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October 29, 2005

Mashing potatoes with a whisk

Use a masher please, OK?I just don't know about Delia Smith.

She's set herself up as the cooking mother of the nation, won the confidence of millions of non-cooks to the extent that she's got generations of Brits eating out of her pudgy, freckled, antiseptic little hands. I reckon she's sitting there in Norfolk in her brushed velveteen housecoat and Canaries' scarf, sipping her half of Norfolk ale and having a mighty good laugh as she checks her status on Amazon's best-seller list.

There are many things I would like to do to Delia, but right now, having just washed up after dinner cooked by my father-in-law, I would like to grass her off to the Environment Agency.

My pa-in-law, Jed, an otherwise very confident and creative fellow, but being the product of a certain generation, will tackle only a fistful of recipes. Top of his list is a decent rendition of Delia Bloody Smith's sausages in cider with mashed potatoes. Now, I'm absolutely not slagging off the chef, but will somebody please tell me why must you mash potatoes with a whisk? Why? What's wrong with a masher and a fork? Or a ricer if you must? But an electric whisk? It took me about half an hour and a gallon of water to extract all the mash from the damned thing's nookie crannies. But Delia says it must be an electric whisk so a whisk it will be.

I'm not a great one for censorship of any kind but it's bonfire night soon and I reckon that Ms Smith's How To... series would make good tinder. It could be as symbolically liberating as bra burning in the 1970s if it meant that thousands of whisk-bound starter cooks were released from the nonsense gadgetry peddled by La Smith and would revert to only a few well-chosen kitchen tools.

Bring back the potato masher. It's easier to wash, besides.

October 24, 2005

Mrs Kirkham's Tasty Lancashire

Graham KirkhamIt sounds straight out of Wallace and Gromit, and having tasted this delicious cheese I could almost hear Wallace singing out: "I'm crackers for cheeeese."

I swung by Mrs Kirkham's last week when I was on a whistle-stop trip to the North of England. It's a tiny dairy on a farm outside Goosnargh in Lancs, presided over by a very chirpy cheesemaker called Graham, the fifth generation of Kirkham. Out of a couple of barns and a steel bath, which pretty much describes this operation, Graham Kirkham, with the help of Fiona, his companion in curds, daily turns out roughly 12 to 15 10kg cheeses from the unpasteurised milk of his 75-strong Holstein Freisian herd ("There are no days off in cheesemaking," says Graham. "When the cows milk, there's cheese to be made".)

Mrs Kirkham's Tasty Lancashire cheeses maturing on the shelfMrs Kirkham's Tasty Lancashire is made to a very traditional recipe, blending three separate days' curds, salting, pressing, tightening and buttering by hand before sitting the 10kg truckles to mature for anything from six weeks to 12 months -- the longer the better. (The buttering is the trad bit -- Graham's great-grandma used to use full-fat, full-cream, salted butter to seal the cheeses until the 1950s when wax was introduced but, coming full circle, Graham has reverted to the 'old ways' and now brushes the truckles with the good stuff.)

The result is a sumptuous buttery, creamy -- almost fluffy -- cheese with a good lasting flavour that develops as you eat it. And if my word isn't good enough, it won a silver in its category at the 2005 British Cheese Awards last Friday.

If you're keen to try it (and you should be), you can find it on the cheese counter at Booth's supermarkets and Selfridges, or at cheese specialists Neal's Yard Dairy, Paxton & Whitfield, Jeroboams and Iain Mellis.

October 23, 2005

Align your bleedin' chakras, or else!

Just back from a couple of days in Cumbria (but more of that later) and rummaging through the post. A brochure for the Mind Body Soul exhibition threw up this classic bit of copywriting which has nothing to do with food but made me snort with laughter:

Former East End gangster Reiki Ron spent 17 years in solitary [confinement] for GBH and crimes of violence. Locked up, he discovered he had as much a gift for healing with his hands as he did for beating people senseless with them. Fed up with softly spoken, over-polite healers? Reiki Ron is the antidote.

Humour and healing? Who would have thought it. Reiki Ron can be seen at 3.30pm on Sunday 13th November at the MBS exhibition which takes place at Olympia 2 in London.

October 18, 2005

Chocolate con churros

Swampy Spanish hot chocolate They say that the best time to eat carbohydrate is shortly after exercise because it gets burnt up faster rather than being laid down as fat. Which is a good thing because right next to the pool where I take my daughter Clementine swimming is the Churreria Española, and if you're looking for a post-pool hit of carbs, this is the place to get it.

I first tasted chocolate con churros in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia and marvelled at the way the spoon stood up in the cup of dense, dark, hot chocolate. But it did! It really did. And when you dipped the churro, the long, twisty, freshly cooked doughnutty thing, into the chocolate, it left an indentation that slowly covered over like swamp mud. Donuts and hot chocolate... man, what a breakfast.

Sensibly, the hot chocolate is served up at London's Churreria Española in espresso-sized cups. I guess they want to avoid lawsuits with families of clients who keel over and die after a caffeine OD. However, it has the same swamp-mud quality and it more coats than soaks the churros when you dunk them, which you must. I asked the cafe owner to reveal the secret but he swears that all he does is add milk to the Val Cao -- the brand of choc powder he uses. I didn't get to examine the packet ingredients but I reckon it contains slow-setting cement. In any case, it's deliclious and Clem happily sucks down two of the cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled churros while doing a Jackson Pollock all over her face and clothes with the cup contents.

Maybe one day we'll get beyond the snack course and try out some of the Churreria's tasty looking savouries too.

October 17, 2005

A reuben like no other

Katz's reuben sandwich Katz's Deli on East Houston Street in New York's Lower East Side is a bit of an institution, and for good reason.

It's a barn of a place that's been going since 1888 serving up vast portions of salt beef, hotdogs and legendary pastrami to hungry locals who crowd and queue to get a table. And queue they do, because even though Katz's can accommodate 355 diners at one sitting, the weekend sees a long line of rumbling tummies and smacking lips patiently meandering down E. Houston in anticipation of a chilli dog or a pastrami-and-fried-egg sandwich.

We went there to satisfy a yen for salt beef (confusingly called corned beef, which I've always associated with the fatty, tinny-tasting stuff that comes in oddly shaped cans) and by god! did it hit the spot. How could it not when they pile 8oz of moist, melting salt beef into a Reuben? And Swiss cheese, onions, mustard and chopped pickles, which they sandwich between two pieces of chewy rye bread. This is all served up a by a legion of red-faced short-order chefs who work at breakneck speed behind a steamy counter the length of the room, with clearly defined sections for hotdogs and knishes, 'corned' beef and pastrami, salami, cheesecake, cream sodas and frothy New York beer.

No wonder Bill Clinton is a regular.

Belvoir cordials

Recently, I've been swigging down litres of Belvoir (pr. beever) lime cordial.

I don't usually go in for diluting drinks but I'm making an exception for this one because it's a real joy to drink. It's deliciously clean, refreshing and made from completely natural ingredients in an old-fashioned way by an old-fashioned-sounding (though, of course thoroughly modern and thrusting) family company based in Lincolnshire.

They have a pretty long list of cordials and pressés (elderflower was the daddy in 1984) and I can't wait until next summer to get my hands on English Cherry which is sadly, but appropriately, in the seasonal range. In the meantime, I'm going to try Plum and Damson, the autumn offering, and keep swigging the lime.

October 14, 2005

Bagels

For New Yorkers, bagels aren't just a bready breakfast food, they're closer to a way of life, practically a religion. Ask a New Yorker where to get the best bagels and he will come over all sectarian. It has to be H&H. No! Zaro's! Are you kidding me? Ess-a-Bagel. Ah, you poor fools, go to Brooklyn for Terrace Bagels, they're worth the trek. Yadda, yadda, yadda...

From where I'm standing it boils down to whatever is local. And I stand by that in London too, but I reckon I'm pretty spoilt in my own local bagel bakery, Roni's on West End Lane in West Hampstead. According to my ex-NewYorker husband, Roni's knocks the poppy seeds off the "challah-bread doughnuts" they punt in Brick Lane. Apparently, Roni's has found the right balance of crusty, chewy and doughy. A good bagel should endanger your crowns and threaten to stick to your teeth. If you say so, sweetcakes.

But, perhaps sacreligiously, I think the most interesting thing about the bagel is the schmear, the myraid variety of cream cheeses you can get in New York, from Amish plain whipped, to olive, mixed vegetable, lox spread and, my personal favourite, scallion and horseradish. Top that with some magnificent smoked wild salmon from Russ and Daughters and now you've got a breakfast to get worked up about.

October 2, 2005

Hog wild

God, another thing worth mentioning about Broadway Market which, incidentally is a little box of hidden gems, is the hog roast. Clearly, lots of people know about it already and they were queuing half way down the market for a ciabatta sandwich stuffed with succulent pork that was sliced before their eyes off the biggest rib roast I've ever seen. It even came with apple sauce. And then there were the crunchiest-looking bollos de arroz for afters if you had the room or were simply feeling greedy which, after 30 seconds in the vicinity of the rotisserie, I was.

Sheepdrove meat at That Organic Place

Ah, lucky are the denizens of London's West Hampstead. An organic shop -- called That Organic Place -- has occupied a vacant spot on Mill Lane. It stocks all the usual worthy stuff: knobbly veg, spelt bread and a bunch of soya stuff (none of which exactly fills my foodie heart with joy), but the thing that does really excite me is the full range of Sheepdrove Farm meat, which is otherwise quite hard to find unless you buy online.

If you want a chicken that tastes like chicken ought to, get a Sheepdrove chicken.

October 1, 2005

Sikelia honey

I must register a protest at the Rosslyn Deli's decision not to stock Sikelia honey any more. I was a particular fan of the Eucalytus, a rich, pungent, granular honey which is gathered from from hives on the slopes of Mount Etna by raven-haired maidens of unimpeachable virtue. OK, maybe not. The Etna bit is true but I can't vouch for the rest.

Sikelia is a small, Sicily-based, family-run, artisanal food business. Its organic honey is particularly delicious and the Eucalyptus seems to have almost magical medicinal qualities (very good for treating coughs, sore throats and the like). So now I've had to resort to Seggiano to get my fix and although Seggiano is undeniably a fabulously slick and ultra-successful brand, I feel as though I'm letting down a mate.

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