Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Able & Cole Stole My Cherry

The Box of Goodies (eggs free from Nanny Winter, she works on a farm)

When I got an email from Able and Cole with the offer of a free box of organic veg in exchange for a mention on my blog, my inital reaction was "ooooooooh" with lots of hand clapping because of the magic word. But then a second reaction of "hmmmm" soon followed with lots of chin stroking because I never considered this blog to be a vehicle for reviewing food products as such. The main concern playing on my mind was how honest and subjective could I be when accepting a freebie. Sure you should never look a gift horse in the mouth but remember that horse will need feeding. And let's not forget the fact that I have an allotment just down the road with my own supply of veg and some fruit. Should I really be writing about a service that ordinarily I wouldn't buy into? After much pacing back and forth in my kitchen, with wringing of hands, staring forlornly into space, shaking my head and muttering under my breath, I came to the conclusion that I was a silly sod and should just bloody accept the offer. For one it's my first time, getting a freebie off the back of Food Urchin that is, why shouldn't A&C break my cherry? And if the flood gates open after from this little write-up and I get inundated with offers from across the land then I will have to review the situation, after all no-one likes to be a called a blagger do they. But somehow I can't see that happening.

So what did Able and Cole send me in the end and what did I do with it? Well in no particular order, in our box we received some apples, a melon, a punnet of nectarines, a pepper, some potatoes, courgettes, spring greens and some onions, all of which were nice and fresh There were also some carrots which were past their best (rubbery in fact) and a lettuce which was a bit limp although the heat might have had something to do with it. I must admit, not knowing what was going to be in the box does did press on my improvisational skills when I started to think about what to cook. As I peered in and rummaged around, all I can say is thank God I didn't have Ainsley Harriot bearing down on me, gurning like a loon. But seeing as it was all certifiably organic, I decided that majority of the veg would be used to make a couple of meals for the twins who are 14 months old. So in a nutshell, I took the potatoes, spring greens, rubbery carrots, onion and peppers, chopped them up and boiled them until soft, drained them and mashed them and then added some meat from a roast chicken. Genius. And with the apples, melon and nectarines, well I chopped them up too into tiny pieces and made a fruit salad for them. Again genius.

If there's anyone out there who's thinking "blimey, even if you were just cooking for the kids surely you could have been a bit more creative, like that Annabel Karmel for instance". Well I would just like to say that I have one of her books and I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her. Yes her recipes are great but she doesn't look like an ordinary mum to me (more Stepford Wife) and she definitely doesn't know how to actually feed a child. Look at the cover of Feeding Your Baby and Toddler for instance, that poor little angel is going to get that spoon right in the eye I can tell you.

Over here Mummy!
And I don't know what the baby is looking at either, certainly not Annabel's food anyway

Besides, at this stage of development, the twins are more interested in throwing the food up the walls, on the floor and wearing their bowls as hats so I'm not going to go all kiddie Cordon Bleu on them just yet. But on licking my glasses after one particularly accurate projectile, I can however testify that the chicken and veg mash did taste good.

I saved the courgettes for the grown-ups as I've been meaning to try this recipe for Spiced Courgette Fritters ever since I came across it and was quite happy with the result although I could have sliced the courgettes slightly more thinner. Still they would certainly make an unusual accompaniment to any curry. As we always get a glut of them every summer from the allotment, I am always on the lookout for different uses for a zucchini, rather wait till they swell up into watery tasteless marrow so any other suggestions/ideas would be gratefully received.
Spiced Courgette Fritters

Coming squarely back to A&C then, I suppose the main point is, has this freebie enticed me to use their service again? Well possibly, I will certainly keep an eye on the website to see what veg and fruit they offer over the next few weeks just see how they fair in terms of variety. But in the meantime, I would just like to say thank you Abel and Cole for feeding the dustbin lids for a couple of days, they certainly enjoyed your food, albeit for entertainment value only.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Posh Pie and Mash

Posh Pie and Mash

Just lately, I seem to be eating a lot of pie and mash and thinking a lot about it too. I blame Dan from Essex Eating after meeting him at Clarks of Exmouth Market a couple of months ago to make a wild garlic drop and he paid me back in kind with lunch. I hadn't had it in a while but after taking that first mouthful of mash and liquor, I suddenly remembered how much I love the stuff. Consequently I have been making repeated lunch time visits back to Clarks for plates and plates of double p+m. This is not good, my work colleagues are starting to notice an expanding waistline, my wife left my running shoes on display on the table the other day and the twins have been using my belly as a bouncy castle. It really is becoming a case of "Who ate all the pies" but with the added "and mash". No not good. So I started wondering if I made it at home and jazzed it up a little, added a few extra (expensive) ingredients, I could then turn the dish into more of a treat, something that I could eat just once in a while and not have as part of my staple diet and then perhaps I could rein in my appetite for the stuff. Perhaps.

If so far you are reading this and asking yourself "Why is this guy so mad about pie and mash anyway? What's so special about a minced beef pie served with mashed potato and parsley gravy?", well just listen here it's part of my heritage man, I was born in East Laandan, I am a cockney geeza and was brought up on the stuff, I was born within the sound of the Bow Bells, if I so wished I could lord it about town dressed as a Pearly King and prance about singing "Doing the Lambeth Walk, OI!" whilst eating jellied eels by the bucket load, you muupppet!

Sorry, it went all a bit Danny Dyer there, quite unnecessary. But what is it about this simple combination that appeals to so many? Well personally, my love for this dish does indeed stem back to childhood as we used to live near Upton Park, home of the Hammers and every Saturday Mum would take my sister and I to Queens Market to do some shopping, rewarding us afterwards with a plate of p+m at the local cafe. If it had been a wet and miserable day then all the better as the cafe was always warm and smelled great. We'd take up a table whilst Mum would go and queue, leaving us waiting for what seemed like an eternity, watching open mouthed as she slowly edged along the counter. I vaguely remember dribbling on my jacket once which wasn't good form for an 8 year old, my sister could get away with it though as she was only 3. Eventually Mum would come back and plonk a plate down in front of us and I would plaster it with vinegar before tearing into the pie and mash with a fork and spoon (and you always eat p+m with a fork and spoon, it's the rules). The pie would be scalding hot at first but if you flipped it over and cut open the base, it would cool quicker, so you could get to the mince meat gravy faster. The mash was always dense and stodgy but you could always loosen it up with the parsley liquor making it nice and sloppy. The best part would be at the end, spooning leftover liquor that was all mixed up with vinegar and gravy from the meat into your mouth, practically drinking it. I appreciate that this way of dining may not be appetising to all but to me it was, and still remains, a heavenly treat.

So on to the recipe below which is going to stop me from over gorging and which was born out of several ideas. To start, I had read that from its origin in the late 18th century, pies used to be made with oysters as they were cheap and in plentiful supply so I thought it would be good to re-introduce them to the dish. Secondly, I wanted to steer away from the standard mince meat pie and make the filing a little more luxurious, so I decided to go with braising steak that had been slow-cooked to make it meltingly tender. I also wanted to play around with the appearance and my wife (yet again) came up with the idea of making an "open-pie" where we could stack the components, being mash, meat and pastry on top of each other. For this I needed to find a mousse ring big enough and did make one visit to Pages but they didn't have any big or deep enough, after a few tweets on the ever resourceful twitter, Charlie of eatmynels suggested cutting rings from empty 2 litre fizzy drinks bottles which was a brilliant Blue Peter suggestion! I cut mine out so that it was approximately 10 cms deep. I should also thank David of HubUK for giving me pointers on making the liquor, though after a bit more research I think I've found the missing ingredient, eel stock. Although I couldn't find any eels to boil up I was able to get hold of some jellied ones which seemed to do just the trick, honestly the liquor was just as good as the stuff in Clarks.

By the way, I have made this just once....this week.

Last week I did it twice.

Posh Pie and Mash

Serves 2 (but we had plenty left over)

For the Pie and Mash

450gms of braising steak, cut into chunks

250gms puff pastry

1 onion, finely chopped

125gms chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced

5 large potatoes (maris piper), peeled and cut into even pieces

200 mls Guinness

200 mls stock (I used Marigold vegetable bouillon)

2 small bay leaves

3 springs of thyme

1 tbs of tomato puree

plain flour

worcestershire sauce


salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten

For the liquor

8 oysters, shucked (save the 'juices' with the oyster flesh in a bowl)

tub of jellied eels

500 mls water

large bunch of parsley, chopped


plain flour

salt and pepper

1 tsp of malt vinegar

First pre-heat oven to 160 degrees centigrade then melt some butter in a casserole dish, add the onion and mushroom and gently fry until soft, then remove from the dish. Coat the braising steak in seasoned flour, add to the pan and brown the meat until well coloured.

Return the mushrooms and onions to the dish and then add the stock, Guinness, bay, thyme, tomato puree, a good splash of worcestershire sauce and any remaining flour. Stir and bring to the boil and then cover with a lid and place in the oven for 1 and half to 2 hours.

Take the casserole dish out and if nice and tender, shred the braising steak with two forks. If there is still a lot of liquid, put back in the oven for half an hour. The aim is to get a thick meaty mix that will hold together when constructing the 'open' pie. Put to one side and keep warm

After about an hour in of cooking the steak, place potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, bring to boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and then add liberal amounts of butter and a splash of milk, mash with masher. Put to one side and keep warm. (That just felt like teaching my grandma to suck eggs)

Turn the oven up to 200 degrees centigrade and roll out puff pasty on a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin, cut one circle out per person, making sure that it is slightly larger then the Blue Peter inspired ring. Put on a flat baking tray and brush with beaten egg and then place in the oven for 10 mins or until the pastry has puffed up nice and fluffy.

Empty the tub of jellied eels into a saucepan, pour over cold water and bring the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes until reduced by a third. Pour the stock into a jug using a sieve to catch the eel meat and bones. Then using same saucepan, melt some butter and add flour to make a roux, then gradually add the eel stock back into the pan, stirring all the time, bringing to the boil. When it starts to thicken add the parsley, a couple of twists of salt and pepper and the vinegar.

Bring the heat down to simmer and place the oysters along with the juices in the liquor to poach for 3-4 minutes

Now it's time to plate up. Place the ring in the middle of the plate and spoon the mashed potato up about till half way, smoothing the surface over with the back of the spoon. Then add the thick steak mixture until it reaches the top, again smoothing over. Slowly and surely lift the ring up, leaving the meat and potato firmly in place. Gently place a puff pastry lid on top.

Remove the oysters from the pan and position around the outside and then pour the remaining liquor around the outside of the open pie and over the oyster, tidying the rim of the plate if necessary.

Serve with a liberal dashing of extra vinegar and white pepper.

This is not a burger

And this is not helping me lose weight

Thursday, 4 June 2009

There May Be Trouble Ahead

I thought it was about time that I gave an update as to how the allotment is getting on and I'm pleased to say that everything is looking just rosy. Seriously, this is the best we have ever had it looking, the little and often approach seems to be working and as a result all the crops that we have planted are looking great, with hardly any weeds in sight (well hardly). In a couple of weeks or so, we should be able to pick the first lot of salad potatoes, the courgettes will be well under way and plus all the varieties of beans that we have got going. Very shortly the gooseberries will be ready for jam and I have in mind this year to also use them as an accompanying sauce to mackerel as I've read that they go really well together. I think I may have to invest in an ice-cream maker for all the raspberries, redcurrants and whitecurrants for sorbets, not the fancy expensive ones though, you know that type where you have to freeze the bowl overnight. We've decided to keep the salad stuff at home this year to keep an eye on things especially the tomatoes as last year weren't so good, lets hope that we get the glorious summer as promised. So it's so far so good.

There are other developments at the allotment that suggests things aren't so rosy though as I saw Alan, one of the wardens last Sunday and asked when the annual open day was going to be where we get to compete for the very prestigious local council's Best Allotment of The Year Award. Well it seems this year there isn't going to be one as Alan has had a bit of a falling out with the other warden, Dave. When I asked as to why, Alan said that he didn't want to go into it but it was all about money and he's fed up with people constantly moaning about things not getting done and he's sure that Dave has been fiddling with the kitty and now he thinks that Dave is dumping rubbish on his allotment because they've fallen out over suggestions that he's been fiddling with the kitty but if he catches him he will smack the old bastard on the nose because no gets away with that, especially Dave. But like I said, Alan didn't want to get into it.

I can only hope that the old fellas resolve their dispute and kiss and make up as this kind of immature squabbling can only come to a sore end and is really not in the best interests for the allotment as a whole.

Let 'im 'ave it Alan!

However, if I was to be honest, if Alan were to smack Dave on the nose, then I'd be right behind him, I mean I don't want to get into this but ever since I've had my plot, all I've ever had is sarcastic comments, like that time the old bas... . . . . . .

I know, let's have some pretty pictures!

The wheelbarrows of Norfolk Road




Curly Kale


Pretty flower

More pretty flowers




Valley of The Potatoes