Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Recipe: white chocolate cherry rum blondies

White Chocolate Cherry Rum Blondies
This weekend I was sent an enormous box of giant juicy Kordia cherries by Adventures in Fruit. Saturday, Sunday and Monday I ate a kilo a day by myself: I had purple stained fingers and lips but I just couldn't stop. It got to the point that I wouldn't have enough cherries left over to create a recipe.
Cherries were introduced to Britain ever since Henry VIII tasted them in Flanders but the genus (related to plums) originally came from Anatolia/Central Turkey where cherries are so common that they juice them. Unfortunately, they tend to be very expensive in the UK and the season is short. These Kordia cherries are particularly sweet with shiny dark burgundy skins. It is almost a shame to cook them when they taste so brilliant eaten raw.
In Russia (and I did this for my Russian supper club a few years ago) they often pair a sour cherry sauce with white fish such as sturgeon. Cherries, sometimes dried and salted, are widely used in Persian cuisine.
I generally include at least one cherry recipe in my cookbooks, sometimes with a combination of sweet and sour cherries. One of my favourite recipes in MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party is the sour cherry baked alaska/artic roll plus a cherry brandy concoction. I also include another blondie recipe in the book, which was so successful with tasters that I've decided to develop a white chocolate cherry blondie with a hint of rum. Think of a black forest gateau after it has snowed.
Blondies are brownies' fun, slightly lower-class sister.  I'm not a chocolate snob - I adore white chocolate, which isn't really chocolate at all but some kind of chocolate lard. Anyway, you'll LOVE this recipe. You can leave the stems on if you like, I did both, but make sure you pit the cherries using a cherry pitter or a sharp knife, you don't want dentistry bills.
Kordia Cherries

White Chocolate Cherry Rum Blondies recipe

Level: Easy
Takes 30 minutes to prepare and 40 minutes to bake.
Makes 12

20 cm square pan or brownie pan.

120g of soft room temperature butter (salted or unsalted), cubed
250g soft brown sugar
2 capfuls of rum
1 large egg, beaten
125g plain white flour
1 tsp of vanilla salt (or 1/2 tsp of vanilla paste and 1/2 tsp of salt)
200g of good quality white chocolate, chopped up roughly
200g of Kordia cherries, stoned, cut into quarters, some can be left whole with the stems left on. (These are currently available at Marks and Spencer).

Butter and flour the tin. In a stand mixer or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the rum, beat again. Add the egg, beat again. Then tip in the flour and thoroughly mix. Add the vanilla salt then the white chocolate. Prepare the cherries by using a pitter or cutting them in half and prising out the stone.
Preheat the oven to 180ºc.
Pour the mixture into the pan, patting it so that it is spread evenly. Then push in the cherries at intervals into the blondie mixture. If using some whole pitted cherries, leave the stalks sticking out. The cherries will slightly poke above the mixture, but don't worry the mix will rise during baking.
The reason I'm adding the cherries last minute is that they are so juicy that they stain the batter. If you don't mind purple blondies you can put them in the mixing bowl/stand mixer with the rest of the ingredients! But I think the blondies are more attractive when the cherries are added afterwards.
Put the pan in the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. You want them quite squidgy so don't overbake but the mixture will firm up once it cools.
Cut into squares and serve!

Rum Sugar recipe

150g of soft brown sugar (or more, make the quantity you want)
50ml of rum (or more, if you like it stronger)

Rather than adding rum to the recipe you can infuse the sugar with rum or any alcohol. Spread the sugar (preferably brown) on to a baking try covered with parchment paper or a silpat and sprinkle it with rum. Bake on a low heat (not over 150c) for half an hour. Then remove from the oven and let it cool. Use the parchment paper or silpat to funnel the alcohol flavoured sugar into a jar. Keeps indefinitely.

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Anarchy and Natural Wine in the South of France

Wine pvnx/collectif anonyme, Port Vendres, France. Natural wine makers
Regular and longtime readers of this blog will know that I've always been attracted to political activism, particularly in the anarchist vein. Anarchism is often misunderstood: it is used as an analogy for chaos, disorganisation, everybody just doing what they feel like doing. It's just the opposite. Anarchists tend to do things by consensus, after discussion, everything is decided upon via votes of the majority. Anarchism, such as I've lived it, is incredibly organised: I lived in a temporary anarchist community in Stirling during the anti-G8 protests. They set up an entire 'city' with recycling, water, different community kitchens, compost toilets, entertainment and meetings every morning for thousands of people.
There are some anarchist communities in France that I visited when I lived there in 2005/6: the Longo Mai commune in Haute Provence where members are paid a weekly allowance, they grow their own food, have a radio station, to mention just a few of their activities. My daughter made friends with some of the children there. We spent Christmas at an abandoned mining town La Vieille Valette near Alès, a place that looks as if it were designed by the writer of Gormenghast; carved stone buildings with stained glass windows snailing a trail up the mountainside, a communal kitchen around a wood burning stove upon which hummed an everlasting coffee pot and where I enjoyed the best honey and home-made bread I've ever eaten, collected and made by the inhabitants. I spent a few days translating documents for a city commune in Toulouse with animated discussions and great food. I regularly visited Les Tanneries in Dijon, which has its own film library and tech savvy guys who can code, I remember watching them write fluently in sci-fi computer languages.
Anarchists are self-sufficient. If ISIS drops an atomic bomb on our decadent western civilisation, these are the people we will learn from if everything goes to shit. I suppose I'm also attracted to that kind of community because a one woman, one child team doesn't feel like quite enough family in a world of nuclear units.

Anarchists and Food

It's self-evident that hippies loved food, growing things, eating organically, introducing other influences such as Asian and South American ingredients into their diets. Hippies taught India and Nepal how to cook for travellers. The tea shops in Kathmandu with giant foot-high cakes attest to that. But it is less well known that punk anarchists love good food and, being interested in the DIY attitude to life, will take the time to find out how something is made from scratch.
All this preamble is by way of introducing you to an interesting group of winemakers - Collectif Anonyme - that I originally met at RAW wine fair, organised by Natural wine pioneer Isabelle Legeron, in London earlier this summer. There was this one really hunky tall tanned guy with cool tats and even cooler wine. He mentioned that he was part of a cooperative in the South of France, I said I was driving around there this summer, so he invited me to stop by. Deal!

"We are an anonymous collective but each of our wines are very personal" says Kris, the Australian 30 something who has been working in the wine industry for several years 'chasing the vendange' around France. He doesn't come from a wine background, not even in Australia but was invited to Banyuls with his then girlfriend Julia for the harvest and got hooked.
"Why Banyuls?" I asked.
"The land is affordable. Plus it has the best wine because of a great combination of beaches and mountains. One parcel costs between 15, 000 euros and 25,000 euros. This is our third year and we are finally breaking even. 2011 was our first year, we sold our grapes to the local cooperative. In 2012 when we made our first own wine, and we were still working part-time to finance this. Our parcels of land are based on the metayage system, which are medieval tithes, dating from Roman times, still going in France." A 'metayage' means you give 1/7th of the crop to the owner. A fermage means you give 1/5th of the profit to the owner.
Wine pvnx/collectif anonyme, Port Vendres, France. Natural wine makers

The cooperative Collectif Anonyme

There are four members currently: Kris, his present girlfriend Haida from Germany; Jackie, a British mother who has recently joined and his ex-girlfriend Julia from Germany. They are all aged between their late twenties and early forties. At the moment they take a salary of 500 euros a month and live in caravans on site.
"That's what I've always wanted" says Kris "to live among the vines". 
The work is hard, back breaking even, everything has to be done by hand. The vineyards around Banyuls are all on steep terraces, with a 45% gradient on average, so machinery is out of the question. The terroir contains shale which gives minerology to the wines. The soil is acidic however and they've spent the last three years converting to organic. "Traditionally vegetables were grown on good land and wines on crap land." Wines grow better in poor soil. They have chosen to grow wines on north facing slopes; long term, they feel this is a better choice taking climate change into account.
"Has it been difficult to start your own business in France?" I ask.
 "No it's been great. The government have helped us with a grant 'l'aide d'installation' for the under 40s. We also got a subvention from the European Union." enthuses Kris. "and we are covered by French law as a social enterprise"
The collectif anonyme wine is now certified organic, Banyuls sur mer, France


As a non-hierarchical cooperative, they don't believe in the cult of the personality, which is why they are anonymous and do not allow their faces to be photographed.

Low Tech and Hand Made

Much of their equipment was bought at Le Bon Coin, a French version of Gumtree. They age their wine in hand-me-down oak barrels that have had four or five wines in before. They don't use carbonic maceration, preferring 'whole grape' (with stems) fermentation which is less tannic and more elegant. Their wines are full bodied and high in alcohol, 14 to 15% "but you could drink a whole bottle of our wine and not feel drunk. We like to keep everything low tech. We press wines with our feet, the old way."
"We only use a tiny amount of sulphite, a 2g tablet  so in total our wines have between 7 and 11 mg of sulphites as compared to normal wine which has up to 180mg. Even organic wines are allowed up to 130mg of sulphite."
Each of their parcels grow a different grape: Carignan, Grenache noir, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris. All of their wines are suitable for vegans.
Melting wax to seal wine bottles, Wine pvnx/collectif anonyme, Port Vendres, France. Natural wine makers

Goals for the future

Wine Pvnx would like to expand into magnums and sell natural wine by the glass. Wine ages better in a magnum. Along with their natural low-tech approach they use cork, sustainably grown in Portugal and seal the bottles with wax by hand; Kris believes this is best with alcoholic maceration, they want to encourage a little bit of oxygenation. Every year is unique: they clean everything down each year. And every year they grow bigger: they produced 6,000 bottles in the first year, between 4 and 5,000 bottles in the second year; 9,000 bottles in the 3rd year (2014) and this year, 2015, they plan to produce between 14 and 15,000 bottles. All of their wines cost 18 euros a bottle and the sweet wines, more like a classic Banyuls sweet wine, costs 24 euros. They sell to France, Germany, Denmark, Austria and Belgium. Ultimately they would like more partnerships with restaurants, their wines match well with food.

Wines for the techno/rave generation

I tasted their whole range while gathered around a barrel outside their cave, eating an impromptu cheese and bread dinner. I was frankly so pissed (despite Kris claiming the wines aren't very alcoholic) that by the end that I couldn't even drive and had to sleep in the car, much to my daughters cold seething disgust. We had a massive row in the morning because of my drunken snoring and the mosquitos. I slept blissfully through the whole thing. You can tell this is not a lifestyle blog eh? Do you think Deliciously Ella ever sleeps in the car, too shit-faced to prop up her perfect body and do a doe-eyed selfie? Anyway I'm not a spitter outter and I'm also a cheap date so I think I'd pledged ever-lasting love to each and every member of Wine Pvnx during the course of the tasting. I was literally slobbering over them. Needless to say I really liked their wines. They are heavy, powerful, big wines that in some ways remind me of my childhood trips to France. They possess an elegant rusticity that is right up my street.
The range of Natural wines from Wine pvnx/collectif anonyme, Port Vendres, France. Natural wine makers
As most of these wines were made in small quantities only a few are available to buy on their site. Kris describes them as wines for the rave/techno generation. Many of the names and label artwork are inspired by music.
Iles dans le ciel. 2013: Grenache noir, grenache gris, bit of Carignan. Sweet, tannic.
CA Rouge: 2014. Only 220 bottles made. 15%. Carignan, grenache noir.
Big Rock Candy Mountain 2014 16% alcohol. Sweet, deep red in the style of the local Banyuls wine. Macerated in french oak barrels. Grenache noir, grenache gris.
Monstrum 2013 This is naturally sweet with no added alcohol. 16% alcohol. Hand-pressed.

Available soon:
Beau Oui comme Bowie. 2015 Syrah and a little bit of Grenache Noir.
Xtrmntr 2015:
1 +1+3 2015.
Wine pvnx/collectif anonyme, Port Vendres, France. Natural wine makers

Friday, 24 July 2015

Water and milk kefir and how to make it

making water kefir

Water kefir
Fermentation is big nowadays. I've been banging on about it for at least five years, in particular the work of Sandor Ellix Katz also known as @sandorkraut from whose book 'Wild Fermentation' I learnt to make sauerkraut, my own vinegar and other fermented foods.

Fermentation is good for you. 

Bread made with a sourdough mother is easier on the digestion than one made with industrial yeast, possessing the added bonus of tasting delicious. Wine made naturally with a fermentation method, championed by Natural wine expert Isabelle Legeron has less sulphites, meaning you won't get a hangover. Sauerkraut, raw sauerkraut, chopped, punched down and naturally fermented is a health aid as made by Cultured Probiotics. Kimchi is another fermented product, beloved of Koreans. Here is a recipe for Kimchi. 
In the past fermentation was a way of preserving fresh foods to last through the the winter: pickles, cheese, coffee, chocolate, tea, tomato paste, are all fermented foods. They are fermented using a process called lactic acid, a culture that slows down rotting, transforming sugars into an easily digestible sour. I like sour foods: think of the sourness of yoghurt, some fruits, of alcohol, bread and pickles. Sour is an adult flavour but kids also like sour, see the trend for sour sweets.
Turkey, Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, Russia, Iran all use sour flavours and pickles in their cuisines. Kefir is also international: think of the differing cuisines that use yoghurt dips, soups and drinks.
There are different types of kefir: water kefir and milk kefir.  The grains look a bit like white cauliflower: after buying (or getting some grains from a friend) a starter pack you can grow your own, they proliferate by themselves. Water kefir lives on sugar and minerals.

Things that kefir is good for:

  • Candida and Thrush
  • Restoring gut bacteria after taking antibiotics
  • Inflammation (most disease has its origin in inflammation)
  • Cancer (my dad has recently suffered bladder cancer & a vegan diet plus kefir means he has been given the all clear)
  • Autism (there is evidence that autism stems from gut bacteria. I attended a talk in which the woman from Cultured Probiotics, who has two autistic children, enabled them to achieve high functioning because of daily doses of kraut water/sauerkraut)
  • Vegans/vegetarians: kefir contains B vitamins

It is also refreshing and delicious.

Citrus water kefir recipe

Makes 1 litre

2 x 1 litre clean Mason or Ball jars with a loose fitting lid, coffee filter paper or cheesecloth over the top, secured with an elastic band
A nylon strainer (not metal)

Use organic sugar for this, white sugar gives a sweeter kefir which is less bubbly. Do not use honey, it contains anti-bacterials. Use chlorine free water (filtered or mineral).

3 tbsps of sugar
250ml hot water
Half/quarter of a lemon/grapefruit/orange/lime

In a Mason or Ball jar put the sugar and 250ml of hot water. Allow the sugar to melt. Then add:

750ml of filtered water.

Make sure the water is now cool or at the most luke warm (hot water kills yeast cultures) and add:

3 tbsps of water kefir grains also available here.

Cover the jar to prevent insects getting in.
Allow to ferment at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours. The hotter the room temperature, the quicker it will ferment. Stop the fermentation when it tastes good to you. If starting off, it may take a couple of batches for the kefir to fully activate.
Then, using the nylon strainer, strain out the kefir grains and throw away the citrus. Place the kefir grains into the other litre Mason or Ball jar and start again. This way you have a continual supply of water kefir. You can use this recipe to make coconut water kefir but replacing the water with coconut water and not using the citrus.

The second fermentation

To make a really fizzy drink you need to do a second fermentation. At this point you can add  other ingredients, including alcohol. You can use other fruit, green tea, dates, juniper, ginger, vanilla or lemon (which is lovely with gin, giving a gin and tonic flavour). The secondary fermentation  is a great summer replacement for sugary fizzy drinks/sodas.
Use fliptop bottles and keep in the fridge to slow down fermentation.

Per 75cl bottle:

Add 1 tbsp of sugar and fill the bottle, leaving a 1.5 inch (3-5 cm gap) at the top, with the strained water kefir.

Seal and keep in the fridge. After a couple of days it will be fizzy pop!

What to do with the strained water kefir grains:

  • Start a new batch of kefir straight away or
  • Keep them in sugar water where they will multiply: 50g sugar to 1 litre of water
  • Then keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Change the sugar water before using them again.
  • To keep them for longer periods, rinse them then lay the grains out to dry on paper and dehydrate them in a dehydrator or in the sun. 
  • You can freeze the grains
  • Eat them in a smoothie
  • If you only want to make kefir occasionally then use kefir powder.
  • If kefir grains are well kept, they will last indefinitely.

Water kefir grains

Milk kefir recipe

This time we are using milk kefir grains. Recently I've been ordering a weekly bottle of kefir from Riverford Organics which comes in my vegetable box. Once I've drunk the kefir, I top the bottle up with milk, leave it for a few hours at room temperature and I have a second batch! However this is a recipe on how to make your own dairy kefir from scratch. It's even easier than the water kefir.

Makes up to a litre but I'm assuming you want to start with smaller quantities like 250ml

2 x clean 250ml to a litre Mason or Ball jars
1 nylon strainer
A wooden/rubber/plastic spoon or spatula
Coffee filter/tightly woven cheesecloth/loose fitting lid
Rubber band

2 tsps of milk kefir grains 
250ml to 1 litre of whole organic cow or goat milk.

1) Place the kefir grains into the clean litre jar. Fill up the jar with the milk. Cover the jar with the coffee filter/cheesecloth/loose fitting and put the rubber band on, if appropriate, to retain the cover. Leave for 24-48 hours at room temperature at which point the milk will have thickened into a buttermilk or drinking yoghurt texture. This can be used over cereal or porridge, on its own, in baking. Do not heat milk kefir. If you let the kefir ferment for longer it will separate into curds and whey. You can use the curds as kefir cheese or stir it back together again. The longer it is fermented the stronger the taste.
2) Strain out the milk kefir grains using the sieve into another clean jar and start the process again.
3) You can push the kefir liquid through the strainer by using a non metal spoon or spatula.

These dairy kefir grains can be used to make soy/almond/nut milk kefir but without the milk proteins, the dairy kefir 'grains' soon die if not returned regularly to milk to be fed and to grow.