Tag Archives: food

A Happy Pig is a Good Pig: What Free Range Really Means

This piece was originally written for the Tiki Chris blog.

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Pork has got to be the most versatile meats. From roasting joints, loins for chops, legs for gammon, ribs for barbecue you can create all sorts of wonderful dishes from nose to tail.

While it’s tempting to rush off and start a cooking marathon as soon as possible, it’s important to consider where your meat comes from first. Of course, discerning shoppers always try to source the best quality possible to be sure of welfare standards and good flavour. However there are so many labels to decipher and even the savviest foodie is likely to be confused by the terms “outdoor bred”, “outdoor reared” and “free range”.

Based on my recent visit to Blythburgh Farm in Suffolk, here’s what they all mean:

  • outdoor bred = born outside but then moved indoors to be reared intensively for the majority of their lives
  • outdoor reared = intensively reared outside; they may be in huts or tents but they’re shut in for the whole time
  • free range = born outside, reared outside, freedom to roam large paddocks for all of their lives

If the pork you’re eyeing up in the supermarket has none of the above labels or is imported pork, chances are it’s from animals who have had relatively miserable lives.

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The explanations above are courtesy of Jimmy Butler (pictured right with his son Alistair), an experienced farmer and head of Blythburgh farmily farm in Suffolk. The Butlers converted their pig farm into the “absolutely, totally free range pork” venture it is today back in the 1990s.

Today, you can find pork bearing the Blythburgh stamp in specialist butchers around the country including my local, Hennessy Butchers in Battersea.

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You may have come across Blythburgh pork, also known as Jimmy Butler’s pork, on menus at the Savoy, the Fat Duck, the Ivy and the Hind’s Head – as well as street food favourites Chipotle and Yum Bun.

The label “Blythburgh pork” means that the meat you are buying is traceable back to one truly free range farm, which has ideal conditions for raising happy pigs.

The pigs that produce Blythburgh Free Range Pork spend their entire lives outdoors in the fresh air, with freedom to roam. Large airy tented barns in each paddock with plenty of bedding straw provide shelter when needed.

Better welfare and better taste – these pigs grow at a slower rate, so develop more flavour and succulence that is not easy to find in intensively farmed pork.

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Jimmy’s son Alistair tells us that pigs are curious, intelligent animals who love to root and play. As Jimmy puts it, “a free range pig is a happy pig and a happy pig is a good pig”.

The open spaces of the free range farm is clear to see just off a main road near the town of Blythburgh; the pig farm has become something of a landmark in these parts. You can see for yourself how the pigs happily roam in large paddocks, playing and rooting around as is their nature in the sandy Suffolk soil. I was lucky enough to cuddle one…

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After the visit, the group of food writers I was with were invited to a butchery demonstration by Gerard King, from craft butcher Salter and King, who skillfully broke down a whole side of pork and shared his top tips for preparing each cut. His recipe for rolled pork belly stuffed with chorizo sounds like a winner!

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With fine quality meat like Blythburgh pork, the simplest recipes are often the best to showcase the natural flavours. The Butlers shared one of their favourite family recipes for slow-cooked pork shoulder:

Ingredients:

  • 6kg Blythburgh pork shoulder, boned, rolled and scored
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • salt

Method:

Heat oven to 220 C. Place the pork in a roasting tray, rub the skin with oil and salt, and then sprinkle with fennel seeds. Roast for 30 minutes and then lower the oven to 120C. Cook for a further six and a half hours. When cooked remove pork and rest for 15 minutes. Remove crackling, shred pork and serve in rolls with apple sauce or with vegetables and gravy.

Find out more about Blythburgh Pork on their website www.freerangepork.co.uk and Twitter feed @BlythburghPork

Recipe: Jewelled Aromatic Rice by Amira

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This recipe is based on the classic Persian dish, Javaher Polow, or “jewelled rice”, an opulent dish of fluffy rice, sweet and tangy fruits and crunchy nuts. It’s traditionally served at weddings and celebrations. Each of the ingredients represents a precious jewel; berries for rubies, pistachios for emeralds. The dish is a symbol of wishing sweetness and wealth for the newly married couple – of course it was on my wedding menu last year!

So when the people at Amira rice contacted me to ask if I’d like to try their recipe, I was instantly reminded of happy, delicious memories and had to say yes. The recipe on the Amira website is not totally authentic (traditionally you’d use zereshk/barberries not cranberries, for example) but I was really pleased with the outcome, so it’s a good one to keep hold of particularly if you live in an area where sourcing Middle Eastern ingredients may be a challenge.

The buttery golden crust that develops on the bottom of the pan, “tahdig“, is the best bit – to be able to turn out a perfect crust in one clean motion is a good sign that you’re marriage material (phew – I passed the test!)

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Using high quality rice is really important – please don’t assume that all rice is the same because that’s just not true. You will notice the difference if you source properly aged rice – ordinarily I would always go for basmati for the exceptional fragrance, but Amira’s “Superior Aromatic” is not basmati yet still has the fragrance, nuttiness and and the extra long grains you would expect from the best quality rice.

Ingredients:
300g high quality rice such as Amira Superior Aromatic Rice
Generous pinch of saffron threads
150 g dried cranberries
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
60 g unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom pods
1 cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish
100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
Seeds picked from 1 large pomegranate
Generous bunch of parsley, chopped
Finely grated zest from 1 orange
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

Method
Add rice to a sieve and rinse under running water. Tip into a bowl and cover well with cold water. Set aside to soak for 1 hour. Add the saffron to a small heatproof glass and cover with 2 tablespoons of boiling water, then set aside to soak. Add the cranberries to a small heatproof bowl and cover in boiling water, set aside to soak.

Add the oil and half the butter to a deep frying pan and set over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, cinnamon, cardamon and cumin and fry gently for 30 minutes until the onion is soft and lightly caramelised, then turn off the heat.

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Drain your rice and add to a large saucepan. Pour over boiling water so it comes a generous 3 centimetres above the rice and set over a medium high heat. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold running water to cool and drain well. The rice will have started to cook but will still have plenty of bite and the grains will not yet be fluffy.

Combine the cooled rice with the onions, along with the saffron, cranberries and their soaking water. Stir well but be careful not to break the grains of rice, which would make them stodgy and starchy – you want separate, elegant grains! Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then dot the surface of the rice with the remaining butter.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon make 5-6 holes through the rice all the way to the bottom of the pan – this helps it to steam evenly.

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The recipe instructions said: “tear off a sheet of baking paper, scrunch it up under cold running water, shaking off the excess, then lay snugly over the surface of the rice. Cover the pan tightly with a layer of foil and set over a very low heat.”

I did what I’ve always done to achieve a perfect tahdig: wrap the lid of your saucepan in a tea towel to ensure a snug fit, so no precious steam escapes. Pomegranate pattern optional!

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Cook for 40 minutes on a very low heat, after which time your rice will be fluffy and a delicious buttery crust will have developed on the bottom.

While your rice is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until golden. Tip into a bowl and stir through the pomegranate seeds, parsley, orange zest and garlic. Set aside.

Once your rice is ready, remove the lid, place a large platter on top and in one swift, brave movement, flip the pan upside down. Your rice should slide out in a cloud of fragrant steam. Ta da!

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(If you’re not feeling brave, you can scoop the rice out onto your serving dish and then scrape the lovely crunchy caramelised rice from the base of the pan to arrange over the top.)

Enjoy! We ate ours with chicken thighs cooked simply with diced onion, garlic, saffron, salt and pepper over a medium heat, with sides of salads, yoghurt, and my mum’s torshi (Persian pickle) – keep meaning to post the recipe here, bear with me.

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I was sent Amira rice to sample and review and will definitely be buying it in future! Amira rice is stocked at selected Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Waitrose stores.

Farewell to Food for Thought…

Food for Thought is the oldest and longest running vegetarian restaurant in London. After more than forty years of service, it will close its doors on Sunday 21st June – Father’s Day.

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My father has been a regular since it opened in the 1970s. He took me when I was young; I too fell in love with the alternative vibe and hearty, homespun, delicious and low priced food.

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As the team from Food for Thought put it, “It has been a remarkable venture. That such an awkward, cramped and unconventional set-up could have survived so long is, in no little measure, due to the commitment of our staff and the loyalty of our customers.”

The news that it’s shutting in a few weeks because of escalating rent prices is incredibly sad, but my dad and I will always smile at the fond memories we’ve had here over the years. I love the food scene in London and how there’s always an exciting new opening, but the flip side is seeing historic stalwarts like Food For Thought shut down more than they should.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy – thank you for sharing memories with me over the years, including our last meal together at Food for Thought.

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The Botanist Broadgate Circle

This piece first appeared on The Holborn

London is most certainly a city of villages: whether you are loyal to the tribes of the north, south, east or west, you are never too far from a venue owned by the ETM Group, which has gastro pubs all over town. Over the past 15 years brothers Ed and Tom Martin have learnt a thing or two about adapting successful concepts according to their location.

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is the latest addition to the ETM Group, recently opened in a corner of London which has just undergone significant redevelopment. The concrete area near Liverpool St has seen a flurry of buzzy openings from big names like Jose Pizarro, artisan coffee house Beany Green, sourdough pizza specialists Franco Manca, and brand new surf&turf concept Crab Tavern.

Botanist BGC Exterior smThe Botanist Broadgate Circle is one of the latest to join this newly dressed up restaurant hub. Named after its “sister” restaurant in Chelsea, the family resemblence can barely be detected: something was lost in translation in the few miles travelled from West to East. Arriving at the restaurant is a bit of a shock if you’re expecting the genteel vibe of the original outpost of The Botanist: in this neck of the woods, you’re greeted by an outdoor terrace heaving with thumping music and braying suits fresh out of their Square Mile offices.

The familiar name is there to appeal to punters who know the Sloaney stomping ground, while the wholly new offering has been calculated to appeal to punters from the Square Mile heartland.

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Dining booths

The venue is all handsome dark wood and leather banquettes over two floors, with surprising flourishes such as exotic taxidermy in the downstairs nightclub the “Soda Room”. Unfortunately the sound system for the whole venue is connected to the club, meaning it was impossible to hear anything.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, having to strain to understand the waiter and your table-mates, and going hoarse from shouting to be heard, is not an enjoyable experience. By all means, crank up the volume when the night has moved on from dinner to dancing, but most people don’t want to dine among nightclub-level volumes – it can’t be good for digestion and unfortunately taints the whole dining experience.

The only similarity to the Sloane Square Botanist is the drinks. The waiting staff know their way around the cocktail and wine lists, recommending a bottle of South African Kanu wine with confidence that we would enjoy the unusual variety – shame there had to be so much shouting and pointing to order it.

The menu is an appealing mix of British and European dishes, with market-fresh fish sourced daily from Billingsgate and a solid selection of steaks.

For a starter, I ordered the special of salmon cured in Thai flavours of galangal and lemongrass. Slivers of fried lotus fruit, crisp radish and shiso leaf scattered on top added crunch to a pleasingly fragrant, fresh starter. Meanwhile my companion was busy piling forkfuls of her dressed crab onto delicate melba toast.

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Monk’s beard, is an underrated green vegetable which is available for so short a time each year that I am compelled to order it whenever possible. My main course of roast cod, clam chowder and monk’s beard was a showcase for the best foods in season.

Roast cod, clam chowder, monks beardIf it hadn’t been so good I would have succumbed to food envy for my friend’s Iberico pork shoulder, served with almonds, pickled nectarines and nasturtium flowers.

Iberico Pork shoulderThe dessert menu was a surprisingly long list of tempting dishes, all vying for our attention. In the end we ordered the sticky date pudding, served with a refreshing, clean-tasting cornflake milk sorbet which captured the very essence of cereal bowl dregs, in a good way.

Sticky date pudding, cornflake milk sorbet

It alternated beautifully with spoonfuls of the other dessert we shared, coconut and lime panna cotta with mojito sorbet.

Coconut and lime panna cotta, Mojito sorbet

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is a decent, dependable addition to the City, but will be vastly improved once the issue with the music is sorted out.

This restaurant’s food is commendable, and deserves an appropriate setting; it is a disservice to the kitchen’s skilled cooking to serve it in an oppressively loud environment.

While my ears recover from the evening entertainment offered at The Botanist, I will return for one of their weekend brunches: great value at £25 for three courses and surely 11am is a quiter time of day (depending on the number of bottomless Bloody Marys you order)… Until the sound system is sorted, I will have to agree with the Sloaney saying, at least when it comes to The Botanist: west is best.

The Botanist, Unit 5 Broadgate Circle, City of London, EC2M 2QS, 020 3058 9888.

botanistlondon.com
@botanistlondon

COMPETITION: win tickets to the 10th anniversary of Foodies Festival, 23rd- 25th May 2015

Syon Park is one of those magical places that makes you fall in love with London – how can such a magnificent estate with fine rooms, lush gardens and a stunning conservatory exist in zone 4 of the Big Smoke?

Sure, I’m biased (I got married at Syon Park last year), but it’s one of my favourite spots in the whole city. I’m thrilled for an excuse to return – particularly one that involves food!

The people behind the UK’s biggest celebration of food and drink are getting ready to transform Syon Park into a foodie heaven for the 10th anniversary of the Foodies Festival this year. During 23rd – 25th May, the grounds will welcome celebrity chefs, new tasting theatres and more street food than you can shake a satay stick at.

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TV cooks, Michelin starred chefs and MasterChef champions will share their favourite summer recipes and tips with visitors in the Aga Rangemaster Chefs Theatre.

In the New Wine and Champagne Theatre, experts will guide visitors through the best bottles from around the world, while the New Craft Beer Theatre will show you how to match foods with locally produced craft beers.

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Whatever your tastes, there’s sure to be something to appeal from the huge range of masterclasses. I’m keen to learn ‘How to Sniff Chocolate like a Rockstar’ with chocolatiers in the new Tasting Theatre, as well as topics such as Raw Food, Japanese Soul, Oyster Shucking and Bee Keeping.

The Cake & Bake Theatre is an inspiration for passionate bakers with top local cake makers and bakeries sharing their tips for baking delicious summer cakes. Visitors can also enjoy 3D cake modelling, Chocolate Making and Sugar-Craft masterclasses and a complementing Chocolate, Cake and Bake Village selling bakes, jams, gadgets and baking essentials.

Cake & Bake Workshops

A new Chilli Food Market will excite those with a love for spicy foods with a range of chilli growers and artisan producers of sauces, sweets and jams. For those who can handle the heat, there’s a Chilli Eating Challenge each day!

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The Street Food Avenue will offer a huge selection of hot and cold dishes from around the world. Japanese, Thai, Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican, French and African are just some of the cuisines visitors can tuck into at communal tables in the Feasting Tent this year.

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Over 200 producers will be exhibiting the Artisan Producers Market, offering samples of award winning food to visitors browsing for treats to buy and enjoy at home.

After a day of food and fun, foodies can relax and soak in the atmosphere with live music from the entertainment stage and a refreshing drink from the Pop-Up bars and cider farm – with the beautiful Syon Park as a backdrop. What a perfect occasion to renew our vows…

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Tickets are on sale now at www.foodiesfestival.com or by calling 0844 995 1111.

Good news though – I have a pair of tickets to give away! Just leave a comment on the blog, and I’ll pick a winner at random by Monday 11th May. Best of luck!

Are you Sitting Comfortably? Street Food Heroes Crabbieshack Pop-up at The Hat & Tun

Sure, street food is great, but let’s be honest – eating on the street is a bit of a drag. There’s nowhere to sit and you never have enough hands. I hate to think of the amount of precious booze I’ve spilled trying to juggle drinks, plates, cash. I know that the street food movement was all about rebelling against fusty, fancy “fine dining”, but frankly – I like to have a table when eating.

I’m not alone: park benches, low walls, street signs, steps and doorways near street food markets always get taken over by crowds of people crouching down and unwrapping their lunch, creating an impromptu (yet still uncomfortable) dining table with their knees. Near the fantastic Whitecross St Market, dozens of fully grown adults steal a march on a nearby children’s playground, repurposing the swings and climbing frames as a lunch venue – the poor kids wanting to play not getting a look in!

Trouble is, most cafes and bars frown upon bringing food in from outside. Kudos to the ETM group, who have had the brilliant idea of inviting Crabbieshack to host a pop-up at the The Hat & Tun pub in Clerkenwell – meaning punters can enjoy street food while sitting comfortably.

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For three nights only from Wednesday 13th – Friday 15th May, 5.30pm to 9pm, Crabbieshack will be serving Old Bay Batter Soft-Shell Crab Burgers (£9.50). There are enough options on The Hat And Tun’s Crabbieshack menu to keep you coming back throughout the three days of crustacean craziness:

  • Fennel, almond, avocado and harissa
  • Pickled cucumber, chilli, coriander and wasabi mayo
  • Leafy sea aster and tartare sauce
  • Sweetcorn salsa and lobster mayo
  • Nori seaweed, apple, cabbage, spring onion and Sriracha mayo

You can also go for a simple “crab and bun” without sauce and filling, for £7, or crab with salad (£7.50).

Shell out for some of London’s best burgers at The Hat & Tun this May.

The Hat & Tun is located at 3 Hatton Wall, EC1N 8HX. Find out more at thehatandtun.com. For more about Crabbieshack, go to crabbieshack.co.uk.

I was invited to a preview of the Crabbieshack pop-up as a guest, and originally wrote this post for Tiki Chris

The George Foreman Grill “Evolves”

This week a student became an internet sensation after being snapped using a George Foreman grill to make a bacon sandwich in the front row of a university lecture.

The last time I encountered a George Foreman I was also a student, which was more years ago than I care to admit. In those days, the student halls had a greasy, squalid kitchen shared by over twenty freshers who would rather spend their pennies on snakebite than washing up liquid. The communal “George” was the high point of the place; the only reliable appliance and the maker of many late night cheese toasties. Even the culinarily challenged (one guy genuinely used to eat dry Supanoodles straight out of the packet) could whip up something hot and nutritious on our trusty George.

Coincidentally, in the same week that the brazen student’s antics went viral, the nice people at George Foreman invited a group of bloggers to try out the latest model.

Like those early Noughties students, the George Foreman has grown up; the new “Evolve” model is described as “the next generation”. New features such as a deep bake pan mean you can easily create so much more than the toasties, paninis and grilled meats associated with the earlier versions. It’s now possible to cook small stews, casseroles and even pizzas using the grill.

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The main draw of the original models was the angle of the grill which meant excess fat drained away. The Evolve still has this feature, but as people are gradually coming around to the idea that fat isn’t something to be afraid of, this model lets you adjust the angle as you wish.

Another snazzy new addition is the sear function, which gives a blast of intense heat before returning to normal cooking temperature.

To put all of these features through their paces, we prepared a menu of seared tuna with salad, a beetroot and broccoli pizza, finishing with grilled plums on rosemary skewers with a hot buttery citrus sauce.

Some of the dishes were more successful than others – all of our tuna steaks ended up overcooked despite following the instructions to the letter. The sear function did not seem to deliver on its promises. The pizza was decent but the base was so crisp it was difficult to cut through – a far cry from the pillowy soft Napoli style pizzas. The best dish was the grilled fruit dessert recipe which didn’t require such precision timing and temperature control.

The George Foreman Evolve grill certainly looks impressively shiny and is easy to use; the dual LED display has a digital timer and variable temperature. The ceramic coated grill plates are simple to remove and clean (even for lazy students) and are dishwasher safe which is a bonus.

Although the appliance is touted as space-saving as it combines several features in one, it is a fairly bulky bit of kit to keep on your kitchen counter, particularly if you already have a hob and oven/grill. It’s not for everyone; I struggled to think when I would prefer to plug in the George instead of using a normal pan or oven dish. Even our famous student would have struggled to set this up in class.

However, the George Foreman Evolve is great solution in many situations; it would be fantastic in a setting with limited cooking facilities such as an office, student accommodation or for taking on self-catered holidays. And let’s not forget those hangover saving cheese toasties. I may not keep one on my kitchen counter 24/7, but I dare say I’ll dig out the George Foreman Evolve next time I feel nostalgic for my student days.

George Foreman Evolve grills are available from Argos, £149.99. Find out more at georgeforeman.co.uk.

I was invited to review the George Foreman Evolve as a guest and originally wrote this post for Tiki Chris.