Boiled Egg & Soliders

P1010185Sometimes the best things in life are really simple. The other day I my butcher had some goose eggs in his shop. As I’d just received some asparagus in my veg box I thought they would make great partners. As you would expect goose eggs are much bigger than your regular hen’s egg but the yolk is richer too. Boil them for around 8 minutes to ensure the white is set and the yolk is still runny. The asparagus will need to steam for slightly less time than this as you want them to retain some bite so that you can easily dip them into the yolk. Other than than you need nothing else other than some salt and pepper (although I have to confess to adding a few drops of truffle oil to the yolk which was really lovely – but only because I happened to have a bottle in the cupboard) and perhaps a slice or two of buttered brown bread.

 

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Is there a doctor in the house?

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I’ve often wondered what really happens when a medical emergency occurs in a restaurant. How do the staff respond? What reaction do the other diners have? How does the object of the medical emergency cope?

In the movies the incident invariably plays out smoothly. Someone starts choking or has a heart attack. A gallant passer by, be it a waiter or fellow diner, steps in and administers the requisite treatment, the distressed patient recovers their composure and all is well. But as we all know movies are the stuff of make believe.

I was recently experienced such an emergency myself. I’d arranged to meet some friends at a new Greek restaurant and deli in London called Ergon. I’d been suffering from a stinking cold and irritating tickly cough all week but I hadn’t seen the friends in question for ages and I thought it would be a good place to review for the blog.

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Downstairs Deli at Ergon

The restaurant was alive with the cicada like chattering of young professionals unwinding from their week at work. You can see why Ergon appeals to them. With it’s minimalist decor it’s smart enough to come to with your clients whilst easily being able to morph into a convivial dining experience to be enjoyed among friends. The menu created by Greece’s most renowned chef Dimitris Skarmoutsos has been crafted to offer diners authentic Greek recipes with a twist.

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Stuffed Vine Leaves

Ergon’s tag line is “food tastes better when shared” so we opted for a number of dishes to begin with, like bread with feta cheese spread spiked with smoked paprika. There were also stuffed vine leaves with mint yoghurt (very good) and a large cheese croquette of gruyere from Naxos rolled in carob flour, oat flakes, poppy seeds served and with rose petals in syrup (not unpleasant but more of an acquired tasted than the other dishes we shared).

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The Chicken Souvlaki I ordered

The wine was flowing and we were having a good time – until the chicken souvlaki made an appearance. I should stress at this point that there was nothing wrong with this dish. From the small amount I tasted it appeared to have been well cooked and was still succulent and spicy. The Cretan rice pilaff served with it was more like a risotto (for which I would be grateful later in the evening) but was full of flavour and perfectly seasoned. No, there was no problem with the food. The issue lay with the witty company. Someone said something funny; I went to stifle a laugh so as not to spray my friends with macerated chicken; the laugh was rapidly converted into a cough and I ended up choking on the fowl instead.

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My friend’s Moussaka which I wished I’d ordered

It’s a surreal feeling when you realise you’re choking. Initially, your brain tells you not to panic. ‘Just breathe and you’ll be fine’ it says. Except you can’t breathe because there’s piece of chicken lodged in your throat like an unwelcome squatter. Then the realisation dawns that you are actually CHOKING and this in when the PANIC sets in. Meanwhile, your friends think you are having a coughing fit because you sound like a sea lion with a squeaky toy stuck in it’s throat. What follows is then like a bizarre game of charades:

Friends: Do you need an inhaler? (I’m not asthmatic so I don’t have one of these in any case)

Me: Furious shaking of head. Turning scarlet.

Friends: Here have some water!

Me: More violent head shaking. Turning purple.

Friends: Do you need air?

Me: Wide eyed and frantic nodding.

Friends: Oh my god, you’re choking!

Me: YES YES (in my mind at any rate). Eyes virtually popping out of my beetroot coloured head.

At this point I was naturally desperate for air. My reaction was to lurch away from the table towards the nearest exit making a peculiar barking rasping noise as I went. I’m not sure what I thought I was going to achieve by leaving the restaurant. It was like I was trying to run away from an axe wielding maniac. But clearly there is no escaping the situation when your assailant is stuck in your throat. It seemed like eons had passed before one of the waiters stepped in and gingerly offered to perform the Heimlick manoeuvre. In fairness to him I hadn’t been breathlessly flailing around for long before he interjected and I completely understand his slight reticence to perform a manoeuvre that I was later informed can break your ribs (mine were thankfully left intact).

Greek Yoghurt Mousse

Greek Yoghurt Mousse

Whether it was the violent coughing and retching or the abdominal thrust, the intruder was finally ejected. The brief moment of excitement (or noisy intrusion depending on how you look at it) for the other diners had passed and everyone nonchalantly continued with their meals. Sadly I was left mute for much of the remainder of the evening with a very sore throat and not much of an appetite (unsurprisingly). I did manage a few small mouthfuls of the risotto like pilaff and tried the Greek yoghurt mousse which was light, smooth and, most importantly, did not induce choking.

 

 

 

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Sprouting Broccoli with Cumin Spiked Maltaise Sauce

Serves 2 as a starter

IMG_5398The idea for this recipe comes from Jane Grigson (who believed broccoli to be the finest vegetable in the brassica family) although the sauce itself is adapted from the Leith’s Fish Bible. Maltaise Sauce is a variation on a classic hollandaise sauce using blood orange instead of the customary lemon juice or vinegar. I’ve added toasted cumin seeds as they lend the sauce a slightly smokey flavour. Although this sauce is delicious it’s unusual colour means it looks a little less than appetising. This is definitely an example of where something tastes far better than it looks!

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 blood orange (if you can’t find a blood orange a regular small orange will suffice)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • A small knob of butter
  • salt and white pepper
  • 110g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • Salt, cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lemon to season
  • 200g sprouting broccoli

Method

  1. Place a frying pan over a medium to high heat  and toast the cumin seeds until fragrant and just starting to crackle. Lightly crush the toasted seeds with a pestle and mortar until roughly ground.
  2. Mix the orange zest, juice, egg yolks and the small knob of butter in a glass bowl. Place over a small pan of barely simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until can feel a slight change in resistance and the mixture has begun to thicken.
  3. Begin adding the butter one cube at a time, beating until the mixture has thickened after each addition. Once you can see a noticeable difference in the texture of the sauce you can start adding two to three cubes at a time. However, make sure the sauce has thickened after each addition before you add more butter.
  4. Once all the butter has been incorporated stir in the roughly ground cumin seeds. Season the sauce with salt, a little cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lemon. The sauce should hold over a a bowl of warm water (not simmering) while you cook the broccoli. If it starts to separate beat it vigourously until it has returned to the correct consistency.
  5. Steam the broccoli for 5 – 7 minutes (depending on the thickness of the stems). I use my asparagus steamer for this to keep the heads furthest away from the heat but any steamer will work.
  6. Serve the broccoli immediately with the Maltaise sauce spooned over it or with the sauce served separately in a bowl for dipping.
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Peanut Butter & Banana Cookies

Fairtrade Fortnight starts today. This year’s campaign focuses on bananas so I thought I would share this recipe with you.  These are a soft cookie rather than a crisp biscuit but are still great with a cup of tea (or a glass of milk!). You can read more about the campaign here. Many thanks to the wonderful Teri Vincent (who is also a fabulous wedding photographer) for making my food look as good as it tastes!

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Makes around 12 – 14 cookies

Ingredients

  • 75g crunchy peanut butter
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 75g soft brown sugar
  • 2 small bananas, mashed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g plain flour, sieved
  • 75g dark or milk chocolate chips
  • 50g banana chips, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180℃.
  2. Place the peanut butter and butter in a small saucepan and gently heat until melted. While you are doing this place both sugars into a large bowl. When the butters have melted pour onto the sugars and beat until combined.
  3. Mix in the mashed banana followed by the egg and vanilla extract.
  4. Mix in the flour followed by the chocolate chips and banana chips.
  5. Place heaped tablespoons of the mixture on a lightly greased baking sheet or one lined with a silicone liner, slightly flattening them as you go. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the cookies are just beginning to brown. They will still be soft at this stage so allow them to cool slightly on the baking sheet before placing on a cooling rack.
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What is a good date?

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The spectre of Valentine’s Day is rearing it’s ugly head again with all the sentimental guff it brings with it. It’s not that I’m against romance per se. I just can’t bear the blatant commercial rip offs. I saw a local florist advertising a dozen red roses for £50 the other day. Personally I can think of far better things for Billy to spend his hard earned cash on. A friend told me recently that Parisienne florists do fantastic deals this time of the year. Apparently you can buy one bouquet of flowers for your wife and get a second free for your mistress (presumably with the departure La Trierweiler this a deal François Hollande will not be taking advantage of). That sounds far more reasonable than £50 on a bunch of roses which will be limp and lifeless by February 15th.

Then of course there is the ubiquitous Valentine’s Dinner. Purported to be a ‘romantic dinner à deux’ they are anything but. Do you honestly want to spend the evening crammed into a restaurant with lots of other ‘doting’ couples receiving shoddy service from the over stretched staff and eating sub standard food from a “lazy, trite and downright patronising menu” (as Helen Graves sums it up in her new book Cook Your Date Into Bed, hence forth known as CYDIB)? I don’t and I can’t believe you do either. Combine this with the fact that classically romantic foods, like oysters, sometimes have unsavoury side effects then dining out on Valentine’s Day can be a recipe for disaster (Tim Hayward wrote a great piece in Fire & Knives on his bad experience with oysters during a romantic weekend in Norfolk. He’d planned to propose to his date, but his proposal was rudely interrupted by a bout of violent vomiting).

Of course, food can be romantic. It’s just that restaurants and those people who feel the need to celebrate this god awful day mess around with it too much. It shouldn’t be fussy or pretentious. I agree with Helen, author of the Food Stories blog as well as CYDIB, that food and dining should ultimately be fun. Dates don’t have to include food but often a meal seems to be the logical scenario whether you’re just getting to know one another or escaping from work or the kids with a long term partner for an evening out. So what constitutes a good date?

I love to cook but understand it isn’t everyone’s bag. So I really appreciate it when someone goes the extra mile to cook for me. Billy did exactly this for our first date. This was a BIG deal for him as he really hates to cook. Unfortunately, he got off to a poor start when he overfilled the blender with hot spinach soup which then spewed forth molten green liquid all over the kitchen cupboards, ceiling and his crisp (now-not-so) white shirt. Luckily there were no more upsets during his meal and we have now been together for 13 years (although it should be said that Billy’s forays into the kitchen have been few and far between since this incident). He can rest assured that he is not the only person to have experienced a culinary mishap during a date. CYDIB finishes with several dating horror stories from cooking a meaty feast for a staunch vegan to someone being knocked out by his date with a frozen chicken (apparently he couldn’t remember what he’d done to merit the bash on the head). So the moral of this story is to keep it simple to minimise the stress of the event (and perhaps consider removing any large frozen objects before your date arrives).

Everyone seems to assume that a food related date should focus around dinner or perhaps, at a push, lunch. What about breakfast or brunch? Now, for a lot people (the author of CYDIB included) the idea of having the first meal of the day with someone you are sweet on is simply horrific. I used to be of the same opinion but over the years my view has changed.

Shakshuka at NOPI

Shakshuka at NOPI

Breakfast is not a meal I usually appreciate. Even before I had kids it has always been a hurried affair. There is always some place to be or something to do. My normal breakfast consists of shovelling a bowl or slice of something into my gob whilst sorting out the washing/emptying the dishwasher/ answering emails at the same time as screaming at the kids to eat their breakfast/brush their teeth/stop fighting. On the rare occasions I get to enjoy a leisurely breakfast I really appreciate it because it’s a genuine luxury. Last year Billy and I got to spend a weekend in London and had a lovely breakfast at NOPI. I had a delicious middle eastern egg dish called Shakshuka. It felt (and tasted) so wonderfully decadent to dip the lightly toasted sourdough into the soft eggs with out a run down of the previous days football scores or acting referee to two squabbling boys. However, as I said it is very rare that I get to enjoy a leisurely breakfast (and even rarer one that has been prepared for me). If I have the opportunity to have such a breakfast at home then it would always have to be fluffy scrambled eggs preferably with smoked salmon.

Smoked Salmon Scrambled Eggs

The husband of a very good friend invited her to breakfast for their first date having met her one evening in a bar. My initial reaction when she told me this was “what a presumptuous sleaze bag”. I assumed he thought said friend would wake up in his bed on the morning of the ‘date’ having plied her with ample booze the night before. However, I was wrong and they went their separate ways that evening only to meet up the following morning for breakfast. It turns out he had prepared a wonderful picnic including (a bit weirdly) many of her favourite foods and had chosen the perfect spot in which to eat it. This has now transpired to be one of the most romantic first date stories I’ve heard.

So, yes I think breakfast can be simple, stress free and romantic. People are more subdued and less likely to be weighted down with the worries of the day in the morning (or maybe that’s due to a lack of caffeine). Eaten at leisure it’s something that can be convivial, intimate and relaxing without any chance of beer goggles coming into play. Not that I’m against alcohol on dates but who hasn’t had a date that has been impaired by too much alcohol? Incidentally, there is a great section in CYDIB on how to get rid of any unwelcome dates the following morning ranging from opening a can of all day breakfast (which I’ve never come across myself but sounds truly revolting) to serving scrambled brains for breakfast. If the thought of a date (even a breakfast one) without alcohol is simply too horrific there is also a cracking recipe for a Mustardy Mary (a take on the classic Bloody Mary) in CYDIB. But above all it’s the one meal of the day that should be simple (throw any pretentious ideas out with the tinned all-day-breakfast) and therefore should be relatively stress free which ultimately equals fun (and I say this things as someone who usually abhors mornings). Furthermore, if you are hell bent on going out this Valentine’s you are less likely to be sharing the experience with countless other couples if you opt for breakfast or brunch rather than the customary over priced, cliched dinner.

If I haven’t managed to persuade you that breakfast is the best meal for a date (Valentine’s or other wise) then you could do a lot worse than look to CYDIB for ideas. It contains some truly delicious yet simple recipes from Duck à la Pamplemousse (that’s grapefruit to you and me) to Drunken Baked Figs plus some innovative cocktails. And if your date is a complete disaster you can seek solace in some of the genuinely amusing anecdotes it contains.

‘Cook Your Date into Bed’ is published by Dog ‘n’ Bone Books at £9.99, and is available from all good bookshops or call 01256-302699.

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Super Food or super fad? You decide!

I’ve been rather lax at blogging recently, being somewhat preoccupied with my day job as Food & Drink Editor for Sussex Style magazine. I’m not complaining because I enjoy what I do immensely (and it pays which is becoming an increasing rarity in the field of food writing). I am however acutely aware that I have neglected my blog a fact which I am hoping to remedy.

For the February issue of the magazine I have been looking into the super foods touted for 2014. Most of the time these are food items we are familiar with but have failed to latch onto their nutritional benefits. That is until some kind scientist points out what we have been missing all our lives (remember the fanfare for the humble beetroot ?). So what nutritional delights await us this year?

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Courtesy of the Chia Co

My first offering is chia seeds. A relative of mint these tiny seeds are native to Mexico and Guatamala and are believed to have been an important food crop for the Aztecs. So why are people raving about them? They have excellent credentials in the nutrition stakes being rich in healthy omega-3 fats and fibre and packed with minerals like manganese, phosphorous and calcium. They don’t taste of much but this means you can add them to a variety of recipes, like bread, without any adverse affect on the flavour. There have been studies which suggest eating chia seeds regularly can help lower blood glucose levels for type 2 diabetes sufferers. You can read more about the benefits of chia seeds in this article.

My chia, sunflower & pumpkin seed sourdough

My chia, sunflower & pumpkin seed sourdough

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My next offering is golden berries (sometimes know as Inca berries). In their fresh state you would recognise them as physalis or cape gooseberries often used to garnish dessert plates in restaurants. In their dried state they have an intense sweet and sour flavour which I love (but I can see why they wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea). They are rich in vitamin A, potassium and fibre. They’re also a good source of the B-complex vitamins (which are known to boost the metabolism) and it is thought they can aid weight loss (although presumably only as part of a calorie controlled diet). If you live in Sussex look out for Inca Berries covered in raw chocolate from Raw Goodies. They’re absolutely divine.

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Courtesy of Terrafertil Goldenberries

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Courtesy of Terrafertil Goldenberries

If someone could find the cure all food or combination of ingredients for every ailment or disease know to afflict the human race they would be very rich indeed. The main benefit of super foods for me is that they perhaps introduce us to (or reacquaint us with) ingredients we may never have tasted or used before. With this in mind I thought the easiest way to combine these ‘super foods’ with other heroic ingredients would be in granola. I’ve also included brazil nuts (rich in selenium) and quinoa (one of Gwyneth’s favourite super foods, so it must be good, right?) for extra crunch along with some coconut oil (so last year, I know…) to enhance the nutty flavour. Will a bowl of this granola fill you with the urge to don a pair of pants over your (or your missus’) tights and equip you with the ability to fly? I very much doubt it but it’s still delicious.

You should be able to find all of these ingredients at a health food store (like Infinity Foods or Holland & Barratt).

Super Food Granola with Chia & Goldenberries

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Ingredients

  • 150g rolled oats
  • 150g spelt flakes
  • 75g red quinoa
  • 50g chia seeds or sesame seeds
  • 25g pumpkin seeds
  • 25g sunflower seeds
  • 100g brazil nuts, roughly chopped
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 75g date syrup (you could use honey, maple syrup or agave nectar instead)
  • 50g honey (runny or crystalised)
  • 3tbsp coconut oil or veg oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
  • 75g golden berries (or any other dried fruit that takes you fancy)
  • 100g raisins

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150℃.
  2. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, except for the fruit.
  3. Place the date syrup, honey and coconut oil in a small sauce pan. Heat gently until the coconut oil has melted and there are no crystals left from the honey. Do not allow it to boil. Stir in the vanilla paste or extract. (If you’ve used vegetable oil and runny honey there should be no need to heat the syrup mix).
  4. Pour the syrup mixture over the dry ingredients and mix until everything coated. Line one large baking sheet or two smaller ones with baking parchment or a silicone liner. Spoon the granola onto the baking sheet(s) ensuring it is in an even layer (which should not be too thick). Bake for 35 – 40 minutes stirring every 10 minutes or so to ensure none of the mixture catches. The date syrup will mean this granola has a darker hue than commercial varieties. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray before transferring to an air tight jar. Delicious with a berry compote and natural yoghurt.

Makes enough to fill a 1.5l kilner jar.

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Stir Up Sunday – The Story of the Christmas Pudding

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It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas in the Bilton household. Today is the last Sunday before Advent, the day on which tradition dictates you should make your Christmas puddings and cakes. The cake (this year I’ve opted to make Jane Grigson’s Orange & Ginger Cake) was made in October and is getting tipsier by the week as I give it a regular dose of Grand Marnier. The pudding is gently steaming on the hob, wafting comforting fruit and spice aromas throughout the house. So all in all I feel pretty organised on the food front for the forthcoming festivities.

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Now for confession time. This year I did have a bit of help with the pudding. On Thursday I went to the Spread Eagle Hotel in Midhurst for a Christmas Pudding Demonstration given by the Group Executive Head Chef, Martin Hadden. There was plenty of audience participation but those wonderful kitchen fairies which only seem to exist on TV cookery programmes had measured out all the ingredients for us in advance so all we had to do was stir.  If you are not familiar with it, the hotel is wonderfully quirky with undulating wooden floors, ancient oak beams and a few resident ghosts to boot. It’s an apt venue in which to explore the history of this festive dessert which can trace it’s origins back to 1430 when the oldest part of the hotel was built.

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Martin is exceedingly knowledgeable on the subject of the Christmas pud. What he doesn’t know about this very British festive tradition probably isn’t worth knowing. It started life in Medieval times as plum pottage a soupy concoction including dried fruits, spices and beef (which is the forerunner to our mince pies). Over the centuries the pottage became thicker and more puddingy and the savoury elements were abandoned. (Many people wrinkle their noses up at the thought of eating the sweet and savoury Medieval mince pies. Clarissa Dickson Wright has a recipe in The Game Cookbook for a Cumberland Boar Pie which is very close to the Medieval pies and pottages combining dried fruit, wild boar, sugar, spices and rum. I’ve not tried it myself but I think it  sounds quite nice.) The pudding as we know it today probably dates from the late 17th century although there is no written reference to it until Eliza Acton published her book Modern Cookery for Private Families in 1845.

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The Victorians, with their love of ostentation, took the Christmas pudding to another level. Puddings came in all shapes and sizes but would always be delivered to the table ablaze with brandy or rum and were served with ‘hard sauce’ (or brandy butter as we call it today). They also began the tradition of hiding trinkets in the pudding  which were said to predict the recipients fate. If you were an unmarried woman and received a silver thimble you were likely to remain a spinster for the rest of your lift where as a ring meant a forthcoming marriage. What everyone really wanted to get was the silver sixpence as that meant you would be rich. As fun as this seems, I’ve always thought it rather fool hardy to hide anything in a pudding just in case someone chokes on it.

There are, of course, lots of superstitions surround the making of the Christmas pudding. Some say there should be 13 ingredients to symbolise the apostles. Others that you should only stir West to East (or is it the other way round?) as a nod to the journey the three wise men made. Then of course there is the Christmas wish which you make just before you finish stirring. This year I wished for…(well obviously I can’t say or it won’t come true, although it may have had something to do with those kitchen fairies).

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One of the great things about Christmas pudding is it’s longevity in terms of how long you can keep it once it has been cooked. The sugar and alcohol in each recipe (which are quite often closely guarded family secrets) help to preserve the puddings. My grandmother produced a pudding for my 16th Christmas which she claimed I had helped her make when I was five years old. At the Spread Eagle they make their Christmas puddings in January for the following December. This allows the rich flavours to develop. But they have puddings which are far more mature than 12 months old. Each year people who stay over the Christmas period are given a pudding to take home. Alternatively, they can leave their puddings at the hotel where they will be hung up in front of the log fire in the dining room until their owner claims them. This custom has continued for around two hundred years (the oldest labelled pudding dates from 1954). The newer additions are still in their pristine white bowls. However, the basins of the older puddings have a sepia hue from years of exposure to wood smoke.

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It seems the Brits are alone in their love for this pudding. The French just don’t get it (Agatha Christie published an Hercule Poirot story called The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding in The Sketch in 1923. I haven’t read it myself so I don’t know what M. Poirot’s opinion is of the Christmas pudding but I suspect it features a certain amount of disdain). Most American’s I have met recoil in horror when I explain what suet is (a vital component to a good Christmas pudding and a throw back to it’s Medieval origins). But for me Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it and I always make sure I leave room for a slither of this decadently rich dessert no matter how full I am. How about you?

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A Spectacular Exhibition

Wild Flower Meadow made from sugar by Rosalind Miller

Wild Flower Meadow made from sugar by Rosalind Miller

Food festivals and exhibitions often promise so much and deliver so little. Do I really want to trawl round 20 different stalls selling cupcakes or 15 vendors selling quaintly packaged chutneys? No, I don’t. Perhaps it’s because as a food and drink editor I’m lucky to sample a lot of new products. But this doesn’t stop me thirsting for a new discovery. Something that really makes me go “ooh”.

I was intrigued when Alexa Perrin from the Experimental Food Society invited me to their Spectacular at the Truman Brewery. It promised (among other things):

“A breathable tearoom, a wild flower meadow made entirely from sugar and a camera made from edible materials that when cooked form a meal.”

My interest was sufficiently piqued so I took a trip up to London yesterday to check it out.

One of Cressida Bell's creations.

One of Cressida Bell’s creations.

There were cakes but these weren’t your run of the mill cupcakes. Rosalind Miller had created the wild flower meadow made from sugar and I had a sneaky peek at her forthcoming book on wedding cakes with some truly stunning designs (which she assured me could be made by a keen amateur). I’m afraid I don’t have the patience or the dexterity for this type of decorative work particularly after watching Cressida Bell’s colleague delicately placing gold dragee balls onto a cake with a pair of tweezers. Cressida also has a book on cake decorating and both her book and Rosalind’s would make great Christmas presents if you know anyone into this sort of thing.

Fancy your portrait painted in Marmite? You'll either love it or hate it.

Fancy your portrait painted in Marmite? You’ll either love it or hate it.

Other edible treats included chocolate work from Paul Wayne Gregory (I’m looking forward to eating the lightly salted caramel and chocolate lollipops with popping candy before the boys get to them); a chance to have your portrait painted on a piece of toast in Marmite for the princely sum of £10 (which I thought was a little much for something that would probably get eaten by the dog) plus plenty of edible sculptures. Even the queen made an appearance.

Sculpture by Michelle Wibowo, Cake & Sugar Artist

Sculpture by Michelle Wibowo, Cake & Sugar Artist

So what were my highlights? I liked the breathable tearoom by Camellia’s Tea House. It’s an interesting sensation sucking tea vapour through an oversized straw (it felt quite illicit in a way). You could genuinely taste the herbs and spices in ones I tried like the ginger in the Antiviral Tea. The gadget used to create the vapour is called Le Whaf (which, I was told, is how a dog says “woof” in French!). It has certainly made me want to try them in their liquid form. That’s praise indeed coming from an avid coffee drinker.

Le Whaf in action

Le Whaf in action

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Broccoli bread from Plan Bread was a revelation. Gluten free, low calorie and with minimal carbohydrates it still tastes as good as the real deal. Founder and CEO Paul Shackleton told me that he wanted to make the healthiest bread possible. At 74 calories per 100g (50% less than regular bread) I think he may have succeeded. Unfortunately, it’s not currently available to buy as a loaf but you can order sandwiches for delivery (sadly only in London). Fillings include chicken and creamed corn, ham and guacamole and mackerel pate. Definitely worth a go if you fancy some different from your regular Prêt a Manger.

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I thought the historical bitters produced by The Robin Collective were ingenious. They have created alcholic bitters by extracting moisture from the walls of specific historic locations and blended them with flavours associated with an important historical figure. So for the Churchill inspired bitters they extracted moisture from the walls of the Churchill War Rooms and combined this with rose (because his wife used to put a rose on his desk every morning) and tobacco (among other things). I know it sounds completely wacky but I just love the idea of bottling history. You can buy the bitters from the Spectacular (£16 a bottle) and they’ll also write you a prescription for their marshmallows based on how you are feeling.

Each bottle of bitters comes with a explanation behind its creation and a cocktail recipe.

Each bottle of bitters comes with a explanation behind its creation and a cocktail recipe.

Another exhibitor interested in harnessing the power of fragrance is perfumer Louise Bloor who also runs the Fragrant Supper Club. Once a month she hosts a dinner from her Dalston home drawing on combinations she loves in perfume for her five courses. She uses essential plant oils like bergamot to add another dimension to vinaigrettes or mayonnaise (alternatively they can be used to fragrance wooden cutlery). Her menus have included things like geranium and lime ice cream and pumpkin soup served with an evaporating spice fragrance. It sounds divine and very original. Louise has also helped construct the menu for the EFS ‘Food & Fragrance’ themed banquets at the Cookbook Cafe at Intercontinental London Park Lane on Thursday 14 and Friday 15 November. You can buy tickets here.

Lick Me I'm Delicious in action

Lick Me I’m Delicious in action

Also worth a mention are the funky gadgets from Harvey & John (I loved their floating Lazy Susan) and the port and stilton ice cream from Lick Me I’m Delicious (sounds wrong but is so right). I could go on but the easiest way to experience all these amazing creations is to head down to the Truman Brewery yourself today. There’s a lot to see in a relatively small space plus there are talks throughout the day from people like Bompass & Parr (who are launching the Soyer Memorial Library aiming to republish some amazing cookbooks which are currently out of print as well and publishing their own books). It may be compact and bijoux but this spectacular certainly offers more than your average food festival.

Experimental Food Society Spectacular 2013 Exhibition at the Truman Brewery Saturday 9 November (10am – 7pm)

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Pumpkin Bread with Raisins & Fennel

Makes 12 buns or 2 x 450g loaves or 1 x 900g loaf

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This started out as a post on Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) which is traditionally eaten on All Souls Day (2 November) in Mexico. Far from being a day of sorrow it is a day when families in Mexico visit their ancestors graves as a mark of love and respect to ‘celebrate’ the lives their loved ones once lived.

‘Food, drink, flowers and Pan de Muerto are left among the candles and the portraits of saints and relatives, in the belief that the spirits of the dead will feast on the spirits of the food and drink.” (The Complete Mexican Cookbook, Lourdes Nichols,1995).

I love the citrus and anise undertones in this sweet bread. I have made it many times in the past but find the fashioning of the traditional skull and crossbones decoration a bit tedious (my efforts don’t look anywhere near as good as those on this Pinterest page). Earlier this year I wondered whether it would be possible to use pumpkin in a sweet bread but incorporating the same flavours (orange and anise) as traditional Pan de Muerto. I though it would be a great use for those redundant Jack O’Lanterns once halloween had passed.

The recipe below takes its inspiration from traditional Mexican recipes by Nichols and my other favourite writer on Latin American food, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. There’s also a touch of inspiration from London based Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli who has a recipe for a pumpkin and raisin sourdough bread in his book Made in Italy.

Initially I tried shaping the dough into buns but found they spread quite a bit (it is rather a wet dough) and felt they would do better in a tin. In the end I used a muffin tin which produced ‘toadstool’ shaped buns (my son’s description). I thought about calling them Pumpkin Bruffins but then figured some multinational coffee chain has probably thought of this bread based muffin hybrid already and has no doubt trademarked the name :). Alternatively, you could use two 450g loaf tins or one large (900g) tin.

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I often think of bread making as a worthy vocation which merits the devotion of time and effort. This isn’t a quick bread to make but it is worth the effort I promise.

Ingredients

  • 1 small pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 150ml whole milk
  • 2 star anise
  • A 7-10cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • A good grating of nutmeg
  • 3 x 7g sachets of Fast Action or Easy Blend yeast
  • 550g Strong Plain Bread Flour
  • Zest and juice from 1 orange
  • 150g raisins
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 100g unsalted butter, melted
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds (optional)
  • 50g pumpkin seeds plus a little milk to brush over the buns before they are cooked.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Cut the pumpkin or squash into 4 – 8 pieces (depending on it’s size) and scoop out any seeds and stringy bits. Roast for 45 – 60 minutes until tender. Remove the flesh from the skin (which you can discard) then using a stick blender puree the cooked flesh. Allow to cool completely before you proceed with the recipe (this stage could be done a day or two before you make the bread).
  2. Place the raisins into a heat proof bowl. Put the orange juice and the zest into another small saucepan. Bring to the boil then pour over the raisins giving them a good stir and leave them to macerate while you make the bread (this stage could also be done a day before you make the bread).
  3. Place the milk and the spices in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then allow to infuse for at least one hour.
  4. Now make the ‘sponge’. Put the yeast, 1 tsp of the caster sugar and 150g of the flour into a small bowl. Strain in the infused, cooled milk and mix until you have a soft dough. Lightly knead this dough in the bowl for a minute or two before covering it with cling film and leaving to prove in a warm place for one hour.
  5. After the hour is up the sponge should have doubled in size. Place it into the bowl of a food mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add 225g pumpkin puree, 400g flour, caster sugar, cooled melted butter and the eggs. Slowly process until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed together. I probably had my mixer on a low speed for 8 minutes or so before turning the dough out and kneading it by hand for a further 5 – 10 minutes. The dough should have quite a glossy sheen to it and be springy to the touch. Leave to prove in a warm place for about 90 minutes until doubled in size again (it may take a bit longer).
  6. If you want to use the fennel seeds stir them into the macerated raisins. I like the additional anise kick they give the bread but it is not to everyone’s taste so I’ll leave that decision up to you.
  7. Turn the proved dough out onto a work surface. I wet my granite worktop for this and don’t use flour but you could use a lightly floured board if you prefer. Knead the dough for a minute or two to expel the air then knead in the fruit and fennel mix a couple of dessert spoons at a time. It will take a while but it does ensure an even distribution doing it this way. After all of the fruit and fennel seeds have been incorporated shape into 12 balls or loaves (according to your preference) making sure that you have liberally greased the muffin tin or loaf tin(s) before hand.
  8. Leave the bread to prove again in a warm place for 30 – 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180℃. Brush the buns or loaves with milk and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds. Bake Bruffins for 15 – 20 minutes, small loaves for 25 – 30 minutes and a large loaf for 35 – 40 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin for a while before turning out onto a wire rack.

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This bread is naturally delicious warm and in my opinion even better the following day toasted and served with cinnamon butter. To make cinnamon butter cream 50g soft unsalted butter with 1 tbsp icing sugar sifted with ½ tsp ground cinnamon.

You will probably be left with some pumpkin puree after you have made the bread. It freezes really well and makes a delicious pasta filling or you could try this pumpkin granola recipe from The Little Loaf food blog.

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Squashed fly biscuits and moths on toast

Should we be eating insects?

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When Vincent Holt published his pamphlet ‘Why Not Eat Insects?’ in 1885 it was easy to dismiss him as a Victorian eccentric. Fast forward to the 21st century and it seem his views no longer seem ludicrous and are being given credence by academics and chefs alike.

Holt’s contention was that insects are as nutritious and tasty as other animal protein such as beef and lamb and considerably more hygienic than pigs or sea dwelling crustacea:

‘The lobster, a creature consumed in incredible quantities at all the highest tables in the land, is such a foul feeder that, for its sure capture, the experienced fisherman will bait his lobster pot with putrid flesh or fish which is too far gone even to attract a crab.’

Holt also saw eating insects as a form of crop protection. A divine retribution if you like for the damage caused by some insects – the devourer becoming the devoured. Despite his persuasive argument it’s hard not to wrinkle you nose in disgust when he talks about sole served with wood louse sauce or labourers eating small white slugs ‘as tid bits, just as he would have picked wild strawberries.’

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Funky lighting in the Wellcome Foundation restaurant. The ‘flasks’ periodically change colour which have given my photo’s a peculiar hue!

It wasn’t until I heard Professor Marcel Dicke speaking at the Exploring the Deliciousness of Insects event in May this year that I truly began appreciate the argument for insects as food.

The world’s population is increasing and it is estimated there will be 9 billion mouths to feed by 2050. Generally speaking people are wealthier than their forebears particularly in developing nations and as a consequence expect to eat meat more frequently. The problem Dicke says is that we already use 70% of our agricultural land to produce livestock (in terms of feed, accommodation etc). To meet the growing carnivorous demands of future generations we would need to find another earth. This realistically is not going to happen or certainly not in our lifetime.

To put this into an even starker perspective Dicke told us that every 10kg of animal weight  equates to just 1kg of edible meat. The same weight of insects yields 7kg of edible protein. This protein is low in fat and high in minerals (although perhaps lacking in some vitamins). Furthermore, they are so far removed from humans they are unlikely to transmit disease through their consumption (unlike cows as shown with the BSE crisis some years ago). Factor in the environmental impact which is negligible when compared to cattle (they eat less, take up less room and generate less shit which means lower green house emissions) then seeing insects as food and not pests starts to make sense. As Dicke says, once the head, legs and wings are removed locusts are just delicious sky prawns.

The problem is that in the West we have been taught to avoid insects because they are dirty and disgusting. The key question is how do we help people escape this aversion?

The Nordic Food Lab team

The Nordic Food Lab team

This is where the Nordic Food Lab comes in. The purpose of Dicke’s presentation is an introduction to a meal prepared by the boffiny chefs behind NOMA. I’m sitting in a room with 80-100 or so people about to explore the deliciousness of insects. The clever chaps at the Nordic Food Lab realised that despite the fact we had all paid to attend this dinner most of us were feeling a little apprehensive. To quell these nerves we were presented with a drink made from a bespoke gin of wood ants, cones, roots and seeds. Apart from looking like a vermillion cough mixture it tasted just like any other gin and tonic (well perhaps a bit more interesting that your run of the mill G&T but there was nothing challenging about it in the least).

Anty Gin & Tonic

Anty Gin & Tonic

As Ben, on of the Nordic Food Lab’s ‘engineers’ explained the idea behind the G&T was to help fortify us for the food to come. Each dish, we were told, would be more challenging than the last. In case we were in any doubt as to what we were eating a board displaying each of the insects on the menu was placed each table.

On the menu tonight...

On the menu tonight…

Chimp Stick

Chimp Stick

First up were the Chimp Sticks (so called because this chimps use sticks to extract termites from mounds) – liquorice root covered with honey to which seeds, freeze dried raspberry, herbs and ants were adhered. Once you got over the initial shock of seeing the ants suspended in the honey they tasted pretty good and quite tart – a good contrast to the sweetness. I felt positively primal after licking the ants and seeds from the liquorice.

Moth Mousse

Moth Mousse

I’m not sure anyone was looking forward to the Moth Mousse but as mousselines go this was one of the loveliest I’ve tasted. In the true spirit of the meal the majority of the mousse was made from wax moth larvae (51%). It tasted like chicken (which was one of the ingredients in the mousse) and was served with a wonderfully earthy morel sauce with a rich umami flavour.

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Butter Roasted Locusts

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Cricket Broth

 The kid gloves were off now. There was no disguising the next dish, Cricket Broth served with a side of Butter Roasted Locusts. The broth had fishy undertones no doubt due to the grasshopper garum used to make it. This, I didn’t like. The locusts, however, were a revelation. Crunchy, nutty and deliciously moreish. To wash them down we were served a Wormhole stout brewed by the Siren Craft Brewery from oatmeal worms. It was reminiscent of Guinness with coffee undertones and very quaffable.

Wormhole Stout

Wormhole Stout

 

Bee Brood (Honey bee drone comb)

Bee Brood (Honey bee drone comb)

As a palate cleanser (if you will) we were given a piece of honeycomb containing bee larvae. You had to pick the milky grubs out with a cocktail stick. Frankly, they tasted of very little and after the previous courses were a little disappointing.

The Whole Hive

The Whole Hive

 

Bee Bread

Bee Bread

For dessert we had The Whole Hive – bees wax ice cream, honey kombucha sauce, ‘bee bread’ (which is fermented pollen), propolis tincture (no idea!) and crisp honey. Like the bee drone larvae I found the ice cream on its own a bit bland but together the elements worked wonderfully. The honey flavour was intense but tempered by the luscious ice cream. If you’ve never had bee bread I can highly recommend it. It’s a bit like an ultra thin intensely honey flavoured waffle. A Lindisfarne Mead from St Aidens Winery was on had to complete the honey theme and rounded off the meal nicely.

So am I a convert? I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at a plate of roasted locusts in the future. However, I think the fact that so many people enjoyed the Moth Mousse was that you couldn’t visually identify the insect component (or really taste it). I do believe there will come a time when insect protein will be commonplace in our diets but I think it will need to be flavoured and reformed to resemble something we are familiar with like a chicken nugget. I can see insect protein being used as the food of the masses and who knows hundreds of years from now it may cross the divide from common grub to haute cuisine in much the same way as the oyster.

If you are feeling thoroughly grossed out now at the thought of eating insects I will leave you with this last thought. It is estimated the average person in the West unwittingly eats 500g of insects each year. They are found in all processed food from chocolate and bread to ketchup and yoghurt often in the form of food colouring (E120 is cochineal made from crushed up beetles) but also as part of the manufacturing process which cannot guarantee the removal of every little critter in a crop. So why not eat insects indeed?

Squashed Fly Biscuits

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Makes 24 – 40 depending on how you cut them

These don’t really contain squashed flies but I thought I would continue with the gruesome theme as it’s Halloween. Also known as Garibaldi biscuits this recipe is adapted from deliaonline.com

Ingredients

  • 225g self raising flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • Zest of 1 small orange
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1-3 tbps milk to bind
  • 100g currants
  • A little demerara sugar

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180℃.
  2. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter and the orange zest. Stir in the sugar.
  3. Beat the egg yolk with 1 tbsp milk and add this to the dry ingredients. Mix until a firm but not sticky dough is formed adding more milk if necessary. Divide in half.
  4. Roll half the dough into a rectangle about 2-3mm thick. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a perfect rectangle as you will be trimming it shortly. Sprinkle half the currants down the centre third of the rectangle (lengthwise). Fold the top third over the currants and then the bottom third over the top of this. The currants will be encased in an envelope of dough.
  5. Roll this parcel out again until you have a strip of dough about 5mm thick with squashed currants just visible through parts of the thin dough. Trim the dough so that you have a more regular looking rectangle. I cut the currant parcel in half lengthwise and cut each half into 8 mini ‘soldiers’ (or however many you want). Repeat this with the other piece of dough.
  6. Brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Place on a greased or silicone lined baking sheet and bake for 12 – 15 minutes until golden.

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