Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Culinary disasters

Writing about sorbets reminded me of one of the less glorious episodes in my culinary career. I am not immune from disaster now. I do, even though I've now had years of experience, still burn things because I am prone to try and do too many things at once. My children are used to coping with this, though now my son's knowledge of chemistry far exceeds mine, he takes issue with my statement that carbon is the building block of protein and that burnt offerings are therefore good for you.

The particular disaster I am thinking of was a lemon sorbet; at least that was what it was intended to be. It put me off doing sorbets for decades (in fact until last weekend) as I was convinced they were terribly difficult and it wasn't worth trying again. Having made a rhubarb sorbet, I now know the difference between the two types: easy, which has a lot of actual fruit in it, and trickier, in which case you have fruit juice but not the actual substance of the fruit.

Lemon is, obviously, the second type. You are supposed to whisk egg white lightly and mix this into the semi-frozen mixture to give the sorbet its texture. I never normally try something new on my unsuspecting guests, and I'd done this sorbet before. It was a tricky supper party in some ways, as my first marriage had just broken up, and I was still navigating the slightly choppy waters of socialising as a newly single person, so had invited over old university friends who were, I hoped, unphased by my rackety private life. I did want to show that I hadn't entirely lost the plot and was actually surviving on my own...

So, the sorbet. I'd made the sugar syrup, done the stuff with the lemon, and attempted to whisk in the egg whites. Egg whites and I have a bit of a history as I was then going through a long fallow period of being unable to get meringues right, and I think it was the egg whites that failed here. They sort of combined with the mixture, but they sort of didn't. Never mind, I thought. Another whisk will sort them out. I duly did another mix, but it still looked not quite as it ought. Always hopeful, I thought all would be well once it was properly frozen.

Except it wasn't. I duly flourished the sorbet out of the freezer, only to find out it was even worse than when I had last seen it, and had separated out into a fluffy tasteless layer of egg white, and a completely rock like layer of lemon ice which resisted all attempts to remove it from the container. Eventually, after waiting around quite a bit and drinking a lot of coffee, the mix did free up a little. I was hoping that after the fluffy layer had been scraped off, the lemon layer beneath would be rather like a lemon ice lolly, but I was wrong. No one ate it.

Fortunately they laughed, and I do still see some of them so it wasn't the end of our beautiful friendships.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Rhubarb sorbet

It was an absolutely baking weekend here, so I didn't try Moggypie's rhubarb crisp, though that is still very much on the list to try. I did, however, make rhubarb sorbet, and that was delicious. Neither child would try it, as I had bought a 2-for-1 cookie dough ice cream at Sainsbury's and they preferred the familiar, but OH and I, culinary pioneers always, loved it.

Here's the recipe, which comes from Shona Crawford-Poole's Ice Cream (Conran):

1 1/2 pounds of rhubarb (the recipe says spring, but it's well past the forced stuff now, so I compromised by using the thinnest stalks)
10 oz caster sugar (though I used less - about 9 oz I think, and about an oz crystallised out and stuck to the pan, so I think you could get away with 8oz if you like a more tart flavour, which I do)

Chop the rhubarb up, and put it and the sugar into a deep ovenproof dish. Didn't have one of these, though I suppose if I'd thought about it I could have used a casserole, but I used a 2" deep ovenproof pottery dish, and covered it with foil, and it was fine. Anyway, to get back to the recipe, you need to cover the rhubarb and sugar. It then goes into the oven (gas 4, 350 F, 180 C, baking oven of Aga) for 45 minutes. I did this in the Aga as its last gasp before I turned it off for the summer, and in that it took 35 minutes.

Once the rhubarb is very tender, let it cool, then either liquidise it or press it through a sieve. Being far too idle to faff about with a sieve, I liquidised it a lot.

Into the freezer then, and try and beat it at least once before it freezes completely. Having started this in the morning, I did manage to beat it. It was absolutely delicious, and, inspired by the hot weather we're having, and the fact I am very fond of sorbet, I am going to go through the freezer and dig out all the fruit we really should have eaten and turn it into sorbet.

Once the elderflowers are out, I am going to try combining those with this sorbet. Not entirely sure how I will do it, but think that I'll try putting them in the rhubarb/sugar mixture for the last 15 minutes of cooking and then take them out before liquidising. At least that's the theory at the moment!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Morning walk

Some of us are not yet up...

I've never seen this before - young ivy foliage blackened by the frost. My poor maincrop potatoes have all been blasted by the frost. I'm pretty certain none of them are actually dead, but it will set them back a bit.

Allied to the late frosts, it's also very dry.

I love this time of year, particularly the smell, which even I with my very limited sense of smell, notice. There's cow parsley everywhere. I was born in Bedfordshire, where we called cow parsley cow parsley, but in Northamptonshire, where I am now, it's kek. Short and to the point.

Monday, 17 May 2010

All that rhubarb.....

The garden part of this blog doesn't get much of a look in, which probably reflects the time that is spent on it relative to everything else I write about. One thing with living in a fairly rural environment is the glut: at this time of year, everyone I see I mentally size up: are they likely to have rhubarb? - in which case any offer of some of mine is only going to meet with a hollow laugh (it's a good year for rhubarb, this year), or grow only flowers, in which case there will be enthusiastic agreement to take some of it off my hands.

Our rhubarb patch, after a couple of sulky years when it protested that it did not appreciate the wind swept climes of our fruit garden, has now decided that wind is for wimps, and it flourisheth even more than the green bay tree (and I have plenty of that on offer too, if anyone's interested).

Last year I made rhubarb chutney - excellent, but I'm not sure I can face the thought of the reek of vinegar taking over the house for days - so this year I was looking for other things. For fellow rhubarb glut sufferers out there, here is an excellent recipe for rhubarb ice cream. The children had one taste and then refused to touch it, but we thought it was delicious. The recipe comes from The Ice Cream Book, by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis, Hermes House, 2007.

Rhubarb and Ginger Ice Cream
5 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped
1lb trimmed rhubarb, sliced
4 oz caster sugar
2 tbspn water
5 oz mascarpone
1/4 pint whipping cream

1. Put the rhubarb, water and sugar in a pan, cover and simmer for 5 minutes until the rhubarb is just tender. I hadn't thought this through when I picked the rhubarb, and so had some sticks that were a tad, shall we say, resistant. I simmered it for much longer than 5 minutes and the end result was fine, but when I do this again, shall choose sticks of the same degree of ripeness.

2. Blend or food processor the rhubarb until smooth. Chill (if you have time - of course I was doing this in a rush near bed time and so didn't.)

3. Mix the mascarpone, cream and ginger with the rhubarb puree. The recipe doesn't say whether or not you should actually whip the whipping cream. I had forgotten to buy cream, so only had double, and not quite enough. I made up the difference with mascarpone, and was too tired to whip the cream, so didn't. I think if you did it would improve the texture, but it was fine without.

4. Freeze for 6 hours or so, beating once or twice to break up the ice crystals. Of course, as I did this just before bed, the chances of my doing any beating of the mixture were zero. I have to say the result was still good, though the texture would have been better if I'd stirred myself from bed in the still watches and beaten it.

The end result, I have to say, was jolly good. The texture could maybe do with some work, but the taste was fine, and it used up some rhubarb, which was the aim of the exercise. If I am feeling very noble, I may make some rhubarb sorbet, and shall report back on that.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Morning walk

I haven't done a morning walk for ages - not because I haven't been walking. I've either been deep in thought, or doing a morning run, which makes photographing difficult! Today was the first morning in a while there wasn't frost.

I'm on a semi-ruthless purge of dandelions in the garden. When I was little, I loved blowing the seeds off the dandelion clock (how ever many puffs it took to get rid of all the seeds was what time it was for us in Northamptonshire - was it the same for everyone?) but it used to drive my mother wild as the seeds settled everywhere, and with that genius for germination that dandelions seem to have, grew. Now I absolutely appreciate how she felt. But they are beautiful.

The hawthorn is just starting to come out. I'm not sure why this one bush is out when all around it are firmly not.

We have some village pigs now, who are incredibly popular. Dog loved the pigs when they were piglets, and they spent much time nose to nose through the wire. She still likes the remaining sow (we assume the other one is now in the freezer) but the boar who has now appeared is another matter.... no pic of him yet.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Amazon: the might of the overlarge

Amazon's European HQ is based in Luxembourg. Amazon therefore has to abide by Luxembourg's consumer practice law, which means that anyone in the UK buying from Amazon has up to two years to demand a refund or repair if what you buy was faulty, as long as the fault was present at purchase.

Buyers who try and hold Amazon to this aren't doing very well.