Saturday, 30 July 2011

Peter Chrysologus Starter

The hidden world of bacteria never ceases to amaze me. A month or two ago my starter began to stink something awful. I know, you think it needs to be saved from 1856. Not at all. So I chucked it. Mostly because I was going to be away for a while and not baking. Upon my return I began a new one. Flour of wheat, rye, maybe something else and water. Then: What is that smell? Sort of like parmesan, and feet. It did take two weeks to finally smell like starter. And then of all things, it is raging lacto leviathan. Raised this baby in less than 6 hours. I normally let it go from 12 -14 hours rising. WHAT?? It is nearly 100 degrees here, but still. That is totally unbelievable for a sourdough. So, to honor today's saint. His name is Peter Chrysologus. Means Golden Word. And The Word is awesome.

Pizza Paneer Truck

Whaddya know? The paneer works really nicely on pizza. This dough is made with a bit of my new untested sourdough starter made with some wheat I grew in a pot out back. It's now raising its very first bread. On top is the paneer from earlier this week, halved little yellow tomatoes, pickled okra (I think one of the best batches I've ever made) some leftover ratatouille mostly zucchini, walnuts. I think that's it. No sauce. Some sage and basil from the garden. I think a $20 pizza at the very least. I wonder if you could sell this from a truck. Maybe with rose in summer. And instead of a kiddy tune, you pipe some Cole Porter. I'd come a running.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Paneer Riserva con Tartuffo

OK, I will admit I have been getting out of hand this week, throwing together extraneous ingredients that just happened to be in the fridge. It started with some local truffles that begged to be used immediately. In eggs with cheese, sure. With oysters wrapped in bacon, why the hell not? But this one was sheer chance. Who bought all this milk? I'm bored, I'll make some paneer.

If you don't know how, this is the gateway drug for all cheeses. 2 quarts of whole milk. Juice of two lemons. Bring milk almost to boil, pour in juice, let curdle. Pour into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and drain for an hour or so. Then press for a few hours. Unwrap and lovely. It first went into a saag paneer of course. But all the rest? I kneaded it with salt to be smooth and dense. Poured over olive oil and threw in some truffle slices. It is AMAZING. This was the first tiny jar after a week or so. The bigger one I'm going to let sit and age a bit in the cave. Delicious. Closer to feta than I would have imagined, but truffly. Say OH MY.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Bag of Meat

A couple of weeks ago I had what I like to call a 'Charlie Bucket' moment. But before I go any further, perhaps I should explain exactly what that is and in order to do so we need to cast our minds back to the final scene of that camp and slightly sinister classic from 1971, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka, Grandpa Joe and Charlie Bucket have just miraculously smashed through the glass factory roof in a glass elevator and are flying through the air, surveying the wonderful Bavarian scenery below. After a short period of uplifting violins and wonderment, Willy Wonka (or Gene Wilder rather) then delivers his coup de theatre, revealing that he wants to pass on the chocolate factory and all that it encompasses to Charlie Bucket. For me this is the pivotal point of the film. Because the look that Charlie Bucket shoots back at Willy Wonka is truly, a thing of beauty. This simple, well executed look symbolises in one short, sharp hit the realisation that after a lifetime of poverty, desperation and grime, everything is finally about to change. It is both glorious and heartbreaking to watch and why child actor, Peter Ostrum didn't get any work after that film is beyond me. So, simply put, a 'Charlie Bucket' moment occurs when all your dreams come true.

My CB moment happened in Porterford Butchers and fellow blogger MiMi from Meemalee's Kitchen was my very own personal Willy Wonka. I had heard her talk about this butchers on Watling Street before, wittering on about buying 'bags of meat' but I always assumed MiMi was just getting her protein haul in for cooking in the week ahead. The carnivorous chanteuse that she is. But then I met her recently for lunch and she suggested that we get a bag of meat to eat. This was a curious proposition and I have to say I wasn't quite prepared when I walked in through the door of Porterford Butchers that day. Standing behind a winding queue of city gents, the shop itself seemed fairly regular as we slowly shuffled past a respectable display of joints and meats but then the suits fell away and I found myself basking in the warm glow of halogen lamps. The sight in front of me was one to behold and took my breath away. A cabinet jam packed with endless varieties of cooked meat. Sausages, chops, ribs, steaks, breasts, legs, kebabs, you name it, it was there. And the only concession to your five-a-day was a tray of sticky looking roast potatoes.

I looked at MiMi with a tear in my eye and she just put her hand on my shoulder, offering warm support. The guy behind the counter then chirped up in brusque fashion, asking "what would you like sir?" Mindful I think of the growing queue behind me. "When can I move my family in?", I replied. Which prompted a frown from said guy and a jab in the side from MiMi. "I'll have two ribs, two sausages, a jerk chicken leg, a minted lamb chop and some roast potatoes please." And he duly handed it all over in foil-lined bag.

I had just bought my first bag of meat. Naughty, delicious, guilty and salty but after scoffing the lot, it felt like I was on top of the world. You should go, you might get to feel like Charlie Bucket too.

Some of the photos are courtesy of MiMi.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


About 20-something years ago, in a little apartment in the Bronx, I tried out some recipes from the Silver Palate cookbook. Tabbouleh sticks in my mind as especially toothsome. I must have stuck to the recipe at first because that particular page is splattered with unspeakable ordure. Maybe of use someday to an intrepid culinary archaeologist. Even more interesting is how far I've strayed from the original recipe. The only thing similar is the hour's soak 1:1 ratio in water. I seem to have tripled the amount of parsely and lemon juice, thrown in red pepper and shallots. And interestingly, less olive oil than the original. All the other ingredients in the original are gone. Weird. But still a staple, as you can see with this Greek salad, hummus and homemade pita. This stuff is just in my blood.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Mopani Worms

I am of the opinion that if there's anything you want from pretty much any place in the world, New York is a good bet, or often even better London. People from every corner of the former Empire, which means most of the world. I spent this past week loitering there, mostly eating pork scratchings (aka cracklings) astounded by places like the Borough Market, the Ginger Pig in Marylebone, Neal's Yard in Covent Garden, etc. We are talking serious food here. But who could guess at the stodgiest of all revered old purveyors - Fortnum and Mason - I would find these for sale? You've all seen the commercial right? The white guy gives the South African couple some chicken to taste and he says, "tastes like Mopani Worms." Well, it doesn't taste like chicken, at least these were hard and crunchy and salty. If they were fattier I would say they're not unlike pork scratchings, but that would insult the Pig Gods. Let me say, these worms were tasy, interesting, and I hope if you see these for sale in your locale, try one. Look closely between my fingers to see what you're in for. But the flavor and texture was quite pleasant.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Courgette Soup and Marrow Rum

It's all gone a bit mad down the allotment, especially with our courgette plants, they seem to be growing and fruiting at an exponential rate. Pick one healthy size specimen, return a couple of days later and bang, a pair of bruising green truncheons appear in it's place. Leave it a week or so and woof, the zucchini transform into massive weighty clubs, fit for cavemen and trolls. It must be the wet but warm weather we've been having. Although I think the fact that I've left the plant's man and lady parts alone this year has helped too. You know, their flowers. Last year, I kept snipping off these delicate golden blossoms for stuffing and tempura, ignorant of the fact that I was making the plant less fertile and the yield was a lot lower as result. I feel a bit ashamed actually. The arguments I must have caused due to tension, frustration and feelings of inadequacy. The turning of backs, hitting of pillows, whispered name calling, 'flopsie wopsie', oh dear. But like I said, I have let the bees and Mother Nature do their thang this season and we really are reaping the benefits. So much so that we appear to be heading towards a 'glut' - a word which in itself seems have connotations of wanton abandonment - and so I have had to resort to extreme measures to cull the tide. In other words, I've been making soup, that great subjugator of excess food stuffs.

Courgette soup comes in many guises and with this fruit as a base, it seems like you can run off in various directions. During research on t'internet, I discovered that carrot, mint, watercress, curry powder (a Pear Cafe suggestion), tomatoes, chickpeas all make happy bedfellows but yesterday I plumped for a traditional Italian combination of courgette and parmesan. This is a slightly bastardised version of a recipe I found here to accommodate the quantity of courgettes I had. I also omitted some ingredients such as the cream simply because I didn't have any lying around in the fridge but I am not sure the soup needs it as courgettes do have an inherent, lush creaminess when cooked nice and soft which goes well the salty bite of the cheese. Great served warm but I bet it would be equally delicious cold.

Courgette and Parmesan Soup
serves 4 (with some to go in the freezer afterwards)


50 gms butter and a healthy splash of olive oil

5 garlic gloves, chopped

handful of basil leaves, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 and half kgs of courgettes, quartered and sliced into 1cm rounds

1 litre of vegetable stock (I used Marigold Swiss Vegetable Boullion)

100 gms of finely grated parmesan cheese, plus some to serve

salt and pepper, for seasoning


Take a large pan and heat oil and butter until its foams and then add the courgettes, garlic, basil and bay leaf and cook gently for 10 minutes or so until courgettes are soft.

Take about a quarter of courgettes out and then add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly, take out the bay leaf and then blitz in a food processor or blender.

Pour the soup back into the pan and place onto a low heat, add the cheese and stir through until it has melted and warmed through. Season for taste, although you probably won't need much salt. Ladle into a bowl and spoon some of the reserved courgette into the middle. Sprinkle with some extra parmesan and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil around the outside of your courgette pile for poncy presentation effect.

Courgette and Parmesan Soup

Now I was always of the opinion that marrows were just overgrown courgettes and as they both member of the squash family, it's not too far flung a belief to behold. After all, when a courgette becomes huge and bloated with water it tastes exactly like marrow and therefore is pretty bland to boot. This didn't discourage us in sowing some marrow seeds earlier this year but after facing this recent onslaught of courgettes, I've been scratching around for alternatives this Daddy which rose into view across the allotment path like "wot no" Chad.

Again, I did a bit of research online and some unusual ideas did come up such as marrow and ginger jam which is pretty intriguing but then my eyes zeroed in on a recipe for marrow which featured the magic word 'Rum'. And then a ping of deja vu zipped through my brain. 'Didn't Helen of Food Stories say she was going to make rum with a big, fat marrow that I gave her as part of WMPC?' I asked her on Twitter and the answer was verily, "No! Bugger! Didn't get around to it".

I think I got to the shops and back within ten minutes, juggling bags of demerara sugar.

So yes, I am now on a journey to procure some of my very own hooch. There are many questions surrounding this project. Such as will this actually bloody well work? And what is the legality of making your own rum at home? Is it in fact rum or something entirely else? Grog? Minging marrowy mead? To be honest, I haven't got the faintest clue to any of these questions but still, it is all rather exciting and I hope to report back in a few weeks time with the outcome. My only real reservation is an innate worry that the stuff will turn out to be as potent as some poteen that I tried way back in my uni days, having been smuggled in from Ireland. After only a couple of glugs, I had a conversation with Elvis, went blind in one eye and woke up in a pool of my own vomit and urine. I doubt or at least very much hope that the same will happen here. In the meantime, here is a little pictorial of the first stages of my making marrow rum. Kids, don't try this at home.

Take your marrow, cut the stem end off and hollow out all the pith and seeds.

Fill the cavity with demerara sugar (roughly 3kgs)

Pour in some orange juice and activated bread yeast (not pictured)

Stir and marvel at the concoction and wonder, will it work? Will it?

Place stem end back on top, seal with sellotape and leave for 3 weeks in a muslin bag (not pictured). The second stage involves some filtering into a demi john or something but I haven't got that far yet. Whoop!