Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Pleased to Be in a Pickle

I had a nice little challenge this past bank holiday weekend, and that was to cook curry using a recipe. I'm probably what people call an instinctive cook and rarely use a recipe or just have one as a guideline, so when I was offered the chance to try recipes from Tracklements using their chutneys, I was somewhat out of my comfort zone, after all I wanted to make sure I was being faithful to their instructions so I could properly appreciate the end result.

Ok, maybe I deviated a little, after all, the letter from Tracklements Customer Club did say that it was OK to adapt them, if I wanted.
For the prawn curry I stuck to the formula, but the lamb and lentil curry was tailored around what I had, or didn't have in the pantry. No puy lentils, so red lentils instead and I left out the stock cube and bouquet garni, dropping in a preferred bay leaf.

The prawn curry used Green Tomato Chutney and the lamb, Plum Chutney, both tasted great and well spiced. The prawns were quite light and fresh compared to the lamb which was rich with notes of cinnamon which came from the chutney.

I also had the privilege of trying out their new Bengal Pickle, a lovely sticky, garlicky pickle made mostly with grated carrot – not what I was expecting, but it was gorgeous, especially when I got a little citrus burst from the occasional whole coriander seed. The consistency was just right for balancing on a bit of poppadom too, so it made the journey from plate to mouth without any embarrassing drips.

Well, the meal was most enjoyable and I still have enough chutney left to make more or to eat more traditionally with cheese.

For more information about Tracklements, visit their website: tracklements.co.uk

Photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Scandinavian Cookbook

Food should not only feed the body, but also the soul. A little more time spent in the kitchen using fresh and seasonal ingredients to make a meal to be enjoyed together is Trina Hahnemann’s dream. In her book The Scandinavian Cookbook she takes us month by month through 100 traditional Nordic recipes which perfectly capture the essence of Scandinavian cuisine and culture.
Trina, a leading Danish TV chef and food writer give us recipes which are a light modern version of Scandinavian home cooking, presented in a way that is simple and healthy.

As soon as I received the book I couldn’t wait to flick through its pages. I’m passionate about all things Scandinavian, a seed that was planted within me ever since visiting Iceland and Sweden has found me exploring and researching everything from food to design.

I would love to see more dishes from northern latitudes being served in Britain and there really is no reason why Scandinavian food shouldn’t become more popular.
Most people tend to think of Nordic ingredients consisting of mostly fish or dare I say it, slightly dodgy meatballs in IKEA. Make them yourself, they’re so much better as page 84 demonstrates and if you’re in the mood for something more spicy try the meatballs in curry sauce on page 194 – yes, the Scandinavians are partial to curry too.
There really is so much more to their cuisine, seafood in all its variants, fresh from the garden salads, hearty roasts and irresistible baking.

After spending a good hour salivating over the pages and marking potential recipes with post-it notes, I selected four to try.
The choice was difficult as I wanted to make everything, but with the help of Lars Ranek’s gorgeous photography I decided on the ones where the pictures made my mouth water the most.
It was easy to get carried away by the images of sparkling frost covered trees, the golden light of a low sun illuminating the cobbled maritime streets of Copenhagen or hazy meadows and quaint summerhouses, that I had to prise myself out of the sofa, away from moments of nostalgia and get myself into the kitchen.

Here follows those chosen dishes complete with photos of my own attempts.

Cauliflower Soup with Grilled Scallops
I don’t often make soups, but I was drawn to the Cauliflower Soup with Grilled Scallops (p.184), I think the idea of scallops made it sound rather special and I fancied a treat. The soup itself was easy to make and had a glorious velvety texture. The hint of curry flavour lifted it from potential blandness and surprisingly, although the cauliflower was typically smelly on cooking, the soup didn’t have the characteristic strong cauliflower flavour. The scallops were simply griddled and then dressed in fresh lemon juice which perfectly complimented the creaminess of the soup.

Biff Lindström
Biff Lindström (p.54) is a clever adaptation of steak tartare, all the ingredients are there, but it is cooked, so if you’re not a fan of eating raw meat, then this is the recipe for you.
Minced beef is combined with onions, capers, pickled beetroot, chives, Worcestershire sauce and eggs yolks, formed into burger shapes and fried. I even made the pickled beetroot myself (p.48), I loved the use of star anise that gave a light aniseed flavour.
The Biff Lindström is served on crispy sautéed potatoes with Balsamico beans on the side. My french beans didn’t look quite like the book’s photo as the balsamic vinegar had made them a touch brown, but they did taste very good.
The beef was moist and well flavoured and who could resist fried potatoes especially as they were cooked in some butter.

Potato Cakes
Sometimes I will take an element of a recipe and adapt it to what I have in the fridge and pantry. This time I made just the potato cakes from the recipe for Potato Cakes with Lumpfish Roe and Beetroot Salad (p.30). Instead of topping with lumpfish roe, I chose to use some flaked smoked mackerel with the homemade pickled beetroot and a dollop of horseradish cream on top.
I’ve never made potato cakes before, and I was initially concerned that they might fall apart or not properly cook through. The cakes are bound together with egg so held together effortlessly and as the potato was grated it cooked perfectly. Extra flavour additions were spring onions, sesame seeds, nutmeg and thyme which gave the potato cakes a good savoury taste. I think mine turned out well and they were enjoyably crisp.

Cardamom Buns
There’s nothing more tempting than some Scandinavian baking. Fresh breads and pastries, still warm from the oven fills the house with such an inviting aroma. I can imagine snuggling up by a real fire on a long Norwegian winter night with the smell of spices and comforting yeasty aromas wafting from the kitchen.
I love making bread by hand so I thought I’d make the Cardamom Buns (p.38). Cardamom is a much used spice in Scandinavia and I think it lends a pleasant perfume to sweet breads.
Making the buns was a long process, as bread making should be, but it was well worth the effort. My buns rose really well, so much so that they touched each other on the baking tray. When I removed them from the oven, all satisfyingly shiny from the egg glaze, it was a joy to separate them, the gentle ripping sound of well made bread with a wisp of escaping steam delivering the spicy aroma into my nostrils.

I was pleased with the overall ease that the recipes could be made – they are breeze to follow and many use readily available ingredients.
Some of the recipes are starkly simplistic, for example, strawberries and cream (p.104), but if one considers it to be a source of inspiration and an insight into Scandinavian cuisine, then it has its place.

The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann is published by Quadrille.
Paperback RRP £14.99
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book kindly supplied by Quadrille Publishing

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Big Yum

It didn’t take us long to munch our way through a bag of these no nonsense treats. Each crunchy, chocolate pretzel was so moreish, that one immediately led on to another, and they were gone so quickly, there was no opportunity for a photo (had to borrow one).

Very appropriately named, The Big Yum, have found a gap in the market for those still hankering after Pretzel Flipz – remember those? Big Yum like to call their snacks chocolate swerves, but in common with the aforementioned nibbles, they too are salted pretzels enrobed in (better quality) milk chocolate.

Looking at the thankfully short ingredients list, there is indeed a no nonsense approach – no added nasties, only what’s needed to make this an enjoyable treat.

What more can I say than, I really like them. Salt does combine well with chocolate and if there are any non-believers out there, you should try them for yourself.

For information and where to buy, visit The Big Yum Website: thebigyum.co.uk

Photos: Big Yum website

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A Slice of Wales: Hafod Cheese :: Updated ::

I'm of the opinion that if you're going to make something then make it well. Don't cut corners and put the best you have into everything you do. This especially applies to food production – the end result is only as good as what goes into it. In this case if you want the best cheese then you need the best milk.

The people at Bwlchwernen Fawr, Wales' longest certified organic dairy farm make their Hafod cheese using raw (unpasteurised) milk to produce an exceptional cheese. The combination of organic Ayrshire milk and traditional cheese making techniques give Hafod its rich buttery and nutty flavours.

I had the pleasure of tasting Hafod at the Real Food Festival. Sam and Rachel Holden make only one type of cheese that is matured for 16 months and 30 months respectively, to produce two very different results. The younger (mature) version is much like a creamier version of cheddar, with a smooth rich flavour. The more mature (vintage) version is decidedly different. Very flavoursome, strong and nutty, but no mouth burn that you might expect from most mature Cheddars. The taste reminded me of a Gruyere, a telling sign of Hafod's Swiss origins. (A trip to their website tells you more)

A chat with Sam revealed the story about their herd of Ayrshire cows, not noted for being high yield milkers one would wonder why they had chosen this particular breed. When the herd was established they were selected more for their hardiness that would be suited to the farm's climate, but the lower quantity of milk is made up in quality.

Ayrshire milk is much better suited to cheese making with its high butterfat and protein levels, but what makes it more special, is that it has a smaller fat globule size than that of other breeds, thus resulting in a finer, creamier cheese texture.
Sam went on to tell me that as an added bonus Ayrshires are characterful cows, even if it does mean he has to chase them all over the meadow to round them up!

Hafod is available to buy at selected shops, but best of all, you can by online. A slice of 'letterbox' cheese can be posted direct to your door without the need to stay in and wait for the delivery – what a brilliant idea!

For more information on Hafod Cheese and to buy online,
visit their website: hafodcheese.co.uk

Small images taken from Hafod's website

:: UPDATE ::

By way of a thank you to me, for writing this review of their fine cheese, the nice people at Hafod sent me a slab in the post. It was a such a lovely surprise to come back from shopping to find the package sitting on the door mat.

Yes, it really does fit through your door!
The cheese was well wrapped and arrived in good condition after its long journey from Wales and it tasted as good as ever.

Accompanying the cheese was a useful information leaflet too, which was even stamped with a date my cheese was made – very special, indeed.

Featured on 
The Artisan Food Trail

Monday, 2 August 2010

In Love with Lahloo Tea

It's almost difficult to imagine that a tea company could be set up by someone who hated tea, but that is how Lahloo came into being. Kate Gover could not abide the stuff until she was introduced to a cup of tea so inspiring that she began her journey in finding some of the best teas in the world and bring them back to Bristol.
I can completely identify with her sentiments, I too hated tea until I'd tasted proper quality leaves.

Through my search for artisan products, to feature on my Tried and Tasted section, I contacted Lahloo through Twitter and a couple of emails later, Kate sent me some samples.
They dropped through my letterbox in a bright and shiny silver bag, all lovingly hand packed into heart shaped tins – just gorgeous. I couldn't wait to try them as they're my two favourite types – Oolong and Green tea.

I carefully opened each of the tins for a quick look and the smell instantly hit my nostrils with a heavenly fresh and sweet aroma, especially the Oolong which was almost caramel-like in character.

The first tea for tasting was
Mr Aoki's Green Loose Leaf Tea.
Along with his son, Mr Aoki grows the tea on a tiny farm in Kyushu, Japan using their own bio-natural fertilisers. The plantation is surrounded by satsuma trees and curiously I found the tea to have a citrussy note.
This green tea is actually very green, even in its dried form, it is vibrantly viridescent and when infused the colour is amazingly luminous, but entirely natural.
With the combination of a sweet, lemony and slightly hazelnut flavour the tea is very refreshing.

I really enjoyed the Orchid Oolong Loose Leaf Tea, there were a lot of flavours that burst out on the tongue that started with the lightness of flower blossom and honey sweetness developing into an aftertaste of what I could only describe as elderflowers. Somewhere in the middle there was a peachiness. Quite an amazing mix of flowers and fruit delivered by the humble camellia leaf!
Orchid is grown in Guangdong, China and hand-crafted by Mr Wang. The leaves are picked in March from old tea trees near Red Flower Village.

Lahloo tea is not cheap, and why would you want it to be? As with most things, you get what you pay for, so it's worth every penny. But, did you know that you can get several infusions from the same spoonful of leaves? Quality and value – I love Lahloo.

Lahloo sell a large selection of fine teas, all with provenance and a story.
To find out more, see their complete range and even buy online visit their website: lahlootea.co.uk
Green tea image taken from Lahloo website

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Artisan Smokehouse

I remember when smoked salmon was such a luxury, that it was the preserve of restaurants and the rich, but in recent times it has become more accessible through the vast quantities stocked in the supermarket.
Due to high demand, it would be fair to say that quality has dropped, so, until you taste the true artisan smoked delicacy, do you realise this to be the case.

At both the Real Food Festival and Foodies Festival, I tried some of the best smoked salmon, I have ever tasted from The Artisan Smokehouse. They are a small family business based just outside Felixstowe on the Suffolk coast.
The care and attention to sourcing the best ingredients through to the simple yet superior curing process, is definitely reflected in the fine flavour and excellent texture of their smoked salmon.
Supermarket varieties have a tendency to be slimy or even soapy and often too salty, but theirs is relatively dry (in a good way) but moist inside. The fish has a nice firmness and the flavour is clean, light and in no way overpoweringly smoky.

As well as the salmon, The Artisan Smokehouse produce a very good smoked beef too. Using meat from Herefordshire-Aberdeen Angus Cross cattle, reared in Suffolk, the result has a great depth of flavour and almost melts in the mouth.
As well as fish and meat, other smoked items include, two types of cheese, a cheddar and a stilton, garlic, kalamata olives and even olive oil which is rather tasty.

I am pleased to see that The Artisan Smokehouse have been recognised by being awarded two gold accolades from The Great Taste Awards – proof that they do produce the finest food.
I'll be looking forward to buying more from them soon, as I see they are listed to be at The Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival which is marked on my calendar.

For more information and where to buy,
visit their website: artisansmokehouse.co.uk

Featured on The Artisan Food Trail

Photos: ©childsdesign 2010
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