Thursday, 29 December 2011


Our Christmas canapes aim for something more delicate than the traditional scotch egg, more Jonathan Ames than James M Cain, but hard-boiled nonetheless.  We wrap quails' eggs in black pudding, the dark colouring extended by black, waxy whole-rye breadcrumbs. They sit equally comfortably with pints of Guinness or flutes of champagne. 

It's new ways in modern times for the scotch egg: a (pickled) Manchester egg receives rave reviews (and soaring sales to match); competitions search for the best "new" scotch egg; one of the stars of the 2011 Masterchef Professionals' Final is a fish-based scotch egg. Responding to a challenge to national honour in far flung fields, Tom and Jen select the scotch egg to represent the best of UK food, as blogged by slightly startled Seoul foodies

1   Hardboil 12 quails' eggs (about 6 minutes); cool and peel.
2   Mix together 200g black pudding, 75g cooking chorizo and 75g sausage meat.
3   Break off a lump of black pudding mix slightly larger than a golf ball, and flatten it out. Place a peeled quail's egg in the middle, wrapping the mixture round to create a smooth, unbroken surface. Repeat for each egg,
4   Put plain white flour for dredging in a flat bowl.
5   Beat a whole (hen's) egg in another flat bowl. 
6   Blend 75g of waxy whole-rye bread (Vollkombrot) with 25 g of white bread (ideally sourdough) to create breadcrumbs. Place in yet another flat bowl.
7   Arrange the bowls in a convenient row for dredging and rolling.
8   Dredge the first black pudding ball in flour, then coat in egg and breadcrumbs.  Put to one side and then repeat.
9   Deep fry the breadcrumbed balls in batches of three or four for approximately 4 minutes a batch. Drain on kitchen towel.

The scotch eggs have a better texture if they are left to cool briefly and then baked in a hot oven for 10 minutes.

They are especially good with home-made hot chilli sauce.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


The Love The Garden blog has recently launched its Christmas Competition, a celebration of the carrot; the competition is to be judged by Niamh Shields of Eat Like a Girl fame.  Click on the LtG link above for more details.

In the frosty gloom of an English winter, carrots are often heaped unceremoniously in dull-brown piles on market stalls and greengrocers' shelves, almost unnoticeable in their muddy mediocrity. The mundane, meat-and-two-veg image of the carrot belies its exotic colour and sweetness, qualities recognised and treasured more perhaps in the middle east and around the Mediterranean than here.   
Scrubbed up, though, this everyday root vegetable vegetable can be transformed into a orange-blossom scented, softly chewy sweetmeat which glows with colour and flavour.  
And it only takes about 30 minutes.

30g       creamed coconut
125g     unsalted butter
150g     semolina
50g       ground almonds
300g     carrots, ground to coarse sand texture
250ml   water
125g     sugar
2tsp      orange blossom water
1tsp      all spice
1tbs      honey
50g       pistachios, crushed to small chunks
             zest of one orange
            dry roast pistachios, crushed.
Melt butter and coconut, then add semolina; stir and then cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a separate pan, and then add sugar and orange blossom water; continue to heat until sugar melts.
To the semolina, add the ground almonds and ground carrots, and stir together. Add the all spice, honey and pistachios, and stir together.
Pour the water/sugar mixture over the semolina mixture and stir vigorously.  Continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for 4 or 5 minutes, by which time the halva should be coming together and leaving the sides of the pan clean.
Turn out into a lightly buttered dish and leave to cool. Then refrigerate until firm. Cut into small squares to serve.

Serve by itself, with strong coffee.
Or serve with cream or yoghurt into which orange zest has been mixed; scatter roasted, crushed pistachios on top. And sip a glass of mint tea.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


The London Foodie's been, and raved about it on his blog.  We recommended it to an East London hipster, who went and loved it. 

So we book Ferdie's Food Lab with anticipation and a touch of anxiety.  Ferdie's Food Lab is a cutting-edge supper club set up by one of the pioneers of the movement: inventive cooking, powerful flavours, unexpected combinations of ingredients, tastes and textures.  Then a tweet for help from Simon (Ferdie):

"my KITCHEN staff bailed on me! if U can help from any time possible till 23.30"

Twitter evidently comes to the rescue and the supper club survives. I am sure the menu is compromised, but nonetheless, there are some inspired moments, especially the sweet potato tortilla and the cheesecake; everyone loves the Black Olive Ganache and Salted Lemon Fudge with Limoncello petit fours.  The main dish is a meaty, caramelized slab of pork belly, infused with pear preserve. But without accompaniments (the pureed gourd seems to have decamped with the kitchen staff) it seems a bit naked on the plate, and we are not alone afterwards in scouring Commercial Street for a top-up of quick, hot carbs (sadly, Codfellas, the chippy opposite, has just shut).
A kitchen crisis in a restaurant tends to mean a disappointing evening, but a supper club is different.  Everyone is up for a good time: passing under the fairy lights, we have entered a magical world; we are all sharing in a special, secret event, one that sets us apart from the ordinary crowd.  Our new best friends are from Uruguay, Finland, Brooklyn NY and Australia, a very international crew. The Brooklynites break open a fantastic bottle of four grains bourbon which caps an already very liquid evening.

We will return.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


In almost every culture, pomegranate seeds represent fertility and good fortune; it is common in parts of the eastern Mediterranean to give pomegranates as good luck tokens to families moving into a new home. The Greek myth to explain the changing seasons turns on the five pomegranate seeds eaten by Persephone which commit her to spending six months in the underworld (when winter comes to the world as Demeter, her mother and goddess of fertility, mourns her absence) and six months back on earth (when the green leaves return as Demeter celebrates). It is easy to see why Persephone was tempted by the seeds: bite into their crunchy texture and little bombs of sharp flavour explode in your mouth.
 Although pomegranates originated in Iran and Azerbaijan, they have now spread across the world, popular for their flowers and fruitTheir sweet-sour taste is also highly prized by cooks; here is a recipe, appropriately from Azerbaijan and adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen, that depends on their sweet acidity. The spices, nuts and juice combine to create a rich, thick, highly flavoured sauce, just right for the start of winter.

1            large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
750g      stewing lamb, cubed
1/4 tsp   turmeric
1/4 tsp   saffron threads, crushed
1/2 tsp   cinnamon
1 tsp      ground fennel seeds
1/2 litre  pomegranate juice
3 tbs      pomegranate molasses
2 tbs      tomato paste
6           soft prunes, pureed
100g      ground walnuts
1/2 litre  chicken stock
2 tsp      honey
250g      chestnuts (baked in the oven or ready cooked in a tin)
100g      dried apricots (soaked for a couple of hours if they are hard and dry)
2 tsp      turkish pepper flakes
              salt and pepper
              fresh mint and pomegranate seeds to garnish.
Serves 4.
Saute the onions and garlic over medium heat in a large, heavy pan until golden.
Increase the heat and brown the lamb cubes, stirring all the times.
Stir in turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, fennel seeds and stir for a few minutes.
Add the pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, tomato paste, pureed prunes, ground walnuts and stock. Bring up to the boil and then cover and simmer over a low heat for 90 minutes.  If sauce gets too thick, add more pomegranate juice to loosen it.
Add honey, chestnuts, apricots, pepper flakes and salt; simmer for another 10 - 15 minutes. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Garnish with plenty of fresh mint and pomegranate seeds and serve with steamed rice.

The mint and pomegranate seeds add colour and flavour to the dish.