Monday, September 18, 2006

Truffle snuffle.

The ultimate forager's grail. In the UK, the truffle t.aestivum

Sent to me, via my brother, via Truffle UK.

What magnificent specimens they are too. Unfortunately you can't smell them, but the aroma is overwhelming. They've been divided among a number of storage methods. Which I'll detail later.

I had been wondering whether to include truffles in my restaurant's palette of allowable flavours. French and Italian truffles are magnificent but somewhat against the ethic, but knowing that the UK supply can be this good is something that makes the inclusion possible, if in limited amounts.

Truffle farming is a wonderful thing. Anything that makes an economic reason to plant and maintain large stands of oak trees is fine in my book. The fact that I don't need to import them is even better.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bacon run.

We've solved our bacon dilema. Half the distance to my Tesco is a non-organic but high-welfare rare breed pig farm. Run buy a bloke called Phil. Doesn't need to rave about his products. They sit in the enormous field snuffling at you themselves. Sandys, Old spots, and more. The pork is sold from a fridge in a shed. He makes his own bacon. I'll be making my own with his bellies as well.

Hurrah. Bacon on sourdough.

getting there...

Off to see a man about Longhorn cattle and Llanwenog mutton tomorrow. And hopefully some ducks too.

Beauty and the Yeast...

Sourdough. It's the answer I've been looking for for years.

Recently, prior to the opening of my new restaurant, I've been experimenting with bread. I want everything served to have a link to the local surroundings. Not just a nod. But an intimate bond to the terrain in which it comes from. I have amazing organic stoneground flours to work with, unbleached and natural. I can use spring water from the hills surrounding, and sea salt from the coast not too far north. Where does my yeast come from? Most of it, in packets or begged over the bakery counter from my local supermarket.

How disppointing, that final, living link. The one cog in the machine that makes it all work. Tied to the supermarket.

Time to change all that. I've been meaning to nurture a leaven for a while now. Ever since I read about Steingarten's effort (in which volume I can't remember) on making a New York Sourdough. I love the elegance. The chance to hunt wild yeast. So much more ephemeral than picking a blackberry...

So. I did my research. Comparing various methods and recipes I set my starter going.

10 days.

Mix. Feed. Rest. Feed. Rest. Feed. and so on.

I started it with four wild bullaces, with their natural bloom still chalky blue on the surface.

Day 5, it started to smell just like Edelweiss (a wonderful Weissbeer I'm rather partial to.) and also unfortunately a little whiff of banana, which my future wife was not impressed with.

Day 9. Every day now it foams up the side of the jar as if it wants to get out there and do stuff.

Day 10. Knead, Nurture, Wait. Shape. Wait. Slash. Bake.

Day 10. Eat some of the best bread I've ever made. Tangy, individual, irresistable.

If this leaven ever dies, I shall be mortifed (or I'll start it again using the sloes which are so abundant this year). My life has just become slave to a 500g kilner jar.

Ho hum.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Barmy Bacon

Sadly, pragmatic food solutions often lead us into the depths of our national supermarkets. Not always horrible. More and more of them are realising there is a burgeoning market in both organic and local marketing.

Here's my rant. Why is it that there are still enormous gaps in the thinking?

Take bacon. My local Tesco sells umpteen types of cures, all "british". So why are all the organic cures Danish? As a consumer who generally cares about where my meat comes from in this order : organic, high welfare, local, british... and I'm not alone, I'm stuck in a what do I value more judgement, and I end up avoiding bacon.


Big Barn

One of the biggest issues I find as both a home food buyer and a chef-restaurateur, is that finding all that wonderful artisan food can be a right kerfuffle. All those who know the wonders of Borough Market can point at the ease of popping down there on the weekend to get amazing stuff. Many a blogger has written on the wonders of the market. But how many people can get that range of produce in their farmer's market? (Not that we shouldn't support them) Many are simply well below par, diluted with second phase suppliers, rather than the producers we really want to meet (I can make my own chutney and cake thanks...). Even when living among it in the countryside it can be difficult to locate that farmer round the corner who's got just what you need.

The answer.

Big Barn.

Well, part of it anyway. A growing resource to find exactly what's on your front door.

Have a go!


Well, the sun is creeping lower in the sky, and certainly where we are, the ravages of autumn are getting into full swing. While we absorb these last blasts of heat in the Indian summer we know that the frosts are coming, and laying down some goodies is the next perogative, while enjoying the summer's last fruits as well.

This week we've been out in the hedgerows collecting bullaces and brambles. It's jelly season.

Here's a basic rulebook for your berries...

1. Make sure you know what you're picking. The two above are fairly straightforward. Bullace is a wild plum. Amazingly this year, in our area they're almost edible off the tree, but they can be rather tart and astringent. Blackberries are hopefully familiar to even the most ardent urbanite.

2. Wash. For brambles it's worth soaking in a salt solution to lure out the maggots and various other minibeasts eager to eat your spoils. Leave them for a while and rinse well.

3. A good rough guide recipe is to briefly stew your fruit until the juices are really flowing, mash it well, and then pass it through a couple of layers of muslin overnight (or a jelly bag if you're feeling flush). Don't squeeze the bag! Measure the resultant volume of juice, and add an equal volume of sugar. Boil, starting slowly, to 108C. Jar. Enjoy.

4. For low pectin fruits, then the addition of apple in moderate quantities makes for good setting qualities. I usually add about a 5th to bramble jellies. When picking brambles, picking about a quarter slightly underripe, will also boost the pectin levels. The final way to get pectin is to buy it in, either in pectin-added sugar, or as pure pectin.

Our hoarding now lasts us until this time next year. How sensible.