Gluten-free Rosemary Millionaires shortbread


A few weeks ago I re-visited my rosemary millionaire shortbread to attempt to make a gluten free version (well, mostly - I used regular porridge oats in my version, which I think is not guaranteed to be 100% gluten free because of cross contamination or something, but gluten free porridge oats are available).



I also varied the way I made the rosemary-caramel, but it still wasn't very rosemary, so maybe I will up the rosemary next time.

Ingredients

Shortbread
  • 150 grams porridge oats
  • 75 grams cornmeal
  • 170 grams butter
  • 90 grams caster sugar

Caramel
  • 150ml double cream
  • 30 grams salted butter
  • a single finger pinch of sea salt
  • 100 grams light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

Chocolate 
  • 250 gram cadburys chocolate


Method

  1. Make the shortbread - Normally making the shortbread we have to cream the butter and sugar and then fold in the flour, but as we are gluten free we don't need to worry about being careful this time: just mix the oats, cornmeal, sugar and butter together.

  2. Press the mixture into a tin and cook in a fan oven at about 160 degrees for about 20 minutes - keep an eye on it so it doesn't go to brown, but we really want to cook it fairly slowly for a while so it has a chance to dry out, this will give it more of a brittle crunch to the base (in a hopefully good way)

  3. For the caramel, gently melt all ingredients except rosemary in a pan, once melted add the rosemary and stir through, heat for two to three minutes

  4. Leave the caramel to stand for another 10 minutes or so, whilst the shortbread cools

  5. Poor the caramel through a sieve to remove the rosemary pieces, pour caramel onto the cooled shortbread

  6. Place the caramel topped shortbread in the fridge to cool for another 20 minutes

  7. Melt the chocolate in the microwave on a low power settings (will take a couple of minutes), once it is smooth, pour on top of the caramel shortbread and put back in the fridge to set.

rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

BBQ spare ribs


A rather productive weekend for cooking this weekend. Well, mostly just the Sunday really. After heading to a local pick-your-own farm with the kids on Saturday I picked up a full rack of pork ribs from their butchers, so Sunday I smoked those and whilst they were sitting on the grill I also found time to make some rosemary salt caramel brownies.



The ribs were fairly simple - Saturday night I trimmed and lightly salted the meat, Sunday morning I rubbed the meat and then cooked for about 5 1/2 hours Sunday afternoon for dinner.

The rub

  • 30 grams light brown sugar
  • 15 grams caster sugar
  • 5 grams smoked paprika
  • 5 grams garlic powder
  • 2 grams onion powder
  • 3 grams ground ginger
  • 2 grams black pepper




It was a full rack of spare ribs, and I threw together one of my standard, quick-n-easy BBQ sauces for the painting at the end.

Method

  1. Trim the ribs and remove the membrane

  2. Salt and apply rub

  3. Setup the BBQ (WSM) for smoking set at 110 degrees (225 farenheit)

  4. Once temperature is stabilised, add the ribs

  5. After 4 hours, check to see how they are looking, depending on the thickness of the meat they might take longer (mine took about 5 hours)

  6. Check the ribs by doing the bend/bounce test (pick up the ribs and bend them a little, if they crack a bit on the top then they are ready)

  7. If using sauce, paint the ribs with the sauce (I quickly painted the ribs with a water/maple-syrup solution prior to applying the sauce, this was just to keep the sauce loose and not to thick anywhere)

  8. Return to the grill for 15 minutes or so

  9. Before getting ready to serve, put them over the direct heat (for this I just remove the middle section of the WSM and stick the grill directly above the coals) meat side down, for a minute, just to crisp up the bark - don't do this for too long as it can easily burn

  10. Slice between the bones and serve up.



rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Rosemary Millionaire Shortbread


I also put together some rosemary-salt millionaires shortbread on the weekend.  I originally tried rosemary caramel in a hipster coffee shop in London, and, as you might guess, thought "I should do that".



So its pretty simple, I made shortbread as usual. I made caramel with some rosemary added. Then topped with normal melted chocolate (nothing fancier seemed necessary)

Ingredients

Shortbread
  • 225 grams plain flour
  • 170 grams butter
  • 90 grams caster sugar

Caramel
  • 150ml double cream
  • 30 grams salted butter
  • a single finger pinch of sea salt
  • 100 grams light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

Chocolate 
  • Two 110 gram bars of cadburys chocolate


Method

  1. Make the shortbread - cream the butter and sugar, mix in the flour, and then press into the bottom of a lined baking tray

  2. For the caramel, gently melt all ingredients except rosemary in a pan, once melted add the rosemary and stir through, heat for two to three minutes

  3. Leave the caramel to stand for another 10 minutes or so, whilst the shortbread cools

  4. Poor the caramel through a sieve to remove the rosemary pieces, pour caramel onto the cooled shortbread

  5. Place the caramel topped shortbread in the fridge to cool for another 20 minutes

  6. Melt the chocolate in the microwave on a low power settings (will take a couple of minutes), once it is smooth, pour on top of the caramel shortbread and put back in the fridge to set.

rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

The Big Meat 2016


August bank holiday weekend, we went to the The Big Meat, BBQ and Beer festival, in Farnham. It was recommended to me by the winner of the Gower BBQ competition, and as it was just down the road from us, I figured it could be fun. Plus it was only £35 for a family camping ticket - which seems like really good value for a nights camping for the four of us and entry to the event both days (which included live music, cooking demos, a kids area and then on the Sunday, loads of free meat from the competitors in the BBQ comp).



Luckily the weather was pretty good too - the Saturday was pretty hot and sunny, there were a few showers on the Sunday, but not enough to really affect anything much.

It's a fairly fledgling event, only in its second year, so it wasn't as big as it could be (in terms of vendors, there was only BBQ food and one or two drinks vendors really) and as you might expect none of them were up and running for the 7am campers, but that wasn't really a big deal. In terms of the competition they managed to attract 20 teams and it seemed like a very impressive setup - they had a decent judging panel and all competitors seemed to be provided all they needed (space and electricity).



Honestly, all of the meat that I ate from the competition (and there was a lot of it) was really high quality - After the chef's special on the Saturday (which I missed because I didn't realise they were turning any food before Sunday) the main four rounds were chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork and brisket, and was some of the best BBQ food I have ever eaten (including compared to authentic American BBQ joints).

One of my reasons for going was to go and chat with the competitors, taste the food and check out their set up (and generally get as many tips as possible), so here is some of the stuff I learnt:

  • Chef's special are impressive. Once again, just expecting people to do some piece of meat for this round, a lot of people were really creative - one competitor did veal on gnocchi, another did a giant burger and another did smore-brownies with a white russian to wash it down (using fresh, raw milk from the dairy farm that the festival was being held on)

  • Chicken round: everyone does thighs. Severeal competitors I spoke to said this same thing. The judges know what to expect with thighs, and going off piste with this can result in your scores getting tanked if just one judge takes a dislike to whatever it is you try (which also makes sense given me gripes with low'n'slow cooking chicken)

  • Almost everyone has a temperature controlled BBQ system. BBQ Guru being the most popular choice I saw. Which makes sense, being as there were several rounds to cook for hand in with in two hours of each other, and most competitors putting on their brisket around 22:00 on the saturday night.
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Oat-y shortbread bites


It's been a strange kind of weekend for cooking. For a change, my savoury food has all turned out fairly badly (a made an adhoc couscous sund-dried tomato and mozarella bake, yesterday which I quite enjoyed but didn't quite taste right, and then today I attempted to make an afghan inspired stew but: I mis-judged the spices and it ended up tasting like curried aubergine, my okras got mistakenly thrown away and I hadn't soaked my split peas), but as a pleasant change, my shortbread experiment turned out pretty well.

I have been trying to perfect my brown butter shortbread recipe I have previously posted. As mentioned, I am happy with the taste, but they are incredibly crumbly (to the point of being pretty messy to just pick up), but my repeated attempts to adjust the ratios have been met with continued failure. I am sure that the problem is due to lack of water in the mix, but not able to get the balance right.

Anyway, this weekend, on the Saturday, I was out with the boys and we had some oat-y type shortbread biscuits with dried strawberry in a cafe, which were pretty tasty. So needless to say, when we got up this morning, I decided we should try to work out the recipe.



The first iteration was pretty decent - a little sweeter than I had in mind (I prefer more butter-y flavour in my shortbread) so I think next time I will try with more butter, and more flour to keep the structural integrity) but overall pretty decent.

I also substituted raisins for the strawberries on this occasion, on account of us having millions of raisins and no dried strawberries in the house. Anyway, to the details..

Ingredients

  • 90 grams rolled oats
  • 125 grams plain flour
  • 100 grams caster
  • 15 grams light brown sugar
  • 180 grams unsalted butter
  • raisins
  • Pinch salt

Method

  1. In a freestand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light

  2. add the salt, raisins and oats and mix until combined

  3. Add the flour and gently mix through - either on the lowest speed of the mixer or by hand

  4. wrap in cling film and roll into a tube shaped about 1 inch in diameter (I was going for small, slightly bigger than bitesize biscuits) and cool in the fridge for 30 minutes until set

  5. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees centigrade, slice the chilled batter into discs about 1/2 inch deep and place on baking tray line with baking paper, cook for about 15-20minutes untill golden brown



rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

The Gower BBQ Competition 2016


And so, 06:30 Sunday morning, I found myself trekking out to Gower to sit in a gazebo, in the rain, watching my smoker slowly cook meat.

Despite the less than favourable conditions for the competition, and the lonely nature of the experience, it was good fun!  It was the first chance since buying the smoker that I had to really spend some time working with it, watching how it behaved to different circumstances and getting a feel for it. I'm also an introvert who likes to be alone, so sitting in a field with just some music and a BBQ was really quite peaceful.

As well as generally enjoying it, I also learnt a whole tonne of stuff. Both from the practical experience and just generally going through it and advice from fellow competitors (surprisingly, I went into both competitions expecting everyone to be highly secretive about technique and recipes - although I was planning on publishing my recipe and scorecard whatever happened - but found the opposite, everyone I spoke to offered tips and lots of competitors had their ingredients listed on their stalls).

The competition involved three rounds: 1) a rack of pork ribs 2) a half chicken 3) Chef's choice (I went short ribs again)

Given all my practice up until this weekend had been for the chili, and I had used my new smoker a total of three times up until this weekend I had reached the point where I figured there was not too much point going all bells-and-whistles for the competition, so I used supermarket meat rather than better quality meat from a butchers and re-used the same rub and sauce on both the pork and chicken.

The results

I came a more impressive sounding 3rd (so took home a prize!), but with the caveat that there were only three of us competing on the day, so depending on how you look at it, its taking home the bronze, or coming last. (I did however get some pretty positive feedback on the chicken and the beef ribs)



I didn't taste or see the second place entry, but I can say that the winning BBQ was wayyyy ahead of the level I was at! (They also were the most helpful in giving advice and talking through what they did).

I didn't take home the feedback notes, but generally the chicken and beef were well cooked (although in reality the beef was over-cooked, and had more shrinkage than I would have liked, but beef ribs need to be cooked well beyond well-done for the connective tissue to melt, so even though they were cooked to fast, the end result was positive). The pork ribs were overdone (I knew this at time of submission) and everything was a bit too smoked.

An aside: Reasons against chicken

I really don't like slow cooking chicken. Although the judges were very positive about it, I just don't think it makes sense as low'n'slow bbq food, and given the option I wouldn't include it on my menu.  My original plan for the competition was to take two BBQs: my smoker and my Barbeskew (basically a charcoal BBQ with a rotisserie), however, the day before due to travel I failed in my attempts to dismantle it so it would fit into my car. 

So for the competition, I had to suck it up and just cook the thing in the smoker. There are two main reasons I much prefer cooking the chicken on the rotisserie than the smoker:

  1. Chicken, especially the breast meat, is not well suited to slow cooking and gets dried out very easily. It has very little connective tissue in the breast meat as it is a fast twitch muscle (also not helped by the physical properties of a whole chicken, with the breasts the most exposed parts of the meat, and higher up - problems that can be helped by spatchcocking). Just like cooking a traditional roast chicken in an oven, I would cook hot and fast (220 degrees centigrade on a fan oven), to quickly cook without drying out - where as a smoker (especially one that is also cooking other meats) is better at cooking slowly at much lower temperatures.

  2. The lower temperature doesn't crisp up the skin as well as a direct, radiant heat source. The rotisserie lets us cook the chicken over a high radiant heat from the direct coals (whilst of course rotating, to avoid overcooking a single part of the chicken) which very effectively browns the skin.  Again, this problem can be alleviated a little by rolling the bird around on a direct heat above the coals for a short time, but still not as effective. Just look at the skin of the bird below compared to the one I submitted for the competition (the competition chicken also has my BBQ sauce on it, which is contributing to the brown colour, where as the bird below is just a dry rub before cooking and then just beautifully golden skin):



So, what did I learn?

Much like the previous day, I learnt a lot. Some basic things about the smoker, and some about general technique, so in no particular order:

  • The Weber Smokey Mountain is incredibly effective at holding its temperature - As mentioned, this was the first time I had a chance to just sit and watch it, and I did fiddle with the air vents an awful lot, but the take away was that it was pretty simple to get it sitting at a fixed temperature for several hours. With the vents fully open, and using about 1 1/2 chimney-starters worth of coal, the smoker will happily go to 125 degrees centigrade - if you need to ramp it up even higher (for example you want to really blast a chicken), then you need more oxygen. I noticed the previous day that when I opened the lid for more than 30 seconds or so, the coals got flooded with the additional oxygen and usually re-ignited - this is useful to help restore the temperature in the smoker once the lid is back on (as with the lid off for a minute or two you will easily see a drop to something like 70 degrees) - but also highlights the importance of air-supply. If you want to keep the temperature high for a short time, you can open the lid for a few minutes to get that initial flood of oxygen and then leave the coal door open to keep a steady supply of air coming in.  Whilst not that useful in smoking food normally, its interesting to experiment to really get a feel for the kit, and understand the controls.

  • I decided to cook without water in the water pan - having heard that several competitors don't use water, or instead replace it with sand or terracotta (to act much like a pizza stone, to retain heat). It might normally have been a gamble to just change up my setup on the day, but given the minimal experience I had, I figured it didn't matter too much.

    One side affect of not adding the water was it seemed to change the temperature dynamic in the smoker. Normal advice is that (on a hot day) the temperature shown at the top thermometer in the lid can be 10-15 degrees hotter than the bottom grid in the smoker (due to heat rising, and potential effects of sunlight direct on the lid).  However, after a few hours I measured the temperature lower down in the smoker (I inserted an instant read thermometer in the side just above the lower grid) and it was running around 30 degrees hotter than the thermometer at the top (also worth noting that it was a fairly grey and miserable day, so possibly that was cooling the top thermometer).

    I will try this approach again to check the same behaviour, but my theory is this: with the water in, the water pan blocks the direct heat from the coal, so the smoker operates like a normal convection oven, regulating the heat throughout, however, without water (or in theory, sand etc) the metal pan just absorbs and radiates the heat from the coal, so providing a more direct heat source - providing radiant heat from the pan from the bottom as well as the convective heat. If this is the case, then it possibly provides an interesting approach for two zone cooking - the bottom grill running higher with more direct heat, and the top grill operating more like the conventional smoker.

  • One of the pieces of feedback from the judges was that the meat was all too smoked. I knew I shouldn't add too much wood. I had read, start with less. Err on the side of caution. But despite all this, I kept doubting that the wood was smoking enough, so kept adjusting. Something that comes with experience and confidence is the self assurance to not second guess yourself, and not to second guess what you know is right.

  • As I mentioned, the ribs were overdone. Especially the pork ribs. When I went to take them off the BBQ, they were looking a gorgeous colour, and I had a decision to make - do I wrap them in foil and put them back on the BBQ (a la Texas Crutch) or do I foil them and put them in the cooler (a la faux cambro). I opted for back on the BBQ, but as I hadn't really planned this part, I didn't add any liquid to the foil - and disappointingly, when I unwrapped them from the foil, they didn't look as good as when I had wrapped them.  Changes I will make for next time: try out the Texas Crutch approach earlier on in cooking to finish off, or once done just put them in the cooler.  I will also be switching from baby back ribs to spare ribs.  I might also try the texas crutch approach for the beef ribs next time.



Now all I need to do is get in some more practice before next year..
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

The Gower Chili Cook-Off - 2016 - A Retrospective


Last weekend was the weekend that I have been building up to for a few months. It was the Gower Chili Cook-off and the Gower BBQ competition weekend, and I had signed up for both competitions.

The chili cook off was due to take place 12:00 - 16:00 on the Saturday and then the BBQ competition was taking place from Midnight Saturday until 14:30 Sunday afternoon. Despite it raining most of Sunday, and being a fairly miserable day to be sitting on my own in a field in the early hours of a Sunday morning, it was a great weekend. Something that I would whole-heartedly recommend anyone to try (well, the BBQ competition does require the equipment to smoke - or at least low'n'slow cook - some bigger pieces of meat, although that is perfectly possible on a decent kettle bbq).


So lets start at the beginning. The chili cook off.



I had been iterating on my recipe for a couple of months, adjusting each iteration based on feedback and tasting - the outcome of which can be seen here (yes, I did have a spreadsheet for my cooking), any but the version 1 of the chili will make a decent chili, and those quantities will actually produce enough for 3-4 people with rice.  Going into the competition there were still a lot of unknowns, primarily: 1) practice runs had all been in the house using an oven; 2) I had not attempted scaling up to 1 gallon, so was unsure how that would cook/reduce with the increased volumes; 3) I had further adjustments to the final recipe that had not yet been tested.

Anyway, all fears aside I am happy with how it turned out - I knew on submission that it was too runny: I had been a little over-zealous adding additional stock early on, and the smoker just didn't run hot enough to effectively reduce that volume of liquid. But consistency aside, I was pretty happy with the submission in the 4 hours.


Unfortunately, the judges weren't quite as happy (more on that later).  I came 9th out of 12 - which given it was my first run, and all the other chilis I tasted were really good (and a lot of the other competitors had won regional cook-offs in Gower or elsewhere), I was bracing myself for last place.


But despite the less than glowing feedback from the judges, and the fact that we didn't win any of the public vote, I am still sharing it here because: 1) I think it tasted pretty decent; 2)  whilst not getting any of the votes for the "People's Choice" award, several people returned to compliment the chili and to find out more about how it was cooked and how we achieved the taste.


The whats and whys

Rather than writing out the recipe (as that is already written out in the spreadsheet) I thought I would write down the key ingredients and the reasoning behind each one:
  1. Short beef ribs - these are one of the most intensely beef-y cut of the cow. Incredibly deep flavour, a lot of connective tissue and usefully, very cheap! I used them to add a rich meaty flavour to the chili. The ribs need a long time cooking, so it was important (as I discovered first iteration of the chili) that after the first hour on the smoker, it by cut quite small to make sure if was sufficiently cooked in the liquid. Given the volume of liquid being cooked, and the temperature of the smoker, the meat wasn't as soft and melt-in-the-mouth as it could have been.


  2. The chilis - dried Ancho, dried Cascabel, Chipotles and Jalapenos. The Ancho and Cascabel were almost entirely because of availability - but they provide a fruity and nutty flavour - being dried, much like raisins or sun-dried tomatoes, they have a concentrated and more intense flavour. The chipotle was a must have on account of the smokey direction of the chilli (chipotles are smoked jalapenos). The Jalapenos were fresh and were to provide the heat, plus a fresher pepper taste.

  3. The savory base - Given the time constraints to practice the chili, I opted to keep it relatively simple with the flavour base of my chili, and went with the classic oregano, garlic, onion, chili, cumin and coriander mix. I will start to turn this up a notch in preparation for next year, as this is what will really come into its own and shine on being reduced for 4 hours.

  4. Umami - an important part as well, in providing a deep, complex savory flavour and boosting the beefy-ness of the ribs - Standard options here including tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce (although Waitrose has started selling jars of Umami..)



What I learnt

  1. I went into the competition that using proper cuts of beef (rather than ground mince) and smoking the meat before adding to the chili would be a competitive advantage. This was not the case - the judges seemed to not be keen on the smoked element, and as I was later told by an experienced competitor:

    "mince always wins"


  2. The biggest insight into competition chili was tasting the other competitors chili, they were not what I was expecting. They were a lot richer, deeper - in my opinion, sweeter - than I would expect for a chili. In many ways it reminded me of a rich bolognese sauce (obviously with chili ingredients instead, but the way the flavour is boosted by slowly reducing to a thick, intense sauce).  Next time I enter, I will go with mince, and focus on reducing to that thick, intense sauce over the 4 hours.

  3. A further observation I made, in the same vein as above, was that a lot of competitors included pork (pancetta, pork belly, etc) - which is a common approach in bolognese sauce to add flavour and gloss (and gelatin!).

  4. You can start chopping vegetables before the start time! We did discover this before the start time, but unfortunately our organisation was a little shambolic, so our ingredients didn't even turn up until just before the start time!


What the judges said

If you are interested (in the format or content) of what the judges had to say about the submission, here are the feedback forms. Not an awful lot to work with (particularly the "Taste: Odd" comment or the comments about the burnt aroma/taste - which is strange as I can confirm that none of the ingredients were even close to being burnt.. not even charred at the edges, or the fact that more than once the judges made diametrically opposing statements)





As I said, the real insight was tasting the other chillis.




rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

BBQ Practice




I haven't posted much for a bit, but as previously mentioned, I have entered a BBQ competition and a Chilli-Cook-Off competition this summer, and the date is fast approaching. 

To be honest, I have not been able to get in as much practice as I would like to - mostly due to the rubbish weather we have had here in the last month.  The problem with low'n'slow is that, well, its slow. You need to be cooking for a good 8 hours, and thats after all the setup and preparing the meats, which means if you are expecting some nice weather at the end of the day, but raining at lunchtime, its not going to work.

I have managed to practice using my smoker I think three times, neither times smoking the full three rounds for the competition, so I suspect that competition will be winging it. I have managed a few iterations of recipe development for the chilli, although all of them have been indoors based, so there is still the unknown of how it turns out being cooked in the smoker outdoors, but lets see.

Anyway, entering these competitions are more bucket-list things, I don't have any expectations of winning, and will be happy if I just manage to deliver something edible within the time.

I will put all the final competition recipes and a bunch of photos up after the event.


rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Excuse #1 - Birthday Cakes!


It has been a while since posting anything here, and part of that reason is that there was a birthday party recently, and I had volunteered to make the cake.



It seemed like a good idea at the time. I enjoy making cake, and whilst I hadn't had much success decorating them, it seemed like a chance to practice.

Normally I go for buttercream icing and more fancy looking cakes (which inevitably don't turn out looking fancy), but this time I went for a simpler, 2-D rolled icing cake. If you look at superhero cakes online you will see hundreds of fancy ones, with tiers and incredible the incredible hulk smashing his way out of cakes, but having learnt my lesson not to over-stretch, I went for a simple option.

There really wasn't much to it in the end, it was a simple Victoria Sponge (Nigella Lawson's recipe) with jam and whipped cream in the middle, with pre-made coloured icing that I just rolled and cut to shape. my only tips are these:
  • Rolling on a veneered worktop didn't work out too well, despite dusting well with icing sugar, the icing kept on sticking as I tried to peel it off, and the icing sugar just kept leaving white specks on the icing
  • Instead I rolled it out on baking paper, which worked out well - both for the non-stick-ness, but also it allowed me to pick up the rolled/cut icing to place on the cake. When I started trying to just pick up the rolled icing (the bat sign for example) I found the icing stretched a lot under its own weight, leaving it mis-shapen. Being able to cut out the underlying baking paper and just flip it onto cake made it possible to transfer almost exactly the shape I had cut onto the cake.


Oh, and I also agreed to make individual cupcakes for all party guests, so I still managed to do some buttercream icing too..

rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Sicilian Spring Pizza (getting over my deep-pan phobia)




I would guess that the majority of the pizza I have eaten over my lifetime has been shop bought. Probably somewhere in the region of 90% I would guess. This is partly due to several factors: never really trying to make my own, rarely ordering pizza in restaurants and only really starting to use take away pizza places in the last 5 years or so.

Another factor is that by and large, supermarket pizzas are actually pretty good. I suppose it's another one of these food groups that are just so simple - meat, cheese and tomato - that makes them a pretty safe bet. With the exception of the dough, the components are incredibly simple - cheese, tomato sauce and any toppings you fancy - even just a handful of pepperoni can be trans-formative. And even if the dough is a trickier component to master, if it is good enough to deliver the pizza toppings to your mouth, without distracting, then that can often be good enough (don't get me wrong, the base can, and should be, a great thing, but I'm  just saying that a sub-par base can still deliver an enjoyable pizza experience).

As if to prove this point, I present toast pizza (my lunch today):
 (regular sliced bread, left over pizza tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni)


A part of this pizza-eating-ratio's legacy is my dislike for deep-pan pizza. Much like the NY style pizzas I have written about before, I favour thin, crispy bases - and I think the reason for this is that historically, supermarket bought deep pan pizzas have been a bit of a let down (maybe this has changed, but I'm not going out and buying one to find out!).  And they have been let down because of the base - the mass produced, frozen deep pan pizzas never seemed to have good dough. They were just a stodgy, thick bread-y mess, that failed my most basic of requirements: deliver the toppings without distraction. On more than one occasion, I remember resorting to cutting the bottom of the base off rather than chew through the stodgy and bland underneath.


Anyways, that's a pretty long winded way to say I don't really eat deep-pan pizzas.

However, last week, Kenji Lopez-Alt (The Foodlab) tweeted a recipe for his Sicilian pizza, which made me think its probably about time for me to re-think my phobia. As if further encouragement was needed, in the article he also mentions that his goal in the recipe is re-creating Prince street Pizza's Spicy Spring (apparently the best slice in NY, which I experienced earlier in the year) - which was a delicious, deeper square slice of pepperoni pizza, where the base was, as you might guess, soft, springy and delicious - to the point of being good enough to eat on its own.


And to be frank, the mans a genius. I adapted the dough recipe for quantity/ingredients I had and went with my normal sauce recipe, but it turned out great. Light, springy and tasty in its own right, sitting beautifully with the thick tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni.  My wife described it as the best pizza she'd ever had.


Ingredients: dough

  • 375 grams of strong white flour (I only had about 200g of strong bread flour, so made it up with plain white flour)
  • 10 grams fine salt
  • 4.5 grams active dried yeast
  • 15 grams of oil, plus more for the pan
  • 245 grams of luke warm water - I go for around 110 degrees Fahrenheit 

Sauce

  • 1 tin of chopped tomatos
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick of celery

Toppings

  • dry aged mozzarella (not the wet stuff that comes packed in liquid) - Waitrose sells what they call "pizza mozzarella")
  • Other cheese, some cheddar, Parmesan, whatever you fancy
  • Pepperoni, anything else you fancy


Method

This is adapted from Kenji's recipe here - its probably far better to just follow his guide!
Pre-heat your oven as hot as it goes - My fan oven goes to 450 degrees, which was fine)
  1. About three to four hours before you plan to cook start the dough

  2. Put all the ingredients into a food processor with the blade attached - process for about 30 seconds, until the dough rides above the blade

  3. Pour a few glugs of olive oil into the baking tray. Be generous

  4. Tip the dough on to the tray, and cover it in the oil.

  5. Stretch it out into a rectangle type shape - don't worry about making it fit to the tray (this technique is far better explained by Kenji) and cover it in cling film and set aside

  6. Before you are ready to cook, make the tomato sauce.

  7. Melt the butter in a saucepan

  8. Peel the carrot and chop into f (cut in half length ways, then half again); squash the celery with the blade of a knife and cut into 4 large pieces

  9. Add the vegetables to the butter and cook for a minute or two and season

  10. Add the tomato puree, stir through and cook for a further minute

  11. Add the oregano, stir through and add the tinned tomatoes

  12. Cover the pan, leaving a crack (we want to reduce the sauce, so we want some moisture to escape, but tomato can really spit as it bubbles, so I use the lid to reduce the mess) and heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally

  13. Once cooked, remove the whole vegetable chunks and squash the chopped tomatoes (use a potato masher or back of a spoon)

  14. After three hours or so, uncover it and stretch it out to fill the pan

  15. Layer the dough with mozzarella, this will help prevent the dough getting soggy

  16. Next spoon on the tomato sauce, then top with your toppings (pepperoni, additional cheese etc)

  17. Put it in the oven for 12 minutes, the base of the pizza should be nicely browned

rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Low 'n' slow - Feather blade beef and pork ribs


And so it begins.. (BBQ season that is!)

(Ok, this is a little freakish - I just had dejavu of declaring BBQ season has arrived, so thought I would go back and check whether BBQ season has started earlier than last year, and found that last years BBQ article was the exact same date! 18th April..)



There is likely going to be a bit of a shift in focus here on the blog for a bit. There are two reasons for this:
  1. I have just splurged and bought myself a smoker (a Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker to be precise)
  2. I have entered two food based competitions at the end of July: A chilli cook off and my very first attempt at competitive BBQ!  Both very exciting, and I think competitive BBQ is probably something on my bucket list (if I had one), so really glad to be able to tick that off (although expecting to get hooked on it, to be honest).  Also, I have only once made a legitimately serious chilli, and that wasn't that sophisticated, so there could be a lot of chilli eating between now and then..

Sunday was the first forecast dry day since I put the smoker together, so gave it a whirl. It was only my wife and I eating, but didn't want to have it smoking all day for just meat for two, so I went with feather blade beef joint and a few pork ribs.

As it was my first try, I was just getting a feel for it and didn't want to have too many variables to consider for the experiment - so I just banged them in with a few handfuls of smoking chips and tried to keep the temperature at around 110 degrees centigrade (it varied hour to hour by about +/-10 degrees).


I was aware that ribs generally take shorter than feather blade, but didn't want to disrupt the temperature by opening too frequently (opening can apparently add around 20 mins to overall cooking time) so just left them all in for around 7 hours. 

The ribs had quite a bark on them, but were still very soft and moist inside (relatively high fat content on ribs), they were ok but a little too salty with the rub. I used the same rub on the beef and that tasted very nice - it is somewhat disturbing seeing the meat look quite sooo charred (with normal associations of BBQ & charred crust = ruined), but I have discovered that the "bark" is actually very tasty and an integral part of traditional BBQ (apparently with beef brisket and pulled pork, the bark is the most in demand part).


I don't have the ingredients I used to make my dry-rub to hand, so I will post those up later.

rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Recipe: Burgers Re-visited


Last weekend, I had another try at burgers.  The good thing about burgers is that you can get great results with very little time or effort - just some carefully timed preparation and you can have a meal pretty quick.



I followed a similar approach as last time, except rather than the single, larger patties, I went for slimmer, "smashed" patties - but with two in each bun. I also added a cheese slice to the experience.  The end result was agreed to be better than the last attempt, so will modify from here.

There really isn't much to it, but here's the details (quantity for two complete burgers, 4 patties) :

Ingredients


  • ~400 grams beef mince - as per previously, exact blends of meat are most often personally guarded secrets, but even just ground braising steak (or chuck)  is a pretty decent option to get started.  This time around I actually just used 15% fat content Aberdeen angus beef, and was still fine
  • Salt
  • Two rolls - depending on your preference, I go for Brioche burger rolls
  • Sauces - I go for yellow mustard on the base and relish/tomato sauce on the top
  • Two cheese slices
  • Mature cheddar

Method

Pre-head the grill/broiler and a heavy bottomed frying pan on the hob, for about 10 minutes on a high heat.
  1. Split the mince into 4 even balls and squash into a patty shape - ideally about the diameter of the bun, it should be pretty slim

  2. Cut the buns in half and lightly toast under the grill (cut side facing the heat)

  3. Sprinkle salt on the top of each of the patties, and depending on the size of your pan put them in salted side face down - ideally I guess two at a time - with a spatula press down on the tops of each patty (for the smashed effect) - cook for a few minutes until nicely browned on the underside

  4. Sprinkle salt on the op of patties and flip & repeat

  5. Once buns are lightly toasted, add a few slices of the cheddar to the top half of the bun and toast further until melted

  6. Apply yellow mustard to inside base of the bun and relish to the top half (the cheese half)

  7. Once patties are nicely browned both sides, place one on the base of the bun, followed by a cheese slice, followed by the top of the bun.

  8. Eat!

Cooking time probably won't take more than 10 minutes, so if you have the buns, cheese and raw patties ready to go at the start, you can get it done pretty efficiently (if not frantically!)
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Chorizo Mac & Cheese


A little while back, a pasta place opened up near the office - It's called Coco di Mama and is a London chain.  I got lured in there a while ago because they had a board outside saying they were selling mac & cheese (marketers take note, that is all it takes to make me come to your shop).



They have mac & cheese on permanent rotation, but with a few variations: pulled-pork, chorizo and truffle oil.  Of the three, the chorizo variety is definitely the stand out. The pulled pork is fine, but the pork really just sits in the background not bringing much to the dish, and the truffle variation is not really to my taste.


But the chorizo, that is good. it brings a slightly spicy, acidity and brightness to the dish that works like a cross between tomatoes and bacon (the high notes of the tomatoes and the meaty, low notes of the bacon).  So, as if it wasn't already obvious, I have to try and re-create it.  Now I feel guilty making mac & cheese to frequently, as its really not a healthy meal, but I decided it was high time last weekend.


I went with my usual mac & cheese approach, so I will only skim over that, with a few notes at the bottom.


Method

  1. Cook the macaroni until al dente

  2. Cook the leek in butter, then use the butter to make a basic roux (I have never actually weighed/measured any of the flour, butter, milk or cheese I use here, so I can't really comment on that, but here is the basic idea)

  3. Add the cheese to the roux - again never weighed the cheese, just add to taste and thickness of the sauce - unsurprisingly, if you use stronger cheddar, it will taste stronger!  I also added 4 cheese slices (see notes below)

  4. Mix the leeks, chorizo, cheese sauce with the macaroni in an oven proof dish and top with more grated cheese and breadcrumbs (if you dont have breadcrumbs, I find grating a piece of sliced bread works well) - put in the oven at ~160 degrees for something like 30-40 minutes

Notes

  1. The cooks chorizo I used came similar shape to bacon lardons, small cubes about 1 cm in length - I found these somewhat underwhelming, and really I think I need to go for bigger slices of chorizo to get that brightness - with the smaller size it adds overall flavour to the dish, but not the more direct hit

  2. I added the cheese slices on recommendation from the FoodLab - the reason being it contains sodium citrate, which is used to make cheese slices more meltable - and the theory is helps make the sauce smoother, and bring out more of the cheese flavour. Modernist Cuisine go as far as using the sodium citrate raw in their mac & cheese. Without doing a particularly controlled experiment, I can't say that I observed nay notable difference, but I had the cheese slices (leftover from burgers) so in it went!

  3. I leek in my mac & cheese, but there is no denying it varies from the original, so to be true to re-creating that it might have to drop out next time around..


rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Birthday cake


I was saying a day or two ago, I often surprise myself at how difficult cake decorating is.

It's not that I am surprised that it's hard, I am surprised that I keep fooling myself into thinking "that looks simple".  In the cold light of day, I know full well that people spend years training and practising cake decoration, but for seem reason that part of my brain shuts down when I think of a cake decoration that looks simple to replicate (see my mothers day cake for goal vs reality!).



This occasion was no different.  It was my wife's birthday and needed to make a cake. and I thought a sponge with chocolate icing, but covered completely with chocolate chips in a densely covered pebbledash type effect (at least that's the best way I can describe it!)


I used the same chocolate-cream cheese-buttercream icing as in last year's cake, but this time I mixed up my sponge approach, moving away from my default food processor method.

The food processor method basically involves throwing all the ingredients into a food processor (just a normal processor using a blade attachment), and processing until smoothe, dropping consistency.  However, having read a bit about flour and how gluten is formed (adding moisture and stirring/beating to form gluten bonds, the more beating the more the proteins are able to move and form more bonds - creating a big gluten network), I wanted to take a more traditional approach to the cake - e.g. beat the ingredients up until the addition of the flour and then fold that in.  Replacing a small (~10%)  amount of the flour for a gluten free alternative (in this case, corn flour) also helps avoid the build up of too much gluten (which would prevent rising, and nice airy sponge).

Switching to the traditional approach, on the basis of a single experiment compared to numerous sponges previously baked, appeared to be a success - the cake definitely rose more than usual.





rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Latest fad #47 : Burgers


Yep. Time for another random fad.  This one is not entirely my fault though, as I did receive a cook book entirely about making burgers at Christmas (a very aesthetically pleasing and readable one at that), so it's to be expected that I give it a try at some point.



There seemed to be quite a craze about home made burgers a few years back. I'm not sure if it was actually a national thing, or just a craze when I was younger/a student that students go through. Anyways, the craze back then was for non-burger burgers. By which I mean, they never actually resembled burgers you might be in a restaurant or burger place. They were typically big oval-ish balls of supermarket mincemeat with, at the very least, chopped onions, eggs and flour added, often lots of other things (herbs, cheese, etc).

Now I have nothing against this brand of home-made burgers, but really, as my tastes (and I suppose my understanding) has evolved, I am more inclined to make burger-burgers. The type that burger joints make, the type that I guess you could say burger-snobs prefer (if you can truly be a snob about something as dirty as a burger?).

There are lots of these burger purists about, on the internet, or in the aforementioned Hamburger Gourmet book, who focus on three things:

  1. The only ingredients in your patties should be: beef & salt
  2. Everyone has their own "secret" blend of three beef cuts that they use (for some reason, three is the magic number). Kenji over at the FoodLab has a great run down of different beef cuts for burgers along with tasting notes and fat content.
  3. Cooking technique is very important - They need to be seared at a high temperature (for the maillard reaction and to hold the patty together)

So I decided to have a pop. Due to a fairly limited choice at my local Waitrose meat counter, and on the basis that I was just testing out the technique, on Kenji's recommendation, I went with the standard chuck mince (no blend here!), which is more commonly braising steak in the UK.

I found it took quite a while to get my pan up to a high enough temperature to effectively sear the patties, I pre-heat for about 10 minutes but still didn't seem as hot as it should be. I will try a different pan next time.  Applying pressure whilst cooking also helps sear quicker (and also helps for a more "smashed" effect burger)

In the end, it tasted pretty good. The problem I have with burgers, is that for all the effort, they just taste like burgers. Now this isn't a bad thing, they are satisfying, warm, soft and definitely fill a need, but they rarely blow you away. Great burgers are great, but run of the mill burgers from half-decent fast food burger places can taste pretty great too..  For me, the magic really lies in the combination of cheese, relish (maybe mustard) and meat wrapped in soft bread soaking up the juices.  So for all the effort you put in, I'm not sure you really a proportional increase in return on your effort.

That said, its actually pretty low effort required, so I will do it again soon. Who knows, maybe this weekend..


rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Recipe: Lasagne


I have never understood people who don't like lasagne. Admittedly, I haven't met many of these people, so maybe they just don't exist? For all it's simplicity, I think the pairing of cheese and tomato has to be one of the greatest (I mean, just adding it to a piece of the most basic sliced white bread can make for an incredible snack when under the grill a la "toast pizza"), and throw in the warm, savoury meatiness and what more could you want, right?


(I know that's not a very appetising picture, to be honest I have been putting in less effort with my photos. I largely forget/don't get a chance to try and get good ones, and usually just use my phone)


Growing up, lasagne was always my favourite meal - although I did have the advantage of growing up with my mums lasagne, which is awesome. Maybe these mythical people who don't like lasagne simply grew up eating crappy lasagne (if such a thing exists?). I remember having the lasagne at the college canteen, which I think probably ranks as the worst of my lasagne experiences, but even so, lasagne-day in the canteen was still something to look forward to.

When I say it was my favourite meal, it's not that it's fallen out of favour in any way, its just that my tastes have expanded and some of my favourite meals now are the kind of thing that I would have groaned at on hearing they were planned for dinner as a kid (for some unknown, un-explicable reason, I was never that fussed for roast dinners, casseroles, stews etc - possibly just the fact that they had visibly whole vegetables in them?  Possibly just because I was a stupid child. Either way, these are now amongst my favourite meals).


Anyways, on to my lasagne.  This is not the recipe for the best lasagne, or a special lasagne, this is just the way I currently cook it. I feel like it should be better, but I can't really put my finger on what particular characteristics should be stronger.  It will undoubtedly go through changes each time, but either way, it seems to be well received on the occasions I have made it so far, so here it is..


Ingredients

The meat ragu:

  • 500 grams pork mince
  • 500 grams beef mince
  • 200 grams bacon lardons (or just chopped bacon)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • olive oil
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • three cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano (dried is fine)
  • 400 grams tinned tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Worcester sauce
  • 400 ml stock
  • milk (a few splashes)
  • 100 ml red wine 
  • flour
  • 3-4 bay leaves (optional)

Cheese Sauce (optional):

  •  1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • flour
  • 200 ml milk
  • 200 grams cheddar
  • optional: 1 bay leaf and nutmeg for grating

Essentials:

  • lasagne sheets
  • 100 grams fresh mozarella
  • 100 grams ricotta


Method

Pre-heat fan oven to 160 degrees centigrade

The meat:

  1. First, we will cook the meat sauce, that will go in the oven for a few hours giving us plenty of time for the cheese sauce right at the end. Melt the butter and a glug of olive oil in a big pan

  2. Cook the onions, garlic, carrots and celery in the butter and oil over a low heat until they are beautifully soft and aromatic - about ten minutes - at this point I don't really season with salt, as we will be adding bacon and stock later, which can both be salty.

  3. Add the bacon and teaspoon of oregano and cook for a further few minutes (don't worry about how cooked the bacon is, we will sit this in the oven later and it will become meltingly soft then)

  4. Remove the ingredients from the pan and sit aside, leaving a little of the oil/butter in the pan. Add the pork and beef, and brown, gently mixing and breaking up with a spoon.

  5. Once browned, stir the tomato puree through the mince and cook for a few more minutes.

  6. Add a tablespoon of flour or so to bring together the juices and stir through

  7. Next, we will de-glaze the pan with the red wine - pour it all in and cook for a further few minutes, the wine will probably reduce a but here

  8. Mix the cooked vegetables and all the oil/butter with them back into the meat and mix through

  9. Add the stock, Worcester sauce and bay leaves (if using them), stir through and stick in the oven. Cover the pan but slightly crack the lid (we want some reduction in the sauce).

  10. The meat can stay in the oven for as long as you need - if it is reducing too much just add a splash of water and reduce the temperature - I keep it in for about 2 hours, but depending on timing. Once done, pour a few splashes of milk in and stir through - this will bind it together and make it a little glossier (can also use cream for even more indulgence!)

The cheese:

Really, the sauce is optional - sometimes I just replace the cheese sauce entirely with torn mozzarella and ricotta, but if you are feeling more decadent, then you can make a bechamel sauce to top the lasagne for an extra cheese hit!
  1. We will put the constructed lasagne in the oven for about 40 minutes, so about an hour before you want to eat, start the white sauce

  2. This is a basic bechamel sauce, so make as you normally would - you can be as fancy as you like, adding bay leaves to the milk, grate in some nutmeg at the end, whatever. I normally keep this simple as there lots else going on and this is not the star of the show  - melt the butter, stir in the flour until it forms a a smooth paste, add the milk gradually, still over the heat, whisking it until smooth as you add it.

  3. Once the milk is added and sauce combined and starting to bubble, take off the heat and add the cheddar

Construction:

  1. Put a layer of lasagne sheets at the bottom of an oven dish, follow with a layer of meat sauce. Then using a teaspoon sprinkle a few blobs of ricotta on top of the meat, chop the mozzarella to approximately 1 cm cubes and sprinkle some of those on. Repeat the pasta-meat-cheese until all sauce used

  2. If using cheese sauce: top the lasagne (assuming your top layer is currently meat topped with ricotta and mozzarella) with sheets of pasta and then pour over the cheese sauce

  3. Put in the oven and cook for 40 minutes



rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Shortbread Swirls for children


The original recipe for this one came from a Green and Blacks chocolate recipe book.  As it is basically just shortbread, I just use my normal ratio that I use for brownbutter shortbread.



This is a really simple one, but more visually satisfying, which is good for doing with children (which is really the only time I make these).


Ingredients

  • 210 grams plain flour
  • 100 grams caster sugar
  • 10 grams cocoa powder
  • 150 grams choc chunks
  • 180 grams unsalted butter

Method

Pre-heat fan oven to 160 degrees centigrade
  1. In two separate batches, cream together 50 grams of sugar and 90 grams of butter

  2. In one batch mix in 110 grams of plain flour and beat further until combined

  3. In the other batch of sugar/butter mix the remaining 100 grams of plain flour and the 10 grams of cocoa powder

  4. Roll out the plain dough in to a rectangle, so its approximately 1/2 cm thick

  5. Roll out the cocoa dough to roughly the same size (these are very much rustic looking, so don't worry if they are wonk or not very rectangle - just rough rolling is fine)

  6. Lay the cocoa dough on top of the plain one, now spread the choc chunks across the top of the dough

  7. Carefully holding the dough, roll it up so it makes a cylindrical shape (like rolling up a rug!) - again, don't worry if bits of the dough break due to the choc chunks, just squeeze/pat it together

  8. Once rolled, cover it in clingfilm and pop in the fridge to cool a little, 30-60 minutes is probably fine

  9. Once chilled, remove the roll and slice into discs, about 1/2-1 inch thick, place on a lined baking tray and pop in the oven for about 15minutes, or until the plan dough starts to lightly brown
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

New York Style Pizza: Experiments


If you have read more than a few of my posts here, you will probably come to realise that I am a fairly suggestible guy. It takes just the briefest of mentions of mac & cheese during the week to get be obsessing about it right up until the weekend when I inevitably have to turn my thoughts into reality.



Well, this story starts no different. I can't really remember what made me think to start obsessing on pizza. I can only imagine I saw some writing about it somewhere, or maybe its the fact that I now have a pizza stone (which I actually purchased to cook my Christmas turkey, but that's a different story), either way, I decided I wanted to crack New York style pizza - specifically, the thin base with bigger crust.

Being as dough is such a scientific beast, I turned to a few recipes to get started with to try and benchmark my findings so I could start experimenting further.

Attempt 1: 4 day cold rise before a few hours at room temperature - I didn't seal the dough sufficiently so it dried out. I was using a non-kneading food processor approach recommended by the FoodLab RESULT: In the bin!

Attempt 2: Similar timings as my first attempt, but remembering to keep the dough in a ziplock freezer bag and with an amended recipe (but still using the food processor technique). RESULT: No visible rising, but was more or less edible (well, it served as the most basic of vessel for the tomato sauce and cheese!)

Attempt 3: I switched to a less pizza-purist dough recipe and tried a Jamie Oliver recipe that only took a few hours to rise  also switched to traditional kneading (via freestanding mixer) rather than food processor. RESULT: The dough tasted so-so, but was well risen with decent crust, the dough wasn't as strong as I had wanted and tore occasionally whilst stretching it out.

Attempt 4: Continued with Jamie Oliver's recipe, but adjust the quantity of salt to improve the flavour. RESULT: As expected, it did not rise as well as 3) but disappointingly no meaningful improvement in the flavour



And this is where we are up to so far - the good news is that I have a presentable pizza that tastes fine, but definitely still a long way to go.


Observations

The two main goals I am aiming for are: 1) be able to make amazing New York style pizzas (regardless of time) 2) make decent tasting pizzas in a day.

A lot of yeast sold in the UK is Instant Dried Yeast - which is different to Active Dried Yeast, that a lot of recipes will use. It's worth being aware of the differences - The dried yeast needs warm water to "activate" the yeast, and can take up to twice as long to work(!!)

I was originally using my measuring jug for the water (basically one of these), and decided to weigh the water - on repeated experiments filling the jug to the red line (by eye, leaving the water to settle before confirming)  for 150ml I found a variance of +/- 10grams, which seems remarkably high to me!

I believe the Food Lab is onto something with the theory behind the food processor technique, but I think for now I will stick to the kneading technique - even if only because it should more consistently work with any recipe, plus sticking the dough in the mixer and leaving it to knead on a low speed for 10 minutes really doesn't take much effort on my part.
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Recipe creation, the Adjacent Possible & my first Fish Pie


On the weekend I decided to cook a fish pie. I enjoy fish pies when I eat them, which is relatively infrequent - to the point that I can probably count the number of fish pies I have eaten in my lief on my hands (or at least fingers and toes!).  As you might imagine, having eaten so few fish pies, I have never cooked one myself.

Now when I cook, by and large, I like to freestyle it (with the exception of cakes, where I follow recipes, but I don't frequently bake cakes).  Which can be a challenge when it comes to attempting to cook something I have never cooked before, so I thought as well as writing up my final recipe for the pie (which turned out pretty tasty, in my opinion) I would write a bit about my process.

I say process. I mean bumbling around trying to read enough to make sense of what is going on and not ruining dinner for us all.



The recipes I post here are all devised by myself, but they always borrow from lots of sources.  I think everyone does really, and very few recipes are genuinely original thought.  A while ago, after cooking my sausage and apple pie, my mum (my parents were visiting at the time)  asked if I had invented the recipe up myself, I answered yes, but at that moment, I felt a little bad taking credit for it, as really it was just the culmination of years of more informed, practiced people's success.  I certainly wasn't the first person to pair pork and apple, nor pairing pork and mustard, nor undoubtedly the first to put pork and apple into a pie!


There's an idea that is often used in reference to in innovation and invention that is the Adjacent Possible

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. (Steven Johnson - The Origin of Good Ideas)


What it really means, is at any given time, given everything we know, understand and have, there is the next step on from that, which is where innovation happens - this can be seen throughout history through lots of remarkable discoveries being made simultaneously by different people, in different parts of the world - that is, innovation isn't happening in the large, its the small increments from where we are (hence, the adjacent possible - the next thing), which is why at the same time, lots of independent people come up with the same ideas at the same time.

And that's the way I look at recipe creation - the adjacent possible. It is a different chronology for sure, as some of the ideas I am working on are decades old, but its the same principle. I take lots of other people's good ideas, and mix them together as I fancy.



There are some things that need to be exact, and there are some things that can be messed with - but once you start to understand what is happening when you cook, then identifying what these are then the more freedom you get to experiment with the components that you know won't make or break your end meal.


For example, on the very exacting, precise side you have things like pizza dough - here, the small details matter, and bakers work with very precise percentages mastering those. It's a known fact that salt slows down the fermentation process in dough (which I have only recently learnt, having just tried to make pizza dough!), so if you play too much with your salt percentages, then you need to understand that you need to also change your timings, and too much salt is just going to effectively kill the process for you.  On the other hand, basic things like aromatics (onions, leeks etc) are pretty much always inter-changeable, as they are bringing flavour - and thats something you can play with, to suit your own tastes (or food supplies).


Let's take an example of any slow cooked casserole I have featured on this blog. As I have mentioned in some of the posts, they are pretty formulaic, and it's really the discovery of this approach and flexibility that got me started on home recipe invention and learning what can be experimented with.

The basic components of my slow cooked casseroles are:
  • Fat - most commonly butter or oil etc
  • Aromatics - onion, leek, celery, carrot, etc, 
  • Flavour - I'm just using this term to categorise additional flavouring mustard,Worcester sauce, vinegar, tomato puree, soy sauce, fish sauce, herbs/spices etc - basically a fairly intense flavour "hit"
  • Liquids - stock/alcohol/water
  • Meat - lamb/beef/pork etc


As I'm sure you can guess, as these all have multiple options listed, these are all interchangeable, and by-and-large if you take a random combination of those listed above, you will likely get something at least halfway decent.

However, there is one important factor in your casserole that can't be messed with (too much) - that's the meat. Slow cooking is, like all cooking, a scientific process.  When you cook, the heat, over time, is altering the make up of the meat - in slow cooking specifically it is breaking down the collagen (in the connective tissue) which dissolves to gelatin, making for really succulent, tender and flavourful meat. Which is great news for pieces of meat like lamb shanks or beef short rib, which are cheap cuts of meat but high in connective tissue, but is exactly why you will never have any success slow cooking chicken breast, as it has very little connective tissue and will just dry out (but luckily, chicken breast is quick to cook anyway, so there isn't really any need to slow cook it!).

Having identified the constraints on the approach (the meat), we can be confident experimenting with the other factors to suit our taste, imagination or cupboards!



So, back to my fish pie.

The first thing I wanted to do was understand what makes up a fish pie and what constraints there are.  My normal approach to a new meal is just reading. I like to read recipes, even recipes for things that I know how to cook, as its always interesting to read ways other people have tried things, or find any interesting insights they have which can be borrowed in the future.

So I read several fish pie recipes, there seemed to be some variations: some people pre-poach the fish in milk before putting in the pie, some people don't use potato for the topping, and the fish itself varies too.

I wanted to make a classic style fish pie (creamy filling, mash potato topping) and from what I could tell (and based on what I know about the different components) the only constraint seemed to be that the fish was cooked (and not over cooked), which left me quite a bit of freedom to just pick the ingredients and flavours I wanted.


Ingredients

  • One fillet of cod (MSC approved, of course) without skin/bones
  • one fillet of smoked haddock without skin/bones
  • a handful of king prawns (I used pre-cooked prawns)
  • a handful of strong cheddar, grated
  • a teaspoon of chopped dill (fresh)
  • half a lemon
  • 200ml milk
  • tablespoon butter
  • tablespoon of flour
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 3 large potatoes (for mashing to top)

Method

Preheat fan oven to 170 degrees centigrade
  1. Peel, chop and boil the potatoes to make the mash

  2. Heat the milk in a pan with the bay leaves

  3. Melt the butter in a pan, once melted add the flour and whisk into a smooth paste. Keeping over the heat, slowly add the milk, a little at a time - whisking each time until the mixture is smooth

  4. Chop the cod and haddock and toss into a casserole/pie dish a long with the prawns

  5. Throw in the chopped dill, a pinch of salt, the grated cheese and then squeeze the half lemon - stir the ingredients to mix through

  6. pour over the milk sauce (removing the bay leaves) and top with potato

  7. Put in the oven for about 40minutes, then serve


rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Recipe: Red wine & rosemary lamb shanks


It turns out I have quite a backlog of posts sitting around that I just haven't had the time to publish, so I will try and bang them out quickly now. This particular post seems sensible to go out first as it is the most recent in memory, and chances are given a few more weeks the exact details will be escaping me.

It was Mother's Day here in the UK on Sunday, so as well as a cake (see a forthcoming post!) I also cooked up some lamb shanks. The advantage of lamb shanks is, like much of my repertoire, it is slow cooked, so pretty easy to throw together whilst also looking after children (which is obviously my main purpose on Mother's Day).



It's a pretty easy dish to make, tastes great and as usual we just need to let time do its work.


Ingredients

  • Two lamb shanks
  • Tomato puree
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 leek
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground rosemary (dried is fine)
  • ~100ml red wine
  • ~400ml stock - vegetable, lamb, whatever
  • 1 tablespoon flour

Method

Takes about 20minutes prep, then 2 1/2-3 hours cooking. 
Preheat fan over to 170 degrees centigrade
  1. Add some olive oil to a pan and brown the lamb shanks over a high heat, once browned remove the lamb and set aside in a casserole dish.
  2. Chop the carrots, leek and celery and add to the pan, adding more oil if needed - there will probably be bits of lamb stuck to the pan in places, de-glaze with oil and the spoon and mix through. Add a pinch of salt and cook over a medium heat until soft, probably 8 minutes or so (side note: this will smell awesome!)
  3. Add a heaped tablespoon of tomato puree and a teaspoon of the ground rosemary, cook for another few minutes
  4. Sprinkle over the tablespoon of flour and mix through
  5. Add the red wine and mix through, de-glazing the pan
  6. Add the stock, then pour vegetable & liquid mixture over the lamb shanks in the casserole dish
  7. Cover the casserole dish and cook in the over for about 2 1/2 hours - depending on the size of your shanks, but you should be able to tell when the shanks are tender and soft
  8. Serve - if the sauce is too runny, then remove the shanks and return the liquid & vegetables to the pan on the hob and reduce until appropriate thickness.



rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Mothers Day Cake 2016


Yep, that time of year again, and of course, children have to be involved when it comes to a Mothers day cake, right?

Just days before, I had seen on some social media a rather impressive looking easter cake, and thought to myself, me and the boys should do that!

We didn't exactly follow the recipe, so our version is more inspired by the one above, all though I did follow the directions for making the chocolate ganache on the top (just chop chocolate and pour hot cream over the top).

The sponge was my go to food-processor sponge recipe from Nigella Lawson (I take it from her "Domestic Goddess" book, but the recipe can be found online), which is both incredibly easy/kid-friendly and seems to be pretty consistent in producing great Victoria sponges (note my highlighting! the food processor is the way to go, so don't be put off that it won't be good as traditional techniques!)

The buttercream was also a basic buttercream - based on BBC's basic buttercream recipe, which is basically a 2:1 sugar:butter ratio with a few spoons of milk as needed for consistency.


We went for a slightly more easter-y theme, and had a small chick popping out of the chocolate egg in the center, rather than just more eggs..



I believe the phrase that people use is #NailedIt
rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen

Food tourism: New York City


I had the pleasure of a weekend trip to NYC last weekend. Having been previously with my wife and done the usual tourist stuff, I decided this time to do some more experience-type-food-tourism stuff, which turned out to be really nice! As you can see from the maps, they were all highly reviewed places, so a good weekend eating!

Breakfast: Buttermilk Channel


Sunday morning I trekked across town to Brooklyn with some friends to this place - clearly a hip and in-demand place as once again, there were queues of people out the door and a waiting time of about an hour (luckily we had a local friend who had headed down early to put our names on the list!). I had the french toast with a side of bacon and sausage - it was both a big portion and pretty indulgent (as I was told by the waitress before ordering!) it came with a bourbon and pecan sauce and the cream, and was delicious. Bottomless coffee as standard too.


Coffee: Stumptown Coffee (ACE Hotel)

First thing I wanted to find on the Saturday morning was a good coffee - so I did some quick googling and this place ticked both boxes of being highly recommended and fairly central.

I got there and the queue was out the door (surely a good sign) - the coffee was good, but honestly, being spoilt for choice for good coffee where I am (I work in Fitzrovia, London, which has an abundance of great coffee places) it didn't seem out of the ordinary.

The best part about the place was that it was attached to the lobby of a fairly hipster hotel (Ace hotel, 29th Street) and the lobby had free wi-fi and loads of comfy seating (although it filled up pretty quickly too) so was perfect to sit, relax and use the wifi to plan the rest of the day's food.

I ended up stopping by here a few times through the weekend to chill out and use the wifi.


 

Pizza: Prince St Pizza

This one was recommended by Kenji Lopez-Alt as the best pizza slice in the city, so I made the trek south to try it, and it was good!

Not much to be said, its a decent square slice of pizza with thick, rich red tomato and white homemade mozarella and a generous helping of peperoni.



BBQ: Mighty Quinns

Saturday evening I went out for dinner with friends again, and BBQ seemed like a good idea - a quick Google search later, and Mighty Quinns looked like a good choice (from the reviews on Google Maps). And apparently it is currently considered to be the best BBQ in NYC and the place that put New York on the map in terms of BBQ joints.


It was decent - the pulled pork and brisket both very good, and as you'd expect for slow smoked BBQ meat - disappointingly they had run out of their beef ribs, which I would have liked to have tried, but good all round. Their sides, including the buttermilk brocoli were all excellent too - and a decent selection of American craft beers.

rob hinds Shambolically fumbling my way around the kitchen