Foolproof Meringues

Unlike most foods in baking, meringues are not cooked as much as dried out in the oven. A very low temperature should be used when making them to prevent the meringues from colouring in the oven – they should come out a brilliant white. They are also incredibly versatile as meringue can be used not only to decorate other desserts but also as the main base for pudding – for example pavlova and Eton mess. They can be either solid or marshmallowy inside but be careful, if they are undercooked a tasty snack can easily become the equivalent of eating something akin to superglue.

Owing to their minimal list of ingredients, colouring meringues can be a bit of a hassle. Ideally you want to use egg whites which you separate out from the yolk yourself. This is because the egg whites which come in a carton tend to be pasteurised and during this process, some of the proteins are affected so they do not whip up as well as fresh egg whites. If you do have to use egg whites from a carton, you will have to whip the meringue for far longer and should also use half a teaspoon of cream of tartar to help bind them. It is imperative that you use gel food colourings or even better, gel paste as normal water based food colouring can disrupt the balance between the sugar and egg white and lead to the meringues deflating. The same can be said of adding flavourings – if they are liquid based, add them right at the end and add as little as possible. Adding a teaspoon of cornflour can help offset this problem but won’t prevent it entirely.

There are several types of meringue – French, Swiss, and Italian – which are all made and used in different ways. The recipe below is a classic example of a French meringue. The egg whites and sugar are whipped together to form a thick, glossy mixture which holds it shape upon piping. It is then baked to set the proteins in the egg white and drive off excess water. Swiss meringue is similar however it is whipped in a bain marie (over a pan of simmering water) until it is thick. The mixture is then removed from the heat and beaten until cool – the meringue is again baked. The final type is Italian meringue. Unlike the other two, this used hot sugar syrup instead of solid sugar. When it is added, the mixture will go very runny. It is then whipped until cool resulting in a stiff meringue. As the sugar syrup was very hot when it was added, the egg whites are already cooked so Italian meringue does not need to be baked before using. As a result, it is common to put it on lemon meringue pie and baked Alaska before blowtorching the outside to give it a caramelised finish.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and that you end up loving meringue as much as I do!

 

Meringues

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 2 hr plus

 

Ingredients:

3 egg whites (room temperature works best)

6 oz caster sugar

½ tsp lemon juice/white vinegar/cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

 

Method One (with a stand mixer):

Preheat the oven to 85-90⁰C

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for around 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy.

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The meringue mostly holds its shape on the whisk – it could probably do with another few minutes at this point.

Take a tiny bit between your fingers and see if it feels gritty. If it does, continue to whisk the mixture for another minute or two until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Pipe or dollop shapes or piles of the mix onto a lined baking tray.

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Bake for around two hours until the meringues come away from the base of the baking tray without breaking.

 

 

Method Two (with an electric hand whisk):

Preheat the oven to 85-90C

Put the egg whites in a bowl and beat them until they reach stiff peaks.

Add the sugar in two tablespoons at a time and make sure to keep whisking in between additions so the sugar will dissolve properly.

Once all the sugar has been incorporated, add in the salt and lemon juice and continue to whisk for another five or so minutes until the mixture is very thick, glossy and smooth.

As with method one, use a piping bag or a spoon to make little mounds of meringue on the baking sheet and place into the oven for around two hours.

 

Serve with cream and fresh fruit.

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Deconstructed pavlova with rainbow meringues.
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Banana caramel with meringues? Yes please!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe; for another sweet treat check out my recipe for apple pie (it’s possible to make this one vegan) or if you fancy something a little more savoury, why not make yourself some red pepper and tomato soup?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with an easy recipe for crispy skin salmon and lemon couscous – it’s super fast and utterly divine!

H

 

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

“Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad” – Miles Kington

The same could be said of the bell pepper. The entire family of peppers (bell peppers, chillies etc.) are technically fruits but you would never see them on a dessert platter – except possibly in some ‘ground-breaking’, edgy restaurant. I guess potentially I could be marketing this recipe as a smoothie bowl but let’s be realistic, it’s just soup.

I have a very mixed relationship with peppers. I’m not a huge fan of the texture but I do quite like the taste so turning them into soup seemed like a perfect solution to my problem. Obviously as I was also using tomatoes, red peppers were the obvious choice for a bright, vibrant soup but if you don’t like tomatoes, pepper soup is also very tasty and can be made in a wide range of colours. Peppers come in more than the standard four varieties (red, orange, yellow and green); you can also find them in white and both light and dark shades of purple. Purple isn’t a colour that appears in many dishes as there isn’t a wealth of naturally purple food out there so a bowl of bright purple soup is really exciting!

Peppers differ from their spicy counterparts as they exhibit a recessive trait – they do not produce capsaicin. This is the molecule responsible for the burning sensation when eating chilli. It is a strong irritant and is very hydrophobic so is not affected by water at all. This means rinsing your mouth with water will do nothing to alleviate the heat from chillies but milk (which is an emulsion of fat in water) can help relieve the pain. For the same reason, washing your hands with just water after chopping chillies will not remove the capsaicin so it is still dangerous to rub your eyes but using soap – something designed to bond to both water and fats – will help clean the capsaicin off your skin. Interestingly for the same reason, even bleach will not remove capsaicin but oil will so swilling your mouth out with oil, whilst gross, will remove the heat. In the same vein, capsaicin is soluble in alcohol so rinsing with vodka or another spirit would also help alleviate the pain but do not swallow it as this just moves the capsaicin to an area which you can’t clean as easily. Of course you can then proceed to wash your mouth out with water which will remove the remaining vodka.

The difference between red/yellow/orange peppers and green peppers is time. All peppers start out green and as they ripen they change colour. As a result, red peppers are sweeter than their green counterparts although you can get some varieties which stay green even when fully ripe. This means you can make soups of all shades.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup:

Serves 6

Time: 1 hour

Cost per portion: about 50p

Ingredients:

3 large red peppers

6 medium tomatoes

1 medium to large onion

2 cloves garlic

500ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp tomato paste

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

For cheese tuiles, grate 200g cheddar or parmesan.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Halve the tomatoes, remove the seeds and stalks from the peppers and place on a baking tray.

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Drizzle with olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper.

Roast the vegetables in the oven for half an hour. Give them a mix halfway through to ensure nothing burns and everything is roasted evenly.

Once the peppers and tomatoes have been cooking for 20 minutes, roughly chop the onion and the garlic.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large pan and start to fry the onions and garlic.

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When the peppers and tomatoes have finished in the oven, add them to the pan with the onions.

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Add the stock and simmer for fifteen minutes.

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Using a stick or jug blender, blend the soup until it is smooth.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the cheese tuiles, decrease the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C).

Arrange circles of cheese on baking parchment or a silicone mat.

Bake for 5 minutes until the tuiles are pale gold and lacey looking. Make sure they do not turn too dark as this will make them taste bitter!

Serve the soup hot with a drizzle of cream, a few tuiles and a little fresh coriander.

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This soup is ideal as it freezes very well and can be kept in the fridge for several days. It makes a perfect lunch when you’re in a hurry and tastes delicious.

If you really love your soup, I have posted recipes for both butternut squash and curried parsnip soup so you should check those out. If you are looking for a more substantial meal, why not try out a beef stir-fry or for a delicious dessert (which is simple to make vegan), treat yourself to an apple tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with my foolproof meringue recipe.

H

Beef Wellington

Despite popular belief, the Beef Wellington has no known association with the Duke of that name other than sharing a common name. In fact, the first appearance of the name was in the Los Angeles Times just over one hundred years ago when there was a recipe for “Fillet of beef, a la Wellington” however this wasn’t anything like the beef wellington we know and love today. The modern form seems to have only existed for around forty years, however it is very similar to other dishes such as Salmon en Croûte so it could have been around for longer.

Traditionally made with fillet steak, pate de foie gras, mushroom duxelle and puff pastry, the Beef Wellington is rich and filling. It is often wrapped in a crepe before the pastry is added as this prevents the juices turning the pastry soggy! I have found that making a good mushroom duxelle prevents this, so you don’t need to worry about making a fiddly crepe for my recipe below. If you sear the meat properly and make sure all the liquid is absorbed or evaporated off when you make the mushroom mix, there will be a good seal to prevent any juices from leaking out! Although I don’t do it myself, it is not uncommon for people to wrap the duxelle covered wellington in parma ham instead of a crepe.

No single part of Beef Wellington takes more than 10 minutes at most (excluding the cooking) however after each step, the ingredients must be cooled. This is an absolute must as if the beef or the mushroom is warm, the butter in the pastry will melt resulting in the pastry sliding straight off the meat in the oven!

In my recipe, I do not use foie gras or the crepe as I don’t have time to make them and I am trying to do all of this on a student budget. Personally I don’t feel like the flavour of the dish was inhibited by this however if you want to add them, the foie gras is spread over the meat before the duxelle, and then the crepe is wrapped around everything before the pastry is added!

 

Beef Wellington

Serves 2 or 4 (makes 2 large portions or 4 smaller half wellingtons)

Prep time: 20 minutes     Rest time: 1 hour           Cook time: 30 minutes

Price per portions – £3.10 if you make two or £1.55 if you make four

 

2 fillet steaks (about 340g meat)

One large packet of puff pastry (I use prerolled for this)

250g chestnut mushrooms

4 spring onions or one shallot

Butter (or oil) for frying

Salt and Pepper

1 egg – beaten

 

Optional:
Sprig of thyme (small)

60ml sherry, madeira or white wine

One small clove of garlic

 

 

First prepare the mushroom duxelle.

Finely chop the mushrooms and spring onions (or shallot).

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Melt the butter in a pan and once it starts bubbling, add the mushrooms and shallots.

Fry for a minute stirring constantly to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Add in 60ml water (or the wine) along with the salt and pepper (and the thyme and garlic if you are using it – normally I would never condone the use of only one clove or garlic however this is such a small recipe for duxelle that any more garlic would overpower everything!)

Keep stirring the mixture until all the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated – this should take about 5-10 minutes.

Once the liquid has evaporated, you should be left with a paste which holds its shape when stirred. Remove this from the heat and let cool.

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While the duxelle is cooling, heat up a frying pan with some olive oil or butter.

Add the beef and fry for 1-2 minutes on one side to sear the meat. Then sear the edges but not the other side. You want the pan to be very hot so you can caramelise the outside of the beef but not cook the inside.

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Once the beef is seared, remove it from the pan and let it cool for 10 minutes. Cut in half width wise and place the unseared sides together to get smaller but taller pieces of meat.

Once the beef and duxelle have cooled, it’s time to assemble the wellingtons!

Cut your pastry in half as you will be making two wellingtons. If you are using prerolled pastry, place it on a surface and roll it out a little bit more to add another inch or two so it will definitely cover the meat. Cut this piece in half again for the top and bottom pieces of pastry.

Spread a small amount of duxelle onto the lower piece leaving room around the edges and place one of the pieces of meat on top of it.

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Add more duxelle around the sides and on the top of the meat sealing it in to prevent the juices escaping and the pasty going soggy.

Top with the other half of the pastry using a small amount of beaten egg around the outside to seal the pastry together – try not to have any air bubbles.

Using a fork, press down around the edge of the wellington to make sure the pastry has sealed together.

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Repeat this with the remaining meat, pastry and duxelle and place the wellingtons in the fridge for at least half an hour – they can be left like this for several hours if you prepare in advance.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C)

Remove the wellingtons from the fridge and lightly brush them with the remaining beaten egg.

Bake for half an hour turning at around 20 minutes for medium rare beef.

Let the wellingtons sit for 5-10 minutes before serving so the meat isn’t tough (cover them with some silver foil to prevent them getting too cold!)

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A little seepage around the edge doesn’t matter as long as you remove any liquid before leaving the wellington to rest!
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Serve with roasted vegetables and gravy for a hearty meal.

I hope you enjoyed this recipe, let me know what you think in the comments below! If you fancy making something a little Christmassy for next week, check out my Gingerbread House recipe or for another yummy dinner, try my sticky salmon, it’s not to be missed!

Join me next week on Christmas Day for an incredibly festive Yule Log – it’s quick and easy and can be made up in no more than two hours so is perfect for a last minute dessert!

 

Mushroom Risotto

From curry, to sushi, to risotto, rice is used around the world. It is one of the most versatile carbohydrates and this has led to its use in a myriad of dishes. The various varieties of rice display drastically different characteristics when cooked so there is a type of rice for almost any of your culinary desires!

Risottos are usually made with a medium grain rice where the grains are only just over double as long as they are wide. When cooked properly on a hob or steamed, medium grain rice comes out very soft and fluffy and the cooked grains stick together so can be moulded. If the rice is not washed beforehand, the starch in it comes out during cooking and makes the water cloudy (or in the case of risotto, makes the final meal ultra creamy). I find that Arborio is the easiest variety of risotto rice to get hold of however, any medium or medium/short grain rice will normally work for making a risotto. Medium grain rice can also be used when making sushi as the grains clump making the sushi stick together.

Short grain rice is normally used in rice pudding and paella. The grains are so short that they are almost as long as they are wide (whereas long grain rice is almost five times as long as it is wide). The starchiness of short grain rice is what gives dishes their creaminess. Long grain rice is far less starchy than its shorter grained counterparts and the grains do not clump when cooking. As a result, it can be boiled easily and then just drained and served.

Rice is becoming more and more popular as large numbers of people are trying to avoid gluten. This has led to the more unusual types of rice becoming increasingly available. These include wild rices and Chinese black rice. Most ‘wild’ rice is actually cultivated but it is still possible to find speciality shops that will sell genuine wild rice. Brown rice is very popular at the moment as it undergoes less processing than white rice. It has a nuttier flavour and a slightly different texture however there are concerns about it as the rice bran (which gives the rice its colour) contains arsenic leading to some countries having regulations controlling the types of brown rice sold!

Risotto is a rather labour-intensive dish. It requires constant stirring (though I have found that it can be left for 30 seconds or so) to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan and parts being overcooked while others are raw. It has a wonderful creamy texture which can be achieved without using any dairy at all so is perfect for those with lactose intolerance.

It is however delicious and is bound to wow anyone you cook it for – even yourself. The versatility of risotto is astounding. You can flavour it with almost anything. I usually use mushrooms and sometimes chicken though I have also made it with smoked salmon which surprisingly, works incredibly well!

 

Mushroom Risotto

Serves 3 Prep time 15 minutes  Cooking time – 30 minutes

Cost per portion: around £1.10

 

Ingredients

500g Mushrooms

200g Risotto rice

500ml stock (ideally mushroom but vegetable or chicken both work)

1 medium onion/half a large onion

50g grated fresh parmesan (or cheddar if you prefer the taste)

3 tbsp oil

 

Optional

Parsley

2 tbsp double cream

Truffle oil

 

Chop the mushrooms to your desired size – I tend to quarter them unless they are particularly big or small.

Add them to a large pan with half of the oil and a third of a cup of water (80ml) which will help stop them burning. Place over a medium heat for around 15 minutes.

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Chop up the garlic and add the mushrooms after about 5 minutes.

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The mushrooms have shrunk and are releasing all the liquid held inside of them

While the mushrooms are cooking finely dice the onion and add it to another pan with the remaining oil.

Cook the onions until they are translucent – at this point they will start to get a bit sticky and come together while you stir them.

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Drain the liquid off the mushrooms and keep it! I tend to get about a cup out of 500g mushrooms. Place the mushrooms off to one side

Add the rice to the pan with the onion and stir through.

Add the mushroom liquid and cook on a medium heat until it has all been absorbed by the rice. Make sure you keep stirring.

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The grains are still very small and uncooked. All the liquid that has been added so far will be absorbed!

Add half the stock and keep cooking the risotto.

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Once the risotto is thick enough to hold its shape and there is no running liquid, add the next potion of stock

Once that has been absorbed slowly add the rest of the stock stirring after each addition.

If the rice still isn’t soft, just keep adding more water a bit a time and waiting for it to be absorbed until the rice is cooked.

Add the grated cheese and stir through.

For a super creamy risotto, you can add a small amount of double cream and stir it through at this point.

Add the mushrooms and return to the heat continuing to stir until the mushrooms are fully heated again.

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Garnish with cream, parsley, some of the mushrooms and sometimes even a little olive oil

Let me know if you try this at home, I love seeing things you guys cook. Give me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing. If you fancy treating yourself, why not try having a three course meal of risotto, beef lasagne and millionaire’s shortbread for dessert!

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for my orange and chocolate bread and butter pudding. It’s super creamy and perfect for a long winter night in!

H