Thursday 31 October 2013

Guardian Food Moments #1: Raw Vegan Avocado Chocolate Mousse

I want to start by saying this: I love The Guardian very much.  It is my go-to newspaper.  Despite its frequent corrections (hey, at least does correct itself) and its occaisionally hilarious outbursts, its a newspaper that I feel has real integrity.

But sometimes, it is just a parody of itself.  And no more so when it tries to do food. 

Wednesday 30 October 2013


Shakshuka is not something I've ever heard of.  In fact, I don’t think I would have heard of it now had it not been for my friend's boss moaning about hers.  Apparently, she had made one, stuck a picture on Instagram, and them been disheartened that it looked unappealing. 
For the record, I checked out the picture, by the way, and thought it looked aces.  But, then again, it's basically eggs poached in a rich, spicy sauce – so what is there not to like?
It's very similar to Jamie's heuvos rancehros recipe – which I shall attempt again soon and enlighten you all with – but with a more Mediterranean / North African / Middle Eastern vibe.  It's a seriously scrummy brunch idea – there can be few greater treats than eggs and sauce on a lazy Sunday morning – but also works wonderfully as a supper treat.  Accompaniment-wise, it needs little more than a hunk of crusty bread, or some unleavened thing (as we did) to keep it happy – otherwise, it's a dish in itself.
This recipe is largely purloined from Yotam Ottolenghi, who seems to have forgone his usual style of listing 2,000 hard-to-source ingredients for otherwise simple dishes. 
x4 free-range eggs (Go for top quality – I know it's expensive, but it's also worth it – the eggs have got to be the star of the show in this dish.)

½tsp cumin seeds
x2 small yellow onions (Or one large one, whatevs.)
x3 sweet peppers – yellow and red (I used my favourite things: the long, pointy peppers that I think taste amazeballs.  As they're a little insubstantial, I threw an extra one in for luck.)
x1 fresh red chilli
x3 sprigs of thyme
Small bunch of coriander
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley
2tsp muscovado sugar
x2 bay leaves
x6 ripe, good quality, tomatoes
Pinch of saffron
To serve:
Feta cheese
Chopped coriander
1. Slice the onions.  You'll need them ready for step 3.  Also, I recommend taking this opportunity to slice up the peppers into long, thin strips, finely chop the chillies, and chop up the tomatoes into big chunks.  Chop the parsley and coriander too.
2. Dry roast the cumin seeds over e medium-high heat in a large, flat skillet – you'll need one with a lid.  Give them one to two minutes, no more, and stop them if they start turning black.
3. Add some oil to the pan and chuck in the onions, dropping the heat a bit so that they don’t brown too much.
4. Once the onions have softened a bit, chuck in the peppers, chilli, parsley, coriander, bay leaves and sugar.  Keeping the heat high, cook until the peppers have softened and are starting to take on some colour.

5. Throw in the tomatoes and saffron.  Season well.
6. Keep it cooking for a bit, reducing the heat down so that toms collapse and leave you with a thick, unctuous sauce.  If needs be, add water from time to time – but it small quantities – to keep the sauce liquid.  Remember that you have to cook the eggs in this – so you want it like a tomato pasta sauce.
7. Once ready, turn the heat down so that the sauce is at barely a simmer.  Hollow out four little wells in the liquid, and (as quickly as you can, so that they cook all at the same time) crack each egg into its own well.  Put the lid on and leave for 8 minutes or so – lifting the lid at the end to check that they’re done.  What you want is for the white to be fully cooked, but the yolks still lovely and molten. 

8. Serve immediately – don’t waste any time, as these puppies will keep on cooking in that hot sauce.  Crumble feta over the top and sprinkle on some chopped coriander.  Dunk bread and enjoy.
 - GrubsterBoy -

Monday 28 October 2013

Steak and stout pie

There's a storm brewin'.

Actually, it's already been and gone, and as the picture below shows, caused absolute CHAOS to the streets of London.

Still, whilst it's wet and cold and blowy and autumnal, we'll carry on the theme of warming, comfort food.  Last week it was toad in the hole.  This week, it's steak and stout pie.  Perfect for when it's belting it down outside and you want to wrap yourself up in a blanket and watch endless repeats of old crap on telly.

This is also a really easy recipe that requires (a) no flour dredging (there's a cheat later that avoids this) and (b) no browning of the meat, both of which take ages and are a faff to do.  Fortunately, the absence of both these elements doesn’t seem to compromise the pie one bit.

A word to the wise, however: this massively benefits from being allowed to cool down and sit in the fridge overnight.  It also takes an unreasonably long time to cook.  So plan ahead.


1.2kg cow (Kinda up to you what you put in – brisket, stewing steak, ox cheek, shin, whatever you like.  I used plain old casserole steak.)
500ml stout (I used Guinness.  I reckon you could use any ale, however, or even red wine.)
200g button chestnut mushrooms
x3 onions
x2 carrots
x2 sticks of celery
x3 cloves of garlic
x4 sprigs of rosemary
2tsp grainy mustard
2tbsp plain flour
x1 stock cube (Or, better still, 500ml fresh cow stock.  Up to you – but you will need the additional liquid, as I learnt...)

Ready-rolled puff pastry (Because life's too short to make your own pie crusts.  Genuinely.)
x1 free-range egg

1. Start by chopping all your veg.  No, actually, start by pre-heating the oven to 190°C.  Now get chopping. 

None of needs to be finely chopped, just into decent suitably pie-sized lumps.  I reckon a little smaller than the cow chunks will be.  The mushrooms I quartered, because they shrink a bit and I like big lumps of mushroom with this dish.  You can mix your carrots, mushrooms and celery sticks together, but keep the onions ghettoised.  Same goes for the garlic (slice this) and the rosemary (separate the leaves and chop finely).

2. Sweat the onions for 10 mins or so in a bloody great big cast iron pan.  Or whatever you'd normally make a stew in.  Keep going until them onions are nice and soft, but not browned.  A low heat should do the trick.

3. Turn the heat right up and thrown in the carrots, 'shrooms and celery, giving everything an almighty stir and season liberally with pepper and less liberally with salt (remember: you're adding a stock cube and/or stock to this, which is quite salty in itself, so go easy on the salt at this stage – you can always adjust later). 

Cook for a few minutes.  Or not.  Whatever.

4. Chuck in the steak, garlic and rosemary and cook for a bit, so that the meat is beginning to colour.  This shouldn’t take long. 

5. When you're happy, add the stout.  It'll fizz up like crazy, but fear not: it'll settle down before long. 

Add the mustard, sprinkle the flour in, and crumble the stock cube in now, if you're using it.   Boil a kettle and top up with boiling water so that the meat's covered – it you're using beef stock, warm it and add it now instead of the hot water – but again, only so that the meat's covered. 

6. Give it an almighty great stir, stick a lid on the pot and bung it in the oven for about an hour.  By the way, you might find that the four clumps up into rather unappealling, gluely lumps.  Fret not - these will magically disappear in the cooking, somehow.

7. Get it out, give it another stir, and have a look.  First, there should be lots of mucky brown crap stuck to the sides.  Good.  This is the flavour, so do your best to scrape it off with a spoon and reintroduce it to its friends in the stew.  Second, check the moisture levels.  I found that mine dried out quite quickly, which isn’t a problem – it just means you need to keep adding more liquid – kettle water will do it, honestly.  Cover it again and get it back in the oven to give it another hour.

8. Lather, rinse, repeat.  Well, get out, scrape, stir, check moisture levels.  Also, try a bit of the beef now – see how tender it is.  It should be fall-apart-in-your-mouth soft, not chewy.  Mine took three hours altogether, and could perhaps have done with a touch more.  From here on in I recommend testing it every 30-40 minutes – adding more water each time if it’s looking a little dry.  As for dryness, well, you know what the inside of a pie looks like, right?

9. Once it's done, leave it to cool and stick in the fridge overnight.  Apart from the fact that this'll let all the lovely flavours marinate and mix better, it'll also mean that the filling is cool when you want to make your pie, which will make life a lot, lot easier.  Get it out before making the pie, though, so that the filling is at room temperature when you stick the lid on.

10. Doing the lid is easy, because I told you to get ready rolled puff pastry.  If you want to make your own pastry, go and read someone else's blog – like someone who knows how to bake (I am a terrible baker).  I have tried handmade puff pastry and I have tried Sainsbury's pastry puff, and whilst I recognise that there is a difference and that the handmade stuff is better, I simply cannot be bothered with it – simply because the difference is so minor.

Unroll your pastry and stick the pie dish on it upside down.  Trace a line around the dish, leaving about a centimetre of overhang.  Like this. 

Keep the scraps, too – you'll need them.

11. Fill the dish up with filling and gravy, until it's about a half centimetre from the top. Pop the lid on and pinch all the way around the edges to make sure the lid stays in place.  Carve a little cross in the middle to let the steam out. 

Also, decorate it – that's what the pastry scraps are for.  I was a bit rushed, so it was just leaves.  But it's bad luck not to decorate it.  The tradition comes from big, old houses (think Downton Abbey) where they would have a weekly baking day, making all manner of pies.  To ensure that there was no confusion, and that the lord of the manor was not accidently served kidney and trotter pasty when he was expecting a mouthful of apple and bramble pudding, savoury pies were decorated whilst sweet pies were just sprinkled with sugar.  Preserve the tradition and stick a blooming leaf on there.

The crust needs to be egged.  So break an egg into a glass or cup, beat it up with a fork, and use a pasrty brush to paint it all.  All of it, not just bits.  It'll only turn nice and shiny where it's been painted, so get in all the nooks and crannies.  Also, top tip: paint the lid then put the decorations on - it'll help them stick down. 

12. Pie in oven, please.  It'll take 30 mins, no more – just check that your pastry looks crispy and golden. 

So, basically, it goes in like this...

...and comes out like this.

Serve it up with peas, or your favourite winter veg.  Draw the curtains, get the fire going, turn on some ancient, Sunday afternoon TV film, pour yourself a glass of something red and dark, and tuck in.  See, the weather's not so bad now, is it?

 - GrubsterBoy -

Friday 25 October 2013

Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Last week I wrote a piece about the phenomenon that is Katz's Deli.  However, it's not really fair to tell you about how awesome Katz's is without making reference to their equally awesome (but very different) neighbour: Il Laboratorio del Gelato
It's incredible.  Simply incredible. 
More and more ice cream shops – or gelateria, as they ought properly be known – are popping up, in London, New York, Paris and beyond.  In Argentina, earlier in the year, we noticed that they're big business now – always have been, sure, but now all the more so.  In Cuba, they're huge – simply part of the fabric of an otherwise simple life.  Even in the rain and cold of autumnal London you're likely to find a queue outside the inimitable Scoop in Covent Garden.  Even Borough Market now has one, trading six days a week.

So what makes Il Laboratorio so special?  Simple: It's the sheer choice. 
With 275 (and counting) flavours, you're bound to find something you'll want.  In fact, finding something you want won’t be the problem; finding something you don’t want will be.
I settled for a combo of Guinness (Yes, that's right, Irish stout ice cream.  What's your question?) and malt (which was basically just a scoop of the inside of Malteasers – heaven). GrubsterGirl had thyme and basil. 
And they were all fantastic.  Not just good, fantastic.
So, if you're going to Katz's (which I cannot recommend enough) then please, please, save a little bit of room.  Just a little.  Or crank open the door to that spare pudding stomach we all know you have.  Because you just have to drop into the unassuming little shop next door for a couple of scoops of the Italian stuff.
 -GrubsterBoy -

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Courgette Carbonara

Courgettes were in season relatively recently, and GrubsterGirl's mummy grows them by the bucketload.  It's absolutely fantastic eating food that you've seen grown from seed in someone's garden – it's natural, fresh, exciting.  Really.

It's also free, and we tend to get rather a lot of it.  Not that there's anything wrong with that – I like lots of free food. 

This is a good way of eating them – and it's really bloody easy, so a good one to throw together after a long, dull day at work.


x2 courgettes, decently sized  (turns out we didn’t get quite as many this year as we were anticipating...)
x4 rashers of back bacon
50 ml single cream
25g fresh parmesan (or a small handful, once grated, is probably an easier way to work this one out)
2 large eggs
Bunch of thyme
Black peppercorns 
Pasta (rigatoni for me, but penne would work just as well)

1. Top and tail and slice your courgettes (or zucchini if you're going to get all American on me) lengthways, then slice further into diagonal half-moons.  Keep'em nice and chunky – they should soften up when cooked.  Slice the bacon into chunky stips.  This is a chunky dish, so fear not. 

2. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.  Stick the whites in a bowl in the fridge to make meringues another day – you won’t be needing them here.  Add the parmesan cheese so that it looks a bit like a beard, to keep yourself entertained.

Labour the point unnecessarily.

Add the cream as well, and mix it all up into a nice creamy sauce. 

4. Get out your biggest frying pan, lug in some olive oil and fry the bacon until it's cooked and just starting to turn a little brown.  Turn the heat up all the way to the top and add the white wine - cooking it until it's reduced to a sticky residue.  Then throw your courgettes in there. 

Add the thyme.  Smash up the black pepper in a pestle and mortar and chuck that in too.  You want to add quite a bit of pepper – enough to give it a fiery kick.  I actually used long pepper, which is an ancient and extremely aromatic pepper, which you should track down if you can.  It has a sweet, musky perfume to the flavour that really adds something to the dish.

Long pepper comes in gucci little catkins, and I used a couple for this dish.  It was the first time I'd tried them out, so was a touch nervous, but you could go for a third if you wanted something with real punch.  Just be wary of drowing out the other flavours.

5. Get the pasta on now.  When it's done, the courgettes should be pretty soft.  If they look like they're getting soft too soon, you can always turn the heat right down – or even off – and reheat at the crucial moment. 

6. When the pasta's cooked, drain it and add it to the frying pan, reserving a mug-full of the cooking water if you can.  Work quickly now, and turn off the heat under the courgettes.  Toss the pasta into the courgettes so nicely combined and the pasta is covered in the cooking fats.  Then add the creamy sauce and a splash of the cooking water, and stir stir stir.  Don’t whatever you do, turn the heat back on – if you do you'll end up with scrambled egg pasta, which is not especially nice.  Add more of the cooking water if you think it needs it – it'll give it a smooth, shiny texture.

Serve immediately with grated parmesan (if you like).  Don’t muck about – this is not a dish that is improved by being tepid. 

 - GrubsterBoy -

Monday 21 October 2013

Tapas 24

In the heart of Barcelona, off the main bustle of the Passeig de Gracia, where it meets Carrer de la Diputació, is a little tapas bar called Tapas 24.  And it's a right little gem.
If anything, from the outside it's understated.  But, then, inside it's hardly more glam - and you wouldn't want it to be.  Grab a stool, sit up at the counter, and let the waiters behind the bar bring you what you need.

The menu is mixed, lots of bits and pieces, some predictably traditional (Croquetes de Pernil Ibèric), others less so (the 'Mc Foie' – a foie gras burger).   They've given the classic Bikini (better known as a ham and cheese toastie, or a croque-monsieur if you're being pretentious) a lovely little freshener by adding in some shaved truffle. 

We also had the Ous Estrellats al Gust - smashed eggs with chorizo on patatas bravas.  Alas, not the highlight (although I'm reliably informed it’s a Catalan speciality), it was a touch greasy.  A sad abberation in an otherwise delightful meal.

Pudding, however, was the highlight.  Absolutely amazeballs.  The menu (a mini blackboard, hung by our bench) was sadly completely in Catalan, but a helpful waiter tried to translate.  Eventually, he reached one entry:

"Chocolate, sea salt, olive oil and bread."

That was all the encouragement we needed. 

I've known sweet and salt to be an incredible combination for a long time, but this took it to a new level.  The addition of the olive oil – unexpectedly – was really quite remarkable, whilst the bread gave the little globules of rich, creamy chocolate goo a satisfying crunch.  Washed down with a glass of Pedro Ximénez, it was a very, very satisfying pudding.

 - GrubsterBoy -

Saturday 19 October 2013

Damson Gin

If you’ve been lurking around in the country recently, you may well have come across a bush covered in what looks like lots of little, purple plums.  If you’ve been particularly foolhardy, you may have plucked one and given it a try, spitting out the flesh that is described as having a “distinctive, somewhat astringent taste”.  If this sounds like you, then you’ve probably stumbled upon a damson bush.  They look a bit like this:

If Edwin Starr questioned “war, what is it good for?” then, over the years, I expect many a horticulturalist has asked the same of the damson.  Fortunately, unlike Edwin’s refrain, ‘quite a lot’ is the answer.

Growing wild in abundance throughout its native England, the humble damson is – in most cases, although I’m told that there are some sweeter varieties – inedible in their raw state.  They have, therefore, become the subject of countless pickles, chutneys, preserves, jams, etc.  GrubsterMummy, for example, does an exceptional in canned damsons, stewing them in all manner of spices, sugars and vinegars, which then preserve them, seemingly for time immemorial, ready to be dug out and applied liberally to any cold meat or hard cheese.

I am not, GrubsterMummy, however, so when I hear of damsons my mind immediately drifts to gin.  That’s right, damson gin. 

A bit like sloe gin, but without quite as much sugar (the humble damson, despite it’s tartness, being slightly sweeter than the acrid sloe), steeping damsons in cheap gin for an unreasonable period will create a delightful liqueur.  Here’s how:


150g granulated sugar
500g damsons
75cl gin (or vodka, which I did last year.  I’ll let you know which one’s better once this has matured!)

You’re also going to need a big ass kilner jar for this – at least 1.5 litres.  The damsons take up quite a lot of room, and you got to get a whole bottle of gin in there.  To give you an idea, the jar I use in the pictures is 3 litres – and I’m doubling the recipe (and adding a little bit, but whatever).

A word on sourcing damsons (it’s not like you’ll find them on the supermarket shelf): A colleague at work recently bemoaned a glut of damsons she was living through, so I got mine free.  If you have access to a bit of country, you might be able to forage – but (a) make sure you’re absolutely certain you’re picking damsons – never, never, never eat something wild if you’re not positive what it is; and (b) please ask before stripping other people’s fruit trees!  You never know, they may be just about to do the same thing...

By the way, this recipe is adapted from Cottage Smallholder, which is a fantastic blog if you're in the mood for making any kind of fruit-based liquer.  If you want to do it, chances are that Fiona's got there first.

1. Wash the damsons, discarding any that have split or are badly bruised, and let them dry on a tea towel.  Simultaneously, sterilize the jar.  The easiest way to do this, I find, is to pre-heat the oven to 130°C, wash the jar well in hot water, and let dry.  Once dry, remove the rubber seal, and leave the jar upside down in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove (with oven gloves!) and leave somewhere safe to cool.  Careful to avoid getting your grubby mitts all over it now...

2.  Each damson needs to be pricked, which is a right pain.  Just wait until we do sloe gin, though – they’re a lot smaller, and there are a lot more of them, so count ya blessings.  I find that gripping each one top and tail and revolving it whilst stabbing it with a fork is both an efficient and satisfying approach.  Drop each one into the jar once pricked.

3.  Add the gin and the sugar, seal the puppy up (don’t forget the rubber seal) and give it a good shake.  Keep those gin bottles (seriously).

On the gin front, I just used the budget version from Sainsburys.  I genuinely think that this recipe gains absolutely nothing from spending a lot on gin.

4. For the first few weeks it needs to be agitated every day or so.  I don’t mean that you need to make rude jokes about it and shove it around the playground – that’s a different kind of agitation.  No, it needs to be gentle mixed – I do this by rocking it back and forth.  You’ll notice the colour change each day as you go through the process.

Left to right: Zero days, one day, three days, one week.

Agitate regularly until there’s no more sugar residue at the bottom of the jar.

5. Wait.

6. No, seriously.  You need to wait at least three months now  preferably six.  Make sure your jar is kept in a cool, dark place.  We use the cupboard under the stairs  no need for a wine cellar or anything like that, although if have one it can't hurt.

7. In three months time, remember it’s still there.  This is actually harder than it sounds – last year I forgot it for nine months.   Oops.  Still, no harm done – although I’m told that  forgetting about it can lead to it taking on a nasty, metallic almond flavour – which, presumably, it gets from the stones.  So try to remember it. 

8. Once you have remembered, pass it through a muslin cloth.  Resist the temptation to squeeze it – otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of nasty gunk at the bottom of your bottle.  Then bottle it – you see why I had you keep the bottles?  But, here’s the rub: the liqueur is now all of the gin plus the damson juice and the sugar.  So it aint never gonna fit in your original bottle.  So make sure you’re prepared for this – by sourcing a spare bottle.

9. Wait.  Again.

10. No, seriously, wait again.  It needs to mature in the bottle.  Hey, I never said this was a quick process, did I?  No, you’re basically making 2013 vintage for winter 2014.  Another 3 months or so as a bare minimum should do the trick.

And that’s it.  Stick the stuff in bottles and give it as Christmas presents, or just glug it down.

 - GrubsterBoy