Category Archives: recipes

Love your old cook books

A friend recently leant me a couple of old cookery books she picked up rummaging second hand shops in Kennington Sarf London. She is one of those annoying people who seem to be just browsing but always comes away with something rare or special.

There are no glossy pictures in these books, in fact no pictures at all, no oven temperature charts, conversion tables, trendy chapter headings or suggested Spotify playlists. These books score zero on the coffee table scale and yet I found myself reading both of them from cover to cover and then started digging out a few I had on the shelf at home.

The first was Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Cookery (1991)…not that long ago…. Arabella BoxerThrough reminiscences of her childhood she charts the changing trends and fads in town and country dining between the wars. Big yawn, not for a minute.

The world of the professional chef had already been permanently changed with the publishing of Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire in 1903, over 5000 recipes and still in use today, although every restaurant kitchen had a copy this was not for dinner party cooks or hostesses. Boxer pays tribute to the society darlings, Nancy Astor, Jessica Mitford “it took the butler 6 minutes to walk from the kitchen to the dining room at Chatsworth” then comes Boulestin and many more leading on to Constance Spry (1942) and Elizabeth David (1950) and they pave the way for Robert Carrier, Jane Grigson, our Delia, and the road to Saturday Kitchen and home cooking as we know it today.

Her recipes are scattered with anecdotes and lots of name-dropping, but it’s soooooo readable. Potted shrimp sandwiches, Yeah, “I remember these from Goodwood races”, the picnic section closes with a recipe for sloe gin. Look a little deeper and there’s water biscuits here too.

The second book was Countryman’s Cooking by W.M.W Fowler (1965).

Countryman's CookingWhat a guy, totally outspoken, views on everything, not a trained chef or cook opens with “This book is written for men. Men who, through choice or circumstance, live on their own, so that they can give a small dinner party and at the same time remain on speaking terms with their friends”

He goes on to totally equip your bachelor kitchen including how many butchers hooks you will need (6 by the way), gives no-nonsense easy to follow instruction on butchery, the preparation and cooking of furred and feathered game, hunting, shooting, fishing and lots more. He doesn’t do desserts, probably just as well, and closes with a full page of instructions for perfect Brussels Sprouts; the back cover has his recipe for beer and a great quote “my weak will is one of my most prized possessions”.

Having read these very quickly I found myself sorting through the shelves at home, so pleased to find my grandmothers cook book Olio Cookbook (1918) Olio Cookbookwith a forward to mothers and housekeepers, tips on everything, vegetarian recipes, how to harden a newly enamelled bath, oxtail jelly, pickled lemons

931 Cucumber should always be sliced first from the thick end……we know now.

Not a book, a DIY manual for life. There is nothing the modern housewife/househusband can’t make or fix armed with a copy of this!

And saving the best till last…when learning my trade cooking in Paris in 1981 I was asked to make a Foie Gras Terrine  for a friend to take to the family celebrations for St Sylvestre. He thanked me with a copy of Le Nouveau Cuisinier Royal & Bourgois (1720) by Paul Prudhome. Prudhome

 

Written in old French and sometimes quite difficult to read these guys were cooking everything we have today Crayfish & Asparagus, Ris de Veau aux Truffes and Partridge with Morel mushrooms and Cognac.

 

 

These books are real gems and we have all got them at home, have a look on your bookshelves, the boxes in the loft, ask your Nan!

So what’s changed?……Take a short trip in the time machine…….you wake up to Heston’s Snail Porridge and deep fried Mars bars. How do they do that?

Modern cookbooks look great, lots of arty photos, you flip through, maybe try a couple of recipes, but why are they always just a bit too complicated and it never looks anything like the illustration, so it goes back on the coffee table….yeah I’ve got the new Jamiepollenstebulifrenchlaundry cookbook…its great.

Nice quote from Prue Leith recently “Clever Chefs? They’ve lost the plot”

Post script.  Most of the things I grumble about have got nothing to do with chefs. I have spent my entire life in the kitchen and have been very fortunate to meet and work with the most amazing, dedicated, talented and lovely people on the planet. They work stupid hours in bloody hot kitchens creating absolutely delicious food that some  moron  covers in ketchup and then slags off on Tripadvisor….. Its marketing, publishers, sales, branding, image rights, Tah dah and all that chews me off. I think I’ll stop there!

Myth Busters……Sourdough

Sourdough is everywhere these days, has achieved cult status and no self respecting restaurant, deli or bakery would be without it …the public are often in awe.Robert Rodrigues Sourdough

What is it? What makes it sour?

And how can you make it at home.

 

 

 

To explain.

When yeast feeds on carbohydrate the fermentation produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. It is the CO2 element that is the raising agent in most bread.

The alcohol content of wine comes from the fermentation of yeasts that occur naturally on the skins of the grapes. In the same way it is the yeasts that occur naturally in wheat that provide the fermentation for sourdoughs. However the small amount of yeast present requires a much longer fermentation time than breads made with the addition of cultivated yeast. The extended fermentation also produces alcohol and it is this that gives the bread a beery “sour” smell and flavour……… Hence Sourdough……..

……….and that’s it.

The secret behind the production of sourdough at home or commercially is really down to creating and managing an active starter culture. This provides the lift and sour flavour. It may take several days for the starter to kick in. When making a new starter I keep mine in the airing cupboard so that it is always warm. Use a large empty yoghurt pot or similar and make a few holes in the lid to let the gas escape. Feed as described in the recipe. Once it is nice and active, easy to spot, continue to feed for a couple of days and then store in the fridge. The starter will live for as long as you look after it and feed/use it. Mine is 7 years old but there are 150 year old starters in bakeries all over the world.

This recipe is adapted from one I received from an inspirational artisan baker Robert Rodrigues, the balance of flours can be adjusted to suit your own tastes. The dough is best made in an electric mixer with a dough hook as this is the most effective way to develop the gluten in the dough, provides structure, but I haven’t got one and always make mine by hand.

Check out the recipe and give it a go!

 

Rye Bread Sourdough

Adapted from a recipe by Robert Rodrigues

 Starter Culture                                           

100g Rye Flour (Dove Farm Organic)

100g Warm WaterStarter Culture

Keep warm and feed twice every day

To feed tip half away then add 50g Rye Flour and 50g water (100% hydration)

Stir, cover and keep warm

After a few days it will start to ferment and bubbles appear on the surface. Once the starter is active continue to feed for a couple of days then keep it in the fridge. If not in use feed once a week. Always feed before using, clean the container once a week.

Starter Dough

To get a starter dough you need to make a dummy run, say 10% of the recipe below, or hold some dough back from another batch of bread, don’t use it but just refrigerate for 24 hours.

To start the dough:

500g Organic Strong Flour (Wessex Mills or similar)

100g Rye Flour ( Dove Farm is best)

200g Allinsons Seeds and Grain Flour

325 ml Cold water

100ml Olive oil

250g Starter culture

200g Starter dough

10g salt

To make your final dough

Place all the above in a mixer, using a dough hook mix on a slow speed for about 10 minutes to develop the gluten in the flours. The dough will be very elastic and springy.

Place in a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight

After that complete 2 wet folds each day as follows;

Wet the work surface, turn out the dough and pat down with wet hands. Complete 1 French fold and return to the proving bowl, cover and put back in the fridge. This strengthens the dough without knocking out any air.

This video might help!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKPS0mPcE4Q

On the 3rd day take out of the fridge and return to ambient (4-6 hours) complete a wet fold, scale, shape and place in a well floured bannetone (cane basket).Bannetone

Cling film and Leave to prove till doubled in size. Turn out carefully on to silicone paper or a non-stick baking mat.

Bake at 220.C, with steam if available till cooked, time will depend on the size of your loaf. For best results place on a baking stone, cast iron skillet or heavy metal tray in the oven. This will produce bottom heat and gives a better crust & finish.Sourdough Loaf

Always hold back some dough to use as your next starter dough and always feed the starter culture before putting back in the fridge.

The more you use your culture the stronger it gets.

The balance of culture and old dough (sour content and yeasts) and new flour (structure) provide the balance for the bread.

Useful Links & Further reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeast

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough

 

Avocado Emulsion ( Aggie Sverrisson)

Aggie Sverrisson (Texture Restaurant) is without doubt one of the most creative chefs in London. His cooking is light, flavours intense, plating up just stunning and he flies the flag for Icelandic cuisine like no other.  His tasting menu is one of the best in town and you can have a Michelin Star meal at lunchtime for £25. Texture also has an utterly fabulous wine list and a stunning Champagne bar……and sommelier!

Aggie SverrissonTexture canapes

Although he uses all the latest culinary techniques they do not overload his food and his recipes are magnificent in their simplicity.

His magic ingredient is often water….yes water

This emulsion can be used in a squeezy bottle, spoon and smear or drizzle depending on the consistancy, if its too thick just add a little more water. It goes really well with fish, chorizo, salads, dips, blackened chicken and on and on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 avocados
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 150ml of water
  • 20ml of house dressing
  • pinch of salt
  • A few sprigs of coriander
  • 1 pinch of cayenne pepper

Method:

  1. Place the avocado flesh, seasoning, coriander and lime juice in a food processor.
  2. Blend till smooth adding the water and oil as you go.
  3. Check the consistency and add more water if too thick
  4. Pass through a fine sieve, cling film and chill

 

 

 

House Dressing

House dressing is one of the base ingredients for food for the soul. It sums up both the philosophy and practice….simple….. delicious…. healthy. I always have it in the cupboard and use it for salads, cooking, baking, sauces, emulsions and much much more. It has so much flavour that I never use vinegars with salads anymore. It can be made in any quantities and keeps for ages. You can also adapt the ingredients to suit your own taste.

 

Ingredients:

  • 5Lt Olive Oil
  • 5 Lt Groundnut oil
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 1 bunch Chives
  • 1 bunch Coriander
  • 1 bunch Tarragon
  • 1 bunch Flat Parsley
  • A handful of fresh Thyme
  • A hanful of fresh Rosemary
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 heads Garlic
  • 6 Banana Shallots
  • 4 Red Chilli
  • 1 Red Pepper
  • 2 Lemons
  • 1 head Fennel
  • 1 dessert spoon Fennel Seeds
  • 1 dessert spoon Carraway seeds
  • 1 dessert spoon Whole Black Peppercorns
  • 6 pods Green Cardamom
  • 6 Star Aniseed
  • 1 small stick Root Ginger

Method

  1. place all the herbs and spices in a large saucepan as they are
  2. roughly chop the vegetables
  3. cover with the oils
  4. heat until the herbs start to wilt then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 24 hours
  5. strain and bottle