Friday, 5 November 2010

Strawberry Jam

 Well, it would seem that Autumn is well and truly upon us now!  Although, it has been unseasonably warm for the past few days down here, the leaves on the trees have more or less all turned now.  I really like Autumn, I love the colours of the  leaves on the trees, I love wading through the piles of fallen leaves and I would go as far as to say that I love the crisp, fresh Autumn mornings when there's a hint of frost.  We haven't had too many of those yet, though.  Anyway, I've had a bit of a break from blogging, which has prompted some complaints from some of my friends, but you know what?  When something is a hobby, I think it's really important that you can put it down and walk away from it for a while, without feeling guilty.  If you can't, then that activity ceases to be an enjoyable hobby and becomes a chore.  Well, that's my opinion anyway!

 Strawberry jam isn't perhaps the most autumnal subject really, but I was really surprised to notice in my local the other day that they are still selling British strawberries!  Amazing.  And, right now, they were on a buy one get one free offer, so I thought, why not?  I bought a couple of kilograms, thinking I could eat some and make jam from the rest.  Strawberry jam is super easy - you need one kilogram of fruit, to one kilogram of sugar.  A bit of fresh lemon juice helps to freshen everything else and I believe helps it to set.  That's it!  I must admit that, for the first time ever when I make jam, I used a specific jam sugar this time.  Jam sugar has added pectin, the agent that exists naturally in fruit and which makes jam set.  So, it shouldn't be possible to create jam that doesn't set when using this type of sugar.

So, to make jam.  First weigh out 1 kilogram of strawberries.
 Then, wash them and remove the green stalks and leaves.  Add them to a decent sized, heavy base saucepan and heat gently until they go all soft.  Don't worry about it being dry, the amount of liquid that comes out as you do this is amazing and very soon will be higher than the level of the strawberries originally!  Once they are all soft and mushy, this will probably take about 10 minutes or so, with occasional stirring, add 1 kilogram of sugar.  I prefer to add it a bit at a time and to stir the mixture around until it is all dissolved before adding more, but I guess you could put it all in at once.  It's probably easier to stir if you add a bit at a time.  Anyway, once the sugar is added, stir it around and let it simmer gently.  As it is doing so, you will notice a foam forming on the top.  This should be carefully removed with a spoon, taking care not to remove too much of the jam as well!  It will seem like this is an unwinable battle because more foam will form as you remove it, but keep going.  The foam is formed by water coming out of the strawberries and if you leave too much of this in, the jam won't keep for as long.  Simmer (and keep removing foam) for about 10 minutes or so.  After 10 minutes, remove a small amount of jam with a tea spoon and pour it onto a cold plate.  Wait a minute or so and then gently push the blob of jam with your finger.  If the surface of the blob wrinkles up when you push it, the jam is ready.  If not, simmer for a bit longer and try again.

 It is important to sterilise the jars you are going to keep your jam in, which should be done with boiling water.  Be very careful not to scald yourself doing this!  Also, watch that you don't put too much boiling water into the jars all at once, or they might shatter.  Pour in a little at a time and swish it around to ensure the glass heats up evenly.  Once you've swished a good amount of boiling water around inside the jar, taking great care not to scald yourself, pour the water out and set the jar into a bowl, or the sink, filled with hot water.  Take care that there isn't so much water that the jars float!  This is to ensure that the glass stays hot so that when we pour in the jam, we don't risk it cracking.
 When the jam is ready, simply pour it very carefully into the jar, more or less up to the top and seal immediately.  As the jam cools, this will cause a vacuum to form around the top, which will help to preserve the jam.  It is better to use proper jam jars with rubber seals for this purpose.  Allow the jam to cool in the jars and then that's it.

 As an aside, you should now have a bowl of foam that you scrapped off the top of the jam as it was simmering, which should have set by now.  If you take off the thick, foam layer from the top, underneath should be a nice, clear, red liquid.  This is really just strawberry syrup and it's lovely with some natural yogurt, or even rice pudding.  I prefer not to waste anything if I can!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Good news if you like apples!

 I just came across this article on The Guardian website:

 It seems that the weather this year has conspired to produce a better than average crop of British apples!  Good news indeed.  However, apparently the blackberries have not been doing so well.  I tried making blackberry jam last year from wild blackberries, but it didn't work out very well.  I was hoping to have another go this year, so I shall have to see what the local, wild blackberries are like.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Vegetarian Britain?

 As anyone reading my blog will quickly realise, I eat meat.  I don't think anybody could be unaware that there has been some discussion about the environmental impact of meat production recently, with many arguing that we could feed many more people if only everyone were to become vegetarian.  This is an interesting argument, which I think is based on the issue that we currently grow a lot of food that could be eaten by humans and then feed it to animals.  In my opinion, in this case the point is a valid one, this is an extremely wasteful practice.  However, I would argue that if we used more traditional farming methods, where cattle are left out to graze in fields and hence eat grass all day, then the problem is significantly reduced.  After all, a cow eating grass is doing something truly amazing - converting grass, which humans can't eat, into meat and dairy products, which humans can.  This, of course, applies to livestock other than cows as well.

 The other side to this argument is one of sustainability and environmental impact.  How much of our countryside would have to be ploughed up to grow crops if everyone in the UK were to become vegetarian?  Since the original EatingBritish project, I have often wondered if it would even be possible to be a vegetarian and eat only food produced in Britain.  I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, because as far as I am aware we simply can't grow the right kind of crops here.  So, if we were all to go vegetarian, it would surely mean that we would have to import an even greater proportion of our food.  Would that be sustainable?  The recent dry weather and wild fires in Russia have prompted them to ban exports of wheat, which of course has already pushed up wheat prices around the world.  I see this as being the problem of relying too heavily on food imports, if something happens to the supply chain, if you can't produce enough food yourself, you've got serious problems.

 I have found it very difficult to reliably find grass fed meat in the shops, otherwise I would choose this option all the time.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Roast topside of Water Buffalo

This was something of a surprise find in the freezer section at Sunnyfields - Water Buffalo meat!  The Water Buffalo are reared here in the UK, at Broughton Farm in Hampshire (more info here).  They had buffalo mince and topside joints available, so I though it would be good to do a version of the British classic, roast beef.  But with buffalo.

  To start with, defrost the meat.  It is best taken out of the freezer in the morning of the day you plan to cook it, assuming you'll be having it as an evening meal.  When it's defrosted completely, pre-heat the oven to 220C.  Liberally season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  The piece I bought had some string tied around it to keep it all together, I left this on until it was cooked.  Next, roughly chop four or five carrots and three small onions and place in the bottom of a roasting tray.  Drizzle the vegetables with a little oil (I used rape seed oil) and place the seasoned meat on top.

  Now, place this onto the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 180C and leave for around 2 hours.  Baste the meat with the juices which will collect in the roasting tray about every half an hour or so.  After 2 hours (the exact cooking will depend on the size of the piece of meat, so you'll have to use your own judgement a bit here), turn the temperature down to 160C for a final half-an-hour.  Then, remove the meat from the oven.

  Take the meat out of the roasting tray and put to one side, strain the vegetables and juices into a suitable container (this makes very good gravy!).  Now, put the meat back into the roasting tray and cover with kitchen foil.  Now leave it for 10 - 15 minutes to rest before serving.
  To test if it's cooked properly, before removing from the oven completely, use a metal skewer to make a hole right through the thickest part of the meat, from the top.  Remove the skewer and watch the juices that come out, if they are clear and not cloudy, the meat should be cooked.  Repeat the test in several areas to make sure.  There are fancier ways of doing this, a meat thermometer is probably the best way, especially if you want you meat anything other than well done, but I don't have one of those.

 Anyway, that's it!  Serve with whatever vegetables you like.

  It has a really excellent flavour, kind of like beef, but also quite different.  The fat, in particular, tastes very different.  Buffalo meat apparently contains less than half the fat of beef, so it can't be bad!  I would recommend trying it.  I intend to have a go at making burgers from buffalo mince at some point, so I shall certainly blog about that when I do.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Sunnyfields chicken, ham and leak pie

 I was back at Sunnyfields farm a little while ago, actually my first visit this summer!  I have often wished that it was easier to get British made 'ready meal' things like pizza and pies, made with British (and preferably local) ingredients.  Much to my delight, I found that you can!  Although, if I hadn't been at Sunnyfields anyway, it would have been a bit out of my way just for a pie.  But still, I could hardly resist giving one of these a try!

 It was an excellent pie!  It had nice, big pieces of chicken and good sized cubes of ham.  The pastry was good too.  All in all, a thoroughly good pie.  More info on Sunnyfields Organic farm here.

 While I was there, I also picked up some locally grown corn-on-the-cob, which was very nice.  I had some of it done on the barbecue and it was really sweet and delicious.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Welsh lamb burgers with fresh mint and rosemary

Judging by my last shopping trip, Welsh lamb seems to be very much back on the shelves, at least at my local supermarket.  So, I couldn't resist picking up some minced lamb, which is great made into burgers.  Minced lamb has a fairly high fat content (around 20%) compared to minced beef, but this really helps to keep things like burgers moist when they cook.  Beef burgers can end up being a bit dry much more easily than lamb burgers.  Like nearly all of my recipes, this is really easy to do.  Simply place 500g of minced lamb into a large bowl:

 This was also a good excuse to use some of the herbs of been growing on my patio, so I picked a reasonable handful of mint leaves and a few sprigs of rosemary.  I then washed these and chopped them fairly finely before adding them to the meat in the bowl.  I also added a generous measure of freshly ground black pepper, a good pinch of salt, a finely chopped small onion and one egg.  The easiest way to mix this all together is by hand, so get stuck in!

 Now, heat some oil in a pan, to a fairly high heat, but not smoking.  Take small handfuls of the mixture and kneed them in your hands to a suitable 'burger' shape, making sure that they are not too thick.  Place these in the hot pan and fry for something in the region of 7 to 8 minutes per side.  The exact time will depend on how thick you make them, thinner ones will be quicker and fatter ones will take longer.  You can always cut one open when you think they are done, just to check.

 Serve!  Of course, burgers go well when in buns, but I didn't have any, so I had mine with potatoes and British corn on the cob.
Very tasty it was to!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Honey glazed pork chop with British corn on the cob

I picked up this jar of honey at my local butcher shop today, so thought I should use it.  Pork chops can be good, but a honey glazed pork chop is just better!  It's very easy to do, simply season the pork chop with some freshly ground black pepper and some course sea salt on both sides.

 Heat some oil in a frying pan to a reasonably high heat and cook the pork chop on one side until it is cooked about half way through.

 Now, turn the heat down and gently pour a generous teaspoon of honey onto the uncooked side of the pork chop.  Allow the honey to run over the top and then turn the chop over, placing the honey side down in the pan.  The honey will quickly caramelise and you should see the caramel creeping out from under the pork chop.  It's important that the heat isn't too high at this stage because we don't want to burn the sugar.

 Let it cook until it's cooked through, which will probably take another 10 minutes or so, but this will depend on the size of the chop.  It should turn a lovely, golden colour on the honey side.  You can turn it over again for a few minutes if you want the golden caramel colour on both sides.

 I was keen to find a way to use some of the British sweetcorn I bought the other day, so I cooked the cob in lightly salted, boiling water for about 10 minutes, until tender.  Served this way with a knob of butter, it's absolutely delicious.

British Sweetcorn

 I was very surprised to come across British sweetcorn in the supermarket!  I have seen this before, but only once and that was a few years ago.  As you can see, this is part of the Waitrose South of England range, so presumably it has just come into season.  I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with them yet, I know of boiling or grilling the cob and having it with butter (very nice), but I shall investigate if there are some other good ideas out there.

 My attempts at growing various vegetables in pots on my patio has not been very successful.  The biggest problem has been with slugs and snails which just come along and consume any young plants, particularly things like spinach or lettuce.  I have been using pellets, which seems to be working.  I found some excellent 'organic approved' pellets, which are apparently completely safe to pets and other wildlife such as birds which might eat the slugs or snails.  Also, they are safe to use around edible plants, which is good.  Despite the attacks, the tomatoes are doing well and one is just beginning to turn red:

 I'm only growing two plants this year, of different variates, so I probably wont get enough fruit for making chutney again.  Unbelievably, I still have chutney left over from last year and, more importantly, it still seems to be edible!

 A friend has also been teaching me about Thai cooking just recently, which is exciting.  I have to be careful though, as the recipes are closely guarded secrets and I had to promise not to reveal them.  However, I might be able to come up with some variants that I can post here, so look out for British / Thai fusion cooking some time soon!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Seasonal produce

 I was impressed on my last shopping trip to see that Waitrose have expanded their range of 'South of England' regional produce!  Vegetables on sale included peas, broccoli, dwarf beans, courgettes, two varieties of potato, runner beans and spinach.  This is great to see and even better to eat!  It gives a real feel for when certain vegetables come into season, which is nice and helps to create a more varied diet in my opinion.

 I also came across this article on the Guardian website the other day, which claims that for the first time ever, British grown mange tout will be available, although I think it will only be in Marks and Spencer.  I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, but I will as soon as I can!

It really does seem as if demand for British produce is increasing.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Paprika Beef

 A nice, simple dish that can be made with a relatively cheap cut of beef, such as braising (or chuck) steak.

 When using these cuts of meat, they can be a bit tough, but this problem can be solved by pounding the meat with a meat hammer.  If you don't have one of these, you could always use a rolling pin or something, but you'll need to hit it quite hard.  The advantage of using a meat hammer is that they have a face with a number of sharp points on it which really helps to tenderise the meat.  Anyway, once that's done, cut the meat into strips.

 Then, a hot frying pan, cook the meat along with a roughly sliced onion.

 The frying pan shown here is a cast iron type, which adds a wonderful flavour to many dishes, in particular steak.  However, any frying pan will do really.  While the meat and onions are cooking, season liberally with paprika, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt.  Once the meat is cooked through (roughly 5 minutes per side, if you've pounded it quite thin), transfer to a sauce pan.  Add some water to the frying pan and use a spatula to make sure anything left over from the frying is transferred to the water.

 Remember, this was a cast iron pan!  If you're using a non-stick pan, don't use a metal spatula!  Pour the water from the frying pan into the sauce pan, cover and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes.

 That's it!  This is particularly good served with mashed potatoes and peas.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Barbecue trout

 The weather here in the UK has, for most of us at least, been fantastic for the last few weeks.  Some have even complained that it has been too hot!  Typical then, that on the day I should decide to have a barbecue, it turns out to be pouring with rain.  Anyway, I'm not the kind of person to let a mere bit of weather get in the way of a good plan, so I persevered.  I have been meaning to write about barbecues for a while, since although I like a good barbecue as much as anyone I often find that they are far to heavy on the red meat front.  Its always sausages, burgers, steak and maybe some chicken legs if you're lucky.  There's nothing wrong with any of those of course, it's just that I find it hard to consume nothing but red meat!  So, I have set out to try barbecuing fish, in this case trout.

 Here we have your basic farmed trout.  I'm not sure of the exact species, but I suspect from the pale pink band down its side that it is a rainbow trout.  Now, I've been fishing once or twice and I know that a rainbow trout caught in the wild looks much more obviously like its name-sake, but for a farmed fish this isn't a bad example.  My friendly, local fishmonger has already gutted this fish for me and I suggest that you get yours to do the same.  The first thing to do, as the coals of the barbecue are heating up, is to wash the fish to remove any remaining blood from inside.

 That's more or less all the preparation the fish needs!  All that remains is to season the inside of the fish with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I also added some roughly chopped fresh parsley and a couple of bay leaves.  I then used some wooden cocktail sticks to hold it all together so that the herbs wouldn't fall out during cooking.  That's the fish ready for the coals!

Since I didn't feel that the trout would be quite enough for one meal, I've also added some sausages and an orange pepper (barbecue's particularly well I find, particularly when seasoned with black pepper and a little olive oil.  Leave it until the skin starts to go black).  In this case, the fish took about half an hour to cook, 15 minutes per side.

 I've served this with a basic potato salad made from new potatoes boiled with the skins on, which were then left to cool and sliced into a mix of natural yogurt and cream, along with some chopped spring onion and some freshly ground black pepper and salt.  The fish was really nice, although trout has a very subtle flavour so you have to be a bit careful not to overpower it.  Ideally, I would have added some fresh dill to the herbs I put inside the fish, but I didn't have any on this occasion.  Let's hope that the sunny weather comes back!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Sausage gratin

This is a slight variation on a recipe I've done before with sausage and asparagus, but it's a great way of cooking sausages if you're fed up of frying or grilling them!  To make, simply cook some potatoes in lightly salted, boiling water until they are nearly done.  Test them by sticking a fork or a skewer in and feeling the texture, it should still be firm and just ever so slightly 'gritty' which indicates that the potato is not fully cooked.  As we are going to be finishing them off in the oven, this is OK.

 While the potatoes are boiling, wash and chop some asparagus, peel and finely chop an onion, slice the sausages (I used three good sized, pork and apple sausages in this case) into good sized chunks.  Layer all of these ingredients into a heat proof dish, with the chopped onion at the bottom.  I added a layer of cherry tomatoes as well, as you can see.  I also put in a good bunch of freshly chopped herbs, in this case thyme, rosemary and sage.  A small pinch of course sea salt is a good idea at this stage to.  In this case, I am relying on the tomatoes to produce juice as they cook.  If you don't use tomatoes, you might find it necessary to add a little stock - chicken or vegetable would work well.

Once you've done that, slice the par-boiled potatoes and use the slices to cover the top of the dish, like so:

 Add some grated cheese and some freshly ground black pepper and place in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 40 minutes to an hour.  You can tell when it's cooked because the top will be all nice and brown and the juices in the bottom of the dish will be bubbling away nicely.  I'd recommend at least 40 minutes though, just to make sure that the sausages are cooked through properly.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Marrow and broad bean risotto

 I mentioned in my last  post that I would write something about marrows, so here we are!  I think, as vegetables go, marrows are fairly exciting.  To start with, they are quite big and can be huge!  Secondly, I think anything that has stripes just looks good.  Marrows are the tigers of the vegetable world.  Truly, a vegetable to admire.  Handily, they taste pretty good to, if you cook them right.  This is one vegetable that I would not recommend eating raw.  As far as I am aware, doing so won't do you any harm, it just doesn't taste that great.  So, I decided to turn this marrow into a risotto.

 This is very easy to do.  Simply wash the marrow and then cut it into roughly 1cm cubes.  Meanwhile, heat some oil in a heavy-based sauce pan (olive or rape-seed oil works very well) and when hot, add some finely chopped onion.  Cook the onion until it is nice and soft and just starting to turn brown.  Now, add about half a cup of risotto rice.  I use Arborio rice, which is particularly good I think.  Stir the rice around with the onion and then add enough chicken stock to just cover the rice and onion.  Then, put the lid on the sauce pan and leave it simmering for a while.  Keep an eye on it and when it looks like most of the fluid has been absorbed, add a little more to again just cover the rice.  For half a cup of rice, you'll want about 450ml of chicken stock.  You may want to give it a stir from time to time as well to make sure it doesn't stick and burn in the bottom of the pan.

 Once you've added about half the stock, add the chopped marrow.  Now, I have chosen to add broad beans as well, because they are in season right now, so these can go in at the same time.  Flavour the dish with some freshly chopped sage, ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt.  A knob of butter really adds to the flavour, but is optional.  Stir it around and add the rest of the stock.  Put the lid on the pan and leave it to simmer until the marrow has gone really soft and most of the fluid has been absorbed.  That's it!

 Now, a risotto should really be served with Parmesan cheese, but of course that's not British.  So, I have to admit I went without the cheese, but it would be really good to be able to find a good British alternative to Parmesan.  I shall investigate this.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

New vegetables in season now!

 My last trip to Waitrose revealed that two new vegetables appear to have come into season; peas and marrow.  Now, I use peas in quite a lot of my cooking, as you might have noticed from one or two of the pictures here...  But, they are nearly always frozen peas.  Frozen peas are great because they are frozen very quickly after being picked, which means that they maintain a lot of the vitamins and minerals that makes them so good for you.  Peas are also a good source of fibre, with 100g of peas containing as much as 5.1g of fibre! (  However, the fresh peas have a completely different flavour, even if you do need to go through the hassle of shelling them yourself:

 I think they are easily worth the effort as they taste so much sweeter and crisper than the frozen ones.  I use them either as I would with frozen peas (boil in lightly salted water for 3 minutes), or just leave them raw and have them in a salad or something similar.
 I also noticed that marrows seem to be in season now, so I shall post something about the marrow when I've decided what I am going to do with.
At this time of the year, when there are so many good, fresh vegetables available, it seems almost a shame to be eating too much meat.  So, an unplanned consequence of my EatingBritish diet is that I've really cut down on my meat consumption during the summer months.  When I cooked before starting this project, I tended to rotate through the same dishes on a near weekly basis (very boring!).  However, now that I am basing my cooking on what I find to be the freshest and the most in season at the shops, I am finding that my diet has become a lot more varied.  Meat is a great source of protein and other things that the body needs, but I think it really comes into its own during the late autumn and winter months, when there simply isn't that much available on the vegetable front.  It occurred to me today that, in the UK at least, we have an unprecedented amount of choice when it comes to the food we buy, on a level probably never known by any previous generations.  Yet, despite this, how many people sit down to the same meal on a regular basis?  How many people really vary their diet that much beyond just a few recipes?  I suspect not many.  The odd thing is that when I started this project, several people objected to it because they saw modern food and cooking as being about variety.  However, in my attempts at sticking to a diet of only food produced in Britain, far from reducing the variety of my diet, I have increased it significantly.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Seasonal produce

After all the fuss I made about the regional produce I bought in Waitrose last week, I thought it was probably time that I wrote a little more about it.  In the end, once I'd sampled some of the vegetables raw, I realised that they were far to fresh to be cooked to death in some complicated dish.  When vegetables (technically, tomatoes are a fruit of course...) are this fresh, I think it's almost a crime to cook them beyond the bare minimum.  The spinach and the asparagus in particular seem to really benefit from actually being in season at the moment, you can really taste it.  So, one super simple dish that I like to do when I get home from work and am hungry and in need of something fairly quick is to just basically cook some pasta and add some olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, course sea salt and the freshest vegetables available.  This could be done with almost any vegetables really, but in this case I used asparagus, mushrooms and spinach.  This dish is perfect when the vegetables are so fresh because they are not really cooked at all, just warmed through.  The end result should look something like this:

 This really is the simplest thing to prepare.  Put the pasta into little salted, rapidly boiling water.  While it's cooking, wash the vegetables.  Slice the mushrooms and the asparagus.  When the pasta is nearly done, add the slices asparagus for no more than three minutes, it takes a bit of practice to get the timing for the pasta right, but it's worth persevering.  A time saving trick I like to use is to wash the spinach leaves in a colander under the cold tap.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta through the same colander, leaving the spinach in.  This way, the pasta gets drained and the spinach gets steamed by the hot water!  Nice.  Tip the pasta and the spinach back into the saucepan, add olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and course sea salt.  Stir it around and add the mushrooms.  That's it!

 We've been having a lot of warm and wet weather just recently, which of course has done wonders for my attempts to grow my own food:

 As you can see, the tomatoes are coming on well, the mint is progressing but is still too small to use really.  Unfortunately, the sweet peppers are not doing much and appear to have been munched by snails.  However, the alpine strawberries are doing well, though I am surprised that they haven't produced any flowers yet.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Waitrose Regional Foods

I've just got back from doing my shopping at Waitrose, which happens to be my closest supermarket, although I do occasionally go to others.  Waitrose have quite a strong focus on local produce and actually have a whole section, albeit a small one, devoted to regional, local produce.  In my case, the region in question is 'South of England'.  As I say, it's only a small section so there isn't all that much there, but they usually have locally produced potatoes and mushrooms here.  Today, I also got organic spinach, plum tomatoes and asparagus.  I feel that although the selection is small, I have to do my bit by supporting this initiative.  If more consumers buy these products, the supermarkets will release that this really is something that we want to be able to buy and hopefully that will lead to an increase in the range of local produce available.  I occasionally go to farm shops and I would like to start using some smaller, local suppliers for things such as meat.  The trouble is, it is very hard to beat the convenience of a supermarket.  To get to a farm shop, I have to use my car, whereas I can walk to Waitrose.  There are one or two smaller, local shops I can drop into on my way home from work, so I shall have to explore that possibility.  The point I am trying to make I guess is that it isn't always possible to do your shopping at farm shops and small local suppliers, but at least if you're going to use a supermarket, try to support any local food initiatives they may have.  I am sure all the main supermarkets have similar local producer schemes to Waitrose.

Fish and chips

Personally, it always annoys me slightly that whenever you ask someone to think of an example of British food, the first thing they'll almost always say is fish and chips!  Whether we like it or not, I guess this dish has become the icon of British food.  According to the Wikipedia article, Fish and Chips as a dish originated in the UK in either 1858 or 1863, so it's certainly been around for sometime.  It is actually quite hard to think of another, similarly iconic British dish, unless you start thinking of Chicken Tikka Masala and that sort of thing.
Anyway, I felt that I wanted a change from my usual boiled potatoes the other day, so I set about making my own chips, which I had with a salmon fillet, so this isn't your classic fish and chips dish by any means.

 So, to make chips, first cut a large potato into chip-like shapes.  This was actually a baking potato and I know that 'professional' chip makers think that the variety of potato makes a huge difference to the quality of the final chips.  They are probably right and I think a lot of it has to do with water content, with a higher water content being better.  These were Estima potatoes, grown in Suffolk and they seemed to work well.  I deep fried them in olive oil, keeping the heat below the smoke point of the oil.  Now, I could have used the cold pressed rape seed oil which I've used for various things here before, perhaps I should have done really given that it's British, but it is also quite expensive!  Of course, it's smoke point is much higher than that of olive oil, which may have made it better, but to be honest, the olive oil seemed to work quite well.

 I let them fry, stirring them around occasionally, until they just started to brown.  I then removed them from the oil and allowed them to cool completely, which took about 20 minutes, before putting them back in the hot oil for another 15 to 20 minutes to finish off.  It is really important to let them cool completely like this if you want them to be crispy on the outside and nice and soft and fluffy on the inside!  It takes a bit of time, but it's worth it.

 So, after letting them cool (as shown in the above picture), I fried them again to give the finished result:

 They really were extremely good, even if I do say so myself!  The crispy outside layer had swollen up and separated from the fluffy inside on many of them, which gave them the most delightful texture.  The olive oil also seemed to impart a good flavour.  Of course, you always need to be careful deep frying things like this, but I used the absolute minimum amount of oil in the pan and had a damp dish cloth ready in case of a fire!  I'd recommend that you do the same if you try making chips this way.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Fine food over the weekend

 I had the great pleasure of attending a friend's wedding last weekend.  Weddings are always good fun for many reasons, but one is nearly always treated to particularly good food and this was no exception!  Of course, it was great to see all my friends and to catch up, but of importance here is the food, so I'll get straight to the point!  To start, we had crab cakes which were made with flaked crab meat coated in bread crumbs and served on a bed of rocket salad.  The salad was dressed with what I suspect was a balsamic dressing, which was very good.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures of these unfortunately.  The main course was lamb shank, which I did get a good picture of:

 Lamb usually makes for a great dish and this was no exception!  Here, it has been served on a bed of mashed potato with broccoli.  It was very good, the meat was perfectly cooked and simply fell off the bone, just as it should.  Dessert was Eton mess, again unfortunately I failed to get a good photo, but it was also excellent.

 The wedding food aside, one other dish of note from the weekend was a pizza I had a Fire & Stone in Oxford:

 This was a Peking Duck pizza!  That's a first for me, I'm more used to the usual ham and mushroom or pepperoni, so I couldn't resist the chance to try something a little more exotic.  It was amazing!  Thoroughly recommended.  Actually, Fire & Stone had a huge range of exotic pizzas, so they are definitely worth checking out in my opinion.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Home grown food

 In my last post I promised to blog about my latest efforts to grow some of my own food.  As I don't have a garden, I am slightly limited in what I can grow, but I think you can do quite well with just a patio.  So, here are some of the things I am growing this year:

 Last year I grow a few tomato plants in a grow bag, which worked really well, but I thought that this year I would go for something that looked a little better!  I think the pots provide a bit more flexibility as well as you can move them around and arrange them more easily.  Anyway, I have two tomato plants, of different varieties, so hopefully they'll do well.

 These are radishes, which are really very easy to grow and make an excellent salad vegetable.  They grow quickly, particularly  in the hot weather we've been having recently, so I am keeping a couple of pots going planted some time apart.  I hope that this will allow me to have an extended supply of radishes, though continuous would be even better.

 These will be spinach fairly soon...

 This is regular garden mint, which I find is superb for making fresh mint tea!  It's a bit too small at the moment, but when there is enough of it, the thing to do is to simply cut a short branch, wash it, put it into a mug or a cup and pour boiling water of it.  This makes a suitably refreshing hot drink for the hot weather!

 I also planted some Alpine strawberries, which are those really small berries you sometimes see in the shops.  They may be small, but they have a lot of flavour, so hopefully these will turn out well!

 And these are red peppers!  To be honest, I'm not sure how well these will do but I bought them as seedlings from the garden centre and the label said that they were ideal for patios...  It will be exciting if they do produce fruit, but I tried growing sweet peppers indoors last year and it wasn't very successful. 

 I've got space for quite a few more pots, so if I have time I shall be making some additions.  The great thing about using pots is that, once planted, they are really low maintenance, except for needing watering and the occasional feed.