Friday, 19 December 2014

The Food Urchin Top Ten Foodstuffs Wot I Have Eaten And Drunk Or Cooked With In 2014

Yes, it's that time of year when lots of people who made their lists and checked it twice (working out who has been pleasant or not) and got all their Christmas shopping done weeks ago, can now sit back and smugly get on with the business of making merry.

However, some people out there will still be trying to figure what on earth they are going to buy for their partners and are anxiously glancing back and forth at pieces of paper (not to mention the calendar and the clock). Many will be currently at desks across the land, scanning screens furiously, emitting the occasional slow, foreboding yelp of fear as one by one delivery slots close and fancy looking dresses sell out. A few will begin to cry and take solace in the humble art of procrastination.

Because if you can't finish a list, it is always better to move on and make another list. At least then you can feel like you are actually doing something. Rather than nothing at all.

Which is why I am writing this list now! And so welcome to The Food Urchin Top Ten Foodstuffs Wot I Have Eaten And Drunk Or Cooked With In 2014 list. A collection of fine goods, meats, boozes and sensational seasonings that have impressed the most throughout the last year; coupled with a brief, witty appraisal.

I suspect this won't be the last list I put up on here either......

10 - Squirrel

I know what you are going to say - "Oh bore off baldy, with yer frigging rodent cooking, like a one-trick pony." But of course I had to put squirrel in here somewhere, largely because I had so much fun cooking with it. And plus the twins scored muchos kudos points in the playground when they told their friends what they ate last night. If you haven't tried it, you should. Gamey, sweet, lean, free-range meat. What is there not to like?

9 - unearthed Goose Rillettes (and gin)

I fell in love with unearthed's original pork rillettes a while ago now and you would be hard pressed to beat a small tub of sumptuous shredded piggy, to smear on a wedge of bread, whilst popping a cornichon or two into your mouth. But then those food explorers went and found goose rillettes. Similar in style but with a greater depth of flavour, this stuff is amazing and saved my life after a poxy day at work. The gin helped too.

8 - Baconnaise

Let's face it, anything that is labelled as 'vegetarian' and paired with 'bacon' doesn't normally come within a gnats' fart of tasting like the real thing and to be really honest, Baconnaise doesn't either. BUT this jar of artifice does still taste very good, in it's own peculiar way. Imagine Frazzles, in mayonnaise form. See, that doesn't sound too bad at all does it. Especially when dolloped on a burger. Given to me by a noodle enthusiast who has far too much food in her own house.

7 - Avocados

Don't feign surprise at this healthy inclusion, I don't eat crap all the time you know but I have to say this, I never thought I would grow to love avocados as much as I do now. Rammed with vitamins, minerals, acids and 'good' fats, I now regularly fork up a ripe beauty (mixed with lime and chilli) for a sensational spread for my hot toast in the morning. Thus helping me to leave the house with a spring in my step. Still not sure about using it in ice cream though.

6 - Bay

Is bay the unheralded super hero of the kitchen? The backbone, the stalwart, the simple essence that can change a good dish into an amazing one? I think it is and I have been using bay more and more in my cooking and the biggest hit of the year came when I threw it into the pot with some pears, lemon and marsala under the guidance of food writer Diana Henry. The resulting pudding was beautiful and that was largely down to the subtle, slightly peppery wink from the bay. Expect news of a fan club forming soon.

5 - Elderflowers

For ages now, I have always fancied making elderflower champagne, so when the blossom.....um blossomed in May this year (it was early) I leapt into a neighbouring field with a black bin liner and went into a wild frenzy of picking. A few buckets filled with water, lemon and sugar later, followed by swift decanting into plastic bottles through a pair of old tights and boom, we very quickly had our own fizz. This is sooo easy to make and delicious to drink. Shame it's not that alcofrolic but hey ho.

4 - Peckham Jerk

'Do not use Peckham Jerk marinade and stick your finger in your eye afterwards.' Helen Graves could well do with putting some sort of warning on the jar. But then again, I suspect that she never expected for people to rub their eyelids after smothering a whole chicken with the stuff, with their bare hands. So I can't really blame her and despite the OWFUGGGINHELL! this stuff truly transformed a BBQ in the summer. With many a guest marveling at the intense, fruity heat, all whilst pointing and laughing at my face.

3 - Innis and Gunn

I HATE seeing disclaimers on blogs but *sigh* disclaimer, Innis and Gunn have been sending me regular crates of their delicious, wonderful beer throughout the year to sample and lord help me, I love them for it. The beers have varied in style and substance. Some dark and rich. Some crisp and refreshing. Mostly all very alcoholic but not to the detriment of flavour. I have also cooked a far bit with it. An amazing brewery, that does amazing things with beer. And for purposes of balance, SABMiller wanted to do something similar and send me some of their lager. I told them to f*ck off.

2 - Rib of beef

Look at that. Just look at that. How can you look at that and not love it. Unless you is vegan. But yes, fore rib  has smashed into the top ten this year. Overtaking pork. Outsmarting lamb. Sticking a toe up the backside of duck. And that is all down to this lump of beef, sourced in Hereford, cooked in Hereford and eaten in Hereford at a birthday party. Lightly seasoned and roasted in a Weber with a firm crust on the outside and lovely pink within. It was gorgeous (after a thorough resting) and it is the reason why we are having this for Christmas dinner this year and not turkey

1 - Viking Smoked Salt from SousChef

Dun-da-da-dun-dun-daaaaaaaah! Yes, here it is! THE best thing we have used in well EVERYTHING in the kitchen this year. Half the year I mean. I picked some up at Sous Chef's Christmas show in July and the first sprinkling was scattered over a pair of fried eggs, on hot toast, and well, it transformed the whole plate. Absolutely bloody amazing and a small pinch goes a long, long way on meat, fish, baked spuds, cornflakes, whatever you fancy really. The reasoning behind the name does still allude me. I am not entirely sure whether any actual vikings were smoked during the process but to be honest, I couldn't give a fig. It maybe too late for Christmas to order some in but make sure you get this on your table for 2015. It will change your life.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Clerkenwell Kitchen, London.


Lunch today had pie and mash written all over it. I'd seen a tweet featuring a blackboard with "Pie and mash" scrawled snazzily across it and the minute I stepped outside onto the pavement and felt an icy, portentous wind whistle through my legs, I thought to myself - 'Oooh yeah, I am going to go and have a nice crusty pie, filled with soft braised beef, luxurious gravy, seconded with a creamy, fluffy dollop of mash." And so off I waltzed, down the street, legs-a-popping out sideways and heels-a-clicking like a veritable Dick Van Dyke. I always walk like that when it gets cold, gets the blood circulating you see. I even had a little rumba going off in my head like this: PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA. PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA. PIE AND MASH, CHA-CHA-CHA.

Such was my excitement.

Unfortunately, when I got to Clerkenwell Kitchen, my chosen destination for repast, I discovered that that pie and mash was in fact, on yesterday's menu and not today's and that I had been gawping at an old tweet and..........well you can picture the scene can't you. 

My heart sank and my bottom lip jutted outwards; the clouds gathered and unleashed a deluge; and a small dog trotted past my ankles and took a piss on my newly polished shoes. An imaginary dog that is. Imaginary rain too because I was standing inside. But yes, I felt totally bummed out when I realised that I was not going to be eating pie and mash for lunch today. So much so that I absentmindedly dropped my imaginary maracas on the floor. 

However, the great thing about Clerkenwell Kitchen is that the food in there is always pretty damn good and that blackboard, which gets refreshed everyday, had some delectable new options to choose from. Like duck hash with a fried egg and my god, it was lovely. On the plate it represented a simple mess really. Of crushed spuds, caramelised red onion, some sliced greenery, some gorgeously sharp chopped cornichons and of course, a decent shredding of warm, fatty duck meat. All topped with an egg, fried to crispy-edged perfection whilst still saving a silky slick of yolk in the centre. It was more than lovely actually and more than made up for the absence of pie. And mash. My pudding was very pleasing to eat too. A wedge of sweet and bitter lemon ricotta cake with a handsome dollop of roast plum, very lightly spiced.

I've popped into this quiet, unassuming gem a few times now when I've been up that London for work and have always come away happy. Cuttlefish stew, courgette and Parmesan tart and thick door step sandwiches, crammed with pork, crackling and apple sauce are just some of the delights I've sampled there and if you ever find yourself in the area (Clerkenwell that is, the clue is in the name) I heartily recommend you go there for some fantastically cheap, well-sourced, lovingly cooked, honest grub. 

I hate saying things like that about food though. 'Honest grub' sounds a bit twee, a bit daft and good food never lies. And I very nearly accused the guys at Clerkenwell Kitchen of doing just that today, of lying.

"YOU BLOODY WELL SAID YOU WERE SERVING PIE AND MASH TODAY!" I very nearly said.

But I am glad I kept my gob firmly shut when ordering at the till and ended up shoveling that beautiful duck hash into my mouth instead.



Monday, 1 December 2014

Lamb Stock

It shames and pains me to admit this but lately I have become far too reliant on pre-made stock pots, flavour shots and plastic sachets of meat slop. Don't get me wrong, they do have a place in the store cupboard and can get you out of a tight squeeze. A majestic meal of bangers and mash was very nearly ruined recently, for fear of having nowt moist to pour over it. But thankfully I had a little bucket of K-norr beef gloop tucked away and with the addition of some dried onions (now this is something you should always have to hand) I was able to knock up an onion gravy that was very nearly fit for King. Very nearly indeed.

I would like to get back into the habit of making my own stock though because nothing on the market can really replace a good lengthy* simmering of bones, water and vegetables on the hob. When you make your own stock, you generally don't have to worry about saltiness, any insipidness or involuntarily gagging on something that could have come straight out of a washing up bowl; a dirty sniff of grey, malignant water. Some pork stock cubes I once bought did that to me. Reminded me of drinking manky old sock water so it did. Not that I have ever drunk manky old sock water mind. Well, maybe in my student days.

No, you can't beat a home-made stock; rounded, healthy and deep with savoury flavour. And if it wobbles, then all the better. If there is any sign that a stock is a good 'un, it's when it wobbles like jelly, all gelatinous and rich. I made a fine lamb stock recently, not just from the bones of Shaun the Sheep but from a couple of whole shoulders. Which sounds very decadent and over the top but I should add that the braised lamb meat was used for a big family dinner partay. We have however been living on the resulting stock for last few days as there was tons left over.

Kept in the fridge, I've been taking a spoonful here, a spoonful there, adding it to meals with gay abandon. Soup, shepherds pie, pearly barley, porridge etc which has perhaps led to an overkill. But until it runs out, I am going to keep going. In fact, I wonder what it would taste like in tonight's vegetable curry? No one will know. And plus it would give a discreet fingers up to meat-free Monday.

Cue Muttley snigger.

I might just stick the remainder in the freezer for now though. In the bottom tray, where all the chicken carcasses are slowly building up, like a desolate frozen graveyard. A stark reminder that I should really make my own stock more often.

And I should really make sure it's wobbly.

Lamb fat rising to the surface, resembling an alien landscape, another world (he says, theatrically)


 
Gratuitous lamb stock video - NSFW

*Of course, I should add that lengthy is not always best. Especially with fish. And chicken.