Friday 22 April 2011

An amazing Potato Soup

Right now, the weather is so bloody nice, it makes a post about soup seem almost perverted somehow. But last week I made the best soup, well...ever basically. It absolutely blew me away and I just have to write about it. In any case, this being Britain, it'll probably be snowing next week. When it does, you'll all be thanking me for this.

It's a potato soup based on a recipe from the legendary Simon Hopkinson, who pinched it from the once legendary Walnut Tree restaurant, so it's actually legendary multiplied by two. Therefore, logically, an über legendary recipe. Tres legend as we say in Essex.
BTW - I've heard whispers that Mr Hopkinson has a new six part cookery series airing on the BBC this summer. Titled 'The Good Cook' I reckon It's going to be a must watch.

This recipe is interesting in that despite it's apparent simplicity and it's unusual 'boil it to death' cooking technique the resulting soup is fantastic. Honestly, it's frigging awesome. It's also extremely adaptable. We used the recipe as a base for a wild garlic version to serve at our 'Montpelier Basement' supper club recently and it worked really well.

Potato Soup with Porcini

Serves 4-6

You'll Need:-

5 Medium Potatoes (I used Maris Piper).
2 Cloves Garlic
60g Butter
Salt and Pepper
200g Porcini finely diced (The recipe calls for fresh mushrooms, but I used dried, and used the resulting mushroom 'soaking liquid' to loosen up the soup and add more flavour).
250ml Single Cream
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 White Truffle, shaved (Optional...thank God for that!)

Peel and roughly chop the potatoes.
Boil them in salted water with the garlic. Cook until the potatoes disintegrate.
Pass the potatoes, cooking water and garlic through a mouli (If you don't have one, I guess you could push through a sieve with a wooden spoon, but it'd be hard work - definitely DON'T blitz or liquidise spuds - they turn to wallpaper paste).
Return to the heat. Add half the butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Beat the mixture with a whisk, if it's too thick (It almost certainly will be) loosen with some water, or if you used dried porcini, the mushroom 'stock' from re-hydrating them.

Saute the Porcini (dried or fresh) in the remaining butter and put to one side.

Add the cream and parsley to the soup.
Check the seasoning and consistency carefully, it should be velvety and impossibly creamy.
Serve in warm bowls, with the porcini piled on top and liberally smothered with grated parmesan and a nice drizzle of good olive oil.

Alternatively, omit the porcini (if you wish...or leave it in!) and stir through a good hand full of chopped wild garlic with the parsley and cream, at the end for a... errr...wild garlic version.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Cheese! (The blog post - part 2).

Regular readers of my blog, casting their minds back to January, may remember mention of my heroic cheese mongering exploits for Trethowan’s Dairy at their Harvey Nichols pop up shop over the festive period, and of my rather comprehensive post on the subject of cheese here.

I’m pleased to say, (after a brief gap), that my epic fromage exploits continue. But, I am now safely ensconced in the St Nicholas Market cheese shop, with a much bigger range of cheese to learn about.
In fact there’s so much cheese that’s entirely new to me, I thought it worth another post to highlight it.

Let me start by saying, the most gratifying thing of all is that most of the cheese is British, in fact almost exclusively so. There are a couple of French cheeses, which are just so good, with no viable homegrown alternative, that they just have to be stocked. But I’m heartened by the fact that artisan British cheese is bloody amazing,and there’s lots of it.

One of the reasons for this British cheese renaissance that we’re currently experiencing is partly due to people like legendary South West cheese maker Mary Holbrook who started making goats milk cheeses in the 70’s, innovating and experimenting. We sell a couple of her cheeses; the rather beautiful blunt pyramid shaped Tymsboro, an unpasteurised goats cheese with a tangy, slightly nutty taste which should be arriving back in the shop any day soon.

We also stock her rather fabulous Old Ford as well. It’s an unpasteurised hard goats cheese, and has a lovely almost buttery, dry and nutty flavour. It’s slightly salty and in a way, strangely reminds me a little of feta. It’s a bloody gorgeous cheese.

Moving onto British sheep cheeses, we sell a couple produced by cheese makers Andy and Anne Wigmore, who, believe it or not produce their cheese from a converted garage at the end of their garden, near Reading in Berkshire. The first is the eponymous ‘Wigmore’ an unpasteurised cheese and made using vegetable rennet. With this cheese, unusually it’s all about the texture as opposed the flavour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely stuff, but the texture is incredible. It’s soft, almost meltingly so, with a crisp shell like rind, it tastes sweet, light and milky and practically dissolves in your mouth. I guarantee you’ve never tried anything quite like it.

The Wigmores also produce Spenwood. This is one of my favourite cheeses right now. Like their other cheese, it’s unpasteurised and made using vegetable rennet. It’s very subtle, but has a nutty, hard to define flavour – the only description I can come up with, and which always pops into my head when I taste it, is ‘comforting’. I could eat it all day long.

Another of my favourites right now is Beenleigh Blue. As the name suggests it’s a blue cheese. Made from pasteurised ewe’s milk cheese, using vegetable rennet and produced in Totnes, Devon, it’s comparable to Roquefort but is less salty. Basically this stuff is bloody gorgeous, it’s got such a distinctive sweet tangy flavour. We’ve been using it a lot when cooking for our supper club ‘The Basement’ and it is incredible with roast beetroot or crumbled into a risotto. It’s sharpness cuts beautifully through fatty meat dishes. I absolutely love it.

Moving onto cheese made from cow’s milk. We’ve recently been stocking Hafod, a Welsh Cheddar style cheese from Lampeter in West Wales. It’s unpasteurised, and made using traditional rennet. Also of some note is the fact that it’s organic. It has an incredible deep yellow colour, and has real depth of flavour, which, as Cheddars go, is subtle, nutty and buttery. It’s lovely stuff, but is pretty expensive even by handmade artisan cheese standards.

Whilst we’re in Wales, lets talk about a cheese that my employers, the Trethowans make. In my last cheese post I mentioned their bloody awesome Gorwydd Caerphilly. This time it’s their Gorwydd Washed Rind or GWR as it’s known. Basically, it’s the same cheese as the Gorwydd Caerphilly, but on day one it’s put aside and washed with a salt-water solution. This simple process amazingly changes almost every characteristic of the cheese. Rather than the grey rind ofthe normal Gorwydd Caerphilly, it develops a sticky yellow rind. As opposed to being crumbly, its texture can almost be described as ‘meaty’ being soft and creamy, with a more pronounced flavour. It’s a superb cheese, and it’s also interesting to note, as with all artisan cheeses, it’s texture and taste changes subtly throughout the year. Its flavour is dependent on the milk used to produce it, which is itself influenced by what the cows have been eating. Bearing this in mind, spring and autumn in particular are often superb times for cheeses which have relatively short maturation periods, e.g. GWR and goat cheeses like Dorstone. Right now GWR is bloody awesome and tastes that much better to the cheeses I was sampling in December.

Sparkenhoe Red Leicester is a strikingly coloured, unpasteurised cows milk cheese. Cloth wrapped in the traditional way in Upton, Leicestershire. I have to be honest, before I started selling cheese, I’d only ever encountered supermarket Red Leicester. day-glo orange chunks of tasteless cheese, about as flavoursome as the plastic they were wrapped in. The real stuff is, as you can imagine, far more interesting. Subtle, nutty and almost mustardy in flavour. It’s a million miles away from the supermarket stuff. Interestingly, the red colour is produced by the addition of annatto, a natural flavourless plant dye made from a tree that grows in South America and the Caribbean. Traditionally, cheese makers wanted their cheese to stand out from the competition at market, colouring the cheese red was a way to achieve this.

Ogleshield is also an unpasteurised washed rind cows milk cheese made by Jamie Montgomery in Somerset (of Montgomery Cheddar fame). It’s firm, yellow and has an almost wine-like, soft flavour. It’s very similar to the French Raclette, and shares it’s incredible melting qualities. Personally I love it used as Raclette, so melted and tipped over potatoes, pickled onions and cornichons, but I’m not so keen on it eaten in it’s own right. I find it just a little too subtle for my tastes.

Adrahan is a similar washed rind cheese, but unlike Ogleshield, is pasteurised, made using vegetable rennet and is from County Cork in Ireland. I much prefer this. It’s sticky, smelly (which can be off-putting for some) and somewhat moister. But despite the smell, it’s surprisingly subtle. It shares some of the wine-like flavours with Ogelshield, but it also has it’s own underlying slightly smoky taste. It has an almost meaty texture and is lovely stuff.

Finally, let’s finish up with a French cheese. Langres. It looks incredible, like a golden brain (Just me then?) Made from unpasteurised cows milk, traditional rennet and produced in the Champagne-Ardennes region, as with the previously mentioned cheeses it has a washed rind. But somewhat more extravagantly, it’s washed with ’marc’, which is a spirit made from leftover skins and pulp from the champagne making process. As you can imagine, Langres has an almost wine like flavour, and is creamy and soft in texture. Apparently the French, if really pushing the boat out in celebration, put a splash of champagne into the depression at the top of the cheese. Tres decadent eh? As with most washed rind cheeses it smells more pungent than it actually tastes. It’s lovely stuff, one of my favourites in fact.

So, between this and my last cheese post, that’s pretty much most of the fromage I’m currently selling covered. I’m proud to say most of it is British, and all of it tastes absolutely amazing.
Time for my Jerry Springer style "final thought" - It really is worth spending a bit more on the quality handmade artisan stuff, even if it means eating a bit less. Factory mass produced cheeses just don't compare. Until next time, take care of yourselves, each other and your cheese.

Monday 4 April 2011

Faggots braised in Bristol Beer Factory Bitter

Where it comes to meat, I’m an unrepentant consumer. I’m at my absolute happiest with a severed hoof hanging limply out of my mouth, whilst I clutch a blood spattered cleaver and drag an industrial polythene bag containing at least 2 Kilos of unidentifiable, bloody animal parts along with my other hand.

I go too far with the imagery perhaps, (just a little) but what I'm driving at, and I feel this can only be expressed in the following, almost primal sentence - ‘I likes me meat’, and I'm in no way squeamish about it in a raw state. Ever.

At least, I wasn’t. Until I made Faggots last week.

I was making the aforementioned meaty balls (steady) for our ‘Montpelier Basement’ supper club, and when I say ‘I’, it was very literally just me, a one-man show. ‘E’ had recoiled in horror long before at the sheer meaty carnage and was hiding somewhere in the house

It wasn’t just one or two that I had to make, I could have handled that, but I had to make 30 cricket ball sized globes, which meant digging my hands into 2 kilos of minced, pink, sticky, gelatinous seriously Offaly smelling pigs liver and then stirring through various spices, more pig; in the shape of a kilo of minced pork belly; breadcrumbs and herbs.

It was good stuff, Gloucester Old Spot, but strangely it didn't make me feel any better as I looked down into this quivering cauldron of mangled pig parts. I'm ashamed to say I almost broke. I really didn't fancy putting my mitts in there. But then quite suddenly, I got a grip and with a small sigh and a ‘lets get on with this’ shrug of resignation, of the type you’ll often see from new parents changing a particularly loathsome shitty nappy, I relented and slowly sank my hands in, seemingly up to the elbow

Warm and sticky.

I’d be hard pressed to describe anything about the process pleasant, but I got stuck in and it wasn’t long before the breadcrumbs and spices had mixed through nicely with the meat and it all looked a hell of a lot more palatable. By the time I’d rolled out a couple of trays of neat looking porky spheres, I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

Next came wrapping them in Caul fat. I’d read about its use often, but never actually got my hands on some. It’s basically the membrane that surrounds a pig’s internal organs and looks almost web like in appearance. It’s awesome stuff with amazing stretching qualities. I little goes a long way, and it wasn't long before my meaty globes (hahaha) were encased in the most incredibly organic looking wrappers.

We’d decided to braise them in a combination of chicken stock and gorgeous Bristol Beer Factory No.7 Bitter. Not to blow our own trumpet (much) they were a thumping success.
Everyone almost with exception absolutely loved them. I tried one, and it was surprisingly light, quite spicy and intensely meaty. We served each with some local Sharpham Park pearled spelt (cooked in the same way as a risotto, with chopped sage stirred through at the end), and buttered Savoy Cabbage.

If I’m honest, it’s probably one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever cooked. To make something so excellent out of such seemingly unappetising ingredients really strikes a chord for my inner peasant.

Here’s the recipe.

Gloucester Old Spot Faggots braised in Bristol Beer Factory No.7

Serves 6

You’ll Need: -

20g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed.
sea salt and black pepper
1/3 Tsp ground mace
1/3 Tsp allspice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 Tsp chopped sage
1 Tsp chopped thyme
1 heaped Tbsp of finely chopped parsley
400g pork liver, trimmed and minced
250g minced pork belly (Gloucester Old Spot if available).
125g fresh white breadcrumbs
150g caul fat – soaked in water

For the Gravy: -

15g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp plain flour
½ Tsp tomato puree
250ml Bristol Beer Factory No-7 Bitter
500ml chicken stock
Dash of Worcestershire Sauce

To make the faggots, melt the butter in a small pan and add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sweat for 6-8 minutes until soft but not coloured. Tip into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool.

Tip in ALL of the rest of the ingredients, (except the caul fat) and season well. Think happy thoughts and get your hands in there, mixing well.
Divide the mixture into 6 portions, and roll into neat balls. Place on a tray, cover with Clingfilm and chill for at least 30mins to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 200C.Wrap each faggot in the caul fat, overlapping the edges, which should stick.Place in a lightly oiled roasting tray, spacing apart. Press to flatten very slightly, season and bake for 30-35 mins until browned.

Whilst this is happening, make the gravy.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion. Season and sweat. Stir frequently for 5-6 mins, until beginning to soften. Stir in the flour and the tomato purée to make a paste. Stir for a minute or 2, and then pour in the Bitter, stirring the whole time.

Boil and reduce by two thirds. Pour in the chicken stock, and bring back to a simmer for 10-15mins, until slightly thickened. Season to taste, and add a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce.

Pour the gravy over the faggots to coat them all and bake for another 10-15mins. Baste them halfway through and serve when the faggots are nicely glazed.

(Recipe adapted from the rather excellent Great British Pub Food)


Exciting news, and validation in particular of how cool I am, and by association, how cool you lot are for reading my blog. We’re all frigging tres cool basically, and here’s the reason why.
In the latest issue of Esquire, glossy magazine for the discerning gentleman, I was listed as one of the ‘5 Food Bloggers the restaurants fear’.Which I don’t believe for a second, but it stroked my needy and fragile ego rather nicely, and for that I am eternally grateful.