Jalapeño-infused Tequila & Jalapeño Cocktails

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I’ve been pretty hot for the idea of booze-infusions since hitting Rubi Bar in Barcelona last year, trying some of their 100 flavoured gins, and nagging the owner to tell me how it’s done.

It appeals to me on so many levels; I actually get chance to use some of the kilner jars I’ve accumulated; I feel like a 1920s bootlegger without the risk of a Still exploding in my basement (or syphillis exploding in my boy-basement); I get to quote the Beer Baron episode of The Simpsons in my head – specifically “You forgot one thing chief…I filled the balls with a funnel” – and then I get to turn up.

The mechanics of infusing is pretty straight-forward – you put something, anything in with some spirits and the high alcoholic content preserves it for long enough for the flavour to come out and taint the liquor.  Think of it as reverse-pickling – you know when you finish a jar of pickled onions and the vinegar you’ve got left is the good shit?  Imagine if the vinegar was liquor, and it had been pickling fruit or spices or charcuterie instead of old onions.

If you’re really going to get into it then Niki Segnet’s Flavour Thesaurus is a really useful resource for infusing – as it is for many other things – in that it lets you pick out individual notes and flavours from a drink (Juniper in Gin, for example) and then find ingredients which complement or contrast with it, letting you make educated experiments rather than expensive misfires.

First-timers could do a lot worse than Jalapeño Tequila, a face-palmingly simple combination of Mexican flavours which is good for sipping on its own, or versatile enough to be used in a few cocktails.  (In true meat-head bootlegger spirit, make sure you spell Jalapeño completely wrong on the label…)

Spoiler alert: The secret ingredient is jalapeños…


Jalapeño Tequila


You will need:

A 70cl Bottle of decent Tequila – You won’t need Patron, but you can do better than Sierra.  Go for a 100% Agave type like El Jimador (Just under £20 in Waitrose) 

4 Jalapeño Chillies 

A Kilner Jar and Sealable Bottle.

Slice the Jalapeños fairly thickly – about 6 slices per chilli – and take out the white centre and as many of the seeds as possible; over time the white pith would make it taste bitter and the seeds would blow your brains out.

Decant the tequila into the kilner jar and add the sliced jalapeños.  Seal, shake, and sit somewhere cool and dark.  Leave it there for 7-14 days, shaking every now and again.

Using a sieve and a funnel, decant the tequila back into a bottle and seal it.


BONUS: Chop up the jalapeños with some fresh de-seeded tomatoes, white onion, coriander leaves and lime juice for an amazing tequila salsa.

Jalapeño Margarita

Shake equal parts Jalapeño Tequila with Fresh Lime Juice and a shot of Agave Syrup with ice.  
Strain into the most flamboyant glass you own, with a cinnamon-salt rim.
Jalapeño Cucumber Cooler

Dice a 2″ piece of Cucumber and muddle in the bottom of a tall glass.  
Shake an equal amount of Jalapeño Tequila and Lemon Juice with a dash of Agave Syrup, strain into the glass and top up with soda water.
Jalapeño Bloody Maria
Shake 2 shots of Jalapeño Tequila with Tomato Juice (Clamato if you’re lucky enough to have access to it) Worcestershire Sauce, Smoked Sweet Paprika and the juice of half a Lime.
Strain into a tall glass filled with ice, and garnish with white pepper and an unnecessarily large, leafy stick of celery.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Parsnip Brownies

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If there’s a root vegetable that doesn’t work well in a cake, then I haven’t found it yet.

It’s not that I haven’t given plenty of them an opportunity to let the side down either; the realisation that that’s actual carrot inside carrot cake – not just sultanas and cinnamon covered in three inches of frosting – got me thinking about what other leftover veg I could sub into bakes.

Sweet Potato & Toasted Coconut muffins have been the biggest success story, to the point where I started buying Sweet Potatoes specifically to to be muffinned; totally going against my baking MO of using leftover vegetables as a way of justifying brownies for breakfast.  After Christmas (hey remember that?) we had a fridge full of rootin’ tootin’ vegetables bought with unfulfilled good intentions.  As great as Bundobust’s sprout bhaji sounded, I was never realistically going to make my own, was I?

The most cake-relevant neglected veg was a bag of parsnips I’d intended to cover in maple syrup and roast.  As it goes, my in-laws bought us a waffle iron as a gift, so we found better things to do with our maple syrup, but in a moment of virtue I decided to let the parsnips fulfil their potential as opinion-dividing brownies.

Parsnips don’t taste particularly rooty; they give the brownies a mild, almost nutty sweetness which pairs so well with walnuts, so I chopped a couple of handfuls up and threw them in the batter to add crunch.  I dusted my batch with Matcha powdered green tea, partly (mostly) because it looks dope, but it also brings out the bitterness of the dark chocolate against the parsnip’s sweetness.

Parsnips’ high water content also helps keep everything moist and forgiving in the event of accidental overcooking, which means you can crank the heat up and get them really crispy on the outside without sacrificing too much of that elusive chewy middle that makes the crowd go wild.

Makes 12 Brownies:

Preheat your oven to 180ºC and line a deep baking tray with greaseproof paper, push it right into the corners, and drizzle with a little oil to make the brownies just slide off after cooking.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for each one to incorporate into the mixture before adding the next.  Fold in the dark chocolate when it’s cool enough that it won’t curdle the eggs.

In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt. Gradually sift and fold everything into the chocolate mixture, and then stir in the cocoa powder, parsnips, and walnuts until evenly distributed.

Spread the batter evenly on the baking tray you prepared and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  Put a toothpick in the centre for 5 seconds, if it comes out clean then they’re ready to put on a cooling rack, if not then put them back in for another 5 minutes or until they’re done.

Leave to cool before making 3 slices along and 4 slices up (that makes 12 portions), and dusting with Matcha, cocoa powder, or gold leaf if that’s how you handle your business.

See the full post for measurements: 


Ingredients

200g Plain Flour
200g Brown Sugar
200g Unsalted Butter
3 Eggs
100g 70% Dark Chocolate, melted
1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
2 Parsnips, grated
1 Handful of Walnuts
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
Pinch of Salt

Recipe: Red Pepper Soup with a Grilled Cheese

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Some people decorate their homes with works of art, or that 90s poster of the hunky guy holding a baby, or photographs of the people close to them, or that 90s poster of the hunky alien going “Take Me To Your Dealer”, or this thing for reasons unknown to anybody, or mirrors (Oh wait, I already said works of art LOL).

Our kitchen is pretty pokey, and there’s only room for a couple of accoutrements on the walls – one of them is a “Life’s Too Short for Bad Coffee” screenprint by our friend Will Tapply who you should definitely check out, and the other is a menu that I managed to sneak past the (frankly superfluous) security guards when we went and had lunch at Katz’s Deli in New Yyyawuck, and proudly framed for display.

I was reading the menu the other day while waiting for the kettle to boil, and noticed something that escaped my attention up until now – the Soup & Sandwich section.  For as long as I can remember, Soup & Sandwich has meant a bowl of Cream of Tomato, with half a sliced cheese sandwich on the side.  I’ve never had any complaints about eating it – because who can fault Heinz Cream of Tomato and white bread, crazy-paved with cheap mature cheddar? – but I’ve never tapped into the tarting-up potential like Katz’s do, with bowls of Chicken Noodle or Matzo Ball Soup served with half a Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye

I decided to expand on what I was already familiar with rather than diving head-first into new territory – I’m not about to make a Chicken Noodle soup from scratch after getting home from work on a weeknight.  Heinz soup is very reasonably priced so to devote effort to simply imitating it when I could just buy a tin would be a bozo’s errand, so I decided to give the Red Pepper the chance to come out of its usual supporting role and have some time in the spotlight.

Using a similar logic, if a rubbish cheese sandwich (this term is very much relative) goes well with regular soup, then the benefit of combining  with a really good version of a cheese sandwich with really good soup is exponential.  To make the cheese sandwich better we just toast it, but don’t go rushing to the 1986 shop to buy a Breville, all you need to make this grilled cheese is a decent-ish frying pan or skillet.  This is apparently the default method in America, but it’s something I’ve only been doing since The Cheese Truck revolutionised the way I melt cheese during their stint at Trinity Kitchen.  One of the main benefits of this method is that you’re not confined to square slices of bread, so ball hard in the bakery.



For the Soup (serves 6)

3 Red Peppers, charred (Sub one for an Orange or Yellow if you like)
2 Onions, diced
2 Carrots, diced
1 Stick of Celery, diced
3 Cloves of Garlic
400ml Passata
400ml Vegetable Stock
2-3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Tbsp Tahini
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
2 Tsp Paprika

  1. Before you get started on the soup, spend 10 minutes charring the peppers over an open flame on your hob (just like in my Sweet Potato & Chorizo Chili recipe) and peel the blackened skins off under a cold tap.  Chop the tops off and deseed them, then leave them to one side until later.
  2. Peel the garlic cloves and smash them with the side of your knife – this way they won’t burn and make everything taste bitter, and they’ll get pulverised at the end when the soup gets blended.  Put them in a heavy-bottomed pan with the onion, celery and carrot and cook on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add the paprika and toast for about 30 seconds, then add the passata, stock, tomato paste and stock.  Bring to a boil, cover and leave it simmering for about 15 minutes, then take off the heat.
  4. Blend the soup, taking care not to splash boiling hot liquid over your crotch and kitchen and then transfer it back to the pan you cooked it in – if you can do it all in the same place with a stick-blender then even better.  Stir (or stick-blend) in the Tahini and Cider Vinegar.  The Tahini adds a depth of flavour and gives it the kind of glossy viscosity you’d usually rely on cream for, and Cider Vinegar brings out the tang of the peppers.  

The quantities I’ve given might not be perfect so feel free to add more of the ingredients that can be emulsified into the soup easily – Tahini to make it thicker, Cider Vinegar for bite, and Paprika for warmth.  Leave the soup to one side and get started on the Sandwich:

For the Grilled Cheese (per person)

2 Slices of Bread
100g Mature Cheddar, grated
1/2 Ball of Mozzarella, torn

  1. Put your frying pan on a low heat, if it’s too high then you’ll end up with a sandwich that’s burnt on the outside but uncooked on the inside (it doesn’t balance out) Butter the bread – a good sourdough works best for this, with a crunchy crust and plenty of air bubbles inside – and place a slice butter-side down in the pan.
  2. Pile the cheese evenly over the bread.  Some will fall or overflow, but this is good, those bits will trail out of the finished sandwich as crispy bits, and give some great texture and range of flavours.  Don’t go mental though, Jamie Oliver’s version ends up looking like the crown from Game of Thrones 
  3. Put the other slice of bread on top, butter side up.  If you’ve got a heavy skillet or another frying pan and a few jars then use it to compress everything down (a sheet of greaseproof between the sandwich and heavy pan stops butter going everywhere)
  4. Check it’s not burning after 2 minutes, if it’s starting to then lower the temperature and flip it over.  Press the other side down with your heavy pan and cook it for another 3 minutes
That’s it, cut it in half and get dipping.  Check back for more adventurous flavour combinations for soup and grilled cheese, or let me know if there’s any you’d like to see me try.

Recipe: Crispy Pork Belly with Kale

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I reverse-engineered the recipe for this dish after ordering it at Lemon Grass Thai restaurant when I visited earlier this year, to gauge if it was a worthy replacement to the recently-closed Thai Aroy Dee.  Under the circumstances, it was pretty much my duty to order as much of the menu as possible (for research purposes) and in the flurry of dishes, this was relegated to being a lavish side.  In more modest settings when you don’t have (however flimsy) justification for being greedy, it makes a perfectly satisfying main, served with white rice and flash-fried whole spring onions.

Belly is probably my favourite cut of pork, and there’s no better way to prepare it than Chinese-style, brined in Soy and roasted in a marinade containing brown sugar which combines with the rendered fat during cooking and turns into an amazing crispy, sticky caramelised scratching.  Marinading for even 30 minutes will give the pork a darker colour and deep Soy flavour, but if you can leave it for up to 24 hours then that’s even better. You can even roast it in advance, and then wok-fry before serving.
Any Leeds Thai food fans wondering about Lemon Grass as a replacement to Aroi Dee then I’d recommend you go and see if it’s for you – the quality of food and value for money stands up to comparison, but it doesn’t have that same lo-fi charm that only a select few have managed to emulate.  It has its own unique character though – relying on decor to try and disguise the building’s previous life as a nightclub – so if you can get on board with water fountains and tranquil gardens where a DJ booth and dancing podium used to be, it’s a strong contender.

Ingredients

Four slices of Pork Belly (Roughly 800g, depending on thickness)
Bunch of Spring Onions, top and tailed

For the Marinade
4 tbsp Soy Sauce
4 tbsp Oyster Sauce
2 Tbsp Shaoxing Wine
4 Garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp Light Brown Sugar
1 Red Chilli, finely chopped
6 Whole Peppercorns (Szechuan if available, Black if not)
1 Star Anise



For the Kale
Bunch of Kale, or a bag, however you buy it
A good-sized piece of Ginger, thinly sliced
1 Red Chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1 Garlic Clove,
Sesame Oil

Method
  1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients and steep the pork belly in it, making sure everything gets an even coating for up to 24 hours
  2. Roast the pork at 180 degrees for 40-60 minutes, brushing any excess marinade at regular intervals.
  3. Take the pork out of the oven and leave it to rest.  Cut into square pieces when it’s cooled a little.
  4. Heat up sesame oil in wok, add the kale, ginger, chilli and garlic, and fry for 2-3 minutes; tossing frequently (the kale).
  5. Dish up the kale and fry the pork belly – fat-side down – in the same wok, along with the bunch of spring onions.
Sprinkle with Green Chilli, Sesame Seeds and Palm Sugar, and serve with White Rice.

Recipe: Sweet Potato & Chorizo Chilli

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Along with giving me an excuse to wear fur, making huge stews is one of the best things about Winter – nothing makes you feel like you’ve got your shit together quite like getting home from work and finding that the big vat of stock and flesh you left in the kitchen that morning has transformed into your tea.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world to use mince in chilli.

Forget the bastardised version of chilli you’ve had to get used to, the one that looks and tastes like bolognese with chilli powder; Chilli is a stew, it’s supposed to be lumpy with different flavours and textures, and viscous enough to stick to an upside-down spoon for a couple of seconds before it slides off.  And as a stew it requires a little bit of patience, but pretty much no effort.

Forget the beef mince – when you decide to cook something for up to 10 hours, you’re affording yourself the luxury of using cheaper, tastier meat which does more to the final dish than bob around like chewy breakfast cereal.  Mince sucks.  I used Beef Shin, and you can use that, or Cheek, Oxtail, Stewing Steak, whatever.  When the meat is cooked for this long it likes to cook down so much that the flavour is detectable in the meal, but texturally it’s non-existent.  There is an idea of whatever cut you decided to use, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real meat – only an entity, something illusory.  So I threw a whole Chorizo sausage in there as well.

If you don’t want to be chopping up celery and digging around the kitchen looking for cumin in the 10 minutes between being woken up by that song you thought would be a cute alarm tone but have since grown to DESPISE, and having to leave for work then the good news is you can make most of this the night before, leave it to rest, and then slow-cook the meat in it the next day and it will be even better.

Just as a pointer, you don’t want to cook the potato or beans for too long – once they reach peak cooked-ness they start to disintegrate, and you want to keep them distinguishable in the dish.  Finally, chilli is cowboy food, and the only thing cowboys love more than spitting into buckets and interrupting pianists in a saloon is getting drunk, so to stay true to the dishes cowboy roots I like to add some booze – either a good slug of tequila towards the end, or substituting the beef stock with a dark beer or porter.  Completely optional, but feel free to get creative.

Ingredients

2 Large Onions, diced.
2 Sticks of Celery, diced.
2 Carrots, diced.
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced or crushed.
Chilli – a couple of dried chipotle, half a dried ancho, or a couple of teaspoons of powder to taste.
1 tsp Cumin.
1 tsp White Pepper.
1 tsp Cinnamon.
2 tsp Smoked Paprika.
2 tsp Oregano.
Pinch of Salt.
1 litre of Beef stock, replace all some or none of it with dark beer or porter if you like.
3 tins of Plum Tomatoes, drained but with the juice saved for later.
2 tsp Cocoa powder or a couple of squares of good dark chocolate.
800g Beef – Shin, Cheek, Tail, Stewing Steak, Bone Marrow it’s your call.
200g Chorizo – a whole sausage, cut into chunky semi-circles.
3 Bell Peppers – Autumnal colours.
2 Sweet Potatoes, roughly 2cm dice.
2 or 3 tins of Beans – choose a combination of Red Kidney, Pinto, Haricot or Black.

Method

Fry the onion, celery and carrots in oil over a low heat until they turn slightly soft and translucent, then add the garlic afterwards making sure not to burn it, otherwise that shit will be BITTER.

Add the chilli, cumin, white pepper, paprika, oregano, cinnamon and salt.  Stir it in for a minute or so to toast the spices and (theoretically) release more flavour.  Add the beef stock/beer the drained Plum Tomatoes.

Bring to a simmer and break the tomatoes down with your spoon, add about half of the tomato juice.  Stir in the grated chocolate or the chocolate powder, then add the beef and chorizo.  Keep it going on the hob or transfer it to a slow-cooker on the lowest setting for as long as possible – at least 4 hours.

By the time you come back to the chilli, a decent layer of fat will have gathered on its surface from the beef and chorizo.  Skim as much of this off as you like – I chose to get rid of it all.  If it’s looking too thick, add some more of that tomato juice; there’s still a few hours cooking time left.

Char the bell peppers over a gas or electric hob until they are blacker than black.  Seriously, BLACK.  Run them under a cold tap and peel the skins off, then chop the flesh off the stalks and stir it into the chilli with the sweet potato.  Slow cook for another 2 hours, or if you’re pushed for time (why have you only just realised this?) simmer for about half an hour.

Add a squeeze of lime and an (optional) slug of Tequila, stir the beans through right towards the end of cooking, they’ll only need about 5 minutes for the residual heat to cook them through and let them keep their bite.  Dish it all out with sour cream, fresh onion, diced tomato and jalapenos on top, and serve with lime rice and tortillas.  This makes enough to easily serve 6-8 hungry people, or if you’re cooking for fewer people you’ll be thrilled to know that the leftovers just get better over time.

Recipe: Beetroot & Parmesan Risotto with Rosé

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In my head, risotto is famous for two things: being the go-to vegetarian option in mid-range restaurants, and tormenting more Come Dine With Me contestants than the correct pronunciation of “Dauphinoise”.  My fiance used to be a vegetarian, so I’ve reached across many dining tables to try the former; while they’re not specifically to blame for her ditching her morals, the prospect of eating bland, watery spinach and feta packet-rice every time we went out to eat wasn’t enough to keep her about dat life.  


Combining this with the calamitous attempts witnessed on CDWM left me in no hurry to try my own – too much room for error, and not enough effort to reward ratio to make it worth my time, I thought.  What an idiot I was.


Risotto couldn’t be easier – all you need is a decent non-stick pan and a bit of patience.  If you’ve already built a callus on your thumb then it’ll come in useful, but if not don’t worry; 20 minutes of constant stirring with a wooden spoon will fix that for you.

Beetroot season’s almost over and it’s becoming rarer in my local supermarket, so when I spotted a couple of bunches I decided this could be its final hurrah for 2014.  To prepare then I just boiled them skin-on for 45 minutes, then dropped them in a bowl of cold water and peeled the skins off.  Use this water to make the stock you’ll use later on to give the rice a rich vermillion colour.


Normally you’d use white wine in risotto, but going along with the red theme I replaced with with Rose.  Don’t scoff; look past White Zinfandel’s impersonation of Strawberry Ribena and that weird £3 oval bottle that’s always on the bottom shelf at the supermarket and tastes like malt vinegar; a £7-£10 Rose is just as good – in some cases better – than a similarly priced White.  For this recipe I used Arc Du Rhone from Co-Op, its dry, slightly balsamic-wild strawberry made more sense with the dish than a peachy white would have.


When you’re adding the stock do it a ladle at a time, cook each ladle of it down until the rice reaches the consistency you’d like to achieve for the completed dish, and then add another until all the stock is gone.  A lot of risotto recipes include cream but if you’re using a decent Arborio and cooking it properly then there’s really no reason to, besides gluttonous indulgence (which I won’t judge you for).  I did add shaved Parmesan cheese just before serving, and to add a variety of texture I garnished with Parmesan Crisps, which you can make by baking parmesan shavings in the over for about 5 minutes at 200 degrees.


Ingredients


500g Beetroot250g Arborio Rice50g Parmesan900ml Stock – Chicken or Vegetable150ml Dry Rose Wine50g Butter – Unsalted1 Onion1 Stick of Celery2 Cloves of GarlicHandful of Toasted Pine NutsA Pinch each of Thyme & Sage

Method 

  1. Make the stock – If you’re cooking the Beetroot yourself then use the water you boiled them in, or if you’re using pre-cooked then save the liquid drained off them and make it up to 900ml.
  2. Cook the onion and celery in the butter over a low heat for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and cook until everything is just translucent.
  3. Add the rice and herbs and stir for a minute or so, until everything has met each other.
  4. Bring the temperature to high and add the wine, cook until most of liquid has been reduced, and then start adding the stock – one ladle at a time, giving the rice chance to absorb all of the stock before you add more.  This should take about 20 minutes or so.
  5. Stir in the shaved Parmesan and Pine Nuts, and finally the diced beetroot.  Cook until warm through.
  6. Garnish with Parmesan, the rest of the Pine Nuts and Spring Onions.