Date Syrup is nice on ANYTHING

date-syrup

Have you ever bought any date syrup? My goodness it’s nice.

You can get it from health food shops, like Infinity Foods in Brighton, or Harvest in Bath. I do like those sorts of places and while an avid, perhaps even an evangelical meat eater, there’s something about the smell of a health food shop that really comforts. It makes you feel good, and sensible and… Actually no. In the first instance I feel good but then that feeling of goodness mutates pretty quickly into a desire to be mischievous. Because while I love the odours and the interesting products, at the risk of tarring everyone with the same brush I don’t half feel like the people who work in such establishments could do with, erm, lightening up a bit. The same goes for the clientele. You know what, once I was reprimanded by a fellow customer for using the vegan tongs to pick up a pizza which had cheese on it. “Oh Eff Off love” I imagined saying, as I apologised. There seems to be an overwhelming sense of worthiness and piousness that hangs in the air. A mouse-like irritating softness to the majority of the shoppers and an over-considered and unrealistic sincerity to the staff.  In fact staff is the wrong word since they’re more often than not run as  a cooperative and staff would imply a boss/non-boss hierarchy. And there’ll be none of that I imagine. At least not officially, but I bet there’s a load of older lags who look down on the younger members with an inflated feeling of superior excellence.

Is that unfair? Probably. But you know what I mean don’t you.

Mind you, they certainly are a good place to visit to find some interesting products and ingredients that you won’t get in your average supermarket and one of those is Date Syrup. We buy it a lot. It’s cheaper than maple syrup and it’s a product of the UK which feels better if we’re thinking about air miles. It’s fantastic in savoury things as well as sweet ones, or if you want to blur the line between a desert and a savoury snack then try this.

Cut some cubes of feta and wrap them in a square of buttered filo pastry. Press the outside of the pastry into a mixture of black and white sesame seeds, bake for about 15-18 minutes in a medium to hot oven, trickle with date syrup, a little olive oil and some salt crystals and enjoy. Oh my gosh they’re good.

(George)

Cheese Sauce

orzo
Matt and I started this blog for a number of reasons. We needed something that would force us to write on a regular basis, we wanted to push ourselves to come up with new dishes and ideas and we wanted a space to vent the occasional frustration or celebrate a new discovery or nostalgic comfort. But the main reason for blogging was as a record of the food we cooked as a catalogue, a reference, a virtual cookbook for our children.

Many years ago we mooted the idea of writing cookbooks for our kids as a leaving present for them when they finally flew the nest- cookbooks packed with all the family classics that they’d grown up on which they could dip into to when they needed a taste of home. We talked about the idea and because both our families have spent an awful lot of time together a lot of Matt’s family favourites have become ours too and vice versa, so a combined record seemed like an even nicer idea. And a blog of course, so much less committing and final than actually putting something to print where the likely danger of thinking “oh no, I should have put the lasagne in there too!” just as it comes off the press is too strong, seemed like a better option.

Often the copy has strayed away from recipes, it’s served too as a bit of publicity for my performing work of course (fair enough though since my current solo-show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ is all about food anyway)*, it’s drifted into opinion pieces, but it’s tried to remain food-centric and in almost every entry there’s been a recipe. But like I said, the main reason it’s up here on the web is so that when our kids have left home and want a recreation of something familiar and tasty they’ll find the instructions here.

So with that in mind, here’s my recipe for cheese sauce, because a cheese sauce (or a Mornay Sauce) features in probably too many dishes I like and cook – macaroni cheese, croque monsieur, enchiladas, moussaka and most kinds of lasagne. It’s great on other things too. A slice of cheese on toast where a thin spreading of cold cheese sauce has been smeared on the toasted bread before the slices of cheese go on top gives it a milky unctuousness that’s so comforting. Equally a blob in a cheese toastie (especially one made with something from my collection – see here) is sublime. It’ll be dreamy on any lightly cooked veg which then in turn is topped with a bit more grated cheese and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs, baked in the oven until crispy and bubbling, and then the topping fought over (try sprouts, stir-fried cabbage, sliced new potatoes, jerusalem artichokes).

Last night I made a sort-of macaroni cheese, but the pasta was a different shape, and the addition of slow cooked onions rendered the dish more like Käsespätzle (recipe for that here, and well worth doing). I didn’t really get to eat any of it though. I’d put it together and baked it before we had to leave for a thing at my daughter’s school, had a small bowl to taste before we left and planned to have a proper portion when we got back, but on our return it had all gone. Siblings. This meant my appetite for such a dish wasn’t sated AND I’d skipped breakfast this morning, so at lunchtime it was just what I fancied. Fortunately there was some of the cheese sauce left and not having time to build something as elegant as the dinner from the night before I simply warmed the sauce, cooked some Orzo (the rice-shaped pasta), stirred the two together and put it in a bowl topped with a trickle of E.V rapeseed oil for nuttiness, a pinch of chilli powder, some parmesan and lots of black pepper. It was outstanding and the epitome of the somewhat tired expression ‘a hug on a plate’.

Well, with that, and all those other possibilities waiting to be realised I think I’d better give you my recipe for a cheese sauce. Oh and incidentally, a béchamel sauce is just a mornay sauce before the cheese is added, so you’ve learned that too :

Cheese Sauce (Mornay Sauce)
75g butter
2 heaped tbsp plain flour
1 litre milk (full fat preferably but semi-skimmed is fine)
1 bayleaf
about ¼ whole nutmeg, grated
pinch of chilli powder or cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
100g any cheese (parmesan, cheddar of course, stilton, brie – but not feta or cottage, though who knows, it might work, I’ve just not tried it with those)

First melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Whisk them together and keep them moving over a medium heat and keep cooking until it’s a light biscuity-brown. Add a splash of milk and beat in with the whisk (it’ll cool the butter and the whole thing with go like a big lump of playdough, but don’t worry, keep whisking), add a splash more, whisk again, and repeat this making sure there’s no lumps before the next milk addition until it’s started to thin out again to the consistency of thick cream. At this point you can add the bayleaf and slosh all but about a small teacup’s worth of the milk and bring the heat up a bit, whisking to stop it thickening and sticking to the bottom, until it’s all thickened. If it’s too thick you can always slacken it with some more milk.

Now let it cook for a few minutes, still staring and be careful because if it bubbles it’ll splash you. Turn off the heat and add a big pinch of salt, pepper, the chilli or cayenne and grate in the nutmeg. Taste it. It should taste nice a deep a smooth. If it tastes at all thin or watery add a bit more salt.

Grate of chop up your cheese quite small, bring the sauce up to the boil again, turn of the heat and THEN whisk in the cheese. If you add the cheese while it’s still bubbling there’s a danger it’ll split and you’ll have a grainy texture which really isn’t as nice as a smooth one.

Again, taste it and adjust – more cheese, more salt, more chilli etc.

Incidentally, these measurements are rough. Of course if it’s too thick, add more milk, if it’s too thin, well, there’s not a lot you can do apart from add more cheese at this stage, but take note and add less milk the next time you make it. But thinner is better if it’s coating pasta because it wants to be smooth and silky, not gloopy.

It’s a bit more manageable for adding to a dish when it’s not too hot as it’ll thicken up more. And cold in the fridge it’ll set like a loose jelly making spreading under the cheese on shoes on toast very easy. I’ve had mixed success freezing (seems fine when it’s incorporated into a dish like a lasagne, but when frozen solo seems to split when defrosted), but it’ll keep in the fridge for a week or so and can be dipped into for all those dishes listed above.

(George)

*see what I did there?

New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels

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When in Auckland earlier this year at the New Zealand Comedy Festival I was performing my cooking show (‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’) in a theatre which could not have been more ideal. The Herald Theatre (the smaller space behind the gigantic Aotea Centre) a 190-seater space with the steepest seating rake I’ve ever seen and the performing area on floor level. This meant that the audience were all looking down on the action with no obstructions in front of them since the person in front’s head was at knee level for the person behind. It was an ideal position from which to watch someone cook and it also meant that the smells wafted up so that by the end of the show the whole theatre was perfumed with the aroma of, excuse the lack of modesty, a superb three-course meal.

Because the food I cooked in the show involved a fresh snapper (see last post) I spent a lot of time visiting the fantastic fish market down on the harbour and in addition to the fish cooked in the performance I bought a lot of other seafood to enjoy back at my apartment. I got some massive prawns one day which I turned into a thai green curry and they were so delicious I bought more the next day, forgetting as I so often do that I had other fresh things which needed using up. I ended up cooking something else, and then the next day wasn’t there for dinner because of work commitments and so on and on until some four days later I got the prawns out and tried one. As I sank my teeth into the now almost ‘foamy’ texture I shuddered and immediately expelled the rotten crustacea from my mouth and into my hand. They were definitely ‘gone’. The apartment I was staying in was serviced every third day or thereabouts so I tied up the bag and rather than put it in the bin I put it out on the balcony where, unbeknownst to me the wind knocked it behind the air conditioning unit. The next day the maid came and went but the bag of rotten prawns remained.

I couple of nights later I returned to the apartment and was terribly anxious about the smell. I’d spilled rather a lot of water on the floor in a sink-overflow-faster-than-expected-speed-of-tap-soaking-of-burnt-pan incident the day after arriving and my immediate thought was that the damp was the cause of the pong. But then I walked near the balcony doors and the smell got stronger.

When I found the bag it was covered in flies and the stench was overwhelming. My apartment was up on the eighth or ninth floor and way down below next to the apartment block there was a skip on a building site. The prawns had to go, so, terribly anxious that I’d be spotted by someone and shouted at I quickly threw the bag from the balcony in the direction of the skip. I missed. And when I left the apartment, despite the building site being set back from the road you could still smell the rot. I kept an eye on the bag for a couple of days and was hugely relieved when a couple of mornings later it had gone.

Undeterred by the prawn incident on another day I bought mussels. I’d been recommended them by a few people and I wasn’t disappointed. The New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels are HUGE. Far too big for a travel kettle. I had one that was so large it was like a violin case with a chicken in it. And they taste fantastic. I had them simply steamed open with some white wine, with garlic and shallot and parsley, and I made a dish of grilled mussels that was so nice I ended up cooking it on two more occasions for some of my fellow comedians. It’s a bit of a faff but worth it I promise.

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Grilled Mussels with Breadcrumbs
Mussels (about 15 per person, unless you’re in NZ in which case 8)
White Wine, or Cider
Garlic
Shallot
Parsley
Parmesan or similar hard cheese
Cayenne Pepper or Chilli Powder
Breadcrumbs (good ones, stale sourdough would be best)
Butter

Sweat some shallot and garlic in a pan with a little oil and butter before adding the cleaned and prepared mussels (you all know how to do that don’t you?) and a generous splash of wine or cider before clamping the lid on and letting them cook away until the mussels are open (a couple of minutes if that).

Scoop out the mussels (KEEPING THE PRECIOUS LIQUID IN THE PAN) and remove half the shell so you have a load of plump mussels in a half shell. Put them on a metal tray and get the grill hot.

Reduce the cooking liquor down by half, whisk in some cold butter and spoon a little of it over each mussel. Then chop parsley and mix with breadcrumbs and grated cheese and sprinkle a little mixture over the top of each mussel, add a pinch of cayenne or chilli and some black pepper and a tiny knob of butter and stick under the hot grill until golden and crispy and bubbling.

Enjoy with some very cold white wine and some more bread to mop up the juices left on the plate.

Oh, and if prawns start to go off ever, triple bag them and get them as far away as possible. Or eat them before they go off. Or don’t buy too many. Or don’t buy them unless you’re certain you’re going to use them that day or the next.

(George) 

Snapper and Chips with Salsa Verde

snapper-and-chips

Earlier this year I spent four weeks in Auckland performing at the New Zealand Comedy Festival. I’d not ventured over the equator before so I was expecting it all to be rather strange. What proved more strange though was to travel so absurdly far over parts of the world that could hardly be more different to the UK to eventually, after some 24 hours flying or waiting, to land at an airport which felt like I was on one of the Channel Islands. A bit different from the UK. But not very different.

Being there to perform my cooking-in-hotel-rooms show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ I was tasked with the job of finding a suitable fish to match the Sea Bream or Bass that I use when I do the show in the UK, so a few days after landing I visited the outstanding Auckland Fish Market down on the harbour and bought a selection of fish to try filleting and poaching to find the best match. The market had such a wonderful array of seafood, so much bigger (certainly) and more impressive than ours (though perhaps the impressiveness was just because they were new to me), but without a doubt there were some incredibly photogenic specimens. After trialling a few I settled on snapper, which really was almost identical to bream both in shape, texture, how it cooked and how it filleted, and I celebrated the find by cooking myself fried snapper fillets with a salsa verde and oven-baked chips.

The fish in the cooking show is filleted on an ironing board before being put into a little cage made of bent coat hangers (sort-of like the opposite of a shark cage, the fish being inside with us humans outside) which is then lowered into the recently boiled kettle (just for the sake of detail should you wish to recreate, the water has a pinch each of fennel seeds and peppercorns added). And it’s a travel kettle so there’s not a huge amount of room. When I do the show in the UK the bream (or bass) are small enough to be just the right size, but in Auckland I had to search for the smaller specimens since most of the snappers they were selling were, for want of a better word, whoppers. This proved to create a bit of controversy in the theatre and on a number of occasions when I got the fish out on stage it was met with a cry of ‘undersized!’ or ‘throw it back!’ and I was forced to protest that I’d bought it from the fish market and so while it was small it must have been at the bottom end of the legal limit AND that I wouldn’t have been able to get it in a travel kettle if I’d bought a bigger one. But the exchange was amusing enough to add something to the show anyway.

With reference to that first paragraph by the way – of course there ended up being a lot of differences and some amazing sights like nothing over here (I climbed a two volcanos for example) but equally a lot was very familiar too.

Snapper with Salsa Verde and Chips
1 snapper, filleted (or a bream, or a bass)
EV rapeseed oil
Waxy potatoes (cut into thick chips)
salt, pepper, paprika

For the Salsa Verde
3 or 4 cornichons
1 large spoonful of capers
2 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
pepper
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
EV Olive Oil
Lemon juice
a bunch of mixed fresh soft herbs (I’d go for dill, mint, parsley, and basil, but any will be nice)

Make the chips first. Put the oven on at about 200 degrees and stick a heavy pan in with a generous slug of EV Rapeseed Oil in it. Cut up the potatoes and par boil them until slightly done. Let them steam in a colander or on a tea towel for about 10 mins. Toss them in a bit of oil and seasoning (salt, pepper and paprika) and then into the hot oil. They’ll take about 25 minutes but give them a jiggle every 10 mins or so.

Next the salsa verde. Just chop all the things that want chopping and mix with lemon juice, mustard and olive oil until you have a nice sloppy consistency.

Finally the fish. When everything else is ready cook the fish. Not before. It won’t take long and you don’t want it hanging around getting cold. Get a good frying pan (by which I mean something heavy and non-stick either through natural seasoning or teflon) and get it hot (though not stupidly hot). Don’t oil the pan, but oil the fish, and not too generously – just pour a bit of oil into your palm and then give the fillet a bit of a massage – and then gently place it skin-side down in the pan. It’ll curl up a bit, but be patient and it’ll fall back. Don’t move it! Keep an eye on the heat and make sure it doesn’t burn but watch the flesh start to go opaque from the bottom up as it cooks through. Season the exposed flesh side and when the opaqueness has just got over halfway carefully flip the fillets over. The skin should be nice a crispy. Season the skin a bit too and turn off the heat. The remaining heat in the pan will finish the fish perfectly while you put the chips onto your plate. Next put the fillets on and finally spoon over the salsa.
(George)

Dark Star Beer Bread

beer bread 3 (1)

In the early nineties when I was a student in Brighton we started frequenting a brilliant pub called ‘The Evening Star’. It’s just up by the station on Surrey Street and it’s still my favourite pub in Brighton, probably my favourite pub anywhere. It’s small with a wooden floor, a few tables and chairs, a tiny bar and toilets for men and, rather unnecessarily really, toilets for women. Before the current trend for beards this was the place to see men with facial hair. It was probably the place to see women with facial hair too. If the customers had swords or axes propped up next to them instead of umbrellas they’d not look out of place. And next to the bar crowded with pumps is a frequently updated blackboard listing the plethora of beers they have on tap available to be poured as thirds, halves, two-thirds or, of course, pints. If you’re ever in Brighton, go there. Just don’t start singing and dancing on the table and then fall off and accidentally let the one ring slip onto your finger because… you get the idea.

In those early days ‘The Evening Star’ was the place to drink Dark Star beers. In the cellar of the pub this fledgling brewery started making some excellent ales, and excellent enough that the company grew. As they expanded so they needed larger premises and while the pub is still there the brewery now operates from, rather aptly, the Star Trading Estate in Partridge Green near Horsham.

About a month ago I had the pleasure of visiting the brewery. My very good friend John Robins, (you may have heard John on Radio X – formerly Xfm – on Saturday mornings, or seen him on programmes like ‘Mock The Week’), invited me to join him at one of the brewery’s beer clubs. He’d mentioned his love of Dark Star beer on the radio (‘Hophead’ specifically) and pleased by the mention the brewery had invited him along and told him he could bring a friend. It was a lovely evening where we got the opportunity to meet the staff, see the set-up, eat an extremely keen spread of pie, cheese, bread and the like, and of course enjoy numerous glasses of beer. After quenching our thirsts and sating our appetites on leaving we were very generously given a number of bottled and canned beers to try at home and one of them I turned into a really successful bread.

robins kegs(Here’s John enjoying his Hophead next to some seriously cool kegs.)

The bread was made with a starter (sometimes called a Poolish Ferment) using the beer which is left to ferment overnight before finishing the dough and baking the bread the next day. The beer I used was a really interesting one called Critical Mass that’s brewed in whisky casks giving the finished ale a flavour not unlike beer that’s been left in an ashtray, but in a good way. The flavour of the finished bread though was outstanding but even more impressive was the structure with a really crisp crust and a wonderfully open crumb with huge impressive holes.

beer bread 1 (1)

Beer Bread made with an Overnight Starter

For the Starter:
90ml real ale
90g strong white flour
about half a teaspoon of dried yeast

This is all mixed together in a bowl, covered in clingfilm and then left overnight after which time it’ll be frothy and bubbling and smell very beery.

For the Bread:
all of the starter of course
350g strong white flour
25g strong wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
350ml lukewarm water
1.5 teaspoons salt

Mix all the ingredients into a smooth dough and then knead, either by hand until you just can’t knead any more, or (what I do) combine and knead all the ingredients in a mixer (a Kenwood Chef of course). It’ll be a rather wet dough but that’s what you want. Then let it prove in an oiled covered bowl ever 30-40 mins or so until it’s doubled in size and then folding it a couple of times before letting it rise again. After a couple of hours of doing this shape it (either on a baking cloth or in a proving basket) and get your oven as hot as it will go either with a baking stone in the middle or a heavy metal baking tray and put another tray of vessel of some kind on the bottom of the oven. Flour the risen dough, slash it, and get it on the tray or baking stone (with a peel if you have one) before pouring a cup of water into the tray at the bottom of the oven to create steam. Then give it about 12 minutes at the hottest setting before dropping the heat to about 200 degrees for another 30 minutes.

Let it cool before slicing it or it’ll squash flat, but you won’t be able to wait too long because it’s going to smell amazing.

Now, get yourselves over to the brewery in Partridge Green because there’s a great shop in there and everyone’s lovely.
(George)

Pulled Pork Again

It’s my birthday today. Happy Birthday to ME. I had a steak sandwich for brunch (Flat iron. The best). Rather filling, but very nice. Lamb for dinner.

But onto other matters! I’ve ‘done’ Pulled Pork before in this blog, but only in photo form. HERE. No recipe on that occasion, so coming up is the method.

The first time I made Pulled Pork some years ago it was a novelty, a Southern US Barbecue speciality that caused people to frown and ask ‘What’s that?’. Now it’s everywhere. It’s even in McDonalds. Rather a pity really but then that’s what happens to good things. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with something becoming mainstream, of course there isn’t, but it’s when the imitation isn’t even a shadow of the original that it becomes a shame. And of course, all that said someone who really knows how to do it might look at my version (a bastardised fusion of a Felicity Spector ‘The Perfect…” recipe from The Guardian, something from one of the River Cafe Cookbooks of the nineties and influences from Michael Pollan’s descriptions from ‘Cooked’) and say just the same thing I’ve been bemoaning about Maccy D’s.

Still, this tastes great, I promise.

pork

Pulled Pork
2-3kg piece rolled pork shoulder
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black pepper
4 tbsp cider vinegar

Put the oven on to 225ºC. Dry the pork all over and let some air get to it.

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a pestle and mortar but don’t worry about crushing the seeds. Then rub about half the mixture all over the pork, on the skin, underneath, in all the cracks.

Either have a big pot with a lid that can go in the oven or line a baking tray with foil that can be gathered up over the pork, but roll it back so the pork is exposed. Put the pork in the tray and give it 40 mins in the oven.

Take it out and cover with the lid (or roll the foil into a ‘tent’) and drop the temperature to about 120ºC. Then put the pork back in for about seven hours.

Go and do something else.

Take the pork out and carefully lift off the skin. It’ll be black and shiny and rubbery. Put it on a clean baking tray. Increase the heat back up to 225ºC and leave the pork to rest. Put the lid back on or re-make the foil tent.

When the oven is back up to temperature put the skin back in for a strict 12 minutes. When it comes out it’ll seem rubbery still but put it on a cooling rack and leave it alone. After 10-15 minutes it’ll be crisp and shatter like glass.

Now get stuck into the pork. Take two forks and tear it up mixing the quivering fat into the stringy lean, the blackened outer into the pink inner. Fold it through the juices that are in the bottom of the pan. There’ll be a lot and it’s mostly fat, but don’t get all bothered about that.

Next sprinkle over the rest of the dry seasoning splash over the cider vinegar and fold together again.

Once the skin is crisp that can be chopped/smashed up and added, or sprinkled over separately when you serve it.

You can leave it now for a day and then rewarm in the oven. It tastes extremely good after everything’s had a chance to meld together a bit. But it’s really very good straight away too and I’d challenge anyone not to have a few too many ‘testers’ while tearing it up. It’s also great reused later in other things – fillings for pasties, in a ragu, on a pizza…

(George)
I’m currently touring my absurd comedy/cooking show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ around the UK. Next weekend I’m in Bath. After that it’s Scotland. And then, New Zealand! Dates and links to tickets are here.

Potato Pie

The Real Patisserie in Brighton sells potato pie. Essentially a classic dauphinoise sheathed in shortcrust pastry it’s solid and heavy but comforting and not at all decadent. In fact the simplicity of the filling makes it feel rather modest. I made it once before, (well a version of it, out of my head), and it took ages but wow it was worth it. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to do it again, but the other night Meg and I did. Nothing was measured, so I can’t offer the weights, but the method was pretty simple.

pie

You need a cake tin with a loose bottom. The one was used was about 8 inches diameter, I think. And it need buttering generously.

Potato Pie
Shortcrust pastry (450g flour, big pinch salt & 200g butter)
About 1.3kg new potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 onions (thinly sliced)
3 cloves garlic (finely sliced)
cream, milk, stock, thyme

The bottom and sides of the pie dish were lined in pastry which was then chilled.

Some cream (most of a 300ml pot) was added to a pan with about the same amount of chicken stock, lots of thyme, seasoning and a splash of milk. Into this went the potatoes and it was brought to the boil and simmered very lightly for about ten minutes. This was then left to cool.

Meanwhile the onions were sweated over a low heat.

The potatoes were spooned into the pie with a slotted spoon, pressing them down and topping up with the creamy sauce and layered with onion until it was full. Then the top went on, crimped at the join and decorated with pastry leaves.

It was chilled again before being egg washed and put into the bottom of a 180ºC oven for about an hour.

(George)