WARNING THIS IS A RECIPE FOR SERIOUSLY ADDICTIVE CHEESY NIBBLES
This is a very simple recipe to produce mouth-watering, addictive bar snacks or party nibbles, puff pastry Cheese Straws. Unlike American cheese straws when a flavoured cheese pastry is piped on to baking trays, these straws are made with puff pastry. Puff pastry, as I posted previously, is one of those items where I think the shop bought item is pretty damn good and you are hard pressed to make such a uniform pastry at home. That is what makes this Cheese Straws recipe really easy peasy, they are great for parties or as a garnish for French Onion soup instead of the classic toasted croute, but be warned make a seriously generous amount as you will eat loads of these.
Preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C / Gas mark 5. On a clean floured worktop roll out your pastry into a rectangle about one eighth on an inch thick. Whisk the egg and milk together and brush over half the pastry. Cover with three quarters of the Cheddar and Parmesan and a generous sprinkle of paprika and black pepper. Fold over the other half of the pastry and roll out again until just over half a centimeter of an inch thick.
Using a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut the pastry into thin strips about the width of a finger. Working quickly place the strips on to a baking tray covered with baking parchment. Then hold a straw at each end gently twist three or four times and replace onto the tray.
Repeat until all the straws are twisted. Brush with the remaining egg wash and carefully cover with remaining grated cheese. Sprinkle with more paprika and a little salt. Place in oven and bake until the straws are puffed up, light golden brown in colour and crispy.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th and it is a religious feast day honouring an early Christian martyr Saint Valentine of Rome. Valentine’s Day first became associated with a medieval ideal of romance, armour clad knights, perilous quests, beautiful maidens, the Arthur and Guinevere ‘ please honour me with a token of thy affection sweet lady and I shall boldly go forth and slay the curmudgeonly dragon ’ in the fourteenth century but fortunately by the eighteenth century it had become a much more civilised and lets face it safer occasion marked by people in love sending cards know as ‘valentines’. Obviously, we would all go kill a murderous mythical creature for our loved ones it’s just sometimes popping to Paperchase for a card is easier. Other gifts for the romantically inclined included flowers, confectionary, and St. Valentine’s Keys to unlock the recipient’s heart. The Victorians as ever over-egged the pudding and are responsible for the surfeit of hearts, doves, lacy frills ( on the cards at least ) and flocks of winged Cupids.
Undoubtedly one of the worlds great romantics was the Italian Giacomo Girolamo Casanova who when he wasn’t gambling, fighting, spying, studying the occult and generally hanging around with Voltaire, Mozart, Goethe, Madame de Pompadour, Rousseau and innumerable aristocrats was something of a lady’s man. The stories, many told it has to be said by himself, recount numerous amorous adventures and this probably explains why it is said he would consume up to fifty oysters for breakfast as an aphrodisiac. *
Oysters served chilled
The reason oysters were considered an aphrodisiac had been put down to the zinc levels which handily for you lusty feeling folk are highest in early spring. Then in March 2005, a group of American and Italian researchers presented a paper to the American Chemical Society following a study into molluscs such as clams and mussels that were rich in a series of rare amino acids that triggered increased levels of hormones in mice. There was a huge interest in the research but really no proof of the effect from eating oysters directly, in fact, Nancy Amy, a nutritionist, and toxicologist at the University of California provided another theory “There’s an amazing placebo effect with aphrodisiacs,” she said. “It’s very culturally specific and there’s no scientific evidence, but if you think it’s going to work, then there’s already a 50 percent chance that it will.” Enough said.
*Casanova retired from adventuring and took up the position of librarian to a Bohemian Count, perhaps he relished a quieter life but it somewhat dispels the image we have of shy, retiring bookworms.
Oysters are eaten raw traditionally with lemon, Tabasco or a spoon of Migonette, a mix of very finely diced shallots, cracked black pepper and wine vinegar or they can be lightly baked or grilled. There are a number of classic grilled oyster recipes such as with garlic butter, oysters Rockefeller with spinach and pastis, oysters Kilpatrick with Worcestershire sauce and crisp bacon or glazed with buttery, tangy Bearnaise sauce. Alternatively, oysters can be deep-fried in in tempura batter or covered in breadcrumbs for the Southern favourite oyster Po’boy.
So, while I cannot guarantee that this recipe will have you swinging from the lampshade in leopard skin briefs it’s really rather nice and tasty and uses some really nice Jersey ingredients ( you kind use your own local alternatives ). The oysters are gratinated with a crisp mix of fresh herbs, savoury biscuit crumbs, and Jersey Blue soft cheese which creamy and slightly tangy taste accentuates the salty ozone flavour of the Jersey oysters. The very light continental style beer, Liberation Blonde provides the base for a refreshing dressing to the baked oysters and chilled is an ideal accompaniment. You can substitute these with a local cheese and beer of your choice and you won’t be disappointed.
Grilled Oysters Blonde and Blue
Grilled Jersey Oysters ‘Blonde and Blue’ serves 2 or 3
1 teaspoon each of the following, finely chopped Chives, Chervil and Parsley
If you have a friendly fishmonger you can ask him to shuck or open your oysters for you before taking them home to cook and serve. If not, you first need to open your oysters and loosen them from their shells. Set each opened oyster down on a small mound of rock salt, on a baking tray. Remove the rind from your cheese and finely dice, divide evenly onto the oysters. Mix the herbs with the finely crushed biscuit crumbs and sprinkle over the cheese-topped oysters.
For the dressing simmer the chopped shallots with the white wine vinegar, cayenne, and a little water until the shallots start to soften but retain a little bite. Evaporate almost all of the liquid. Chill. When cold add the Blonde beer. Grill the oysters for 3 to 4 minutes under a medium grill until the cheese starts to bubble and the crumb mix browns. Serve topped with a little dressing, extra chopped herbs and the remaining dressing as a side.
What to Drink? Oysters are classically matched with flinty, Chablis or dry Champagne but why not try a Fino Sherry or hoppy Continental-style lagers and light fruity beers.
This parfait* recipe is so simple, so tasty and ideal if you are time poor ( that’s a very fancy way of saying busy ) and that is probably most of us, even if you have stopped with a coffee to browse this posting. The best thing about this recipe is that it does not require the poaching in a water bath or bain-marie that you find in classic pâté and parfait recipes. Actually, make that the second best thing, the most important thing you need to know about this parfait is it is delicious, absolutely delicious. It is easily adapted, and you can fancy it up a little up by substituting duck livers for chicken and adding extra flavours like orange peel, tarragon, and Cointreau.
You can serve this pate as a simple starter with crisp Melba toast and maybe some tangy, delicious homemade chutney or you can take it in a cold box, on a picnic, to generously spread on crusty French bread. I personally love the taste of chicken livers and have to be stopped picking them from the pan once cooked, but some people find any liver can be a little strong. You can soak your chicken livers in milk overnight in the refrigerator to achieve an even milder finish. Just strain and blot dry with kitchen paper before cooking.
*A parfait is a really, really silky smooth pâté that you can whip up like a mousse.
Easy Chicken Liver Parfait for 6 to 8 medium ramekins
2 x 250g packs of Jersey Butter ( other butters are great too )
1kg Chicken Livers, preferably free-range or organic, trimmed
4 large Banana Shallots, peeled and very finely chopped
Clarified Butter – Place one whole pack of butter in a pan on a low heat or pilot light and let it tick away for 20 to 30 minutes until completely separated. The clear butterfat will separate from the white part in the bottom which is the whey. Skim the clear fat off the top and put in a separate container. This a similar technique to making Ghee the staple of Indian cookery and the base of many of the rich buttery curry sauces. Clarified butter can be used at a much higher temperature because there are no milk solids to burn.
In the oil sauté the shallot, garlic, and thyme for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and just starting to colour. Turn up the heat and add a splash more oil, the chicken livers and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for about more than 4 minutes until the livers plump up and they are still very pink in the middle. Add brandy to the pan of livers, and let it flame off. Tip everything straight into a food processor with all the juices scraping out the pan. Blitz until smooth and check seasoning. Dice up your remaining pack of butter, and add it piece by piece, with the food processor still running. Wait for each piece to be combined before adding more. Keep whizzing when it’s all in, and you’ll see it start to shine. Taste again and season again if necessary. Pass through a fine sieve and pour into ramekins, then cool. Decorate with thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns and top with clarified butter. Return to refrigerator and serve once the butter is set.
There are more than a few signs that Spring is definitely here. Last weekend we had an impromptu picnic in the nearby park and the weather was truly glorious * And when Spring is the air we chefs start to think about some delicious, lighter lunches and dinner instead of all the hearty soups and stews. I think I have the perfect recipe then, for you today, Seafood Feuilleté, a buttery, puff-pastry case full of sensational seafood in a creamy vermouth sauce.
Now before we start I don’t want you to panic at the thought of puff pastry, I’m going to put up my hands up right now and admit straight away few of us are lucky to have the time and patience to perfect the technique of making puff pastry at home. Even after hours of practice, I struggle to get an even rise and perfect bake every time, so my solution, used correctly the bought-in product is practical, versatile and very labour saving. Rich and flaky, ready-made puff pastry can top a rich fish pie, enclose marzipan and fruit for a luxurious dessert or make simple crisp cheese straws to nibble.
Puff pastry can also be used to make savoury hors d’oeuvre or bite sized appetisers. The most famous of these being little-stuffed Vol-au-vent cases topped with a little lid or delicate Crolines, small lattice topped parcels. My recipe today is how to make the third, great little tartlet case that can be used in a savoury starter, light lunch or filled with whipped cream and fruit as a simple, elegant dessert.
*The fog returned Monday morning with a vengeance and it was more than a tad chilly.
Feuilleté Pastry Tarts
Why not try roasted Provençal vegetables topped with whipped Goat’s cheese and a little rocket dressed with sea salt and Balsamic, creamy garlic mushrooms or a seafood medley as well as fruit purées and Confectioner’s custard, glazed poached peach halves and raspberries.
50 ml of Vermouth ( White Wine is a great substitute )
25 ml Olive Oil
25 gr Butter
Juice of one fresh Lemon
Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan ( with a tight-fitting lid ), melt the half of the butter and add half of the oil. Over a medium heat soften the shallots for ten minutes without colouring. Add the garlic and cook out for two or three minutes stirring continuously. Tip in the mussels and clams and add the Vermouth place on the lid add steam the shellfish for five to six minutes. Carefully holding the pan with a heatproof cloth remove from the heat. Place a colander in a large glass bowl and tip in the mussels and allow to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to be used to make the final sauce.
When cool pick the majority of the mussels and clams from their shells leaving a handful for garnishing. Carefully pour the cooking liquid through a fine strainer into a small pan and place on a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the volume by half. Add the cream and simmer for a couple more minutes before seasoning with a generous grind of pepper. Melt the remaining butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan and saute the gambas, over a gentle heat, for three minutes before turning up the heat and adding the scallops, turn over the prawns and the scallops as soon as they are brown. After two more minutes remove from heat, squeeze over the juice of one lemon and keep warm.
Heat the mussels and clams gently in the sauce. Take care not to boil or the shellfish will toughen, add the remaining lemon juice and finely chopped dill, taste and add more pepper if required. Place a warm pastry case onto a deep lipped plate and carefully spoon in the picked mussels and clams. Add a couple of scallops then fill with sauce and top with the prepared lids or a large prawn. Spoon around a little extra liquid and the retained shellfish in shells and sprinkle with a little extra dill to garnish.