Tuesday, 24 August 2010

What Can You Do When Black Bottom Strikes?

As well as growing a bountiful supply of fruit and veg down our beloved 'lottie', I do also like to nurture some bits and pieces at home in the garden. Nothing too fanciful, mainly herbs really. There's nothing better than trotting out to the patio in just your pinny with wicker trug in hand and snipping off some stalks of rosemary or picking some fresh basil leaves. Very Felicity Kendall. For the last couple of years, we've also taken to growing tomatoes at home. Again there is nothing like a plucking a fresh, glistening tommy straight from the vine and walking back up the garden path, bringing the fruit to your nose to get a good whiff of that strange but enticing odor. I did this just the other day, smiling to myself as I walked over to the sink to rinse the first batch that had changed from emerald green to a warm red. Rolling the beauties around in an antique cream colander and letting the cool water splash over them, I kind of lost myself in thought, dreaming wistfully of passata, tarts and salsas. Then as I turned one over, a hammer blow of sirens, horns and smashed crockery resounded violently in my ears. Holding one large bulbous specimen up to my eyes, I stared incredulously at this insipid, grotesque, leathery stain on my precious. And then looked down and I turned all the others over and noticed that all my other precious's had similar marks on their undersides.


Black Bottom

It seems, my good friends that my beloved tommys had succumbed to that deadly affliction known as 'Black Bottom'. Or Blossom end rot as it is more commonly called (I made Black Bottom up). But what is Blossom end rot? And why did it strike down my crop? Well it's very simple. BER occurs when there is a calcium deficiency due to dry conditions at the plant roots inhibiting it's uptake. A lack of calcium will cause cells to collapse and discolour thus so and also a very acidic growing medium will increase the problem. To take preventative measures and control the situation you should ensure that the plant gets an adequate and regular water supply. If BER does develop, remove all affected fruits and improve irrigation.

I didn't know this by the way. I read all this from my copy of The Royal Horticultural Society Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, trying to find out what the problem was. I should pick it up more often really as my approach to growing fruit and veg does steer towards the lackadaisical side sometimes. I just stick it in the ground, water it, feed it, watch it grow and then scratch my head when it all goes wrong*. And boy can things go wrong. At the back of the compendium there is an A-Z of plant problems, all of which sound very malicious. These include 'Clubroot', 'Manganese deficiency', 'Thrips', 'Fusarium Wilt', 'Phytophthora' and the terrifying 'Badgers'. (Which is basically 'When Badgers attack!'..........your sweetcorn, courgettes etc etc). So after reading up on BER, I marched straight back out into the garden, taking the advice of removing all affected fruits. Unfortunately I was a tad overzealous in my mission and soon discovered that I had taken a fair few decent 'unaffected' tomatoes that really could have been left on the plant to ripen. After realising what I had done and left clutching a large bowl, the black bottom situation was lurching from bad to worse.
Luckily, the light bulb switched on and I suddenly remembered that I also had a copy of New Urban Farmer by Celia Brooks Brown. She has a cracking recipe in there for a Green Tomato Curry.  

I tested this recipe for her by the way, got an acknowledgement in the back and everything. Whenever I spot the book on the shelves in Waterstones, I'll often grab a copy, accost a member of staff and make a point of getting them to read my name out after which I'll punch both fists in the air and shout "That's me!" It's very boorish and immature but I can't help myself

Anyway, I have had Celia's book for a while now and haven't delved into it for some time but after scrambling around for the curry recipe, I was reminded of all the fantastic vegetarian dishes that were in there. For the coming months and with produce from the allotment, I am definitely going to be cooking her Giant Pumpkin Pasty and chopping up her Hot and Sour Swede Cabbage Salad. Speaking of allotments, I think I would do well do continue flicking through Urban Farmer as the main thrust of the book is simply that, growing seasonal fruit and veg. Even though she takes a fairly straightforward, structural approach to the growing year, Celia's advice is friendly, witty and down to earth. As it is also part journal, the book also delivers a nice personal touch, highlighting the highs and lows of allotmenteering (or trials and tribulations as I like to say). Which is a bit more freshing and appealing than dull academic droning tone of The Royal Horticultural Society, I can tell you that.
So if you are suffering from Black Bottom at this time of year and find yourself with a glut of green tomatoes because you've gone into manic overdrive, I suggest you try this gutsy curry out. It certainly ain't coy. But remember, in future, you only have to pick the 'affected' ones.

Celia's Green Tomato Curry
serves 4-6

1 tsp fresh or dried coriander seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

4 cloves of garlic

pinch of sea salt

4 tbsp virgin rapeseed or sunflower oil

50g raw cashew nuts

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

2 large onions, finely sliced (about 400g)

600g green tomatoes, cut in medium wedges

2cm piece of ginger, finely choppped

1 tsp turmeric

3 tbsp unsweetened dessicated coconut

3-4 small fresh red chillies, halved from stem to base

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

250ml plain natural yoghurt

boiled rice and coriander leaves to serve
Place the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic and salt in a mortar and crush to paste. Set aside.

Get a small plate ready with crumpled kitchen paper for draining the chashews. Heat a wok or large wide pan over a medium high heat. Add the oil and then the cashews and stir until golden (this may take only a matter of seconds). Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on the kitchen paper.

Return the pan to the heat and add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop, add the onions. Fry briskly until onions are soft, golden and nicely caramelised.

Add the green tomatoes and fry for 3-5 minutes, until lightly coloured. Then add the gingerm turmeric, coconut, chillies, salt and pepper. Stir, then add the garlic mixture. Stir for a couple more minutes until fragrant, then remove the pan from the heat. Quickly stir in the yoghurt until evenly combined, then cover the pan and let it stand for 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning, then serve the curry over rice, topped with the fried cashews and decorated with coriander leaves.

Getting a workout in the wok

Green Tomato Curry
*And it only goes wrong sometimes I should add here

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Project Awesome

It's all about wine, innit

When it comes to matching food with wine and thinking of a recipe that will marry the pair in perfect harmony, to my mind there are simply two routes you can take. The first is purely sensory. Open that bottle and pour a glass. Look at it. What do you see? Bright straw with a hint of youthful green? Bring the glass to your nose and draw in the aroma, engage those receptors, fill your nasal cavity with odors of tropical fruits. Lift the edge of the glass to your lips and let the cool liquid flood over your tongue, flow freely over your taste buds. Swish around your cheeks, breath in through your mouth, let the air condense those subtleties, to bring out notes of apricot and citrus. Spit or swallow, whatever the case may be and then sit down with pen and paper. Let your experience dictate what is written down, go with your first impulse as you connect the dots. Concentrate on the fundamental character of the wine as you focus your mind, search your memory bank of flavours and zero in on what ingredients will harmonize. Be confident and you will be sure to conjure a marriage made in heaven. Punch the air! Feel good about yourself.

Like I said, this is the first path but alternatively, you could always read the label on the back of the bottle for any kind of clue as to what the hell will go with a particular bottle of wine. And as a rule of thumb, this is usually the path I take. Standing in the supermarket aisle, I'll often bellow a curt "what are we having for dinner tonight?" down the phone and the answer will usually be "Pasta, lamb, stew, it's in the cat.." etc etc and off I shall trot, squinting at the backs of bottles until I find a suitable match. However for Project Awesome, I did want to extend myself for a change and go down the route of sampling the wine first before trying to come up with a recipe to go with it.

Actually, I should lift the lid here and fully reveal exactly what Project Awesome was all about. In short, it was a ludicrously named social media experiment involving various food and wine bloggers which sought to deliver some mystery and intrigue but at the end of the day, the mission was to simply come up with a recipe that would compliment the individual bottle of wine sent to us by an enthusiastic young man and brainchild called Ben who helps manage a small food and drink shop in Morecombe called The Wineyard & Deli. Phew.

I have to say, as projects go, this was great fun to get involved in with and out of all the contributors, I was probably the one who got carried away the most. I am a fantasist at heart so grabbed at the whole concept with both hands, wheeling off tales that I was some kind of hokey spy. By the last post though, I think my wife had enough of taking daft photos of me and certainly wasn't up for smearing tomato sauce on my head despite my pleas. So I smeared it on my hand instead. Attempts to connect an audience with wine and bring it into the mainstream can sometimes be dry, boring and humourless, as anyone who has been to Vinopolis may testify, so hats off to Ben for coming up with the idea.

Now back to the recipe and how I came up with matching an Abadía Blanc de Blancs from Raimat with Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Apricot, Lemon, Sage and Onion. As I have already sort of indicated, I am no wine buff. But it is worthwhile to sit down and concentrate on a glass of wine once in while rather than throw it down your Gregory with gay abandon. I did this with Mrs FU one afternoon as it's best to do this kind of thing in pairs and I find that when wine tasting there is always a kind of follow the leader aspect to it all.

"Hmm I can smell lemon"

"Oh yes, so can I"

"And it's quite fruity, tastes quite peachy, or apricots even"

"er yeah, yeah I got that too"

I won't reveal who did the leading and who did the following but between us we thought that the wine would suit pork with a simple fruit stuffing. In the past, I've found that tenderloin is a particularly good cut for this purpose due to it's elongated shape. Slide your knife down the centre, three quarters of the way in, open the incision and then make another two cuts along either side, like cutting a T shape almost. And voila, the joint opens up with a nice area over which you can spread a stuffing of your choice before rolling it back together and trussing it with string. As the Abadía was also quite acidic, creating a strong mouth watering sensation after drinking, we figured that the recipe needed a creamy mash to temper this. I say the royal 'We' as this was Mrs FU's suggestion and here I threw my toys out of the pram and decided that the pork should be artistically accompanied by "crushed new potatoes, mixed with crème fraiche and sorrel!" I mean I had to stamp my authority didn't I and glean back some of the credit for the recipe. This was my project! Goddammit!

So we went to the shops, bought the ingredients, came back and later that evening I prepped and slaved over the stove for an hour or so. We then sat down at the table with glasses refilled, at the ready. The result was pretty good and the recipe will follow after all this pontificating but for analysis, the pork with apricot stuffing certainly combined well with the Abadía. A sure fire way to see if it all works is to simply slip a forkful of food into your mouth and then immediately take a glug (I learnt this from The Wine Sleuth). The sweetness of the meat and fruit mirrored up nicely against the characteristics of the wine. I was worried that the sage might throw things out of sync but it's pungent savoury flavour blended nicely into the background. The potato, which after cooking did resemble mash in the end, helped cut through the acid and I was pleased that the sorrel stirred in at the end picked up notes of citrus. But then again this could have been down to the lemon zest which was also in the stuffing. Oh I don't know, all this wine matching malarky, it's still a mystery to me at times.

Anyway, here's the recipe:

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Apricot, Lemon, Sage and Onion

Serves 2 (greedy people)

for the pork and stuffing

400gms pork tenderloin

handful of dried apricots

zest of 1 lemon

1 onion, finely chopped

5 or 6 sage leaves, finely chopped

50gms butter

salt and pepper to season


for the crushed potatoes

10 good sized new potatoes such as Charlotte

2 tbs of crème fraiche

2 or 3 sorrel leaves, finely sliced

salt and pepper to season

for the sauce

200ml chicken stock

1 glass of Abadía Blanc de Blancs (or a similar acidic, dry white wine with notes of tropical fruit)


1. Preheat the oven to 190c. Melt half of the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. When it begins to foam, add the onion and gently fry for 5 minutes or so until it turns soft. Then add the apricots and sage and cook for a further 2 minutes Finally add the lemon zest, frying just for another minute and then take the pan off the heat. Add a twist of pepper and salt for seasoning, stir through and leave to cool down

2. Once the stuffing mix has cooled, take the pork tenderloin, with a sharp knife cut down the middle and either side as per my instructions earlier in the post. Open the joint out, place some cling film over the pork and with a rolling pin gentle flatten the meat. Then spoon the stuffing mixture evenly over the surface area of the cut. Roll back up and secure the joint with string tied at 3-4cm intervals and season lightly all over with some more salt and pepper.

3. Wipe the frying pan clean and then place again on the hob, adding the remaining butter and again melt over a medium heat until it starts to foam. Place the tenderloin in the pan and brown all over. Once that is done, put the pan straight into the oven to cook for a further 25 minutes.

4. Whilst the pork is roasting. Place the potatoes into a saucepan of water, bring to the boil and then gently simmer for 10-15 minutes. You want the potatoes to have a bit of resistance to them and not turn to mush so keep an eye them by prodding with a sharp knife from time to time. Once done, take off the heat, drain the water from saucepan and keep warm.

5. After 25 minutes is up, take the tenderloin out of the oven and out of the pan to rest on a plate or chopping board and cover with foil. Place the pan back on the hob over a high heat and add the chicken stock and wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, to loosen up any porky residue and boil rapidly until reduced by two thirds. Set to one side and keep warm.

6. Time to plate up. Take the warm potatoes and gently crush them with the back of another wooden spoon (always use wooden spoon by the way). Add the crème fraiche and sorrel, stirring all together but taking care not completely mash and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the potato on the plate or use those fancy rings if you've got them. Then uncover the pork and slice into 5cm thick rounds and place them around the crushed potato. Finally drizzle some of your reduced sauce over the meat and around the plate. Accompany with a vegetable of your choice, I added french beans when cooking this. Enjoy with a glass of Abadía Blanc de Blancs or a similar acidic, dry white wine with notes of tropical fruit.

Chopped apricot, sage and lemon zest

Get stuffed

Bound, gagged and tied

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Apricot, Lemon, Sage and Onion

An after thought

Having made just the one attempt at this, I have mulled things over and rather than brown the tenderloin and then place into the oven, you may want to wrap the trussed up pork in foil and poach in simmering water for 25 minutes. Then cool it down, remove foil and pan fry for 5 minutes, browning it all over before you are ready to eat. Just a thought.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Grandpa Urchin's Scene Stealing Tunisian Orange Cake

Ever since the great whole lamb in a pit extravaganza, I have repeatedly had demands for the recipe for the cake that my dear ol’ Dad brought along that day. And I do have to say that this irks me somewhat. After the extreme amount of effort I put in, digging a hole in the ground and setting fire to it and cooking a whole frigging lamb for 10 hours, by and large, a lot people seemed to be more interested in the frigging cake that was dished up afterwards. I love him to pieces but the old devil certainly knew what was doing that day, turning up with a twinkle in his eye. I would even go so far to say that he purposely made his legendary Tunisian Orange Cake just to steal some of my thunder. Seriously, I am sure he did. In fact I know he did (Freud would have a field day with this). However, it is a very lovely cake. Moist, tangy and quite simple to make. I had some more today at a family get together and this time he made not one but two (See? See what I mean!?) As always, it disappeared in seconds so I begrudgingly got the recipe of off him.

Here it is.

Tunisian Orange Cake

50g slightly stale white breadcrumbs

200g caster sugar

100g ground almonds

1 ½ tsp baking powder

200ml sunflower oil

4 eggs

Finely grated zest of 1 large unwaxed orange

Finely grated zest of ½ unwaxed lemon

For the citrus syrup

Juice of 1 unwaxed orange

Juice of 1 unwaxed lemon

75g caster sugar

2 cloves

1 cinnamon stick


1. Line the base of a 20cm round and 5cm deep tine with greaseproof paper, then grease and flour the tin. Mix the breadcrumbs with the sugar, almonds and baking powder. Whisk the oil with the eggs, then pour into the dry ingredients and then mix well. Add the orange and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into the tin, place in a cold oven and turn on the heat to 180C.

2. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the cake is golden brown. Check with a skewer by inserting it into the middle, if it comes out clean it’s done. Cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a plate.

3. Meanwhile, make the citrus syrup. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring gently to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved. Simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves from the syrup.

4. While the cake is still warm, pierce it several times with a skewer, then spoon the hot syrup over the cake allowing it to run into the holes. Leave to cool. Spoon any excess syrup over the cake every now and then until it is all soaked up. Serve with cream or a dollop of Greek yoghurt if you fancy it.

Now if you’ll forgive me, I am going to sit in a darkened room and listen to ‘The End’ by The Doors.

Father? Yes Son? I want to kill you………