Friday, 28 March 2014

Cider Drought Scaremongery

You know the feeling you get when someone breaks some really bad news to you and the way your head spins and the floor sort of opens up and swallows you and you collapse into a quivering heap of streaming snot and tears? Well, I had that sort of feeling yesterday, when I read in the papers that my beloved and booming cider industry is in disarray and currently faces an uncertain future. 

After a very long and very wet winter, quite possibly the wettest winter in human memory, by all accounts, England's glorious apple orchards are currently in peril and currently still underwater. Plainly put because the winter has been so very wet, the wettest since Noah and his gang built the ark, there are still flood waters flooding the land and the trees are dying due to 'over-wetness'. Ironic really, when you consider that without water, the trees would also die.

But I digress and steer away from the heart of the matter. Which of course is the fact that this summer, currently looking like it could be the hottest on record if some long range forecasts are to be believed, it seems like we might have a cider shortage.

OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!! *screams and jumps through a window*

To say this is devastating is an understatement. You probably don't know this but I was raised on cider. Apparently it was the only thing that would get me sleep when I was a wee bairn. This cider consumption continued through into my formative years and led me on many a merry chase through country parks and council estates, escaping the clutches of the law. I have missed whole weekends at Glastonbury before, simply because I found the Cider bus and never left its side and I have quaffed more than my fill of Aspalls, sat on pub benches in Norfolk in the sunshine. Waking up delirious with sunstroke and a thumping head has never deterred me from the mystical delights of cider and I have never, ever met an unhappy cider producer, who also didn't look like an extra from Lord of the Rings. 

In short, I love cider and the headlines yesterday made me a very unhappy bunny indeed and so I wailed and hollered like a banshee all over Twitter.

Then the folks who run social meeja for the Somerset Cheese, Cider and Moozic Fest wafted this link (from the Bridgwater Mercury) under my nose like a dose of Epsom salts. It seems that Julian Temperley, he of the Somerset Cider Company, did talk ruefully to the media and say that yes, the weather has had an impact on orchards across the land, with some trees suffering damage. But he did go on to say that "We are not talking a game-changing amount and to say there is going to be a drought is undoubtedly alarmist."

Well, thank Jiminy Cricket for that! I really can't tell what a relief it was when I heard that he'd said that too.


But we do need to get to the crux of the matter here, insofar that the nationals and mainstream media really should be taken to account and rapped over the wrist for releasing alarmist, headline grabbing stories such as these. Every single one left out that last quote! A little bit naughty if you ask me. It might drive demand and sales but in the long term, it is not always good for the industry. Especially if this sort of scaremongering sets off panic buying, with people frantically piling into shops. To buy as much cider they can get their hands on. This precious, life-enhancing, knee-bending loopy juice . 

For instance, I saw one little old lady get pushed in the face in Tescos this morning as some burly, tattooed oaf whizzed past her; his trolley chock full of cases of Magners. It was a terrible scene and she dropped and smashed her bottle of Stone's Ginger Wine and everything.

Is this the sort of reaction, the sort of behaviour that the Daily Mail wants to provoke? To encourage stockpiling? To drive cider prices up? Do they want a new, insidious, cider-based black market to bloom? Do we want a real shortage on our hands?

No, we don't. And therefore this sort of madness must stop. Right now. Before it starts raining again.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wild Garlic Focaccia with Maldon Sea Salt

Mama mia, you stink
If vampires exist (and you never know, maybe they really do) I think I can safely say that there is no way that any hissing blood suckers are going to want to sink their fangs into my lily-white neck any time soon. Because at the weekend, I ate so much garlic. So. Much. Garlic. So much so that liquid allium still seems to be pouring out of my pores two days later. As I walk around the house, vapour trails follow me about the place and atop my shiny head a heat haze roars, wavering and shimmying the atoms of the air like a veritable jet engine. I pity the poor guy who was parked next to me on the train yesterday morning. He sat down, flinched and then blinked, and then he turned to look at me. Then within seconds his eyebrows fell off his face and his nostril hair combusted, leaving two small puffs of smoke hanging about the carriage. Yes, I fear the stench was that strong.

But no matter, I am in isolation today and I don't think I am going to be a danger to the public for much longer because the odour has got to fade at some point and besides, who cares anyway. We all know garlic is good for you and good for the heart. I am simply looking after number one so don't hold the fact that I smell like Frenchman's armpit against me.

Maybe I am just being paranoid. But the reason for this latest episode of gorging and self-fumigation comes down to the fact that once again, the garden is teeming with the wild stuff. Ramson, buckrams, beer leek or in other words wild, wild garlic. Every spring it arrives and every spring I tear into it, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, thrashing at the leaves with a blade to eat. Or digging up whole plants with a fork to give away*. And every year it returns, more abundant than ever. 

If that sounds like a downside, I don't mean it to be. The wild garlic actually looks very pretty when it pops up around our cherry tree and when the white star shaped flowers rise up and unfold, there is nowt I like better than to tip toe around the foliage like an overgrown fairy, full of the joys of renewal and rejuvenation. But I do worry that one year that I am going to look out and see my entire garden smothered with rampant ramps though.

Every spring, the mission then is to try and think of different ways to use it. So this weekend I made focaccia and topped it with shredded wild garlic. Simples. I also had a crack at a recipe from Jason Atherton's 'Gourmet Food for a Fiver', namely his confit chicken legs with a chorizo and bean stew that uses craploads of regular garlic. For this post I am going to just give the recipe for the bread (cos it's easy) but I highly recommend you sneaking out to buy Mr Atherton's book, if only for the confit recipe. Unless you are a big fan of Chicken Cottage, it can be hard to get excited about chook legs but after the ol' preserving and slow-cook-in-oil treatment, they become transformed. The meat was so delicious, it could almost be a contender to knock duck of its perch. But only almost.

Aiding and abetting both these dishes throughout was the use and addition of Maldon Sea Salt, which of course brings us to the money shot. Having been sent some of this fine product, filtered and gently coaxed from the shores of our glorious Essex coast, I am only too happy to submit a recipe as part of their 'Flavours of Spring' campaign. Despite being a massive county, there is not too much to shout about regarding food produce. Certainly we have our fantastic oysters. We also have some very good meat in the area and we have some fine flour from Marriages. And of course we have our 'leeks', as once suggested in an Essex special of Market Kitchen. Oh yes, Essex leeks are world renowned I'll have you know (I'll also have you know that I burst out laughing when this suggestion was made). But if there is one pillar that Essex can most definitely stand on, it is the pillar of salt from Maldon. 


So without further ado, here is my recipe for wild garlic focaccia with Maldon Sea Salt. My flavour of spring that will make you sing like a returning swallow and honk like a Canada goose.

*And if you would like some wild garlic from my garden, please do drop me a line 

Wild Garlic Focaccia

600g strong bread flour
450ml lukewarm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp Maldon Sea Salt (plus extra for sprinkling)
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Small bunch of wild garlic leaves


Take a bowl and mix together the flour and the salt and then add the water, yeast and 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix altogether and form into a rough ball, using a scraper or plastic fish slice to incorporate all the fiddly bits left stuck on the bowl.

Place the rough ball on a lightly floured surface and knead it to buggery. Pulling and pushing and folding and stretching for about 10 minutes or until you get a good sweat on. When the dough is worked enough, it should feel smooth and pliable. When ready, form into a neat ball and pour a generous drizzle into the bowl you used for mixing. Place the dough topside down into the olive and turn and coat all over. Put a tea towel over the bowl and leave in a warm space for an hour, or until the dough has doubled.

Take a roasting tin or ceramic rectangular baking dish and lift the dough in and gently press down with your finger tips, shaping the dough as you go into a rough rectangle/oval shape. Sprinkle over the wild garlic and again gently press it down gently into the dough and then add a good drizzle of olive oil.

Cover and leave to rise again in a warm space for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 220C. When the dough is ready, again gently press your finger tips in to create little divets and finally sprinkle some Maldon Sea Salt over the top and place into the oven to bake for roughly 20 minutes, or until it is golden all over.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Just before serving, drizzle some more olive oil over and slice generously.

Green drizzle
Essex Salt, innit
Glorious chicken leg
Wonderful, cakey bread

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Bangers and Mash - Beano Style

When it comes to certain days of the week, Rebecca Black pretty much nails it when she warbles in that annoying, auto-tune assisted voice of hers that Friday is all about "fun, fun, fun." It really is. I know some naysayers will disagree, arguing that Thursday is where it's at. However, as far as I am concerned, the last day of the working week is and always has been the best day for celebration. Sure in the past, merry high jinks have gone well and truly off the rails or down the railway track rather. Catching the vomit comet (otherwise known as the last train home to Essex) and waking up in sleepy Shoeburyness, with not much more than 50p in your back pocket isn't much fun. It is soon forgotten though and by the time Friday rolls around again, you are normally back on your feet and ready to go. Because well, it's Friday.

Thankfully, those Fridays drenched in booze are now well and truly behind me, especially now that I am father. But I still like to instil a sense of joy into proceedings and I like to think that it's rubbed off onto my kids. They are definitely a lot more perkier when they wake up on Friday mornings before school because a) it normally means 'movie night' and going to bed later. And b) they get free rein on what they would like to eat for dinner. As parents, we try not to be food Nazi's but we also try to make sure that eat fairly healthy. On Fridays though, they can have whatever they like. Burgers, pizza, fish and chips, all the kind of stuff that doesn't really hurt has long as it comes in moderation and when I dropped the twins off at the playground yesterday morning, the request was put in for some life-affirming bangers and mash.

With that in mind, I then began to think how I could jazz things up and thought about how bangers and mash always appeared in the Beano, a much loved comic from my yoof. For the likes of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids, sausage and agitated potato was pretty much the staple. Ordered in cafés or posh restaurants and paid for with ten pound notes that simply had '£10' written on them, the mash would always come piled high and always with a multitude of sossidges sticking out at jaunty angles. So I decided that's how it was going to come.

The idea then took a twist when I announced on Twitter what I was up to and Lynne Clark asked whether I was going to put a big dent in the middle of the mash mountain and fill it up with tomato ketchup to turn it into a volcano. This was inspired and so I ran with it and with the addition of some Heinz five beanz to create a moat of bubbling lava, I came up with this fantastic creation.

Of course, this isn't turning out to be a recipe post as such. It's more of a slightly boastful "Hey! Look what I made last night!" sort of blog but it was great fun to make and even better, it was great to see the look on the twin's faces when they wandered into the kitchen to eat. Digging in altogether from one platter was brilliant, as were the stories made up about how this volcano came into existence. The kidney beans were apparently soldiers sent to guard and keep an eye on the volcano but sadly they soon perished after falling into the fiery hell of the tomato sauce. Sausages were in fact spaceships and were fired out of their docks with the assistance of forks into gleeful mouths. And the tunnels left behind in mash mountain? Well, moles live in there I'll have you know. Fire moles, that breathe... fire. By all accounts.

And there you have it. A fun and creative way to spend a Friday night with the children. Grab the sentimental bucket after reading this and purge if you like but don't deny that food really can be joyous at times. I think we all need to be reminded of that once in a while.

So, try giving this whirl at home and watch the smiles at the table unfold. Regardless the age of the faces that frame them.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Black Pudding Croquettes and Baileys Chocolate Cheesecake


A-fiddly diddly diddly dee fiddly fiddly dee dee
Diddly fiddly fiddly diddly fiddly diddly dee HEY!

Hold on to your hats folks because just around the corner is that grandest of celebrations - St Patrick's Day!

A-fiddly diddly diddly dee fiddly fiddly dee dee
Diddly fiddly fiddly diddly fiddly diddly dee HO!

And I really should have got around to this sooner, writing up this blog post about all the Irish goodies you can find in the new Irish shop section on Ocado but I've been so busy you see, already getting stuck into the craic...

Sad to say, I must be on me way!
So buy me beer and whiskey cos I'm going far away...

That I've missed the fecking deadline for this fecking competition organised by the fecking Bord Bia....

Far away!

Shame really, as I would have loved the chance to win a trip to Ireland, it's been a while since I visited the motherland.....

On the fourth of July eighteen hundred and six
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork......

Oh yeah, I got some Oirish blood in me somewhere, can trace some of the family back to Limerick.......

We had five million hogs, we had six million dogs,
Seven million barrels of porter.....

Or Lilliput, as I once called it in a bar in Dublin.......

In the hold of the Irish Rovaaaah.......feck I dropped me drink.........

But no matter, I still managed to conjure up quite a feast for my family the other day using some produce from the shop....

Guinness of the morning to ya!

Some mussels from Carrs and sons......


Some lovely bacon and black pudding from Clonakilty......

A-diddly diddly diddly dee fiddly fiddly...........Brian O'Driscoll! What a man, d'ya see that wink?.........

And a bottle of Baileys.....

Bejaysus, did you see The Walshes on BBC4 last night? What a pile of shite!......

Admittedly, I wasn't too convinced about authenticity of this new Irish shop because to be frank, there was feck all to chose from really........

I met my love by the gas works wall..........WHISKEY?...........

I mean c'mon, Jacobs Cream Crackers and Club biscuits are hardly synonymous with Ireland's rich culinary heritage are they......


But what do I know, I'm just a plastic paddy............

A-diddly diddly diddly diddly diddly.......GIRLS! DRINK?........

So, for what it's worth, my celebratory St Patrick's Day Menu consisted of.......

 Mussels in white wine topped with bacon and parsley

 Confit of pork belly with black pudding croquettes, apple and celeriac veloute and pea shoots (because I thought they looked like shamrocks)

And a Baileys chocolate cheesecake with crushed (fruit) Club biscuit base

It was a fecking handsome meal and I would be delighted to share two of the recipes with you, namely the black pudding croquettes and the cheesecake......

Ah seo dhibh a cháirde..........ah feck it

All that remains for me now then is to say enjoy St Patrick's Day, wherever you are and take with you this pearl of wisdom once offered up to me by a dear old Irish relative of mine, who once cornered me in the pub and told me in a very serious yet very unsteady manner that I "should never, never, afraid of the dark."


Black Pudding Croquettes - serves 8


200gms Clonakilty Black Pudding, roughly chopped

600gms mashed potato

1 onion, fine chopped

Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

125gms breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil, for deep frying


First, fry off the onion in a pan on the hob over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent. Take off heat and leave to cool. When cool place the onion in a bowl along with the black pudding, potato and parsley and mix thoroughly.

Using a clean surface, roll out the mixture into lengths so that it resembles a long plump sausage (you may have to make several sausages) and cut into barrels about 5-7 cms long. Then take two bowls, using one for your egg wash and one for the breadcrumbs. Dip and rinse each croquette into the egg and then coat with the breadcrumbs and place on a tray 

Top tip - use your left hand for the egg and your right for the breadcrumbs. Might sure never the twain shall meet and you should come away relatively clean and tidy.

When ready to cook, heat the vegetable oil in a deep pan or fryer to 180C and fry the croquettes in batches for about 2-3 minutes at a time. Drain on kitchen towel and keep warm. Serve individually as canapes or with a nice roast dinner. You can be free and easy with these croquettes.

Baileys chocolate cheesecake with crushed (fruit) Club biscuit base - serves 8

250gms Club Fruit biscuits (about 8 bars)

500gms cream cheese

250gms double cream

100gm icing sugar

50mls Baileys

100gms grated dark chocolate


Break up the Club biscuits and place in a food processor and briefly blend for about 30 seconds. Then place the biscuit and chocolate crumbs into a saucepan and gently melt over a low heat. Remove and pour the mixture into a loose bottomed round tin, the bottom lined with greaseproof paper. Smooth over with a palatte knife and place in the fridge for at least an hour to set.

Next prepare the filling by lightly whipping the cream cheese in a bowl, adding the sugar and Baileys into the mix. In a separate bowl, whip the double cream and then gently fold it into the cheese and then spoon the filling onto the biscuit base, again smoothing the surface all over with a palatte knife. 

Place back into the fridge and leave for about 2 hours set. Before you pop it out of the tin, sprinkle the grated chocolate all over the top. 

Serve without any extra cream or anything like as this dessert is quite rich and sweet but very nice indeed.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Anticuchos or Barbecued Ox Heart

Well, when it comes to the humble bovine, I think I have very nearly finished the list with regards to nose to tail eating. Just recently it feels like I have been eating very little else, which has been entirely unintentional believe me. But as you and I both know, the gravity towards beef can be very strong sometimes. Unless you is vegetarian that is.

So yes, for some reason I have been chowing down on nothing but cow bits lately. Cheeks, tongue, tail and lots and lots of bone marrow. I know that all of these bits fall just outside of the fifth quarter (as some people on Twitter seem to want to argue) but I have to say that the eating has been offally good. Badoomtish. And more to the point, its been cheap. Day by day, my fondness for these cuts seems to grow and grow and I am sure that part of it comes down to the fact that they don't hurt my wallet.

Of course, it helps that these cuts also taste soooo good. I hate to bang on ox cheeks. Christ, people must be bored of me praising them with jazz hands in that advert by now but seriously, I would rank cheeks as being my favouritest, favouritest cut of all time. A couple of weekends ago, we
off-loaded sent the children to their grandparents and spent a lazy Saturday morning moping around the place before heading to the pub in the afternoon; to shout at a bunch of lithe young men throwing an egg-shaped ball around the place. Prior to us heading out, I stuck some ox cheeks in the slow cooker. Sploshed some red wine in, some herbs, some stock and some root veg and left them to plop-plop away. Simples.

When we returned, a good while later and slightly wobbly, the smell that the permeated the house was amazing. And the cheeks? Gawd blimey they were so lovely, so tender and so full of flavour and what effort had gone making into the dish? Absolutely sod all, as my Nan might say.

So. Cheeks. Are. Brilliant.

However, coming up as a strong contender to challenge for the title might just be the ferocious and formidable looking ox heart. I bought one a while ago from bearded butcher Ollie who mans the counter at The Quality Chop House shop in Farringdon (great food shop by the way) with the idea of writing up a recipe post for Valentines Day. But as it had been stuck in the freezer and due to poor time management, there was no way it was going to defrost in time. Because ox hearts are big. Very big. As big as you might expect from an ox heart really. What is the difference anyway between a cow and an ox anyway? Why don't we say cow tail? Anyway, despite the enormity of the ox/cow heart, I soon managed to forget all about it.

Then last weekend, the beautiful Carol Kirkwood announced on the telly box, with those luscious red lips of hers, that the sun was on its way and I thought 'Fank fack for that!' and immediately texted my brother-in-law to announce that he really, really should have a BBQ. Rather than the planned Sunday dinner.

The main plan from my end was to bring anticuchos which is a popular way of cooking ox heart in South America, Peru in particular (says Google). The basic premise is to prepare the heart and slice it into chunks or slivers and then marinate it overnight in a concoction of oil, garlic, vinegar, cumin and chilli, along with some herbs such as oregano. You then fire up the BBQ like a grizzly ol' cave man or woman and then skewer the meat and grill them fast so that they are crisp on the outside and tender in the middle.

We tried them and the result was pretty stunning, punchy and strong. The vinegar acid in the mixture goes a long way when tenderising the meat, the texture was not too dissimilar to fillet but the flavour delivers a far more beefier thwack around the chops. Unfortunately I didn't have any aji panca chillies, which would have made this dish a bit more authentic. I used a scant scattering of regular Schwartz dried chilli in the marinate instead because heat doesn't go down too well in my family but I am definitely going to go and purchase some for future burn ups.

If the weather keeps up, ox heart could definitely be my new thang. They certainly are the antithesis of ox cheeks, demanding a quick flash of attention, rather than the slow amble of a bubbling pot.

For the time being, my allegiance will remain in the lap of the Gods. Or in Carol Kirkwoods at the very least.

Anticuchos or Barbecued Ox Heart - serves 8 people, easily

1 ox heart, cleaned of its tubes and gristle and oomska

Half a head of garlic, cloves very finely chopped

2 tbs ground cumin

1 tbs dried oregano

1 tsp of dried chilli

Salt and black pepper

3 tbs red wine vinegar

5 tbs olive oil


Now this is up to you, you can cube the heart or you can slice it into fine slivers. These are the two main pointers I found on the Internet and I followed the lead from Alex at Just Cook It on the slicing front.

Place the meat into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge to marinade overnight.

Next day, when the sun is shining and you've got your string vest and flip flops on, light the BBQ. Whilst that rages, skewer the meat onto skewers and then when the flames die down and the embers begin to glow red hot, grill the kebabs, turning frequently for about 10 minutes.

Serve with other meat stuffs and rabbit food or whatever and enjoy!
Fire from a bag!
Good to go