Nibbles #cringe

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The word nibbles makes me cringe. It reminds me of gatherings with my parents and at their friends houses, things on sticks, messy, too many small plates, glasses and (at that time) fags to juggle.  As in a previous post, my preference is to throw a few things on the table when people in that have not taken an age to prepare.

The aim is to not make hard work of the ‘few things thrown on the table’  – do as little cooking as possible, keep creamy things to a minimum if you are like me otherwise there will be an unholy mess, concentrate on high flavour, low fuss – and nothing that requires last minute attention and everything must be easy to assemble.

Like what?

  • high quality crisps of course
  • a plate of charcuterie, good olives and cheese
  • stuffed peppadew peppers from a jar
  • Nino’s Sicilian olives pepped up with cumin and  chopped preserved lemon
  • chicory leaves with crumbled olive-oil slicked toasted breadcrumbs and gorgonzola
  • chick peas tossed in smoked paprika and olive oil and roasted
  • old bread toasted and cut into squares with a smear of sobrasada (creamed chorizo)
  • shop-bought rye bread cut into squares with horseradish, smoked salmon and dill leaf
  • toasted naan bread cut into squares  piled high with curried potato and pea
  • rice paper wraps, dipped in hot water and wrapped around shop bought prawns and sliced lettuce and a dab of chilli sauce
  • little cups made of tortilla wraps pressed into small bun cases and flashed in the oven to make them crispy then fill with halloumi, chopped tomato and basil
  • bowls of cornichon

After all you want to have fun don’t you? Or would you rather be a slave to the kitchen?  I have posted previously on ‘nibbles’ along the lines of Abigail’s party, and I guess someone might be doing mini yorkies with roast beef, or little quiches, or sausages, or crudite and dip. But that person won’t be me.

Anniversary Pie

I know, I know. It’s been a while. More than a while. It has been a busy  year and I apologise. I have been remiss. I have failed to post. I have been doing other things. And a bit of me wondered whether you might be bored with my persistent food blogging. So I stopped for a while.  But so many of you have said in the past few weeks “what’s happened?” “where are our Christmas recipes?” “have you given up?”.  And I realised that nothing had happened, being me I had simply filled my time with other things; the Christmas recipes are still in there. And no I haven’t given up!! When have you ever known me to give up?

So here’s a new pie that I invented and which made its’ maiden appearance at Marion and Andrew’s first wedding anniversary celebration at ours last week end.  The meat eaters had some marvellous pheasant with deep orange and pomegranate sauce. But the vegetarians had the star, which was the new raised pie. I seem to have become addicted to making wholemeal hot watercrust pastry and it is now my pastry of choice for pies and for flans. It neither shrinks nor cracks, it is very mouldable. Most of all it is easy.

8oz wholemeal flour, half a teaspoon of salt, 1 oz coarse oatmeal.  Mix these together in a bowl then add 15ml white wine vinegar, 30ml olive oil, about 60ml hot water (maybe more but you will have to judge that by the feel and how the mixture binds together). Sometimes I add some grated cheese.  Knead lightly then set aside for 30 minutes to relax (the pastry, not you!)

Wash and peel 300g Jerusalem artichoke and slice thickly then cook gently with one chopped leek in butter and garlic. Season with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Chop 300g of good old gnarly carrots and cook gently in butter, lemon juice and a tiny bit of sugar at the end. Allow to cool. Season with white pepper, then add a little chopped tarragon or basil. Not both.

Unpack one whole vacuum pack of chestnuts and dice.  Saute some field mushrooms with garlic and add the chestnuts and at the end a little bit of dark soy sauce.

Now you are ready to construct the pie – or pies.  If it’s pies then it will make 3 small pies.  Either prepare 3 empty bean tins by removing labels, washing thoroughly then grease the OUTSIDE and dust with coarse semolina before you roll out 3 circles and form the pastry by hand around the outside of the tins until it comes up the sides about 3.5cm.  Then put them on baking parchment and into the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.   Or (this is easier) use a small loaf tin, grease and line with coarse semolina then roll out the pastry into a rectangle and line the tin.  Then whether it’s loaf tin or baked bean tin, add layers of the filling – if using baked bean tins then remove the tin, obvs!!  Make sure the filling is good and moist as there is no meat in here to give you juices!  Then roll out the lids, brush the joins and tops with egg wash and put in the oven at 190C for 25 minutes and then turn down to 170 for 10 more minutes.  Take out of the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

What’s the deal with coarse semolina?  Those who follow this blog regularly know that I use it instead of flour to dust the inside of pans and tins.  For savoury dishes I use it liberally as it helps keep the crust crusty and the gravy inside!!

Veganuary Day 17 Aquafaba (aqua-what?)

img_3766 img_3768It is true.  There is nothing new under the sun.  I reckoned I knew a lot about ingredients and kitchen stuff. But until about three months ago I had never heard of Aquafaba. Aquawhat?

Mr Google will tell you everything you need to know, but I will save you the trouble.  Aquafaba is the water from a tin of chickpeas. Or Pinto beans. Or Haricot beans. Or any beans – except baked beans.  The salted water from the bean can contains magical properties – protein strands that mimic egg white.  The theory is that if you whip it, it not only looks like egg white, it behaves like egg white.  So the only question is, does it work or is it a gimic?  Look at sites like Aquafaba.com and they will tell you all about its history, the science and more stuff than you probably need to know in order to make mayo. Even The Guardian is talking about it. And it has its own Facebook page.  There’s millions of stuff about it.  Trillions.  So why had I never heard of it?  And does it work?

Yesterday I promised I would try out Yorkshire pudding today – it being full of egg and milk n’all.  But this morning I was sidetracked.  I was just about to sit down in the office – to work – when I started thinking about mayonnaise.  Never been a great fan. And since I had a nasty dose of campylobacter last year from dodgy restaurant hollandaise, me and eggs are not good friends. So why not give the eggless mayo a try, I was thinking,  whilst procrastinating about other more urgent tasks.

Your best friend today is not the food processor but a stick blender. Consider me a sort of matchmaker – you and all the implements that I have in my kitchen. Some never used.  The stick blender is the implement you plunge into a saucepan full of soup when you want it to be smooth not lumpy.  the sort of implement that if you don’t have it fully submerged in the liquid, produces a fountain of scorching hot leek and potato soup that lands down your front at lightning speed.

Put 1 tbsp of cider vinegar in a  small-ish jug along with half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of ground mustard and 3 tablespoons of chick pea water straight from the tin.  Whizz them for a few seconds till they are well blended then gently and slowly pour in three-quarters to a whole cup of good quality oil – I used a mixture of grapeseed and extra virgin olive oil whilst whizzing away with the blender. (I hope you are impressed with my one handed blending-whilst-videoing-on-my-ipad trick) until the mixture thickens and thickens some more.  Check the taste. It should taste like mayo.  Mine certainly did.  You could add some grated garlic, or some fresh herbs, or some grated lemon rind depending on what flavour you are seeking. Or you could just have plain old mayo.

I put mine in a jar and then in the fridge. It’s supposed to get thicker in the fridge. It has.

I hope that if you visited this page more than half an hour ago you can now see the second half of the page that I accidentally deleted.  In the process I have learned a new skill.  To those who kindly pointed out that half the post was missing and I implied it was their machinery, I apologise.  I promised that the link would be back in 10 minutes.  I was sidetracked by doing a Google cache search for the lost half.  I found it.  Now I have changed it.  Knowing how to access Google cache –  it’s a handy skill to have.  I didn’t know I had it until 10 minutes ago!

 

 

#Veganuary Day 7 Freekeh with greens and almonds

img_1602This is a quick and easy one. After a busy day (reading, gardening) I just want something quick and easy. Freekeh – which is green wheat is, like quinoa, stacked with protein and doesn’t need to be combined with legumes to complete the protein chain (unlike, for example, brown rice).

Simply boil it in a little stock or water. It only takes 10 minutes. Lovely combined with chunks of roasted pumpkin and shallot and the sweetest, smokiest black garlic sent by Fran from the Isle of Wight. My own experiment with black garlic has yet to produce anything remotely like the Isle of Wight black garlic.

1-photo (15)Now to the main act. Collejas. Greens with almonds to you! It’s one of David’s favourite dishes and he is in charge of cooking it in case you think I’ve had a sex change.

img_1612Chop any sort of greens (David used Savoy here, but spring greens are just as lovely). Saute chopped carrot and onion in olive oil or Yare Valley rapeseed oil till soft and then season. Remove from the pan, then add a good handful of whole almonds (preferably with skins on) and saute them for a couple of minutes. Remove from the pan. Whilst cooling, quickly blanch the greens in about 100ml of water with a lid on tight till slightly underdone, then drain – keep the cooking water. Crush the almonds, but keep some chunky bits. Put the cooked freekah, carrot and shallot back in the pan with the oil, add the greens then throw in the almonds. Season. Add a small amount of the reserved cooking water, clamp on the lid and cook for one more minute. Voila! Great with a jacket potato.

#VeganuaryDay4 Keeping warm

img_3667Quick post for Day 4 as I am off to the cinema. But it’s cold. Cold. Cold. And I wanted something warm to cheer me. Like Horlicks or some other sugar laden drink from a jar.  But the fount of all knowledge, generosity and goodness – Kathy Payne -http://kathypayne.co.uk/about-kathy/my-toolkit/ has taught me a thing or two, I can tell you.  One example is maca powder.

Related to radish, it tastes nothing like radish. It tastes like Horlicks. And it’s jam packed with Vitamin B and Vitamin C.

In my mug, I put half a teaspoon of maca powder and a good sprinkling of coco nibs (from Holland and Barrett). I mixed them together with some nearly boiling water and half a mug of unsweetened almond milk, then gave it a good whizz in the Nutribullet. Then I added another half mug of almond milk and heated it in the microwave.  Believe me. it’s just like Horlicks – except it won’t spike your blood sugar and it is good for you!

#12Days Get ahead with the veg! Day 2

photo (1)I’m offering some suggestions for get-ahead festive veg. You know what it’s like…… opening presents takes an age and you are planning on eating about 3.   Will they please hurry up with thenunwrapping? My advice is to get ahead and do your veg tomorrow. Then on Christmas Day, quaff back the fizz and relax!

Roast potatoes. My tips.

  • Peel and cut into big chunks. Plunge into boiling water for 3 minutes,  drain. Chuck them about a bit in the colander. Heat fat in a big roasting tray – my preference is duck fat or coconut oil – guaranteed for real crispness – then throw in the potatoes, turn them round in the fat. Put back into the oven  for 30 minutes till they are almost done and starting to go crispy. Then take them out. Either leave,  in a cool place, covered with a clean cloth,  and finish off the next day  in the same pan for 20 minutes, or cool then down and freeze, and cook from frozen for 30 minutes.
  • This method works for roast parsnip, celeriac, any root vegetable in fact
  • If you like you can add slices of onion and chunks of garlic  and black pepper for the second roasting.

Sprouts

God, do I really have to mention sprouts with chestnuts,  or sprouts with lardons? No! I will not!

  • Cut the sprouts in half and stir fry in a wok with some olive oil until slightly charred (you can add chestnuts if you like – I use Merchant Gourmet, vacuum packed
  • This is Hetty’s method. Prepare your sprouts in your usual way, boil them in salted water until just done and drain well. Then mash them with a potato masher till broken up but not mushy.  You will need to use your judgement now because you need to return them to the pan with a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic, some black pepper, a good grind of nutmeg, and enough double cream to bind it together. Serve in a piping hot dish.

Carrots

  • wash your carrots and if they are big, cut in half lengthways and again so you have quarters. Butter a baking dish, add the carrots, season with salt and black pepper and the juice of one lemon plus a flat dessert spoon of soft brown sugar. Cover with foil and bake on the bottom shelf for about an hour. You could do this the day before then reheat them.

Parsnips

  • Peel your parsnips, plunge into boiling water for two minutes then drain them. Heat some oil in a roasting tray. Add a dessert spoon of cumin seed. Put the parsnips in the pan, drizzle honey over the top then roast for 45 minutes. Or roast for 15 minutes the day before and put back in the oven for 20 on the day

Dauphinoise potatoes

  • probably the easiest potato dish dish in the world, with the exception of jacket potato!
  • use your food processor to slice your peeled potatoes into thin slices (To serve 10 you will need 2kg)
  • pour 1litre full cream milk and 500ml double cream into a large saucepan and add two crushed cloves of garlic and some salt. Bring to a medium heat then add the sliced potatoes and bring almost to the boil.
  • Generously butter a large shallow dish then pour in the milk and potatoes.  Double wrap with foil and cook in the oven at 175C for about 90 minutes. Remove the foil for the last half hour.  The potatoes will have absorbed all the liquid.  At this stage you can either serve immediately or, cook the day before you need it and reheat the next day.

Cabbage

  • Wash and thinly  slice dark green cabbage then drain. Quickly cook the greens in a scant amount of water until they are slightly underdone, then drain and refresh with cold water, to keep them bright green.  In a wide shallow pan, heat olive oil and a little garlic. Add the greens, stirring round quickly, then add chopped almonds (not flaked almonds, use whole almonds which you can break up by placing in a plastic bag then hammering with a rolling pin!  Stir the greens around in the hot oil till reheated, then serve.

Cauliflower

Put two slices of stale bread into the food processor with a couple of green spring onion tops. Pulse. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with a grind of black pepper and a grating of lemon zest.

Cook your cauliflower in the usual way until it is just cooked. Drain it well then return to a buttered dish.  Put a little,oil in a wide pan and heatbit, then add the breadcrumb mixture, stir round to brown it slightly then sprinkle over the cauliflower.

i could go on and on (against my nature, surely?!). But this should give you some non standard options, many of which you can do tomorrow to give you more present opening time on Christmas Day!  Good grief, as I writemImrealise it is only 30 minutes to Christmas Eve.  One more posting on #12Days. Thanks for all your feedback.

#12Days Gravlax Day 5

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A good thick salmon fillet

This Gravlax is a practically unadulterated version of that shared with me by Dennis – my late father in law. Dennis died earlier this year so this is a tribute to him.  The gravlax was his domain every year and it is also mine. I love preparing it, I love the smell of it, and most of all I love the taste of it on Christmas morning with hot buttered toast and scrambled eggs. And a glass of something cold and sparkling. Then let the present-opening commence.  Another ‘best way’ is on dark rye bread with a gherkin.

Maybe the bestest way is to eat it is late at night when everyone else has gone to bed – shave some slivers off the salmon and eat it illuminated by the fridge light, standing with your back to the kitchen (because if you have your back to the kitchen whilst stealing something from the fridge a) whatever you are stealing has no calories and b) you might get away with bluffing it if you are caught).  You might possibly want to – dip the ends into a little horseradish-laced mayonnaise, clutching a cold roast potato in the other hand.  Naughty. Nice.

For 8 people, sufficient to last you a couple of days, you will need one (or two) middle cuts of salmon, each weighing about 400g.  Ask for the middle cut because the shape and thickness will be symmetrical.  Leave the skin on. Use tweezers to ensure all the bones are removed (run your fingers along the length of the salmon and you will be able to feel it if there are any bones – they stick up like little teeth). Just tweezer them out either with special fish-bone tweezers. Or with your own eyebrow tweezers. Just clean them before and after – can’t have your eyebrows smelling like fish!

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Onion and apple on the base, then the fish, then the cure

Trim the fish so it is roughly rectangular, if you need to. Now mix 1 tbsp black peppercorns (ground) with 50g coarse sea salt, 100g chopped fresh dill and 70g caster sugar.  This is the cure for the fish.  Line a dish (or airtight container) with clingfilm so it hangs over the edges.  The container should be  almost the same size as the salmon. Add thinly sliced white or red onion and a thinly sliced eating apple so it lines the base of the container. If you use only one fillet, simply cover it completely with the cure and sprinkle with some vodka, wrap it and turn as Method 1.

Method 1 – Place the salmon skin side down then pile on about 90% of the cure and put the other piece of salmon on top skin side, up and then the remaining 10% of the cure, so it’s like a sandwich.  Wrap the clingfilm round to make a parcel, then place even weights on top of the fish parcel (use a small board if you can, to get even compression)

Method 2 – my preference – place the first fillet skin side down, pile on 50% of the cure, then the second fillet skin side down and cover with the rest of the cure.  Then for both methods  drizzle about 150ml vodka over the top. Put clingfilm over the top and drape it down the sides. Then place even weights on a small board on top of the fish to get even compression. Anything heavy will do.  Then leave it, completely covered for 5 days (no turning).

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Add alcohol if you wish

As you can see from these pictures, I use Method 2. I have also drowned it in sloe gin instead of vodka.  This makes for a very distinctive gravlax – with a pretty mouthwatering alcohol edge!!

On Christmas Eve, remove the clingfilm – whether you used Method 1 or 2.  Keep the fish in the container and cover with a cloth to let it breathe.

On Christmas Day, lift one fillet out of the container, scrape off the cure, then shave off thin slices and serve whatever way you wish.

A lovely sauce to serve with it is a good mayonnaise spiked with creamed horseradish, or cold full-fat yogurt with finely chopped cucumber, cornichon and capers.

You might like to try this with Knakerbrod, click on the link.

It really is that simple.

#12Days Felafel and Hummus Day 7

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Accompaniments for felafel and hummus

The request was for a failsafe felafel and hummus recipe.  Fortunately these are quick and easy as today is Sistema curry night and I have curry for nearly 70 to make. So here goes!

Felafel and hummus are staples in our house. We love them, the boys love them. Everyone loves them. And they are simplicity itself to prepare. What makes these different is they have a little grated carrot in them that keeps them moist inside.

Felafel

Toast two teaspoons of cumin seed , one of black nigella seed and one of coriander in a dry pan for a couple of minutes till they start popping then remove from the heat. Then grind them in a pestle and mortar.  Put two cans of drained chick peas in the food processor with the following ingredients: a teaspoon of baking powder, a gently rounded tablespoon of plain flour, 3oz grated carrot that you’ve squeezed the water out of by wrapping in a tea towel and twisting; one teaspoon of smoked paprika, one small red chilli (whole) or a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes, one clove of garlic, about 12 stalks of parsley and the zest of a lemon. Oh, and a good sprinkling of seasalt (taste it at the end to see if you need more). Whizz all these ingredients in the processor until they are just on the chunky side of smooth – by which I mean don’t process it down to a paste!  Cover and leave for 20 minutes for the flavours to combine, then form into walnut sized balls and put them all on a plate in the freezer for 5 minutes till you heat your oil till it is almost smoking.  I prefer to shallow fry mine – if the oil is hot enough they will be done in a couple of minutes. Remember you will only have greasy felafel if your oil isn’t hot enough.  Fry in batches of half a dozen at a time and remove, draining on crumpled kitchen paper.  Done!

Hummus

This is unashamedly filched from my favourite chefs Sam and Sam Clark at Moro with one slight change. Put one tin of drained chickpeas (keep the juice), the juice of one lemon, 1 large garlic clove, crushed to a paste with seasalt, two teaspoons of cumin powder, 75ml olive oil, two tablespoons of tahini into a blender and pulse until smooth.  Then add a bit more of the juice if it is too claggy and two tablespoons of boiling water. Blitz again.  Taste and adjust the seasoning. Best served in a shallow bowl sprinkled with smoked paprika and more olive oil and warm flatbread. When we are in Spain we like to  accompany the felafel and hummus with bowls of olives, small onions pickled in red wine and wine vinegar, pickled chillis and baby artichokes from the market. Of course that’s not quite as easy in the UK in December, but you can improvise!

Simples!

 

#12Days Prawn Curry Day 8

img_3199Fran asked for a Christmas prawn curry recipe.  This one will do for any season. It’s a stunner.

Today has been a lovely day – first attending 6 year old Monty’s carol service –   a church full of 4-11 year olds singing their hearts out. And then taking Monty and his 3 year old brother Otto to see Santa in his grotto.  Magical.

So what better way to end the day than to share prawn curry recipes with you?

Sandip gave me a pot of this Tadka after our last pop-up supper, instinctively knowing that the following night we would be completely flakers and want to cook something simple. It was a life-saver of intense yet soothing flavours. And such a generous thought, typical of such a sweet guy.

Tadka, roughly translated, means tempering spices in hot oil to release their flavours.  To make this deeply flavoured paste that you can use with chicken, chick peas, prawns – practically anything  in fact – chop 3 medium sized onions into fine dice and fry them gently till soft. Then add 5 cloves of minced garlic (use a Microplane and grate it over the pan) and cook for a further two minutes, stirring all the time. Add a little more oil. Then add  a dessert spoon of cumin seed, half a desert spoon of coriander seed and 2 black cardamom pods and a small cup of water.  Stir quickly to combine the ingredients then cook with the lid on for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking.  Then add tomato puree and cook again with the lid off until the mixture ‘splits’. Then add half a tin of chopped tomatoes, 2 inches of grated fresh ginger and six finely chopped green chillis and cook for a further 30 minutes.  Add salt to taste, and half a desert spoon of garam masala and the same of ground coriander seed.

This forms the basis of a fulsome curry paste that you can add to any meat or fish you like, adding fresh plain yogurt to lighten it.  Use to marinade the meat or fish (equivalent of 1kg in weight – so use half of the Tadka for smaller quantities) overnight, then cook in the usual way – in a saucepan or wok for about 15 minutes.  Then you can add some coconut milk and chopped fresh coriander if you wish.  If you are using frozen prawns, make sure they are completely defrosted and dried before you mix with the marinade.

Believe me this curry is divine.  Serve with freshly made flatbreads.  Thank you Sandip for sharing the recipe with me.

An alternative is to use a quick and easy Rick Stein recipe adapted by Lynne and eaten more times than we can count at Lynne and Andy’s house whilst putting the world to rights over a couple of bottles of wine. Thanks to Lynne for sharing the recipe again by text and from memory whilst collecting her dad from Dorset.

Fry garlic paste and freshly grated ginger in some oil then add a good tablespoon of Fern’s Green Masala paste and when it splits in the pan, add 500g prawns, frying until they are pink. Then add a tin of coconut milk and cook for a couple more minutes. Then add a big handful of chopped coriander leaf, spring onions and a couple of chopped red chillis. Cook with the lid off for a further two minutes.

To be honest, both these curries are simply delicious.  Making the Tadka means you will probably have some left over to use another night. In fact if you made double the quantity you could store it in an airtight jar for at least a week. It takes more time, but it completely authentic.  The Rick Stein version is quick and very delicious too.  It’s for you to use.

There are recipes for flatbreads on this blog if you want to make some.

 

#12Days Vegan Chestnut and Celeriac raised pie Day 11

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OK so this one is for Shaila who asked for a vegan recipe for Christmas day.  She will pass it on to Gav to work his magic! This is a take on a pork pie of course, except it is nothing of the sort.  Instead it is a pie suitable for vegans and vegetarians. And carnivores come to that.  I’ve made it three times now, each with different fillings. I’ll offer the alternatives later.

This is what David has ordered for Christmas lunch.

The pastry is of the hot water crust variety and is as easy as wink to make. The knack is to mould it whilst it is still warm, which rather goes against all the rules – unless you are making hot water crust pastry. The clue is in the title! You don’t need a hi-falootin’ pie tin with springform sides, so if you don’t possess one (I don’t) then this shouldn’t put you off. I’ve used a jam jar (too slippery), a mug (handle got in the way) but found in the end that a stainless steel ring-form worked perfectly.  More of this later.

The filling is easy too, wintery and warming, fragrant with garlic and sage wafting out the steam hole!  It is rare for me to give precise ingredients and proportions on this blog but to get it right, this time it’s necessary. Let’s get started.

First make the filling. You can make this in advance so that it is cold when you fill the pies. For four pies you will need:

180g vacuum packed chestnuts

50ml olive oil

1 banana shallot or onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, grated

1 small celeriac peeled and chopped into 1cm dice

1 medium sized carrot chopped into 1cm dice

1 stick celery chopped into 1cm dice

2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped (remove wet centre)

Vegetable stock – about 200ml

Chopped fresh sage (about 8 leaves  – if you  use dried sage, then use sparingly)

1 flat tablespoon of Miso

Cornflour

pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

 

Gently sweat all the vegetables in the oil until soft, then turn up the heat and add the chopped tomatoes and chilli, allow to bubble furiously, then add the herbs and the chestnuts. Mix well. Add the stock and the miso, bring to the boil then turn the heat down to medium and let it gently simmer away with the lid off for about half an hour. Half way through, check for seasoning and adjust. You should now have a lovely thick ‘stew’ and not too much liquid.  At this stage if the ingredients are swimming in liquid, take some out so that when in the pan, the liquid only just reaches the top of the vegetables etc. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Then slake some cornflour with the juice in the pan, return to the pan to thicken the ‘gravy’.  Now let it cool thoroughly.  Practice showed me that the colder the filling, the better the pie. So you could make this the day before. Or freeze it till you need it.

Now for the hot water crust pastry. Be not afraid!

175g wholewheat plain flour

75g white plain flour

50g fine oatmeal

75ml olive oil or rapeseed oil

1 tsp salt

130ml boiling water

Let me first say that it will help if you have your filling ready, the oven warmed up to 190C, some extra flour for rolling out and four stainless steel rings that have been well greased and powdered with fine semolina.

Sift all the flour into a bowl, add the salt and the oatmeal and mix well.  Add the oil and rub it in  (as if it were butter – or lard!) then add the water and mix swiftly with a wooden spoon till all the ingredients come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for a minute then leave it for 5 minutes.  Place your rings on a baking tray on which you have placed a sheet of baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Cut the dough into four pieces and each piece into two – a larger piece of the pie and a smaller piece for the top. The dough will be warm and you need to work fairly quickly.  Roll out the larger piece so it will fit into the ring mould and come up the sides and beyond. It is easy to mould at this stage.  The idea is to tease the pastry as high as you can above the mould – the mould is only there to secure the base.  Don’t think mince pie thickness – think thicker. This is a robust pie! So now you have the first pie in its mould and the pastry standing well above the top of the mould.  Now fill the pastry with the chestnut and celeriac filling.  One tip is to take some out and mash it first and put the mashed contents at the bottom and the chunkier bits on top.  Then fill up with the gravy.  Roll out a top that fits.  Use some of the gravy to wet the edges. Place the top on the pie and crimp together. Pierce a hole in the top to let the steam escape.  Now do it again three times.

Marion told me that she ‘raised’ her pies around a jam jar, and Sue said she did the same but used a baked bean can.  Jo said she couldn’t be bothered with any of that old business and simply made individual ‘pork pie’ sized ones in deep muffin trays. I tried these aswell and they worked really well . Remember that as the pastry cools it becomes firmer and I found the ring moulds worked well and contained the base – reducing the risk of the pie collapsing as it cooks.

Place the baking tray in the centre of the oven and cook the pies for about 40 minutes until golden brown and the gravy is bubbling out the top.  When you remove them from the oven, keep them on the tray and in the moulds.  I suggest you leave for about 30 minutes then you should be able to upend and run a very sharp pointed knife round the inside of the mould to release it.

If you have left over juice, then use it to make the gravy.

Banana and Ginger ice-cream and ginger nobs

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Lemons are the only fruit

If you are looking for a quick dessert for Christmas this is my take on a Nigella recipe for soft-scoop, no churn ice-cream. It’s so easy it’s criminal and is laced with stem ginger and syrup and served with ginger biscuits. Sorry, no picture of icecream. We ate it all too quickly for an arty shot. This recipe is for Su, because she requested it.

Ice-cream

Take one can of Fussell’s condensed milk and open it. (Dare you not to stick your finger in!) Whip 500ml double cream. Whip two very ripe bananas to a froth. Finely grate the zest from half lemon.Take about six golden sticky nuggets (that’s me being Nigella) of stem ginger out of the jar. Chop into pieces, maybe six to eight pieces. Combine the condensed milk, the whipped cream, the bananas, the zest  and the stem ginger with a spoon or a hand-held mixer. Stir till thoroughly mixed. Pour into a litre container and freeze. That’s it. Take out of the freezer and put in the fridge about 1.5 hours before you want to serve it.  Pour ginger syrup that’s in the jar, over each serving and have a ginger nob or two on the side.

Ginger nobs

60g  melted butter melted in a saucepan with 60g golden syrup. Add 30g golden caster sugar. Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.  Sift in 120g plain flour, 40g fine oatmeal, a teaspoon of ground ginger, one flat teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt.  Gather all the ingredients together till they combine into a soft ball.  Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Put a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray.  Break off walnut sized pieces of the dough and flatten them into circles on the baking parchment and about 1cm thick.  Place the tray with all the biscuits (should do 12-14) in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes then cool so they go crunchy. Remember to leave a bit of space around the biscuits because they will spread. If necessary use two trays.

 

Black Garlic

The first question is why?  Why spend 40 days cooking garlic slowly?  Answer: Why not?

Garlic in all its forms is a staple in our kitchen. img_3258Our neighbours Jaz and Dick don’t eat garlic at all. Or onions. It’s a bit embarrassing because our extractor fan belches out onion and garlic fumes across our shared drive every evening.  Fortunately they are very tolerant. And very nice. Sometimes – frequently – we hear a rumble in the night and David will mumble “that will be Jaz taking our bin out then”. The problem is, we often forget which day the bin man is due. But Jaz is a stickler for routine.  Sometimes we haven’t even filled the bin so we have to trundle it back in the morning, very quietly, to fill it and then deposit it at the end of the drive again.  If we remember what day it is, but not what colour bin, we simply peer between the blinds about midnight to see what colour bin is required…….  sure enough, Jaz and Dick’s bin is already standing serene and proud at the end of the drive. Sometimes we find sticky notes on the back door, reminding us it’s ‘green bin day’ or ‘brown bin day’. Jaz is a great pudding cook, and often we will find slices of cheesecake or mounds of souffle in the lobby – oh the saturated fat!

I first encountered black garlic when visiting Fran and Jonathan on the Isle of Wight, which is famous for its garlic crop. The largest head of garlic I have grown came from elephant garlic bulbs from there.  As big round as a teacup – I swear.  The ones in the picture here are img_2951a mixture of Early Purple Wight and Iberian Wight, both purchased mail-order from Isle of Wight Garlic Farm  and planted in earth enriched with lots of muck in early November and with a top dressing of seaweed.  Then just leave it – ready to harvest in June when the tops fall over and start to go rusty.  This year I had a bumper crop of 60 bulbs. The best ever.

I digress.  Black garlic.

Black garlic is simply a matter of fermenting fresh clean heads of garlic by heating very slowy and leaving on a low heat for about 30 days.  Each clove changes character and becomes a black sticky goo, full of molasses-like juice.  Wonderful in pasta, baked potatoes, risotto, pies…….. I feel some more posts coming on.

Being a ‘bit’ of a gadget freak (I often think I could do with an extension just for all the kitchen gadgets acquired over the years) – I searched online for special equipment and found a fermenter that was about £120.  No way Jose.  More research and a handy tip from Eleanor whilst we were wandering round East Ruston Vicarage Gardens a few weeks ago, revealed that the same results can be achieved with a rice cooker or a slow cooker.  I possessed neither.  Onto Freecycle in a trice, I found a slow cooker for £5.  That’s more like it.

So now, my heads of garlic have commenced their first day in the slow cooker.  Before they are ready I shall have had 5 days in Le Puget celebrating Anthony’s 60th, followed by a mad scurry of work,  prior to heading to Seahouses for a week of walking the bare blustery and beautiful beaches of Northumberland with David, Lynne and Andy, returning for number one grandson’s birthday and a trip to Dinosaur World.  My only concession to the garlic will be to remove the slow cooker attached to extension lead to the little shed outside so the house is not filled with garlic fumes on our return.   I shall offer a progress report later………………….

Greengage jam

img_3204Greengages take me back to my childhood and my nan’s house in Ipswich.  The echoing sound of my footsteps as I walked up the alleyway to her back gate. The click of the latch, the smell of her cool damp yard full of bright green moss. To the right, the green back door and an enamel bath hanging on the wall. Opening the back door and always met by the sight of an apron stretched across her broad backside, her sleeves rolled up and elbow deep in pastry or bread dough.  The same knife for cutting butter. The same spoon for measuring. The same carving knife for carving. The same pickle fork for piercing pickled onions in the bottom of the jar.  The same knife box that sits on my work surface as I write this.

Straight ahead was her long thin garden separated from its neighbour by a single strand of thin galvanised wire. First, a brick cold-frame full of geraniums and nasturtium. The crazy paving around various trip hazards in that first part of the garden. Then her greenhouse –  tomato and cucumber plants scrambling out the door in the summer. The chickens scratching in the dusty earth.   My grandad’s shed full of parerphenalia, rusty tins, an iron shoe form clamped to the bench. I never met him but I felt I knew him as a practical man by the things that were in his shed.

The vegetable garden with grass pathways. And then, the plum, apple and greengage trees at the end. Always long grass and sharp stinging nettles.  Always a blue and white enamel bowl near the trees. The fragrance of the fresh fruit, and sometimes almost cooked on the branches in the heat of the sun. And fallen fruit turning purple with cream mould peppering its surface. The air buzzing with lazy wasps.

Back in the kitchen I would help lever out the stones, slice the fruit in half and drop them into the pressure cooker pan that was always  used for jam making. The proportions my nan told me was always to use 50% sugar to the weight of fruit. I’d be encouraged to stir at the beginning whilst the sugar melted, then cease stirring. I’d watch the scum rise to the top and then dissipate; the fruit rolling over and over in the liquid. And then nan would encourage me to notice the nature of the liquid – how it would change as it reached setting point; have a less furious bubble; become more of a burp and a plop than a boil; where the liquid became almost oily and viscous. This, she said, is when you know it’s ready. She never used a cold saucer or a sugar thermometer to test her setting point. The most she did was dip in the wooden spoon to see if –  the liquid having reached the thick bubble stage – after three or four drips, the last one just hung on the spoon in suspended animation. Now you know it’s time to turn off the heat, she said. And drop in a knob of butter to quell the scum. She rarely scooped the scum off the top, just waited for it to subside with the help of the butter. If there was still some there after 10 minutes, then it was scooped off with a shallow metal spoon.

I think I learned this ‘trust your instinct’ method of cooking from her – watching, noticing changes, taking things off the heat early with lids clamped on, taking meat out of the oven earlier than the recipe says, letting it rest for half an hour, the difference in the liquid from the first vigorous boil to the point at which jam is ready to set.  I guess what she knew was the chemistry of cooking without ever being taught it.

Always leave the jam to cool for 15 minutes before bottling up. And don’t forget to label it. Yesterday I ate blackcurrant jam when I was expecting damson.  Good – but not damson!

 

 

 

 

Labneh

 

I knew that one day that jelly net my mum gave me would come in handy.  She keeps us generously supplied (even at the age of 88) with marmalade, damson, strawberry and raspberry jam, lemon curd and mint jelly and has, I think, some idea that I might have inherited the jam making gene.  The problem is that because she is so good at it, I’ve never really had to practice. So when she presented me with the jelly net and its intriguing three-armed bits and pieces I put it in a drawer and there it languished. For about 10 years.

However I put it to good use now, making labneh, which is simple as simple and you don’t really need a jelly net – just good quality muslin or a bit of net curtain (extra extra clean) and somewhere to hang it. And something to hang it from. I shall leave that to your own ingenuity….

What’s labneh?  It is strained yogurt, so thick you can slice it. It’s a bit like curd cheese and it originates in Lebanon although I have seen similar in Greece and Turkey. And Siberia.

As a general rule I make my own yogurt – it’s not exactly difficult.  Heat a litre of whole milk till you can just keep your little finger in it for 10 seconds then take off the heat and whisk in three tablespoons of live yogurt.  Then put in your yogurt maker – mine was about £10 from Lakeland) and leave overnight. It will set equally well if you cover with a clean cloth and leave it on the kitchen table for 24 hours.  If you don’t want to make it you don’t have to – just buy some really good quality live yogurt from the shop.

Now you need to find a way to strain your yogurt. I use mother’s jelly net but I have also used muslin (and a net curtain!) – just make sure it has been boiled first, then pour in the yogurt and let the liquid (whey) drip through into a bowl or saucepan.  You need patience to  make good labneh because the knack is to lose as much of the whey as possible.  I find this takes a good two days, though sometimes I am impatient and squeeze the bag a bit!  What you are aiming for is a labneh that consists of all of the milk solids and very little of the liquid. So when it is ready it should  peel away from the side of the muslin or jelly net.  What next?

Turn the solid curds into an ultra-clean stainless steel bowl (scald with boiling water). Finely chop fresh mint, dill and parsley.  Scald a large jar with a wide neck – or any container –  then half fill with good olive or rapeseed oil.  The next bit I find easier if I wear plastic food prep gloves.  You need a method here to save it getting very messy!

Put the chopped herbs on a shallow plate between the labneh and the jar or container. Put on the gloves then wet your hands, take a dessert spoon of labneh and drop it in the palm of one hand and then roll it into a small ball, drop onto the herbs and cover with the fragrant green stuff then drop the covered balls into the container with the oil.  Keep doing this until your jar is full.  Sometimes you might need to change gloves two or three times to prevent everything sticking to everything!  If you have read my blackcurrant massacre blog you will know my propensity for mess! You can store the labneh for up to a month this way.

An easier way is to just get to the ‘strained’ stage and then just put the labneh in a bowl, covered with herbs and maybe olives or marinated tomatoes and herbs, then scoop it out with fresh warm flatbread, or serve with meze.

At our six course North African popup supper club last week I served it with a minted cucumber salad and Ez’me –  very, very finely chopped red chillis, red and green pepper and de-seeded tomato seasoned with seasalt, black pepper and the citrus zing of sumac powder.IMG_2635

And what to do with the whey?  Well don’t waste it!  Heat the remaining whey (probably about 300ml) to blood temperature and then add the juice of a squeezed lemon. The solids suspended in the liquid will coagulate and give you a generous portion of ricotta.  Pour it gently through a muslin to catch the ricotta then put in a clean bowl and allow to cool.  Serve it the next day drizzled with olive oil, some grated lemon zest and a grind of black pepper.

And what to do with the remaining whey?  Pour it on your compost heap or straight onto your roses.  Highly nutritious and nothing wasted!

 

 

New discoveries in May

I had an early start this morning. Which following a long two days in Manchester and a late night last night wasn’t the best way to start the day. But it was bright. And sunny. And I anticipated being back at my desk by mid day following my early meeting. It was not to be.

By 10.30 the meeting was done and I took a diversion through Sproughton, sat by the river and made a couple of calls. Half an hour later I was in yet another office, following through an email conversation, but face-to-face. Simply because a) it is better that way and b) the person I wanted to speak to was free. And in that conversation we discovered coincidence, serendipity, permaculture, therapy, geography, shared acquaintances (previously unknown), oral history, Mathew Hopkins (the Witchfinder General), myths, growing things, the simplicity and honesty of truths always known. I felt as if I had known him for years and yet we only spoke for an hour. More of this another time.

On the way home, I mindlessly headed back up the A140, vaguely reminding myself to turn off at the Samphire farm shop sign. Karen @Samphireshop and I have tweeted and retweeted tweets over the past year, and I once sat and ate ice cream and drank beer in her field on an exceedingly hot Sunday in July, at their smallholding open day a couple of years ago.

Today I backed into their yard and Jeff appeared, I wandered into their tiny shop and draped myself over the chiller looking at the produce. I was nearly in there. Beautiful multi-coloured eggs, the best ever pork pies (Gary Rhodes said so), rare breed sausages, juicy little goats cheese tarts, and Norfolk asparagus. We piled up the back seat of the car with produce and I tootled home feeling content, already planning asparagus with soft poached egg and parmesan shavings with sourdough toast soldiers. And I reminded myself to put their open day (July 7th) on the calendar so I can get more beer and icecream.

Tapas in Canar

After what was a relatively busy day – well just going to the market really –  we finished  off the evening with a drive up to Canar. Population 450 mid summer. One bar. But its such a lovely bar. Tiny. Good beer. Gorgeous fish tapas tonight. We sat outside at 21.30 bathed in the hot evening sun, still 35C.image Diminutive elderly Spanish men sitting in the road as they have for centuries. Diminutive Spanish nonna’s perambulating down the street in pairs, pushing small grandchildren, waiting for the heat to go out of the day. Then home, down, down, hairpin upon hairpin. Watched the moon rise eating gambas, mopping up the buttery garlicky juices with bread. Much kitchen towel needed. Now the cicadas are chirring in the darkness and shooting stars are streaking across the southern skies. In the distance, midnight barking. Sky, heavy velvet.

Banana icecream

This is easy too. Use the same cream and yogurt mixture as before (150ml single cream or creme fraiche and 150ml greek yogurt). Mash up two bananas and mix well with the cream.
Put 2 tbsp muscovado sugar in a small pan and melt slowly then bring to the boil and add a small packet of flaked almonds.
Immediately turn this mixture onto baking parchment and let it spread out.
When cold it will be brittle. Crush it up and add it to the ice cream mixture.
Turn into a plastic box lined with baking parchment and freeze.
Take out of the freezer and put in the fridge an hour before you serve it.
Serve this gorgeously banana-y icecream with crunchy almond brittle with hot bitter coffee.
Marriage made in heaven.

Four sheep and a woodburner

We arrived late at our Casita way up in the Sierra de Tramantana between Soller and Deia. Hell’s teeth the gradient getting up to the house was steep – strong smell of burning clutch which lasted about 10 days.

First we were greeted by three ewes and a ram, one with a bell. Their favourite trick was to run up and down the outside stairs at about 3am. When I was feeling generous I would smile and imagine the ram, helpless to resist the pull of lady-sheep pheronomes. Not to mention the inability to quell his rampant instincts. Feeling less generous at 3am, I would imagine they were charging up and down those stairs like pantomime sheep, deliberately disturbing my peace. Then I dreamed of little lamb chops, or a leg of lamb on a spit, gently dropping its rich juices into the fire.

We were also greeted by two gas rings (one didn’t work). And one woodburning oven in a pretty small room (it was between 28 and 34C outside). Of course a lesser mortal would have screeched and demanded to be taken out to dinner every night. As for me, I felt excited, challenged and my imagination was already running riot. That lamb! Aubergine. Fish. Flatbread. One pot dishes. Almonds and pears. Figs. Prawns.

David took charge of the firing-up. I took claimed custody of the woodburner, and mine it remained for the next two weeks. We experimented and it really was ok. Had to be more conscious of timing. Would I put a meal in on the rising heat or the falling heat? And what dish should I use? All of a sudden terracotta came into its own. Especially those wide terracotta dishes with convex bases – which of course sat neatly on the gas ring and then on a circular terracotta ring in the oven itself. I’ve had many a disaster cooking in these dishes at home, stupidly not using a diffuser. Stupidly not soaking them for 24 hours in water before the first use. They dont work well on electric plates. Gas is better. But woodburing ovens rule now, in my world. And I want one.

So just to give you a taster – some Tapas.

Chop and roast over a high heat half a kilo of large good ripe tomatoes with some chilli flakes, a teaspoon of sugar, hot smoked paprika, olive oil and just a little water. Mash down with a fork when they are mushy and season with sea salt, black pepper and oregano. Take off the heat. Add the sauce to previously wood-oven roasted chopped potatoes and you have instant Patatas Bravas.

Roughly chop some meaty Chorizo and either roast or fry it for no more than 5 minutes – keep it juice and sweet, don’t draw the life out of it by too much heat. Make it the last thing you cook. Chorizo done.

In a shallow terracotta dish pour in a good glug of olive oil and sliced red peppers: Oh those gorgeous peppers – huge, mis-shapen, dull red on the outside, slightly grey on the inside – sweet and juicy. Roast them in the rising oven put in at about 150C and cook at around 200C. You want them charred. When almost stuck to the dish, take out of the oven and divide the peppers into four rough ‘pockets’ in the dish, drop an egg in each pocket and cover with foil. Leave on the worksurface and the residual heat in the dish will cook the eggs in about 10 minutes.

Whilst the peppers are in the oven, put an aubergine or two on a metal tray and just a little oil. Roast and char until the skin is BURNED and the flesh is soft (about 15 minutes). Then remove and put in a plastic bag and fold it up so no air gets in. Leave for 5 minutes then carefully peel back the charred skin (hot, hot hot) and tip the roasted flesh into a bowl, stir in a little ground cumin, cinnamon, mashed garlic and a heavy glug of olive oil and seasalt.

Take last night’s left over rice out of the fridge (which you cooled quickly once you’d had enough risotto or paella). With wet hands, form it into balls the size of a golf ball. Push in a small chunk of cheese or ham into the middle. Then coat in egg and breadcrumbs and deep or shallow fry.

Slap some triangles of roughly rolled bread dough onto the base of the oven whilst you are putting all the other dishes on the table. Turn the flatbread after 2 minutes and cook for one more minute on the other side.

Hey presto – a supper before your eyes in about 45 minutes accompanied by wonderful olives, preserved baby aubergine and onions in red wine. all with a delightful hint of woodsmoke from the oven.

Eat, preferably outside, with the new moon rising over the mountains with a cold beer or a good glug of red. And good friends.

More Spanish food adventures to come – including little lamb chops, sizzling prawns, paella poisoning, Spanish Markets, olives, squid, rabbit with offal, crocquettas bacalao…………

Tortiere

Our Katie makes this and this is her family recipe. It’s French-Canadian and a fixed part of a Canadian Christmas, generally served on Christmas Eve. She also made a festive slaw to go with it. Yummy in my tummy.

1-1/2 cups cubed peeled potatoes
2 lb (907 g) lean minced pork – some people like to do 1/3 beef and the rest pork
2 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup (175 mL) chicken stock
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried savory (or use Sage and be a bit more lavish)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
large batch of flaky pastry

one egg

***it will still be delicious if you use the spices, celery and mushroom quantities as a guideline but adjust them to suit your taste***

-boil the potatoes and mash them finely. season.

-Meanwhile, in a deep frying pan, saute pork over medium-high heat, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Drain off fat.

-Add mushrooms, celery, stock, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, savory, thyme, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaf; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until almost no liquid remains, about 25 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Mix in potatoes. Let cool.

-roll out part of the pastry to about 5mm thickness. lay into deep 9-inch pie plate. Spoon in filling. Roll out the rest of the pastry. Brush pie rim with water; cover with the top circle of pastry and press the edge to seal. trim your edges and flute your favourite way.

– Now the fun bit – take the pastry scraps, roll them out and cut out holiday shapes to decorate the top crust. Stick them on with a bit of water. Cut vents or an exciting holiday shape for the steam.

-lightly whisk the egg and brush the top of the pie to make it shiny and golden.

(Make-ahead: Wrap tourtiere and shapes separately; refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Or overwrap in heavy-duty foil and freeze for up to 2 weeks; thaw in refrigerator. Add 20 to 30 minutes to baking time, covering with foil after 45 minutes; remove foil for last 10 minutes.)

Mix egg yolk with 2 tsp (10 mL) water; brush three-quarters over top. Arrange cutouts on top; brush with remaining egg wash. Cut steam vents in top.

Bake in bottom third of a 200 C oven until lovely and golden. Probably about 50 minutes.

It is actually traditional to make the tourtiere well in advance and freeze it. My Mom says the flavours will develop more this way! If you do this, just follow all of the steps above (including the sticking on of festive shapes) apart from the egg wash. Freeze wrapped heavily in foil. Take it out in plenty of time to thaw (at least a day) and let it thaw in a cold room or in the fridge. Bring it to nearly room temperature before you put it in the oven. If you have frozen it, add another 10 or 15 minutes to the cooking time.

Don’t knock Knakerbrod

 

IMG_6048 IMG_6049 IMG_2342It all started the week before Christmas.  I was wandering around, mindlessly muttering the mantra that was the list inside my head. As I passed the bakery section I was muttering ‘rye flour’, ‘yeast’, ‘rye flour’, ‘yeast’.  Bob the friendly baker tapped me on the shoulder……. ‘would you like some fresh yeast?’.  I  immediately wondered what I would do with it. But gift horses came to mind and so I said yes. Please.  Bob the baker gave me a little bag of fresh spongy yeast.  It is years since I’ve used fresh yeast but it is so wonderful I think I shall never use dried yeast again.  It just springs to life with a little warm milk and a little brown sugar.  But I digress.  There is no yeast in Knakerbrod.

I treated myself to Camilla Plum’s Scandinavian kitchen just before Christmas and have been drooling over it ever since.  And conversations with Ingrid  and Mark in Norway, plus the gravlax I made before Christmas (now long gone) have all been tending toward woody , resin like flavours, rye, nuts, spruce,  herring, deer (no – not in January). Then as if by magic up sprang Annie’s version of Knakerbrod on Facebook, via her friend Inge.

David and Marion used to sell Knakerbrod in their wholefood shop (Beano’s) in the early 80s.  I used to love eating it with Jarlsberg and gherkins.

Here’s Annie’s (well, Inge’s) recipe that she helpfully advises is measured out in a measuring jug.

100 ml oats
100 ml linseed
100 ml sesame seeds
100 ml sunflower seeds
100 ml pumpkin seeds.

200 ml wholemeal flour
100 ml oil( olive or rapeseed)
150 ml water
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar

Mix it all together then turn out onto baking parchment. Put another piece of baking parchment on top and roll out as thin as you can.  If you want to be authentic, cut a circle out of the centre so you can hang it on a wooden stick when cooked.

Heat the oven to 200F, slightly less if you have a fan oven.  Peel off the top layer of parchment, and leaving the Knakerbrod on the lower layer, slide it onto a baking sheet. Mark it with a knife then bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes until slightly brown on the outer edges.  Remove from the heat and cool on the baking tray. Then snap into wedges along your mark-lines and store in an airtight tin.

More crispbread

A few days later and recovering from the Christmas lurgy I felt inclined toward more crispbread. Along the lines of the Swedish crispbread I ate on the harbourside in Stockholm – with herring, beetroot, horseradish and cucumber. I fell into Camilla Plum’s Scandinavian Kitchen and out came this Crispbread recipe.

1/4oz fresh yeast

1.75 cups warm water

1.25 cups rye flour

1.75 cups wholewheat flour

2 teasp coarse sea salt

1..75 cups sunflower seeds

2/3 cup sesame seeds

2 tbs agave syrup (Camilla uses honey)

Preheat the oven to 190C.  Dissolve the yeast in the water, add the remaining ingredients and knead to a smooth dough. (I used the dough-hook on my Kenwood for about 5 minutes).  Place a large piece of non-stick baking parchment on the work surface and flour thoroughly. Flour the top then cover with more baking parchment then roll out as thin as possible.  Either cut into rounds or irregular shapes, remove the scraps, sprinkle the remaining shapes with more sesame seeds and slide the parchment containing the dough shapes onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly brown and crisp.  Then turn the oven off, and leave them in the oven to get even crisper.  Yummy scrummy. In my tummy.

 

Healthy energy bars

 

IMG_2341Those who read this site regularly will know about the cyclist and carbohydrate consumer in the household. He with the waist-band that has only increased by 2.5cm in 30 years.  Over the past week I have been confined to the sofa with a lurgy. I got to thinking about the miles and miles of energy bars and so-called ‘health’ snack bars in supermarkets.  And on specialist cycling websites.  There must be a better way to consume calories than using whey and sugar?

Himself invited me to taste a Naked Foods chocolate and date bar. To be honest it was really nice and definitely the best of the bunch. And it was low on added everything which is a real bonus. In fact the list of ingredients was so small I wondered if I could replicate it.  So here are two takes on purchased energy/healthy bars. You might want to give them a try.

IMG_2341

Chocolate date bars (makes 8-9 bars)

100g chopped dates (no stones)

25ml boiling water

50g chopped almonds (minus skin)

30g raisins

20g coarse oatmeal

7g cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Put dates and water in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until turned to mush.  Remove from the heat.  Add all the other ingredients mix well and allow to cool. Prepare a shallow rectangular dish by lining it with cling film then brushing it very lightly with any light flavour-free oil.  I am not specifying the size here – you will have to judge what size depending on the amount you are cooking.  You are aiming for an even depth of about 1.5cm.  Turn the date and nut mixture into the lined tin and flatten with the back of a knife.  the consistency should be fairly stiff – it should hold its own shape if you drop a spoonful onto the work surface.  Now cut through with a  sharp knife into even-sized fingers so that you can easily separate the fingers when cool.  The amount given should give you about 10 fingers.  Cover with oiled cling-film. Place in the fridge overnight till solid.  Loosen each finger with a sharp knife and wrap individually.  These freeze really well too.

 

High energy nut bars (makes 18-20)

100g chopped dates (no stones)

Half a cup of apple puree  cooked with no sugar and reduced till there is no liquid

100g of any nut  or seed butter (peanut, almond, cashew, tahini)

75g roasted almonds (no skins)

30g cashews

30g hazelnuts

10g chia seed

30g coarse oatmeal

30g rolled oats

 

Heat the oven, containing an empty heavy metal baking tray,  to 180F. When the oven comes up to temperature, place the oats and oatmeal evenly on the baking tray and cook until they smell toasty and have turned a shade darker  – about 15 minutes. Then remove the tray from the oven but leave the oats on the tray (the idea is that the oats continue to toast on the tray whilst cooling – so don’t keep in the oven till they are brown)!

Place dates in a small pan and a little water, heat until mushy.  Cool.  Then add the apple puree and mix. Then add the nut butter and all the dry ingredients, including the oats and oatmeal and mix well.  The mixture will be very firm which is just how you want it to be. To be honest you can add any combination of nuts and seeds you like so long as the total weight tallies with the weight given in the recipe.

Prepare a shallow baking tray by lining it with cling film and then lightly oil the surface using a brush.  Pile in the mixture and flatten it out with a palette knife till smooth.  Then mark into square or rectangular bars with a sharp knife.  Cover with oiled clingfilm and place in fridge overnight.  These bars will be crispy yet chewy the next day.   Store in an airtight tin.

 

 

 

Bullets? Blenders? B++++++s?

 

FullSizeRenderOK. So I did it. I am a sucker for gadgets and machinery. Which for someone with my personality profile (I specialise in personality profiling) is rather odd. However, I won’t ponder on it. I purchased a Nutribullet. Apparently its an extractor; neither a blender, nor a juicer. An extractor.

Now my kitchen cupboards are full of gadgets and equipment.  Blender, flash coffee maker, Kenwood with attachments, ice-cream maker, yogurt maker, bread maker, hand mixer, little electric chopper-thing, Magimix with numerous blades and bowls, good knives, stacks of pans and baking trays, dariole moulds, madeleine tray, tepanyaki plate, mandoline, cheese moulds and dozens  of canape moulds and cutters given to me 15 years ago by my lovely Aunt She (domestic science teacher and caterer prior to training in social work – a role model there I wonder)?

Ah – I digress – the extractor!  I wasn’t exactly against it, but I did wonder, what are the benefits of juicing as opposed to simply eating? And what’s the point of ptyalin and all the other enzymes that are in saliva, if we don’t chew?  But Kathy Payne’s brilliant nutritional advice on her Facebook page won me over – oh, and that whimsical purchasing fairy who lives inside me for a few days after Christmas.

I read all the bumf in the big green box – what aspirational claims! What magic might ensue?  My extravert and sensing profile (just do it, it will be fun, think of all the things you can make) struggled with the thinker and the judge (for goodness sake where will you store it, you swore you would never buy one, you can already do everything it claims to do in your blender).  In the end the answer was simple.  I didn’t have to believe the bumf…… I could use it as I use all my kitchen equipment……. as yet another component in the experiment which is my-crazy-life-in-my-kitchen.

So. For breakfast I had a kale and half a banana in a smoothie with almonds and almond milk. It was gorgeous.  I balanced the potential for juices and smoothies to give a swift blood sugar-hike, with a thick slice of home-made rye bread toast, and the other half of the banana.

The urge for kitchen pottering has remained for the rest of the day – a sure sign that the Christmas and New Year virus is lifting – and I’ve experimented with making rye crispbread – see post later today – and Imade chunky hummus in a trice (well, 30 seconds) in Bullet (whizz one clove of garlic, a few chilli flakes, a teaspoon of cumin seed, two dessert spoons of Tahini, a little sea-salt and half a tin of boiling water).  I am, and remain

Yours sincerely,

a Bullet convert

Friends in high places

image

imageA little shopping in Orgiva this morning, prior to the family arriving tomorrow….. Language adventures in the butcher’s (would you chop the chicken into 10 pieces please?), 10 little lamb chops, a handful of minced pork which was neatly dispensed into a greaseproof paper cone and folded down at the top. Then the embarrassment of coming home and realising I had picked up someone else’s shopping.
On my way up to Mecina Fondales I dropped the bag of shopping back at the little corner shop. But the helpful young woman who had served me, and who spoke reasonable English – well to be honest, it was 10 times better than my Spanish – had been replaced by a monosyllabic bewhiskered granny who didn’t know what I was talking about! So I just gave her the bag in the end and hopped back in the car feeling that my efforts were less than adequate

Drove up the mountain road behind Orgiva, past Canar, heading up and up, past Capileira where the European funded road programme becomes less evident. More concrete blocks. Less Armco. Decided that on balance I prefer driving to being a passenger on these roads. The views are breathtaking which of course is the paradox of being a passenger – you can loom at the view but you also see how far down it is! Turned off the main road just before Pitres and headed down to the Trevelez valley to Mecina Fondales then out of the Fereiola ‘road’. I was heading for a bar in the middle of nowhere to meet Carrie. I found it. Cueva de Luna Mora. Owned by an Argentinian, in the middle of Las Alpujarras, with a reputation for some of the liveliest live music and the best Pizza’s. i can vouch for the pizza. Carrie and I talked non stop for four hours – the intervening 8 years counting as nothing – as it does when good friends get together. We parted, drove in different directions but this was not significant. Las Alpujarras had woven its magic again.

Going through Customs

I spent an entrancing two days working in Co.Down and Co.Armagh a couple of weeks ago. Intense meetings were balanced by journeys between Newry and Downpatrick in deep conversation with Peadar who told me about the history of the area – his homeland – and the magic in the landscape.     Today the weather forecasters are describing deep snow on those hills but as we drove along the valleys dotted with deserted flax mills on those two days –  Moyallen Road, Gilford Road, stopping at Scarva for an unexpected coffee sitting outside on a warm spring morning, beside the Sustrans National Cycle Track, then on through Tandragee, Pontyzpass –  the hills rising steeply either side of us  were alive with signals of spring; soft grey willow, trees in bud, daffodils, broad sweeps of aconite on the edge of standing water, green moss topping stones and the brightest and most heavenly greens that can only be experienced in Ireland.

Peadar is a wildfowler and we shared stories about the flavour of game and bird. He described trudging through the glens and over the hills in contemplative mindfulness. A steady pace. Maybe never raising his gun to the sky the whole day, but returning home a satisfied man – a man at one with his landscape.  I will never forget his story of an old man he knows who split the tender breastbone of a woodcock with his thumbs and took out the liver.  Offered a morsel, Peadar took it an pronounced it good. Nectar. To some this might appear unnecessarily  basic. To me it somehow connected the man to the very soil and the air which was his history and his blood, and I find no fault in it.

On my homeward journey Peadar promised me a wild goose and a Teal.  My only worry was getting them through Customs at the airport (no hold-luggage, just hand-luggage). Sure as eggs, I watched my bags diverted into a siding after they passed through the xray machine.     A stern finger beckoned me over. Are these your bags madam?  Yes.  Would you mind explaining the bag of bones in your hand luggage? Not at all, it’s a goose and a Teal. Did you pack your bags yourself madam?  Yes.  Did you pack the goose and the Teal?  No I didn’t. They were given to me by a friend straight from his freezer. At this point my rational brain started to kick in.  Frozen meat with cavities. No I didn’t pack it myself, I was given it.  I can see why they were beginning to look suspicious. Would you mind unpacking the bag with the goose and the Teal madam? Of course. So I unpacked the wildfowl so carefully wrapped by himself. In newspaper. Six separate carrier bags with knots.  Finally the poor birds were revealed, all frozen and bare with their little legs and wings tucked underneath and a dark blush of what had been feathers spreading across their breasts.   Still frozen solid it was impossible to see if anything was buried inside them. I was ready for them to be confiscated. Shame.

However, not enough to expose the poor birds, I too then taken aside and suffered the same indignity.  And more. You can imagine.  It took a while…….  and then it was all over and I was released, as were the birds, and we were reunited. I repacked them in their newspaper and plastic bags and was sent on my way with a smile. Or was it a smirk?

I’d just like to say that the Teal has yet to be eaten but the goose?  It was the tastiest little wild goose on the planet.  Roasted quickly after an overnight bath in olive oil, garlic, crushed juniper and caraway.  Served with creamy mashed potatoes and dark greens and a reduction of juices.  Heaven on a plate.

Science

I was watching that fascinating and easy on the eye combo of Andrew Graham-Dixon and Georgio Locatelli a few weeks ago. Locatelli, tossing his curly locks and smoothing his hands over his thighs, mentioned a seminal Italian cookery book – the Italian Mrs Beaton – and I bought a copy.  Published in 1891 Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi proved to be as humorous and as charming as Locatelli described.

“I had taken lodgings in the Piazza del Voltone, in a new whitewashed villa run by a certain Domenici.  That night I felt the onset of a frightening disturbance in my body…’Damned Minestrone! You’ll never fool me again!’ …. Day came and feeling myself totally drained, I rushed to the first available train and escaped to Florence where I quickly revived   Monday the sad news reached me that cholera had broken out in Leighorn and the first to be struck dead was no other than Domenici…. And to think that I had blamed the minestrone!  After three attempts and having i proved upon the dish each time this is how I make it ……………….

Genes

 

IMG_1494Lovely conversation this evening with number one son in Newcastle which ranged across the usual  subjects, work, life, the universe, plans for our joint holiday in June.  But also an intense little nugget about what he and Katie have been cooking this week – clearing the carnivorous freezer and decks before they commence a pescitarian February.

It went something like ‘ Well mum we tried some of those Boerwors sausuages you sent from Bunwell butchers, they were brilliant, we also did some great duck with a confit of cherry and wine, some fresh pasta with Cavalo Nero and softly poached eggs………….’

Clearly the genes are there.  I used to love it when he would ring me from his flat as a student (with 6 girls) saying ‘Mum, I’ve got this piece of pork and I was thinking of ……………………’  or ‘Mum I was wondering whether anchovies really really work with lamb, what do you think’………………..

The best gravy I ever tasted, he made when the family cooked a birthday meal for me a couple of years back.  Admittedly, I gave a little tuition on roasting the bones in the pan etc etc.  But the result was legendary. And the skill was his alone.

WILL GNR 06

Thinking of inviting him to do a guest page on the blog.

New books

Deep sigh. Settled down a couple of nights ago to talk about my new books but router strength insufficient to reach my iPad in the sitting room.  Gave up with frustration, hence the title but the empty page!  What I was going to say was……………..

I find myself wanting to start each new page with ‘Its a lovely day’ or ‘When I was walking I was thinking………..’ or ‘The woodburner is blazing and I’m lovely and cosy’.  It must sound so self-satisfied. So I just want to de-bunk any notion that we live in some sort of idyll here!  Having said that, my work-life balance is much improved since becoming totally self-employed, and I do have more time to think and play around, and experiment with ideas.  Monday was a case in point.  Having lost my glasses somewhere –  (still not found: appeal goes out to daughter with second-sight, who always had a knack of spotting things out of place when she was young) – I was wearing an old pair of varifocals.  Got up from the desk and tripped over a small fan heater, and propelled myself at great velocity into the bookshelves on the other side of the room.  My cheekbone hit first.  I staggered into the kitchen and had a very dramatic howling fit, bent over the work surface, but no-one else was in the house so it was pointless.

face ache

But on Tuesday I felt rough so I gave myself the day off.  There.  Now we are back on track with the story.  I spent all day watching the snow fall, drawing and reading my latest collection of Christmas cooking related books.  Here’s a few of them.

First there’sThe Grammar of Cooking by Carol Braider.  Published in 1974 it is a quirky translation of the shorthand of recipes.  I picked it up in the delightful Chapel Books in Westleton. If ever you are in Suffolk, you should make a beeline for it – here’s a review of Chapel Books

2011: from Martin Newell’s “For whom the bells toll”, in the April issue of Suffolk magazine.
Westleton’s best-kept secret, however, is its extraordinary second-hand bookshop, located in an old chapel on the main road, near the Green. For 30-odd years I’ve popped in there only sporadically. It never changes.
When you walk into the Chapel Bookshop, the first thing you’ll notice is the sweet, dusty smell of old books. There are more books here than you can shake a stick at and yet no one seems to be in attendance. 
That’s when you’ll see an old tin with a stick next to it. There’s a hand-written notice which requests that you bang the tin with the stick if you require attention. Now Bob will materialise from a back room, silently – like Mr Tumnus from behind a snow-laded fir tree – and he will ask you if you’d like tea or coffee.
Robert Jackson, the Chapel Bookshop’s softly-spoken eccentric owner, originally wanted to run an art gallery. He fell into running a bookshop, almost by default, he claims. There are old sofas for you to sit upon. The shop seems unguarded, although, there used to be a sign which warned that if you nicked a book, an alarm would go off in your head.
The book stock can be pleasingly esoteric. There are volumes of the Victorian mystic, Madam Blavatsky’s work here, for instance. There’s also a small stock of vintage vinyl records wherein I found, among other things, a first pressing of The BeatlesA Hard Day’s Night. The Westleton bookshop, Dunwich beach and The White Horse pub; no tour operator is ever likely to sell you this package. I would.”

Then there’s Faviken (Magnus Nillson), and a present from Anna.  It is a long time since I have been so absorbed by food writing.  Faviken http://www.theworlds50best.com/awards/1-50-winners/faviken-magasinet/  is Swedish restaurant set in the middle of nowhere, producing amazing food and with a seasonal philosophy, ageing its own meat well beyond the ‘normal’ and challenging conceptions of food production.  It is utterly beautiful and is now on my list of 50 places to go before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Goat made me laugh outloud. Made more humorous because at the time David and I were sitting in Namaste (a south indian vegetarian eatery in Norwich) having a Masala Dhosa for lunch listening to Hari Krishna piped music. That added to the irony.  However the writing is very good. And funny. Goat is the title of the book by the way. Written by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough it tells of everything goat.  Those familiar with these pages will know I am rather keen on it.  Did you know that goat meat is the most widely eaten meat across the globe?  70% of all red meat consumed is goat. I don’t quite know how they know that but it sounds good. OK, enough about goat, but I will definitely test out some of the recipes. Those I liked the look of were The Seven Hour Leg (a long slow spiced roast), baked spinach and goat’s cheese dumplings and Dukka cheesecake.

I own a number of books on Jewish cooking but for some reason have never owned a copy of Claudia Rosen’s The Book of Jewish Cooking.  Now I do.  I spent about 3 hours last night just leafing through it.  First published in 1996 it has become the best of them.  One critic said of this book “you can’t better Claudia Roden, last of the scholar/cooks int he tradition of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson: her books are learned, loving, delicious.  The Book of Jewish food is definitive”

books

That’s all for now.  More to come… Raymond Blanc, Denis Cotter, Roast Figs Sugar Snow, Chez Panisse.

Preparations are afoot

Preparations are afoot. For Christmas. For collaboration with local traders. For prepping food.

Spent a couple of hours this morning, feeling a bit unwell, but relaxing and making preserved lemons.  Let me know if you want me to reserve a jar for you. I use preserved lemons in all sorts of ways……. stirred into a cinammon and spice lamb tagine with a sprinkling of chermoula; chopped into a parsley and tomato laden tabbouleh; tucked inside a chicken before roasting, or chopped and scattered over a tray of garlic and olive oil rich roasted pumpkin, tomato, onion and feta.  When you use them remember to either adjust the seasoning (because they are preserved in sea salt and olive oil), or brush the salt off them before adding to a dish.  They will bring a wonderful frangrant piquancy, a tartness and an ability to enhance the main flavour of the whatever dish you are cooking.

In my kitchen, preserving lemons is not a precise science.  Simply take a few spare lemons chop into 6-8 pieces (leave the skin on). Pack into a sterilised jar with plenty of sea salt.  Add some lemon juice and top up with olive oil.  Sometimes I add caraway seed, or chilli seed or fennel seed.  Then just seal tightly and put in the fridge. They will last 8-12 weeks in the fridge.

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On Wednesday I am meeting with Keith Charlish to work up some recipe cards to sell with his meat and game at Christmas. So look out for one-pot-pheasant, warm pigeon breasts with juniper and sloe gin, partridge and hock pie and gingered duck at The Paddocks Butchery before long. I also noticed he had made some South African ‘Boerwors’ sausages.  Had to buy some but haven’t cooked them yet.

Finally. Today I realised a lifetime’s ambition and have a knife block.  I’ve looked at them for years and felt rather ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ about  them.  But then I found this little beauty.  My knives are a bit special to me – sad I know – and collected over the years. Many are Japanese and came from TKMax, purchased as one’s and two’s rather than as a full set of kitchen knives. So they are a raggedy bunch, nothing matches. But I love them.  The Japanese chopper, the little Sabatier paring knife, the Saji chef’s knife, the foot long gravadlax carver.  All spotted in the same way you spot a handsome guy across a room – it takes your eye, you smile, and sidle over…………. etc.  The biggest crime in the world was committed by my dear mum when she attempted to remove a plug which was stuck in the sink with my best paring knife. Which resulted in her snapping the end off trying to lever it out.  Its a long time since I have been as angry – and kept the lid on it!

Bungay Food Fair

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Oh Bungay.  For so many years – over 30 – I’ve been drawn to Bungay – To BlackDog Antiques, rifling around the mounds of tiles, fabric, furniture, to the restaurant that Robert and Tim used to run (and then moved to Norwich), to Crocks when it was first opened by Tony and Mary who used to sell us coffee from their shop in Ealing in the 70’s, to Wightman’s for fabric, to Nursey’s for sheepskin slippers, to Cork Brick Antiques for pictures – always a good showing by Margaret Thomas – and today also Bruer Tidman.  But the main pull was Tessa Newcomb’s new book The Adorable Plot. Tessa’s pictures, and her parents Godfey and Mary, have woven their way in and out of our lives over many years and the first picture of hers I knew intimately was that of a goat on board owned by Shirley.  I used to stare at it as we both emerged, blinking from divorce, addicted to drinking coffee, nibbling pretzels and plotting hugely successful Live Aid jumble sales. Tessa’s pictures are naive and yet evocative, simply portrayed but pulling on deep emotions.  Today I bought The Adorable Plot for Will and Katie.  Saving for a blue Fender and needing to earn money in the school holidays one year, Will painted the outside of Mary and Godfrey’s house.  Godfrey was charged with standing at the bottom of the ladder whilst Will painted the eaves. Godfrey, being Godfrey, forgot after a while and walked away to roll a fag or two.  Gradually the ladder slipped down the wall and Will ended up in the water butt!

Today there was a really simple and scrumptious food fair by the castle.  We found Shirley and Rob, taking a break from repairing The Wall inflatables, and instead were sliding more-ish parmesan biscuits off a plate at Tessa’s book signing.  We wandered over the road to look at the food. The sun was shining, it was warm and bright blue skies spread behind the oak trees. To think a week ago we were eating tapas in Soller in 30C (see future posts for Tapas).  My favourite stand was Imperial Wine and we were greeted by the eternally cheerful Su (see Peach Friand dedication) proffering a rather nice Lucien Lardy Fleurie la Roches Beaujolais in pitifully small glasses.  We had just missed her first performance – a ‘matching wine with food’ presentation. Established in 1995 its based in Bungay, a great company offering really good value wine and some real stonkers in the back room.  Make sure you visit. So so tempting

The Wild Meat Company offered something a bit out of the ordinary. Squirrel for £4.50!  I am pondering on what I would do with squirrel, but now know that one squirrel (grey) will feed one person, and apparently it’s very healthy meat because all a squirrel eats is fruit and nuts!! I might have to consult Hugh F-W for a recipe.

Johnny’s Girls at The Cow Shed – beautiful creamy un-pastuerised milk.  And I would give them ‘best in show’ for their labels. If i were not off the the Isle of Man tomorrow I would have bought a few litres and made some fulsome creamy yogurt with it.

Marsh Pig was another favourite. If you’ve travelled north on the A12 you will have seen their pigs ranged across the Breckland near Blythburgh.  Their passion is Salami’s and meats made from the leg meat.  The best on the stall (and I tried them all, including very very good chorizo) was the fennel salami.  Juicy meat cut through with fennel seed.  Tangy. Gorgeous.  Imagine it on a board with chorizo, manchego, membrillo and bread with a few olives thrown in for good measure.  And a robust Temperanillo.

Met up with old friends Fielding Cottage  who had a new product – goats curd.  It is tangy and light – just like a good ricotta.  Tonight I plan to twin it with chard and spinach, in a tart, with a little lemon zest.

The end to a perfect morning, we retired to Rob and Shirley’s for very good coffee, admired their house and particularly Shirley’s planting in their courtyard garden.  As a young, naive and horticulturally ignorant young woman (me), Shirley introduced me to her Jekyll inspired ‘white garden’ and the ghost of it was here today with tall, slender nicotiana sylvestris giving height and light to lush tropical planting including a magnificent echium.  Luckily it’s generous with its seeds and so I came away with a good sized plant too.   Thanks Shirl.

Autumn mushrooms

Distracted in my pre-holiday tasks today by the sight of a mountain of foraged mushrooms on a stall outside Caruluccio’s.

I couldnt resist and walked away with Ceps, Porcini, Winter Chanterelles and Flats. And a good chunk of truffle butter all wrapped up in a little greaseproof parcel and string.  Great Scott their marketing is good.

So this evening I picked them over carefully, discarding grass, bracken and insects, checking no other little intruders of mushrooms pretending to be pukka were present. Then wiped them over and peeled the Porcini stalks, which were a bit gravelly.  Sadly found one of them full of little holes. Invaders had already eaten the inside.  Anyway, set the butter and some olive oil in a wide flat pan to melt gently, adding the zest of half a lemon and just a few chilli flakes. Threw in the chopped mushroooms (kept the Chanterelle whole) and grated over a small clove of garlic and let them stew for about 15 minutes, turning frequently. Then upped the heat and poured in 15ml good balsamic (the thick stuff) and 10ml light soy sauce.  Stirred again and bubbled up till the balsamic  almost evaporated.  Then added just two tablespoons of half fat creme fraiche and squeezed in the juice of half a lemon.  The temptation is to add too much cream but I find its too rich with the dusky mushroom and truffle.

Take mushrooms off the heat.  For two people, throw in three good handfull’s of papardelle pasta (thick ribbons) into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook till just al dente.  Spoon out about 3tbsp of the pasta water into the mushrooms and stir it in to loosen the sauce into an emulsion, then drain the pasta and whilst in the colander, add lots of black pepper.  Then put into the dish with the mushrooms and gently combine, adding a few slivers of sage and flatleaf parsley till the pasta is coated with glistening sauce and then add a generous handful of grated parmesan.

That’s all you need folks.  Simple. So tasty.  Glass of red, sofa, and Richard Thompson on the CD player.

Norfolk food

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It was bright. It was sunny. It was the day the Tour of Britain (cycling, for those not in the know) was coming to Norfolk.  Tour of Britain, combined with the Norfolk Food Festival at the Norfolk Showground?  It was like I’d died and gone to heaven.

Getting in was easy, no crowds, it was fairly early to be sure.  But then it was only 10.30am, and the cyclists didnt arrive until 3pm………   So I had plenty of time.   The main arena was stuffed with stalls and I was in my element.  After a swift circuit I watched the delightful Richard Hughes The Lavender House (surely one of the best places to eat in England and certainly my favourite in Norfolk) who was  making Empanadas but filled with a very un-Spanish FruitPig black pudding, apples and Mrs Temple’s piquant Binham Blue.  I tell you they were divine. All made in an hour including the dough.

The the long leisurely trawl round the artisan stalls.  Some women trawl for handbags and shoes.  I do that aswell, but never more pleasurable trawling to be had, than searching for good local ingredients and provendors.

EthnicFusion had an amazing array of pakoras, lamb and vegetairan samosas and onion bhaji’s.  That was lunch taken care of then! Samphire Foods are breeders of rare breed pigs and have a smallholding just up the road from me.  Their pork pies were selling like hot cakes (sorry for the mixed metaphor) and according to Giles Coren are the best you can buy.  Their smallholding is generally open one day a year in September and always worth a visit.  Years ago Don Lear used to sell cars in Diss. I bought one from him once.  But he has built up a fabulous business BhajiMan providing premixed spices and ‘recipes in a box’.  I have been known to throw together onion bhajis in an instant using his brilliant mix of gramflour and spices.  Gorgeous. He was doing a roaring trade – more than once I have thought what a brilliant business idea that is Don.

CrushFoods had a beautiful stall with their full range of cold pressed rape seed oils, dressings and grains and First Thyme had such a simple idea – cordials for kids made from chamomile, or raspberry or rosehip and hibiscus with no added sugar or preservatives. They looked so good I drank one myself.  Gorgeous.

I could go on and on of course but not without mentioning my favourite stand Little Melton Gourmet Yogurts  This stand was overwhelmed with visitors and it wasnt hard to see why.  Gorgeous thick creamy yogurt, sliced through with passionfruit, or lemon curd, blueberry or honey, mango or pear.  They sold out by the end of the day.

In between I watched the cycling. Of course the anticipation was wonderful, sadly Cavendish fell off at the entrance to the showground and limped home looking rather grumpy, battered and torn; and I saw the lean mean machine with is Wiggins, louche and willowy coming into the home run.  Magnificent summer for cycling.

But why was Little Melton Yogurt my favourite?  Well I had bought the (literally) last pot of passion fruit as I left for the car park.  It was literally park. Gridlock. Easy to get in, getting out was more problematic.  It took me 1.5 hours to exit the showground by which time I was famished.  And very hot.  So the gorgeous pot of passionfruit infused yogurt was sitting in my bag as,getting nowhere fast, I thrummed the steering wheel with my fingers, impatiently trying to ignore the lure of the cool, creamy, luscious delight.  No use!  After 30 minutes I had to have it – off came the lid. Damn. No spoon.  In went the forefinger and I ate it all. In the glaring sun. In the queue of traffic. All by myself.   Yummy!

Farmer’s Markets

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Wymondham Farmer’s Market, third Saturday in the month,  is a non-negotiable date in my calendar. There’s something so seductive about getting there early, wandering up the quiet back streets, baskets idly dangling off my fingers, smelling coffee brewing in the cafe’s,  wondering what will be there to tempt and delight. This Saturday was no exception.

Exceptionally hot it was, 26C at 08.45, I pretended I was in Spain and fantasized about white peaches, giant tomatoes ripe for baking, toppling piles of broad beans, garlic and onions. As always, Wymondham FM delights (though no white peaches or broad beans).  Instead I went straight to the Fielding Cottage stall – full of goat.  Not an insult, definitely a compliment!  Andy and Helen were there with their hard cured goats cheese, and the wonderful soft feta-like cheese which I crumble into a plateful of salad, shoots, seeds and beetroot.  Their famous Billy Burgers are also fabulous, well seasoned and moist – believe me they are divine.  We had a quick conversation, took photos and a lovely invitation to develop some goat recipes. Already my brain is mulling this over – I’m thinking curry goat, or braised goat leg with aromatic oregano cooked like Kleftiko with a chunk of feta in the juices and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice, or a rich tagine with prunes and almonds. www.fieldingcottage.co.uk

Only two steps to the right to Pye Bakery and their stall which groans under the weight of delicious breads and pizza heavy with herbs and olives.  I have my eye on an aromatic loaf of rye bread and a plump round focaccia studded with rosemary are carefully laid in the basket. And my favourite, wholewheat with caraway. Yummy  (with feta, or a soft terrine of rabbit and pistachio with quince chutney on the side). Anyway, two of those please. www.pyebaker.co.uk

Then it’s over to see Tim at MacaronsandMore. You might remember Tim as a finalist in Masterchef. My only claim to fame there is that I know his dad! Tim is King of all things patisserie but in particular his macarons, and my mouth was already watering in anticipation of macarons at tea time – luckily Jane and Dave were staying so I could indulge in a box of 12.  Consider this:  violet and blackcurrant, praline, salt caramel (my favourite), lemon, passion fruit and milk chocolate, gingerbread and chocolate, all in a lovely box, sitting in your fridge just waiting for tea-time.  Torture!  Tim and I chatted about cooking business and cookery writing – watch this space on that one.  Lucky for you, Tim does mail order www.macaronsandmore.com

Those were my three favourite food stalls on Saturday, but I just had to whizz over to the plant stall, full of succulents and tropicals as well as beautiful species geraniums and pelargoniums. Many of which have luxuriated in my courtyard for a few years. But I was tempted by a Fatsia and a Sinocrassula yunnanensis .

Saturday started well – farmer’s markets rule!

Coast

Don’t you just love week-ends where everything just seems to fall into place?  The sun shone, it was hot. We went to the beach in Gorleston. We hadn’t planned to go to the beach but we ended up meeting friends,  going to their dinky little house right by the sea for the first time, imagining what it would be like to smell the sea, hear the sea, wander by the sea every day. We drank tea on a beach full of families in various states of dress and undress and sometimes in-between, shuffling undergarments on and off under inadequate towels, people calling out to one another, shaking sand from clothes, rolling up wet swimming gear  and stowing it in bags; swimmers and body-boarders, sailors and snorkellers.  After a long walk and a long companionable talk, back for another cuppa and then to Gt Yarmouth – memories of childhood holidays, the push-penny arcade games, the neon lights, the clip-clop of horses up and down the prom. The fish and chips at the Las Palmas fish and chip restaurant were divine; hot, fresh, crisp and soaked in vinegar. Violently green mushy peas.  Simply wonderful. Then on to the Hippodrome Circus – just as I remembered it aged 9, lights, music, laughter, high wire acts, synchronised swimming. It was 1962 all over again!

Wandering through South Norfolk

IMG_0486.JPG (2)1-photo (3)-003A leisurely drive to Rumburgh Buck to have lunch with Dinah today reminded me of the wonderful Rumburgh Rollicks of 25 years ago, cooking up vegetable curry by the vat load as part of the Beano’s contribution to the Rollick. Then setting up stall, cooking on a Primus stove selling veg curry in pitta bread for a quid.  Those were the days…………  lines of people waiting for our food and reminding us to ‘come back next year’.

Beano’s was a wholefood shop ahead of its time in Harleston, where you could buy the complete range of #wholefoods sold in Rainbow (but in Harleston – where there was only one bus  a day to Norwich); and Pete’s bread (as everyone knew it) – made in Metfield  and delivered by van every morning but Monday.  One delightful customer would come in every Monday and raise merry hell because there was no bread, he became known as the no-bread-on-Monday man.  Well truth to tell he was known as something much less flattering and definitely not PC so I am not prepared to commit it to the page!

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We would hand bag all the produce, have disasters with bulk-buys of concentrated apple juice, fall over laughing at the labels produced by the gorgeous and dyslexic YOT girl, and cook up a storm every day on a two ring stove and a small oven.  Marion and David were pioneers. Happy happy days.