Friday, April 30, 2010

Lancashire Eccles Cakes

I'm not a great one for pre-packed cakes and biscuits but I make an exception for Real Lancashire Eccles Cakes which I can miraculously buy in my local newsagent. It's a small pack - just 4 cakes for £1.59 - and a single one just hits the spot with an afternoon cuppa.

Looking at the list of ingredients they contain a very respectable 40% of fruit - currants and raisins - and no hydrogenated fats - so they must be good for you, right? (Except for the 9.1% butter but fortunately they don't put the calorie count on the pack).

You need to heat them to enjoy them at their crumbly best, easily accomplished in the Aga, but otherwise I'd be inclined to do that over a low heat in a covered pan rather than faff around heating up the oven.

The website reveals that the Lancashire Eccles Cake Company is a family owned firm which has been making eccles cakes since the 1930s which is rather nice. They even export to the States.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Orchard Pig - my kind of cider

I guess it's going to sound like a backhanded compliment but this is a cider for people who don't like cider. But I don't mean it that way. Far from being bland and tasteless Orchard Pig is a full-strength drink with a particularly intense apple flavour but it doesn't have the funky notes that 'real cider' and scrumpy sometimes suffer from.

It seems I share this view with the cidermaker Andrew Quinlan who has made the kind of cider he personally enjoys. So a long maturation for flavour but not too much oak to detract from the purity of the fruit.

The farm, which is situated near Glastonbury in Somerset, also has Gloucester Old Spot pigs - hence the name. Their ciders and juices are made from 10 different varieties of cider apples which are picked by hand from unsprayed orchards. Unlike bigger commercial cidermakers they don't add any flavourings, colourings or sugar. I particularly liked the 6.5% Dry Table Cider which has a lovely clean fresh taste - more like, dare I say, a Normandy cider than a British one - but the Medium Table Cider, which is richer and fuller is great too.

They've also been experimenting with a 4.2% sparkling cider which is sweetened with apple juice. I found it a bit wimpy on its own compared to the other two but it tasted deliciously refreshing with Stichelton (a creamy Stilton-like blue cheese)

You can find Orchard Pig ciders - and their equally good apple juices - in delis, bars and restaurants all over the south-west and Whole Foods in Kensington or buy them direct from their website.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Piure: the world's strangest seafood?

I've spent the last 10 days in Chile - hence the lack of recent posts. Most of my time was spent visiting wineries but I also found time to visit the Central Market in Santiago which I remembered from my last visit sports some of the weirdest seafood I've ever come across.

This coral-like substance is called Piure. I've been looking for more information about it but it basically tastes something like a sea-urchin though much less delicate in flavour. They extract the flesh then serve it with onions and a good squeeze of lemon, both necessary to disguise the slightly bitter, soapy taste. A good Pisco Sour - Chile's national cocktail - also helps it go down!

There are other unfamiliar fish: pink clams called machas which the contestants in the World's Best Sommelier contest had to match with red wine (almost impossible) . . .

Congrio or conger eel which is a popular basis for the very tasty Chilean seafood stews . . .

Some very spooky octopus . . .

And abalone, a much prized Chilean speciality, shown here boiled with mayonnaise

Oh, and a tip if you go to the market. It's a bit of a tourist trap so don't bother eating in the restaurants. There are much better ones elsewhere in Santiago.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bavette aux échalotes

I used the bavette I bought the other day from Source to make bavette aux échalotes, one of my favourite ways of cooking this underrated cut. It involves an unlikely amount of vinegar so no, 75ml is not a misprint. You can make the rest of the liquid beef stock or a mixture of beef stock and red wine but I find it's particularly good if you use the Essential Steak Sauce I posted on my website today.

Another tip: bavette needs to be cooked quickly otherwise it can be tough but if you buy well-aged beef it shouldn't be a problem. You’ll probably need to order it from your butcher - it’s a cut they tend to keep for themselves. (Unsurprisingly since it was selling at under £10 a kilo)

Serves 2
2 tbsp olive oil
350g well-aged, thinly sliced bavette (skirt steak)
25g butter
225g evenly sized shallots, peeled and quartered
75ml red wine vinegar
75ml Essential Steak Sauce (aka red wine sauce) or strong beef stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a cast iron frying pan for about 5 minutes until almost smoking. Trickle a little of the oil over each side of the meat, rub it in and season lightly with salt and pepper. Fry the meat about 1 1/2-2 minutes each side, pressing the pieces firmly down into the pan with a wooden spatula. Transfer to a warm plate and cover lightly with foil. Wipe the pan with a piece of kitchen towel, replace over a medium heat for a couple of minutes then add the remaining oil and half the butter. Tip in the shallots and fry over a medium high heat for about 6-7 until well browned. Pour in the vinegar and bubble up until almost evaporated. Add the Essential Steak Sauce or beef stock, the remaining butter and any juices from the meat and heat through. Check seasoning adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve the meat with the shallots spooned over. 'Frites' and a green salad would be the classic accompaniment but it's also good with mash.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Real old-fashioned milk

When I was young I used to drink milk for pleasure and I don't think it was just because I was a child. It was truly delicious but for years I haven't had milk that tasted anything like as good.

Today I did: Jess's Ladies Organic Special Breakfast Milk which I bought in the weekly farmers' market in Corn Street in Bristol. It was sweet and creamy without that slightly metallic taste I now realise most modern milk has.

According to Jess - aka Jess Vaughan of Hardwicke Farm in the Severn Valley in Gloucestershire - it's because it's not homogenized like practically all milk these days. Homogenization is a process that extends the shelf life of milk but also alters its structure, making it more indigestible and also less nutritious and less tasty. (You can see some of the sources Jess cites for this on her website)

The cows - or 'ladies' as Jess calls them - are also carefully reared, allowed to suckle their young and not milked while they are due to come into calf. "We know the ladies all by name and we milk them personally every day to make sure they're a happy, healthy bunch" she says.

The breakfast milk is extra rich with 4.5% fat compared to a maximum of 3.9% fat for whole milk, according to a profile on the farm in food writer Andrea Leeman's meticulously researched A Taste of Gloucestershire. And it won a gold in last year's Great Taste Awards.

You can buy the milk all over Gloucestershire, in Bristol and in one or two outlets in London from just £1.20 a litre - an affordable luxury if ever there was one. I'm going to use it to make my macaroni cheese for Cheese School this weekend but have a feeling it would also make the ultimate rice pudding.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cheap treats at St Nick's

Apologies for another Bristol food scene gloat but it's the first time for a while I've been down at St Nick's, the covered market in Bristol and I'd forgotten just how good it is.

There's a row of cafés down the centre including a Pieminister pie outlet, a Moroccan restaurant, Al Bab Mansour and the Caribbean Wrap but the best value of all by common consensus is the Portuguese cafe called Portuguese Table which doles out hearty homemade Portuguese food for a song. Even though it was raw and cold we sat on the pavement outside and tucked in to steaming platefuls of feijoada (my husband) and salt cod and potato bake (me) which cost us £4 and £5 respectively. We also bought a couple of custard tarts (see below) for a friend who particularly likes them and are going to try our best not to eat them before we see him tomorrow. At £1 each that bought the total cost to £11, cheaper - and of course infinitely tastier - than eating in most chain restaurants.

We also picked up our weekend meat from Source an excellent café and food shop I've written about before (it used to be called Taste at St Nick's). Their meat comes from chef suppliers Chef Direct so they have plenty of things you don't find in most butchers - let alone supermarkets - and at a very good price. Bavette, onglet and ox cheek for under £10 a kilo, duck legs for £2.25 each, pigeon breasts for just 90p, And staff who can actually advise on how to best to cook them. It must be the best butcher in Bristol.


Friday, April 2, 2010

April's blogs of the month

As usual I'm picking out five of the blogs I enjoy - and hope you will too. Watch for their updates in the sidebar (right)

Just Cook It
At the time of writing UK-based blogger Alex Rushmer is still battling it out on Masterchef but whether he wins or loses his blog is well worth reading for creative food ideas, good recipes and some stylish food photography

Chocolate & Zucchini
Veteran food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier (although I don't know if you can use that expression of someone who's still only 30) has been blogging since 2003 but her entries are still fresh and full of information. I particularly like her series of ‘edible idioms’ - French idiomatic expressions that relate to food like ‘plein comme un oeuf’ - filled to the brim. She’s based in Paris and is now a full time food writer.

Leite’s Culinaria
Another long-standing online writer, David Leite started reviewing and running recipes from cookbooks in 1999 and is now a major US food personality in his own right. Cookbooks are still the focus - all the recipes featured are tested - but this is much more of an online cookery magazine these days and a very good one too. He also offers ‘virtual classes’ for those who want to learn to be food bloggers

Wine Conversation
UK-based Robert McIntosh has become something of a social media guru to the wine industry and his blog is well worth following to keep up with latest developments in the field. He was one of the founders of the European Wine Bloggers Conference, the second of which takes place in Vienna this autumn

As regular followers of this slot will know I have a weakness for food photography and this is my food porn blog of the month! Mowie is a London-based baker, food stylist and photographer whose pictures are utterly gorgeous. All that needs to be said, really. Just look for yourself.