Festival of Food at Southbank Centre

cheese stall

The Slow Food movement is running a food festival on London’s South Bank from today until Sunday 21st. They’re running free food demos, sampling, a “busy bee” craft tent for kids and a good range of food and drink stalls.

slow food stall

The Slow Food movement is incredibly important for anyone who believes in quality, honest, fair global produce. I’m a member and so should you be, there’s bound to be a branch near you.

cyrus todiwalla

I went along to the festival today and found it small but perfectly formed. Arranged around the Royal Festival Hall, there’s oysters, bread, cheese, meats, game, a very tasty Portuguese pork roast, and much more. The cookery demonstration given by Cyrus Todiwalla of Cafe Spice Namaste was very good – it’s not often nowadays you can get an entertaining and informative lesson for free.

peter gott

The talk by Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm was a good lesson in what slow food really means and the importance of supporting pig farmers in this country. And he showed us how to butcher half a pig, which is always a useful lesson. I bought a large bit of the belly for a tenner, which is a bargain when you know how much attention and care goes into producing it.

The festival runs for another three days and includes talks/demos inlude how to smoke your own food at home, how to make honecomb, great dishes for under a fiver and “Be a bee” for kids. Go along!

Creamed Leeks

This is an extremely simple side dish which is a bit more interesting than the usual peas/carrots/potato combo we always seem to end up with in our house. You can even do it low-fat by using spray olive oil instead of butter and low-fat crème fraiche instead of cream. I prefer crème fraiche anyway, it’s more tangy.

Ingredients
Serves 3 or 4

1 leek.
3 tablespoons double cream/crème fraiche (low-fat if you like, it works just as well)
A knob of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

Slice the leek fairly finely (ie, not great big chunks). Someone asked me recently whether it’s okay to eat the green bits on leeks and I reckon they’re fine to eat right up into it separates into leaves. Wash the leek carefully because there’s often mud inside them.

Melt the knob of butter in a small frying pan (or a couple of sprays of olive oil if you’re being low-fat) on a medium heat. When it’s melted, chuck in the leaks and soften for about three minutes. Now add the cream/crème fraiche and let it bubble for a couple of minutes until it’s thickened a bit. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as you think it needs it. That’s it! Serve it up. Well easy!

Creamy Honey, Mustard and Cider Pork

Creamy honey, mustard and cider pork

This is very simple and ready in less than 15 minutes – a superquick and tasty midweek supper. Good flavours, and you can make it low-fat by using low-fat crème fraiche instead of cream. I actually prefer crème fraiche to ordinary cream anyway, it’s more zingy.

Ingredients
Serves 2

1 pork fillet (tenderloin)
½ a large onion or 1 small one
2tsp wholegrain mustard
2tsp honey
3 tablespoons crème fraiche (I use low-fat)
About 100ml dry cider
A knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

First slice the tenderloin into medallions, about 1 or 2cm thick. Mix together the crème fraiche, mustard and honey in a bowl and set aside.

Put the butter in a frying pan and set it on a fairly high heat. Slice the onion finely and once the butter is frothing, add them to the pan. You’re not doing long, slow cooking here (although you could if you really wanted to), so simply soften and brown the onions, making sure the stir frequently so they don’t burn. Once they’ve got a nice colour, either remove the onions from the pan or move them to the edge. Add a bit more butter if the pan is dry and add the pork medallions.

Now don’t touch it for 1 minute. Don’t be tempted to faff about, moving them round the pan. It doesn’t need it. After 1 minute, turn the medallions over and do them on that side for another minute. Now pour over the cider and let it bubble away for a minutes or so and reduce a bit. Take the pan off the heat and add the onions (if you previously removed them) and the crème fraiche/honey/mustard mix. Stir in well, reduce the heat and put the pan back on the heat. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes, have a taste and add salt and pepper as you feel it needs it. Voila, it’s ready.

I like to serve it with rice, but you can also have it with potatoes, veg, noodles, whatever you like. Very nice.

Amazing French Onion Soup

French onion soup

This is one of the best soups I have ever made. Truly, it is tastiness in soup form. I made it using a recipe written in my notebook by a waitress in a café in Montmartre which had no amounts, cooking times or instructions. Just ingredients, and my memory of what it tasted like. So I made up how to make it, and it has worked an absolute treat.

The secret is a good stock. If at all possible, make your own stock. Chicken, vegetable or beef, whatever your preference. Mine was made with veal bones (happy, farmer’s market veal), which I roasted and then simmered with carrots, celery, a leek, an onion, some peppercorns and thyme and parsley for 6 hours. You can follow this basic method, but using roasted chicken, beef or veal bones. Ham stock wouldn’t really work here. Yes, I know making stock seems like a real faff, but I swear on my life that it’s worth it. Honestly. Trust me. You know it makes sense.

If you really don’t have the time to make your own stock, get a couple of cans of beef consommé from the supermarket. Baxter’s do a nice one. If you can’t find that, use a tub of fresh stock from the chiller shelf. And if you can’t find that and only have access to stock cubes then you’re not trying hard enough and you should go and sit in the corner.

Ingredients
Serves 4

4 medium/large onions
Butter. A slab slightly smaller than a deck of cards.
About 3 tblsps brandy
A large glass of white wine (about 250ml)
About 2 pints of stock.(see above)
Old bread, best if it’s gone a bit stale. About 2 rolls’ worth, or equivalent.
Gruyere cheese. About 200g, grated
A nice crusty baguette
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

Cut the onions in half lengthways, peel them and carefully slice them (not chopped, sliced into crescents). I say “carefully” because I’ve just bought myself a shiny new Global cooks’ knife and I slipped while slicing the onions and did myself an impressively bloody injury. Happens to the best of us. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and once it’s started foam add the sliced onions.

Make sure the heat is fairly low – you want the onions to soften slowly and not burn. This is to draw out some of the sugar in the onions. Leave the onions to soften for quite a while, giving it a stir every 5 minutes or so. It might take up to 45 minutes for them to get really lovely and translucent and sweet. Keep the faith, it’ll get there. Once they’re all juicy and soft, add the brandy and cook for another couple of minutes, then add the wine and cook for another 5 minutes just to take the edge off the alcohol.

Add the stock and bring the whole thing up to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add half the grated gruyere and the old bread, broken up into chunks.

onion soup

Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so until the bread has almost dissolved. Have a taste and add salt and pepper as you think it needs it.

Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Put thick slices of baguette on top as croutons and then sprinkle over the rest of the cheese. Put the bowls under the grill on a high heat for 4 minutes or so until the cheese starts to bubble and turn brown. Serve immediately. Moan with pleasure.

Paris, Venice and Florence

My honeymoon was AWESOME. The wedding was brilliant, being on holiday with my very best friend who I love very much was brilliant, and the food was BRILLIANT.

A brief photographic journal:

Courgette (zucchini) flowers with courgettes, tomatoes and lettuce. I love this photo, it makes me want to EAT IT ALL.

food

Soupe a l’oignon, in Montmatre. This is the best soup I have ever tasted. I made the waitress get the recipe from the chef. It involved a lot of cheese.

onion soup

The fish market in Venice.

fish market

fish market

Pizza

pizza

The mercato centrale in Florence

mercato centrale

mercato centrale

Ribollita, Florence bread and bean soup, from Gozzi.

ribolita

Tuscan antipasti from Il Gatto e La Volpe, in Florence.

antipasti

Bistecca alla Fiorentina from Il Latini

bistecca alla fiorentina

Ice cream!

a fool with ice cream

The Hogster, who was thrilled to have us home.

unhappy cat

Beef Stroganoff

Bit of a retro classic this one, and very simple to do for a quick weeknight dinner. You could go posh and use an expensive steak but there’s no need really. I’d rather use a cheaper cut here where its flavour is encouraged by the cream and mushrooms and save an expensive steak for a special occasion.

Ingredients
Serves 2

However much steak you like. I did 250g of frying steak for 2 people.
About 200g mushrooms, sliced (I used frozen pre-sliced ssshhhhhhhh don’t tell anyone)
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
100g soured cream or creme fraiche (low fat for those of that persuasion)
1tspn mustard
A large splash of sherry or vermouth or white wine
Salt and black pepper
1 tbspn oil

Rice to serve. You know how to make rice.

The Cooking

Heat up the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the sliced onion and mushrooms for 3 or 4 minutes. Slice the steak into strips (I don’t know why strips, this just seems to be how stroganoff is and who am I to say different?). Add the garlic, fry for another minute, then add the steak. Turn up the heat and fry for 5 or so minutes until it’s got a bit of colour. Add the mustard, the salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

Put the rice on now.

Add the large splash of sherry or equivalent, let it sizzle for a minute, then turn down the heat and let it simmer. If it’s a bit dry, add some water.

Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the cream or creme fraiche and bring it back up to a simmer. Once the rice is done, it should all be ready. Serve it up. Simple.

Roast Pork Belly with Braised Puy lentils

Pork belly is so ridiculously easy I can’t believe I don’t do it more. Granted, there’s a lot of fat on it, but it’s really tasty fat – not the unpleasantly rubbery kind you can sometimes get on chops, but part soft, part crunchy really good stuff. And the fat bastes the meat as it’s cooking, making it sweet and tender and NOM.

The lentils are also simple and the mashed potatoes… well, you know how to make mashed potatoes.

Ingredients
Pork belly. However much you need to feed however many people you’re cooking for. Use the power of your eyes to judge when you buy it.

Puy lentils – about a cup’s worth for two people – multiply as necessary.
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
3 or 4 sage leaves
A little oil
About 1 pint of stock – meat, chicken or vegetable, it’s up to you. I used ham stock as that’s what I had in and it matched the pork.

The Cooking

First preheat the oven to about 170C/340F. Rub some salt on the skin of the pork, put it on a roasting tray and put it in the oven. Leave it for 2 and a half hours THAT’S IT. That is all you have to do. The meat will become tender and sweet and the skin will become lovely crackling. This is the world’s easiest cut of meat to cook, I swear.

About 40 minutes before the 2 and a half hours is up, roughly chop up the onion, garlic and sage leaves and heat up a splash of oil in a saucepan. Fry the onion until it’s just turning golden and then add the lentils and garlic. Fry for another couple of minutes and then add half the stock. Bring it up to the simmer and then just let it gently bubble away for half an hour, stirring occasionally. If it dries out, add more of the stock. Have a taste and if it needs salt and pepper, add it. Make sure it’s not too salty because pork is naturally salty anyway.

While the lentils are simmering, make the mashed potatoes if you’re having them.

Once the pork is done, take it out of the oven, let it relax for a few minutes and then cut it into hefty slices. Artfully arrange it on the lentils so it looks extra-nice and serve. Classy, tasty food.

Mussels in Cider and Cream Sauce

mussels

As you can see, I served my mussels in cider with linguini. You could too, or just have it on its own with some bread to mop up the sauce. It’s not pretty food, hence the rather messy composure of the photo – sorry – but I assure you it tastes amazing. And I find it’s not worth trying to get the mussels out with a knife and fork – dive in and use your hands. It’s hands-on food. Rar.

Ingredients
Serves 2

About 300g mussels, alive
A knob of butter
1/2 an onion, or a couple of shallots
1 clove garlic
About 100ml cider
2 or 3 tablespoons double cream

The Cooking

First, clean your mussels. Wash them and throw away any that don’t close when you tap them sharply. Pull out their “beards”. I always used to assume that this “beard” was trapped seaweed but it turns out it’s actually called the mussel’s byssus, and the mussel manufactures it itself in order to attach itself to rocks. Pretty cool.

Chop the onion/shallots and garlic finely. Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to accomodate all the mussels. Gently fry the onions for a couple of minutes and then add the garlic. Fry for another minute or so, and then pour in the cider. Once the cider is bubbling away, put the mussels in and put the lid on tightly.

Give it a good shake every minute or so for 3 or 4 minutes, by which time the mussels will probably all be open and cooked.

Drain the mussels, reserving the cooking liquid. Put the cidery cooking liquid back into the pan and turn up the heat. Add the cream and simmer the liquid until it’s reduced and thickened a little.

To serve, pour the creamy liquid back over the mussels and mix with cooked pasta if you’re having it with that. Eat eat eat!

Ham Hock and Stock

Ham stock

This is proper frugal food. A whole ham hock costs me £1.75 – and that’s a posh organic one from my local farmer’s market – and it’s easily made to stretch to three meals. It baffles me why this isn’t a more widely used joint of meat. Granted, the initial cooking takes some time but you’re not standing at the stove slaving away over it, it just bubbles away on its own for a few hours. If I wasn’t so paranoid about accidentally burning down my flat, I’d put this on in the morning, go out and do other things, and then come back and it would be ready. As it is, it’s a pleasant Sunday night ritual to cook a ham hock ready for the week.

You also end up with a great big ham bone. As tempting as it is to give this to a dog, a vet friend of mine told me off for doing this because the bone will have softened in the cooking and splinters easily. So. Don’t do that.

Ingredients for Stock

A ham hock
2 carrots
1 onion, red or white
6 or so peppercorns
6 or so juniper berries if you have them
A couple of bay leaves
A bouquet garni if you have it
Celery, leeks, whatever veg you have in except for brassicas like cabbage, broccoli or spouts. They can rather overpower the stock.
Water

No salt – the ham is salty enough itself.

The Cooking

You don’t need to peal anything, just wash the veg, cut the bulkier items in half and then bung all the ingredients in a large pan. Pour in cold water slowly. The reason you do it slowly is that you don’t want to disturb the fat on the ham too much – if the fat gets jostled and dislodged, bits of it will float around in the water and this is what makes stock cloudy and greasy. The water should just cover the ingredients.

Put it on a low to medium heat on the hob (stovetop). The aim is for the fat and scum to rise to the surface as intact as possible so you can skim it off easily and the stock stays clear.

Once it’s come to a gentle simmer, skim off any fat and scum that has risen to the surface with a spoon. Turn down the heat even more. You want the barest of simmering going on – the occasional “bloop” from a bubble every few seconds. This is so that the collagen in the meat softens and dissolves, which flavours the stock and means the meat doesn’t dry out.

For the first half an hour or so, check back and skim off any further rubbish that’s risen to the surface. After this time it will probably have all risen. You can do now go off and do your own thing for a few hours. I give it a stir every hour or so to make sure there’s no ingredients poking out of the top of the water and drying up.

The liquid will reduce a bit, which is a good thing. The flavours are getting concentrated. After 4 hours it should be nearly ready. Have a taste. If it’s full of flavour, it’s ready.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh colander into a suitable container and leave it to cool. You now have stock:

And ham:

Once the ham has cooled, tear it off the bone and either eat straight away or put it in the fridge for later. Chuck the veg and fat away, it’s no use to anyone but the pigs now.*

You can use the stock straight away but it might be a bit greasy. Instead, let it cool and then leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning there will be a layer of fat on the top which you can skim off. The stock will probably be jellified, which is a great sign because it means you got the temperature right and the gelatin from the bones has leached out and the stock will be really full of flavour. It’ll become liquid again when you heat it up.

The stock is now ready for use. Tomorrow’s post will be a selection of recipes for the ham and stock.

*Don’t feed pigs with it. That would be wrong.

A Processed Past

Every time I visit my parents I am plunged back into a longing for the food I grew up with. But unlike many people who love food, I did not grow up picking blackberries and making crumbles with mother. I have no happy memories of licking the cake mix off the spoon or shelling peas while lambs gambolled happily in the next field.

Instead, I grew up on Birdseye fish fingers, value beefburgers, Wall’s sausages, Pot Noodles, plastic supermarket sliced bread and tinned macaroni cheese. And there’s absolutely no denying it – I still love them.

I know the sausages are made of lips and arseholes. I know macaroni cheese really shouldn’t be mushy. I know Pot Noodles probably have the power to actually physically leech goodness out of your body and replace it with salt. Which is why I never get to eat them nowadays. But every now and again, just once or twice a year, I’d like to sling proper food forth and binge on microwave chips and Bernard Matthews turkey drummers (the reformed meat “chopped and shaped for your convenience”). I want spaghetti hoops and individual cheese and tomato pizzas and tinned rice pudding for afters.

And so sometimes I do. Not often, mind. But when your dad offers you fish fingers and chips for tea, you just shouldn’t say no.