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.