Friday, 22 January 2010

Dreaming of Chorizo and Cavemen

For a long time now, scholars and academics have all agreed and cemented the opinion that the origin of commerce lies firmly rooted in prehistoric times. Once man slowly but surely made his way out of the primordial soup and started to grunt, cough, scratch and whistle and well, start to communicate with his fellow hairy men, there is the strong belief that he would have also started bartering and trading goods. However, anthropological archaeologists have recently made the startling discovery that these early exchanges of goods quickly developed into a very complex and sophisticated system. And that we, the modern day Homo Sapien have a lot more in common with our ancestors than we realised. In other words, the cavemen were a lot smarter than we thought.

Sponsored by the Gates foundation, Amazon and Carlsberg Special Brew, a 10 year long study focusing on approximately 100000 archaeological sites around the world has thrown up some astonishing conclusions. Principally, it looks like the cavemen were able to speak to each other via an intricate network using thousands of drums, boulders and mammoth skulls. And very large sticks. Using a similar method to morse code, messages were sent over enormous distances and very, very quickly. These lines of communication were a boon to primitive businesses who could be in contact and liaise with their customer base very easily. And vice versa. Orders could be taken and goods could be dispatched the very same day, either by foot, horseback or pterodactyl. One big problem was training the sabre tooth tigers as couriers, particularly if you were in the catering business. If you were say having a 4oth birthday party and really fancied getting a huge leg of Serrano Ham in, you'd be buggered if you bashed out your order and forget to say "No sabre tooth tigers to deliver please". Because if you did, then sorry mate, you've just kissed 12 bear skins and your third wife goodbye. Ug down at the Lascaux Deli still wants paying.........

Sorry I've been sniffing tippex again. It's just I got this email from a guy who lives in a cave in Orce, Andalucia (from which he also runs an online deli) asking would I like to try some locally produced "Fire Chorizo". The mere word "chorizo" sent me spiralling into a in-cognizant daydream full of dinosaurs, volcanoes and troglodytes chasing cured paprika sausages with spears. And then into my head came the idea of a primitive version of the Internet. I don't know where it comes from, it just pops in there. Still when I finally roused from the stupor and wiped the drool from my chin, I simply typed back "yes, please."

The guy in question is called Iain who runs his underground business Orce Serrano Hams with his partner Gayle and I must admit, after a brief exchange of emails, he is doing the kind of thing that most of us can only dream of. The story is great. Originally from Newcastle, they sold up everything, took a caravan down to Spain and spent 6 months renovating a hole in the ground. The idea for the business came from a visit to a tapas bar and seeing all the hams hanging up. In Iain's words he was just "itching to do something different". This all makes me feel ever so jealous and more than a little bit peeved for continually thinking up pie in the sky ideas and never doing anything about it. Damn it! But good on Iain and Gayle though, at least some are living the dream. I have to say that the website for their online deli is very impressive, covering all the bases, it pretty much is a one stop shop for Spanish Cuisine. I don't know that much about the different varieties of Spanish hams so the breakdown listed here was very helpful. The recipes section is quite astounding, very comprehensive so when I feel the need to go all flamenco in the kitchen I will definitely return to get some inspiration and try some out.

Delivery from Spain
The chorizo that Iain sent over was the Orce Fire Chorizo and some standard "picante" along with some authentic Andalucian Cave Rock. Now I know what you were trying to do there Iain but if you think I am going to be fooled that this is some Spanish version of our end of pier Brighton candy then you are sorely mistaken. (My dentist's bill is in the post). I was rather excited when the package arrived and nearly set about wolfing up the red devils there and then but in the interests of experimentation, I decided to eek things out over the week. For ideas I put a shout out on twitter and none other than Thomasina Miers came back to me with the suggestion* of chorizo with scrambled eggs, onion, garlic, chilli and coriander. A rather unusually named Mr Nonsensepipe said that chorizo with sauteed potatoes, green beans and poached egg was a winner. And as Iain had also sent over some recommended recipes, I went for the Warming Winter's Brunch, a very traditional Andalucian recipe, typically eaten by farmers during the cold months. All three dishes (or three breakfasts I should say) contained a mix of both the varieties and were absolutely delicious, super taste bud liveners for morning. Although I'd like to give my cooking skills the credit, by and large it was down to the fantastic quality of the chorizo. Fiery yes but there was a real depth of flavour and richness, a little bit more than smoke and paprika. I can't put my finger on it but in comparison to some chorizo bought in supermarkets here, to be later reduced to lumps of chewy plastic in paellas and the like, the Orce chorizo was definitely of a higher caliber and cooked up a treat. But just as I type that, I have just realised that I've made of bit of a faux pas. I didn't sample any the chorizo untouched, plain and simple. I suspect that's what I should have done with the Orce Fire. *Reads Iain's note* This one has been well cured and to be sampled with a cold beer. Oops. Well, you're just going to have to send some more over then. And then I'll forget about the dental work.
Scrambled Eggs with Chorizo, Red Onion, Garlic, Chilli and Coriander

Sauteed Charlotte Potatoes with Green Beans, Chorizo and Poached Egg

Warming Winter's Brunch

I didn't eat it like this (damn fool)
* My suggestion in return Tommy is that you should really, really, really take part in this

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Whatamistakatomaka: A Rant Against Homemade Pasta

Yesterday the ghost of Christmas past came back to haunt me, albeit a couple weeks too late. This is not a proper ghosty mind, it is something that is tangible, heavy and solid. A present that my wife bought me about 5 years ago and has been used perhaps 10 times. On such occasions, when I do finally muster up the enthusiasm to pull it out from the recesses of the cupboard, I am often left frustrated. I don't know why but there is always one small matter that seems to cock everything up. The last time I used it, I became so enraged that I wanted to throw it into the garden, grab the sledgehammer from my shed and smash it into oblivion. This object just seems to induce abject failure and I hate feeling low after cooking mishaps. Saying that biggest low I have ever experienced was losing my brand new Terence Conran chicken brick many many moons ago. I'll never forget proudly washing it up and then placing it up on the shelf in my then small kitchen next to my small but steadily growing collection of cook books. However the added weight of this beautiful terracotta was too much of a burden for the shelf that I had recently installed and the whole lot fell crashing to the floor. My wife came home from work to find me on the sofa practically in tears cradling broken pieces of pottery. When she asked what happened, I could barely croak back in the tinest voice "I smashed my chicken brick".

Sheesh, went off on a bit of a tangent there lets so back to the main object in question, the real enemy and prophet of doom, my arch nemesis, the Imperia pasta machine.

So yes every self styled foodie worth their salt should embrace such a gadget in the kitchen and many do but I just can't get a grip on the bloody thing. Past misdemeanors have included over flouring the dough. By the time I got the rollers on the final setting, the pasta was bone dry and stiff as a sheet, more suitable for limo drivers at airports picking up clients. Another time, I managed to cut the dough fine using the tagliatelle attachment but neglected to then dry it sufficiently so when I fished the pasta from out of the boiling water it had formed into a giant knitting wool ball of gloop. I did succeed once, when I used the machine to make sheets for a simple lasagne. Adjectives such light, silky and smooth came singing into my head that day as I ate this creation of wondrous beauty (I don't like to brag but it was really good). However it hasn't been repeated since. Needless to say, user error is very likely to be the cause of all this strife, I'll admit that. I can't really blame a poor, inanimate, clunk of metal for my ineptitude but where exactly am I going wrong?

Seeing as I was stuck in doors yesterday due to the horrific Arctic conditions currently paralysing our country, my house is currently buried under 43ft of white driven snow by the way, I took it upon myself to have another crack at making some pasta and to finally become the master. Also desperate times call for desperate measures, I had to feed my family somehow and besides we had run out of fusili but there was no frigging way that I was going to try and make that. The method of course is simple enough. Take some eggs, take some flour, mix, knead, leave in fridge for half an hour, take back out, divide into small amounts, run through the Imperia, passing the dough through several times on each setting, folding as you go, lightly dusting with flour if it gets a bit sticky, until you get long sheets of silken pasta which you can then use, cut or shape your hearts desire. Of course this a terribly nonchalant way of describing the whole process and hardly adheres to the slow art of making pasta but my point is that it's meant to be easy, yes? Or maybe that is where I'm going wrong, am I being far too flippant about it all?

Still this time, I am pleased to report that it all went hunky dory. Up until a point. I went ahead with Mr Pukka's recipe for basic egg pasta dough mixing 6 eggs with 600gms of Tipo '00', the finest flour that you can get and should aways use by the way. After a good old knead and bish bash bosh with some time chillin' out, the dough went through the machine fine and I managed to make some very presentable looking tagliatelle with minimum ease, time and effort. I even had some dough left over, which I reformed into a ball and plonked into the freezer. To go with the tagliatelle which was left to dry for about 20 minutes or so, I decided to make some tuna meatballs or le migliori polpette di tonno, another recipe by Mr Pukka and a very good one too.

Now of course, here comes the fall. The tuna balls which I have made plenty of times before were fantastico with a lovely mishmash of cinnamon and lemon zest coursing through the fish. The tagliatelle though, I couldn't help think transported the dish to the far east, having veered into udon noodle territory, having taken on a slightly rubbery texture and were too white for my liking. So again I ask, where am I going wrong? Do I need to buy a particular brand of Tipo '00'? Should I be using egg yolks only? Did I overboil them? (They were in for 2 mins ) Or I have I put homemade pasta on too high a pedestal and should just use the ready made stuff? I need some answers and I need them quick because that piece of facking, crap, junk, lump of shit metal will soon be heading for the bin I tell you.

I hate you Imperia

Finest flour you can get?
Ready to chill

Looking good so far

FU contemplates making a wig from tagliatelle

Boiling pasta, heating sauce

Crap photo, crap pasta, lovely balls