Tuesday, 6 December 2005

A party game for Xmas - make sausages

It has been an ambition of very many years to make our own sausages; convenience food in the best sense of the word. Firstly it seemed to be a guaranteed barrel of laughs, with enough double entendre to last a lifetime. Secondly it meant knowing the content was 100% high quality home-reared meat. Thirdly, I think sausages are delicious, they are quick to cook and in hot demand for barbeques in summer and for dark winter evening suppers. And lastly, no matter how I plead with the local butcher when he butchers our pork for us, he produces perfectly nice sausages but they are never quite coarse enough for our taste and always with rusk added even tho I beg him not to (he is convinced that they would all go horribly wrong without rusk and my line that French sausages are 100% meat has little effect - British tradition must be best!). So, thanks to Natural Casing Company's hog casings (fat sausage size - you can keep your feeble chipolatas) that last for up to a year in the fridge, we got together with our neighbours for a trial run before deciding how many Berkshire weaners to buy next spring (that's to say, how many pounds of sausages could we face making next summer). First you rinse the casings (including running the water through them which is a hoot) and soak for about an hour to get rid of excess salt. We used some chunks of venison from the unlucky doe that had got herself tangled in our fence and had perished before we could untangle her, with some of our neighbour's pork - Berkshire they think or perhaps Saddleback - it was the odds and ends from the freezer, but the tell-tale black bristles were still intact. A little salt, black pepper, fresh sage and thyme were added, the zest of two lemons, a sploosh of Chablis (dregs), and a sprinkling of home-made granary breadcrumbs when the mincer needed a clean through (the sinews can get caught up in the blades) which might account for a maximum of 1% cereal and I guess a great deal less. After mincing the whole lot on the coarsest setting in a 40 year old Kenwood we fell about while rolling the 4-5 foot long casing onto the sausage making nozzle before turning on the machine and feeding in the first dollops of coarsely minced meat. Luckily we had remembered to tie a knot in the end of the casing so when the skin started to gently billow we knew that sausage was on its way. It was much, much easier to do than we had expected, even more hilarious in a teenage playing-with-condoms sort of way, and fabulously tasty. As the meat had all come out of the freezer we ate most of the sausages that evening with celeriac, carrot and swede mash, russian kale in mustard sauce and roast tatties (all from our Riverford box). 10/10. And definitely found a new party game.

Monday, 5 December 2005

To be taken daily - a little bit of happy art

I've just received my 2006 diary: the Redstone diary of Happiness edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding. I've been chuckling and smiling my way through it, and admiring everything from the gorgeously perfect red paper pocket at the front, the rough mustard pages for me to scrawl on (carefully), onwards to the wonderful images. You get a topless young Elvis (from a more relaxed pre-six-pack era); gently erotic images from East and West; smiles and grins captured from across the world; absurdities like the visuals from a Chinese rusk packet from the fifties; Ganesh happily picking up sweetmeats with his trunk; some Manolo Blahnik and posh shopping bags for the happiness-is-a-designer-label lovers, and luscious Chagall (La Promenade shown here), McLean, Blake and Frost . It has cured me of Collins' diaries forever. My new diary ensures at least daily mini-happinesses for 2006.

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

The Aga saga and a dinner invite

Did you hear the great Matthew Fort blot his copybook last week on Radio 4? He was developing the theme he had originally created in the Waitrose Food Illustrated after being forced to continue the debate in the Guardian following an outraged response from Aga owners. Bantering with John Humphrys, James Naughtie (clearly a closet Aga devotee) and Amy Willcock, apparently called the Queen of the Aga (listen to it here - 8.50am slot) he obviously thought it useless at cooking without really having any experience of it. Amy did a fairly pathetic job of standing up for the great beast in the kitchen - her crown needs handing over to someone who is a far better exponent and I'd like to make a nomination. Not that long ago the even greater Nigel Slater wrote about his new Aga in the Observer - I think we should get Fort and Slater to slug it out, culinarily speaking, side by side and put Fort's comments to the test, where it counts, at the stove.
I have had the pleasure of using both an Aga and Rayburn off and on during the last twenty years, (interspersed with fan ovens and the like) but have only just been lucky enough to get an Aga of my own, an ancient snoring oil-fired beasty that came with the current house and is our only form of cooking; we utterly depend on it. For me, there is absolutely no other way of producing such perfectly moist roasted meats - tender on the inside, crispy without and genuinely melt in the mouth. I have always thought our home-produced lamb second to none, but I challenge anyone to cook it more effectively in any other cooker. For the simpler things in life, its cheese on toast is fabulous. There is something about cooking stuff on the bottom of the oven that makes a grill redundant and cocks a snook at burnt cooking smells. There is however a downside or two that you have to manage your way around. For those of you who would never use the cooker to heat a kettle, it isn't an issue, but if you like to hear a whistling kettle on your stove, are planning the sunday roast or evening dinner and fancy a cuppa first to set yourself up, use the electric kettle instead to keep the heat in the Aga. And most of the cooking should be done in the oven and not on the plates - this really takes adjusting to if you have always used a conventional electric or gas cooker where the hob seems to rule. Me, I have nil patience and if the Aga had let me down I would have got an electric oven and hob installed quick as wink. Instead, the better and far cheaper option has been to invest in a small book and learn how the Aga is best used: Richard Maggs' The Complete Book of Aga Know-how. Come and have dinner in Devon with us Mr Fort; afterwards you might be tempted to put both the book and the Aga to the test.

Monday, 7 November 2005

Duck Eggs - a Saturday Guardian snippet

Fancy earning enough to take someone out for dinner by sharing your favourite nosh thoughts with friendly fellow Guardian readers? They pay £50 for every We Love to Eat item they publish (increased to £75 these days!).

me, I plumped for duck eggs.....(you'll have to scroll to the bottom) or just read it here:

"If you mention duck eggs, urban people screw up their noses. Rural folk will agree that they are great for baking, the deep yellow of the yolk adding a golden glow to any sponge, but you wouldn't want to just, well, eat them, would you?
We, on the other hand, will spurn a hen's egg if there is a duck's on offer. Nothing fancy required: try duck egg and chips, bacon and eggs, hard-boiled and chopped in mayo, chopped in the bottom of the salad bowl with the dressing to tart up a freshly cut lettuce, boiled with buttered soldiers, or scrambled, with a slice of smoked salmon and bagels for a special-occasion breakfast.
We now have our own ducks so we can be pretty profligate. When friends and family descend, a huge platter of egg mayonnaise will always be the first dish to disappear. But my mother won't touch them. Just mention them on the phone and you can feel the reflex nose action."

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Mopsa and Fenn move to Devon

Back in June 2005 we moved to Devon, partly to accommodate the addition of Mopsa's half-sister Fenn, but mostly to find more space and a more peaceful environment. We seem to have ticked all those boxes, and the livestock have moved down with us, as did the contents of the greenhouse. The spuds stayed behind and I hope the new owners have found, dug, and enjoyed them. Visitors have been keen to see the new place and we have been thrilled by the quality of local food available to feed them. For the first time in a decade, we haven't been in a position to produce all our own summer veg, so the thriving Riverford has been our source of organic green grocery, delivered to the door every Friday morning just in time to plan weekend menus. However, we think ahead and with no greenhouse here, week one found us buying a massive polytunnel to make sure that 2006 = homegrown. Of course it is still unpacked and lying on the ground looking as reproachful as a heap of plastic and scaffold tubes can manage, but I have faith that it will go up well before it's time to sow seeds.
The Tuesday Hatherleigh market has proved a good place to buy live poultry and waterfowl if you take your time and tune into the auction-speak. After a few months of being duck-egg-less (the trauma of travel?) we are finally producing our own breakfasts again, and I suspect that the addition of 5 new ducks - Khaki Campbells and Magpies - finally created enough impetus for the ducks to assess that they could either get on and lay or face the pot. Local cheese is also interesting - Devon Oke, Curworthy, Cornish Yarg (local-ish), although the Sainsburys Brie that was discovered to be riddled with maggots (immediately after eating a large chunk) still makes me squirm.

Tuesday, 1 February 2005

Cheese, cheese, cheese

Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. Soft, hard, mild, mature, blue veined, chalk white, buttery, pungent, nutty, in your face, gentle, toasted, chunks, melted, fondued, goats, ewes, cows................ I love the lot. Does a day go by without some kind of cheese finding its way onto the plate? Only on the days when it by-passes directly into the mouth. Today was a cheese delivery day. After Mopsa barked so loud and deep that the courier left the box in the porch without ringing the bell and scarpered off down the path before he could be forced to come face to face with the terrifying beast, the aroma from the parcel left no doubt as to what was inside. A couple of Christmas's ago Peter (he of the posh blog) and Gavin sent some cheeses from Pant Mawr Farm. After specific guidance on storing it (cut each 1kg round into pieces, bag 'em, label 'em, stick 'em in the freezer) and loving the results, I bought more for a summer party, and the whole lot disappeared, and then more and more so that now there is a constant supply in the freezer, and friends keep asking for the mail order details.
So, what's available and what does it taste like? According to the website there are seven cheeses in the Pant Mawr range and all are made with vegetarian rennet and pasteurised milk. Our presents were Caws Preseli, a soft cow's milk cheese that has more (gentle) flavour than is fair for any mouthful, and Caws Cerwyn, a softish hard (you'll see what I mean if you treat yourself) beautifully pale yellow cheese that is equally mild and flavoursome. Everyone seemed to enjoy these best with crusty bread or oatcakes and some great grapes - a real end of dinner pair of cheeses. The Mature Cerwyn - Caws Cerwyn matured for about six months - has a crumblier, harder texture, shouts out for a chunk of fresh pineapple alongside (forget Abigail's Party, just enjoy the cliched combination), or for using in cooking or grated into leafy salads or celeriac remoulade. It has a deeper flavour, and stirred the senses of friends that love a cheese with serious bite. And then there is the smoked Cerwyn; and the jury is still out on that one. When the parcel was delivered, I thought that I had walked into a smoky bar rather than my own porch. When I opened the box and then unwrapped the cheese, the strength of the smoking was so eye-wateringly pungent for both nose and eyes, that I thought the whole smokery had been parcelled up and sent too. Described as having "a delicate smoky tang", trades description would probably disagree! I know that both hot and cold smoking of foodstuffs is de rigeur for the taste as well as a great way of preserving, but a little more subtlety would have been welcome. As a result, half of the round is still in the freezer awaiting its moment. The last one I have tried is the Soft Goats Curd, with a light covering of olive oil, but it took half an hour to get into the plastic pot; we never worked out the right way of opening it. If your temper holds out it is very tasty indeed, a world away from so much of the supermarket goats' cheeses and perfect for spreading thickly on thin pancakes (we are talking pre-low-carb-diet days), adding a handful of cherry tomatoes and herbs, rolling up, drizzling with olive oil and baking in the oven.
Caws Preseli, Cerwyn and Mature Cerwyn are likely to be pretty constant presences in the house, and the only other cheeses I have bought regularly in recent months to supplement them are Dolcelatte and Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), and I reckon that's an awesome recommendation. Mind you, there was the Malvern ewe's milk hard cheese found in the fab Ombersley Evertons Deli, the supply of mini babybels for the car, the brie, the rubbery Jarlsberg (the more rubbery the better), the local farmer's market cheddar.......................... (Quick November 2005 update - a gift of a Torrington cheese from Cothi Valley Goats, bought at Cardiff's Riverside Real Food Market was to die for; quite the most lusciously lingering and complex flavour). Contact them at Cothi Valley Goats, Cilwr Farm, Talley, Llandeilo, Carms SA19 7BQ
Tel: 01558 685555. E-mail: goat@homested.fsbusiness.co.uk for farmhouse goat cheeses, kid meat, baked goat cheese products.