Thursday, 24 December 2009

'Twas the night before Christmas...

And, for now, we are repleat,
But tomorrow dawns a special day,
For those that love to eat.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Butchers of distinction

My Dad and I had the pleasure of spending Christmas Eve two years ago preparing a magnificent five bird roast: A wood cock, within a partridge, within a duck, within a corn-fed chicken, within a goose. The method is well documented elsewhere, so I'll let our pictures do the talking. If you are so inclined, you can view the full set here.
Balfe Junior takes on bird number 1.
Balfe Senior goes straight in for the goose, and makes light work of it too...

Taking shape... Our de-boned goose, legs akimbo, and a duck in the background, heading for the same fate.

A dab hand with a needle and thread.

Excellent craftsmanship. Mr Fearnley Whittingstall would be proud.

A very tasty terrine, made from all the off cuts. Just like Nigel's.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Crunch time

Only two days remaining to hit the shops before the big day is upon us... But that doesn't have to mean fighting your way through the smellies section at Selfridges. As well as my Christmas Chutney, this year, I'm also filling my stockings with cereal, so to speak. My very own granola.

All the ingredients are available in supermarkets, health food shops, and lots of local convenience stores. I got mine from the very lovely Unpackaged in Clerkenwell, where you get good products, a strong dose of nostalgia (great at this time of year), and a warm sense of ethical well being all thrown in to the deal. Definitely beats braving the crowds on Oxford Street.

Christmas Granola

I used Bill Granger's recipe for cinnamon crunch muesli as the basis for this, and so far it's worked out really well. Aside from the cranberries the key addition is candied clementines. You might be able to buy these in some shops, but even if not, they're simple to make, although you need to do so in advance. If you make extra, you can use them to infuse cream for home-made truffles, decorate cakes or tarts, dip in chocolate as festive treats, or just hang them on your tree.

All the rich flavours of the dried fruit, nuts and spices make this granola great sprinkled over yogurt, poached fruits, or even ice cream, although unless you wake up very hungry - unlikely at this time of year - you'll do well to manage a whole bowl full for breakfast. As with many of these seasonal recipes, it also fills the house with wonderful scents of Christmas as you're baking...

Makes enough for 15 or more small servings

For the candied clementines
100g caster sugar
2 clementines, cut into thin (3mm) slices

a handful cloves

For the granola
125g unsalted butter
40g dark brown sugar

2 tsp honey
2 tsp cinnamon

half a nutmeg, grated
300g rolled oats
a handful flaked almonds

a handful pumpkin seeds
150g mixed nuts - brazils, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc, roughly chopped

75g dried cranberries
75g dried sultanas

First, make the candied clementine; ideally you want to leave these to dry out over night, so do this the day before if you remember. Make a stock syrup by dissolving the sugar in enough water to cover by twice the volume, and bring to the boil. I also added half a dozen cloves to infuse as it was heating. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slice your clementines, removing any pips as you go. Remove from the heat, and add the orange slices to your syrup, and leave them to soak for ten minutes. Preheat the oven to 50 degrees C.

Remove, and place on a baking tray, lined with baking parchment. Stud a few cloves in each slice, then leave to dry out in the oven for a good few hours, as long as you can really. Switch the oven off, and leave it over night. Remove the cloves, and cut each slice into four or more pieces.

Pre heat the oven to 160 degrees C. Melt the butter, sugar, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large pan. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, and add the oats, seeds, almond flakes and nuts. Stir well so everything is coated with a slight gloss from the butter.

Transfer to a baking try lined with parchment, and spread out evenly. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, stirring once or twice, and checking it's doneness as you go. When it starts the oats start to go golden brown, it's ready. Remove from the oven, stir in the clementine pieces, cranberries and sultanas, and leave to cool completely before storing. It'll keep in an air tight container for a good couple of weeks.

Monday, 14 December 2009

On the eve of Christmas

Sunday 13th December: The day that the spirit of Christmas swept it's way through the door at For Those That Love To Eat HQ. We had designated it our day to celebrate, Norwegian style, as if it were the 24th...

The tree fills the room with the scent of pine, as if we lived in the middle of a Scandinavian forest, not an arterial East End bus route. We wrap it in fairy lights, place presents underneath, and balance gingerbread snowmen and clove-studded clementines between it's branches. Our friends have arrived, and a long, plentiful evening of food, wine and festive cheer lay ahead of us. As we raise a glass to one-another's health, Judy Garland serenades us from the stereo. Here's to the start of our Merry Little Christmas. All that's missing is an open fire...

A bright winter salad

This vibrant, lively-looking dish was inspired jointly by Nigel Slater's ever-reliable column in the Observer, and Philippa Davies' exceptional Christmas menu at Mudchute Kitchen. Whilst Nigel pairs his down to little more than celeriac, red cabbage and some citrus, Philippa opts for the inclusion of duck, plenty of herbs and a balsamic dressing.

Mine is something of a half way house. It's by no means as austere as Nigel's minimalist effort, yet it's a different beast entirely to the Mudchute creation. Principally, there is no meat – there will be plenty of that in the next course - so instead, I roast chunks of winter squash with cinnamon and nutmeg, almost to the point of caramelising. This gives the salad a nutty richness and smooth, buttery textures to contrast with the crisp shards of red cabbage. More bight comes from finely sliced fennel. The little aniseed flavour that comes through is balanced with sweet citrus from slices of orange, peppery rocket, toasted walnuts and scattered with ruby jewels of pomegranite.

With more colours than a tin-full of Quality Streets, it sums up everything a festive starter should be; light and crisp yet still indulgent, with enough flavour to perk up the taste buds in anticipation of what's next to come. And when you're lucky enough to get all the flavours on one fork full, it really does taste exactly like Christmas.

Serves six as a starter, two or three as a main

a small winter squash or pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks

ground cinnamon


a fennel bulb, sliced as thinly a you possibly can

a quarter of a red cabbage, shredded

two oranges, plus the juice of half another

a bag of rocket leaves

a handful walnuts, toasted

the seeds of one pomegranite

a tbsp cider vinegar

2 tbsps olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Scatter the squash on a baking tray, turn them in olive oil, season, and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and freshly-grated nutmeg. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until the tips of the corners have crisped and taken on a dark brown colour.

Meanwhile, slice the cabbage and fennel, either by hand or with a mandolin, and toss together in a large bowl. Zest the oranges, and add the bowl. Slice the off the skin, and slice the flesh across the segments so you have a series of orange disks, and add to the bowl, along with the rocket, walnut, and pomegranite. Season, and toss together the olive, vinegar, and orange juice. Serve immediately.

Roast rib of beef with bernaise sauce, potatoes roast in duck fat, braised red cabbage

If there is ever a day when when I have to choose my last supper, my decision would likely look something like this. In my kitchen, beef is served rare - Bloody as hell, as Vincent's waiter put it in Pulp Fiction – and this is no exception. The meat is massaged with olive oil, and covered in coarse ground pepper, before being seared in a hot griddle pan for three minutes on each side. After that, it goes into a hot oven, say 180, for another 15 minutes. Only when it is removed is it seasoned with salt, as sits for it's five minutes of rest before carving. The bone will have browned, and the outlying seams of fat will have begun to render, but in the centre the meat will still be soft and red-pink.

The trick with the potatoes is to par-boil them, almost until they fall apart, then add to a tray full of hot duck fat, along with rosemary, salt, pepper, and heads of garlic, sliced through the centre, across the cloves.

The cabbage gives a fruity addition to the plate, braised for a good hour or more in red wine and balsamic, with a few dots of butter, slices of pear and a single cinnamon stick to keep it company.

It's a rich plateful, to which some fresh, bouncy watercress leaves are a welcome addition. With a pot of warm bernaise sauce in the centre of the table, this is about as indulgent as a main course gets, and in my opinion, it couldn't be better.

Chocolate and apricot tart with vanilla yogurt and rose petals

Quite how we managed this, I'm not entirely sure. But manage it we did, and second helpings too. It's a wonderfully decadent dish, which calls out for yogurt, as opposed to cream, to cut through the rich chocolate. The rose petals add a ceremonious touch, and also fill the air with perfume as you're about to take your first bight. Dark chocolate heaven on a plate.

Now, anyone for cheese?

Chocolate and apricot tart

It's fair to say that where desserts are concerned, you can't go far wrong with anything that involves chocolate. Make that some of the finest chocolate available, and your margin for error is decreased further still. In this case, the chocolate is from one of my current favourite food shops, Leila's, on Arnold Circus, where it sits stacked on the counter in huge ebony slabs. Chunks are hacked off and sold by weight, allowing you to conveniently round up your order meaning there's a little extra to nibble on.

I look on as a piece almost the size of my fist is prized off, using the kind of knife that would make a samurai butcher jealous. I tuck my chocolate swag into my backpack, and head home... This chocolate is destined for fine things.

In an effort to do justice to this fine chocolate, I turn to one of my key culinary influences, Moro, and their recipe for chocolate and apricot tart. In my short time there, I saw it made many times, but never plucked up the courage to ask for a go myself. I'm by no means the best baker on earth, and I'm always slightly weary of taking on the role of pastry chef - I worry that dishes like this require precision and exactitude, which are easily overlooked in the home kitchen. Having said that, the recipe was easy to follow, and even my pastry case - the bit I was most worried about - turned out well; crisp and 'short' with a light, not-too-crumbly texture.
One of the best things about this dessert is the way the chocolate is offset by the apricot. At Moro, they use a lebanese apricot paste called amradeen, but using dried apricot, as I did, is a good substitute. You could use apricot jam, although you might want to add lemon juice, as the tartness of the fruit is important in cutting through the rich chocolate flavour.

It's a recipe in stages, so not one to attempt in a hurry, but will certainly go down well if you are looking for a dessert to impress. I made it for an early Christmas dinner for friends, and judging by everyone's second helpings, I'd have to accept that it went down pretty well.

Chocolate and apricot tart
Serves at least 6, if not 8, depending on how greedy your guests are.

For the sweet pastry
Makes enough to line a 24cm pastry case
140g plain flour
30g icing sugar
75g chilled, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
one egg yolk

For the apricot mixture
180g dried apricots
4 tbsps water
the juice of two lemons

For the chocolate filling
150g of good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
2 egg yolks
50g caster sugar

To serve
yogurt or creme fraiche
edible rose petals (optional, but a very nice touch if you can find them)

First, make the pastry. In a mixing bowl, rub the butter and flour together between your fingers until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Apparently the trick is to be light-fingered, and to keep the butter as cool as you can. If it feel it starting to soften between your fingers, put the bowl in the fridge for five minutes. Add the egg yolk and combine to form a stiff dough. If it is too dry, add the tiniest splash of milk, but don't over do it. Form into a ball, wrap in cling film, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, make the apricot jam. Chop dried apricots as finely as you can - in a processor if you have one (I don't) - and simmer for five minutes or more in a pan with water and lemon juice. It should reduce to a thick sauce, and have a tart taste. If you are a perfectionist, you could blend the mixture to form a smooth paste, but I don't mind some small chunks. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees C. Once the pastry has chilled for an hour, remove from the fridge and grate it into the pastry case, pushing it evenly into the sides and base. The cold dough will be quite hard, so grating is a better method than rolling. Prick the base, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until it's just golden. Remove from the oven and set aside. After cooling for 10 minutes or so, trim off any pastry that has risen over the edge of the case tin, and then coat the base and sides of the pastry with a layer of the apricot mixture. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees C.

Melt the butter and chocolate together over a bain marie of simmering water. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until they're pale, light and fluffy. Fold in the chocolate and butter, one third at a time, then pour into the pastry case.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the chocolate filling has formed a thin crust. There should still be a slight wobble in the centre.

Serve with creamy yogurt, and a sprinkling of rose petals.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A time for feasting

My first true taste of Christmas this year came last weekend, at the inaugural Festive Feast For Those That Love to Eat, which took place at Mudchute Kitchen

Whilst at the backbone of the menu were Christmas staples, such as chesnuts, roast ham, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, the end result was a spread of vibrant, earthy, dishes that were undisputedly representative of what Mudchute Kitchen is all about.
I've tried my hand at home-smoking before, but still got immense pleasure from preparing the appetiser of potted mackerel on toast. Returning to the smoke house to retrieve the fish, after the scent of burning embers have permeated their flesh for almost 12 hours, was quite a thrill; Eight butterflied fish, sat glistening in the soft, December sunlight. 
The flesh was then flaked into chunks, seasoned with pepper and paprika, and potted with home-smoked clarified butter. Spread roughly onto hot, toasted soda bread, it's the essence of simple cooking that allows the ingredients to do the work for you.  

The centre piece of the main course, for the carnivores at least, was a huge leg of ham, studded with cloves, and glazed in Philippa's home-made Seville orange marmalade. The ham is boiled with bay, stock veg, peppercorns, and garden herbs, then roast outdoors in the wood oven, giving a wonderfully caramelised coating to the meat, and a slick of thick, sticky sauce. 
As well as a celeriac gratin, with blue cheese and walnuts, there was a spread of salads including a sumptuous platter of warm, earthy beetroots, accompanied by lentils and goats cheese, all subtly swapping flavours as they melted into one another; crisp, zingy 'pickled' cucumber with dill, fennel tops, and shallots; a parsnip remoulade, moistened with a light creme fraiche dressing, sweetened with honey and dates, and topped with fresh chesnuts; a show-stopping bowlful of pears, wood-roasted with butter and cinnamon, and nestled in a bed of watercress. 
For dessert there was a huge rice pudding, given a middle-eastern twist with cardamon, orange, cinnamon and rose petals. Finally we served platefuls of Persian candy floss, called pashman (that's the phonetic spelling - apologies in advance to any Iranian readers) - long strands of pure white spun sugar, with a subtle hazelnut-vanilla flavour, that has to be seen - and tasted - to be believed. It also happens to look like Santa Claus' beard, which rounded off our non-traditional take on Christmas dinner.   

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Fruitful labour

My presents are preserved this year... Or at least some of them are. In an effort to sidestep the high street, I've decided to give chutney and other home-made goodies to my nearest and dearest this Christmas.

I've made variations on this recipe for a few years now. I think it's based on one from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery book - obviously before she decided that life was too short to chop an onion. It actually doesn't take that long anyway, and besides, whilst it slowly splutters on the hob, you get to enjoy the warming scents of autumn fruits and Christmas spices that fill the house.

This chutney is quite rich, so if you can, it's best to leave it a couple of weeks - or even more - before opening so the flavours mellow and muddle together. After that, it's perfect on toast, sitting atop melted mature cheddar, as an accompaniment to a terrine or pork pies, or dabbed on a slice of roast ham as you laze around on boxing day.

Spiced Christmas Chutney

Makes 4 or 5 jars

a tbsp olive oil
two onions, peeled and finely chopped
two cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a cinnamon stick
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
a bay leaf
four tbsp balsamic vinegar
a handful (say 100g) dark muscavado sugar
an orange or clementine, studded with half a dozen cloves
a dozen or more plums, stoned and quartered
two apples, cored and cut into chunks
a good handful sultanas or raisins
a handful cranberries
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan, and add the onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon stick and bay. Cook on a moderate heat for five minutes until the onions begin to soften. Keep stirring so they don't catch. Add the balsamic and the sugar and stir so it dissolves. The onions should begin to caramelise. After a couple of minutes, add the plums, apples, orange, sultanas and cranberries, plus a pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper. Stir well to combine.

Turn the heat down and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring regularly until the fruit pieces are beginning to break down. If the mixture ever looks too dry, add a splash of water, or orange juice.

Clean your jars thoroughly, and allow to drain. Boil the kettle and as soon as it's boiled, fill the jars with boiling water. After a moment, pour the water out, and allow the remaining water to evaporate for a minute before filling with the hot chutney. Seal the jars with a lid to form a vacuum - this will allow the chutney to stay fresh in the cupboard for a good six months or so if it remains unopened.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Back for more

I get a strange pleasure from leftovers. As much as I embrace thrift cookery, in turning the remains of one meal into the basis of another, or even re-living last night's dinner for lunch the following day, there's something about returning to the remains of a meal, an hour or so after the event, as it is still sitting in it's baking dish, that I can't seem to resist. 

Tonight, the second helpings were of a cassoulet of sorts, inspired by a creation I'd come across at the Star Inn at Harome, in North Yorkshire. There, the dish is made with local Whitby Haddock and Wensleydale cheese, however in mine, I used Dorset Blue Vinny - at tart, lip-smacker of a cheese - that I'd picked up on a recent visit to my Mother's. I'm sure Andrew Pern, head chef at the Star would have approved of my regional variation, however. Just as I am sure he would advocate my returning for seconds.

Smoked haddock and Dorset Blue Vinney 'cassoulet'

Serves five with plenty of leftovers

a large leak, washed, halved and thinly sliced
a thin slice of butter
four large un-dyed Haddock fillets, skin on 
half a pint vegetable stock
half a pint pale ale
a bay leaf 
two 400g tins of harricot beans
200g Dorset Blue Vinney, or other blue cheese
a small pot of pouring cream 
two good handfuls bread crumbs
a handful chopped parsley

Pre-heat the grill to a medium setting. Melt the butter in a large frying pan with a dash of olive oil, add the leaks and sweat for five minutes, without colouring. Add the ale and stock. Add the bay leaf, haddock, and a few twists of pepper, and bring to a simmer. Poach the fish for 3 minutes, skin side down, then turn over and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes or so until the flesh is opaque, even in the thickest part of the fillet.

Meanwhile, mix the chopped herbs with the breadcrumbs and one third of the Blue Vinney, torn into small chunks. 

Remove the fish and set aside on a warm plate. Add the cream to the ale and stock, and return to the boil. Add the harricot beans, then the remaining Blue Vinney, and stir so it melts evenly. Check the seasoning - it's unlikely to need salt, as the fish and cheese are salty already. Flake the fish, and return to the creamy stock mixture. Spread out in an oven-proof dish, and cover with the breadcrumb and herb mixture, and grill for ten minutes until the top is browned. 

Serve with greens, such as savoy cabbage braised in beer. 

The great indoors

Grey skies stretch out over London as far as my forth-floor line of sight will take me. Thankfully, the leaky roof has now been fixed, but the weather is still permeating my Sunday afternoon. Despite the rain outside, however, it is a day to be content in confinement to the house; a day for tea, Radio 4, Sunday supplements, and pottering in the kitchen.

It's dark outside, but my little corner of Hackney is brightened by bowls of late-autumn fruits adorning the room, which I will later turn into a chutney; rust-coloured apples on the table in font of me; bags bursting with dates, sultanas and cranberries; a plate of plums piled so high, they look as though they are planning imminent escape from their porcelain home. On the stove, a smoked ham hock I bought the previous afternoon is making friends with a chunk of Iberico bone in the stock pot. It will form the basis of our supper, in a Basque-style stew with chicken, chickpeas, soft, sticky rice, and plump, jet-black olives.

And to cap it all, the room is filled with the warming scent of freshly baked bread, so comforting it's as if a blanket has been wrapped around the senses. Two loaves sit radiating on the rack. One is packed with pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, which we'll snack on later, keeping our tummies and tastebuds occupied before the stew emerges from the oven.The other is a sweeter variation, filled with dates, walnuts and honey. It's intended for breakfast, but who could resist a slice or two fresh from the oven, with dough so warm it melts the butter almost before I have spread it from one side to the other...

Date and walnut bread

Despite having made a few loaves in my time, I could never claim my bread is perfect. In fact, baking generally isn't my strong point. That said, there is nothing quite as fulfilling as taking a hot loaf from the oven, that you mixed, kneaded, proved and baked yourself. I use the quick method here, although many swear by proving the bread twice, first to elasticate the dough, then a second time once it's formed into a loaf to rise before baking. Don't forget also, that you can ommit the dates, walnut and honey, for a standard wholemeal loaf, or likewise, try adding any combination of other ingredients, from nuts and seeds, to roast vegetables, olives, herds and even hard cheeses.

This mix makes a robust and wholesome loaf, that is perfect for breakfast, or to keep you going throughout the afternoon. Preferably along with a cup of freshly brewed tea.
Makes one loaf

500g strong wholemeal bread flour (or half wholemeal and half strong white flour), plus extra for dusting
a tsp fast acting dried yeast / one sachet fast acting yeast
half a tsp salt
a tbsp sunflower oil
roughly 2/3 pint warm water
a good handful of walnut pieces, plus a dozen or so walnut halves
a good handful of dates, pitted and roughly chopped
2 generous tsps honey
a beaten egg, for glazing

Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, including the dates and walnuts, and make a well in the centre. Add the oil, and most of the water, and mix together with your hands. The mix should bind into a 'cloggy' dough, as opposed to a sticky mess. If it's too dry, add more water, if it's too wet, add more flour.

Turn out onto a floured work surface, and knead for a good ten minutes. By this time, the dough should be feeling springy and elastic. Work the dough into a loaf shape, and stud the top with a few walnut halves. Place in a baking try, lined with a lightly oiled sheet of grease-proof paper. Cover with a tea towel, and leave in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes or so. It should double in size. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees (180 if your oven tends to cook at a high heat).

When the loaf has significantly risen, remove the tea towel, paint with the beaten egg, and put in the middle of the oven. Check it after 20 minutes - you might want to turn it around to make sure it cooks evenly - to make sure it's not over cooking. Turn the oven down to 150, and cook for another ten minutes. Check it by tapping the load - if it's done, it will make a hollow sound. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack, or just eat it!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

'Tis the season...

Christmas is undeniably approaching us, and I’m sure some of you out there are already well on your way to slipping into the Christmas spirit, even if you don’t quite like to admit it.

To celebrate the seasons, and as something of a coming of age for this blog – well I do have a new logo, a Facebook, and a Twitter, after all – I am very excited to be hosting a Feast at my beloved Mudchute Kitchen. A Festive Feast, for those that love to eat, no less. Head Chef, Philippa and I have devised a special seasonal menu that we hope has a good dose of Christmas cheer, alongside a few surprises.

It’ll be an informal affair, and we’ve managed to keep the ticket price to £20 per head, since there always seems to be so much going on at this time of year.

Email me at nbalfe [at] gmail [dot] com for tickets and any other info.

Hope to see you there!


Appetisers on arrival


Mudchute kitchen Seville marmalade and clove-studded roast ham
Celeriac and blue cheese gratin with walnut pesto


Cinnamon buttered apples and pears, with watercress and shallots
Pickled cucumber, dill and peppercorns
Roast beetroots with lentils, horseradish and goats cheese
Parsnip, date honey and chesnut salad with yogurt dressing
Rosemary bread


Wood-roast rice pudding with orange, rose, mint and cardamon

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Basil became a fan of For Those That Love to Eat...

...and if you did fancy becoming a fan too, I'd be extremely flattered, and very grateful!

Maybe see you on Facebook or Twitter sometime soon!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Terrine for 90

"There is nothing more practical than having a terrine of coarse, garlic seasoned paté around", so says Nigel Slater. I couldn't agree more, although I would also add that, likewise, there is nothing more satisfying as casually grazing on it, a slice or two at a time for the following few days, as it awaits you readily in the fridge. Sometimes balanced on the corner of crisp, wafer thin toast. Sometimes, spread firmly into softest part of hunk of french bread. Sometimes guiltily eaten in front of the fridge, straight from the knife with which it was cut.

Nigel's comment was made in the context of terrine being a fail safe staple to have on hand during the Christmas period, and when I first saw his recipe for a coarse paté in the Observer, it immediately made it's way onto that year's Christmas day menu. It was a precursor to our home-butchered five-bird roast, none the less, which meant that in our terrine we were able to include the hearts, livers, kidneys and other offally bits of goose, duck, corn-fed chicken, partridge and wood cock.

Fast forward almost two years, and I'm fishing the recipe out of my scrap book again in preparation for the impending 92-cover meal that is to be prepared for the final Rebel Dining Society dinner of the year...

This time around, the recipe was adapted with the addition of venison, duck, grouse and rabbit, to add a gamey robustness to the smooth, slightly sweet pork belly that makes up the bulk of the mixture. Whilst it was a November event, there was also a nod to forthcoming festivities, with the inclusion of brandy-soaked cranberries, to counteract the sharp green pepper corns.
As well as toast, what you really need with a paté or terrine is something fruity to balance the rich meaty flavours. Different textures are also a welcome addition. Ours was served with a super-smooth plum puree, spiced up with ginger and star anise, and crunchy 'remoulade' of autumn apples and pears.

The recipe below is based on Nigel Slater's, although thankfully my calculations in rounding up the quantities to feed 90 instead of nine-ish yielded some leftovers... So I still got to do some casual grazing after the event; On toast, in a baguette, and - I admit - straight from the fridge.

(Thanks to Sophia for the photograph... There are plenty more here)

Pork and Game Terrine

Serves 8 or more

a medium onion
2 large cloves garlic
a thick slice of butter, about 30g
400g minced pork belly
300g pig's liver
200g mixed game - any combination of venison, hare, partridge, etc - chopped into small, irregular pieces
a large handful of fresh white breadcrumbs
two handfuls dried cranberries, soaked overnight in few tbsps brandy
the leaves from a bushy sprig of thyme
a tbsp bottled green peppercorns, rinsed
a tsp ground mace
15-20 bacon rashers
bay leaves

Preheat an oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Melt the butter then cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the minced pork, game and liver, breadcrumbs, juniper berries, thyme, green peppercorns, mace, vermouth and brandy. Season generously with salt and ground black pepper - a good teaspoon of each. Stir thoroughly.

Line a 1.5 litre terrine with the bacon rashers, then fill with the mixture. Push it down and wrap the bacon rashers over the top, filling any gaps where necessary. Add bay leaves or juniper berries if you wish. Cover with a lid of greaseproof paper and foil then place in a deep roasting tin and pour in enough water to come halfway up the side of the terrine.

Put terrine into the oven and leave for 1½ hours. Test with a skewer for doneness. It is cooked when the skewer comes out hot (rather than just warm). Remove carefully from the oven (the hot water is easy to tip over). Leave to cool overnight before eating, and serve with melba toast.

Plum Puree

Enough for a smallish jar

8 - 10 plums
a slender piece of ginger, about half the size of a thumb, cut into slices
2 star anice
the juice of one lemon
100g dark muscavado sugar
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Put all ingredients in a sauce pan on a medium heat, and stir for a couple of minutes whilst the sugar dissolves. Bring up to a light simmer, and then cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the plums have softened almost to a pulp. Check the flavour, and feel free to add more lemon juice, sugar or balsamic, depending on your tastes.

Remove from the heat, and pass through a sieve, by pressing down on the mixture with the back of a spoon. Discard the skins, star anice and ginger as you go (although, if you’re anything like me, then you won’t be able to resist sucking the plum-covered slivers of ginger as you come across them).

If you’re keeping the puree for a later date, then transfer to a clean jar, or alternatively dig in as soon as it’s cooled a little.

Pear and Apple ‘Remoulade'

Enough for 8 as an accompaniment

2-3 russett apples
2 ripe pears
a small bunch parsley
a few strands of chive
a few sprigs of chervil
a few sprigs of dill
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
the juice of two lemons
a splash of water
Salt and pepper

Finely chop the herbs. Slice the apples and pears as finely as you can, use a mandolin if you have one. Sprinkle them with plenty of lemon juice as you go to ensure they don’t discolour.

Whisk the mayonnaise, mustard, remaining lemon juice, water and seasoning together in a large bowl. It should be the consistency of single cream. If need be, add a little more water or lemon juice; The dressing should be sharp. Toss the apples, pears and herbs in the dressing and serve immediately.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Moose and Caribou stew

Unfortunately not a concoction I can take credit for, but definitely something I would love to try my hand at sometime. This incredible sounding stew actually comes from my good friend Haley, all the way from Newfoundland, where I assume moose are more abundant than cows or sheep.

Her charming picture has it all: The neatly laid out roots, the kitsch old butter dish, the tomb of a cookbook, the free standing fire in the background. I hope it's on the menu when I finally get around to visiting...

Autumn feasting

It seems like a long time now since Halloween, so apologies for the belated pumpkin onslaught. It would, however, be a shame to limit their lifespan to just a few days in the run up to October 31st.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've baked them with cinnamon sticks and butter, turned them into a fiery spiced soup, added them to a vegetable tagine and used them as a basis for flavouring cheese cake. As I type, one is staring at me from the fruit bowl... It's destined for laksa, along with corriander, ginger, chilly, noodles and coconut milk.

Of course, they also played a starring role in the menu of the autumn Farmyard Feast, at Mudchute Kitchen, alongside bundles of other seasonal delights, including crab apples, root vegetables, mushrooms... not to mention some very appealing home-made toffee apples.

One dish that I was asked about repeatedly on the night was the Jerusalem artichoke with strained yogurt, that we served as an appetiser. At 10am on the morning of the feast, I was out in the rain, digging up the artichokes from their beds beyond the yard, as I imagine many of our evening's diners were still dosing in theirs. It's quite amazing just how much joy the sight of an off-white root, half-caked in sodden soil, can bring to a man first thing in the morning.

As for the recipe, I have to give full credit to Philippa's inspirational talents... Upon her instructions, I roast them at a scorching heat in the wood-burning stove, then tossed them in a dressing of crushed garlic, fresh red chilly, mint, and a generous few slugs of Balsamic. They were served at room temperature alongside Philippa's home-made yogurt, strained using salt and a muslin cloth for a kind of autumn kitchen garden meets Lebanese meze dish. Very, very tasty. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures, so please get in touch if you happen to have any...

We also served over-night slow-cooked octopus, with carrot puree, with crisped flat breads. Surf and turf, Mudchute Kitchen style - although the unfortunately the Octopus came from Scotland (via Billingsgate), not Limehouse basin. For lovers of offal, there was also black pudding and qual's eggs, served on homemade soda bread with farm crab apple jelly.

Ready to roast... With onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, paprika and bay.

Out of the oven and into the kitchen.
Stuffed with tomato sauce, mushroom, bacon, cheddar and curly kale.
It's amazing what a plateful like that can do for a Halloween party hangover.
Dessert... Toffee apple tart with home made yogurt, toffee apple chunks and salted caramel sauce.

Friday, 30 October 2009

An amazing fish stew

It just so happened that our dawn ride to Billingsgate Market coincided with the date that I'd arranged for Basil Snr to come over for dinner at For Those That Love to Eat HQ.

So fate decided that the meal would be pescatarian, however as we set off for Billingsgate at 5.30am, the menu was still very much up for grabs. I had thought of doing a rustic variation of fish and chips, with fresh mackerel wrapped in streaky bacon, roast in the oven in amongst wedges of potato, rosemary, and whole heads of garlic, cut in half through the centre of the cloves. To serve there would have been crushed minted peas and a home-made tartare, bursting with capers and finely chopped gerkin.

When I got to the market, however, variety got the better of me, and it seemed a shame to limit our supper to just one type of fish. And so fish stew it was to be, packed full of my sea bass, haddock and mussels.

I'd previously tried a few Basque-style fish stews, however since the fish was so fresh, there was no need to over-complicate things with unnecessary chorizo or even pernod. I opted for a recipe penned by my culinary hero, Nigel Slater.

Just as I would expect from him, his recipe - with the inclusion of a couple of un-conventional ingredients - is something of a culinary masterstroke. He starts with a base of anchovies, orange peel bay leaves and thyme, which are muddled together with garlic in lightly sizzling oil. I also added leek and fennel for texture and to complement the fresh fish flavours, but these aren't essential. Next, white wine, tomato, fish stock, and the fish only when the sauce has reduced to a splutter. Finally, the mussels are dropped in, which according to Nigel, add as much flavour in their three minutes of cooking as all the other fish put together.

The result is a bold and comforting stew that is both rich yet never heavy, with beautifully evocative scents and flavours. Alongside our starter of smoked salmon, and plenty of Dad's freshly-baked Irish soda bread, it was quite a midweek supper.

Nigel Slater's Fish Stew

Serves 4

3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
6 anchovie fillets, drained from their oil
1 or 2 curls of orange peel
1 or two bay leaves
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
1 large leek
1 large fennel
1 glass white wine
2 400g tins of tomato
500ml fish stock (I simply boiled the fish heads and bones in vegetable stock for 30 minutes, which worked very well)
400g assorted fish per person (I used sea bass and haddock)
24 mussels
Chopped parsley to serve
Plenty of bread to mop

Peel and finely slice the garlic and cook in a deep pan with the oil, anchovies, orange peel, bay and thyme till the garlic is golden and the anchovy has dissolved. Add the chopped leeks and sliced fennel, and cook for another 6 minutes, until the leeks are translucent.

Pour in the wine, boil rapidly for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 20 minutes. When the sauce is thick and slushy, lower in the fish, firmest first. Then, once the fish is opaque and tender, add the mussels. Cover with a lid and cook for another 3 minutes until the mussels open. Serve in soup bowls, sprinkled with parsley, and plenty of fresh bread.

You could also include chorizo, before adding the leeks, and use fino instead of white wine for a more Iberian-inspired version.

P.s. If you're wondering why the picture has no mussels, it's because that's the left overs... We were too busy eating to take photos the first time around.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fish run

What better way to spend the early hours of Wednesday morning than a dawn ride to Billingsgate Market with the boys and our bikes...

Billingsgate at 6am, after a five mile pelt through the East End of London. Teas for 50p in a polystyrene cup await... And then it's down to business in the market.

Bargains. They were this [***stretches arms out wide***] big.

Wheeling and dealing. Probably not your average market goers...

Decisions, decisions...

Alfred Endeby's smoked fish selection. Including our breakfast to be.

Our morning's work is done... Back to the Cosmic Loft!

The twilight haul. A box of smoked haddock, mussels, smoked salmon, and sea bass.

Breakfast: Poached smoked haddock, scrambled eggs with creme fraiche and chives, roast tomatoes, Irish soda bread, coffee, orange juice.

The Billingsgate bicycle boys and their breakfast. Good way to start the day...

Pizza night

Fiorentina & Parma ham pizzas

Potato, gorgonzola and thyme tart

Pesto and Parmesan flatbread.

[Recipes to follow]