Monday, 26 July 2010


Guanciale, or guancia is an unsmoked cured bacon-like product made from the jowls or cheeks of a pig. I had made an attempt at guanciale earlier this year when I hastily came home from our butchers with a pigs head, much to the bewilderment and shock of my wife Emma. Something went very wrong last time though, I think I had left them for too long before I started the cure and the god awful smell emitting from the jowls prompted me to abort the process and bin them. Some time has elapsed since then and I thought it high time I re-attempted guanciale. At only £1.68 for two plump pig jowls it seemed rude not to.
The first stage was the cure. A mixture of sea salt, sugar, peppercorns and thyme was massaged into the meat on all sides for several minutes before each jowl being laid on a bed of the remaining mixture in sealed tubs then placed in the fridge. Each morning the liquid drawn out of the jowls was tipped away, there was no funky smells this time, all I could smell was pungent thyme with a faint whiff of pepper. After a week there was little, if any, liquid being tipped off each morning and so began the maturing process. Plan carefully where you will hang your guanciale to mature. You need somewhere with air flow, out of direct sunlight and at a cool temperature no higher than 60F. A corner of my kitchen was just fine. This is something which I should have planned in advance as Emma now dances on the fringe of vegetarianism, don't worry we have had words and meat is still firmly on the menu. The problem began when I served dinner one evening. Emma sat down to her meal and dangling from the shelf above the table, at eye level and about eight inches from her face were my two guanciale. I was quite proud of my charcuterie whilst Emma was a little put off her food. In fairness the Guanciale were looking sweaty and some beads of guanciale juice had dripped onto the table by her knife. We ate dinner in the lounge for the rest of the maturing period though the trouble didn't end there. My guanciale was the subject of a few lovers tiffs during the three weeks, unfortunately I had absolutely nowhere else to hang them, I am now putting a rail up in a storage cupboard in the hall and finding homes for all the junk in there. This will become my cellar of sorts as I plan to get into charcuterie even more, though a fear of botulism has me re-reading a lot of books at the moment.
Today I had my first sample of home cured guanciale. I cut a few slices off and placed them in a hot frying pan, the ribbons of fat started to melt and quickly turned translucent. The sizzling meat gave off the most amazing smell with strong thyme and pepper notes. I ate a few slithers on their own whilst I quickly assembled a bacon sandwich with the guanciale, better than any bacon buttie I had had in years. I used no condiments in the sandwich and simply let the fat soak up into the bread. The meat has a deep, rich flavour and the fat is simply beautiful. It melts away and leaves a refined porcine taste in your mouth. The pig is still, unquestionably, my favourite animal to eat. Just do yourself a favour and make sure its not maturing near to where your loved one eats their dinner. For any other culinary related relationship advice, just drop me an email.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Flat Peaches - A Growing Dependence

Walking back from doing some errands in town last week I stopped in my local grocers, as I often do, for some fruit to eat on the walk home. There is always a table outside filled with what's new and in season. This time of year the table is always full of colour and like a child who has just seen Santa in the corner of a department store, I can't take my eyes off of it. A small handwritten sign reads, 'Stan's Tomatoes', and is placed above a huge basket full of them, all different shapes and sizes. Stan is a guy from a small town on the edge of The New Forest and for a few weeks each year you can spoil yourself on his exquisite, deep red tomatoes. There is a tub of yellow plums placed next to a tub of the regular variety which are from Devon. Cute little apricots are sat next to stacked punnets of local strawberries and there are bulbous globe artichokes lined up along the shelf. The best thing about my grocer is that there is almost always a local option, just like with the tomatoes. For new potatoes, there are some from a farm five miles up the road. Recent gooseberries have come from Wimborne, a neighbouring town, and an array of lettuces all come from Sopley on the outskirts of Christchurch.

What I really fancied today though, was a peach. I looked the peaches over and selected one that I felt would be sufficient for the stroll home. I was reaching across the table when I noticed the words, 'Spanish Flat Peaches', scribbled on a piece of card above a small wooden crate. I'd never had one before and so took one to eat alongside my other peach and compare them on the way home. No sooner had I reached the end of the road, I had to turn back. I was completely besotted by the flat peach. It was intense and subtle at the same time, its skin, which wasn't too fuzzy, broke under the gentlest pressure exposing the pale yellow, almost white flesh, swollen with juice. It was sweet, but not overly so, and as I worked my way around the tiny stone in its centre, my surroundings faded briefly into insignificance. The Big Issue sellers voice became a muffled bass line to the hypnotising hum of the traffic. Within moments, it was over, all that was left was a tiny stone and a few rogue droplets of peach juices dripping through my beard. I wanted more and I wanted it now. I bit into the regular peach, it came nowhere close. The Big Issue sellers gruff voice was grating on me now and I wanted to do anything just to get away from the drone of the traffic. In comparison it was sharp, tart and didn't emit as much juice. I would guess that this was because like most commercial fruits, my regular peach was picked before it was fully ripe. This means that the harvesters don't have to be as delicate with the fruit, it will take more of a beating without bruising. When picking fruit early, although the colour and texture of the fruit may continue to change, the flavour of the fruit will not. I cannot guarantee that my new favourite food drug, the flat peach, wasn't harvested in a similar way, but I very much doubt it due to the ethereal taste I had just experienced. I headed back to the grocers and filled a small bag with some more. They worked out at about 30p each, only 3p more than the regular peaches. I am sure there are many ways you can cook and prepare these flat peaches for desserts, coulis and juices, but I haven't got that far with them yet. Each time I have bought some, they are simply devoured as they are.

Fruits of the Forest
64 Seamoor Rd,
01202 761646

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Kings Cross With A Wok

I found myself wandering around the back streets near Kings Cross a little unnerved. In the stifling heat of the evening, I felt like a sitting target, "What's in the bag pal?" some boss eyed scouser hocked. I was not going to tell him I had a copy of Jo Pratt's latest book, In The Mood For Entertaining in there. I doubt he would have wanted it, if indeed he could even read, but I thought it best to something that made me sound tough, like boxing gloves, or better yet, ignore him and keep on walking. "'Ere mate, don' be likgh tha', come backgh". My pace quickened as I could see the entrance to the train station at the top of the road. They had armed me with a weapon of sorts, so as to give me a sporting chance, a wok which I was beginning to wish wasn't jammed in the bottom of the aforementioned bag. As I turned into the station I looked round to notice the unsavory gentleman from Liverpool had found someone else to bother, I believe it was a pound he was after, or perhaps a cigarette, either way his manners were appalling.

Tilda were the ones who had armed me with the wok, along with some samples of their new stir fry rice. A straight to wok product already seasoned and flavoured in four styles. I had been fed and handsomely watered with prosseco, which may or may not have added to my slightly paranoid state in the Kings Cross area that fateful Wednesday evening. Inside a beautiful Georgian townhouse at the cookery school, Food at 52, ten of us had been given a demonstration of recipes by the graceful Jo Pratt who has such a calming presence in a kitchen. Well I was calm until we were told it was our turn to cook. We paired up and set about the woks, I teamed with Mimi and in between reciting Flight of the Conchords songs we managed to pull together a fiery prawn and chilli dish with the Thai red rice. I did spend most of the time trying to get the lid off a bottle of rice wine, but thanks to Mimi, and a shared love for chilli, we had a fantastic plate of food. There were some really interesting dishes made using the new rice and the one that I recall in particular was a lamb stir fry where the lamb had been briefly marinated in sweet chilli sauce and soy I think, correct me if I am wrong. Over dinner, sat in the cute courtyard, we joked around, laughed a bit and drank ginger cordial, how very Enid Blyton.

Thanks to Food at 52, Tilda, Wildcard , Jo Pratt and all the lovely people who I shared the evening with.

Mimi is also hosting a Burmese pop-up at Matt Follas' Wild Garlic in Beaminster, Dorset on 1st October. Book now on 01308 861446. It will be a fantastic night I am sure.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

BANANAS!* Competition

My fingers begin to feel slightly numb as the handles of a weighty bag of fruit and vegetables digs in tightly to the crook of my elbow. Trying to peel a banana during my walk home from the grocers has often gone awry, the peeled, naked top half of my banana ending up on the floor followed by me standing still, staring at it, feeling like I am five years old and just dropped my ice cream. I pause for a little too long, then remind myself I am twenty-five and to be seen slightly tearful at this age over a banana could be a little embarrassing. Bananas have always been my favourite fruit, it comes in its own natural wrapper and its phallic embodiment never ceases to amuse me. My mothers fruit bowl was no end of jokes when I was younger, positioning one snugly between two oranges. I would like to say that my immature sense of humour has left me, but alas, my wife regularly shakes her head at my futile attempts to make her laugh. It doesn't matter though, I am always amused.

Whilst I had previously not given much attention to the story of the banana, recently I have become somewhat enamoured with the fruits history. In the 1920's, when bananas first took the hotspot of most popular fruit in Northern America, the fungus named Panama Disease took hold and began to obliterate crops. A solution of planting in virgin soil was proposed and the fruit companies United Fruit and Standard Fruit (now Dole and Chiquita) took land in Latin American countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua, often by force with the help of U.S government. The companies greed did not, unfortunately, end there.

The guys at Dogwoof productions sent me over a copy of their new documentary, BANANAS!*. I must admit, hearing it was a courtroom drama following the case of twelve Nicaraguan plantation workers against the Dole Food Corporation sounded a little testing. My instant reaction to 'courtroom drama' conjoured up images of Ally McBeal and that terrible CGI'd dancing baby. However, the documentary had me engrossed. The case is made against Dole for knowingly spraying pesticides over entire plantations that are seriously harmful to humans. The consequences have been shown to cause infertility in men and women. What unravels shows how Dole refused to stop using the pesticide even after constant advice and tests that deemed the chemical spray Fumazone seriously harmful to humans. Even when Fumazone was banned, Dole continued to use their stockpile of the chemical for a long time after spraying it over the crop, the land and the workers dormitories. It is a little disappointing that the Nicaraguan plantation workers change their statements and lie during the course of the trial, but the suspense throughout the documentary is immense and I definitely recommend watching it.

So Dole Food Corporation, not nice guys, and unfortunately, Chiquita is guilty of the same crimes. This documentary has me asking more questions though. What about the other food companies, where can I buy guilt free bananas, and what banana alternatives are out there? Well luckily my grocers don't carry either of these conglomerates produce, I am yet to find out on other major banana producers but I endeavour to do so. The thing is that due to their market dominance, Dole and Chiquita are the main reason that we most commonly only have one banana option, the Cavendish. More recently Plantain can be found much more abundantly and I have been lucky enough to get hold of some Manzano bananas. At this moment I am still yet to find somewhere that stocks Lacatan bananas but perhaps one day soon, I will find some.

The guys at Dogwoof have kindly given me 5 copies of BANANAS!* on dvd to give away. To enter simply email with your name. Winners will be picked at random and emailed for delivery instructions on Friday 16th July 2010.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Taking Mum for Afternoon Tea, The Print Room, Bournemouth

I hadn't been to see my mum in a little while, I'd decided to give her a break from my perpetual chatter on the subject of this blog. Mum had been busy lately on one of her projects and now things had eased up and she had some time I wanted to take her somewhere nice. I met her in Waterstones, a ploy to lull her into the thought we would just grab a quick coffee in the Costa upstairs. I mentioned I wanted to look in another shop first and led her down towards The Print Room. It was a muggy, humid afternoon and the high ceilings and cool floor of the old processing room of the Daily Echo made it a perfect place to relax over a pot of tea. I took a pot of a superlative lapsang whilst mum went for a breakfast tea, my mother drinks more cups of tea per day than anyone I have ever known. The used tea bag dish is always mounded up as high as possible and yet it gets emptied once or twice a day too! A tea fiend.

The classical spread of an English afternoon tea arrived on the obligatory tiered stand. Sandwiches, crusts removed, scones with clotted cream and jam and finally some cakes at the top. The Print Room have a night baker and everything from breads to cakes are made in house. We cut the sandwiches in half to share, egg and cress, ham and mustard, cucumber and smoked salmon. Exactly as a traditional afternoon tea requires. I want to point out that I wasn't being stindgy by only ordering one, I had a joint in the oven back home and had my mum wanted one all to herself then naturally I would have insisted that is what she have. Ever the mummy's boy, I like to make sure my mum's ok, the fact that she was quite capable of looking after herself long before I arrived on the scene, then took care of me and my sister for many years, is irrelevant to me.

Next we attacked the scones and more importantly, the clotted cream. There was a moment of panic as mum thought she smelt something burning, but on further investigation it was just my lapsang tea giving off its smokey aromas. Mum, now much calmer knowing the wooden booth wasn't smoldering, removed the top plate and sat it neatly on the table between us. The chocolate mouse cake didn't stand a chance and was devoured in a matter of minutes, then, both feeling a little guilty from making such short work of it, we took our time over the shortbread. Service was polite and subtle and I had a lovely afternoon with my mum. Afternoon tea at The Print Room is just £10.50 and includes one pot of tea, four sandwiches, two scones and two cakes from the in house patisserie. I think it's fantastic value.