Saturday, 14 September 2013

Funky Dust Pickle Powder

Who could have ever guessed that I would get turned on by machines? Not for their own sake of course, but to manipulate traditional foods in new ways. I had this idea the other day: what would happen if you took lacto-fermented pickles, shaved them thin and put them in a dehydrator? Then crush them up into a powder to use as seasoning. It is delicious beyond all expectations. This is two of my cucumber pickles made in late July, super sour, no garlic a little chili. They yielded about a tablespoon of this funky dust. It's intriguing, not overly salty, but sour, spicy, slightly sweet. My first instinct would be to put it on a mango, but sprinkled on a burger would be a little more conventional. There's also a batch of bright yellow fermented sweet corn dehydrated that is even more intriguing, very sweet, sour and salty. Again, I'm thinking relish, but even just a pinch on a salad, sandwich, or maybe in the batter for fried chicken. Next experiment is beets, okra, radish - just what I happen to have around. Any other ideas?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

SHARE DESSERT - One more recipe for you to share with friends this weekend

Baked rhubarb served with macadamia crumble and vanilla ice cream
Serves 8

• 3 bunches rhubarb (approximately 1.5kg), trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 10cm pieces
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup apple juice
1 vanilla pod, scraped
1 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
½ cup brown sugar
• 40 g butter, room temperature
½ cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (360F). Spread the rhubarb pieces evenly over the base of 2 large baking dishes, sprinkle the raw sugar and apple juice evenly between the 2 trays. Add half of the vanilla pod and seeds to each tray and give them a gentle stir.
2. Loosely cover with foil and set aside.
3. To make the crumble, combine the nuts, coconut, brown sugar, butter, flour and cinnamon in a medium mixing bowl, rub together gently with your finger tips and then sprinkle over a lined baking tray.
4. Place the rhubarb and crumble trays into the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes. The rhubarb should be tender but not falling apart and the crumble should be golden brown.
5. Serve the rhubarb and its syrup piled into a serving dish, the crumble on the side and a tub of the best quality vanilla ice cream. Let your guests assemble their own deconstructed rhubarb crumble with ice cream.

food dept. fact:Any left over crumble can be stored in an airtight container in the pantry for up to a month. Why not try stirring it through softened ice cream and serve with caramelized apples for another great winter dessert.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Boy Meets Atlas

I knew there would come a day when my younger son Mookie would figure out that I haven't exactly been telling him the whole truth and nothing but the truth about pasta. He got very good at rolling out dough by hand in most shapes, including a very decent lasagne. But somehow he figured out that there is a machine on the shelf. And a wooden board that slides out from under the counter, onto which a hand cranked pasta machine fits perfectly, as the Gods of dough ordained. It took him just a few minutes to figure out how to work it and he rolled out these sheets of such exquisite delicacy and grace, that when they went into a simple round cassola with fresh tomato sauce, a little ricotta and mozzarella, he even tempted his mother the raw vegan into a hefty serving. This was not my doing, but look at it. It IS in fact as good as lasagne can possibly get. I told him next time we make the cheeses too. Only way to go from there is grow the wheat and tomatoes and milk the cow. I am there. Can there be anything better than this for dinner?

The Food Urchin Supper Club Returns

Just the other day, whilst I was sat in a jacuzzi and enjoying a Dirty Black Russian, someone asked me an intriguing question.

"Dan," he said. "Dan, whatever happened to that crazy and extremely popular supper club you used to run?"

The question caught me by surprise, I have to admit but after reflecting and pausing for a moment or two, this is what I had to say.

"Well Marcus," I said. "I've been out of the game for sometime now. It was my own decision by the way, this self imposed exile from supperclubbering. I just felt that I had.... lost my way. I needed some time out. But I have been busy, out there, out in the wilderness. Busy hunting, foraging, gathering and sleeping under stars. Busy working the land, sniffing the soil and going back to my roots. Busy tracking cloven hoof, rummaging through manure, focusing keen eye with bow and arrow. Busy stirring iron pots over log fires, crumbling ancient herbs and slurping from battered wooden spoons. I've been very, very busy. It has been a hobo-ish sort of existence but I am glad I took this sabbatical because I feel that I really have reconnected with food, with the seasons and with life all around. Now, having gone back to nature and with the knowledge I have accumulated, I am ready to face the world anew and afresh. I am ready to start cooking again."

Marcus stared back at me for a long, long time. A long, long, long, long time

And then he said "Dan, you don't arf talk a load of b*ll*cks."

Of course, he is right. Marcus is just a fictitious person. I don't even own a jacuzzi (although I am rather partial to a Dirty Black Russian). No, there isn't any other reason other than we've been busy doing all kinds of stuff. Some of the stuff I can't even seem to quantify or explain. Time seems to trickle through my fingers like golden syrup, poured from a can. I don't know where it goes. But we are back in business and we are trying to get the Food Urchin Supper Club back off the ground.Because quite simply, we do like doing them.

So here it is, the menu for the next FUSC which will be held on Sunday 29th of September at FU mansions in Hornchurch, Essex. Starting at 1:30PM.

Something to amuse your bouche

Roast tomato and pepper soup with chorizo and cobnuts.

Free range chicken, raised in Suffolk, braised in cider with herbs, root veg and ham hock.

Blackberry sorbet

Grandpa Beard's upside down pear and ginger cake with homemade vanilla ice cream.

Vegetarian mains option will be lemon, courgette and butternut squash lasagne and the soup to start will be sans chorizo.

Bread will come in the form of Veronica II sourdough and Somerset cider bread.

And as always, tap water will be free.

All for £25 a head. Bar-gin.

To reserve a space please email me at or leave a comment. So bring your friends, bring your family and most importantly, bring your wine (leave a little bit for us so that we may slurp on the dregs at the end).  

Grandpa Beard's upside down pear and ginger cake (it is verrrry niiiiice)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Foraging, free food and fruity sponge puddings

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog

Get your blackberry picking done before Old Nick gets in

For once, or for a long while at least, it seems that the glorious summer we have had this year has set up a bumper harvest for the coming autumn, especially with regards to wild food. By all accounts, the warm blast we had in late May and early June created perfect conditions for bushes and trees, encouraging them to flower abundantly. Coupled with further, unheralded days of sunshine and occasional doses of rain, the surrounding fields, parks, canal ways and pastoral roundabouts on busy highways should now be bursting with produce. And they are. Over the last few days I have been wandering around in a bit of a tizz looking at all the free stuff that nature suddenly has to offer. So much so, that I developed a crick in my neck.

At the moment I have my grubby eyes trained on a particularly laden pear tree that is situated in an alleyway I use to get to the train station. It actually overhangs from someone’s back garden, so there is a tricky question of legality. Pears found on the floor are fair game. Pears plucked with my fair hand would constitute as stealing or ‘scrumping’; which is a much nicer word. I do have a plan though, which is to traipse repeatedly up and down the alleyway with a tall scaffolding pole on my shoulder. If the police get called, I shall simply tell them that I am lost.

Given that foraging seems to be very much back on the agenda these days, it is interesting to gauge some of the reactions you get from the general public. Some people in my area definitely view fruit picking with suspicion. I found myself awkwardly explaining just the other day that I was collecting damsons and that the tree was actually on common ground. The interrogator in question wasn’t completely convinced as to what I was up to, given the proximity of the tree to his neighbour’s house. Neither had he heard of damsons before but after some laborious gesticulating, I think I managed to alleviate his concerns. His parting gesture went along the lines of “Well, as long as you’re not lifting Barry’s plums, that’s fine by me.”

Thankfully, with regards to blackberry picking, I have been pretty much left alone apart from the odd, curious dog walker. I am lucky enough to live next to some farmland; a semi-bucolic idyll where roaming, lolloping fields compete with the distant thunder of the M25 and the blackberry bushes that line the hedgerows are teeming. I’ve been going out practically every other day with a carrier bag. Occasionally I take the children along too, as they love bruising their fingers and lips vivid purple but they often come back yielding bags of dripping with juice due to clenched fists. So I tend to go by myself. Still, we have managed to amass nearly 5 kilos of bramble fruit so far. All of which currently sits in our chest freezer, alongside lighter bags of elderberries (lighter because they are fiddly to pick apart afterwards).

There are golden rules for foraging i.e. don’t pick too much fruit from a plant, leave at least a third for birds and it’s a good rule to abide by. But given the bounty of blackberries around at the moment, I would say that the gloves are off. Saying that, you might want to keep your Marigolds on, for fear of nettles, thorns and angry wasps. Whatever, I intend to keep hoarding for the time being. At least until Devils Spit Day on 29th September (otherwise known as Michaelmas). According to folklore, once ol’ Saint Nick has done his business on that day, all the wilted, musty blackberries will be no good for anything and there is an element of truth in that.

With all the blackberries I am collecting, plans are afoot to make lots of jams, crumbles, sauces and cordials but the biggest thrill at the moment is that I have recently acquired a wine-making kit so I really fancy making some of my own country brew. 

Then if I’ve got it all wrong about Barry’s plums, well, a bottle or two could come in handy as a gesture of goodwill. 

Syrup Sponge Pudding with Blackberries, Orange and Cinnamon

This recipe for a rather sinful rib-sticking pud was inspired by a dish created by Skye Gyngell, formally of Petersham Nurseries. Rather than use stem ginger and lemon though, I have gone for orange and cinnamon which in my option marries up nicely with the inherent woody spiciness of blackberries. I used a single, medium sized pudding bowl but this would go down well if you scaled down and used smaller, individual pudding bowls.

Serves 4
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g golden caster sugar
2 free range eggs
100g self-raising flour
Zest of 1 orange
Half a tsp of ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 tbsp of golden syrup
20 blackberries
Cream to serve


Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter your pudding basin thoroughly and set aside. Cream together the softened butter and sugar until pale and smooth and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well each time. Sift in the flour and then gently fold into the mixture. Add the orange zest, cinnamon and a pinch of salt, continuing to fold until evenly mixed.

Place the blackberries in the base of the pudding bowl and drizzle the golden syrup over. Then spoon the sponge mixture on top. Cover the top of the pudding bowl with a round of foil, lightly greased with butter, stand on a baking tray and then place into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes until the sponge has risen and is cooked through. Test with a skewer in the centre, it should come out clean.

Run a knife around the inside of the pudding bowl and turn out onto the centre of a plate, Pour a generous amount of cream over and serve.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


People have such short memories.

They forget that around two years ago now, I appeared on the short lived BBC food quiz 'A Question of Taste' and impressed the entire nation with my rather superior food knowledge. At the risk of offending my lovely fellow team mates Kavey and Dan, who were rubbish quite frankly, if it wasn't for me, we would have lost (the comment about crumpets not withstanding).

So when I go online and tweet something silly like this: 

But be rest assured that I was simply making a joke. Of course I use egg yolks and egg yolks only when making a carbonara sauce. As well as bronze dye-extruded durum wheat dried pasta, the finest Guanciale known to man and the best Pecorino Romano that Aldi has to offer. And I always, always dress the pasta afterwards. The suggestion that I would ever, ever make a basic béchamel sauce, fry off some bacon bits with slivers of garlic and mix it with some boiled value range spaghetti is preposterous and I can't believe the food pedants of Twitter fell for it and castigated me. You know who you are.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I'd like to go back to perfecting another classic recipe if you don't mind.

Which is Shepherds pie.

With tinned corned beef, mashed sweet potato and Branston pickle.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Could this be the most beautiful toilet in the world? (Could this be)

My local Thai restaurant, which is called Sukhotthai and based in the affable climes of 'Ornchurch, is a beacon of joy in an otherwise sea of blandness. A little cracker in other words. Saying that, we do have a good Turkish ocakbasi too but in general choices are limited around my neck of the woods. Unless you don't mind eating in a generic chain that is. We don't visit Sukhotthai that often these days, my wife and I. But when we do, it is always a treat, with friendly staff serving up mind blowing food. As such, to report on a startling and somewhat unsettling development seems wrong and disloyal. A dereliction of duty even. But I do feel that I have to report on a recent visit whereupon an explosion of colour assaulted my senses and blew my mind away. And if I didn't make comment on the festoon of artificial foliage that has appeared of the blue in the men's lavatories.... well, that would be remiss of me too.

To sum up the awe and bafflement I felt whilst sitting and thinking in such a room of naff beauty, I have to refer to a conversation I later had online with an old friend, which went something like this.

"You know that scene in Superman II where he flies to a tropical rainforest to collect some rare orchids for Lois for that special meal, you know before he gives up his powers in that chamber? Well it felt just that, being in there. I called for Superman but he never came."

His reply?
"Calling for Superman. In a flowery toilet. In a restaurant called Sukothai. We're one glory hole away from the campest start to a Saturday ever!"

Which of course is quite funny. Not to mention succinct and is worth sharing, as it certainly captured the surreal aspect of the situation. Or the photo that follows.

Like I said, I really do not want to cast aspersions on what really is a lovely little gem but I do have to ask the big question: 

Could this be the most beautiful toilet in the world? (Could this be)

Oh oh oh oh oh oh-oh-oh-oh