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.


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Happy New Year


So, as per usual, much eating and drinking was done over the festive period. Too much maybe? Most definitely but it is a holiday dedicated to feasting after all. One of the highlights was the rib of beef we had on New Years Day, over at our friends' place in Hereford. It was amazing. So much depth of flavour and with a glorious amount of wibbling fat coursing through, that kept the meat so succulent, I very nearly cried whilst continuously eating slices and slices. It was that good. 

However, it also cemented my belief, that in 2017, I should focus on eating perhaps a little less meat this year. For environmental reasons, health reasons and this reason. I mean c'mon, just look at him. 

Awww...hmmm...bacon.

My 2016 Best Nine (basically your top 9 instagram pics of the year, and 9, because 9 is square) was the main eye opener though. They were all incredibly carnivorous in nature. Apart from the fish finger sandwich, which curiously, was the number one favourite in terms of 'likes'. People can't get enough of fish finger sandwiches, so it seems, and I have to admit, I am rather looking forward to judging at the Fish Finger Sandwich Awards in February. With this man.

Coming back to the meat consumption though, I think I definitely need to start adopting some sort of flexitarian approach. Which simply sounds like eating in moderation to me and a much sounder approach. Less but better. Saving the weekend for the big treat, that sort of thing. I've been thinking and talking about it for years. I am getting on a bit. I can't delay any longer.

This is not a resolution by the way. Perish the thought. Resolutions are a complete load of horlicks. God. NO. 

Nor will the display of animal based dishes disappear from my feed. Just that in the spaces in between, you will find me eating a lot more fruit, vegetables, pulses and seeds. Farting as quietly as I can.

On that note, I would like to wish you Happy New Year. I hope that 2017 is much bigger and brighter for all of us. With more chickpeas, courgettes and *gulp* quinoa on the horizon.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

1000 Cookbooks


It's probably a bit late for Christmas present buying now but I have finally entered my top ten cookbooks for 1000 Cookbooks; a project and app that aims to collect and compile recommendations from hundreds of chefs, authors, bloggers and food professionals to generate a ranking of the 1000 most essential English language cookbooks of all time.

Yes, I just stole that last bit of copy.

Still, I am glad that I have jumped on board and given my thrupence worth. It took some agonising over, I can tell you that and even now, there are plenty of other books jumping around in the kitchen, flapping and nipping around at my ankles, asking why they weren't included.

Do have a look at my choices and let me know what you think though. Perhaps next year I can get a proper shopping list/post done for Christmas 2017. Like in early November. When these lists seem come out.

I've heard on the grapevine that it promises to be a bumper year.

I just need to drag myself away from these books first.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Edible Foodie Gifts for Christmas


Over at Great British Chefs, as part of their extreme foodie gifting guide, I was commissioned to come up with some alternative Christmas goodies, that can be devoured once you've ripped that sparkly wrapping paper off. My favourite has to be goose confit, the write up and recipe of which follows. But the notion of giving a sourdough starter or wild boar terrine away at Chrimbo is also good too. Spread the love by increasing the spread. If you get what I mean.  

Like a lot of self-appointed and self-important gourmands, when the annual festivities come speeding around the corner, my list for Father Christmas usually contains a whole host of things food-related. Cookbooks, kitchen gadgets and equipment are often the order of the day. Which is great. There is nothing better than getting all choked up after unwrapping a temperature probe and burger making kit. ‘Thank you Nan,’ I’ll whisper into her ear, whilst administering a hug. ‘Thank you for getting me this and not the usual socks and pants.’ That never quite fit.

I have come unstuck before though, after putting in some more prosaic requests that seemed sensible at the time. Too sensible really. I remember clearly, sitting in the living room one year and when all the frenzy died down, feeling quite empty after seeing fellow family members dance about, each of them with snazzy clothes, DVD’s, perfume and whatnot. We do secret Santa in our family you see, with a strict budget. The person buying my present chose to blow the whole lot on a huge, expensive stock pot; ignoring a lot of smaller bric-a-brac that I was after. So I was sat there afterwards, with it perched on lap, thinking ‘Bloody hell Mum, you could have got a cheap one in IKEA.’ Revealing that even at the age of 33, I could still be a most ungrateful and spoilt brat.

Nowadays, having more than enough kitchen junk and books than I can cope with, I think I would be happier to receive edible goods and the odd alcoholic treat this year. I am not thinking about the usual collection of beer flavoured pickles or plastic grinders filled with vivid red peppercorns here, as seen on supermarket shelves, next to shower gel sets and luminous singing rubber ducks. (Who really wants that sort of present anyway?) No, I’d like something that was delicious to eat, properly nourishing and possibly homemade; with love, care and attention. Something like a big jar of goose confit.

Confit, if you are not aware, is a simple process that involves cooking lightly-cured meat in melted fat, at a low temperature, for a long time. The meat and fat is then left to cool together so that everything solidifies, providing a protective barrier against bacteria, which results in a technique of preservation that has been around for centuries. Duck legs are usually associated with this peculiar practise of cooking and the curious thing for me, is that this method actually draws fat out whilst tenderising the meat. A piece of confit duck leg is actually healthier than say, plain roasted! Or at least that’s what I like to keep telling myself.

Seeing as it is Christmas though, why not up the ante and use goose legs instead, another popular, albeit slightly more expensive bird that suits confit. Buying up enough goose fat to cover the legs can have a knock on that budget but you can get just as good results by replacing half the amount needed with vegetable oil or plain lard. I also find that fitting the legs into a smaller snug space, like a medium-sized casserole, helps to cut down on the amount of fat needed. Adding few herbs here and there is another good idea, along with some cloves of garlic but make sure that you clean off the salt properly before cooking. The rich meat benefits from a decent period of curing but if you leave too much salt behind, the legs will have you reaching for pints and pints of water afterwards.

The biggest key though is making sure that you have a jar large enough to stick them in afterwards, for visual impact, if anything else. I know if I were to unwrap something like this on Christmas Day, I wouldn’t be that bothered if there was nothing else for me under the tree.

But you wouldn’t catch me sharing it. Oh no. You can just run off and play with your miniature Connect 4, VW Camper Van speakers or whatever else you got.

Curing
Ingredients

Confit goose

4 goose legs
100g of rock salt, lightly ground
800g of goose fat
5 sprigs of thyme
10 black peppercorns
8 garlic cloves

Method

1 First, place the goose legs in a deep tray and liberally sprinkle with the rock salt to evenly coat. Cover with cling film and leave the tray in the fridge for 6 hours, coming back to turn them over halfway through.

2 Preheat the oven to 130°C/gas mark 1.

3 When ready to cook or confit, brush off all of the salt with some kitchen towel. Don’t rinse the legs in water.

4 Place your casserole dish on the hob and add the goose fat. Heat gently so that it melts completely then place your goose legs in the fat. Depending on the size of the legs, you may have to add more fat – if so, just top up with vegetable oil. Add the aromatics by sprinkling over the peppercorns and press the garlic and thyme into all the nooks and crannies. Bring up to a very light simmer.

Confit-ing
5 Cover and place into the oven and leave to slowly cook for 2 hours to 2 and half hours, until the meat becomes soft and tender.

6 Leave to cool to room temperature then lift the goose legs out. Place in a large, sterilised jar. Don’t worry, the legs will be quite pliable and should fit with some encouragement.

7 Ladle the remaining fat over, along with the cooked aromatics, making sure you completely submerge the legs. If this is a struggle, take a leg out and keep one for yourself.

8 Place in the fridge – overnight the fats will solidify completely.

Presentation styling