Friday, 27 May 2016
If you look closely at this rather blurry picture, just beyond the pint looming in the foreground, you can probably make out two things. First of all, you should be able to see a piece of paper baring the logo for The Craft Beer Co. And secondly, on that piece of paper you can just about make out that it is a reservation of sorts. Made by Al for 1900 hours, or 7PM to you and me. A table with chairs, for friends to gather around and share.
There is story coming here but first, I suppose we should talk about the beer that prompted this post, which shall be this Friday's Booze You Should Try This Weekend. This rather elongated Calypso Dry Hopped Berliner Wiesse beer, brewed by the Siren Craft Brew company, belongs to the oeuvre of 'sour' beers that are now out there, slowly sneaking their way into the imagination of the general public. Sour by name, they are sour by nature and until I received a bottle of some sour concoction in my monthly Beer52 box, I was oblivious to the whole concept. I vaguely remember trying a lambic beer at a festival and promptly spat it all over my mate (the same Al actually) but that was years ago. Anyway, maybe my taste buds have changed because I have tried quite a few of late and I am really beginning to like the style.
After the first gulp, there is still a necessity to blanch and form the usual cats bum pursing of the lips but take a few sips more and everything becomes altogether refreshing and crisp. Predominately, it's all the citrus notes that come to the fore when describing these beers - lemon, lime, grapefruit - but some do manage to punch through with a certain honey or orange sweetness, such as the aromatic Calypso. Which does help take the edge off a little bit.
Although fairly low in percentage at 4%, I wouldn't really describe it a session beer. Two pints is really enough, especially if you suffer from heartburn. But if you are feeling brave and see this Calypso whilst you are out and about, do point a stubby finger towards it. The drinking experience is well worth it. The barman in Craft asked me twice if I really wanted to try it. 'Of course I do,' I said, all knowing and debonair, before slinking off upstairs like the coolest of cats.
Which brings me the matter of our reserved table. Now, I don't know what is going on with the yoof of today but when someone reserves a table with chairs, the table and chairs belongs to them.Yes? No? Having got to the pub half an hour early and after ordering a pint of Calypso and walking into a massively heaving room, I found our tiny table, that was spartan and spare and with four stools around it. I sat down, therefore claiming the area and proceeded to sip on my gorgeous and invigorating golden pint.
Then someone came along and tried to pinch a stool.
'Um, that's taken I'm afraid.'
'Um, doesn't look like it. No one is sitting on it.'
'No, you don't understand. We've reserved this table. I am just waiting for some friends. They'll be here soon.'
'Yeah, well they can have it back when they get here, can't they.'
'No, no, ha, look, these are our stools. You can't have it.'
'I think I can.'
'No, you can't.'
To which the young man smirked and waltzed off, with stool in hand, to his sexy, bearded mates across the room; all wearing baseball caps and no socks.
I waited for a moment, took another sip of zingy Calypso and walked over there and rather than remonstrate verbally, I simply took hold of the legs and proceeded to drag the stool back with smirky boy still sitting on it.
'WTF mate, you don't have to get all physical and violent! Jeez, if your stool means that much to you you can have it back.'
To which I simply responded, with mad cookie monster eyes.
And then I walked back to our reserved table, where thankfully, one of my mates had just arrived. As I sat back down, he asked me what was that all about and shakily, I said that everything was OK. But in that moment, a chasm appeared, a gulf that said perhaps I shouldn't go drinking in these sort of places anymore. Beer may be getting more sour but maybe I am getting too sour to drink it.
I hope not.
Tuesday, 24 May 2016
Battles are often fought and won at the dinner table and at present, a small war is being waged in a kitchen, in Essex. On one side stands a little boy, mischievous yet cherub-like and with a smattering of freckles across his nose. On the other, stands a man, slightly stout and bald but curiously charismatic nevertheless, and who should really have the last word on all matters in the household. However, no-one ever seems to take him seriously at home.
The main sticking point, or bone of contention, revolves around the humble tomato. A fruit that the man loves and adores, in all its states. Be it raw or cooked. As the centre star or hidden in the background, doing valuable (yet often unrewarded work) in a sauce or stew. He grows tomatoes in his garden. He talks to them. His neighbours have seen him talking to them. And they are clearly worried about him.
The boy hates them. Actually no, he doesn’t hate them but he isn’t really fond of them. Hours have been spent, sifting through the complex debris of a dish and one by one they often get plucked out, to be left all forlorn, on the side of the plate. Enquiries are constantly made, to which deceitful answers are given. But he always finds out. ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’ On the other hand, tomatoes that have been squished, boiled and drenched with sugar and vinegar to make ketchup, well that is absolutely fine. This makes the man mad.
Small steps are being made though. That tomatoes go into ‘spag bol’ was deemed revolutionary the other day. ‘Really? From those tins?’ A pan of baked eggs, surrounded by a sea of scarlet, and pepped up with chilli and oregano, gets eaten with such gusto these days that the man dares not whisper the T-word. Slow cooked tomatoes though, they have been the real eye opener. Halfway between raw and cooked, they were observed with much suspicion at first but explained as a sort of cousin of raisins, sort of made sense. And raisins are good to eat, by all accounts.
Sat on a purée of earthy yellow split peas, a traditional dish often found in Greek tavernas (called fava) and paired with tangy slices of caramelised red onion, contrasting salty capers and parsley, the sweet roast tomato works in perfect harmony. Being able to scoff and slurp using warm flatbreads suddenly makes everything fun too.
‘I love this Dad and the tomatoes too, it all tastes really good together.’
‘Well, that’s agra-dolce for you son.’
‘Agra-dolce? What, that’s the name of the tomatoes?’
‘Oh no, these ones are called piccolo.’
So despite that initial confusion, the tomato war looks to be nearly over and peacetime in an Essex kitchen should be achieved real soon.
This post first appeared on Great British Chefs in association with Piccolo Cherry Tomatoes.
Yellow split pea purée
400g of yellow split peas
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, juiced (or a lime would also work)
40ml of olive oil
water, to cover
freshly ground black pepper
Slow roast tomatoes
200g of Piccolo tomatoes, halved
10g of caster sugar
10g of salt
10g of freshly ground black pepper
2 red onions, sliced into rounds
25g of caster sugar
25ml of olive oil
25ml of pomegranate molasses
50g of capers, drained
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
olive oil, for drizzling
6 flatbreads, warmed to serve
Preheat the oven to 120°C/gas mark ½
Spread out the tomato halves, cut-side up on a large baking tray. Sprinkle over the sugar, salt and pepper and slowly roast in the oven for 1.5–2 hours. After this time they should be shrivelled and shrunken and have become quite sweet.
Set aside to cool until ready to serve, or if making ahead, place in a bowl and cover with a good drizzle of olive oil. Store in the fridge until serving.
To make the purée, place a pan or casserole on the hob over a medium heat and add half the oil to heat through.
Throw in the chopped onion and sauté for 5–7 minutes, until it has become soft and translucent. Add the chopped garlic and fry for another minute or so.
Once the onion and garlic start to caramelise a little, add the yellow split peas and the bay leaf. Stir together and then cover with water, filling the pan to about three-quarters full.
Bring up to the boil, then leave to simmer for 45 minutes, or up to an hour, until the peas begin to break down and thicken. You may have to add a touch more water during cooking if it becomes too dry.
While the peas are cooking, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
Place the red onion rounds on a baking tray in a single layer. Sprinkle over the sugar and drizzle with the olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Pop the tray in the oven for 20 minutes, turning the onions over halfway through.
Cook the onions until sweet and sticky. Once cooked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly until ready to serve.
When the peas are ready, remove the bay leaf and allow the pan to cool for 10 minutes before pouring into a blender. Blitz to form a rough purée, then mix in the lemon juice and remaining olive oil.
The purée will thicken up a little as it cools, but if too thick, add a little more oil to loosen. Transfer to a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and allow to come to room temperature.
To serve, spoon a healthy amount of the purée on to the centre of each serving plate, spreading out into a rough circle. Spoon some of the roasted tomatoes into the middle, followed by some of the caramelised onions, layering up in a mound.
Scatter over the capers and some of the chopped parsley. Finish with a good drizzle of olive oil and some warm flatbreads to tear, dip and mop up with.
Friday, 20 May 2016
On an average week, I probably get about 600 invites, to various restaurant openings, food events and macrame knitting workshops and that is just via email. The stuff that comes through the door is horrendous to deal with, such is the volume. Just recently, Barry, our regular postie, had to be signed off sick for two months because his back has finally given way. Yes, it's that bad. Slipped disc, between T11 and T12 on the thoracic vertebrate, apparently.
Of course, being human and with only one pair of arms, two legs and a head, there is only so much I do with the time that the good Lord gives me and it is nigh on impossible to go to everything. I am not an Instagrammer for goodness sakes! I do what I can. If I have the time, I will come along and look at your coconut tea (Ha! No I won't) or try your 'deliciously dirty morning baps'. Yes, this was a phrase from a recent press release, would you believe. A phrase that belongs to the same idiotic, non-ironic, prepubescent school of thought that Black Axe Mangal currently employs. However, if Grant is back in town and if Peggy is about to finally cark it after swallowing a tub-load of pills; well, I ain't going nowhere.
Once in a while though, something pops through the letter box that makes me stand up straight, with pipe in hand and shout out - 'Holly, put the kettle on! Some shit just got real.' A few weeks ago, this very thing happened. An envelope, officious, white and stiff and baring the emblem for 'Number 10' landed on our mat and it could only mean one thing. Dave wanted to have a word with me. Which didn't surprise me. It was simply a matter of time. But naturally, once news had got out, lots of people were very excited.
'That's amazing, Dan!', 'Pass on a message from me, Dan!' and 'Dan, can you deliver some special soup to Dave for me?' were just some of the comments that passed my way and I just responded with a casual - 'Ha, you pesky kids, I'll see what I can do.'
Whilst doing that pointy finger thing, in a totally ironic sort of way.
When the day arrived, I spent a ponderous amount of time in the morning, wondering what to wear and wondering what the hell constitutes as lounge wear. In the end, I settled for a jacket and snazzy shirt and not pyjamas. Because that is leisure wear. Soon, I was on my way to Westminster, in the pouring rain.
Security is quite strict at Number 10, as you'd expect, but after laughing at my passport photo, the police sent me through the gates, through a metal detector (no cavity searches, sadly) and then up that famous street, to go through that hallowed black door. Once inside, I had to park my phone at reception (more security) which I have to say miffed me a touch. But once I started walking up those stairs, looking up at all those portraits, of all those supreme leaders from our glorious past, I have to say, I was rather in awe.
'Just think Dan. All the people that have walked up these very stairs,' I thought to myself. 'Nelson Mandela. Ronald Regan. Geri Halliwell. Wow.'
I should probably say why exactly I was invited to Number 10 at this point. The call had come from DEFRA and this was to be a celebration of British Food and as I walked into the main room, verily, you could say that the best of British were there. Cropwell Bishop, cheese makers of creamy Blue Stilton from Nottinghamshire. Halen Mon, purveyors of finely flavoured sea salts from Anglesey. Adnams, brewers of some excellent and sometimes very strong beer from Suffolk. And Proper Corn, popcorn merchants of London and thus representing the new fad for healthy snacks that get stuck in your teeth. (In fairness though, their popcorn is delicious, especially their 'Fiery Worcester Sauce and Sun Dried Tomato').
|'You know, I once got raaally, raaaly drunk on cider. Like this drunk.'|
Initially, he was simply an enthusiast and enjoyed making cider at home, then he gradually started to show off his wares at farmer's markets and festivals. Having garnered a bit of a reputation, the next step seemed to be get to into cider production seriously. Which he did, bolstered by the growing trend for cider and, I suspect, a drive to protect it's image against commercial cider, all sugared orange and watered down by ice cubes. He stressed that cider should be authentic, tasty and above all, proper. With a slightly guttural, rolling R at the end of it.
Allen was eager for me to try some and I was happy to oblige and I have to say, after a first sip, it was refreshing to drink a medium cider that didn't fur my teeth. It was also drier than most, helped by the natural tannins within, imbued by the certain apples he chooses to squash, mulch and juice. And it was also faintly funky, giving off a tiny whiff or echo of south west scrumpy. But not so pungent that it would make you gag upon smelling it, let alone drinking it. And I have drunk some rough old ciders like that before, with mucus-like matter and twigs floating upon the surface. No, this was simply a very nice drop and one that I can imagine would go down quite well, on a sunny day, spent drinking without a care in the world. Oh those were the days.
When I remarked that his cider had a rural, farmhouse tang about it, Allen's face lit up and he then went in detail about lots of other projects and ideas, including blends and methods including varieties of apple, secondary fermentation and yeast cross-overs. Or something like that. I was busy wolfing the rest of my cider down but it was great to see his obvious passion and joy. I have always said that cider producers make for a happier bunch. Definitely over some po-faced beer brewers I could mention anyway.
So by way of introducing a new (and hopefully ongoing, but you never know with me) Friday Booze section, in which I aim to promote a new drink or tipple for the weekend, I would like to kick of with Hogan's Medium 100% Pressed Cider. Try and find it today, if you can, and get it down your Gregory.
|The Essex Cider Shop - An Alladin's Cave of Cider|
'BUT WHAT ABOUT DAVE?' I hear you ask. Well, yes, Dave did turn up, eventually. And he did a very fast tour around the room, with lots of people jumping around him, with lots of hand shaking and guffawing at celery, fruit cake and oysters. And then he got up on stage and told us what a wonderful thing British Food is (and it really is). But then he went curiously off tangent and got everyone to engage in a mass celebratory dance of the Hokey Cokey. Except in his version, we all had to keep putting our left foot in, our right foot in, our left arm in etc etc. There was absolutely no scope for putting any body parts out at all. No, we all had to keep dancing inwards and as such, we all collided together and fell down in a big bloody heap. At which point, Dave ran out the room, laughing and clutching a bottle of Ridgeview sparkling wine.
It was all rather bizarre to be honest and I am still trying to work out what the whole shebang was about really. But hey, at least I can tell my grandchildren that I once visited Number 10.
And whilst I was in there, I discovered Hogan's Cider.
|Halen Mon, Yorkshire Tea, Adnams, Proper Corn (clockwise, starting top left, obvs)|
|Dave - 'I hope brawn isn't on the menu'! Tom - 'Ha! It very nearly was!' (aside 'Quick, get it off the menu')|
|'Dave, smell my cheese.'|
Some of these photos are courtesy of Number 10 Press Office.
Thanks goes to DEFRA for the invite.
Friday, 13 May 2016
Trying to coax a recipe out of somebody can be hard work. Even after showing repeated allegiance and continued praise for the very same dish, people still like to keep their cards close to their chest. In the case of this recipe, a simple yet full-on bowl of briny heat and pungent umami, it took a multitude of visits to a Vietnamese restaurant in East London and the slow but steady befriending of a particular waiter. Who shall remain anonymous, because I can never remember his name.
Basically, things went like this. I would regularly go to this restaurant for lunch and more often than not, I would order the seafood and green vegetable stir fry. After lapping it up and slurping down on fiery prawns and cooling cucumber, I would always say ‘C’mon, how does the chef make this?’ And my friend would always grimace and curtly say ‘I am not telling you.’ And on it went, for a very long time and over many months.
‘Come on, tell me.’
‘Please, it’s lovely, I just want to know.’
‘Ah gowangowangowangowangowangowan…tell me!’
Now, I don’t know if I had broken the man’s resolve or whether he was a fan of Father Ted but finally he cracked and after scanning the horizon, he whispered over the table a list of ingredients and some instruction. The important thing was not to go too heavy on the shrimp paste and that I had to deseed the cucumber, the broth would become too watery otherwise.
After taking it all down and securing this new found knowledge in the recipe binder of my mind, I distinctly remember walking out of the restaurant feeling quite triumphant. And having cooked this very quick and easy stir-fry at home several times, it pleases me to no end that I can rustle up this favourite whenever the mood takes me. All it takes is just a little bit of preparation.
However, I do having the nagging suspicion that he didn’t give me the complete low down and that perhaps a key ingredient is still missing. I say this because I returned to the restaurant recently (for purposes of making sure that I get this spot on for this post) and after ordering and eating the usual, it was just oh so better than my efforts.
So I caught my friend by his elbow just one more time and said:
‘Do you remember when you gave me the recipe for this? Are you sure you told me everything?’
To which he just nodded, smiling and winking for the first time ever, and said ‘Yes.’
This post first appeared on Great British Chefs in association with The Cucumber Growers Association.
Yes, there is one.
300gms Tiger prawns
300gms baby squid
2 large spring onions
2 red chillies
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbs shrimp paste
2 tsp brown sugar (palm sugar is best but demera is fine)
1 tbs fish sauce
Oil, for frying
Mint and coriander, to serve
First prepare your seafood by deveining the prawns (if necessary) and cut up the squid either into rings or small pieces, making sure you lightly score the flesh. Leave the tentacles intact. Also slice the scallops in half.
Then prepare the vegetables by cutting the spring onions up, the white part into rings and the green part into broader, diagonal slices. Slice the cucumbers straight down the middle and using a teaspoon, remove the watery seeds. Then slice the cucumber into batons. Cut the garlic into slithers and deseed and finely chop one of the red chillies. Cut the other chilli again into broad slices and finally, chop your limes in half.
Next take a wok or large frying pan and place on the hob over a high heat. Add a healthy glug of oil and then add the shrimp paste. Fry off quickly for a minute or so and then add the finely chopped chilli, garlic and white spring onion rings. Continue to fry and stir the paste for another minute and then add the cucumber batons, fish sauce and squeeze in the juice of one of the limes. Then add the seafood and cook briskly for another two minutes, until everything is just cooked through.
Serve into bowls and garnish with sliced chilli, green onion tops and half a lime. You can chop and sprinkle the herbs across but it’s common practice to just leave some on the side of the plate for people to tear up and scatter and season.
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Blogger went down this morning (an alarmingly recurrence these days) and whilst I went into a sort of meltdown mode myself (which involved standing on my desk at work and smashing the monitor with my keyboard, repeatedly) I seem to have inadvertently posted an old draft, featuring a recipe that until now, has been lost in space and time.
This is often the case with me. If you were to have a quick sneak at what I have got going on on here, in the background and behind the scenes, you'd be thinking 'My God, what a treasure trove of missed opportunities and half developed/half crocked ideas you've got going on here Danny. If only you finished them off!'
And certainly, if you were a PR, you would most definitely be thinking 'Wait! You DID start to write up that yoghurt ice cream launch way back in 2011. I needed that coverage! You bastard!'
For that, I am sorry. I am a terrible blogger. But seeing as I have thrust the notion out there, this suggestion of braised fennel, with jamón, garlic and mint, well you may as well have the rest. Because this combination of caramelised and sliced aniseed bulb; imbued in a warm bath of oil and stock; spiked with sweet cloves of allium; and lifted by a healthy smattering of cooling 'erb, deserves to be out there. So to speak.
The fact that it features Teruel Ham from unearthed is totally coincidental. Any sort of Spanish or English cured meat would go nicely in this dish, as long as it is fairly fatty. A salami might be a decent bet, for a bit of spice. This jamón is pretty damn good though, with an inherent hit of nut flavour and I say that as one of the 'oldest friends of the brand.' No money has been exchanged.
I wouldn't mind, this isn't even my recipe. I got it from my favourite pair at Moro but if it wasn't for them, I would never have discovered braised fennel. So what perfect excuse to share the love?
Even if it was accidental.
Braised Fennel with Jamón, Garlic and Mint
3 or 4 fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced into wedges, with fronds kept for later
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil
200mls vegetable stock
100gms of jamón, like say that Teruel ham, sliced into strips
Salt and black cracked pepper.
Juice of one lemon
Large bunch of mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Place a wide based pan on the hob over a medium to high flame and add the olive oil, bringing it up to heat. Add the fennel wedges and a good pinch of salt and briskly fry, turning as the fennel starts to catch. Do this for about 5 to 10 minutes and then turn down the heat. Throw in the garlic and mix through and leave to bubble away for another 10 minutes or so. During this point everything will start to sweeten and caramelise.
Next, take half of the jamón and mix through, so that it cooks and crisps up a touch and then add the stock.
Again, leave to bubble away for another 10 minutes, until the stock reduces and everything thickens up and becomes syrupy.
To finish, take off the heat and stir in the remaining jamón and mint and check for seasoning and then add the lemon right at the end.
Delicious on its own or served with grilled meat. Like pork for instance. Yes, more pig.
|Fennel in a pan. Jamón sliced on a board. Everything mixed together.|