Tuesday, October 18, 2011


i never really saw myself as a chicken person - oh yes, i eat it, but i never thought i'd have chickens myself. i remember being a little bit surprised when i visited bee and found she had chickens, tho' they were posh, with fancy feathery feet, so i decided it fit quite well with her home in the english countryside. but me? have chickens? no way. fast forward nearly two years and we have 12 - 3 proud little roosters and 9 hens. and they've begun to lay eggs (well, the hens have anyway). and now i think i won't ever be without chickens again. the pleasure of going out and gathering the eggs (we're getting 2-3 a day, as they've just begun) and even just watching them is not to be underestimated. chickens are funny little characters. and the eggs, oh the eggs. they're just about the most magical cooking ingredient of all, aren't they?

squash, sage & bacon soufflé
despite that they only lay 2-3 eggs a day, that rather quickly ends up being a lot of eggs. so i've embarked on making soufflés and other egg-related dishes (we already eat an omelette at least once a week because they're so easy on a busy schedule). i was a little worried the first time, but already with the second one, i started to get a bit creative.  and i can tell you that soufflés aren't nearly as temperamental as you've heard.

the first one i made, i used molly wizenberg's classic cheese soufflé recipe, which she adapted from one by julia child, following it pretty much to the letter.  it came out perfectly and gave me the confidence i needed - it didn't even threaten to fall, it was light and gorgeous and even stayed up after we had taken it out a bit early, spooned into it, discovered it wasn't quite done, and put it back in the oven. a very forgiving soufflé. and a great base recipe, which i gave an autumn twist last night.

cheesy sage and squash soufflé

2 T finely grated parmesan
1 C whole milk
2 1/2 T butter
3 T flour
1 C baked squash
1 small package of bacon, diced and fried to crispy perfection
4-5 fresh sage leaves, sliced into ribbons
6 eggs, separated
1 C grated cheese (gruyère or something similarly meltable is perfect)
salt and pepper to taste

cut a small squash in half and de-seed it. bake it in the oven with a lump of butter in the cavity, until it's soft and done. allow it to cool and spoon it out. i used a hokkaido squash and it resulted in about a cup (metric folks, just fill a 250ml measuring cup) of squash.  if your squash is larger, safe the rest for another purpose (an autumn soup perhaps?).

dice your bacon and fry it to crispy perfection, set it aside. just before it's done, throw the ribbons of sage into the bacon fat and allow the heat to crisp them and release the sagey goodness.  grate your cheese and set it aside.

separate your eggs. my eggs are still very small, so i used 6, if yours are the jumbo size from the grocery store, you can probably do with 3 or 4. molly's recipe calls for 4 egg yolks and 5 egg whites, but i used all of all 6 eggs with good result (and no waste). set your kitchen mixer to whipping the egg whites until they're glossy and have high peaks. reserve the yolks.

preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F. butter a ceramic soufflé dish and coat the buttered edges with the grated parmesan. this makes the most lovely outside crust, so don't skip this step. gently warm the milk in a pan.

in a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, whisking to make a roux. cook it 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, taking care not to let it brown, but getting rid of that raw flour-y taste. remove from the heat and allow it to stand for a minute. return it to the heat, add the warm milk and keep whisking it over the heat until it's very thick - this should again take 2-3 minutes. remove from the heat and whisk in the squash and the bacon and sage. whisking constantly, add the yolks one at a time. set the mixture somewhere to cool to room temperature. season with salt and pepper to taste.

once the mixture is cooled, fold in a good-sized dollop of the egg whites and gently mix it to lighten up the yolk mixture. then gently fold in the rest of the whites and the grated cheese. transfer immediately to your prepared soufflé dish and pop it into the oven immediately. bake it for 25-30 minutes, taking care not to open the oven during at least the first 20 minutes. it's done when it's golden brown on top and has just the slightest jiggle visible in the middle. serve it immediately with a simple salad.

our salad consisted of a box of mixed leaves, diced cucumber, some of the last of the garden tomatoes, diced and the popping, ruby seeds of half a pomegranate. i made a simple creme fraîche dressing to accompany both the soufflé and the salad - just with a bit of chopped, fresh sage and some garlic pepper. it didn't last long, as you can see.

be adventurous, make a soufflé for dinner tonight. i guarantee it will impress your family and friends.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

a berry good year

red currants (and proof that there was the occasional bit of sunshine this summer)
our rainy, cool weather this year was a boon for the berries. our strawberry season lasted a month and the red and black currant bushes were loaded with berries that i made into bottles and bottles of cordial for the winter. the blackcurrant cordial might be the best one of them all, tho' the more recent one i've made of elderberries is a close second.

berry cordials

4 cups (1 kilo) of berries (red currants, blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, elderberries)
2 cups sugar

if you want to give it some zip, add some slices of fresh ginger root, or throw in a vanilla bean. i also mixed them occasionally - red and black currants together. strawberry and rhubarb (it's a classic), tho' i kept raspberries and elderberries alone, because they're so outstanding on their own. the elderberries have the faintest undertone of their spring version - the elderflower, but with layers of autumn on top. mixed with hot water and a dash of vanilla vodka (see below), they make a gorgeous, warming drink, for a nippy but clear autumn day.  i made several batches using honey instead of sugar, since we've also got our own bees and i had a lot of honey on hand - the result was a deeper, more complex cordial. 

autumn raspberries - they produced from august - october!
"rumtopf" - with vodka, red currants, black currants, strawberries and sugar
i've been throwing a handful of whatever berry is in season into this jar and topping it up with vodka all summer  - it will make a lovely fruity tipple come christmas time - filled with the echoes of summer during that dark time of year. all you do is take a cup of organic sugar, all the berries you have at hand and keep them covered with vodka. whenever you add more berries, if they're not submerged, add more vodka. this one was started in june and i added the last berries in october (photo from the beginning). you can also use rum (hence the name - rumtopf), but we're vodka drinkers around here, so that's what we used.

black currant cordial
the cordials can be mixed with fizzy water for a sparkling drink. they're great with white wine or a dash of vanilla vodka. they can be quite tasty with lemon schweppes. they're also just fine with plain water - hot or cold, depending on your weather.  the limits are only those of imagination.

thanks to my buddy chris, who is a co-contributor over on the sustainable life blog, i ventured into making my own vanilla vodka. she was making vanilla extract and i've got a batch of that going as well, but decided to make some vanilla vodka for drinking as well - it tastes more natural than the absolut version. it's a very nice companion when you're using these cordials as the base for a cocktail. if you check eBay, you can find great prices on vanilla pods in bulk - i got 30+ for €11 including shipping. speaking of which, it's time to order them again, in preparation for winter baking.


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