Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Cutting Edge

Have you ever tried to cut something with a less than sharp knife?  You tear, you pull and it is a lot of frustrating hard work. Any chef worth their salt (ever wondered where this saying comes from? See below) will have their own knives which they look after and covet.  There are some great makes of knives on the market today, such as Global (usually the chef’s choice), Sabatier, ICEL (from Portugal) and I have had many during my life in the kitchen.

A good knife is a very personal choice.  I prefer a 13cm Santoku to an 18cm Santoku but have never been fond of a paring knife. Santoku is the knife with the little indents along the blade.  These create air pockets therefore stopping the food sticking so much to the blade and easier to slide off.  Stops that syndrome when you start out with a nice slice of cheese, for example, and end up with a thin wedge after trying to slide if off the blade.

A good knife is made up of eight main parts and I am going to be referring to the German Forged Steel range of The Pampered Chef (www.pamperedchef.biz/partieswithHeidi).  If you are going to part with a lot of money then you need to treat these knives with respect.  They come with a life time guarantee. I recommend that in a normal domestic kitchen situation you stop what you are doing, clean your knife in hot soapy water (do not use a dishwasher as this will dull the blade and may cause rust spots)

1.       Blade:  they are made of high-carbon German steel, finely crafted through a forging process. This helps to maintain a perfect edge and keep their shape and sharpness. They are stain resistant and corrosion resistant. When the blade is made up of one piece of steel from the tip to the end of the handle this is called “full tang”.

2.       Tip:  of the blade is the front end which is used to cut small or delicate pieces of food or to pierce.

3.       Edge: Working part of the blade. The part you can sharpen from the tip to the heel.

4.       Heel: Rear part of the blade, used for cutting items that require a bit more force.

5.       Spine: The top of the blade, opposite the edge which adds weight and strength.

The best way to store your knives is in a knife block and the Pampered Chef has one to fit their whole range of forged steel cutlery.  If you don’t have a knife block then keep the protective covers on your knives when you store them away.  The cover protects the knife blade from damage from other knives in the drawer but also protects you from serious injury!

Before purchasing a new knife you should try it out.  You might think you will like a particular size or style but when you use it you may decide differently. 

I will be holding a knife Masterclass where you can try several different Pampered Chef ranges of knives and sizes at my house on Friday 11 November 2011 8:00-9:30 pm.  If you live near St Albans and want to attend send me a message and I will see if there are places available.  The Masterclass is limited to 6 places so don’t delay if you want to attend.  We will be trying the whole range of forged knives as well as the colour coated range and self sharpening range.  We will also try using the chef’s knives in a proper and professional manner which should improve your chopping skills.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Let's Make Christmas - Food Blogger Gift Swap

I have been invited to take part in a food bloggers competition to make the ultimate Christmas gifts.  The invitation has come from Vanessa Kimball, a talented and very busy food blogger and mum.  I am honoured to have been invited by Vanessa.  The afternoon will take place at Fortnum & Mason in Picadilly and we will have afternoon tea and a good deal of food talk.

At this moment in time I am planning on entering one of my chutneys and chocolate olive truffles (Leaarned how to make these last week at a cooking class with Food@52.  I will be posting the recipes for the items I am entering in a couple of weeks once I have made my final decision on what to enter.

There will be some fantastic entries in the competition so I only hope I can come close.  Watch this space for more details.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Time for Tea

I have always been a coffee drinker and love the smell of freshly ground coffee.  At one time I even banned instant coffee from the house, preferring only the French press method.

I don’t really like a cup of tea (except funnily enough with proper Afternoon Tea) but a few years ago did start drinking the redbush tea, a caffeine free tea originally from Africa which I find very refreshing indeed.  It is something of an acquired taste and did take me a while to like it but now I do make a cup when I need a really thirst quenching drink.

I have heard lots of time in the past however, that drinking green tea has loads of health benefits both preventative and curative.  I have never got on with fruit teas.  The smell lovely but fail to deliver the same experience to my taste buds as they do the nose.

Many years of eating in SoHo in London (the Chinese quarter) I learned to really like the Chinese jasmine tea served with meals.  This is thirst quenching, caffeine free and contains lots of health benefits. 

So I was intrigued to try jasmine tea from Choi Time’s award winning collection (www.choitime.com).  Melissa Choi sent me some samples of her jasmine tea pearls and other teas in her range to try.  First of all the fragrance was intense and beckoning.  You need 5-10 pearls in a pot and pour boiling water over to release the flavour and let it brew for 4-5 minutes. The smell was so strong it was torture waiting for it to be ready to drink.  It did however keep its promise and was a lovely drink on a hot summer day. This tea is what they call ‘single estate’, green lu-cha tea leaves naturally scented with thousands of jasmine blossoms and then dried rolled into ‘pearls’.  Much easier to measure out exactly the right amount than loose tea such as that found in high street tea/coffee shops.

Melissa Choi  learned the wonderful tea drinking and appreciation from her grandmother since an early age.  She started bringing the best quality teas back from her trips to China and Hong Kong for friends and this blossomed into a thriving business.  Her teas are beautifully packaged and she also has a range of beautiful glasses and teapots to enhance your tea drinking experience. Her teas are sold online and are also stocked in Harrods and Selfridges.  If you want to order online Melissa will give readers of this blog a 10% discount till the end of the year.  Just type ‘HRKitchen' in the discount voucher area.  This offer will be held until the end of 2011.

The next tea that I tried was Thousand Year Red.  This is a single large flower which did make me laugh when I first saw it.  This tea aids digestion, strengthens the immune system, helps to lower cholesterol and has anti-ageing properties.  To brew pour hot water (82-88C) into your cup or pot.  Drop one bulb into the hot water and watch the bud uncurl.  You can use this one flower bud for 5-12 infusions depending how strong you like your tea.  Apparently using the same bulb or pearls intensifies the anti-oxidant effects too. 

I decided to invite my friend Lizzie to have a tea party so we could try some of the teas.  We did find the Thousand Year Red a bit of a disappointment.  It was great to watch the flower bud unfurl but it didn't seem to have much aroma or flavour.  We brewed a couple of pots so had lots to drink and hopefully we help our digestions!

I certainly look forward to trying the rest of the samples in the range in the very near future.  Don't forget, use the voucher to try some of these pure and fantastic teas for your self.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Every Day is Fish Day

Recently I was invited to a Food Bloggers evening on behalf of Lyons Seafoods.  I was very excited to attend, especially given the description of the event and whilst this was taking place in East London I would be taken to and from the event by cab.  This made quite a difference to my willingness to attend as it would otherwise have been an awkward journey especially as the event started at 6:00 pm.
The venue as an absolutely stunning loft apartment, a converted Victorian factory (previously used in Victorian times to manufacture zips and suspenders) just off the Kingsland Road in Shoreditch, East London.  This area is not known to be a well off area of London but when we passed through the security gates to the courtyard it was fantastic.  Very modern and contemporary buildings and companies within the courtyard.  The apartment can be hired out for photo shoots and corporate events such as the one I was attending. (www.studiohirefirstoption.com)

On arrival (I was accompanied by my fish foodie friend Mandy) we were offered cocktails with either a gin base or a vodka base, lots of nibbles and a chance to chat to the hosts (Cirkle Beaconsfield www.cirkle.com and Lyons Seafoods who are one of the UK’s leading seafood suppliers -  www.lyons-seafoods.com or www.lyonsseafoods.co.uk )  Once the rest of the diners (there were only 12 of us) arrived we went into the kitchen and they had put on a chef to cook us each one of their new range of seafood meals which will be found in the chiller cabinet of the supermarket.  Sainsburys are the first to stock this range which I will describe in detail below.

The chef was using the latest 28cm wok from Tefal – Sensorielle range designed to be the latest in non-stick, thermo-spot technology/ easy use-easy clean www.tefal.com) and each meal was to serve two people with the addition of rice or noodles as appropriate. 

There was also a lovely lady there to show us how to add the nice little extra touches to our meals before serving like edible flowers for garnish and loads of other hints. 

 It was a very relaxed atmosphere where we felt free to ask questions and one lady even had a go flipping the wok contents chef style instead of using a wooden spoon to stir.

As our food was cooked (and each dish took an average of only 6-7 minutes from pack to wok to plate with no mess and no wastage) we went into the other room to a lavishly set table and were offered lots of wine with our meal.  It was great to sit, eat and chat to fellow bloggers in such a relaxed setting. 

Time passed quickly and when it was time for our respective carriages to arrive we were presented with a fantastic goodie bag for coming!  Each goodie bag included one of each of the new meals that Lyons Seafoods are launching and a Tefal Sensorielle range 28cm wok to stir fry them at home. 

I certainly had a fantastic evening and hope the photos can give you some idea of the style and settings of the evening.

The range of meals that Lyons Seafoods have launched are four meals to be found in the chiller cabinet of the supermarket.  They are priced at £5.99 (don’t forget this feeds two people)

The idea of the range is something quick and easy to prepare when you get home after a very busy day or late shift that is fresh and nutritious and still tastes great.  I think they have achieved their aim and I certainly will be purchasing these products in the future. 

There is the main ingredient, a fish or collection of fish, fresh stir fry vegetables and an appropriate fresh sauce all individually wrapped in a cardboard sleeve.  The range is not freezer friendly so you can’t be ultra organised but they do have a good fridge life so you can plan ahead a few days in advance.

My favourite was the Thai Sweet Chilli King Prawns.  

This is a delicious combination of king prawns, crunchy water chestnuts, baby sweetcorn and mange tout with a tangy thai sweet chilli sauce – you just need to serve with noodles.  The Chef’s tip on the packet suggests sprinkling some chopped red chillies for added warmth and stirring a few drops of sesame oil through the cooked noodles prior to serving. The packaging has very easy to follow instructions, clear ingredient list and nutritional & allergy information. There is also recycling information on the package. 

I could not rate the remaining three in order of preference because they were all so different and I loved them all.  I will just tell you about them in no particular order.

 Classic rich Catalan Fish Stew:

A lovely combination of cod, squid and chorizo with Mediterranean vegetables and a classic red wine and smoked paprika sauce to be served with crusty ciabatta bread.  Chef’s tips to rub a clove of garlic onto toasted Mediterranean bread and drizzle with olive oil to serve.

Hot and aromatic Malaysian King Prawn Laksa:
A distinctive and creative combination of king prawns, baby sweetcorn, ripe cherry tomatoes with crunchy green beans and a fragrant coconut sauce to be served with rice.  The Chef’s tips would be to sprinkle with red chillies for added spice (if you feel it needs it) and stir fresh chopped coriander and lime juice through the rice just before serving.

 Hot and spiced Kerala Seafood Curry:
A creative combination of cod, salmon and king prawns with chick peas, sweet mango and baby spinach and an Indian spiced, aromatic coconut sauce suggested to be served with rice.  I am not usually a fan of hot spicy food but this was tasty, aromatic with lots of flavour and not an unbearable heat to it.  I would certainly eat this one again. – Chef’s tips to stir fresh chopped coriander and lime juice through the cooked rice just prior to serving.

No more Fish Friday now everyday can be a fish day!!