Dandelion Cordial or Sweet/Sour Sauce

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Now is the time to get out and make this simple delicious dandelion recipe. In the spring dandelions are plentiful and I make a huge batch of this dandelion infusion which you can use as a cordial to add to water or cocktails (a little in a gin and tonic is AMAZING!!). And I actually use this infusion as a sweet and sour sauce to finish a dish of tofu cooked wrapped in seaweed, served with pickled apple and this beautiful fresh dandelion sauce (see image above).

The dandelion infusion is acidic, bright, fresh and floral. In my example above it offers contrast to the salty tofu and it is delicate enough to work as part of a small savoury dish.

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I’ll give the detailed recipe below but I’ll talk you through the stages first.

To make the dandelion infusion first you need to pick a boat load of dandelions. April and May is perfect for this in the UK. Try and find places to pick them away from the roads and also not frequented my dog walkers. I got mine this year from an overgrown field off the beaten track a bit where they had been left undisturbed. It is also best to get your dandelions about midday as the flowers will start to close up again in the evening.

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Once you have collected your dandelions you need to prepare the liquid that they will infuse into and let his cool (see recipe bellow). This cold infusion is important as infusing in a hot liquid would loose some of the delicate flavour from the dandelion.

Next you pick the petals out of the dandelion heads that you have collected. This is laborious and will stain your hands like turmeric, but the results are going to be ace so stick with it!

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Now it is just a case of letting your dandelion petals infuse in the liquid at room temperature for 48 hour. Then you can strain the liquid and store it in the fridge, or freeze it for longer term storage.

Check out the full recipe bellow and I hope you enjoy it.

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Recipe

75g Picked dandelion petals (from approx 150g dandelion heads)
500g Caster sugar
1 Litre water
30g Citric acid
Juice and zest of 4 lemons

Pick the yellow petals from the dandelion heads and throw away the rest of the head (this is laborious but necessary). You want 75g petals.

Combine the sugar, citric acid, water, lemon zest and juice and bring to a simmer.

Allow this to cool

Add the petals to the cooled liquid and allow to infuse at room temperature for 48 hours, then strain and bottle or freeze the cordial.

Kitchen Lab & The Robot Cook

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* Pic - One of the dishes I made for with Mat from Kitchen Lab to demonstrate uses of the Robot Cook *

This post is a snapshot of some of the creative work that I do as a development chef and consultant … and I’ve stuck in a wee recipe at the end too.

One part of what I do as a chef is to consult with restaurant suppliers, ingredients or equipment companies etc and I wanted to show a little of what that consists of on the blog. So having recently had the pleasure of a visit from Mat who runs ‘Kitchen Lab UK’, that seemed like a great example to write a little about.

Kitchen Lab is a relatively new UK restaurant supplier focused on high quality professional kitchen products. I’ve worked with Mat before on various things going back over a few years and we did some consultation for Waitrose cookery school together not too long ago. Its great to get to work with people like Mat who are passionate and fun, and I find that those are the working relationships that last and bloom.

Mat wanted to do some work together using the new ‘Robot Cook’ (a new machine from Robot Coupe) and also using some of the ‘Special Ingredients’ products (Special Ingredients are another company I work work closely with and will feature in future blogs I’m sure). The focus of our session together this time was to put the Robot Cook through its paces, give it a good testing and write some recipes and techniques showing off what it does.

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* Pic - Measuring ingredients during the recipe writing and testing *

The selling point of the Robot Cook is that it blends or stirs but can also heat food up 140C with accuracy to within one degree. Mat had already tested out making soups and puree’s in it so I wanted to look at its temperature control specifically by focusing on precision dessert work. We stated with chocolate tempering which worked great. I thought this would be a really good test of the machines temperature control and ease of use, and something that chefs and potential buyers would be interested in. Once I got used to how the machine works it was easy to neatly temper chocolate by setting it to the desired temperatures in sequence. I made some chocolate decorations which you can see in the picture at the top of this post.

Then we made a few different gels and puree’s using different ingredients - agar, carageenan, xanthan gum, ultratex etc etc - all made entirely in the Robot Cook. Aswell as making a couple of different light ‘Airs’ with lecithin and also powdered chocolate using ‘Zorbit’ maltodextrin. The idea being to construct a couple of properly delicious desserts but also to pack in as many examples of techniques with the Special Ingredients products as possible.

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* Pic - Lining up some of the ingredient we would work with *


Over the morning the thing I was most pleased with myself about was that a hunch I had about using the Robot Cook to caramelised white chocolate worked out better than I could of hoped. I wanted to do something that utilised the fact that the machine could heat up to 140C and I figured that trying to caramelised white chocolate was a good bet. The most common method for caramelising white chocolate that people use is to roast it in the oven, but a couple of years ago I found out I could get a more consistent result and make much larger batches by cooking white chocolate sous vide for longer periods of time while it slowly browns. This is because it isn’t truly caramelisation that is taking place but a Maillard reaction which gives you the browning and caramel flavours. You can read much more about my technique and the science of it HERE so I won’t get bogged down in it in this post. So I figured if I could caramelise white chocolate sous vide at 90C in a few hours then I could hopefully do it in the Robot Cook at 140C in much less time. In the end the result was better than we could of hoped, the white chocolate was continually stirred in the machine stopping it from risking burning, and after just 20 minutes we had this beautifully caramelised white chocolate. Thats pretty cool and its great to have an idea work out so well first try.

To put a few techniques together I made a caramelised white chocolate panna cotta set with iota and kappa carageenan, then we garnished this with the tempered dark chocolate (sprayed a metallic blue) and paired it with a rose air and fresh orange. This was pretty good first go and after a bit of fine tuning a pretty cracking modern dessert.

The second dessert we made also uses a number of techniques (I won’t go into full detail to keep this short) and is based around coconut cherry and dark chocolate, a flavour combination I’m really fond of.

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* Pic - The Cherry, Coconut and Dark Chocolate Dish *

At the end of our morning together we had given the Robot Cook a really good test, written a bunch of recipes and made and photographed a couple of really smart modern desserts. This sort of work I really enjoy and I’m glad I get to do. I’m picky about the projects I take on and who I work with because I have so little free time I only want to work on interesting things, and sessions like this are a good example I think of working hard at something but the process being a pleasure.

This blog has now gone on longer than I meant it too, and future posts are likely to be shorter, but here to finish off is the simple caramelised white chocolate panna cotta recipe we worked on that day.

150g Caramelised White Chocolate
200g Single Cream
50g Caster Sugar
0.6g Kappa Carrageenan
0.3g Iota Carrageenan

First make the caramelised white chocolate using your preferred method (we made it in the Robot Cook but you can do it Sous Vide or in the oven)
Next combine all the ingredients in a pan and heat to a simmer. 
Hold the mixture at this heat for two minutes. Then simply pour the mix out into dishes and allow it to set. 

I hope you enjoyed the post and found it interesting :)



Handmade Service Pieces & Knives

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I thought I'd write a quick post as I'm currently having a 6 week break in my underground restaurant
'The Walled Gardens'. I use this time to do some creative work on new dishes & ideas and to work on other projects before I am super busy with prep and various deadlines again soon. I’ll put some of the last menus recipes up on here soon I hope.

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Small homemade service pieces made of iridescent glass that I cut and sanded then built small bases for. I use these small plinths to serve one of the early courses in the tasting menu on.

One of the projects I've enjoyed in the past is making some of my own service pieces. This is partly out of financial necessity - I don't have the budget of a restaurant to get the sort of interesting service pieces I might like to buy. But also because I think it adds an extra element to the meals for me to serve some dishes on pieces that I have made myself. A dinner at The Walled Gardens should feel very personal I hope. I cook and serve all the food myself, and using various homemade service pieces feels like an interesting way to add to that senses of connection between myself and the guests aswell as making the evenings a touch more unique.

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Bergamot and Juniper Chocolates served on a simple homemade service piece made from a slate base and iridescent plastic.

I also like the fact that this plays to the strengths of working on as small scale (serving just 8 guests a night). I always strive for the food I serve to be of the highest possible standard and it is very often favourably compared by guests to Michelin starred restaurants they have dined at. There are always things that would be easier for me to do in a larger restaurant with dedicated trained staff but that is part of the challenge. And one benefit of being small is that I can do some things that a larger restaurant would just find impossible - the chef meeting every single guest and personally serving them, being able to allow people to freely walk into the kitchen anytime they feel during the meal to ask questions or watch what is going on, and having all the food made by just one pair of hands. And I like the fact I can extend this to being able to serve some courses on service pieces, however simple, that I have made myself.DSC_3669

Dish using a cork as its base with a small hole drilled into it so I can place herbs into the cork and then stand a small one bite dish within the herbs. This allows an interesting way to add aroma to a dish from the herbs as well as a visual clue to the flavours within the dish. Here we have apple infused with calvados and thyme, topped with caramelised soy milk puree and blueberry glass.

This is an aspect of The Walled Gardens I really enjoy and that keeps things creatively interesting for me - learning new skills and augmenting the uniqueness of the experience. And this DIY personalisation is something I decided I wanted to explore further by trying to build myself a set of my own chefs knives. I’d read a blog post by Allen Hemberger (who wrote the excellent Alinea Project blog & book) where Allen describes making his own knife from scratch and this inspired me to look into it myself.

Initially I was very ambitious and wanted to try cutting my own knife blade from a square piece of Damascus steel billet, then shape and heat treat it before building my knife. But after more in-depth research and some first basic attempts I decided this is essentially beyond my skills if I want to make something high quality that I will genuinely use as one my main tools in my kitchen. So I’ve decided to try my hand at a simpler version.

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My stabilised wood, cut and ready to make the handle for one of my knives

In the end what I have opted to try to do is to build my own knife set but do this using the easier option of buying high quality, Japanese hammered Damascus steel blade blanks. So I don't have to cut or temper my own blade but I will get to make my handles from stabilised wood which I will cut, afix and shape until I have something I can feel I constructed with my own hands but that should be in the same class of quality as the professionally made Japanese knives I already own.



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The Yaxell Ran Chefs knife I was kindly sent to test

In the mean time I have been generously sent a beautiful Yaxell Ran Chefs knife to try by the people at Steamer Trading Cookshop (www.steamer.co.uk). They are the sole UK retailer of Yaxell and it was good timing to give this knife a go as I’m a fan of Japaneese knives but hadn’t used Yaxell before. It is a high quality Japanese Damascus steel knife, made in Seki Japan by craftsmen from a sword making tradition. The Ran chefs knife actually has more of a western chefs knife feel than most of my other Japanese knives and this 25.5cm version is a little larger than what I would usually use, especially for fiddly work, but I've found it great for larger jobs and it has been perfect for times I've needed to make batches of things. It's super sharp as you'd expect and sharpens well on a ceramic steel so I’m sure I’ll get good use out of it for a long time. My own knives I’m building are set to be a little smaller but using the Yaxell at the moment sets the bar nice and high for the quality I want to achieve with my own handmade set.

I’ll check back in here with progress I make on this and other projects and hopefully write more about some of the projects behind the scenes like this that make up part of the experience eating at The Walled Gardens. I’ll also try and pop some recipes from the last menu on here soon.

Thanks to
Steamer Trading Cookshop for sending me the Yaxell to to try.



Walled Gardens Srping 2016 Video




Having trouble viewing this video? Click HERE to view an alternative mobile friendly version

A video showing the tasting menu as it is at the moment for Spring 2016

Edible Cocktails

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Above - ‘Death in the Afternoon’ Edible cocktail inspired by Hemingways cocktail of Absinthe and Champagne, this version features powdered absinthe and carbonated grapes.


Edible Cocktails
& some other press from the weekend.

This weekend I was pleased to find out I was being featured on the Guardians
‘Word of Mouth’ blog for the Edible cocktails I serve and did a cook book of, and then also was featured on the cover of The Independent with my modernised nut roast recipe inside.

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Above - ‘G&T’ Gin and Tonic Meringue served with an aromatic infusion of Juniper & Coriander

You can read the Guardian piece
HERE.
It covers edible cocktails made by myself and a number of other chefs. I serve a couple of these small dishes inspired by cocktails or alcohol at the start of my tasting menu. I also produced and ebook focused on Edible Cocktails (more info
HERE).

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Above - ‘Sake Blossom’ Dish inspired by the Sake cocktail featuring Peach and Rose.

Then I was also pleasantly surprised to be featured on the cover of The Independent newspaper on Saturday with my modernised nut roast recipe inside.

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Above - The front cover

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Above - In good company in the paper

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Above - The modernised nut roast I developed for Vodafone’s christmas ad campaign. More info HERE

Vodafone Modernised Nut Roast

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This is the dish I developed for Vodafone as part of their christmas advertising campaign. They wanted a modernised version of a nut roast to accompany their run of TV ads.

You can see the full recipe, videos and more info on their blog
HERE