Tomato essence

Tomato EssenceI was fair consumed with jealousy at the weekend when I visited my friend Abby and saw her homegrown vines heaving with luscious red fruit, which I couldn’t help comparing infavourably with the massed cordons of shiny green balls dangling from my plants right now. Alas, such is the lot of the exotic tomato grower – these rare or old varieties really do seem to take so much longer to ripen. So much so in fact, that the last two years my crop has been almost a total failure, as by the time they’re due to redden the weather has turned suddenly wintery (what happened to Autumn as a season?!) and I’ve lost half to blight and the rest get too cold and stay stubbornly green. If that happens again this year I think I’ll give up, and go back to good ol’ Gardener’s Delight like normal non-masochistic growers do.

Tomato EssenceAnyhoo, if you’re delighting in plants groaning with ripe fruit, or you’re lucky enough to frequent a market (y’know – one of those places you can get ’10 mange tout’ ) that sells seasonal bounty cheap, and you’ve never tried making Tomato Essence (also known as tomato ‘tea’, or more erroneously ‘consomme’) then now is the time. It is, as the name suggests, the pure clear essence of tomatoness. The soul and heart flavour of Solanum lycopersicum, taste of the Med and balm to the soul. No, really. Stop snorting at the back. This stuff really is worth the hyperbole.

And it’s so simple! In fact, I make it not only when I have a heap of whole fruit, but any time some barmy chef tells me in a recipe to cut out and discard the seeds and pulp – you know, the bit where the flavour is!  The cores from a standard punnet of toms won’t give you heaps of essence, but even a shotglass-full is worth the minimal effort when you realise what a punch this stuff packs.

Taste. Of. Summer.

Tomato EssenceTomato Essence
Serves: Some
So simple in fact, there are no measurements. Take the skins, cores, pulp and seeds from as many tomatoes as you have. Use the tomato flesh for something else – a salad perhaps, or a fresh tomato sauce, or maybe even oven-dried tomato ‘petals’. Chop the cores and pulp roughly with a knife. Don’t be tempted to blitz them in a processor, even with a big batch, otherwise you’ll smash bitterness from the seeds into your lovely essence. Place in a muslin-lined sieve (or a jelly bag, if you have one), shake over a little fine salt and stir briefly.  Set the sieve or jelly bag over a jug into which you’ve placed a few bruised sprigs of basil or fresh oregano, and leave to drain overnight. If you can suspend your muslin from something (a fridge rack for instance) so much the better, to get maximum ‘essence’. At no point squeeze the muslin/bag or attempt to force juice through – that will make the end result cloudy. Taste the clear essence in the jug, and add salt if needed. Serve as it is, chilled or at room temperature, perhaps garnishing with a sprig of fresh herbs, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or even a few balsamic pearls.


DIY Garam Masala (& a giveaway)

Garam Masala

I really don’t understand why people still buy ground spices, seriously, they almost all taste of nothing! You would too if you’d sat in a clear glass jar in a brightly lit supermarket for months on end, then kept in a hot humid kitchen for years after that first opening, just waiting for someone to feel that particular culinary vibe once more.

Making your own garam masala may at first thought seem a faff on top of an imposition if you’re already making a complex curry, but it really is worth it. You can keep the whole spices for infinitely longer than their ground equivalents, and it takes mere moments to whizz up in an electric grinder (which isn’t expensive & may well change your culinary life).

Garam Masala
Makes: enough for a few curries. Easily doubled if you get through lots of this regularly.

1 dried bay leaf
3cm piece of cinnamon stick
3 black cardamom pods
2 cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp black peppercorns
Pinch of mace

Blitz the spices in an electric spice grinder. Simple as that. No spice grinder? If you want to make this by hand in a sturdy pestle & mortar, no problemo, but do grind just one spice at a time or you’ll be setting yourself up for a Herculean task.

Sieve the ground spices & discard the residual bits (which will mostly be cardamom husk & some prickly bits of cinnamon). Store the spice in a drawer or cupboard away from direct sunlight – a beautiful presentation spice rack will kill it quicker than you can say ‘crappy wedding gift’.

Warning! Cinnamon can tax even powerful grinders if you’re not careful, so do break it up a bit before blitzing, and use a pulsing action with the blender rather than a long drawn-out processor-burning blitz.

Speaking of cinnamon…I have one lovely pack of the finest Mexican cinnamon from Capsicana Chilli Co to give away, simply leave me a comment telling me how you like to use cinnamon or garam masala….*

And for an additional bonus entry please do tweet about the competition or post, mentioning me @FoodieEmma and linking to this post.

Mexican cinnamon

*Ts&Cs: deadline for entries is 20th April 2013. Open to UK residents only. Capsicana Chilli Co are not affiliated with this competition, prize is being offered & provided directly by Souperior.

Storecupboard smokey chilli sauce

Storecupboard smokey chilli sauce

Admittedly the storecupboard in question is one of a serious chilli fanatic, but the point here was to make a chilli sauce that was totally different from the ones using fresh chillies which abound in my kitchen during the long-distant summer months. All the chillies used are whole and dried, which means you can keep them in your cupboard for a long time and they’ll still be flavour-packed; and are available from loads of retailers online (see below). This sauce has an almost barbecue-y flavour, but without the cloying sweetness of so many purpose-made barbecue chilli sauces, and it goes as wonderfully on fried eggs or chips as it does on a lamb kofte.

Storecupboard smokey chilli sauce
Makes 2-4 smallish bottles 

8g facing heaven chillies
18g pasilla chillies
22g ancho chillies
36g peperoncino chillies
16g mesilla chillies
(or a similar proportion to make up 100g total weight)
625ml distilled malt (white) vinegar
50g caster sugar
30g salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Remove the stalks from all the chillies, place in a bowl and cover with a kettle of boiling water. Weigh the chillies down with a small saucer, if necessary, to keep them submerged and leave for around half an hour until they are all tender. Drain the chillies (reserving the soaking liquid) and place in a saucepan with the remaining ingredients. Cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes, then puree until completely smooth, adding a little of the soaking liquid until you have a consistency you’re happy with. Decant into sterilised bottles, it should keep for at least a year.

*UK Stockists I particularly like:
Capsicana Chilli Co
South Devon Chilli Farm
Chilli Pepper Pete

Chocolate coffee cupcakes with orange cheesecake icing

Chocolate cupcake with orange cheesecake frostingThese incredibly easy cupcakes use the magical reaction of vinegar and baking powder to create a light and fluffy texture but you’d honestly never know the vinegar was in there I promise. Because of this kitchen alchemy they are completely dairy free, until you smother them in this delicious icing that is, in which the orange and vanilla balance beautifully against the coffee in the cake, but if you wanted to keep them vegan a simple icing of orange juice and icing sugar would still be lovely.

Super-simple chocolate coffee cupcakes with orange cheesecake icing
Makes 12 cupcakes or 20 fairy cakes

225g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
225g granulated sugar
½ tsp fine salt (if using flakes – Maldon for preference – powder them in a pestle & mortar first)
1½ tsp good-quality instant coffee (I like Kenco Millicano wholebean instant)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or Madagascan vanilla extract)
6 tbsp olive oil
For the icing:
50g white chocolate
100g full-fat cream cheese
50g soft unsalted butter
½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
Zest of 1 small orange
250g icing sugar
Edible glitter, to decorate (optional*)

Ready on for the rest of the recipe…

Chillies and Mexican Food – the Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge roundup

Fiery Roasted Red Pepper Salsa For anyone who loves chillies proper Mexican food is a real treat – the Mexicans grow and use probably more varieties of chilli than any other country, from the fiery habanero to the smokey chipotle and everything in between.  This month I am delighted to be the host of the Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge, and hope you will find some inspiration in the fabulous flavours of Mexico which our contributors showcased this month. As usual the rules were simply that the dish had to contain chilli in some form, and the style of cuisine – as this month celebrated Cinco de Mayo – was Mexican, natch.  Starting the fiesta is the queen of the Chilli Challenge herself, Lyndsey, who put forward a fiery roasted red pepper salsa of such stunning proportions I defy anyone not to want to grab one of those tortilla chips and dig in.

Tango Like Raindrop was actually the first off the blocks with this colourful mango Pico de Gallo salsa, a fruity twist on a classic recipe:

Mango Pico-de-Gallo SalsaAnother mango offering came from Janet of ‘The Taste Space‘, this time as an accompaniment to a healthy twist on a Mexican favourite – Oyster Mushroom and Black Bean Tacos

Oyster Mushroom and Black Bean Tacos‘Farmer’s Girl’ Janice Pattie went super-meaty with these Lamb Steaks with Adobo Seasoning Lamb Steaks with Adobo SeasoningChris of ‘Cooking Around the World’ took the challenge to a new level (and won the heart of my hubby, who’d tried & failed to persuade me to do the same) by making his own tortillas for these delicious sounding mini Garnachas with tomato-apple salsa:

Garnachas with tomato-apple salsaMy contribution to the month’s round-up had to be the much-maligned (in TexMex restaurants anyway) but genuinely Mexican favourite Faijitas, using a homemade version of a store-bought sauce and a variation on the classic salsa Pico de Gallo

Mexican fajitas with pico de galloAnd finishing the roundup was another contribution from Lyndsey, some delicious Grilled Fish Tacos

Grilled Fish Tacos If you’d like to take part in, or host, a future Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge you can find all the information you need here.

Presto Pasta Nights #248 – The roundup

No sooner had the announcement been made that I was hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights then I had received the first entry, this stunning offering from La Caffettiera Rosa, a delicious seafood pasta with cannellini beans and mussels:

lacaffettierarosaNext up was Clarion of Preventing Culinary Amnesia with her classic Arrabbiata, a word which incidentally is Italian for ‘angry’, perfect for a dish of such spicyness:

ArrabbiataRuth, Queen Bee of Presto Pasta Nights and blogger over at Once Upon A Feast, contributed this delicious woodland-inspired ‘taste of the forest’ pasta with mushrooms, pancetta & arugula (that’s ‘rocket’ to you and me!) 🙂

Taste of the Forest Pasta Thus far all the pasta dishes have been pretty darn speedy supper recipes, but then in swept Nupur of UK Rasoi with a lovely step-by-step guide to making one of my favourite weekend meal projects: Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni:

Spinach and Ricotta CannelloniThe meatiest offering of the week came from Jules of Pictures of a princess, a spicy yet creamy Chicken Paprikash served on spätzle – the Germanic equivalent of Italy’s noodle, the name of which means ‘little sparrows’ for goodness-only-knows reason why!

Chicken paprikashShellfish got a rather glamorous makeover with this impressive entry from Tandy of Lavender & Lime – it’s time to apply for your fishing permit and do battle with the invading red signals so you can make this:  Crayfish ravioli with a bisque sauce

CRAYFISH RAVIOLI WITH A BISQUE SAUCEI’m not normally a big fan of vegan food (I do so love my cheese!) but Deb of Kahakai Kitchen might just have converted me with this scrumptious Super quick tomato basil ‘cream’ bucatini in which blitzed cashews take the place of dairy to make the sauce rich and creamy:

Super Quick Vegan Tomato Basil "Cream" BucatiniShelby, aka ‘HoneyB’ over at The Life and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch broke with the so-far distinctly European vibe to produce this fabulous east-meets-west fusion of Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce on linguine:

Beef & Broccoli with Black Bean Mushroom Sauce More globe trotting on the pasta front was going on over at Cook.Craft.Enjoy where the order of the day was a Paprika chicken stew with Pierogies – the delicious Polish dumplings that are halfway between ravioli and potato gnocchi:

Chicken Stew with PierogiesJoanne of Eats Well With Others joined in with an inspired healthy-meets-comfort food offering of Broccoli-Basil Mac and Cheese:

Broccoli-Basil Mac and CheeseWith a twist on a classic in a similar vein to Joanne, Ruth of Once Upon A Feast deserves super-praise for contributing not just one, but TWO entries for this week’s round up – her second one being her Insanely Delicious Mac ‘n Cheese with Kale:

Insanely Delicious Mac 'n Cheese with Kale And lastly, but hopefully not least, is my own contribution – an Asian cousin of ravioli – Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce:

← Chili-con-Carne for even the most hardened chilli-phobe (and chilli-lover!) Presto Pasta Nights needs YOU! → Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauceThat’s it!  I’ve loved hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Nights and hope you’ve enjoyed my roundup.  Next week the roundup returns to Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast.

Presto pasta nights

Scotch Bonnet Chilli Caramel (or Jelly)

Scotch bonnet chilli caramelAlthough this site was named Souperior for my love of soup-making, it could very easily have been given a weakly punning title based on one of my other two great food loves – Preserves or Chillies (in fact it was originally going to be called ‘Hooked on Heat’ – until I realised there was a rather fabulous blog called this already!). Every autumn I spend part of most weekends bottling, jamming, canning and pickling a glut of fruit and vegetables, not out of any notion of thrift but for the simple joy of the preserve-making process.

Wherever possible I preserve things picked or foraged from my own garden and surroundings, and this year I have been patiently cultivating two dozen chilli plants of various varieties, and been positively salivating at the possibility of making my own super-fiery chilli sauces and jams. I didn’t pick the best year weather-wise to start growing Capsicum annuum however, and they are only just starting to ripen now – something that has had me chafing at the bit preserve-wise. With the announcement of two food blogger events I very much wanted to take part in – Vanilla Clouds & Lemon DropsSweet Heat Chilli Challenge and A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate’s Homemade & Well Preserved I couldn’t wait any longer, and went out and bought myself a load of stunning jewel-coloured scotch bonnets from my local Caribbean store (where you’ll find them for a fraction of a price of the supermarket packs) to combine with a glut of green tomatoes from a major deforestation in the tomato patch to kill a bout of blight.

The plan was to make a chilli jelly (the green tomatoes don’t contribute much flavour, just a nicely tart pectin-rich juice in which the fruity flavour of the chillies shines through), but it was taking forever to reach the proper heat, I got distracted by some washing up and when I looked back – BOOM – frothing brown caramel everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE – all over the hobs, down the side of the cooker, over the floor – it took me forever to clean it all up!) Disheartened and not a little grumpy I bottled it anyway, and ever-dependable hubby talked me down from my strop long enough to start thinking what I could use three jars of napalm-hot super-sticky caramel for. Well, let me tell you this stuff is so good (once you’ve wrestled it out of the jar) you’ll think you’ve died and gone to chilli heaven.  It’s just perfect to use as a glaze for meat and poultry – warm it in a small pan or add a splash of boiling water to loosen first – before smearing on your meat and roasting, grilling or barbecuing.  I’ve also taken to adding a spoonful or two to my wholewheat bread dough (use it instead of the sugar at the yeast-creaming stage), where it adds a terrific treacly depth, and the heat of the chilli is tempered by the wheat so you get a beautiful warmth rather than blistering heat. You could of course forgo the ultra heat treatment and pull it off the stove at the jelly stage (you’ll need considerably larger jars) in which case it would be a fabulous condiment for cheese & biscuits or cold meats.

Scotch bonnet chilli caramelScotch Bonnet Chilli Caramel (or Jelly)

Makes 3 small jars

2kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped
500ml water
8 scotch bonnet chillies
Caster or granulated sugar (see method for quantity – have at least 1kg in the house)

You will also need: jam thermometer, jelly bag & stand or a large sheet of muslin and some method of suspension, strong glass jars

1. Simmer the tomatoes, water and 5 of the chillies in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or a preserving pan for 35-40 minutes until soft and collapsing.

2. Blitz the fruit with a hand blender, then pour into a jelly bag and leave to strain through overnight (make sure you have a deep jug or bowl underneath it to catch every drop). Resist the urge to squeeze or otherwise force the juice out or the end product will be cloudy.

3. The next day, measure your strained liquid (discard the pulp, ideally into a compost bin), and for every 600ml juice weigh out 450g sugar, and combine juice and sugar in the (clean) large saucepan – it is essential there is plenty of space at the top of the pan as this will bubble and seethe ferociously! Heat slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then pop in a jam thermometer, increase the heat and boil rapidly until it reaches 105˚C/220˚F (for jelly) or 112˚C/235˚F, aka ‘soft ball‘ stage (for caramel).

4. Whilst your sugar is dissolving, wash and sterilise your glass jars either by running through the dishwasher or by rinsing with warm water then placing in a moderate oven until dry and piping hot (place the lids – or rubber seals if using kilner jars – into a jug of freshly boiled water to sterilise them too). Finely chop the remaining chillies, discarding the seeds, and distribute evenly between the sterilised jars. When it is at the correct temperature, pour the chilli goo into the jars but remember: your caramel is hot and your jars are hot – pour it in a tiny bit at a time or it will boil over the tops in seconds. Pop the lids on, label the jars when cool and sit back and enjoy chilli heaven in the coming months!

Homemade & well preservedSweet Heat Monthly Chilli Challenge

Brownie Bake-Off

Another interlude from the layman.

I, perhaps somewhat rashly, promised everyone at work brownies if I got a good response rate to a questionnaire that I sent out. Which is why I spent a Sunday afternoon with the oven on, and the scent of chocolate slowly driving my partner crazy.

As I work for an environmental charity, we have a higher than normal proportion of vegetarians and vegans in the office, so some of the brownies were going to have to be vegan friendly. Emma had also passed me a rather gorgeous sounding brownie and cherry recipe to try out and the idea of the brownie bake-off tool hold. Then to make it more interesting: how do shop bought mixes compare to making brownies completely from scratch? Enter into the ring the brownie mix that I often keep in the cupboard for chocolate emergencies, and a supermarket own brand version and we have a four-way taste test.

The first thing that I noticed is that the supermarket mix and the brand name mix require you to add the same ingredients to the packet mix and in the same quantities, leading me to wonder if there is actually any difference between the two at all! A closer inspection of the ingredients lists for both showed that the brand name mix seemed to have fewer ingredients (and more pronounceable ingredients) than the supermarket equivalent.

The plus side of both the packet mixes was how quick they were to make: mix in water, oil and egg and shove in the oven. Easily done.

I had some problems with the cooking time of the brand packet mix, and it took me a lot longer to cook than instructed, hence why there aren’t as many on the plate…the rest was all stuck to the inside of the tin. But I suspect this is mostly due to me trying to cook the brownies in a loaf tin as they have previously always come out quite well. But hey, in a very small kitchen there will always be limitations.

The vegan brownies were also extremely easy to make. As they don’t use butter or eggs, and use oil instead, it was again quite an easy case of chucking everything in a bowl and giving it a really good stir.

The cherry brownies were always going to be the most complicated, but although definitely more time-consuming than the other three, they were still quite easy. And they’ve left me with a jug of cherry syrup to do something with. I think that might be a great accompaniment to some plain vanilla ice-cream, but I’m open to suggestions.

From the taste perspective, I think one of the most important things with brownies is not to eat them too quickly. No matter how tempting it may be, there’s no point in eating them straight out of the oven, as they won’t have developed that lovely gooeyness until they’ve cooled down and can taste quite spongy before then.

The most noticeable taste difference between all of the brownies is that the packet ones are much sweeter than the home-made ones. This initially gave the impression that they were more chocolatey, but are actually more sickly.

With the two home made ones, I was sensible enough to use baking parchment in the tins, rather than just greasing the tins as I did with the first two. This made it a lot easier to keep the shape of the brownie afterwards, and reduce the losses (although my partner did enjoy getting to eat the bits that got stuck to the tins).

At work, they all seemed to go down well, and I think I’ll be in my colleagues’ good books for a few days. Although I do now feel guilty about not catering for the wheat intolerant in the office. Next time I’ll do something special for them.

Updated to add: the vegan brownies improve with age! Can’t comment on the others, they’ve all gone!

Continue reading “Brownie Bake-Off”

Peperonata con Rigatoni

Update 10/12/10: If you have a little extra time and want to make the peperonata extra silky you might like to take the time to char the skins of the peppers and peel them before slicing. Pop your peppers under a grill or on a gas-burning hob until blackened, then place in a bowl and cover with clingfilm until cool. The skins should just rub off under your fingers – don’t peel them under running water as you’ll lose the lovely charred flavour you’ve imparted in them. This is by no means an essential step, and if you were serving the peperonata as a side dish, or as a topping for crostini (two of its many alternative uses), I wouldn’t bother as the firmer texture you get from the skins is good, but for serving with pasta it makes a real difference.

Peperonata con Rigatoni

A rare one for me – a dish that is not just vegetarian but also vegan-friendly! You could bulk this dish out a little with some tangy salty feta*, but actually it’s one of those rare pasta dishes that really doesn’t need cheese on top. The key is to be bold with the flavours – garlic, chilli and peppers, and to not stint on the olive oil: it adds a luscious taste and texture you just won’t get if you use it miserly.

3 tbsp olive oil
1½ medium onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
200g passata
4 peppers (red, orange or yellow), sliced into strips
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1½ tsp. capers
Basil leaves, a small handful
300-400g rigatoni (depending on how hungry you all are!)

On a medium heat, soften the onions with the olive oil in a large high-sided frying pan. Add the sliced garlic and sweat gently for a minute or two. Add the passata and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir well. Add the peppers and chilli flakes and turn gently to mix without breaking up the pepper strips. Pop a lid on and cook on a medium heat for 20mins, stirring once or twice (again do so gently – you don’t want pepper-mush).

Meanwhile, get a large pot of water on to the boil and salt it generously. Cook the rigatoni in the salted water, according to the packet instructions.

After the peperonata has had its 20mins covered simmer, add the red wine vinegar, taste it for seasoning, and allow it to cook for a further 10minutes with the lid off. Turn off the heat and add the capers (well drained if in brine, rinsed if in oil), and the basil. Drain the pasta and toss with the pepper sauce. Serves 4.

*If you choose this option, I’d recommend the ‘unearthed’ brand of barrel-aged Greek feta, or your nearest cheese shop’s own traditional feta – this recipe won’t benefit from the cheap polystyrene sold as feta in your local one-stop shop or all-night grocers.