15 Dec 2012

Sweet Mincemeat

Having lived in the UK for over 5 years now and being someone that likes Christmas traditions, I thought it was at the time to turn my attention to sweet mincemeat. I absolutely love everything with dried fruits, so the discovery of British mincepies, Christmas pudding,  etc was a delight! 
To give my mincemeat maximum chance to develop all the lovely flavours of booze and sweet fruits, I managed to remind myself to prepare it in November. After seeing lots and lots of different recipes, I reverted to my all-time favourite and  indispensable book the "Larousse Gastronomique". I slightly modified the recipe by reducing the amount of sugar and suet and increasing the proportion of fresh fruits for a ligther and fresher result. Though the beauty of making your own mincemeat is of course to adapt it yourself according to your taste.

Mincemeat iongredients to make 4-5 jars:
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar
  • 200g currants
  • 200g sultanas
  • 100g chopped dried apricots
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 2 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 100g shredded suet
  • 50g mixed peel
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 50ml brandy
  • 4-5 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp of each cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger

Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Sterilise your jars: My way is to make sure my jars are absolutely clean and don't have any detectable smell. Then I just pour boiling hot water into them for three times. Pack the mincemeat tightly into your jars and keep in a dark and cook place. They'll be ready and delicious in time for Christmas!

4 weeks later: Mincepies

Of course I had to make mince pies shortly before Christmas and I had them tested by my British in-laws and colleagues! I think they liked them although I never quite know how to interprete British politeness as a German. In any case, all the pies were eaten which I take as a good sign. I decided to make two different varieties after I had seen a tempting recipe in delicious for a macaroon topping - that's my French side coming out once again!

Ingredients for about 20 mince pies:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 100g unsalted butter 
  • pinch of salt 
  • 30g icing sugar 
  • 1 orange
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • about 500g mincemeat
  • 1 egg white
  • pinch of salt
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 40g ground almonds

Pastry: Rub the flour, almonds, salt, sugar, orange zest and butter together with your fingertips. Add the egg yolk and about 1 tbsp of water. Mix everything together quickly and chill for at least 1 hour. For convenience, I often make my pastry the day before and  leave it to rest in the fridge overnight.
Pies: Roll out the pastry and cut out disks of desired size using a fluted pastry cutter.  Use them to line your buttered pastry tins and prick the pastry with a fork. Add 2 tbsp of orange juice to the mincemeat and spoon as much as you can fit into the pastry cases. Cut small stars out of the remaining pastry and place them on top of half of the mincepies. Bake the pies in a hot oven at 200°C for 15 minutes. 
Macaroon topping: Whisk together the egg white and a tiny pinch of salt until stiff. Fold in the  sugar and the almonds using a spatula. Spoon the mixture onto the other half of the pies and bake for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown at 180°C. Sprinkle with some caster sugar. 

And now for a complete mix of cultures: British mincepies with a French macaroon topping presented within a German "Adventskranz". A traditional wreath holding four candles, that are each lit on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.


21 Nov 2012

Competition Final

After 4 weeks of practise and chestnut and heather tartlet overload (my partner got completely fed up with it!), it was finally the big day of the Martin Wishart Cook School Challenge. Martin welcomed all finalists with his big smile and a trophy up for grab! The pressure was on ...

Martin and Kevin tasting the winning grouse dish, which looked amazing.
They pretty much polished off my plate (middle)!
Martin and Kevin seemed to take forever with judging. Finally, the verdict: I was given the 2nd prize: Two tasting menus with matching wines in his restaurant! So delighted!

the 2nd prize

More details and pictures about the cool school challenge can be found here. And a small article with a great picture of all finalists was published in the local newspaper!
I've booked us in to redeem my prize on the 21st December. I can't wait! 

4 Nov 2012

Two crabs - Two dishes for Two

The Edinburgh Farmer's market is always a great place to find new produce and get inspired. One Saturday morning, we saw some velvet crabs sold by the incredibly comical fish monger from Creelers. The crabs are - as their name suggests - really velvety on their back, and with 80p per crab a bargain!
fresh velvet crabs from the Farmer's market
I cooked them for 5 minutes in salted boiling water and served them with homemade mayonnaise flavoured with capers and herbs.

Mayonnaise with rapeseed oil, capers and herbs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 100ml rapeseed oil
  • splash of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1tbsp of parsley (or whatever herb you prefer)
 Add the egg yolk and mustard to a bowl and mix (I use an electric mixer) and slowly pour the oil until thick and creamy. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Finely chop capers and herbs or whatever you fancy (I would have loved some cornichons if I had had some in my cupboard!) and add to your mayonnaise.
It's so easy to make your own mayonnaise and so good! I like the nutty taste of rapeseed oil and it's really good for you, but of course you can substitute it with any oil you like.

Velvet crabs are tiny, so getting the meat our of the crab shell was actually quite challenging and messy!  The next time I'd probably follow the fish monger's wife's advice and make soup with it. However, we really enjoyed digging into the crabs and trying to get out every last bit of meat, which was really tasty.

Crab massacre

Though messy, the shells were far too precious to be thrown straight into the bin. I made a stock by boiling them in water for about 30 minutes with a few parsley stalks that I've always got lying in my fridge. I strained the liqueur and reduced it down to about 100ml. My idea was to use the concentrated stock instead of milk in a béchamel sauce for a soufflé.

Ingredients for four small ramequin:
  • 20g butter
  • 20g plain flour
  • 100ml of crab stock
  • 2 eggs, separated 
  • Seasoning (salt, pepper, nutmeg)
  • Parsley chopped
Start by preparing your moulds to ensure an even rise: Butter the ramequins well and cover the entire inner surface with flour. Shake off any excess flour. Make a béchamel sauce using the butter, flour and stock and season to taste. Incorporate first the egg yolks to the béchamel and then fold in the egg whites whisked to stiff peaks. Pour the the mixture into the prepared moulds and bake for 15-20 minutes in a preheated oven at 200°C until well risen. Whatch them for the last few minutes but don't open the oven unless they're ready!

The soufflés rose nicely, but I have to say that nothing beats a traditional cheese soufflé with a proper béchamel sauce made with milk!

23 Oct 2012

Cook School Challenge

Here we are 5 months later:
A cooking challenge organised by the Cook School by Martin Wishart. The brief: A seasonal dish cooked in under 1h. Having thought about cooking competitions for a while, this sounded like the perfect opportunity for me to come up with a great recipe and test my cooking skills. My dish, which got selected for the semi-final, is me on a plate: French techniques that I learnt from my mum combined with my passion for Scottish produce. 

Chestnut tartlet with heather crème patissière and brambles,
accompanied with a spiced bramble coulis and a
hazelnut praline
After an hour of totally focused and nerve-racking cooking whilst Martin Wishart stood behind me watching me rolling out the pastry, I was ready to serve. Martin and his chef Kevin tasted all the dishes in the dining room. After a huge mountain of washing-up, a glass of wine and chats with the other contestants, the waiting time was finally over, and Martin announced his verdict: I was the first to be put through to the final! This was incredible. I was over the moon as it meant so much to me.

Well, I'm back practising now for the final on 20th November. Watch this space!

19 May 2012

A Masterclass at the Martin Wishart Cook School

My Scottish foodie adventure started with a  present for my 30th birthday: A masterclass with Martin Wishart!

On the menu:
  • New Season Garlic Velouté with Scallops and Poached Grapes
  • Roast Squab Pigeon Breasts with Crispy Leg Bonbons and Cassis Jus
  • Amaretto Parfait with Poached Pear Coulis and Praline Tuille
What a great day! Seeing Martin cook was an inspiration. I learnt so much, from opening my first scallop to making a pigeon sauce.  Martin and his chefs were always around to help and offer advice. We got to eat each of our dishes and drank amazing wines that were  selected by his (half-French) sommelier. 

My main course - delicious!

 All 3 courses were delicious and the accompanying wines too! It really was a great experience that I can highly recommend!