Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#428 Sweetheart Cake

St Valentine had nothing to do with romance, but he did die on 14 February in the 3rd Century. His association with love didn’t occur until the fourteenth century. In the mediaeval age, people thought that birds mated mid-February, a certain Geoffrey Chaucer spotted that St Valentine’s Day coincided with this event, and brought them together in one of his stories, Parlement of Foules, cementing the two forever more.



Unlike St Valentine, I have no idea why this dessert is linked with love: jam, almonds and meringue don’t seem particularly romantic to me, and all Jane says about the recipe is that it’s ‘for St Valentine’s Day, to eat at the end of a meal rather than at teatime.’
I suggest using a normal flan tin and baking it any day of the year.
I’ve been meaning to do this straight-forward recipe for a long time but kept forgetting to make it in time for Valentine’s Day. Well this year I remembered. I also remembered to buy the heart-shaped flan tin required; something else I kept forgetting to do.



Begin by lining a heart-shaped flan tin with puff pastry (I made my own, following the recipe for #384 Quick Foolproof Puff Pastry) making sure you stud the base well with fork marks. I popped it in the freezer whilst I got on with making the filling. I used a 9-inch heart-shaped tin.
Begin by melting two ounces of butter in a saucepan. As it cools, beat the yolks of four eggs (keep the whites, you’ll need them) along with four ounces of caster sugar, the zest and juice of a lemon, two ounces of ground almonds and the cooled, melted butter, then fold in 2 ounces of slivered almonds.



Take the lined tin and spread over the base two to three tablespoons of raspberry jam. For these sorts of puddings, it’s a good idea stop spreading half an inch from the edges of the tin, as it makes the next step much easier.



Take the filling and spoon it into your tin – don’t aim for the centre, place smallish blobs all around the outside edge first. Now spread the filling evenly, edges first then moving inwards. This ensures the jam doesn’t ride up the edges of the pudding.
Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and the filling set and golden brown.



Toward the end of the cooking time, prepare the meringue. Put your reserved egg whites, along with a pinch of salt, and beat with an electric whisk until you have whites that will form still peaks. Add a tablespoon of caster sugar and keep beating until you have a nice glossy meringue that holds its shape well.


Spread or pipe the meringue over the top going right to the pastry edges, sprinkle another tablespoon of caster sugar evenly over the top and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the meringue is an appetising golden brown.
Serve warm.
#428 Sweetheart Cake. Well it was certainly sweet, and it was definitely a heart, not I’m not sure if it was a cake. This pudding, a cross between a Bakewell tart and a lemon meringue pie, I enjoyed but the filling was extremely sweet. At least the meringue wasn’t too sugary, otherwise it would have been too sweet to eat, the lemon also helped take the edge off. I ate some the next day cold, and it tasted less sweet. Next time, I will half the sugar. 6/10


Saturday, February 10, 2018

#427 Roast Guineafowl



Guineafowl originate in Africa and were first bred for meat by the Ancient Egyptians and was very popular in the ancient world – there is an infamous Greek dish called mattye where a guineahen would be killed by a knife plunged into its head via the beak. It would then be poached with lots of herbs, and its own chicks! They seemed to fall out of favour for a good while before being reintroduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.

These days, guineafowl are more popular in France than the UK, being a popular ornamental fowl in farms, small holdings and rural households. They double as an excellent guard dog; getting very vocal at any approaching fox or indeed, postman. ‘The first time I saw guineafowl, they were humped along the roof ridge of a French farmhouse’, says Jane in her introduction to this recipe. I have similar memories from my science days when I would go on the annual field trip with the zoology undergraduates of Manchester University to the foothills of the French Alps, where guineafowl would toddle about decoratively with their black-and-white suits, blue combs bobbing, like a little fat harlequin.

I think guineafowl are delicious, they have a mild gamey flavour, lying somewhere between chicken and pheasant. It’s often braised as it has a tendency to dry out when roasted. In this recipe however, dryness is skilfully averted by covering the fowls with bacon or strips of pork back fat and the use of a good sausagemeat stuffing. Because of its gaminess, it is often served with the trimmings associated with roast game, such as game chips, #123 Bread Sauce and #114 Quince Jelly. See #122 Roast Pheasant for more on the subject.

Get hold of two guineafowl, both weighing 1 ½ to 2 pounds. Sit them on the board to get to room temperature as you get on with the stuffing.

Remove the skin from four ounces of good quality sausages (go to butcher who makes his or her own or make your own: see #415 Cumberland Sausages). Break up the meat and add the rest of the ingredients: a heaped tablespoon of breadcrumbs, one tablespoon each of brandy and port, a heaped tablespoon of chopped parsley, a crushed clove of garlic and salt and pepper.  If you are lucky enough to find fowl with their giblets, find the liver, remove the gall, chop and add to the stuffing.

Mix everything well but keep things quite loose – you don’t want to compress the stuffing, as it will turn out stodgy. Divide it loosely between the two birds.

Now prepare the birds themselves by laying six rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon over the breasts and legs. This stops the birds from drying out in the oven. Again, buy good quality dry-cured bacon, not the cheap stuff that shrinks shedding its added water as white milky froth. Instead of bacon, you could use thin slices of pork back fat; it’s certainly cheaper, and it probably keeps the birds more moist, but doesn’t taste half as good. Pros and cons innit?

Put them in a roasting tray and pop them in an oven preheated to 220°C. Fifteen minutes later, turn down the heat to 200°C, and leave the birds roasting for 30 minutes. At this point, remove them from the oven, take off their little porky jackets and dust them with well-seasoned flour. Baste and pop back into the oven for a final 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the birds and keep them under foil on a board whilst you make the gravy in the tin they were roasted.

Get the roasting tin over a medium heat and pour in a glass of port (2 to 3 fluid ounces, approx.). Use a wooden spoon to scrape the delicious dark-brown almost burned bits from base of the tin. Add ½ pint of stock – again, if there were giblets in the birds, you could make giblet stock, otherwise use chicken stock. Reduce this mixture down until you have a small volume of intensely-flavoured gravy. Don’t strain it and lose all those nice burnt bits!

Carve the guineafowl and serve with the gravy and bacon. Jane recommends serving it with #262 Chestnuts as a Vegetable. We served it with the food that was in the house: roast carrots, quinoa and some lovely indigo-dark purple kale.

#427 Roast Guineafowl. I feel so lucky to have things like this just hanging about in the freezer! The cooking method laid out by Jane was spot-on, as she usually is when it comes to roasting (however, see #359 Rabbit and #393 Hare); meat was lovely and moist. The gravy too was delicious, and the stuffing well-seasoned with a good garlic hit, making it taste very un-English; it must be based on a French farcemeat from one of Jane’s many trips to the country. Very, very good: 9/10

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Chapter 3: Vegetables - Completed!


Well that’s the Vegetables chapter all done-and-dusted, so it’s time for one of my little round-ups; looking again at the recipes and history…

We regard vegetables as the backbone of a varied and healthy diet, but this wasn’t always the case, if you look back to between the late 11th Century and early Tudor times, vegetables were looked upon with suspicion, believed to really mess up your humours especially if eaten raw. The poor were welcome to them of course so they could pad out their pathetic rations of meat and cereals. This led to many peasants, who usually tended their own patch of land, to be generally healthier than the higher echelons of society, who tended to suffer all sorts of diseases and discomfort, such as constipation and scurvy.

#146 Asparagus with Melted Butter 

However, by the mid-16th Century, things had moved on and people became very interested in vegetables and their variety. Seed catalogues of the time listed around 120 different vegetables and herbs. A century later this was down to around sixty, and by the 1970s just forty. This correlates with the movement of people from the countryside to the cities to find work and the loss of self-sufficiency. In its place arose large-scale agriculture, where economy of scale won over variety. The invention of the supermarket succeeded in driving diversity down even further.
#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes

This chapter of the book was a whopper with 39 recipes in all, with many from the early days of the blog; in fact, I barely remember cooking some of them! Alot of ground was covered and there were some familiar and unfamiliar recipes and vegetables in there. I’m lucky to have to such excellent Manchester-based independent grocers, such as Unicorn, Organic North and Elliot’s that go the extra mile to supply an interesting array of vegetables and herbs to those that value diversity.
The best discovery for me was the seashore veg: laver, dulse, samphire and sea-kale. They really are worth trying, if you can get your hands on them. Dulse and samphire are pretty easy to get hold of, laver – in the form of laverbread – is easy as long as you live on the south coast of Wales, and you may have take to growing sea-kale on the fringes of your vegetable patch or allotment. I did manage to get some from Elliot’s, but they had to really root around the markets for me.
#412 Sea-kale

These indie businesses have a model that works, and with more and more people joining the vegan and Paleodiet movements, I suspect a real surge in interest into the quality and variety of veg is just around the corner – a brave new vegetable world? I hope so!
I had an allotment for a few years too, which helped, but had to give it up when The Buttery took off. I grew my own tiny broad beans so I could cook #398 Broad Beans in their Pods and sorrel for #164 Sorrel with Eggs.
#164 Sorrel with Eggs

Some recipes I had forgotten about until I looked back over the old posts really stood out: #196 Mange Tout Salad with Chicken Liver and Bacon, #288 Leek Pie and #76 Yeisen Nionod (Welsh Onion Cake) in particular are ones that I shall revisit.
Many of the recipes have become kitchen staples for me: both at home and professionally - #374 Pease Pudding, #295 Purée of Dried Peas with Green Peppercorns, #172 Cucumber Ragoût, #14 Leek and Onion Pudding and #5 Pan Haggerty are all served up regularly.
#398 Broad Beans in their Pods

As usual when I finish a part of the book, I think of the things that were left out. There are only a couple of potato recipes for example. Where are the chips and roast potatoes!? There are no beetroot recipes at all. Other vegetables to get snubbed are: celeriac, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, globe artichoke and spinach, to name but a few. Not to mention the more obscure such as crosnes, salsify, cardoons, tansy and scorzonera.
I would have expected cauliflower cheese and lobscouse to have appeared. I wonder why they were missed out in favour of disappointing recipes like #220 Carrots in 1599 or #311 Courgette and Parsnip Boats? Ah well, at least I can address these little gaps on the other blog.
If you spot any glaring omissions, please let me know and leave a comment!
All the recipes from this section are listed below with hyperlinks and the scores I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.3 (or if you’d prefer, a median of 8 and a mode of 8.5), making it pretty, er, average, scoring well most of the time but with no ten-out-of-tensor any major disasters.









































Sunday, January 28, 2018

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes



Life is too short to stuff a mushroom
Shirley Conran

Goodness knows what Shirley Conran would have thought of this recipe then! It’s the last one in the Vegetables chapter of the book and I have put it off since the beginning, because life’s definitely too short to build a bread snuffbox and stuff it with mushrooms.
A French gold snuffbox (Christie's)

Another reason I’ve put this one off is that Jane says it’s a ‘good recipe for stretching a few field mushrooms’, and I have been unlucky when it comes to foraging for this type of fungus. I either find just one or two miniscule specimens, or loads of shaggy inkcaps, which aren’t great and prone to decaying very quickly. Well I ran out of patience and bought some nice organic Portobello mushrooms from the excellent grocery store, Unicorn in Chorlton, Manchester.
This is a very calorific recipe: lots of butter, fried bread, cream and sherry. If you make it and next day wake up with gout, don’t run crying to me: you were warned.

Jane doesn’t say whether this a single course or an accompaniment to something else. I had mine with some bitter, dark kale to offset the richness.

She also doesn’t give us any amounts – ‘a system rather than a proper recipe’, she says. Here’s what I did:

I cut slices of bread from a tin loaf two inches thick and removed the crust. I reckoned I had enough mushrooms to fill two ‘snuffboxes’. I melted some butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and got to work frying the bread. It needs frying on all sides, so you may find you have to add more butter.

Take the giant croutons out of the pan, add more butter and fry a finely chopped onion until golden, then add your mushrooms, which can be sliced, halved or left whole, depending upon size. Season with salt and pepper. Some mushrooms let out a lot of juice, so get the heat turned up so it can evaporate, before turning back down to medium heat.

Whilst you wait for the mushrooms to cook, cut lids into your snuffboxes about half an inch deep. I wasn’t sure if she meant to cut a square from the top, or that you should just slice the top off, so I tried both to see which looked best. Remove the bread from the inside so that you have a box of fried bread; this was actually very easy to do, the bread within was hot and fluffy and just lifted out.

Keep them warm in the oven as you finish the mushroom mixture: mix in a teaspoon of flour, and once incorporated, plenty of double cream (I used a 150 ml pot) to form a smooth sauce. Add a dash of sherry if you like and check the seasoning. Spoon the mixture into the snuffboxes, replace the lids and serve.

#426 Mushrooms in Snuffboxes. As is often the case with the book English Food, the recipes one doesn’t want to cook, turn out to be the most delicious; and these snuffboxes were very delicious indeed. What’s more, they weren’t particularly difficult to make. It’s tricky to know what to serve them with. I suggest making them smaller and serving them with a watercress salad for a great first course. Alternatively, make large ones and serve alongside roast game for a family meal. 8/10

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

6.1 Beef & Veal - Completed!

#213 Boned Roast Sirloin

The National tendency has always been towards beef, the roast beef of old England.
Jane Grigson, English Food

 I have now completed the Beef & Veal section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter of English Food. It’s certainly had its highs and lows and has covered quite a broad set of dishes; introducing me to the delights of the underused cuts such as shin of beef, marrow bones and wonderful sweetbreads as well as the delectableness of the pairing of beef with oysters.
#319 Marrow-Bones

Britain has been a world leader in both producing and cooking beef; the British countryside being the perfect environment for cattle. We were experts at roasting beef on the spit, it was elevated to our national dish in the early 18th Century when beefsteak clubs were opened in London and we were Christened by the French as rosbifs.
Selective breeding to produce high-quality and high-yield breeds, such as Aberdeen Angus, began in earnest in the mid-18th Century, coinciding with the movement of folk from countryside into the cities to eke a living. In these places, most households couldn’t be self-sufficient and keep their own livestock.
A century later, the population had doubled and we as a country, had to import meat from other countries. It was this point, I believe we started on the road that has led us to pre-packaged meats in plastic trays, losing our connection with nature and our own food chain.
It is nigh on impossible to buy really good beef in a supermarket; carcasses are rarely hung for the three to four weeks required, and if they are, they end up getting vacuum packed, drawing out all the moisture. Good beef should be dark red (not supermarket pink!), dry with just a slight stickiness, marbled with fat and covered in ‘a good layer of fat’, according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his Meat Book.

#204 Minced Veal & Eggs
Veal is slowly losing its standing as a taboo food; in the UK the crate system is illegal (unlike in mainland Europe and the USA). UK calves can walk around quite happily and because of this exercise, their meat is not white, but a pale pink and for that reason is called rosé veal. For more on this, read this clumsily-written early post.
Low point: the BSE crisis

Because of the BSE crisis at the end of the last century, and the safeguards put in place in its aftermath means it is very difficult to source UK calves’ brains, so I had to use a Dutch supplier to cook the two recipes that require them. See this post for more information on the BSE crisis.

Calves' brains

This section of the book covered quite a lot of ground in its sixteen recipes; there were prime cuts, underused cuts and offal recipes as well as two recipes for Yorkshire pudding. All the recipes from this section are listed below with hyperlinks and the scores I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.4 (and a median and mode of 8.5, for those who like their stats), making it the third highest score for a section or chapter so far. It should have scored much higher because three recipes scored full marks! It’s great that a prime #213 Roast Sirloin can score the same as #41 Shin of Beef Stew – proof that ‘low status’ cuts are not poor quality. You really must try the high scoring recipes from this chapter.
The average was dragged down somewhat by the vileness of #411 Calves’ Brain with Curry and Grape Sauce. It really was bad, not because of the brains, but because of that awful cloying sauce. I don’t know what Jane was thinking when she decided to include that recipe in the book! My poor cooking of tougher cuts didn’t help the mean score either; #11 Braised Beef with Carrots being a case in point, I know now that one does not actually boil the meat, but very gently simmer it. The two Yorkshire pudding recipes weren’t great either. Hey ho.
I do notice some glaring omissions in the book – there are recipes using ox cheek or calves’ liver (tongue does appear in the Cured Meat section). Plus, there is no beef Wellington and I would have expected at least a mention of mock turtle soup. I would have liked to have seen some roast veal recipes too. Hey-ho, at least I have some subjects to write about on the other blog.
If you can think of any classic beef & veal dishes not listed below, please let me know in the comments section.





#51 Shin of Beef Stew part 1 & part 2 10/10










#317 Skuets 8.5/10

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding


I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to this one – it should have been low-hanging fruit really…
This recipe is the second of two Yorkshire pudding recipes in English Food; the first (#181 Yorkshire Pudding) was a bit of a disappointment, cooked in the early days of the blog when my skills were not quite a good as today. This one supposedly produces a huge, light and crisp pudding which “swell[s] to the height of a coronation crown.” Hmm, we’ll see about that!
The recipe comes from a Mr Tin Sung Chan a Hong Kong chef who skilfully beat five other British chefs at their own game in the ‘Great Yorkshire Pudding Contest’ which took place in the great Yorkshire city of Leeds circa 1970.
As we all know, there is nothing more British than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and Yorkshire folk have naturally become very proud of their pud; it is certainly the most famous food in the Yorkshireman’s edible arsenal. Unfortunately, the pride is a little misplaced because there is nothing particularly Yorkshire about it. Batter puddings have been cooked around the country for centuries (and not always with beef either). The first recipe for such a pudding appears in the 1737 publication called The Whole Duty of Women where it was called a dripping pudding. However, a few decades later, in The Experienced English Housekeeper, we see it called Yorkshire pudding for the first time. 
In Yorkshire – like many things – the Yorkshire pudding is associated with thriftiness where is not customarily served with the roast but as a starter with gravy; the idea being that the family filled up on cheap pudding and therefore ate less meat!

A batter pudding made in the traditional way under spit-roasted meat (source: historicfood.com)

The traditional way to cook a Yorkshire pudding was to lay a large tin called a dripping pan beneath the roasting meat so that it could heat up and catch some meat fat. Once a good layer of it had formed, the batter was quickly tipped into the pan. All of this could happen underneath a spit-roasted joint or within an proper oven (something to consider next time you cook a roast, perhaps..?).
One of the biggest points of conjecture between cooks is the method of cooking – just how does one ensure a good rise? I have had many arguments. What are the proportions? Plain or strong flour? Beef dripping or sunflower oil and just how hot should it be? For how long should you beat the batter and for how long should it rest? How much batter should be used and should it be chilled or at room temperature?
With all this fuss and debate, it is good to see that this recipe is pretty straight-forward:
In a bowl beat together half a pint of milk (I went for whole milk), four eggs, a scant half-teaspoon of salt, a little black pepper and half a teaspoon of tai luk sauce*. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes and heat the oven up to 230°C. 


In another bowl sift eight ounces of plain flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in around a third of the milky mixture. Beat in with a whisk. Pour in the next third and whisk until smooth and then the last of it, beating again. This technique of adding the liquid in stages should give you a nice lump-free batter.


If you’ve just roasted a joint of meat, pour the dripping fat into a clean roasting tin. Alternatively, add your own lard, dripping or oil and heat in the oven or hob. Once good and hot, pour in the batter and pop in the oven for precisely 20 minutes and 52.2 seconds.


#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding 6/10. This was an okay Yorkshire pudding, but it certainly did not ‘swell to the height of a coronation crown’! I reckon my own recipe is pretty good and definitely beats it...unless of course, there is a nifty trick or two the Chinese chef did not divulge. (By the way, my current recipe is different to the one I posted on the blog many years ago, I need to update it I feel.)

*which does not exist: ‘For years’, says Jane, ‘I puzzled over tai luk sauce, asking at Chinese groceries without success. Then an enterprising niece found what seems to be the answer: her request for tai luk was greeted with much laughter: apparently it means ‘mainland’, i.e. ‘mainland China’. So tai luk was a kind of secret-ingredient joke, an amiable joke at the expense of Yorkshire patriotism.’

Monday, September 11, 2017

Neil Cooks Grigson is 10!


Blimey! What a milestone to reach with the blog – I can barely believe that I am still writing entries for it. I know they are rather infrequent now, and I am really trying to spend more time writing, but starting this blog a decade ago unwittingly made me a bit of a busy bee today.

Four-hundred and twenty-four recipes in means I only have 26 more to cook so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I started the blog back in 2007 because I had just began my PhD in evolutionary biology at The University of Manchester; I knew I’d have to do a lot of writing, so a blog seemed like a good idea. Having never heard of Julie & Julia, I thought cooking a whole cookbook was a pretty original idea.

Those first few posts are rather badly written as I had never done any of this sort of thing before, but I soon settled into a style and found I really enjoyed the history side of things, hence starting the second blog British Food: A History.

So much has happened from the blog it is startling! If I had known the potential of writing a blog I might have chickened out.

I’ve started a food business, The Buttery, from market stall via a pop-up restaurant in my own house  to a restaurant with my business husband Brian Shields, founded a community market in Levenshulme, Manchester, come second in a Telegraph cookery competition for bloggers and Radio 4’s The Food Programme and been nominated for a Manchester Food & Drink Award. More recently I’ve been working on an episode of a history programme with Channel 4 as well as my first paid writing jobs. The restaurant is also going to be expanding in the next year: wait til you hear about that!!

All of this is because of Jane Grigson; none of this would have happened had I not forced myself to cook dishes containing ingredients such as brains, eels, sweetbreads, quince and the like. Jane opened me up to exciting and scholarly food writing and a whole unknown world of exciting British food. She is also an excellent teacher.

I’m going to try my best to work through the remaining recipes, some of which I have no excuse for not trying yet. I promise to pull my finger out. A bit, at least.

Finally, of course, I wouldn’t be writing blog entries if you good people didn’t read them and send such great comments.

So many thanks to all of you and to Jane herself, because without you I wouldn’t be on this unexpected journey!