Friday, August 31, 2012

#352 Laverbread and Bacon

A couple of weekends ago, Hugh and I popped down to Swansea for a wedding. It is a very nice city, with a very nice market. Whilst there I was very keen to get hold of some Welsh laverbread; there are a few recipes that use it so I bought a couple of tubs. I am always keen to try new foods and I had never eaten laverbread; always excited to see another species added to my list!
Laverbread does not contain any bread, but is in fact a species of seaweed found on the rocky seashore of Wales and is rarely seen outside of the borders. It is however, available online pretty easily if you’re not in or near Wales.
Plate from an unknown book - laver is number 4
According to my Traditional Welsh Recipes teatowel, to make laverbread, you need wash your laver (the algae Porphyra laciniata) and, without any additional water, simmer it until it becomes dark green gelatinous pulp – about 4 hours. Drain the leaves and chop them, adding salt to taste; and there you have it, laverbread, or bara lawr as the Welsh call it. Laverbread is traditionally fried in small balls or patties in bacon fat. It doesn’t take long because the laverbread is already cooked.
There are several seaweed based recipes in English Food, I have already covered one using the seaweed dulse, yet no one in England really eats it, and the tradition is slowly dying in the two remaining seaweed-eating nations in the British Isles: Wales and Ireland. In the past everyone used to eat it, but like many foods labelled ‘peasant food’ a stigma was, and still is, attached. It is strange that in most other countries people are so enthusiastic about their peasant foods – they are the comfort foods! – yet most of us turn our noses up at them.
Didn’t mean to get into a lecture there, but whatever falls out of brain ends up on the post. Anyways, as a rookie to the ways of laverbread and how to cook it, it went for this simple recipe that would hopefully be a good introduction.
Take a pound of prepared laverbread and mix in enough fine oatmeal to make soft, coherent dough. Roll into balls and flatten slightly. Fry in bacon fat for a few minutes per side or until nice and golden brown.
Serve with bacon in a mixed grill or a fried breakfast. I did something a little healthier and used the bacon I fried to flavour vegetable soup, and used the laverbread patties almost as dumplings.
#352 Laverbread and Bacon. Well I have to say I was impressed with the laverbread. I was subtly flavoured with iodine just as mussels and oysters are, but there was no fishiness to it. If I was living in Wales, laverbread and bacon would definitely be on my Sunday breakfast list. 7/10.

A New Venture

I do apologise so very much for being tardy with Neil Cooks Grigson, I have been crazily busy since my move from St Louis, Missouri (US of A) back to Levenshulme, Manchester (UK of A).

However I have not been lazy and I have exciting news; I have started up a food business! It is in its very early stages, but I have had more success already than I hoped. The business is called The Buttery (I couldn’t waste a surname like mine!) and it sells traditional British foods; some classics and some long-forgotten. I have built up such a list of amazing recipes over the years with my two blogs, I thought I should share the wealth and give the business a whirl. So over the last few months I have been designing logos, coming up with menus and working out how the hell I’m going to do this! Needless to say it has taken over my life.

Aside from selling some good proper food, I want the business to be community-based in two different ways: firstly I want to support local businesses and promote the excellent produce that is practically on our own door-step; secondly, I want to offer cookery lessons to the surrounding community, not fancy cooking but basic skills like bread and stock making. If I can get a community grant from the government I’ll be able to do the lessons for free too.

However all of this is in the future, so to start off I am doing the local artisan markets in South Manchester. My first one was in Levenshulme last Saturday and it was a complete success. If you live in Manchester, keep your eye out for me in the local markets.

The food that I am making fit into four broad categories and many of them appear either on this blog or British Food: A History: Savouries, Desserts, Teatime and Preserves & Pickles.

I would love it if you had a look at the website to tell me what you think ( If you have any special requests or anything blindingly obvious I have missed out, do let me know!
Now that I have had my first market – and it was nerve-wracking on the day – I promise to add posts much more often. Also, I’ll keep you posted with any further developments.

Chao for now!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#351 Potted Cheese

Sorry for the quiet blog folks, I am still organising my life after my recent move back to Manchester. The dust has settled enough however, for me to do this recipe for potted cheese that I have had my eye on for a good while; I couldn’t make it in America as I couldn’t get hold of the required Cheshire cheese for love nor money (and if I could it would have cost a pretty penny, let me tell you).
Potted cheese was very popular from the mid-18th century as a way to use up left-over dry cheese and rinds and pep them up a little and make them edible and delicious once more. The cheese is potted just like potted meat or fish: mixed with butter and seasoned with alcohol and spices.
Any cheese can be used: Cheshire, Stilton, Gloucester, Wensleydale, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, whatever you have available. It then needs to be moistened and seasoned. Jane makes some suggestions as do many 18th century books: white wine, sherry, port, Worcester sauce, chili vinegar, black pepper, chives, mustard, Cayenne pepper, ground mace. The list goes on. Jane uses any leftover cheeses and combines them to make a single that is ‘a far more rewarding result than any cook deserves’, we mix our grapes to make blended wines, so why not cheese? Hannah Glasse says ‘a slice of [potted cheese] exceeds all the cream cheeses than can be made’. This is all high praise indeed. The recipe that Jane specifies uses Cheshire cheese, port or sherry, Cayenne pepper and walnuts.
Take 3 ounces of butter out of the fridge in good time so that it can soften. Next prepare 8 ounces of Cheshire cheese – cut into cubes and reduce to a crumble in a food processor or grate if doing by hand.  Add the butter and two tablespoons of port or brown sherry to form a paste. Add a good pinch of Cayenne pepper. Jane now tells us to either form into small cheese truckles and roll them in chopped walnuts, or to put in pots and cover with clarified butter if the potted cheese is to be kept for a while. I found the cheese truckles easier to make after the mixture was allowed to sit in the fridge overnight.

#351 Potted Cheese. I was very much looking forward to making this recipe, mainly because Jane is so enthusiastic about it. When I first made it I wasn’t too sure, I found it grainy and thought the alcohol didn’t quite work. However, I tried it again after a night in the fridge and it had transformed – the port had soaked into the grains of cheese to produce a creamy homogenous cheese truckle. It’s very good on an oatcake. On the strength of this, I’ve gone out and bought a few different cheeses so I can try a few combinations myself. 7/10.

Friday, August 3, 2012

#350 Harold Wilshaw's Broad Bean and Avocado Salad

This recipe – the 350th – is the last I shall cook in America because tomorrow morning I fly back to England. It has been a great place to carry on the blog; there were many foods that were tricky to get hold of in Britain that were easy to find in the USA. The Americans’ love of freshwater fish and shellfish (particularly oysters) really helped me out in the Fish chapter and I managed to find lots of offal like pig’s heads, lamb’s heads, tongues and sweetbreads. The other great thing was that all my friends were so game to try the often strange things I served up to them, and I thank them very much for that.

This recipe would not seem strange to an American – a salad made from avocados and broad (fava) beans, but this would have been an extremely exotic dish in England during the 1970s where the avocado was very much the new kid on the block in the greengrocer’s shop. Of course, for that very reason, it makes this recipe a contemporary one – at least when the book was first published – perhaps Jane was doing her bit to introduce a new taste to the 1970’s English palette. It never became a classic recipe, but full marks to Griggers for effort.

I wanted to do this recipe before leaving St Louis because avocados are so delicious here and so flavourless in England. It’s a very simple one that marries together broad beans and avocados; two vegetables that I would never have thought about putting together. If only Hannibal Lector had known, he might not have been done for cannibalism:

I ate his avocado with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Num um um-um-um

This recipe comes from the ex-Guardian food writer Harold Wilshaw, whose name I always read as Harold Wilson when I flicked through the pages of the Vegetables chapter. He apparently he ‘thought up this particular salad when unexpected guests arrived and there wasn’t much in the house.’ How bourgeois of him to have an avocado just lying around in his house.

To make the salad start by podding some broad beans and boiling them for around 5 minutes. Drain and then begin the task of removing the thick seed coat. It’s not has fiddly as you might think; if you make a nick in one end of the bean, you can quite easily squeeze out the bright green bean from within.

Slice an avocado and arrange it on a plate along with the beans and drizzle over a simple vinaigrette made from either cream and lemon juice, or olive oil and vinegar. Season well and scatter over some extras if you like: chopped parsley, chives, spring onion or coriander leaves are suggestions as well as air-dried Cumbrian ham or Parma ham.

#350 Harold Wilshaw’s Broad Bean and Avocado Salad. Well I have to that this was an absolutely delicious and simple salad. Both vegetables are sweet in flavour, but have very different textures. I just hope I can get hold of avocados good enough to make it! 8.5/10

Thursday, August 2, 2012

100 recipes to go!

Who would have thought that I would still be working my way through English Food? Not my fickle self, that’s for sure. My copy is looking very dog-eared now; most of the pages have come loose, the cover is tatty and there's food all over it. I do hope I don’t have to buy another copy before I finish the whole book (if I ever can finish it).

I might be in the final 100 recipes, but there is still quite a way to go really – if I average out at five recipes a month that’s still 20 months of blogging yet to do. I hope you all keep reading the blog and adding your excellent comments to the post.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

#349 Poor Knights of Windsor (1937)

The Poor Knights of Windsor was a charity set up centuries ago by Edward III soon after he created the Order of the Garter in the mid-14th century to give alms to old and retired soldiers that had lived to protect the country. Quite ahead of his time, I think. How this dessert came to be called Poor Knights of Windsor I do not know. The earliest mention of this dessert I can find crops up in Elizabeth Cleland’s 1755 book A new and easy method of cookery.

Edward III creates the Order of the Garter

Almost 2 years ago I made the 1420 version of this dessert, also called pain perdu. This medieval recipe gave reasonably precise instructions to make it (see here for that post). Perhaps surprisingly, this more recent recipe from Ambrose Heath’s 1937 book Good Sweets, is rather scant on instruction:
Cut a French roll in slices and soak them in sherry. Then dip them in beaten yolks of eggs and fry them. Make a sauce of butter, sherry and sugar to serve with them.

Brevity is obviously his middle name. Here’s what I did…

First I took some of Jane’s advice and that was to use not just any old French roll, but a nice, rich brioche (like it wouldn’t be rich enough without!?). Although brioche wasn’t around much in the 1970s it is widely available these days.

I beat a couple of egg yolks with a little water just to make them easier to work with. I took a slice of brioche and sprinkled it liberally with dry sherry, then dipped it in the egg yolks and fried them on a moderate heat in a frying pan with butter. I kept the poor knights warm in a low oven whilst I got on with making the sherry sauce.

I melted 2 ounces of butter slowly in a small saucepan, then I turned up the heat and stirred in a tablespoon of sugar.  When it had dissolved and was bubbling away, I added 2 tablespoons of dry sherry and that was it! Very simple indeed.

I served up the poor knights with a little of the buttery sauce drizzled over them.

#349 Poor Knights of Windsor (1937). It’s not very often that I make a recipe from the book just for myself, but  this one I did. I thought it would be awful – I don’t usually like alcohol in desserts, but I was so, so wrong! It wasn’t as rich or as heady as I expected, the secret was to make the sauce very sweet and to liberally sprinkle the brioche with the sherry, rather than soak it. Very good 7/10.