A very fishy Devonian Christmas and easy cranberry sauce for leftovers

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Christmas came early in North Devon this year. A week early in fact, as I planned to visit my in-laws up in Yorkshire to celebrate the real Christmas day.

Our first stop for our pre-Christmas weekend was the farmer's market at the Big Sheep, in Abbotsham - the perfect place to pick up veg for Christmas dinner and some last minute Christmas presents (sheep's wool mittens for my niece and brother-in-law). 

The Big Sheep's farmer's market also has an incredible selection of locally sourced fresh fish - crab cakes made with Lundy Island crab, sea bass from the coastal waters, herring from Clovelly and mussels from the estuary. As a proud part Pole (my Mother's side is Polish) we of course had a traditionally fishy (and huge) faux Christmas Eve supper, including some of the crab cakes we picked up at the market.

My Mum also made an incredible open lobster and spinach lasagna with fragrant, aromatic lobster and star anise bisque. The lobsters (of course) were also local... that's one of the things I miss so much about living in Devon - the access to so much fresh seafood on a daily basis. 

Right, I promised a simple cranberry sauce recipe for your leftovers (if you still have any!)...this one, which accompanied both our faux and real Christmas day dinners, is so easy to make and encapuslates traditional Christmas flavours perfectly. I made a batch as soon as I got back to London to jar up and wrap prettily... the perfect Christmas present. It also goes amazingly well with any leftovers you have... perfect in sandwiches, with a ploughman's or just with cheese and crackers.

Makes two 8oz jars, plus a little extra. 

350 g) fresh cranberries(chopped)
1 large cooking apple (cored, peeled and chopped)
Zest and juice of 1 large orange 
1/2 tsp ground ginger 
3oz caster sugar 
1 Cinnamon stick
4 cloves 
4 tbsp Port

Add all the ingredients (apart from the Port) to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer with the lid on for five minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Port. Place in jars while still hot. 

See, I told you it was easy!

I'm in The Alps at the moment, drinking vin chaud and eating lots of cheese... more on my Alpine adventues to follow soon... Happy New Year everyone!

London Supper Clubs - Ferdie's Food Lab

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The popularity of supper clubs is booming and there are new supper clubs popping up in people's front rooms left right and centre. The Friday before last, I made my first foray into this elusive underground world at Ferdie's Food Lab in East London.

The idea behind the supper club craze is to eat interesting, high-quality food (at reasonable, non-restaurant prices) in a low key environment, surrounded by like minded people. Ferdie's Food lab gets this spot on. The brainchild of Simon Fernandez, this supper club is held in a rather grand looking hall in the shadow of the city and offers fantastic (and unusual) food in the company of other gourmets, gourmands or people just up for trying somewhere new and different.

All supper clubs encourage you to bring your own booze and Ferdie's Food Lab is no different - Simon sends through suggested wine pairings a couple of days before the event. However, the menu is not shared before the evening so I had no idea what to expect from our culinary experience - I was anticipating great things though having perused Simon's photos online earlier in the day.

It turns out it was a fish-themed evening and we kicked off with a salmon parfait forest, served with rosemary bread. The bread arrived first and we all fell upon it like gannets, only to realise later it was supposed to go with the parfait. Luckily, Simon provided us with extra crackers (for the supper club virgins) to scoop up the mousse - which was bedecked with gherkin, pea shoots and roe to form the 'forest'. First supper club lesson learnt...wait until all elements of the dish have arrived before tucking in.

Once the bowls of parfait were cleared away, some big trivets were brought in and put in the centre of the table. As this was a supper club, we were seated how you would normally expect to be seated when going round to a friend's house for dinner - all round the same large table. The platters that were subsequently brought out were all sharing platters (something I'm not normally very good at so I had to restrain myself!).

The first wooden platter was filled with butterflied prawns, topped with fermented garlic and served with lemon oil, savoury churros and pimenton dip. It was by and far my favourite course of the evening. Fermented garlic was not something I'd tried before - blackened, sweet and sticky it went fantastically well with the savoury churros (like long thin donuts without the sugar).

The next (sharing) platter was a smoked salmon terrine, layered with a mild cheese (salmon and cheese, who knew this flavour combination would work so well!) and served with green cockscomb sauce, edamame and cherry plum tomatoes. Luckily, there was more than enough to go around so we didn't have to fight it out over who got seconds. Smoked salmon and cheese are normally such rich and filling ingredients. However, the green cockscomb sauce (again, not something I'd tried before, the night was all about the new flavours!) really cut through the richness and the resulting dish was surprisingly light. Something that would be perfect served on a Summer's evening.

The scallop shell pies with rainbow trout and diced aubergine served in the next course were inspired and something I will be replicating at home. Serving mini pies inside scallop shells just looks so pretty - and I am always up for making my food look beautiful.

Dessert was a millionaire cheese cake with orange syrup - the toffee layer chewy and delicious and the perfect compliment to the semifreddo-style cheesecake. The meal was rounded up with two types of petit fours. The first - an unusual black olive ganache - tasted just like a salted caramel. I didn't realise it contained olive until Simon sent me the menu the next day! A salted lemon fudge finished things off nicely. I was well and truly stuffed when we left East London and made our way back down South.

Supper clubs are definitely a culinary adventure - something very different to the usual restaurant experience. For starters you are sat on a table with strangers, and at Ferdie's Food Lab, share food from communal platters in the centre of the table meaning your experience is often just as much about the people you meet as the food you are served. So not the kind of event to book if you're after a romantic table for two but I'd recommend checking one out as an alternative to the traditional restaurant vibe and for a different way to spend your evening.

I'm planning to eat my way round the finest supper clubs London has to offer (in the name of research of course) - I'm off to Leluu's supper club next month and am on a wait list for James Ramsden's Secret Larder so watch this space for future reviews (and perhaps a supper club or two from Cornflower Kitchen!)

Vauxhall Food Bank - spreading the festive cheer

Saturday, 3 December 2011

At this time of year, it's so easy to get caught up in the fripperies and festivities surrounding Christmas. We're bombarded with marketing from companies offering a whole host of delicious treats and it doesn't take much to get caught up in the excesses.

It can be easy to forget about the hundreds of people in London (and across the UK) who are literally living hand to mouth. They are not homeless, but are living in a 'hidden poverty bracket' - with incomes so low that a family illness, drop in benefits or an unexpected bill could mean the difference between eating an evening meal and not. That's where food banks come in.

I've just returned from Vauxhall Food Bank - it's been running since June this year and they've recently partnered with Sainsbury's Nine Elms to encourage shoppers to buy an item or two off the food bank list when doing their weekly shop - you just drop the food off outside the store and they take it to those most in need, how easy is that?!

Vauxhall Food Bank gives three days of emergency food to individuals and families in crisis. So far, the customers of Sainsbury's Nine Elms have donated 4,012kg of food  - enough food for over 6,000 meals. That's pretty impressive.

There's food banks across the UK, so when you're next doing your weekly shop - or your big Christmas shop - pop an extra bag of pasta, jar of sauce or rich tea biscuits in your trolley and drop it off at your local food bank. For location information, visit The Trussell Trust.

Soho Lunch Sessions #1: Mooli, 50 Frith Street

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A couple of Fridays ago, I was invited to visit Mooli on Frith Street - the perfect excuse to start my new series of posts about lunching in Soho - the Soho Lunch Sessions.

Mooli, which celebrated its second birthday this month, sells Indian street food-inspired roti wraps, bags of poppadoms with spiced chutneys, daal and the unusual aloo papdi chaat - a pot of chickpeas, potato, tamarind, spices, yoghurt and pomegranate seeds, served cold.

I have to say, I was invited by the manager to visit the restaurant in my lunch break and was expecting to try a roti or two... SIX rotis, a pot of aloo papdi chaat, a pack of poppadoms and a strawberry and chilli lassi later and I waddled back to the office to attempt to work for the rest of the afternoon.

Mooli is not where I would immediately think of when - on the rare occasion I can take a full lunch break - I am looking for somewhere to spend that precious hour. I normally gravitate to LJ coffee house, Fox and Ginger or the like (i.e. somewhere that has sofas for me to sprawl on). However, Moolis is the perfect place to meet someone for a quick, informal lunch or dinner - they also have a licenced bar offering mojitos, Indian beers and tequila. The restaurant has the feel of a chain but surprisingly this is is the only one (so far... they are looking for premises at the moment for Moolis #2). It's light, bright and airy and not what you would expect from an Indian eatery.

I was introduced to the Mooli menu by Gabriele, the manager, who brought me some poppadoms with four different chutneys to try including raita, tomato chutney and a tamarind sauce, plus a pot of aloo papdi chaat. The poppadoms were a revelation. I'm used to the standard white, round ones from my local takeaway. These ones were flavoursome, fatter and crunchier than your average poppadom... and imported from India.

Poppadoms served with spiced chutneys
The aloo papdi chaat was a bit of a strange concoction. Sweet tamarind with cool yogurt, spiced chick peas and potato served with pomegranate seeds and a crunchy topping of fried puri (deep fried strips of dough).  It was a bit of a taste explosion and I'm not sure how I felt about it. I think the fact that it was served cold when I had anticipated something hot flipped my mind a little.

Aloo papdi chaat
Onto the rotis... I was advised to try them in order of spiciness, eating the mildest one first. So that would be the paneer - not something I'd normally choose on a menu but deliciously spiced and jam packed with flavour.

Paneer roti with tomato chutney and carrot

The chicken and beef were next - on the same level of spice as the paneer... enough to feel the heat but not to burn your mouth off. Then the chickpea - surprisingly this was my favourite... in this fiery little number the chickpeas still maintain their bite with a sauce of tangy tamarind and spring onion salsa.

North Indian-inspired Chana Masala Chickpea roti

Chicken roti with pickled turnip, raita and fenugreek
 The highly anticipated pork and goat were the last rotis to test. The pork because it has pomegranate seeds in and I am obsessed with these little jewels; and goat because, well, it's goat and how often can you order a goat wrap for your lunch in Soho? They both lived up to expectations. The goat, not too tough or dry, and suculent pork were both pretty spicy but not too hot to handle. The minted lime water really helped with the mouth burn.

Goan pork roti with pomegranate salsa
 I took some pretty rubbish pictures of a strawberry and chilli lassi that I won't bother to inflict on you but I can honestly say my lassi passion has been reignited. Lassis are traditionally supposed to cool you down - the yoghurt tempering the heat of the spices. Moolis turn this on its head with their chilli variety and it really works. Think of it as a grown up milkshake, with added bite. I don't think this is on their menu yet but it definitely should be...please!

I left Moolis a good few pounds heavier but without that dreaded heavy feeling you often get after eating at Indian restaurants - it actually felt pretty healthy. I'm also planning my return visit for tomorrow lunchtime for a goat wrap. My wallet won't be much lighter either as the mini Moolis start at a bargainous £3 and the larger ones at £5.

Moolis, 50 Frith Street, Soho
* Thanks to Gabriele at Moolis for hosting me, roti photo credits to Moolis

Market trading, restaurant reviews, London supper clubs... and losing my foodie mojo

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

These last two weeks have been frantic. I've done an afternoon tea-themed market stall at South Lambeth Market, am in planning mode for the Christmas market, have been 'training' as a market stall holder (this sadly does not involve how to shout 'buy my pies' in my best East-end accent, but is more about the ins and outs of book keeping and the legal requirements), did my first restaurant review, and started visiting some London supper clubs (more on the last two to follow). Combining this with my full-time day job has not been easy, hence my blog-neglect over the past few weeks.

These past few weeks I have felt a little like a naughty school girl who hasn't done her homework and have been putting off writing up my posts for some unknown reason (most probably lack of time). Today is the day I am BACK ON IT.

Firstly, my last market stall was a success. I made far more than last month so it meant I didn't run dry at 3pm. On top of the usual scotch eggs, lamb tarts, goats cheese tarts and tomato tarte tatins, I made fig and Gorgonzola tartlets with crushed hazelnuts, apple and ginger scotch eggs, cheesy hedgehogs, pesto and Parmesan pin wheels, feta and sun dried tomato scones and olive and Parmesan savoury cakes. The abundance of food also meant that we had plenty of scotch eggs for packed lunch the following week - always a bonus!

Cheesy hedgehog bread rolls - so cute
It was truly a marathon baking session - up at 7.30am on Friday morning to make pastry and not finishing until my cheesy hedgehogs came out of the oven at 10.30pm. South Lambeth Market doesn't start until 10am on Saturday (thank god) so I didn't have to be up at the crack of dawn but still.... I commend all market traders who do this as a real job (and not just as a ridiculous hobby). My whole body was aching after two days standing up - I must be really unfit.

I have to say a special thank you to my parents-in-law who came down from oop North for the weekend to be my pot-wash and sous chef. I'm not sure they realised what they were letting themselves in for...

Displaying my wares...

Moroccan lamb, feta and pomegranate tarts, served with minted yoghurt

feta, olive and sun dried tomato scones & pesto and Parmesan pinwheels

Come and visit my stall at the next market - on the 10th December, I'll be doing stocking fillers, edible Christmas delights and delicious treats, perfect for festive dinner or drinks parties  (I don't even mind if you claim you made them yourself!)

Email me for preorders, special requests or canape creations.

Leiths week 6 - pistachio crusted rack of lamb, boulangere potatoes & a chocolate fondant

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

This week was my last week at Leiths cookery school (sob) and most probably the most challenging week of the whole course. We were presented with a rack of lamb, complete with chine bone and shown how to remove the fat, the rubbery piece of tendon called the paddywack (no joke, this is actually what it's called - amazing) and how to scrape the bones clean. A pretty gruesome job... but it was Halloween so it seemed apt.

Once clean, naked and beautiful, the lamb was coated with a crust of ground pistachios, butter and thyme (very liberal amounts of butter were used in my case) and left to set in the fridge. In the meantime we made boulangere potatoes - thinly sliced potato and onion, layered covered in white stock (made from chicken and veal bones) and yet more butter and cooked for 2 hours. The recipe (in the Leiths Bible) stated to cook the lamb for half an hour... this seemed excessive so mine was cooked for 15 minutes and was still very pink inside (I do like it practically bleating...)

The final dessert of my Leiths adventure was a classic chocolate fondant. Really simple to make, these little chocolate pots of amazingness cannot fail to impress. Sadly I got melted chocolate (and butter) all over my recipe in the class and hoped it would be in my Leiths technique bible at home so I could share it with you... sadly it's not - I will try to be less messy in future...

The melt-in-the-middle chocolate fondants were served, warm from the oven, with a raspberry coulis (with added zing from the zest and juice of a lime) and obligatory cream

Easy peasy banana and cinnamon cake

Saturday, 29 October 2011

This is my fail-safe recipe for banana cake.. I'm not exactly sure where it came from, I've had it for years, scribbled on a couple of yellow post it notes... see below... One day I will get round to writing my recipes out on beautifully lined, scented paper or something, but until then, scraps of paper shoved in a ring binder will have to do...

The original recipe states to bake the cake in a loaf tin for 40 mins at 180C before reducing the temperature to 150C for a further 30mins. This time round I used mini loaf tins (of the cardboard variety). I followed the same recipe as below but baked them for 20 mins at 180C. The recipe makes one large loaf tin sized cake or 10 mini loaves...

Brixton market plus an Autumn squash, goat's cheese & rosemary risotto

Friday, 28 October 2011

I love Brixton market on a Sunday... fresh fruit and vegetables (at a fraction of the cost of Borough); cheese stalls, organic and biodynamic produce and free range beef, poultry and lamb. It's just down the road from my flat but somewhere I've only recently started frequenting for my weekly shop.

Brixton has a fantastic mix of cultures and is (I think) one of the most diverse and visually stimulating areas in London... The clash of 'local country farmer's market meets Electric Avenue' is fantastic and something you really don't see anywhere else. The regeneration of Brixton Village also means that this community in South West London is really picking up the game when it comes to culinary achievements (restaurant reviews from Brixton Village coming soon!).

Colourful tropical fish for sale on Electric Avenue 

Romanesco broccoli... for 60p!!

Ornamental cabbage flowers

A lovely bunch!
Right, back to the point of my market visit... squash. It's October which means that squash, pumpkins and other gourds are in season.

The squash family is so varied - the colours, shapes, patterns, sizes and textures are all so different, which makes a shopping trip for squash so exciting. 

Brixton market has four stall holders that offer different varieties of squash for sale - two organic, two not.  I chose three of the small, organic, biodynamic squash... perfect for roasting. These beauties formed the basis of a roasted squash risotto with rosemary and goat's cheese (full recipe follows below). 

Serves 6:
  • 2 - 3 small squash
  • 500g risotto rice (I generally use Arborio)
  • 3pts vegetable stock
  • 100g grated Parmesan cheese
  • small log of soft goats cheese
  • a few sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 garlic cloves 
  • a handful of rocket
  • a 175ml glass of white wine (anything you have lying around in the fridge)
  • 50g butter and a splash of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning)
  • 1 x red onion, finely diced  
First, peel and chop the squash and place in a large oven proof dish or baking tray. Add the three cloves of garlic (don't peel these, you want to roast and soften them) and the sprigs of rosemary and then sprinkle with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven (about 200C) for 30 - 40 minutes, until the squash is cooked through. Don't worry about the squash burning slightly on top - it adds flavour! 

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the oil and onion and saute on  low heat for about 5 minutes... you don't want to colour the onion, just soften it. Once the onion has turned translucent, add the remaining clove of garlic, crushed and cook for a further 2 - 3 minutes.

Add the rice and stir to ensure all grains are coated in butter - they should start to turn slightly translucent round the edges. Add the wine and stir until all has been absorbed.

To stir or not to stir... that is the question
I think the secret of a good risotto is lots of elbow grease... keep stirring it (or get a strong man to keep stirring it if your arms get tired). Add the vegetable stock little by little... once it's absorbed, add a bit more and stir vigorously again. You want to get a creamy consistency and through lots of stirring you start to release the starch, which is what gives the risotto such a creamy consistency.

There are some schools of thought that say you don't need to stir the risotto until right at the end - when you give it a good beating, but I think there's something satisfying about having a bubbling pot of risotto on the go (and a glass of wine in your other hand to ease your muscles).

Right, back to the recipe...

Once the stock is absorbed (should take about 25 mins), stir in the Parmesan and most of the roasted squash, crushing the roasted garlic up (sans skin) with the back of your spoon as you go. 

To serve, put the squash risotto on a plate, add some pieces of roasted squash to the top, along with some crumbled goats cheese and a handful of rocket. Add freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with a balsamic reduction as per the above picture if you're feeling flashy.

Leiths week 5 - spatchcock quail plus a medjool date, pear and ginger strudel

Thursday, 27 October 2011

This week's penultimate session at Leiths was definitely the best so far. We learnt some great techniques, including (my favourite), making strudel pastry. Forget everything you have been taught about having a light hand to make the perfect pastry, making pastry for strudel basically involved beating the living daylight out of it to stretch the gluten as much as possible (aka we bashed it on the table for about 15 minutes... it was dangerous to be in the same vicinity.. all that pastry flying around).

We also spatchcocked a couple of quail, cutting out the backbone (pretty gruesome) and then, the worst bit, crunching the breastbone so they lie flat and can cook through evenly.

Once spatchcocked, the mini birds were marinated in pomegranate molasses, garlic, diced onion and cinnamon and then grilled until caremelised and browned on top (between 5-  8 minutes). They were then put in the oven for 10 minutes to cook through. We served the quail on top of a watercress and feta salad with pomegranate seeds and toasted pinenuts.

Next on the list was a strudel with medjool dates, fresh ginger and pears. The pears were peeled, diced and mixed with the chopped dates, a teaspoon of fresh ginger, lemon juice and brown sugar.

Making strudel pastry is actually amazing... once you've bashed the living daylight out of it and left it to rest for half an hour, you need a friend, family member, lover etc to help you to pull and stretch the pastry out by hand until it's paper thin. The pastry was then cut into two and rolled up with the peary-date mixture in between the layers. They were dusted with icing sugar and then chucked in the oven for 20 minutes.

Pear, date and ginger strudel, yodeling optional
I ate a whole strudel on my way home, warm from the oven (oops).

Next (and final) week... pistachio crusted rack of lamb with boulangere potatoes, chocolate fondant and a raspberry and passion fruit compote.

Spaghetti with fennel, chilli and lemon oil

Friday, 21 October 2011

Some flavour combinations are a match made in heaven and fennel, lemon and chilli is one of those combinations (see more on my fennel obsession here) - it's a flavour explosion that makes spaghetti sing.

One of my store cupboard essentials is this lemon oil from Carluccio's... it goes amazingly well in pasta dishes (one of my favourite quick suppers is linguine with courgette and prawns, tossed in this lemony scented olive oil).

To make this dish, simply sautee garlic with finely diced chilli and a red pepper, add a teaspoon of sundried tomato paste and some freshly ground black pepper. Cook the spaghetti until al dente, then toss in lemon oil and fennel (finely sliced on a mandolin). The fennel does not cook through so it maintains a delicious bite.

Lemon oil from Carluccio'... I can't live without it

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