Tag Archives: recipe

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

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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.

Now in season: ravishing radishes and wonderful watercress

I originally wrote this piece for The Holborn. 

There are many reasons to reach for radishes: they’re low-calorie (a serving of 10 radishes has just 5 calories), super low in fat, low GI, hydrating, help with healthy digestion, and contain antioxidants.

Of course, we at the Pantry are more concerned with matters of taste, an area where radishes also score well. The crisp, crunchy texture and distinctive peppery bite adds a subtle kick to salads, sandwiches, stir fries and more.

Let’s start with the très chic way the French prefer to enjoy les radis: simply with good crusty bread, creamy butter, sea salt and fresh radishes.

Pam Lloyd PR Radish Recipes (7th December 2010)

It takes confidence to serve something so simple and unadorned – the trick is to make sure each item is the best possible quality so that the characteristics of each sing. You can either dip the radishes in butter, then salt and follow with a hunk of bread, or munch on a radish followed by bread spread with butter, topped with a sprinkle of salt. Whichever way you choose, the ingredients complement each other and make something greater than the sum of their parts. It’s a lovely dish to nibble on with drinks and just the thing to accompany a chilled glass of rosé in the sunshine.

Radishes work well in salads, particularly with combinations that play up to the crunch and pepperiness – try mixing with feta cheese for a pleasing contrasting texture and flavour. It’s also worth using a mandolin or very sharp knife to slice radishes into attractive thin rounds for a more delicate effect, although more chunky quarters work well for rustic dishes.

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A more unusual way of preparing radishes is roasted, which mellows the flavour. Radishes roasted in a hot oven with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper creates a fragrant side dish which is a healthier alternative to potatoes, delicious served alongside roast poultry or game.

Did you know the Wholefoods ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) ranks foods from 1-1000 on their nutritional content gram for gram: watercress tops the chart at 1000 whereas blueberries, often touted as a superfood, scores just 160.

100g of watercress has more Vitamin E than broccoli, more vitamin C than a clementine, and more calcium than 100ml of whole milk.

Here at the The Holborn we’ve long been fans of the punchy leaves eaten raw in salads (usually on the side of a perfectly cooked ribeye steak), but have been inspired to cook the vegetable more recently. A frittata is a crowd-pleasing dish that is great for using up odds and ends from the Pantry or fridge.

This Hot Smoked Salmon & Watercress Frittata is simple and quick enough for breakfast and also works as a supper or lunch dish.

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Serves: 4

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 5-10 minutes

Ingredients: 1 tbsp olive oil, 6 spring onions, finely sliced 150g watercress 150g hot smoked salmon, Zest of half a lemon, ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional), Salt and pepper to taste, Pinch of ground nutmeg, 10 large free-range eggs, 1 tbsp crème fraîche, 25g feta cheese thinly sliced (optional)

Method; Pre-heat the grill. Warm the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan with an oven-proof handle and sauté the spring onions over a gentle heat for a few minutes until soft. Add the watercress and stir, gently, until the watercress begins to wilt.

Remove the skin from the hot smoked salmon, and flake it into pieces into the pan. Add the lemon zest and dried chilli, if using. In a bowl, season the eggs generously with salt, black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg, add the crème fraiche and whisk until combined.

Pour into the pan and cook over a gentle heat, moving the mixture around with a spatula every now and then, until the bottom of the frittata is set and the top is still wobbly. Scatter over the feta cheese (if using). Pop the frittata under the grill for another 2-3 minutes, to finish cooking the top.

More information and recipes can be found at www.loveradish.co.uk and The Watercress Alliance www.watercress.co.uk

Baijiu Cocktail Week in London for The Holborn

Pop over to The Holborn to read a piece I wrote about Baijiu Cocktail Week in London:

http://theholbornmag.com/2015/02/18/taste-fire-in-london-with-baijiu-cocktail-week-this-chinese-new-year/

Stay in this Valentine’s Day! Romance is “in the bag” with a delivery service from Brompton Food Market

Look, obviously I love eating out at restaurants, but there’s one day of the year it is best to avoid them at all costs.

Restaurants on Valentine’s Day are invariably horrific: the overpriced set menus, the gaudy decorations, the forced phoniness of it all. No thank you! Chefs, waiters and kitchen staff hate it too; it’s much easier to cater for a restaurant full of friendly groups of 4 and 6 than dozens of lonely little tables for two.

If only this celebration of love and romance was in midsummer and we could revel in outdoor picnics, feeding each other strawberries and snoozing in the sun.

Best to stay in, get cosy and enjoy a genuinely intimate, relaxing feast together. The lovely, talented lot at the Brompton Food Market agree, and have come up with the brilliant idea to deliver a Valentine’s Day meal kit to London’s lovebirds. It’s not just for smug married types – they’re also offering the deal for one, AND a bottle of house wine thrown in for singles. All the prep is done to very high, cheffy standards so all you have to do is cook it as per the instructions.

The bags arrived with all the components and instructions to put together a classic, elegant, aphrodisiac-packed four course meal for two.

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Food is definitely the way to my heart, and this menu is the type of thing that would get me shouting undying love from the rooftops:

Lobster cocktail, blood orange dressing, romaine lettuce, baguette –

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Peppered rare breed fillet steak, truffled mash, creamed spinach and nutmeg, red wine gravy

Or

Monk fish, truffled mash, creamed spinach and nutmeg, butter chive sauce

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Lemon and passion fruit posset, tropical fruit salad

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La Tur soft cheese with truffle honey and oat cakes

You can also order specially selected wine as part of the kit.

The starter was luxurious yet light enough to save room for the rich courses to come. Generous chunks of beautifully firm, juicy lobster meat were enrobed in a silky sauce, offset by a crunchy salad and a punchy dressing of seasonal blood orange.

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The only bit of cooking required is to get a heavy pan very hot and sear the peppered fillet steaks briefly on each side.

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The sides of truffle mash and nutmeggy spinach just needed to be reheated – they complemented the meat beautifully.

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We managed to find room for lemon posset for pudding…

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And polished off the final course of ripe La Tur cheese, oat biscuits and truffle honey snuggled up on the sofa. You can’t do that in a restaurant!

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Everything was very easy to put together and the portion sizes were well judged. Even though my artistic plating up skills could do with some work, it all looked, smelled and tasted fabulous. Every component of every dish was restaurant quality; excellent ingredients prepared with skill and seasoned to perfection.

Whether you’re in a new relationship or have been together for years, this was the perfect Valentine’s Day date. It’s fun getting everything ready together and honestly, we felt the same sense of satisfaction as we would have done if the meal had taken hours of work. Best of all, we didn’t have to schlep home after the meal. If things do escalate romantically as one would hope after such a gorgeous meal, the bedroom is just down the hall… nudge nudge, wink wink!

The Valentine’s Day kit is available from Brompton Food Market, £70.00 plus delivery. Place your orders now in time for V Day this weekend!

@bromptonfoodmkt
http://www.bromptonfoodmarket.com

I was invited to review the service by Brompton Food Market.

The Pinewood with Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Recently I sampled cocktails at the Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar on behalf of The Holborn Magazine (http://theholbornmag.com) and wrote up the below piece, which can also be read here

Easing into one of the cosy, copper-roofed booths at the Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar is a sure-fire way to unwind after a long day. Even more so when it’s with a steady supply of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, pegged as the ultimate bourbon for modern whiskey connoisseurs.

The salty caramel bourbon can be enjoyed neat as an “occasion whiskey” or mixed by skilled bartenders such as Tom Vernon, brand ambassador for Woodford Reserve, America’s oldest and smallest distillery. Over the years, Woodford has produced award-winning bourbon and honed its skills in eking out the best flavour from the five sources of the bourbon-making process: water, grain, fermentation, distillation and maturation.

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The “Double Oaked” name refers to the unique two-stage maturation process which uses two barrels to yield a rich, smooth and well rounded whiskey. The bourbon begins life as fully matured Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select before being transferred into a second, heavily toasted, charred barrel, which imparts a distinct rich, caramel quality and adds further layers of bold flavour. The amber liquid matures for a full year in the second barrel, over which time it takes on notes of dark fruits and hazelnut.

Tasting the finished product, there is sweetness to start with, before a pleasant dryness can be picked up on the sides of the tongue thanks to the wood treatment. Flavours of toffee, cinnamon, liquorice and even leather meld with spice and rye.

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The bourbon shines in cocktails such as The Pinewood, a hybrid of a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. Dry Italian vermouth enlivens the rich, smooth flavours of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked and the whole palate is stimulated with sweet pineapple spirit, smoked salt and a dash of bitters.

35ml WRDO
35ml Punt E Mes
Dash, Angustura Bitters
Orange rind
5ml Smoked Salt and Pineapple Syrup

Stir down and serve straight up with a twist of orange

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, is priced at £50 per bottle, available from Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols, The Whisky Shop (in-store and online), plus any Hawksmoor.

http://www.woodfordreserve.com

Fondues and don’ts (guest post by Alexa van Sickle)

A timely post to celebrate the cold season, the awesome Winter Olympics and all things Alpine. Over to Lex, a self-proclaimed “fondue aficionado” whose skills I can vouch for firsthand; I lived with her for a couple of years and before long my veins ran with melted cheese.

(NB: this guest post malarkey is a bit of all right – yay for someone else doing the words and slightly shaky smartphone photography! I dare say I will be “delegating” more blog posts in future…)

Strangely, I had to move away from Austria to the UK to become a fondue aficionado.  I was living in Shepherds Bush and working in Wimbledon in 2006 when I purchased my first set at the Centre Court shopping centre, and ferried it home on the District Line.

I’ve since had to replace many of the forks that came with the original set, as they have a habit of getting lost in the kitchen in the same manner that socks get lost between the washing machine and my bedroom – but the set I bought is still very much in use.

This is a standard Swiss cheese recipe, using four cheeses. But using only Gruyere and Emmental works pretty well too if you can’t find the other two, more obscure varieties. There are many ways to jazz it up; using different cheeses, including tapenade, using beer, or champagne, spices, etc. I found this recipe years ago on Kirchenweb.at, (‘Churchweb’) an Austrian website that bills itself as a forum for ‘religious matters, cooking recipes, infos and fun’.

Nerdy bits: ‘Fondue’ from the French verb fondre – to melt – is associated with Switzerland, but also to the French Savoyarde Alps. The earliest printed recipes come from regions that were independent of both France and Switzerland, so it’s not clear who owns the rights. Despite its association with hardy Alpine life, fondue was more common in lowlands and in towns; peasants would not have been able to afford rich cheese such as Gruyere. Later, the wonderful-sounding Swiss Cheese Union promoted fondue as the Swiss national dish as a way of increasing cheese consumption. (No complaints here.)

RECIPE

200g Appenzeller
200g Emmentaler
200g Gruyere
200g Freiburg Vacherin
350 ml dry white wine

(Equal parts Gruyere and Emmentaler works too if you can’t find the other two).

1 garlic clove
4 tbls ‘Maizena’/ cornflour/or normal flour
1 small glass Kirsch (cherry brandy)
1 tbls Lemon juice
pepper
nutmeg
White bread diced (Should be about a day old; fresh bread is harder to digest)

METHOD:

Rub the fondue pot with the garlic clove

Grate the cheese and soak it in the white wine for at least 2 hours

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Put the cornflour and Kirsch in a glass and mix. This mixture functions as an emulsifier so that the cheese and wine melt together properly.

Put the cheese and wine into the pot, and stir as it melts over heat. Include the lemon juice, the kirsch/cornstarch mixture, and season. Also, some grated nutmeg.

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The challenge is getting the texture right; you want the cheese to be runny, but to stay on the bread.

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When you are melting the cheese on the cooker, sometimes it can seem too thick or too runny. You can use the kirsch and the wine to make it less thick, and the cornflour to make it less thin – but try to wait until it is all melted before you do this.

Once it’s all melted, it’s pretty much done; transfer from hob to the set, and light the thing underneath.  When  about two- thirds of the cheese is gone, crack an egg into the fondue pot and stir. I like to have a pack of the ready-made fondue cheese just for a top- up if you run out of cheese before you run out of appetite, but the real stuff is far superior.

At the end of the fondue, a thin crust of toasted –not burnt – cheese forms at the bottom of the pot. This is called the religieuse (‘nun’) and can be eaten like a cracker.

To drink: dry white wine to serve, something not heavy. Traditionally, people have schnapps or tea for digestion – although some spoilsport pointed me to an actual medical study of fondue, that found no correlation between certain drinks and optimal fondue digestion.

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According to the Swiss tradition, if a man loses his bread in the fondue, he must spring for a round of Schnapps. If a woman drops her bread, she must kiss all the men at the table. (Perhaps this is why fondue was so popular in the wife-swapping ‘70s.)