Salt Masters

salt header

If you have an interest in cooking and don’t live under a stone, chances are that you’ve heard recent buzzing about Himalayan Salt- the pretty pink sensation coming to table tops and bathtubs near you!!!

You may well ask why I care about this and I will give you two reasons. The first is, rather obviously, dinner. Salt is one of the most widely used and massively misunderstood components of a decent meal and if you hadn’t noticed yet, I do like a decent meal. The second is that I’m an Essex girl, and if I have to live with the constant barrage of dubious Dad-jokes and stereotypes associated with my region then I shall take my revenge by constantly shouting about some of the really good people, businesses and products that come from Essex too.

Enter Salt Masters, providing you with oodles of Himalayan Salt products from their base in sunny Romford, just up the A12 from this food fan. You can have a check of their lovely website here  and will see all kinds of products ranging from culinary salt to cooking blocks to bath salts to therapeutic lamps and bricks, and back again. I’d like to talk about their culinary salt for a little while.

So what’s the buzz, it’s just salt, right? We-ll, sort of right. In general terms when we say ‘Salt’ we mean sodium chloride, NaCl for those of us that didn’t bunk off chemistry GCSE, and in the loosest way all table salt is the same in that it mostly contains sodium chloride (usually well over 90%). The origin of Himalayan salt, mostly in the Punjab foothills, gives it a unique mineral profile of additional trace compounds and rosy colouration which makes it stand out from many other culinary rock salts. Salt Masters salt is mined without explosives and processed without additional flavour enhancers or anti-caking agents making the product that ends up at your letter box is pure and pink and unadulterated, right from the source.

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Coarse ground Himalayan pink salt from Salt Masters

You have to take a moment to note that as condiments go, this stuff is very pretty and makes an eye catching filler for your grinder or salt pig- it is has a particularly pleasing look when mixed with dried rosemary leaves  in a clear grinder. The coarse ground culinary salt is great to use as an abrasive when mashing up herbs or spices to make rubs and marinades, much as the way you might use traditional rock salt or sea salt. The fine ground salt will also make a pretty spectacular glass-rim garnish for the tequila fans amoung us.

I think the most striking difference I have found in using the Salt Masters culinary salt though is that it tastes, er, really salty…….That sounds like a daft thing to say as what else would it taste of? But this strength of flavour means you really don’t need to use that much of it to enhance your cooking. Using less is something of a double win as although you do need an amount of salt in your diet, there are numerous medical concerns with consuming too much, and when you don’t need to use as much your stash lasts longer and is effectively cheaper! I have found the pink Salt Masters salt especially effective in sweet dishes to enhance rich desserts that could be potentially sickly otherwise and would recommenced this salt in particular for salted caramel or dark chocolate recipes- I will be trying some in a chocolate fondant the next time we have dinner guests. Below is a really easy salted chocolate fudge recipe which works wonderfully with this salt and is a perfect pick me up with a cup of tea or an indulgent movie night treat. As this fudge uses chocolate to set you don’t need to fuss about with endless boiling or sugar thermometers, you just need a good saucepan and a spare fifteen minutes.

Check out the full Salt Masters site here with free delivery on everything over £50!

https://www.himalayansaltmasters.co.uk/

Pink-Salted Chocolate Fudge

 

Kit:
4″x6″ rectangular baking tin
Greaseproof paper
Silicone backed spoon

100g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids)
1 can condensed milk
230g soft dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fine ground Salt Masters Himalayan Salt
1/2 tsp coarse Salt Masters Himalayan Salt

Line your tin with greaseproof paper and set aside, then break your chocolate up into pieces. Pleeeeeeeeease don’t use cheap cooking chocolate for this recipe invest in a couple of decent, high cocoa content bars! I particularly like the fair trade 80% dark chocolate from Co-op.
Melt the butter in a reasonably sturdy pan then take off the heat and stir in the condensed milk, then the brown sugar. When thoroughly mixed, return to the heat until it just starts to bubble. Start to stir now (don’t use a wooden spoon) and maintain a low, steady simmer for 2 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and add the fine salt, vanilla extract and the chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and combined with the sugar mix.
Return to the heat until it just starts to simmer again then take the pan off, stir quickly once more then pour the mixture into your tin. If you have a silicon spoon use this to level the top or simply give the pan a good wiggle to distribute the fudge out evenly.

Set aside on a heat proof surface for 2 hours then scatter the coarse salt evenly over the top. The fudge will take over night at room temperature or 2-3 hours in the fridge to set fully, do it at room temperature if possible as the set will be better.
Cut into pieces with a sharp knife and serve or gift as you wish, it will keep in an air tight container for a couple of weeks, if you can resist it for that long!

fudge

 

 

*this post has been sponsored by Himalayan Salt Masters and I was gifted two bags of their salt for this purpose, however I would assure you that I would never recommend products or services with anything but my genuine opinion. 

 

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The Breakfast Club- Fork & Wine

I’ve alluded previously to my good fortune as regards eating establishments within spitting distance of my humble abode in Brightlingsea so I won’t go on about that again other than to say here’s another one!

Although breakfast has always been a popular date activity for the Mr and myself, however out outings have been curbed since such recent relationship milestones as The Mortgage and The Spare Room Remodelling. We have truly rescinded our Only-On-Special-Occasions- Breakfast-Club retirement for Fork and Wine.

When we first moved to town there was a lot of chatter about a bistro opening on the high street with a confusing and over priced small-plates based menu that frankly put me right off visiting. It was a short lived venture, the gloomy white washed ashes of which gave life to Fork and Wine which seems to be doing much better trade with a hearty, grill based repertoire that requires no translation for those of us who just fancy a normal sized steak followed by some kind of brownie, thanks very much. Plus regular specials, seasonal fish offerings and a remarkable wine list, it all looks pretty good. The internal decor is also quite striking if slightly scattered through several aesthetic themes that might have one reminiscing about a stroll through the Ikea showrooms. Not in a bad way.

I am yet to sample the apparent delights of a dinner at F&W but we were suckered in from a well placed Facebook plug shouting about their early weekend opening hours, great value full English and opening month special of FREE COFFEE WITH ALL BREAKFASTS! Woo hoo! We both commented that the advertised prices couldn’t stay in place for too long and we had better get over there before they ran out of Columbian dark roast.

The full on Full English at Fork & Wine

The breakfast menu is pretty bloody fab, and still holding stupidly good value breaking no more than £8 a head for a hot plate and bottomless coffee or tea. Yes, £8. If you’re being excessive. My last receipt there for an early morning date night came in at £12.95. For both of us. Does anywhere local beat that?
But at those kind of prices the food must be rubbish, no? Well, no. It’s really good, freshly cooked and generously plated to the extent that the Mr will go until dinner without eating again after their full English. This almost never happens.

The menu boasts the expected items- a proper full English at around six quid, an all veggie, scrambled eggs for the kids and avocado toast for the trendy twats, maple-pancake stacks for those of us who aspire to American glucose tolerance levels. You can even have icecream if you want to. It’s a great little menu, with just enough options for a fair choice without putting a struggle on the kitchen to produce everything freshly cooked and prettily turned out.
Service there is not without the odd surprise, however.
Such as an ever present garnish of rocket or greens where one might not expect them, stealth herbs and spices and pesto dressings and filo wrapped deep fried quorn sausages in the All Veggie. Traditionalists might struggle with these little flourishes, I personally think they are fantastic (particularly those filo wrapped nuggets of  crispy TVP wonderfulness).  It is always reassuring to see from your plate that you are eating from a kitchen where someone really appreciates ingredients and knows how to stack up easy, compatible flavours without being utterly boring about it. There are some proper chefs in that kitchen. My only remark against this might be that they are not the fastest chefs in the world BUT hey, it’s the weekend, it’s breakfast out, there is every reason to enjoy every second of a relaxed service with another coffee (I mentioned the free refills, right?). Take the time to think of ways to work off all that buttermilk and crispy bacon with the rest of your day.

A perfectly poached egg atop smashed avocado and foccacia toast, Fork & Wine

After several visits, I have to give these guys a solid 10 out of 10 on their morning set up, it is an excellent place to stop for breakfast. The Mr is fully behind their gut-busting full English-with-green bits and recommends anything that comes with their home-fried potatoes. I am thrilled to be one of the food-trend-bores and steer you towards their triumphantly seasoned avocaodo toast, served smashed with tomatoes and perfectly poached eggs.  I also suggest you dine with someone who orders something with the home fried potatoes so you can nick some of them too.

 

 

Click here for  venue info but their breakfast menu isn’t on here yet. http://www.forkandwine.co.uk/

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The Skinny Thing: Calling All Fat Vegans.

vegan-police

Does anyone know a fat vegan?

You’re sniggering now and waiting for the punchline but really, I want to know. Do you know an un-skinny (long term) vegan?

I thought I did once,  but she was forced to correct me with a wry smile when I found her demolishing a burger at a food festival that she absolutely was not a vegan but perhaps I had in the past misheard the term lesbian.  With the benefit of hindsight that made the initial conversation during which I had wrongly concluded that she was an animal-free entity seem a lot less weird. It was also mildly disappointing, as she had always been my go to example of how in the real world veganism was not an immediate road to healthy-thin-bikini-happy-ism.

We talk a lot about going plant based these days. For our health. For the environment. For the shame and misery of factory farming. For #meatfreemonday instagram posts. Everyone seems to be at it and I am not an exception to this, although my increasing conversion has been accidental and on a strictly part time basis. I will make my hipocrisy disclaimer here and now and happily admit that I will eat and enjoy a plate of live oysters and feel no shame but in recent months the Mr and I have made a conscious effort to bring down our overall animal produce consumption. I’m trying to lose weight, and we’ve been on a financial diet for the last few months too.  Meat isn’t cheap. Bona fide free range meat is out and out expensive when compared to say chickpeas or a pack of spaghetti. I am also a bit squeamish when it comes to rights of small and helpless creatures and many mass farming methods leave me with the kind of guilt that will tarnish the delicate bouquet of a fine fois gras. Dairy bothers my guts in large amounts, we don’t have a local fishmonger and fruit and veg is generally low in weight watcher points so yes, I am well behind increasing my intake of food that never had a face.

See that bit? Weight watchers points. Because that’s the big seller here, for me. A vegan lifestyle is endlessly touted as being ‘healthy’ and when we say ‘healthy’ don’t we actually mostly mean ‘skinny’? We certainly don’t mean ‘eight to twelve kilos overweight’, which once again leads me to the question: is there such a thing as a fat vegan?

Plenty of high calorie, naughty-list food is vegan. Nuts. Bread. Avocados. Fanta. Chips. Oreos. That shit will make you fat if you let it. Won’t it? We talk good fats and bad fats in weight loss, most allegedly ‘bad’ ones are animal based, but does dropping the butter from your Sunday morning avocado-toast really mean the difference between your sexy jeans or another summer sweating away in a kaftan? Going vegan also rules out plenty of high protein, satiating and slimmer-friendly foods like turkey, egg whites, whey and white fish, further putting obstacles in the conventional weight loss menu regimes. Dairy bloats you out but so can baked beans so we won’t go there for now.
So why does it work? Is it simple maths? As I (and endlessly more credible individuals before me) have previously said, losing fat is just maths. Eat less calories and you will get thinner and I think we’ve just seen that being vegan isn’t immediately conducive to eating fewer calories. I have accidentally managed a vegan day today as it happens but still gone 4 points over my daily weight watchers allowance. Perhaps there is a baseline metabolic boost from all that self-righteous preaching about the number of souls destroyed in assembling a prawn cocktail that makes your hard-line vegan that little bit more toned than those of us that are queuing up for some iceberg lettuce and seafood sauce.
There are hundreds of theories and examples and complex sums to explain and discredit all of these claims without a definitive answer so let’s get straight to the anecdotal evidence:

Does anyone know a fat vegan? 

I know a 90%-of-the-time-vegan who has been known to sneak in a cheese sarnie once in a blue moon and has admitted herself that we should all hate her a bit because she is that friend who eats pretty much from sun up to sleepytime and does not put weight on. Yeah she likes mung beans and alfalfa sprouts but she also likes sweets and chips and wine much more, she doesn’t work out and yet you would struggle to pinch a decent amount of flab anywhere on her frame. The cow! Just good genes? She might argue with my statement that she has never been a chubber but she’s certainly in better shape now than she was in our teens, with the added body-fat handicaps of being over 30 and an ex-smoker, so it stands as a reasonable assumption that her vegan activity certainly hasn’t hurt her waistline.

In more immediate evidence, I’ve recently dropped my usual yoghurt and cereal breakfast for peanut butter on toast and subsequently removed my need for a mid morning calorie influx. My go-to lunchbox in the week is a chickpea salad because I don’t want to use the health hazard fridge at my new workplace to keep anything meaty cold, and since switching from a tuna/ham/cheese salad I am also surviving the dread zone of the 3pm sugar slump with just an apple or some kind of generic reduced fat crisps substitute. These two changes have made my weight watchers efforts a bit less of an, er, effort to say the least. I’m no saint, I still eat out about once a week and don’t give a shit about the points on the menu and I rarely bother to count my booze-consumption (for shame) but in the last three weeks I’ve scored a weigh in loss and shuffled down into my Next jeans and I am honestly starting to wonder if it is due to the reduction of animal related grub.

So am I going vegan and investing in spandex?

Don’t be so silly of course not. Why?  Because the capitalist bastard farming industry has brainwashed me into believing that it’s OK to eat a chicken even though I wouldn’t eat a dog or a guinea pig because they are cute? *
No.
Because I accept that milk is for babies and grown up women with big bums do not need cheesey snacks to survive a Tom Hardy film?
Absolutely not.
Because going vegan is hard, even if it is cheap and environmentally friendly. I can’t eat a home grown freshly chopped quinoa salad for all meals BUT I can try to choose plants most of the time when they are available and this seems to be paying off. Because the trick is balance, the trick is treats and piety in moderation and I will take a school day salad with a Sunday chicken and parmesan binge over a daily glass of milk and a chicken breast every time, thanks very much, and it is going to take a fat vegan to persuade me otherwise.

Does anyone know of one?

*this is actual bollocks I would totally eat a guinea pig.

 

 

Gin & Tonic Jelly

maids

The Happy Couple plus bridesmaids (I’m the one on the end who clearly eats the most).

Some many months ago the Older Male Sibling got his self engaged to a lovely lady and two years of planning and scribbling and testing and head scratching began for many people.

This culminated in a wonderful day out last week during which everyone looked gorgeous and said lovely things and celebrated this irritatingly marvelously photogenic couple and their genuinely heart warming commitment to one another. Congrats, dudes. Sincerely.

But you’ve had enough of the spotlight so back to ME! Me, the sister, the sweets factory, the purveyor of Wedding Favours.  I was happy to be asked to provide little treats for the wedding guests and after a few brief conversations that you don’t care about we agreed on a whisky marmalade for the fellas and a gin and lime jelly for the ladies.  I found recipes, I was happy, and I sat back to relax for roughly 10 months before I had to start making them.

Then March arrived and it was time to start cooking. Oh wait, I forgot the bit where I got a new phone over the summer and chucked out my knackered old Samsung. My knackered old Samsung that had the gin and lime jelly recipe saved on it. I think that cumulatively I spend a solid day of my life trying to find it again, to no avail. What I did find was a ton of ridiculously long and drawn out methods to mix sugar and citrus into a sticky and visually acceptable substance to adorn the wedding breakfast tables.
Shit.
Due to having a successful but time consuming boys’ recipe down, I really did not have time to spend 3-4 hours per batch (with overnight soaking) on a full on lime marmalade for the gals too. Ten add in my own self mutilation of changing day jobs the week before the big day and spending two days away training and I had very little time left and all of it was more or less in the middle of the three nights leading up to the day when I had to deliver.
Shit!!!!!!
On realising that a traditionally touted method wasn’t going to do it, I went back to my beat up and batter-stained recipe book to see if I could find any old jams or experiments that I could tinker with to come up with 75 jars in less than six cooking sessions. I came across a long forgotten carrot ‘marmalade’ from days long past which was easy to make, vegan and coeliac friendly and dammit it might just work!

If there is another recipe in the world where you can swap carrots for limes and it works just as well, well, I would like to hear about it!

jars

I am happier with this recipe than I can really express, not just because it saved my contribution to the McBarton Wedding Extravaganza, it’s also bloody nice although something of an acquired taste with a definite finish of tonic water. It is pretty sweet, what with all the sugar, and lime zest can be a little bit tough if you don’t get your soaking in or are lazy on the zesting but the over riding result spread over a warm buttered bagel is frankly a tangy blob of jiggly breakfast heaven. It will go equally well on a scone or stirred into some Greek yoghurt.

The lemon and juniper berry garnish came to mind as a testament to the current trend of super G&T garnish game and can easily be left out.

Also, it’s really not that boozy!

Boomboom G&T Jelly

Makes roughly 1.5l or 15x100ml gift sized jars

limes

1kg white granulated sugar
500g limes- get the softest ones you can find and keep them out of the fridge the day before use
350ml Tonic Water
125ml liquid pectin
Gin
1 lemon (optional)
Juniper Berries (optional)

Begin by quartering then finely slicing the lemon (if using) then covering the slices in gin and leaving to soak.

Next thoroughly wash and rinse your jars and lids, then put the jars into a cold oven on a baking tray. Switch the oven on now to about 80 degrees.

Wash your limes then thoroughly zest them- try to get as much as you can as there is so much flavour in the zest but try to avoid taking any pith with it. Once zested, juice the remaining lime thoroughly. I find the best way is to just slice the lime in half and jam in a fork then basically smush the lime around the fork as much as possible. You will discover a million paper cuts you didn’t know you had with this technique however! If you can dig a little bit of flesh out too then all the better but again, avoid the pithy bits.
Mix the juice and the zest and set aside, and if possible give them a good 10 minutes or more to soak.

For the sake of ease, clear your work area now and measure out your pectin into a glass and put this in easy reach of the stove.Pour out a glass of gin and get a teaspoon at the ready for this.  Also put your juniper berries into a small dish that is easy to get into and find a cocktail stick or similar to fish out the lemon slices with as you need to work quickly. Have a thick tea towel and a solid chopping board or heat proof mat handy too.

Turn up the oven to 100 degrees.

mix

use a deep pan for this recipe, it really bubbles up!

Empty your sugar into a large preserving pan then mix in the tonic water and go oooooh as it goes all fizzy for a moment. On a note about the sugar, you can use golden caster sugar as it won’t  change the set or the taste very much but will give a more yellowy colour to the finished jelly so if you are making multiple batches it is best to keep to the same sugar so they look the same. Stir in the lime juice and zest then whack up the heat. The sugar will dissolve quickly, don’t stir the mix after this point as it will mess with the heat distribution. Bring the mix to a gentle boil then simmer for 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan for this time as it is a total bitch to clean this stuff off the stove if it boils over. Just take my word for this. After 5 minutes, take the pan off the heat and pour in the pectin WHILST STIRRING. Seriously, this is important to avoid a poor consistency in the end product. Stir it while it is going in then stir it for a full minute whilst off the heat.
Then, put it back on the heat and take your jars out of the oven and onto a heat proof surface (your chopping board).

Boil the jelly mix for a further 2 minutes then take off the heat.

Working quickly, put a slice of the lemon and a juniper berry (or several for large jars) into the base of each jar. At the very last moment before filling the jar, add 1-2 teaspoons of gin per 100ml of the jar capacity. So 2 tsp for the gift jars I used or scale this up if you are using bigger jars. Spoon in the hot jelly mix then seal the jar and set aside to cool. After 10 minutes or so wipe the jars over with a damp cloth as spills are easier to clean while it is still warm.

And that’s it. Depending on conditions they may take 2-3 hours or overnight to set (bigger jars take longer). You can speed up the process in the fridge but hot jars+ cold fridge= potential temperature disturbance for your food so this is best avoided.  If the set is slow you might see the zest all rising to the top, in which case just give the jar a gentle jiggle to redistribute.

They are lovely to gift but keep one for yourself to enjoy with a warm baked good or tipped over ice cream with your next Netflix binge.

Sealed, these will keep for months but should go into the fridge once opened and finished in 2 weeks.