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Week 7 at the Market and a Recipe for Blaas

blaa

I can’t quite believe I’ve just typed Week 7 at the market, have I really been there 7 weeks? And I am but one day away from week 8. For something that happened organically and was quite unplanned save for the first week, it’s become quite a feature in this life of mine. Less major dramas and stress, there’s a routine in place at last, although I will continue to vary the produce to keep it interesting for me and for you.

There was one minor stress last week relating to transport to the market, namely it didn’t arrive, so apologies to anyone that got down there early to discover that I wasn’t there. I felt very bad about that. Onwards and upwards, I’ll ensure that doesn’t happen this week. I normally leave with enough buffer time to handle traffic etc. but if the cab doesn’t turn up, well, there’s nothing I can do about that. What’s that you say? Learn to drive? Buy a car? All in good time, all in good time.

The pork loin was popular as always and we were down to our last sandwich by 3pm. The bread sold out earlier than this and we had to top up with some lovely bread from fellow stall holders The Flour Station (they’re excellent – do check them out). There were a couple of new things this weektoo, two tarts. A potato, bacon and camembert tart and caramelised onion and goats cheese tartlets. The onions were caramelised in butter for over an hour and were rich and delicious. I struggled not to eat them all, a dual challenge last week as I struggled to avoid the crispy crackling which tempts me every week and, now also, the caramelised onions.

The crackling brought with it some bother last week. It is very crisp and tempting, glistening and winking at passers by from the stall, and several people requested some, some for free, and others tried to buy. There is never enough crackling, and every sandwich must have some, so I had to refuse, prompting one bizarre response from one girl who expected me to give it to her for free, stating quite crankily that I must be psychically very voluptuous. Eh?! As always though, most people were lovely. One couple had the sandwich then came back for some tart and prosecco, and then some more prosecco. My kind of people!

My bread at the stall has attracted much comment, and the recipe has been requested several times. Having made it several times, and feeling fairly confident in it, it’s time to share it. To recap, a blaa is a traditional bread made almost exclusively in Waterford, the county in Ireland where I grew up. I’ve been told that it’s also made in Newfoundland, as many people from Waterford emigrated there during the famine in the mid 19th century and brought the recipe with them. It’s light and soft and quite fluffy, I don’t know why it’s not more widely known. Sadly, I don’t know any bakers in Waterford, but I found a recipe on wikipedia of all places, and tweaked that a little so that I could use dried yeast. I followed it to the letter the first few times and also used fresh yeast. The dried yeast works perfectly fine and is easier to source so this is what I use now.

A word about yeast, it’s a living thing and it is possible to kill it, so ensure that the water is only lukewarm. Lukewarm to wake it up and start it reproducing, hot water will kill it, and kill your bread. Sugar feeds it and gets it going. Most recipes don’t call for sugar but this one does, and gives it a nice subtle sweetness as well as really livening the yeast.

The recipe takes some time but is worth it. Do ensure that that you knead the dough thoroughly, for 10 minutes or so. Also ensure that you sift the flour and introduce air this way. These steps are both key to producing a light bread.

Enjoy, hope you like it. Makes 8 blaas.

Ingredients

500g extra strong white flour, plus extra for dredging
10g salt
10g butter
10g active dried yeast
10g sugar
275g water, lukewarm

Method

1. Dissolve yeast and sugar into water. Ensure that the water is warm, not cold or hot. Leave for 10 minutes. It should get nice and frothy, indicating that the yeast is alive and well.
2. Sieve dry ingredients, introducing air.
3. Rub butter and dry mixture together.
4. Add wet to dry ingredients, mix until combined. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. It will go from rough to a little shiny
5. Proof for 45 mins in a bowl covered in clingfilm in a warm part of your kitchen. Remove from the bowl and knock back, pushing the air out the dough. Rest for 15mins. (The short rest times gives the gluten time to relax, making shaping easier).
6. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
7. Rest for 5mins, covered.
8. Roll out to an round shape and place the balls side by side in a square baking dish (that has some flour on) to proof. Dredge with flour again .
9. Final proofing for 50mins. Nearly there! Dredge with a little extra flour.
10. Bake for 15-20mins at 210c.

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Hawksmoor – The Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger. Everyone loves it. Often touted as the best burger in London by the food bloggerati, I had to try it. Fast forward to a Friday lunchtime and a decadent solo lunch.

Not everyone loves solo lunches, but I do. Every now and then, there’s nothing nicer than being very nice to yourself, allowing yourself some quiet time. You, a nice meal and a glass of nice wine in nice surroundings. Enter a book that’s grabbed your attention, and for me, that’s a perfect couple of hours. Of course, I also love more gregarious ones, they’re the most fun of all, but life’s about balance and contrast and to appreciate one you need the other.

Hawksmoor at lunchtime on Fridays is busy. Very busy. Lots of people, lots of chat, lots of steak on the tables and lots of people drinking wine. I like it. I seat myself at the bar and on the barman’s recommendation (I told him I would be ordering the burger and would like a red wine with body but also some fruit), ordered a glass of Main Divide Pinot Noir, 2007 from Pegasus Bay in New Zealand. I love NZ Pinot Noirs, and yet this one takes me by surprise, it’s really fruity yet has lots of structure. It feels like a delicious and naughty interlude while I wait for my burger. It’s only 1pm after all.

The Hawksmoor burger is at the high end of the London burger market at £15, but then Hawksmoor is no ordinary steakhouse. They carefully source their product, after much research settling on the Ginger Pig Longhorn cattle. They serve, in their words, dictionary- thick steaks from North Yorkshire dry aged for at least 35 days. Their philosophy is simple, they source high quality steak and do very little to it, simply searing it on a blisteringly hot charcoal grill, and delivering it with a gorgeous char ready to be devoured. I loved it when I was there last time and the burger now awaited me.

It was time – the burger arrived. I put down my wine glass and my book and surveyed this delicious looking creature. Delivered with triple cooked chips, pioneered by Heston Blumenthal and now replicated elsewhere, the burger glistens from beneath a seeded brioche, smelling intensely meaty and covered with a thin coating of Ogleshield Cheese from Somerset with a little salad. Just a little.

Burgers are to be eaten with your hands, and even though this is a big one, this is what I did. It’s a burger! Eat it the way it should be eaten. The flavour was so rich and gorgeous, full of umami. I felt like, in the best possible way, I was licking a roasting tray having slow roasted some meat over night. It was gorgeous, intense, moist and fatty. People complain about fat, but that’s where the flavour is, a good burger needs it. The chips were good, but I really didn’t care about them now, I wanted only the burger. The wine was a lovely accompaniment, I was only sad that I could only have one glass. It is lunchtime and I must have some standards. Occasionally.

Why is the burger so special? Like most deceptively simple things, it’s the attention to detail that delivers something that stands out. Consisting of of 100% Longhorn, it includes old fashioned cuts like Clod and Sticking and small nuggets of bone marrow. Ah bone marrow, now I understand the intensity.

So, hats off to Hawksmoor for delivering the finest burger that I have tasted in London. I look forward to trying it again, with a delicious glass of that lovely Pinot Noir.

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Covent Garden Real Food Market Menu – Thursday 24th September

Good morning! No time for photos I am afraid, but there is a menu – I believe that’s called progress! Two vegetarian options today, so come on down vegetarians, we’re not all about the swine. We’ve a leaner cut of pork today, the more decadent and luxurious loin, I thought I would treat you. Great meat again from Yorkshire.

I best get my skates on! See you soon.

Eat Like a Girl @ Covent Garden Real Food Market Menu

- Thursday 24th September 2009 12-7pm-

Roast loin of pork sandwiches w/ spiced apple relish in homemade bread £4.50

Potato & Bacon Tart £3/slice

Beetroot, Tomato & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets £3 (v)

Caramelised Onion & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets £3 (v)

Pork & Chorizo Sausage Rolls in homemade butter shortcrust pastry£3

*********

Bisol Jeio Prosecco £3.50

Bisol Jeio Rosé Prosecco £3.50

Pear & Elderflower Bellini w/ Bisol Jeio Prosecco £4

(v) = vegetarian

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A Little Cookery Course

Raspberry, mint & ricotta tartlets w/ honey

A friend recently asked if I would consider running a cookery course for his wife’s birthday. She loves food, but doesn’t like to cook so much, and likes the kind of food that I make. I was very flattered but, I’ve not formally done anything like this before so was a little reticent to begin.

When I was in university, a flatmate used to follow me around the kitchen with a notebook and pen following my culinary movements. It used to drive me crazy, but we’re still friends :) I worried for this reason, that, perhaps I haven’t the right temperament. A  birthday present is a very big deal after all. I agreed, but insisted that no finances would change hands. I had been asked to do this before but hadn’t explored it due to time constraints. I thought it was worth a try. If it worked well, I’d consider doing it again, and if it didn’t, we’d hopefully at the very least have a nice meal and some good wines.

Once we agreed on a date, I relaxed, and didn’t worry too much. I thought we should definitely have some pork in the mix, some shellfish and a quick dessert. At first I thought that prawn curry might work, but then after some discussion we agreed on pork belly. At this stage I could make it in my sleep so wasn’t too worried. We settled on scallops for starters. Dessert was another issue as they really aren’t my forte, primarily because I rarely have them and am more inspired by savoury things, however, I did make one blackberry tart with mint, ricotta and honey recently, and loved it. So, that was it, we were all set.

The days building up to it were phenomenally busy, things always seem to happen this way! On the morning, I was struggling to complete an online task that had been deferred for longer than was healthy, and by the time it came to go to Borough Market, I hadn’t had time for lunch and was a little frazzled. Not the ideal start. I was really keen that the evening should be a worthwhile birthday treat and that they would not regret it.

We met at 3pm and wandered around Borough with our shopping list. We hit our first hurdle, I should have asked if she liked blackberries. She wasn’t a big fan so we switched to raspberries. We sped around the market, knocking off most items from our list: hand dived scallops, pancetta, chorizo, pork belly, salad stuff, herbs, ricotta, and the birthday girl had spotted some samphire and was keen to try it so we threw it in. Time to dash home, picking up lentils on the way, and get started.

The best evenings start with a glass of prosecco, in my humble opinion, so we indulged. In hindsight, this may not have been terribly clever, but it was a birthday celebration. We started with the spice rub for the pork belly (recipe here), preheated the oven, prepared the pork as I always do, some boiling water on the skin to start the crackling, pat dry, and rub in the spice rub. Placing it in the oven dish with some carrots and garlic as a vegetable trivet, it was good to roast.

We started it at 230 degrees celsius for half an hour. While this was happening we switched our attention to the homemade sweet shortcrust pastry, which when complete, we stuck in the fridge to chill  for an hour or so. For 6 small tarts sift 225g plain white flour, add 2 tbsp sugar and 110g very cold butter cut into cubes, and with your fingertips blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. At  this stage, add one egg blended with the same amount of water, a little at a time until the pastry pulls together but is not too wet. It’s best to use a knife for this stage.

At this stage the timings were looking good, the half hour for the pork was just coming to an end, and it was time to open the door, review the impressive crackling and turn the heat down to 170 degrees, for 45 minutes with a glass of cider.

Just one problem – where was the impressive crackling?! This was one piece of unenthusiastic meat. I’ve never had this problem before, in fact I am extremely proud of my crackling, and there’s photographic evidence to prove its existence. How disappointing, but I knew we could rectify by sticking it under the grill after it had finished roasting for a couple of minutes at a high heat. I started to get anxious though, and continued to drink wine with the birthday girl. I must remember to remove the wine from the equation (on my part) next time.

Moutabal on toast

Moutabal on toast

At this point we veered off course, although I don’t regret that. I had an aubergine and we started discussing moutabal, so we decided a quick snack would not go astray. This went down very well, as long as you don’t taste the aubergine skin before peeling it off. I was reliably informed that it tastes of cigarettes! I started to feel better, with that stubborn uncrackly pork skin glaring out the little glass door and taunting me from my oven.

Skillet bacon jam with heritage tomatoes on toast

Skillet bacon jam with heritage tomatoes on toast

Another brain wave – you’ve got to try my bacon jam that I bought from the US! It’s GREAT! Did I mention the wine? It is great, and we really enjoyed it on toast with some bright yellow heirloom tomatoes. We were now two unplanned appetisers in. Not too shabby, also not too clever, people were getting full. Normal people don’t eat as much as greedy me.

Scallops with samphire & pancetta

Scallops with samphire & pancetta

We persevered, now having a glass of champagne and prepared the scallops, removing the veins but leaving the roe. We had rinsed the samphire in several changes of water to reduce the saltiness somewhat and fried some diced pancetta and garlic before adding the drained samphire. At this stage, we started to chargrill the scallops for a couple of minutes on each side, taking care not to overcook them, as they are best still spongy and tender in the center. We gobbled these up, served in the shell with a squeeze of lemon and with a glass of lovely birthday champagne. This, for me, was the star dish of the meal.

It was time to turn our attention to the pastry once more, rolling thinly (perhaps a mm thick), and lining buttered tartlet trays (we used 4 inches across) with a layer. We blind baked these for 10 mins, covering each one in greaseproof paper and a layer of rice. I’d usually use dried beans here but had run out. We added the lentils and some cider and water to the pork (a glass of water and a glass of cider), and let this cook for another 45 minutes. We mixed the ricotta with the raspberries, and some mint, sweetening with honey. This was a nice mix but the raspberries are a lot more bitter than the very ripe blackberries I had tried, and in my enthusiasm I added too much mint. It was a little too fresh but nothing a little honey couldn’t help with. And we continued with some delicious red wine.

The pork was done, hurrah! I tortured that crackling, no friend of mine, with a couple of minutes iunder the grill and watched with glee as it blistered. Having rested for 10 minutes we served it on top of a bed of lentils with a rather tart salad on the side.

Almost there! All that was left to do was to fill the pre-baked pastry shells with the ricotta mixture, and bake for a further 5 minutes. Served with a drizzle of honey, we were finished.

Time to relax, and review. Imperfect at a first attempt, but really enjoyable. I’d do it again, with more planning, less wine, and perhaps less lengthy dishes. Prawn curry might have been a better option after all. But, that’s what this was, a trial, and a lovely evening with friends. I just hope the birthday girl enjoyed it, I certainly did.

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Covent Garden Real Food Market Update: Week 6

At last, a week where everything went smoothIy, I was beginning to lose hope. I was most pleased with my produce for last weeks market. Overnight slow roast shoulder of pork was delectably tender with a gorgeous crispy crackling. I upped the spicing on the apple relish slightly, and enjoyed the extra kick nestling in the unctous pork. I made many blaas, those fluffy Waterford bread rolls, I’m definitely getting that recipe down now.

Slow Roast Pork Shoulder & Blaas

Slow Roast Pork Shoulder & Blaas

Blaas

Blaas

With regard to the rest, the sausage rolls were the most perfect yet, looking uniform and less like distant reformed relatives. The beetroot tartlets ( recipe here) revealed themselves, almost by accident, pretty pink and juicy with a light goat’s cheese blanket. The new addition on the wine front  – Bisol Rose – went down a treat.

Chorizo & Pork Rolls

Beetroot Tarts

Beetroot, tomato, goat's cheese & mint tartlets

All perfect so far. Unfortunately, the market was quiet last week. It’s impossible to predict how these things will go. It’s almost safe to say that my level of organisation or otherwise serves as a good barometer for the busyness of the market or not. When I am organised, it’s quiet, when I am disorganised, we sell out early and there’s nothing left. Go figure. Regardless, overall the day worked well, and I was happy at the end of it.

How long more can it continue? Good question! It seems the options are I ramp it up and do another market on other days buffering my diminished income, and making it a realistic prospect, or I retire quietly and gracefully while the going is good, and get back to work. I am really not sure which way it will go right now, but I’ll be at the market once more this week, menu details tbc.

Bisol Rose Prosecco

Bisol Rose Prosecco

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Fight Hunger. Eat Out. Get Involved.

I’ve learned to say no to anything on Wednesday evenings which may distract me from the all important task of preparing for the food stall at Covent Garden on Thursdays. I stick resolutely to this (almost!), but, last Wednesday was different. I was invited to the launch of Fight Hunger. Eat Out (an Action Against Hunger Campaign) at Konstam (my favourite lunch haunt last year)Restaurants Against Hunger was founded in 1998 – an international movement of restaurant owners, chefs and food writers supporting Action Against Hunger and its goal to end child hunger. I am very interested in this charity, they do great work and I was keen to know more. The sweetener was the fact that one of my favourite singers – Beth Orton – also a supporter of the cause, would be playing a set. How could I not go?

Beth Orton
Beth Orton

The evening started nicely with some fantastic and interesting canapes by Chef patron and Action Against Hunger ambassador Oliver Rowe with Bob & Roberta Smith. These included eggs with carrots replacing the yolks, and fantastic very thin pizzas, which, sadly I have no photo of. It was lovely to see a few familiar faces, and to meet a twitter buddy that I had never met in the flesh before. Supporter of the campaign, Fergus Henderson of St John, was in attendance. I was too shy to say hi, although he was extremely busy, everyone wanted to talk to him.

On to the meat and two veg of the evening, the campaign itself. An inspiring campaign, they were very careful to stress that their goal is extremely challenging, but are aiming to do what they can in a difficult area where few NGO’s fear to tread. Action Against Hunger works in over 40 countries to carry out innovative, lifesaving programmes in nutrition, food security, water and sanitation, health and advocacy. Every year, 6,000 aid workers help over 4 million people worldwide.

Oliver Rowe & Fergus Henderson
Fergus Henderson & Oliver Rowe

Growing up in Ireland, we were ever aware of the problem of hunger in this world. Education was predominantly by the religious orders, and many of these teachers had spent time in the third world, so there was always a keen awareness of these issues. At home, if we left food on our plates, we were scolded for this, when so many children in this world had none. We raised money for third world charities in school campaigns, collected in Christmas campaigns for third world charities, delivering proceeds to the convent after. We even knitted vests for children with few clothes of their own when we were 9 years old. I really hope my baby lemon knitted baby vest I made was of use to someone! We did many sponsored 48 hour fasts, collected money over the lenten period for the third world that would normally have been spent on sweets, and every morning a money box in the shape of the globe would travel the school and we were all encouraged to add something ever day, even if it was just a penny.

Now, I was no saint. This kind of behaviour was entirely normal. Charity in Ireland is very strong and something that is widely encouraged and participated in. In recent years I’ve been lacking, preoccupied with my own concerns as many of us urban dwellers tend to be. So, this seemed like a good opportunity to participate.

I was impressed and inspired by what I had heard of the Fight Hunger, Eat Out campaign, and following on from a couple of conversations on the night, have started to arrange a blogger fundraiser to (hopefully) coincide with the campaign, and support their great work in some way and help get the word out.

Bloggers based in London, if you would like to get involved in our fundraising event, we will need a lot of participants and volunteers. I’ve had a fantastic response already which has been wonderful but we need more. If you are keen in getting involved please get in touch, and I will email you with details once they are confirmed.

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Beetroot, Tomato & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets with Mint

Every now and then I make something on a whim, expecting it to be nice, and I am pleasantly surprised when it tastes even better and becomes an instant favourite. Enter beetroot, tomato & goat’s cheese tartlets with mint.

Last week at the market I was really stretched for time and sadly had no opportunity to make a vegetarian option. This was noted by a number of people, and I felt dreadful as some had come down especially for the tarts that I had made before, so I promised to make it up to them and did this week with tartlets.

I don’t have a precise recipe as I was making them in bulk and on the hoof, however, they’re really straightforward. I used little tartlet cases but you could use a bigger tart tin. Line the greased/buttered tart base with homemade butter shortcrust pastry, it really is far superior to shop bought, and is very quick too. I had a fear of it for a long time after my Home Economics teacher, horrified at my efforts, yelled: it’s pastry you’re making, not leather! I also have very warm hands. However, when making it, I do my best not to touch it, using very cold butter and binding the pastry with a knife, putting it straight in the fridge to chill, and then rolling in as much of a hands off way that I can manage. It seems to work well.

Start building the tart with a layer of mascarpone, just enough to cover, and spread some shredded mint sparingly. Layer boiled or roasted, peeled and sliced beetroot, for tartlets about 3/4 slices with 2 slices of tomato wedged between. For a bigger tart arrange beetroot and tomato slices overlapping so that the mascarpone is covered. Add some goats cheese, I used a soft goat’s cheese from Somerset, but chevre or similar would work well too. Don’t cover it, just enough to taste. Finish with a light and fine grating of parmesan. Bake for 10-15 mins at 200 deg celsius until the pastry is browned.

Reading this it could do with a step by step picture guide, I’ll do one soon, maybe for next week’s market. Hopefully you get the picture (boom, boom!). It really is very easy, and really delicious. The sweetness of the beetroot and tomato, the tart goat’s cheese, the freshness of the mint, and the creamy mascarpone nestled in the butter shortcrust base is a real delight. It’s on the favourites list now, and I’ll be making it for veggie friends when they visit.

Here’s the pastry recipe. A note on the eggs: they’re not essential but give it a lovely richness. Use the best you can afford, I love the pretty blue Old Cotswold Legbars or Burford Browns. At the very least free range, if you can.

Homemade Butter Shortcrust Pastry Recipe

(enough for two large tarts or many little ones – this is the amount that uses exactly one packet of butter)

Ingredients:

250g chilled butter

500g plain flour

2 beaten eggs, and the equivalent amount of cold water

Method:

Sift the flour. Add the butter in cubes and mix with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the water and eggs a little at a time, blending in with a knife until it starts to take shape. Don’t let it get too wet, it’s fine if it’s a little crumbly (wet pastry, like a wet gizmo, makes a gremlin ;). Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll on a floured surface to your desired thickness, taking care not to overwork it.

And, that’s it! Not so scary, eh?