Wednesday, 28 April 2010

My Balls...

When I found out I had been selected to be an official taster for Lulubelle's Cupcakes of Dorset, I wondered whether I was the right person for the job. I am much more of a savoury man myself and have little of a sweet tooth. My wife on the other hand could happily eat chocolate for the rest of her days and so I saw an opportunity, thought I best keep quiet regarding my suitability as the cupcakes would come in handy to distract the wife and keep her occupied for those times when I hole myself up in the kitchen. Through further reading I realised it wasn't necessarily cupcakes I was to be tasting but, 'new products'. This intrigued me greatly and had me trying to guess what it might be all weekend. When the little pink box turned up I was pretty sure this was it, but still had no idea what it contained. I had been supplied with Lulubelle's newest products and upon further inspection unveiled the new cake balls.

I had only meant to have the one, the white chocolate one, and underneath the crisp chocolate was a moist strawberry flavoured cake. It was gorgeous and lingered in my mouth afterwards. It was very, very good. Not too sweet and not too dense, just, you know, right. I wanted another straight away but fighting my inner addict I put the rest in the fridge and started to crack on with dinner.

Is it just me, or do you graze whilst cooking too? I usually keep a jar of pickled onions in the cupboard by the cooker hood and whilst I am stirring my sauces or checking on my stock, I eat a few. Visits to the fridge for vegetables and butter are all too often accompanied by chunks of cheese and slices of cured meats and in the same fashion I slowly worked my way through the cake ball flavours. When I dipped into the fridge for some butter, I had a milk chocolate one with dark chocolate drizzles over it that had yet again, a wonderful moist texture but this time orange. Then obviously when I returned the butter to the fridge I had to have another. I continued like this for around forty minutes and by the time I was dishing up the dinner, I had sampled one of each flavour. The one that really blew me away though was the little cake ball that had a dark chocolate coating with white chocolate drizzles with the most tingly mint flavoured cake centre. I was completely agog afterwards but decided to control myself and close the fridge door. Besides, dinner was ready.
Luckily though, Lulubelle has a sixth sense, had the foresight of my greed and included two of each flavour so I still have the weapons of bribery at my fingertips.

Louisa of Lulubelle's is the Willy Wonka, no the Willemina Wonka, of the South and crams an incredible amount of intense flavour into each and every cake ball. Lulubelles are available via mail order so visit her website and order some of these cake balls. A box of the dark chocolate and mint ones, they'd be great after dinner. Lulubelle's also do fantastic cupcakes, so next time you have someone to woo or apologise to, don't send flowers, send cakes.

Monday, 26 April 2010

New Urban Farmer

I have been growing the odd bit of fruit and veg for the past couple of years now. I'm not overly successful but then seeing as I live in a flat and don't have a garden i'm probably not doing all that bad. I have recently adopted a guerilla growing method and have sown carrots and leeks in the communal grounds of the block I live in. Secretly scattered amongst the flowers of the ground floor planters, I go on stealth missions late in the Summer to unearth my carrots and courgettes. Perhaps it's not quite the stealth mission I've just been banging on about. For the record I don't don a balaclava and a rope system akin to mission impossible. I'm just a food geek rummaging in Flat 3's flower beds. Luckily for me there are quite a few old people in my block and I don't have much of my crop nicked, which was my main concern when I first started. My veg growing has often been ill timed, sprouting my tomato plants too early or forgetting the cabbages and losing them to pests. I've meant to get a book on the subject to help me plan my yearly growing rota, but have always been side-tracked and forgotten.

There are many 'grow your own' books out there and over the past few years allotments have seen a revival of sorts. Nowadays your average allotment is more likely to be maintained by a young twenty-something than a pensioner as I remember when I was five or six. The only people I knew who had an allotment were my granddad and his pals. New Urban Farmer caught my attention, not just because Celia's allotment has an abandoned skip in the middle of it. Although I have always preferred recycled tin cans for plant pots than the lifestyle porn of perfectly maintained vegetable patches complete with designer sleepers and raised beds as often seen on television. This book takes quite a laid-back approach to vegetable growing. It lets you know which jobs need doing each month without sounding like your old maths teacher and rewards your hard work with seasonal recipes at the end of each month. Cecilia Brooks Brown gives the reader an insight into some of the people she's met since obtaining her allotment from the council. Taking a more bodge-it approach, with notes on raiding skips and foraging for materials for creative construction back on the allotment, New Urban Farmer is anything but pretentious or preachy. I don't have an allotment and to be honest I don't want the responsibility of one, but even for a guerilla growing young amateur with a few plants on the balcony, the book has come in handy already.

Lost in the Larder has a new copy of New Urban Farmer to give away. To enter simply email with your name. The winner will be drawn at random on Saturday 1st May 2010 and will be contacted shortly after to arrange delivery.

For more from Celia Brooks Brown and to read her blog visit

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Kitchen Rituals. Routine, or a form of witchcraft?

It is imperative that they be stacked neatly next to the sink in an orderly fashion. Glassware nearest the sink, all mugs drained of dregs and holding cutlery, then plates and bowls and finally the greasy pots and pans. Have I always been this anally fastidious about tidiness or has O.C.D set in since I became a kitchen geek?

Over the course of time, engrossed by all things food, I have adopted some rather methodical habits in the kitchen. Where some seem quite sensible others tend to lean to the more avant-garde or mentally unbalanced as has been mentioned before now.

Routines and superstitions have been instilled in me since I was very young from walking under ladders to stepping on pavement cracks. My earliest experience was once being told that to walk over a bank of three drain covers was bad luck and I have ever since found myself dancing down the street in order to avoid them. Nowadays my superstitious rituals extend to the kitchen.

It started with the tinned food and my need to have all the labels facing the same way, stacked in categories. Through time this evolved into a stock rotation system put to use every time I returned from the shops. My wife thought it a little unusual but was happy to leave me occupied whilst she gained the lounge to herself for a few priceless moments.

As things progressed I knew deep down that it wasn’t normal to feel a surge of panic upon realising I have less than ten onions in the blue rimmed bowl on the table. It matters not whether I need them or have something planned, I seem to insist on having at least ten onions to hand or else I break into mood swings and become fidgety. When that bowl drops below a certain level it makes me feel naked and as though things could quickly descend into a world where no matter how sharp my knife is, or shiny my shoes are, I will not pass the inspection from my inner tormentor.

The onion thing comes from my mothers own kitchen constitution, in keeping with her philosophy of potatoes.
“Always keep plenty of onions and potatoes, you never know who might pop round,” I remember my mother reciting, although I’m sure whatever guests she was expecting would quickly grow tired of the mundane meal of onions and mash and ‘pop’ somewhere else for their impromptu feed.

The more you cook and prepare meals in a kitchen the more you find more efficient ways of doing things. How many of us have worked out ways to reduce the washing up, striving for that one pot method of a making a meal. Or realised that having a bin handy and your worktop clear makes the time in the kitchen that much smoother. I think what it all boils down to is the fact that cooking creates a certain mindset, one of order and organisation. Being highly-organised is a trait that many a successful chef would commend in a young Commis. However in the confines of your own home, if you’re not careful, you can wind up an eccentric, knife wielding, onion counting nut-job.

What routines and rituals do you have when you set up shop in the heart of
the home and are there any that others sometimes deem unusual?

Monday, 12 April 2010


A few years back my wife and I spent some time in Merida in Mexico's Yucatan. It's a beautifully quaint city that has shyed away from conventional resort tourism for the most part and was a breath of fresh air for the three and a half months we spent living there. I strongly urge anyone contemplating visiting Mexico to stop by Merida and experience it's wonderful charm.
During our stint out there we uncovered some fantastic taquerias and even more amazing new favourite meals, not to mention serving plenty of time on the porcelain throne. Before long my wimpy, delicate stomach manned up and I was chowing down the habaneros like the best of them. Although I remember being caught agog at an old local man who at 9am in the morning bought a paper bag full of yellow and red habaneros and walked off down the road throwing them into his mouth like sweeties. Perhaps I wasn't habaneroing as well as I first thought. The Yucatan has so many regional dishes that have to be tried, Panuchos, Salbutes, Poc-chuc and Pibil chicken to name but a few. La Virgen Morena in Santiago Plaza became our favourite taqueria in the city, there I ate Gringas, which are tacos filled with marinated pork grilled with cheese and topped with salsa and lime juice, almost everyday. Salbutes

Pozole is dish more often found in Northern Mexico. However, people travel and with them they bring their food, so wherever you are in Mexico, the chances are, there will be somewhere selling bowls of the stuff. My wife and I had made a friend in a painter and decorator called Jose-Luis Bolio who as well as painting the outside of buildings in plain colours, also painted magnificent oil paintings, some of which were in an exhibition that was touring the world. I bashfully practiced my Spanish on Jose, he had studied in San Francisco and spoke perfect English and was a great teacher, although I'm very rusty on my Spanish now. Jose was very proud of Merida and upon discovering my fascination with food, invited us round to cook us pozole. We arrived one evening, a few days later and had one of the most interesting and lovely nights I can remember, one I will never forget. Not because of the food, so you are spared the long winded, Mills & Boone-esque descriptions of pozole, but more memorably so because of the 6 inch black scorpions that scuttled under the table whilst we played Cuban dominoes after dinner and the proceeding scorpion massacre that ensued thereafter of Jose-Luis and his slipper. He also plays guitar better than anyone I have ever seen.

That was a few years ago now and I often wish I could taste the food again here but am usually let down with the non-authentic taste of badly reproduced tortillas which to be honest don't taste a thing like the good stuff in Mexico. I was lucky enough recently to get in contact with Tansy who is not only a fellow Mexican food enthusiast, but also head chef at a very cool local cafe in Boscombe called Boscanova. Tansy not only helped me get hold of several different types of corn tortillas to try but also gave me some of her chipotle chilli jam, which is amazing on or with anything. I have been eating it on its own with a spoon and am becoming quietly addicted. Tansy also gave me a nice block of Achiote paste which I now recognize as one of the main ingredients to the Poc Chuc marinade and also Gringas. In my search for Hominy, the white corn kernels for Pozole, ScottCanCook had directed me to CoolChile in London. Fortunately, just before I was about to part with my hard earned, a phone call came in from Poppa Baines saying he was coming back from a business trip in Mexico and did I want him to bring anything back with him. My dad has gotten used to ferrying strange food products with him from overseas trips now and without him my store cupboard would be much less diverse. So the Hominy was procured!
A few of the ingredients for my pozole recipe may be hard to find but they are available. It really is worth the wait or the extra money to get hold of corn tortillas and hominy. Achiote paste is also my new favourite store cupboard essential and I can't see me being able to live without it anymore. Pozole is a regional dish in Mexico, and like many dishes around the world there are sometimes several different variations. This is my variation which I have tried to make as authentic as possible


2 white onions, finely chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and grated into a paste
2 tsp oregano
1 small white cabbage, finely sliced
1 bunch radishes finely sliced
2 lemons cut into wedges
chunk of achiote paste
bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
juice from half a small orange
1.5lb pork loin on the bone
1kg hominy/pozole corn

First trim off the skin from the loin and cut away the bones, you should be left with a very lean piece of loin with a few extra bits trimmed from the bones. Roast your bones for 20 minutes in a very hot oven, gas 8-9. Meanwhile fry off some of the onion in a high sided stockpot. Throw your roasted bones in along with the pig skin/fat that you trimmed off earlier. Cover with water and leave on a simmer for about an hour.

Slice your pork into thin slices and chunks, squeeze the orange juice over and break off a nice chunk of achiote paste and massage and rub it all into your orange juiced pork.
Strain your quick pork stock, (if you have any dense pork stock left over from cooking before use that, the best I have yet to use was the stock I made using a pigs head. Such an intense stock and great value for money.)

Place a high sided pan over a medium heat and soften your onions in vegetable oil with the oregano, grated garlic paste. Once softened, drop your marinated pork, drained hominy and cover with pork stock, top up with water if necessary. Bring to a gentle simmer and leave for half an hour to an hour. The pozole should turn almost see-through.

Serve your pozole in bowls with plenty of soup juice, Put your sliced radishes, cabbage, tortillas, coriander and cut lemon wedges in bowls for everyone to help themselves from. Add handfuls of the accompaniments to your pozole and fold it all in so the hot soup can soften the cabbage and tortilla shreds. We had some fresh sliced habaneros which were amazing, if not a little too spicy and overpowering. Pozole is a very humble dish more traditionally associated with the poor, but then most of the best food usually is.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Caught With Your Trousers Down and Other Kitchen Tips

I was once chopping fresh chillies up before I went to the toilet. I am sure you have heard all the stories of people forgetting to wash their hands and ending up with burning sensations in regions they would rather not. Which is the predicament I had got myself into this time. After franticly searching the internet one handed whilst holding ice cubes to myself with the other, I found some information explaining that as the capsiacin is an oil, that acid will neutralise the PH level and hopefully reduce the pain and burning. I am not suggesting hydrochloric acid here but a cut lemon. So there I am stood in the kitchen, trousers down and rubbing half a lemon over myself when my wife comes through the door back from the gym. The look on her face was one of surprise, shock and a deep, deep shame. It seemed I had some explaining to do and to reassure my other half that my food obsession hadn't turned into a food fetish or perversion. But let me assure you, the lemon tip works but going to the toilet before you start saves a lot of embarrassment.

Do you have any unusual yet helpful kitchen tips and have you ever found your self in such compromising positions when food is involved?