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Category Archives: Snacks

Cedges Learns – Dim Sum Class – 3 Steamed Dumplings

A couple of months ago, I attended a Dim Sum Course at London Cookery School – It was a 3 and a half hour session for the bargain price of £35 up in Highbury.  We learnt how to make Ha Gau and Chiu Chow Fun Gwor, both thin translucent skinned dumplings with fillings of prawn and pork including the dough and Sui Mai which has a pork and prawn filling but which used a shop bought skin. All of the dumplings were steamed and eaten at the end of the class – there were a lot of dumplings! I would have been wise to save some for later!

The set up wasn’t really what I expected which was essentially proper cooking work stations – instead we had a long table with chairs for 20 and each person’s seat laid out with a few Ikea plastic bowls, a place mat and a few ingredient items in the middle of the table. One wall of the otherwise empty shop front had tables with a row of electric steamers and a little sink area at the back. I felt a little underwhelmed but actually the set up worked well – it would have been nice to not have some of the ingredients quite so pre-prepared but for 3 hours, £35 and the overall outcome, I can’t remotely complain.

We started by making the three fillings, went on to make the translucent dough and then put together the dumplings themselves.  I have provided the ingredients and methods below but I’ve obviously missed out a whole list of tips and tricks we learnt on the day along with tips on the dumpling folding etc so I’d still recommend attending the course.

Most of the ingredients, including the more unusual sounding will be available from any decent chinese supermarket or are likely available online. The dough and fillings are actually super simple to make so don’t be put off by the ingredient lists.

Makes at least 30 dumplings


Ha Gau Filling:

80g Raw King Prawn (de-veined and shelled)
1 tsp Water Chestnut, finely chopped
1/4 tsp Ginger, finely chopped
1/3 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Cornflour
A Tiny Pinch White Pepper

Chiu Chow Fun Gwor Filling:

60g 20% Fat Minced Pork
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salted radish (finely chopped)
1 tsp Chinese Mushroom (finely chopped)
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Light Soy
1 tsp Sesame Oil
A Pinch White Pepper
1 tsp Cornflour
2 tbsp Cold Water

Sui Mai Filling:

60g 20% Fat Minced Pork
10g Minced Prawn
1 tsp Chinese Mushroom (finely chopped)
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1/3 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Cornflour
A Small Pinch White Pepper
1 tsp Vegetable Oil

Ha Gau and Chiu Chow Fun Gwor Dough:
60g Wheat Starch
40g Tapioca Flour
40g Cornflour
1 tsp Sugar
A Large Pinch Salt
120g Boiling Water
1 tsp Vegetable Oil

10 Siu Mai Wrappers


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Ha Gau Filling Method:

Finely mince 80g Raw King Prawns (de-veined and shelled), 1 tsp Water Chestnut and 1/4 tsp Ginger. Combine in a small bowl with 1/3 tsp Salt, 1 tsp Sugar, 1 tsp Cornflour and a Tiny Pinch White Pepper.  Mix thoroughly and set aside in the fridge.

Chiu Chow Fun Gwor Filling Method:

Combine 60g 20% Fat Minced Pork and 1/4 tsp Baking Powder in a small bowl.  Finely chop 1/2 tsp Salted Radish and 1 tsp Chinese Mushroom and add to the bowl with 1 tsp Sugar, 1 tsp Light Soy, 1 tsp Sesame Oil, a Pinch White Pepper, 1 tsp Cornflour and 2 tbsp Cold Water.  Mix thoroughly and set aside in the fridge.

Sui Mai Filling Method:

Finely mince 10g Prawn and 1 tsp Chinese Mushroom and combine with 60g 20% Fat Minced Pork, 1/4 tsp Baking Powder, 1/4 tsp Salt, 1/3 tsp Sugar, 1 tsp Cornflour, a Small Pinch White Pepper and 1 tsp Vegetable Oil. Mix thoroughly and set aside in the fridge.

Ha Gau and Chiu Chow Fun Gwor Dough Method:

Combine 60g Wheat Starch, 40g Tapioca Flour, 40g Cornflour, 1 tsp Sugar and a Large Pinch Salt in a medium bowl.

Add 120g Boiling Water, mix quickly for only 20 seconds then cover the bowl and leave for 2 minutes – this ‘cooks’ the flour.

Add 2 tsp Vegetable Oil to the dough and knead until very smooth – this doesn’t take long at all.  And it goes VERY smooth.

Divide the dough into two halves, roll each half into a thick sausage and then divide each sausage into 10 equal pieces to end up with 20 pieces in total. Keep the dough balls in a plastic bag with the top kept tightly wound to stop them from drying out.

Making the Ha Gau:

Roll out one of the dough balls to about 1/2 mm thick, then cut out a round with a 3 inch cookie cutter with smooth edge.  Squeeze the cuttings together and place back in the plastic bag.

Add about half a teaspoon of Ha Gau filling to the dough round and loosely fold the dough over the filling. Hold the dough in your left hand and use your right hand to create pleats whilst at the same time pinching the edges together. I can’t possibly describe this any better sorry!

Tip – Even the most gnarly folded ones dumplings looked pretty great after they steamed – and if they taste good who cares – if you want to make them more even, prettier and with longer pleats – I think the trick is just to keep practising it. 

Place the folded dumpling into a steamer basket and continue to repeat with the other 9 balls of dough.

There should be some filling left so squeeze together all of the off cuts and roll them out to form as many extra dumplings as you can get with the remaining dough and filling. I think I ended up with about 14.

Making the Chui Chow Fun Gwor:

Prepare each of the remaining 10 dough balls in exactly the same way as with the Ha Gau.

Add a similar amount of filling to each round and fold in half. Squeeze the edges of the dough together to make a half moon shape – these are much easier than the Ha Gau!

Place each dumpling in steamer baskets and again use up any leftover dough with the leftover filling until all used up.

Making the Sui Mai:

This is the easiest of them all. Take the 10 Siu Mai Wrappers and lay them out of a flat surface. Split the filling mixture between the 10 skins.

Wet the edge of the skins with a little cold water using your finger.

Make a circle with your thumb and forefinger on your left hand. Balance the dumpling skin and filling over the hole in your hand then ease the whole thing downwards through the hole. This will wrap the dough around the filling leaving the top exposed. Firmly press the wrapper together until it keeps its shape.

Repeat with the other 9 dumplings and place them all in the steamer basket.

Steam all of the dumplings for 8 minutes over high heat.

Tip – You can freeze the dumplings on an oiled try before cooking – once frozen, throw them in a ziplock freezer bag.  They will take about 12 minutes to steam from frozen. I’d really recommend doubling or tripling the recipes and doing this for easy weeknight dinners. 

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Chocolate and Cream Cheese Monkey Bread

I made a double batch of the sweet dough I use to make my Super Garlicky Cheesy Tear’n’Share Loaf and Garlic and Mozzarella Swirl Buns to try making a sweet bread too. After a bit of internet browsing and cookbook perusing I ignored them all entirely and made this up – it worked wonderfully!

A monkey bread is usually made in a bundt type tin and so the balls of dough are more layered than my traybake affair so whether this is in fact ‘monkey bread’ I don’t know. Or care to be honest. It tastes good and its near enough!

I am aware that I have now basically repeated my recipe for this dough 3 times but I find it really quite irritating when following a recipe to have to keep flicking backwards and forwards to different blog posts (the same reason I put the quantity of each ingredient within the recipe so you don’t have to keep scrolling to the ingredient list). So, sorry, not sorry.

Makes about 40-45 golf ball size morsels

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For the Dough:

90ml (6 tbsp) Water
2 x 7g sachets Fast-Acting Dried Yeast
500g Strong White Flour – I sometimes substitute White Spelt Flour
50g Caster Sugar
1 tbsp Sea Salt Flakes
40g Salted Butter or Low Fat Spread
2 Eggs
140ml Skimmed or Semi-Skimmed Milk

For the Filling:

250g Cream Cheese
200g Finely Chopped Dark Chocolate or Chocolate Drops/Chunks
50g Icing Sugar

For the Coating:

40g Cocoa Powder
80g Granulated Sugar


To Make the Dough:

Add 6 tbsp of fairly warm (not hot) Water to a small bowl and add 2 x 7g sachets Fast-Acting Dried Yeast and 50g Caster Sugar. Whisk to combine a little (it won’t combine properly) and set aside.

Measure 500g Strong White Flour and  1 tbsp Sea Salt Flakes into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.

Tip – If you have stand mixer or a processor with a dough hook, this is an ideal time to use it.  Some electric hand whisks also come with dough hooks in which case break those out after the next step. You can stir and knead by hand but why would you if you don’t have to?!

Add 40g Salted Butter or Low Fat Spread, 2 Eggs, the by now frothy yeast and water mix and 140ml Skimmed or Semi-Skimmed Milk to the flour and stir until a dough is formed.

Tip – The dough will be quite soft and sticky – this is a good thing!

Knead the dough until is it smooth and super stretchy – a good 10 minutes if kneading by hand, if not a bit longer – 5 to 7 minutes if using an electric mixer.

Tip – Knead the dough on a floured surface but try not to add too much extra flour to the dough as this will dry it out. If it feels like its getting a bit dry, knead in a little more milk or water. 

Leave the dough in a large covered bowl somewhere warm for about an hour to rise – it should about double in size.

Tip – You can just leave this on the side in the kitchen but it’ll take twice as long. An airing cupboard or similar is ideal but I don’t have one so depending on the time of year, I usually put one of my ovens onto a super low heat and pop it in there – I’ve been burnt by doing this on occasion by being impatient and its started to cook the dough a little by having it on too high a heat. Don’t do this! You could also warm the oven a little, pop the dough in and then turn the oven off – just don’t keep opening the door to let the residual heat out.

While the dough is rising, make the filling by thoroughly mixing the 250g Cream Cheese, 200g Finely Chopped Dark Chocolate or Chocolate Drops/Chunks and 50g Icing Sugar and putting it into the fridge to chill back down and firm up a little.

Prep the coating by combining 40g Cocoa Powder and 80g Granulated Sugar in a shallow bowl. Set aside. 

Once risen, tip the dough out onto a floured surface and give it a quick light knead. No need for electric power here. Split the dough into thirds and roll each third into a long sausage to about the thickness of a 2p piece. Cut each sausage into about 15 pieces. The exact number is not cause for concern.

Roll each piece of dough into a very rough ball and place out on a floured work surface (you could do this in two batches if needed). Press each ball down a little and make a small indent in the middle of each to receive the filling.

Take the cream cheese and chocolate mixture and put about half a teaspoon into the indent in each dough ball.

Tip – I did this en-masse rather than one at a time as I wanted to make sure that my cream cheese mix was evenly(ish) distributed though all the dough balls.

Pick up each piece of dough and wrap the dough around the cream cheese mix so that it is fully(ish) enclosed.

Roll each of the dough balls in the cocoa/sugar mixture and place into a large roasting tray, or two smaller ones, or one smaller one but double layers. Or a bundt tin – whatever you fancy.

Gently cover the tray and leave for about 40-45 minutes in a warm place to rise again.

Meanwhile, add a little boiling water to the remaining cocoa/sugar mix until the sugar has mostly melted and it is the consistency of thick hot chocolate.  Set aside.

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10 minutes before the end of proving, pre-heat the over to 200c or the equivalent.

Remove the cover from tin and drizzle the cocoa and sugar syrup over the balls then put into the oven. Check after 10-12 minutes and removed from the oven when all puffed up and cooked through (check a middle one).

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Serve a little warm.

Chorizo, Mozzarella and Red Onion Chutney Pastry Roses

 Do not be put off my how cool these look! They are SO simple to make – well, assuming you use ready made puff pastry, otherwise they’re going to be a little bit of a labour of love (but so worth it I’d bet!) My recipe and tips for making proper puff pastry are here – its not really hard, it just a bit time consuming.

I created these roses to sell at an East Dulwich WI bake sale after being inspired by these apple roses. I don’t like apple and wanted to make something savoury (and meaty as usual) so thin slices of chorizo seemed like a good idea.

Experimenting to get the cooking time right so that the pastry is cooked all the way through but without burning the bejesus out of the top of the chorizo did take a bit of doing.  After a few attempts, I hit on a method of covering the pastries for the whole (quite long) cooking process. I also abandoned the original plan of baking them in a muffin tin as this didn’t allow the pasty room to expand outwards which made them a little dense. Photos come from various batches I made so please excuse the varying quantities throughout.

They were a sell out at the sale which was a little gutting as I really fancied eating one by the end of the day! Cannot complain at that tho!

Makes 10

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Ingredients:

1 Sheet Ready Rolled Puff Pastry
Flour for dusting
10 tsp Red Onion Chutney
150g finely grated Mozzarella Cheese
25 Slices Chorizo
1 Egg

Equipment:

Large Roasting Tray
1 cup(ish) Uncooked Rice
10 Paper Muffin Cases
Rolling Pin (or a roll of clingfilm)
Pastry Brush
Enough Foil to Double Cover the Tin


Preheat the oven to 180c or equivalent.

Prepare a large roasting tin by lining the bottom with 1 cup of uncooked rice or some other fat soaking material – this will stop chorizo fat melting everywhere and smoking the place out. Lay 10 muffin cases out ready to fill.

Lightly dust the work surface with Flour. Take 1 Sheet Ready Rolled Puff Pastry out of the packet and cut it in half with a sharp knife straight through the paper whilst still rolled. Set aside one half for now and unroll the other being careful it doesn’t crack as you’re unrolling.

Place the half pastry sheet on the floured surface (portrait wise) and gently roll it a little thinner until its a third to a half as big again. Concentrate on rolling it wider rather than longer.

Cut the pastry with a sharp knife into 5 equal strips.

Spread 1 tsp of Red Onion Chutney along the middle of each strip.

Split half of the 150g finely grated Mozzarella Cheese amongst the 5 strips, sprinkling it lightly over the chutney.

Cut 20 Slices Chorizo in half with a sharp knife or scissors. Lay 5 halves of chorizo along the top half of each strip. Leave a gap at either end of each strip and overlap the slices slightly. Leave only a tiny piece of the slice pointing over the top of the pastry edge.

Beat 1 Egg in a small bowl and brush egg over the bottom part of exposed pastry. Gently fold the bottom half of each strip over the top and lightly press down.

Egg wash the exposed pastry on each strip then gently roll each folded strip into a rose shape. Place each into a paper case and lightly egg wash all of the exposed pastry.

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Lay each paper clad rose into the roasting tin on-top of the rice.

Repeat all of the steps with the second half of the pastry to create 10 roses in total.

Cover the whole tin in 2 layers of foil and put into the oven for 1 hour and 20 mins. Check it a little earlier if your oven runs on the hot side.

Leave the roses to cool a little on a wire rack before digging in. They can also be reheated in the microwave or just chow down on them cold. Lush!

 

Baked Camembert with Garlic, Maple & Thyme and ‘Things to Serve it With’

First up, I’d going to recommend buying a Camembert and eating it fairly swiftly. You should certainly not buy it, leave it in the fridge for 3 weeks wondering why the fridge stinks every time you open it then pack it into the car boot, spend the day driving to Ikea, back again and then driving to Oxfordshire.  Because by the time you get to Oxfordshire, your car will reek riper than ripe. And you probably will to. This may or may not have happened to me! It is however worth it because whilst rather decadent, a whole baked cheese treated as a fondue is bloody delicious.

My Camembert was sold as a ‘baking camembert’ and came with a little ceramic dish to bake it in. More often than not, they come in flimsy cardboard boxes – simply dispose the lid then line the box with tin foil. The box/dish will stop the cheese from spreading as it bakes.

I cooked this as a lunch to share between two but it would equally make a great starter with some lighter ‘Things to Serve it With’ for 2 or with heavier ‘Things to Serve it With’ for 3 or 4.

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Ingredients:

1 Whole Camembert
1 Garlic Clove
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1 tbsp Maple Syrup
1/2 tsp Sea Salt Flakes

Things to Serve it With:

 1 Red Onion
2 Thick Slices ‘Cutty’ Bread
6 Baby Potatoes
6 Cherry Tomatoes
Leftover Roast Chicken
2 tbsp Olive Oil


Turn the oven on to 200c or equivalent. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

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Slice 1 Red Onion into chunks and lay in a lined oven tray and drizzle with 1/2 tbsp Olive Oil and a small pinch of Sea Salt Flakes. Pop into the oven and keep an eye on them. Remove from the oven when soft all the way through and crispy around the edges.

Prepare 1 Whole Camembert by carefully slicing off the top layer of rind trying to keep it in one piece.

Tip – This will be much easier if the cheese is fridge cold.

Finely slice half of 1 Garlic Clove. Using a sharp knife, poke slits in the top of the cheese and poke the slices of garlic into the slits.

Sprinkle 1 tsp Dried Thyme, 1 tbsp Maple Syrup and 1/2 tsp Sea Salt Flakes over the cheese then replace the lid and press down.

Put the cheese in the dish or foil lined box and pop into the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes.

Cut 6 Baby Potatoes into quarters and put in a small saucepan, cover with some of the boiled water and put on a high heat to boil.

Meanwhile slice 6 Cherry Tomatoes in half and warm some Leftover Chicken in the mircrowave or small pan.

Toast 2 Thick Slices ‘Cutty’ Bread, rub the remaining half garlic clove over the toast and drizzle over 1 tbsp Olive Oil. Cut into soldiers.

When the potatoes are cooked through, drain and toss with 1/2 tbsp Olive Oil and a pinch of Sea Salt Flakes.

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Once the cheese is cooked, serve in the centre of a plate with all of the other elements presented around it.

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To eat, remove the rind lid (make sure to eat it or scrape of the gooey cheese!) and dip away.

Have a rennie on standby.

10 Minute Meal – Mozzarella in Carozzoa with Parma Ham

This recipe is, like a vast majority of my repertoire, adapted from a Nigella recipe many years ago – primarily with the addition of meat! It is basically a mozzarella and ham filled eggy bread sandwich. Crispy on the outside and soft (slightly soggy even – in a good way) on the inside.

This is not a healthy recipe. Counting the calories is not advised nor is using anything other than cheap white sliced bread – like with my Triple Decker, save the sourdough for another time. You need the bread to be press-able together for the whole thing not to totally fall apart on you. I’d also recommend the kind of mozzarella that comes quite dry in a block for slicing rather than the balls sitting in liquid or the slightly soggy interior may well become too much.

I like to serve this with either Marks and Spencers Caramelised Onion Chutney and some peppery salad leaves or baked beans – different levels of classy – equally tasty.

Serves 1

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Ingredients:

4 slices Thick White Sliced Bread
4 slices Parma (or Serrano Ham)
150g Mozzarella
2 tbsp Plain Flour
80ml Milk
1 Egg
Sea Salt Flakes
Butter for frying


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Cut the crusts off 4 slices Thick White Sliced Bread.

Lay 4 slices Parma (or Serrano Ham) over the bread with one slice of ham over each slice of bread. Leave a border of bread around each slice.

Slice 100g Mozzarella into 4 rectangles and lay 2 slices over 2 slices of the bread and ham.

Place a cheese-less slice of bread and ham over each slice with cheese to make 2 equally filled sandwiches. Using your thumb and forefinger, press around the borders of each sandwich to squidge the edges together to seal them. Reinforce the seal using the edge of your hand (like in a karate chop position).

Tip – Its ok – you can make the requisite noise as you’re doing this, I won’t judge.

Pour 80ml Milk into a small (lipped) plate. Put another large plate next to it.

Whisk 1 Egg with a pinch of Sea Salt Flakes and put in another small lipped plate.

Dip each sandwich in the milk VERY briefly, coating both sides. Put each sandwich on the large plate.

Coat each side of each sandwich with around 2 tbsp Plain Flour and gently shake of any excess.

Put a large knob of butter in a non-stick frying pan and put onto medium heat. Once the butter is just melted, take your plate f sandwiches and plate of egg right next to your hob. Dip each sandwich into the egg on both sides and place into the buttery pan.

Tip – Some mozzarella may escape – shove it back in or allow it to go a bit crispy in the pan. Don’t cry.

Gently fry until golden brown on each side and serve immediately.

Simple Victoria Sandwich Cake

Its a classic and one of the first things I ever baked. So simple and so good. Very little more needs to be said.

But I will anyway. Traditionally, the sponges are sandwiched only with jam. But I find this a bit boring so I add buttercream with the jam. And traditionally, the sandwich is topped with only caster sugar but again – Zzzzz – so I’ve used a basic white glace icing.

Confession time (I have lots of these). Actually two confessions. Firstly I made this cake with proper butter which is of course traditional and lauded by the traditionalists but actually I think it makes the cake a little on the heavy side. I should have stuck with what I know and used light margarine – I’d recommend you make this substitution. Secondly I made the whole recipe in ounces – as it should be but because I try to cater to allsorts, I’ve included the metric equivalents. Those over the pond should either invest in scales or google the conversions. Oh there is a third confession actually, I ate a good portion of the cake batter straight from the mixing bowl.  No regrets.

Serves 10

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Ingredients:

10oz (280g) Salted Butter (Or Light Margarine)
10oz (280g) Caster Sugar
5 Large Eggs
4 tbsp Milk
1 tbsp Baking Powder
10oz (280g) Self Raising Flour

3oz (80g) Butter
6oz (160g) Icing Sugar
1 tbsp Milk

5oz (140g) Strawberry Jam

3oz (80g) Icing Sugar
1 tbsp Milk


Preheat the oven to 180c or the equivalent.

Line 2 15cm round cake tins with liners or butter and flour.

Weigh 10oz (280g) Salted Butter (Or Light Margarine) and 10oz (280g) Caster Sugar a large mixing bowl and beat together until light and creamy.

Tip – make sure the butter is at room temperature or very carefully soften it in the microwave – cut it into small cubes and spread them out around a plate or bowl and nuke for 4-5 seconds at a time – you don’t want to melt it.

Tip – A hand whisk or stand mixer is ideal for this but it can be done with a wooden spoon and elbow grease. 

Add 5 Large Eggs one at a time giving the batter a good whisk between each egg addition.

Tip – The mixture will likely split – do not panic, do not start again, do not weep gently. Keep whisking, it turns out that it really doesn’t matter!

Add 4tbsp Milk one spoonful at a time whisking the batter as you go.

Add 1 tbsp Baking Powder and 10oz (280g) Self Raising Flour and fold this into the batter by hand until just combined.

Tip – Don’t use a mixer here as the gluten in the flour will overwork and your cake sponge will turn out tough. 

Split the mixture between the two tins and spread out to even layers. Bake for 20 minutes then check if it is done, give it another couple of minutes each check until it is done.

Tip – ‘Done’ will be when the sponges are golden brown on top and a skewer poked into the middle of the sponge comes out with only crumbs stuck and no liquid batter. I don’t condone overcooking as the cake will be dry but on this occasion, ‘actually cooked’ should be aimed for.

Leave the sponges to cool on a rack, in the tin at first unless you used liners in which case it should be easy to life them out still in the paper and onto the rack.

Wait until the sponges are totally cold before filling and icing.

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Make the buttercream by mixing 3oz (80g) Butter,  6oz (160g) Icing Sugar and 1 tbsp Milk for 5 or so minutes until it is light and fluffy.

Tip – Do not substitute the butter for spread in this part of the recipe – the butter taste and texture is essential to this bit but do make sure the butter is softened before starting the mixing.

Tip – I tried to use my new old Kenwood to make this but ended up having to go back to the old trusty electric hand whisk. You’ll not get a good light buttercream without some kind of eclectic assistance or you’ll end up with the rock hard layer of butter icing of my youth.

Spread the buttercream over one half of the sponge making sure it is relatively evenly spread and just shy of the edges.

Tip – The buttercream will squeeze out as you apply the top layer so if you spread it to the edge now, it will squirt out and make a mess. Not the end of the world admittedly.

Tip – If you can be bothered, I suppose you could pipe the buttercream for a super neat edge.

Spread 5oz (140g) Strawberry Jam over the second half of the sponge – you can go a bit closer to the edge this time as there will be less splurging.

Tip – Jam can be lumpy, even the seedless smooth stuff that I buy so I give it a good stir whilst still in the jar so it makes it easier to spread evenly.

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Put the jam covered sponge on top of the buttercream sponge and give it a good press together.

Make the glace icing by mixing together 3oz (80g) Icing Sugar and 1 tbsp Milk until smooth and spread the icing over the top of the cake by dumping the whole lot dead centre and spooning it outwards with the back of the spoon until the edges are nearly reached.

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Serve in great hunking slices with a cup of tea. In a cup and saucer (japes).

Compiling My Perfect Cheeseboard

I both love cheese and am a bit funny with it at the same time. I like it cooked (hot and melted) but I’m not overly keen on it just on its own. Except with certain cheeses in certain circumstances. As with most things, I’m basically just picky! I didn’t grow up eating cheese (I wasn’t allowed it, don’t ask but yes, a children’s birthday party at Pizza Hut when I was little was just cruel when I wasn’t allowed to eat the pizza! Twice!)

I spent some time when I was 19 working on the deli counter in a Booths supermarket up in Lancaster. They’re family owned, all in the North West and often called “The Waitrose of the North”. I think they’re better than Waitrose but then I was fully indoctrinated! I spent large parts of my time asking anyone local who ordered Wensleydale to repeat themselves because it sounded like something off of Wallace and Gromit. Such fun. I spent the rest of my time tasting cheese, learning about it, sampling it and plotting cheeseboard meals to rival those we had at The Water Witch in Lancaster – they don’t appear to do them anymore sadly.

I’m not really a ‘little bit of cheese with a couple of crackers and a grape after dessert’ kind of girl, I’m more about an entire meal centered around cheese. There are no recipes here as such, just my musings and product recommendations on how I like to put together a cheese feast.

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The Cheese

It seems churlish not to start with the star ingredient. The cheese. As I said, I’m picky. In brief, I don’t eat any cheese that isn’t made with cows milk (especially goat’s cheese which I think tastes like licking a barnyard floor – bleugh! but also ewe milk so feta, manchego, etc.), I don’t eat blue cheese (have you ever tried to cut Dolcelatte on a hangover? Try it and you’ll never eat the stuff either) and I’m not crazy keen on very hard cheeses, especially very strong ones. Whilst I love rind ripened soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert, I don’t eat the rind so I have an elaborate ritual of cutting it off as I’m eating it. Maybe one day I’ll grow up and like it but maybe not!

Where to Purchase – Now you can of course go to a fancy cheese deli and purchase a multitude of fancy cheeses in one place but I’m not made of money so for the above pictured board I went to a few different places including M&S and Sainsbury’s to put it together. I’ve tried to make all of my links in this post supermarket orientated so they’re easy for everyone to find but smaller independents should have a lot of these too. The top supermarket trick is however to head to the cheese counter rather than the pre-packaged section. Firstly, you can get smaller chunks of more cheeses – variety is the spice of life after all. Secondly, the same cheese will usually be cheaper at the counter than on the shelf. Double check first tho.

Storage – Before I get down to the nitty gritty, some quick thoughts on storage. Cheese should be stored in the fridge. It shouldn’t however be stored in plastic as it’ll sweat. Ideally on getting home, you’ll unwrap the cheese and wrap it in wax paper or more likely, greaseproof paper then put it in the fridge. A lot of supermarkets, especially M&S do however now pre-wrap their cheese in breathable plastic – the wrapper tends to be baggy rather than clingy and has a matt, slightly waxy texture. Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge at least 20/30 minutes before serving to come to room temperature – probably slightly longer for a soft cheese like Brie and Camembert.

Presentation – You can of course just stick the blocks of cheese on a board with a couple of knives and be done with it. I have however become a fan of pre-slicing some chunks of harder cheeses, especially if serving a crowd buffet style.  This cuts down on weird cutting practices and folks standing around waiting while one person goes to town. Don’t cut more than you think will be eaten on the first round, more can be cut on an ongoing basis as the board is revisited.  I don’t tend to pre-cut soft cheese but sometimes present it in two smaller halves. I have a friend who is convinced that it is super rude when attacking cheese to cut off the ‘nose’ or as I’d call it; ‘pointy’ bit of the cheese as that is the premium cut (the soft gooey bit in the very middle). This always seems to lead to some very elaborate side cutting and I’ve never fully cleared up at what point ‘the nose’ can in fact be consumed! I work on the basis of ‘you snooze, you lose’. Crack on.

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The Range – I’d recommend picking a cheese from each of the following categories for a very full and well rounded cheese board. A lot of cheeseboard compilers always seem to say…pick one or two great cheeses and keep it simple. Sod that! As far as I’m concerned – its all about the variety – trying something different whilst getting to indulge in some old favourites. And you know what, if you want to serve three different varieties of brie, then do that too.

Soft CheeseBrie, Camembert or even Stinking Bishop. Even better – Waterloo – the buttery god of soft cheeses. You can obviously go with a stinky french Brie De Meaux for authenticity (sometimes these taste a big ‘cabbagey’ to me) or try one of the many English made Bries such as Cornish Organic (the organic one is far superior to the regular one if you can get it). M&S used to do an amazing ‘Brie cheese’ (as its known in my house) but sadly they discontinued it and we shall forever mourn its loss.  Whichever you choose, make sure that there is no chalky core to the cheese and that is it oozy the whole way through. Leave it at room temp to ripen to ooey-gooey stage if needs be.

Medium Hard Cheese – These are your Cheddar, Double Gloucester, Cheshire and Lancashire type cheeses. My preference is a creamy Lancashire (there are a lot of varieties of Lancashire but very few are widely available). Cheshire is rather tangy and quite crumbly, nor my favourite. Folk tend to love a strong cheddar that bites back – look for something farmhouse made or for a strong Lancashire – the ever popular Grandma Singletons.  If you really can’t decide – go for some retro Stripy Jack/5 Counties for ultimate variety.

Smoked Cheese – Something a little different on the palette. The perennial favourite is Applewood but if you’re snobby about it (it is heavily processed and fake smoked) go for something like the Hickory Red Leicester from M&S (no online link). There are many Bavarian style smoked cheeses or Austrian ones in sausage shapes available from the supermarkets too.

Goat Cheese – God only knows why but folk do seem to enjoy a bit of chevre. You’ll see that some sneaked onto the above board to satisfy my housemate’s love of barnyard flavours. There is a whole world of goat’s cheese out there but I have little knowledge about it so I’m not best based to advise!

Blue Cheese – Again not really my cup of tea but I do know there is a massive variety of blue cheese out there. There are the creamy Dolcelatte and Gorgonzolas, brie style blues like Cambozola, harder blues like Shropshire Blue and of course the perennial favourite Stilton. I’d probably choose a style of blue in place of another style unless picking a stilton. Oh and by the way, you can now buy ‘Light Blue Cheese Triangles’. What has the world come too.

Flavoured Cheese – This is something that people can be a bit snobby about but these can sometimes be my favourite cheeses.  Wendsleydale with Cranberries, White Stilton with Apricot and Double Gloucester with Onion and Chive are probably the most ubiquitous. For the above board I tried some Wensleydale with Date and Orange and it was amazing. I’m also a fan of Red Leicester Whirl with Garlic and I’m not above a bit of roule. There is a whole world of flavoured cheeses to try…it’s hard to go to any kind of food market without finding at least one stall full of wax covered truckles with weird flavour cheese – Snowdonia is probably the most prevalent.  Some others that used to be super popular at Booths were Bowland, Sage Derby and White Stilton with Lemon.

The Rest – There are of course a million other options. I can’t make a cheese board without the semi-soft Port Salut – I do prefer the big chunk rather than the small whole cheese. If you can find the real thing on a cheese counter however – jump on it – its a world apart and delicious.  I also like to go for what I’d term a ‘rubbery cheese’ – something like Jarlsberg or Gouda. Or there are a multitude of creamy continental options like Doux de Montagne and a whole mass of harder options like Comte, Gruyere and Manchego (ewes milk). If you’re not sure – go to a cheese counter, ask for a recommendation and try some options before committing. Oh and last but not least, if I have any Graceburn Cheese in, that is definitely going on the board (in a ramekin!)

What to avoid – There are some cheeses that are just not overly suited to a cheese board but that’s not too say you can’t add them if you want to but I wouldn’t bother unless you feel strongly about it. I won’t put a Parmesan/Pecorino on a cheese board – its too strong and too dry  – best saved for grating over pasta in my book. Cream and cottage cheeses including Ricotta and Mascarpone  aren’t really practical. Similarly, Mozzarella, even the super expensive buffalo milk kind and the delicious Burrata isn’t a great cheeseboard option – best kept for savouring on its own or with a little (a lot) parma ham – it’ll be overpowered in this situation. Halloumi (which has a heady combination of goat, ewe and cow milks *boke*) is best grilled for a vegetarian and Feta would just be weird. Whilst I am often a fan of reduced fat cheese for things like Mac’n’Cheese, this is not the time or place. Its usually the texture that is compromised and its not good eating. If you’re having a cheeseboard, you’re not dieting so just don’t bother!


The Meat

Obviously my favourite part!

I like to try and go for a selection of cured meats and sausage. In the case of the below selection, I have included serrano ham, mortadella, milano salami and chunky chorizo. There is also a revelation of a product in Sainsburys called Sobrasada De Mallorca which is basically a soft chorizo which a super porky taste which we loved. Which type of ham and which type of sausage you choose is hugely down to personal preference. I would recommend at least one variety of each however. For a spicy kick and alternative to the Sobrasada, a good n’duja (nuh-jew-ah) would be a delight.

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Where and How to Purchase – In exactly the same way as cheese, cured meats are better procured from the deli counter – Morrisons is my preferred affordable option. The meat in Morrisons is generally the most superior supermarket meat (and all British).  Its best to specify with some serious emphasis that any parma ham/serrano ham/prosciutto is sliced extra thin – “oh but it will fall apart” the assistant will say – clearly having never gnawed on a piece of overly thick ham akin to boot leather.  Insist I tell you!  And also ensure that each slice is separated by a piece of film or you’ll find a giant lump of ham that tears into tiny shreds as you try to pull the slices apart. This isn’t such an issue with the salamis and you can slice them as you prefer – I do again prefer them on the thinner side, mostly to not entirely overpower the cheese. This time I went for a chorizo ring sliced into thick chunks to provide another texture. Obviously an independent neighbourhood deli would be an excellent outlet for this sort of thing but unless for a vary rare treat – my budget does not afford me this luxury.

Presentation – There is something to be said for cheeseboards with fruit and cured meats sexily draped around and about the cheese but the practical reality is that that is a pain to eat. And no good if you have any vegetarian’s coming. So I usually present the meats separately – in this case in a enamel tin with the soft chorizo as a focal point in a glass ramekin. I also like to try and give the flat items a bit of a ‘tszuj’ (this is apparently how you spell the word pronounced something like ‘juyz’ or ‘juj’) by folding the salamis into quarters, pinching the middle point together and then putting them on the plate – they should then fan out a bit. Clearly not necessary but it does increase the visual a bit – the same with draping slices of cured ham – much nicer looking than a flat pack of plastic separated slices!


The Bread

All bread is good. I’m especially a fan of the mass produced sliced white bread much hated by food snobs around the world. Bacon sandwiches any other way are basically a travesty. However, even I have to admit that a cheeseboard situation is a time for something a little more refined. I’m a big fan of a ‘cutty’ granary loaf or roll.

In this case, I decided to try a bit of bread baking. With the exception of my old faithful Sodabread and Garlick Tear’n’Share Loaf, bread is not my forte.

With the delightful help of Catie, my latest new housemate/sous-chef, I whipped up a Focaccia with Infused Oil from Perfect Plates, the latest gorgeous book by Bake off Winner John Whaite. Not my most successful bake ever – the dough is super sticky and is probably best made in a stand mixer as advised in the book! My new vintage Kenwood will be tried and tested with the recipe at some point in the near future.

I also made Dan Lepard‘s Alehouse Rolls from Short and Sweet which were very odd to make! The method starts with boiling oats in a whole bottle of ale then leaving this to macerate  for a while.  The rest of the method involved very little kneading but many stages of brief kneads followed by resting periods. Nothing difficult but I should have started baking them at least one, if not two hours earlier. The result was still pretty damn good and the went down a storm but I thought they needed a little more salt. Another one to definitely try again sometime.


The Condiments

You can get the best cheese, the best meat and the best bread but without some well selected condiments, you may as well not have bothered. Ok a bit harsh maybe, unaccompanied cheese is better than no cheese but still a good condiment can elevate the whole thing to another level.

My absolute mainstay is this Caramelized Red Onion Chutney from M&S. I’m not really a chutney girl – I find them too astringent and overpowering so red onion is the way to go for me. I’ve tried a multitude and settled on the M&S option as my preference. I will make a special trip to M&S for it – much easier now a Foodhall has opened in East Dulwich!

My other new favourite condiment is this Spicy Peach Chutney from Waitrose – delicious. Sadly a Waitrose has yet to open nearby (sort it out people) so I’d run out by this cheeseboard day. Now I have a car, I have frequented a number of Waitroses and I’m once again fully stocked!

Last but not least and a discovery on cheeseboard day itself is this Sticky Fig Chutney from Sainsburys.  No hint of cinnamon as it seems to state and no real hint of the apple that is also apparently in there either but figgy and delicious. And great with cheese.


The Rest

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Mushroom Pâté – Now its not often I choose the vegetarian version of something over the meaty version but pâté is one of them (along with haggis). Waitrose used to do an amazing Mushroom and Arborio Rice Pâté on their counters but they seem to have discontinued this a couple of years ago but I’ve recently discovered Castle MacLellan Oven Roasted Mushroom Pâté which is delicious as heck. I’ve tried a couple of supermarket own brand mushroom pâtés which were considerably cheaper of late and they’ve all gone in the bin. This one is available in a few supermarkets, not just Sainsbos.

Salad – As I mentioned in my intro, I prefer salad with my cheese rather than fruit. I tend to go for a fairly strong leaf such as Wild Rocket or Baby Spinach which will stand up to the other strong flavours.  Don’t go to town with this, a good handful will see through quite a crowd.

Bell Peppers – or ‘capsicums’ as my Aussie housemates insist on calling them despite that having all the equivalent precision of calling lilies, tulips and daisies ‘flowers’ or onions, leeks, garlic and ‘allium’. Anyway. Peppers provide a bit of crunch which is otherwise lacking. You could of course go with something like celery but as I’m convinced that no one actually likes celery, don’t. Also, no one like a bitter green pepper so try and stick with yellow, orange or red varieties.

Red Onions – By the time I’ve done with my red onions, they’re no longer providing any crunch and the biting acidity is toned down but I’d not have a cheeseboard without them. The treatment is the same as with my onion topping on my Carrot, Red Lentil and Satay Meal Soup – basically finely slice 1 small Red Onion and add to a bowl with 1 tsp White Sugar and 1 tsp Lime or Lemon Juice and a pinch of Sea Salt Flakes. Gently mix together to coat the onion and set aside for at least 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

Figs – You know how I said no fruit? Well I make an exception for figs (as I am clearly obsessed by the prevalence of them on my blog! Nothing funky required here – just quarter and serve some good ripe figs (if you can get hold of any).  Saying that, a drizzle of honey would be rather delicious….


Final Thoughts

Let me know what you normally do – have I missed anything? Do you think something I do is weird? Any tips?

I’m off to buy some cheese…..