Sunday, 26 April 2015

Guanciale - Cured Pig Cheek

I had the best carbonara the other week. It was a Sunday night, and everyone was feeling a bit tired and down, comfort was required, carbonara was required... and even better with homemade Guanciale, which sounds a bit smug, but isn't actually that difficult to make, as long as you are patient... I started a few months ago, it hasn't required much effort, and now I have lots of cured pigs cheeks to play with...

I keep saying I will experiment with more curing of meat, prior to this I have only tried different types of salami, but the success of these little cheeks has spurred me on to try more. I'd really like to have my own pastrami and bresaola in Cook House, as well as salami and other bits and bobs, a Cook House charcuterie board is the aim at some point, I'd better get on with it...


I ordered 6 pigs cheeks from Charlotte and they arrived the next day. They are quite big, something everyone seems to comment on, but I guess pigs have big heads. That one in the Ouseburn farm, Babooshka, is a monster...

I followed a recipe from one of the River Cottage handbooks about curing and smoking. I free styled with a different cure, I wanted something with bay and sugar in it, rather than just a straightforward salt cure. So I used equal quantities of salt and light brown sugar, 90g of each, added torn up bay leaves, some cracked black peppercorns and some crushed juniper berries.



You need to remove any hairs from the pigs cheeks, either with a sharp knife or a blow torch. I haven't graduated to blow torch ownership yet... There might be grey pappy glands still attached to the cheeks, so get rid of these.

Then simply mix up the ingredients for the cure. I put the cheeks in a big tupperware and added everything, if you are only doing a couple it is good to use a freezer bag. Distribute the cure mix evenly so it covers all of the meat, squeeze out as much air as possible and seal. Then place in the fridge. I cured mine for 2 weeks as I was doing so many. They say 3 days per 500g, but the longer you cure them the more flavour gets in. Turn them over every few days so that the cure distributes around evenly, it will become liquid as time passes.

When they have finished curing remove them and give them a wash under cold running water, then dry them thoroughly with kitchen roll. I then gave them a little dusting of extra cracked black pepper. You can tell that a lot of the water in the meat has come out during the cure, as they are a much firmer thing than two weeks previous.



Finally I made a hole in the top of each cheek and strung them up. They need to be somewhere with airflow, out of direct sun light, not to hot or cold, a bit humid... But obviously you can only work with what you have. At cook house I hung them near the back door, at home I use the top of the porch. Then wait... I wrapped them in little muslin bags after the initial few days of drying as I didn't want flies landing on them.

They will take 3-5 weeks, keep weighing them to check, but they are ready when they have lost 30% of their weight and they smell really meaty.



I've had one down off the hook so far, the smallest one. It's delicious as a cured meat, just sliced really thin. Diced up and fried it really crisps up and is delicious in pasta or on top of a risotto. You can taste that it was a sweet cure, which I really like, there are hints of the bay and the juniper too, it's a much more fragrant cured meat than I am used to, which is very pleasant. It is also really very meaty, it smells powerfully of cured pork, but that's how I like my kitchen to smell of an evening if I'm honest... The skin has turned into a coat of steel however, cutting through it is a right pain, I need to invest in a proper meat slicer before I take my hand off trying to saw through it! It's a cross I'm willing to bear just now though...


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Seville and Rosemary Marmalade

A friend of mine entered a marmalade competition last year, I remember looking at a photo of her certificates and awards and feeling suitably impressed. So when she said she was entering again this year I thought I would give it a go. The fact that I had never even made marmalade before was just a triviality...

I ended up entering the first jar of marmalade I had ever made, which I obviously didn't tell them, but it was actually nice; and I won an actual award... So I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself and my marmalade making skills. I was awarded a Silver certificate, next year I'm going for Gold...


The Marmalade Awards are held at Dalemain, a beautiful country house near Ullswater. They decorate the whole house with oranges, hold a farmers market and dedicate the whole weekend to all this marmalade. I imagine they must tire of tasting so many marmalades, the entries run into the thousands, but they get through them, and here is what they said about mine...


I had various ideas for what I would like to do, I wanted to add something unusual to the oranges. I thought about coriander seeds, juniper berries, earl grey tea, ginger... but finally settled on rosemary. I have used rosemary in various citrus puddings and always love it, especially my Lemon and Rosemary Posset; so hoped it would turn out ok...

I had 750g of Seville oranges, which I juiced. Keep the juice then finely slice all of the skin and pith, removing and keeping all of the pips. Put all the sliced skin into a large cast iron pan, add the juice and pour over 1.8 litres of water and leave to soak over night.

The next day I added 3 large sprigs of rosemary and the seeds in a little bag of muslin. Some people say that you need the seeds in to help with setting as they contain lots of pectin, which makes a jam or marmalade set, others say there is enough pectin in the fruit itself to do this, I added them anyway just to be on the safe side. Bring the whole lot to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours, until the skin is soft and the water has reduced by about a third. You want to end up with a volume  approximately double the quantity of oranges, so approximately 1.5 litres after cooking.


Then add 1kg of caster sugar and 500g of light brown sugar, adding darker sugar will result in a darker marmalade. This is double the weight of the oranges again. At this point I added another large sprig of rosemary too. Bring everything to the boil and stir to dissolve the sugar, then keep at a fast rolling boil until it reaches setting point. I used a thermometer, it needs to get to about 104 degrees Celsius. Oranges are quite high in pectin so can set a few degrees lower than this but I kept on till 104 just in case. It took about 20 minutes. I also tested it on a cold saucer, dropping a bit on and leaving it for a minute, if it wrinkles when you push it it has reached setting point.

So when you are all done leave your marmalade to sit in the pan for ten minutes. This lets it cool and set very slightly so all the peel doesn't sink to the bottom when you put it into jars. I put it all into little sterilised jars, these quantities produced 11 8oz jars. I put a fresh sprig of rosemary in each jar and then filled them up. I was pretty proud at this point, actual marmalade that tasted lovely, but still nervous that it wouldn't set...


However, they set within an hour and were very tasty. The rosemary is mild but definitely present, the oranges are bitter and delicious and it isn't too sickly sweet. I been enjoying it on toast and serving it to customers in Cook House, who have been very complimentary so far.

I was pretty pleased with my actual scores, I will know better to fill my jar up a bit more next time, I thought it was pretty much full to be honest... but they are obviously a stickler for detail; and next time I may not leave the rosemary loose in the marmalade but keep it in a muslin bag just for flavour, although it does look pretty and the judges didn't complain... First prize was getting your marmalade stocked in Fortnum and Mason's, I'm after that next time...


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Chocolate and Almond Cake

Amazingly Cook House was featured in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, in a guide to small places to eat in Newcastle. I was incredibly pleased to be included, I couldn't stop smiling all day! It was a lovely review, you can have a look here. Someone had been and had lunch undercover the week before it was published, thankfully they had a lovely time! So The Guardian readers have been arriving in their droves since, it has been such good publicity for my little shipping container, and has meant a lot more baking, potting and pickling; long may it continue...


On the baking front, I've been making this cake for a while now. It's just a really good cake recipe and people need those so I thought I'd share it. My cake repertoire has come on leaps and bounds since I opened Cook House, as I'm baking something nearly every day. This is one of my favourites, as well as the Lemon and Almond Cake, and the Carrot and Orange Cake, and the... and I say I don't have a sweet tooth...

I made this cake just today at Cook House and I slightly under cooked it, which turned out to be a wonderful accident as it turns it into some kind of delicious chocolate fondant cake, soft and gooey in the middle. I had to test a slice in the morning, and again later on in the afternoon; just to be sure. It was really good on both occasions, which was a relief...

Start by slowly melting 200g of dark chocolate, at least 70% with 250g of butter. Don't heat it too quickly as the mixture will split, just slowly on a low heat, stirring occasionally until it is all combined. 


While that's melting away, separate 4 eggs. Then whisk 200g of caster sugar into the yolks until they are light and fluffy. Then add 50g of ground almonds and 50g of plain flour and mix. When the chocolate and butter mix is ready stir it in to the egg yolk mixture until it is all combined into a lovely chocolate and almond mix.

Finally whisk the egg whites until they stand up in soft peaks, you need an electric whisk, unless you're feeling like a work out... Fold one spoonful of the egg whites into the chocolate mix gently, followed by the rest of the egg whites, just do it slowly keeping the air in until you have a mix a bit like a chocolate mousse.


Pour the whole lot into a lined cake tin, it'll be much easier to get out if you line the whole tin with greaseproof paper. Then bake at 170 degrees C for 35 minutes. If it is very wobbly in the centre when you get it out I'd put it back in for five minutes. Or you can leave it to have a fondant type centre. Even baked for 35 to 40 minutes however this is still a gooey centred cake. It is rich and delicious, very chocolatey and good pretty much any time of day...




Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fermentation fun...

I recently finished reading Cooked by Michael Pollen, ‘A Natural History of Transformation’ it took me forever, but reading time has been quite thin on the ground recently. I enjoyed it so much that I’m tempted to begin it again. I can’t quite remember what happened at the beginning; it contains so many interesting bits of information that I want to know better.

It tells the story of how cooking has shaped the evolution of man from the very beginning. Was it the discovery of cooking by our early ancestors, and not making tools, or language or meat eating that set us apart from apes and made us human? According to some of the hypothesis ‘cooked’ food altered the course of human evolution as it provided our forebears with an energy rich, easy to digest diet that allowed our brains to grow bigger and our guts to shrink. It seems that raw food takes much more time and energy to chew and digest, which is why primates similar to us have large, heavy digestive tracts and spend up to six hours a day chewing... Cooking allowed humans to devote their time, and metabolic resources to other purposes, like creating a culture.

Cooking also brought about occasion; of eating together at a certain time. Prior to this it was a hunter gathering affair, likely enjoyed alone as you searched for food. This new meal time occasion served to civilise us.

The chapter that was most fascinating to me was the one about fermentation, and its benefits. Before tins, fridges or freezers, fermentation was the main way that people preserved food. With the earliest methods being pits dug into the ground, lined with leaves and filled with vegetables, meat, fish, etc. The earth kept the temperature low and contributed microbes; lactofermentation would begin within days and eventually produce enough lactic acid to preserve the food for months, sometimes years.

Lactic acid ferments that you would know today include sauerkraut, olives, pickled vegetables, kimchi, live yoghurt, cheeses and sourdough bread. Fermenting food not only extends their shelf life; it can also create entirely new nutrients and intensify flavours

The theory goes that our diet has changed so much that we are missing out on these live bacteria and nutrients that historically kept us healthy, under a regime of ‘good sanitation’ they are now washed off, boiled out of, or removed entirely from our food. Nine out of ten of the cells in our bodies are not human but microbial; and they need living food. Your gut needs these cells to stay healthy, they can be credited for all kinds of things from better digestion, reducing inflammation and therefore depression, boosting your immune system and preventing cancers of the digestive tract.

Historically your milk wasn’t pasteurised, neither was your cheese, your beer and wine were home brewed and contained live wild yeasts, you pickled, preserved and fermented food, all filling your immune system with lovely healthy live bacteria, keeping you fit and strong. It just seems to make a lot of sense to me; I might become a live food bore!

On my fermentation ‘to do’ list I have homemade yoghurt and saukraut to try, but I started with Middle Eastern Fermented Turnip and Beetroot, and a Lacto Fermented Butternut Squash. I realise these don’t sound the most glamorous of recipes, but they are delicious; with potted meats, cured meats, pates, diced into salads or as a crunchy snack.


Middle Eastern Turnip and Beetroot

In a pan, heat about 250ml of water, then add 70g salt and bay leaf, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. Then once cool, add 250ml of white wine vinegar and 500ml more water.

Cut 1kg of turnip and a small beetroot into batons, about the size of skinny fries. Put the turnips, beets, and 3 cloves of sliced garlic into a large, clean jar, then pour the salted brine over them in the jar, including the bay leaf. Cover and let sit at room temperature, in a relatively cool place, for one week. They are then ready to serve.

They keep for several weeks, turning a lovely bright pink colour with a good crunch. Serve them with cold meats, cheese, pates and terrines or chopped into salads.


Lacto fermented Butternut Squash

Peel the raw butternut squash. You need about 700g to fill a large mason jar. Leave a small section of squash unpeeled so that you can include it at the top of your ferment. Make a brine by dissolving 1 tablespoon of salt into 500ml of room temperature water.

Cut the peeled squash into batons. Place the peeled and chopped squash into a large jar. Add the unpeeled pieces of squash to the top and pour brine over the whole thing.

After five days of fermentation, your squash will be ready. Keep in the fridge.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

London dining round up

I got back from a brief tour of the London dining scene on Sunday, which was inspirational and motivating as well as expensive and filling. I’m only really after small portions of vegetables for the foreseeable future... I thought I would share a brief roundup, as pretty much everywhere we went was very good.

We started at Lyle’s for supper, a set menu from ex St John Bread and Wine chef James Lowe, in the old tea building in Shoreditch. The menu included pollack, pheasant and a few other things, five courses in total, and it didn’t set my heart racing. It turned out to be delicious, really clever, wonderful cooking. The first course was a tumble of roasted celeriac ribbons coated in some kind of wonderful stock and hiding in the middle was a beautiful poached egg and fresh tarragon, it was lush.



Also of note was 40 Maltby Street, a wine bar with food in a railway arch, in amongst the stalls of Maltby Street market. Another trendy food market, but it was a nice atmosphere and good stalls, even on a rainy January day. Some of the make shift ‘restaurants’ have their chairs and tables laid out in and around piles of wood, tools and everyday life. 40 Maltby Street occupies one end of an arch, slightly make shift in its pallet furniture and tiny kitchen, they sell lots of bottles of wine, with a few by the glass and delicious plates of food. Ham and cheese, cuttlefish stew on toast, duck hearts with bread sauce, salsify fritters; it was all really, really good. You should go.






After suffering another away defeat at Chelsea (we suffered it last year too), we headed over to a little smoky bar in Soho, The Smoking Goat. It seems to be reviewed everywhere I look at the moment and doesn’t take reservations so I was concerned we might not get in and had a back up list of other non reservations in Soho (Koya, Tonkotsu, Barnyard, Pitt Cue, Duck Soup, Copita...) but it all turned out fine... The dining gods seemed to be on our side all weekend. 



The Smoking Goat is a ‘wood Ember Barbecue with Thai flavours’ kind of place; it is fun, busy and smoky and has good food. We had a lovely aubergine salad full of spice, smoked lamb ribs and roast duck, a selection of dips, Thai salads and rice arrived too, with some lovely red wine. Having gone to eat so early due to the match and reservation fear, we had finished dinner by about 7pm, so we then went and got a bit drunk in a weird Spanish bar...

The final day’s lunch at Bocca do Lupo sorted out any hint of a hangover, delicious bagna cauda, hare ragu, deep fried salt cod, ox cheek with chocolate and baby cornettos made for a very pleasant lunch...



We also managed to take in Sager and Wilde, Shoreditch Grind, Trullo, St John bar, St John Bakery, Ace Hotel cafe and J Sheeky (all good), as well as a couple of exhibitions... good going really...



Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The year past...

About this time last year I decided I was going to leave my job in architecture and start pursuing my food ambitions full time, that was about as much as I knew last December, but it was definitely a turning point. It was during a trip to London last February that it became a bit clearer, the 'why don't I just open my own place in the shipping containers' moment... and from that point on everything seemed to move quite quickly. Over the following months I set myself up as a company, left my job, worked in a few London kitchens, designed my new space, logo, website, got the builders in, wrote millions of lists, and then opened... I waited nervously, and then some people came...

A little over four months later, here I am with my own food business based in two shipping containers, which look quite beautiful if I do say so myself. I opened in August, with no great fanfare, just letting people know I was there over the months that followed. It has been much busier than I anticipated day to day and the private suppers have been immensely popular, with bookings in place well into next year. I would say that pretty much everyone that comes through the door is both interesting and interested; I've met some really lovely people. Going from a job sitting at a desk to working full time in my own kitchen with the public is a bit of a shift, but definitely a good one. I continue to run the whole thing single handed, which is sustainable for an amount of time, but not forever... A break this Christmas was definitely in order before I collapsed!

I'm excited for the future of Cook House and beyond that too. Every day I think about how to make it better, how to keep it interesting, what is next. It's been hugely hard work, but I don't mind one bit. I like to think I've brought to life a place in Newcastle that is unique, it is lovely that other people seem to appreciate that too; well it would be a bit lonely and destitute if they didn't.... So here's to 2015, see you there...


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

How to make Salt Beef

I was down in London earlier in the year, eating, which is usually what happens on a jaunt to London. I write up a strategic plan of how to eat in as many places as physically possible before the train home departs, at least three places per day, sometime more... I find inspiration, fullness to the extreme and a very empty purse ensues...

But earlier in the year for some reason we found ourselves hungry, on Brick Lane, mid afternoon, I’m not quite sure how the hunger had managed to make an appearance but... there before us was the famous brick lane bagel shop, so we queued and ordered salt beef bagels, and my god they were good... a different ball game, what even are those things in the shops they call bagels, the salt beef, the bagel, so good...


I returned home and started planning a salt beef bagel supperclub, it happened earlier in the year at The Cumberland Arms... and went down a treat, there was even beer matching, we called it 'Some like it Hops'... If you have never made your own bagels and like baking you must try it, it’s hugely satisfying and just a whole different species from a shop bought one, fresh, bouncy, a chewy delicious crust and soft inside, so good, I blogged about them earlier in the year here...

But now to the salt beef; I’ve been making my own since then, honing the recipe as I’ve experimented, I think I’ve got it down to a tee now, at least how I like it anyway. I began with a Tim Hayward recipe from the Guardian, a step by step photo thing which made it look easy, and to be honest, it is, it just takes a while... In simple terms you make a brine, brine some brisket for a while, then simmer it with stock vegetables and you have your salt beef, all ready to fall apart into your homemade bagel...


I favour a stronger brine, saltier in short, I think the meat ends up tastier, so I now use a St John recipe for a good strong brine. These amounts make 4 litres of brine, which is enough to brine up to 5kgs of brisket, just make less if you have a smaller piece. You can use this brine for loads of other recipes too, pork belly, ox tongue, other brisket recipes... In a large pan combine 400g caster sugar, 600g sea salt, 12 juniper berries, 12 cloves, 12 black peppercorns, 3 bay leaves and 4 litres of water. I also add 30g of Prague Powder #1 which contains saltpetre, a curing agent, which encourages the meat to turn that lovely pink colour and cure evenly. Bring everything to the boil to dissolve the salt and sugar then leave to cool to room temperature.


Then you can add your brisket. I add 5kg of brisket to this brine, in a big Tupperware bucket that I keep at the bottom of the fridge. I cut it into 4 or 5 pieces, not tied up, just loose, then weight it down with a few plates to keep the meat fully submerged. I have left it to brine for anything from 5 days to 15 days, a week is ideal. Turn the meat around every couple of days, so it cures evenly. If you are only doing a small quantity you can put it in a freezer bag and fill that with the brine and just turn it over each day.



When you are ready to cook the beef remove it from the brine, add it to a large pan with a whole onion cut in half, a carrot cut in half, 2 bay leaves, some parsley, a stick of celery, some peppercorns, a few juniper berries and lots of cold water so it is fully covered. Bring it to the boil and then let it simmer for 4 hours, a very gentle simmer, the water just wants to be moving a tiny bit, so you are cooking it very gently. After 4 hours the meat will fall apart into lovely pink shreds. You can serve it hot with horseradish cream and potatoes, or pull it apart and put it in a bagel with lots of Sweet Cucumber Pickle and English mustard. It’s a delight, sorry I haven’t told you about it sooner...



Sunday, 30 November 2014

Cook House - an update

Cook House has been up and running for three and a half months now, I have some lovely recipes to share in the next week, but thought I'd post a quick update before then. I find myself at the oven more often than at a computer these days, but am endeavouring to find a balance!



This week saw Cook House's busiest day yet, which is great. Everyone that comes to visit is so enthusiastic, and just generally a nice bunch of people who are interested in what I'm up to in my shipping containers. I've met tons of people, found new and interesting opportunities for the future, and although I am currently sporting a nasty scalded ankle and missing the top of my little finger I am thoroughly enjoying the new venture. I'll keep you posted and share some tasty Cook House recipes soon...



Sunday, 19 October 2014

Homemade Ricotta

Faced with a small crowd of people waiting patiently for me to show them how to make cheese I suddenly felt a little nervous. At the beginning of the year Simon, who organises EAT! Festival, asked me if I would teach a few food classes at the Festival of Thift in September. I said yes of course, and agreed to show people how to make butter, mayonnaise, salami and fresh cheese, without thinking about it much further.


I know how to make these things and have done so on many occasions, but usually only with myself for company and here I was faced with real people, who had actual questions, and were watching everything I did... Cheese made me the most nervous, because it is still a bit new to me, and the world of cheese making is vast and so far I only know about a very tiny proportion of it, namely ricotta...

But the excitement I got from making my first batch of ricotta, seeing the process happen so quickly before my eyes is worth telling others about, you should all have a go really, your own cheese feels like quite an achievement! In simple terms you heat milk, add lemon juice and you get ricotta...


I used a litre of whole milk, from this you will get about 300g of ricotta. Heat the milk in a heavy based saucepan slowly. There is little point in using skimmed or semi skimmed milk, it doesn't result in anything healthier or less fatty, the process is separating the fat out of the milk to make cheese, so you just end up with less cheese. A lady in one of my classes said she once tried it with skimmed milk and got a tablespoon of cheese from two litres of milk...

You will need a thermometer, I use my meat probe. Stir the milk gently with a wooden spoon to stop it sticking to the bottom, keep it on a medium heat and you need to bring it up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just below boiling point, when the milk is beginning to steam and froth a little. Remove it from the heat immediately as you don't want it to boil, and add the juice of a lemon, you need about 40ml, give the milk a stir to distribute the lemon juice and watch as the milk instantly separates into curds and whey, it's quite exciting...


You can add a teaspoon of salt at this point if you want too, I have found that I prefer it without, it also means you can use it for sweet or savoury dishes too. Leave the pan to sit for ten minutes, then drain the cheese through some muslin or a clean jay cloth. I tie mine to the tap and let it drip for about ten minutes, you can leave it up to an hour to get a drier cheese, but I like it with a bit of liquid in it still.


So now you have ricotta! Taste it while it is hot, it is much cheesier than the stuff you buy in the shops. Then cool it in the fridge, it will keep for about a week, it is delicious and creamy, your very own cheese! You can also keep the liquid whey from the process and use it for baking, just to make you feel even more virtuous than you already do with homemade cheese in the fridge... Spread it on toast with pesto, crumble it into salads, top your spicy tomato pasta, use it to fill a lemon curd cake...