Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Foodies Larder and Coca de Escalivada (and Honey)

Hamper
No one really has a larder anymore do they. Well we do. We have refrigerators and cabinets made from particleboard that hang on the wall. But the actual idea of a larder feels like an old fashioned concept these days. I remember an elderly aunt of mine, a lovely old soul, used to have one. In fact her kitchen came from a different era altogether. From what I recall it was mostly lime green and adorned with chrome and Bakelite, complete with checker board vinyl flooring and a pressure cooker that aways seemed to be on, hissing in the background. In the corner behind a door was the larder, a walk-in cupboard that was forever full to the brim. Filled with jars and tins and cheeses and coveted cakes, peeking out from under a lace doily. Lots of tasty looking paraphernalia basically and to be stood actually inside a room, albeit a very small one, stacked with food from top to bottom, always gave me a bit of a thrill. Whenever we visited it was always a first port of call before I got ushered back to the dinner table for a glass of grapefruit juice and plate of boiled beef and carrots. Oh shit, I sound like Nigel Slater now don't I?

Anyway, Aunty Syb kept a splendid and well organised larder. Or now that I think about it, was it a pantry?  If she took one look at the clutter of my cupboards, she may well utter a disapproving tut or two. Because our 'larder' cupboard or general store is in a terrible state. A disposition for buying random bric-a-brac doesn't help. "My God, I need to have these Bolivian Yak Biscuits! Look! Smoked Azuki Beans from Nepal! Regurgitated Hazelnuts! Passed through ponys and gathered from the New Forest!" Seriously, some of the gear I've got stashed away. Gleefully accepting samples to review isn't very big or clever of me either. I do feel bad whenever I come across a particularly dusty box of organic lapsong souchong or a crumbling packet of dessicated chillies, long forgotten. It often haunts my bones, knowing that damp eyes are still possibly scanning the internet, desperately looking for a link and I should really cut back on the offers. Until I've used half the stuff up and critiqued it that is. Although I must say, a rather tempting proposal of bacon remains unanswered in my inbox and that would be just stupid to refuse.

What it all amounts to though is that I have a load of candies and condiments and pickles and packets and sachets and sauces junking up the place. And I often find myself committing the first world crime of opening up the cupboard and staring in and thinking - 'we have got nothing to eat.' This has to stop and I do need to get on with the business of using what we've got and to perhaps share some recipes along the way.

So without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to some goodies that were sent to me from The Foodies Larder and to all you pedants of the world, holding your breath and grimacing at the very word 'foodie'. Stop and take a look at yourselves for a second. It's just a word. Get over it.

Dough mix
The premise behind The Foodies Larder, as always, is a simple one. They are a small company that sources 'tasty nibbles' from artisan producers in Spain and on a monthly basis, send out hampers to subscribers who wish to explore and extend their culinary vocabulary. As ideas go, it's not a particularly unique one. There are a couple of food start ups on the internet offering something similar. But if you have a penchant for Spanish food, as I do, then you can see the appeal of The Foodies Larder. Especially since they have some very good recipes on the website to help you get to grips with the ingredients they send out.

Escalivada in a jar
In the sample box I received there was a bar of organic dark chocolate, some extra virgin olive oil from Southern Spain, a curious packet of pasta flavoured with piquillo peppers, a jar of escalivada, an even neater looking jar of Abella honey and some sea salt from Ibiza. Chocolate has a tendency to vaporise the second it is detected in our house (the twins have super sensitive nostrils) and the pasta was dealt with without much ado too, so I can't really comment on that either. If it's any consolation though, it was eaten just as quickly as the chocolate. The olive oil had a wonderful peppery quality and the sea salt tasted of salt, which is very useful. However because of it's size and texture, I suspect it is meant to be used more as a garnish rather than actual cooking, served up as sprinkles on canapés to get the 'big fish, little fish' going at parties.

Coca de Escalivada (pre-cooked)
So that leaves me to comment at depth upon the nature of the escalivada and the honey. Escalivada is a dish that originates from Catalonia and in essence is mixture of torn strips of roasted peppers, aubergines and onions which can be served as a simple tapas or smoky accompaniment to grilled meats. I know this because Google told me, although I did serve up the very same at a wheelbarrow bbq last year and simply called it 'roasted peppers, aubergines and onions.' Escalivada is also very good to use as toppings on 'cocas', which is a sort of pastry flat bread, which again is something new to me. Finding a definitive recipe for the dough was tricky. According to Rachel McCormack of Catalan Cooking there are countless varieties due to different seasons, different bakeries and different flours but in the end, I plumped for this version by an Expat Chef in Barcelona.

Geometric (sort of)
After baking for 15 minutes, the coca was finished off with few strips of anchovies and some tinned tuna and demolished in front of a Friday night movie with the children, providing an excellent alternative to the usual pizza. Of course, that's pretty much was it is. Still, nevertheless it was quite delicious. Crunchy yet silky, spiky yet fresh and the sourcing of this jar by The Foodies Larder certainly counters the faff of preparing vegetables beforehand.

Wandering hands
Being an indulgent sort of Dad and wanting to try out the honey, I also made dessert for us that evening too and you really can't go wrong with stewed fruit (apple and plum) and cinnamon served up with crème fraîche. This is sort of inspired by a recipe in Moro East where caramel is called for, to be spun in ribbons over the plate. But for ease, the idea of splodging some decadent honey on top was a better one. This particular honey from Gallicia came with the added benefit of Royal Jelly mixed in. For extra vim, vitality and..... vimto. Did it put any lead in my pencil? Erm no. And that is just as well. Getting the horn during Despicable Me would have been bad. Very bad indeed. But the honey was gloriously rich.

Stewed apple, plum and cinnamon with crème fraîche and Abella honey
The best part about this little raid upon the cupboard is that I managed for once to rustle up a decent meal without having to resort to the usual hysterics of dashing to the shops. I have to thank in part The Foodies Larder for that. Would I be happy to pay £30 a month for the privilege for filling up my shelves with random food though? I am not sure. Perhaps £20 would be more in my price range and I would be more interested if they sold items separately, as a result of trying ingredients individually. Which is something that they haven't quite got sorted yet.

For a small niche company, it is a good start though and I am glad that finally, I have started to make a dent on my larder. I have just got to work out what I can make with horse jerky, pickling spices and dulce de leche.

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