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It must be time for a market update?

Isn’t it just! I have now been at the market for 15 weeks. 15 WEEKS!  That’s kind of exciting, isn’t it? It’s time for an update.

Life has been rather busy, I don’t exaggerate. Nor do I seek sympathy as it was good busy. Isn’t it good to be busy? However, the downside of this busy-ness is that normal service of recipes and randomness on this blog wasn’t possible. Mainly because I didn’t have much time to cook, and if I did, I didn’t have time to write about it. Then there was the sad day that my lovely DSLR camera was appropriated by someone else. I do have a tiny point and shoot but it just doesn’t cut the mustard for me and sadly, nay stupidly, it wasn’t insured, and I am not yet in a position to replace it. I miss the sharpness, the focus, the colours and the depth. I miss my camera.

So, after all that guff,  how has the market been? I’ve been diligently baking those blaas, week after week. Thursday 5am after Thursday 5am. Blaa after blaa. Trayful after trayful. Ovenload after ovenload. I’ve managed to increase my output, although this is not down to me, this is down to the hardest working member of the team, my trusty KMix.

Some months ago, the folks at Kenwood asked if I would like to try one. At this stage my wrists ached, my fingers sobbed, but dedicated as ever, I persevered with the bread. Aren’t I just the martyr?! All jest aside, it was very important to me that I make it and that I prove that I could. It seems silly now, but that was what I was thinking. Back to the trusty KMix. I knew that I needed a mixer for the bread, but I had yet to purchase. So, after a little internet research, I could only say yes, as it looked perfect for the Thursday morning bake offs for the stall.

So this gorgeous, sturdy piece of equipment graces my kitchen counter in a glorious red, and every Thursday morning churns and kneads. The yeast gurgles by the warm oven in snug anticipation. Its companion, a peppercorn blender, awaits its load on the weeks I have time to do a soup.

Testament to it’s sturdiness, was the morning when I, excited and over eager, loaded it to the max, nay beyond the max, and left it mix unsupervised in the corner on the table. I missed it slowly vibrate to the side of the table, and cascade to the floor.

SHRIEK! I plugged it out, picked it up, and, mildly panicked. Peevishly, I plugged it back in and attempted to turn it on once more. Unphased, it recommenced its job, and I, impressed with my hardest worker, returned to my soup.

Now, however, I must reconsider. The market is 2 days a week since mid-November, Thursdays and Fridays, and I can’t continue to bake the bread two days in a row and maintain my sanity. I want to do something different and I can’t help but feel that all of the time and enery the KMix and I put into the bread, could be spent trying new things and enjoying the adventure.

People love the pork and spiced apple sandwich, and they come back week after week for it (which is amazing – thank you). The slow roast lamb and aubergine relish is also a go-er, and I usually offer both. I know that if I make them, I will sell them, and this is a very important factor. If I don’t sell my produce, well then, it’s game over. But, at the risk of a strop, I also want to take risks and try new things and some old favourites. I want to try the salt beef from October again, I want to make more of the black bean chilli from November, the delicious spiced chickpea and feta salad with pomegranate molasses dressing, some more smoked salmon.  I want to have several things on offer every time. Choice and colour, variety and vigour. The problem is, there’s only me to do it, and in order to deliver something must be sacrificed.

So, what to do? Why not be normal and buy the bread from a good source like other people do? Well now, I hate to be normal, it sounds so dull, but it does make sense. Why has it taken me until now to consider it?  I’ve bought in before for the Soho Market with those gorgeous bagels from Carmelli’s in Golders Green in October. I’ve bought bread from Sally Clarkes one day where I just couldn’t bake. They were great! So, the decision has been made, and I feel liberated, and quite excited for the next few weeks.

So, what to expect? Soup, meatballs, maybe savoury muffins! I intend to burrow around my cookbooks and savoury inclinations, and dig out some new recipes, and bring them to you at the stall. I will be back to write about them.

So, until then, I’ll get back to my research and see you soon!

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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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Junior Apprentice and 6 Hour Slow Roast Pork

A title you wouldn’t see very often, or would you? Junior Apprentice branched into cheesemongering this week and were my neighbours at the Covent Garden Real Food Market. It added a little spark to the day, and nosey ole me kept a close eye on proceedings, although I was careful to dodge their camera, having no ambition to appear on any form of The Apprentice, even as an innocent and very nosey bystander. I can’t bear the show.

I have been in front of the camera before. I have been on TV before in a starring role on ” A Prayer at Bedtime”. I jest but also it is true, it was a favour to a friend producing them at the time. It was laced with ironies, and every elderly lady in Cork loved me for a time, and that, my friends, was my brief sojourn into TV.

This one was quite funny as they seemed to have a mix of the usual characters, some grafters working hard, persuading people to buy cheese, not stopping in their efforts and quite understated in their dress. And then there were the others, there to make an impact, sporting striking clothes, one a bright white beret and sparkling red lipstick. Who am I to judge? She may be the brightest of the bunch and did manage to sell £50 worth of cheese to a neighbouring startled trader. Although,  I did also heard her describe one of the many cheeses to a customer: “well, it’s basically, like, a blue cheese”. I sound like a snob. In truth, I would have been the same at that age. It was amusing to witness however. I’ll take what I can get.

Lingering in the background all the while was a large production crew, frantically scribbling notes, guiding, instructing, ordering, directing. Sternly overseeing all junior apprentice activity was Nick Hewer. I caught him glaring at me and my camera at one point. Haha!

Junior Apprentice aside, this week had the usual mix of drama and high activity. In my fourth week now, I am still coming to grips with how these things work and I am, as ever, a horrible chronoptimist (defined by the urban dictionary as a person who always under estimates the time necessary to do something or get somewhere – HELLO, c’est  moi). This week, culminating with me in a state of slight panic the morning of the market wondering how I could get everything done, having utterly stretched myself. Ambitious as always, aiming to deliver too much and not as organised as I should be. I always do this, and always get very annoyed if what I do is even slightly under par. I felt as I did before all exams, underprepared and extremely annoyed with myself, hoping to scramble through. Stressful.

I made it though, and I survived.

The drama started ever before I approached my kitchen with the sourcing of ingredients. Last week I asked my butcher if I could order bone in shoulder of pork and he assured me that I didn’t need to, that they always have some out the back. I was surprised, following the high drama associated with getting one for my birthday. So, off I trundled on Wednesday, ready to purchase my shoulder of pork, bone in. They had none. CRAP. Already I was having problems with the bread with no time to make it, and through the advice of the wonderful Willie Lebus of Bibendum, had managed to secure a new order via Sally Clarke’s bakery (fabulous bread & service, I will be using them again).

What to do? I couldn’t use bone out, I wanted to slow roast it, and needed the bone to retain the moisture and add flavour. I wasn’t sure how pork belly would work cold in a sandwich, without experimenting it was too risky to try. They did have a leg of pork, bone in. I was a little worried as this is a much leaner cut of meat, and the fattier cuts lend themselves better to a slow roast. I thought I should give it a try. They’re a great butcher and the meat is high quality, it’s as good a place to start as any.

Anxiously I wheeled my third leg home in my new bright pink shopping cart, wondering how best to do this. It was heavy, as was the chorizo and minced pork I had also purchased, and my wrists were starting to ache. I was getting stressed, and I needed to reel it in, so that I could get everything done, and do it well.

I prepared the roast, exactly as I had done with the shoulder. Pouring some boiling water over first, drying and salting with a sea salt and fennel seed rub. Roasting at maximum temperature for 40 minutes to crisp the crackling and reducing to a little lower than the shoulder as there was less fat to protect the meat, 150 degrees this time for 5 hours or so, basting occasionally, turning the temperature up for the remainder, or until the crackling was perfectly crisp all over.

The result? A perfectly good roast leg of pork with great crackling, but I don’t find these leaner meats as appealing to slow roast, and as they cool they can dry out. The meat close to the bone was moist and delicious but that closer to the skin, despite being protected by a layer of fat, for me just wasn’t as good as it could have been with a fattier joint. I know fat isn’t healthy, but it is tasty, and you do need it for this.

I served it with a celeriac and parsley salad, although in hindsight something like a remoulade might have been better, the leaner meat could probably have done with the extra moisture while cushioned in the bread. The bread was really great, half was a white buttermilk roll which was sweet and light, and the other half a nuttier wholemeal, with some butter in the dough. Both good partners for the pork.

In addition I made chorizo and pork rolls. These I played with for some time, knowing that cold they would not have the unctous fat providing moisture. Encased in a homemade butter shortcrust, they were quite popular, selling out early in the day. I’ll be making more of these this week, with a couple of tweaks.

If  you were vegetarian or weren’t a pork fan for religious reasons or otherwise, there were three vegetarian tarts: beetroot, ricotta & mint; pumpkin, spinach & roquefort and last weeks start burnt aubergine with feta and also red pepper this week. There was no wine this week unfortunately as Denise had to work, and so I sailed the ship solo. However, my aforementioned hero, Willie, arrived on the scene with two bottles of delicious red, proclaiming them perfect partners with the pork. A bottle of D’Arenberg Derelict Vineyard Grenache, 2006 & Chianti Rufina Fattoria di Basciano 2007. He was right, and we enjoyed a glass, as did several other visitors who I gave tasting portions.

No sweet treats this week, these I had to shelve as I was running out of time. Learning, as I am, this week I’ll be more realistic, and I will endeavour to have some there.

So, that’s it. Another day at market, another frantic day of prep, and 16 hour Thursday. The Thursday is actually the best day, as I do get a buzz from being there. The build up is a killer though.

This week: less chornoptimism, more organisation, and help from Dan from Food Urchin should make it a thoroughly enjoyable week. I’ve also ordered the shoulders of pork this week and hope to have them delivered, saving my wrists and my sanity. And I may attempt the bread. I’ll plan it out on Tuesday, so watch this space. Denise will be matching the wines this week, she’s going to get back to me and let me know what these are, and I in turn will share here.

Thanks to everyone who came again, it warms the heart so it does. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did.

The full photoset is on flickr.

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Covent Garden Real Food Market Stall: the recipes

And… drumroll! Now for the recipes.

I was really excited by how many people really enjoyed the brown soda bread and cucumber pickle. I was a little nervous about how they would be received, and at 6am, sleep deprived and coffee’d up, I had a thought: what if people hate it?! Thankfully no one seemed to, in fact lots of people wanted the pickle and bread to take home, so if I do it again folks, I’ll make sure that I jar some and make some extra bread (if that’s possible!).

As I said in my previous post, both of these recipes are very straight forward but with excellent results, it’s virtually impossible to mess these up. Depending on your taste you may want to alter the sugar/vinegar ratio in the pickle, I prefer it to be a little on the tart side. Both recipes are adaptations of Ballymaloe recipes. The original Ballymaloe soda bread calls for buttermilk, however, that’s not terribly easy to find in the UK, and when available it’s expensive. I substitute whole milk, soured a little with fresh lemon juice, about a tablespoon for every 850ml. You need the sour aspect to wake up the soda. The Ballymaloe cucumber pickle calls for onion and less vinegar so that it’s a sweeter pickle, I prefer to make with just cucumber and a little more vinegar.

This is utterly perfect with smoked salmon, but if you’re vegetarian try it with a robust cheese, like a good strong cheddar or Mrs Kirkham’s. It would work a treat.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Frank Hederman you can visit his site – www.frankhederman.com.

To get your hands on some delicious Bisol Jeio (it really is delicious!), you can order some from Bibendum. I will be.

Brown Soda Bread

Ingredients:

600g wholemeal brown flour
600g plain flour
850ml whole milk soured with 1tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 230 C.
Mix the flours, salt and sieved baking soda thoroughly.
Make a well in the center, and add the milk, drawing in the dry ingredients from the outside as you add it with your hand.
Mix until sticky but not too gooey, you should be able to pick it up and shape into a round.
Wash your hands and flour them and transfer your dough to a floured board. Shape into a round. Turn over onto a floured baking tray and shape once more, tidying the edges is necessary. It should be 1 1/2 – 2 inches thick at most.
With your knife, draw a cross in the centre (as per the picture) cutting down to the bottom of the bread. The idea is that it should come apart into quarters quite quickly. Stick the knife into the centre of each quarter to let the fairies out (yes!).
Cook for 20 minutes and then turn down to 200 C. After 20 minutes, take the bread out of the oven, turn upside down and knock on it. If it sounds hollow it’s done. If it doesn’t put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, upside down, and try again. That should be enough.

Cucumber Pickle

Ingredients:

2 cucumbers, sliced as finely as you can.
240 ml cider vinegar
200g sugar
1 tsp salt

Method:

Heat the vinegar, sugar and salt just until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Allow to cool.
Pour over the cucumbers and leave overnight in the fridge (or for 5 hours).
Your cucumbers are pickled!
Keeps for up to a week in the fridge.

Enjoy!

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The Girl & the Sleuth

Bisol
Announcing some exciting real world news.

Denise of The Wine Sleuth & I will be manning our very own stall in Covent Garden Summer Market next Thursday 6th August. We’ve been talking about doing a pop up bar for a while, so when Covent Garden asked if we were interested in holding a stall in their Summer market, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

This is actually happening in real life/off the blog/real people/real food & drink  and not just photographs! We’ll be serving some gorgeous prosecco from the talented people at Bisol, masters of their craft producing prosecco since 1542. We are going to match this with smoked salmon from Frank Hederman, my favourite smoked salmon in the world. Heston Blumenthal is also a fan. It will be accompanied by my homemade brown Irish soda bread and homemade cucumber pickle. Traditional, Irish and utterly delicious.

Sadly, we could only do it once, as we both work full time, but we are very excited, so do come down and say hello and join us for a tipple and some lovely Irish grub next week from 12pm to 8pm. We promise tasty food and drink and lots of fun.

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Covent Garden Night Market

Covent Garden Night Market

Covent Garden Night Market

Covent Garden Night Market is back again for the month of August, every Thursday and Friday. Like last year, expect lots of lovely food stalls with the added extra of a kitchen theatre hosting celebrity chefs like the Hairy Bikers and Fergus Henderson.

I had an opportunity to go last week with fellow bloggers including: Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie, Helen of Food Stories, Ros of Living to Eat, Krista of Londonelicious, Chris of Londonist, and, Alex of The Princess and the Recipe
. It was really lovely to meet them, having interacted online for so long and we had a fabulous evening.

First stop was the hungry bikers at the kitchen theatre, unfortunately I was too late to see Cyrus from Cafe Spice Namaste. They were very entertaining as always, cooking up seared scallops and salmon, a Tuscan style beef salad and a dessert of zabaglione. It looked fabulous, and by the time it was over I was really hungry and keen to explore and eat.

There was lots on offer, so much choice, I was torn wanting the Rainha Santa hog roast, some of the sporeboy’s risotto and something from the Jewish Deli. And that’s only what I’d spotted on arriving. The Jewish Deli won out in the end and I had some chicken schnitzel. It was very good. After this, chocolate from Melt, cupcakes from Lavender Bakery (absolutely gorgeous – check out Michelle’s blog here) and it was all polished off with some champagne from McManus Oysters, I was too full for the Oyster’s themselves by now. Ooooh, decadent!

I didn’t stop there, I brought loads home including tea from teapigs (including a chilli tea, which is really interesting, physically warm but also the flavour and mild heat of the chilli – try it!), coffee beans, spicy tuscan sausage… and lots more. The sausage was quite special, I am looking forward to getting some more this week.

It’s well worth a trip, highly recommended.

Upcoming Kitchen Theatre Demonstrations:

22nd August: Willie Harcourt-Cooze – the modern day Willie Wonka, famed for his 100% pure Venezuelan Black chocolate

29th August: Fergus Henderson – head chef of St John restaurant and famous for his book and philosophy of ‘Nose to Tail Eating’

Also blogged at Trustedplaces.com