Tuesday, 28 July 2009

My name's The Ample Cook and I'm a Gravyholic

My addiction to and dependency on, stock based liquids started at a very early age. My Mum was a great plain cook and every roast, pie, stew and casserole had the most wonderful gravy. Every scrap of a chicken was used - roasted, then cold with mash and pickles or bubble and squeak, then the carcass was simmered with carrots, onions and celery to make a wonderful stew, soup or gravy.

Lamb or mutton stew was a favourite, big round chunks of neck of lamb that had more bone than meat, but those bones yielded a huge depth of flavour, with carrots, onion and pearl barley. Always made the day before so that the hard layer of cream fat that formed on the top could easily be removed.

This is my drawer of loveliness. A drawer in my freezer that holds little bags and plastic pots of meat jelly saved from a roast and left over gravy. I never, ever throw any meat stock or jelly away, no matter how small as they can either form the basis of a gravy, or sauce or just enrich a stew or soup. I also keep any meat fats - beef dripping, duck fat, pork fat - all fabulous for roasting potatoes.

This however, I have to admit, is not the full picture. In my larger freezer there are many pots of chicken stock - liquid gold. In our house we are never very far away from a risotto, or onion gravy to go with our sausages and mash or a lovely rich gravy to coat left-over chicken and sauteed leeks for a yummy pie.

I will hold my hand up here and confess to being a complete gravy and stock snob. The stock that is sold in supermarkets I think is of a very poor standard and expensive. Also, why doesn't it 'set'? If it was made from bones - as it obviously should be - it would, so what's that all about?

I suppose all this obsessive behaviour stems from my fear of 'Gravy Granules' That gloopy, salty, tongue coating powder of the devil. These are the ingredients taken from a jar of 'Bisto Best' - pork flavour: Maltodextrin, potato starch, salt, flavourings, flavour enhancers (E621 E635), hydrogenated vegetable oil, colour (E150c), Emulsifier (E322) soya, spice & herb extracts & onion extract. Mmmmmmmmm yummy.

Now, doesn't this deserve good gravy?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Well ripple my raspberries

A visit to my sister on Saturday resulted in me coming home with nearly a pound and half of raspberries, which we picked in her garden. They were gorgeous, really sweet. Now I eat a lot of fruit, especially on my breakfast porridge and granola, but not even I could snaffle down that many raspberries before they went off. So, instead of going for the obvious and turning them into jam I thought some raspberry ripple ice cream would be most welcome, particularly as I had quite a few eggs and a load of cream in the fridge.

First stage of the process was make a custard - 568ml of cream (yikes, low cal then) brought to just below boiling with 300ml of whole milk and a split vanilla pod. This was then poured onto 6 egg yolks which had been whisked with 50g of caster sugar. Then the mixture was returned to the saucepan and stirred until it thickened slightly. When it was cold enough I put it in the fridge and left it alone until the next day.

Then, I fired up the ice cream machine (not the quatro). It's only one of those that you keep in the freezer, but it's quite effective. It just churns the mixture with a plastic paddle and gets colder and thicker as ice crystals form. I would like one of those big ones that are always good to go but I just don't I think I'd use it that often and they're just such a big bit of kit to store.

The base vanilla was then squirreled away to firm up a tad more before being 'rippled' with 300g of pureed and sweetened raspberries. Something to note here - when ice cream freezes it always tastes less sweet than when it was in it's unfrozen state, so you have to add more icing sugar than you think to the soft fruit.

I think this looks like something 'Dexter' would keep in his freezer

I have to say that it was really worth the effort. I've only ever had commercial raspberry ripple and this knocked spots off it. It was creamy (obviously as it was virtually all cream!) and the rippled parts were really raspberryish and tangy and yummy.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Sexy Samphire

I always think Samphire is a good name for one of those steroid enhanced, orange skinned amazonian 'Gladiators' on that ITV programme - there might even be one, who knows? Anyway, I digress. I had a nice surprise when I picked up my meat order from the farm at the weekend. Paul (one of the farmers) presented me with a large bag of marsh samphire. The farm borders on the River Crouch which joins the Thames Estuary, so at low tide Paul had hopped over the sea wall and grabbed a load for me, which was very kind of him.

Samphire is obviously salty, but in a good way. Eaten raw it has a lovely crispness to it - it's a bit like a salty green bean really. It's known as Glasswort or sometimes referred to as 'sea asparagus' but apart from looking like very thin asparagus I don't think it really tastes like it. It's in season from late June to August. It's a great accompaniment to most fish and you can simply steam it and coat it in butter - but I decided to lace it with a sauce a la Rick Stein which is made by reducing some fish stock, Noilly Prat and cream by three quarters, then you whisk in a little cold butter. We had it with pan fried salmon and new potatoes.