Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Wut up G?

'December- A Swallow at Christmas'
George Cruikshank


     Anyone else suffering from holiday overload?  Turkey, ham, sweets, cheeses, alcohol...I mean, how often do you allow yourself to start drinking Champers, gin and rum before noon?  Christmas Eve till today, apparently. 

'Let it be said that of all the deadly sins that mankind may commit, the fifth appears to be the one that least troubles his conscience and causes him the least remorse.'

     Gluttony derives from the Latin verb gluttiere - to gulp down or swallow.  St. Thomas Aquinas listed five ways by which one might commit the sin:

Praepropere - by eating too soon
Laute- by eating too expensively
Nimis- by eating too much
Ardenter- by eating too eagerly
Studiose- by eating too daintily

'Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.'
St. Thomas Aquinas

     Aristotle wrote of Philoxenos, who longed to have the neck of a crane so that he might enjoy his food for longer before it entered his stomach.

 'Said Aristotle unto Plato,
'Have another sweet potato?'
Said Plato unto Aristotle,
'Thank you, I prefer the bottle.'
-Owen Wister
'Gluttony' Hieronymus Bosch
A 1496 image published in Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers
 'Gula' Pieter Bruegel the Elder

     Of course we can always rely on the 'good book' to pile on the guilt.  St. Gregory the Great described five ways by which one can commit the sin of gluttony, and corresponding biblical examples for each of them:

Pope Gregory I

1. Eating before the time of meals in order to satisfy the palate.
Biblical example: Jonathan eating a little honey, when his father Saul commanded no food to be taken before the evening.
2. Seeking delicacies and better quality of food to gratify the 'vile sense of taste.'
Biblical example: When Israelites escaping from Egypt complained, 'Who shall give us flesh to eat ? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers and the melons, and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,' God rained fowls for them to eat but punished them 500 years later.
3. Seeking after sauces and seasonings for the enjoyment of the palate.
Biblical example: Two sons of Eli the high priest made the sacrificial meat to be cooked in one manner rather than another. They were met with death.
4. Exceeding the necessary amount of food.
Biblical example: One of the sins of Sodom was 'fullness of bread.'
5. Taking food with too much eagerness, even when eating the proper amount, even if the food is not luxurious.
Biblical example: Esau selling his birthright for ordinary food of bread and pottage of lentils. His punishment was that the 'profane person...who, for a morsel of meat sold his birthright,' we learn that 'he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully, with tears.'
Esau gives up his birthright for a bowl of pottage.
     In these heady days of cheap and abundant food; of soft porn M&S ads and the rise and rise of the TV chef, it is easy to love food a little too much.  Our sedentary lifestyles parking us easily, the active past- ancient history.  The constantly expanding availability and variety of ethnic cuisines and foreign foodstuffs forever tempting our short attention spans and dulled, yet expectant taste buds.  A gourmet is merely a glutton with brains. 
     I suppose a good war might sort us out.  Forced rationing might be the only way to check the runaway train of The West's obesity problems.  Check out old London blitz photos- no lard asses in sight.  Giles Coren recommended a fat tax.  I am not talking about taxing junk food.  If someone was going to cut into my wages for being a couple stone over, I'd soon hit the treadmill a little more often.  A shame we hide behind a facade of civil liberties and phony diagnoses.  'I have a thyroid problem'.  Yeah, right...and let me guess, dyslexia as well?  I make no excuses for my paunch and eye roll those that feel they must.
     Of course, food prices are rising.  As the earth's parasitic human population stretches to the tipping point; we will more than likely develop new and interesting ways to feed the masses, but there may be an interval of violent upheaval and tightening belts as the rice disappears and the wheat fields turn into sand.
     I reckon you can eat just about whatever you like, simply mix it up with a little exercise.  Stay away from processed foods and go for a run once in awhile.  The buzz of the burn can be nearly as enticing as a Parisien Opera given half a chance.  So, go on- savour that foie gras terrine, that 20oz porterhouse, the chocolate fondant for afters...just run a couple miles the next day and eat a salad for lunch.  Pope Gregory obviously put a lot of thought into the Bible's take on gluttony.  Let's pare things down a bit.  Nevermind that gluttony is meant to be a 'mortal sin'.  It just ain't good for ya!  Physician, heal thyself...
'Everything in moderation including moderation.'
Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas Pudding


60gm plain flour
120gm shredded or finely chopped suet
120gm white breadcrumbs
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp mixed spice
1/4tsp ground cinnamon
230gm molasses sugar
100gm raisins
100gm sultanas
250gm currants
50gm roasted and chopped whole skinless almonds
50gm chopped mixed peel
1 small apple, cored, peeled and chopped
Zest of one orange
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
3tbsp dark rum
100ml stout
100ml brandy
3 eggs
1/2tsp salt
softened butter for greasing your bowl


1)   Begin the day before you wish to steam the pudding and at least a couple months before         Christmas.  Make this now and it will keep till next Christmas, improving with age if fed a little alcohol once in awhile.
2)   Using a large mixing bowl, mix together the suet, flour, sugar, breadcrumbs, spices and salt.  Rub these ingredients together well.
3)   Add the nuts, apple, mixed peel, dried fruit and citrus.
4)   Mix the alcohols and eggs together in a smaller bowl. 
5)   Add to the larger mixture and incorporate well.  The mix should be quite sloppy.
6)   Cover the bowl and leave overnight.
7)   Grease a large bowl and spoon in your pudding.
8)   Cover it with parchment paper and foil.  Tie tightly.
9)   Steam over a large pan of water for 7-8 hours.  Or 1/4 time in a pressure cooker.
10) Cool, remove the parchment and foil, replenish with new and tie again.
11) Store in a cool place until Christmas Day.

Santa deserves something special after such a hard night's work.
Seriously though, 'It's A Wonderful Life, 'A Christmas Story' and 'Bad Santa'...the best Christmas films.

To serve:
     Steam again for 2-3 hours.  Turn out onto the centre of a large plate.  Light a ladle of brandy to flame and pour carefully over the pudding at the table.  Sprinkle with a snowy dusting of caster or icing sugar and top with rum sauce, brandy sauce, stiff white icing or homemade custard.  A sprig of holly will complete the festive vibe.

Heston's ingenious and now infamous orange stuffed pud that sold like hotcakes at Waitrose and even started a run on ebay.  Ah, the power of the chef.
     Love it or hate it, Christmas pudding is here to stay.  The populace seems firmly divided over all things cakey that contain bits of fruit.  The slant on this side of the pond savours it far more favourably than my homeland.  I'll make it and rejoice in the pagentry and smiling faces...but it is not my cup of tea.  One thing is certain...if you have been sitting on the fence, an aged home made Christmas pud may just win you over, the supermarkets just don't do this traditional flavour justice.  In any case, whether you use this or dust off that old recipe your gran used to make...have a go and keep the tradition alive.  The shops are a cop out, bah humbug!
     Quintessentially English, it was known as plum pudding until Eliza Acton coined it Christmas Pudding sometime in the early 1800's.  It first reared its head in the early 1400's when mutton, veal and sandalwood were prominent ingredients.  The current incarnation of the pud came about in the Victorian era and many traditions surround its making and consumption such as; studding the inside with silver coins and 'the wish', a time for the family to gather round all giving the mix a good stir whilst making a wish.

Scrooge was not a Christmas pud fan.
Parting Shot:

'Oh!  All that steam!  The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron.  Oh!  That smell!  The same as the one which prevailed on washing day!  It is that of the cloth that wraps the pudding.  Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner's at the same time, with a laundry next door.  Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a canon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre.  Oh!  The marvellous pudding!'
-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Mr. Yuk says- 'I think I'll stick to Vanilla Ice Cream with Chambord this Christmas.'

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A Culinary Christmas

Christmas Gifts for Food Freaks

30. Cheese
Everyone loves it.  Gorge out at Christmas time with quality cheese, Carr's water biscuits, vintage port and your favourite chutney or jelly.  Some of the best- Raclette, Stilton, Sharpham Elmhirst, Taleggio, Truffled Robiola, Oisin Goat's, Morbier, Stinking Bishop....the list goes on and on.

Baked Camembert
29. Chef's Candle
A design classic and practical to boot.  Helps eradicate unwanted kitchen odours apres cooking.

28. Pie Funnel
Or pie bird, pie whistle, pie vent etc.  These ceramic lovelies hearken back to the Victorian age and work a treat whilst adding an air of class centre table.

Piebird at Piebird Cottage

27. Bacon iPhone Case
Go on, you know you want one.  Pretend you're Lady Gaga.

26. Microplane
A kitchen utensil must have.  Garlic, lemons, Parmesan, cinnamon, chocolate...this is the best grater you will ever buy.

25. Joseph Joseph Salad Bowl
With integral lifter/toss implements!  Finally life is complete.

24. Pasta Maker
Few things are more therapeutic and satisfying as making your own pasta.

23. Sushi Booties
These are hilarious, and how very yummy mummy ra-ra.

22. Mushroom Kit
Like magic!  Also see- herb garden, sprout garden etc.

21. Three-tier Steamer
A must have.  Bamboo is cooler but less practical, electric is no.

20. Big Timer
The one and only classic and a great stocking stuffer. Pretend you are a real chef for five minutes.

19. Smoked Salmon
Tis the season.  Even better if you catch and smoke your own.  What a gift that would be!

18. Chocolate
When giving a gift of chocolate, go for quality not quantity.

Amedei, one of the world's very finest chocolatiers.

17. Chopping Boards
Everyone has them.  No one has the right one.  Go big or go home.  Thick slabs of wood.  An extra large one that doubles as all-purpose and roast-carving, don't forget the meat juice groove along the edge.  Have a smaller olive wood board on hand for cheese serving or charcuterie for two.

16. Soda Stream
A gadget I would love to get.  Healthy fizzes for the kids.

15. EasiYo
Ok, so the flavour is not 100%, but it is not bad either.  Very economical, simple and not full of crap ingredients.  Most supermarket yoghurts would have more junk in them than the packets for EasiYo

14. Cookery Classes
My personal dream course would be a gavage weekend in France on some little farmhouse.   Take your pick.  There are courses everywhere to suit.  From Le Manoir to Rue Tatin.  Ashburton Cookery School is of particular note.  Superb classes given by great teachers.

The Ashburton Cookery School Brigade

13. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Give the gift of the gods.  The best I have ever tasted are Castelluccio and Manni.

12. Blackboard Storage Jars
What a neat idea.  No more sticky labels and room enough for best before dates.

11. Espresso Machine
Wake up like an Italian.  Hey, North America!  Cappuccino is a breakfast drink!

10. Sketch Hamper
Arguably London's most opulent trendy restaurant...doing hampers?  Could be interesting.

9. Handcrafted Japanese Knives
In my mind, too precious for the professional kitchen.  Keep these at home for bragging rights and to marvel over.  See Doi, Watanabe and more.

A selection of Watanabe.

8. Robert Welch Signature Series Knives
Probably the best production knife around, especially for the price.  Fantastic knives for chef and home alike.

7. Cook Books
No, not fucking Jamie Oliver!  Get your loved one something special.  The Larousse Gastronomique has a new edition out.  David Thompson's, Thai Street Food promises to be a cracker,  The Fat Duck Cookbook is a beauty or how about food related books?  Just about anything by Michael Ruhlman or Anthony Bourdain is hard to put down and I loved Heat by Bill Buford.  Elizabeth David, Simon Hopkinson , Mark Hix...the list is long, but choose well.

6. Collapsible Colanders
A great idea.  Bloody colanders take up too much room.  Store it next to your cake racks and gain some storage space.

5. Alcohol
Either buy their favourite or wow them with some vintage Scotch, port or Champagne.

Chambord in Champers or vanilla ice cream makes me swoon.

4. Food Art
Well, hey...if you got the dosh.  Susannah Blaxhill, Paul Karslake, Dijk, Manet....

'Oriental Mushrooms' Susannah Blaxhill

3. Christmas Lifesavers Sweet Story Book
Huh?  Ok, ok, my brother and I got one of these every year in our stockings.

2. Faberge Egg
I've always wanted one.  Would make a great bookend on the back of my cistern, or maybe a hood ornament?

'Peter the Great' Faberge Egg

1. Home Made Food
The number one gift you can give a food lover for Christmas?  Quality home made food.  What could be better than specially wrapped chocolate chip cookies, Christmas pudding made the year before, preserves, chutneys, smoked fish or meat pies.  The list is endless and the gift means so much.

     So there you have it.  Hopefully a few good ideas for the final burst of consumerism before that festive day.  Problem is, I keep thinking of more gifts...anything by Le Creuset, a whole ham from Pipers Farm, real Canadian maple syrup, anything from Princess d'Isenbourg... 

From Hardboiled Chef

Monday, 13 December 2010

Winter Salad

Maddocks Farm Winter Salad

'Maddocks Farm Winter Salad'
Roasted Squash, Winter Leaves & Beenleigh Blue Cheese
Ingredients for 4:

12 Good thick slices/chunks of mixed squash- here we have Marina di Chioggia Pumpkin, Butternut & Uchiki Kuri
1/2Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1.5Tbsp Fussels extra virgin rapeseed oil or extra virgin olive oil
150-200gm Quality blue cheese such as- Beenleigh, Exmoor or Devon
12 Small red endive leaves
Various tops of red frills mustard leaf, giant red mustard leaf & red and white peacock kale
2Tbsp Toasted pumpkin seeds
12 Sage leaves, fried in sunflower oil gently until crisp


1) Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees Celsius.  Toss the squash slices with a drizzle of rapeseed oil, sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
2) Place on a baking tray in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. 
3) While the squashes are cooking, combine the balsamic and rapeseed oil to make a quick dressing.
4) Crumble the blue cheese into 20 rough nuggets.
5) In a large bowl, combine the squash, endive and autumn leaf tops of your choice with the dressing.

To serve:

Divide the dressed squash and leaves evenly between four plates.  Dot the blue cheese around and top with the sage leaves.  Sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds.  A crisp white, rose or quality fizz would start things off nicely with this coulourful harvest salad.

Beenleigh Blue Cheese

On squash:

One of our most ancient foodstuffs.  So abundant around The West Country this time of year, the humble squash is often greeted with derision.  The Italians know better.  One needs only to look toward their treatments of pumpkin roasted with sage, ravioli fillings or risottos to find inspiration for our wide variety of vibrant gourds.  My personal favourite is spaghetti squash.  Cook it just right with a little butter and seasoning...so good and a great garnish for nearly everything.  Just like my Momma used to make...

Gourds Galore
On endive:

Belgian endive, Wiltloof or leaf chicory has near mythical status on the continent.  Elegant, beguiling and bitter-sweet like a long lost lover; a good endive stands up to braising whole or as a natural receptacle for any number of canapes.  Quick fried in a little oil, balsamic and a pinch of sugar, endive marries well with fried polenta.  For stunning watercolours of a wide variety of edible plants you must check out Susannah Blaxhill, botanical artist.

'Red Endive'
Susannah Blaxhill - Watercolours
'Red Endive'
Susannah Blaxhill - Watercolours
On Maddocks Farm:

Jan Billington of Maddocks Farm, Kenitsbeare
Lettuce, edible flower & herb specialist.
One of the great things about living in The West Country is the relationships I have built with local suppliers.  Jan is always up for a challenge and the gauntlet was thrown down a couple years ago due to my love for endive but that guilty feeling for importing.  As you can see here, her red endive is fab.  Another reason for local chefs to collaborate with local growers.  Jan is known throughout the area as a lettuce, herb and edible flower specialist and I can honestly say I have never tasted or used better.  Her selection of gourds at the moment is unsurpassed.  You can find Jan's Maddocks Farm produce at Dart's Farm and monthly at the Cullompton Farmer's Market. 
An added feature of Maddocks Farm is The Hayloft.  Sublime accommodation in the heart of Devon.  

The Hayloft

Parting Shot:
"I don't altogether agree that a plain green salad ever becomes a bore - not, that is, if it's made with fresh, well-drained crisp greenstuff and a properly seasoned dressing of good-quality olive oil and a sound wine vinegar. But I do agree that all this talk about 'tossed salads' is a bore; it seems to me that a salad and its dressing are things we should take more or less for granted at a meal, like bread and salt; and not carry on about them."

-Elizabeth David