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Cooked tongue and cheek pudding

Tongue ‘n’ cheek: a hot, steamy, sticky pudding

Tongue and cheek steamed pudding

Regular readers have no doubt picked up on our growing love affair with offal. Over the last three years we’ve embraced cooking and eating the more esoteric, wobbly and less-eaten parts of various animals… mostly successfully. In part this has been driven by our curiosity; in part interest in rediscovering traditional dishes (thanks to championing chefs like Fergus Henderson and Robert Owen Brown), and in part because it’s a cheap and healthy foodstuff. Oh, and we’ve laid a few demons to rest in the process too…

When we were young, our mum used to serve us tongue sandwiches, and I loved them. Despite being a reasonably smart kid, I never made the connection between the name ‘tongue’ and the actual muscle inside an animal’s head; I just assumed it was another odd quirk of the English language. My illusions were shattered when I walked into the kitchen one day to find mum making pressed tongue: setting a boiled ox tongue in jelly, then pressing a plate down with an old-fashioned iron. Suddenly I put two and two together and realised why the slices were round, and curled. Although I was fascinated by the size, texture and feel of the ox tongue, I was also pretty creeped out. Both familiar and alien, one glimpse of the tongue was enough to change my attitude to it as a foodstuff. No longer was it a welcome morsel to find in my packed lunch, now it was a giant freaky cow tongue. I didn’t eat tongue again for over twenty years.

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Warm Octopus Salad

 Warm Galician octopus polpo salad

 The more I cook, the more I realise I want to cook. Each meal becomes a fabulous opportunity to do something I want to and something to be savoured. We all have our trusty standbys and favoured dishes, but when the chance to do something completely new comes along it thrills me. So when Liz* from Brixtonia suggested getting together and cooking fresh octopus, I was all over the idea. I’ve never met seafood I don’t love and it seemed like a perfect challenge.

I have to admit that I didn’t have a clue what to do with our eight legged friend so luckily Liz has access to a stack of cookbooks with some good ideas and emailed me several, mainly from Rick Stein. We pondered over two and couldn’t quite decide on which so thought we’d combine them both. But first up was getting our items. We needed a trip to the market.

Saturday morning saw us up relatively bright and early and in the queue at Dagon’s for our octopus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again many times, Dagon’s is the jewel in Brixton Market’s crown. They have a vast choice, good quality, are excellent value and have friendly and helpful staff. I try to go at least once a week and I must admit I get a real kick out of being recognised by the staff there now. It’s like visiting the 50s high street but with more women’s lib and better banter.

They talked us through buying the octopus and we went for one whole cleaned octopus. I forgot to weigh it when I got home but it cost us a very reasonable £4 for the whole thing. We also picked up some samphire, a kipper fillet for me and a mackerel for Liz and the whole lot came to an even eight quid. Can’t say fairer than that. We got everything we needed and a box of Alphonso mangoes we just wanted and then got down to the cooking.

Galician Octopus Salad (From Rick Stein’s Spain)

  • 1 clean octopus
  • 400g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp paprika (of your choice)
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper if not using hot paprika.
  • 1 tbsp salt

This is so simple it’s untrue. Take your cleaned octopus and put in a pan just covered with water and the tablespoon of salt and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. That’s it. That’s how you cook an octopus. We didn’t tenderise it in anyway, either by freezing and thawing or bashing it against the rocks or anything else. We shoved it in a pot of water, left it well alone and went and had a glass of wine and a good gossip.

Octopus

After an hour, we came back and lifted the octopus out of the cooking water and left it to cool on a plate. It had turned the beautiful mauve we both associated with Spanish octopus dishes and the tentacles had curled in beautifully. We added the potatoes into the remaining cooking water and brought them to the boil until tender but still al dente. Then heat the olive oil, add the paprika and cayenne and fry the potatoes until golden and crispy.

Cooked octopus ready to slice

While they are sauteeing nicely, cut the octopus into inch or so chunks, using both the tentacles and the head and body. Take the potatoes off the heat and add the octopus in for a few seconds just to warm it through and coat it with the paprika. Dish up with some chopped parsley (our concession to the other recipe we had planned as well) along with some vegetables if you so fancy (we did steamed samphire and roasted aubergine and tomatoes) and enjoy!

The octopus was firm but very tender without a hint of rubberiness. It was slightly sweet and very flavoursome, especially alongside the potatoes. Slightly salty, intensely umami and crispy round the edges, these were the best fried potatoes I’ve ever had. Simple and packed with flavour, the whole meal was fantastic. We feasted well, but with a few more spuds, the one octopus would easily serve 3 -4 making it good value as well as impressive and delicious. Until now, all my cephalopod ardour was reserved for squid, but there’s another many legged love in my life now I’ve discovered octopus…

 

*Thanks to Liz for her cooking skills, being an excellent guest and taking that fantastic sea creature shot!

Polishing off Polish Pierogi…

Several things are guaranteed to bring a tear to my eye: the episode of ER where Mr Mark Greene dies, posters for lost stuffed animals and family pets and the thought of ever having to go low carb and stop eating potatoes.

I really don’t care how big an Irish cliche I am. I love spuds with all my soul. What other foodstuff is so versatile, so easy to work with and to grow yourself? There is just no thing as too many potatoes in my life and that is why I love pierogi so much. A dumpling stuffed with mashed potato? Hello there! Dumpling is the magic word in my world, especially when you can fry them in butter to add even more of my favourite things to one dish.

There are as many recipes for pierogi as there are types of spuds and Polish families, but I used this one from Post Punk Kitchen as I wanted a dairy free recipe for a friend with intolerances. (I find specifically dairy free sites seems to rely heavily on soy or nut ‘milk’ based products and I would sooner die than use soy cheese. Vegan sites tend to seek other options and skip the processed stuff most of the time so I prefer them.)

I cannot pretend to have solved the eternal dilemma of translating American potato recipes to our varieties and found a total replacement for Yukon Golds, but find that if all else fails, a Maris Piper is the answer, although I used the last of my own Pink Fir Apples from the veg patch. I also won’t lie to you. This recipe is time consuming, but actually very easy to make. So stick Radio 4 on, roll up your sleeves and get pottering in the kitchen this weekend.

First up, choose your filling. Pierogi can be stuffed with anything. You can do some with spud and some with just about anything of your choosing. Sauerkraut is popular. I fancied pumpkin and sage to be seasonal. Black pudding would be brilliant. But feel free to use anything you desire. Leftovers would be perfect here. I went for sauteed mushroom with tarragon and mashed potato. Just cook as you normally would, but make your spuds are nice and dry before you mash them.

Once the filling is decided on, you’ll need to get going with the dough. This is dead easy. An American cup is approximately 240ml which equates to about 110g of flour, but if you’ve got measuring cups, stick to those. I used plain flour here and needed to add all three full cups of flour to stop the dough being too sticky to get out of the bowl. I added another two or three handfuls to it as I was kneading too.

After about ten minutes of kneading, the dough will be smooth as anything and lovely and elastic. This requires little skill, just some concentration and a bit of time. At this point, you can either store the dough overnight covered in the fridge until needed or get on with making dumplings.

Flour the surface and dough well and roll it out as thin as possible. Mine needed to be a tad thinner than they were, but I still got 45 pierogi out of them so be prepared to have an invasion of dumplings! Cut out circles of dough with a cutter or glass and then get filling. I put about a dessertspoonful of mushroom and potato in each one, brushed the edges with water and pinched shut, making sure the ends are nicely closed. That’s it. Super simple. Easy enough for little hands to do too.

Once I’d cut, filled and pinched half the dough, I boiled six or so pierogi in a big pot of water for about four minutes or til they float. You can served them simply boiled or you can take it up a notch by frying them off for a golden crunch. Drain them onto kitchen towel if you’re doing that and then pop into a pan of hot fat. While they fry, deal with the other half of the dough. I used up the full 500g of spuds I mashed and half a punnet of chestnut mushrooms to fill all of them, but could have done with twice the amount of fungi.

Once your dumplings are fried, pop in the oven to keep warm and keep going in batches until you’re ready to eat. I served for dinner, sprinkled with truffle salt and fresh tarragon to keep them simple but dairy free, although they’d be great with sour cream too. The other half went onto lined baking tray to cool and go into the freezer until needed.

So after all that time and pinching, were the pierogi worth it? Oh yes! With bells on. Surprisingly light dough with the smoothest creamiest mashed potato possible, despite not a drop of butter, oil or milk in it, all made better by frying them off. I managed 9 of them before passing out in a carb coma, but managed to go back for more for dinner the next night, adding some pan fried breadcrumbs for extra crunch.

A super easy, surprisingly relaxing recipe to make, I urge you to get your dumpling on as soon as. You’ll have a great meal that will impress anyone straightaway and enough to do several quick dinners when you can’t be bothered to cook another night. Dumplings don’t get better than this!

Sirloin with shallot and wet garlic, finished with Blacksticks Blue

Green wet garlic, red meat and blue cheese…

Sirloin with shallot and wet garlic, finished with Blacksticks Blue

As part of Miss South’s trip north at the end of March I wanted to ensure we could enjoy what is rapidly becoming a prerequisite for our family gatherings: excellent beef steak. As usual the wonderful Stansfield’s of Tod market was able to supply the required cuts, in this case two glorious Yorkshire sirloins. Once I’d bought these I picked up a brace of oh-so-fresh wet garlic bulbs from Alex Med – the first of the year – and decided that this, alongside a few rogue shallots which were crying out to be used, could provide the basis of a very pleasant main course. With a starter of Woodcock and a dessert of Buckfast sorbet this was shaping up to a helluva meal… Read more

Hash up!

I do a big shop every month or six weeks online with Sainsbury’s. As a non-driver, it’s actually cheaper and easier than getting a taxi with my bulky essentials and I find it easier to stick to a budget and avoid impulse purchases this way. Occasionally though I discover I haven’t been paying full attention when filling my basket and get the odd surprise. This time it happened to be a random tin of corned beef…

I contemplated keeping it in the cupboard until needed in a post-apocalyptic scenario, but not wanting to encourage 2012 to be the end of the world, I decided to use it up. None of my cookbooks offered any advice (Can you imagine Nigel Slater telling you what to do with anything tinned?) so I turned to Google. Even allowing for the fact that corned beef is different in the US, there seemed to be only one recipe on the agenda. Corned beef hash it was then!

I diced some potatoes and put them on to par-boil while I fulfilled a rather dubious childhood ambition to open a can of corned beef with the key provided. This moment of giddy joy was immediately quashed upon realising I had basically unleashed a can of premium catfood. I hoped that the judicious addition of mustard and Lea & Perrins would break the association.

The potatoes and onions went into a hot pan to crisp up round the edges and looked pretty darned tasty. I added in the diced beef and turned my attention to frying an egg. The beef began to melt and coat the vegetables evenly even if it did remain an odd pinkish colour. I reminded myself that anything involving fried spuds is a good thing and plated up.

This was surprisingly palatable. The rich egg yolk bound it together nicely and the mustard gave it a tasty kick that disguised just how mind blowingly salty corned beef really is. (Yes, I know that the corns of the name relate to salt not grains, but it still surprises me). I enjoyed this as a hearty Saturday brunch far more than I expected, but think it would be better if the beef was less prevalent and more like a dressing on the crispy potatoes. This would make it an excellent dish to feed about 6 people heartily without costing more than pennies. I’m not sure I’d bother cooking it again unless this scenario arose. Sadly I still have half a can of corned beef to use up though. Maybe I’ll feed it to the squirrels…