Mushrooms add flavour, texture, richness and even a sort of meatiness to any meal and rarely better than in a risotto, especially in the cold months!
Besides the ordinary button mushroom, here in Australia, we are lucky to have access to some good Asian varieties, even at the supermarket, however, as far as the complex and diverse European varieties are concerned, we have to contend with the dried version, not that there is anything wrong with that by the way!
Dried mushrooms do have the advantage of keeping very well and rehydrating them couldn’t be simpler: just soak in hot water for at least half an hour and even overnight to achieve the right texture.
The Essential Ingredient’s range of dried mushrooms is sourced from a producer based in the historic town of Sauges in central France and includes a Garniture forestiere (a blend of forest mushrooms), Bolet Jaune, Chanterelles, Morels, sliced or whole Shitake, Trompette des Maures and Porcini powder.
Garniture Forestiere – A blend of dried forest mushrooms with shitake, oyster, black fungus and porcini mushrooms, a favourite with homecooks and chefs.
Bolet Jaune – When cooked, this mushroom is fairly soft and ideal in creamy mushroom soups.
Chanterelles – An orange or yellow mushroom, meaty and funnel-shaped, it has a fruity smell and a mildly peppery taste. It’s beautiful colour makes it a striking addition on a plate.
Morels – One of the few truly wild mushrooms, they have a light woodsy flavor and wonderful firm yet spongy texture. They are at their finest when cooked quickly in butter and lightly salted.
Shitake – Shitakes can stand up to strong flavors, and are particularly good with ginger, soy, and even chiles.
Trompette des Maures – Also known as ‘black chanterelle’, ‘horn of plenty’ and the sinister ‘trompette de la mort’, this deep black woodland mushroom is horn-like in shape. It is richly flavoured, with a hint of nuttiness, and is perfect with creamy sauces.
Porcini powder – Porcini Powder, ground from quality French dried porcini mushrooms imported, adds a sophisticated flavour and richness to many dishes, whether incorporated into a liquid, combined with pastry or dusted over a finished dish.
The Laguiole knife is a high-quality Occitan knife, originally produced in the town of Laguiole in Southern France.
The Laguiole, with its slim and sinuous outline, was first designed in 1829 by Jean-Pierre Calmels and his concept of the knife became the pattern for this style, with the forged ‘bee’ symbol emerging as a distinctive trademark.
Traditionally the handle was made of cattle horn, however, nowadays other materials are sometimes used, including French woods, exotic woods, fossilised ivory, steel or more recently, plastic.
There is much mythology about the iconic insect depicted on the catch. Some say it represents a fly or a horse-fly, something familiar to peasants in the rural Laguiole area, known for cattle breeding. Another legend identifies the design as that of a bee, an imperial symbol, claiming that the design was granted by Napoleon in recognition for the courage of local soldiers.
The name Laguiole has since been used as a trademark designation for various other implements, including corkscrews, spoons, cheese and butter knives and steak-knife sets.
A truffle is the fruit of a subterranean fungus and is highly prized as food. Called the “diamond of the kitchen” by French gourmand Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, truffles are held in high esteem in Middle-Eastern, French, Spanish, Italian and Greek cooking, as well as in international haute cuisine.
The “white truffle” is usually found in various regions of Northern Italy and Tusany, as well as in Croatia and the Drome area in france. The flesh is pale crane or brown with white marbling and are the most valuable on the market. As of December 2009, white truffles were being sold at over 14,000.00 USD per kilogram!
The “black truffle” is usually found in the Perigord region in France and grows with oak and hazelnut trees. Black truffles have their highest perfume in the month of January and can be sold for up to €1000 per kilo.
Truffles were rarely used in Europe until the 17th century when French cuisine abandoned “heavy” oriental spices, and rediscovered the natural flavour of foodstuffs. Truffles were very popular in Parisian markets in the 1780s and were imported seasonally from truffle grounds, where peasants had long enjoyed their secret. A great delicacy was a truffled turkey.
Looking for truffles in open ground is almost always carried out with specially trained pigs or, more recently, dogs which are easier to control and less likely to eat the truffles they find.
Because of their high price and pungent flavour, truffles are used sparingly. Fresh truffles are generally shaved over steaming buttered pasta, salads or fried eggs, or sprinkled over a risotto, stirred into polenta or used to flavour butter. Paper thin truffle slices may be inserted into meats, under the skin of roasted fowl, in foie gras preparations, in pates or stuffings.
Truffle oil is often used as a convenient substitute for truffles to enhance the flavour and aroma of truffles in cooking. Black truffles are also used for producing truffle salt and truffle honey.
The Essential Ingredient stocks various truffle based products: white or black truffle oil, truffle polenta, whole preserved black truffles amongst others.
LE CREUSET COOKWARE
Le Creuset is a French cookware manufacturer best known for its colourful enamelled cast iron French ovens, also known as casseroles or dutch ovens. The manufacturer also makes many other types of cookware, from sauce pans to tagines.
Le Creuset was founded in 1925 in the French town of Fresnoy-le-Grand in Picardy by Armand Desaegher, a casting specialist, and Octave Aubecq, an enamelling specialist. That same year, the first French Oven was produced, laying the foundation for what is now an extensive range of premium cookware known around the world.
Taking advantage of their new ability to pigment the enamel glaze, Desaegher and Aubecq took inspiration from the intense orange hue of molten cast iron inside a cauldron when they created the classic Flame orange pieces.
In 1995 Le Creuset began exploring new product categories: stainless steel, stoneware, silicone, enamel on sleel, textile and forged hard-anodized aluminium.
They have also experimented with beautiful ranges of colors, from a bright Cherry hue to the more muted Dune tone, as well as Cobalt, Black Onyx, Kiwi, Granite, Cactus and Citron.
Currently, all Le Creuset cast iron cookware is still manufactured using standard sand casting methods in the company’s foundry in Fresnoy-Le-Grand, where workers employ a 12 step finishing process implemented by 15 different pairs of hands to ensure that there are no flaws or imperfections in the final product.
The original traditional product (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale), made from a reduction of cooked white Trebbiano grape juice and not a vinegar in the usual sense, has been made in Modena and Reggio Emilia since the Middle Ages. Today, the traditional balsamic vinegar is highly valued by chefs and gourmet lovers around the world.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena) is a less expensive version of the traditional product and is widely available, commonly used for salad dressings together with oil.
True balsamic vinegar is made from a reduction of pressed Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. The resulting thick syrup, called mosto cotto in Italian, is subsequently aged for a minimum of 12 years in a battery of successively smaller sized barrels. True balsamic vinegar is rich, glossy, deep brown in color and has a complex flavour that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grape juice with hints of wood from the casks.
Traditionally, balsamic vinegar was considered a medicine rather than a food product used to cure everything from headaches to serious illnesses. In fact, the word ‘balsamico’ means ‘balsam-like’ in the sense of “restorative” or “curative”.
Today, tradizionale vinegar is most often served in drops on top of chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano and mortadella as an antipasto. It is also used sparingly to enhance steaks, eggs or grilled fish, as well as on fresh fruit and on gelata. Tradizionale vinegar may be drunk from a tiny glass to conclude a meal.
I have observed two types of cooks: those who like to wing it in the kitchen and the others who trust recipe books. As a general rule, the former seem to excel with cooking main meals, while the latter tend to specialize in desserts and, you guessed it, anything to do with pastry.
Pastry is the ultimate cook’s mind-game: A few standard ingredients (flour, butter, water, eggs…) which create infinite possibilities. The path to success with pastry though is a fairly strict set of rules and an emphasis on precision. Intuition and knowledge in equal parts.
While shortcrust pastry is probably the most common and versatile pastry out there, it’s actually with the much thinner (and trickier) filo pastry that the history of this essential element of baking seems to begin.
All throughout the Mediterranean, the paper-thin and multi-layered pastry was being used to make baklava and other impossibly sweet desserts. Filo pastry then made its way up to Northern Europe, brought back by the crusaders and most likely used to start making the classic strudel. It’s the French and Italian chefs of the renaissance that we can thank for perfecting the art of puff and choux pastries, which led to more recipes than one can care to count: brioche, eclairs, cream puffs, mille-feuilles…
In this guide, we’ll tell you about how to make all kinds of pastry from scratch, but while shortcrust pastry is always worth the trouble, no one will point the finger if you would rather buy puff pastry so we’ll talk about that too…
Making shortcrust pastry from scratch is always worth it! It is a simple pastry to make, especially in a food processor, hardly takes any time at all and is perfect for a whole range of sweet and savoury dishes: tarts, quiches or pies…
Measure carefully: this applies to every type of pastry really. Getting the right ingredients and in the right quantities will ensure you get the right result for your troubles.
Cool is best: try and keep your work environment nice and cool. If you can, work your pastry on a cool marble / granite board and keep your hands cool. If your pastry is too warm to roll out, then put it in the fridge for a few minutes and start again.
Less is more: shortcrust pastry doesn’t like to be overmixed. If you mix it too much, it will get stiff and shrink when baking. The more relaxed you are with your pastry, the more relaxed it will be.
Let it rest: Once you have mixed your pastry, it’s great to make a ball with it, wrap it in gladwrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour. If you don’t have time to do that, roll it out and let it rest in the fridge while you get your fillings organized.
Savoury shortcrust recipe:
180g unsalted butter
240g plain flour
A pinch of salt
1/4 cup water
Remove butter from refrigerator 30 minutes before making pastry. Sift flour and salt onto a marble pastry slab or workbench. Chop butter into medium pieces and toss lightly in flour. Lightly rub to combine partly. Make a well in centre and pour in water. Using a pastry scraper, work water into flour until you have a rough heap of buttery lumps of dough. Using the heel of your hand, quickly smear pastry away from you across the bench. Gather together, then press into a flat cake and dust with a little flour. Wrap pastry in plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. When required, roll out pastry, line tin and proceed as indicated in recipe.
If making in the food processor, start by mixing dry ingredients, then add butter until you get a crumbly texture. Add water last and stop mixing when the dough forms a ball.
Sweet shortcrust recipe(a foolproof recipe I learned when working with friend and amazing cook Rosa Jackson) :
175g plain flour
45g icing sugar
A pinch of salt
90g cold butter
1 egg yolk
2tbsp cold water
Mix flour, sugar and salt in the food processor. Add butter chopped into small pieces and mix until you get a fine crumbly texture. While mixing, add egg yolk and water. Stop mixer as soon as the dough forms a ball. If it isn’t too hot in the kitchen, roll your pastry out and place into your lightly buttered pastry tin (preferably with a removable base). Try not to stretch the pastry when pushing it down into the tin. Trim the edges by rolling over the top with a rolling pin. Place the tin in the fridge to rest for about 1 hour. This pastry doesn’t usually need to be blind-baked. When putting it into the oven, rather than placing it on a rack, place it on one of the trays which will spread heat on the bottom of the tart tin.
Nothing quite compares to home-made puff pastry. Unfortunately, the light flaky buttery layers that just melt in the mouth require quite a lot of effort. However, I will share a simplified version if you feel inclined to give it a go. It’s pretty sensational.
Cold is best: start with cold butter and icy water to keep the dough as cold as possible while you are working with it. Try and work quickly to avoid the butter melting into the flour.
Go light on water: Puff pastry recipes tend not to use much water so resist the urge to add more than indicated, unless you feel it is absolutely necessary. The more water you add, the less it will rise.
Use a pastry scraper: This simple metal tool will allow you to cut the butter into the flour to quickly achieve the right consistency.
Let it rest: Resting your puff pastry will help mean you get a flakier pastry and a great buttery rise.
Freeze it: Puff pastry freezes really well so make lots and keep it in the freezer for next time.
Rough puff pastry recipe(another one from Rosa Jackson, which she recommends to use with Tarte Tatin):
200g plain flour
A pinch of salt
180g cold butter
5-6tbsp icy water
In a mixer: mix flour, salt and chopped butter until you get a rough crumbly texture. While mixing, slowly add water. When dough starts to form a ball, stop the mixer even if water isn’t completely combined yet. You can do the same thing by hand.
Work the dough for a few seconds to make it nice and smooth. Let it rest on the workbench, covered with a tea towel for about 30 minutes.
With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a long and thin rectangle. Fold it over itself into thirds. Roll the dough out again and fold it into 3 again. Flour lightly and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat these steps twice with 30 minutes rest in between. When you are done, let it rest for another 20 minutes before rolling it out to place into a tin.
In its sweet form, choux pastry is most recognized for the famous croquembouche, a constructed tower of cream filled ‘choux’ stuck together with caramel. Filled with ice cream and chocolate, the simple choux transforms into the decadent profiterole and piped into a long and skinny shape, it creates the classic eclair. As a savoury treat, the choux pastry is flavoured with cheese to become a ‘gougere’. The following recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s Cooks Companion and is a breeze to make in the food processor.
Cut up the butter into small pieces before adding it the pan. This will ensure it melts quickly and evenly.
Add the flour at once: Make sure the butter and water mixture is boiling rapidly before adding the flour. This will allow the starch cells in the flour to burst open and soak up even more water. Add all the flour at once so that the paste cooks evenly, beating the mix vigorously to avoid any lumps from forming.
One at a time: To ensure the pastry is smooth and glossy, add the eggs one at a time and ensure each is well incorporated before adding the next. Don’t worry if it looks like the first egg won’t cooperate and has turned the paste into a lumpy dough – this is completely normal. Keep mixing and it will eventually transform.
Don’t open the door: More than with any other pastry, it’s vital that you don’t open the oven door too soon or you could end up with flat pastry. This is because the pastry needs the high heat of the oven to stay consistent in order for the water to convert to steam and cause the pastry to puff up.
Choux pastry recipe
60g unsalted butter
A pinch of salt
3/4 cup water
125g plain flour, sifted
Combine butter, salt and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add flour all at once, stirring to combine and return to heat. Stir over a medium heat until mixture dries out and starts to come off the sides. Transfer to a food processor. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each one well before adding the next.
Spoon heaped tablespoons onto paper lined baking tray, or pipe on lengths of dough. The uncooked shapes freeze perfectly.
To bake immediately, bake at 180℃ for about 40 minutes until golden on the outside and dry in the centre (you can remove the choux when they are nearly done, pierce the base with a knife and put them back in the oven for a few minutes. This will ensure they are dry on the inside). Cool on a wire rack. When cold, fill with filling of your choice.
To cook frozen dough, take the required amount straight from the freezer into the oven. Bake at 200℃ for the first 10 minutes and at 180℃ for the next 30 minutes.
Filo pastry, paper-thin and layered to make sweet and savoury dishes throughout the Middle-East, is best left to professionals to make but here are a few tips to use easily.
Set yourself up: As filo dries out and cracks when it comes in contact with air, it’s important to have everything all made and ready to go before you take it out of the packet.
Cover it up: When using the pastry, cover the stack at all times, first with a sheet of foil and then a slightly damp tea towel over the top to avoid the damp tea towel coming in direct contact with the pastry.
Use one at a time: When using the pastry, work with one sheet at a time, brushing melted butter or oil between each layer to ensure a flaky final result.
Across the pond from France, the brits have been using lard to make biscuit-like pastry with lard. This pastry is great for more wintery type pies: rhubard, apple… (from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion)
200g plain flour
200g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
200g lard (at room temperature)
3/4 cup cold water
Sift flours and salt together, then rub in lard quickly. Make a well in the centre and work in the water. Knead for 2-3 minutes until you have a springy, elastic dough. Form into a ball and chill for 20 minutes before rolling out. You can cook directly without resting the pastry again. Lard pastry is never baked blind.
If you are an enthusiastic but time-poor cook and you would rather fake it, THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT stocks a range of high quality CAREME PASTRY. Carême Pastry is a family run business located in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. They specialise in making a range of handcrafted, high quality, ready-to-use pastry dough.
Their premium ready-to-bake pastry dough is made using traditional methods from the finest quality natural ingredients. Their products are genuinely handmade and are free from additives and preservatives. They use only high quality unsalted butter and flour from Laucke Milling in South Australia. All products come ready rolled. On the inside of every packet you will find instructions on how best to prepare and bake the pastry.
The range includes an All-Butter Puff Pastry, a Sour Cream Shortcrust Pastry, a Vanilla Bean Sweet Shortcrust Pastry and a Dark Chocolate Shortcrust Pastry.
Few of us would think of potatoe and onion cake or baked beans and cheesy casseroles at the mention of High Tea. Instead, we think of all things dainty: fine porcelain, fragrant tea, exquisitely decorated cupcakes and tiny sandwiches… As right as it seems, history would suggest we might be wrong…
High Tea was in fact a meal reserved for the working class, which was enjoyed when the men came home from a hard day of work, famished and ready to tuck into something heavy and filling. This meal was eaten at a high table, hence the name.
In contrast, Afternoon Tea, or in fact, Low Tea (because it was served on low tables), was a popular high society past-time which became fashionable when kerosene lamps were introduced… Let me explain. The introduction of kerosene lamps into wealthy households made it very fashionable to have dinner later but since, traditionally, there were no meals served between a late breakfast and dinner, ladies of leisure started to get hungry as dinner time was pushed back from 6pm to 8pm… Add to that the fact that tea itself was a very fashionable beverage and Afternoon Tea soon became the rage in the upper echelons of society.
So now that we have our facts straight, what exactly is Afternoon Tea? Well, it depends on what you are after really. Cream tea is tea served with scones, jam and cream. Add strawberries to Cream Tea and you have… Strawberry Tea! A Light Tea is tea, scones and sweets, while a Full Tea includes savories and dessert as well. Savories should be served first, followed by scones and finally pastries.
The celebration of the Queen’s Birthday this long week-end seems like the perfect occasion to revel in all things British and enjoy a cup of tea amongst friends. Here is a list of what you might feature on a lovely tiered platter. If you would rather enjoy the tea than make it, The Essential Ingredient stocks a great range of beautiful sweet and savory treats that will look as nice and they taste, from the tea itself to tiny meringues, delicious shortbreads, lemon curds as well as everything you’ll need to make it look spectacular.
Cucumber tea sandwiches are classic finger sandwiches that are usually made with white bread, butter, cream cheese or mayonnaise, and peeled, seeded, sliced cucumber.
Salmon tea sandwiches are typically made with thinly sliced smoked salmon (or lox) and dark bread (such as whole wheat, pumpernickel, dark rye or seeded, grainy breads).
Egg salad, chicken salad, shrimp salad and tuna salad finger sandwiches are all excellent additions to afternoon tea meals.
Other popular tea sandwiches include ham finger sandwiches (accented with apricot jam and Dijon mustard for a fruity, spiced flavor), veggie cream cheese tea sandwiches (versatile and kid-friendly) and tomato tea sandwiches (with herbed butter, cream cheese or cheese).
There is no limit to the variety of sweet treats that are served at Tea:
Banbury Cakes (Puff pastry with a filling of mixed peel, raisins and currants.)
A couple of years ago, my husband was given a recipe book for Christmas which literally lit up his face with delight. While he enjoys cooking as much as the next guy, this book wasn’t anything fancy but it was special… to him anyway.
Somehow, his mother found original copies of “All by myself”, a cookbook written for children with the stated purpose of being able to cook the recipes all by themselves, without, in those days, Mummy’s help. In fact, each recipe is so clearly explained that, according to the cover, it is even suitable for Dad to cook on his own! Ha, we’ve come a long way!
With shows like Junior Masterchef, we might be fooled into thinking that kids are somewhat different to what they were back then and while there might be plenty of freakishly talented little cooks out there, I suspect that kids’ abilities in the kitchen haven’t changed that much overtime.
What has probably changed the most is the types of foods we eat and how much time is spent in the kitchen generally, by children but more so, by adults. Yup, we lead busy lives and the idea of a child painstakingly smashing one egg at a time while spraying flour everywhere might rightfully seem like too much hard work, however it might be worth finding a quiet moment during the week-end to pass on a few lifelong skills and habits.
Helping kids understand where food comes from and how meals come together is possibly the single most important factor in ensuring lifelong healthy eating habits. While a great meal can be a somewhat magical experience, the simple pleasure of eating well everyday should not be shrouded in mystery. A young adult who can whip up a dozen simple meals will save money, eat better food and feel more independent. It might even charm a future companion…
Kids can start getting involved in the kitchen at just about any age. Whether they start by just licking spoons and banging on pots or preparing meals all by themselves (and brushing up on their math skills as they measure ingredients!), making the most of that time together needn’t be complicated.
I caught up with Christine Gilbert, a Home Economics teacher, to find out when to start, how to make it an enjoyable experience and how to keep those nimble fingers nice and safe!
Christine is a retired home economics teacher with over 30 years experience teaching kids about cooking, nutrition and meal planning. She now hosts The Essential Ingredient‘s popular ‘Gaggling Goslings‘ cooking classes, where kids of all ages learn to make anything from savory dampers or sliders to macarons and butterfly cupcakes. We delved into her years of experience to find out how to get kids in the kitchen and make it enjoyable for them…and for their parents.
+ Hi Christine, when is a good time for kids to start getting involved in the kitchen?
Anytime and I would say, the sooner the better. I always spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mother, whether I was ‘helping’ with simple tasks or just observing and learning. I think it’s important for children to understand where food comes from and what it tastes like. My father was always growing things. We had fruit, vegetables and chooks. Kids are very interested in seeing things grow, even just simple things like herbs.
+ What do children learn by cooking with their parents?
Cooking can teach children things from a whole range of disciplines, from maths with quantities and volumes to the name and spelling of ingredients or techniques. They might learn about science by understanding some chemical reactions between ingredients or how things like baking soda works. They can learn about other cultures if they are cooking an Asian or Mexican meal for example. They’ll learn about safety, meal planning, nutrition… The lessons extend well past the kitchen.
+ What types of tasks might you give a pre-schooler? a pre-teen? a teenager?
With the really little ones, very simple tasks like mixing, rolling or stirring is appropriate. Young children also have very short attention spans so short tasks which require little perseverance and show fast results work best. It’s good to allow them to have short breaks in between tasks, just ask them to pass you ingredients out of the fridge as a break from the kitchen bench.
With slightly older kids, around 10 to 12 years old, I like to teach them the basics first: chopping, peeling, baking, slicing… and various techniques, like the difference between boiling and simmering, sautéing and frying… Once they understand the basics of cooking, they will then be able to use their creativity. With kids that age, meals which they can assemble and choose ingredients for work very well: pizza, sandwiches, burgers, Mexican meals…
Finally, high school kids often enjoy tasks which require patience and skills. I have taught teenagers how to use fondant icing to ice a cake. Some will get frustrated but others will appreciate developing precise skills. Of course, this is the time when they might start to consider cooking as a career and therefore, the teaching becomes much more technically minded.
+ Some people understandably get scared off by how slow and messy cooking with children can easily become, what are some tips to keep it enjoyable for everyone?
Keep it simple: choose recipes that are achievable even if they seem a little basic at first. The website Taste.com has a whole section dedicated to recipes that are written specifically for children. Make the recipe by yourself first before doing it with children, you’ll be better prepared for anything that might come up.
+ What are some important safety tips to avoid burns, cuts, falls etc…?
Knives: I always start with knife handling safety: never point a knife at someone, walk with the handle facing down, hold the handle when passing a knife, put the knife down when you are not using it… I wouldn’t let a child much younger than 8 years old handle a knife. Until then, let them use scissors to cut herbs for example.
Heat: Think about fire safety – teach the children what to do in case a pan catches on fire by putting a lid on it and not to leave anything on the stove top unattended. Always hold the pan handle when stirring. Always exercise supervision when using an oven and wear real oven mitts when getting things in and out of the oven.
Hygiene: Always wash hands very well before starting, or after sneezing or coughing…
+ What are the life long lessons that children learn in the kitchen?
The joy of food – the joy of eating it and of sharing it. This is one of the ways we show our love for people and a simple pleasure we can give ourselves. I often say, “if you like to eat, then you should learn to cook.”
How big is your love? From a simple gesture to an extravagant present, there are countless ways of demonstrating our feelings to that very special person in our lives.
In this guide, we start small with little mouthfuls of love… from a dark chocolate covered coffee bean to delicately scented moisturiser.
Then, we move onto a survey of some of the best books in our library for gifts that just keep on giving, with encyclopedic and specialists recipe books, as well as books which combine culinary journeys to exotic destinations with the authors’ favourite local recipes.
Finally, if you’re in the mood to bring out the big guns this year, then our guide to some of the best quality and most exquisite additions to a well-stocked kitchen might inspire you to go that little step further… and last a lifetime! The sweetest gifts come in small boxes…
1, Dark or milk chocolate fondue. 2, TEI Pure Ceylon Black Tea. 3, Morris Kitchen syrups. 4, TEI Dark Chocolate Covered Coffee Bean. 5, Nicholson Fine Food Essence of Raspberry Passion. 6, Unforgettable Meringues. 7, Beatties Bluettes Blue Cheese Biscuits. 8, Amour de Cerise. 9, Alice Langton’s Chocolate Grand Orange. 10, Reserve Gourmande Rose Syrup. 11, Pariyah Persian Nougat and Lime Roasted Pistachios. 12, Vicens Ametlla. 13, Horto Botanico soaps. 14, Olivina Olive Hand Cream and Honeysuckle and Rose Hand Cream. 15, Paddy Wax Candles and oil scenter.
Great, Grand & Famous Chefs and Their Signature Dishes: The stories of 20 of the world’s greatest chefs and their place in the history of haute cuisine, accompanied by a signature dish recipe for each chef.Escoffier, Le Guide Culinaire: The culinary bible that first codified French cuisine—now in an updated English translation with Forewords from Chefs Heston Blumenthal and Tim Ryan.The Family Meal, Home Cooking with Ferran Adria: It features nearly 100 delicious recipes by Ferran Adria that anyone can prepare, inspired by the dishes eaten every day by the staff at his legendary restaurant El Bulli, awarded World’s Best Restaurant five times.Terrine by Stephane Raynaud: A gorgeous collection of over 100 rustic recipes of vegetable, meat, fish, cheese and dessert terrines (including variations of rilletes, pâtés and parfaits) that can be easily prepared and shared with appreciative friends and family.Modern Sauces by Martha Holmberg: This is the book for cooks who want to take their cooking to a whole new level. Martha’s look at this sometimes-intimidating genre—expressed in clear, short bites of information and through dozens of process photographs—delivers the skill of great sauce-making to every kind of cook, from beginners to those more accomplished who wish to expand their repertoire.Fish, Recipes from the Sea: Over 200 authentic Italian home cooking recipes for preparing fish and seafood, carefully collected from the Silver Spoon kitchen.Pasta by The Silver Spoon : this is the ultimate book on pasta, featuring 350 classic and modern recipes from the same team behind the Italian classic, The Silver Spoon. The Salt book, your guide to salting wisely and well, with recipes: The Salt Book explains why we should use salt and which salt to use, as well as how and when to use salt. It also looks at trends in salt today, provides facts about salt, explains salting techniques, includes chefs stories about salt and includes a guide to using salt at the table.Origin, The Food of Ben Shewry: Ben Shewry, from multi-award winning Melbourne restaurant, Attica, is one of Australia’s most significant chefs. He draws inspiration for his exquisite dishes from his surroundings and pivotal moments and experiences in his life. Known for his foraging, Ben uses what the earth provides without exploiting its precious resources, and the artisan producers he champions are an important part of his food. The detailed recipes in this book include his famous “Snow crab” and “Potato cooked in the earth it was grown.” Origin is Ben’s unique and extraordinary account of food, memory, time, and place.Mark Hix on Baking, Savoury and Sweet Recipes: Baking often conjures up images of scones and sponges, afternoon tea and fancy patisserie, but these sweet treats (delightful as they are) are only part of the story. In this exciting new book, Mark Hix applies his characteristic flair to a range of sweet and savoury recipes that reflects his own unique interpretation of baking.Morocco, a Culinary Journey with Recipes: With a wide range of exotic flavors and cooking styles, Morocco includes 80 recipes with Spanish influences, rustic Berber styles, complex, palace-worthy plates, spicy tagines, and surprisingly easy to make street food.Saraban, a chef’s journey through Persia, by Greg and Lucy Malouf: Take a journey through the culture and cuisine of Persia with exquisite recipes and stunning photographs. With an enticing blend of food and travel, Saraban offers a rare glimpse into a fascinating country that remains elusive and enigmatic to the Western world.
Bring out the big guns with these gifts that will last a lifetime…
1, Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. 2, Shun Knife Block Set. 3, Vista Alegre Porcelain Rocco Coffee Cup and saucer. 4, Vista Alegre Harvard Salad Bowl. 5, Vista Alegre Tea Cup and Saucer. 6, Le Creuset Cast Iron Casserole. 7, Magimix Food Processor. 8, The Essential Ingredient Sheffield Cutlery. 9, Otto Espresso Machine. 10, Magimix Vision Toaster. 11, De Buyer Copper Eggwhite Bowl. 12, Kitchenaid Blender.
Diet restrictions can feel like a minefield for the casual observer and that applies to the infamous gluten-free diet, a diet which excludes foods which contain the protein gluten, in other words wheat, barley, rye and spelt.
A gluten-free diet is the only recognized treatment for coeliac disease (an auto-immune disorder of the small intestine) and wheat allergy. Another portion of those who restrict their diets are described as non-coeliac gluten sensitive, a condition still poorly understood by the medical profession. Finally, eliminating gluten can simply be a lifestyle choice which according to some, but not believed by all, helps with digestion and maintaining a healthy weight.
While accidentally ingesting gluten can have dangerous consequences for a coeliac, it might simply be uncomfortable or even harmless for those who are only sensitive, but in any case, it serves to understand where gluten hides, how to do without and what essentials to have in your pantry for those last minute guests with life-threatening conditions (it happens!).
The good news is, coeliacs are known to get around with packets of Gluten-Free biscuits in their bags, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice, but if you want to make an especially good impression, then read on…
I asked a friend, whose husband is coeliac, to shine a light on their experience, the challenges they faced when switching diets and what products they like to use as substitutes.
+ What are the obvious foods to eliminate for a gluten-free diet?
Anything that contains wheat (including spelt), rye, barley or oats. However, there a lots of alternatives available these days and GF diets can include things like bread, cakes and pasta made with alternative flours (usually maize, tapioca, rice, potato or buckwheat).
+ Which ones are less obvious?
Lots of ingredients contain gluten, even things like cornflour, cocoa and desiccated coconut, but you can usually find a brand that contains only the pure version and hence no gluten.
Things to watch out for are: most deep fried chips – if chips are fried in the same oil as crumbed or battered food, then the chips will not be GF; some chocolates contain gluten – especially filled chocolates; sauces such as soy sauce. Some small goods like chorizo might also contain gluten and even some ice-creams!
+ What about beverages, especially alcoholic?
Beer contains gluten; most cider is ok but generally not on-tap cider; wine is ok. Most non alcoholic drinks are ok – but some cocoa powder contains gluten.
+ What were the biggest challenges when switching diets?
Finding take away or fast food alternatives when in a hurry or travelling down the highway. We learnt that food needs to be taken with us in those situations as there is generally nothing available.
+ What are some ingredients that you have started using since starting a gluten-free diet?
Quinoa and a range of alternative flours – soy, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
+ Baking typically relies heavily on gluten-based flour. How did you find the transition from one type of baking to another? Through trial and error, what are some tips to achieve the desired results when using gluten-free flour?
Find out about the different types of flours and when you should use them. Find some GF baking books written by experienced and reputable GF chefs/cooks. Plain and Self-raising GF flour is available in supermarkets and is good for most types of basic baking. Try tried and tested baking recipes that are flourless and use almond meal.
For more info, check out the Coeliac Society website here.
Cooking school – 09 May 2013: Join our Gluten-Free cooking class where you will create 6 stress-free – and gluten-free – dishes that are easy to make at home.
The Essential Ingredient stocks a large range of sweet and savory gluten-free products to get you on your way to a gluten-free life.
Over the years, you’ll have developed some sort of technique to ensure your favourite chocolate dessert always tastes just the way you love it. Technique, whether it is simple or complicated, is the key to consistency and most of the time, it only takes a few attempts until you have mastered it.
If you love chocolate and you love to cook, my guess is that you have been tempted to expand your repertoire beyond brownies and chocolate chip cookies (not that there is anything wrong with them by the way) but the notion of tempering* alone would scare even the bravest of us away.
The 3 following techniques adapted from ‘Chocolat’ The Chocolate Bible by Le Cordon Bleu, a good digital thermomether and a few hours ahead of you are all you need to have a go at making your very own chocolate sweets and you never know, you might even have enough to hide around the house on Easter morning. If you feel like sharing, that is…
*To temper is to heat, cool and reheat chocolate to three precise temperatures, giving it a glossy, streak-free and crisp finish. It might take a few attempts to master this, but once you have, a whole world of chocolate will open up before your eyes…
Basic ganache recipe (easy and versatile)
1- Coarsely chop 300g dark chocolate and place in a large bowl.
2- Heat 300ml cream in a saucepan until simmering, and pour over the chocolate.
3- Stir the cream and chocolate until evenly combined. Continue stirring until the mixture has cooled and it smooth and glossy. Let the ganache rest at room temperature until it has a spreadable consistency.
Note: equal amounts of chocolate and cream are used to produce a creamy mixture suitable for filling, glazing or coating cakes. If the quantity of chocolate is increased, the ganache will become firmer – which is perfect for truffles and other sweets.
Tempering chocolate (you’ll need a digital thermometer)
1- Coarsely chop 200 g dark chocolate (couverture is the best) or the amount specified in your recipe. Place 2/3 of the chocolate in a bowl; melt over a bain-marie of gently simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water or shine and smoothness may be lost.
2- Heat until temperature reaches 45°C on a cooking thermometer. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate.
3- Stir occasionally until the temperature cools to 27°C, return the bowl to the bain-marie and reheat, stirring gently until the chocolate reaches 32°C. When the chocolate is smooth and shiny, it is ready to be used for chocolate curls or as a coating.
Note: Milk chocolate: melt to 45°C, cool to 26°C and reheat to 29°C. White chocolate: melt to 40°C, cool to 25°C and reheat to 28°C.
Coating sweets with chocolate (the perfect combination of the ganache and tempered chocolate)
Start by preparing a ganache, shape it into small balls and refrigerate until hardened.
1- Remove the ganache balls from the fridge and bring them to room temperature. Put unsweetened cocoa powder into a large flat high sided contained. Temper a sufficient quantity of chocolate to cover all the balls.
2- Slide a regular or chocolate fork under the ganache ball and dip the ball carefully into the tempered chocolate. Lift the ball up, letting the excess chocolate drip into the bowl. Gently shake the fork, wiping the base several times on the side of the bowl to remove the residual chocolate and obtain a smooth coating.
3- Using the fork, roll the chocolate in the cocoa powder. Set aside to firm at room temperature. When the chocolates have hardened, place in a sieve and shake gently to remove excess cocoa.
You can read our complete guide to chocolate here.
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“What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.” – Katherine Hepburn
Everyone has eaten chocolate at some point in their lives, most likely many times and in many forms, probably as a rich hot drink, in cakes, sauces, puddings or as perfectly shaped pieces of heavenly smoothness. Nothing quite compares with a coffee and a box of Belgian chocolates but in an ordinary kitchen, this symbol of indulgence, can spell disaster and become synonym of confusion.
What is the difference between unsweetened and bittersweet? What does ‘dutched’ cocoa mean? How do you temper chocolate? Why are some chocolates so much more expensive than others?
In this guide, we will try to answer some of these questions so that next time you are standing in front of the chocolate aisle, you’ll know exactly which one is right for the job.
A little bit of history
Chocolate was introduced to the Western world around the 1500s but had been used to make a ‘warm beverage’ (which is what the word means) by Central Americans for at least 1200 years. It is only in the 1800s that chocolate was first used in a solid form, as we know it today.
Chocolate is extracted from cacao beans, the fruit of the rare cacao tree, grown commercially in South America, New Guinea, the West Indies and Vanuatu. The cacao nibs are removed from their shells through a long process where they are fermented, dried, roasted and hulled. The nibs are then ground and melted to create a thick paste referred to as chocolate liquor. At this point, cacao becomes cocoa, the processed version of the bean.
In its purest form, hardened chocolate liquor, composed of half cocoa butter and half cocoa solids, becomes unsweetened cooking chocolate. Extra cocoa butter can then be added for a better melting quality and lushness. Other ingredients like sugar, milk or vanilla might be added to create the different varieties of chocolate.
The final stage of the process is called ‘conching’, when the chocolate is kneaded to make it smooth. The longer it is conched, the smoother (and more expensive) it will become. This process goes a long way in explaining the difference between low quality chocolate that feels gritty on the tongue and the best Belgian or Swiss chocolates that are so famously smooth.
The highest quality chocolates are then aged for 2 or 3 months.
Chocolate is categorized by its chocolate liquor and cocoa butter content as unsweetened, bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk or white.
Unsweetened chocolate ( “bitter”, “baking chocolate” or “cooking chocolate”) is pure chocolate liquor mixed with some form of fat to produce a solid substance. The pure, ground, roasted cocoa beans impart a strong, deep chocolate flavor.
Bittersweet chocolate is chocolate liquor (or unsweetened chocolate) to which some sugar (less than a third), more cocoa butter, vanilla and sometimes leicithin has been added. It has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate, but the two are interchangeable when baking. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the less sweet the chocolate is.
Semi-sweet chocolate is frequently used for cooking purposes. It is a dark chocolate with half as much sugar as cocoa.
Milk chocolate is solid chocolate made with milk. It might only contain about 20% cocoa solids.
White chocolate is a confection based on sugar, milk, and cocoa butter. It doesn’t actually contain any cocoa solids.
Couverture chocolate is used to create a thin, even coating with a pronounced gloss. It has a high level of cocoa butter and is recommended for general cooking uses because of its quality and flavour. It is available in bittersweet, semi-sweet and milk.
Cocoa powder is available in two forms : either ‘natural’ or ‘dutched’ which refers to a chemical process designed to neutralise the acids of the chocolate.
Natural Unsweetened cocoa powder is very bitter and gives a rich chocolate flavour to baked goods. It is better suited rich recipes like brownies or chocolate cakes. Because of it’s acidic content, it will cause batter to rise when used in recipes calling for baking soda.
Dutched cocoa powder was chemically treated to neutralize its acids. As a result, it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder, unless there are enough other acidic ingredients used. It has a milder flavor than natural cocoa and is better suited to more delicate baked goods like pastries. Dutched cocoa is also more soluble than natural cocoa making it better suited to chocolate drinks.
Preparation (based on The cooks companion by Stephanie Alexander)
Chocolate is often required to be melted but before you do, keep these few tips in mind to avoid any problems:
Chip or grate the chocolate before melting
Your spoon and bowl must be completely dry. Moisture will cause the chocolate to seize and tighten. A couple drops of vegetable oil will rescue it but be careful not to use butter as it contains moisture and will simply make it worse.
Melt chocolate on low or medium heat. High heat will cause it to turn dry and grainy.
Melt chocolate in batches, it will be easier to maintain an even temperature throughout.
Melted chocolate should feel warm rather than hot.
In a double boiler: Bring water to a full boil in the bottom of a double boiler, then turn off the heat. Place grated chocolate in the top of the double boiler. The water in the bottom should come right up to the level of the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir it completely melted.
Over hot water: Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then turn the heat very low. Put the grated chocolate in a bowl wide enough to sit on top of the saucepan. The bowl must sit tightly on the pan as steam will spoil the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir it completely melted.
In a microwave oven: Put the chopped chocolate in a microwave proof bowl. Do not cover as moisture could form. Microwave on medium for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the melted chocolate until smooth.
With other ingredients: To melt chocolate with milk, cream, coffee or water, add chocolate to cool rather than hot liquids and melt gently over direct heat while stirring. When adding liquid to already melted chocolate, the liquid should be warm to hot, otherwise the chocolate will seize and tighten.
The recipe I am sharing belongs to Rosa Jackson, a good friend of mine who teaches Mediterranean cooking in Nice, France. The addition of olive oil to a chocolate mousse might seem surprising but you’ll just have to trust us on this one; In addition to adding a distinctive sunny touch, it also makes the mousse lighter and silkier. Plus, this is a really simple recipe which is hard to get wrong, particularly if you follow the golden rule of choosing great ingredients.
Recipe: Olive oil chocolate mousse (from Rosa Jackson’s Les Meilleurs Desserts des Paresseuses)
100g of good quality chocolate around 65% cacao (Bittersweet or Ecuador)
2 tbsp mild olive oil
2 egg yolks
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp caster sugar
A few drops of olive oil to finish
Melt the chocolate with the olive oil in a bain-marie (double boiler) or in the microwave. Combine well, then add the egg yolks one at a time, while stirring.
Beat the egg whites until firm peaks form with the pinch of salt, adding the sugar when the eggs are 2/3 of the way. Fold in 1/3 of egg whites into chocolate. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites; combine until egg whites have been completely incorporated.
Pour the mixture into a souffle dish or ramequins. Chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Before serving, drizzle a few drops of olive oil.
This should get us started, understanding the many different types of chocolate available out there and how to work with this most decadent of ingredients. In our next post, we’ll talk about tempering chocolate and share 3 different techniques to experiment with at home, just in time for Easter.
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As the Irish celebrate St.Patrick’s Day, the color green is in the air but while some might like to dye their beer (or beards) the color of grass, we think that there are other ways to be green, whether this means using renewable resources, being less wasteful or using organic and bio-dynamic ingredients.
The ‘green’ jargon can be confusing and also seems like it gets slapped onto just about everything and anything. Is it really that green to ship organic bananas from around the world? What does bio-dynamic even mean? How is a product certified organic?
Rather than being an absolute standard, sometimes being green can simply mean being aware of one’s decisions to consume a product rather than another and to make small decisions with the belief that these can have a great impact, on the planet and on our bodies.
Being green is a tricky balance and perfection isn’t the goal. Small mindful gestures can get us all a long way in making improvements to the world we live in, while putting better quality ingredients into our bodies. It doesn’t need to be rocket science, it’s just about mindfullness.
Following is a selection of products we stock because we think they make a difference to our general well-being and to the planet. Being green should be as simple as a big glass of cold water but if you’re planning on celebrating St.Patrick’s day with a tall pint of green beer, then that’s OK too!
1 – The lifefactory Go Glass reusable bottles are bringing glass back into the world of drink bottles. Free of BPA and PVC, these bottles are easy to clean and ensure a clean pure taste free of the flavor transfer one gets with plastic and metal bottles. It’s better for you and tastes better. The bottles come in a wide range of great colored sleeves and various sizes, including a very cute baby bottle size.
2 – The Valira Aire Induction range is a new range of frypans by a Spanish manufacturer. The pans are ultra light and undeformable but most importantly, they use a non-stick PFOA free coating. PFOA (or Perfluorooctanoic acid) is an acid used to make Teflon. It is popular because of it’s non-stick property but requires great care and any scratches in the coating surface technically make the pan toxic. These days most good quality manufacturers use PFOA-free coatings so make sure you do too.
3 – Totally Bamboo Greenlite chopping boards are, you guess it, totally made of bamboo. Apart from being dishwasher safe, harder than maple and easy on knives, bamboo is commonly accepted as a fairly sustainable material. It grows extremely fast (much faster than conventional wood) and so is highly renewable and also absorbs large quantities of Co2 as it grows.
4 – Peaberry’s Gourmet Coffee offers a wide range of different brews, including a NASAA certifiedorganic blend and a fairtrade blend which are created with a commitment to the environment and the working practices of developing countries. While some of the beans travel a long way, sourced from fields all over the world, all the roasting takes place right here in Newcastle. For the freshest beans, buy small quantities often. You can read more here about how producers earn the right to call their products organic, it’s no simple task!
5 – Since we’re talking about coffee, we might as well mention these Hookturn BYO Coffee Cups which are made to ressemble take-away coffee cups without the waste. They fit perfectly into cafe coffee machines, are more enjoyable to drink from and reduce the considerable amount of waste from discarded cardboard (or god forbid polystyrene) cups. They are made from food grade silicone which surprisingly contains to plastic or petro-chemical materials as silicone is in fact a natural resource. These guys are based in Melbourne but there is no reason we can’t borrow their coffee culture here in Newy.
6 – Natvia’s 100% natural sweetener makes a healthy alternative to the more common artificial sweeteners and sugar. It contains no aspartame, no saccharin, no sucralose and, well, no sugar! With 95% fewer calories than sugar, there is nothing to hesitate about.
7 – Honey is the natural sweetener (and natural antibacterial) which requires the least effort between the bees and the consumer. In fact, the less is done, the better. Imported from Italy, this organic honey is a dark, slightly creamed honey which has undergone minimal intervention, hand-harvested from the hives and filtered into the jars. That’s it and that’s how it should be.
8 – Mount Zero bio-dynamic falafel mix begs the question, ‘what does bio-dynamic mean?’ Bio-dynamic is the ultimate form of organic agriculture where producers adopt a holistic approach in which the relationship between soil, plants and animals is recognized as a self-sustaining system. You can read more here. More importantly, this mix is easy to cook with the addition of a couple of ‘wet’ ingredients and tastes delicious!
9 – The Epicurean chopping boards are a new kind of board made with multiple layers of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood fibers,compressed with a food-safe resin. The boards are lightweight, easy to care for, dishwasher safe and easy on knives. They come in a great range of shapes and sizes. You can see more here.
10 – Made from Australian Blue Swimmer Crabs responsibly fished to avoid depleting the species, The Stock Merchant Sustainable Crab Stock makes a delicious alternative to fish stock. Australia has recently developed some top notch sustainable fishing practices and products like these support those efforts. The Stock Merchant has a great range of stocks which include Free range chicken stock and grass fed beef stock. It’s the little things that matter.
11 – The Essential Ingredient offers a wide range of organic grains, from quinoa (red, white and black) to amaranth and spelt. These ancient grains are full of amazing properties and make a great alternative to rice, pasta or couscous in salads, risottos, soups etc… You can learn more about ancient grains by reading this essential guide to grains.
12 – A more recent addition to the TEI range, this Camargue Organic Red Rice is an unmilled slender grain rice from the wetlands of Southern France. It has a deliciously nutty and firm texture, an appealing red-ish hue and is ideal for slow-cooked rice dishes like pilaf, risotto or braises.