Friday, December 2, 2011

Bloody beetroots: the pickle duo part one

Like Marmite, beetroot splits people. Love it, or hate it - it's mad bad and dangerous to know. Well maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration but I've heard people go on rants about this humble veg that would make Russell Brand cover his ears and partake of some smelling salts to recover himself. My ma for example. Get her started on the many reasons she hates beetroot and you will be sitting around for a long time. Prime complaints include the staining of fingers and anything else it comes in to contact with, not to mention the fact that is 'just horrible, quite horrible'.

I beg to differ. Which is why, when we spied a large box of said stuff in our favourite Sussex farm shop, I may have got a little tooooo enthusiastic and bought far more than even I could eat before it went off.

The solution? A bloody good beetroot pickle. Simple, a million times better than the shop bought beetroots in vinegar and a doodle to make.

If, like me, you can get your hands on some yellow and red beetroot, it makes for a nice contrast while the pickle is fresh but, be warned, the reds will soon put paid to the delicate colouring and everything will look pretty uniform after a few days.

Beetroot pickle (makes one jar)
500g Beetroots - as many varieties as you can get your hands on
500ml pickling vinegar - we used cider vinegar with 1 tsp black onion seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp celery seeds, 1 tbsp muscovado sugar and a cinnamon stick. Leave to simmer on a low heat for half an hour. You may want to evacuate the kitchen in this time as the fumes are pretty hefty.

Boil the beetroots in water until they soften but are still quite firm. This normally takes 45 mins for normal sized beetroots but vary depending on size. Remove from the pot and leave to cool.

Once cool, peel the beetroot. At this point, you can decide whether to leave them whole, or chop into slices as I did (handier for quick grabs).

Put the beetroot into a sterilised jar. If you are pouring the vinegar on whilst warm, you will need to ensure the jar is warm - best done in an oven on a low heat (around 140 Celsius). Otherwise, wait for vinegar to cool then pour into jar.

Seal tightly and leave for a week or two for the best flavours before tucking in.

Crunchy onions: the pickle duo part two

Pickled onions rock. Especially when you make them at home.

Ok, so the shop bought ones aren't terrible. They do their job. Particularly when that job involves a ham sandwich and a bit of mustard. But these are the easiest things in the world to make. And they're cheap. Did I mention easy? The clincher, however, is the taste. With a crunchy kick, these pickled onions will brighten up your life, or at least your lunch*

* I of course take no responsibility for this statement but you'd have to be a dour old mutt for it not to be true. Or you're a freak who hates onions. Either way, that's your problem, not mine.

Without further ado....

1kg pickling onions
Pickling vinegar for vinegar recipe see pickle duo part one - though for this I like to add 1 tbsp of mustard seeds too.
50g Salt
1 litre water
Litre capacity sterilised jar

Peel the onions. Put the onions in a bowl and cover with the water and salt. Place a plate inside the bowl with weights atop. Leave for 24 hours.

Rinse the onions. Place into The sterilised jar. For a softer onion, cover with the vinegar and seal whilst the vinegar is still warm. For some serious CRUNCH, leave vinegar to cool and then pour over onions and seal jar.

This is better at the two weeks onwards mark but I wouldn't blame you if you tucked in sooner. It still beats the crap out of shop bought ones.

Ps we've also tried a slightly different recipe from Lindy Wildsmith's Cured. A recipe book that everyone should have on their shelves, if only for the jaw-droppingly sexy pictures of the cured meat, fish and other goodies. We are yet to crack that jar open. If you're lucky, I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chilli and spice

There are two truths in my life when it comes to Mexican food. The first is that I love it. The second is that I only have the haziest idea of how to cook it. So it was with quite a bit of excitement that I opened an invitation for an event from Discovery Foods and Benito's Hat for a Mexican food cook off.

The premise was simple. Ten food bloggers watch Benito's Hat head chef Felipe whizz up two delicious and doable Mexican dishes in half an hour. Then they are given free reign over ingredients to make their own dishes inspired by Mexican cuisine.

Watching Felipe cook, I was impressed by how down to earth he was. Unafraid to create new dishes with new flavours, he also stressed the importance of being able to compromise and work with what you have in the kitchen. 'After all, this is what they do in Mexico - the food varies from region to region, even family to family and, you often need to work with the food that is available'.

Now I don't know about you guys but I don't normally think Mexican and think salad, but that was what Felipe whipped up for the first course... A Mexican salad with Parmesan, jicama and lettuce - well worth reproducing at home. You can often get hold of the jicama in Chinese food shops. Yummy.

The second dish was one that I have particularly fond memories of: Shrimp Tacos. Made from just a handful of ingredients, they were fresh, zingy and perfect for bringing a taste of summer to the increasingly chilly and damp winter's nights.

With that, the demonstrations were over and it was time for us to go create. Spoilt for choice, we were presented with a huge work top of fresh ingredients such as sea bass, shrimps, avocados and chillies, not to mention the biggest array of Discovery products I had ever seen.

Inspired by the shrimp tacos and with a Rick Stein recipe from Baja California in mind I set about making Fish Tacos. They were quite similar to the shrimp tacos Felipe made, the main difference being that the fish was battered before it was fried and put in the taco. When I say battered, I don't mean a heavy oily creation, this was a simple batter with flour, bicarbonate of soda and water. Simple. add a bit of fresh salsa and soured cream and you're set.

When I looked along the tabletop of ingredients, I spied the hero of the second dish - a plantain and avocado salad with chipotle and red chilli dressing. I was quite proud of that one and rather won over by Discovery's chipotle paste - a handy substitute when fresh ones can be quite difficult to come by.

Of course, while I was busy being creative, so was everyone else - guacamole, enchiladas, black bean soup - tasting time was really rather good.

The winner was Nutmegs Seven with her delicious dishes - which together won her a Kitchenaid blender. Jealous? Me? No :p

And that was it. One evening, a whole lot of chillies and a date in the diary to go and visit Benito's Hat to see Ben and Felipe in action. Let's hope it's as good as it promises to be....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Redcurrant delight

For those of you who saw the brief appearance on the Great British Food Revival - here's the recipe of what I was making - a delicious redcurrant chutney that goes brilliantly with cold meats and stronger cheeses. Yummy yummy

Redcurrant chutney

250g cooking apples chopped into cubes
900g plums stoned and quartered
400g red onions, chopped into large chunks
30g fresh ginger chopped into small pieces
500g redcurrants stalks removed
500ml red wine vinegar
200g dark muscovado sugar
2tsp mustard seeds

Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan

Bring to the boil

Turn down and leave to simmer for an hour

Spoon into sterilized jars and seal when cooled


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Duck soup

New restaurants open in London all the time. You would need a hell of a lot of time and money to try them all. Some things however, stand out from the crowd. A restaurant headed up by Julian Biggs and other team members from Hix's Oyster and Chop House? This was something I had to see.

There began my surprisingly easy quest to eat at Duck Soup in Soho. Twitter had told tales of long queues and significant waiting times but we strolled in for dinner at 7pm on a Tuesday night and were immediately seated at a place in the bar. So that was nice and easy.

Now I don't mind eating dinner at the bar, some people might, but then if they do, I suspect that Duck Soup isn't the kind of place they would enjoy at all. The atmosphere is, on the whole, very laid back. Vinyl records spin in the corner, belting out an eclectic mix of tunes apparently chosen by both the staff and the customers. Laid back is fine, but it should also go hand in hand with comfortable, and there was a significant failing on that front.

The bar wasn't deep enough for you to sit straight ahead without bruising your knees, so unless you have incredibly short legs, you are pretty much forced to adopt that legs to the side, torso to the front eating position. Not comfortable.

Even less comfortable when halfway through the meal, more people were squeezed onto said bar and I spent the remainder of my meal being jolted in the kidney vicinity by my new neighbour's elbow. Don't get me wrong - he wasn't doing it out of spite but there simply wasn't enough room for him to eat without said rather annoying kidney jabbing action.

Gripe over, the food was stellar. The menu changes daily, and it was nice to see a handwritten menu - small things really do make an impression. We started with smoked crab roe on toast (can't get enough of the little things it would seem) and followed it up with veal shin (me) and gurnard with scallops and clams (Jon).

The veal was melt in your mouth tender with a depth of flavour that is rarely encountered in that meat. The gurnard was firm and fleshy albeit bony, and came with a generous portion of scallops and clams.

Both dishes had us dipping into each other's plates and generally thinking that all is well with a world where you get to eat such things for dinner. The creme caramel was a little on the eggy side, and could have done with a stronger caramel to counterbalance that but was still a good finish to what had been a mostly enjoyable dinner.

Monday, November 7, 2011

To catch a crab

Growing up, I was very much a child of the city - I loved the Science Museum, the sandpit in St James Park and Hamleys, not necessarily in that order. I'm not saying we never left London - we did - there were summer trips to Brighton and Cornwall, walks in the countryside etc etc but there was one thing missing. Crabbing.
The lazy but pleasant pastime of settling down with a bag of bacon tied to the end of a line and spending the day catching as many little shore crabs as possible before setting them free.
So, a few weekends ago Jon and I decided to head down to the Suffolk Coast and put things right. We were going to go crabbing but with one essential development. The little critters were going to come home with us for our supper.
Walberswick is one of the best beaches in the UK, and a lovely day trip but more than that, it's a crabbing hotspot.
A mere hop, skip and a fairly long drive away from Sussex, Walberswick is the home of the national crabbing championships and therefore a very good place to go crabbing. Before we knew it, we were settled down, waiting for the first pull on the line.
We didn't have to wait long - there was barely time for the anticipation to build before we had both successfully caught our first little crabs with our smelly bacon. After that, the day flew by in a haze of competitive crabbing. I am reluctant to admit that Jon caught the biggest crabs but what mine lacked in size they made up in number.
Our lunch stop was The Anchor, which was absolutely lovely. Oysters, halibut with salsa verde and fish and chips - all perfectly cooked and washed down with some white wine in the sunshine. Perfect.
Post luncheon we decided to explore and try out some alternative spots, but like Goldilocks and the three bears, none of them were quite right so we returned to our original place, caught a few more then set off home.
Because shore crabs are quite small, they're not really suitable for dishes that require a lot of crab meat - we settled on a bisque as the best option for our catch of the day. This one was taken from Rick Stein Seafood. The end result was a punchy and intense bisque - and a worthy end for our crabby friends.
Shore Crab Bisque
900g/2lb shore crabs or other shellfish
50g/2oz butter
50g/2oz onion,chopped
50g/2oz carrot, chopped
50g/2oz celery, chopped
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
2 tbsp cognac
4 tomatoes
1 tsp tomato purée
85ml/3fl oz dry white wine
1 good-sized sprig of fresh tarragon
1.75l/3pt fish stock
50ml/2fl oz double cream
a pinch of cayenne pepper
juice of ¼ lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil, drop in the crabs then bring them back to the boil and cook for 2 minutes. Strain and let the crabs cool a little, then chop with a large knife.

Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan and add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and the bay leaf. Cook without browning. Stir once or twice then add the crab. Stir, then add the cognac. Allow to boil off then add the tomatoes, tomato purée, wine, tarragon and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove the tough claw shells from the soup before liquidizing in a liquidizer or food processor in two or three batches. Process in short bursts until the shell is broken into small pieces about the size of your finger nail. Avoid producing puréed shell, the aim is to extract all possible flavour from any meat left sticking to the shell, particularly in the body section, rather than to extract flavour from the shell itself. Strain the soup through a conical strainer pushing as much liquid through as you can with the back of a ladle to extract all the juices.
Then, pass the soup through a fine strainer before returning to the heat. Bring to the boil, add the cream then season with cayenne pepper, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Reduce the volume by simmering if you think the flavour needs concentrating.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Whisky galore; whisky amore...

Two very different worlds collided recently with a rather splendid outcome. I was extolling the (many) virtues of my gastronomic adventures with Julianna to a long-time mountain biking acquaintance when I happened to mention our mutual love of whisky. 'You should come to one of my whisky group's meetings then' announced Adam, and the seed was sown...
Jump forward several weeks and I found myself bound for Brighton on a packed commuter train as driving to a whisky tasting evening is perhaps inadvisable. Julianna unfortunately had another engagement (hence my guest slot here) so I was on my own and on a mission!
Malt 'n' Copper meet once a month a stone's throw from the railway station and always have an interesting and unusual selection of malts to try. My inaugural visit was no exception with its Islay focussed choices: A Laphroaig 12 Bourbon Hogshead refill and a Bowmore 20 Bourbon Barrel refill from the Scottish Malt Whisky Society provided exclusivity as neither is still available to buy, which together with an Ardbeg Alligator, a Bunnahabhain 1997 and a Kilchoman Spring 2011 promised a peaty, smoky evening's tasting with around 25 like-minded souls.
First up was the Bowmore and very tentatively I dipped my nose in and sniffed... Whisky! Hmmn, maybe this was going to take some acclimatisation. Resisting the temptation to abandon my olfactory inexperience and start swigging I inhaled once again and much more deeply revealing something more than just boozy vapours – pineapple fruitiness and dolly-mixture no less!
And so the beast was released and as the sipping began the inhibitions tumbled and the waxing lyrical started in earnest. My journey next took me from the oily, Marmitey (yes really!) Bunnahabhain, via the incredibly good Kilchoman, which as a very young marriage of a three and a four year-old was utterly stunning, to the limited release Laphroaig. I cut my single malt teeth on the regular Laphroaig and this version, although very different in character, did not disappoint; sweet, slightly medicinal and honeyed with a big peat smokiness.
So finally, somewhat squiffy, it was time for the Ardbeg Alligator. Ardbeg is the most heavily peated malt, so the limited release Alligator, matured for 13 years in heavily charred barrels was going to have some bite! Seaweed, slight notes of aniseed (yes I was tipsy, wasn't I..) and another big peat smoke style rounded off the evening perfectly.
Oh, and for the record, try saying ' Bunnahabhain' after 5 whiskys... Jon

Want more whisky chat? Check out the Islay Whisky Festival

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Damson jam

I'm a girl of my word. If I make a promise, then I'll go to pretty much any length to keep it. Come hell or high water, it takes a lot for me to break my word. So when we promised Jon's parents that we were going to take some of their damson harvest off their hands, it was a promise that I wasn't going to take lightly.

And that is how it came to pass that we ended up with four bags of damsons.

Four bags. Not four piddling sandwich bags. But four plastic bags worth of damsons tucked away in our freezer, waiting for us to work our magic on them.

Two into the damson wine their way went. (soon to be blogged)
One still sits in the freezer.
And the other?
Well that took the path of damson jam.

I love damson jam. In a world where you can get strawberry jam all year round, likewise for apricot, blackberry and raspberry, I've never understood why damson jam seems to be the one that gets left behind? It's like the bad egg of the jam family - except it isn't. Nothing can beat the velvety richness of a homemade damson jam on doorstep thick slabs of bread and a smear of butter. Mmmn.

So thank you to Jon's parents. And cheers to promises left unbroken.

Simple Damson Jam
1kg damsons
1kg granulated or Preserving sugar
300ml water

Put your jam jars into an oven on a low heat for 15 minutes or in the dishwasher on a hot wash to sterilise
Chop the damsons into half, removing the stones from the centre.
Add the damsons and the water to the pan and cook until soft and pulpy
Add the sugar, stir until dissolved on a low heat
Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and bring the jam to a rolling boil until it has reached setting point
To test for setting point either take a very cold plate from the freezer and drop a bit of jam onto it. Leave for a few seconds. If it sets on the plate, it's ready. Or use a thermometer - setting point is 105 degrees
Funnel into sterilised jars and seal

A Seashore Ramble

Last weekend saw the continuation of the seafood foraging odyssey documented here few weeks ago. So last weekend we thought we would spread our wings a little further ashore in search for rock crabs, winkles and other rock Poole life.

Everyone knows that a forager, not least this one, is pretty useless on an empty stomach. I'd wanted to visit Rye for a long time and, as it was on the way to our foraging destination, it made for the perfect lunch stop.

Seafood was the theme of the day, so what else were we going to have for lunch? Twas brilliant and tasty, even though Jon's scallop with chorizo and parsnip puree was very much on the meagre side. Lots of scallops but very little parsnip puree .....which made for an odd combination.

My seafood platter was a treat - prawns, mussels, shrimp, crayfish with lemon and bread and butter to mop up the juices. So simple but so good.

But there's no rest for the wicked, so we jumped back in the car and made our way down to Seven Sisters with nets and buckets in hand.

Unfortunately our catch was pretty limited... There wasn't much going on in the rock pools apart from an enclave of mussels tucked into a cleft between the cliffs, a few small crabs and one solitary sea snail. We declined to take them because the area was pretty dirty. A shame, but a fun day no less. Any day where I get to wear my wells and prowl around with a pink net and a big bucket is going to be pretty high up in my books!

Still, I'm not cowed - the next few weekends are going to be packed with further explorations of the seaside and hedgerow nature. Keeping a lookout for a mushroom foraging expedition in the Sussex / Kent area - if anyone knows where to find let me know!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sloe going in Sussex

Tis the season when you kick back, mourn the passing of summer and start looking forward to that time when you get to eat nice food, have a few days of, drink a few nice tipples and of course, the obligatory spats with the siblings. You know what I'm talking about - Christmas. And what is a festive period without a sip of sloe gin? Beats me.

I first discovered sloe gin at uni, along with other things like a (now lost) amazing capacity to drink White wine, my intolerance of flavourless food and general love of cooking. Anyway, this year I finally sorted my act out and got down to starting off some sloe gin that, fingers crossed will be ready for Christmas.

Now is the perfect time for a spot of sloe picking - the Blackthorn tree is by no means an unusual one, even in London, so the urban folk can get in on the action. Safe to say, there are plenty where we are. .I have discovered a spot of sloe heaven that I shall not, will not divulge to anyone so there :p

Anyway, we decided to follow the recipe from the WI's book (this has played a large part in our soon to be blogged fruit winemaking odysseys) and so far it is looking hot. Worth what felt like endless pricking and chilly fingers from the still defrosting sloes (bunged in freezer for few days until we had time to pack em up) Check back in December for a further update and our verdict on the final tasting.... We'll be giving them a shake week by week to keep them excited.

1lb sloes
3oz White sugar
1.5 pints gin

Stalk and clean the fruit, prick and pack into jars. Add the sugar and gin, seal and shake every other day for two to three months. Strain, bottle and cork.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eerie eerie quite contrary

This weekend it was also time for an event I've been looking forward to for months, our village's annual Bonfire Carnival. One of the villages in the Weald that has hung onto the tradition of having a bonfire carnival of it's own, it was, Jon assured me, going to be a sight to behold.

It wasn't a lie.... I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. A procession of village bonfire groups, kitted out in an imaginative array of costumes and uniforms. The muggy night was made even warmer by the hundreds of lit torches wielded by the revellers.

After the procession, floats from various other local societies passed by, each one blaring a chant or in the case of the Scout group, an unintentionally terrifying chorus of children's voices that wouldn't have been out of place in The Omen or some such film.

And then, fireworks that put the ones I've seen at Battersea Park for the last few years to shame. Absolutely brilliant.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cockles, cockles, cockles

It's been a while, so hello to you all. I promise to be a bit better from here on in.

Now, those of you in the UK would have to be pretty dopey not to have noticed that it is October and well over twenty degrees outside - providing ample opportunity for fun times in the sun.

Yesterday we decided to capitalise on said sunshine and head down to Camber Sands. This wasn't any old trip though. We didn't have towels, bikinis or swimmers. What we did have was a kick ass big bucket and spade and an iron will. We were on the hunt, the hunt for cockles.

Camber sands, love it or hate it, it looks pretty damned good first thing in the morning. The sun glittering on the shallow water, the glitter of potential finds to our still sleepy eyes.

Having got up at 7am for low tide on a Saturday morning, it would have been disappointing to come back home empty handed. Luckily that was not the case.

We struck treasure pretty quickly, one errant cockle poking out of the sand led us to another, and another and another. They often live in "nests" meaning that there's a very good chance if you have found one, that you are going to find quite a few in the same area.

And so passed the next hour. We picked and picked, sometimes getting the spade of for extra help but mostly filling our bucket of seawater with our newly found produce.

We set off home with the bucket in the boot and covered from head to toe in sand and silt.

Cockles need to be cleaned before eating to get rid of the sand and grit inside the shells.

Again, the process was pretty simple. We filled a bucket with clean water and cleaned the cockles off. After emptying the bucket, we refilled it with fresh water, this time adding salt and oatmeal and left them for a few hours to clean themselves out.

And that was it. Cooking involved a bastardised version of Rick Steins Moules Mariniere, substituting the mussels with cockles and leaving the bay and parsley free rather than tied into a bouquet garni. And voila, the final product.... Delicious!

Now, does anyone know anywhere good on the Kent / Sussex coast for razor clams??

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Supper club october

Hey all

Just to let you know that the supper club will be on the 23rd October - get in touch at for more information


Ps blogs are in pipeline

Friday, September 2, 2011

Camping in the Loire Valley

Sorry I've kind of disappeared for a few weeks but don't fear - I have been cooking up a few brilliant things that will be making their appearance on the blog soon. Blackberry brandy, redcurrant wine and elderberry wine anyone?

In the meantime - we went to the Loire Valley on a camping trip - near to Blois and perfectly located to pick up some Cheverny and Cour Cheverny wines. So far, the drinking of said wine has been remarkably restrained. But it's only a matter of time....

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stuffing down the seafood

It was one of those perfect summer days – the sun was shining, I was sated, sated I tell you, with all things piscine and delicious. It could only have been the Whistable Oyster Festival.

Earlier in the week, I’d been agreeing with the Food Urchin about the sad dearth of really fun food festivals in the UK. Well, less than 3 days later I had eaten my words, along with a score of oysters, pots of crayfish, whelks and cockles. I don’t think there were many days where I have had so much fun and it definitely wasn’t the stuffy, restrained affair that you can sometimes encounter with events of the type.

One of my main gripes about British food festivals is that they are often so ridiculously expensive – anyone who has been to Taste of London or Taste of Christmas can attest to the fact that on top of spending the money on the entrance, which is no small fry, you can easily much your way through ten pound note after ten pound note. And that’s before you start getting goodies to bring home.

I had no such complaints at Whistable. You will frequently pay three quid a pop for your oystery goodness in restaurants around the country, but there we were slurping these saline goodies for sixty pence a pop. Their freshness needed no accompaniment – perhaps a dash of lemon juice or Tabasco for those that fancied it.

There were brass bands, local ditties and a rather random three women dressed up as what I can only assume was Big Bird from Sesame Street as part of the entertainment but most of the fun came from wandering from stall to stall and talking to the owners.

It wasn’t just fishy fun – for those that were that way inclined (ME) there were a range of local wine and cider producers, all of which have been added to the increasingly lengthy to visit list. The tipples from Biddenborough Cider, Meopham Valley Winery and Sedlescombe Winery caught my eye in particular – I imagine there will be blog pieces on them in the future. In the meantime... picture time.