Sunday, 31 August 2014

Pistachio and dark chocolate macarons

What else are Sunday mornings for...
 It was that nice time of day again, early early before anyone else was awake.  Today was pistachio macarons from my book (Mad About Macarons) because I wanted to try the powdered green food colouring.  This time I got it about right, a very few green grains stirred into the macaron mix delivered a perfect pistachio colour in soft green.
Here's the colour I used.

And here's the result.  Sweet (but not too sweet) crispy, gooey, light as air delight.  I'll need to take a break from macarons partly because work next week takes me to the north of England but mostly because my freezer is full!
 


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Macaron Bliss

As you know I've been trying to chasing the elusive Macaron Perfection and next on my hit list was tiramisu.  The freehand piping work has been improving...
And the bake is better now, there's less of a sticky goo left on the baking sheet where the centre of the shell falls out.  I've learned the lesson about leaving the shells to fully cool before trying to remove them from the baking sheet and achieved some great bottoms!
I'm still not 100% happy with the splayed pieds and have read that using aged eggs whites which have been left on your worktop give a better result. 
 These came out with uneven domes which has been my speciality!
But the proof of the pudding  macaron is in the eating and these are really very tasty.
Next up was Bloody Mary Macarons.  I like the precision required to make macarons and  how attentive you have to be to each stage.  I get all my cookware and ingredients to hand and weighed out before I begin. There's something satisfying about starting with a clean, organised table.  Maybe it gets you into the right state of mind before you begin.
I promise these really weren't this colour in real life.   I think such extensive pinkness affected the colour balance on my phone!
 These were soooo cute when they came out of the oven, about the size of the top of your thumb.  Some were cracked but others were tiny domes of smooth gorgeousness on titchy tiny pieds!
Once filled with the Bloody Mary mixture (vodka, lime, tomato puree, vodka, some other stuff and vodka)  these start off tasting sweet until the filling hits you with an intensity of flavours that demands you give them your full appreciation.  And have another one.  
Unexpected but very, very moorish!  I wanted to re-make the strawberry macarons, partly to try out the powdered red colour and see how little I needed for a soft pastel rose colour (I overdid it again!) and partly because I wanted some to take into the office and I wasn't willing to be parted from the Bloody Marys just as we were getting to know each other.  And then it happened. Imagine the roof above you opening up to a cloud covered sky.  Now imagine angelic singing gradually rising to a crescendo as the clouds part.  Dazzling shafts of sunlight stream down and pool around...these.
The domes are smooth and even, with no lumps, bumps or hats.  The colour is consistent, there's no browning round the edges. The pieds have just the right amount of rise and are not splayed and the filling is just right, visible all the way round the shell without spilling over.  I won't lie.  When these were finished I sat and stared at them.  I turned them around to make sure they weren't just presenting me with their best face.  I stroked their little domed loveliness and I took their photo. Sighhhhhhh
This shows the progression over several attempts.  It's not something you learn to do first go.  You'll have some doozies (although they'll all taste great!) but each batch you make will get better and better.  Happy Days :)


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Bread and Rose Macarons

Sometimes once your eyes are open, you are awake and that's it.  Nothing is going to let you drift back to nodland.  That's why I was padding downstairs at 5.45am this morning.  I'd given up on sleep and wanted fresh coffee.   My recent focus has been on marvellous macarons and since our two week holiday is nearing its end, I decided to take advantage of it being just me and the dawn and bake something savoury.

Just yum.
We had the boys with us today and since I have a recipe for an elderberry sauce, we went to see if there were any ready to be foraged down the lane behind the Country Cottage.  I'm getting more accustomed to being deep in the middle of nowhere countryside.  As long as Tesco and Amazon can still find me I'll cope.
The elderberries are still not quite ready but we did find sloes so once they're a bit bigger that's this season's gin sorted out :)
The cobnuts are ripening.
The (neighbours) pears are coming on.  (I've got pear envy.  Think of all the pear based options if you had a crop like this!)
We picked these poppy seed heads and shook them like maracas all the way home then gleefully scattered the tiny little seeds in the lane outside the cottage in the hope that we may get the splash of bright red poppies growing there next year.
And I had some important macoranage to take care of this evening when I made the rose scented, turkish delighty filling for the pink shells made yesterday and stored overnight in the fridge.  I'm still suffering from ugly shell syndrome so they are veeeeery wonky and don't sit neatly or horizontally on the plate but when you bite into them....you don't care!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

More Macaron Adventures!

You can tell I'm on holiday - firstly I have time to make and bake things and secondly, I have time to blog about it!  And you may wonder where all these are going once baked?  Well the big advantage of macarons is that they can be stored in the fridge for a few days or frozen for 3 months.  This is great because I never seem to have the time to produce home cooked when we have people round or when we want  something special. But now I can have a selection of macarons ready for visitors or special occassions anytime.  Yesterday I tested the powdered food colours I bought from Deco Relief - Santa Claus Red and Yellow.  They deliver a very intense colour from only a very few grains, easily much less than 1/8th of a teaspoon.  Setting up and ready to go!

As well as testing the colours, I wanted to try and improve my piping skills but I probably undermixed this batter because the mix was quite thick which made it easier to pipe but you can see the blobs hold their shape too well instead of gently slumping into low rise little mounds.  In fact they look like smurf hats. Ooops.  I wasn't sure if the intensity of the colour would reduce during baking....
It didn't!  Wow these colours really ping!  But they suited what I wanted and I've finally  got my oven temp and timing right.  The macaron shells were cooked through completely for the first time.  My first attempts left a pile of goo from the centre of each shell when lifted from the tray but these are spot on.
The tops stayed like hats and have risen more than normal but the little frill underneath, the "pied" is better than I normally achieve.  I've read that people struggle to get that effect but right from my first attempts using the Mad About Macarons book and following the instructions to the letter this hasn't been a problem.  
 The red came out a stronger pink than I'd wanted, I was thinking pastel rose but it's still pretty.
 Well cooked bases but slightly wonky tops again!
 The (very tall!) finished result below - passion fruit, mango and coconut macarons - or a shorter title is  Tropical Macarons!
Once today's work in the kitchen is finished (I'm hoping to have shelves by the end of today) I can make the filling for the Rose Macarons so perhaps there will be a pic of those later.




Friday, 22 August 2014

Blue Macarons and Cabbage Whites

I said I wouldn't show you these but perhaps if I do, it will help prevent you making the same blue boo boo.  How did this happen?  Well I got a bit cocky with my colourings!  In her book Mad About Macarons, Jill Colonna  talks about not adding too much colour because if you use too much extra liquid  it can mess with the macaron batter. I was aiming for a gentle rose colour to complement the strawberry flavour and started with 3 drops of blue and added 3 red but the blue was soooo strong I ended up emptying half the (small) bottle of red to the mix in a panic to make it ummm...less blue.  Didn't work lol!  This batter was looser than my first version which I think was because of the excess colouring and had more air bubbles. I decided to press on regardless and this is what went in to the oven.  
And this is what came out.  Ugly huh?  They were brown round the edges with splattered out little feet so I suspected I'd baked them on too high a temperature but some reading online suggested it was the liquid colouring I'd used which although fine for icings, wasn't necessarily heat resistant.  Further searching suggested using a paste or even better, powdered colour and this is Jill's preferred option too.  Good enough for me until I saw the prices, ouch!  So I've started with the two cheapest colours, red and yellow and if they're wonderful and if I think I'll keep making macarons, I'll take a deep breath, empty the piggy bank and order some more.
Don't be fooled by the Ugly above.  Once filled with the strawberry cream, these tasted terrific.  You just had to close your eyes to eat them!

We've just returned from camping in Cornwall so we've had our fix of being woken by crashing sea waves and screeching seagulls and with a freshness in the air it feels as if summer is ending.  The drift into lazy autumn is one of my favourite times of year and I'm watching the elderberries and sloes ripen ready to be picked and bottled.  Our produce has been varied with sweetcorn, black French beans and apples.
There are more apples to come and they're creating a bright splash of red in the otherwise green garden.
The sprouts are starting to look more sprouty and have survived a damaging onslaught of cabbage white butterflies laying hundreds of eggs.  At first I was able to keep up and wash the eggs away when they appeared under the leaves but inevitably I missed some and the caterpillars that survived turned the leaves to lace.  So I fought back with an organic spray and a deterrent!
You can see just how badly chewed the leaves were below and see those two cabbage whites?  They're the deterrent!  I read that cabbage whites are highly territorial and if they see another cabbage white they'll fly off.  So I printed and laminated pics of CW's and wired them to the top of a stick.  One afternoon, we sat and watched several CW's flutter around the sprout patch and not one settled so I think my deterrent worked! Himself said the neighbours would laugh but perhaps they did, I would have, but there have been no new eggs laid and the leaves are beginning to recover. (Or it could have been the organic spray!)
The preparation for colder weather has begun.  Our log store was helped by a luckily timed trip to the local recycling centre where we parked next to a chap dumping this fantastic pile of logs.  He said he couldn't get a chainsaw through them so we were welcome to take them. We didn't need a second invitation and we took home more than we'd unloaded.
And to bring you right up to date, I wrote a very rushed post earlier about what we built in the garden this summer and here's the finished item.  It's our big shed!  It's been about 4 years in planning, two years of saving and two days of constructing but now it's installed!  The chintz curtains are slightly embarrassing and not what I had really wanted but this was the only fabric big enough (Ikea I think) to cover both windows.  Having the shed gives us storage for all the things we don't have space for in the cottage, like potato sacks and rusty cement mixers (it's a man thing).
We're hoping to soften its impact with honeysuckle and below we're just starting to train the plant to crawl along the side of the shed.  Hopefully next spring this will provide wonderful scented evenings as we potter about in the garden.



Sunday, 17 August 2014

Summer Summary

It's been a busy time as you will have gathered by the long gaps between posts so here's a quick summary of what's been happening at the Country House....

At the beginning of the summer we built something mahoosive in the garden with the help of friends. I'll add a picture of the finished thing in a future post.

 I learned how to do nail art with some friends and now I'm addicted!  Below is a green base with white dots added using a white nail pen.
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Our bumper crop of french beans sent me searching for a recipe to use them up.  This is as it says on the jar green bean chutney courtesy of ediblethings.net.  It's bottled up and having it's little rest to let all the flavours infuse before we try it.  It's the first time I've made this recipe but it looked and smelt great.  And it got rid of a LOT of beans!
Himself and I headed for the North Devon coast on one of the many hot sunny days we've had recently for a spot of body boarding.  We were on the beach when a real life rescue launched into action.  Luckily no one was seriously hurt and the way the various services had sprung into action and cleared a space to allow the helicopter to land had been so impressive that when the helicopter took off the whole beach gave them a round of applause.  Then everyone hunted down their towels, lilos and small children that had been blown all over the place by the down draft of the chopper blades!  Those of us who had stood and watched (doh) got a very sandy whole body exfoliation.
I love baking!  I can't resist cookery books and as soon as I get a new one, I sit and read through it and put page markers against the recipes I most want to try out.  It's great when you find a reliable writer of reliable recipes and I'm currently inspired by Richard Bertinet.  He has a number of videos on You Tube which are worth a look.  I took one of his bread making courses and enjoyed it so much that I hunted down his other books and have been drooling over "Cook".  In a pastry shop I'll always reach for the apple based thing and below is exactly what I'd choose.  So to find the recipe in "Cook" (P.189) was one thing, to make it and find how easy and delicious it was, made my day! My apple slices are a bit on the wonk but I'll just have to practice and naturally eat share the results.
I had promised myself that I was going to have a go at macarons.  I'd tasted some from various places and my Scottish genes were outraged at the prices for a tiny little pack of 6!   With holiday time coming up I armed myself with a book called Mad About Macarons and these little beauties were the result of 4 hours and every utensil and bowl in the kitchen!  BUT if you thought you couldn't make macarons, I urge you to try this book!  It's straightforward and uncomplicated.  The resulting messy kitchen was completely my disorganised fault, not that of the author, Jill Colonna. She warns that macaronage is addictive which I dismissed thinking, "nah", it's just another pretty pastry.  I was sooooo wrong.  Now I'm over my fear of the macaron, I want to get started on all the endless flavouring and colouring possiblities.  Coffee and walnut, pistachio, rose, lavender, mango and passion fruit, Bloody Mary, strawberry etc etc.  My second attempt at strawberry tasting macarons was a lot less messy and quicker but the batch was bizarrely blue after I got my colouring completely muddled and partly brown once they'd cooked.  They were the Quasimodo of Macarons so I'm not showing you them   (Although they tasted unbelievably good!)
 And finally our village show was this weekend and the sun shone.  :)  It seems everyone in the village has a tractor.


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Europe, Gardening and The Shed

It's been a busy few weeks with lots of work travel to Holland, Germany and Holland again during their World Cup win over Australia. The cheering as each goal was scored was something powerful!

The times in between have been filled with gardening, nourishing our first plants as if they are new borns and taking personal pride in each days additional growth. We're experimenting this year with brussel sprouts, sweet corn, beet root, potatoes in bags, leeks, mangetout, lettuces, herbs, spinach, garlic and french beans. We've been in the middle of a heat wave with very little rain for the past two weeks and lovely burning hot days which make the garden a great escape from the office.
Our first harvest has been the garlic, planted at mid winter last year and pulled today, just after mid summer. It's drying in the sunshine as I type and my plan is to weave the long fronds into one of those pleated things you see women sitting making by the side of the roads in summer in France so we can have our own garlic string in the kitchen.
And most excitingly, we took delivery of a new shed....
This is something we have been talking about and planning for, for over 4 years as part of our "where will we put everything if I move in" dilemma. So now, finally, we have gone a long way to solving that problem and giving us more space in the house. It's also the last of the really big jobs we wanted to tackle this year. The chimneys have also been repaired and had little pots put on them to stop birds nesting where they shouldn't and been swept for the first time in some years. So were optimistic we won't smoke ourselves out when we're relying on the log burner this winter :)
With the help of some friends, some kind weather, lots of drills, beer and a bit of swearing the job was done.
On the creative side, it's mostly been about playing with nail art. I've really taken to this after being shown the techniques by a friend who invited some of the girlie crew over one Saturday for lunch and varnish. Life is too short for boring nails and if you don't like it, you just scrub it off. Easier than tattoos I presume. I don't have any but I think changing them is far more troublesome.
My preference is for subtle rather than bold colours although it was fun to play with the samples above. I like the dotty flowers you can make (a cocktail stick dipped in varnish does the trick). Put on a base coat and dip dip dot in the colours you have lying around. Fun and cheap!