Thursday, 24 November 2011

Bacon Jam

The team behind our local Walthamstow grocer, bakery, pizzeria, bar and restaurant, known collectively as Eat 17, are a pretty industrious and ambitious bunch. Brand experts and manufacturer secured, they are branching out into own-brand foodstuffs, starting with this rather clever bacon jam.

I've not always been keen on Eat 17. Admittedly, Walthamstow has benefited from its looming presence and smart facade, but with no competition breathing down its neck, it started to get a bit full of itself. Last year, we boycotted it after a series of visits were ruined by snooty staff, shoddy service, and overpriced mediocre food. Custom was taken for granted, tolerated even. But since noticing their involvement in the local E17 Art Trail, and being impressed by the baked goods, we're prepared to give them another chance.

Infinitely superior to standard savoury relishes, their bacon jam it is a complex sweet-smokey savoury spread. Eat 17 restaurant has been serving it for a while on their burgers and, apparently, it was the enthusiastic clamour from regular customers that urged them to start selling it. It has a dense consistency and resembles the sweet richness of fig jam, but 'with bits in'. Bacon-y bits. Ingredients include smoked bacon (award-winning Denhay's Dry Cured bacon), red onion, maple syrup, bourbon, garlic, coffee, rosemary, and chilli.

I was going to say it's innovative, but research and a Twitter exchange with Eat like a Girl - who has come up with two recipes; one she's blogged, the other she's saving for her next book - informs me otherwise. It's big in the US (Skillet are the main manufacturer, bloggers love it), and is made of roughly the same ingredients.

I used it in much the same way as fig jam or onion marmalade. The label suggests spreading it on toast, serving it with cheese, adding it to a burger, or a pasta sauce, and here are some other ideas:
  • Smear it over butternut squash before roasting
  • Spread it on corn on the cob before wrapping in tin foil and grilling
  • Pop a bit on top of grilled/baked peach or apricot, with a crumbling of goat's cheese
  • Dot over a tomato-based pizza before adding cheese, baking, and garnishing with basil or rocket
  • Smother an oatcake with it before crumbling liberally with blue cheese or aged gruyere
  • Spread it over a toasted muffin before plopping a poached egg on top
  • Use it to pimp up a BLT, roast chicken, or a simple mustardy dressing
You can buy it online (£3.60 for 110g), or purchase it from the Spar shop on Orford Road, Walthamstow, though I hear rumour that it will be available in outlets across the capital in the next few months. It's a great stocking gift for food lovers.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

At Home: Sticky Toffee Ginger Pud

Proper puds don't come more sublime and decadent than this pimped up gingerbread. When the dark veil of winter descends, I kid myself that my body expends lots more energy to keep itself warm, therefore making gluttony and excess entirely reasonable. Bring it on.

I had friends over for weekend lunch, and a three course meal to prepare. Fortuitously, half a loaf of sticky and fragrant gingerbread I'd made mid-week was happily maturing on the kitchen surface. Job done - a pretty-much instant pud. All I needed was good quality vanilla ice cream (bought), and a speedy butterscotch sauce. You can find recipes for both the gingerbread and butterscotch sauce below (though you could cheat with bought versions of all three components), and all I'd add is:
  • Slice the gingerbread thickly, and give it 10 seconds in the microwave before constructing.
  • Construct at the last moment, heating your sauce in the microwave/on the hob to loosen it to pouring consistency, if it has cooled.
This gingerbread recipe comes courtesy of Nigella's glorious How To Eat. Do wrap it up and keep it for a day or two before eating. It's worth the wait.

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 60-90 minutes

230g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
110g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
110g black treacle
110g golden syrup
110g light/dark muscovado sugar
280ml full-fat milk
45g stem ginger (drain off syrup and grate)
1 large egg, beaten

Grease a 900g loaf tin (23cm x 11cm, 6cm), and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/Gas 4.

Sift the flour, bicarb, and spices into a large mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and rub it with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

In a small saucepan, melt the treacle with the syrup, then leave to cool to blood temperature. Meanwhile, in another pan, dissolve the sugar in the milk over a low heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the grated stem ginger to the flour mixture. Then whisk/beat the milk mixture into the flour mixture, and next whisk in the treacle mixture, followed by the egg. When thoroughly blended, the mixture should be a thin batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 1-1 1/4 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Start checking after 45 minutes. Leave to cool completely in the tin, then turn out and wrap first in greaseproof paper and then foil.

This could not be easier to make, and gives Cartmel toffee sauce a run for it's money. Adding a little salt really peps it up.

Prep: none
Cook: 10-15 minutes

55g unsalted butter
140g golden syrup
115ml double cream
125g light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a small pinch of sea salt

Put all the ingredients in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Pour into a jug for serving. It will thicken when cool, and simply needs reheating to reach pouring consistency again.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

At Home: Crispy Duck Pancakes

Nothing for me has that 'mmm' factor - Flake advert porn style - quite like a mouthful of salty crispy fat. Check out Tom Parker Bowles raving about the 'pure, salt and fat soaked pleasure' of the pork scratching in the latest issue of Fire and Knives, a taste - albeit an acquired one - I have a particular weakness for.

Duck legs have no shortage of fat, which crisps up a treat in a hot oven. This recipe is truthfully no fuss, and it's easy on the wallet too. Many methods for creating homemade versions of the takeaway classic require marinating, steaming, and deep-frying the duck. Don't bother. You will get a perfectly crispy skin by seasoning and roasting the legs, in a fraction of the time.

The roasted duck recipe below is based on James Ramsden's Five Spice Duck Legs recipe. I just added some Sichuan pepper and fresh ginger, and cooked the legs in a roasting dish instead of a frying pan, since I'm not lucky enough to have an oven-friendly pan.

NB. Seek out this brand of five-spice in your local Chinese supermarket. It beats supermarket spice rack versions hands down.

  • 2 duck legs
  • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, bruised in a pestle and mortar
  • 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, bashed flat and peeled
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 4 flour tortillas/8 Chinese pancakes
  • Shredded Cos lettuce
  • half a cucumber, cut into thick strips
  • 4 tbsp hoisin sauce
Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/Gas mark 4. Rub the skin side of the duck legs with a generous pinch of salt, the five spice, and the Sichuan pepper. Heat a little oil in a roasting dish over a medium heat on the hob and add the legs, skin side down. Fry for 10 minutes until browned and crisp.

Remove the legs and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Prod around the pan until coated in the duck fat, season with salt and pepper and lay the legs on top. Pop in the oven for an hour and a half, until soft and yielding to the advances of a fork.Remove from oven and rest, while you warm through the pancakes in a steamer, dry frying pan, or microwave. Remove the fat from the meat, then tear the meat off the bone with your fingers. Place shreds of meat, pieces of that wonderful crispy skin, the caramelized onions from the roasting pan, the lettuce, cucumber and a drizzle of hoisin down the centre of each pancake, wrap, and guzzle.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

At Home: Feeding baby

I am treading with trepidation into baby food territory. I swore I would spare my blog from our messy journey, but recent conversations have compelled me to do so.

Food and eating come up in every conversation I have with a new parent. At first, it was 'are you going the purée or baby-led-weaning (BLW) way?', and 'when is the right time to start weaning?', then what to eat, and how to eat it: 'what do you make?', 'what do you buy?' and 'when should we introduce cutlery? '. Most of all, parents seek inspiration for fresh, quick dinners, having got stuck in a rut with the usual suspects (pasta, fish fingers, beans...).

I have no answers, but like every parent I have a story to tell, and am using this first post on the subject to share with you how we (try to) feed our child.

Evangelical weaning books were hard to avoid at first. Late nights on Amazon led to a stack of books on my bedside table professing to know just how your child should eat. After some dithering, and a fair dose of confusion, we decided on a combination method: part BLW, part purée. My instinct told me he'd be fine feeding himself, and BLW would make it fun, but I was eager to fill his tummy. Taking advice from both camps meant he could experiment with handling and chewing on solid food, and take in a fair amount on the spoon to satisfy his hunger (alongside milk). Despite the odd phase of pickiness and loss of appetite, it worked. Check out Catherine Phipp's Word of Mouth article here to read more about BLW.

Now 17 months 0ld, he has the biggest drawer in the freezer, which I rely on for at least 80% of his main meals. Nearly every dinner starts with a pot-luck rustle and grab, followed by a steamer filled with carb boiling in the bottom (rice/potatoes/pasta) and veg (broccoli, beans, diced squash etc.) steaming on top, cooked for 10 minutes or so. Along with slicing fruit to go with Greek yogurt for his pud, prep never takes longer than 10-15 minutes. Couscous and peas is the extra-speedy option.

Silicone muffin tray, for freezing toddler-sized portions of sauces
Hand blender
Medium-size resealable plastic food bags
3-piece steamer

MADE (batch cooked, or left over from family meals)
Mashed potato
Fish fingers
Chicken goujons (posh name for fingers)
Sweet potato fritters
Chicken and apricot/squash curry
Cauliflower and potato curry
Greek lamb and carrot stew
Macaroni cheese
Basic tomato sauce
Lentil and tomato soup
Spiced fruit purée
Meatballs (pork and beef)
Fish pie
Mini corn on the cob
Broad beans
Petits pois
Soft wholemeal rolls
Corn/wheat wraps

I am obsessed about the high sugar and salt levels in our popular cereals, to the point where I will spend 20 minutes scrutinizing the back of cereal packets in the supermarket (to my husband's chagrin). Determined to find something healthy (C won't eat porridge, sadly), I came across Rude Health. Jackpot. Corn flakes made only of toasted corn! And Wheetabix isn't exactly pure wheat, but it's the best of the worst supermarket cereals as far as I can tell, though do correct me if I'm wrong.

Whether C has lunch at home or out and about, it's usually simple fare: a sandwich, grated cheese and apple toastie, frittata, leftovers from the night before, or pitta and dips, and some pieces of fruit, dried or fresh.

I should add that C usually eats fruit and yogurt for dessert, but at weekends I might make a rice pudding, or some apple-oaty muffins. As I write, he's demolishing a bowl of Greek yogurt mixed with mashed banana and a tsp of cashew nut butter. Not a pretty dish, but great for hungry tums.

Here are a few simple recipes:

MIXED VEGETABLE FRITTATA - Nutritious, economical finger food.
Boil 4 new potatoes until tender (you can do this in advance/use leftovers). Beat 4 eggs, and season with black pepper. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil with a knob of unsalted butter in a frying pan, add a small chopped onion/spring onion with half a diced red pepper and half a diced courgette. Cook until soft (5-10 minutes). Throw in the cooked potatoes, chopped, heat through, add a cup full of frozen petits pois, and stir over a medium heat for a minute or two. Stop stirring, pour over the eggs, and turn on your grill. Grate over some Cheddar/Parmesan, and after 5 minutes on the hob over a low heat, transfer to the grill to cook the top. Leave to cool, then turn out and slice into 8-12 pieces. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

SWEET POTATO FRITTERS - Freezable, healthy finger food.
Roast 2 sweet potatoes for 1 hour at 170C fan (you can do this the day before).
Dig out the flesh from the skins once cool, and mix in a bowl with 1 tbsp soy sauce, 3 tbsp plain flour, 3 finely chopped spring onions, 1 beaten egg, and 2-3 tbsp whole milk to loosen the mixture. Add a handful of tinned/fresh sweetcorn if you have some to hand. Melt a small knob of unsalted butter/1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan, and drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan. Cook for 5 mins each side, then set aside to cool on a paper towel. Serve immediately, keep in the fridge for a day or two, or freeze until needed.

FISH/CHICKEN GOUJONS - Prepare these one evening, stock the freezer, and you have almost instant homemade fish/chicken fingers when time is short. They take 20 minutes to prepare.
Two boneless and skinless cod/coley/pollack fillets or two chicken thighs/breasts.
Slice the fish/meat into thin finger-long strips. Prepare, on three separate plates:
2 tbsp plain flour
2 beaten eggs
150g breadcrumbs, mixed with 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley, a pinch of black pepper, and a heaped tbsp of Parmesan
Piece by piece, dip the fish/meat into the flour, shake off the excess, dip in the egg, then cover with the breadcrumb mixture. Set aside on a plate. Pop the plate in the freezer, then when they are nearly frozen solid, remove them and pop them into freezer bags. They can be cooked straight from frozen, in a frying pan with a little olive oil (5-8 minutes each side).

Please share your own mealtime solutions and feeding stories.