Friday, 26 February 2010

Chorizo Oil

Some say he is the secret love child of Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal. Some say he has a temper to rival that of Gordon Ramsay and it is said that he is not legally allowed within 100 yards of Ainsley Harriot. All we know is…He’s called Chef. Born and raised locally The Chef has worked his way up through some of the countries finest kitchens. Since escaping from Guantanamo Bay, this highly trained militant of cuisine is back behind a stove at a secret location on the South coast.

Flavoured oils are a great way of injecting some pokey flavour into a dish and with its high burn temperature you loose the risk of burnt flavours. They are readily available off the shelf but all too often these mildly infused oils have no real depth and come with relatively high price tags. By making your own you have more control on the concentration of the flavour and you’re also left with an equally useful by-product. Cross usage from ingredients is a practice seen almost as religion in the professional kitchen and in effect makes this a more viable and savvy way to approach any type of cooking. My most recent meeting with Chef was in a moment between services where he was calm enough to take me through his chorizo oil without dismembering any incompetent Commis'.

Chorizo oil will liven up even the dullest of pasta dishes. Drizzle over pizzas and salads, use as dipping oil with bread, fry your onions in it and use as a meaty risotto base. The oil will not only impart its flavour to other foods but also it’s colour which can add lovely red tinges to chicken and fish. Chorizo oil marries especially well with shellfish, so be sure to drizzle plenty over crab ravioli or prawns. So get yourself some of this made up and keep close to hand at your cooker. It opens up all kinds of possibilities and makes a great gift too.

Chorizo oil

1 Litre of mild olive oil
500-700g Chorizo sausage

Preheat your oven to 180°C/gas mark 4
Slice your chorizo into coins about 1cm thick. Lay out flat in a high-sided roasting tray and pour your litre of olive oil over the top. Your chorizo coins should be submerged.

Place the tray in the oven. After ten minutes take out the tray and give it a little stir to make sure none of your chorizo is sticking to the bottom. (be careful here as the bubbling oil may spit.) Then return to the oven for a further ten minutes.

Once the twenty minute cooking process is over remove the tray and leave to stand for half an hour before straining the oil through a sieve and funnel into your re-useable glass bottle. Leave the lid off for another half an hour or until the oil has cooled. This prevents condensation forming in the neck of the bottle.

Extra yield
The remaining chorizo coins are now full of intense flavour and are great on their own as antipasti. You can also chop them down and use in salads, pizza toppings and tomato sauces.

Keep your eye out for more future collaborations from me and Chef - we have a few irons in the fire...

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Got milk?

I’ve always had a quizzical outlook towards milk. Stood there in a glass it may all look the same but from an early age I knew there were distinct differences in the white stuff. Add to that a creepy milkman who would leer at my mum when he came to collect the money at the end of the week, Ernie I think his name was, and it’s not hard to understand why a young boy would have such a skeptical approach to milk.

In our house growing up, like many households across the country, we always had semi-skimmed, the green labeled middle road in the milk world. We got the occasional treat of some full fat whenever dad was left to do the shopping on his own, “what your mum buys is women’s milk and we should have the proper stuff once in a while to remind us we’re men.” Words I carry with me every time I go shopping. If my sister and I didn’t cause too much trouble, fight, or go missing in the supermarket then we were often rewarded with a carton of chocolate milk to keep us quiet on the drive home. Magic milk he called it, the magic being that it kept us quiet for about ten minutes, just long enough to get back home.

On rainy days when mum would sometimes bake a cake. I would watch in the hope she would open the tall cupboard and take a can of condensed milk. She would place it in a pan of simmering water and a few hours later I would help her spread the thick caramel over whatever cake she had made. Sometimes we wouldn’t even have a cake, reduced to simply spreading it over the back of digestives whilst mum brewed up some hot chocolate.

Most weekends my sister and I would stay at our Grandparents. Breakfast consisted of toast, always toast. They only had red-top in their house due to my Grandmothers diabetes and to save any confusion my Granddad had adapted happily. Skimmed milk seemed like a punishment to us and to escape corn flakes dowsed in pale flavourless fluid my sister and I always opted for the toast. As I grew older and visited less and less, I soon learned to take my coffee black, an appreciation I have only the red labeled imposter to thank for. So something good came of the wimpy white water.

When I left school I decided to go and live in Austria for a season snowboarding. For some unknown reason the valley in which I lived only had one option for milk. You would think, that being the postcardesque idyll that is the Austrian countryside, that there was an abundance of pipe smoking farmers, young blonde girls running through the long grass and small boys dressed in lederhosen ready to happily wrestle a goat to the ground and fill my pail at the faintest yodel in their general direction. No, that was not the solitary milk option available in the depths of the Tyrolean mountains. Ultra High temperature, or U.H.T. is a process in which the milk is brought up to a temperature of at least 135˚C to burn off any harmful bacteria that may be present in the milk. Along with what little characteristics the white liquid has left. The benefit of UHT milk is the long shelf life? The downsides would be it tastes like the yellow tainted water you receive from an old dirty tap and that it instantly ruins a good cup of tea. Needless to say, my stainless steel teapot I had brought along with me went back in my bag and I turned to the afore mentioned black coffee for the winter.

My mum came to collect me from Gatwick six months later to find her son pale with a nervous twitch holding a triple espresso and looking every bit the Vietnam war veteran. My god what happened out there? She sobbed.
U.H.T Mum…..U.H.T

In more recent years I have come into close contact with probably the most revolting product to bear the name milk. In fact I can’t for the life of me figure out how it dares call itself a milk. The M-word is far too superior a word to be brandished across packaging for such an offensive liquid. I feel for the people who have to use soya milk due to dietary requirements but there are people out there who actively choose to drink this stuff.

We’ve had a rocky relationship over the years Milk and I. I’m forever taking her for granted, not giving her the respect and care she deserves. I have flirted to the very edge of seduction with alternatives but the fact remains, I’m a semi-skimmed man, green labeled through and through. It may be boring but the occasional fling with some full fat or even Jersey milk is like a nice long holiday, fantastically different but always nice to get back. What are your milk preferences? Do you have any traumatic memories of the white stuff?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Lazy Pork Cassoulet

I like making this. Aside from the pork, all the ingredients used are what I consider store cupboard essentials and so even on days when the fridge is bare, you can rustle this up without the meat for a warming dinner that's full of flavour. Much better than resorting to the studentesque meals of pasta and ketchup. Below is my lazy cassoulet. It's lazy because rather than draining the butter beans I simply empty the entire contents of the can into the pot and instead of dissolving the sugar into the red wine vinegar for a reduction, like I probably should, I just add it to the pot willy-nilly. This dish tastes fantastic and the tomatoes, helped along with the sugar and red wine vinegar, really poke through in the dish. It's incredibly easy and when cooked slow the pork can hardly hold itself together.

Lazy Pork Cassoulet

1 lb diced pork shoulder
1 can of butter beans
1 can of plum tomatoes
2 medium red onions roughly chopped
1 carrot roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic grated
1 ltr veg stock
a bay leaf
1 tsp sugar
a good glug of red wine vinegar
chunk of good butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a high sided casserole or saucepan glug in some oil, I tend to use some home made chorizo oil and soften your onions. Add your pork and get some colour on the meat, add your grated garlic cloves and if you want to add some peppers as well then this is the time.

Tip your plum tomatoes in and squash with a wooden spoon in the pan so there are still some big chunks. Add your butter beans, juice and all, top up with your stock and add your bay leaf, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt and black pepper then bring to the boil.

Once boiling, cover with the lid and turn to the lowest setting and simmer for about an hour and a half to two hours. Check on the cassoulet after 40 minutes and give it a stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, if it's looking a little too thick at this stage, add some water. You want the pork to collapse with the slightest interrogation from a fork. The consistency is down to your personal preference. I like mine quite thick, like tomato pasatta. Five minutes before you are ready to serve, remove your bay leaf, stir in a chunk of good butter, which will leave it glossy and check the seasoning. Ladle your cassoulet into bowls and serve with a chunk of crusty bread.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


I went through a phase of buying sourdough loaves quite a lot last summer. For crostini, which we use as a base for a lot of our summer suppers, it has a quality unrivaled by any other toasted bread. We have a habit of toasting slices of it drizzled in olive oil and then spread with sun-dried tomato puree as a quick snack after work before we head to the beach. I quickly became aware of the long-winded process of making sourdough and the effort involved seemed more akin to owning a dog, at least the dog would fetch.

At the beginning of January I had decided it was time. The idea that my sourdough starter would stay with me indefinitely sounded kind of nice, like a girlfriend that doesn't nag. I had sought out some advice and Food Urchin, a fellow food blogger, had steered me in the direction of Moro's sourdough starter recipe along with a few encouraging words, not least forewarning me of the gut wrenching smell it omits. I played a preemptive strike by putting the starter in a sealed tupperware box up on a shelf out of sight. In a preventative exercise to diminish any chance of the wife castrating me in my sleep due to the foul stench I may have saturated our flat in. Feeding often became a difficult time in our household, especially when I remembered to feed it just as she was making a cup of tea. (The blistered skin from the scolding has only just healed)

A month later, Clarence, as I call my starter, is at what looks like the desired consistency. A bit bubbly and fizzy to the taste. The evening before I baked the loaves I mixed 250g of Clarence with 700ml of cold water and 450g of plain flour in a bowl, covered with a tea towel and left in a warm corner of the kitchen over night for the first phase of the proving process.

Today I added 3 tsp salt and another 450g of plain flour and brought together to form a bowl full of stretchy wet dough that I worked with my fingertips for five minutes. It came to a similar consistency of that gunge you used to be able to buy circa '89. Ectoplasm I think the Ghostbusters version was called. The Moro recipe calls for the use of a tin but I like rustic looking loaves and so opted to do one of them straight on a baking sheet. Thirty minutes at gas mark eight then remove from baking tray and tin before another fifteen minutes in the oven.

It turned out ok, not enough big air bubbles and a little too moist on the inside for my liking. I think I may have over worked the gluten in the dough or my starter hasn't got enough oompf yet. Either way, batch number one is done and out the way, I didn't do too badly and now I am left to tweak and play around until I get somewhere close to the light and airy loaves I usually buy from the shop. I have a little way to go yet but the art of bread making was never going to happen over night. Whilst dipping some of my bread into balsamic vinegar and olive oil I toasted thinly cut slices, smeared them with sun-dried tomato puree and topped with tuna-bean salad. Eased into the flavours of summer I felt like slipping my flip-flops and board shorts on there and then, but it was freezing so I kept my bobble hat on instead.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Blokes Eat Beef

John Cadieux - Goodmans

With an average of 1.5kg of beef per person, Blokes Eat Beef was always going to have to be addressed on a thoroughly empty stomach. A few of us met for cocktails at HIX for pre-dinner drinks. Note to self - not for the thin-walleted drink enthusiast. After introductions, some stimulating conversation and two fantastic Plymouth Martini's, I suddenly became far more wide-eyed in fascination with the world of cocktails. Simon has an infectious excitement in his voice when talking about cocktails and the history that encapsulates them and I found myself taking mental notes of the fascinating facts to bring up at a later date. I live in Bournemouth where I find most things quite modestly priced but London quickly kicked me awake when the kind barman handed over my bill for £28! I think cocktails could be an area I may have to dip into sparingly at the moment.

We wandered over to Goodmans for 7pm to be ushered into a large private dining room where Chardonnay and Rose was offered to the congregating males. Rose and Chardonnay doesn't sound too blokey though does it, looking back at the thought of it has me conjouring up images in my mind of dainty men with man-bags and chinking their glasses of white wine. But let me intervene right there and state that it was a room where you could smell the testosterone in the air. The cavemanesque look in the men's eyes were of blood and dead cows. Does that sound more fitting? I sat myself down between Foodurchin and Essexeating and tried to calm the nerves in my already butterfly-filled stomach. Frank Hederman had flown in with some of his acclaimed smoked salmon and prior to our not one, but two starters he gave a talk on his processes to the macho mob of hungry listeners. The smoked salmon was the best I have ever tasted. Thick and silky, Frank Hederman smokes the salmon with beech wood chips rather than oak which makes for a much smoother smokiness without being too overpowering.

John Cadieux also took to the centre stage as did David Strauss who captivated their audience between courses explaining the lives the breeds of cow live before they are led to slaughter. Trays of the beef were brought into the room for us all to stare at, which made me feel like I was in the Flintstones due to the sheer volume and size of the cuts. A plate of Belted Galloway was passed around the room for us to smell. "It smells like a corpse." was probably the quote of the evening and what is more disturbing though is the fact we all loved the aroma from the offending meat relishing in it's fragrance. The delivering of beef was continuous all charred beautifully from the charcoal grill downstairs. I struggled to keep up with exactly which meat I was being fed partly due to the wine and it's affect on my body and partly due to the animalistic instinct taking over as I gorged on the slices of steak and gnawed on bones. The sides of creamed spinach, thick cut chips, mushrooms and béarnaise sauce could almost have been described as a distraction to the main event but creamed spinach and béarnaise are hands down my favourite accompaniment to smear over steak.

The whole time our glasses were filled, topped up and replaced continuously with a fantastic Argentinian Malbec by Catena. Some seriously pongy Stinking Bishop featured on the cheeseboard before our table took our turn at being shown the bounties of the meat room and the charcoal grill downstairs in the kitchen. I had a fantastic evening, thank you to everyone, especially Simon, for organising such a great night. The wine got the better of me which resulted in a brief rest of my eyes whilst my digestive system screamed for more blood to cope with breaking down so much meat. As I wandered off into the night pleasantly pissed, my coat saturated in the stench of smoked salmon and meat, I felt a little like Champagne Charlie as I made my way home at least 1.5kg heavier.