Waste not, want not….

  

Two years ago, on Christmas Eve, a relative of mine was in Lidl and witnessed the staff throwing frozen Turkeys into black bags. Where were they going? she inquired. The bin, she was told. They weren’t allowed to give them away, they had to be destroyed. The staff were very upset but they were under orders. Last year was a little better but as we approach the season of overindulgence I think we should all think about what we buy and what we let rot.

We are all guilty of buying too much, advertising and the choice we are offered allows for a much more varied diet. In our parent’s and grandparent’time food was generally associated with a particular day, leftovers from the Sunday roast became bubble and squeak on Monday and soup on Tuesday. Friday was fish day, a ham was boiled on a Sunday for the week’s sandwiches. People didn’t mind ‘eating up’ the firmer slices of bread or ‘trimming up’ the cheese.

Today the most popular dish in Britain for a Monday night is Spaghetti Bolognese; fresh mince, pasta, nothing from the day before. Of course now we can’t just eat Spag Bol, we need garlic bread, coleslaw, salad….and more often than not the salad (bagged and prewashed in chemicals) is sitting in its own juice come Friday. Into the bin it goes.

  
 As a nation we have been encouraged to obey all sell by dates – when I was a child we used our noses – if something smelt ok, it probably was. Which leads me to wonder whether, now preservatives are used throughout the food industry, they mask the smell of ‘off’ food or preserve beyond the dates stamped…as humanity has survived for thousands of years without use-by dates why can we not trust our instincts now, even if companies are obliged to provide such dates. 

  
The amount of food wasted in this country is ridiculous. With celebrity chefs taking up the cause I think it’s about time to tackle this issue.  If we try and cook from scratch we are less lightly to waste, so dig out those recipes from granny, plan meals and perhaps use leftovers for packed lunches or as the basis for soups or pasta sauces; and enjoy the simple pleasure of cold cuts with chutneys and sauces. Bake your own cakes and you rely on their feel, a sponge gone a little hard? Warm it and serve with custard or make a trifle. Think outside the box – you may be surprised at what can be achieved.

Chicken Soup….for the tastebuds!

   

Chicken soup – it conjures up memories of childhood; a hearty, warming and sustaining bowl offered with doorstep chunks of bread for dunking. 

There is a lot in the term ‘Jewish Penicillin’ – it does have healing properties, the onions are antiseptic; the chicken, nourishing yet easily digestible.  We make it on a Monday with the leftovers from the Sunday roast, only if somebody’s very poorly do we specifically buy ‘chicken for soup’. No compromises, the chicken has to be free-range, if not organic, and the veg pesticide free. Chicken Soup is so wonderfully versatile, yet there can be no set recipe; as long the stock is good and rich (I rather like a little pool of yielding schmaltz on the top), the vegetable choices can be as simple as onion, carrot and potato to the more exotic squash, pak choi, chilli and coconut…and anything in between.

In medieval Britain chicken was a luxury, a fowl cost four days wages to a general labourer. They were only eaten by the rich or by those with an old hen from the flock who was past her egg bearing days. These, for the most, were stringy and tough and needed extreme cooking, the by-product being an exceptional stock. 

Every farmhouse would have their own recipe, I enjoy adding leeks for flavour and lots of fresh parsley. In south-west France there are Poule au Pot competitions  (Poule au Pot being a whole boiled fowl accompanied by vegetables and served as two courses, broth first, meat and veg second) where chefs compete for the title. Some of these  recipes stem from  the 16th century French King Henri IV who promised all his countrymen a chicken to put in the pot every Sunday.

 Nowadays some of these once  hearty peasant recipes are as far from poor as it’s possible to be, there are truffles, fine wines and even foie gras in some interpretations. But I think, in Wales, as the leaves cover the ground and the trees become, daily, more spindly and unwelcoming, my chicken soup will suit perfectly.

Welsh Farmhouse Chicken Soup

Take one chicken carcass, one large onion, finely diced and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to the boil. 
Simmer for an hour and a half over a low heat, remove the carcass and pick off the meat still clinging to it.

 Return the meat to the stock and add 2 finely chopped leeks, three large diced carrots, 3 tennis ball size peeled and diced potatoes and finally a good handful of chopped parsley. 

Cook until the vegetables are tender and serve scattered with more parsley and some crusty bread. 

A cup of the broth on its own is very sustaining   
 

An Apple a Day….Or A Pint!

Yesterday was National Apple Day, but around here we are constantly reminded of the versatile fruit which first arrived on these shores with the Romans. Of course, we had our native apple, the Crab Apple, a small sharp fruit which is much underused yet still lurks in many a hedgerow, but the apple has come to represent so many things.

  
Living on the borders, with Herefordshire and Gloucestershire only a stone’s throw away, we have some of the finest orchards in the country on our doorstep 

Once famous for perry and cider, Monmouthshire is remaking a name for itself; small local producers almost always offering an excellent quality product. We drink it, mull it, use it in cooking.  It really is very handy to keep one of those imploding boxes of basic cider in the kitchen throughout the autumn and winter. It can be reduced to a sticky glaze for a free-range pork chop, poured into gravy or used to de-glaze the pan when making a cream sauce to serve with poached chicken. Inspired by the neighbouring  Forest of Dean, I often make a Chicken Forest-of-Dean-iere, my take on the classic Chicken Forestiere, replacing the mushrooms with apple and cooking the chicken slowly in cider before finishing off with a glug of cream, a little mustard and some finely chopped sage. This is perfect autumn fodder and even better with a glass of vintage cider on the side.

  
Monmouthshire’s Apple County Cider

www.applecountycider.co.uk

There are many farm Apple Days in October, the roads are filled with groaning trailers of apples awaiting their wooden crates. Cider Farms have their yards stacked with the crates which go off at all hours to be turned in the amber nectar. One of the loveliest local drives is from Ross-on-Wye to Ledbury, at this time of the year the air is scented with fruit, the road is slow (due to the tractors) but a leisurely half hour inhaling the country air is a very pleasant way to pass the time. There are signs to several Cider Farms on the road, the most famous, and most commercial, being Westons – famed Great Britain over – it even sponsors national sportsman. The visitor centre is definitely worth a visit, and be sure to squeeze in a tour if you can. The Restaurant is splendid and offers (as expected) a large variety of bottled as cask ciders and the food is really good.

www.westons-cider.co.uk
For a more ‘local’ experience, Broome Farm near Ross-on-Wye is also worth a closer inspection – the cider is sold from the cellar, a cool, slightly damp cider paradise located under the farmhouse itself. The steps down are hewn by years of use and the barrels sit temptingly waiting for you to make your choice. They cater for all tastes, including apple juice for the little ones. You can choose your favourite and they will vacuum pack it and box it for you to keep it fresh for 4-6 weeks after opening.

www.broomefarmhouse.co.uk
Of course, there are also the beautiful eating apples,  so many varieties and each one so different, some sharp and almost peppery which others are tinged with overtones of rose or peach. The tree at the bottom of the garden is groaning with fruit this year, it fruits every other year. Last time, we made fresh apple juice which I turned into jelly to accompany roast meats and belly and liver terrine, some apples were cooked and frozen for almost instant crumbles and some were eaten just as they were, with a large slice of unpasteurised local Single Gloucester cheese from Smart’s Dairy.

www.smartsgloucestercheese.com
I think that the British cider and apple industry in general is a wonderful thing, but so much more could be made of it – when I think about the huge wine festivals I have attended in France, with thousands of people eating,  drinking and dancing, all in praise of the wine it makes me a little sad.

  
Please….please seek out local Apple events, then, maybe one day British cider will again be as internationally famed as the wines of France.

Offally Good for the Autumn

I think, on this cold and damp autumn day, that I should spend a few minutes extolling the virtues of offal. Once very much on the British menu it became a no go area due to health scares and the increasing availability of cheap prime cuts, from intensively farmed animals. Now there is a little bit of a revival with gastro-pubs and on-trend restaurants offering an ever more offal based menu.

I believe that you should choose the best pasture raised or/and organic meat possible, there is a wonderful density to proper meat; almost as if its very molecular structure is more solid than its over-farmed, overbred counterparts. But, yes, it is expensive, however it doesn’t need to be so when you consider offal. Admittedly I am not a kidney fan but am happy to cook with pretty much any other part, sweetbreads are a particular favourite along with liver, heart and head (although not sure that’s strictly offal).

I, for one, would indubitably  prefer to eat offal from a good source rather than chance fillet from a bad. It is also ‘offally’ good for you, packed with iron and minerals in which many of us are depleted. Telling children to “Eat up your liver” is rarely heard today in our low-fat, diabetic, obese society and it is a shame. You can always hide liver in faggots or cottage pie, fresh liver doesn’t taste too strong and lamb’s liver is naturally much milder than Pig’s.  Sweetbreads are delicious floured and fried and no, they aren’t anything to do with a Lamb’s genitalia as many think, they are in fact  the thymus gland, located in the neck, or the pancreas. Heart benefits from stuffing and slow cooking and tastes dense and meaty, it was very much favoured during my grandmother’s childhood when the First World War, followed by the depression,  made meat relatively hard to come by and heart was considered a treat.

Last week, as Autumn drove its claws into the country properly for the first time I made a simple liver and bacon dish with a kale colcannon mash and a port gravy. The liver was lamb and very fresh. Do not be put off by the leathery  liver offered by your primary school – which was a world away from the pink, juicy and smooth textured liver from a fresh Lamb. I use proper dry cured smoked bacon, thickly cut and pan fried until crisp and glistening with fat. Set aside to keep warm – in goes the liver, lightly coated in seasoned flour; it takes minutes – no more that two per side, it should rest as steak but not for too long for then it takes on the leathery quality all too familiar to us seventies and eighties children. I deglaze the pan with a little port, add a spoonful of flour to make a paste, throw in some caramelised red onions (first cooked very slowly in a generous amount of butter), whisk in my homemade lamb stock, then a dash of gravy browning and finally some seasoning. Bubble for a few minutes over a low heat. My colcannon is made with local white potatoes, double cream and some sautéed Kale which is just in season. Kale is considered a superfood and it’s irony taste can be overwhelming for some, however, alongside the liver it works splendidly. Serve the colcannon in generous dollops topped with a spoon of salted butter to melt in. The liver should be meltingly yielding, the bacon crisp and the gravy rich. Perfect for a cold October night.

To Bambi or not to Bambi, that is the question.

About two years ago I ordered my first full deer from a local estate. Being a little penny pinching (and relishing a challenge) I ordered it cut into three….my intention to butcher my own. “We’ll eat lots of venison” I told myself as I tackled the carcass with knife, hammer and finally reciprocating saw. Needless to say, almost a year later parts of  Bambi still languished at the bottom of our freezer, save for the whole haunch which graced the Christmas table and a few joints which we used on a Sunday, convincing Grandma that she was actually eating beef.

  
However,the trimmings proved the  most exciting.  We made sausages, delicately flavoured with a little juniper and allspice, a terrine with dried figs and a port reduction, a plethora of ‘authentic’ medieval stews and a rather successful venison Bourguinion. However, sad and lonely, and losing flavour by the day, was the prime fillet which I had painstaking extracted intact. Fresh, it would have made a wonderful carpaccio but hindsight is a fine thing. Finally I decided to defrost and cook it, rubbed with a little truffle oil and seared in a hot pan. Turning my attention to accompaniments I looked to south-west France. There is a beautiful Perigordian potato dish which combines potatoes with goose fat, garlic, wild mushrooms and parsley – it smells autumnal and earthy and is perfect with the rare fillet  along with a crisp salad dressed with walnut oil, a handful of diced walnuts and some crisp bacon lardons. 

On reflection, perhaps it is worth ordering another this year? There is still the world of the game pie to discover, and cottage pie made with slow simmered venison is a real delight…and how about some venison scotch eggs with a side of vibrant piccalilli?
If you’d like to order your own Bambi I recommend my local supplier www.lydneyparkestate.co.uk or mail order from The Welsh Venison Centre www.beaconsfarmshop.co.uk

Any other recipebookaphiles?

And so it begins….
  
I create recipes, some days they are harder to compile than others. My main problem is my addiction to random, unwanted cookery books. I cannot pass a secondhand bookshop without undertaking a thorough investigation. 

I can spend hours amongst the well thumbed, kitchen-stained volumes; it is almost a religious experience. My first choice are the ones with notes in the margin, a small neat hand which adds or removes ingredients, suggests accompaniments or rates a recipe out of ten. Sometimes, and it is rare, one discovers a handwritten sheet inserted between the pages, the title led by some long lost relative…Aunt Maisie’s Christmas Pudding, Jean’s Chicken Surprise or Mother’s Sponge. Occasionally a cutting from a yellowed newspaper or magazine falls from the book, marking the page with another culinary delight. For me, this is the gold at the end of the rainbow. The very smell of old books is magical, the rustle and dedications, ‘Christmas ’39’ or ‘For Lousia’s 18th’ or those ‘in’ quips involving newlyweds or students.

All these enhance my recipes and….unfortunately….divert me, and with a computer screen in front of me bearing the words ‘Burn’s Night Recipe’ and a blank space underneath, I am forced to delve into my library only to emerge hours later wondering what I was supposed to be doing. 

My ultimate dream would be to discover an old farmhouse notebook, handwritten in pencil and stained by years of use, full of tips and recipes handed down from generation to generation….but these are things of the past…another beautiful tradition destroyed by progress and technology.

In praise of Squash

  
The squash family are very much in season at the moment; whether it be the familiar Butternut, the inelegant Onion Squash, the Turk’s Turban or the versatile Spaghetti Squash – and those are just a few – squash is both nutritious and surprisingly tasty and for those low-carb devotees contains only 8g per 100g. 

   
  Gloucestershire grown Squash from www.overfarmmarket.co.uk

 
Each variety is very different in taste, and there are so many ways to enjoy them. Classically, a good first dip into the world of the Squash is with a soup. Butternut Squash soup makes a lovely light lunch choice – and is surprisingly sustaining.

Autumn Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 6-8

Peel and dice one 1kg Butternut squash, making sure to scoop out the seeds

Fry one large onion  in 30g unsalted butter until the onion becomes translucent 

Add one small diced chilli, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp turmeric and stir in the butternut squash 

Make up 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock (I use the gel pots) as directed and pour over the vegetables

Cover and reduce the heat, cooking for about 30minutes until the squash is very soft

Remove from the heat and blend with a stick blender or blender

Season to taste – if the soup is a little thick add a little more stock, if it is too thin reduce over a medium heat 

Serve sprinkled with some freshly chopped coriander and finely diced chilli – some wholemeal Indian flatbread eats very well with this soup 

Today, for lunch, I had a bit of a leftovers moment. I roasted some chunks of Onion squash, with the skin left on, with olive oil and a little salt and pepper, once they began to soften I added chunks of ripe fig and a drizzle of local honey. Serving as I salad, I drizzled with the caramelised figgy honey juice and topped with some small pieces of Bleu d’Affinois – a very mild French blue-rinded cheese (had I had some Welsh blue Perl Las www.cawscenarth.co.uk it could have been even more local). This melted beautifully in the soft buttery squash whilst the fig lifted the flavour and offered an autumnal decadence to the very simple dish.