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Archive for June, 2011

Vegetarians look away now!

There’s more to meat than a Sunday roasting joint, chop or pack of mince and if you’re going to eat meat I strongly believe you should know where it comes from. I don’t mean the butcher, market or supermarket but the provenance; how it has been brought into the world as an animal, cared for, slaughtered, hung, butchered and sold to us.

The Ginger Pig Meat Book, a collaboration by Tim Wilson, the farmer behind the Ginger Pig chain of butchers, and Fran Warde, cook and food writer, is more than just a cookery book. It tells the whole story, from terre to table, of the pig, the cow, the sheep, birds and game animals.

It’s an easy to read and skilfully produced reference book on the characteristics of different breeds, what is good and bad husbandry, humane methods of slaughter, good butchery as well as what quality meat should look like, how to pick the right cut for a dish and how to store, prepare, cook, rest and carve it.

Not only does it serve as encouragement to us all to choose our meat well,  but also to the growing number of farmers working to bring back traditional British breeds of animals, so-called rare breeds, pushed to the verge of extinction as a result of intensive farming.

The recipe section, complete with a collection of 100 recipes showing off head to toe cuts from all the great British animals featured in the reference section, are organised around a year in the life diary of a busy and bountiful Yorkshire farm.

The seasonal recipes cover family favourites (meatballs, burgers, casseroles), British classics (hot pots, pies and roasts), quick evening meals (I can vouch for the smoked bacon and cheddar tortilla, roast duck legs with lentils and fragrant lamb kebabs), dishes for entertaining (Navarin of lamb, roast Michaelmas goose) meals from around the world (Bogota bavette, goulash and lamb pilaf) as well as recipes for the more daring; curing your own ham for instance. There’s even a recipe for the Ginger Pig sausage roll which, according to Valentine Warner, is the finest sausage roll known to man.

In essence the recipes are for good, honest food, the key to which is quality meat.

The book has a charming rustic look and the beautiful photographs of happy animals in their natural habitat as well as the wonderful dishes they serve to create are plentiful. A real treasure and a fabulous book for any animal and meat lover.

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Alexis and Kristjan know how to feed a crowd. Testament to that is the speed at which you now have to book your place for the Mi Casa pop up restaurant. Missing out on a place at the first of the Mi Casa pop up nights at the Big Chill bar, we managed to bag one at the second sitting on 2nd June. 

The small room upstairs at the Big Chill bar, with its beautifully ornate ceiling and tongue in cheek wall hangings, was a world away from the previous venue* at the Benjamin Perry Boathouse (not least because Alexis had a full kitchen to work in!).

A tight squeeze forced you to become familiar with your neighbours, lovely they were too, but on the day of a heat wave in Bristol, was a little too stifling and uncomfortable. On another day, the venue would certainly have been more charming.

Mi Casa is a communal dining experience. Diners sit in rows on long tables and food is served on boards and platters to share. It’s all about interaction – with the food and with your neighbours. It’s conversation, it’s discovery, it’s family-style dining on a large scale. Above all it’s ‘fine’ dining. Not in the sense of white tablecloths, waiters in tuxedos, small portions and hefty prices but fine in the sense of skilled and high quality.

A foraging trip for Kristjan and his son led to the loose theme of the menu and the Dirty Old Town artwork up for auction (sadly the artists had created the artwork at the previous session and we were unable to see them at work). ‘Where the wild things are’ served up wild fennel, elderflower and sea beet among the plethora of delightful dishes.

Just as at previous Mi Casa evenings we’ve attended, the memorable food kept on coming. One thing’s for certain, you’ll never go home hungry!

Herby wild fennel cakes with sauce vierge were followed by Somerset asparagus with slivers of Manchego and an amazing macarona almond and sherry vinegar puree before we received plates of sea trout delicately cured with elderflower.

We moved on to morcilla (Spanish black pudding) with perfectly cooked scallops, broad beans and sea beet before being treated to grilled quail, rose petals and pistachios (you needed your fingers for this one) served with lemon and mint Jersey Royals.

As if that wasn’t enough, the meal was rounded off with two desserts; English strawberries with mint sugar and a rich chocolate pudding which came with unusual accompaniments of olive oil, sea salt shortbread and peanut brittle.

Simply stunning. We can’t wait for the next event. If the rumours are true, it will prove to be their most adventurous and exciting yet. Can I book my place now?!

*The Mi Casa hosts are always on the look out for new and dramatic venues suitable for a communal dining experience – any ideas, please get in touch with them.

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I wouldn’t consider myself someone who gets caught up with trivial things and I like to think that I don’t judge a book by its cover. In the case of Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi all that went out of the window and I can honestly say I would buy this book just for the cover; a soft, cushioned cover, which as far as I can tell, serves no other purpose than to make you want to pick the book up! It’s a tactile book, so pleasing to touch, to hold and, in that same therapeutic fashion as bubble wrap, to squeeze.

If you can bear to take a pause from stroking the cover for a few moments, inside you’ll find a collection of recipes from Ottolenghi’s New Vegetarian column in the Guardian. Many of the recipes have been reviewed, refined and re-written for the book. It’s not because the recipes weren’t successful, but because Ottolenghi believes that a recipe isn’t set in stone. Changes to the recipes reflect the way in which his cooking and writing style has developed over the years. He also believes that each time you make a dish you find ways to tweak it, to enhance it, to make it suit your mood or your guests’ tastes.

Presenting food in chapters based around favourite ingredients has become a popular choice for cookery book writers. Though there is an even more unsystematic approach to the chaptering in Plenty – favourite ingredients combined with botanical categories and associations which make sense only to the author. This approach reveals something about the way he thinks when cooking and developing recipes, focusing on one ingredient at the heart of a dish and building the recipe around it, adding influences from the flavours of his childhood and the chefs at the Ottolenghi restaurant.

Yotam Ottolenghi isn’t a vegetarian but he has a real knack of creating interesting, colourful dishes, packed full of flavour and which just so happen not to contain meat or fish. Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, the dishes are a joy to cook and eat and every recipe cooked so far recommended.

Anyone, like me, who already owns and has devoured most of the recipes in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook may find that this book has less of the flair and excitement and none of the jaw-dropping and tempting desserts of the first but should still find plenty of inspiration.

Get cooking:

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I’ve often thought of making your own drinks as the pinnacle of domesticity. Something I’ve dreamed of doing but never put into practice. Now a rare craft, it was on-trend in the seventies and eighties when it seemed that everyone was making their own cordials, wines and beers from anything and everything. If you didn’t have several demi-johns of your own gooseberry, or even more strangely, carrot wine, in your pantry or spare room you surely hadn’t lived?!

From the arrival of a new book, How To Make Your Own Drinks, by Susy Atkins (you may know her as one of the wine experts on Saturday Kitchen), combined with a renewed interest in foraging, growing your own, seasonality, using local produce, healthy eating and thriftiness, I think there’s going to be a revival of the home-made drink industry. The ingredients are cheap (if not free), the methods quick and simple and the results often spectacular. It’s all too easy to get the bug!

The variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks you can make at home is astonishing. There are several suggested recipes for cordials, wines, champagnes, beers, vodkas, gins and teas in each chapter but once you’ve got the know-how and the inspiration, there are countless possibilities to try.

The book is thoughtfully written with information on how to get started and equipment needed as well as tips on presentation so that you can make drinks to give as gifts and notes on which drinks freeze well enabling you to enjoy a glut of produce in drink form right through the year. Not only are there recipes for the drinks themselves but ideas on what to do with them – cocktails, desserts and food pairings, for example.

There are chapters on drinks you can make with foraged ingredients such as elderflowers, elderberries, blackberries, nettles and even oak leaves. There are recipes for citrus, orchard and summer fruit drinks, floral drinks, wines and grape drinks, teas and even store cupboard infusions. Something for everyone and any occasion.

Down to business! Camping in the Wye Valley last weekend, I spotted elderflowers growing in the hedge at the campsite so keenly picked my first harvest just before heading home. Armed with my new book I’d whipped up my first batch of elderflower cordial within half an hour. Just 24 hours later and I was sipping the fruits of my labour mixed with some sparkling water. Summer is here and it’ll be here for a while – there’s a large bottle of cordial in the fridge and another in the freezer to keep us going for months.

I’ve been eager to try making my own ginger beer but have been put off by complicated methods, the need for a plant and the amount of time required to make it. How pleased was I to read Susy’s quick and easy recipe using fresh ginger and fast-action yeast, ready in days?! 20 minutes or so of effort and I now have my own ginger beer fermenting. The hardest part is going to be waiting three days before I can drink it. I can’t wait to try it mixed with my own elderflower cordial and a squeeze of lime!

I don’t yet have the equipment to make the wines and champagnes in the book but I’ve still got plenty of cordials to get through. In fact, inspired by the recipe for rhubarb wine and spurred on by the success of the elderflower, the next harvest of rhubarb from the garden is destined for the bottle in the form of rhubarb and ginger cordial.

I’ve a feeling making my own drinks is going to get addictive. Best get onto the solicitor in the morning to chase up our house purchase. I’m going to need more room for all my creations! Bottoms up!

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