Friday, 27 August 2010

Family meal

Left over corn, yellow courgettes, new potatoes and chocolate pudding for the family meal today at Rochelle Canteen. Accompanied by left over 1981 Domaine de Goubert Gigondas, and 1991 Domaine Tempier Bandol Cuvée Spéciale.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Graphic ingredients

I do love leafing through old cookery books. You can never be quite sure of what delights you might come across. Except perhaps the obligatory over-zealous use of aspic.

Alongside two thousand three hundred-odd Italian inspired recipes, who would have thought from the cover that Luigi Carnacina's Great Italian Cooking, the first and only edition of which was published in 1968, would have contained such an array of fabulous illustrations. Take a look at some of the main ones here...

Time saving kitchen contraptions of late Modernity, side by side with native aromatics of the Italian countryside, backed by a bit of seemingly pointless hatching in the top left corner. Just excellent.

Plenty of brilliantly indiscernible items here. I particularly like the canape tray-cum-Playstation controller in the bottom left.

Some majestic looking artichokes, classic toad stalls, and a very scary looking cauliflower. Can anyone identify the levered contraption in the middle?

Bizarrely, the egg section is one of the biggest in the whole book. From frittatas to a straight forward coddle, Luigi's list is thoroughly exhaustive. I think these drawings are cracking too.

A magic wand, conjuring up a pie, with a sort of puzzled face looking on. And it's rare to see use of the word farinaceous. They just get better and better.

The turkey is good, but for me it's all about the spit roaster. Where can I get one of those?

A minimalistic view of the world of game... Good to see it's accompanied by a glass of something to drink, however.

A personal favourite. Look at that young calf - how cute! And the clever hanging dangerously above the pig's spinal column. Plus a T-Bone. Who knew a cartoon could make you salivate?

A comparison of Italian and American pork cuts. The Italian ones are fewer and larger, which to me, makes complete sense.

And this bashful looking porker caught my eye. Cheer up, Cheeky, you might not end up getting your foot stuffed.

A syringe, a very grand birthday cake, and a completely inexplicable jumping salmon. Thoroughly wonderful stuff.

If anyone would prefer these images not to be up here, just get in touch via email. And excuse the poorly-cropped shots!

Dough days

Keeps me off the streets...

Monday, 23 August 2010

More SW9 time

With each day that I spend there, I seem to become yet more enchanted by Brixton Market. I must have clocked up hours in the last couple of weeks, wandering through the arcades and alley ways, peering with marvel at the plethora of new and exciting goods that adorn the shops and stalls there.

An unassuming doorway on Market Row opens out into a vast, Tardis-like cash and carry, shelves full to bursting with everything from huge sacks of yam flour to graphically-labelled bottles of 'Stamina Tonic'. A tiny archway on Cold Harbour Lane, barely the size of a broom cupboard serves as streetwear boutique in miniature, the concaved wall displaying Air Max sneakers in every conceivable colour way. Meanwhile, next door, a man sells his collection of soul CDs, and a couple of dozen R&B records, whilst his subwoofer-come-stall top pumps out rare groove classics at block party volume. In the butchers hang whole goats, piles of smoked cow's hooves, and quite frankly vile looking dried catfish, that not even the manager knows what to do with. There are scotch bonnet and bread fruit bidding wars on Electric Avenue, as the tradesmen jostle for attention with one another, adorning their stalls with the flags of various West African and Caribbean nations. Life and energy are in abundance.

A one minute peek inside Nayme Bekyere Mini Market on Electric Lane soon turns into a twenty minute guided tour of the shop, as the owner, David, gives me the lowdown on every single product he thinks I might be unfamiliar with, and what they're used for in his native Ghana. And there are a lot! In the end, I leave with a tin of Ghana Best Palm puree, a few plantains, and half a dozen yellow baby aubergines, or 'garden eggs', as he calls them. Palm stew with plantain for tea tonight then... "You're going to enjoy this," says David, "it's good for your belly, and it''ll make you strong!"

Ghanian palm stew

I didn't use a recipe for this, but did have the benefit of fairly thorough instructions from my personal shopper and new buddy at the Mini Market. Against David's advice, I went fairly heavy on the hot chilli, but it works with the richness of the palm and slight sweetness of the plantain. Serve with rice and peas (or rice and kidney beans), and some plain yogurt to cool off with if you come across a stray scotch bonnet seed.

Serves four
a large onion, chopped
two cloves of garlic, chopped
two hot chillies, de-seeded and chopped
an aubergine, or six mini yellow aubergines, chopped into bite size pieces
a couple of plantain, peeled and sliced
a large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
a tin of palm puree (available from African and Caribbean grocery stores)
a tin of chopped tomatoes
stock or water
a tin of black eyed beans
salt and pepper

In a large sauce pan, sauté the onion and garlic in a little oil for a few minutes until soft and translucent. Add the chilli, then the aubergine, plantain and sweet potato, and continue to cook for a few more minutes. (Alternatively, you can roast the aubergine and sweet potato separately and add to the mix after the palm puree.) Add the palm puree, and stir so everything is coated evenly.

Add the chopped tomato and stock or water as required, so there's enough liquid to cook the vegetables. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the vegetables are tender. Add the black eyed beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with rice (and peas), and yogurt.

The opening shot of the market is taken from the Friends of Brixton Flickr group.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Jerk bits

The annual Jerk Cookout, Brockwell Park. Yet another reason to love Brixton.

On the subject of sandwiches

Left over beef from Elliot's excellent pop up in Victoria Park, plus a wander around King's Road farmer's market (that's how I roll) result in one of the greatest sandwiches of all time. Or at least since the chorizo and pepper grill on Friday.

Steak and blue cheese sandwich

What is there to say... It's a classic!

Rare-roast steak, at room temperature, sliced thinly
Blue cheese - we used pecorino piquante, a very tangy blue sheep's cheese from northern Italy
Fresh, open-texture sour dough bread
Radishes, thinly sliced
Lettuce leaves
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the bread slightly in the oven, then slice, and drizzle with plenty of olive oil. Crumble the blue cheese on first, then layer the beef so there are lots of nooks and crannys. Season with a little salt and pepper, and sprinkle the radishes over. Lettuce goes on last, then the Balsamic, and tuck in. I'm salivating...

Worker's lunch

And if work involves flogging muesli on Borough Market, then what better way to stave off the hunger than one of Brindisa's legendary chorizo and piquillo pepper sandwich, plus a couple of juicy white-fleshed peaches.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bombay mix in Bethnal Green

A little slice of Karachi life on Bethnal Green Road, as I step out of Limehouse Superstore [sic - I assume this is the second branch, the first being in... Limehouse], blue plastic bags bulging with kohlrabi, okra, chickpeas for chana masala, and yellow split peas for dahl. There's a man and his street cart, shaking up avalakki mixture to order for passers by, just as they do in his home town back in Pakistan. At a pound a pop for plastic cupful, served with a wooden spoon and a toothless smile, is too much to resist!

Avalakki mixture

A zingy take on the standard Bombay Mix, just as it's served on the streets of Karachi. The oil and vinegar meld together with the chilly and coriander, whilst the mixture is shaken just long enough to bring the flavours together, without softening the crispy strands.

All quantities are to taste

bombay mix
chopped coriander
chopped chilly
ground nut oil
mustard vinegar (or white vinegar and mustard powder)

Add all ingredients to a container, seal, and shake to combine. Serve in snack size portions with a spoon.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Open for business

Clearly there are loads of people who love to eat just as much as I do, but not everyone necessarily has the time, or the inclination, to do the cooking... Well, help is at hand!

As well as writing (a little bit), talking (quite a bit), and thinking (a lot) about food, I’m also offering my services as a personal chef / private caterer so you can enjoy tasty, inventive, professional-standard meals, without having to worry about the preparation.

So far, I’ve catered for high-end dinner parties, canape events, product launches, photo shoots, and fine-dining get-togethers, whilst clients have included everyone from production companies, to international charities, to some of London’s most highly-regarded chefs.

Here’s an idea of the kind of thing I can do for you:

Be your personal chef
If you’re hosting a dinner party, but don’t fancy doing the cooking, leave it to me, and I’ll take care of everything for you. Whether you’re working to a theme or looking for inspiration, I can help you create the perfect menu, then source the best ingredients, and cook a meal that will leave your guests with very big smiles on their faces.

Lend a hand
If you'd prefer to do most of the cooking yourself, but there's something you need a bit of help with - a souffle, some ice cream, or a little bit of butchery perhaps - I'll come over and either do a practice run with you, or alternatively, knock something up in advance so when it comes to the big day, all you have to do is enjoy yourself.

Teach you some new tricks
Want to broaden your repertoire, learn some new techniques, or just have a fun night in with your mates? I'm offering bespoke classes that will teach you anything from the basics of Spanish, Italian, Modern British, North African or East-Asian cooking, as well as lessons in bread making, preserving and conserving, sauces and accompaniments, and outdoor cooking. Each class includes a meal that we'll cook together.

*As a special introductory offer, I'm offering these classes on a pay what you feel it's worth basis. Just let me know what you want to learn about, and chances are I can help!

Offer some advice
Whether you're planning a big event and you're not sure where to start, or just want some pointers on refining the perfect menu, I'll help you get everything clear, then make a plan for whatever needs to happen next. I'm not a lawyer, and you won't get any extortionate fees for a five minute phone call... In fact, if I'm not too busy that day I might even do it in return for a coffee and a brownie at elevenses, or a pint and a scotch egg in your favourite watering hole!

My main aim is to be friendly and flexible, so get in touch and we'll see what I can do for you... Basically, I just want you to enjoy the food as much as I do!

Hope to hear from you soon...


Telephone: 07967 640 610

Email: nbalfe [at] gmail [dot] com

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Summer harvest

I can think of few more appealing ways to spend an afternoon than a stroll around Borough Market. As growers across the land experiment with lesser-known, heritage varieties of the many fine crops that flourish on our shores, fed by three months of exceptionally warm weather, the stalls are bursting with summer delights in bountifully generous quantities.

Farmers and their helpers stand proudly beside their early harvests in gleaming shades of red, yellow, orange, purple and green, sporting grins as wide as if they'd reached the finals of the Wessex county show. If you're lucky, you might just find out their tricks of the trade, as you browse punnetts of glistening berries, bundles of tender roots, and mounds of ripe, voluptuous fruits.

There's almost every variety of tomato known to man, from the striking Black Zebra, to gourmet's favourite San Marzano, mutant-like Oxheart, and the humble, but delicious, English Plum. Alongside, there are summer squash, soft green herbs, and piles and piles of deeply-coloured cherries, almost begging to be devoured. From further afield come, chic, elegant, white fleshed peaches, as juicy and delicious as anything I've ever come across. Biting into them instantly justifies the premium over their net-wrapped, ripen at home cousins, stacked in dark plastic crates, four deep in the supermarket shelves.

This may well be peak season for many of the tenderest, most elegant crops that are to be found sprouting in the UK. Time to enjoy the fruits that are born of a fabulous summer.

Beetroot top Minestrone

Having made a vibrantly-coloured pilaf from the beetroot bulbs I picked up at the weekend, the stalks and leaves looked far too appealing to be banished to the compost bin. Instead, the stalks, braised with spices to compliment their earthy flavour, and green leaves just wilted, made for an interesting, and extremely healthy, summer minestrone.

Serves four
the stalks and leaves from 8 - 10 beetroots
a generous pinch of cumin seeds
a generous pinch of fennel seeds
olive oil
three shallots or one onion, chopped
one or two cloves of garlic, chopped
0.75 litres vegetable stock
a tin of black eyed beans
salt and black pepper

Start by trimming the green leaves from the beetroot stalks. Cut close to the stalk up to the point of the stalk. Set aside.

Toast the cumin and fennel seeds in a dry pan, until they release a strong, nutty scent. Ground in a pestle and mortar.

In a large sauce pan, saute the onion in oil over a medium heat. After a few minutes, add the garlic and ground spices. After another few minutes, add the beetroot stalks and cook for another couple of minutes before adding the hot stock. Bring to a simmer, and braise the stalks for about seven minutes.

Finally, add the beans and warm through for about four minutes. For the last couple of minutes, add the beetroot leaves and let them wilt in the stock. Check the seasoning, and serve in soup bowls with a little drizzle of olive oil, and some bread to mop up with.