Wednesday, 22 October 2014

#taximag


Towards the end of the summer I was introduced via email to a certain Kanna Ingleson, a devotee of  taxidermy and an enthusiast of the odd and she had a very simple proposal for me. Would I be interested in submitting a recipe for her new online magazine? A new magazine showcasing European taxidermy subculture and the people in it.

Now, I have had stranger proposals before and I must admit that I am not totally au fait with the whole business of stuffing dead animals but this rather quirky premise did appeal a lot to me. Probably because I am quite odd myself and I am a sucker for anything remotely alternative when it comes to food.

The main remit was to consider what could be done with the meat that is taken out of said dead animals. By all accounts, at some taxidermy classes (which are fast becoming popular by the way) there is often an added educational element where chefs come in to demonstrate what can be done with the carcasses afterwards. So the idea in itself isn't unusual. And plus there is the demonstrable concept of using this art form to promote total 'nose-to-tail' eating and zero food waste. In terms of connecting the dots, there is no real reason why we can't put food and taxidermy together. Seriously, think about it.

Of course, a slightly bizarre aspect does rear its ugly head when you consider that all manner of creatures can be immortalised through the medium of wool and wire or polyurethane. So where do you stop? Well perhaps eating your beloved Tiddles is going a step too far but if this magazine gains legs, other suggestions have been put on the table for future features and recipe development. Like, um, roadkill and other things. We'll wait and see.

But to start things off, we simply went for a squirrel recipe. Slightly out there but not too out there if you get what I mean. A lovely, warming ragu that would go down fantastic on a Friday night with a glass of wine. Before having to nip back in the kitchen to deal with the fur, skin and all the accoutrements to deliver a masterpiece for the mantelpiece.

So please do check out #taximag here and have a read. It's all rather interesting. Promise.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Theo Chocolate from Seattle


This is just a very quick post to a) get me into the habit of blogging more regularly and b) capitalise on the fact that this week is Chocolate Week in the UK, thus taking advantage of all the traffic that is currently steering its way. To all the chocolaty things on the Internet. Or not, as the case may be. Gawd knows how it all works. I am just going to hashtag the shizzle outta this.

But yes, chocolate! I had some rather nice chocolate the other day that found its way into my grubby mitts via the lovely and gregarious Susan....something or the other. You know, I don't think I know her surname but she writes a great blog, eats and drinks, is very funny and divides her time between the US and the UK and when I met her a few weeks ago, she very kindly gave me some chocolate from Seattle.

I then promptly forgot about these bars of delight, having stashed them away in my rucksack and only just came across them after fishing out a rather rancid over-ripe pear at the bottom of the bag. Yes, I am that forgetful. Thankfully, the chocolate wasn't ruined in any way and upon discovering them, they certainly delivered a triumphant fist pump to the air; a feeling akin to finding some Jaffa cakes in your pocket for instance.

Now, I am not a connoisseur of cacao by any means. The grubby stuff i.e. corner shop confectionery is more than suitable for my palate but I have always, rather snobbishly, assumed that American chocolate was really rubbish. Hershey's springs to mind. Past experiences and memories equate to gobfulls of too sweet, brown, grainy shite basically and how it has the temerity to call itself chocolate is beyond me. However, the bars of Theo Chocolate handed over to me were amazing.

Ticking all the boxes regarding provenance, non-GMO, organic, fair-trade etcetera etcetera, the guys at Theo do go to 11 on the worthy-o-meter but hey, what is the point of making something good unless it makes you feel good eh? And boy, does this chocolate does make you feel good. From what I understand is their 'Fantasy' range, I sampled (or we, I should say) the Bread & Chocolate bar, made using 70% dark chocolate and their Chai, using 45% milk chocolate. And chai tea, naturally.

The breaded bar was my favourite. Dense, smooth and slightly bitter with gorgeous nuggets of sourdough crumbs, it was reminiscent of other biscuit-based chocolate I've tried before. Like um, a Yorkie bar but it was much, much better and I don't even know why I am thinking about them. A poor comparison but hopefully you get the idea.

By contrast, the 'Chai' was stronger in flavour, spicier and more fragrant and I think I would have preferred it married up with dark chocolate, instead of milk. However, yet again, this chocolate delivered another pleasantly surprising hit. Tea. Chocolate. I could do this again. Perhaps with a cup of tea. How would that be? Too much? Maybe.

So there we have it. A new perspective on US chocolate. After trying these bars, I certainly won't be so dismissive in future. It might even be worth importing some from across the Atlantic. Although I might just wait till I catch up with Susan again. I must work on the forgetfulness though. Whenever we secretly eat chocolate at night; in the morning, when the children get up, they nearly always find the wrappers. Slovenly stowed not so secretly under the settee.

"Daaaaad, have you been eating chocolate again?"

Nothing worse than a tutting six year old, wagging a finger in your face, at 7AM. I can tell you that.

Also, I've said the word 'chocolate' and alliterated and rhymed far too many times in this post, sorry.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Wine Urchin #5 - Montagne Saint-Émilion from Lidl


Does expensive wine ever maketh the dish? And by that I mean, if you are going to cook with wine, should you splash out on a decent bottle to stick into the pot? Or should you just plunk for an economical bottle of plonk? Speaking as someone who in the past has poured the best part of twenty squids over stewing steak that only cost me a fiver, it can still be a bit of a puzzling quandary. I mean, after serving up that said bourguignon, I looked around the table and waited for faces to melt into frames of delight and a chorus of rapturous applause but nothing happened. People were complimentary for sure. It was very "nice", "tasty" and "delicious" even. But no-one slid off their chairs and fell onto the floor in a spasm of orgasmic joy. I wanted to grab them by their lapels and ear lobes and shout "I spent £19.95 on the Cote du Rhone that went into that, you ungrateful motherfunksters!" But I am sure my father-in-law would have punched me in the face if I tried a stunt like that so early into our blossoming, familial relationship.

That was then though and now I think my general train of thought is that even a splash of the most unassuming and frugal wine (i.e. cheap) is good enough to lift a dish. And I say this with confidence because I have spotted many a box of catering glug tucked away on shelves in restaurant kitchens. Clad in white cardboard and plainly labelled 'cooking wine' it obviously serves its purpose and when you consider the margins, well no-one is going to be spunking the good stuff are they? Plus, why on earth would you cook the bejesus out of something that is going to taste so much better unadulterated? Even more importantly, there be alcohol in that there wine. So yes, these are my thoughts........

.......however, I can still get all knee-jerky and twitchy whenever the subject of 'cooking with wine' arises. After making enquiries on Twitter* a couple of weeks ago, on how to make Coq au Vin (because I have never made this classic before) a few of the suggestions that came back said that I should absolutely, unequivocally and on pain of death use the finest wine possible. You know, like available to humanity. 

Which pained me. It really did. So much so that I spent an inordinate amount of time pacing up and down the kitchen, wondering what one must do about the situation, with much hand wringing and  brow furrowing. In the end I opted for the middle road and pulled out a bottle of Montagne Saint-Émilion that I had been given to try. This bottle of Merlot came from Lidl no less, one of the German twin sisters that is currently kicking the big supermarkets square in the cream crackers and they are obviously upping the game with big additions to their wine cellar. You can now wander into a Lidl store and pick up a bottle of Bordeaux for £25 these days don't you know. Which does belie the original incentive of going in to pick up cheap fruit and veg, continental meats and drill bits but I suppose it only goes to show how far they've come along.

Anyway, after having a quick taste, a rich slurp of plum with spice and just a smidgen of oak, I thought to myself - "What the hell, this might cost £8.99 and would probably be better to drink on a cold and damp Autumn evening, in front of the fire but I don't have a fire and I want to make sure this chicken dish tastes delish, so ....fuck it." And so in it went.

I didn't go the whole hog with the coq thing by the way, buying a tough old bird for the pot. I just went for plain ol' chick'n; free range of course, using a recipe by some guy called Arby. The end result, after marinating overnight and some faff with toasting plain flour, was pretty damn good and if you haven't made coq au vin before I would wholeheartedly recommend you try Arby's method. My plating up left a little to be desired in the presentation stakes but blimey, red wine with chicken, mushrooms, bacon, mash and gravy; who'd have thought that could taste so gorgeous eh? Talk about ask a silly question. Still, maybe part of that was down to using a decent bottle of wine. It is definitely something that I am going to consider more in future.

The twist in the tale of course is that I was also sent a bottle of rather lush Fleurie, a fruity and fresh Gamay from Burgundy that retails slightly cheaper at £6.49. So we poured out a couple of glasses to accompany the casserole and much happiness was delivered to the table. But if you know your wine and know your way around regional French cuisine, you might have already spotted a glaring mistake.

I wonder if you can tell me what it is?

Wine, reduced
Marinated coq (chook)
We were dye-ing to eat this chicken.......ha!
Messy but delicious
* I often get told off for making general food enquiries on Twitter with many people barking back that I am lazy and that I should simply use Google. Those folk can do one, because Google doesn't converse with you like Twitter does. And I much prefer that.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Lime Pickle


You know how the saying goes. When life hands you a bunch of lemons, then make lemonade. And if life gives you melons, well it could be worthwhile getting checked out to see if you are dyslexic or not. But what do you do when life chucks some limes your way?

This was the question I faced yesterday, as in my fridge I found 11, nay 12 limes that were just teetering on the edge of decay. Green but slowly turning to yellow and beginning to collapse inwards like a collection of dying citrus stars. Where they came from I do not know. People are always giving me shit. And I don't just mean that in the freeloading sense of the word or grief. Although I do get both of that too. No I mean people are always giving me shit to cook. Take last weekend for instance. I went to a house party where free colonic irrigation was on hand by means of home brewed beer and a friend wandered up to me with a plastic orange bucket, full of passion fruit that he had collected from his garden.

"Here you go Dan, thought you could do something with this lot."

"Um, like what?"

"I dunno, you're meant to be the frigging cook."

And off he went, tutting along the way, making me feel all awkward and questioning my own credentials as a foodie (sorry, lover of food) so I called after him.

"I can.......er......I can make some jam I suppose.......or....a jelly?"

But it was too late, the moment was lost.

A plate of sliced limes
Coming back to the limes though, when I saw them languishing away, the old light bulb did ping up pretty much straight away. I decided that I would make some lime pickle with them.

Now for me, lime pickle is firmly planted in the category of 'Foods wot I never used to like but forced myself to like'. It has taken me years to get to the stage of dolloping a tangy thwack of flavour on my poppadom. Building up slowly, with much wincing along the way. The sourness isn't so much the problem but more the texture. A sliver of cold rind, peppered and congealed with oily, spiced mush takes some getting used to. But I have grown to love it.

So of course the next stage had to be to make some of my own, rather than rely on Mr Patak, and I was very happy with the results. Recipes vary and microwaving seems to come up a lot but I looked to my old faithful 'Asian Cookbook' to help guide me through proceedings. I got the book from WHSmiths ages and ages ago and it really has been a stalwart. I think it is out of print and I have messed around a bit with the recipe but this how I transformed a bunch of neglected fruit and turned them into a magnificent pickle. 

Naturally, this probably shouldn't be considered as a 'definitive' method. I am sure some of the feedback will go along the lines of "Uh-uh. You forgot to do this, didn't do that, blah blah blah."

But the more I think about it, the more I reckon that this recipe could probably work with passion fruit too.

I wish I thought about it on Saturday.

Lime Pickle - makes about 750gms, or enough to fill a sterilised Kilner jar (you know, one that can hold about 750gms)

Ingredients

12 limes, fresh, or dying
4 chillies. seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp of garlic and ginger paste
250mls sunflower oil
2 tsp mustard seed
2 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp fenugreek seed
2 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp sugar
Salt

Method

First cut each lime into 8 slices and arrange flat down onto a large plate and sprinkle liberally with salt. Put to one side and leave for about an hour (some methods cure for a lot lot longer but I was in a hurry).

Then place all your spices into a frying pan over a medium heat and lightly toast for 1-2 minutes. Put into a pestle and mortar and grind down to a fine powder.

Place a larger pan on the hob and add a tablespoon of oil and then add the chilli and garlic and ginger paste. Stir fry until golden and then add the limes, sugar, spices and remaining oil. Reduce the heat to produce a low simmer and gently cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly before pouring into said sterilised Kilner jar.

Cool completely and then store in the fridge until such time that you fancy some lime pickle. I expect to discover this batch in about oooh, six months time?

A close up of sliced limes

Sliced limes cooking

Lime Pickle