Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Conejos en Escabeche

Juan Valles Regalo de la Vida Humana

Assen muy bien los conejos y después córtenlos en pedaços y echenlos en una olla nueva or otra semejante vasija de tierra vedriada poniendo entre los pedaços del conejo hojas de laurel y una poca de salvia piccada, y después hagan el escabeche y échenselo por encima de manera que los pedacos estén bien cubiertos del escabeche, y el escabeche se haze desta manera: Tomen dos partes de buen bino blanco y una de vinagre fuerte, pero en esto se has de tener consideraçión a si el vinagre es fuerte o flaco, porque si fuere flaco será menester echar más, y si hoviere limones córtenlos y échenlos tanbién, y muelan clavos y pimienta y gengibre y un poco de nuez noscada y désele un hervor y su sabor de sal y échese sobre los conejos, pero téngase aviso que los conejos has de estar fríos quando se les echare este escabeche. Algunos echan un poco de azeite en este escabeche y para conejos súffrese, pero no para perdizes no otras aves.

Roast the rabbits very well and then cut them in pieces and place in a new pot or in a similar glazed earthenware vase, placing between the pieces of rabbit laurel leaves and a bit of chopped sage, and then make the escabeche and put it on each in a way so the pieces are well covered witht he escabeche, and make the escabeche in this way: Take two parts of good white wine and one of strong vinegar, but in this you must take consideration if the vinegar is strong or weak, because if it is weak it will be necessary to add more, and add enough lemons cut, and grind cloves, pepper and ginger and a little nutmeg and let it boil, salt to taste and put over the rabbits, but be advised that the rabbits must be cold when you add the escabeche. Some add a little oil in this escabeche and for rabbits it works but not for partridges or other birds.

This is a recipe I prepared and spoke about in NY a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn't say much gastronomically because I wanted to leave it on the shelf for a few weeks to thoroughly pickle. I was a little apprehensive. Stop and think about it, rabbit sitting at room temperature for a few weeks? I guess if you've got to go, might as well be worth it. In the end, the flavor was quite intriguing, sour but with serious bitter and aromatic notes from the lemon peel and bay. Definitely worth a try. And incidentally, this manuscript was just published in facsimile from a unique copy in Vienna. I venture to guess this may well be the first translation of this ever made into English. And as for tasting it, I might be the first person in 450 years. Or maybe all the others were poisoned.

Monday, 20 February 2012

That Egg

The eggs that willed itself into being. They are first pickled with beets to make them pink. The tops removed judiciously, the yolks excavated and devilled with a touch of mayo, green chili pepper and oregano. Then put together again. Then encased in freshly chopped pork shoulder, seasoned into sausage meat. Then, in lieu of proper caul fat, some bacon is carefully slashed intermittently and stretched into a netting that is wrapped around each. Then they are set to cook in the barbecoa, napped with a tart tomato and lime based sauce. And voila.

Sliced open, and amazingly everything stays intact. I think if I ever try this again, it should go on a stick. Definitely Fair Food. The other perversity was a small pickled quail egg wrapped in meat to cure into salami. I'm hoping the egg stays good in the month or so the little salami olives take to cure. We shall see!

He Died With A Falafel In His Hand

I am standing in a snaking queue around the back of a market stall on Whitecross Street and the wait is agonising.

Truly, truly agonising.

I turn a corner. It's another ten minutes of shuffle, shuffle, stop, shuffle, shuffle, stop.

Shuffle, shuffle...............stop.

The aroma drives me insane, my saliva glands go into overdrive and my stomach emits a low growl.

I turn another corner and I am almost there, the end is nearly in sight.

Subconsciously, I nudge up to the person in front of me, eager to to get a glimpse of the delights in store. This gets mistaken as a pass. Or worse, a case of frottaging, judging by the frown on the besuited gent.

Stepping back, ashamed and abashed, I keep my head head down and focus on my feet.

But the smell keeps dragging me on. Shuffle, shuffle. Shuffle, shuffle.

Finally, after an age, I hear the question:

"Regular or large?"

"Large," I answer.

"With everything on it?"



By then it's too much and I spit back with a manic glare. "I don't care for the bloody aubergine, just give me the damn falafel, now!"

Eye's widen, glances are exchanged.

And then suddenly, everything springs into life. Tongs move back and forth, dipping in and out of trays, working swiftly, smashing crisp brown patties down, piling the other ingredients up. With a wrap and a twist and a tap tap, the package is handed over.

I snatch at it, hand some money over and scuttle off like a wizened goblin, giggling gleefully, spitefully.

Fortune Street Park. That's as far as I get and into a bush I run.

The paper gets ripped open, greedily I take bite after bite, without pausing for breath. Incisors tear into the chickpea and cumin. Molars grind the pickles. Tahini and chilli sauce dribbles down my chin.

It's gone in seconds, so I clean up with paper towel and slowly emerge out of the topiary, into the light of day and saunter back to the office. Sated but feeling oh so slightly disgusted with myself.

I love you Hoxton Beach Falafel.

But sometimes the wait is too long. Too, too long.


Chanelling my ancestors today. If you have some leftover fresh pasta dough, as I did, made of high protein bread flour, just roll it into thin rounds. Then stretch as far as it will go. Brush with butter, sprinkle with sugar, a layer of walnuts and cinnamon. Then roll up and curl into a coil. More butter and bake. When it comes out barely moisten with rosewater and honey. I think this is far more intriguing than the syrupy gloop cut into diamonds. Still has crunch, is drier and less sweet. The pastry is balanced with the filling. Now go make some. There is probably no dessert easier or cheaper to make when you have a few spare minutes.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Unaccustomed As I Am

This is just a quick one really.

Now you may or may not know it but this week is (or rather has been) Social Media Week. Where multitudes of people across the globe have been talking, conversing, chatting, extrapolating and waffling, online and off, about all things to do with social media. Which is what you might expect from such an event I suppose. But there is no doubt that social media is making a massive impact on our lives so why not have a week dedicated to it? Like it or not, we are slowly and surely becoming integrated, absorbed and saturated by the medium and it is undeniable that social media has now become a catalyst for "driving cultural, economic, political and social change."* Therefore, it is a very important thing indeed.

And within that tenuous grasp of proceedings lies the reason as to why I have agreed to talk at an event for Great British Chefs. It's a big thing this social media stuff, it's something I should get involved with and it is something, incidentally, that is on tonight - gulp.

Running under the title and themes of 'How Social Media & Collaboration Change the Way We Eat', I shall be joining several other speakers to show how these "collaborative changes are leading to greater enjoyment of food and wine." My topic in particular will focus on my supper club, the business models I use and the various online marketing methods I employ which sounds all very grown up and astute. Really and truthfully, what I've got in mind is a 'show and tell' session based upon the vagaries of "this is 'ow I've dun it." But never one to shy away from a challenge, I hope to make it at least vaguely amusing and informative.

Apparently, extra tickets have now become available so if you fancy popping along to lend an ear and moral support then please do so. There is a glass of wine from Naked Wines in it if you do.

The event will be held at TechHub, near Old Street and starts at 6:30PM. For more details and tickets please go here.

* quote taken from the Social Media Week website

Monday, 13 February 2012

Eggs Pickled, Devilled, Garnished, etc.

I was flying home last night after a fabulous cookbook conference in NY, reading a cooking magazine that shall remain nameless. Perhaps I was in a critical mood from the surfeit of discourse, or maybe it was just clarity only afforded to the hung over, bloated and exhausted on multi-stage cross continental flights. There were a few devilled egg recipes in the magazine, SO very lacking in inspiration that it afforded me a few hours of private amusement thinking of better things to do with an egg. This is only the nicest looking. I usually don't fuss with food, but this cut of a pickled chicken egg holding a pickled quail egg, holding an edamame puree, with random pink pickled radish and chive, I think looked too nice to pass up. Equally fetching was the same red egg (for Valentines!) with it's yolk devilled, restuffed, spiked, similarly stuffed with another egg and various garnitures from jars on the shelf - corn relish, sage leaf, pimento. They got too noisy and crowded to show, but they sure tasted fabulous. NEXT step, add a smoke element. I'm thinking of pickling, then lightly smoking, then stuffing. With pancetta garnish instead of soy. Send some ideas. Share your pictures too, I'll post them. It has GOT to be better than the dumbed down drivel that's out there now folks.

Ah, Here's another idea I woke up with today. Boiled, Pickled, Devilled, then Scotched!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Naughty Scrumpets


Like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go, I've been wrestling with the whole crumpetgate saga for a couple of weeks now. Ever since that night, my life has been a montage of long walks in the park, contemplative pints supped alone, cigarettes lit but unsmoked with ash snaking down to the butt and spent hours in grey light, wallowing under crumpled sheets.

"Epigrams. Who the hell has ever heard of epigrams?" That's all I've been muttering under my breath.

Of course, it never was epigrams, I got the spelling wrong, which grates even more. It was actually épigrammes, dug out from Elizabeth David by some young, snotty nosed, Oxbridge educated researcher no doubt. Tosser.

So yes, readers, the whole episode has hit me hard.

But thankfully, I am now over it, for this weekend I got off my backside and set to make what I know as 'scrumpets', a word gleened from Mark Hix's Oyster and Chop House cookbook. A word trapped in the inner recesses of my mind, a word that was the source of confusion all along.

In terms of simplicity, this dish really couldn't be easier. Take some breast of lamb, season and slow cook with herbs and garlic and then leave to cool. Then cut into strips, batter with breadcrumb and deep fry. The result is ridiculously toothsome, with a lovely outer crunch that yields to soft, tender meat inside. Mark Hix suggests an accompanying dip of wild garlic mayonnaise to serve with the scrumpets (he also suggests using breast of mutton too) but I think that would be a step too far. What these lamb goujons need is something acidic to cut through their inherent fatty richness, so I would serve them up with a green sauce or salsa verde. And this will be the gameplan as scrumpets are on the menu for my next supper club.

Going back to the word itself, I have to say that I would take 'scrumpets' over 'épigrammes' any day of the week. There is something bawdy, riotous and devilish about 'scrumpets', whereas 'épigrammes' seems poncy and sniffy by contrast. Not that I have anything against Fronch cooking and Elizabeth David, no not at all. It's just that scrumpets is definitely better. Definitely. And if Kirsty Wark had used it in the quiz, then I wouldn't have looked so stupid.

Hmm, I still haven't let go of that bone have I?

Le breast d'agneau

Lamb Scrumpets
- serves 4

300-400g boneless breast of lamb

salt and roughly ground pepper

1 head of garlic, halved and roughly chopped

a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme

2 free range eggs, beaten

60-70g fresh white breadcrumbs

vegetable oil for deep-frying


Preheat the oven to 160c/gas mark 3. Place the lamb into an ovenproof dish (with tight fitting lid). Season well and scatter over the chopped garlic and herbs. Cover and cook for 2 hours or until very tender, basting regularly and turning down if necessary. Leave to cool overnight.

Scrape away any fat residue from the lamb and any fat that hasn't rendered down during cooking. Cut the breast into 1 cm wide strips, 5-6 cms long.

Have 3 bowls ready, one with flour, one with eggs and one with the breadcrumbs. Season the flour. Heat a 6 cm depth of oil in a deep fat fryer or other suitable deep, heavy pan to 160-180c.

Pass the lamb strips through the seasoned flour, shaking off excess, then through the egg and finally coat in the breadcrumbs. Deep-fry the strips in batches for 2-3 minutes, moving them around in the oil until golden and crisp. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve with lemon wedges and (in my opinion) a healthy dollop of salsa verde .

'Erbs and Garlick


Absolutely battered

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Banana On Toast

Banana on toast

As you are probably aware, it has been very cold and icy and snowy lately. Very cold and snowy and icy. There have been warnings, snow warnings and yellow snow warnings. Imploring people to be careful, wrap up warm, don't make unnecessary road trips and on any account, please do not eat yellow snow. Weathermen stare out, gravely, from our screens, frowning, clenching their red button remotes and with undertones of fear and dread expound upon the horrors of 'freezing rain'. Rain that actually freezes. Can you believe it? Via Twitter and Facebook, we regularly get updates of snow that is snowing in people's gardens, pictures of snow. Reports that it is snowing over here. And over there too. Supplies are running low, trains can barely cope, planes are grounded and hospitals can't cope, cats won't go outside to do their business and dogs sadly bite at snow, with no real success of getting a meal. No, you really can't miss the fact that the country is currently gripped by a Siberian fist, which is slowly squeezing, squeezing and freezing the very life out of this fair land.

Unless you work for the council that is. In which case you will be totally oblivious to the nation's plight and won't have even bothered to get your arse into gear and get the gritters to come down my road. No, Havering Council, you are probably far too busy sitting in your wonderfully warm offices, wearing Hawaii shirts and shorts, drinking cocktails.

I gripe.

But despite all the terrible weather we have to endure at the moment (and it really is terrible), the great thing is that we can get away with eating pretty much whatever we want. Biscuits, cake, crisps, pork scratchings, pork pies, pork products in general, lard, the brown gloopy stuff that remains on the bottom tray in the oven, you name it. Because it is all energy. We need the energy to cope with this current crisis. And lately, I have been reverting back to that childhood fave, banana on toast. I have had it every morning since the Big Freeze hit us and I can't get enough of it. Bread, toasted until it's nicely, toasted. Salted butter (and it must be salted) slathered across and melted into crunchy, slightly carbonised pores. And then sliced, ripe, sweet banana, mashed in, sometimes to a gooey pulp. Gorgeous. It might be beneficial to spread some peanut butter on too, you know for the all important calorific blast. It's all energy remember. But I am a bit of purist when it comes to banana on toast. Like all good things, you need to keep it simple.

After munching away on a couple of slices and before trudging out into the bleak, harsh winter, in my Aldi snow boots, I always like to utter the immortal line - "I am just going outside and I may be sometime."

But I always come back.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


I know everyone is into meringue the past few years. But I have been trying to perfect them for at least 30 years. By perfect, I don't mean your standard French or Italian meringue. I mean those my Auntie Fanny made. YES, I had an Auntie Fanny. My grandfather's sister, from Kastoria in Northern Greece, who spoke Spanish as her first language. Sephardic. I saw her last maybe in 1972 or 3. She made these when I was still very small. And I've been trying to do it ever since then. Seriously. And on a completely random whim, after using a ton of egg yolks, there were all these whites. And I think I've finally figured it out: almond extract! Here's how. Whip egg whites by hand with a jot of cream of tartar. Tiny pour of vanilla and almond extracts. Add powdered sugar, about a cup per three whites. Beat until stiffer than the devil. Drop onto paper bags torn up, I remember this detail. Bake for about 4 or 5 hours at 200 degrees. Let cool. For me they evoke her apartment in NY, that was very high up with a window open and I remember her worrying that I would fall out. I'd never been so high up in my life. Except for right now.

Clobbered Cream

Every now and then it's good to notice you've been talking a particular talk but not walking the walk: I've been saying for a long time that milk or cream just left out rots if it's pasteurized. But raw milk naturally ferments. Have I ever just let it do that? On the counter and unattended? Last week I was making butter, which ended up going into a bizarre 16th century recipe I'm talking about next week at a cookbook conference in NY. Let me just say this recipe I'm pretty sure has never been translated into English and I doubt has been cooked using original techniques, at last for 400 years or so. So I had some raw cream left over. I just left it out. And in one week this is what happened. Not very sour, rather pleasant and buttery. I'm not sure if it's creme fraiche or clabbered cream or what, but it did it to itself. GOT to love bacteria!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Gastronomical Cat

I have a remarkably weird cat. Ray likes to thumb through the cookbooks. It's rarely the same one, so he has clearly been looking for a specific recipe for some time now. Nope, not in Julia. Jeff Smith, you must be kidding? So this morning he pulls out The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Luckins. I am NOT kidding. He opens it quickly, I think finds what he wants and rips a page out, then crosses his arms and sits on it with a satisfied look on his face, waiting. I've long been wondering who leaves the dirty pans in the sink. And where those stray bits of bulghur wheat tabbouleh came from. He has very clearly been teaching himself how to cook so he doesn't have to eat cat food any more. Normally he waits till I'm gone to start reading, but this morning, I guess he couldn't wait. And for some reason he didn't think I could put two and two together - that he's the one messing up the kitchen, and then pretending it was the kids.

So here's the bigger question: do I invite him to cook with me, and just pretend the whole thing never happened? Or do I confront him, and tell him to stop tearing up my old 1980s cookbooks. Actually I never knew he could read either. What other things do you suppose he's been keeping from me. OH! That's why the pickles have been disappearing too! He's been nibbling on them. And look how he's just sitting there as if nothing's happened. Opposable thumbs apparently are not such a big deal folks.