maandag 29 maart 2010

Tagliatelle with Black Garlic

I couldn't wait any longer- after yesterday's post about black garlic curiosity got the better of me, I had to try cooking the garlic. I decided to take an easy path and made a quick pasta. How I love pasta.
I cooked 300gr tagliatelle. Fried 250gr diced bacon, added 1 finely chopped onion, until it was just begining to brown. I added several mushrooms, 4 cloves of black garlic sliced, a few freeze dried Spanish pepers, a few chopped black olives, about 2 tsp capers and some sundried tomato (in oil). When the pasta was just cooked I added a little olive oil and about 150gr Philadelphia cheese (original), 25gr Gran padano salt and pepper and mixed thoroughly. I carefully put the two together.
I served it with a stir fry of Italian vegetables and a side salad. How I love my vegetables and salads.

Oh my, the garlic was divine, next time I won't be afraid to add more. The balance was good although I don't usually use so many ingredients in one dish. By omitting regular garlic I was afraid I wouldn't get the full taste! I didn't miss it at all and I certainly didn't miss smelly fingers!

zondag 28 maart 2010

Aged Black Garlic- The New Black

I love garlic and lots of it! So when I read an article in 'Exclusief' the monthly magazine of Sligro (number 2) I became very excited and intrigued- I knew I would have to try some- evidently I'm not the only one since I bought the very last packet! (the power of clever marketing?)
It certainly looks odd- light brown in colour and ‘papery’ with inky black cloves, actually not at all appealing to the eye, but don't let appearance put you off- black garlic is a big hit and is well on the way to becoming the latest trend.

The 'Sligro' garlic comes in sealed plastic packaging with a packet of Silica-gel. There are just two bulbs of 'Aged Black Garlic' or 36gr. The garlic was actually ‘invented' by Scott Kim and manufactured in Korea. It is distributed by Black Garlic inc. (Los Angeles) On the packaging is a chart showing the nutrition facts. 40calories per serving(18gr). It cost around 5euro.

But what exactly is black garlic?- No it isn't a newly discovered variety but simply regular garlic that has been fermented in a process using high levels of heat treatment and controlled humidity for roughly a period of 21 days.
Initially it was developed by Scott Kim to be marketed as yet another super food with its many positive health properties (It is extremely high in antioxidants/anti cancer) these are however, 'alleged' claims, I'm unsure if there is supporting medical evidence. But the product took a turn when it was picked up in America and has since become very popular in the culinary world especially in high-end restaurants and TV cooking programmes.
In England it became very sought after featuring in Something for the Weekend a BBC 2 TV programme.

What is so positive about black garlic?- well how about all the taste but none of the 'nasties'. What do you think of being able to eat cooked or even raw garlic with no heartburn or garlic breath!? (So if you are looking to ward off vampires- forget it!) Black garlic contains considerably more antioxidants (antioxidants absorb 'free radicals' which are unstable molecules which can cause cell and tissue damage) than regular garlic.
Regular garlic's health benefits and medicinal properties have long been known and have been clinically proven. It helps to protect against heart disease, lowers blood pressure / cholesterol and helps prevent blood clots forming. It's antibacterial/ antiviral properties also helps the body to fight off infections including colds and acne! Further test show that it may neutralise cancer-causing chemicals and thus reduce the risk of tumours. For those who dislike the taste/want to avoid 'garlic breath' but don't want to miss out on the therapeutic qualities, garlic has been available as a 'artificial' supplement in capsule form but now Black garlic could be the 'natural' answer.
Black or aged garlic as it is often referred to- is entirely natural, so no preservatives or added chemicals! No additives at all- you get pure garlic (so please disregard anything you hear suggesting Soy is used in the production) Just don't forget to discard the little packet of Silicagel!

The taste is sweet and subtle. Unique because it is sweet and savoury alike, the taste has been described as anything from tamarind, to balsamic vinegar, from licorice to dark soy sauce as well as figs and dates. It is said to resemble roasted garlic with earthy and even chocolate undertones.
I thought it tasted very much like appelstroop (apple syrup) and 'solid' balsamic vinegar although the structure is soft and mouth watering. It is mild but at the same time there is a depth of flavour. I couldn't help wonder if I would have even recognised ‘garlic’ if I hadn't known what I was sampling. For this reason I conducted a 'blind' tasting with a few friends. The reactions? (all positive) 'licorice?' 'plum?' and yes---- 'garlic?'

How can you use black garlic, can dishes calling for classic garlic be substituted? To a certain extent yes, but remember it is a more subtle flavour and black garlic has its own unique taste so you should experiment. It can be eaten raw or cooked. On the packaging the serving suggestions are Pizza, Pasta, Steak, Hotdog, Berger?? (Burger?) or Asian food! So everything American and Asian food- hmm…
A recipe suggestion in the Sligro magazine is baked banana. Mix chocolate with finely chopped black garlic, honey or sugar and rum and pour over a banana sliced lengthways. Bake in foil for 20 minutes in a pre-heated oven 180c.
I have even read that there is a chocolate variant available or being introduced soon! Can't wait!

For me it was love at first bite. I was charmed by it- but the rest of the family had mixed reactions.
While it's looks may not be top notch it certainly packs a punch! I feel it is an ingredient with lots of potential. I can't wait developing recipes incorporating 'Black Magic' Garlic. I'm thinking the obvious; in a salad, mushroom risotto or in pasta recipe here. Maybe with roast chicken, or perhaps just keep it simple- black garlic butter or Aioli but I'll also be trying it with chocolate and ice-cream!
While I don't think I'll be consuming the amount required for reaping the health benefits mainly due to its limited availability, I will be buying it regularly.
Does it have a future or will it be a flash in the pan? I do have a feeling it will be a stayer rather than a novelty. Apparentely there is a patent on the production technique/machine that fermentates the garlic, although it is beyond me how this production can be patented since it 'just' needs the right dose of heat and humidity- how difficult could that be?
I have no doubt it will shortly available at the major supermarkets.

dinsdag 23 maart 2010

Banoffee Pie with Dulce de Leche- scary stuff!

Ban(ana) +(T)offee + pie=
Banoffee Pie is an indulgent but simple, no cook British dessert made from bananas, cream, chocolate and *Dulce de Leche on a base of either pastry or cookie crumbs. It's just one of those flavour combinations that work like a dream.
This is something that I had been meaning to make for a long time. Although Banoffee has become a classic English dessert, *Dulce de leche originates from South America so quite possibly my recent holiday to Brazil stirred a desire in me to taste once again the rich sweet taste of Banoffee Pie.
* Dulce de leche is a toffee/caramel like substance make from heating (for 3 hours!) tinned sweetened condensed milk until it thickens and reaches a golden colour. This itself is a daunting task- they are many warnings about exploding tins :-(....but you should be ok as long as you adhere to certain rules.
So the weekend before last, I risked life, limb and my kitchen units in order to satisfy my craving.
How to make Dulce de Leche:
Place the unopened can(s) of condensed milk in a(n old) large saucepan and cover it completely with water. The advice is to use an old pan but I didn't and my pan was fine. It is an idea to boil more cans at one time as it does store well in the closed tin can or in a sealed (sterilised) container in the fridge- if you can leave it alone- it is very hard to resist just spooning it out of the jar! (You will regret it afterwards)

Bring the water to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Place the pan lid on and cook the can, turning every so often, (I set my alarm for 30minute intervals) topping up with water as necessary for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. CAUTION: It is vital that the cans remain completely covered. When the time is up drain rain off the water and allow the cans to cool.
Do not try to open until the can is completely cool so make well in advance. it will be lovely and thick. I used just one can but if you really want to be indulgent use 1 1/2 cans per pie.
In the meantime you can make the crust of choice. I used ginger cookies with cinnamon. It isn't necessary to add extra sugar due to the sweetness of the filling.
Banoffee Pie:
180gr ginger cookies (or any cookies like digestive)
85gr butter
heaped tsp cinnamon
1 tin (397 gr)condensed milk ( I used Friesche Vlag from AH)
banana's sliced (I used 5 small)
200ml cream, whipped
cocoa for dusting plus grated plain chocolate.
Spring form, lined with a piece of greaseproof paper
Bash the cookies in a clean bag with a rolling pin or pestle. Heat butter in small pan until just melted. Add crumbs and mix. Press in the base and slightly on the sides of a spring form (mine was 24cm) with a spoon. Cool in a refrigerator.
Whip cream. Now it is a matter of just putting it together, layer of toffee (it will be thick and difficult to spread but don't be tempted to add milk, I did but it doesn't hold its shape good)- banana and cream (or banana- toffee and cream) Cool, just before serving sprinkle lavishly with cacao and grated plain chocolate. Enjoy!

Banoffee Pie even has film star status: It features briefly in one of the all time classic films: Love Actually, in the the painstaking scene where Juliet suddenly realises the true nature of Marks the continuality flaws the box containing the pie changes position several times on the TV stand and even disappears! Here

I still had a can over- but no worries, it didn't hang around for long! I fancied something a little different. I love the combination of banana and toffee but wanted a slight change. As I am a confessed chocoholic it didn't take me long to decide what twist to take on the Banoffee Pie - a Choco-Banoffe. I added a layer of rich chocolate *ganache but to conteract the sweetness I decided to make a bitter cocoa pastry base. It gives the pie a rich dark colour.
* Ganache is a French term is an icing or filling for pastries and glazings made from chocolate and cream. It is normally made by heating heavy/double cream, then pouring it over chopped dark chocolate. Note if you use milk chocolate it will not set properly! It should cut like butter.
I adjusted the Jamie Oliver Simple Chocolate Tart by halving the ingredients for the filling. I used my own base.

This photo actually doen't do it any justice, it looks a bit runny, look here

Choco Banoffee:
300gr plain flour/ cocoa to taste (not more than 50gr cocoa 250gr flour)
2 heaped tsp sugar
pinch salt
150gr butter
1 egg, beaten
little water as necessary
24cm spring form/ flan tin, lined with greasproof paper.

Add salt to flour, sprinkle in sugar. Rub the butter in to the flour, add (beaten) egg and enough water (very little) to form a dough. Handle as little as possible. Refrigerate for about an hour, this will rest the dough, it will be easier to handle and is less likely to shrink. Prewarm oven 180c /350f / gas 4
Roll out large enough to line the tin (including sides) Ideally this should rest again- pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes if you have time.
Bake "blind". Place baking beans on greaseproof paper (if you don't have beans carefully prick the pastry case with a fork not piercing completely through the pastry) and cook for 15minutes, remove greaseproof paper/beans and allow to cook for about another 10minutes. It is a fairly thick pastry so needs longer than normal. Leave to cool.
Spread one can of Dulce de Luche on the flan. Add 3 sliced Banana's.

157ml cream
1 level tablespoon caster sugar
pinch of salt
57gr butter softened
227gr dark chocolate
50ml milk
cocoa powder for dusting

Place the cream, sugar and a pinch of salt in a pan and bring to a boil. As soon as the mixture has boiled, remove from the heat and add the butter and chocolate. Stir until it has completely melted. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, stirring in the cold milk until smooth and shiny. Sometimes this mixture looks like it has split. Allow it to cool down a bit more and whisk in a little extra cold milk until smooth. Scrape all the mixture into the pastry shell on top of the bananas. Shake the tart to even it out and allow it to cool. Dust with the cocoa powder.
If you really want to push the boat out serve with a dollop of cream. It won't be overly sweet due to the bitter pastry, it balances very well. I have wierd taste buds and added a drizzle of Crema di balsamico.

You could make lots of variations, what about serving as a dessert in individual glasses with a tart fruit (I'm thinking cranberries) on the bottom, then a layer of dulce de Leche and chocolate. Or a bottom layer of sponge soaked in brandy/ liqueur. Or add a topping of toasted and chopped hazelnuts. Or alternatively you could flavour the Dulce de leche with coffee.

So if YOU are looking for a bit of adventure in the kitchen, grab a couple of cans of condensed milk next time you are in your local supermarket and give it a go. You will be richly rewarded.

dinsdag 16 maart 2010

Kitchen Equipment

A food blog is nothing without pictures- on holiday in Brazil we had two camera's with us and both only just made it to the end of the holiday . My own camera has since given very poor quality photo's, somehow the setting were all over the place. It doesn't help that I am 'camera illiterate!' But I have given it a good clean, changed the settings, with the manual close at hand (in English- but it may has well been in Chinese) and now finger’s crossed I hope the problem is solved and I am back!
Tools of the trade.
How well is your kitchen equipped?
There is a saying that a good craftsman never blames his tools but is the same true in the kitchen? How important is the equipment and how important are the skills?
A bit of both perhaps- good and quality utensils won't necessary make a good cook out of you- and it is possible to create a culinary delight on a simple camp fire!. But good equipment help to make your life somewhat easier and will greatly assist you, whether you are working on a true masterpiece, making a simple omelet- or even opening a tin can!
To simplify things, a sharp knife is so much easier to work with, not to mention safer, than a blunt one! I believe quality and durability is very important as far as kitchenware goes (as it is regarding most other things) But equally important is of course the quality of the ingredients as well as some skill and knowledge- and practice does make perfect!
You need to 'know' your ingredients and you learn to use your 'tools'. Which explains how you may whip up a gourmet meal at home and struggle miserably in someone else’s kitchen.
I think my kitchen reflect my style fairly accurately - fusion cooking- a mix and match of different flavours. I make what pleases me, I don't stick to rules or recipes. I cook to feel. My equipment is equally diverse, from an old fashioned wooden citrus reamer / juicer to a Jamie Oliver flavour shaker and from a pestle and mortar to pasta machine.
As far as equipping your kitchen I would say go for quality, shop around and try to buy 'versatile' kitchenware.
As far as knives go- it is very much a personal thing. They must feel good in your hands. My favourite knife is not even an expensive one- brand: Kitchen devils by Fiskars- it is small and I can manage it good. (I guiltily admit to not being able to handle a cooks knife like the chefs do)
You can however go way over the top equipping your kitchen and this often only results in over full cupboards, jammed drawers and cluttered work surfaces! My general rule is not having to move more than three things in order to reach something at the back of a cupboard. And it works for me.
You can get by with just the basics. I try to avoid too many cooking helps and steer away from gadgets that have just a single use. I look always for items that can multi function: I have for example a large Tupperware (NO-I am NOT a Tupperware freak) bowl with lid that can be used for storage, as a lettuce spinner as well as an independent colander. Don't buy those cute little ramekins if you know they'll only be collecting dust and taking up precious space at the back of your kitchen unit. Keep your head and your commonsense. Those beautiful decorated plates may well look fantastic on their own but may clash horribly when filled with food! I favour white tableware, it is better to have a 'blank canvas' to work with- the focus will be on the food and not on the dinnerware. And don't be lead astray- round plates are fine- and fit nicely in the dishwasher!
All those 'amazing discoveries' may look handy but by the time you have located them at the back of your cupboard, assembled them (and washed them up after use) you may well find you would have been quicker using a knife and be left with much less food waste. I'm thinking of the various cutting devices available. How many do you have? And do you use them- be honest now...
You don't always need to opt for the top end- I use inexpensive wine glasses because I know they have a short life expectancy in my household.
My all time favourites:
I have a few items in the kitchen that I couldn't possibly live without- one is my Zyliss cheese grater- There is nothing so good as freshly grated (hard)cheese. I had one for years, it was extremely durable but it eventually broke but luckily I managed to find a new one, the design was roughly the same- only the colour had changed from black to white.
One thing I can do without is a food processor. I seem to manage with a hand held mixer to whisk and a stick mixer to blend. I like the hands on approach and get satisfaction from a simple whisk or kneading with my bare hands call me a sucker for punishment but I find it therapeutic.
I have a decent set of saucepans (and rarely opt to use my non-stick ones).
I am a huge fan of Bodum- 'make taste not waste'- is their current slogan. Visit their website- their new catalogue is worth flicking through- it all seems very well thought out- and it's fun! I have a beautiful Bodum wok pan that I use a lot. It is cast iron so is extremely heavy and I do have to wash it up by hand- but that is a small price to pay. It makes a perfect Thai curry. It has a 'stable' flat bottom but visually resembles a wok. I also have a Bodum griddle pan- a 'grilled' steak with the characteristic ‘stripes’ always tastes better somehow.

I often use my Bodum glass dishes with plastic lids which I bought in France- but given the chance I would buy many more. They are very versatile and go from fridge to microwave to table to dishwasher and can even go in the freezer. Yes they are made of glass but after 5 years not only are they going strong they are 100% intact.
Disappointed in a product.*
Sadly Bodum has recently fallen off the pedestal as far as I am concerned. After 15 years of using Cole and Mason salt and pepper mills- (the salt/pepper grinder specialist in the UK) last year I went over to Bodum. (bad decision) True the design is beautiful, and it does what it should but the pepper mill has unsightly hairline cracks in the acrylic body and the lacquer of both is blistering very slightly. Perhaps it is a flaw in the design since the cracks have appeared at the same position as the tiny screws but I don't know because as yet Bodum haven't even given me the courtesy of a reply! The 'Nissen' mills do have a 10 year guarantee- but I no longer have a receipt. I hoped for quality but didn’t even get run of the ' mill '! Very disappointing, especially when you are used to high standards from such a reputable company.
* Update: I have since received a replacement pepper mill from Bodum.

While I am on the subject of guarantee- if a piece of equipment has a ‘Lifetime Guarantee’ then take it with a pinch of salt. It doesn't mean your lifetime- it is the 'products lifetime' -basically the number of years that the article is reasonably expected to last- so very vague indeed! I think this is something that should be addressed.
Oil and vinegar.
It took me quite a while to find a decent oil and vinegar set- I've been through a few in my day, being eventually tossed aside because they don't quite make the grade. I love my salads and must always have (Cretan) olive oil and balsamic vinegar on hand. I now use a set by Cole and Mason, these not only look beautiful they do function quite well. They are not completely anti-drip but they do have a lot of advantages- easy to dose, easy to fill, the contents are stored fairly dark and sealed, easy to clean (in the dishwasher), large and easy opening to add flavours like peppers/herbs/ garlic.
A fairly recent new addition is a sturdy (vegetable) peeler from a make called OXO. It is American, nothing to do with the British OXO (if you were wondering)...their mission: "OXO is dedicated to providing innovative consumer products that make everyday living easier." They also offer a Satisfaction Guarantee- which shows confidence that surely must reflect from good and quality products. I like their style and so far love their goods. Website.
Mepal is also a great brand. Great for storage and they make a handy mixing spoon with a hole in the middle I use a lot. Sometimes it can be a bit 'top heavy' but that doesn't put me off only slightly annoyed as I am scrapping food of the kitchen units.
Searching for the perfect garlic press.
Another little kitchen help that has caused me a certain amount of problems is a garlic press- I have tried so many all with dissatisfaction, leaving more discarded goods in my path to perfection… Or it is too small, or the garlic escapes through the edges or the results just don't justify scraping out the device with my fingers- the cleaning sucks! Basically they leave me with a bad taste in my mouth as well as smelly hands! I currently have two (rejects) and what did I favour - a simple grater!
Things were about to change. Recently I was invited to a special evening in Den Haag. It was an initiative and coming together of three organisations who share common ground of enjoying good food and drink and making life as harmonious as possible in the kitchen (and bathroom). Marthijn, Bas and Misha.
It took place after regular hours at Bas Hogervorst a shop selling quality bathroom/ cookware/ & tableware. Brands include Bodum, Menu, Eva Solo, Zyliss. The atmosphere was very relaxed we were free to wander through the shop at our leisure gazing at all the beautiful, luxury and (mostly) practical products on display. (feeling like a child in sweet shop!) We were offered a discount but no pushy sales pitch. There were cooking demonstrations (and tasting) and we could sample the delicious Italian specialities offered by Food Valley Import cheeses and salami....and where there is good food there are of course good wines- the wine tasting was organised by Marthijn Loof from Porte Reffe. For more info. see my blog here.
Bad buy.
While scouring the shelves I did keep in the back of my mind the fact that I had just sold my Nespresso and Philips juicer (the wonder of ) in order to create more work surface. Just like weeding ones garden one must regularly access your kitchen aids and make the redundancies known. As great as the Nespresso tastes I couldn't justify what I had to exchange- valuable working space! It was the Senseo or the Nespresso. While the Nespresso has an certain air of 'exclusiveness', I like to have a supply of coffee capsules without having to remember to place an order. Call me down to earth- but I think it ridiculous that you have to join the somewhat elite Nespresso "club" in order to get a supply of your favourite coffee. Then take into consideration minimum orders, postal charges and delivery times....Senseo won hands down. Same goes for the Philips juicer- while you may envisage yourself drinking lots of healthy concoctions- in practice you don't. The washing up part is the big put off- although it all can go into the dishwasher. I used mine what twice in six months. Great tasting juice- true but I actually prefer eating my fruit and vegetables whole and I have gladly claimed back my work surface. The one I only recently obtained and was so readily willingly to fill! We extended our kitchen surface because my actual workspace measured a mere 95cm! Not enough for me!

Back on subject- on the evening I was good, my control was admirable- I came away with a healthy glow to my cheeks, a bottle of my favourite wine of the evening, a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano and my best find- my latest garlic press.

It was from OXO a brand that already gave me some confidence knowing the peeler had become an true asset in my kitchen.
This is a one good looking garlic press but what is it like in practice?- well while I am in am very positive I'm still not 100% happy. I'm a hard girl to please! One of the reasons for choosing this particular garlic press is because of the extra large chamber. I love garlic and use a lot of single clove garlic (also known as pearl /solo garlic). This kind is easier to use if you grate garlic. While the press is large enough to accommodate a whole garlic it was however difficult to press. It is clearly a man’s tool! I did try it with a couple of small cloves though and it worked fine.
As for cleaning it does come up trumps. It has a special 'cleaner' which does actually work. Just flip the handle over, and the residue of garlic ‘pulp’ peels out in one piece like a skin, rinse with cold water and it is (almost) clean. It can even go in the dishwasher.
An accurate measuring jug is a must in every kitchen- and that is not a joke. I have one measuring jug that is not accurate at all! It's almost too unbelievable to be true. So beware if your recipe is repeatedly too wet- view your jug with suspicion and get it checked for accuracy!
We have come a long way.
I was just thinking of how things have changed since granny's old basin, wooden spoon and a piece of muslin cloth! Style has come into the kitchen area. When did this happen? Was this a natural progression in the modern world- one that sees men not just at ease but excelling in the kitchen or was it the influence of the celebrity chefs?
It is indeed the power of the media that has enabled Jamie Oliver to single handedly change English school dinners for ever. His quirky use of language with catchphrases like 'pukka' and 'lovely jubbly' and his 'wicked' sense of humour has been his recipe to success. Notable is his natural ability to relate to, inspire (and I hope educate) the younger audience. He has even brought out a whole own line of kitchenware.
Delia Smith with her simple style has encouraged the beginner cooks and even caused massive sell-outs of particular ingredients and utensils across the UK after episodes of her TV series. She has even earned herself a place in the English dictionary with "do-a-delia"!
Charismatic Nigella Lawson has taken glamour into the kitchen. She has gained remarkable achievement as celebrity chef, food writer and presenter even more impressive considering she has no formal chef training.
Gordon Ramsay may have an unconventional approach and rather hostile demeanor but his Michelin stars reflect his exceptional culinary abilities.
Maybe the world has become a smaller place what with today’s easiness to travel the globe and the ever expanding internet.
Where we used to go out for 'foreign foods' or ‘take a ways’ we now skillfully prepare authentic Indian, Chinese or even French cuisine in the home. We are more open to new things, we have been introduced to many new ingredients/ dishes; Couscous and Bulgur, are just examples of recent new foods trends.
Our supermarkets continue to offer us a better and wider selection of products, once considered exotic foods. The increase in readymade meals is however rather worrying but I hope they are an occasional sunstitution and not a total replacement to healthy home cooked meals. Perhaps I am being naive because the statistics show otherwise. Convienience foods have had a bad effect on our diets. But hopefully the tide is turning. We are more aware of our dietary needs and that is positive because to put it simple- we are what we eat!
Our kitchens may well have gone from practical to design workspace. The methods of food preparation may have altered, as labour saving devices continue to make our life easier. Large refrigerator and freezers have replaced pantries, steam ovens have speeded up the slow process of steaming. Microwaves and dishwashers have become the essential appliances in the modern day kitchen. Internet has made it possible for us to now order online and have our groceries delivered! We have come a long way but one thing remains: the nutritional value must remain the major factor in our choice of food intake if we want to achieve optimum health.
It is regretful that obesity has been allowed to reach such epidemic proportions.
Here Jamie Oliver tries to get the message across to the Americans- I hope he succeeds. Go Jamie go.