Words

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Endive Right In

Wow. First of all let me just give myself a big pat on the back because according to my site stats, as of right this minute (10:07 pm British Summer Time, March 30th 2011) this blog has had 4,320 page hits in the past 30 days! Woo hoo!!!

Sorry. I'm calm now.

Another thing to get excited about is that somebody correctly answered the Name This Food! question so quickly I barely had time to blink. A reader named Iris correctly identified this


as Belgian Endive.


So what is Belgian Endive, and why is it Belgian? How does it differ from any other kind of endive?



Endive  (Cichorium endivia) is a leaf vegetable belonging to the daisy family. Endive is also a common name for some types of chicory (Cichorium intybus)


Endive belongs to the chicory genus, which includes several similar bitter leafed vegetables. There is considerable confusion between Cichorium endivia and Cichorium intybus.
Species also include Cichorium pumilum and common chicory (Cichorium intybus). Common chicory types include radicchio, puntarelle and Belgian endive. So if anyone had guessed at chicory, they'd also be right.


There is a website entirely dedicated to endives, at http://www.endive.ca/ 


Belgian endive is also known as French endive, witlof in Dutch or witloof in Belgian Dutch, witloof in the United States, chicory in the UK, as witloff in Australia, endive in France, and chicon in parts of northern France and in Wallonia. It has a small head of cream-coloured, bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight in order to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up (etiolation). The plant has to be kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves. It is often sold wrapped in blue paper to protect it from light and so preserve its pale colour and delicate flavour. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed, baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce, or simply cut raw. Slightly bitter, the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. The harder inner part of the stem, at the bottom of the head, should be cut out before cooking to prevent bitterness. Belgium exports chicon/witloof to over 40 different countries. The technique for growing blanched endives was accidentally discovered in the 1850s in Schaerbeek, Belgium. Endive is cultivated for culinary use by cutting the leaves from the growing plant, then keeping the living stem and root in a dark place. A new bud develops but without sunlight it is white and lacks the bitterness of the sun-exposed foliage. These days, France is the largest producer of endives.


Well, that's all well and good, I hear you cry. But what can we do with it?


Well, apart from all the lovely salad uses for this plant, how about some soup?



Cream of Belgian Endive Soup


serves 4


2 Belgian Endives, cored
1 white onion, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk or cream
salt and pepper to taste
chopped chives
dill sprigs for garnish


Mince the Belgian Endives, reserving a few small leaves for garnish. Saute the onion, garlic, and minced Belgian Endives in the butter for three minutes. Add the potatoes and chicken broth and simmer for about fifteen minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Put this in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Add the milk, salt, and pepper and blend. Serve hot or cold. Garnish with the small Belgian Endive leaves, chives, and dill. 


Meanwhile, over at Food Network, Emeril Lagasse has a lovely recipe for Braised Belgian Endive. BAM!


OK, so now we need a new Name this Food! food...


Name this dish!


Kooshti sante!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Harissology

Well, I only had one person take a stab at what this was...

Somebody named Iris said it looked like sambal oelek, which is an Indonesian chili paste made by cooking chilies with brown sugar and then crushing and mashing them to a smooth consistency. However, even though this was a damn good answer, it was not the correct one. Sorry about that, Iris!

It is in fact Harissa. Never heard of Harissa? That's why I'm here.


Harissa, sometimes called 'the ketchup of Tunisia', is a North African hot chilli sauce whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillies and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine, usually associated with Tunisia and Algeria, but recently also making inroads in Morocco. In fact where I work at COOK we have a delicious dish, one of the more popular ones, called Moroccan Harissa Chicken. It's lovely - spicy, but not overpoweringly so, and tamed by the addition of dates and apricots in the sauce.
Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in nearly every style of container, including jars, cans, bottles, tubes, and plastic bags.

In Tunisia, harissa is used as an ingredient in a meat (goat or lamb) or fish stew with vegetables, and as a flavoring for couscous. It is also used for lablabi, a popular chickpea soup usually eaten for breakfast. In the West it is eaten with pasta, in sandwiches and on pizza. In some European countries it is popular as a breakfast spread for tartines or rolls. Harissa paste can be also used as a rub for meat or aubergine.

I always enjoy going to Farmer's Markets and one face that's a regular fixture at both Rolvenden and Horsmonden, among others, is John Milbank of Milbank Olives.
On his stall he usually has a selection of six to eight olives, mostly pitted. The olives mainly come from France, Italy, Spain and Morocco. His Mediterranean Specials consist of Garlic with Herbs and Chilli, Semi-Dried Tomatoes, Artichokes, Antipasto, Smoked Chilli Jelly, Rose Harissa, Green and Red Pesto. He also carries a lovely mixture he calls Johnnie's mix, which came about entirely by accident one day when he was making some Red Pesto and some Rose Harissa accidentally spilled into it. Instead of chucking it out, he tried it, found it was good and figured 'hey - perhaps other folks'll like it too'. It's been a regular product of theirs ever since. You can call him on 01233 732668 or come to one of the farmer's markets - Rolvenden is every Thursday morning in the village hall.

So - let's have a harissa recipe or two, shall we?

There are a ton of good ones here at the BBC Good Food website, and you can customise by calories, cuisine, ingredients... give it a whirl.

Similarly, a search for recipes using harissa on Food.com turned up 187 of them!

OK folks, what's the new Name This Food! food?

Name it!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Al Fresco Lunch

Well, well, well. Spring, it seems, has well and truly sprung. Mother Nature has finally decided to get with the program and bring out the sunshine and the warmer temps. Today we even got out in the yard and did a bit of gardening - some pruning and mowing, to be precise. Next door neighbour was in his greenhouse getting his chainsaw cleaned and ready, and we even transplanted a shrub from the front garden to the back. After all that exertion, we decided a spot of lunch was in order, and since it was so nice, we walked up to the town (I was even wearing shorts!) and decided to get a little something we could take away and eat in the rec (that's short for recreation ground, which is a park, for the uninitiated). Situated conveniently close to the rec, in The Fairings, a parade of shops that was originally a cinema, is a little hole-in-the-wall coffee-and-sandwich place called Cinnamon. The place is located at the top end of The Fairings, up a flight of steps, and in fact many moons ago was the location of the local turf accountant. Remember placing a couple of bets there when younger, on the Grand National. I didn't win.

Today was a winner though. Everything is fresh and organic, and locally sourced when possible. But the absolute best thing about Cinnamon is the prices, and the fact that they deliver.


While the sign says coffees from £1.20, that's the price for an Americano. In actual fact a single shot of espresso is a paltry 70p. A double will set you back just 90p. All the coffees are CafeDirect Fairtrade coffees.

As you can see there are a lot of choices. I went for an Americano coffee as I said, which was fab, and a Mozzarella, tomato and spinach sandwich on granary, which also included red onion and cucumber. Laura picked a bottle of locally produced pear juice and a cheese, pickle, apple and salad sandwich, also on granary. Unfortunately they'd had a rush on juices and were out of apples, but no matter - they just made it without the apple and knocked some money off the price. Laura said it was great anyway. She also chose a toffee flapjack and we shared that.

I have to say that the mozzarella in my sandwich was so fresh it just made the whole thing taste incredible. Kudos to the fine folks at Cinnamon. That pear juice was pretty nice too (I had a sip). If they'd had some apple I probably would have had an apple carrot ginger juice as that combo has been a favourite of mine since the days when The Natural Cafe in Everett, WA was my favourite lunchtime haunt. Thanks for the memories.

What's that ya say? Wanting a score? Okay... four and three quarter yums out of five!


Cinnamon
1 The Fairings, Tenterden TN30 6QX01580 765228 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Life's a Binge (And Then You Diet)

I am cursed (or perhaps blessed, depending on your viewpoint) with an almost total deficiency of willpower when it comes to food. Specifically, the kind of food that is bad for me (well, not just me - pretty much anyone, I guess). I am  not addicted to greasy high-fat butter fests - addicted is not the right word. I am just ninety per cent unable to think straight when presented with eggs & bacon, fish and chips or Eton Mess. Not when it's right there in front of me. The YUM response blots out all thoughts about weight loss, counting calories and all those Men's Health articles I've read about Eat This Not That!

My other problem is, I'm a fast eater. Always have been. I seem to have no problem just wolfing it down. Even when I pace myself and deliberately try to eat slower, I still finish before everyone else. It all started back when I was a kid. I could not stand for my once-hot food to get cold. Especially veggies. Nothing worse than cold cabbage or brussels sprouts or carrots. Therefore food doesn't even have time to hit my stomach and send its 'full' message up to my brain before I'm on my second bit of pie.

That's another issue. I am not just hooked on the lard-laden foods. I love all kinds of food. In mass quantities. And I am a sneaky eater. I'll go to the kitchen for a coffee, and snack on whatever while I'm in there. I know this and yet there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Pshaw!! you say. There must be something you can do about it. Well, at least I recognise that I have a problem. that's usually the first step, isn't it? But don't expect me to exercise. I need to drop at least a couple more stone before I would even dream of hitting the gym. You will not see me in Zumba class anytime soon. P90X is just some foreign code to me. Any sort of organised exercise class looks to me like something I would hate. Just like religion, I am not going to do it in front of others. I might Tae Bo in my living room when there are no children, dogs or other adults within a ten-block radius. But Tai Chi in the park with a bunch of STRANGERS?? No, thank you very much. I am embarrassed by my flabby gut enough on my own, let alone share my disfigurement in public.

And of course, this is all compounded by the fact that I developed a habit of comfort-eating in the States, where misery is around every corner, and two failed marriages will have you pounding down the Super Nachos before you can say I Can't Believe It's Not Fake Butter, especially when one of those marriages is practically alcohol-free. So the slightest little upset will see me reaching for that cookie or slice of cake and before you know it we're back to square one again. I can start every day with good intentions - get up and have a nice healthy high-fibre brekky, but by the time lunch rolls around I'm snacking like a good'un.

If that wasn't enough, I have worked for the past few years in the food industry, where tasty tidbits are always available. Even now I work in a shop where we give out free samples of our cakes and flapjacks and puddings and curries daily. So getting out of the chow business would probably be a plus.

And then, there's this blog. I write a food blog because aside from being a snack-hound, I am a foodie, I love to experience new and different foods and I love to tell you about them so that you may try them for yourselves. So from now on, I shall endeavour in my travels to tell you not only about yummy food, but healthy food also. Because  a porky Jeff is a grumpy Jeff, and a slimmer Jeff is what is in store for 2011. And you can hold me to that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Nutmeg

On Saturday we stopped by The Nutmeg Delicatessen in Sayers Lane for a little light refreshment. 
I once reviewed this place in an early post from last year, back when it was still called Anderson & Campbell. It's been the Nutmeg for a while now, but the atmosphere and decor has stayed pretty much the same.




It's quite a small shop, but they get a lot in. Some big shelves on the far side of the shop house a wide array of high-end crackers and teas and preserves etc, and there is a good selection of deli cheeses in the cold cabinet at the counter. Behind the counter a small kitchen the size of a broom cupboard knocks out some fantastic sandwiches and then there is the big espresso machine, where coffee magic occurs on a daily basis.


Something to drink?
Two large lattes, please.

Coming right up!

Laura had a delicious brownie.

I had a sandwich of hummus, sunblushed tomatoes, sprouting lentils and rocket.

Yum!

Some of the delights on offer in the cold cabinet.


Gotta love a place with a disco ball.


The Nutmeg Delicatessen,
Sayers Lane, Tenterden TN30 6BW.
Phone: 01580 764125

Yum rating: 4.5 out of 5!

Little Ears


These little buggers are known as Orecchiette, which literally translates as little ears. Makes sense, right? And yes, they are a form of pasta.

Here's a recipe from Food Network's lovely Giada De Laurentiis (she of the astonishing teeth):


Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis, 2008

Prep Time:20 min
Cook Time:10 min

Serves:
4 to 6 servings (about 60 mini meatballs)

Ingredients

1 pound orecchiette pasta
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon ketchup
3/4 cup grated Romano
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground chicken
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, hot
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 ounces bocconcini mozzarella, halved
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the chicken and gently stir to combine.

Using a melon baller (or a teaspoon measure), form the chicken mixture into 3/4-inch pieces. With damp hands, roll the chicken pieces into mini meatballs.

In a large (14-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the meatballs and cook without moving until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn the meatballs over and brown the other side, about 2 minutes longer. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low and simmer until tomatoes are soft and meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and add the Parmesan. Toss to lightly coat orecchiette, adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Add the meatball mixture, mozzarella cheese, and 1/2 cup of the basil. Gently toss to combine. Garnish with the chopped basil.


OK, on to the next food!

Name This Food!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Little Indulgence

Yesterday was not only a Thursday, but also St. Patrick's Day. St. Paddy's is one of those days where I had gotten used to seeing green shamrocks everywhere, bars serving green beer, grocery stores overstocking on corned beef and cabbage and even 7-foot-8 black NBA players saying "Erin Go Bragh" and claiming to be Irish. The Americans do tend to go a bit overboard on the fake holiday tip. Except of course, St. Pat's is not a fake holiday - if you happen to be Irish. Try telling that to all the greeting card manufacturers in the USA though.

So suffice to say I did only one thing even vaguely Irish last night, which was to go the pub, armed as I was with a voucher for a free pint of Guinness. You can get these by signing up to Marston's Inns online and adding your email address to their register - you'll then get sent occasional vouchers for freebies. Good deal. I got one and so did Laura. She doesn't drink Guinness though, but the voucher was for a free Baileys as an alternative. with that and the Diet Coke I bought for my Sis, the entire round came to just under £2, probably the cheapest round I've ever purchased.

Little whisky and ginger ale...

Later in the evening I had a pint of Wychwood Brewery's Paddy'sTout, which was, again, vaguely Irish. Nice beer. At that point three young chaps came in wearing identical Guinness-issued St. Paddy's Day hats shaped like pints of Guinness. None of them were wearing green or T-shirts bearing the legend Kiss Me I'm Irish though. Relieved, I thought to myself "if this was a bar in America, the place would be festooned with green and full of idiots like that right about now."

Earlier in the day Laura and I went to get a little shopping and stopped off for lunch in a place in Coombe Lane called Indulgence. Tenterdonians will know that up until a few months back this was the location of The Whistlestop Cafe, a place I had tried before without success. I had entered and had seen that all the tables that didn't have people sitting at them were covered with dirty dishes and the staff seemed to show no interest in either clearing the tables or greeting me, so I turned tail and left. However I am happy to report that the atmosphere in Indulgence is a lot friendlier and the tables are a lot cleaner.


I loved this huge vase in the window. Had to be three feet tall.

The shelves behind us held lots of jars of spices and local preserves, among other items.

Right now, she's making our lattes.

Ah! Here they are.


I love these little cookies.

We both ordered the spiced parsnip soup, which came in a humongous bowl with two whacking great hunks of fresh crusty brown bread and a little dish of real butter. Incredible flavour, that soup.

That was a very filling meal indeed.

Wish I'd had room for some of this.

Pecan tart, anyone?
I have to say after my experience with this place when it was The Whistlestop I wasn't holding out much hope. But I tell ya what, folks - these folks know what they are doing. They care about what they are doing, and it shows. I was dead impressed. Indulgence gets a hearty 4 and a half yums out of 5! (Oh, and they have free wifi too - always a plus.) Sarah Bristow, the owner, is clearly passionate about what she does. Good on you Sarah.

Kooshti sante!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Delicioso

It had been requested recently by Amy that we have enchiladas for dinner and I readily agreed, because as you may know, I am always more than happy to pound down some full-on screamin' Mexican chow at a moments' notice. However, Amy is not only a vegetarian in a houseful of boy-carnivores, but a vegetarian who doesn't care for mushrooms, beans or rice. OK then.

After our nice wee lunch at The Chequers, we headed to Tesco to buy supplies. Tortillas? Check. Onions, peppers, courgettes etc? Check. Monterey Jack cheese? No sirree. Tesco is a virtual cheese wasteland and we would have had to go to Waitrose or possibly somewhere more exotic than even that to find Monterey Jack. We did not have the luxury of time so we made do, which is what we do when we are up against it. When I say we, I mean the Royal We, as opposed to the Royal Wee, which is something different. So - grated mozzarella (actually it's the pretend mozzarella, which is very similar in texture and strength to MJ cheese. Enchilada sauce.... um... ok, yes. Check. I also got some mild Canadian Cheddar just for grins. Salsa? Check. Good, I think that is all.

So I headed home and the first thing I did was to sauté some coarsely chopped veggies (onions, peppers, a little garlic, courgette) in a splosh of EVOO, and some enchilada seasoning that came with the jar of sauce.  Then I took the seasoned and sautéed veggies and combined them with the grated cheese. This mixture was then used to fill the tortillas and then they were laid side-by-side in a baking dish, topped with sauce and some extra cheese. For the boys I did essentially the same thing but adding in some chicken. Then I baked them in a 175 C oven for about 15 or 20 minutes.

How were they? Look and see for yourself.







I am afraid I cheated a bit on the side dishes, with a little help from Uncle Ben and Old El Paso.


I'd forgotten that refried beans are actually quite salty.
Of course, Mexican food goes great with Mexican beer. Trouble is, Brahma, a Brazilian brew, was considerably less expensive than Sol, San Miguel or Corona. What the hey.

Chilling in the fridge.


Lime wedges at the ready.

Sorted!

Chequing It Out

Today being a Wednesday, it was my day off, and so after helping my Sis with a couple of odd jobs we decided to go have lunch somewhere different today. This of course is always a fabulous idea because you don't want to keep reading about me going to eat at the same old places all the time, do you? We headed off to the wilds of sunny High Halden and The Chequers, a pub I rarely went into in my youth because (a) I didn't live in High Halden, and (b) it kinda sucked, being as it was full of, well, let's say they weren't really the crowd I usually hung out with. But times have changed, and so has the clientele.

I have been into the Chequers a few times this last year and the atmosphere and ambience is very nice indeed.It was built around the year 1620 and used to be a favourite haunt of smugglers, apparently. My sister went to eat there a time or two recently and reported that it was rather spiffy, so I naturally relished the opportunity to go sample its delights. The pub was actually quite crowded for a Wednesday lunchtime, full of old people enjoying the carvery and its accompanying buffet. the line looked quite long for the carvery so we decided to forgo that option and order a la carte.

Naturally, we started with drinks, the girls armed themselves with Cokes and I opted for a pint of Harveys Sussex Bitter. Top stuff, that.

Nice glass, too.
We ordered and took a seat in the bay window. Naturally I took a few snaps of the fab decor.

Lovely old pre-decimalization bar menu. Notice the conspicuous absence of any lagers.


The gentleman at the back is availing himself of the carvery.

Reproduction of the old pub sign. Fremlins brewery is sadly no longer in existence, having been bought by Whitbread in the 80s and then disappearing altogether when Whitbread decided to close a load of their pubs. Shame. When I was first of legal drinking age, Fremlins was my pint.



I love all the handpainted signs on all the wooden beams about the place.

I have no idea what this means, or who Jim Fuller might be.

"A man with deep pockets soon drinks alone."

It's a low beam - geddit?
So's this.
Then our food showed up. Yee-ha!

Sis chose the sausage and onion baguette, and the thing was huge, easily a foot long, filled with pork sausages that are made specially for The Chequers, with a red onion chutney and caramelised onions.

I had the ham, egg and chips, and the ham was lovely and thick, the eggs were perfect, the chips were nice and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Came with a side salad and cole slaw and garden peas. Not bad for £7.50.

Laura had a baguette also, this was a steak and onion version. Wowser.
There is another side of the bar where resides a pool table...


And outside, some old washing mangles add to the retro feel of the place...


I had a delightful conversation with the lady behind the bar about Malt Whiskies, as I noticed the bottle of Laphroaig sitting upside down in an optic, something I'd not seen before. Evidently the whisky is quite popular in Whisky Macs, not something I'd generally do to a Single Malt but understandable since Laphroaig does have a beautiful smoky peaty taste which would be perfectly offset by ginger wine. Very warming, I'd imagine.

Anyway, so off we set, bound for jolly old Tesco, but that's another story. All in all I enjoyed the Chequers and would definitely eat there again - perhaps the Carvery next time? Any road up, we have a definite 4 and a half yums out of 5 here.

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