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The BCKT (Bacon, Crispy Kale & Tomato Sandwich)

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I have been in Toronto for almost a week and I have learned a few things. Happily this trip coincided with fiddlehead season, again, so that was a treat. And I now see that everyone in Toronto is even more obsessed with kale than they were before. Green kale, purple kale, cavolo nero, baby kale for salads and kale juices (offensive, sorry, I tried and it was like drinking bile. Might work with some apple?). There are kale cookbooks, the Indian restaurant I am sitting at right now in Toronto airport has a kale salad but with an Indian twist. It is endless, and that is good, infernal stomach rotting juice aside, for kale, generally, is a very good thing. Especially when crispy.

(Mmmmm, crispy!* Now there is a word that polarises as much as kale. But I like crispy, even if incorrect and so I shall keep using it).

So, you all know I love bacon. I mean who doesn’t, at least who doesn’t that doesn’t have religious objections to it? I have never heard of anyone trying bacon and declaring it a terrible thing. When you hear stories about bacon, it is almost always that people ate it when they shouldn’t, just because they could no longer resist. And how could they? So, when concocting recipes for my recent sandwich feature, I thought a BLT will have to be in there, but what if it was with a twist, that made it even better? And so the BCKT was born. That being the Bacon, Crispy Kale & Tomato Sandwich. OH YES.

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Recipe: Tagliatelle with Squash, Spinach, Goat’s Cheese & Pul Biber

Tagliatelle

Tagliatelle with Squash, Spinach, Goat’s Cheese & Pul Biber

It is St Patrick’s Day and I know I should be blogging something *Irish* but here you go, there is some green in here at least. I really should be showing you a proper Irish stew, bacon and cabbage or crubeens (Irish for trotters) but when I arrived in Amsterdam, I was shattered, covered in mosquito bites and craving comfort. So, I made this.

Pasta is one of my favourite quick fixes. Once you buy a good one, or take the time to make some yourself, the rest is easy, and soon after you can find yourself eating something soothing and delicious. This is a mixture of the random ingredients that I have been collecting on my trips: some speck from Berlin, some pul biber from Istanbul (a fantastic firey, rich and deep flaked pepper) and the rest from the local shop in Amsterdam, around the corner from my apartment.

The result was perfect, almost medicinal. The soft goat’s cheese with some pasta cooking water serves as the soothing part of the sauce, the sweet squash was tender and spiked with pul biber, all wrapped in spinach sheets. Pine nuts provide an extra layer of flavour and a nice textural contrast.

Check Turkish shops for pul biber, or look online. It is worth the effort. Omit the speck if you want to do a vegetarian version, the pul biber will provide enough depth.

Enjoy! Let me know how you like it.

Recipe: Tagliatelle with Squash, Spinach, Goat’s Cheese & Pul Biber
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January in food and frolics: the roundup

It seemed like January was never-ending, truly a bottomless pit of rushing to work while skidding on ice and low heavy skies. Skies that were so heavy, I felt like chicken licken, and wanted to roar to the world “The sky is falling in!”.

But then, it was gone. Gone! Just like that. And suddenly it was February. How can that be? To stay so long, then leave so quickly. My sense of time is distorted, and now what do I do that I no longer have January to blame for everything?

As much as I proclaimed the misery of it all, the heart wrenching, grey boredom that January cruelly bestows on me, there were some culinary moments that may make my best of 2010. Some really fun and utterly delicious adventures. An evening where I was demolished not by January, but by vodka and my own lack of sense, some time in the kitchen with Francesco Mazzei, a Bisol cookoff, a very good pie crafted by my own fair hands, and a new way with pork, for me at least.

How can this be? You’ve only read of the pork. COUGH. Like I said, I blame January. Be patient with me, I promise to give you the details soon. For now, here’s my summary.

Vongole at L'Anima

January started with an evening that I had been waiting for, for some time. The vongole evening at L’Anima, where I would get a chance to spend time with Francesco Mazzei in his kitchen, where he would demonstrate his technique for cooking linguine vongole (linguine with clams). It was a lovely experience. Francesco is a lovely guy, and very knowledgable. L’Anima is a lovely place too, with a kitchen that is enviable, I watched every beautiful pot and pan, envied their piles of vongole, and watched with glee as he took us through it, step by step.

Vongole at L'Anima

The kitchen was hot, I was beetroot red, which and impending video will testify for me. It was a treat though, and I enjoyed watching him cooking the linguine by absorption, a great technique for extruding the creaminess of the pasta without adding dairy by adding water or stock slowly and stirring, not too unlike making a creamy risotto. I do this at home all the time, the end result demands it. I should really blog about that soon too, shouldn’t I?

Vongole at L'Anima
The cooking was followed by a dinner, themed on vongole and shellfish in a luxurious private room at the restaurant. The vongole was stand out, as was the mussel starter, the mussels had been cooked in a Josper charcoal oven for only a minute until they popped open revealing a tender meaty interior, bathing in some salty sea water that the mussel had retained when it closed its shell for that last time by the sea, before it ended up in the L’Anima kitchen. We also had a wine that I loved, it was worth going for that alone, San Michele Soave Classico, perfect with the vongole, and delicious to drink on its own. I found it online circling a bargainous £12 mark. I will be stocking up on it soon.

Vongole at L'Anima

From one lovely wine to another, the next adventure was the Bisol Jeio Prosecco Cook-Off at Bibendum Wines, where three finalists that had entered the competition on this blog, cooked furiously and presented their dishes to be judged by Roberto of Bisol, Rupert of Trinity and Gal of Bibendum Wine. All entrants were excellent, a crisp and clean sea trout dish from Ailbhe; a creamy, rich and indulgent pork dish from Dan and the winning entry, a warm Winter pheasant salad from Danny. It was great fun, and we decamped to the pub after where the two Irish lasses appeared to overwhelm those Essex geezers. It seemed they could not keep up with our chatter and were mildly amused by it all. As were we!

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Some time at home followed with a Moro recipe, Lomo Con Leche, pork cooked in milk with cinnamon and bay to you and I. Delicious it was, but could do with a few tweaks I think. I look forward to experimenting.

Pork cooked in milk with cinnamon & bay

Brunch baked eggs became a Sunday feature, well eggs en cocotte this time. Eggs cosied in individual ramekins sitting on a cushion of fried bacon, leak and shallots, with a cream and gruyere topping, and baked in a bain marie. Sounds complex and fussy, but they’re quick easy and wickedly indulgent. Take that, January!

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Pigs (plural) was about to feature in a very big way. Starting with a fantastic Pig Masterclass and wine dinner at Trinity, where I got to try some great Alsace wines from small producer Trimbach. Jean Trimbach talked us through them, and we had matched food from Trinity, including their fantastic trotter dish, more on that soon.

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St John Restaurant, famed for it’s offaly goodness, was next on the menu. A group of us were trying the suckling pig. I’d always wanted to try this so was quite excited. The suckling pig was tender, moist and full of flavour. I even got to try a bit of the tongue which had a dense texture and intense piggy flavour. Starters of bone marrow and crab were perfect. I am not really a big fan of the desserts chosen, so I didn’t pay much attention to these. All in all, a successful food adventure, even with a few problems with slow service.

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A Sunday indoors was perfect with a roast loin of pork with spiced apple sauce.

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The annual Bibendum tasting at the Saatchi Gallery was immense as always, with fantastic wines. It was lovely to see Alice of Bruno Paillard and the Chapel Down Crew again. It was a great day.

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We’ve clearly headed from the pig section to the alcohol section. I had a lovely evening at Thorsten of the Wine Rambler‘s house, sampling some German wines with food. We had a really interesting German Syrah from Pfalz (Knipser 2003). I also discovered the delights of chocolate baklava which I bought for dessert from a local baklava salon.

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An exciting vintage vodka tasting at Bob Bob Ricard managed to be both the high and low point of the month. High point: wonderful food, lovely hosts and superb vodka. Low point: there should be a heigh requirement, noone my height can drink that much vodka, be coherent and manage a normal day the day after. The food was great, lots of Russian food that I hadn’t had before, including a superb ox tongue in aspic, which was elegant and graceful, a fantastic egg mayo with anchovies, some caviar with blinis, delicious creamy lardo, and some standout meaty dumplings which were rich, dense and creamy. There was lots more which I’ll write about in more detail soon. The vodka was very good indeed, all Russian and served at -18 degrees.

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And that was it. I think we defeated January. Ka-pow!

Thanks for reading, as always :)

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Dealing with January: Lomo con Leche (Pork cooked in milk)

lomo con leche

I hate to open a post on a negative, it’s not my style. Especially, on what is my first proper post of 2010 (hello 2010!). However, here it is: don’t you just HATE January? I mean, really hate it.

I’ve always struggled with January. I feel I need someone to lift the sky. Did someone remove one of the tent poles that was keeping it high off my head? And what have they done to the colour? Where is the light? Why is everything so grim? Someone please put it back to the way it was! I’m getting desperate. Nearly four weeks of it now, and it’s still going on. I feel a little miserable.

I remember as a child hearing about an Irish professional cyclist (yes, you did read right), who spent 6 months abroad over Winter every year, and the remaining 6 months in Ireland. As an adult with a healthy does of realism, I can see now that that was most likely a tax ploy, but as a child I thought: genius! that’s what I am going to do. 6 months away, avoiding those most depressing of months, January and February. I haven’t done this , of course. A part of me still anticipates that I may make it happen. Maybe not 6 months, but next January somewhere other than here, would be seven kinds of wonderful.

As I wander the streets, avoiding the puddles and skidding on occasional ice, damning the snow of early January and damning the sky, shaking my fist at dissolving snowmen, and kids with snowballs, I feel grumpy. I hate feeling grumpy but it won’t go away. I want to kick things. I need to sort it out. I need to lift my mood. I need to eat something comforting with a big, bold and spicy glass of red wine. There’s no money, and lots of time. That means frugal cooking with the occasional treat.

What to eat, what to cook? Slow leisurely cooking yields tender meats and big flavours, and plenty of time for that indulgent glass of wine. Red meats, with red wine, heady sauces, spices. Fresh fish makes a cheerful and bright supper, and I feel healthy and light afterwards. It’s also quick, bonus. The real treat for me recently was pork cooked with milk. Creamy, tender, rich, yielding, it saved me from several hours of looming crankiness, it was luscious.

Now, if you’ve not heard of it, pork cooked in milk is a common Italian dish, Maiale al Latte. I had seen the recipe in one of my River Cafe cookbooks, but the one that really grabbed my attention was a Moro version with added spice, some cinnamon, entitled Lomo con Leche. It also used fresh bay leaves, one of my favourite fragrances, a gorgeous addition to most dishes, and with milk, sublime.

So, I had to try it. Dutifully I went to my butcher, securing a loin as specified by the recipe. I chose just over 1kg, the recipe specifying 1-1.5. Removing the skin and most of the fat, saving this for some crackling which I would have seperately, the ultimate fatty and crispy indulgence with flakes of salt dancing on top.

I chopped some fresh thyme and rubbed it into the joint with sea salt, browning it on all sides, and then sitting snugly in my 20cm Le Creuset pot, I covered it with the milk, added the bay leaves and the cinnamon and let it cook, keeping an eye on the meat, as loin is quite delicate, not having protective fat to keep it moist, it’s easy to overcook.

The recipe said an hour to an hour and a half, for my kg an hour was plenty, almost too much, it’s worth using a meat thermometer to determine when your loin is perfectly cooked at 65° – 70°. I also used less milk, in my 20cm pot, a liter was plenty. I was a little disappointed that the sauce didn’t have the rich caramelised and nutty brown nuggets that theirs had in the photo, however, the taste was terrific, comforting, nurturing, rich. This was a perfect January dish, tearing you instantly away from the tortures of this grim month, and whisking you to a moorish village with heady flavours and colours. Maybe I just had too much wine at that point.

Don’t be put off by the photo, it ain’t pretty but it’s mighty tasty. We had it with greens and potatoes.

The recipe is adapted from the original recipe,taken from The Moro Cookbook by Samantha & Samuel Clark

It supposedly serves 4, but I say 3.

Ingredients

1-1.5 kg boned  pork loin, with skin removed
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cinnamon stick
3 fresh bay leaves
1 litre full fat milk
sea salt & black pepper

Method

Trim the pork of excess fat and rub all over with salt, pepper and thyme. Place a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the pork and seal until golden brown on all sides, but not too dark.

Pour off any excess oil, add the cinnamon, bay and milk and bring to a gentle simmer, turning down the heat if necessary. Cook slowly with the lid half off for an hour or so, turning the meat occasionally, or until the meat is cooked through, but still juicy and tender, or until it registers 65° – 70° on your meat thermometer.

The milk should have reduced into caramelised, nutty nuggets, and made a wonderful sauce subtly flavoured with cinnamon and bay. If it needs more time to reduce, remove the meat until the sauce is ready.

Taste and season. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

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Slow Roast Pork Belly with Cider & Lentils

Roast Pork Belly with Cider

Slow roast pork belly with cider - a little messy but it tastes *good*!

And now it’s November. It’s dark and cold, it’s been quite wet. That’s ok though, life is all about balance, the rough with the smooth, the highs with the lows, the summer with the winter, and I embrace it. Well, most of the time and maybe not the rain, I had enough of that growing up in Ireland!

I’ve had a busy few months leading up to this, new flat, new job, new everything it seemed, and now that everything is starting to settle, well almost, I took some time this month to experiment, a little, and indulge alot. It’s been a month for comfort food.

Comfort food is at once a friend and an enemy, that first spoonful is so lovely, but by the end, I can start to hate it as I’ve usually eaten way too much. One of the exceptions to this rule is slow roast pork belly, which never grows tired. In fact, I only wished I’d roasted double so that I could have eaten it for the week and not just two days. Of course, that would have been horribly greedy and gluttonous (catholic guilt: seven deadly sins!), there’s also the small issue of health to think of, so I am destined forever to cook small portions, in an attempt at control.

Vegetables that the pork belly roasted on

I have been obsessed with pork belly for some time, the obsession ramped up a notch at Taste of London when I sampled the pork belly from Le Cafe Anglais. Within a short time I was at the restaurant and sampling it there. Hola, full blown obsession! The moist and tender meat blanketed with that oh so crispy crackling, I started researching to see how I could recreate that perfect meal.

So, these are the secrets I uncovered. Most important is slow roasting, start it at a high temperature and reduce it to low, and wait. Roast it with cider or wine for moisture or flavour. Add vegetables to flavour the juices. A variety of herbs and spices are used from fennel to aniseed. So, I thought, what kind of flavours do I want with my pork? I settled on fennel, thyme and cider, and it worked quite well.

Pork Belly Lunch!

Pork Belly Lunch!

I roasted 500g pork, enough for one greedy person over two days or two normal people for dinner. I had my leftovers for lunch the next day, mmmm. Double up if you want to make enough for two, and on and on. It’s a very cheap dish incidentally, pork belly is very inexpensive, especially when you consider the luxury of the final product.

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Spiced Chickpeas with Spinach

Yum scrum! Spiced chickpeas with spinach. The humble chickpea, small and nutty, packed full of protein and fibre. So tasty and cheap, I bow before thee. I first had chickpeas in a youth hostel in Rome many years ago, at the tender age of 19. A fellow youthful traveller was eating them out of a tin that he had hacked open with a swiss army knife, I was curious and had to try. I’ve never looked back.

I love chickpeas, whether they are in dips, stews or curries. In salads with cheeses, herbs and tomatoes. I like them baked as a snack or spiced in a pitta. Like all pulses, it is worth making the effort soaking dried ones over night and cooking them until tender, if reasonably fresh, usually for an hour or so. There’s no comparison for me between dried and tinned – the texture of those cooked from dried is so much better, firm to the bite, rich in flavour and not waterlogged like tinned.

Earlier this week, I soaked and cooked off a big bag of dried chickpeas, and, for that evening, spiced about 2 tins worth with spinach and froze the rest. It’s a quick dish with tasty results. This will serve 4 and is good served stuffed in toasted pitta bread. [Read more]

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Fish pie for the soul

Fish pie

This month has been one for comfort foods, certainly not one for diets, not that I’ve ever gone beyond thinking that it might be a good idea to cut out x or y (usually x = crisps & y = cheese) and planning how I should successfully do so, usually to fall at the first hurdle, whichever shop crosses my path that sells the finest of either. I am not unhappy about that, I’ve never approached diets or the thought of them too seriously, moderation is best in all things (with the occasional lapse of course). Life is for living, might aswell just get on with it and make the most of it, eh? Especially when food gives such pleasure.

Once in school, we made a dish called fish crisp, a baked mackerel dish topped with irish tayto crisps (I kid you not). I was 13 or so, and hated fish at the time. When my mother would grill fish I would leave the house in protest and not return until I had deemed the smell gone. I virtually fainted when I had to skin the mackerel and had to be taken outside for some air but was brought back inside to complete it, much to my horror. I adored crisps but hated fish, how was I to eat the crisps without having even a scent of mackerel from them? It wasn’t to be, there was no way of rescuing them, and save the few crumbs from the bottom of the bag, I had to abandon them. I have no memory of what happened to that fish crisp after, but I do remember the build up in excruciating detail.

I’ve been thinking of that dish lately, along with quite a few others that we made in school, including one white pudding tart that I loved and would love to make again if only I had the recipe. It was one of our teacher’s own so wasn’t in the book but I do recall some carrot, white pudding and some shortcrust, but, that’s about it. I have a few ideas for potential white pudding tarts that could work, but that’s a project for the weekend.

For tonight, I had settled on fish pie – something of the calibre of that comforting and tasty tart. It had been a while since I had eaten fish so I made up for it with 3 types – salmon, prawns and smoked haddock in a smokey and fragrant bechamel with some velvety mash on top. I poached the fish first in some milk, with some peppercorns, coarsely chopped carrots, celery and onion, adding the prawns about half way through as they cook quicker. I then used the poaching milk for the sauce and it was lovely, it had some of the flavour of the veg and the peppercorns and the smokiness of the smoked haddock – very delicate and light. It would be perfect served with greens or peas, I had neither and was too lazy to leave my flat! I split the mixture into two pie dishes about 6 * 3 inches, but really there was so much fish I could have made three. You can also make one big one, of course. Serves 4.

Here’s the recipe in more detail.

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