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Kitchen Tips
 
  I include here a few hints and tips which you might be interested in, some culinary, some about ingredients or products used in my recipes.

Weights and Measures

Blind-baking Pastry
Butter
Chocolate
Crème Fraiche
Eggs
Fromage Blanc and Fromage Frais
Game Seasons in Britain
Gas Gun/Blow Torch
Herbs
Ice-cream Making
Medjool Dates
Pig's Caul and Sausage Skins
Pin Bones
Seasoning
Soured Cream
Squeezy Bottles
Stocks, Gravies and Sauces - Alternatives
Suet
Vanilla
Vinegars
Yeast
Yoghurt


Blind-baking Pastry

Line the tin/ring/case with the rolled-out pastry and leave it to rest, preferably in the refrigerator, for 20-30 minutes. Now line the pastry case with baking parchment, foil or greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans (or pulses kept especially for the purpose), and bake at the suggested temperature for the recommended time. It is best, when blindbaking, to leave the excess pastry hanging over the rim of the container, because pastry shrinks as it cooks. Once it is cooked, you can trim off the excess and you will have a perfectly neat, even finish.

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Butter
The butter I use most is unsalted because it gives greater control over the seasoning of a dish.

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Chocolate
Chocolate basically consists of two components: cocoa solids (including cocoa butter) and sugar. Chocolate with a cocoa-solid content of 85 per cent or over is considered unpalatable because it is too bitter. Extra-bitter chocolate ranges from 75 to 85 per cent cocoa solids, but is palatable. A bitter chocolate will be in the 55-75 per cent range, when it should hold 31 per cent cocoa butter. Valrhona 'Grand Cru', which falls into this category, is probably the best for cooking. There are also bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolates: the bitter-sweet varieties must always include a minimum of 35 per cent cocoa butter within the solids, which makes it easier to work with.
I have always bought my cooking chocolate from VaIrhona, or Callebaut, a famous Belgian company. These makes are not always easily obtainable, but Lindt, the Swiss chocolate, is readily available, is good to work with and carries a good depth of flavour. Some supermarkets also sell their own brand of good, high-cocoa-solids chocolate.
White chocolate is a blend of cocoa butter, sugar and milk, and, for a quality product, should contain no more than 50 per cent sugar.

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Crème Fraiche
This is made by pasteurizing milk before the cream has formed. The milk is then separated into cream and skimmed milk. The cream is pasteurized again, to give it extra shelf life, and selected lactic cultures are added to give it acidity. It can be used to finish both sweet and savoury sauces. Double or clotted creams contain an average 48 per cent fat, crème fraiche just 30 per cent.

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Eggs
All eggs used in the recipes are large.

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Fromage Blanc and Fromage Frais
Fromage blanc is a soft, unripened cheese, usually made from skimmed cow's milk with a culture. Fromage frais is fromage blanc, beaten to a smooth consistency. Both contain between zero and 8 per cent fat, unless they have been enriched with cream. Fromage frais can replace yoghurt in ice-creams, mousses, and so on.

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Game Seasons in Britain
Grouse - 12 August to 10 December
Mallard (wild duck) - September to January
Partridge - 1 September to 1 February
Pheasant - 1 October to 1 February (best between December and January)
Quail - All year
Venison - March to October
Wild hare - March to July

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Gas Gun/Blow Torch
Powerful butane gas canisters can be used as a blow torch in the kitchen to give a crispy glaze to many desserts. They are available from almost any hardware store and can also be found in the kitchen sections of department stores. Follow the instructions carefully, use carefully and, of course, keep away from children.

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Herbs
If you substitute dried herbs for fresh herbs, remember to use only half the amount specified.

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Ice-cream Making
I recommend using an ice-cream machine for the best results: as it churns, the mixture becomes lighter and the texture smoother. Fill the machine half to two-thirds full, to leave room for the mixture to increase in volume.
If you don't have a machine, you can still make ice-creams: freeze the ice-cream mix and whisk it every 20-30 minutes until it is set. It will still taste good, although it may be a bit grainier because of the larger ice crystals.

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Medjool Dates
These come from India and, without doubt, are the best to cat. They are plump and meaty, and have a natural fudge-toffee flavour that is perfect for many dishes.

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Pig's Caul and Sausage Skins
Caul is the lacy lining of a pig's stomach. It is quite difficult to get hold of but you should be able to order it through your butcher. It must be soaked in cold water for 24 hours first, which makes it easier use, then drained. It's used almost like cling film, rolled around meat or a meaty mixture, to which it will cling. If caul is unavailable, cook without a covering or use buttered foil.
Sausage skins are the intestines of the pig, and must be ordered from your butcher as well. They, too, need to be soaked for several hours and rinsed before use.

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Pin Bones
These fine bones are found in round fish fillets, that is, red mullet, trout, salmon, cod and so on. The bones run down the centre of most of these fillets and are easily removed with fine pliers or tweezers. It's worth spending the time needed to remove them, as the fish then becomes more comfortable to eat.

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Seasoning
Unless otherwise stated, 'season' or 'seasoning' simply means seasoning with salt and pepper preferably freshly ground white, or black.
'It may be that there are some men who seek gold, but there lives no man who does not need salt, which seasons our food.' Cassiodorus, AD 468-568

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Soured Cream
This is single or double cream that has been treated with a souring culture and contains about 20 per cent butterfat. You can make soured cream at home by simply adding a few drops of lemon juice to either double or whipping cream.

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Squeezy Bottles
Small plastic bottles with narrow spouts can be bought in good kitchen departments. They can be filled with something like a sauce or coulis (a sieved pureed sauce, usually fruit-related), which can be squeezed out for a neater finish on the plate or food.

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Stocks, Gravies and Sauces - Alternatives
I give a number of stock and sauce recipes throughout the book, but there are also many good bought alternatives (fresh, dried or cubed) available in supermarkets.

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Suet
This is the hard white fat surrounding beef kidneys, and it is shredded and floured for use in the domestic kitchen. It is vital in making traditional British suet pastries and puddings. Hard vegetable oils are now prepared in the same way for use by vegetarians.

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Vanilla
Vanilla pods are the fruit of a tropical vine. When you buy them, they are long, thin and black. They can be split to allow you to use the tiny seeds within, or the pods, which are very fragrant in themselves, can be used whole. Keep the pods in an airtight jar with your caster sugar, and the sugar will be infused with the vanilla flavour - giving you a constant supply of vanilla sugar for desserts and cakes.

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Vinegars
I use a selection of vinegars on this website. Red-wine vinegar is a favourite. Because many of those available are thin and not very red-wine-flavoured, I urge you to spend a little more and buy a vinegar that bears the hallmark of a good wine - a Bordeaux vinegar, say, or my current favourite, Cabernet Sauvignon. Balsamic is the vinegar of the moment and, again, do spend a little more to get a good quality product. The older it gets, the better, it tastes - and the more expensive it is to buy - but because of its strength you won't use it up too quickly. I also like to use good-quality cider vinegar.

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Yeast
Three types of yeast are available - fresh or compressed yeast, granular dried yeast, and easyblend dried yeast. Fresh is very perishable and should be used quickly, or frozen; the dried yeasts should be stored in a cool place, and a close eye kept on sell-by dates.
Fresh and granular dried yeasts need to be activated in lukewarm liquid before being added to a flour; easy-blend yeast doesn't need to be activated with water and can be mixed straight into the flour. Dried yeast is twice as potent as fresh yeast, so use 15 g (1/2 oz) dried, say, when a recipe specifies 25 g (1 oz) fresh yeast. Two level teaspoons is approximately 15 g (1/2 oz) dried yeast.

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Yoghurt
Low-fat or skimmed milk is treated with a culture of selected lactic ferments to make natural (unsweetened and unflavoured) yoghurt. The butterfat content is between 8 and 10 per cent, making natural yoghurt healthy to eat and to cook with.

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