Thursday, 29 September 2011

Mussels, in Chickpea-Chorizo Stew, Bloody Mary and Moules Marinieres

As the weather simply fails to concede this year to any less-than-extraordinary predictions, in the midst of Autumn we find ourselves sweltering in a heat worthy of the Mediterranean.  A joy to be obliged to laze in the garden in a mere wisp of clothing with an Hispanic it’s too hot to do anything but… attitude.  An appropriately lengthy and late lunch was necessitated, and as, in late September we are in the first throes of the new Mussel season, a bowl of Mussels was timely.

A brief step to the coast, thronged with sheds-cum-fishmongers baring their latest wares.  Mussels splitting plastic bags for a couple of pounds per kilo of the freshest… indeed these are such common fodder they are to be found stacked on tables beside an honesty box. 

And to have with?  Some chick-peas cooked that morning with Hummus pretensions, a wealth of bursting ripe tomatoes awaiting picking, onions just plaited, Chorizo lazing in the fruitbowl – a stew… and of that sourdough I’ll back something lighter and whiter than the usual fare.


Tomato, Chorizo and Chick-Pea Mussel Stew with an almost-white Sourdough

Mussels 1kg; 1 large Onion or several Shallots roughly chopped; 3 cloves Garlic, crushed; chunk of Marrow, peeled and cut small; 5 Tomatoes, peeled using hot water, then chopped; 1tsp Paprika; Chilli, chopped; handful of pre-cooked (or tin) Chick Peas; Olives; Capers; Bay Leaf;  White Wine; Celery/Celeriac tops; Parsley.

Heat Olive Oil in pan.  Add Onion, Garlic, Chorizo, Marrow.  After a few minutes add Tomatoes, Paprika, Chilli.  Then add Chick Peas, Capers (or Nasturtium Capers); a few Olives; a dash of Water or Tomato Juice.  Cook gently for half an hour, adding liquid if necessary. Meanwhile, wash, scrub, beard the Mussels.  Just before eating heat a large pan with ½ inch of White wine, another Onion, Celery and Parsley.  When hot add Mussels, stirring or lidding and shaking.  When opened toss Mussels and a bit of their juice into the tomato stew.  Sharpen with a squeeze of Lemon.  Serve steaming hot with bread, under the shade of an Autumnal tree…

For the bread, I took a Wheat and Rye Sourdough, just risen and ready-to-bake, instead kneaded it up with the same again of Strong White Flour, a tiny sprinkle of dried Yeast.  Rose it in a warm place for a couple of hours, baked hot, ate warm.

Moules Marinières

Fresh Mussels are simply delicious, and don’t really necessitate anything fancy.  The method I used to cook the Mussels themselves, above, is that of a simple, and sensational, Moules Marinieres.  Add a slurp of cream on serving hot.

Bloody Mary Mussels à la Jamie Oliver

I am barely acquainted with Jamie Oliver’s recipes, but when I came across his Bloody Mary Mussels in a magazine last year, was sorely tempted.  They were a cinch and a success.  While I'm on Mussels, I'll share that recipe too:

Ingredients: 300ml Passata; 1 tbsp Worcestchire sauce; 3 heaped tsp grated Horseradish; 1 Chilli, sliced ; ½ head of Celery; 4 cloves of Garlic; splash of Port; good splash of Vodka; 1 Lemon; 2 kg cleaned Mussles; Parsley.

Pour Passata into a jug with Worcestershire Sauce;  Horseradish;  Chilli; 2 or 3 Celery stalks, sliced; crushed Garlic; Port and Vodka.  Stir well.  Squeeze in juice of Lemon and season.

Tip Mussels into hot pan, pour in Bloody Mary mixture.  Put lid on, shake pan and leave Mussels to steam open.  Turn heat up high.  Shake again.  Once all open, remove with slotted spoon.  Reduce and thicken sauce.  Pour over Mussels, drizzle with Olive Oil and scatter with chopped Parsley.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Notes: On Forage, Mushrooms and the Noma Cookbook

We do not stop the world when we eat; 
we go into it a little more deeply.
Olafur Eliasson (Noma)


Allow me a paintbrush, a palette…a pile of artistic licence to tell of some friends of mine and their wild ways.  Boys they are, a huddle of them, bare’ approachable and and not easy to handle.  They can’t be tethered down and one won’t find them for looking.   But, one might come across them…

On the foreshore by night fighting the tide for a last Sea-bass; atop a tree, gathering Plums to pot a Pigeon in; plucking a Greylag large to feed a crowd.  Adventurous with tastes, unperturbed by roadkill, they’ll be smoking Mackerel in a filing-cabinet-cum-smoker; cooking Mullet in milk for fishcakes; stewing Cockles in a split can of cider on an open fire; barbecuing Samphire.  How very nineteenth century lyrical said a friend as I rhapsodised about baskets of Ceps, and indeed, these are the Huck Finn’s of today, the unassuming artistes of forage.

Dried Chanterelles

Last I called by, Muntjac was roasting in the oven, surfaces brimming with mushrooms gathered, some dried, a hoard: Shaggy Parasols; Chanterelles, orange and sweet-apricot-scented; something blue.  Another fellow appeared a basket in his hand large to gather wood, in it full - Penny-Buns, Ceps, plentiful as a baker’s.

We ate then Parasol:
The cap cut into long, thick strips, doused long in egg and salt and pepper breadcrumbs, fried quick and served slathered unashamedly in mayonnaise.  A dream.

Parasol Mushrooms in Bowl of Apples

The Ceps so plentiful I took some home.

This weekend, another scene: ‘midst fashionistas, florists and folklorists, stepping the streets of London town…  On gathering my basket and boots to return home, risen at dawn to the cockney cries of Columbia Road Flower Market, pressed into my hands was a copy of Noma, Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi.  I have long hankered after this book and was delighted to be given it.  (Thanks Laur!) It is indeed an extraordinary book, but with over half of the pages covered in photos worthy of the wall, it is not a manual.  The recipes themselves, so daunting that I’m glad I didn’t turn to it to cook my Ceps, relying instead on friendly advice and Elizabeth David (see below).

Indeed, I now understand that the book is less a cookbook and more a book to wander through, wonder at, that tells of the story behind the Michelin starred Copenhagen restaurant Noma.  No longer silent, secret, unassuming; at Noma forage is ostentatious, it’s an artform plucked or peacocking, it is the very edgiest of foodthinking, where food overlaps with artthought and critical theory.  But on closer inspection, I am also ready to bow to this.  Of René’s moment of illumination, he writes:

I realized that we had to exploit the seasons in a better way, so that you could only get a particular dish here and now.  We should explore the extremes of nature, seek out the thousand or more species of edible fungi, the many wild plants, roots and seashore plants. […] The guests dining at Noma should feel a sensation of time and place in their very bones.

Ingredients were thus combined not only with those of same season, but those of their natural habitat.  If venison was on the menu, the meat should be served with snails, pine shoots and mushrooms.  Thus recipes such as: Bouillon of Steamed Birchwood, Chanterelles and Fresh  Hazelnut; Stone Crab and Beach Mustard, Cockle Gel or simply Snails and Moss.  And abruptly, the nineteenth century lyricists and the uber modern restaurant look no longer askance upon one another, artistes the both.

Not Ceps and Poached Truffle Meringue (à la Noma) but Cèpes à la Bordelaise (Elizabeth David) with Brown Rice Risotto.

In her French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David quotes the recipe of Alcide Bontou (refer to the book to read more).  I shall do likewise:
“Choose 12 firm cèpes, small rather than large, and with dark heads; remove the stalks and peel them, but only wipe the heads; make incisions on the underside of the heads with the point of a knife.  Put a glass of olive oil in a frying-pan; when it is hot, put in the heads of the cèpes; turn them over when they have browned on one side.  Season with salt and pepper.
Chop the stalks with four cloves of garlic and some parsley.  Throw this mixture over the cèpes.  Let them all sauter in the pan for 3 or 4 minutes.
You may add a tablespoon of soft white breadcrumbs.  Serve.”

I made a pseudo-risotto with Short Grain Brown Rice, butter, Shallots, Bay-Leaves, White Wine and Wighton, a local creamy but hard cheese.  And served the Ceps on top.  Divine.


Another great friend, longdeserving of a blog post dedicated to her green fingers, her inexhaustible creative energy and her kitchen concoctions, whose latest addition to the home is a goat in the back garden (soon I hope we’ll be on milk and cheese)… makes a Puffpall Pâté of such flavour it is also worthy of Michelin stars.  

Puffball Pâté
I haven’t the exact recipe, and I rather doubt there is one.  Try:
Chop and very gently fry up Puffballs with Garlic and Cumin in Butter.  Blend the lot adding Salt and Pepper or a touch of Soy Sauce.  Spread on bread for a deeply mushroom flavour edged with garlic and cumin.  You could also try adding cream, cream-cheese.

If you do attempt this let me know!

 -The Noma cookbook is indeed a gift, only on the verge of my foray into it, I hope to write more anon.
 -Writing at first light, I espy another forager: a grey squirrel feasting on the last of the overripe Bullace.
(In postscript - now mid-November, a friend writes from wild woodlands of Tuscany: I strongly reccommend Parasol Mushrooms, ripped, dipped in Egg, Breadcrumbs, Garlic and drizzled in Lemon Juice...  As only yesterday Amelia came across a field thick with same Macrolepiota procera, I too hope to try this in the week.)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Blackberries - wi' Beetroot Relish, wi' Cinnamon Whisky, in Vinegar et cetera

Beetroot, Blackberry and Walnut Relish

Apparently nonsensical, it is often colours that define choices of food combinations.   Not quite for this reason alone, I decided to give a touch of the wild to a conventional Beetroot Relish, with the addition of Blackberries and Apples.   More likely, I based my choice on an only-part-forgotten Beetroot and Blackcurrant Relish espied once in the Riverford Cookbook, but the colour, as well as the gluts of berries nearing their end on plentiful briars outside the house, were certainly influential factors in the concoction of this recipe.

On cooking, my head was chiming with shouts of Chilli! Horseradish! Ginger!  But I forestalled such fervour, deciding that the addition of Blackberry was quite quirky enough. Indeed, on bringing a pot to dinner that evening,  there was already a raised eyebrow, a giggle, a sneer...

1/2lb Blackberries, 4 medium Beetroot, 1 Apple, 1 Onion, 100ml Apple Juice, 100ml Cider Vinegar, 100ml Balsamic Vinegar, 1tbsp Blackberry Jam (optional), 100g Sugar, Port (optional), handful Walnuts (optional).

Heat half the Blackberries in the Apple Juice, till cooked, strain and keep the juice.  Grate the apple into this juice, bring to simmer, stir in Jam, set aside.  Heat Vinegars with Sugar and add grated raw Beetroot and chopped Onion, turning so that all the ingredients are covered.  Add Apple and Blackberry Juice.  Stir.  Add slosh of Port rest of Blackberries and Walnuts, simmer a minute longer.  Press into hot sterilised jars, seal.  Leave for a month (although it is lovely immediately) and serve as a sweet/sharp addition to rich wintry meats.

Unlike the Bullace, Port and Walnut Jam, which is given edge by the tartness of the fruit, this is incredibly sweet.  In the future I would indeed add something fiery to lift it.  If making this yourself, why not slice in a Chilli with the Onion, or grate in some Horseradish...

Despite my convincing myself this is a Relish, it has turned out not unlike my Beetroot Pickle, I rather thought the Sugar and Jam would make it more of a spread - I understand a Relish to be something between a Pickle and a Chutney.  In future to make it more Relish-like I shall try cooking it for longer.


Blackberry and Cinnanmon Whisky

I have had to turn my thoughts from simply: preserving, to: preserving in the most practical manner... So, despite enjoying the flamboyant, the flippant and the fun, I have started questioning what is really necessary.  It might seem odd that I am talking about practicality under the seemingly superfluous heading of Blackberry Whisky.  But, I am headily conscious of living in a chilly house, am predicting another icy winter, and know well that a nip of something sweet and strong is not only pleasant, but vital on those winter eves...

My recipe went thus:  Fill a very large bottle (1.5lt) to a third with Blackberries (about 250g), cover these in Sugar (about 250g), add 1 bottle cheap Whisky (1lt) and a splash of very good single malt.  I also added a Cinnamon stick.  Shake the lot, and leave in bottle, shaking on occasion, for three months. Strain through muslin, drink when necessary.  The addition of the Single Malt ( a tip for any impoverished Whisky-lover) is said, in a mere drop, to transfer the flavour of the malt to the cheaper stuff.


Blackberry and Elderberry Vinegars

Another practicality is how can we make what we tend to buy.  So, vinegar-phile that I am, I was delighted when Carl Legge shared Sandor Ellix Katz's recipe for DIY Vinegar.  Having a so-far-successful Apple/Crabapple Vinegar on the go, I decided yesterday to try Blackberry Vinegar, Elderberry Vinegar and Quince Vinegar.  Rather than using the whole fruits, I have used the Apple and Quince skins and cores, potting and pasteurising the fruits themselves (see pic below).

Briefly: Fill a 2pt Mason Bowl with washed cores and skins of Apples and about 100g of Berries.  Cover with 1pt of 10% Sugar Solution at room temperature.  Place plate on top to keep fruit under liquid and cover with tea-towel.  Leave until starts fermenting, stirring on ocassion if deemed necessary.  After about a week of fermentation remove fruit.  Continue as before, when convincingly vinegar-like, strain and bottle - there's your Vinegar!  

For the Quince, I took the skins and cores of a pile of windfalls, fallen during last week's storms, and did as per Carl's recipe.  

Of course, I'm only at stage one, so will relate whether this method is succesful or not once I can confirm.  For further information, please refer to Carl's blog and Sandor's website.

Quince in Syrup - Elderberry and Apple Compote

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Simple French Cooking for English Homes by X. Marcel Boulestin

On ne mange bien que chez-soi

In the traditions of Elizabeth David and Julia Child, with Simple French Cooking for English Homes, Marcel Boulestin brings the best of French cooking to the English table.  In his terms, this is not the food eaten in chichi Hotels or pretentious French restaurants, this is the food of wayside inns and the family home.  As my own lean is likewise, towards the provincial and the homely, I cannot but champion a book that demystifies a cassoulet or a pot of rilletes and spends a lengthy paragraph on the art of an oeuf poché.

Marcel Boulestin does not skimp on the preface, peppered with idiosyncratic literary quotations, which demonstrate his own background as a journalist and translator.  He appears to believe that food should be common parlance of the cultured, not shut behind scullery doors.  Indeed, the preface is followed by a collection of Remarks, one of which, endorsing food’s place in conversation, I particularly liked:

Do not be afraid to talk about food.  Food which is worth eating is worth discussing. And there is the occult power of words which somehow will develop its qualities.

A brief glossary, further quotes, including brilliant Brillat-Savarin on hospitality, and then we are thrown into the recipes.  It is always a pleasure to decipher the French terminology, much like one might rifle through the pages of a Menu, sat at a brasserie in France.  The translations given might even serve to illuminate what that incomprehensible plat du jour indeed was!  A chapter on Soups, including a Pot au Feu, is followed by one on Sauces - a favoured French skill - and then Eggs; Fish; Meat; Pastries and Sweets; and a delightful final chapter Sundries in which Marcel Boulestin amasses the remainder of what he considers vital French food:  Gherkins are here placed alongside Pineapple Wine and the extraordinary, and quite delicious-sounding Crème de Camembert, in which the cheese is steeped in White wine, left over night, beat with butter, reshaped and topped with breadcrumbs. 

Unlike cookbooks of today, rich with lifestyle, colloquialisms and sumptuous photography, those of yesteryear such as this Simple French Cooking…, published in 1923, were manuals in the strictest sense of the term.  Marcel Boulestin does not take any knowledge, or common-sense it seems, for granted.  To the point that the poached egg recipe is followed by one for Oeufs Pochés BéarnaisePoach your eggs and put them on a stiff béarnaise sauce, for Oeufs Pochés Sauce Tomate – Poach your eggs and cover them with tomato sauce.  And, indeed, for Oeufs Pochés au Maïs – Poach your eggs and put them on a dish of sweetcorn.  But, perhaps this is where the charm of this cookbook lies.  Rife with idiosyncratic whim, it serves also as an efficient culinary reference… particularly astute at capturing those French meals of days yonder.  Although not as rich in anecdote as the books of Elizabeth David, the writing is lucid, the tone eloquent and Marcel Boulestin succinctly renders French food accessible to the English cook.  

By X. Marcel Boulestin
Introduction by Jill Norman

First Published in 1923
Published by Quadrille Publishing, Classic Voices in Food, 2011
ISBN – 978-1-84400-981-7

My thanks to Quadrille for the review copy of this book.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Pickled Crab Apples - a flamboyant addition to the winter table

Fed up of endless yearly Jelly-Making…Indeed, does it not seem a pity to see the fruits thrown, only the liquid kept, not to mention the vast amounts of sugar demanded?  I was delighted to come across a recipe for pickling Crab Apples.  The idea came from quite one of my favourite forage books: Suzanne Beedell’s Pick Cook and Brew… I picked it up second-hand on the Charing Cross Road years ago, the name alone won me over, and at the time I thought it a gift suited to my father.  It has since been relinquished, and found a home in the cottage here as if meant to be. It's particularly appropriate, as the forager herself lived in North Norfolk - what she found in the seventies can likely still be found locally today.

So, amidst recipes and illustrations for Crab Apple Pudding, Crab Apple Wine…there I read: Crab Apple Pickle.  An incorrigible pickler, this could not fail to whet the appetite.

I altered her recipe to suit me, and pickled as follows:

Heat 750ml Cider Vinegar, 250ml Apple Juice, 600g Sugar in a pan stirring until sugar dissolves.  Add 1kg Crab Apples, washed, the blossom end removed, I chose to keep the stalks on an aesthetic whim.  The liquid should cover the Crab Apples.  Add 2in. grated Root Ginger, a few Cloves and Peppercorns, 3 All Spice, 3 Star Anise, 2 Cinnamon Sticks,1tbsp Mustard Seed, and her recipe also calls for garlic cloves wrapped in muslin, to be removed at the end.  (The terrible stench of pickled garlic made me think I would choose onions on another occasion).  Simmer until Crab Apples are tender.  Pot fruit in sterilised jars and reduce syrup if necessary.  Pour syrup over Apples, making sure they are well covered.  Seal immediately.  Leave a few months to mature before eating.

These beautiful pickled yellow fruits would look glorious adorning Beast and Fowl in winter months.  Try also on a Cheese Plate, with Pork, even Suckling Pig.  A sharp bite they make a statement both in taste and looks, cutting through fats and rich flavours… I cannot recommend enough for adding a touch of the ostentatious, the extraordinary, the medieval to a winter banquet.

For other alternate Crab Apple uses, see: Hedgerow Syrup and Carl Legge’s Blackberry Chutney.  Carl also has a recipe for DIY Cider Vinegar, hope maybe to get to that this afternoon..

I also pickled some beautiful tiny Epicurean Apples.  These were windfalls, and have a great flavour, but are small enough to fit whole in pots.  I used this Recipe, which I used for the Pear windfalls of last year, only replacing the distilled vinegar with White Wine Vinegar and adding some All Spice.


Follow this link for all the Chutney and Pickle Recipes on this blog.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Potted Figs, Bullace Jam, Pumpkin Chutney...perpetual preserving

Halved Figs to be macerated in Honey, Lemon and Vanilla.

The Figs have been wondrous this year, and indeed, it seems a pity to cook them at all, when, despite an impoverished summer they are sweet, soft and nearly-not-quite comparable with memories of those bursting, bulbous falling from the trees of the Andalusian countryside.  If your tree hasn't produced same sumptuous crop, do bear in mind, as far as I understand, that Fig Trees like stress and sun.  They are often put in pots or planted in amongst builders' rubble against a South-facing wall to encourage fruiting and ripeness.

But, we are unable to eat them all, and besides piling them into a Tagine, as I did last week, potting is an excellent way of preserving them.  That said, drying now comes to mind.  A solar-dehydrator would do the trick, as would a hot no-too-damp greenhouse, or strung up inside the car.  Whether our Figs are sweet enough to preserve successfully dried, and whether Autumnal Norfolk has enough heat, I don't know. (Do let me know of any of your own experiements...)

Potted Figs.  I posted the recipe here when enjoying last-years potted figs, and simply mention it again as it's the season and I've been taking great pleasure in doing so at the cottage.  On this occasion I replaced the Whisky with Brandy and for lack of Vanilla Pod I used good quality (Nielsen-Massey) Vanilla Extract.

As, it seems to be the season of perpetual preserving, do bear in mind that you can also pot Pears, Peaches, Apples along these lines.  In most cases I would take the precaution of pasteurising as well.  On another note, the tradition of Rumtopf offers a great way of preserving fruits for pudding.


Bullace, Port and Walnut Jam

This recipe was shared by Jules Jackson of De-lish (@dehyphenlish).  It's so good that I was near' pouring scalding hot spoonfuls of the stuff down my throat...only some last hold on reason prevented me.

Place about 2kg of stoned Bullace (Plums, Damsons etc will do equally as well) in a bowl.  Cover with Port and leave to macerate overnight.  The following day bring to the boil.  Take off the heat and add 2kg of Sugar, stirring until dissolved.  Add 400g of Walnuts, halved or quartered as desired.  I also added a good slosh of Balsamic vinegar (red-wine vinegar would do equally) to give the jam a slightly sharp edge.  Bring to heat again and simmer hard until setting-point is reached.  Pot in warmed, sterilised jars.

Despite being called a "Jam", a touch tart, this is really more of a confiture, to be served with savouries, such as Cheeses, Pork and Game.  Mr Jackson resolutely sticks to the term "Jam" merely, I suspect, due to a certain pleasure in the mundanity of the word... Or, indeed, he simply prefers to spick with the Anglicised version. Either way, I am sure this would be quite as dreamy on toast, but, truth told, I'm not really one for spreading jam on toast, and much prefer the savoury combinations...


Pumpkin and Apple Chutney

Again, it seems a pity to put a Pumpkin in chutney as they store so well as they are.  This chutney was really a result of half a Pumpkin sitting around not being eaten and the eternal Apple glut.  I have quite a variety of Apple Chutney recipes up my sleeve, but this is a blend of the quirky and the traditional.

Chop 2 Onions, half a small Pumpkin (Uchiki Kuri), 8 large Apples (peeled, cored), oh, I see, a handful of green tomatoes (optional!),  1 Chilli (more or less depending on heat) into small pieces.  Grate 2 in. Root Ginger.  Put the lot in a pan with 1lt Cider vinegar.  Bring to the boil then take off heat and add 400g Demarara Sugar, 1 tbsp Corinader Seed, 1 tbsp. black Peppercorns, 1tbsp Brown Mustard Seed, a handful yellow Sultanas, a pinch of salt.  Stir and bring once again to the boil.  Simmer gently for several hours, stirring to prevent sticking.  Once the mixture is considerably reduced and of a thick, sludgy consistency which holds a wooden-spoon upright, it is ready to be potted.  Pot in warmed, sterilised jars.
Leave several months to mature before eating.