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Potato, Egg & Green Bean Salad

Potato, Egg & Green Bean Salad

In the summer months, my mother always cooked extra potatoes so that she could make us a delicious potato salad to enjoy on hot summer days.  I can remember her patiently standing at the counter peeling the potatoes, cutting them into small cubes. They would go into a bowl along with some cubed cucumber, chopped celery, chopped onions and chopped hard boiled egg . . .  and some seasoning of course.  She folded in a creamy dressing, made using Kraft Salad Dressing, and sprinkled  the top with paprika. We loved it. We thought it was just perfect.

She didn't have to fancy it up in any way.  We were happy with it just as it is.  I don't think it ever occurred to any of us that you could also dress salad with a vinaigrette dressing.   I love creamy potato salads, but I also love potato salads with a vinaigrette dressing.  I might even love them a tiny bit more.

When you dress potato salads with a vinaigrette salad while the potatoes are still quite warm, they absorb some of the dressing which imparts a lovely flavour to the potatoes, it doesn't just coat them. 

In fact, in my regular potato salad  that I make (with a mayo dressing) I have always dressed the potatoes with a preliminary French vinaigrette, letting them cool in it before I add anything else at all.  I learnt this trick from the late Marion Cunningham in the Fanny Farmer cookery book.  It makes for a really delicious potato salad with lots of flavour.  Sharing this recipe just below . . .

*Potato Salad*
Serves 6
Printable Recipe

This is my favourite way to make a mayonnaise based potato salad.  It is perfect in my opinion, with just enough mayo and lots of flavour.  The flavour of the potato really shines through.

8 medium sized new potatoes, unpeeled
the juice of one small lemon
1/4 cup of vegetable oil (2 fluid ounces)
fine sea salt to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 stalks of celery, washed, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup of  cubed cucumber (peel, remove the seeds and chop
into 1/2 inch dice)
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
2 TBS finely chopped onion
1 to 1 1/4 cups of mayonnaise
3 TBS cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar

To garnish:
finely chopped fresh chives
ground paprika

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water, until tender just to the fork.  Drain well and as soon as you can handle them, peel and cut them into 1/2 inch dice.  Toss in a bowl along with the lemon juice, chopped onions,  oil and salt to taste.  This preliminary dressing while very warm gives the potatoes extra flavour and coats them.  This prevents them from absorbing too much mayonnaise later on.  Allow to cool.

Add the black pepper, celery, chopped eggs and cucumber.  Blend 1 cup of the mayonnaise with the vinegar and the sugar.    Pour this over the potato salad, gently folding until all pieces are coated.  Add the remaining mayonnaise only if the salad seems dry.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as required.  Spoon into a clean bowl and chill, covered. 

Just before serving, sprinkle with some chopped fresh chives and ground paprika.  Delicious!!

Its a really great, great potato salad.  If you are looking for something a tad bit more interesting however,  I totally recommend this recipe I am sharing today.

Fork tender new potatoes, crispy tender fresh green beans, semi hard boiled eggs . . .  just in between hard and soft, so that some of the yolk is just a bit coddled . . . it mixes in with the vinaigrette when you are tossing it all together . . . creating an almost creaminess  . . .

The dressing a simple emulsification of Chinese rice wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a mix of herbs and seasonings  . . .

Finely chopped fresh dill leaves . . .  so good with both potatoes and green beans, and yes, even egg . . .

Mild onion flavours from the use of finely snipped chives . . .  and earthy green flavours from the use of fresh parsley . . . 

I put my dill and parsley into a tall narrow glass and snip them with the tips of my kitchen shears.  They work perfectly at getting them to the right size without making a mess.  The chives, I just hold in a bundle and snip into small bits over the bowl.  Again, with my kitchen shears.  Easy peasy.

I do add a touch of sugar to the dressing, just to take away from the sharpness of the vinegar.  There is also some heat from a good Dijon mustard, and of course . . .  some salt and black pepper.

Altogether this makes for a really great potato salad . . .  colourful . . .  crunchy . . .  creamy and quite delicious!!!

*Potato, Egg & Green Bean Salad*
Serves 6

A fresh, flavourful potato salad with plenty of colour, texture and a fabulously light and tasty Dijon Herb Vinaigrette dressing.

For the dressing:
3 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt, divided
120ml extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 TBS minced fresh dill leaves
1 TBS finely snipped fresh chives
1 TBS  minced fresh parsley

For the salad:
1/2 pound fresh fine green beans, topped and tailed
1 1/2 pounds smallish new potatoes
3 medium hard boiled eggs
Parsley to garnish

To make the dressing, put all of the dressing ingredients (1/2 tsp salt) into a glass jar and shake to emulsify.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required. Set aside.

Add the remaining salt to a large pot of water and bring to the boil. Have ready an ice water bath. Add the beans to the water  and blanch for about 2  minutes. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and place in the ice water bath to stop them from cooking further. Drain well and set aside.

Add the potatoes to the same pot of boiling water and cook them for 15 to 20 minutes, just until they are tender. Drain well and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.  Quarter them into a large bowl and add half the dressing.  Toss to coat. Add the green beans and toss again.  Peel and chop the eggs, fold into the salad.  Add enough of the remaining dressing until you get  consistency you enjoy and the flavour is right. Toss again.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required.  Garnish with more chopped parsley and serve.

We enjoyed this with some grilled fish and a plate of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.  We didn't need anything else.  It was magnificent.  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Perfect Meringues - A Tutorial

Perfect Meringues - A Tutorial

Today I am going to teach you how to make perfect meringues.  Making meringues is probably one of the things that can strike fear into even the most seasoned of cooks, and yes, they can be a bit tricky and a bit temperamental, but if you follow my tips and guidelines there is no reason why you can't be a great meringue maker.  Crisp on the outside and as light as air! 

Making meringues is not a process that can be rushed.  Slow and steady always wins the race here.  A few of my tips to help you get perfect meringues is to always use room temperature egg whites.  Also use older eggs.  Older, room temperature egg whites give you a lot more volume.  Fresh egg whites just won't beat up the way you want them to. Make sure your eggs are at least a week old.

You also always want to make sure your beaters and bowls are scrupulously clean and grease free.  That's why I always use a glass bowl. I always use an electric hand whisk. Its easier to control the speed with an electric hand whisk.  I always start off at a low speed and then increase it incrementally . . . 

So here you have my egg whites, in a clean bowl, at room temperature.  I start on low and slowly beat, until they start to look opaque, and only then do I advance to a medium speed. Egg white contains chains of proteins that need to stretch slowly so they trap optimum air. If you beat them too fast, you risk snapping some of the chains permanently, making an unstable foam that’s likely to collapse when you add the sugar. Continue to whisk at medium speed, until they double in volume and resemble a white fluffy cloud.  You don't want them to look dry.

Only after they reach this stage do you start to add the sugar.  Again slow and steady wins the race.  I use caster sugar, which is a fine grained granulated sugar.  It makes for a much stabler mixture and creates crisp on the outside, soft on the inside meringues.  If you don't have caster sugar, you can whirr regular granulated sugar in a food processor until it is finer.  Add the sugar a bit at a time while you continue to beat the egg whites. I add it a spoonful at a time, which gives it a chance to melt into the egg whites. 

Once you have all the sugar in you will have a white glossy billowy mixture like what you see in the above photo.  Thick and glossy, but again, not dry.

The general rule of thumb is that you will use an equivalent weight of egg white and sugar.  I like to use half caster and half icing/confectioners sugar.  I fold the confectioners sugar into the whites, in thirds, making sure its well incorporated also.  It should look roughly like this, with no lumps or bumps. 

Its ready now to spoon onto a baking tray.  Line your tray with baking parchment.  The chemistry in meringues, which is means they are high in sugar, means that they want to stick to things, so I find that using a silicone baking sheet liner or baking parchment works the best.  Make sure you leave plenty of space between them as they will puff up as they bake and you don't want them to end up touching each other.  You want the air to be able to move freely around them.  This is also when I sprinkle on any nuts if I am using them. 

Bake them again, long and slow.  At a low temperature.  This allows the meringues to bake without over-colouring.  They should be mostly white or at the very least a very light tan colour when they are done.  Baking them at a higher temperature means that they will darken in colour and you won't get that nice crisp exterior with that soft mallow-like centre.  

When done they will be as light and fluffy as air, with a beautifully crisp exterior.  They might crack a bit, but that's okay. Its only when you make larger ones that they really crack.  The smaller ones might not crack at all.  If you tap them on the bottom they will sound hollow. They will be barely coloured at all.

Perfect meringues are beautifully light and crisp and wonderful on their own, but are especially lovely when served with fresh fruit and cream.  Today I served them with some fresh Scottish raspberries and some of the clotted cream I had left from the other day  . . . 

These make a beautiful dessert, simple and very light . . .  especially after a heavy meal.  You are eating crisp sweet air  . . . 

You don't need to sweeten your berries or your cream . . .  the meringues are sweet enough and will go beautifully with the tartness of the fruit and the creamy richness of the cream.  This is pure and simple . . .  a dessert confection created in heaven.  Bliss, pure and utter bliss . . . 

*Perfect Meringues*
Makes 16 
These are perfect.  Billowy and sweet.  

4 large free range egg whites, at room temperature
115g caster sugar (9 1/2 TBS)
115g icing sugar, sifted (14 TBS) 

Preheat your oven to 100*C/200*F/gas  mark 1/4.  Line several baking sheets with baking parchment paper. Set aside.

Put the egg whites into a large scrupulously clean GLASS bowl. Beat on medium speed with an electric whisk until the  mixture resembles a fluffy cloud.  Increase the temperature and start adding the caster sugar 1 spoonful at a time, beating 3 to 4 seconds after each addition. The mixture should be thick and glossy when done. (Note, if you don't add the sugar slowly, your meringue will weep later on, and we don't want that.)

Sift 1/3 of the icing sugar over top and fold in with a metal spoon.  Repeat until all of the icing sugar has been folded in. You should have a thick smooth, billowy almost snow-drift type of mixture now.

Using two spoons dollop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets in oval shapes, or simply just dollop into rounds.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. They should sound crisp when tapped on the bottom, and will be a very pale tan colour.  Cool on wire racks.  You can store these in an airtight tin for up to two weeks, or freeze for up to a month.

Beautiful put together in pairs with whipped cream.

Optional - You can sprinkle them with flaked or chopped nuts prior to baking.

I really hope you will try making some meringues soon.  I am fairly confident that if you use my hints tips and method, you are sure to have success with them!  If you do, be sure to come back and let me know. Even if you don't. Perhaps I can help.  In any case, Bon Appetit! 

PS - as one of my readers reminded me, its also very important not to try to do meringues on a very wet or damp day. You will not get great results for some reason if it is raining or humid.  (Or if you happen to be boiling anything on the stove!)  Moisture in the air is their enemy. Too much moisture in the air can make them sticky.  This can be combatted however by leaving them in the oven to cool in the oven, undisturbed, for about 3 hours or even as long as overnight.  Just turn the oven off and leave them.
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Marie Rayner
Cream Tea Trifle Pots

Cream Tea Trifle Pots

One of the most popular traditions here in the UK is the Cream Tea.   A Cream Tea, also known as a Devon Tea, Devonshire Tea or a Cornish Tea, consists of a light repast of  hot pots of tea accompanied by fresh butter scones, butter for spreading, red fruit preserves, and clotted cream. 


  I had my very first Cream Tea one year while we were down in Devon visiting Todd's late Aunt Doris.  We enjoyed it sat in a lovely tea room, looking out over the Bristol Channel, opening out  into the Irish Sea.  We had rain the whole time we were down there, but that day the sun was shining brightly. Although we don't drink tea or coffee for religious reasons that has never hampered us from enjoying a Cream Tea as they  always offer herbal infusions as well.  I fell in love with the tradition of Cream Teas on that day and with clotted cream!

The scones used are more often than not fruited scones.  You can find my recipe for them here.  You wouldn't think that scones with raisins, sultanas or currants in them would taste that good topped with jam and cream, but surprise!  They are fabulous!  This recipe I am showcasing here today, Cream Tea Trifle Pots is loosely based on the idea of the Cream tea, or at least the scone, jam and clotted cream aspect of it! 

Fresh scones are crumbled into the bottom of pretty glasses.  Pick your prettiest ones because this dessert surely deserves to be shown off in the best way!  You drizzle a bit of  sherry mixed with honey over them.  I have used apple juice because we also don't do alcohol for religious reasons. The juice and honey work beautifully.

Over that you spoon a mixture of sliced fresh berries which you have stirred together with strawberry preserves.  If you have never mixed your fresh berries with a bit of jam, you are really missing out on something special.  The jam really enhances the flavour of the fresh berries.  Over that goes a layer of fresh custard.  I bought mine ready made from the chiller cabinet at the shops the other day, but you can also find my recipe to make your own here.  Failing that you could just use vanilla pudding. It will be sweeter than custard though as custard is not really overly sweet.

 Finally you top each pot off with a dollop of lovely clotted cream and a fresh berry.  I know that finding clotted cream is very difficult outside the UK.  In America all dairy products need to be pasteurised, which is why its hard to find it there. You can just use plain whipped cream, or you can try to make your own. You could also substitute creme fraiche or mascarpone cheese. Although mascarpone would work on its own as a substitute for clotted cream, you can make a more convincing faux clotted cream with the addition of heavy whipping cream. Combine 1 part heavy cream with 2 parts mascarpone cheese and beat until the mixture resembles whipped cream with soft peaks. If you wish, you can flavor the mixture with vanilla extract, lemon extract or sugar to taste. For this purpose I would leave it plain.

*Cream Tea Trifle Pots*
Serves 6

Easy to make and even easier to eat! Inspired by the flavours of the traditional British Cream Tea. 

400g sliced fresh strawberries (2 cups)
4 TBS strawberry preserves
4 currant or sultana scones
3 TBS apple juice or sherry mixed with 1 TBS liquid honey
500ml prepared custard (2 cups)
227g tub of clotted cream (about 1/2 cup)
fresh berries to garnish 

Put your sliced berries into a bowl. Stir together with the strawberry preserves and set aside.  Crumble the scones into 6 dessert glasses.  Whisk together the apple juice/sherry and honey. Drizzle over the crumbled scones in the glasses. Divide the fruit mixture between the glasses.  Top each with an equal amount of custard.  Spoon a dollop of clotted cream over top of each and garnish with a fresh berry.  Refrigerate if not serving right away.

Whether you choose to make this really simple by using ready made products like the scones, custard and cream, or you choose to do it all from scratch, your family is bound to enjoy this lovely cream tea dessert in a glass!   Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Cheddar Dressed Lettuce Steaks

Cheddar Dressed Lettuce Steaks

I don't know about you, but I actually crave salads.  To me a salad is like a party going on in your mouth, with a huge variety of textures, colours, flavours . . . or at least it should be if the salad is done right.  And I dare to say that this salad I am showing today . . .  is done very very right. 

Its a beautiful combination of colours . . .  a variety of reds and greens . . .  browns . . . whites . . .  no two shades being alike . . .

You have amazing textures  . . . crisp iceberg lettuce  . . . soft tomatoes, crisp cucumber and radish . . . crunchy bacon . . .  creamy dressing  . . .

And you have amazing flavours  . . .  the smokiness of the bacon  . . .  the heat of the radish . . .  the sweetness of the tomato . . . the cool almost melon-like flavour of the cucumber . . . the sharpness of the onion . . . the slight bitterness from the lettuce . . .  and then . . . the creamy tang of that cheddar dressing . . .  mmmm . . .

This is a salad that deservedly strives to be the star of the show, and why not!  It's both beautiful to behold, and a joy to eat!

The dressing has a lovely bold flavour . . .  creamy and rich . . .  a little bit goes a very long way.  I always use strong/sharp cheddar. To me it is the most flavourful cheese in the world without being in the slightest bit obnoxious. 

I could eat the dressing with a spoon . . . I am sure you could too.  You really have to make it, if only to serve on a lettuce wedge without all of the other party pieces.  I dare say it would also be lovely on grilled chicken or fish. 

The artist in me could not help but make little radish flowers to decorate the dish . . .  so easy to do with a small sharp paring knife.  This ones I took the tip of the knife and make little cuts in the radish all the way around it's circumference, right into the centre, up and down, so you get little pointed zigzags  . . . if that makes sense . . .  and I really hope that it does.

And then I tied a little bundle of the thinnest chives together to dress it up a little bit more. I thought this was quite, quite pretty . . .

A true feast for the eyes and the palate and nothing is out of the ordinary in the least.  Purely simple ingredients put together in a most scrumptious way!

*Cheddar Dressed Lettuce Steaks*
Serves 4
A very pretty salad with a lovely creamy cheddar dressing.

For the Dressing:
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely minced
125g of dairy sour cream (1/2 cup)
2 TBS good quality mayonnaise
4 ounces strong cheddar cheese grated (about 1 cup)
3 TBS finely chopped chives
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

You will also need:
1 head of iceberg lettuce, washed, left whole and outside leaves removed and discarded
4 TBS chopped fresh cucumber
4 TBS chopped fresh tomato
4 large radishes chopped
1/2 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon cooked until crisp and crumbled
some chopped fresh parsley 

For the dressing, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, and sugar.   Stir in the sour cream, mayonnaise, grated cheddar and chives.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let stand half an hour prior to using in order to allow the flavours to meld  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator and use within 4 days.  Bring to room temperature prior to using.

To make the salads, slice the lettuce crosswise into steaks.  Place one "steak" onto each of 4 salad plates. Sprinkle a quantity of cucumber, tomato, radish, bacon, onion, and parsley on top of each and drizzle with the dressing. Serve immediately.

You  don't have to limit yourself to the salad vegetables that I have used. The Clever Cook could come up with any combination of fresh crisp ingredients to use here. I am a bit pedantic and the chef in me like to cut all of my fresh veg into a very fine dice, but that is me. If you don't mind larger bits, by all means use larger bits. It only matters really that it tastes good, always remembering of course that taste begins with the eyes!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner

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