I’ve linked to David’s orginal recipe so you can just follow that or you can do what I did and misread it and thus go about it slightly differently and awkwardly. Your call, but be aware my version gives you an excuse to drink some rum as you go…

Chocolate and Prune cake (from David Lebovitz, tweaked by me)

  • 170g pitted prunes
  • 80ml dark rum (or other dark spirit of choice)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 340g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 170g butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons raw liquorice powder

First prep your prunes. I cut mine into quarters and then soaked them overnight in the rum and sugar because I obviously thought I was making a tealoaf instead of reading the recipe properly. However, if I’d done it properly, I wouldn’t have discovered how good rum soaked prunes on my morning porridge…

Then butter a 9 inch cake tin (preferably springform). I also used cocoa powder on it and the cake stuck more than usually happens in my tin so I’m not sure I’d do that again.

I melted the chocolate and butter over hot water, stirring well to make sure it was well melted and glossy. I took it off the heat and added in the prunes and remaining rum which cooled the mixture slightly which meant I could add the egg yolks without fear of scrambling them. Pop the liquorice powder in at this point.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and firm, adding the sugar gradually and then fold them into the chocolate mix a third at a time, making sure you don’t overbeat and knock all the air out of the batter. Pour it into the tin and bake at 170℃ for 40-45 minutes. You can’t use the old skewer trick as the cake rises massively and the centre should be slightly soft, but the edges are pulling away from the tin. Cool well and you’ll notice the cake settles back down again in size.

David Lebovitz says the cake can be made up to three days in advance. I made mine two days in advance and kept it in a tin and felt that actually it was a touch dry round the edges, so I’d say wrap it well in a tea towel to be sure.

The cake was worth waiting for, very grown up with the bitter edge of dark chocolate,  sticky and squidgy with nuggets of prunes and completely and utterly lacking in any hint of liquorice at all. I couldn’t taste it and I’m presuming the others who ate it couldn’t either as no one asked what the other flavour was or if there was a magic ingredient. It didn’t even sweeten the cake particularly as the one question that was asked was if there was any sugar in the cake at all. I actually really enjoyed the lack of sweetness, which is unlike me and my common milk chocolate eating ways, but was disappointed by the Lakrids.

This is the second dish I’ve used it in. Once sweet and once savoury, and I couldn’t taste it either time. I’ve bookmarked this recipe as my go to quick chocolate cake, especially for gluten free folk, but I’m not inclined to persevere with the Lakrids, unless someone can give me a really good idea for it or takes me quietly to one side and explains that I’ve been doing it wrong…

Apple and Amaranth Granola

At this time of year I struggle for breakfast ideas. It’s not cold enough for porridge and I find it hard to get the lovely plums and greengages the season offers so find my bowls of bircher muesli less alluring without a fruity topping. I need something to shake me up a bit and hopefully wake me up a bit as well. The bite of granola seemed to fit the bill.

Raw amaranth grains

I’d been wondering what to do with the amaranth I’d impulse purchased at Whole Foods a while back and decided that a granola might lift it from looking like birdseed to something more appetising. As terrified to get it wet as Zack should have been with his Mogwai in Gremlins after hearing it goes gluey, I popped it in a hot pan first, turning it from plain seed to toasty treat.

Popped amaranth seed

Amaranth is an ancient grain (from a grass I believe) and is similiar to quinoa in that it is gluten free* and high in protein and fibre. It makes interesting sounding porridges, but I think it most appetising dry cooked to keep it nutty and crunchy. Bearing in mind that the seed is so crunchy, I decided to make the rest of the granola a little bit softer by coating it with stewed apple instead of oil. Everything about this recipe was impulse based so it’s in cups, not weights.

Apple and Amaranth Granola:

  • 2 apples, stewed down to make one cup of apple puree
  • 2 cups jumbo oats
  • 1/2 cup amaranth
  • 1/4 cup wheatgerm (optional if your granola is wheat free)
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup pecans, halved
  • 1/2 brazil nuts, halved
  • 1/2 cup honey (or treacle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

First, stew your apples. Back in Belfast where I made this, it’s dead easy to get proper Bramley apples for cooking, but I struggle to find them in London, so just use anything sharp and tangy. Peel, slice finely, add about a tablespoon of water and stew until soft and like a puree. They’ll collapse in on themselves if left at the lowest heat with a lid on for about 20 minutes.

Then using a hot dry pan, toast your sesame seeds and set aside. Have a lid handy and then into the same pan, put your amaranth and toast until about 40% of it looks like tiny white popcorn and the rest is golden brown. It won’t all pop, but what does will go everywhere so you’ll need that lid!

Place all your dry ingredients in a bowl. You can add more types of nuts if you like. Hazelnuts would be lovely. Some flaked coconut is fabulous. You could add in some linseeds or sunflower seeds. Play around to get your perfect mix. Heat the pureed apple and the honey together and then mix into the dry ingredients, mixing well to make sure they are all coated.

Cook on a shallow tray so the granola is well spread out in the oven at 200℃ for about 20 minutes. Turn it over at this point and give it another 10 minutes until golden and crispy looking but not burnt. Cool in the tray and put in an airtight container immediately as this granola is a bit softer than oil based ones and will wilt gently if left out for too long.

Eat clusters of it with your bare hands while doing so or wait until you can get it into a bowl where it is fabulous with fresh berries and yoghurt. Healthy and filling, this doesn’t taste wholesome or lacking in flavour. The amaranth is nutty and packed with flavour and the chunky nuts make this feel very luxurious indeed. Considering it takes so little time to make, I’ll definitely be doing this again instead of spending serious money on boxed mueslis or granolas. Their packaging migh look nice on the table, but you don’t get to pop your own ancient grains with those….

*this whole granola can be gluten free if you choose oats that guarantee themselves GF in processing. See the Coeliac Society for more info from people in the know.

A trilogy of fried chicken…

Three gluten free fried chicken recipes

I hear fried chicken is the next ‘junk food’ to get the gourmet treatment and because I live in Brixton, my tolerance for hipster venues is plummeting, I decided it was time to conquer my fried chicken demons and learn how to do it at home where the whole thing would take less time than queuing up in Market Row. I also decided to set myself the challenge of making it all gluten free as well…

I’m not gluten or wheat sensitive, but for some reason three different people have had conversations with me recently about fried chicken coatings that happen to be gluten free, so inspired by their enthusiasm, I thought I’d steal their ideas and do a fried chicken crunch off, testing each version against each other. All three were good. All three were easy. One was a clear winner.

I standardised a bit. Each recipe does 4 pieces of chicken. All the chicken was free range and was bone in and skin on thighs. I marinaded them in yoghurt loosened with lemon juice to save you all hearing my obsessive rant about why you can’t get proper buttermilk in England again. This would be brilliant marinaded overnight, but a couple of hours will do nicely. About 20 minutes before you need them, drain the thighs in a sieve so they aren’t too wet. Then turn attention to the coatings.

Potato fried chicken: (first piece from the front)

This is basically going a bit 70s and using dehydrated instant mash flakes as your topping. You need the cheap ones from a Basics range so that you don’t accidentally end up with potato paste over chicken skin. It’s dead simple. Put 1/2 cup or about 50g of flakes in a shallow dish and add the seasoning of your choice. I went with thyme, black pepper and paprika. Then dredge your chicken well each side without shaking too much coating off and shallow fry for 10 minutes, turning gently or spooning hot oil over the other side to firm it up before turning. Finish off for 10 minutes in the oven at 180℃. Or simply cook in the oven the whole time without adding any extra oi at 200℃. It won’t be as golden, but it’s quick, easy and crunchy at the same.

Rice flour and cornflour fried chicken: (middle piece)

Slightly more complicated than the first recipe, this has three ingredients instead of one. Mix 1/4 cup of rice flour and 1/4 cup or 25g of each in a dish and add your choice of seasoning. I used Old Bay and cayenne. Then add 4 tablespoons of the yoghurt/buttermilk mix and with your fingertips, rub together until you get what looks like slightly damp breadcrumbs. You don’t want it sticky or too clumpy so keep rubbing til it’s right. Then coat the chicken on each side making sure there are no lumpy bits and shallow fry as above. Or again, oven cook the same way.

Egg white batter fried chicken: (furthest from the front)

A little bit Chinese in style, this one uses egg whites and cornflour beaten together to make a batter. I used 2 egg whites (from the approximately 9000 leftover from my ice cream making) and 1/4 cup cornflour whisked together. I’d run out of seasoning ideas, but some garlic powder might have been good here. Your batter needs to be thick, not liquidy and move quickly or it’ll solidify into something like cement.  Coat the chicken well and then fry. This one needs oil, not the oven. I ended up with a light puffy batter on each side and an uncooked seam from shallow frying. I basted it with hot oil to rid me of this, but it might have been easier to deep fry it. Rest it in a warm oven for 10 minutes after cooking through.

All the chicken was incredibly juicy and tender from its lactic acid bath. Each one had a good contrast between the coating and the meat, but my winner was the potato coating. The rice/corn flour one had a floury squeaky mouthfeel that cloyed slightly, while the batter one was a bit greasy as it absorbed a lot of oil in comparison to the others and both lost their crunch quickly on the plate, becoming a bit gluey, while the potato flakes held up well after cooking and had the most interest to me. It would also have worked well as an oven dish and would be good with fish instead.

I liked all of these better than my usual wheat flour recipe which required marinading, egging and coating and then double dipping to get a good crunch on. The gluten free ones were all very simple and it pleased me the simplest one of all won out. I served my chicken with some roasted plaintain and chilli rubbed corn on the cob for a carb fest, but some slaw would cut through it all nicely and add some colour to the plate. Serve with a refreshing beer and you’ll be frying tonight without having to leave the house…