Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Birthday Chocolate Treat

I think the post on Ideas in Food about a flexible white chocolate sheet paired with roe, was my first introduction to Aki Kamozawa & H. Alexander Talbot’s blog, and I have been an avid reader since, and eventual cookbook owner. I’m not sure how I came across their blog, I think it may have been a rainy weekend day trawling through websites, following links, bookmarking as I go.

Anyway, the idea of making white chocolate in flexible sheet form has been locked away for some time now, but never acted on, mainly as I haven’t had and locust bean gum or agar in the kitchen, well that, and I kind of forgot about it.

Locust bean gum (E410), is the milled endosperm of the seed of the carob tree, and comes as a whitish powder. It is used as a gelling and thickening agent, and in this use also works synergistically with the agar to add flexibility and strength, a lot more information of how these two work together along with a lot of other hydrocolloids can be found in the book Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot.

The other half’s birthday was coming up, and although she said she would be doing the cooking (yeah right), I wanted to make a special dessert for the occasion. Well any dessert is special as we hardly ever have it, don’t give me cake, give me bread with cheese and olives. I came across Hervé This and Heston Blumenthal’s Chocolate Chantilly recipe (see a young Hestonwith hairdemonstrate on youtube), deceptively simple, melt chocolate in water, and whip. I really liked the idea of it showcasing the chocolate, and not muddling the flavour with the extra fat cream brings to a mousse.

There’s no better excuse than a birthday to be indulgent. I thought of the chocolate sheet, maybe I could combine the two in some sort of chocolate overdose? I set about re-reading the Ideas in Food cookbook. Taking notes and writing out ideas as they popped up (a cook's best friend is a notebook, write down ideas, recipes, and failures). I eventually came up with a chocolate treat that I thought would work, orange blossom dark chocolate chantilly wrapped in a cardamom scented white chocolate sheet with crumbled tuile.

Orange Blossom Dark Chocolate Chantilly

250 grams 70% Cocoa Chocolate
227 ml Water
1 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water
(Up to 4 tablespoons of sugar if you want it sweeter)
  1. Fill up a bowl with ice and a bit of water, and place another bowl on top of it.
  2. Melt the chocolate in the water of a medium heat.
  3. When melted stir in the orange blossom water.
  4. Pour the the chocolate into the iced bowl and whip with a whisk, be careful not to over whip it as it will become grainy, much like whipping cream.
  5. Let it firm up a little in the fridge, then pipe thick tubes of it onto a lined tray, and let it set in the fridge. It’s best to do this and the white chocolate sheet the night before.
White Chocolate Sheet

250 grams White Chocolate (chopped)
375 grams Milk (not trim please)
2.25 grams Agar
0.3 grams Locust Bean Gum
1 gram Cardamom Pods (cracked)
3 grams Fine Sea Salt
  1. Spray a sheet pan with some nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Prepare an ice bath the same as for the Chocolate Chantilly.
  3. Bring the milk and cardamom to a simmer, and remove from the heat, let it sit for 20 minutes.
  4. Strain the milk into the ice bath and let it cool.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a blender, and slowly turn up the speed until a vortex forms. Sprinkle in the Locust Bean Gum and Agar, blend for 30 seconds.
  6. Transfer the milk to a clean pan and simmer on a medium heat for 5 minutes, this hydrates the agar.
  7. Pour the milk into the blender and turn it on to a low speed. Slowly pour the chocolate in, be careful as it will splatter.
  8. When all of the chocolate has been incorporated, turn the speed up to medium and blend for 30 seconds.
  9. Pour the mixture onto the prepared sheet pan, it should set within 10 minutes, cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

You don’t need the tuile, and the main reason I used it was because I had made some a few days before when I was thinking of making something different, but not wanting to waste my efforts they were repurposed.

2 Egg whites
85 grams Flour
100 grams Icing Sugar
  1. Mix all of the ingredients to form a paste.
  2. Spread out on a lined cookie sheet pan, the thinner the better. I used a template cut from a plastic plate and a palette knife to make little round tuile.
  3. Cook at 180°C for 5 minutes or until golden.
  4. Remove from the oven, and if you want curved tuile shape them while warm.
Put Together

Cut the white chocolate sheet into rectangles, and sprinkle two thirds with some crumbled tuile. Place the chocolate chantilly on the other third and roll up, I used a piece of baking paper to help with this. Then sprinkle with some more tuile.

It’s a bit of an effort, it can be spread over a few days. But was it worth it? Absolutely!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pork Cheek Bacon

The pork cheek that I made confit with, came with its twin, which I turned into that wonderful meat product called bacon. I used the same process as the previous bacon I posted about. I make a few alterations though, firstly, and the easiest way to change things, I used different herbs and spices in the cure, and I gave it coating of white pepper powder before I hung it, secondly, I wrapped it in cheesecloth when I hung it, and lastly, after smoking it, I pressed it overnight in the fridge.

Thyme, Muscovado sugar and Szechuan pepper. These get combined with the 5% curing mix.

Rinsed, and patted dry after seven days of curing in the fridge (flipping each day).

Dusted in white pepper.

Wrapped in cheesecloth and tied, ready to hang for seven days.

Unwrapped after a week under the stairs. You'll notice a little white fuzz on the pork, that's a small amount of mold, it's important to keep an eye out for it.

It doesn't mean you have to throw away your porky goodness, just wipe off the mold with a paper towel dampened with some vinegar. But if you leave the mold unchecked for too long, it can grow into the interior of the meat, making it inedible.

Smoked to an internal temperature of 65°C, the smoker shouldn't go above 85°C.

Pressed between to baking dishes overnight.

Sliced, portioned and packaged.

Note: Check the pork cheek for glands, if found, remove. If meat comes from a butcher/supermarket you shouldn't find any, but best to check.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pork Cheek Confit

Let me start out with the obvious, this dish is made with a lot of fat, heaps of it, that doesn’t mean it will make it to the plate though, it is just a means to a delicious end. I feel I should point out I’m not using a fashionable fat here either, I’m not talking about confiting in olive oil or duck fat, no I’m using good old fashioned very tasty and awesome lard. Come on, I’m confiting pork here, what did you expect me to use? Lard isn’t that bad, it has a bad rap more from bad memories and the jazzercise health police, rather than facts. You think duck fat roasted potatoes are a health food? Well no... But duck fat is a popular fat, so thoughts of ill health effects slip greasily to the back of the mind, Butter is fat du jour, and Olive oil will cure what ails you.

The fact of it is lard has less saturated fat than butter (12%) and less than half the cholesterol, yes lard is higher in calories (about 15–20%) but butter is about 15–18% water. Look anyway, I’m not advocating cooking with it everyday, I’m just saying it’s not as evil as it has been made out to be. It doesn’t deserve that scowl and revolted “You cooked that in lard!?”.

Now with that mini rant over and done with, I’ll start with another warning, this dish takes a while, about 12 hours curing, 12 hours cooking time, 12 hours pressing, and hey only about 20 minutes of final cooking, so if you’re on to it, you could cure overnight, get it in the oven in the morning, press and cool it in the evening, and cook it for dinner the next night. Start on a Friday evening, and eat on Sunday evening.

First off the cure, weigh your piece of meat, and calculate 2%, that’s how much salt you need. Mix rock or kosher salt, with some thyme and szechuan pepper. Coat the pork in the salt mix and place in a container (or ziplock bag) in the fridge overnight.

Preheat your oven to 90ºC, no that’s not a misprint. Melt enough lard to completely submerge the pork cheek in the casserole/dutch oven you’ll be using. While the lard is slowly melting, take the pork out of the fridge and rinse all the salt off it. Pat the pork dry, and place it in the casserole dish, scatter in some spices (I used star anise and szechuan pepper). When the lard is completely liquid pour it gently over the pork, making sure it is fully submerged. Cover with tinfoil, you want to make as airtight seal as is possible, you don’t want any moisture to escape. Place it in the oven and forget about it for 12 hours.

Take two baking dishes (glass or ceramic is ideal), one needs to sit inside the other, Line the bigger of the two with some baking paper, and the bottom of the smaller one with cling film. Remove the dish from the oven, and take off the tin foil, check to see that the meat is indeed cooked and tender. You can now choose to be gung-ho about the whole process and carefully lift out the pork and place it in the larger baking dish, carefully placing the the smaller one on top, weigh it down with a few cans, and wrap the whole thing firmly with some cling film. Or, let it cool a while so the fat sets slightly and the meat is less fragile. Either way, once it’s wrapped, put it in the fridge for 12 hours to press.

Get the oven on and preheating to 200–220ºC. Remove the pork from the fridge and unwrap, remove the top dish with a little caution. Portion up the pork, and keep any offcuts (tasty cooks snack). When the oven is up to temperature, get a heavy based, ovenproof frying pan on to the heat, we want it to be scorching hot. Add a few drops of oil to the pan, place the pork skin side down in the pan, pressing down gently, cook for 1 minute then transfer to the oven for 15–20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven (don’t forget the handles hot!), and place the pork on a wooden board skin side up, to rest. While the pork rests, steam up some greens, I had some bok choy tossed in soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame seeds.


Out of the oven.

Melt in the mouth crisp skin.

off cut
'Test' piece with scallion and plum sauce (plum juice, spices and xanthan).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pork hock cake with pickled rhubarb

It started with a tweet, and I immediately knew I wanted to try pickled rhubarb. It is a foreign idea to me, something I should of heard of, I grew up with rhubarb in the garden and have had it many different ways... ok mainly stewed. So the next visit to the vegetable shop, I made sure to pick up a good bunch of stalks. I sliced them up, and put them in a jar with vinegar, sugar and spices. But now what?

So with a freshly made jar of pickled rhubarb in the fridge, and totally riffing off (not ripping) Chris Cosentino’s tweet of trotter cake, I rang the butcher to set aside some porky feet. No luck, but no matter the pickle wasn’t going to go off, or run away, anytime soon. I stopped off at the supermarket to pick up some essentials, and walking through the chilled meat area, I spotted a decent looking pork hock, not a big one, but big enough to at least try out an idea.

So, pressure cooker time again, but a normal slow cooker, or dutch oven would do the trick, they just take a lot longer. I took the hock and browned it all over, then chucked in a sliced carrot, juniper berries, garlic, salt, pepper, cider vinegar, and quarter of a cup of water. I cooked it on high pressure for 1 hour, and then let the pressure drop naturally. After lifting off the lid, I separated the meat from the bones and set aside. Then strained the liquid and put it back in the cooker with the bones and cooked on high pressure for 15 minutes. While the liquid was cooking for a second time, I pulled apart the meat, letting it tear naturally, not turning it into mush.

After the stock has had its second go at cooking, take a spoonful of it and put it on a plate, and place it in the fridge. After about five minutes, check to see if it has set. If it hasn’t, reduce the cooking liquid by about a third and check again. When the liquid is ready, wet the shredded meat with it, just enough to coat it, you don’t want it swimming in liquid. The leftover cooking liquid is a great stock for soups.

Now the easy part, and totally environmentally friendly, yeah, OK, you’re going to need quite a bit of plastic wrap, but it is easyish. Roll out a good foot and a half of wrap on the bench and spoon the meat out into a rough log shape, use the plastic to roll up the meat, folding up the sides to keep the shape. Use another layer of plastic wrap to re-roll the meat log, tightening it to hold its shape. Put it in the fridge overnight to firm up.

You know, it’s not as simple as take it from the fridge and eat, or even cook and eat, it’s going to go back in the fridge again, but hey, you’ll at least get to eat it on the same day. So take the log and slice off medallions, take each medallion and coat in flour, dip in a beaten egg; water; salt mix, and coat in bread crumbs (panko). Place the coated medallions on to a sheet-pan, and then back into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Putting it back in the fridge gives the coating a chance to set, and means it won't fall off when cooking.

Remove the pan from the fridge about 10 minutes before you want to cook. Get a heavy based pan on a medium-high heat, with a good coating (5 mm deep) of rice bran oil (or other neutral high smoke point oil), fry the pork cakes 30 seconds per side flipping twice (1 minute per side total), place the cakes on some paper towels to drain.

Serve with a nice leafy salad, rocket would be ideal, and some rhubarb pickle.

Pickled Rhubarb
Slice up enough rhubarb to fill a jar.

Put a pot on medium heat with 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup of brown sugar and some spices (allspice, ginger, cloves and star anise), bring to a simmer. When all of the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and pour into the jar, make sure to get all the spices in.

Seal the jar, and let it cool. Store it in the fridge, it should last a month, but it’ll be best for a week after a week of storing.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Caramel Corn - aka homemade Cracker Jack

A good movie night just isn’t the same without some form of snack, and nothing really beats buttery salty popcorn... Well almost nothing, Cracker Jacks do, salty caramel covered popped corn studded with roasted peanuts, far too moreish, an I can’t believe I finished the whole bowl, kind of food, but you should indulge now and then. I found this recipe on Brown Eyed Baker, and it’s pretty close to what I remember of the caramel corn in a box with a prize.

I really recommend you roast your own peanuts, so you can control how salty they are, but store bought roasted peanuts are good too.

100 grams of popped corn (about 10 cups popped)
1 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Glucose syrup
85 grams unsalted butter (6 tablespoons), melted
1 cup of roasted lightly salted peanuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Preheat Oven to 120ºC.
  2. Pop the corn and put it in a very lightly greased bowl, set aside.
  3. In a small pan whisk together the brown sugar, glucose syrup, butter, salt, and water. Simmer, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 120ºC (firm/hard ball stage)
  4. Remove from the heat, whisk in the vanilla and baking soda.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, fold the caramel into the popcorn until all of popped corn is coated, then stir in the roasted peanuts.
  6. Spread the mixture on to a lined baking tray and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for half an hour.
  8. Gently break up the popcorn. It will keep for about 5 days in a airtight container.