Monday, 29 June 2015

Arrival of the Big Green Egg and recipe for smoked mozzarella, broad bean and lovage salad

The Big Green Egg is based on the Japanese 'kamado' ceramic grill design with a vent below. As a result the BGE has incredible heat-retaining properties; a small amount of charcoal will keep it warm for hours and the vent below gives great control over the heat. The Big Green Egg feels to me rather like a BBQ equivalent of my Aga oven, which also produces moist, beautifully cooked food.

The thing itself looks like a dragon's egg; when I'm cooking on it I feel like the khaleesi of the fire tongs! This heavy-weight bit of kit is hugely popular with restaurants, it works as both a smoker and a BBQ.  
Last week I smoked a side of salmon after curing it (recipe in my book Supper Club: recipes and notes from the underground restaurant). I also smoked some mozzarella. Now, I'm not really a huge fan of smoked cheese, I find it too strong, often overpowering, but smoking milder cheeses such as mozzarella works very well.
I paired it with lovage, which grows in my garden. In Sweden you can buy lovage and many unusual herbs in supermarkets, whereas our UK supermarkets stock a very limited range of herbs. Lovage has a slight celery flavour and a pleasing bitterness that matches well with mozzarella. I then added double-podded tender grass green broad beans and finished with lemon juice and hay smoked rapeseed oil. This recipe is gorgeous.

How to smoke in a Big Green Egg

There are three types of smoking: hot smoking, tea smoking and cold smoking. To make smoked salmon for instance, you need cold smoking. This is lighting a very small fire, which doesn't heat up the food but produces enough heat to ignite wood chips and these create the smoke. One can use different kinds of wood to give different flavours of 'smoke': apple, cedar, oak, hickory, olive, to mention a few.

In order to cold smoke, in conjunction with the Big Green Egg, I used a ProQ smoker,(around £35). It is a small square wire 'maze' that you first fill with fine wood chips, then light a candle underneath to ignite the sawdust, finally extinguishing it. I've had a few problems with the ProQ, mainly that it is difficult to get it to stay alight, but I've finally worked out a few techniques. It's essential to use very, very dry, fine wood chips. Sometimes I dry out the sawdust in my Aga oven prior to using the smoker. The ProQ smoker has a tealight candle in one corner to get the sawdust smoking, though I found it necessary to light the centre of the wire 'maze' as well.
I put this on the bottom grill in the BGE and overlaid it with herbs to add even more flavour. The mozzarella took only half an hour to be smoked but a side of salmon would take at least six hours. If smoking fish when the weather is very warm or there is too much heat, you can lay the salmon on tin foil and surround it with ice cubes to bring the temperature down. (There is a temperature gauge in the BGE.)
A second technique is to light 3 or 4 BGE charcoals (you get a bag with it) and overlay the charcoals with wood chips. Make sure that the temperature doesn't rise when cold smoking. If the BGE gets too hot, you are hot smoking rather than cold smoking!

Smoked mozzarella, lovage and broad bean salad recipe

Serves 6

375g or 3 balls of mozzarella, lightly smoked in the Big Green Egg, sliced thickly

3 tbsps of olive oil, or smoked oil
1 kilo of broad beans, podded
2 handfuls of lovage, leaves picked.
Juice of half a lemon
A sprinkling of good sea salt

First, prepare your Big Green Egg and smoke the mozzarella balls by placing them on tin foil and lighting the ProQ filled with sawdust. It should only take half an hour or so. You could also smoke your chosen oil by placing a bowl of it in the BGE.

Put the broad beans into a big pan of salted boiling water. After 2 minutes, strain the broad beans and plunge into cold water.
Then carefully slip off the broad bean skins.
On a large plate, place the slices of mozzarella, the lovage leaves and the broad beans, then dress with the oil and lemon. Finally, sprinkle the sea salt. 

I'm going to be posting vegetarian and other BBQ recipes throughout the summer on my Big Green Egg. I'm in love with it! It's my new baby, albeit green and knobbly. Last week I did some corn on the cobs on the grill and they were so moist yet flavoursome. Check out more vegetarian BBQ recipes here and veggie BBQ dos and don'ts here.

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Friday, 26 June 2015

More vegetarian bbq recipe ideas

Summer time, weather permitting, is barbeque time. I love to cook outside over some kind of fire, it brings out the cavewoman in me. 
Barbeque is the closest to the original cooking, over a fire. As humans we are the only animals that cook; our big brains are due in part to the extra nutrients we get from foods when they are cooked. I maintain it's almost impossible to feel depressed when you are in front of a fire or a BBQ. The primeval essence of fire is life affirming, balancing, grounding.
There are certain nations that have become renowned for barbeque, often New World countries with plenty of land, grazing stock and some sort of cowboy tradition whereby cooking while you roam is a necessity. You will note that I'm spelling the word with a 'q', French-style while the Americans tend to spell it with a 'c' from the Spanish 'barbacoa', the Australians call it a 'barbie', the South Africans use the Afrikaans word 'braai'; but the Argentinians, none of whom ever travel without a grill, for there is always one slung in the boot of their cars, even taxis, as I discovered when travelling in Patagonia, call it an 'asado'.  

So often nobody has any ideas of what to cook for vegetarians and over the next few months I'm going to be giving you ideas on this blog. I also think it's very important that women bbq as well as men and in that vein, I recently gave a masterclass in vegetarian BBQ for bloggers invited to an Argos garden party near Cambridge. Here are some of my tips and rules, dos and don'ts, in this post.

This BBQ took place in gardening author Dawn Isaac's place, I was very envious of her beautiful garden, each section of it like a room in a house, with different moods and uses: a children's garden, a rose covered bower, a vegetable garden, sedum gardens planted in colanders as decoration on tables. 
For this demonstration I made corn on the cobs with compound butter; baked miso aubergines; baby peppers stuffed with halloumi and a pesto glaze and finally, for dessert, barbequed pineapple spears with lime. 

BBQ corn on the cobs with compound butters recipe

Serves 4 

4 fresh corn on the cobs (ideally) or use frozen
150g salted butter
Either maple syrup, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice and chipotle paste 

If your corn on the cob isn't very fresh or very sweet then do boil it in salted sugared (a couple of tbsp of each) water for ten minutes beforehand. This is a Caribbean BBQ trick that works very well. Kids love corn on the cob.
Compound butters are flavoured butters and couldn't be easier to make while at the same time adding a cheffy element to the dish.
I made a maple syrup, a sweet chilli, and a lime and chipotle butter. Take room temperature salted butter and spoon or mash in the flavourings that you want. For instance I added 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to 150g of softened butter, then wrapped it in cling film until ready to use. For the sweet chilli, I added 2 tbsp of sweet chilli sauce to 150g of softened butter. For the lime and chipotle, I added juice of half a lime to half a teaspoon of chipotle paste to 150g of softened butter. If you want the flavours to be stronger, simply add more.
These butters melted over the grilled corn on the cob boosts flavour. 
If you have corn on the cobs complete with husks, soak the cob in water for 30 minutes prior to grilling. This will prevent the cob from cooking too fast. It will take about 15 minutes, turning frequently.
If you have frozen or other cobs, then you can either cook them in foil or brush them with oil and cook over a less hot portion of the BBQ, you don't want the corn to burn, you want it to caramelise and become smokey with flavour. This should take about ten minutes.

Baby peppers stuffed with halloumi and a pesto glaze recipe

Feeds 5 as a starter or side

10 baby peppers in red, orange, yellow, split in half lengthways and deseeded. Keep stems on.
Olive oil
Sea salt
1 pack (200g) of halloumi cheese cut into small strips
4 tbsp of pesto sauce, either fresh, home-made or jarred

One toddler at this Argos BBQ adored these, I was suddenly his new best friend as he kept coming back for more. These are sweet peppers not the spicy ones, although you could do it with fresh jalapeño peppers or padron peppers if you want a bit of kick.
Brush the peppers halves with olive oil and scatter a little sea salt.
Then press a small strip of halloumi into each half.
Drizzle with pesto.
Grill on foil over the BBQ for around 15 to 20 minutes depending on how hot the grill is. Serve immediately.

Baby aubergines, basted with miso sauce recipe

Serves 2 to 6 as a side or canapé

A pack of baby aubergines (350g is a pack of 6) cut in half, stem retained. (You can also use large aubergines)
2 tbsp of toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp of sweet white miso (but I have also used dark barley miso to good effect)
2 tbsp of rice wine or sherry
2 tbsp of mirin
2 tbsp of brown sugar
2 tbsp of sesame seeds

Criss cross with a knife the white side of the aubergine half. Brush the sesame oil on the white side.
Place the rest of the ingredients in a small pan and warm until amalgamated. This creates a sticky sweet rich sauce. Baste this on top of the aubergine halves, the white side. 
Then place the halves in foil and grill for half an hour.
Serve warm garnished with sesame seeds if you like.

Grilled pineapple spears with lime and palm sugar recipe

Serves 8

1 pineapple, cut lengthways into quarters then eights, keep the green top on if possible because it looks cooler that way
2 limes cut in quarters
8 tsps of palm sugar (if the sugar is hard, microwave it for a minute, it will soften, this trick works for brown sugar too)

Grill the pineapple directly on the BBQ until a little charcoaled around the edges. Then remove, squeeze over the lime and cut a shard shards of palm sugar onto each pineapple spear. Serve warm. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Swedish midsummer supper club with Linn Soderstrom

One hand-made flower and leaf crown for each guest to wear
Home made aquavit with caraway and fennel
Knackebrod with vasterbotten and kalix roe (from the Arctic circle)
Devilled eggs with skagen prawns
3 types of pickled herring: creamy, pickled, and sandalwood with bowls of sour cream, red onion and chives, boiled potatoes.
Home-smoked salmon
Home-cured salmon with tarragon and fennel from my garden
Potato salad with mustard dill sauce
Charred asparagus spears with grilled lemon and hay smoked oil
Fruit soups: blueberry and rose hip with rosewater with cinnamon bun biscotti
Strawberry, white chocolate cake with whipped cream

It can be a lonely life that of a supper club hostess and chef. You haven't got the team and camaraderie that you do in a restaurant. Most of the time it's just you: you doing the shopping and ordering, you doing all the prep, you laying the table, you cleaning the toilet before guests come so that they don't realise what a slob you are generally, you cooking all the food, every single course, you clearing the table, you doing the washing up, you putting everything away, you doing the laundry, ironing the tablecloths and napkins, you... on your own when everybody has gone home, rubbing your sore feet because you forgot to drink water, going through the evening in your head to review any mistakes, smile at successes. Just you.
This weekend was the most fun I've had in ages: I got to celebrate the Swedish midsummer meal with a Stockholm supper club hostess Linn Soderstrom. We've worked together before on the ill-fated Global Feast project in 2012 (don't ask, it was awful) and I was keen for us to do this again.
Linn has been working as a chef in restaurants since she was 19. She's only 29 now but is a veteran of kitchens. It was so cool to discuss food with a fellow obsessive, to brain storm dishes and ideas, to have a laugh with someone, to piss about in the garden making garlands for our guests while I practised my Swedish, to dress up in traditional Swedish outfits, wear clogs and play Abba.
I've just got my Big Green Egg and together Linn and I broached its virginity by smoking a side of home-cured salmon in it. I was taught how to make pickled herrings from scratch with Attika vinegar. I learnt how to culture butter. I got a few new tricks for curing fish.
I've come to the conclusion that I AM SWEDISH. My name Kerstin is Swedish. I've always fancied Swedish men. I like pickled herring. I identify as Swedish. I'm ...transwedish.
Here is the evening in pictures.