• Herbs and Spices often ride together; but there is an important distinction.  Herbs are mostly leaves, sometimes the plant's stem wil be included, but generally speaking it's all about the leaves.  Spices are something else all together; covered in another post.

    These days it is possible to buy herbs in a variety of forms; dried, fresh cut, frozen, paste or of course live.  Ideally you want your herbs to be super fresh, so where possible, grow your own.  Though if you're anything like me then they tend not to survive for too long.  Buying live, plants and attempting to nurture them for a few days is my preferred route.

    Fresh herbs are superior in flavour and also texture (dried herbs can add a gritty texture to food, and tend to have less vibrant colours).  In preparing your own herbs you get control over the size of the pieces, do you want dust, or whole leaves; the choice is yours.

    Heat kills the delicate flavour of herbs; so it is best to add herbs to your cooking right at the end.  In some cases woodier herbs should be added earlier to infuse their flavour throughout the dish (rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, bay are good examples).

    Preparation Tips

    • Chop right before use to keep the flavours fresh.
    • Always wash herbs before use; partly for fear of chemical contaminates, but also to make sure you remove any gritty soil that can destroy a dish.
    • Use a large cooks knife, not a vegetable knife, and make sure it is sharp.
    • Parsley should almost always be reduced to dust.
    • Some leafier herbs like Sage or Basil can be rolled together, and then sliced into super-fine ribbons to add texture to dish presentation.
  • First off I feel that it is important to say you can buy sugar syrup pre-made. But, if you are a diehard artisan cocktail creator then yes, you might want to follow this recipe...

    Place 4 tablespoons of water and 4 tablespoons of caster sugar into a saucepan and simmer over a low heat until the sugar has disolved. Bring to the boil, and hold at a boil for just 90 seconds. Any longer and you'll end up with caramel eventually.

    Let the liquid cool before you use it; the sugar will stay disolved if you got the measures right and did not boil for too long.

    What is the benefit of sugar syrup in cocktail making?

    Simple - the sugar is already disolved so you can get the sweetness without a crunchy texture. For some cocktails of course, notably a mojito, you will want the crunchiness of good brown sugar.

  • Frosting the rim of a glass is essential for a number of classic cocktails; sugar for Fruiter Martinis and salt for Margaritas or Salty Dogs.

    Preparation is simple; you need to tip out a few tablespoons of sugar (caster preferred) or salt (crunchy air dried salt).

    The method; it's pretty simple!

    Take a wedge of lemon or lime and swipe around the top 5mm of the glass. Now dip gently touch the entire glass into the saucer of salt or sugar, as appropriate.

  • As makes sense you need to have ice to begin with, ideally direct from the freezer so that it is not 'wet'.

    Important distinction here; there is a difference between cracked and crushed ice.

    Cracked ice tends to be used in shaken and stirred cocktails, then disposed of. However, crushed tends to be an ingredient served with the ingredients.

    For Cracked Ice take the cubes and place in a strong plastic bag (something more substantial than a sandwich baggie). Now the fun part - go outside and whack the whole bag against the outside of your home (apartment dwellers, I can recommend slamming it against the wall beneath a window!). If you're feeling less violent please go ahead and use a rolling pin or mallet. However, go careful with this approach, cracking the floor is not part of the deal, and kitchen counters can be quite fragile to cracks and stresses.

    For Crushed Ice you need to keep going for longer, alternatively 15 seconds in a sturdy blender will do the trick. Make sure the blender is a beast...

  • Everyone seems to have their favourite way to make mashed potato; all sorts of different ingredients can go into making such a simple treat.  My recipe calls for...

    • Floury Potatoes (don't be afraid of going crazy, if you make too much you can always freeze it)
    • Chunk of Butter (about 50g)
    • Teaspoon Fine Ground Nutmeg
    • Generous slug of single cream (probably around 75ml)
    • Salt for the boiling water

    You will also need a good high power electric hand whisk (like this one from Dualit), a big mixing bowl.

    Start by peeling the potatoes...

    The chunk them down to speed up the boiling process (do not worry about elegant cuts; they're gonna get pretty smashed soon!)...

    Now place your chunked potatoes in a large pan, and cover with boiling water (straight from the kettle) and add 1 teaspoon of salt.

    Simmer for 18-20 minutes (you don't need to see a photo of potatoes simmering!) - take a stab at the potatoes with a knife, if they're soft, but not crumbly then you're ready to go.  If they're crumbly, then you've gone too far and over-boiled (will impair texture later - so be careful).

    Get that big bowl out and load up with your potatoes.  Have your whisk on standby.

    Add that chunk of butter (about 50g).

    Then the nutmeg...

    And finally that slug of single cream...

    Now fire up the electric whisk!  Go carefully because you do not want to cover yourself in the liquid ingredients!  Chase it around the bowl for about 30 seconds.  The result should look like the photo on the next page.
    And here you go - Edward's Best Mashed Potato is ready for us in other recipes (like my favourite Fish Pie) or as part of Wednesday Night essential Bangers and Mash.

    Check out the lovely fluffy texture - be really careful not to over-whisk (it's easy to do with a high-power whisk) - it should not become an elastic/gluey paste.  If you look closely you will be able to see individual 'grains' of potato, just a little bit bigger than a grain of sand.

  •  

    Ingredients

    75g/3oz All Bran
    125g/4oz Billington's Dark Muscovado sugar
    15g/1oz mixed dried fruit
    25g/1oz walnuts, chopped
    125ml/ 1/4 pint strong tea
    75g/3oz Allinson plain wholemeal flour
    5ml/1tsp baking powder
    5ml/1tsp mixed spice
    1 Medium Egg

    Method

    Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4

    Place the All Bran, sugar, fruits, nuts and tea into a mixing bowl.
    Stir well and allow to stand for 30 minutes.

    Mix in the flour, baking powder, spice and egg.

    Transfer to 1/2kg/1lb greased and based lined loaf tin.

    Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes

    Cool before turning out. Serve in slices with butter.

    Related Items...

  • I was recently sent an update by Billington's, who have been producing beautiful sugars since 1858 (which is quite a while by anyone's count!).  Apparently; a lot of brown sugars are in fact lies!

    It's nothing buy white sugar coated in colourings and a little extra flavouring to make it taste like brown sugar, but actually it's white.  And so, when used as an ingredient it lacks the essential flavour that recipes call for, when they call for brown sugars.

    So this is a new one for me; always look for 'unrefined' on the label to make sure you are getting the real dealio.

    Check out Billingtons.co.uk - they have some great recipes on there that I'm certainly going to be trying soon!

  • Definitely one for our UK readers to check out  (though they do ship internationally) - Squires Kitchen has to be one of the best places to stock up on key supplies for cake decoration and sugarcraft.  I mean, they have everything you could ever imagine - from edible gold leave to a whole new range dedicated to the decorating fairy cakes.

    Towards Christmas I am planning to do a feature on festive treats - it's now hard to imagine getting supplies from anywhere else.

  • In an upcoming video tutorial you'll see me using some of these silicon paper cases for butterfly cakes.  Once you've used these beasties you'll never go back to the regular paper ones.  Using the silicon version is not only easier and cleaner than their old school paper cousins.
    One of the interesting effects of using a totally waterproof silicon case is that the moisture from the cake batter does not disappear through the papery cases.  So this means the resulting cake is more moist within, whilst still having the harder top-surface.

    Then when served, none of that destroying your beautiful cake when peeling off the paper case...with these cases the cake just falls right out, perfectly formed.

    [AMAZONPRODUCT=B001CO5EIG]

  • As a Londoner, The Hummingbird Bakery has always been something of a treat - heading on down to their store in South Kensington is a monthly Sunday adventure.  Sitting there seeing everyone's eyes light up with the magic of a counter full of beautiful cakes makes the whole thing even better.

    The great thing about this book is that the recipes, if followed well, will yield almost exactly the same results as can be purchased of a weekend!  So for special treats, birthday cakes, thank you gifts (maybe even, "I'm sorry" packages) this book will suit you just perfectly!

    [amazon ASIN="1845978307"]You can of course buy the book here from Amazon.[/amazon]

  • There is just one week to go before Chocolate Week 2009 in the UK - and already the best chocolatiers in the country are gearing up to showcase their wares.

    Divine Chocolate has been involved in Chocolate Week for 6 years as a sponsor - this year they have teamed up with Richard Bertinet (founder of the Bertinet Kitchen) to produce some great recipes that make use of the wonderful Divine products.

    Will be making this very soon - Super-Luxe Hot Chocolate.

  • Divine Chocolate

    Divine Chocolate is an interesting endeavour since the business is co-owned by cocoa farmers - an interesting twist on the fairtrade concept, taking it ot the next level of ownership.  To me this feels closer to microfinance concepts than fairtrade's approach of paying extra for produce.  Divine has been around for a little while now - it was founded in 2003, and over the years has racked up an impressive number of awards from major magazine titles.

    Publicly Divine focusses on their fairtrade status - but the best bit is that 45% of the profits are shared with 45000 farmers in Ghana.

    The chocolate is also delicious!

    Official Site: http://www.divinechocolate.com/

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