Last year I ran a competition to give away a beautiful chocolate badger from Betty’s. It proved enormously popular; it seems that you were just as enchanted with the whimsical chocolate sculpture as I was! You all joined in with me in to put forward ideas for animals you’d like to immortalised in chocolate and, good news, two of the animals suggested in your comments do indeed feature in Betty’s new spring selection.

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As before, these adorable riverside animals are made from Betty’s Swiss milk chocolate. The hand-crafted Otter weighs 430 grams, is 24 cm tall and is finished with white and dark chocolate details. He costs £20. The Beaver weighs 140 grams, is 6 cm high and comes with a white chocolate fish. He costs £12.

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To celebrate these new critters, which go on sale on February 15th, Betty’s have given me one of each to give away to readers.

COMPETITION

First prize is a Betty’s Milk Chocolate Otter. Second prize is a Betty’s Milk Chocolate Beaver. Both prizes include free delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your favourite memory of watching wildlife in England. Where were you, what did you see, how did it make you feel?

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow
@Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a @Bettys1919 chocolate beaver or otter from Kavey Eats!
http://goo.gl/ZSJtRq #KaveyEatsBettysBeaver
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 14th February 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The two winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The first prize is a Betty’s Milk Chocolate Otter. The second prize is a Betty’s Milk Chocolate Beaver. Both prizes include free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Betty’s.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

Kavey Eats received a sample beaver and otter for review from Betty’s.

This competition is closed. The winners were Conrad Edwards (first prize) and @MorningPostie (second prize).

 

Guest post by Diana Chan.

Chinese Seal MINI

Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which this year is on the 31st of January. In Cantonese-speaking Chinese communities everywhere, people greet each other with a hearty Kung Hei Fat Choy! to bring prosperity to the new year.

Chinese New Year is the most intensely celebrated festival in the lunar calendar. It is important that the year starts right, as the beginning of the year influences what comes next. Kung Hei Fat Choy! 恭喜發財literally means wishing you to make a fortune. While I think the English greeting Happy New Year contains the essence of all good wishes and is an excellent example of less is more – happiness is ultimately what matters most – the Cantonese prefer to be more specific.

Kung Hei Fat Choy! can be followed by good wishes that are relevant to the recipient, and there are dozens of commonly used ones to choose from. Just like receiving gifts that have been thoughtfully chosen, receiving a good wish for a desired thing is a joyful feeling indeed.

A Chinese New Year greeting for women: may you be forever young 青春常駐; a greeting for the career ambitious: may you have unobstructed ascent to the very top 平歩青雲.

The first time that we see children in the new year – one’s own children whatever their age, and the unmarried offspring of family and close friends – we give them small red envelopes with money inside for good luck. There are wishes for them too – be healthy 快高長大for the very young and do very well 步步高升for the others.

Desirable things are not only wished to others. Good wishes written in brush and ink calligraphy or neatly printed on pieces of red paper would be prominently displayed around the home to bring the desired blessings to the family. Red is the colour of celebration and good luck.

Cantonese new year customs are a practice in the power of positive thinking and the belief that more is more. In addition to saying, hearing, seeing and giving – good wishes are also delivered via food. An ingredient with a name that sounds like something desirable is used to increase the chances of achieving the hoped-for outcome. Because it is a monosyllabic language, many Chinese words have the same or similar pronunciation. This is a feature that allows much play on words, although not across dialects. For example, two words might have the same pronunciation in Cantonese but not in Mandarin.

Many Cantonese restaurants offer a celebration menu throughout the new year period. When a dish is brought to the table, a well-trained server announces its fortune-bearing name to the guests. Banquets to celebrate the new year are held throughout the first month of the lunar new year, especially for business entertaining. Dishes typically include expensive ingredients, not only as a sign of respect for the guests but also because it is important to the host – being lavish in entertaining encourages prosperity to continue.

Families that enjoy celebrating the new year in traditional ways eat food with names intended to bring blessings of good health, success, prosperity, happiness, togetherness and harmony.

Here is an example of a Chinese New Year dinner in a Cantonese family. Literal translations of the names of the dishes will not convey their meanings so I will not attempt it, except for the key word that associates the name with the key ingredient. The association of a blessing-bearing name with a dish is completely at the discretion of the cook. If you have the occasion or the interest to make such a dinner, you do not need to prepare these same dishes; as long as you use the same key ingredient, you can give the same name to your own creation.

I would like to convey my wishes to you, too, via this virtual celebration meal.

May you have:

美景生輝 Fantastic opportunities to show off your talents

Soup of ox tail, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onion, dried tangerine peel, ginger

Key word: 美, beautiful. Key ingredient: tail 尾

A Cantonese family meal on any important occasion such as new year, mid-autumn festival or a birthday includes a soup that takes hours to simmer. These soups are believed to have health-enhancing properties. The addition of dried tangerine peel and ginger is what makes this ox tail soup Cantonese.

Diana CNY-oxtail soup

 

龍馬精神 Abundant energy and good spirits

Lobster in a ginger, spring onion, garlic, and black bean sauce

Key word: 龍, dragon. Key ingredient: lobster 龍蝦

Lobster in Chinese literally means dragon prawn. The dragon symbolises power and vitality. The name of this dish can be used in any preparation that contains lobster.

Diana CNY-lobster

 

喜氣洋洋 Many celebrations and joyful occasions

Filet of lamb stir fried with leek, garnished with red chilli

Key word: 洋, abundant. Key ingredient: lamb 羊

This is an everyday dish given a festive name. It does not require any special ingredients and is super easy to make – see Diana’s Stir Fry 1-2-3 for how-to. If you would like to get into the spirit of Chinese New Year but not cook Chinese food, then you can give the same name to roast leg of lamb, grilled lamb chops or any dish with lamb.

Diana CNY-lamb

 

金玉滿堂 Money money money

Chicken stew with lily buds, hair moss, dried mushrooms on a bed of silver fungus and lettuce

Key word: 金, gold. Key ingredient: lily buds 金針

If I was unable to make a special trip to a Chinese grocery store to buy lily buds, silver fungus and hair moss, all three of which have names associated with money, I could make a stew of chicken and pumpkin 金瓜 instead. Lettuce 生菜 is also a fortune-bearing ingredient in this dish; it rhymes with money grows 生財.

Diana CNY-chicken

 

花開富貴 More and more money

Broccoli with a sauce of crab and salmon roe

Key word: 花, flower. Key ingredient: broccoli 西籣花

The name of this dish literally means blossoms and wealth. It is customary to have colourful fresh flowers in the home during Chinese New Year. While the crab sauce is delicious, white is not a celebratory colour and something red is needed as a garnish. When it is not possible to get crab with red roe, I scatter salmon roe over the sauce instead.

Diana CNY-broccoli

 

幸福團圓 Many blessings and harmony in the family

Sweet dumplings with sesame filling in a brown sugar and ginger broth

Key word: 圓, round. Key ingredient: round dumplings 湯圓

A circle symbolizes completeness and perfection and such a dessert is associated with a sweet life. It is customary to eat this kind of dumpling on the evening of the first full moon of the new lunar year, when couples celebrate being together.

The new lunar year’s first full moon happens to be on 14th February, Valentine’s Day. What a good occasion to offer and share a variety of chocolate truffles!

Diana CNY-dumplings

 

If you like the idea of consuming a blessing-bearing dinner but find the logistics of preparing a six-course Cantonese meal daunting, try combining two or more key ingredients in the same dish and get the same outcome with much less work. Here is an example of a three-course menu:

龍馬精神 美景生輝 Abundant energy and fantastic opportunities: a starter of lobster tail

花開富貴 喜氣洋洋 Prosperity and numerous joyful occasions: a main course of broccoli and lamb

幸福團圓 Blessings and harmony: a dessert of a perfectly round scoop of ice cream

 

May you have all of the above in a Happy Chinese New Year: good health, good luck, success, prosperity and harmony.

 

When Gloucestershire company Selsley sent me some of their syrups to try, I was keen to think of some different ways to use them.

I played it safe with the mulling syrup, using it to create warming winter drinks. It combines beautifully not only with red wine but with apple juice, cider and even beer. And because the flavours are already infused into the syrup you can either mix and serve cold or heat gently and quickly. The vanilla syrup is lovely in coffee. I want to try it in a fruit smoothie too and in a rich ice-cream based milkshake.

Although the ginger syrup with lemongrass works wonders in a whisky toddy, I wanted to use its delicious flavour in a dessert. As I’ve never made panna cotta before, this seemed a great opportunity to give it a go.

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This very simple ginger and lemongrass panna cotta came out beautifully, the syrup giving a distinct but not overpowering flavour to the panna cotta. I love a properly wibbly wobbly panna cotta in which the flavouring doesn’t overwhelm the subtle taste of the cream. The balance here was good!

Of course, you can use this recipe with other flavoured syrups, keeping the ratio of liquid to gelatine the same and varying the flavours.

I served some of these with candied baby tangerines (made in the same way as these confit clementines). I think fresh tart berries, such as blueberries or raspberries, would also work nicely.

 

Ginger & Lemongrass Panna Cotta

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
3 gelatine leaves
small dish of cold water
240 ml (1 cup) milk
240 ml (1 cup) double cream
30 ml (2 tablespoons) Selsley ginger syrup with lemongrass

Note: If you don’t have Selsley syrup, substitute with 30 ml of syrup from a jar of stem ginger and infuse panna cotta with a little fresh lemongrass or lemon zest while heating, straining as you pour the cooked cream into the dishes.

Method

  • Place gelatine leaves in cold water to rehydrate.
  • Gently heat milk, double cream and syrup in a pan, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a simmer (with small bubbles appearing on the surface).
  • Lift gelatine leaves out of water and squeeze to remove excess liquid.
  • Remove pan from the heat and stir in the gelatin leaves until completely dissolved.
  • Pour mixture into ramekins, small bowls or small cups and leave to cool.
  • Once cool, refrigerate until set (about 1-2 hours).

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  • Either serve in the cups or turn out onto plates. Warm the cups in a shallow dish of hot water for a few moments to help them slip out more easily.

As you can see, a wrinkly skin formed on the panna cotta as it set. This wasn’t a problem when we served these turned out onto a plate, and the skin wasn’t unpleasant in the mouth. But if you want to serve your panna cotta in the cup, you may like a more attractive flat surface. Once you’ve poured the cream into the cups, carefully lay a piece of cling film over each one so that it’s touching the surface, and leave to set. This should stop a skin from forming.

Kavey Eats received sample products for review from Selsley Foods.

Tokyo Bento

24 Jan 2014  6 Responses »
Jan 242014
 

One of the (many) pleasures of train travel in Japan is buying a delicious bento box to enjoy during the journey. Bento boxes sold for this purpose are so popular that they have their own name, ekiben – eki means station – and most large stations have multiple ekiben shops to choose from.

Often the contents reflect local regional cuisine but my knowledge of Japanese food is still insufficient to recognise much of what I find inside, let alone be sure of where in Japan in might originate.

Still, the pleasure of presentation, variety, texture and taste is a joy and whiles away the time not spent gazing out of the windows at the beautiful views.

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This ekiben from Tokyo Bento in Tokyo Station was just ¥880 (less than £6).

 

As with most addresses in Tokyo, Zenyaren is difficult to find. When your overnight but sleepless flight from London landed only a few hours ago, and you’ve had a scant 1 hour nap since checking into your hotel, it’s doubly challenging. Luckily, Pete and I are with two Tokyo friends, Masamitsu and Voltaire, who manage, with the aid of smartphones, to track down my chosen venue.

How did Tokyoites navigate their city before the era of online maps and satellite navigation?

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Zenyaren is down in the basement of an office building, about 10 minutes walk from Tokyo Station. We are late for lunch and far too early for dinner, so much of the large space is empty. We are shown a large table in one of the cosier side rooms that break the space up.

The key attraction of Zenyaren is that it gathers together in a single place cooking from seven yakitori restaurants across Japan, giving you the chance to try regional yakitori favourites.

Zenyaren

Indeed, our waiter tells us that in his home region, yakitori is commonly made with pork (even though the word itself means fried or grilled poultry).

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With our drinks (umeshu for me, beer for the rest) come minced chicken balls, given crunch by the addition of finely chopped cartilage. Fabulous, and oddly reminiscent of Swedish meatballs!

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We order various mixed platters of yakitori, our waiter explaining the condiments that are intended for each. It’s a good selection, with each of us favouring different skewers, nothing lasts too long. We also try a chicken skin dish, which is very tasty but I’d like better if the skin were crunchy rather than flacid, and some whole fish that are a particular favourite of Masamitsu’s.

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With another round of drinks, the total bill for four is ¥10,220 (just under £70 at the exchange rate during our visit). For those planning to make a night of it, the menu also includes some reasonable drinks plans (where you pay a fixed price for unlimited drinks from a specified selection). Zenyaren is a great place to go with a group and I can imagine it becomes far buzzier when busy, during lunch or dinner hours.

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Although it’s been around for many years, the technique of cooking food sous vide (under vacuum) in a carefully temperature-controlled water bath has mainly been the preserve of chefs. Professionals have long appreciated the accuracy, consistency and sheer ease of a method that allows them to do the prep and (most of) the cooking of many dishes in advance. For example, they can portion, pack and cook steaks ahead of service, leave them in the water until needed, then quickly finish in a very hot pan to create an appealing brown crust, confident that the interiors will be cooked exactly as expected.

More recently, as the line between professional and domestic kitchens blurs, home cooks are investigating sous vide too.

The History of Sous Vide Cooking

Food historians attribute the idea of cooking under vacuum to Sir Benjamin Thompson, an 18th and 19th century physicist and inventor. Although he invented many items including a double boiler, an insulated drip coffee percolator and a new design of fireplace, he never actually created a sous vide machine, but he did document the idea of cooking under vacuum back in 1799, albeit using air as the heat transfer medium rather than water.

In a related development, the French navy prompted Parisian confectioner and chef Nicolas Appert to develop an industrially viable canning process in response to their competition, launched in 1795, seeking new methods of preserving food. Appert observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seal leaked. Boiling the jars in water killed harmful bacteria and yeasts; it also created a vacuum seal that kept jars airtight and stopped recontamination. After almost 15 years of work, the process he submitted won him a substantial 12,000 francs prize. Later, the method was applied to food sealed in tin cans, hence the process became known as canning.

Modern sous vide has been around since the 1960s, when French and American engineers mastered the process of making food-grade plastic films and pouches. Ingredients could be vacuum-sealed at sufficiently high pressures to compact textures and concentrate flavours. Sealing into such plastic is sometimes referred to as cryovacking after American company Cryovac Inc.

French chef Georges Pralus made the leap to using a sous vide water bath as a cooking technique when he was asked in 1974 by 3-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Troisgros to help find a way of cooking foie gras without losing so much of its weight during cooking. The foie gras, vacuum-sealed in food-grade plastic and cooked at a consistently applied specific temperature, not only loss far less fat during cooking, but had a more even texture too. The technique spread quickly and is now a common tool of many professional chefs.

Since then, there has been much more research and documentation of the effects of different cooking temperatures and times on different foods, with particular attention to food safety and food preservation. A pioneer in the food science of sous vide cooking is Bruno Goussault who presented a study on this very topic back in 1974. He and Pralus both went on to provide professional training in the technique for top chefs from around the world.

How Does it Work and What’s the Point?

Detractors often dismiss sous vide as nothing more than boil-in-the-bag in an attempt to associate it with those dreadful ready-made dinners of decades ago. Of course, there’s more to it than that: for sous vide cooking, raw food is vacuum-sealed in the bag – the removal of air allows heat to be transferred by the water outside the bag directly to the food inside, far more efficiently than when air gets in the way. The cooking temperature is far lower than boiling; accuracy of temperature is critical. Boil-in-the-bag food has already been cooked and pasteurised (at high heat) so the consumer is simply reheating by immersing in boiling water. Sous vide cooking involves cooking in a bag, in water, but it’s definitely not boil-in-the-bag!

When cooking food in a conventional oven (or in a pan on the stove top) the usual method is to set the temperature to high (we typically bake things at about 180 C) and leave the food in the oven (or on the stove) until it reaches the required internal temperature to transform from raw to cooked. The internal temperature the food needs to reach is far less than 180 C so the risk is that leaving the food cooking too long results in a continual rise in temperature, to the extent that the food becomes dried out or burnt. Of course, it’s also possible to underestimate the time needed, and remove a large item such as a roasting joint too soon, when it’s still raw at its centre. Temperature probes can help with this, but the cook still needs to ensure that the food is taken out at just the right time. Experience makes that less hit and miss, as does a temperature probe, but it’s still not an exact science given the different size and shape and moisture content of ingredients.

When cooking sous vide, the temperature of the water bath is set according to the internal temperature required to transform the food from raw to cooked. Of course, it’s still possible to remove the food too quickly, before the heat has transferred to the centre of the food. But the converse is not a problem – leaving the food in the water bath for longer doesn’t cause it to overcook, as it cannot become any hotter than the temperature of the water itself. This can benefit the home cook as much as the professional, as it allows the cooked food to be left in the water bath until such time as other elements of the dish are ready, or diners are ready to eat.

The accuracy of temperature achievable in a water bath means that meat can be cooked at precisely the right temperature to allow tough collagen to break down into soft gelatin, whilst avoiding the higher heats that denature protein and can make it tough. Choosing the right temperature allows the cook to target their preferred finish, whether that’s rare, medium rare, medium… Additionally, all the moisture is retained in the meat as it can neither evaporate nor drain away during cooking. When cooking fish such as salmon in a frying pan, it can be hard to apply heat evenly enough that the outer edges do not dry out before the centre is done, especially as this is a fish that is so good when it’s a touch under- rather than over-cooked. Using lower temperatures makes it easy to cook salmon evenly all the way through, and also avoid the unpleasant streaks of dried white albumen that are excreted when cooking fish at higher temperatures. There is less advantage over traditional methods when cooking vegetables, however adherents appreciate the intensity of flavours that cooking sous vide achieves.

Lastly, vacuum sealing the food means it can be stored (sealed and refrigerated) for longer after cooking, protected against oxidisation.

Limitations & Food Safety

The advantage of cooking, say, a steak or joint of meat in a hot oven or pan is that the exterior develops a caramelised brown crust, as the sugars and amino acids react to high heat – the Maillard reaction, as it’s known. And we love it – a beautifully seared chop with a tender, pink interior is surely the epitome of meat cooking!

Sous vide cannot achieve this, because the entire piece of meat, from exterior through to the centre, is heated only to the temperature needed to take it to medium rare, for example. So, a sous vide steak really needs to be finished briefly in a very hot pan, to sear the exterior and give us the crusted appearance, texture and taste we yearn for.

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That’s not an issue with all ingredients – salmon fillets are beautiful served straight out of the sous vide, evenly cooked all the way through. And foie gras, the ingredient that inspired the development of the modern technique, needs only to chill in the fridge before it’s sliced, plated and served.

Another issue to keep in mind is that of food safety, particularly for those with compromised immunity. The bacteria that is commonly found in food can be categorised into three groups – pathogens (which are harmful to us), spoilage (which, as the name implies spoil the taste and texture of food but are not, on their own, harmful to us) and friendly (which confer health benefits). Pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum (which produces the deadly toxin that causes botulism), Clostridium perfringens (one of the most common causes of food poisoning), Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes are all capable of growing in a vacuum. They can be eradicated by the application of minimum temperatures for sustained periods. Of course, for some ingredients, the temperature required to achieve a desirable texture in the food is not high enough to destroy any pathogens. In this case, it’s crucial to consider the source and quality of the raw ingredients and to observe strict hygiene practices. If storing food after sous vide cooking, it’s also advisable to reduce the temperature quickly, by immersing the sealed pouch into an iced water bath. Read more from sous vide expert Douglas Baldwin, here.

Sous Vide in a Domestic Setting

There are a number of brands that sell sous vide equipment to commercial kitchens. These are generally too expensive, and potentially too bulky, to be of interest to, or in the financial reach of, home cooks. Many have resorted to jury-rigging contraptions using digital thermometers and rice or slow cookers. Some even manage with the tap, a kettle and an insulated cool box! And a few have even attempted sous vide cooking on the stove top, necessitating constant addition of hot or cold water and minor adjustments of the heat level, to maintain the required temperature.

But for home cooks with a serious interest in the technique, and the budget to afford it, appliances aimed at the domestic market are now available.

One such brand is SousVide Supreme, founded by Doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades. They were motivated to investigate the technique after enjoying a particularly excellent pork chop served by a Las Vegas hotel’s room service team, during a visit to attend a medical conference. The nutritionist couple promote a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet and also have a background in the restaurant trade, so when they realised there was a gap in the domestic market, they resolved to jump in and launched their domestic sous vide products in 2009.

Their range includes two vacuum sealer machines, two (different sizes of) sous vide water ovens and accessories including plastic pouches and cookery books.

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The SousVide Supreme Water Oven is currently available on Amazon for £354, the Vacuum Sealer is currently £99. Alternatively, a Promo Pack of water oven, vacuum sealer, basic sous vide cookery book and 50 vacuum pouches is currently £450.

Our SousVide Supreme equipment arrived shortly before Christmas and we’ve had it out a few times already since then. Thus far, Pete and I have made a foie gras terrine (our first project, in deference to the role of Georges Pralus) and we’ve cooked steak (plain) and chicken (with flavourings). We’ve been very pleased with how all three came out and we found the vacuum sealer and water oven very straightforward to use. I’ll be sharing some recipes and feedback with you going forward.

Do take note that the oven is large, and needs some strength to lift when full of water.

 

Kavey Eats received a SousVide Supreme Promo Pack in exchange for sharing four posts about SousVide Supreme and my experiences with the equipment. This is the first such post with more to follow in coming months. As usual, I will be 100% honest about my opinions, whether good or bad.

 

We cook a lot of very simple meals in our house. We like dishes that don’t require long lists of ingredients, complicated preparation or a lot of hands-on cooking time (though we are a fan of slow cooking which lets the oven, stove or slow cooker do all the work).

It’s no secret that better quality ingredients create tastier end results; spending a little more often pays dividends. We like to buy a really good chicken and stretch it to several excellent meals rather than eat bigger portions of a cheap, hormone-pumped, water-logged bird that fails to excite the taste buds. A few impressive but not outrageously expensive king oyster mushrooms upgraded a regular mushroom dish to a fantastic one. Just 25 grams of smoked cheese completely lifted the flavour of feather light cheese gnocchi. And I am certain my home-made walnut brittle was even better because of the sweet and tasty walnuts, collected and dried in the grounds of a friend’s home in France.

But today, I am not talking about fresh produce. On my mind are ready-made ingredients that can be used to make simple dishes into amazing ones.

Our latest such dish was a simple pasta dinner which took only minutes to make, used just four ingredients and was utterly delicious:

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One of these was a flavoured mustard from famous French brand Maille. Pete and I visited their original store in Dijon, Burgundy a few years ago and were excited to see quite how many flavours were available. Maille have now come to the UK and have an attractive two-story shop in Piccadilly. Staff are happy to guide you through tasting samples and choosing products to purchase. Maille also sell online, but reserve many of their flavours for sale only in their stores.

Their “Bleu” mustard is a smooth and mild French mustard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine, both perfect accompaniments to mushrooms and cream.

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Pasta with a Mushroom, Cream and Maille Blue Cheese Mustard Sauce Recipe

Serves 2

Ingredients
Dribble of vegetable oil, for cooking
300 grams white cup mushrooms, sliced
25 grams (1 small pot) Maille Bleu (mustard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine)
100 ml double cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pasta of your choice, amounts as per your usual portions
Salt and oil, for cooking the pasta

Note: We used fresh penne rigate – a perfect shape for the creamy sauce to cling to.

Note: It’s definitely worth experimenting with different mustards; if you use English ones, reduce the amount as they have a much fiercer kick. Of course, you can always add actual blue cheese and a splash of white wine to plain mustard if you aren’t able to find Maille Bleu.

Method

  • Put a pan of water on to boil, for cooking the pasta. Add salt and a small splash of oil.
  • Fry the mushrooms in a dribble of oil over a medium heat until they release their juices and then a higher heat until the juices are absorbed / evaporated. Stir regularly, so they don’t catch. We usually find this takes 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size of mushrooms and pan used.
  • Take the mushrooms off the heat, add the mustard and cream and stir well. Put back onto a very gentle heat to warm the sauce through.
  • Season to taste.
  • As we were using fresh pasta, we put it on to cook once the mushrooms were cooked, just before adding the mustard and cream. However, if using dried pasta, start cooking it once the mushrooms have been on for 10 minutes.
  • Drain the pasta thoroughly, then add the mushroom sauce to the pasta and combine thoroughly.
  • Serve immediately.
  • We seldom worry about presentation when cooking for ourselves, but if you want to make the dish look a little more interesting, you could reserve a few cooked mushrooms to one side before adding the mustard and cream, and use them as a garnish on the finished dish.

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The blue cheese and mustard flavours both came through wonderfully and married well with mushrooms and cream.

I’d love to hear your ideas for using plain and flavoured mustards to lift a recipe – are there any recipes you can suggest? And are there other ingredients (such as the ones I mention above) that you like to use to make an ordinary recipe extraordinary? Please share your ideas!

With thanks to Maille for review samples of some of their mustards, dressings and oils.

 

Harking back to early autumn, look at this little fellow we spotted fast asleep in our back garden one morning in late September.

We replaced the bathroom window (downstairs, at the back of the house) with a clear glass one last year, as we’re not overlooked, so Pete spotted our visitor first thing and quickly gave me a (quiet) shout. We watched him sleeping for a while, his entire body rising and falling as he breathed. Just when Pete decided to go and grab his camera (I had picked mine up already) he woke up, looked around for a few moments and then bounded away, exiting the garden via some exciting leaps onto compost bin, greenhouse roof and garden fence.

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Do you regularly spot wildlife in your garden?

 

Britain isn’t known as a nation of offal lovers, but we certainly eat it.

It’s highly probable you’ve eaten offal before as it features in a several popular national dishes. Haggis is made by stuffing a sheep’s stomach with liver, heart, lungs and oats. Faggots are balls of minced pork and pig offal wrapped in caul fat. Sweetbreads have almost become a staple of the modern gastropub menu while steak and kidney pie is a classic.

Looking to our European neighbours, many of us enjoy Italian calves liver with onions or sage and butter and a beautifully dressed green salad with chicken livers or gizzards is popular on any French menu prix fixe. And who doesn’t love a rich liver paté?

Although offal such as brawn, chitterlings, tongue, tripe and trotters have fallen from favour in recent decades, take heart, as the offal I’m encouraging you to try is not so challenging!

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There’s a belief that all offal has a strange texture (like tripe and liver) and a strong flavour (like kidneys) but this isn’t true. Fresh chicken hearts don’t have a strong or distinct taste and they aren’t gritty, gelatinous or crunchy. When grilled quickly on a high heat, they’re tender morsels with a surprisingly subtle red meat taste. In texture, they’re softer than you might expect, with a hint of bounciness like flash-fried fresh squid.

Chicken hearts, although slightly high in cholesterol, are rich in essential B vitamins (including B12, riboflavin and folic acid) and minerals (including zinc, selenium, iron and potassium).

Around the world, they’re extremely popular.

Across South America, the asado (barbecue) is king and an array of steaks is accompanied by sausages and offal. In Brazil, chicken hearts roasted on skewers are an integral part of a churrascaria (grill house) menu.

Although it’s easy to think of the Indian subcontinent as a region of vegetarians, this dismisses the diversity of meat eaten across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. All have traditional recipes prizing offal, such as the Punjabi Katakat in which a mix of offal is fried in butter and spices.

Offal is most prominent in the cuisines of East Asia. The expression “nothing goes to waste” is put to practice nowhere as well as China, where the popularity of offal is not only due to a desire not to waste any part of the animal but also a belief that many types of offal confer health benefits. As such, offal is considered a delicacy and chicken hearts are enjoyed stir-fried, braised and grilled in many different recipes. In Korea, grilled chicken hearts in a barbeque marinade are commonly sold in street bars, perhaps with a pot of fiery gochujang (a fermented condiment of chilli, rice, soybeans and salt) on the side. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they are one of many types of offal used to make gulai, a type of curry with a rich, spicy, turmeric-heavy sauce.

But my favourite way of enjoying chicken hearts is Japanese yakitori, where different cuts of chicken are threaded onto skewers and grilled over charcoal. Tare, a sweet and salty dipping sauce is sometimes also brushed onto the meat before grilling. Yakitori is popular in izakaya (Japanese pubs) which serve short menus of small dishes designed for nibbling with drinks.

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Buying

Chicken hearts are not (yet) readily available in supermarkets but Turkish grocery stores with butchers’ counters often sell them and very cheaply too. Alternatively, talk to your local butcher and ask him to order some for you.

Japanese-style Yakitori Chicken Hearts

Ingredients
(approximately) 32 chicken hearts
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon pureed ginger
1 teaspoon pureed garlic
2 teaspoons of sugar
3 teaspoons or mirin (rice wine) or substitute 2 teaspoons of dry sherry + 1 teaspoon sugar

Method

  • Combine the soy sauce, pureed ginger, pureed garlic, sugar and mirin.
  • Toss chicken hearts in marinade before threading onto skewers. I fit about 8 hearts each onto 4 skewers.
  • Grill on a barbecue or cook in a heavy-based griddle on the stove. Cook on high heat for a just few minutes each side (overcooking will result in tough hearts). Brush with extra marinade during cooking.
  • Serve immediately.

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This piece was written for the November 2013 issue of Good Things Magazine – a food, travel and lifestyle magazine launching to consumers in Spring 2014. Content is also available via the website, or follow @GoodThingsUK for the latest news.

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