October, 2011


31
Oct 11

Going, ghouling, gone

When I was growing up and Hallowe’en came around, we would end up with bright red, blue and green fingers from all different kinds of food colouring, creating weird concoctions (that usually both looked at tasted brown in the end). Jellies, cakes, drinks – everything you could think of. I can even remember a blue baked potato one year. Now, food colourings (at least the artificial variety) have all but disappeared, leaving a wake of children in desperate need of some funky looking food.
Natural dyes have replaced those artificial ones across the board – stretching as far as TV favourite Hugh FW’s use of beetroot to colour marshmallows. More complex versions derived from brightly coloured foods like turmeric and saffron are often used in factories.

Hallowe’en now is a very different beast somehow – gone are the foods that look like zombies, guts and ghosts, replaced with a more pleasing array of dishes that are simply inspired by this time of year – roast pumpkin with sage butter (click here to check out some fantastic pumpkin recipes ), sausages with sticky glazes, sticky toffee cupcakes decorated with scary faces – transitional food that span the gap from summer through to Christmas, marking a change in the way we eat as the evenings draw in and the cold really begins.

Maybe it’s just that the food has got less ghoulish. Though you’ll have to offer me some serious bribery if you think you’re getting one of my Haribo Fang-tastics.

What are your favourite Hallowe’en eats? Are you still eating childhood treats?


24
Oct 11

The ricing on the cake

Some days only rice will do. Warm, comforting, nourishing, wholesome, filling, a pillow of a food stuff. It’s the food equivalent of a hug and perfect for the coming months of cold.

As the barbecue really does get put away for the last time (but hey…who knows), I turn to rice as my go to starch. Where I’d normally be eating potatoes – baked, mashed, roasted, sautéed, rice is steadily taking it’s place. Ready in a flash and a friend to all manner of dishes to suit your mood – a vegetable-laden Indian curry, a hot, sour and coconut-rich Thai curry or a good slow-cooked dark chilli con carne.
But there is a problem – rice has caused me no end of trouble. So much so that I even abandoned Jasmine and Basmati for brown as I just couldn’t cook it. The one foodstuff that escaped me. Whatever technique I used it would just flatly refuse to come out right – always overly soggy and falling apart. And you’d only ever find out once all your other dishes were ready.

But recently – success. A friend explained a very simple and easy technique for foolproof rice each time. And here it is – so if you, like me, have had a few rice-related issues, you can wave them goodbye and turn your attention to the more important matter of eating your dinner…

Click here to read my recipe for foolproof rice


24
Oct 11

Cheek and cheerful

There’s a time and a place for fillet steak – in steak tartare for example; a time for chicken breasts, flattened, breadcrumbed and fried till golden and crisp. There’s a time for a rack of lamb, marinaded in Indian spices and yogurt before being slapped onto a hot griddle; there’s a time, too, for a loin of pork, with crisp, golden crackling.

But the heroes of late and indeed good friends through winter are the cheap cuts; the bits that need some care, some trimming and some long, slow cooking but that give up huge rewards in the taste department.

Pork belly, slow roasted to rend out most of the fat, is rich, decadent, unctuous and fairly cheap. Breast of lamb is another cheap favourite – and one worth investigating – slow braised and then stripped, the meat shaped into patties and fried till crispy. Ham hocks, poached slowly in broth then shredded make an ideal inclusion in a potato cake – the ultimate Saturday morning breakfast with a poached egg.

This weekend was the turn of the ox cheek – a hefty piece of meat, but plentiful and rich with quite a distinct texture. I braised mine for hours and hours with caramelised onions that, by the time the pan came out of the oven, had melted entirely into the sauce. I chose to serve mine in a US style, shredded and stuffed in sourdough rolls with ‘slaw and a vinegary American barbecue sauce but this dish would be equally good served over rice or mash – even a sweet potato variety. I’m looking forward to leftovers used to make a cottage pie – rib-sticking, warming winter fare.

Click here to read my recipe for braised ox cheek


4
Oct 11

Tangy toms

The Bloody Mary is initially quite the quirksome cocktail. Tomato juice isn’t to everyone’s taste given its savoury nature – but for me the cocktail has become one of my favourites. The Sunday morning special; I tend, contrary to tradition, to often have one prior to meals in restaurants.

Perhaps it’s the umami nature of the drink; perhaps the killer savoury, spicy, citrusy combination, set off with a hit of celery that whets my appetite. Who knows – it has become a firm part of my repertoire and a pre-dinner must. Indeed, as I write, I’m readying a round of Bloody Marys for an October barbecue – the first of those that I can remember.

As with the realm of food, that of the cocktail is so open to interpretation, I threw the floor open to some friends and came back with an eclectic selection of ‘ultimate bloody marys’. Tim Hayward, writer and owner of Fitzbillies bakery in Bristol suggested a recipe using Spanish gazpacho (the carton, shop-bought variety available in Spanish delis) and a slug of olive oil. A common suggestion from fellow foodies was chilled sherry slinked into the top which sounds a delicious, complexity-adding addition. My friend and author of the recent fab book Comfort and Spice suggests using stunning Isle of Wight yellow tomato juice. One of the more eclectic suggestions was for a Tom Yum variation – although perhaps the fish sauce might be best left out. Maybe not though – after all, Worcester Sauce, an essential ingredient, does have anchovies in it.

For my money, I go classic. It’s a good starting point to work from. I may vary it by using a different hot sauce – chipotle Tabasco for example, for a smoky hit. Give this a whirl next Sunday morning, pre-roast. For a perfect appetiser serve with some pork scratchings. The ultimate warm up.

Click here for my recipe for a classic bloody mary

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