Tuesday 17 November 2015

Blackberries, apple and barley... with pork

I can't cook today. I'm in too bad a mood. You hear said you must cook with love. It's true. well, the obverse is certainly true: you shouldn't cook when irritated. I suppose you shouldn't do anything much when irritated. Apart from winding people up. I'm really good at that.

I was at peace when I made this on the weekend. It's possibly the best meal I've served at the supper club. It's seasonal, it's British and it's using everyday ingredients differently: pickled apple, sweet and sour cabbage, blackberry sauce. It looks great: wholesome, robust, Autumnal even, and with a satisgfying interplay of vivid colour. It even sounds good in delivery; clicking and humming with assonance and alliteration: blackberries, barley, apples and pork.

It sounds good at the table too. Some guests actually made that advert noise of appreciation as they introduced hot, slippery, tender pork to mouth. There's invariably a stretch of diminished dialogue just after... but not silence. Instead the slightly coy crunching; embarrassed at the noise. The crackling's like seaside rock.

The meat is pork belly, free range and orchard fed, from Normans in Oakwood. I love my visits to the butchers: bag of beef rib and a bit of banter. Consistently good service and probably the best meat I've bought in the UK. Their pancetta is fantastic too. You can smell it as soon as you open the fridge door.

Inside at F. Normans Butchers, 199 Bramley Road, Oakwood.
Slow roast pork belly on a bed of barley, with micro fennel and blackberry sauce. Served with a picked apple salad and sweet & sour red cabbage.

There are eight elements to this dish. I'll list them all, linking to previous recipes where possible.

5. Barley
6. Blackberry sauce
7. Micro fennel

Barley. A grain so often ignored in favour of its sexier and much more expensive shelf sharers. A £1 of pearl barley will feed fifteen people. You can't say that of quinoa or couscous. Pearling is the removal of the bran layer off the grain. It has a pleasant flavour; mild and nutty.

It is simple to cook and much more forgiving than rice on reheating. If anything, day old barley is a better eat. You need around 30g per person for a dinner party and maybe 40g per person for a sofa-sat pig-out. You simply cook the grain in about three times the quantity of water. bring to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes. Lid it, remove from heat and leave to rest until needed. 

When you are ready to eat, the nest hour, the next day... add more water to loosen and bring back to the boil. It's a robust grain and won't turn to glue. You might like it al dente or very soft like porridge. All is good.

To add flavour I boiled mine up with some butter fried shallots; just browning. A sprinkle each of dried oregano and thyme too. You could use stock instead of water of course or a handful of fresh herbs. I didn't on this occasion as I wanted a simple, starchy base.

It's not a looker but then neither am I.

Blackberry sauce. I kept this simple, kinda, resisting anway the temptation to add shallots or butter.

I say 'kinda' (and I say that too often) because although I added only two ingredients to the blackberries they are not easy to find. One is my spiced sugar syrup, the other is this esoteric French liquer - creme de pain d'epices; flavoured with French spiced bread. I've made it in the past. I only added the sugar because the berries were really, really, bloody tart. So much for Sainsbury's labelling. Sweet snacking variety apparently. Snacking? Only if one wants to pull, what my mother would have called, a face with a mouth like a cat's arsehole!

Add a tablespoon or more of the liqueur to the blackberries (couple of supermarket punnets) and simmer gently for twenty minutes. You will need to blend these. Unless they were very sweet you'll need to add some sugar suryp. If you've made the spiced variety, so much the better. The syrup will add a glisten too.

Despite the best efforts of my 2.2 horsepower blender, I couldn't destroy the seeds so you'll need to sieve the sauce before serving. Maybe a pinch of salt and a grind of pink pepper.

The pork cooking is detailed here. One thing to add: make sure to ask your butcher to score the skin parralle with the sides of the joint; squares not diamonds. I find it makes serving much easier if you don't have to struggle against crackling geometry.

To assemble:

Reheat the cabbage with the sweet and sour sauce and set aside on a low heat.
Toss the lambs lettuce in the apple dressing and add the small chunks of pickled apple.
place a big spoonful of barley on warmed plates. Top with a chunk of belly. top this with some micro fennel or, if unavailable (probably) some shavings of regular fennel bulbs, preferably with the fronds attatched.
spoon around some blackberry sauce.
Complete the presentational triangle with a spoon of red cabbage and a fat handful of salad.

Increasingly I think about the colours of the final dish. Green and purple seem to feature a lot along brown.
They do say 'eat the rainbow'. Or is that just the Skittles ad?

Trouble with photographing meat joints is they need sunlight to look good, or at least a well lit studio.
I have neither. So here is my brown slab.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Winter salad: green beans and roasted cauliflower with hazelnuts and herbs

More often than not I am underwhelmed by my original efforts. OK, there is nothing new in cooking so by 'original' I mean something I've decided to create without reference to a recipe and thereafter cannot find on Google. It's rare that I make something inedible; usually it simply isn't as flavoursome as I'd like. This means either abandoning the project or adding ingredients until I realise I've strayed completely and created something else. However, this winter salad worked first time. It's delicious. And, I dare to say: a little bit unusual. I can't find this combination on the internet anyway. This strange sensation rising in me, might actually be... pride!

It maybe an odd looking combo: beans, mustard, cauli and hazelnuts but it works. It was one of the very few times that a recipe idea came to me and made it to the plate without any change.

But I've been oddly reluctant to commit this recipe to screen (well, it's not a page is it?) And I think I've just realised why. I don't want to come across all Ottolenghi. What? The lovely Yotam!? Look, I take nothing away from the man: his food is accomplished and delicious but the recipes can be a bit... 

Scrambled eggs - take some eggs and butter and then forty six other ingredients, including one that is only available from Invisible Eva who can be found by the rowan tree at Lulworth cove but only on the night of the Dorset Horse Fetishists' Fair. It's more expensive than saffron, she only sells by the quarter ounce and you will need half a kilo for this recipe.

A mustard vinaigrette is key to this recipe but it contains one ingredient you probably don't have and one you definitely don't have, because I'm the only person in the world who does. And yet my cooking philosophy is meant to be 'everyday ingredients done differently'? Yeah there are words for people like me. So let's get this over with.

Fancy schmancy ingredients.

1. L'Olivier lemon and grapefruit vinegar (citron pamplemousse). I've gushed about these previously. They are wonderful and expensive. Hey, it's Christmas soon. Treat yourself. Yes, with vinegar. Pretend it's Champagne or something. I order mine every few months from the Upton Smokery.

2. A spiced and zesty sugar syrup. This is more a commitment of time than money. I have several syrups on the go at once. They take up far too much room in my fridge. I've detailed the making of them here. At least they are cheap. You just have to have needed to start the recipe a few weeks ago.

The real star of the recipe is the roasted cauliflower. Think you don't like cauliflower?  Give this a chance. The roasting, as ever, caramelises the natural sugars and results in a sweet, nutty flavour. It is quite a fragile thing though. I'd hoped to slice it finely - a vegetable filigree to present - but even with my sharpest knife or my mandolin I ended up with cauliflower crumble. So I serve wedges. There's a great contrast of texture, flavour and colour between the golden crusted edge and the soft white interior.

Warm mustard vinaigrette of green beans and roasted cauliflower
Serves eight

First roast your cauliflower. One big one or a couple of small. Remove all the leaves and trim the bottom so it sits flat. Rub in plenty of butter and salt generously. Roast at 200°C until golden brown - about 40 minutes but up to an hour if it's a whopper. You can do this beforehand and reheat in a warm over for ten minutes before serving.

While that's cooking, in a separate tin, add a handful of whole hazelnuts to roast for about eight minutes. They should be a deep brown colour. Crush into chunks.

While that's doing, blanch the green beans. You'll need about 50g per person. This recipe is for eight so we'll need 400g which means two supermarket bags. (God, that's annoying.) Blanch the beans in boiling water for two and a half minutes then place in ice water and set aside.

Fry up a couple of rashers of smoked streaky bacon and cut into fine strips. Obviously this is optional. If you don't do pork, tear up a couple of sun dried tomatoes instead. It's needed for colour and salty contrast.

Make the vinaigrette. The base is two tablespoons of L'Olivier lemon vinegar to four tablespoons of groundnut or rice bran oil. Add: the juice of half a lemon, a splash of spiced sugar syrup, a teaspoon each of English mustard and Dijon mustard, two teaspoons of whole grain mustard, a little finely grated parmesan - I mean a big pinch, a teaspoon of creme fraiche, the fine zest of about a third of a lemon, sea salt and black pepper. Shake really well to mix and emulsify. Taste. Adjust. You may want more wholegrain mustard. If it's all too much for you, add more oil and a little water to dilute. But remember that this is a coating so should be fairly intense.

What you have to remember is my 'recipe' for vinaigrette is me standing in front of my cupboard  combining things until I like it. Taste as you go. Learn what works; what you like. Too sour? Add sugar. Too sweet? Balance with acidity and salt. Use oil to improve mouthfeel and to bind the whole.

To assemble: fry the beans in a little butter for two or three minutes until just soft. Put the beans in a  bowl and toss in the vinaigrette. Arrange on the plates.

Top with a cut wedge of cauliflower. Around the beans sprinkle the hazelnuts and the bacon. Add a few microherbs. Oh, sorry. Didn't mention them did I? That'll teach you to read the recipe first. OK. So maybe some  nipped tips of that Greek basil that all the supermarkets have started selling and some mustard cress. Finally, drizzle over a little more vinaigrette, trying not to splodge it, as I have done in the picture below.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Will you still need me, will you still feed me...

Neighbour Peter's actually had two 64ths with us now. The first, a few weeks ago was with friends, this one (on his actual birthday) was for his partner Liz, their children and close family. It turned into a long, wonderful wash of family wit, wind-ups and wide ranging conversation. Everything from the disreputable sex life of the duck to the putative hirsuteness of a much loved cousin, to the eclectic attractions of Brighton, was thrown across the table. I learned about Stoner Punk and the decline of Welsh in the 20th century. It was that kind of languorous but fact-studded evening that I so enjoy.

I joined them for a drink at the end, a common enough occurrence, but they invited Etien to stop for a beer too which was a much appreciated gesture.

They had a new main dish of slow roasted pork belly with barley, red cabbage and mushrooms all swept with a blackberry sauce. I'm still working on the combinations; I think next time It'll be the pickled apple salad. That would work better with the sweet and sour cabbage and the slightly nutty barley.

The pork was excellent. Orchard fed and free range. Cooked for seven hours at 130°C with blasts of 240°C at the beginning and end. The crackling crusted with fennel seeds and salt needed to be cracked brûlée style before yielding to the soft meat.

I love how the addition of the sugar/vinegar mix changes the cabbage from deep purple to a vivid pink.

Seven hour roasted Pork belly,  Delicious but surprisingly hard to photograph.

This also saw the unveiling of 2015's Sticky toffee, nutty, datey pudding. Served as usual with a salted caramel sauce and vanilla mascarpone cream.

If you let them steam for a bit the tins just lift off. Also keeps them warm of course.
Teenager optional. Phone not optional to teenager! Put it away.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Day of the (Dining) Dead

I wasn't planning any celebrations for Calan Gaeaf, also called Samhain or since the Johnny-come-lately Christians arrived: Halloween. My guests had other ideas. Possibly this was more for Maria's 40th. You have to applaud the effort.

Maria in the middle

Maria's party saw the return of soft polenta with truffled mushrooms as a starter. A much easier dish to prepare now I make the polenta in my rice cooker. I use a 5:1 ratio of liquid to grain when making it like this. Adding much butter and parmesan towards the end. This was served with thick cut mushrooms seared in a very hot skillet before adding butter and truffle paste. I decorated with crispy shallot rings and a splash of blackberry sauce. I'm rather pleased with this, although I'll have to work out now how I made the sauce - a right palaver involving a French spiced bread liqueur. I may upgrade this starter and make a mains of it by adding my slow roast pork belly on Saturday.

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Partridge... perhaps

Don't worry, this post will contain no lame references to pear trees or 'ah-haaaaa's.

One of the few arduours* my co-habitees must endure is dining club development day. This  mainly involves me calling frustrated family, inconvenienced friends, startled passers-by... into the kitchen and jabbing a dripping teaspoon at their chins, demanding an opinion. Is this too tart/sweet/bitter? Is the (say) lamb stock lamby? Is the pear tender (just the fruit, no tree see)? Would you want this much? Will this work before/after X and Y? 

This process culminates in the test meal (versions one, two and sometimes three) where I serve Belinda, Etien and Fabian (if he's with us) an almost complete meal. This is one of the few demands I make on my family, I should point out. I am otherwise, a joy of domesticity; unassuming, blithe, patient. I am never quick to criticise - especially in the kitchen; never bombastic, grandiloquent or condescending. It's amazing that more people don't like me.

Anyway. Like most initial public offerings of art and/or endeavour, one should sit and receive with respect those considered opinions of others. I never quite manage this. You realise, of course, that what will never happen is your diners will gaze at you with eyes rapidly brimming, while their bodies pulsate with pleasure; a peristalsis of appreciation, pausing only to find just the right description of the finest morsel ever to enter their digestive tract.**

You KNOW this won't happen. And yet, you still get irritated when it doesn't.

This was my first time with partridge.English Grey partridge, not the more common French Red, specially obtained by F. Norman Butchers. I was surprised at how small they came. Don't worry, they plump up in the oven. 

Roast partridge
Brown your birds in butter in a warm but not stupidly hot pan (stupid like, left heating for 15 minutes, as I do for lamb or beef) colour the partridge, moving frequently and basting with the fat. You must do this else your birds will come out of the oven a nasty, pasty, pale tone. They just aren't in long enough to brown. 
I then put a thin strip of smoked pancetta long ways across the body, mainly for the fat to baste the bird. I stuffed half a roasted shallot into the body. Not much room for more. I did this in the expectation of roasting juices that never came.
Move to a hot oven, around 220°C. (The Partridge, you can live where ever you like!) Roast for no more than 12 minutes. This will deliver you a breast with a hint of pink. You must rest the birds, at least ten minutes, more if covered with foil and a towel. 
Is it meant to be this pink? Yes. It really is. Etien's still had the liver in the body cavity. I think it unnerved him. That's the other problem with serving it to guests. Partridge has to be pink, unless you like scraping grey grout off bones.

But... I don't know. I'm not a fan of gamey flavours anyway. Even pheasant is too far for me. The partridge breast meat was good and tender but the legs have that slight... height that I don't enjoy. The rest of the family enjoyed it more than me. Etien keeps asking me why I don't just cook more poussin? Everyone likes poussin! He's right but with that logic I'd up end just serving burger and chips. You have to keep experimenting.

I should have added a little gravy. I was looking to make one but there is almost no roasting juices off a partridge. The birds are pretty much fat free too. The stock I made from the roasted carcasses had a very thin lipid layer after I'd refrigerated it. I always chill my stocks; makes it much easier to separate fat from jelly.

So, I'm not sure that partridge will be on the NRD menu. If your group really want it and you don't mind it pink... perhaps.

For me the success was with the barley bed and the blackberry sauce. More about those in another post. Odd isn't it that we can find all kinds of grains on menus these days: quinoa, couscous, bulgar wheat, amaranth... but they hardly ever feature British barley? I'm a fan and have been looking for other ways to use it.

Served here with charred and braised chicory, blackberry sauce (blobbed!) and soft barley.

*Yes 'arduours'. I can neologise with the best of them.

**And as you didn't ask, here are my finest food moments in no particular order.

The Square, langoustine raviolo with lobster bisque.

The Square (again), the parsley and white truffle velouté with a cheeky quail's egg in the bottom.

The Square (sorry) any of the dessert soufflés.

Angela Hartnett's foie gras, truffle and brandy parfait in Claridges. The maitre d' saw me fingering the very last scraps of this amuse bouche and brought me over another. "I saw Sir enjoying it so much."

Gordon Ramsey's aubergine caviar and red snapper at Aubergine

The Brill at Guy Savoy, Paris. That was a very, very special meal at one of the world's finest restaurants. The service was incomparable.

The simple roasted monkfish with a rosemary and anchovy butter, Fish Works, Bristol.

And while I'm thinking about it, the new potatoes in Fish Works, Bath. I know, potatoes!

Anthony Demetre's bavette of beef with roasting juices and potatoes dauphinoise, many, many, many times in Arbutus.

Hmmm. Lots of fish. This confirms my growing suspicion that I am a reluctant carnivore. I may develop this list into a proper post.