Ham, cheese and malt toastie heaven

Sometimes simple pleasures are the best. For me, this ticks all the boxes: great local cheese, great local ham, and not-quite-so local but equally great bread. The cheese was the remains of some of the original Calderdale Cheese which needed eating up, and I had a few small pieces of the air-dried ham left over, so I whipped up a bit of a rarebit-like mix. Miss South was visiting at the time I made this (this post is prompted by me finding these photos from early in the year), so I raided my stash of precious Veda bread from the freezer in celebration.

Veda, you say? Yes, these are slices of Veda bread (truly one of the high points of Northern Irish baking culture), and for the uninitiated, Veda is a dark, malty loaf. A bit like Soreen, but without the fruit, and not as dense a mix. It seems at one time Veda was widely available across the UK, but over time tastes have changed and the last remaining backwater of the country to keep Veda in a place close to their heart is Norn Irn. Several bakeries still produce it over there, but try as I might I’ve never managed to track it down on this side of the Irish Sea.

Miss South and I grew up eating (and loving) the humble Veda bread. One wouldn’t do much with it… possibly toast it, or add a few slices of mature Cheddar… the slightly sweet malty flavour, and almost sticky texture was enough. I’d often eat half a loaf of this diminutive loaf in one sitting: something encouraged by the fact Veda never comes sliced, so you tend to cut off big doorstep-like wodges to toast. I’m salivating at the very prospect, just writing this now… I’ll be filling a suitcase with Veda next time I go back to see family. Over the years I’ve converted more than a few folk to the exquisite delights of Veda… I would dearly love to proselytise further. Let me know if you fancy a slice of Veda toast some time!

A little taste of Lancashire

Boiled Onions with Lancashire Cheese and Poached Egg

I bought Simon Hopkinson’s new book, ‘The Vegetarian Option‘ at the start of the year, in an attempt to broaden my culinary outlook and provide new dishes to keep my veggie friends happy. Well, that was part of the reason: Hopkinson’s one of my very favourite food writers, and the next best thing to sitting down with a warming meal in the winter is curling up with a great cookbook. Happily this is as good I as expected; chock-full of wonderfully simple recipes, evoking tastes and memories of warmer, more verdant seasons. That’s not to say he neglects winter staples in favour of summery salads: there are some rib-stickingly good sounding suggestions to tantalise the reader’s imagination.

One recipe in particular caught my eye: Boiled Onions with Cheese and Poached Egg. Aye, you read that right… it sounds like the kind of food you might feed an Edwardian invalid, but Hopkinson absolutely raves about it, and the photo next to the listing beckoned invitingly. He’d come by it via the Three Fishes in Mitton, a Lancashire pub with a fine reputation which has been on my ‘to-visit’ list for years. I’ve still not made it there, but tonight I made the dish, and it was everything I could’ve hoped for, and more. Rich, savory, silky and oh-so-comforting. You’ve got to try this.

  • 250g onion
  • 25g butter
  • 175ml water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a good portion of cheese (preferably tasty or crumbly Lancashire)
  • generous pinch of sea salt
  • light pinch of pepper
  • curly parsley to garnish

Chop the onion into small, regular-sized pieces, then add it to the water, butter, seasoning and bay leaf in a saucepan. Bring this to the boil, then down to a gentle simmer, covering for 20-30 mins. When the onions are soft and silken, transfer them to a small dish, sprinkle the grated cheese on top and melt under a grill. Don’t let the cheese brown, just let it become molten and coalescent in the broth before garnishing with chopped parsley and a freshly poached egg. Eat while hot.

One last thing: the recipe calls for white-skinned onions and white pepper to keep a traditional appearance and texture. I had neither to hand, but it still tasted and looked great.

Game Pie

Game on…

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This is my second attempt at game pie. I do like a good pie, and living in northern England for the last decade and a half has heightened my appreciation greatly. 2010 will be the year I attempt my first home-made pork pie… so I keep telling myself… but this weekend as the temperature drops I’m looking for something more warming and homely.

My regular butcher’s been selling a good game mix recently (venison, pheasant & mallard), something which is just crying out to be pie-a-fied when the frost is building up outside.

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The Ultimate Roast Potato?

I am almost comically stereotypically Irish in my love of potatoes. I always keep a bag of spuds in the house and few things tickle me more than having a new potato recipe to try. Unsurprisingly one of my favourite cook books is The Humble Spud and I intend to eat my way through every recipe possible in it.

While thinking about the Christmas dinner, my eye was drawn to the page with Roast Potatoes with Sesame Seeds, more commonly known to particularly to Americans as Hasselback Potatoes. These are basically a potato prepared for roasting as normal, but cut 3/4 of the way through with a knife to resemble a tuberous stegosaurus before being roasted in the oven as normal.

These ornate little spuds require no par-boiling or even peeling, shaking, coating with flour or semolina or any other trick of the trade to crisp them right up. They fan out gently in the high heat of an oven to create a gorgeously golden, extra crispy roastie thanks to the increased surface area due to the extra splits in the spud. They take no longer to prepare than the average potato for roasting, and if you place your potato in a spoon to cut it, you will stop yourself slicing right through it.

I have prepared these twice in advance of the Christmas dinner. First time round I placed them in a plastic bag and shaken in oil and seasoning, then placed in a roasting tray of hot oil and cooked for about 40 minutes in a 220 C oven, they crisp up  beautifully even without tthe magic addition of goose fat. Second time, I just wanted to double check they hadn’t been a crispy figment of my imagination… and I was not disappointed in any way!

I made these a focal point of the Christmas meal, using my mum’s plentiful stash of goose fat to make these even crispier and melt in the mouth. I didn’t add the sesame seeds suggested in the recipe to add some extra crunch as I forgot on the day. I certainly be experimenting with topping these with parmesan or garlic or chili throughout the year. Any other suggestions would be gratefully received!

Spot the spud just by the gravy...

Get stuffed…

The cold and icy weather has made me less than enthused about going out to shop this week at the market, so it was with delight I espied a particularly splendid Savoy cabbage in the local Tesco Express on offer for 50 pence. Since I had some lamb mince and some leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, I could whip up some stuffed cabbage leaves for a wholesome hearty winter dinner with ease!

Stuffed cabbage leaves are a popular dish throughout most of Europe. I’m not sure that mine would be considered particularly authentic, but they are utterly delicious and very quick and easy to make, especially as I had leftover cooked mince from the previous evening and the sauce already made, but neither of these stages is difficult or time consuming if done from scratch.

While the cabbage leaves were blanching quickly in a pan of water at a rolling boil, I added some cinnamon, sweet paprika, allspice and garlic to the cooked mince, before allowing the leaves to cool slightly on a tea-towel. At this point, I removed the thick stem with a sharp knife to make the leaves easier to fold.

Two dessertspoons of cooked cold mince later, the leaves were ready to roll. I rolled them from the cut section toward the top of the leaf and then set the leaf into the cold non-stick pan with the join underneath, repeating until I had filled the pan nicely. I topped the leaves with some leftover home-made and home-grown slow roast tomato sauce, added in two or three small ice-cubes of chicken stock from the freezer to help steam the leaves, added the lid and placed in the oven to cook for about 20-25 minutes at 200°C until cooked through with a slight bite. I then served them with some mashed potato I had leftover from the previous night. They are also excellent with rice.

I had some difficulty lifting these out of the pan without them unrolling slightly, but I think that was more to do my being too lazy to find a fishslice than anything else, but it does mean they look slightly dishevelled in the dish! Aside from this minor aesthetic crisis, the cabbage leaves were excellent. The cabbage itself was full of flavour after all the frost of the past few weeks, the meat was a delicious mix of sweet lamb and warm spices and the tomato sauce and chicken stock had mingled to create a rich flavourful sauce to anoint the creamy mash. It was a warming hearty meal without being heavy and well worth the slightly old fashioned boarding house smell the cooking cabbage created in my flat!

I love stuffed cabbage leaves for their quickness and versatility. They are an excellent vehicle for leftovers and make an attractive meal for either meat eaters or vegetarians depending what you stuff them with. Your imagination is the only restriction with this lovely dish!