April 21st 2013 – Saint George beckons

It’s St. George’s Day in a couple of days.  I realise it’s not widely celebrated in England, but here in Grez-Doiceau it is.  He’s our patron saint too and here we have a 3 day long festival in his honour, even with a Dragon being slain.  We’ll be there on Sunday with English beer and cheese like we have done for the last two years.  One cheese we sold back then has been on our list ever since – the Ashmore Farmhouse.  Although made in Kent it is a true cheddar nonetheless.  Hand-made from raw milk, it has deservedly won accolade after accolade including Taste of Kent awards and being named in the World’s Top 50 cheeses in The World Cheese Awards 2012.  If you’re ever in Canterbury, pop into the Goods Shed by Canterbury West and buy some.  Visit Carl the Butcher too, Lee’s General Store and buy some remarkable beer from The Bottle Shop while you’re at it.

I have always wanted to find St George’s mushrooms too, so named because they start appearing now.  If I see some I’ll take a picture and sadly not cook them.  There really are not many poisonous lookalikes at this time of year, the two main ones being the Red-staining fibre cap (it stains red when bruised, the St. George doesn’t, the spore deposit is brown, St. George is white), and the Livid Pink Gill.  Fleshy mushrooms with pink gills and pinkish spore deposits are best avoided.  All this means that even if I find some, Marie-Rose won’t let me eat any.  A slight pity but I must respect her wishes – it’s not an important battle to win.  I’d be more worried if she encouraged me.

So after the dog walking, earthing up of potatoes, a refreshing beer, a walk organised by the local Primary school, the barbecue that follows (will there be Saucisses, Lard, Baguette and salad?  When isn’t there…?) I’ll turn my attention to supper.  It’s not as warm today as I hoped so perhaps something along the lines of Poulet Basquaise.  But that’s not very English.  I think a fish pie with a twist – it won’t be fish but chicken!

You will need:

A Chicken’s worth of chicken without bones. I’ll bone 4 thighs and 4 legs.  Weird chicken, I know.  Just prefer the dark meat.  Use kitchen paper to pull the skin off.  Make stock now with the bones, a carrot, and onion with skin, a bayleaf, a few peppercorns and a parsely stalk or two.

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A large, chopped onion, not too fine

A few rashers of bacon, chopped

A leek, if you have one, cleaned and chopped

Some lard or butter if you must and flour, salt and (white) pepper

Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  Any or all of these, finely chopped.

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A pint of cider or perry

Cream

Floury potatoes, cooked and mashed.  2lbs will do it.

Pre-heat your oven to moderate, 350°F or so.  Cut up potatoes and cook in salted water.  Drain and leave to steam dry in a pan with the the lid not quite on…

Meanwhile, cut the chicken up into reasonably sized chunks.  Half a thigh or thereabouts.  Season and sauté in the fat, not over such a fierce heat that the butter burns if you are not using lard.  Lard is best.  We don’t want a brown sauce.  Remove, and fry bacon, onion, leeks in the fat for a few moments until the onion is translucent.  Do not brown.   Maybe check the potatoes and deal with them (turn off the pan with the leeks etc. in  it)

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Now turn the leek pan back on, adding a tablespoon of flour and cook for a few moments but don’t brown it. Start adding the cider/perry and build up a nice sauce, you may not need all the liquid.  Drink the rest.  If you need more liquid use some of the stock you have already made.  Add enough cream so it looks just right and check for seasoning.  White pepper is correct here but if you only have black then so be it.

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Put in your pie dish, mash the potatoes or put through a ricer if your mum bought you one for Christmas.  Cover the chicken etc. with the potatoes, and make ploughlines with a fork.  Dot with butter and put in the oven.  It is ready when golden-brown and bubbling through at the edges.  Turn off the oven and leave to rest whilst you boil some frozen peas.  Or some green asparagus if the weather has been kind.

There you are.  That’s English.  And if you like you can pipe a St. George’s Cross on the top with ketchup.  I might resist that temptation.  Might.

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In fact I was reminded of the clash of the Waterzooi.  I have always felt cheated by the idea of chicken rather than fish.  ‘ Water’ gives it away a bit, though I suppose Poule d’eau could be used but I just don’t fancy them.  What goes around comes around and I remember my first few days in Peru.  Day one I ate ceviche de conchas negras, day two saw a big headline in the papers: COLERA.  Day three saw restaurants offering ceviche de pollo or ceviche de hongas.  And now I do it myself, substituting chicken for fish.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be

April 18th 2013 – Green shoots

Last Sunday we had my wife’s four brothers and one of their wives around for lunch.  I won’t bore you with ‘why’ or ‘what we ate’, suffice to say a lovely leg of Kentish Lamb was involved.

Before they came I made sure that I tidied up my raised beds; at least one of the guests was a vegetable gardener and I couldn’t lose face.  ‘Look now, look all around, there’s no sign of life’ I heard in my head.  Incidentally as I drive from Canterbury to Ramsgate where I pick up from Gadd’s Brewery, I always pass a road sign pointing to Thanet and Earth. ‘this is Thanet Earth’ then invades my consciousness.  The kids think I’m a right Duran Duran nut, only I have seen Barbarella.

I digress, the point is that the next day (Monday) I saw this:

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OK, you had to be there but from bare soil the day before there were the first Broad Bean and Potato leaves.  They had survived and were just lusting for some warmth.

I wait for Kentish Asparagus.  I’m not convinced by the white stuff, perhaps its too delicate for my palate.  My wait is nearly over.

However Asparagus is not the only Spring shoot to be savoured.  I will just quote from Dorothy Hartley’s ‘Food in England’:

‘BRACKEN

The bracken increase that destroys so much of our land comes from so many causes.  Bracken used to be cut for bedding for farm animals, for covering-in root crops, and for weaving into shelters and hurdles, and trusses of it were burnt in the ovens and used to light the open hearths.  Quantities were used by the slate and earthenware workers to pack their wares for road transport.  The invention of the pneumatic tyre on the lorry caused much bracken to remain uncut, as less packing was needed.  The sheep were on the hills so early that they ate young shoots for lack of other grazing – and where the bracken was not brought down for use about the steading, the shepherd would cut it all over his sheep walk because, growing high; it hid the sheep, induced fly, ans spoilt the fine grass ‘bite’.  All these reasons combined to keep the growth of the bracken within bounds.  Now it is not cut and has become a desperate weed instead of a useful growth.’

She wrote this in 1954

She goes on:

‘Young bracken fronds are edible when about three inches high and still tightly curled; they should be so young that they snap off.

Tie in loose bundles and cook like asparagus – only longer, and serve with melted bacon fat.  They have a distinctive smoky flavour – rather like the smell of Darjeeling rea.  Brown bread and butter is the best accompaniment.  You either like them very much or not at all.’

Me?  I like.  But then again I think ‘New Miseable Experience’ by the Gin Blossoms is great music to cook by.  And you do too, Gary.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be

April 10th 2013 – And the Spring cometh

At school today a friend of mine told me they had seen a couple of swallows not far from me near Wavre.  I’m dead jealous, I’ve been looking out for them over the Dijle for a couple of weeks.

Although not yet a summer, finally there is a different feel to the air.  There was rain, for example.  I’d forgotten what rain was like.  Snow, yes.  Sleet, yes.  Damp muggy fog, yes.  But not rain.  It was like a foreign substance, for a while, and I was moved to take the covers off my potatoes and to start checking each day for signs of Broad Beans.  The Jerusalem Artichokes have also gone in.  It’s been over 10 years since I’ve grown them, the last time was in Spalding.  The tubers I get here are much less knobbly and easier to peel and I hope for a good crop.  They’ve taken the place of the runner beans, providing a living and fruitful screen for the woodstack.  ‘Jerusalem’ apparently is a corruption of girasol (‘turn to sun’ or sunflower in Spanish) and in a long, hot summer (yeh right) they will even flower.

Easter was too early for new season lamb and I wait for not only that but also Jersey Royals and Asparagus.  I’m not a fan of ‘continental’ white asparagus and refuse to eat any from Peru but as with Strawberries, choose to wait for them to come into season here in Northern Europe.  Kentish Asparagus, Jersey Royals and of course, Wepion Strawberries.  These are the signs that Spring is in full swing.

It’s all this anticipation which leaves me a bit flat when thinking about what to eat.  What I want to eat isn’t available, yet.  I need something to carry me over, a bridging meal.  Something which promises warmer weather but will keep me going during the cool evenings.  Something simple.

Onion and Apple Pie (Cornish)

I don’t want to give quantities here, but 3 apples and medium-large onions should be a good start.  Peel, core and thinly slice the apple.  Peel and ring-slice the onions thinly too.  Oven needs to be hot, 200°C.

It’s like a Cornish Dauphinoise, in a pie!

Line a pie-tin with shortcrust pastry.  Put in a layer of apple rings and cover with a layer of onion rings, finely chopped sage, pepper, salt, and a pinch of mixed spice.

Keep alternating until apple and onion are used up.  I like to add some bits of Cornish Yarg (the ‘wrapped in garlic leaves’ one) as I go too.  Put good-sized bits of butter over the top (or clotted cream) and cover with a thin crust.

Bake, brushing with egg first if you like.  Eat hot.  You probably don’t need any accompaniment.  Green salad?  Watercress?  Nah.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be

April 1st 2013 – Respect for bread and potatoes

I waited a day before writing as I was hoping beyond reason that the weather would change, now that it was April and not March.  It’s still cold, but brighter.  I don’t have a daffodil in flower and only 7 buds show any promise.  I have Siskins and Goldfinches though at my feeders.  The latter are pretty enough but the Siskins are the Canaries of the north.  They are also quite fearless, letting me approach within a few yards whilst the Tits and Chaffinches fly away.  There was even a Brambling, looking out of place with his summer plumage.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” is the opening line from L.P. Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’ and living here in Belgium sometimes makes me feel as if the clock has gone back in time.  I remember a time in England, not that long ago, when machines which were coin-operated and a service to the community were free from robbery, graffiti and vandalism.  I’m thinking not only of the phone box, but also honesty boxes for daffodils, strawberries and other produce from small-holdings.

I’m lucky alright, because I live near a coin-operated bread-selling machine.  I can get bread just like that, anytime night or day.  The machine has never been vandalised or broken into, but remains a testimony to respect.  No-one would even think ‘ooh, what shall I do, there’s nothing to do, I know, I’ll smash up that stoopid bread machine and it’ll be right funny, imagine the people’s faces when they try and buy bread and they can’t.  Ha ha.’.

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And that is not all.  I am doubly blessed.  In Korbeek-Dijle, not far away, there is one of these:

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If I get hungry and the shops are shut and there’s nothing in, I can buy bread and potatoes.  And you know what to do with those!  That’s right, a chip butty.  Here in the land of frites they know the worth of this carb-carb combo as they have the mitraillette.  True I can’t see
Pizza et frites catching on, but the chip sandwich is a classic, right up there with ‘best-ever’ sandwiches like the BLT, the Club, the Welsh Rarebit (open-grilled sandwich, ideal for a cross-over smorgasbord), the Peruvian Triple (what?) and Butifarra, the Chilean Barros Luchos, the Bush Rat brochette baguette, the…..

Well, the list is personal and I won’t tell you how to make the perfect Chip Butty.  They are deeply personal things but for me I want three pairs of opposing forces fighting it out on its journey to the bottom of my tummy;  Hot-Cold (Chip-Butter), Soft-Crunchy (Bread-Chip), Salt-Sweet (Salt-Ketchup).  Get it right and you will never look a foie gras in the eye again.  Possibly.

But what else can we do we these two bedfellows?  That is not so easy.  I shall ignore the idea of Potato Bread, because that’s bread made from potatoes, not something with bread and potatoes as stars in their own right.

I put before you the

Curried Potato Sliced Bread Croquette

You need:

Potato Curry, dry.  (I used Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for Vegetable Samosa filling from ‘Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery’.  If you don’t have a copy then buy one.  You know it makes sense).

Square sliced bread, crusts removed. (Crusts can feed chickens and other birds, or make breadcrumbs with them).  If your bread machine sells nothing like Sunblest (which it won’t), choose the one which has the densest crumb and is white.  Or get that British Breakfast Bread from the supermarket.

Deep Fat Frier.  With oil.  Turned to 11.

A widish bowl with water in it.

Basically dip one side of each slice of bread very quickly in the water, hold it in one hand and press it flat – it will get a bit wider.  Put some curry in the middle and work the bread around it until you have a sort of lozenge or torpedo shape.  The dampness of the bread will aid you here as long as it’s not wet in which case it will fall apart.  Leave to rest fo 10 – 15 minutes in a warm place (my kitchen is fine).  Fry them, 6 at a time, turning once, until nice and brown.  Eat hot, perhaps dip into some Mango Cutney or Mint Raita.  Here are some pictures as I went along:

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Note nice Gadd’s No3.  For drinking.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOnion, Ginger, Peas, Fresh Coriander

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAPotatoes, Cumin, Garam Masala, Cayenne Pepper (I used the tiniest amount of Trinidad Moruga Scorpion flakes), Salt and Pepper, Lemon Juice.  Really important to get the lemon-salt balance right.

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Damn fine too.  Even the French seller of Alpine cheeses at the market shook my hand after tasting one. And I sell English cheese there.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be