Last week I took part in Dan of Food Urchin’s dinner blogging challenge (called ‘Where’s my pork chop?’). Basically I cooked him some dinner and in return I got, well these:
There’s loads of potatoes, beans and courgettes hiding under the kale
I’m going to be blogging what I cooked for Dan in a separate post so check back for that in the next few days. Here I want to tell you some of what I’ve done with the veg so far.
Dan had been down to his allotment bright and early on the day of the swap and picked me a selection of goodies in their prime. In the bag were charlotte potatoes, curly kale, green (French) beans, courgettes and COURGETTE FLOWERS ?. I’d been hoping for some of the latter as I’ve only tried them once before and they aren’t that easy to buy. We’ve tried to grow our own courgettes this year but we aren’t having much success so far (the first lot of seeds didn’t germinate) so I was particularly delighted with the flowers.
Of course as everything had been picked only a few hours before I took the picture above the veg were absolutely bouncing with freshness. I was pretty pleased with my haul and it really demonstrated how lovely and fresh veg can be when their distance from the ground to the kitchen is short. I now have allotment envy.
So what I have I done with the veg so far?
Well as recommended by Dan I did some of the kale with oil and chilli. I actually steamed it first then gave it a quick sauté in rapeseed oil and chilli flakes. It was really good, the kale still had a little bit of crunch to it and the chilli complemented the slight bitterness that is inherent in brassicas like kale. I’ll definitely try it like this again and venture out into varying the spice choice as well.
The potatoes are just brilliant. One of my gripes about potatoes is that its not that easy to get ones that taste of anything much but when you do WOW instead of thinking potatoes taste kind of bland and nothingy you realise they have an earthy sweetness all of their own. Dan’s potatoes hit the mark on this – I assume its because they were straight from the ground. So far we’ve had them simply boiled and also crushed and cooked with some onion. Yum.
The beans and the courgettes we’ve steamed and tossed in a little oil or butter – again when things are this fresh they can shine on their own. And the flowers?
Well searching in cookbooks, on the internet and tweeting all seemed to point to stuffing the flowers, dipping in a tempura batter and deep-frying. Hmmmmm. I’ve never deep-fried anything; I don’t own a deep fat fryer, I too vividly recall close calls with chips pans in the 1970s (and that safety advert they used to run) to suddenly think that deep-frying them is the way to go. I also don’t want to experiment with a new technique on my precious courgette flowers – imagine if it goes wrong…..after a bit more thinking and searching I decide to just have them fresh and perky as they are in a salad but I do go with the flavours that many of the deep fried recipes suggest i.e. fresh soft cheese and herbs.
I simply tore the flowers and tossed them with the rest of the salad (rocket, basil, lollo rosso, tomato, cucumber) before adding some of my favourite Buxlow Wonmil cheese and drizzling with a little oil. The flowers aren’t particularly strong in flavour but they add a both a different colour and texture to the salad. They are curiously soft yet slightly crunchy at the same time and a good addition. I guess if I get more flowers I might dare to experiment with deep-frying but for now I’m happy I stuck to adding my flowers to a salad. (Dan – more flowers please….)!
Early in May I took up the #livelocal challenge. I learnt lots in the first week some of which I’ve already blogged about. A big part of taking up the challenge was not just to do it for a week but try to think more about what I ate, where it came from and so explore food options closer to home. And so to one of my favourite foods – CHEESE.
England has a great history of cheese making, we came a bit unstuck in the Milk Marketing Board post-war era with many cheeses being lost and production becoming very industrialised. Things have moved on, particularly from the 1980’s onwards when the likes of Patrick Rance and Randolph Hodgson started championing and supporting small cheese producers. So we are now in a position where it’s not that hard to find great cheese; wonderful examples of classics such as Cheddar, Cheshire and Lancashire and newer varieties that draw on French, Italian and Spanish styles of cheese (such as brie and soft goats cheeses).
Now I LOVE cheese in pretty much all its guises and I’m certainly not intending to give up all time favourites like Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire just because its outside the area I defined for #livelocal. I thought it might be interesting to see what cheeses are produced more locally. It transpires that the counties in my ‘local’ area are not really renowned as dairy farming areas (neither now or historically) and so there isn’t a plethora of cheeses to choose from. There’s some scathing comments in Patrick Rance’s book from 17C on Suffolk ‘flet’ cheese are being ‘mean’ – it was made with skimmed milk so probably wasn’t very rich in flavour. Undeterred I decided I’d take it county by county and see what I could find.
First up is Suffolk, mainly because I already knew of some cheeses I really love and I wanted to find more. On a recent short break in Suffolk I did a bit of cheese exploring and I came up with a cheese board of five contrasting cheeses and I’m hoping there are others I’ve still to try.
Buxlow Paigle: This is a relatively firm textured off white cheese. Its smooth, with a nice mild tang, its quite moist and a bit like (although less crumbly than) a very mild Wenslydale. It’s made from pasteurised cow’s milk on a small farm in Friston near Aldeburgh. There is also an apple wood smoked version; I didn’t taste it this time but it worked well on a wonderful rarebit I had recently.
Buxlow Wonmil: Okay lets be honest here, this is one of my all time favourite cheeses and part of my inspiration for doing this tasting. Anyway it is quite a soft cheese, a little in texture like goats cheese but not as crumbly. It’s very young and therefore soft, fresh and tangy with a lovely lemony-ness. It’s very white in colour and is sold at only two days old. It’s a classic fresh cheese that you don’t find that much in the UK. I love it in frittata but its great on the cheese board too providing a nice contrast to harder cheeses. Again it’s a cow’s milk cheese and in case you couldn’t guess from the name it’s made on the same farm in Friston as the paigle. As you can see I love it.
Hawkston: Made from unpasteurised cow’s milk and matured for 3-5 months this is slightly crumbly and quite tangy. It’s rather like the cheeses of Cheshire, Lancashire or Wenslydale in style. It’s quite white in colour and a refreshing hard cheese. It’s made at Rodwell Farm, which is near Needham Market.
Shipcord: This is made by the same dairy as the Hawston, again from unpasteurised cow’s milk. It’s matured for longer (about 6 months) and is made by a different method. It’s much firmer and yellower. Its rather like a mild cheddar or Lincolnshire Poacher. The dairy suggest its akin to some alpine cheeses and there is a sweet nuttiness to the flavour. There is also an extra matured and a smoked version available which I’ve yet to try.
Suffolk Blue: This is a blue version of Suffolk Gold. It’s made from Guernsey milk so is very creamy and rich yellow in colour. It’s a soft cheese like a firm rich brie in texture. It’s very buttery, a little earthy and has a mild blue tang with undertones of salt. It’s made by The Suffolk Cheese Company again near Needham Market.
Overall I enjoyed testing out some new cheeses that are local to me. I think my favourite of the new finds was the Hawkston but since I grew up in Lancashire maybe that’s no surprise. I’ll be adding them all to my repertoire but expect the Wonmil and Hawkston to the be the two I buy most often.
If anyone knows of any Suffolk cheeses I’ve missed then I’d love to hear about them so I can give then a try. I also need to decide which county from my ‘local’ definition to tackle next; basically there’s Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to choose from, suggestions welcome.
I found all the by just looking out what was available cheeses in farm shops in Suffolk but a useful book for English cheese spotting is ‘Great British Cheeses’ by Jenny Lindford. Its pretty up to date as it was published in 2008. It’s got good pictures and some background and tasting notes on each cheese. Unfortunately it doesn’t have an index by county!
What did you have for breakfast today? Cereal? Toast? Fry up? Nothing?
Whatever you had I know it can’t have been as interesting as my breakfast was. Why’s that? Well I was Eating Eurovision and you, unless you are one of the other very mad food bloggers taking part in this caper (each with our own country to sample), you weren’t. Today for you was probably just a normal day with a normal breakfast. My breakfast may well have been normal for any self respecting Norwegian on any normal Norwegian day but it was an adventure through another culture for me.
So how exactly did I get to be eating Norwegian delicacies in East London on a damp Saturday morning (hey Norwegian style weather to make it more authentic excellent!)?
Um well, via the wonders of the superinternetmotorwaytechiethingy I recently joined a London food bloggers forum and, lo, one of then had come up with the challenge of 25 food bloggers eating the food of the 25 Eurovision finalists within the M25. Sounded like fun so I signed up and duly spent Thursday evening in a meeting room at the BBC watching the second semi final with 20 people I’d never met before…..ah the wonders of the internet bringing people together – a new approach to community. Once the complex voting for the last ten coveted slots was over we each selected (with some fear for which country we would get) a pingpong ball from a bag.
I got RUSSIA.
And so why have I just been eating Norwegian breakfast? Well poor old Norway hadn’t been picked because we were a few bloggers short – so I gallantly said I’d take it on – I mean they are right up there as one of the favourites to win tonight how could we not sample their cuisine plus it was going to be a great chance to introduce BROWN CHEESE to the rest of the world.
Now I happen to have some Norwegian connections in my family so I’ve eaten Norwegian before and been to the lovely city of Bergen several times. So I sort of knew what I was letting myself in for but I had no idea how easy or not it would be to get my mitts on some Norwegian breakfasty things within the M25 in time to blog about it all today.
First stop was Twitter where the airwaves were buzzing with #eatingeurovision tweets from everyone taking part trying frantically to track down leads for their country. I didn’t get any Norwegian specialists this way but I did get some general Scandinavian pointers. I moved onto the internet proper and that miracle tool that is Google. ‘Norwegian food cooking london’ and other similar phrases threw up a link to the Official Norway site in the UK – here there’s lots of info about all things Norwegian including the upcoming festivities for National Day this Sunday 17 May (which has its own favoured dish I’m going to blog about separately) and some background on Norwegian foods. Rather worryingly it refers to lutefisk simply as a fish dish particular to Norway when in reality it’s a pretty frightening sounding concoction involving cod that has been dried then soaked in lye or caustic soda until it becomes soft and jelly like. Moving swiftly on I find a link to a shop near Oxford circus that sells food goodies from Scandinavia so I decide to pin my hopes on this.
I get to Scandinavian Kitchen just before the lunchtime rush and I’m so excited I forget to take any pictures of anything, dear oh dear. I spot the cheese section fairly quickly and can see they have some of what I’m after so I have a little chat with the guy behind the counter, telling him what I’m up to and asking what else my Norwegian breakfast should involve, he directs me to the flatbread (flatbrød) but also tells me that crispbreads are not very Norwegian and steers me away from a Ryvita type moment. He has to get back to serving so he hands me over to a lovely lady who takes me on a whistle-stop tour of what I need: the cheeses are good, flatbread is good, there should be fresh bread too (they don’t have any specifically Norwegian stuff at the shop so she suggests sourdough but not rye, Norway is not big on rye bread she says and they like their bread less sweet than the Swedes!), liver paste, lamb salami, a Norwegian take on Nutella, fish egg paste (I skip on this option), boiled egg, jam (but she doesn’t have any cloudberry so I skip on getting jam as well). I’m pretty loaded up by now and then along comes a customer she knows well who happens to be Norwegian and so we double check the breakfast options with her and we are bang on track, I just need to drink a big cup of coffee with it and I’ll be having a full on Norwegian breakfast moment. I take my haul to the till, pay up (ouch the prices are high but they are also high in Norway, food is not cheap there) and dash off weighed down with stuff. The friends I’m meeting for lunch are all a bit bemused when I roll up with a huge bag full of Norwegian stuff and clearly think I’ve gone completely mad since they last saw me, ah well, they don’t know what they are missing.
On to this morning and its time for a Norwegian breakfast feast. My husband looks a bit dubious as I start getting all the stuff out and is clearly disappointed that it’s not the bacon and mushroom sandwich option that Saturday usually brings. But he joins in skipping only on the brown cheese.
So what did we have and what was it like? Here’s the spread:
We’ve got (L to R, back row first):
lamb salami (this one is actually Swedish but the shop didn’t have any specifically from Norway and I wanted to give it a go)
Flatbread (take a look inside the box….erm where does the packing stop and the bread begin….)
My nice glossy Norwegian cookbook that my brother gave me
some Ridder cheesesome brown cheese (Gudbrandsdalsost)
Liver paste (isn’t the kid cute)
the chocolatey nutty spread
some Norvegia cheesemore brown cheese (Ekte Geitost)
And here it is on the plate with my lovely Norwegian pewter cheese slice (essential for cutting slivers of these boingy cheeses):
Was it good?
Pretty much so. The salami wasn’t as lamby flavoured as I’d expected and it was rather too salty but pretty nice. The flatbread was very dry (you could play the eat 2 creams crackers challenge with it) but that’s part of the point, its dry so it stores well, its not especially interesting or full of flavour and when I told my husband I’d spotted a recipe for soup made with it he looked at me rather oddly; its not inedible just a vehicle for other stuff. The chocolate-y spread was so so sweet I couldn’t have more than a mouthful – I guess you either like that kind of thing or you don’t. The liver paste was really tasty, a smooth liver pate basically, good stuff. The two paler cheeses (Ridder and Norvegia) were fairly mild, a bit like Edam; the Norvegia was a lot like Jarlsberg which you can get easily in supermarkets here; the Ridder was stronger with a slightly earthy flavour and probably better as a lunch or dinner cheese.
And the BROWN CHEESE??
They are both made from goats milk and are very traditional Norwegian cheeses. There are quite a few variations available in Norway in terms of strength and creaminess, sometimes cows and goats milk are used together which generally makes a for a milder cheese. All are made from a mix of milk, cream and whey cooked together until they caramelise which is where the brown colour and surreal sweet flavour comes from. I really love the flavour, its weird but tasty (think savoury fudge!), others think it’s vile (e.g. my husband for one). The Ekte Geitost was stronger and had a drier texture than the Gudbrandsdalsost, which is milder and smoother.
Go on give them a go you know you want to and you can get them at some branches of Waitrose according to the Norwegian Cheeses UK site. Hurrah a constant supply for me ?
And as for tonight well lets hope young Alexander Ryback has been brought up on a good diet of smooth tasty brown cheese – its sure to give him the edge over rivals. Go Norway Go.
Anyway Mr Browners is fed up with pre-packed sandwiches and I’m fed-up with look-a-like Pret’s all over the place. Pret was good once (honestly) back in the days when it was just starting and only had a few stores, it was a revelation as well as independent. Like many good things they expanded and expanded then they needed big corporate money. I guess there might a place for that kind of thing when you visit a town you know nothing about and are desperate to eat and have no time to find real recommendations – it makes acceptable food on such occasions, but day to day it get a little dull.
But there are LOADS of independent sandwich shops out there (some good, some bad) plus you could always try your hand at making something yourself. Browners asked for people to go in search of great sandwiches – so we did.
I decided to do not just one but two sandwiches. One from a shop, one homemade.
First up the shop one. Its from Caradell in Red Lion Street, WC2. Caradell is a nice little deli close by where I used to work so I’ve been there often but having moved on job wise I’d not been in nearly a year – time to try it again. What I always liked about the place is that its busy, service is fast, the sandwiches are made to order and, most of all, pretty much everything is a variation on the classic ham and cheese. Well that might not be quite right but in my view you can’t easily beat ham (or salami, or chorizo, or jamon etc etc) and cheese so maybe I just home in on those choices. On this occasion I went for proper British cooked ham off the bone with Emmenthal (no British cheeses in sight boooooo) with Cumberland Sauce – on bloomer of course.
As you can see its pretty chunky and not for the delicate – its quite hard to eat (all their sandwiches are packed full of filling). It was a great combo but I’d prefer there to be some British cheese as an option. The Cumberland Sauce was nice and tangy, so good stuff all round. At £4.60 its pricey (but it is big and its quality ingredients) and in my view worth it. I can also vouch that their other ham/cheese variations are also excellent.
And on to today when I decided to rustle up a quick sandwich myself. I went for all English using Village Bakery Pain de Campagne (sourdough), Hawkston cheese from Suffolk (a bit like mild Lancashire), glass grown tomatoes from the Isle of Wight (via Waitrose) and some Stokes Lemon Mayonnaise. Yum – and probably not £4.60!
A few weeks ago I treated myself to a ‘Tarte Maison‘ tin from John Lewis. Its a lovely thing, 3 times as long as its wide and calling out to have something pretty made in it. Initially I’d intended to make a rhubarb tart that I’d seen Jonathan (aka @Browners), over at ‘Around Britain with a Paunch‘ mention on Twitter. I’ve not got to the rhubarb tart yet – mainly because we don’t eat that many desserts so it just hasn’t happened.
But this weekend I thought it would be nice to do something a little bit different with asparagus that still let it shine and played to its best qualities but moved away from simple steaming and dressing (much as I love it just steamed).
The tart tin seemed just the thing to show off the asparagus.
It was quick and easy:
1. Steam 10 asparagus spears until tender and then immediately plunge them into cold water so they retain their vibrant green colour. Cut each spear in half so you have a bottom end and an end with the tip on.
2. Grease the tart tin and then line with four layers of filo pastry (I needed 8 sheets which overlapped in the middle). Pour in baking beans and blind bake for 7 minutes at Gas 6/200C/400F. Remove from oven and careful remove the baking beans. Allow to cool slightly.
3. Lay the bottoms of the asparagus spears in the pastry case. Add soft goats cheese cut into small pieces (I used 100g of Pants y Gawn). Pour in beaten and seasoned eggs (it took 6 medium eggs).
4. Lay the tops of asaparagus spears on the eggy mix. Bake 20 minutes at Gas 6 until the mixture is firm. Allow to cool, admire, slice and serve.
The asparagus season has been going for a week or so now and so far I’ve only had one tasting just over a week ago and none since. It was great but once only is not good enough, there are only 6-8 weeks of the season, I refuse to buy asparagus out of season and I love the stuff so I really need to get focussed – I mean I’d eat it everyday if I could! So today, despite the heavy rain and blustery wind, I decided it had to be asparagus for lunch, preferably with some Jersey Royals alongside. A quick trip to the supermarket was required – now I know I should be buying this stuff at the local farmers shop/market/etc but:
a. there isn’t one near me and
b. its Monday so time is short for food shopping.
I got what I needed – a good bunch of asparagus (it was from Hampshire – I’m really wondering where the East Anglia asparagus is this year after all its nearer – so much for Waitrose’s local sourcing policy!) and a small bag of Jersey Royals (and what happened to them being sold still in the soil it seemed so much better and they had them like that last year?).
Anyway back home with my haul of goodies I set to work to make a quick lunch. I like my asparagus simply done –I’m not one for turning it into soups it always seems best to me steamed or maybe grilled and then dressed with some oil or butter, or served with simple accompaniments such as poached egg, or a little cheese. Today I opted for steaming it above the potatoes and then serving it on a bed of parma ham, drizzling it with olive oil and sprinkling with a little bit of Sacanova Aged Mahon cheese, the potatoes were alongside with some oil and fresh mint.
Sweet and slightly nutty asparagus, earthy, nutty potatoes, sweet ham and a salty caramel tang from the cheese – perfection.
With only about 45 days left to get my fill how shall I have tomorrow’s asparagus?
I’ve been blogging now for a couple of months and I’ve been looking at some of the other food blogs out there to see what goes on in the food blogging community. I noticed that some bloggers run ‘events’ as part of what they do and I thought it might be fun to join in now that I’m starting to get used to (or possibly obsessed by) the whole blogging thing.
Early on I’d seen the ‘In the bag’ monthly event that is run jointly by Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and Scott at ‘Real Epicurean’ and was disappointed to have missed out on the January deadline; then I got so absorbed in playing with my blog, adding (and subtracting) widgets, reading Blogging for Dummies, checking out other blogs – you all know how it is I guess you’ve been there too – that I didn’t spot February’s ‘bag’ until it was so close to the deadline I knew I wouldn’t have time to think something up.
So as not to miss out again I watched closely for March’s bag to be announced and then got to thinking about what I could do with these three ingredients (leeks, cheese and eggs) which feature frequently in my cooking but, I immediately realised, rarely in one dish.
So off I went to do some researching in my various cookbooks.
As leeks seemed to be the key ingredient I started by looking for different ways with them that also used both eggs and cheese (for this first attempt I didn’t want to drop one of the ingredients even though you are allowed to, that seemed way too easy). There were plenty of choices with leeks and cheese and a few with leeks and eggs but little that combined all three beyond the inevitable leek and cheese flan/tart/quiche – delicious but very obvious – I was hoping for something a little different and also a dish that could perhaps become a new favourite in my cooking.
I did spot a leeky Welsh rarebit recipe in Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Year that looked rather tasty but decided it felt a little too much like a hearty winter dish and I wanted something that would work well as a fresh and light spring dish. I was also reminded how versatile leeks are, its so easy to fall to just steaming them and serving as a side dish when with a little imagination they could shine in their own right.
Some of the ideas that I toyed with along the way but discarded were (some of my general sources of inspiration are shown in brackets for those who want to pursue any of these):
With pasta in a kind of vegetarian carbonara style or with homemade pasta (using the eggs) and a leeky cheesy sauce (any Italian cookbook will help).
As a kind of French onion style soup with a nice melted cheese crouton (I think this was from a Jamie Oliver book where he does a three types of onion soup – I think its Jamie at Home but can’t seem to locate it right now – sorry).
In a risotto (any Italian cookbook).
As a gratin….
And so it went on – lots of fun delving in recipe books, finding great ideas, discounting them because they either didn’t use all three ingredients or they didn’t seem to fit with the fact the weather was getting wonderfully spring like. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be submitting again this time…….
in the chapters devoted to March and April (with wild salad leaves, with sorrel, with spinach and prosciutto). Something started to stir – I really like frittata and other similar styles of omelette and I often cook one with a delicious fresh cheese called BuxlowWonmil that I get when I’m in Suffolk.
There wasn’t going to be chance to get any of that particular cheese for this dish but I did want the refreshing tang that it has, so goats cheese seemed a possibility and thinking back to the leeky cheesy rarebit that I’d liked the sound of I remembered that Waitrose stock a Welsh goats cheese (Pant ysGawn) that would fit the bill. I was beginning to feel like I might be in business. A spring frittata made with good British ingredients to be served, hopefully, with a side salad of early spring salad leaves (I was really hoping for some sorrel as I’d spied some in the herb section at Waitrose recently)
So off to the supermarket this morning to get the ingredients (sadly there isn’t a farmers market near where I live other than going into London to Borough market, which I love but rarely have time for, hence a huge reliance on the local Waitrose.). There was no sorrel left but I did find some English watercress and had to settle for some French lambs lettuce as none of the leaves seemed to be English just yet. So here’s the recipe.
For 2 as a light lunch you need:
4 medium eggs (organic for preference)
½ – 1 Pant YsGawn goat’s cheese (I used a whole cheese but see later) – or other fresh tangy soft cheese
1 slim leek
freshly ground black pepper
Salad leaves of your choice
Make sure the grill is on and warm before you start
The Leek: Top and tail the leek and cut into chunks about 1 inch in length then slice these into quarters, rinse the leek thoroughly to remove any grit and drain or spin in a salad spinner. Heat a little butter in an omelette or other shallow pan (of about 6-7” in diameter). Add the leeks and allow them to soften for a maximum of 5 minutes, you are aiming for them to retain some of their crunch.
The eggs: break the eggs into a bowl; add a splash of milk and some salt and pepper. As soon as the leeks have softened a little pour the eggs into the pan and allow to cook slightly. Draw in parts of the sides a few times to create a little fluffiness in the texture. Once you think you have a good base but the eggs are still runny for most of the depth then…..
Add the cheese, which you have crumbled or cut into small chunks. Cook for a little longer and then pop the pan under the grill (be careful with the handle if its not heat proof) to cook the frittata from the top. This will take about 3-4 minutes if the grill is hot.
Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly, slice and serve with your chosen salad leaves.
I was pretty pleased with the result, the leek flavours showed through well and they were soft enough but still with some bite, the cheese contrasted with them nicely and had a good tang and the salad leaves (dressed with just a little extra virgin rapeseed oil) made for a nice soft balance. I think probably the whole goats cheese was a little too much as the egg flavour was a bit lost so when I make this again I’d probably scale back to ½ of the cheese.
I really enjoyed the whole ‘In the bag’ challenge; it made me think about some ingredients differently, gave me chance to read lots of recipe books and generated lots of ideas for ways to have leeks that I’d either forgotten or not thought of before.
So I’ll be looking forward to whatever is ‘In the bag’ in April.