Saturday, 25 February 2017

Spicy beef shin hotpot with roast squash wedges


The longevity of onions never ceases to amaze me, although I should know better. Having grown them in the past, when I used to have my allotment plot, the practise of digging up in autumn and laying them down singularly and flat, on top of wooden boxes or flattened cardboard, was a common sight. This would help to cure and protect the onions, as the outer skin hardened and dried, ready to be stored in meshed bags for winter. Making them impervious little blighters really. Wonderful things, onions. These hardened balls of energy, just waiting to be unleashed like that.

However, the surprise only occurs whenever I reach into the corner cupboard of doom, where all the ‘stuff’ gets shoved, to grab a carrier bag and suddenly see a red onion come flying out.

‘Where has that come from?’ I’ll think. And ‘how long has it been in there?’ Along with ‘Hmm, maybe I’ll use that tonight.’

I am of course making this admission in the vague hope that it will sound familiar. I am hoping that I am not the only one who gets haunted and taunted by forgotten vegetables, scattered in the dark recesses of their kitchen. I also hope that on discovering these poor lost souls, lots of you end up cooking them, rather than simply throwing away. Because they will still be good for eating.

If you are undecided on the matter, a great destination for old vegetables is the humble stew or hot pot. Braising in a casserole, along with a cheap cut of meat, some store cupboard ingredients and some time and some care, can result in a dish that is not only tasty and transformative but also less wasteful. And if you discover whole bags of missing treasure, such as slightly wrinkled peppers, lying forlornly at the back of the fridge, then batch cooking is the way forward. Fill that freezer for days when you really don’t feel like slaving away behind the stove. For days dedicated to getting through Gilmore Girls or Game of Thrones or whatever takes your fancy.

This stew, or hotpot as I have named it, uses all of the above: ie onions, peppers and frugal meat in the form of beef shin, which is excellent for this type of cooking. Hard worked muscles always taste best. The slight twists or quirks to this recipe are down to the spices used, which lend a Latin or Mexican sort of flavour and come in the shape of the paprika, cumin and ancho chilli. For the purposes of this particular dish, I suggest popping an ancho in whole. You can chop it up and let the seeds run riot if you like, to add an extra fiery element of heat. But I prefer to leave the pepper to steep in the stock and let some of the ancho’s fruity quality come through.

Either way, you will have to soak it in boiled water first. Three years in a cupboard is a long time for a desiccated chilli to wait. But don’t worry, it will still be up for the job.

This post first featured on Great British Chefs, as part of a collaboration with Love Food Hate Waste.

Beef shin hotpot

50ml of rapeseed oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 yellow pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1.5kg beef shin, boned, trimmed and cut into small cubes
300g of cooking chorizo, cut into slices
2 tbsp of plain flour
1 tbsp of sweet smoked paprika
1 tbsp of ground cumin
1 tbsp of black treacle
1 tbsp of tomato purée
1 dried ancho chilli, soaked in hot water
500ml of beef stock
400g of tinned chopped tomatoes, (1 tin)
400g of chickpeas, (1 tin)
salt
pepper



Roast squash wedges

1 large squash, butternut or festival, seeded and cut into thin wedges with skin left on
50ml of rapeseed oil
salt
pepper

To serve

100ml of sour cream
25g of pumpkin seeds
1 bunch of coriander, small, roughly chopped
Basmati rice, to serve

To begin, place a casserole dish or stockpot on the hob over a medium heat and add half of the rapeseed oil. Once the oil has warmed up, add the finely chopped onion, peppers and garlic and stir to coat. Bring the heat down.



Cook slowly for about 15–20 minutes until everything is soft and sweet, then remove from the heat and scrape into a bowl. Give the casserole a quick wipe with some kitchen towel to ensure no bits are left to catch.

Next, place the beef shin chunks in a bowl with the flour, salt and pepper and mix together, so that the meat gets a light and even coating. Return the casserole to the hob over a medium-high heat, add the remaining oil then brown the shin in batches, lifting them onto a plate once done.



The bottom of your casserole will probably be crusted with meaty bits and pieces, so deglaze with a good splash of water, using a metal spoon to scrape and lift everything up. Pour the thickened liquid over the beef.

Add the chorizo slices into the casserole, stirring as they begin to sizzle and release some of their own oil. After a couple of minutes, place the beef back into the pot, along with the softened vegetables, and mix together.

Add the paprika and cumin and stir to coat, then after another 2 minutes add the tomatoes, beef stock, black treacle and ancho chilli. Taste for seasoning.

Bring up to a simmer then cover with a lid, leaving it slightly ajar so that steam can escape and that the sauce can slowly thicken.



After an hour, empty the tin of chickpeas into the hotpot and cook for another 2 hours, or until the beef is very tender. Throughout cooking, return every now and then to stir

To cook the squash, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Place the squash wedges on a baking tray and drizzle with the oil, mixing together to ensure they are evenly coated. Season with some salt and pepper and place into the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning them over halfway through.

To serve, divide the rice between plates then add a generous helping of the beef shin hotpot. Arrange some of the roast squash wedges on the side and top the meat with some sour cream, a scattering of pumpkin seeds and some chopped coriander.

This recipe caters for 2 helpings, for 4 people. So leave the remaining stew to cool then place into freezer bags to freeze for another day.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Jewelled Pumpkin Rice with Crispy Onions


I did it. After wittering on about eating less meat in this New Year's post, I finally did it and made something that did not include any animal parts or meaty flavourings. Which sounds awful because we don't continually gnaw on bones at home. Far from it. We do have a fairly balanced diet. But the big thing here, is that I made this jewelled pumpkin rice for Sunday dinner. Yes, no traditional roast beef/pork/lamb. No gravy, gloriously imbued by the juices of said roast. And no roast potatoes either, crisp and oh so slightly burnt. They will make a return, the roast spudlies. Don't you worry about that. I'll be damned if I am going to give them up, despite what the government says. In the words of actor, Stephen Mangan -  'I'll give you the burnt, crispy bits off my roast potatoes when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.'

This fragrant and warming dish, a recipe from the brilliant Moro East and one that I have been coveting for some time now, is a great alternative and a superb pick me up after going for a winter stroll, in the driving rain. A decision that was met with derision at first - 'Holly, it's pissing down!?' Although I am glad I was convinced. We all returned, totally soaked through and with drips cascading from our stuffy noses. But after living in the area for 14 years, we discovered some new territory; a parkland walk close to a swollen river and the children came back with that lovely rosey glow on their cheeks. All in all, it was good, healthy stuff.

With the typical East Mediterranean flair that you find in this cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, noses were soon cleared as the scent of roasting squash came flooding into the kitchen, along with notes of cinnamon and rose water. The latter a deviation from saffron, because we didn't have any in the cupboard (don't you just blaaady hate it when you run out of saffron?) and as such, the recipe that follows is slightly different from the one in the book. I also used a variety of squash, such as carnival and sweet dumpling, bought from the INTERNATIONAL SUPERMARKET.



The best part though, had to be the smell of deep fried onions, a suggested recommendation that rounded off things nicely. When deep frying onions in a small-ish saucepan, filled with hot and volatile sunflower oil, it does pay to pay attention to the amount you throw in at any given time. It really is best to do small amounts, as my first fist-full nearly amounted to an overspill and subsequent fireball. Thankfully, damp tea towels were close to hand. Some of us clearly remember chip-pan disasters of the 70's.

So just remember to go easy when deep frying your onions. Because burning down your house is going to have a far more detrimental effect on your health, than actually eating them will.

Jewelled Pumpkin Rice with Crispy Onions, serves 4 - 6



Butternut squash 500g, peeled and deseeded (the flesh of a 750g squash), cut into 1 cm dice
Fine sea salt 1 tsp
Olive oil 2 tbsp
Rose water 3 tbsp
Unsalted butter 100g
Cinnamon stick 6cm piece
Allspice berries 4 crushed
Onions 1 large or 2 medium, thinly sliced across the grain
Dried barberries (or currants) 15g
Shelled unsalted pistachios 50g
Ground cardamom ½ tsp
basmati rice 300g, soaked in tepid, salted water for 1 hour
vegetable stock 450ml (or 450ml boiling water mixed with 2 tsp vegetable bouillon)
Small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

For the crispy onions:
1 large Spanish onion, very evenly and thinly sliced
Vegetable or sunflower, oil for frying

Method

First, make the crispy onions. Heat 8-10mm depth of vegetable oil in a wide saucepan over a high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add a 1cm layer of the shaved onions and reduce the heat to medium. Fry, stirring often, until they are an even golden colour. Drain and spread out on kitchen paper to cool, then repeat the process (you may need to top up the oil) until you have used all the onion.



Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Toss the diced butternut squash with half of the salt and the olive oil. Spread it in a single layer in a baking tray and roast for 30 minutes until tender. Melt 25gms of butter in a saucepan and add 3 tbsp of rose water, mix and set aside. Heat the remaining butter in a medium saucepan with the cinnamon and allspice until it foams, then add the onion and ½ tsp of salt. Fry over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft and starting to colour. Add the barberries, pistachios and cardamom and cook for 10 minutes more.

Now drain the rice and add to the pan, stirring for a minute or two to coat, then pour in the stock. Taste for seasoning, then add the roast squash. Cover with a circle of greaseproof paper and a tight-fitting lid and cook over a high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a final 5 minutes. Remove the lid and paper and drizzle with the rose water and melted butter. Replace the lid and leave to rest, off the heat, for 5–10 minutes.

Serve in warmed bowls, with a generous helping of crispy onions on top and a scattering of the coriander.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Frozen Fortune: Iceland's Food Waste Campaign


In an effort to cut down on food waste in our house, we have employed lots of different tricks, such as shopping regularly (little and often), ignoring sell-by dates (by using our noses) and by simply throwing whatever wrinkled, stale bits and pieces we have lurking about; into a pot, with stock, to make soups or stews. Making soup in particular, is wonderful, as I've developed it into a guessing game.

"What's in the soup today, kids?"

"Bananas? Yoghurt? That weird pâté you made?"

The kids obviously aren't very good at this guessing game because their palates have yet to develop properly. Either that, or my soup tastes very strange indeed. I am sure it doesn't. I love my soup. It keeps me warm.

The other, somewhat paradoxical, method of reducing waste I use of course, is to lump items into the freezer, into deep hibernation, to be used up at a later date. I mention the word 'paradoxical' because this way of doing things often results in a proliferation of solidified matter, usually unknown due to a distinct lack of labelling. Leading to bags and bags of mystery, left for prolonged periods of time. This is really not the right way to combat food waste. This is food hoarding and I am sure that I am not alone. I caught up with someone (who shall remain anonymous) at Thane Prince's Cookbook Club recently and we chatted about the last time we met, at a Catalan Pig Day. By all accounts, her portion of the sobrasada we made together was still in her freezer. We met up at this pig day over four years ago.

So, whilst it is a good idea store away any edible odds and sods that you might have, leaving them for some archaeological team to unearth in a thousand years time is not the way forward.

A better suggestion though, could be the practise of buying frozen ingredients in the first place, with a view to incorporating them into your everyday cooking. This could certainly help to make a dent in the estimated 7m tonnes of food wasted in the UK, an amount that costs each household £700 a year, according to the government agency Wrap. Which is where (dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dah!) the supermarket, Iceland, come into the picture. As part of their #PowerofFrozen campaign, Iceland have been making a massive effort to overturn public perception and opinion of frozen food. Not forgetting to mention the brand itself.

As part of this initiative, I was recently invited to go oop north, to visit their headquarters and rather flash development kitchen outside of Chester, for an exercise in myth-busting. Or buff-misting as I like to call it.

Club Iceland
The ship has sailed for me to go into all the detail behind the day and I am worried that already you are failing asleep but as press trips go, it was very informative and eye-brow raising, particularly when it comes to what other supermarkets or indeed restaurants can get away with calling 'fresh'. 'Previously frozen' is all around us and as such, you should really keep an eye on the labelling. If  your interest is piqued, Charlotte of Charlotte's Lively Kitchen gives a good in-depth account of the day. Although Chris Pople's succinct write up will give you more of a flavour.

Buff-misting food
What was really interesting for me personally, was the online response I got when it became evident that I was sticking my nose into Iceland mince pies and barbecued turkey. To my surprise, lots of people came out of the woodwork, in praise for their frozen goods. Especially with regards to their fish and seafood. And I have to say, it reignited an old flame for the shop and I have popped in there a fair few times since. Their frozen octopus is for instance, is excellent.

In fact, I have some cracking memories of visiting Bejams, Iceland's precursor, with my Mum when I was boy. Wearing my green Parka, hood up, with fur trim, I would often open one of the huge chests they had in there, hop over and nestle in amongst the broccoli and lamb chops; slamming the lid shut. Mum would then eventually turn up, in a blind panic, and rip the lid back open. Through her screams, she never heard me, nor did she ever appreciate the scene I was reenacting. Instead of hearing my dramatic cries of  "Ben? You want me to go the Dagobah system?" she'd simply clip me around the ear and hoist me back out by my ankle. Some Han Solo she turned out to be.

Coming back to reality for a second and getting on with the job in hand, the other thing that impressed me on that day was the way that Neil Nugent and his chefs were able to turn seemingly mundane frozen products into plates, or flights, of fancy. I mean we had Argentinian Rosso prawns, baked in hay, woof!

Neil Nugent - Head Development Chef
So, when Iceland approached me with a brief to come up with a recipe or meal using frozen ingredients only, suddenly things became really appealing. Could I come up with a dish that would not only help to combat the issues surrounding food waste but also encourage people to actually cook? Iceland is still synonymous with the 'slam bam thank you Maam' approach of ready meals and whether the pizzas, trays of lasagne and chicken bites will ever shrink or disappear, I doubt very much. They are still very popular. However, slowly but surely, their individual range of ingredients does seem to be increasing. Which in the immortal words of John Torode, is a 'good thing.'

The dish in question that I came up with, is Roast Pork Tenderloin with Black Pudding, Pea Purée and Parsley Potato Cake, topped with Parsnip Shavings. A heady combination of tender and sweet meat, rich and spicy offal, fresh, clean vegetables and handsome, nay, fulsome carbohydrate. And lots of capitals. This is not cooking by scratch by any means and yes, perhaps this wouldn't look out of place on Masterchef, circa 2008. But it does go to show, I hope, that you really can make a special plate of food, using frozen ingredients only. Also, it doesn't take that long to prepare, thus saving on time too.

In terms of advice for approaching this recipe, I think there needs to be a couple of tips shared here and a caveat. To form the potato cakes, I dusted off my presentation rings, but a clean tinned can with both ends opened will do the trick. After simmering your peas, save some of the water to help loosen the puree but for gawd's sakes don't pour too much in, practically a teaspoon is needed (much testing was done to discover this). And you could add just a smidgen more butter at the end to help make the slightly burnt butter sauce, out of meat scrapings from the pan. But perhaps I went a little over the top here with my drizzling at the end.

The caveat? Well, if I were to be really honest, it does pain me to include frozen chopped onion. Onions never die. As I once described them elsewhere, they are, to quote - 'amazing balls of energy, kept safe forever within their skins.' But hey, for speed and ease, go for it. At least there won't be any tears spilt.

Which is more than can be said about the times when you sit down, to what you think is defrosted spag bol, and it turns out to be chili-con carne. Made using Quorn. Ugh.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Black Pudding, Pea Purée and Parsley Potato Cake, topped with Parsnip Shavings - serves 4

Ingredients

Straight Outta Da Freezer
2 Pork Tenderloins with Parmesan and roasted shallot butter (defrosted in fridge after 12 hours and brought to room temperature)
4 slices of frozen black pudding
400gms frozen mashed potato
50gms frozen diced onions
2 tsps frozen chopped parsley
150gms frozen honey glazed parsnips
250gms frozen petit pois
Oil, for frying
Extra butter (optional)

First there were peas, then there was puree
Method

First heat your oven to 200C or 180C on a fan assisted oven.

Next, place the mash potato (it comes as tubes) into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and microwave for 4 minutes. If microwave horrifies you, place into a saucepan and onto the hob over a medium heat and stir frequently. You may need a splash of milk to help loosen if going down this route.

Whilst the mash is cooking, place a frying pan on the hob over a medium heat, add a splash of oil and then the onions. Brisking stir-fry to encourage the water to evaporate and to soften the onion. This takes about five minutes.

When ready, combine the onion with the mashed potato and one teaspoon of the frozen parsley and mix together. There is no need to season or add butter, the potato has plenty.

Place your presentation onto a baking tray and spoon a quarter of the mash potato inside, patting everything down so that the surface is nice and level. Then take a frozen parsnip and using a grater or microplane, grate a generous amount on top. Remove the presentation ring by whipping it upwards (like a magician whips off a tablecloth). Repeat to make four cakes in total and then place into the oven, on the middle shelf.

Three stages of potato cake
Next, place the frying pan back in the hob, over a medium heat and add another splash of oil and plop in the tenderloins and fry for 4 minutes each side. Then place onto a baking tray and put into the oven next to the potato cakes. for 10 to 12 minutes.

Now for the black pudding, using that same ol' frying pan, place back on the hob over low to medium heat and lay down your slices. Cook gently and flipping often, they should take about 8-10 minutes to cook from frozen.

Whilst the meat, black pudding and spuds are cooking, prepare your pea purée by boiling a kettle and pouring a generous amount of water into a saucepan and place on the hob, on a high heat. Throw in the peas, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 4 minutes and then drain, reserving that smidgen of water. Then, preferably using a hand blender, place the peas into the plastic chopper bowl and blitz until smooth. If it is too thick, add that teaspoon of pea water and spend at least 3 to 4 minutes blending. When ready, pour back into the pan and keep warm.

When the tenderloins are nearly done, place the Parmesan and roasted shallot patties on each one and roast off for another 2 minutes. Then take out of the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes. The potato cakes should be done by this point, with a crisp, sweet topping. And so should your black pudding.

Pork tenderloin, with melting Parmesan and roasted shallot butter
To plate, spoon a healthy dollop of pea puree on your plate, dragging across to create a cheffy swoosh and then place your potato cake next to it. Carve the tenderloins into 12 equal slices and cut each black pudding round in half and then place on top of the puree, alternating 3 slices of pork and 2 halves of pudding per portion.

To finish, pour whatever butter is left on the baking tray that was holding the pork into that hardworking frying pan, including any bits of meat left over. Add the last teaspoon of parsley and extra butter if you fancy (ah gowhan) and give it a quick blast on the hob until everything just begins to catch. Drizzle over the meat and in splodges and splashes for decorative effect.

Enjoy.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Black Pudding, Pea Puree and Parsley Potato Cake, topped with Parsnip Shavings
It's very tasty
On Iceland's part, to highlight the whole issue of food waste and the amount of money we fritter a year (£700 remember) they've come up with this slightly bonkers project or video:



Do not adjust your eyes or monitor: yes, that is a fisherman, currently standing in a studio, trying to melt an ice sculpture, where that all important £700 has been frozen within. And Iceland are inviting people to guess how long it will take for him to do it, with the prize being the bundle of cash inside.

It's a competition in other words. An abstract one at that but if you 'like' and comment on the Viral Thread post and get the correct estimate in, you could win it.

He needs to get that hairdryer out a bit more often if you ask me. Or use the hammer.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Spirafrizzata


We’re not even halfway through January yet and if you are anything like me, you may already be experiencing a certain malaise, or discomfort, with regards to the boom of healthy eating and exercising that traditionally explodes during this barren month. Inboxes get filled with diet plans, celebrities in spandex suddenly appear everywhere and all those gym bunnies begin to whinge on social media, about the new influx of resolutioners clogging up the Stairmaster. It’s fairly awful really. I mean it only feels like yesterday, when I last legitimately hunkered down on a turkey, Twiglet and whole Camembert sandwich. I mean seriously, do we have to go through all this?

Gadgets that are supposed improve, slim down and tone our portly bodies are probably my biggest pet hate. Objects of pain and misery, such as the ‘Abdominator’, the ‘Buttotromaphon’ and the ‘Spiralizer’. Oh yes, I spent the best part of 2016 positively sneering at that last piece of kit and the suggestion that ribboned beetroot is a fine substitute for pasta. The accompanying vapid, beatified smiles, airbrushed skin and general nutritional mumbo jumbo also got to me too. However, that is an easy thing to do. Especially when you look in the mirror and see Phil Mitchell staring back at you; in his pants and dressing gown, holding a doner kebab, with extra chilli sauce.

Yes, I must do something about my breakfasting this year, at the very least.

Then, during the Christmas break, I bought a spiralizer on a whim. And reader, it changed my life. Well, it changed an afternoon really, as I sort of plummeted into a frenzy, spiralizing whatever I could get my hands on. Carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, salami, the lot. My wife walked into the kitchen after getting home from work and saw mounds and mounds of twizzles and noodles everywhere. She was carrying a Christmas pudding, a gift from her boss, and I spiralized that too. It didn’t work very well but I was thoroughly turned on by the limitless opportunities a spiralizer could bring.

As an aside, I do get the whole deal behind them. Spiralizers volumise, giving the impression on plates that you are eating a big portion, when really it’s quite small. A useful aid when you are trying to lose weight, although small is not the word I’d use to describe the bowl of julienned potato I had leftover. You could reach the ceiling with just four spuds and after realising that I was making a wasteful mess of everything, I finally got down to doing some cooking, frying the potato off with some curly wurly onion and garlic. I then thought about adding some eggs, to bind everything together, with a dash of herbs and suddenly, we were heading into ‘frittata’ territory; that Italian go-to for fixing up (and quite often using up) something quick.

Up until that point, it was all looking quite healthy actually. But then I went and spoilt it all by doing something stupid like adding pepperoni and mozzarella. And lo, the Spirafrizzata was born. An open omelette, with noodled vegetables inside and spicy meat and oozing cheese on top.

It has become quite a hit in our house and if you are looking for an antidote to lift you out of the January blues, I am sure it will go down well in yours too.

And if you are trying to be good but getting peeved by those gym bunnies, tutting impatiently behind you, as you struggle to dismount the ‘Glutifaxicator’, just remind them that they were more than happy to use your pub in December. Before smiling and walking off with your tupperware box; full of spiralized radishes, spiralized bean sprouts and spiralized Toblerone.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

Spiralizer frittata

2 large potatoes, approximately 400g in weight, peeled
1 courgette
1 white onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 free-range eggs
1 tsp dried oregano
5 slices of pepperoni
100g of mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
salt
pepper
3 tbsp of olive oil

Method

First, you need to have a merry old time spiralizing your vegetables. So whizz your potatoes, courgette and onion through whatever spiralizing contraption you can get your hands on. You could always use a julienne blade on a mandoline, but you won’t have half as much fun.



After doing the potato ribbons, give them a quick soak in a bowl of cold water to remove excess starch. They will stick together when you come to cook them otherwise. Rinse, drain and dry in a colander or give the potatoes a spin in a salad spinner.

Next, place a non-stick frying pan on the hob over a medium heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and warm up before adding the onion. Gently stir for about 5 minutes, before adding the chopped garlic. Fry for another 2 minutes.

Scrape the onion and garlic out and place in a small bowl. Place the pan back on the hob, add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil then add the potato.

Turn the heat up a touch and briskly stir-fry the potato ribbons so they begin to soften and colour. Once they do, add the courgette and stir to combine. This can be tricky, so it helps to employ a fork to mix the two together.



After a couple of minutes, add the onion and garlic and again, stir through to combine, using a fork if necessary. Turn the heat down and leave to cook for another 2 minutes.

Crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk together. Add the oregano and season with some salt and pepper before giving the eggs another good mix.

Next preheat the grill in your oven to 200°C.

Pour the eggs all over the softened vegetables, giving the pan a gentle shake to make sure you get a nice even distribution. Leave to cook through from the bottom upwards – this takes about 10 minutes.

The top will still be a little bit runny after this time, so place the pan under to grill to firm up and finish cooking. Keep an eye on it though, as you don’t want it to brown too much.



To finish, place your pepperoni on top and dot the spaces in between with mozzarella. Give it one last blast under the grill, until the meat crisps and the cheese bubbles up.



When done, leave to cool in the pan until warm and then flip out onto a board. You may need to run a spatula around the edges. Serve with salad leaves and tomatoes. Or chips.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Crumpetgate II


The one thing that I really love about this marvellous world of food of ours, is that it is always full of surprises. Surprises that can be found around the corner, down alleyways, up trees and well, everywhere really. My gob is perpetually smacked and I am forever learning, and I suspect that I will never ever stop. But nothing is more surprising than when you commit what seems to be a regular and fairly innocuous act and discover that for some, it amounts to some new culinary daring, a revelatory tick in the box, or eureka moment.

'Really?' I think to myself when it happens. 'I thought everyone did this?' But of course, we are not all the same, sadly. We all have different backgrounds, viewpoints, foibles and stupid, idiot opinions. Which is not to say that we shouldn't all try to get along though. The greatest challenge of the 2017 will be for us to unite, as a human race and put aside the inequity that casts a gloomy shadow over us, once and for all.

And now I am detracting, as per usual. Let's get back to the matter in hand. Namely crumpets and what you should put on them.

So yes, it all started with my slightly boastful, and not to mention greedy, shout over social media, that I was dining on toasted crumpets. With Captain America, at 10 in the evening. I also went the extra mile by grilling some cheddar on top and spritzing with Worcestershire sauce. Because eating late in day wasn't bad enough, I had to ensure that the nightmares would descend once I'd gone to bed.

After hitting send, immediately a chorus of 'Cheese on crumpets?' appeared. Yes, for a large number (roughly three people) this was apparently unusual in the extreme. Crumpets should only have a sweet sort of condiment as a topping by all accounts. Such as jam, or honey, or jam. The notion of popping on a savoury crown simply hadn't occurred to them. At the risk of sounding like a shill, I very nearly suggested to all three that they should head down to Dirty Bones in Shoreditch and try their frigging amazing crumpets, topped with slow cooked short rib, hollandaise and poached egg. Further education wouldn't even begin to describe this wonderful dish.


But I didn't. I simply went to bed and woke up several hours later, screaming in sweat-soaked sheets. Because Gordon Ramsay was chasing after me, around the cobbled streets of York, with a large satsuma in one hand and a leather paddle in the other.

It did prompt me to think deeply the next day though - what is the strangest thing that you can put on a crumpet? Were there any boundaries or no-no's to consider when it came to dressing this pitted patty of joy? Or could options indeed be limitless?

In the spirit of investigative and serious food journalism, I decided to ask Twitter and as a result, I've thrown together the following montage; a Buzzfeed-lite breakdown of opinions. You know, the sort of stuff that gets considered as serious, investigative food journalism these days.

Here are my findings, with accompanying annotations, insights and appendices, in no particular order:
It was Chris Pople, prominent restaurant blogger and self-proclaimed time waster, who responded first, with a proclivity for Bovril. Showing that a) he was from the North and b) has an unhealthy interest in beef. But as starters go, it was a fairly tame start, to start things off.
Then came KBfoodphotos, or Katie as she is also known. At least she agreed with me and upped the ante with the suggestion of Marmite AND a poached egg. I am not sure if we can get away with using the word 'crumps' though. Far too blaady middle clarse.



Connie, of Connie Consumes, then came flying in, echoing the use of Marmite but it had to be New Zealand Marmite and not Austalian Vegemite. She took great pains to stress this and heaven forbid anyone who confuses this.



The whole Marmite/Bovril/Vegemite conflab then got a touch ugly, with Oliver Denton stating that Bovril led you onto murkier paths and like Zammo, we should 'Just Say No'. Either that or he was stating that Bovril was readily available at a now defunct supermarket chain. Perhaps he should lay off the stuff.


Soon, the quality of the crumpet itself was brought back into question, and food writer and proofreader Andrew Stevenson had much to say for Greenhalghs. Who by all accounts are crumpet royalty, offering crumpets that are twice the height of normal crumpets, offering maximum butter soak-up-ability. This was important but where could you get them from?



Thankfully, my good friend Cookwitch then interjected, saving me having to use my podgy fingers on the keyboard and actually having to Google something. One day, I shall try these hallowed crumpets.
Then entered Christina McDermott, a woman of excellent and rather saucy taste and I was rather taken with her application of fiery pepper sauce to crumps. I mean crumpets. Apparently, this can be eaten 24/7 and without any reasonably harsh side effects, Useful to consider in place of cheese then.



And then more and more suggestions came pouring in, like this one from Nilanjani. Another spice-led effort maybe but slowly but surely, the true universal appeal of crumpets and ubiquitous application of toppings began to shine through.


Although I get the impression that by this point, some people were simply jumping on the bandwagon and copying. Like Garlic Confit. I am surprised that he didn't mention aubergine really.



Seemingly not wanting to let go of the Marmite/Bovril/Vegemite debate that was also now ensuing, Chris Pople then put his head back in the room and came up with a way of pissing off Australians by pronouncing Vegemite like 'Yosemite'. It detracted from the main line of inquiry but it was very funny.



And it worked.



Lest we forget another savoury paste, Gavin Baxter came up with the notion of Gentlemen's Relish and given that, in a way, this is supposed to be a celebration of all the good things that you can put on crumpets, this was a fantastic suggestion. But only if you like a hefty whack of anchovy on the tongue.


This idea from Gem, or Tattooed Truffle, was also innovative. Yes, it moved things back into sweeter territory but this alerted me to the concept that crumpets could, if fancied, be dunked into tea. Which would represent a brave new step for mankind.


And the march of progress continued with Leyla's confession that her 'other half' liked to make pizzas with crumpets. At last, we were getting somewhere. Revolution and vicissitude suddenly came bounding into the horizon. A new dawn, a new era for the humble crumpet was beginning to break.


But then the nihilists arrived.
And the food stylists, clutching swathes of furry string.

It didn't take long for the depraved and perverted to poke their noses into my crumpet business either.
 Nor the cider wurzels, who had wandered into the wrong room altogether, looking for the loo.



But it was when the traitors started arrive, it was then that I knew my quest of discovery was over. I have no truck with these inferior pancakes, these skinny and pocked adolescent upstarts. A packet of six crumpets constitutes as fine and filling meal. But six pikelets? Pah, I'd breathe them in.
 Although I did manage to get this sneaky sub-tweet in. Which Richard got (phew).
And I did do my bit for crumpet marketing in the UK, enticing Jenni into having this fine and healthy breakfast, based largely on white bread, butter and sugar. Which prompts me to ask: Warburtons, do you want to give me a job?

As investigations go and under the guise of SnGs, the whole episode was informative, I suppose. It certainly showed that we have quite the love affair with crumpets in this country. No wonder the industry is worth £88m. That's a lorra lorra crumpets.  

But I have to admit, I did feel slightly deflated at the end. Surely we could stretch our imaginations just that little bit further than this? I am not sniffing around or pitching a book based on crumpets by the way (well, maybe I am). It would just be good to see a touch more originality and ingenuity when it comes to the treatment of the humble crumpet. At least with the toppings.

However, all is not lost. When the chips are down, fate often has a habit of shining a light into the darkest corners, to deliver hope and faith. Am I using crumpets as a metaphor for the current state of the world here?

Yes, yes maybe I am. Because this morning, I bore witness to a crumpet topped with Marmite beans, cheese and Twiglet crumbs. Totally amazing.

The future can be great folks. We just need to open our minds. And eat more crumpets.