Monday, 30 September 2013

Thanks Hairy Bikers but no thanks

As it is around the time of year when the fig lottery pays out (or in most cases does not) I thought I'd pick up on an idea from the Hairy Bikers Everyday Gourmet I watched last week. I have a good Brown Turkey Fig tree in the garden but the vagaries of the British summer means that most years I have a tree full of unripe figs (though I do have a great recipe for bottling these). I happened to spot some figs at a good price and decided to try out something I had seen on TV last week.

As usual, I was not going to follow a recipe book. I had four good figs. Picked up some prosciutto ham and a nice wedge of Gorgonzola cheese.

 The ingredients
First I cut a cross in the top of each of the figs.

 Cross cut fig

 Next, I wrapped the base of each fig in prosciutto

 Figs in blankets ?

I then stood each fig up and squeezed the base to open the cross cut. I then filled the opened fig with Gorgonzola.

 Ready for the oven

I then put the figs on a baking tray into a preheated oven at 180C for 18 minutes. I then served two per plate with a touch of salad and a few sprigs of fresh thyme to garnish the figs.

Lunch plated up

The verdict 

 These were OK if a little salty. If I make them again I think a wedge of fresh lime to squeeze over the figs will help add the zing they were missing. If you have figs and the other ingredients at hand then they are a pleasant starter but not one worth rushing to the shops for. To my mint, the salad, the fresh, uncooked figs the prosciutto and some good Parmesan shavings make a far nicer lunch.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Busy, busy, busy

Sorry if you missed me. I have had a rather busy weekend so no time to write. I got roped into a bowling match yesterday, Drake style not 10 pin. No, I don't bowl. I was a member of the drunkards team and came joint last. The real ale was good though. And watching the rugby on BT Sport during the breaks between matches. That took up a large chunk of the day and I have a new summer house arriving later this week to replace the one I built some thirteen years ago. Apparently, the local insect population admire my culinary skills as much as my friends. Over the last thirteen years they have moved in and devoured key parts of the structure of the old summer house I designed and built when we moved in so time for a new one. Today involved clearing out and pulling down what is left. The good news is that I have a stack of good firewood to fuel the fire pit. The better news is that I won the meat raffle at the club on Friday so I have a great lump of beef to play with and best of all, this weekend I managed to find time to cook off some figs, sous vide some beef, create a good value orange liqueur, make some stock syrup and take a few photographs during the process. Look out for the posts later this week.
     Hope you all had a great weekend. I am looking forward to sharing the fun I had with food with you later in the week but for now, I need to relax with a nice Jacobs Creek Cold harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Only 10.5%, Light and refreshing with no hangover tomorrow as I roll back into work.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Pancetta Time

A cure for a busy year

It's been a long and very busy year so I have somewhat neglected my charcuterie. Last year there were salami, choritzos, bacon and gammon hams as well as my own take on biltong but time has run away with me this year. Before we all get caught up in the Christmas rush I need to get back into the swing of things. To set me on my way I decided to start with the easiest of all, pancetta. I'll prepare a nice half belly of pork sometime soon but to start me off I decided to begin with a 500 gram piece of pork belly. I've adjusted the seasoning mix accordingly.

On the starting block

First things first, I remove the skin from the belly. You can as your butcher to do this as it can be a little tricky.

Skin off

Now to the cure. I use a spiced variation of the simple sugar and salt cure I sometimes use for bacon.  I like to use molasses sugar in my cure as it adds a nice dark colour to the meat. I add juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic, bay and thyme to the mix to give it a good flavour. 

All the ingredients (with the exception of a little malt vinegar)

500grams of pork belly (skin removed)
30 grams of cooking salt
30 grams of dark molasses sugar
8 to 10 juniper berries
10 grams black pepper
2 grams nutmeg
a small sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (I prefer fresh)
1 small clove of garlic (optional)

You can, at this point, crush the juniper berries, mix the salt and sugar, grate the nutmeg, finely chop the bay, crush the garlic and grind the pepper before mixing it all together. I take the Bamix shortcut here. One of the best tools I have in the kitchen when it comes to grinding or chopping herbs and spices or blending a sauce in the pan. I have to admit that I do prefer to hand grate the Nutmeg. I love the smell.

The cure post Bamix blitz.

Now to put it all together. Wash the pork belly with a good dose of malt vinegar. Place the dampened meat into a large ziploc bag. Add the cure mixture, about half to either side of the meat. Seal the bag removing most of the air and place in the fridge.

In the Bag

The final ingredient is time and a little care each day for 4 days. For each of the next four days, I take the ziploc bag out of the fridge and massage the dark syrup that has now formed around the meat for a few seconds before returning it to the fridge.

The syrup 

After four days, remove the cured pork from the bag and carefully wash the syrup mixture off the meat. Another wash with malt vinegar and you are ready to roll and tie the meat.

The cured pork

I find a larger joint easier to tie but once you have the hang of the butchers knot (and with the aid of the odd skewer if needed) then it is fairly quick and easy to roll the meat ready for a short spell hanging in an airy room. My conservatory is shaded and ideal for this. 

The Knot

The completed roll

I now hang this in my conservatory for two to three weeks until the meat feels leathery. You don't want it to get too hard. I know slice and vacuum pack most of it. The scraps and ends get chopped and vacuum packed for use in soups and sauces.

The final product

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Name to Watch

Hammet House

From time to time I travel down to Wild West Wales to visit my mum. Since she has a rather small bungalow my wife and I use the visit as an excuse to try out places to stay and eat nearby. On one of these visits last year we decided to try out Hammet House in Llechryd ( ). I was interested in seeing what the new owners had done to it since they took over the then ramshackle Castle Malgwyn Hotel.

A New Take on the Grand Tour.

Around the time the house was built it was in vogue to travel Europe on a Grand Tour and collect furniture and objet d'art that were then proudly displayed in such large homes. Since taking over this tired old seat the new owners have refreshed it's interior with their own take on the Grand Tour. It is filled with an eclectic mix of modern furnishing design icons and items that are quite a shock if you were expecting a traditional country house but so much more interesting.Once your eyes and imagination have been excited by your surroundings then the next adventure begins. Dinner is served from and extensive and cleverly constructed bar and dinning room menu. You are free to mix and match from both and the food is awesome. Their young chef has a fantastic palate that has created dishes the like of which I have only experienced in the very best of the 'Michelin' listed restaurants. I cannot praise the food enough. I have no doubt that Andy Beaumont, the head chef will go on to greater and greater things. I received a post earlier to inform me he now has his own facebook page. Keep an eye out for this young man. He will go far so take a tip from me and get down to West Wales and try out his food before he moves up into the limelight and it costs you a fortune to try his food if you can get a booking.Here is the link to his page :

I must get down there again soon. Watch out for a post when I next get down there for a slap up meal. If you have a little more freedom with your time than me then keep an eye out for their special events like the Organic Wine Flight Dinner on the 4th of October 20013. Sounds like a real treat but I will have my hands full dealing with a new summer house. Bad planning on my part.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Dreams of crisp Danish delights

Adventures with Æbleskiver 

I am often at my most creative in the wee small hours. I often wake at around 3 or 4am (perhaps I am a natural born baker?) and at this time my mind is often filled with ideas, This morning was one of those. I woke thinking about Æbleskiver. After tasting them at Noma, filled with herbs, I was inspired enough to research them a little. They are a traditional Danish dessert made in an Æbleskiver pan like the one below.

300okgnx.tf5/Eabelskiver Pan.jpg

 The pan is heated over a medium heat to a point where butter sizzles on the pan. The dimples are greased with butter before a buttermilk batter is spooned in to fill to about half way. At this point apple is traditionally added before more batter is added to fill each well. The batter is now left to cook until the edges of each Æbleskiver begin to brown and pull away from the edges. At this point they are traditionally turned using a knitting needle to create an evenly browned, spherical dessert.

My thoughts around these little delights focus on varying the sweetness of the batter and using other ingredients to fill them. The possibilities are endless but before I can play I need a pan. A quick web search showed that they could be purchased from the usual large on-line retailer, Amazon. I found a good looking pan at under £30 but it was delivered from the US. I can't wait that long to start to play so a return to Google soon showed this more local supplier where I found the pan shown above. One is now on order and I will let you know how I get on when it arrives.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Wonderful Copenhagen.


Firstly a big thank you to all of you who listen to me rabbiting on about food. Where I have eaten. What I have been taught. My latest food toy and what I have been cooking. It is with your encouragement that I have decided to open my discourse up to a wider audience via this blog.

I love food. I love cooking and I love learning new and creative ways to use the produce available to me. Needless to say this has a detrimental effect on the waistline, hence the title of this blog. Although I do get to eat out a fair bit, on the whole, my cooking is responsible for the way I feel and look. Some people get to contribute from time to time and the first of those I will mention here.


Over the last few days I have been enjoying the wonderful city of Copenhagen. Earlier this year I celebrated one of those milestone birthdays. My wife decided to celebrate it by taking me to five of the world's best restaurants. Sadly, this weekend saw the end of this treat with a visit to Noma.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of what we ate on this adventure I would just like to say that this visit has rekindled my hunger for exciting food. In recent months, a rather stressful day job had all but robbed me of my creativity but a three hour treatment in this food spa has lit the fuse and blown away the creative block.

We arrived in Copenhagen on Friday afternoon. My appreciation of the city started with the ease with which we bought tickets and caught a train into the city centre. We arrived at the central station and exited with some trepidation. In our experience, most city center stations are dens of iniquity.  No such worries here. We walked into a spotlessly clean street opposite the famous Tivoli gardens.  There were thousands of sturdy looking bicycles, most without locks, stacked against the station and down the street. It looked like crime was not going to be an issue here so we strode off on the short walk to our hotel.

As we made our way to the hotel it was clear that the bicycle was king. It was also clear that they had a healthy acceptance of alcohol. We passed many bars with entertaining chalkboard signs outside inviting people to enter. My favourite was 'Let's complicate our friendship over a few cocktails'. We arrived at the First hotel27, our home for the next 48 hours, to be greeted by a sign declaring that '7 pints of beer is a meal'. This, I hoped, set the scene for the next few days.

The Hotel - First Hotel 27

I will comment on places we stay from time to time. The First Hotel 27 ( ) is a not inexpensive city centre hotel. It has a great cocktail bar with some very creative cocktails available. If you plan to stay here then, unless you are a night owl and party animal, avoid the lower floors which benefit from injected sub-base from the bar disco and screams from late night revellers returning to their beds. We found this out through experience on the first night and were unable to sleep until 5am only to be woken at 8:45 by the mass door slamming of the breakfast rush. To be fair to the hotel, as soon as we complained at reception they made every effort to move us. We spent a much more peaceful night on the fifth floor for our second night there.
            As to the room. It may be expensive but don’t expect luxury. The rooms are small. Double beds rammed against a wall on one side. A simple plastic bedside table (just the one) at the bottom of the bed and a wardrobe/cupboard setup that looked like Lego designed it and about 20cm deep. There is an ironing board in the room but no tea/coffee making facility, no bottled water and little in the way of luxury save a few bottles of bathroom junk. You can get everything you need from water to chocolates from the shop in reception but at a price. One thing that can be said is that the hotel is ideally located for shopping, the Tivoli gardens and, of course, Noma.

The Restaurant - Noma

Now to the point of the visit. On the Saturday we had a lunch reservation at 12 in Noma. It was a nice day so we strolled the 1.7km from the hotel to the restaurant. A pleasant walk on the whole but a little disconcerting when you walk past a modern justice ministry building adjacent to a building site. The GPS was doubted at this point but, sure enough, just around the corner we were greeted with our first view of the restaurant.

My wife stood outside of the entrance.

We approached the front door and it was opened for us. We were ushered inside and met by a crowd of chefs all eagerly greeting us and welcoming us in. As reserved Brits we almost turned tail and ran at this point. I guess that if you take a slightly later reservation they will be busy serving the other guests and you may be met with a less crowded welcome..

We were ushered to our table and sat down in front of a window overlooking a new bridge development and the canal.

The view from our table
Our first waiter/chef informed us that our menu had been planned and they were eager to begin serving us. We were offered an aperitif or some champagne but after the walk we both opted for sparkling mineral water. This was provided throughout our three hour experience. Glasses constantly topped up with none of the ‘would you like another bottle’ expense suffered in other restaurants. Hot towels were delivered so that we could freshen up before the starter courses.

Starter Courses 

Within minutes a chef arrived with our first course. He, and all the subsequent chefs , took pains to explain what we were about to experience. If you want to remember exactly what you have here it is probably best to record these descriptions as the menu you are presented with does not have the detail. Something else I learned through experience so you will have to suffer my descriptions rather than those from the chef.
Our first dish was a gooseberry (each of course) that had been pickled with Elderfower. A sharp palate cleanser with floral overtones. Needless to say it was gone in an instant but not to fear as the next dish arrived in a matter of moments. The service is rapid and you are hit with taste experience after taste experience right up to the desert courses. They do permit you a break then if you need one.

Gooseberry and Elderflower

We were next presented with Nordic Coconut. A kohlrabi that had been ingeniously hollowed out  through a 2cm hole and filled with a slightly salty kohlrabi juice. We drank this delicious juice through a straw made from a hollowed out kohlrabi stem. This ‘coconut’ was accompanied by a bunch of bitter ‘weeds’ wrapped in a wilted leaf. The idea is that you take a sip then a bite of the bitter weeds and repeat.

Nordic Coconut

Having marvelled at  bitter weeds we recognised from our own garden and finished the course we were presented with a bowl containing rose-hips and fresh peeled walnuts.  The taste was not as expected. The walnuts were as sweet as peas and complimented the rose hips. I have often eaten rose hip jelly but I had never thought of cleaning them and using them as a fruit. A new idea to add to my recipes.

Hip berry and pea flower

Our next course arrived and I cannot remember what the accurate description was but we each had a crisp blackcurrant flavoured case filled with cream and pollen wrapped in rose petals. I could have eaten a box of these light delicacies.

Berry and Roses

By now, I was so caught up in the taste adventure that I almost forgot to take a snap of the next dish. My wife had already tucked in to the Moss and Cepes before I had time to focus. The reindeer moss  (white in the picture) had been deep fried and sprinkled with powdered cepes. This delicate mat  was dipped into the accompanying crème fraiche. The crunchy moss worked well with the creamy crème fraiche.

Moss and Cepes

Our next chef arrived with a beaten up biscuit tin. He opened it and presented us with a simple but delicious cheese cookie topped with rocket and herb stems. A real shame that there were only two in the box. I thought these tasted heavenly.

Cheese cookie, rocket and stems

Our next dish caught my attention. They take the skin that forms when you boil milk, crisp it and serve slivers of cod liver on it. Stunning. Can’t wait to dig the milk out of the fridge and learn this trick.

Cod livers and milk

Our next course arrived in an egg box. That is to say a speckled egg shaped box but before we could tuck in another chef arrived with a course that he informed us was time critical so we devoured that first. More of the intriguing milk crisp atop of lumpfish roe and duck liver supported on a sourdough toast. My wife was not so fond of this so I had double the pleasure of eating both.

Toast, lumpfish and duck liver.

We now turned our attention to the egg box.

Egg Box

We knew it contained quail eggs that had been cooked, smoked, pickled, smoked again in hay and were waiting inside. These were glorious. Warm runny centres surrounded by a smokey albumen that was firm and well flavoured. A masterpiece in egg cooking.

Pickled and smoked quail eggs.

The next chef arrived with what looked like a snail pan but was in fact for cooking Æbleskiver. A traditional Danish pancake served at Christmas that normally contains applesauce (Æbleskiver is Danish for apple slices). These, however, contained a wonderful mix of herbs. The warm herbs and the slightly sweet batter were a pleasure in the mouth.

Æbleskiver and greens.

Finally, a course arrived I recognised from the off. Two bunt leeks were presented to us. Chef told us that these had been cooked on the barbeque outside and that the smokey juices and the tender inside had been coarsely minced and served together in this novel container. As a Welshman I have suffered the odd leek eating competition. Had they tasted like this I would have entered more.

Burnt Leek

The next course may well be the first I attempt to recreate at home. Baby cucumbers, fennel stems and dill warmed until tender and served with raspberry, blueberry, blackcurrant and rose hips in a cool buttermilk and herb oil sauce. I just loved this original mix of flavours.

Berries and grilled vegetables

As the description of the next dish was spelled out for us I was intrigued by the potential flavour of rhubarb root. Four small nasturtium leaf parcels containing deep sea shrimps were presented to us in a rhubarb root sauce and topped with radish flowers.  The silky prawn mixture was off set by the bitter nasturtium and the alien flavour of rhubarb root. I have never tasted anything quite like it.

Shrimp and rhubarb root

Our next course arrived. Small onions that had been cooked on the barbecue. Cut up and served with pickled pear in the smokey juice from the onions. The bittersweet pear and the smokey onion were delicious but left me craving for a little bit of well cooked blue steak.

Onion and fermented pears

When the next dish arrived the care with which they prepare food here became clear. Beetroots had been roasted at 200C for 3 hours, turning every 15 minutes. These were then sliced and served in their juice with aromatic herb seeds. A great way to serve a simple food.

Beets and aromatic herbs

I had already tucked in to the next course when I remembered to take the photo so it is not as decorative as when it arrived. Cauliflower seared to the point of caramelization on one side in a pan with pine sprigs served with a herb sauce and horseradish cream. Not my favourite vegetable but the subtle pine flavours that had been infused into the cauliflower lifted this drab vegetable. That, added to the caremelization and the herb and horseradish made this an enjoyable dish.

Cauliflower and pine, cream and horseradish

Again, with the next dish I had eaten some before I remembered the camera. Probably the most disappointing dish. The chef went to great pains to tell us that we were lucky we were to experience this. The bleakfish don’t normally have roe at this time of year but the water around the Faroe islands had been warm so they had produced roe. This was served with two small potato balls that had been caramelized on the outside but were still crunchy on the inside. I found this dish bland and uninteresting but then others may love it.

Potato and bleakfish roe

Main Course 

We finally finished the started courses and moved on to the main course. Turbot, the king of fish in my opinion, roasted and served with a small, sweet turnip with bitter greens and nasturtium. We both loved this dish. The culmination of a parade of taste experiences over, we were permitted a welcome pause before our desert courses arrived.

Roasted turbot and turnip, bitter greens and nasturtium.


After a small pause a chef brought us our first dessert.  He described the blueberry and cream ice sandwiched in sweet wafers served with small nasturtium leaves glued together with thyme oil and crushed ants (we both thought we had misunderstood at this time and only had the insect verified when we were presented with the menu at the end of the meal). We were instructed to take a bite of the blueberry ice then a nasturtium sandwich, repeat and then eat the last of the ice. The flavour mix was astounding. Fantastic fruit and cream then a palette cleanse with the nasturtium, ants and thyme. I could have eaten much more than this but then I am a sucker for berry ice cream.

Blueberry and ants

Our next desert arrived with another surprising ingredient. A plum preserve served with creamed potato and a cream flavoured with the kernels of the plum stones. My doubts about the potato were soon swept away. The mellow potato blended well with the plum and was enhanced with the delicate almond flavours that the plum kernels had contributed to the cream.

Potato and plum

Petit fours

Our meal was now complete but the adventure was not yet over.  We were to be served a coffee roasted in Oslo in such a way that the bitterness was mostly removed leaving a fruity palate. My wife is not at all fond of coffee but decided to give it a try. She agreed that it was a much more pleasant drink but one cup was enough for her. This special coffee was to be served with their take on petit fours. The first, a sour-dough caramel with yoghurt and sea buck-thorn and elderflower salt. We were instructed to mix the yoghurt and buck-thorn and spread it on the caramel with a touch of the elderflower salt. An explosion of sweet, sour, salt followed. I was wishing for more of the sour-dough caramel so I could finish the yoghurt mix.

Sour-dough caramel with elderflower salt, yoghurt and sea buck-thorn.

Next, a traditional looking Danish pastry arrived. The look was where the tradition ended though. The ‘chocolate’ at the centre was actually a mix of malted barley and seaweed. A nice twist on the traditional.

Malt and seaweed Danish pastry

Our adventure almost at an end, the last of the petit fours arrived. The chef did not disappoint here either. The innovative approach continued as we were presented with pork crackling coated in chocolate and berries. My stomach trembled at the thought of this but if the ants had passed the teeth then surely I could try this bizarre mix. I was so glad I did. The blend of flavour and texture was wonderful. Mellow pork with sweet chocolate lifted by sharp berries was a wonderful finale to the best food adventure I have experienced so far.

Chocolate coated pork crackling with berries

The wine pairing

I should point out that we chose to have the partner wines with our lunch. Each is chosen for the way they compliment and enhance the food experience but, as with everything else Noma, they were not the expected collection of over priced names. I have listed the wines below and you will see that they are , indeed, a unique and educated choice.

2012 Saint Veran
Bruno Perraud

2011 Mauzac W et Chardonnay
La Sorga (Anthony Tortul)
Limoux – Languedoc

NV Petillant “Tant Mieux”
Philippe Bonard
Arbois – Jura

2009 Bouchat
Guy Blanchard
Macon – Bourgogne

2011 “Lassez Faire”
Christian Tschida
Illmitx – Burgenland

No. 6 “a Siassa”
Franz Strahmeier
St. Stefan - Weststeiermark