Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas gifting: home made truffles

I spotted an incredible looking recipe for 'Mogador' macarons by Pierre Hermé in the Financial Times a few weeks back, crisp macaron shells around a highly-scented ganache of milk chocolate and aromatic passion fruit. It sounded such a delicious mixture that I just had to try my own version, in these truffles.

I think they're a success - the sharp, fragrant fruit juice makes a good foil to the creamy, smooth milk chocolate. They're very moreish, so although I say this recipe makes 30, I'm betting that only 20 make it out of the kitchen and into someones stocking...

Makes about 30

325g milk chocolate
175ml double cream
6½ tbsp fresh passion fruit juice, sieved to remove seeds (about 6 large passion fruits)
20g butter
250g white or dark chocolate to coat

1) Place all the ingredients except the white or dark chocolate in a bowl over a bowl of barely simmering water until it has all melted together, stirring occasionally. Mix well until combined, then leave to cool. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight if you can.

2) Scoop out balls with a ½ teaspoon measure, then roll between your hands to smooth and place on a greaseproof paper covered tray. You may find it helps to keep a cup of boiling water to hand which you can periodically dip the scoop into, drying it first on a tissue.

3) Freeze the balls for an hour then melt the white or dark chocolate and, using a toothpick to hold each truffle ball, quickly dip each one into the melted chocolate, shaking off any excess. Leave to dry on greaseproof paper, then decorate by drizzling with more melted chocolate.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Pampered with hampers

At this time of year I start to fantasise about the much-anticipated rest ahead - lazy lie ins, breakfasts in bed and possibly even the occasional afternoon nap in front of some Christmas tv. And the only thing I can imagine that would make any of these activities any more alluring would be a magnificent hamper of culinary goodies to tear into.

This week, I have mainly been daydreaming about...

The Bompas & Parr Adventure Hamper, £699, from Selfridges (limited edited of 5)
Not so much a hamper as a survival kit - this includes antimalarial cucumber and quinine gele, pickled shallots and juniper for jellyfish stings, raspberry and violet jam for altitude sickness, plus some kendal mint cake in case you get lost between the bed and the kitchen. Not sure what I'd use the pick axe for over the Christmas holiday but I do love a practical gift.

Hamper for two with lobster and crabs, £75, The Colchester Oyster Fishery
Ever since my trip to Essex and my first taste of their delicious oysters, I've wanted more, more, MORE! If I had this hamper, I could sip champagne and oysters on Boxing Day morning. Bliss.

Annabel's Limited Edition hamper, £3000, The Mount Street Deli
The best of everything, with a Christmassy bias towards panforte and hot chocolate. I can't hope to ever receive this under the Christmas tree so I should probably start saving now.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Dry and mighty

Clockwise from top left: Live by the sun Love by the moon by knifeinthewater; Peony tea towel by Bloomsong; Kereru bird by melinamartin; Tea On The Go by slidesideways

The never-ending onslaught of yuletide cheer has brought back a recurrence of last years wet and wild teatowel fantasies, with these little beauties at the top of my wishlist for stylish drying in 2012.

Yes, at least one friend, family or unsuspecting secret santa receiver will be gifted tea towels this year.  Apologies if it's you.  But this seemingly dull present is, I think, forgivable for its solid pragmatism.  When William Morris demanded - 'have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ - he was bang on the money.  

For me, these comely teatowels tick all the right utilitarian boxes, and best of all they're available through that most diverse site, the lovely Etsy.  Thanks Etsy, I don't know how I'd do Christmas without you!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

Please, please, please could you find me one of these gnocchi boards for sale in the UK?

I've looked everywhere but there's nothing. I promise that I'll be extra good in 2012. I'll sort out my spice rack, my dishes will ever be spotless, and my shoes always polished.

Just let me have authentic, soft pillowy gnocchi with ridged edges for my sauces to cling to, without international postage costs.

thanks Santa, you're a star x
thanks in advance

Irv x

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Poacher

Drying Cluster Domecap mushrooms by thinly slicing and air-drying
Jon the Poacher's basket of mushroom wonders with Field Blewits, Oyster mushrooms and Cluster Domecaps

When I was a child there were three majestic apple trees in our back garden, which never failed to produce an incredibly Autumn bounty, year on year. Those gluts would allow (or should I say force?) us to make enough pies, crumbles and streudels to keep us going for pretty much the whole winter. But always with some saved for our daily lunchboxes, perhaps one of the smaller, woodier Blenheim Orange variety that I still dream about but can never find.

Since those heady days of excess I've not had much luck with foraging, though I love the idea of being able to live away from the supermarkets. Like every frustrated city dweller with an itch that can't be scratched, I've read Richard Mabey's Food For Free and dabbled with other fungi guides, but never been brave or foolish enough to take the plunge and eat what I pick. But that all changed last weekend when I went out with my friend Andy, who'd been promising to show me the foragable goodies in London's Hackney area for quite some time.

We lucked out with the weather - only briefly rainy, giving way to clear skies and a crisp, fresh day. The first mushrooms Andy pointed out were like magic - small, lavender-stemmed Field Blewits. Very good to eat if cooked, and prolific in this particular field. Once I'd seen one it was like a veil had lifted and I started to spot them everywhere!

I was just learning how to cut, clean and store the blewits when a man approached us carrying an incredible wicker basket of mushrooms (I fineagled the photo above). It turned out that our mysterious stranger lived locally and picked mushrooms to sell to the restaurant trade. And for some reason, was happy to walk us through some of the places he knew that were good for mushrooms. Amazing! We spent a fascinating couple of hours with Jon the Poacher as he walked us through some of his favourite places. Every time we found a new species, or a monster big one (I am, of course, impressed by size) I couldn't help but giggle like a small child. So much fun.

We ended up with more than a kilo of mixed wild mushrooms to play with. After some fantastic garlic mushrooms on toast, the rest were thrown into this soup, which I think is hard to improve.


Serves 4 as a starter

650g wild mushrooms (Field Blewits if you can get them)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 fat clove of garlic, finely sliced
850ml light vegetable stock
a handful of chives (7g)
a handful of parsley (7g)
olive oil
a splash of single (light) cream

1) Cut the mushrooms into 5mm slices and add a tablespoon of oil to a large non-stick frying pan and put this onto a medium heat. Fry the mushrooms in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan and adding more oil as needed, then set the mushrooms aside.

2) In a large saucepan, fry the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil for ten minutes until translucent and soft, then add the garlic. Continue to fry until lightly browned, then add the mushrooms and stock. Bring up to a simmer then remove from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes before blending until smooth. Add the fresh herbs and blend again until the herbs are finely chopped through the soup. Add a splash of cream to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons), and serve with a hunk of crusty bread and butter.
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