Dec 042012
 

Maked ginger & pecan muffins

This is one of Debs’ inventions that I made yesterday. When I first tasted them I was in food heaven. Lovely spicy ginger flavour with the roasted pecan taste and a hint of spice. It’s such a gorgeous combination – they are my favourite muffin now.

What’s even better about this recipe is that you can make up the ingredients in the time it takes the oven to warm up and be eating muffins 25 minutes later.

I used Naked Ginger to make these ones: you can use preserved stem ginger in syrup or crystalised ginger to make them too. The Naked ginger is less sugary than crystalised. It’s an Aussie product that you can buy in the UK from Lakeland and other places.

If you want to have a try, please read on…
Continue reading »

 Posted by at 16:56
Dec 012012
 

Salumi - cover picture

Salumi delivers on its promises. If you want a comprehensive, understandable, useable and enjoyable guide to how to dry cure & preserve meats Italian style, this is it. It’s suitable for the chef, semi-pro or novice home practitioner. I wish that this book had been published a few years earlier to save me some hard won experience.

Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing is written by the authors of the acclaimed Charcuterie - Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn. Rhulman has written & co-written many bestselling books about cooking. Polcyn is Professor of Butchery & Charcuterie at Schoolcraft College in Michigan and a chef/patron of his own restaurants. They both demonstrate a clear knowledge of the science of meat preservation coupled with a love & evangelism for good food, slowly & lovingly prepared and eaten.

Salumi is a tidy hardback book that’ll fit on your worktop while you work through the instructions. It’s divided into five chapters which take you systematically through the process from carcass to consumption. It’s illustrated throughout with really clear & helpful drawings by Alan Witschonke. It has two beautiful sections of colour plates which really do the salumi proud and show you what to aim for. Each chapter has its own mini-contents at the beginning and these are helpful to see the scope of what’s there, not just to help to navigate the book. There are regular boxed out asides which give added detail and explanations or contain wonderful anecdotes. The anecdotes really bring the book alive and give it atmosphere.

Salumi - drawing & picture example

They clarify terminology up front and explain that salumi is the word for salted & cured meats and salami are a subset of these which are dry cured sausages.

In the first chapter the authors first put salumi in their cultural and philosophical context. Now this may sound a little pretentious: but the way they express it is down to earth. While their book Charcuterie was about the French tradition of meat curing and confit; Salumi is about the narrower, more focused and more difficult craft (in their view) of Italian dry curing of meat. They say:

Nature is the greatest artist, we are not the first to say, and this is what salumi is really about: taking what nature gives us and doing as little as possible to it to make it the best it can be.

They emphasise the need for high quality meat and also that in using it you must be properly prepared. Their emotion about the responsibility of the meat preparer is eloquently expressed:

…if you are not prepared, if you have a feeling bone in your body, you will experience the deep humiliation of having wasted a creature’s life because you were lazy.

Quite so and well said. But the book is not all so earnest. The section the above quote comes from is entitled: “The Experience of Breaking Down a Whole Hog (Is This Your First Time, Sweetheart?)”. And their humour peeks cheekily through in many more passages and anecdotes.

The first chapter gives really detailed instructions of how to butcher a whole pig. Having done the job myself, the instructions are clearly from people that have done it for real. The drawings come into their own here and are very helpful. They say it’s hard work and needs from three to nine people to do. No wonder when I’ve done it on my todd, I been out on my feet at the end. There’s lots of good practical advice and tips.

Salumi - clear drawings

The second chapter sets out the basics of the science behind why and how curing works. They deal with the safety and environmental/public health issues in a way that reassures. Like scuba diving, they say, if you follow the rules – you’ll be safe. They provide advice about what equipment is needed and how to improvise smokers and curing cabinets. The chapter ends with a basic recipe and some rules of thumb. In addition to the science and careful weighing of ingredients, they stress that common sense is a useful asset to have and use throughout the process.

In Chapter Three they describe and give recipes for the ‘Big Eight’ Italian dry cured meats. These are: guanciale, coppa, spalla, lardo, lonza, pancetta, prosciutto and (basic) salami. Each section describes the cuts and its uses, flavour, cure variations and gives relevant tips and things to look out for. The recipes are clear and precise, the measurements given in ounces and grammes with aniticpated timings and yields.

Salumi - clear recipes

With Chapter Four, Ruhlman & Polcyn go “Deeper into the Craft of Dry Curing and Preserving Meat”. This covers how to make more complex salami, whole muscle salami and cooked salumi. The recipes follow a similar format to those in Chapter Three and I found really inspired me to want to get to grips with the art of the Salumière. The authors’ expertise of the technical aspects of the cure and how to match and blend flavours shines through.

Finally, in Chapter Five the art of how to cook with and serve salumi is revealed. There are six mouth watering sections which cover tagliere di salumi (the salumi board), crostini, pizza, pasta & polenta, soups & salads and classic combinations. There’s enough inspiration in here for many months and years of happy cooking.

Salumi - beautiful pictures

I’ve kept, slaughtered and butchered my own pigs and made my own bacon, chorizo and sausages. So I’m an enthusiast for the process and the products. I’m also, as this blog shows, a big fan of Italian style cuisine. This book will soon look tired and battered as it’s bound to be well used, thumbed and drooled over. It’s an essential read for anyone interested in how to make preserved meats, or who wants to find out more about Italian cuisine.

Disclosure: The publishers provided me with a free copy of this book for me to review. They didn’t impose any express or implied conditions on this and I have written as I’ve found.

 Posted by at 18:33
Nov 202012
 

Harissa in jars

These are a blast for any chilliholic and will add a new dimension to the seasonings on any table. In the northern hemisphere, now is when we need to preserve green & red chillies. If you have a blender or food processor these couldn’t be easier.

Chillies and tomatoes are arguably two of the most influential culinary exports from South America where they originated. Traders took them to Europe, the middle & far east from the 16th century onwards. Their use is characteristic of many cuisines. Harissa & schug are similar to some of the original salsas & pebre of South America.

Tamsin’s tomatoes on toast with schug

They can be used virtually anywhere in your culinary repertoire. In soups or stews; as a rub on meat, fish & vegetables; spread on bread; as a dip, with hummus or felafel etc; or like a ketchup. On the left, the delicious snack my friend Tamsin made with the Schug I took as a present when we stayed with her & her family. Tamsin’s blog is a cracking read too.

Harissa is a Tunisian/Morrocan red chilli paste seasoned with spices. Some variations include tomatoes too, which round out the flavour.

Schug (zhug  or skhug)
is a Yemeni green chilli paste make with lashings of fresh coriander and seasoned with spices. There is also a red variant.

If you’d like to make these wonderful ingredients, please read on…
Continue reading »

 Posted by at 16:01
Nov 162012
 

Peat Free Diet Audiobook Cover

Emma Cooper – The Peat Free Diet – Audio Book

Running time in excess of 2 hours

The Peat Free Diet (PFD) on Emma’s blog is a really useful resource for anyone interested in growing things. If you’re also interested in saving peat bogs by going peat free, then all the better: the book or audio-book is for you. Emma has packed a huge amount of comprehensive, detailed and well researched information into a neat little package. If you’re new to gardening or if you’d welcome a refresher, this will be a mine of handy & very accessible information for you.

Does it work as an audio-book though?

Yes, if you’re in the market for some enjoyable in-ear education. I can see (hear?) that this audio-book will be useful to commuters, exercisers and those who, for choice or physical need, prefer an audio presentation of material.

Emma’s diction and enunciation are very clear and crisp. I think that her speech will be clear on even the most dodgy set of earphones. The reading is fast enough paced so that you’ll not fall asleep without being so fast as to seem garbled.

Emma’s wry sense of humour also shines through her presentation with some dry quips delivered in characteristically understated style.

Emma produced the audio book herself and I think this shows in a couple of minor respects. The transitions between each track are slightly clipped at the end of one and the beginning of the next. Not so much so that you lose the meaning, but just noticeable. And on very few tracks the sound levels are not fully consistent between tracks. Again, not annoyingly so – just noticeable.

I think that this audio-book is a great piece of work by Emma. If you’re in the sort of groups of people I’ve suggested, it would be a great addition to your audio library.

Disclosure:
I count Emma as a friend. We’re regularly in contact and exchanging banter on Twitter and Emma has been to visit me here in North Wales. That said, I’ve called this review as I heard it and feel about it. I hope that helps.

 

 

 Posted by at 12:53
Nov 042012
 

 

Blues and bays made into vinegar using kombucha

Once you know how to make your own vinegar you can experiment with different flavours. Last year I showed you how to make your own apple cider vinegar. This year, I experimented to see if I could use the same principles to make some blackberry and apple vinegar.

I’ve also got into using Kombucha. We make kombucha tea as a tasty and healthful drink. It’s also possible to use it to turn a sugary solution into acetic acid – vinegar. All you need is a kombucha ‘SCOBY’ (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts).

If you’d like to find out how to do these, please read on… Continue reading »

 Posted by at 17:00
Oct 292012
 

Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel E Presilla Cover

Maricel Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina (Great Latin Cuisine) is a magnum opus in every sense of the phrase and I love it. It’s a huge work of 901 pages which took Presilla nearly 30 years to research and write. And it shows. It covers the history, lore, culture and recipes of Latin American food & cooking. It’s more than a recipe book: it’s social history and travelogue too. I wanted a book to help me learn about the cuisine of Latin America – this will be my bible.

Presilla is a polymath. Originally from Cuba, she emigrated to the USA. She is a Doctor in medieval history; an award winning chef and owner of two Latin restaurants in New Jersey; she has written a cultural & natural history of cacao and spoke in October 2012 at the Chocolate Unwrapped show in London. Her particular mix of knowledge, skills & experience make her uniquely qualified to write this book.

The book starts with explanations and descriptions of Latin America and the latin kitchen. Presilla clearly explains how in latin cooking the flavours are built up in layers: from adobo and sofrito through to the table condiments. This contrasts with other cuisines which may fuse or blend flavours.

Gran Cocina Latina ingredients explanation and line drawings

She clearly places Latin cooking in its geographical, historical and socio-political context as this has changed and developed through the centuries. She says: “Again and again, I was forced to remember that food is always deeply political…the love of food transcends even the most bitter of realities.”

The middle chapters are divided into 16 food groupings: tropical roots & starchy vegetables; squashes, corn, quinoa, and beans; rice; drinks; little Latin dishes; empanadas; the tamal family; cebiches; La Olla (soups & hearty potages); salads; breads; fish and seafood; poultry; meat; hot pepper pots and dulce Latino (sweets & desserts).
Gran Cocina Latina Chapter at a view
Each chapter starts with a ‘Chapter at a view’ page: a mini-contents for that chapter. This makes choosing recipes really easy without having to thumb endlessly through this enormous book. Then there is a really useful introduction to the particular topic covering its place in Latin cooking & its history, typical ingredients and dishes as they vary around the continent. The introductions are spiced with generous stories and anecdotes which bring the food & cooking to life.

I found the recipes that follow clearly written and easy to cook by. The measurements are in cups and ounces as the book was intended for the US market. I suggest anyone cooking with it does what I’ve done and buy some cup measures and gets used to multiplying ounces by 25g.

I thought the design and lay out of the recipes is well executed with the busy cook in mind. There are Cook’s Notes helping you understand the approach to the recipe; details of what you can do ahead of time; suggestions of what to drink with the dish; bulleted points and boxed out notes help with anything that needs further explanation.

Gran Cocina Latina excellent method explaining line drawings
I also really like the line drawn illustrations which are clear and very informative. The photography has clearly met Presilla’s brief to the photography team who achieved what Presilla calls “…a Vermeer-like understanding of light and composition…” I would have preferred more conventionally lit photography. However, the treatment does not detract from seeing what many of the recipes look like and certainly conveys something of the atmosphere of the cuisine.

I bought this book because I wanted to know more about Latin American cuisine and its DNA as it were. Through chance and luck, I am growing many South American foods here in North Wales that are not usual in Western Europe. We are growing oca, ulluco, mashua, rocoto, yacon, talets, hopniss, achocha and pepino. These potentially could be crops that will thrive here and there is little work done on recipes to use them in our cooking. Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina is an excellent piece of writing which will help me understand their cultural roots and hopefully contribute to a new chapter for them in the northern hemisphere.

If you have an interest in Latin America and its culture and history, this is an excellent read and essential in my view. If you have a passion for world food & cooking, this book needs to be on your lap to enjoy the journey through place and time.

Gran Cocina Latina is available at Amazon.

 

 Posted by at 20:52
Oct 022012
 

The Foodie Penpals parcel Kim sent to me

This is my third Foodie Penpals parcel. This month I was matched with Kim (or Mub) who an ex-pat American from the Netherlands. In Kim’s note she said loved Mexican food. Like me here in North Wales, Kim finds getting all the ingredients she needs challenging sometimes. So she stashes Mexican stuff in her suitcase when she returns from the US. I was lucky that she has shared some of her precious stash with me.

She sent me a very helpful handwritten note with recipes and tips how to use the goodies she sent me.

Kim sent me two types of cornmeal to make tortillas: some white cornmeal and some blue. After some quick Google research, I established the blue cornmeal is from Blue Corn (aka Hopi Maize) and should have a sweeter & nuttier taste than the white. It’s also a more complete protein. I think some comparative trials are in order here.

Also included by Kim were some dried jalapeno peppers “to give things a bit of a kick” and some of Kim’s own mix of taco seasoning. A meal is forming itself in my mind to use these ingredients. The aroma of both is very good indeed.

Kim included a diddy tin of lovely green chillies which she recommends for chicken enchiladas.

Lastly, Kim included a really neat touch of Dutch: some spice mix for making celebration Dutch biscuits called ‘Speculaas’ (I had to look that up too). The seasoning is a mixture of cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, clove, ginger, cardamom & orange peel: some of my most favourite warm flavours & aromas. Kim suggested it maybe fun if I incorporated the spice in some of my bread making adventures. Good call.

Kim said she had to think out of the box on this. Well she succeeded and I have interesting things to play with, so I’m a very happy boy. Thanks so much Kim.

I recommend the scheme if you love food and would like to try new things. If you do, click the badge below to find out more…

 Posted by at 16:57
Sep 302012
 

 

Seedy Penpals Badge Big

As I type this there’s yet another brutal weather front going over. The wind is howling and the rain lashing both pressing & clawing at the windows like hungry sea monsters. The transition into Autumn has crashed down like a saturated ceiling.

The seeds I received from Lucy are safely tucked up indoors awaiting a new year and some warmth. However, all has not been quiet here at Legge Towers on the Seedy Penpals front.

Mel & I have worked on a Questionnaire for those of you who took part in the last exchange. We will email this very shortly. Mel has done great outreach work in the Netherlands and far beyond: go have a read.

Here, I have saved seeds from some of our plants, especially the heritage varieties. We’ve saved seeds from our (former Heritage Seed Library) Dragon’s Tongue dwarf bean, achocha and sunflowers for example. We’ve also had a great year in propagating oca (oxalis tuberosa) seedlings. These may just be the crosses that will be the next generation of oca that doesn’t need to wait until after the autumn equinox to make tubers. We’ll find out next year.

Some of these things may find their way into my next Seedy Penpals parcel…

Anyway, if you have your own blogged update of progress with your Seedy Penpals seeds, you can add a link below…



 

 Posted by at 11:59
Sep 122012
 

Gillian sent me a letter about her Seedy Penpals experience which she asked me to blog for her. I do this with pleasure. You can find Gillian as the Impatient Gardener on Twitter.

A letter from Gillian

Dear Carl

Just a letter to update you on my #SeedyPenpals experience.

My seedy pen pal was the lovely Kate Mortimer; she sent me a wonderful parcel of seeds including: Green Manure, Radish “Hilds blauer Herbst und Winter”, Viola bambini mixed, Godetia and corn marigolds.

Gillian Pulford - Seedy Penpals Packet

As I have an allotment here in Llanfairfechan, I was quite keen to start with the green manure which has been something I’ve been meaning to try. So I have been busy sowing this as gaps arise. Apart from a few tussles with local riff raff (rabbits) this is going great guns.

Gillian Pulford - sowing green manure

I’ve also sown my radish, which is almost ready.

Gillian Pulford - radish seedling

And the viola, Kate was given the viola seeds from The Tatton Hall RHS show at the Abolition of Torture Garden. I look forward to these, and feel that I must make the effort to visit the Tatton Hall show myself next year.

Gillian Pulford - Viola

On my allotment I mainly grow veg, but I will shortly sow some of the Godetia sent by Kate to hopefully bring some early colour and help bring the bees in to do their stuff!

I’m really pleased with my seeds and feel that Kate sent me an excellent mix. I will be really interested to see the result of the green manure and its affect on my soil which is heavy clay and real effort to dig. Anything that helps break it up has to be a bonus.

After reassuring nearest and dearest that I wasn’t corresponding with unscrupulous characters but in fact sowing seeds, #SeedyPenpals has been a brilliant experience which has encouraged me to sow seeds I would have not tried before. It has also put me in contact with some lovely people who share some wonderful tips and advice for growing.

Finally, thanks for the wonderful idea – loving it

All the best

Gill

 Posted by at 13:58
Aug 312012
 

My Foodie Penpals parcel for August 2012
This is my second Foodie Penpals parcel. This month I was matched with Alena from London who, as you can see, really did me proud.

What Alena sent me was as wonderful as it was unexpected. She sent me all I would need to make wonderful sushi and a fab miso soup. Even down to thinking to include a shushi rolling mat. How clever & thoughtful is that?

Alena sent me a beautiful sunflower card. In it she said:

This summer we are really enjoying Japanese food & I have decided to send you some ingredients for sushi & my favourite miso soup with enoki mushrooms.

As an ex-London resident, I really appreciate the marvels and choice you have there so you can  get ingredients from just about any part of the world. North Wales isn’t quite like that.

We’ve had the soup, which was delicious. As Debs has been working hard on a load of shifts, I’ve held off making the sushi – now she’s on holiday we can indulge at leisure. I’m really looking forward to the chance to practise a new technique.

What’s not shown is the cake Alena sent me. I’ll let Alena describe:

I have also baked an apple pie – this is our family recipe.

It was gorgeous. And the reason there’s no picture is because we consumed the cake (generous portions of the same) before I got the chance to take any pictures. My 17-year-old son declared it “Amazing!” and I agree heartily.

What’s more, Alena kept me fully up to date with progress of the parcel. She packed it beautifully and safely.

All-in-all, I was delighted with the parcel. Another victory for Foodie Penpals. Thanks so much Alena x

I recommend the scheme if you love food and would like to try new things. If you do, click the badge below to find out more…

 Posted by at 18:31
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