I had never heard the term “the hungry months” until I came to London. Going to farmers markets in February and March, however, it takes on resonance. There are bins of tubers, alliums, parsnips, beets, last fall’s apples, and not much else. If you want to do truly locavore eating in the chilly North, these foods are your staple ingredients. But they are cheap! And, actually, wonderfully versatile. For example, the under-regarded onion is marvellously adaptable. Last week, I bought a lot of monstrous firm yellow onions thinking I’d use them for onion jam. From that initial premise sprang this tart, in which the onion jam is modified into a gently sweet onion and apple compote, topped with beetroots that have first been slow roasted, and served on crispy puff pastry with pinenuts and rosemary. The end result doesn’t taste like winter food at all; it tastes sunny and Mediterranean, like something you’d enjoy on a terrace with a glass of crisp white wine. Continue reading
Almost exactly a year ago, I ate at El Suadero, the Monday night Mexican pop-up at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle, which is where I had the unforgettable eponymous milk-braised veal brisket that inspired this dish. Sometime after I returned to London, I set about finding boneless rolled veal brisket, which is what I decided that I needed to recreate it. Starting from the premise that I would only buy free-raised veal, I bought two rolled veal briskets from the lovely people at the Wild Beef Company, which sometimes trades at the Borough Market, and excitedly told my father what I planned to make. My father, who is not a religious man but can have a cruel streak, intoned ominously, “Thou shalt not seethe the calf in its mother’s milk.” Continue reading
Since my move to Bermondsey, my Saturdays have fallen into a pattern. I get up early, so I can get to the Butchery (now only a five minute walk from my flat) soon after they open. Then I slaver over the meat case, which Nathan the butcher and his young disciples have stocked full of lovely cuts of rare breed meat. Then I count my money, which usually isn’t enough. (Like most of the Maltby Street traders, the Butchery only takes cash.) After I’ve made my purchases, I call friends Jess and Will, who (I like to imagine) have been waiting by their phones like addicts waiting for a call from their dealer, and I announce what I’ve bought. My first Saturday back from Seattle, it was, “dry-aged Dexter flatiron, Old Spot streaky bacon, and marrow bones!” Two weeks ago: “Two whole pork jowls!” And last week: “two kilos of white park dry-aged short ribs! Oh my god they’re so beautiful! Streaky bacon! And one-and-a-half kilos of marrow bones!” Continue reading
In the microuniverse of blogging, there are few controversies more spirited than the debate over sponsored posts and advertising. I personally don’t like advertising banners and badges on blogs – they’re distracting, unsightly, and (perhaps irrationally) they make me slightly suspicious of the blogger. My attitude may be self-indulgent – after all, great segments of bloggers’ conferences are devoted to “monetizing” your blog. (I admit I have never been to a bloggers’ conference.) But I figure this is MY blog and I can do what I like with it. I sneeringly turned down advertisements from a reputable Large London Grocer and I have decidedly mixed feelings about blogging restaurant reviews from places that offer free meals in exchange for a review. (Chris, at Cheese and Biscuits, does a nice job of describing the queasy internal conflict that goes along with the freebie here. He gets way, WAY more freebies than I ever will.)
All that said, however, I have a slightly different attitude to products. I think this is probably because I make everything from scratch and it’s hard to hide behind a raw ingredient. Plus if I’m lucky it gives me the opportunity to cook with something that I might not otherwise have tried. I’m pretty choosy about what I’ll accept – I have to like the people that are offering the item to me; e.g., I have to respect their ethos and their approach to food-sourcing. But I was pretty excited when the nice folks at Seggiano (a small family-run Italian food importer) invited me to choose some items from their catalogue. A box duly was delivered on Monday, and yesterday I took a crack at creating a recipe from one of the most intriguing of the contents: chestnut honey. To be clear: I got the honey for free, but I am not otherwise being paid to write this post. Continue reading
For a long time I didn’t ‘get’ rabbit. “It tastes just like chicken,” people told me. Why not eat chicken, then, I wondered. It was like frog’s legs (which, by the way, taste like chicken only if one imagines one’s chickens cold-blooded and amphibious). I.e., it seemed to me like bourgeois foodie one-upmanship. And there’s the cute factor. When I tweeted about making this ragu, someone replied mournfully that their father had killed their pet rabbit and they never got over it. I too had a pet bunny as a child, and I have cats, and the little rabbit carcasses uncomfortably remind me of my kitties. But if you are a carnivore, wild rabbit is about the most sustainable meat you can eat. Rabbits breed, well, like bunnies (apparently a wild rabbit will have five to six litters a season), unlike most animals we eat they spend their whole lives outdoors, they are killed humanely, and the meat consists entirely of lean white-meat protein. Rabbit beats all or almost all other lean meats for protein to fat ratio. In the UK, you can buy a whole two to three kilo wild rabbit for about £4, which, considering that nearly all of that is usable meat, is extraordinarily good value for those of us trying to cook well on a budget. And rabbit doesn’t really taste like chicken, any more than monkfish tastes like lobster.
When I’m cooking lean gamey muscular meat, I like to do three things to it, usually in this order: marinate it; braise it; and stew it. It’s a lengthy process, but once you’ve determinedly battered at the collagens with low, slow cooking, the meat relaxes, absorbs all the delicious braising juices, and attains mythic proportions of deliciousness. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu I was astonished by how flavourful it was. The meat stood up to the rich sauce, maintaining its density and distinct, subtle flavour. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu was also the first time I jointed a rabbit. Nobody had ever showed me how, and it’s possible that actual butchers and chefs would throw up their hands in disgust at my efforts, but it wasn’t too difficult.
When you are buying a rabbit (if you’re motivated by environmental concerns, do cook wild rabbit – farmed rabbits have almost the same impact on the environment as farmed chickens), look for a rabbit with firm, dark-pink flesh and a sweet smell. Rabbits shouldn’t smell particularly gamey. You probably will start out with something that looks like this (tender-hearted vegetarians, don’t read further; this blog post has bunny carcass photos): Continue reading
To those of you who read my blog with any regularity and/or know me personally, and who know of my ADDICTION to spicy food (I don’t think that’s too strong a word), it should come as no surprise that I have been obsessed with making, and perfecting, my own Jamaican jerk sauce. I should state a disclaimer: I have never been to Jamaica. But I’ve loved jerk seasoning ever since I first encountered a seriously fiery jerk paste while I was working in a spice shop at age 21. I’ve conducted exhaustive “research” on Jamaican jerk sauce; i.e., I eat jerk whenever I can and I try lots of different jerk sauces. London’s got a huge West Indian population, and during the Notting Hill Carnival, my favourite place to be is Golborne Road, where the food stalls are crammed the tightest, the air is so smoky from oil drum barbecues it makes your eyes sting, and you can get a plate of jerk chicken and rice and peas and plantains for £5. Continue reading
If you’re anything like me, you keep the bones from any meat you’ve cooked and use them for stock. I’m a bit fanatical about this: after I ate the Hawksmoor Breakfast, I was so distressed by the thought of all the lovely marrow bones and carcasses from our feast going to waste that I asked for the bones in a doggy bag. (The servers were maybe a little more snarky about my request than they needed to be – but who cares? The stock I made from those bones was fantastic.) I’ve blogged about making white chicken stock, and there’s also a similar concoction called white veal stock made from veal marrow bones, but 99% of the time what I have to hand is beef bones, and I make a brown beef stock. Continue reading
I am jetlagged. Yesterday was my first day in Seattle (I flew in from London Sunday night) and my brain feels like Cheerios. Which means that last night I stared dumbly at the vegetables at the Madison Market for at least five minutes feeling not simply indecisive, but incapable of decision. Picked up some yellow cauliflower (cool looking, but $4.49 a pound. A pound!), put it down. Picked up some white radishes, put them down. Looked at the beets, felt like I was going to cry. When I wandered to the baking aisle I couldn’t deal with all the bags of things. So many packages! All with letters on them, all in a row, so OVERWHELMING. So it was with a feeling of weepy relief that I decided to make split pea soup.* Split pea soup was a staple of my diet Continue reading
About a week and a half ago, my mother asked me to “cook dinner for the fogies.” “The fogies?” you ask. Yes: my parents had invited four of their same-age friends round for dinner. Now I’m not saying that people in their seventies don’t get their food on. Still, I thought I’d eschew my romance with chili peppers and go for rustic, warming comfort food. Hence this dish. It’s seasonal, it’s pretty, it’s easy, and it goes well with wine and fogies. Continue reading
It is autumn.
I love cooking in the summer (although I must admit I love it a wee bit less now that I don’t have a grill or a garden) but I REALLY love autumn food. In London, meat purveyors start selling game at prices I can afford and the weather is cool enough so that braised meats are exactly what you want for dinner. Last weekend I took my dad to the Marylebone Farmer’s Market where, as usual, I indulged my addiction to Guernsey cream (more about how I used that in another post), bought some beautiful ripe damsons, and got a gorgeous venison shoulder. Venison in general is a very lean meat, and venison shoulder is a chunk of muscle that gets worked a lot. The best thing to do with a piece of meat like this is braise the hell out of it. Continue reading