Posts

Gherkin Soup

gherkin soupI have several loves in my life. Black eyeliner. Slow cookers. Carmex. But my heart really belongs to gherkins. Just say the word to yourself. It’s delightful to utter. It looks comical to write. And you get to decide how deep your relationships with people will be depending how they feel about them in burgers.

I always keep a jar in the house and have to ration myself from crunching through a gherkin every time I open the fridge (and yes, I know pickling preserves them. There’s just more room in there.) I garnish sandwiches with them and add them to salads, but I’ve never cooked with them.

Like most people, by late August, I’m in courgette apathy. Allotmenteers have gluts of them, but for fodmappers like me, this lasts all year as they are one of the few vegetables I can eat.

Staring glumly at a courgette on a chilly August lunchtime, I wondered how I could perk things up a bit. Deciding soup would be more acceptable than turning the heating on, I used a jar of gherkins to add some bite and interest to the whole thing. My Polish friends might clutch their pearls in horror at how inauthentic it all is but it tasted great and made courgettes interesting again.

Gherkin Soup (serves 2)

  • 1 large courgette, grated
  • 1 large potato, grated
  • 1 parmesan rind or 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 450ml stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 100g gherkins, chopped finely
  • 25g fresh dill or parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream

This is so easy and quick, writing the recipe out as a blogpost definitely took longer than cooking it from scratch (and I’m a speedy writer!)

Peel the potato and grate it and the courgette on the largest hole of a box grater and put into a large saucepan and cover with the stock. Add the anchovy fillet and the parmesan rind if you are using it. I stash mine in the freezer in a Tupperware until needed.

Simmer for about 10 minutes until the veg is soft and the anchovy has dissolved. I’m still working on a homemade fodmap friendly stock as it’s the place I miss the depth of onion the most, but I’m using the Knorr Touch of Taste one from a bottle. It’s onion and chicory fibre free for fodmappers and the least cheap roast chicken crisp flavoured commercial one I’ve found. Stop me if I sound too like Marco Pierre White though…

Fish the parmesan rind out and add in the chopped gherkins. Chuck in the grated parmesan if you’re using it instead and carefully blitz the soup with a stick blender, remembering hot liquids expand.

Add the chopped dill (I went fancy and added the parsley too. Mint would work if you are a dill-phobe) and stir in the sour cream and serve. It’s the perfect late summer soup, all fresh and tangy but warming and soothing at the same time. I’ve made it twice in a week which means my gherkin usage is about to fill my whole recycling bag singlehanded, but who cares when it’s this good?

 

Pastrami

There is a long weekend coming up and I have an excellent suggestion as to what you could do with it. Why not have a go at making home made pastrami? It’s not quick, but it’s also not difficult in the slightest. And if the weather is good over the Jubilee, it’s an excuse to get the barbecue out. Tempted yet?

Pastrami is beef brisket, brined and cured, then rubbed with spices and smoked until cooked. It’s also known as the finest sandwich filling around and something you always want more of so having a great big hunk of it in the fridge as cold cuts when you’re off work is just ideal. I’d actually never cooked with brisket before, but Mister North’s superlative spiced beef at Christmas had piqued my interest and I was just waiting to get my hands on one. And thanks to Becs over at Lay The Table alerting me to the presence of Farmison and their grass fed, higher welfare standard meat by mail order, I ordered a 2kg beauty on a Tuesday evening and had it ready for its brine bath by Thursday tea time which impressed me greatly and I’ll certainly be using them again for things my butcher can’t get me easily.

Brining meat is very easy. You simply prepare a solution of water, spices and salt and immerse the meat for the required time. This is also a cure thanks to the presence of saltpetre and means the meat doesn’t spoil, but retains a lovely rosy hue instead of looking leathery like some cooked beef does. Although the meat will be preserved by the process, you still need to be cautious with hygiene and make sure everything you use is nice and clean. It’s also worth preparing everything in advance rather than weighing spices at each step or you’ll lose track and end up accidentally doing too much of one thing.

Pastrami

  • brisket (I used a 2kg piece)
  • 200g sea salt
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 2 litres water ( I boiled it and cooled it)
  • 6 cloves of raw garlic
  • few stalks of thyme
  • 2 teaspoons of saltpetre (I had mine from the bacon)
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp shichimi togarashi (or chilli flakes)
  • 2 tsp allspice berries
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 4 bay leaves (ie: I just used everything in the cupboard, bar cumin)

If your brisket comes in one of those meat hairnets, remove that now, but keep the string around it to keep the brisket shaped and rolled. Rub a handful of the salt over the meat while you dissolve the rest of the salt, the sugar and the saltpetre in the hot water. Give the spices a bash to release their oils and flavours and add to the water. Bruise the garlic cloves to release the flavours and put them and the thyme into a deep tupperware and put the meat in and pour the brine you’ve just made over the meat. Seal it up and leave it in the fridge for up to five days, but a minimum of two.

The meat will still have a pinkish tinge when you take it out of the brine so don’t worry, it’s quite safe to cook. The meat needs to be smoked to give that proper pastrami feel so there are two ways you can do it. If the weather is nice, you can use the barbecue or you can do it in the oven, but either way you’ll need wood chips to impart the  smokiness that lifts this from just being beef. Don’t forget to rub a crust of ground coriander seeds and cracked black pepper over the top of the meat first.

I started mine off on the barbecue using the indirect method where the charcoal is on either side of the grill and the meat is in the middle in the coolest spot so that it cooks without getting that charred exterior that direct cooking gives. I added pecan wood chips that I had soaked first and I got a fairly good smoke on but the charcoal went out about two hours in and since I don’t have a meat thermometer, I couldn’t tell if the meat was cooked so I popped in the oven to finish off. I put the rest of the wood chips in a dispable foil tray and put the meat above them on a trivet, then covered it all with foil and slow cooked it for 90 minutes at 150℃. The moisture from the wood chips steams the meat so it doesn’t dry out, but keep an eye and make sure they don’t lose moisture themselves. You might need to top up.

Once you’ve let the meat cool down then you can congratulate yourself. You’ve just made  pastrami from scratch! It’s as simple as that. Now serve it either slightly warmed (pop it back in the oven to heat gently) or at room temperature for a stunning picnic lunch. I made mini pretzel rolls and bagels from Dan Lepard’s excellent recipe and heaped them high with gherkins and mustard on the side and it all seemed to go down marvellously, fortifying us well to sit through four hours of Eurovision, but leaving me with a goodly amount of leftovers for cold cuts in the warm weather. Don’t delay and you could be seeing in the oh so British Jubilee next week with some very American pastrami!

Squirrel Street Food Style: Satay and Sliders

Wild squirrel sliders, pickles and ketchup in home-made buns

Mister North and I have long had a slightly competitive game where we try to buy each other the oddest and most interesting  presents possible. This is why I own ice tongs and he once had his own jellyfish at London Zoo. So the bar was quite high last Christmas. I needed something for the foodie who has everything and the answer came to me when I found a company who can supply wild meat and I realised  Mister North would very much be the person to appreciate a brace of squirrel in his stocking…

Sense prevailed and I decided not to send him the beasts over the festive period in case they went a-wandering and sat in a depot somewhere if the weather was bad, but promised them at a time of his choosing. When he announced he was coming down to London last week for a bit of culture, we agreed this was the perfect time for Tufty to visit. We decided to try and do the squirrels different ways to get the maximum impact from what is a fairly small animal. Mister North suggested squirrel satay as soon as the present was mentioned and I then took a notion to do squirrel sliders and see if I could convince myself they are more than mini-burgers.

Although the satay was Mister North’s idea, I volunteered myself to make it so I could show off the satay skills I got after attending a Brunei Malay cooking class with Siti Merrett at Books For Cooks last summer. If, like me, you know little of this cuisine, I recommend Siti’s book Coconuts and Kelupis as both the beef in soya sauce and the satay are amazing. The following recipe is my version of her satay. The Malay version does not contain the coconut of Thai versions, so don’t be surprised not to see it. If you really like the creaminess of coconut, I guess you could add it. Try not to be scared by the list of ingredients, the recipe is actually very simple!

Read more

Pickles and Pizza

I like a bit of fine dining as much as anyone, but sometimes one’s tastes run a bit more on the casual side of things. I don’t mean I ever want to eat a Prawn Ring or kebab meat again and I believe ready meals to be a waste of calories. But I do have a soft spot for the kind of comfort food that borders on junk, especially that brand of Americana popularised by Nigella recently.

So when Mister North was down recently, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge some homemade delights that would make a dietician weep. I’d been lusting after deep fried pickles ever since a Southern friend told me about them a few years back. Seeing Homesick Texan and Food Stories‘ recipes for them put them at the top of my to try list.

I dialled down the trashy vibe and put myself in the running for a pretentiousness award by growing my own gherkins and pickling them myself specially. (If this makes you eye roll at the sheer foodiness of it all, be comforted by the fact they didn’t taste that different to a Mrs Elswood.) Horticulturally experiments aside, these babies are super simple. I got cultured buttermilk in Sainsbury’s, but you could use yoghurt watered down instead. Do not feel tempted to substitute cream crackers for saltines. You’ll end up crying into your hot oil as all the moisture in your mouth evaporates. I used coarse cornmeal instead.

Heat your oil while you do the flour, egg, dip thing with the pickles. Fry for about a minute each side and then serve piping hot on the side of something delicious. In our case it was some leftover rollmops, a zingy homemade ranch style dressing with buttermilk, tarragon and garlic and a beer on the side. It was a heavenly plate of tanginess, crunch and sheer gluttony. I want to eat all gherkins in a crunchy coating now.

You’d think that plateful would have quelled our cravings for pig-out style food for the day, but you’d be wrong. About an hour later, we started getting ready to make a serious pizza for dinner. We used Marcella Hazan’s pizza dough recipe, leaving it to prove for several hours and turned our attention to the mozzarella. And I don’t just mean jiggling it about the bag in a slightly smutty fashion, I mean making it from scratch

Using some non-homogenised cow’s milk from Alham Wood Farms at Brixton Farmers’ Market, my fledgling cheese making skills, some citric acid that we explored all of Brixton for* and my trusty bottle of rennet, we created mozzarella magic. Surprisingly easy, especially if you have asbestos hands like Mister North for dipping the curds into the hot whey, we ended up with two beautiful bouncing balls of mozzarella in no time at all.

Buoyed by this, we turned to the pizza bases, lovingly dressing them with homemade sauce courtesy of Mister North and a glut of Blackpool tomatoes and an umami hit of anchovies, green olives, some of my home grown plum tomatoes and a finishing sprinkle of ham salt from Comfort and Spice. Unfortunately made giddy by the cheese achievement, we forgot to dust the worksurfaces with semolina as instructed and the bases stuck somewhat, leading to some creativity with a fishslice and a slightly concertina style pizza.

The pizza might have lacked finesse, but it was loaded with flavour. The tomatoes tasted of summer and the mozzarella was so soft and fresh I could have eaten the whole ball like an apple to fully enjoy the texture. It needed a touch more salt and I think it would have been even better with buffalo milk, but for a first go, it was pretty amazing.

We devoured the pizzas like kids at a sleepover, both wishing we’d had more of the mozzarella to do a tomato salad with or go retro and deep fry in a crispy coating like the gherkins. Instead we rounded off a day of gluttony with a cheeky bowl of Veda bread ice cream and a glass of wine or two, proving that sometimes the taste of home is all you need. Your own kitchen provides the greatest comfort.

*Try the Nour Cash and Carry if you need it Monday to Saturday and the Low Price Food & Wine on the corner of Brixton Road and Loughborough Road on a Sunday. We did the walking round so you don’t have to.

Kipferl

Sometimes only a sausage will do. And when that feeling overtakes you, there is nowhere better to go than Kipferl in Camden Passage, apparently London’s only Austrian cafe. Previously situated near Barbican tube, this Viennese coffee house expanded into larger premises off Upper Street earlier this year and is now open for dinner as well as lunch.
Read more