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Mighty Perennial Spears

3 Jun

Charred Asparagus

Charred Asparagus

It’s a lean time of year, the hungry gap, when the winter crops end and we wait in anticipation for the start of the main season. Greens are in particularly short supply, hence the celebration of the first harvest of asparagus at the start of May. Their bounteous sugary green spears, pushing up towards the light, ready for their month of fame.

Asparagus originates from the eastern Mediterranean and can also be found growing wild in maritime habitats throughout Europe. I don’t have the space to try and grow it, but friends tell me once it’s established, it keeps going providing you keep on top of the weeds. It’s worth having a go with one-year-old crowns, if you have the space to dedicate to it, and well draining soil.

If not, then look out for it at your local farmers’ market, it will be the first thing to go, so it’s worth getting up early for. Here’s a quick, satisfying dinner I came up with last week.

Charred asparagus with tahini yogurt, sumac and toasted hazelnuts

Takes about 30 minutes – Serves 2

500g asparagus 

handful of hazelnuts 

2tbsp of sumac 

For the sauce

20g tahini 

60g of thick yogurt 

1tbsp lemon juice 

half a garlic clove

For the bulgar

cup of fine-grain bulgar 

cup and a half of boiling water with a touch of bouillon powder 

1 small onion

1 clove of garlic 

1. Rinse the bulgar well and place in a large bowl. Cover with the boiling water and add a touch of olive oil. Cover with a tea towel.

2. Chop the onion and the garlic. Fry on a low heat in olive oil.

3. Chop the garlic for the sauce and whisk the remaining ingredients together. Add a touch of salt to taste.

4. Get a large frying pan hot and brown the hazelnuts. Smash up roughly.

5. Give the pan a quick rinse and heat again. Add 2tbsp of olive oil and add the asparagus in a single layer. Cook for around 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears. Season with salt and black pepper.

6. To serve, mix the fried onion and garlic with the now cooked bulgar. Divide the asparagus on to two plates. Top with the hazelnuts, dollops of sauce, and sprinkle with sumac. Enjoy!


Custard Tart Ahoy – Pasteis De Nata

23 Apr



I’ve always had a bit of a thing for custard tarts, especially the ones in Lisbon with that crispy buttery pastry and sweet custard that just melts in your mouth. The ancient Pasteis de Belem, which has been baking with their secret recipe since 1837 is the place to go in Lisbon. A tiled temple, baking over 16,000 tarts a day, all made by hand in the bakery. You can even go and peak at the creamy delights being made.

There is a considerable Portugese community in London, Stockwell being the hub and some of the best Portuguese pastries are to be found along Goldborne Road, W10.

I couldn’t really find a recipe I liked so I’ve put together my own, inspired by a couple I was reading through online yesterday. They aren’t quite up to Lisbon standards, largely on the pastry front, but went down well with Bacon who is Portuguese!

What you’ll need to make 12 tarts to be proud of.

Takes about an hour

12 hole muffin tray

For the custard

4 free-range or organic egg yolks (you can freeze the egg whites to use at a later date)

30g cornflour

1 x vanilla pod or good quality vanilla bean paste

400ml organic full-fat milk

125g caster sugar

finely grated zest of an organic clementine or similar citrus fruit

For the pastry 

300g puff-pastry

1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

1 tsp of caster sugar


butter, for greasing

plain flour, for dusting

icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat your oven to 200C, 400F, gas mark 6 and grease the muffin tins liberally with butter.

2. In a medium sized pan on a low heat, add the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour, and whisk gently to combine the ingredients until thick.

3. Add the vanilla, about a quarter of a teaspoon if using paste. Gradually add the milk and whisk continuously. Using a wooden spoon, continue to stir the custard until it comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and cover to prevent a skin forming.

4. Dust a clean surface with a mixture of flour and icing sugar and roll out the pastry into a thin rectangle. Cut the pastry into two and dust the bottom layer with the cinnamon and caster sugar mix. Place the second piece of pastry on top and roll tightly, cinnamon bun style. Cut the roll into twelve slices, about an inch each.

5. Lay each slice on the dusted surface and push into a circle. Roll out into 10cm discs, using a rolling pin or handy glass bottle.

Circle time

Circle time

Roll out

Roll out

6. Press each pastry disc into the muffin tray, rolled side up. Make sure there are no air bubbles.

Tray time

Tray time

7. Spoon in the now cooled custard into the twelve pastry cases, about two tbsp each and sprinkle with a touch of caster sugar.

8. Place the tray in the middle of the oven for about thirty minutes, turning the heat down to 180C after fifteen minutes and rotating the tray for an even bake. The custard should be set and golden brown, and the pastry crisp and brown.

9. Allow them to cool in the tin and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon powder, and a strong milky coffee!

They don’t keep that well, so share them with a neighbour, make your friends smile, or take them to work. Oh and do you know that secret recipe?…

Satisfied Dough

26 Mar

Baking with sourdough is never going to be an instant hit, it’s a learning process that once you get, you’ll be addicted to the charm and character of your dough and that final loaf.

When I first started my loaves were disappointingly flat and pretty heavy, they are now well risen, lighter and have a delightful open crumb. From what I can gather, this is a combination of how active the starter is, the temperature and time allowed for the bulk fermentation, the flour and shaping of the dough, so basically all the key steps of baking with a wild yeast. I also haven’t bought a loaf of bread since June 2012!

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

At the moment my first winning loaf is a Pain au Levain recipe with a hydration of 68% (the percentage of water to flour) adapted from Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters made with a rye leaven. Just under half the dough is made from the leaven so it is quite sour and a cold bulk fermentation is used for three/four days at the bottom of the fridge with a turn twice a day. The rest of the flour is white stoneground organic, so the result is nutty and reasonably light, perfect for spring, wherever it has gone to.

I still have a way to go on shaping, which can only be improved by more practice. This recipe is great as you don’t need to be around all the time, just early in the morning and in the evening. The bread will also keep well for a week, if you don’t munch it first. I normally freeze the second one for later in the week or give it to a friend.

Day two fold

Day two fold

SCHEDULE for two medium sizes loaves

Day one

1. Feed the starter in the morning to make her super active – equal amounts of cold tap water and flour mix (I keep Bonita in the fridge these days and feed her once every fourth day).

2. Mix 100g starter with 300g light rye flour and 600g water that evening and leave out overnight in a large bowl with a kitchen towel covering it (it needs at least 12 hours to do its thing).

Day two

3. The leaven should be bubbling away. Mix 700g of the leaven with the final ingredients – 850g white wheat flour, 24g sea salt, 230g water. Compost any leftover leaven or make pancakes.

4. Knead the dough without adding any extra flour, for around 12 minutes until it’s smoother and satiny.

5. Shape into a round and oil a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl covered well with a clean plastic bag so the dough cannot dry out.

6. In the evening press the dough out flat and shape firmly into a round and place back in the fridge covered as before.

Day three or four

7. In the morning repeat the above process and again in the early evening if possible,  so this is done at least four times.

8. In the evening remove the dough from the fridge to warm up, about two hours depending on your kitchen then divide the dough into two, shape, dust in rye flour and place in proving baskets or a large sieve lined with a cotton kitchen towel or linen cloth.  Leave to prove until the dough comes back slowly when poked with your fingertip, between 2-3 hours.

9. Preheat the oven half an hour before baking (220 c) with a baking stone or metal tray on the bottom of the oven.

10. Gently turn out your first loaf onto a well floured wooden board and slash, spray with water and put the loaf onto the stone or tray. After 25 minutes move to the top shelf for another 10 minutes for a browner crust. Leave to cool and enjoy that first mighty slice. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

The second loaf is more of a 24 hour loaf with a hydration of 65% which you’ll need to be around the whole day on and off, from Daniel Stevens River Cottage Handbook, a fabulous book as an introduction to baking. I gave my sister the book for her birthday a couple of weeks ago and a bread kit. She’s been baking her way through the book with uni friends queuing up for tastings.

This recipe uses less starter than the first loaves and has a less sour taste as the bulk fermentation is done over four hours, a much shorter time, but it’s still a great loaf for a weekend treat, as it’s 100% white flour. It’s pretty much the same process as the first loaves, but done over a shorter time with a warm bulk fermentation. What’s your experience of baking with wild yeast?

24 hour white sourdough

24 hour white sourdough

Shoots of Anticipation

1 Mar

Salad drawer

Salad drawer

It’s the first day of March, the official month when Spring starts to break through the grey and green shoots push their way up through the ground looking for light and opportunities to spread their seeds.

Growers are ablaze with excited chatter about which seeds to try out this growing season. A friend of mine who has been growing in London for years recommended The Real Seed Catalogue, based in Wales. They only sell open-pollinated seeds (non-hybrid) in a range of rare heirlooms and modern strains bred for flavor, not for the needs of supermarkets.

You automatically become a member of their seed club through requesting seeds. This is due to EU legislation, which in practical terms means that in the EU there is now an official list of vegetable varieties, so varieties not on the list cannot be sold to the public. Through the membership you are no longer seen as a member of the public, and get the change to grow amazing seeds with many a story to their name, and play a part in protecting seed diversity.

Seeds come with much anticipation, nurturing that potential through the right conditions for germination to the first seed leaves and then the emergence of true leaves, you know the plant is really determined to grow. This is the first bit of magic which largely happens under the soil’s surface. Now new life is here, we need to make the most of it by working within natural cycles to make the most out of its potential.

I’ve been a bit keen this year and ordered my seeds at the start of February. I’m growing in containers as I live in a converted school, so the playground is my edible challenge. We’ve upcycled an old drawer and a hardboard container from a skip by drilling some holes in the bottom for drainage, linning it with plastic and given it a lick of paint, perfect for an urban kitchen garden. They are all right by a sunny south-facing wall, so the tomatoes should be in their element.

The drawer is perfect for cut and come again salad leaves so I’ve gone for some Shungiku, a favorite of the Japanese and very peppery. I’m hoping some of my companion plants from last year reseed or I may buy some small plants to replace them in early May.

I’m trying out some more vine tomatoes as they flourished last year, although they were a bit tightly packed and did require lots of watering. This season the variety is an early cropping vine, Stupice, from 1954 Eastern Europe, a little larger than the average cherry tomato and known for its heavy cropping and rich flavour. They will be undersown with some mixed Nasturtiums to add some diversity, food for pollinating insects and ingredients for salads or butters.

Smells of summer

Smells of summer

I’m also really excited to be trying out some mouse melons, which are a tiny type of lemony cucumber. A natural climber known for its heavy cropping and stunning little fruits. Perfect for summer salads and pickling!

Containers are made for climbers so continuing with that theme I couldn’t resist trying some green pole beans, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, originally from the native North American Cherokee people. As they were driven from their land in 1838 by the US government in a forced march to make room for European settlers, they carried the bean with them and it has been passed on ever since. One of the most famous seeds of solidarity.

Which interesting varieties are you trying out this year and where do they originate from?

Love Your Brassicas

1 Nov

Gleaning cauliflowers in Kent

Fields of brassicas (Photo credit cc Feeding The 5K)

It’s a wonderful time of year for veg, autumn is the second spring right here in grey old blighty. Wild mushrooms are popping up under our feet, knobbley colourful squash are pilled high ripe for inspection in church halls, fresh wet walnuts are taking centre stage on the kitchen table eagerly cracked, baby leeks simmer ready for a weekday soup dinner and brassicas are harvested with green delight.

Brassicas are a family of veg that boast broccoli, kale (curly, Red Russian, dinosaur…) cabbage (red, white, green, Savoy, Napa…), brussel sprouts, pak choi and the often shunned cauliflower, not forgetting its close relation the Romanesco cauliflower, which is a definite looker.

Cast your mind back to school, queuing for a lunch of overcooked veg, bendy spoons and steamed puddings buried in cheap tinned custard layered with tepid skin. Now all that is going to disappear once you try my roasted cauliflower recipe which is so easy to make. It’s alive with flavour and has a super crunch that will be unrecognisable from those school memories.

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Serves 4 as a side salad or starter

Takes 25 minutes

For the roasting pan

1 x cauliflower, outer leaves removed  (the leaves are edible so don’t waste them, treat them like any other leafy green)

1 x tsp of cumin seeds

4 x tbsp of olive oil

For the dressing 

1 x tbsp of  soaked juicy Turkish sultanas (soaked overnight or for around five hours)

1 x tbsp of  Italian capers

1 x tbsp of decent red wine vinegar

1 x clove of crushed garlic

1 x tsp of pomegranate molasses (optional)

a good handful of flat leaf parsley

a generous pouring of your best olive oli


a good handful toasted sunflowers seeds or toasted flaked almonds

1. Turn your oven onto its hottest possible setting and prepare the cauliflower by carefully cutting it into medium sized florets and adding it to a large roasting tin. Toss with the cumin seeds and olive oil. Roast for around 20 minutes until browned, shake the tin after 10 minutes so the florets get an even colour.

2. While your cauliflower is roasting away get the blender out and add all the dressing ingredients except the olive oil. Blitz and add the oil until you have a thick dressing, tasting as you go and seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. Toast your seeds or nuts in a hot dry skiddle or frying pan taking care not to burn them.

3. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and allow to cool. Toss with the dressing and sprinkle with seeds or nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature. Eat alone or with a chuck of sourdough or an earthy grain such as spelt.

I’d love to hear your twist on any unloved autumn veg.

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Urban Foraging in Stokey

24 Oct

Ingredients for Hedgerow jelly

Meeting outside Abney Park Cemetery on Stoke Newington High Street we were greeted with flasks of fresh coffee and some delicate mulberry and London honey muffins to start a morning tour of true urban foraging.

Expert wild food forager, Nick Saltmarsh guided us into Abney Park Cemetery opening our city eyes to the edibles below our feet in the cracks of the pavements and next to the rubbish bin – pineapple weeds, nettles, tomatoes and dandelions. Nick reminded us that our urban landscape is fascinating, and a surprisingly richer environment that the countryside, perfect for delicious foraging.

Inside the cemetery were the true delights – juicy sloe berries, tiny raspberries, hogweed, hawthorn berries and leaves, elderberries, elderflowers, rose hips, blackberries, dewberries, mulberries, dock leaves, hedge garlic, pine needles and the ‘juicy ear’ fungi which are usually found on the branches of elder trees, and yes they really do look like tiny ears!

The first essential for any keen forager is a book of poisonous plants and fungi, so you can be one hundred percent sure of what you are eating. In other words, the golden rule is to achieve a positive identity before any picking or eating takes place. And just in case you weren’t sure, under the 1968 theft act, foraging for personal consumption in a public area is not theft.

The location, Abney Park Cemetery, is rich with history, originally a park around a grand house, turned into a non-conformist Victorian cemetery, taken over by a trust that planted an alphabetical arboretum, now managed by Hackney Council. It’s considered the largest woodland ecosystem in London and straddles two distinct types of landscapes, Oak woodland and heathland.

We then wandered along Church Street to Clissold Park taking in the diverse mix of fruit and nut trees – cherry plum, peach, pear, fig, hazelnut almonds and walnut, the most common in urban areas. In Clissold Park we stood in delight under a magnificent fruiting mulberry tree, which had black juicy berries just out of hands reach!

It was nearing lunchtime, so we jumped in a couple of taxis to cookery teacher cum culinary anthropologist Anna Colquhoun’s house in Highbury to find out how we could make the most of our urban edible landscape in the kitchen.

Fortunately, Nick had been foraging earlier in the week and Anna’s kitchen was stuffed with wild fungi, hedgerow berries, mulberries and wild greens. First up were some triangular wild weed filo pies, which had been made earlier in true Blue Peter style. Anna then introduced us to the wild mushroom speltotto with Nasturtium butter, which would be our lunch. We all chopped and stirred as Nick filled us in on more wild fungi facts.

Wild mushroom spelt risotto

Lunch ended with chestnut flour crepes with wild berries and ricotta cream. We also tried out some of Anna’s homemade liquors (made with bay, sloe berries and walnuts) on our way out which had a real punch!

A large festive dark red pan had been bubbling away with a mix of edible hedgerow berries and some apples – on the way to being a hedgerow jelly. This was to be our take away gift, perfect with hard cheeses and cold meats.

I think we’ll all be looking around London in a more inquisitive way now we’ve had a taste of the abundance under our feet, above our heads and at arm’s length. Together with a good field guide and a book of poisonous plants and fungi, London really is delicious for foraging.

Roger Phillips illustrated guides come highly recommended for all things wild food.

This was originally posted on the Jellied Eel with some edits.

**This adventure was hosted by Food Safari**

Bonita Applebum, you got it going on #sourdough #realbread

21 Sep

Bonita on her first day

I’ve been playing with sourdough since making my starter at the beginning of June. She’s called Bonita Applebum inspired by the hip-hop classic from A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. It’s all part of the nurturing and feeding process, giving her a name, you respect her and she respects you, well that’s the plan.

Bonita was started by mixing half strong white flour and half strong whole wheat flour with an equal amount of lukewarm water. She was then hand mixed to get the consistency of thick double cream with no lumps! She was then left in a cool, shaded part of my kitchen with a clean tea towel covering her for three days. Bonita was now bubbling away happily, in other words she was fermenting and ripe like a strong cheese, ready for her first feeding.

To feed her, around 80% of the wild culture is discarded (You can make sourdough pancakes with this) and replaced with equal amounts of lukewarm water and the flour blend mentioned above. I then fed Bonita every day at roughly the same time, the morning is a good time for me. I could see the balance of the yeast and bacteria establishing themselves with the rise and fall of Bonita. She also had a very distinctive aroma, sharply acidic and then sweet just after the feeding.

Bonita Leaven!

Bonita Leaven!

My first sourdough bake was three weeks later when Bonita was rising and falling in a predictable pattern. I now keep her in the fridge with a loose lid and feed her every fourth day and get her out two days before I’m planning to bake!

My first ever county sourdough loaf!

My first ever country sourdough loaf!

Just an important note about the type of flour I have been using – it’s organic, stoneground, unbleached, strong bread flour from Doves and Marriage’s in Essex. This is to ensure my bread is full of nutrients, often lost during roller milling and the spraying of pesticides, environmentally friendly and unadulterated unlike most of the bread consumed in Britain today.

My current sourdough bible which was recommended by a friend of mine is the distinguished  Tartine by Chad Robertson. The sourdough country bread illustrated recipe is about twenty six pages long, but don’t let that put you off, there are lots of other recipes which I’ve yet to try!  Although, real bread does take time, so don’t rush it. If you’d like to experiment I’m very happy to share Bonita.

My second attempt

My second attempt

As you can see my loaves have come out rather flat, although with a decent crumb, I’m working on getting a better structure and final rise. The below loaf is a country rye, with twenty percent of the flour being a light rye flour. It was delicious but also a bit flat and not the best shape. Today I’m trying out Chad’s baguette recipe which uses part sourdough leaven and some dried active yeast with a mix of plain white flour and strong white flour.

A light rye sourdough

A light rye sourdough

Find out more about the rise of Real Bread here and find your nearest source with the postcode finder.

**A starter is a mix of flour and water in which natural yeasts and bacteria grow to produce a bubbly mixture that is regularly fed with more flour and water**

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