Saturday, 30 July 2011

The art, or otherwise, of food writing.

A steaming Summer’s eve’, once again running late, I joined a friend, wine-buff, entrepreneur and surreptitious reader of food-literature in his London backyard over a chilli-mackerel-couscous, and there was asparagus too and feta and a bottle of something French and White…  As conversation veered and the light waned he scurried away, returning, dragging from pouches and pockets, from hidden nooks, beloved bindings of food-writing.  Like a collector who comes upon some other, not rival, morelike apprentice, with whom they can gush unguarded as to their too-oft’-solitary passion, I was passed first, ‘midst murmurings, Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, then Alexandre Dumas’ Encyclopedia of Food and Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries

Watching this friend, erudite and articulate, bringing food-writing into his conversation as he might 15th Century Italian literature, awoke a long-nurtured query: Do food and thought illuminate or interfere with one another?

I am since compelled to think upon the art (or otherwise) of Food Writing.  For therein lies the dilemma: is such writing worthy of consideration as an art, or, dealing with the pleasures, the mere sustenance of the body, as opposed to the perturbations of the mind, is it rather one of the cruder written forms, certainly not to be mistaken for an art?

It is said that Jorge Luis Borges offered only a bowl of rice at his dinner parties, for fear that the food might otherwise interfere with the conversation; his guests were there to converse about matters of the mind, and not the baser ones of the bowl.  

Follow this link to read the full article...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Hot Summer Soups

Although in the rest of the country it is said that the sun does shine, here in the East any sense of the season has quite forsaken us, so, while we may dream of Maxi-dresses and Vichyssoise, we are wearing woolly jumpers and slurping steaming soups.

On Clare Island, at the height of the courgette glut, we put aside some home-made pesto, and make a summery Courgette and Pesto Soup - the pesto really gives this soup edge, lifting it from overgrown-courgette dowdiness into a somewhat sophisticated soup.

This is best with Basil Pesto, but Rocket or Nettle will do as well.

Heat up some Olive Oil in a pan, add a couple of Spring onions, finely chopped, and 4 cloves of Garlic (halved) briefly fry, then add 2 overgrown courgettes, chopped. Toss these in the oil for five minutes.  Cover with water, bring to the boil, adding a handful of basil leaves and simmer for about fifteen minutes, the courgettes should hold their shape.  Stir in 1 tbsp pesto.  Blend.   Taste and season with a touch of coarse Salt (Pesto can be very salty) and loads of coarse ground Black Pepper.

If you've no Pesto, Food Urchin has a Courgette Soup recipe with Basil and Parmesan, toss a few toasted pine-nuts on top when you serve it and you'll have the Pesto effect.

Pea Soup
This is quite the most beautiful soup, when made with fresh-picked peas the soup is ever so sweet and a gaudy bright green.

Saute a couple of Onions in oil, add Ground Cumin.
In separate saucepan add Peas to boiling water for not more than five minutes so they retain their colour and sweetness.  Drain reserving the water.
Add a bit of the pea-water to the softened onions and cumin.  Blend this.
Blend peas in a tiny bit of water separately.
Add peas to onion mix, and more water if necessary.  Bring to the boil.
Season with a bit of coarse salt.

Serve immediately drizzled with Olive Oil and roast whole Cumin.


Broad-Bean Soup

My mother has been crowing about a such-a-success Broad Bean Soup recipe...she has however failed as yet to produce said recipe.  When she does I shall post it here.


On other recent soup notes: as well as Food-Urchin, Pistachio and Rose made soup here, and Fiona Beckett the Frugal Cook, blogged here on why isn't soup sexy?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Plum Chutney, worth more than a song...

Sunday morning, lain in bed, nursing toothache with an array of Cloves, Whisky, Ice-cubes, Painkillers, anything to hand… and quite draped in the fumes of vinegar rising from the kitchen.

I will sing and sing again for a Chutney, that Anglo-Indian concoction, accompaniment to many a meal.  Yet, Amelia’s Plum Chutney deserves more than a song:  

Rich, magenta, thick with Plumchunks, it somehow retains an almost rawfruit texture whilst being quite the most gloopy Chutney one could dream of.  Smother it on cheese, offer to friends at breakfast, spread on toast when alone or slather over rich meats for a medieval feel… 

She produced a remaining jar in Spring and we’d quite finished it in a day… so, this year, nudging over a box of Early Rivers Plums.  I left her too it:

Stone and halve or quarter 1.5 kilos Plums.  Chop three Apples and Two Onions.  Place the lot in a Jam Pan with a couple of Star Anise, a stick of Cinnamon, Peppercorns and coarse Salt.  Add 750ml Cider-Vinegar and 500g Raw Cane (or Demerara) Sugar.  Bring, stirring, to the boil, then simmer steadily for several hours, stirring to prevent sticking.  The chutney is ready when dark and sludgy, a wooden spoon will stand-up in it unaided.  Pot in sterilised jars and leave at least a month to mature.


For other Chutney and Pickle recipes and posts see: Chutneys n Pickles

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Sauerkraut and Cabbage Kimchi

Besides beautiful 'Slaws, Pot-au-Feu and stir-frying in vinegar, Sauerkraut is quite the best way of rescuing Cabbage from the confined notions we have about the vegetable: insipid, slovenly, "cabbagey" Sauerkraut is not, but sharp, sparky, sexy even, a super accompaniment to meats, cheeses, grains... it will zaz up even the most drear' of dishes.

Make sauerkraut in times of glut as it may require several, using white or red cabbage, very thinly sliced, and adulterate as you wish with favourites leaves, fruit or spices.

For a classic Sauerkraut:
Slice White Cabbage very thinly, layer with Salt (10g per 1lt Jar), Caraway Seeds and Sliced Apple, pushing down as you go.  Eventually the liquid form the cabbage will rise to cover the leaves. Weigh down so the Cabbage remains covered by the water.  Leave thus at room-temperature for about three days, the start of fermentation is marked by bubbling, then move to a cooler place and allow to ferment slowly for at least a month, not being afraid to taste regularly.

(You can also use Rocket, Red-Mustard Leaves, Land Cress, Horseradish Leaves, Fennel, Mustard Seeds or preferred Herbs with the Cabbage in the above recipe.  Blackcurrant Leaves, rife with Lactobacilli might speed up fermentation, Salt keeps it in check.)

For a zestier version, based on the Korean fermented dish, Kimchi:

Chop cabbage with Chillies; grated Horseradish; White, Black or French Radishes, chopped; grated Root Ginger; Spring Onions.  Use your own judgement to measure amounts of each.  Squeeze into jar or crock, layering with Salt (10g to 1lt Jar), until liquid rises. Weigh down and leave to ferment as above.


For more in-detail information about Lacto-Fermentation, please refer to earlier posts:  The Art of Lacto-Fermentation, Purge!Fermentation Fervour, Wild Fermentation (review)      
or Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation website.
See also Carl Legge's posts on Fermenting and particularly this one about Kimchi.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Two staunch Summer Jams and a rather flippant Redcurrant Jelly

The first Plums, Currant-gluts, Blackberries precociously fruiting on the briars… Take hold of that Ladle, that Maslin Pan, tether a thick Apron around the waist, ‘tis time to make Jam.

The following recipes are very simple, unadulterated and quite revoke my tendency towards frippery in the kitchen.  Two staunch Summer Jams and a rather flippant Jelly.

Blackcurrant Jam
Bring 3lb of Blackcurrants to boil in 400ml Apple-Juice.  Simmer for twenty minutes.  Take off heat, add 3lb Sugar.  Stir until dissolved.  Return to heat, bring to Setting Point*.  Pot immediately in Sterilised Jars**.

Plum Jam
Bring 3lb (Halved and Stoned) Plums to boil in 400ml water.  Simmer until fruit is soft.  Remove from heat and add sugar, as before.  Return to heat, Set*, Pot**.

The recipe for this Redcurrant Jelly, originating in the French town of Bar-Le-Duc might indeed be considered frivolous if concocted as intended:  The strands of Redcurrants are plucked early from the bushes and each currant is cut from the stalk, so as not to damage the fruit.  The seeds are removed from one by one, using the sharpened Quill of a Goose.  The fruits are then placed in a boiling sugar syrup, and potted to create a Jelly of seeded Redcurrants in suspension, not unjustly compared to Caviar in appearance, and cost.

When trying this at home, forget the Goose Quill... The recipe I used was shared by Jules Jackson, local charcutier extraordinaire, who did suggest replacing the water with a Dry White...

Make a sugar syrup of 3kg Sugar to 1lt Water (or Wine!), bring to 110C.  Add 1kg Currants, and take to Setting Point*.  Cool slightly and stir before potting - vital for fruit suspension.  Pot**.


* Setting-Point is reached at 105C, or when the liquid when dribbled on a cold-plate forms a skin and dimples to touch.
** I sterilise jam-jars by putting them (clean) in the oven at over 100C for at least twenty minutes.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Norfolk Breakfast - Mackerel, An Egg

Sent home with a fresh Mackerel, too late to dine on... The following morn, with an Egg, Cucumber Pickle and a slice of Sourdough... Those, a mug of coffee: a heavenly Norfolk breakfast. 


Mackerel caught-the-night-before at Heacham (I believe?), Eggs my ma's, Greens from the garden, Cucumber Pickle made  locally, Flour from Letheringsett Mill, Strawberries from Sharrington.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Mulled Pears

Divine with a Chocolate Mousse, dreamy with Soft Cheeses and Marscapone, or for a heavenly breakfast with Goat's Yogurt and Maple Syrup... these pears, which have sat mulling in wine for near' 10 months now, offer an otherworldly breath of Christmas in the Summer midsts. 

1 Bottle of Red Wine
300g Sugar
Orange Juice
Lemon Rind

Bring the above to the boil, and add whole, peeled Pears.  Cook at low heat for 2-3 hours until pears tender.
Bottle and Pasteurise.  Store.

I tend to do this recipe with early, slightly hard, windfalls.  As well as using them sweet, they work well with game and richer meats, much like the Pickled Pears.

Last night: A Huddled Banquet.

As yester'eve, the winds began to whirl, the rain to spill, the fires were lit and a simple summer supper became rather a huddled banquet.

Merguez on Puy Lentils

To commence: 
Sortov Brawn from De-Lish oSpelt and Linseed Sourdough with Sweet Pickled Cucumber
Followed by:
Merguez (De-Lish again) on Puy Lentils with Broad Beans
Grilled Courgettes amd Baby Leeks
Caraway and Balsamic roasted Beetroot
Goat's Yogurt with Spring Onion and Land-Cress

Courgettes from the garden

Pickled Beetroot (see Recipe)

Welsh and French Goat's Cheeses
Chocolate/Almond Brownie

Panier of gifts from A and N...

in that brown-paper-package-tied-up-with-string: 
an Almond/Chocolate Brownie, baked at break o' dawn...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Pea-Pod Stock

The Peas have swelled.  As we are picking, pea-ing and podding away, I thought to share a quick note on what to do with Peapods - and I welcome (please) any other suggestions.  For what sadness but to find great baskets of peas in their shells provide but a scarce handful of peas.  Now, they do reccommend Peapod Wine.  But tonight, instead, a simple stock:
Bring the peapods, covered in water, to the boil.  Simmer gently for about forty minutes.   Take off the heat.

This gives a lovely light and pea-tasting stock.  Great in Summer Soups, Veggie Stews or to flavour Grains.  Try adding Onion Skins for a heartier flavour, Carrot tops, Cabbage Stalks, Herbs and general Vegetable Waste creates a more ordinary Vegetable Stock.  I tend not to salt my stocks, allowing one to then decide how much salt to add in cooking.  

If you wish to keep the stock, freeze or seal and pasteurise it.  Or, I have never tried, you could a la Mrs Beeton, boil it down to bare flakes and make of it a stock-cube.


For another simple Stock Recipe.
See also The Frugal Cook for uses of Beetroot tops (quite my favourite seasonal green, as sweet and buttery as spinach) and, who'd 'a' thought: broad-bean skins... though, I rare' manage to peel them m'self!

Monday, 11 July 2011

On that Gooseberry Theme... Here's a Gin

With the gooseberries still fruiting, I couldn't (of course) refrain from making a bottle of the Gin.  The Juniper bitterness of Gin seems to combine with many a fruit:  in Summer it's Gooseberries and Whitecurrants (here I've combined the two), in Winter Damsons (drool) and that ol' hip-flask filler: Sloe Gin.

I ad-libbed, but let's say:  300g Fruit to 150g Sugar and 600ml Gin.

Top, tail and prick the Gooseberries, slightly squish the Whitecurrants, cover with the Sugar and Gin. Put in a lidded bottle and shake regularly over the next two months.  Then strain and bottle for sumptuous height-of-summer-filled Gin and Tonics...

Monday, 4 July 2011's that thrifty Gooseberry and Elderflower (Vodka) Fool I mentioned...

Ever so simple:  Remove some of the Elderflower stalks from the strained remains of the Gooseberry and Elderflower Vodka.  (The Elderflower scent has actually somewhat pervaded the Gooseberries) Cook up the remaining Gooseberries with a splash of water and a dash of Raw Cane Sugar, gently so they hold their shape.  Once soft-ish, leave to cool, tasting the liquid for sweetness.

When cool, layer in a glass with Yogurt, (Sheep's Yogurt or Goat would give it a lovely rural depth of flavour) Marscapone, Creme Fraiche, or Whipped Cream, depending how gluttonous you are feeling.   Tart up with a sprig of Mint, a spray of Whitecurrants, a splash of Gooseberry and Elderflower Vodka, or leave it as it is (in picture).

Enjoy on a hazy Summer evening, lazing in the garden, with a long spoon.

Slow Food Weekend, on Clare Island, Ireland

The Cove, Clare Island, looking across to Achill

Before time blankets the vibrant tastememories of last weekend’s Slow Food Galway visit to Macalla Farm, on Clare Island, let me tell…

Macalla Farm is home to the artisan, the sustainable, the innovative, regarding food and all aspects of living.  A crowd of twenty or so mainlanders boarded the Pirate Queen or another intrepid sea-faring vessel for an experiential couple of days in the ‘midst of the Macalla household.  Of course.  Of course, when the East of England was baking in temperatures of around 34C, Clare Island was shrouded in a heavy fog, interspersed with deluges unthinkable in an apparently “temperate” climate.  Indeed, the island has been battered now since April with storms ranging up to Force 12, interminable deluges, plagues of Sawfly and the like.. whilst we in the East have been begging for a drop of rain… and the gardens, although abundant were not as bountiful as previous years – the apple trees had lost not only their blossom, but their leaves… a sobering sight for those hoping to be self-sufficient.

Despite the weather, and the garden bereft, a fine show was put on for the Galway Slow-Fooders, the outline as follows:

Saturday Evening

Kir Royale (home-squeezed Blackcurrant Juice with Elderflower Champagne)

Beetroot Soup (with Coconut and Ginger), Sourdough Bread and curls of Bernie’s Island-made Butter
Swiss-Chard, Wild-Rocket and Sheep’s Cheese Tart (with Duck Eggs and home made Ewe’s cheese)
Puy Lentil, Broad Bean, Tomato and Courgette Warm Salad (using the garden’s somewhat scant offerings)
New Potatoes (variety: Sharp’s Express)
Dill Sheep’s Yogurt Dressing
Green Garden Salad, with Nasturtiums and Calendula

Blackcurrant and Strawberry Frozen Yogurts
(Blend 1lb Fruit, 100g Raw Cane Sugar, 500ml Homemade Sheep’s Yogurt.  Then place in the ice-cream maker until frozen)
Ciara’s melt-in-the-mouth Snowball Cookies
(must get hold of a recipe for these)

Lemon Verbena Tea

-- Rye and Spelt Sourdough Breadmaking Demonstration --



Tonka Bean and Hazelnut Porridge
Buckwheat and Sheep’s Whey Pancakes
Rhubarb and Blackcurrant Compote
Sheep’s Yogurt
Blackcurrant and Apple Juice
Rye and Spelt Sourdough
Water-Mint Tea

-- Dairy Demonstrations – Making Sheep’s Yogurt, Kefir and Soft Ewe’s Cheese --
-- Visit to the Gardens and Polytunnels --
-- Lacto-Fermentation demonstration – making Lacto-fermented Beetroot, Cauliflower and Carrot Kimchee --
-- Visit to Ballytoughey Loom --

Buffet Lunch

Brown Rice and Seeds Salad with Lacto-Fermented Courgettes and Cauli Greens
Tabbouleh with Garden Herbs (Wild Rocket, Marjoram, Lemon-Balm, Water-Mint, Parsley, Savoury, Oregano, Chives and Borage Flowers)
Potato Salad with Lacto-Fermented Sea-Spaghetti, Chilli and Onion Greens
Courgette Antipasti
(Courgettes macerated in Olive-Oil then Grilled and stored in Oil, Herbs and Garlic)
Tzatziki (with Garden Cucumbers, Garlic, Water Mint and Sheep’s Yogurt)
Stuffed Macalla Vine-Leaves
Wild Rocket and Wild Garlic Pesto
Herby Soft Sheep’s Cheese

Strawberry and Blackcurrant Muffins
Ginger and Cardamom Tea

-- Visit to the Island Farmer’s and Craft Market --

The Cabbage Patch

Christophe and Ciara will be hosting a “Food Matters” course towards the end of August this year, on beautiful Clare Island.  This will be a chance to take part in hands-on workshops and to learn about the myriad aspects of sustainable living as well as enjoying informal discussions as to why food does matter in the current climate. 

We much look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Sunday Morning - Bottling (Tasting) the Elderflower and Gooseberry Vodka


The Gooseberries and Eldeflowers were left a month to brew in Vodka, merely shaken on occasion, in a Demijohn… [Gooseberry and Elderflower Vodka Recipe].  A Sunday dawn, before the wasps did awake, commenced the bottling of the brew.  Fragile Elderflowers willn’t withstand the length of time sat in alcohol as a Sloe, for example, might.  [Sloe Gin Recipe].  Indeed, With Knife and Fork’s Blog advises that once strained the vodka should be drunk in a mere few months, to forestall the loss of the floral nuances.

To bottle (when lacking a funnel): Strain through muslin into large bowl – scoop from bowl into jug – pour from jug into clean bottles – seal, label, store.

Despite being slightly sweet for my palate (keener on the bitter, the sour, the salty), the sharp, indeed hearty Gooseberry flavour is heightened by the Floral notes of the Elderflower, near’ shimmering, near’ effervescent, what a delightful manner of breaking-the-fast (!).  This is quite the most delicately perfumed of flavoured vodkas.   (That said I long to attempt Sarah Pettegree’s Rose Vodka, another Sunday brewing escapade.)

…Pour on ice, drink neat, or with a splash of something fizzy, to fully enjoy the gustative combination.

And, now to the bowl full of Vodka-imbued Gooseberries – promise of a sparky Gooseberry Compote (simmer with a touch of sugar), a stunning Gooseberry-Vodka Jelly…. Or perhaps a little pot of Gooseberry-Vodka Jam…  hmmm... a Gooseberry Fool me thinks

(The use of the remnants is inspired by Christophe of Macalla Farm, Clare Island, who makes Elderflower and Lemon Marmalade and Cordial with the strained remains of his Elderflower Champagne.  I shall try persuade him to share his recipes.)