Monday, March 31, 2014

Eating and the Algarve

Have just come back from a far too brief trip to Olhao, Portugal’s main fishing port about 20 minutes by taxi from Faro. I’d never been to Portugal before, let alone the Algarve, but the man had read long ago that this particular place was a kind of paradise and had hankered since to visit. We found a great holiday let for the week – an old house in the centre of town, with impossibly high domed ceilings in every room and a series of terraces outside to breakfast in the sun or perhaps relax in the shade of the afternoon, reading. On the first morning we went to Clamy 2, the pasticeria across from the market and bought a couple of chocolate croissants and, of course, a couple of egg tarts, pastel de nata. Home to the terrace with a pot of coffee I cut into the croissant – it was incredibly crisp with a lovely thick ooze of dark chocolate in the middle. I thought the chocolate would be the highlight –and it was amazing – but it was the pastry that astounded me.
The first mouthful revealed that all that golden crisp deliciousness came not from using butter a la francaise but rather lard – resulting in a pastry that was very light and very rich at the same time. With the serious chocolate centre it was the most decadent breakfast I have eaten in a very long time. A subsequent visit to the local mercado revealed more blocks of pork fat than butter in the fridge. Paradise indeed.

I’d had mixed fortunes trying to find anything on line about where and what to eat. There was a well-established bar next door – Tapas E Lendas – that was recommended by the landlady and came up a bit on google so we tried for dinner there only to find they were fully booked for the weekend. That was okay – we had bbq plans with some great spicy sausages from a butcher in the market and lots of lovely fresh veg plus good olives and roasted pistachio and dried figs and fresh strawberries. Chickpeas too, lots of dried pulses in fact and local honey. We dropped in to the other bar near the house, Gosto Disto, recently opened by a welcoming young local couple, for a snack at lunch, strips of black pork and a bowl of hot garlic prawns with a cold beer. Simple fresh and cooked while we made use of their free wifi, it was a great lunch.

Sunday we headed out to Culatra one of the islands in ria Formosa on the old ferry. It was another gloriously sunny day – in fact we had nothing but blue skies the whole week, joy, and the morning ferry was busy with couples and families mostly, and a few dogs for colour. There are no cars on the islands, only a few old tractors that pull the boats in. It has a small community, mostly fishermen who seem to enjoy hooning about in the water in their down time as well as a few caffs, a mini mercado and lots of birds. I found it slightly disconcerting at first, everyone from the boat proceeding one behind the other in an orderly fashion along the boardwalks while the locals chased their dogs across the sand hills – all felt way too *local*. Once we’d broken out of the queue we followed an empty boardwalk for ten minutes or so, loving the sun and the blue sky. Then there was the sound of feet approaching rapidly from behind – we stepped out of the way of a young man running full pelt pushing an empty wheelchair towards the horizon. He disappeared in a moment. Five minutes later he was back, slowly this time, with a woman in the chair, her arms up covering her face, and a couple of others walking in silence alongside.

The end of the boardwalk tipped us onto an empty beach, pale sand, gently lapping waves, freezing water, brrr! We read books for an hour or so, the winter chill slowly leaving our lazy bones then headed back towards the little village to find Café Rui, cool and dim inside and lots of tables out the back looking over the water. I was hoping for a kind of magical experience like we found on the beach at Malaga a few years ago. Sadly the food was average at best and way too literal in the case of the pork and clams – that was precisely what we got!

Through the week we wandered about town admiring the tiled exteriors of the old houses, went out to Farol in the hope of lunch on the beach to find the island essentially closed till summer and spent a day in Tavira, a really beautiful town a bit further up the train line, but given over almost entirely to tourists. Really enjoyed strolling the old streets and along the river with its variety of old and new bridges, resisting the temptation to poke the ‘statue’ stood still on the end of the main crossing. I don’t see the appeal of them in heavily populated Covent Garden – it’s just plain weird in an almost empty town in Portugal. We stopped for a beer in what turned out to be the second placed restaurant on Trip Advisor and contemplated lunch but the menu wasn’t tempting, focussing mostly on South American beef with cream and pepper sauces. The rest of the very happy clientele were fat to bursting Essex golfers and the chef was also high up the hierarchy of the local golf club. We went off in search of lunch elsewhere but with the plethora of tourist cafes it soon became apparent why the first place was rated so highly. Eventually down a back street we found a noisy bar and took a chance.

Greeted with a curious look from the woman behind the bar I smiled and mimed lunch? She smiled back and pointed to a table and came and offered us pork, basically, and then egg? Definitely yes but I wasn’t really sure what would come – the rest of the clientele were old men drinking shots and playing cards or watching the daytime soaps. The owner brought us a litre bottle of local red – a litre at lunch! - but indicated we’d only pay for what we drank so we poured a couple of glasses and awaited lunch. So glad we did – not only was the wine a good example of Algarve red the lunch was simple but great – grilled slices of pork topped with a fried egg, rice laced with orange zest, thin sliced potatoes and salad. We polished it off then the owner cleared our plates and brought us a bowl of fruit. We shared a sweet juicy orange before finishing with coffee, an enjoyable lunch at Snack Bar Inacio, though I doubt they trouble Trip Adviser!

Olhao is a fully fledged fishing port but is also heavily reliant on tourists, even in early March most people in most of the cafes spoke English not Portuguese. At a distance it was easy to tell who was who – the tourists, like us, were loving the warmth of the sun and wore t shirts and shorts and bright coloured frocks. The locals were still in winter mode – summer days are 40C plus – and were still wearing jumpers, boots and coats. On the harbour front there are two large market halls open Monday to Saturday, one devoted entirely to fresh fish the other to half a dozen butchers, and a couple of charcuteries selling the local fresh cheeses – which are made using cow, sheep or goat milk and are intended to be eaten within a couple of days so they are light and wetly crumbly a bit like feta. This market hall also had a central block of stalls selling a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as coarse corn meal to make the local speciality xarem, pack of salt from Tavira where salt flats have yielded an income for generations and also lots of dried pulses. Great place to shop. One day there were trestles set up outside with a dozen chefs teaching teenagers how to fillet anchovies and sardines - really impressive way to keep the skills passing down the generations.

Across from the market the full length of the main road was wall to wall restaurants and bars, an interesting array that included four Indian restaurants, both a Chinese and a sushi place, an Irish bar that had a scone menu for the ladies and a wine menu for the men, lots of seafood places but most popular of all was pizza/pasta. All of them hoping for the tourist euro, to walk the street was to be constantly greeted with exhortations to stop here, great food, see our menu! Cavernous inside, most places were empty – too early in the season I guess and no local takers. Not really what we were looking for, when we ate out we ate mostly at the two local tapas bars and it was a real treat. Tapas e Lendas was the more ambitious of the two and the most professional being owned by a long term restaurateur, offered lots of charming service and a good menu. Before ordering one of the delightful young waiters takes you on a little tour to see the specials of the day – like slow cooked pork cheeks or baked sausages – and then to the refrigerated counter to show off the fish and to explain how it would be cooked. It’s a great way to start.

We had some good dishes here over the couple of times we visited and some that were a bit disappointing like the too dry crumbed anchovies but the slow cooked pork cheeks were unctuously good and both the prawn skewers and the mussels were particularly fine. Always busy – they do take reservations – with mostly expats with a good smattering of locals.

Our other destination of choice was Gosto Disto, definitely the simpler of the two, has only been open for a couple of months. It’s run by a young couple, the husband cooking and his wife front of house and both of them really welcoming. Assuming it was simply a caff the offer of free wifi tempted us in but the first plate of garlic prawns made me realise there was a lot more on offer. We tried a lot of the menu by the end of the week and everything was seriously good, there was not a duff dish amongst them. Loved the garlic prawns and was curious to try another pork and clams – it was simply brilliant.

A tasty mix of pork and clams cooked with stock and chorizo and paprika and finished with coriander and lemon it is easy to see why it is one of the dishes of the region. I’d heard of dried salted tuna but never had an opportunity to try it before – here it was simply served on top of slices of fresh cheese on top of squares of lightly toasted bread and sprinkled with a bit of dried oregano, a great mix of flavours and textures, the tuna like an elegantly fishy air dried ham.

We tried to order it again another day but they’d sold out the night before and we had tuna tartare instead with spankingly fresh tuna and diced mango mixed through with lime and coriander. When I told the chef it was great he laughed and said he got the idea from a food show on the TV. My other favourite dish was a surprise to me – xarem. Another one I’d read about but wasn’t much fussed to try, it is cornmeal porridge mixed with clams and bacon. I’m not a fan of polenta, especially the quick cook stuff, and I couldn’t see how this would be any different. How wrong I was. The man decided to order it just to see and we were told it would take half an hour to make but the other dishes would be served in the meantime – fine by us. When it eventually arrived it was a bowl of rough ground corn porridge that had been cooked in a light stock and then stuffed with clams and prawns and hunks of smoked bacon, really good stuff and not at all like the polenta I’ve tried!

We ended the trip with a couple of days in Faro, a city that seems to exist for tourists but not in a good way! In mid-March it feels almost post-apocalyptic in the extent of its emptiness. We had a fun trip on the little touring train – plucked from a story book with its blue and white stripes and it’s tooooot before moving, it took us all around the middle of the city with a few interesting titbits as we went. We passed the central market at one point, so we went back in search of lunch – lots of cafes, so we chose the busiest. The food was disappointing, can’t remember the name of the one we chose.

Friday night we strolled around the empty streets till about 7.30pm then headed into an empty winebar/restaurant SE7E Pedras where they were playing a compilation disc of 1960s British pop/rock – lots of Beatles and Joe Cocker, I have no idea why. We had a drink and, having seen nothing remotely inviting on our travels, decided to order some food. A sharing platter seemed best with grilled chorizo, a tasty black pudding, some parma ham and something we were told was game sausage but no one could tell us what the meat actually was. With some spongy bread it was just about okay but certainly not troubling greatness.

We set off for the Maritime Museum Saturday morning but it only opens through the week. Disappointed we headed for the regional museum – it too is closed on weekends. Third time lucky we could visit the Cathedral in the old town – but if it’s your plan it closes at 1pm. It is a pretty amazing building, great views from the bell tower it was incredibly ornate in the main church with a small interesting museum upstairs.

Then on to the History Museum, also open, which is in the process of restructuring its exhibition space. Really interesting exhibits and a gorgeous old building.

Then we set off for our final lunch – hoping for Faz Gosto as it has the best things said about it on line but sadly it was closed on Saturday lunchtime. We wandered about and looked at a few menus and I felt uninspired and bit apprehensive that the last meal was going to be a squib – such a bad way to end a holiday. Then we came across Tertulia, with its clean white exterior and collection of outside tables, admittedly pretty much unoccupied.

The menu read well, promising a true taste of the Algarve and we knew already from Gosto Disto that it could/should be great food to eat. How well we chose – the food was the most accomplished of any we ate in Portugal, starting – of course – with garlic prawns, a last one for the road! We followed with a gorgeous tranche of tuna for the man, served with a riff on xarem – it was set and topped with mashed sweet potato. I ordered the lushly rich Iberico pigs cheeks cooked in red wine and had it served with coriander flecked rice and steamed vegetables.

Fabulous. There was honey cake to finish with almond cream and coffee ice cream and a garnish of early strawberry adding the slightest bite to the sweetness. Fig brandy, definitely a *holiday purchase* par excellence, rounded out a really enjoyable lunch. It was easy to understand why the restaurant had filled with a local clientele over the couple of hours we were there.

So if you’re heading this way anytime soon hope this round up gives you some ideas of the food and a few good places to seek out.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Laksa with Tofu Puffs

Seems an age since I had any tofu. Set my heart on laksa, thinking I would marinate and fry some cubes of silken tofu for a topping then, once I got to Wing Yip I couldn't resist a bag of tofu puffs - those big yellowy chunks of deep fried tofu that look solid and ugly and in fact are textured like donuts but vastly lighter and utterly brilliant at absorbing liquid. Perfect! I fudged the spice paste with stuff I already had and ended up with a seriously good meal. The only trick is to fry the spice paste till it darkens and smells divine - it takes about 20 minutes, stirring often, till all the liquid evaporates and you are left with a rich fragrant base.

Laksa with Tofu Puffs

I have used herbs to garnish but you can add slivers of cucumber, fresh bean sprouts, halved boiled eggs and deep fried shallots - any of them will add something good to the finished bowl
Serves 3

For the spice paste
4 large dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 knob of ginger - thumb sized, of course - peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons raw cashew nuts
1/2 teaspoon belachan - dried shrimp paste if you can get some

For the laksa
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
400ml can coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
100g rice vermicelli thread noodles - thin like angel hair
10 deep fried tofu puffs, cut in half
100g green beans, topped and tailed and cut into short lengths
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tablespoons chopped thai basil
2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves

Roughly chop the soaked chillies and put them into a blender with the rest of the spice paste ingredients. Add some of the soaking water and blend to a thick paste.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the spice paste. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, till most of the liquid evaporates and you have a rich dark fragrant paste. Add the ground turmeric and coriander and stir for another minute. Add the chicken stock and coconut milk and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer the broth for 20-30 minutes. Add the fish sauce and check the seasoning - add a little salt if necessary.

Stir in the vermicelli and simmer for a few minutes then add the halved tofu and stir, then the green beans. Cook for a couple more minutes till the beans are just tender then stir in the lime juice to sharpen the flavours. Serve in large bowls garnished with the chopped herbs.

This Week...I Wanted... I bought.... I cooked

Friday we still have the Mont D'Or from last week so there will be some crudite and some crusty bread and some wine...

Quick trip to Borough Friday, though made the mistake of going about midday - wow! was it busy. Hated it! Bought milk at Neals Yard - £1.55, coffee from Monmouth £19.50, nothing from Ginger Pig - nothing! Went to Gastronomica for ham, spicy salami and pancetta as possibles for dipping in cheese - £7.40. Bought one packet of pork scratchings last week from Northfield and they are so incredibly good that this week I bought 2 packets - and was loathe to share! £3 Bread from Bread Ahead - £2, some of their stuff is really good. Olives and cornichon from Fresh Olive - £3.50 and chocolates from L'Artisan - £3 Fennel, endive and cucumber as well as a few clementines from Paul Wheeler -£3.40 and I was done. Until I went to Brixton and bought greens, rice, sesame paste, chilli oil and thai basil at Wing Yip - £15.90

The Thai basil became a defining element for half the week because it costs £2.50 a bunch - it's a big bunch but it seems a lot for a herb I grow in the garden in the summer. So all original plan for the week went out the window and instead we had lovely things with thai basil.

Saturday we are away for the weekend, so raisin toast and coffee for breakfast
Actually the man made porridge, kept us going till lunch in the country

Back Sunday afternooon lamb curry from freezer with rice and cucumber raita

Had a plate of salami olives and cheese on our return, with a small bowl for the other packet of pork scratchings!
We had been out Thursday last week to try the new Camberwell Arms, new pub from the people at the Canton and not much further to walk! Shabby elegant interior, open kitchen behind a stretch of bar, very nice ambience. Glorious starters and then we had the roast chicken - lots of it! Didn't finish it so brought the leftovers home and made a stir fry with rice noodles, greens and thai basil for dinner

Monday out to see Happy Days
Breakfast of muesli and coffee and fresh juice, lots of carrot and ginger
The man had some rice noodles for lunch with a bag of chocolates and a clementine - o lucky man!
To Brixton for veg for juicing - £3.50 and Greensmiths in Waterloo for some pork mince and a sausage roll for my lunch - £6.40

The man has a terrible cold so though he went to work the theatre tickets went back - boo! So we had dinner at home - bun noodles, a salad of lettuce, cucumber and thai basil all topped with pork cooked with lemongrass, ginger and garlic, very good!

Spiced pork balls - mince in freezer - with roasted pumpkin salad and greens
Breakfast of muesli and coffee after juice
Man had the rest of Sunday's rice noodles for lunch
Decided I really fancied laksa or similar so went to Brixton and bought tofu and tofu puffs as well as coriander, soy sauce, coconut milk, green beans and veg to juice - £9.50
The laksa was a treat for dinner and used some more of the thai basil

 Italian cauliflower salad from PBS Splendid Kitchen
Juice then muesli and coffee to start
The man had the rest of the laksa for lunch and I ended up with some buttered salty crackers, all I felt like, they are £2.69 a pack from Malinka but last ages as there's dozens of little packs inside
Had cheese and olives when the man came home with a beer. Dinner was some lamb curry from the freezer with rice, cucumber raita and red onion sambal - so quick, so fabulous

Tofu, steamed aubergine and rice
Juice then rhubarb and yoghurt with coffee - have a few little pots of rhubarb in the freezer for start the day treats
The man had a tub of rice and leftover salads from last night - we'd scarfed all the curry! I had salami roll - salami from Camisa - £3.24 and bread from Wild Caper - £1.80
Dinner is chorizo and anya potato tortilla with salad and a chunk of bread on the side

Spent £86.38 over the week

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Spinach and Bacon Spelt Risotto

Oddly wasn't going to post this though I really seriously enjoyed eating it. But I sent the recipe in to the Guardian Cook competition and it came up trumps so thought I would share it here too. It is a result of not baing able to get pinhead oatmeal and not finding the barley in the cupboard that  I was convinced was lurking there. Did find a half pack of Italian spelt - no idea why I bought it - and came up with this simple dish that is deeply comforting in this bleak late winter. The spelt is lovely and nutty and retains a great texture like the opposite of the creamy delight you get with rice.

Pearled Spelt with Spinach and Bacon

Serves 2 for dinner with some for lunch next day

250g fresh spinach, rinsed and destalked
100g lightly smoked bacon, cut into 1cm strips
650ml fresh chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
75g unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, very thinly sliced (if there are leaves, chop and add at the end)
200g pearled spelt
100ml white wine
75g parmesan, finely grated
50g toasted walnuts, lightly crushed (optional)

Warm a large pan over a high heat and add the damp spinach. Cover, turn the heat right down and cook for a few minutes till the spinach is wilted. Drain in a colander, pressing out as much water as possible, then roughly chop.

Return the pan to the hob over a low heat and cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders. When it reaches your desired texture, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Put the stock in a small pan, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to low. Return the large pan to the heat and add the olive oil and 25g butter. When the butter has melted, add the garlic, onion and celery and cook gently for about 10 minutes until it's soft and smells inviting.

Add the spelt and stir to coat everything in oil, increase the heat and tip in the white wine. Stir until it is all absorbed then reduce the heat to medium and add the hot stock, a ladleful at a time, until it's all used up – this takes about 20 minutes. The spelt will have swelled and softened and there should be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Add a little more hot water if the spelt is not fully cooked.

Stir through the chopped spinach and bacon, season well, then stir in the remaining 50g butter and parmesan.

Turn off the heat, cover and leave to rest for a few minutes then, if using, stir through the chopped celery leaves before serving in big bowls. Top with crushed walnuts if using.

I loved the bacon in it but I was using it because it was in the freezer, same for the chicken stock - this would make a very good meat free supper without bacon and using a veg stock instead.

I Wanted...I bought...I made

 Friday - Valentines Day! After an early screening of Her we shall come home to supper of grilled steak and salad and a glass of serious red wine. food of lurrrrve!
Breakfast was juice - beetroot, pepper, orange leftover from the fruit loaf, carrots and a pear then yoghurt and rhubarb for the man and a slice of fruit loaf and coffee for me. Win/win! 

Dearie me but it's wet out. Stroke of sensible genius I wore my shiny pink raincoat to the market - just easier than wrangling umbrellas and bags and stuff. Borough was quietish in the wet, started at Neals Yard for milk and yoghurt - £3.90 Then Ginger Pig for eggs and a most magnificent piece of steak - £13.60 Across the other side I bought chocolates from L'Artisan - £2.50 and wanted smoked salmon paté but Muirren only had smoked salmon, bought some £5 At the Comte stall I bought a tub of rillette - it was so good last week and saw they had Mont D'Or and I could not resist - £15.50 - so Saturday supper will be this bliss of a *bucket* of melted cheese At Gastronomica all the heart shaped cheese was goat's milk - the man no like goat's milk cheese - so I bought a sizeable hunk of truffled Pecorino and a Bosina - £14 Wandering over to find Bread Ahead I noticed Northfields had homemade pork scratchings - I can never resist - £1.50 A raisin loaf and a sourdough stick when I got to the bread stall - £5 Watercress and mushrooms from Paul Wheeler veg stall - £4.40 and a hot scotch egg for my lunch from Roast - £3 - £68.40 but well spent for a Valentine feasting weekend!

Dinner was indeed the food of lurrrve!

Saturday - toast I guess, the man is working, stir fried noodles for supper
Porridge, yes! for breakfast with lots of coffee but late, so the man didn't work - YES!
Went to the market at Oval for carrots, radish and fennel for salad later - £2.90
Went to visit the lovely Anna in her new place at Stratford - Westfield was BUSY with people wandering about but in fact not that many people inside the actual shops - had lovely cake and nespresso then a plate of nibbles - rillettes, olives, truffle cheese on our return. Dinner was very simple - smoked salmon with a crisp salad dressed with peanut butter miso and lime, gorgeous

Sunday - more toast, I guess, the man is working, pot roasted beef with mash and veg
Had cut the raisin bread in two and stuck it in the freezer so rescued one half and had that with butter and coffee and papers for a leisurely start. The man disappeared to the office. Bought a cabbage, carrots, beetroot and peppers at Brixton £2.40 Went to the Canton for Sunday lunch, mega busy so waited ages for a very fine porchetta, roast potatoes and buttered leeks  Dinner later was a snack plate of olives rillettes etc

Monday fish cakes and salad
Muesli breakfast
I bought pears from Nour Stores £1 and a couple of bread rolls from Di Lieto - 60p - for lunch with peanut butter, dinner was beef and mushroom cobbler with the top rib beef from the freezer from before Christmas topped with Pecorino and thyme scented cobbler served with steamed carrots and buttered cabbage

Tuesday lamb curry from the freezer with rice and vegetable side dishes
Carrot, ginger, pears, pepper and beetroot juice, muesli and coffee for breakfast, the man took a small tub of cobbler and veg for lunch, I went to Borough for milk - £1.70, clementines and carrots from Paul Wheeler - £1.40 and had salami - £2.80 - from Gastronomica - on a roll from the freezer for my lunch.

Had a couple of unhappy bananas that needed using so made indulgent muffins with chocolate and peanut butter - gave them to the man for the office so no temptation for me!

Dinner was a repeat of last night as that was very good indeed

Wednesday I'm out so the man shall have a treat, possibly soup from the freezer and nice bread
Juice for breakfast with muesli and coffee, the man had more cobblers for lunch and I had grilled sausages from Moen - £1.70 - what can I say it was bleak and I fancied something I didn't have. Also went to Sainsburys and bought misshape carrots, anya potatoes and butter £4.19 Who says supermarkets are cheap?
Was home in the evening so for dinner I made a gorgeous tortilla with spinach and potato and served it with carrot and fennel salad dressed with the rest of the miso/peanut thing from Saturday

Thursday lentils and greens topped with a poached egg
Had no beetroot for juice so made it with pears, celery, ginger, lemon, carrots and the sole remaining pepper - gorgeous flavour but the man hated the colour - too orange.
Said it looked like school pasta sauce!

Muesli and coffee was fine. Steamed potatoes and carrots for the last of the cobbler for the man's lunch and we are off for an adventure for dinner tonight to try the new Camberwell Arms, pub reopened with food guidance from the Canton - have heard great things!

Spent a lot this week - £87.19 -  though still have the Mont D'Or - Friday supper sorted!

Essentially followed no plan at all past Friday - ie DAY ONE for the food week! Partly as a result of the random shop - had thought we'd do more nibbling but having the smoked salmon was a good nudge to try the peanut miso salad dressing which was a richly decadent treat. Had suggested beef and mushrooms with mash to the man but he said Cobblers! and he was right. Worked v well with steamed veg for a few days and it took a large piece of meat out of the freezer - can't believe I still haven't got to the end of the freezer treasure...

The tortilla was a good idea and used up the other half of the original veg to make a really pretty salad

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Soda Bread

I made a loaf of soda bread last week, a little uncertain to start with but thrilled to bits with it by the end. I buy a loaf occasionally from Elliots at Borough, but they only make it Saturdays. I have been known to decide I need it beyond all others and set off early with no other thing on the list and return home 90 minutes later, triumphant. Turns out I could have made my own, not just cheaper but faster. It's the faster bit that sticks in my craw. What cheers me up is that it is as good as the one I buy.

Inspiraton for it came from the perfect series in the Guardian, it did indeed sound simple and I needed a little something to go with big bowls of leek and potato soup. The simplicity comes from using  bicarbonate of soda as the raising agent rather than yeast and then having no need to knead or prove. Mix a few bits together, whap it on a baking tray in a vague bread shape, oven for 50 minutes - and you have a proper, picture book style loaf. Apart from yoghurt or buttermilk I had all the ingredients - and they sell yoghurt at the Londis on the corner. In fact they sell pretty much everything in some form or other at the Londis on the corner, though if I go in to buy beer in the evening and the man has been in ahead of me to buy beer then they refuse to let me make my purchase. Delights me every time.

Soda Bread

Don't be tempted to omit the treacle, it adds a complex depth of flavour rather than sweetness

450g coarse wholemeal flour
50g rolled oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon treacle 
1 tablespoon honey
200g tub of whole milk yoghurt made up to 450ml with milk - or 450ml buttermilk
1 tablespoon melted butter, to finish

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6 and grease a baking sheet.

Put all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk together to combine. Stir the treacle and honey - they might need warming slightly to make them runny - into the yoghurt or buttermilk and mix well until combined.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the yoghurt liquid. Use your hands to very quickly combine everything and you have a soft sticky dough. Plop it onto the baking sheet and pat it into a round shape then cut a deep cross into the top of the dough. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, keeping an eye on it, until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Brush with the melted butter to ensure the bread remains moist and doesn't form too hard a crust. Allow to cool before slicing.

I had thought it would only be good fresh on the day but it made great toast for the next couple of days for  breakfast spread liberally with lots of butter and marmalade and a perfect base tucked under a supper of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.

This Week I Wanted...I Bought...I Made

Have decided to approach this regular weekly post in a slightly different fashion and post a menu list Thursday for the rest of the week - I do the main food shop Fridays, and keep track of what food bought and eaten when to see how the food evolves both weekly and over time. Will add in pricing as well just so I know where it's going and also where the idea for the food comes from to try and develop that into a broader or better thought through meal plan.

Friday there is smoked salmon in the fridge and eggs not eaten so that's dinner right there with a green salad and the rest of the soda bread toasted
Breakfast was muesli for the man who left very early and coffee and a slice of thickly buttered soda bread for me
Went to Borough in the morning and blow me down but the sun was shining - what a delight after all the rain. I swear everyone was cheerier than usual
I started at Neals Yard and bought 2 litres of milk, a large tub of yoghurt and a reduced price tub of clotted cream - £6.80
Then to Ginger Pig thinking I'd only get eggs but oooooh, temptation! they had 4 big thick gammon steaks for £10 and I could not resist - £13 with the dozen eggs
From Gastronomica I bought a thick slice of Pecorino and a bag of dried penne £12.80
At the place that sells the Comte I bought instead a tub of rillette for snacking - £5.50
Borough Olives have petit luque in, could not resist, £3.50 for a medium tub
Prosciutto di Parma from the parma ham and mozzarella stand £6.80
A warm scotch egg - something of a guilty pleasure for me - £3 from Roast takeaway - my lunch, the man took the rest of last night's leek and potato soup to be pinged in the microwave and eaten with a slice of soda bread
A most enormous cucumber from the used to be Booths and enquired about the price of the rhubarb - £5 a kilo, hmm I said, tell you what 4 quid'll do, okay I said and he pulled down all the rhubarb that was there - close to 2 kgs - and said have the lot, £3.50. Cheers - so £4.40 with the cucumber
Spent  £55.80

Snacks with a drink both green and black olives with a little rillette on a buttered cracker before dinner of smoked salmon, eggs, salad and very thin slices of hot toasted soda bread

Saturday porridge to bolster us against the rain, then sandwich for lunch as we are out in the evening to see Midsummer Night's Dream and so shall have an early supper at Comptoir Gascon
Almost none of that came true- had toasted soda bread with the man's mothers' fabulous marmalade with lashings of  fresh coffee at breakfast then rillette and olives, Hungarian salami from when we were in Budapest, cucumber and cheeses to snack on for a light lunch and a slightly under par tea at Comptoir Gascon - disappointing as I have eaten here on and off for years and it is generally really good - but not this time. Good production though - best Bottom ever!

Sunday a roast perhaps, some time since I made one
More soda bread toast and marmalade to start the day then, after Dallas Buyers Club at the Ritzy we mistimed arrival at The Canton and  waited a very long time indeed until we finally got a seat and had a seriously gorgeous roast  beef with potatoes and creamed leeks - perfect lunch
Back to snacks for supper after such a late lunch - the last of the rillettes with crackers, some parma ham and olives and cheese and cucumber

Monday tofu and noodles
Juice of carrots, peppers, pears, ginger and clementine with muesli for the man and coffee for me as breakfast

For lunch the man went out and I bought a couple of rolls from Di Lieto - 60p - and had the last of the parma ham
Went to Brixton Market and bought peppers and bananas - £1.70 and made a batch of coconut cookies from ingredients I already had in so practically free!
Dinner was creamy bowls of penne with fennel after a snack of macadamia nuts - I had fennel from last week that needed using and a tub of creme fraiche in the freezer that needed using

Tuesday carbonara as there is guincale in the freezer
Juice this morning from peppers, carrots, pears, a stick of celery, ginger and lime then a breakfast of yoghurt with stewed rhubarb and coffee for me, lunch was leftover pasta and the tin of coconut biscuits and a banana for the man, I bought salami from Camisa £2.80 and a couple of rolls from Di Lieto - 60p great combination
From Waitrose I bought butter - I love the French butter that is unsalted and then large crystals are added to give grainy little explosions of salt but it is not widely available. Often I buy waitrose own brand but it seems to have altered recently and has less salt so I was on a mission to find the real French version. Did so at John Lewis foodhall - the poshest of posh waitrose but still a supermarket - and bought 3 blocks of Buerre d'Isigny and a couple of blocks of President unsalted which was £8.77. A lot to pay just for butter but it will last the month so worth it for the pleasure of weekend eating. Also went to Brixton for veg - carrots, beetroot, parsley and pears - a much more reasonable £2.59
Dinner - after a beer and a few macadamia nuts - did indeed start from the freezer but it was a litre of stock and some leftover ham hock that went with wild mushrooms and lashings of butter and cheese for a very fine rich risotto

Wednesday lamb curry from the freezer with rice and some interesting sides
Juice today was deepest red - beetroot, carrots, celery stick, pears, ginger and a couple of red peppers then breakfast again was yoghurt and rhubarb, coffee. The man took the rest of the risotto and a banana for lunch, I had scrambled eggs
Dinner was chargrilled gammon steaks - technically from the freezer but only because that's where I put them Friday - with egg and chips. Bliss on a cold wet windy night

Thursday out to see Superior Donuts at Southwark Playhouse - it's a new play by Tracy Letts who wrote August: Osage County which I liked a lot in the cinema, unlike most reviewers!
Breakfast was juice same as yesterday's but no celery and less peppers, still gorgeous then yoghurt with rhubarb + coffee for me Lunch for the man was the rest of the risotto and the biscuit tin came home empty so made a fruit tea loaf for tomorrow and the weekend

Bought peppers, carrots, coriander, spinach, chillies, beetroot, celery, spring onions and an orange at Nour stores in Brixton - £5.44 - a mix of stuff to juice and make salad, the orange is for the tea loaf. Bought focaccia from Wild Caper - ~£2 and ham from Di Lieto - £2.50 for decadent lunch for me
 Quick early supper at home - spiced roasted chicken pieces with a quinoa salad - chicken from freezer with garlic, ginger, chilli rub - not a lot on offer round Elephant