Friday, November 26, 2010

Shoulder of Pork with Quince & Chilli

Quick note to regular readers: I've not written for a while since my son Max was born a few weeks ago. Whilst I've still been cooking,  I've not had quite as much time to write about it as I'd like to!

Quinces on the tree
I guess I've always been a seasonal cook, and whilst that means you get the pros of having the very best produce to cook with, it also means that you have to cope with various gluts of products now and then through the year. Right now if there's one thing I tend to have a lot of it's quince, a wonderfully fragrant hard fruit that needs to be cooked before eating. I bought my particular tree, a Quince Vranja, many years ago now, and although it's never grown particularly large it does crop very well, with prolific large, heavy golden pear shaped fruits. They have the most wonderful perfume to them, though they can go brown and decay quite quickly if you don't use them quick once they've fallen from the tree. For that reason I never tend to pick them, just take them as they fall.

Cooking wise quince is most often paired up with apple, added to fruit pies and sauces, and adds interesting notes of flavour and texture. I've also made jams and jellies with it, various interesting desserts, as well as the famous quince cheese - an odd concoction, but certainly tasty. Kind of like home made jelly sweets, though more often paired with cheese. This time around though I wanted to try something roast'ish, but had already bought a good looking shoulder of pork for Sunday. Luckily I came across an interesting looking recipe from Sophie Grigson on the BBC's website, Slow-roast shoulder of pork with quinces served with savoy cabbage and roasted potato wedges.

I was a bit suspect of the recipe to start with, thinking that it might turn out too sweet with tough pork and soft crackling, but knowing what an experienced cook Sophie is it hardly seemed my place to question her, so I pretty much went along with it. My main differences were:

  • Shoulder on the bone, not rolled
  • Normal onions, not red
  • Dark muscavado sugar, not light

I also didn't bother greasing the dish before hand, and decided to cut my quince and onions into chunks rather than slices. Here's a picture of my ingredients before preparation:

All the ingredients before preparation
And two pictures before going in the oven, one without the dressing and one with:

Ingredients ready for the next stage

Ingredients with 'dressing'
You'll notice I'm using a Dutch Oven here, or what I call my French Roaster. Oddly enough it's something I picked up that was discarded by someone else, and it's been a gem in my collection ever since. It's ridged bottom together with the dimples in the lid mean it can cook wonderful pot roasts and self-baste at the same time.

As Sophie suggested I did this with potato wedges and cabbage. I have a neat (lazy!) trick with potato wedges, that means I can cook them from cold. Once the dried potato wedges have been tossed in cold seasoned olive oil I arrange them on the roasting pan making sure that they're all skin side down. I then put them in a hot oven (200° or so) and make sure I don't touch then for at least half an hour - this stops them from sticking to the pan, avoiding that horrible moment when you go to toss your potato and the skin sticks to the pan whilst the rest of the potato just breaks away!

Potato wedges - all skin side down!
And the result? Well the flavour was outstanding. The quince was in no way too sweet, and the chilli was a revelation. Great combination. Knowing how well quince and apple go together I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that quince would also be a good match! The crackling was too soft, but I have another trick to deal with that. If this happens to me I simply take the crackling off the meat, put the meat to rest somewhere warm as usual, and then pop the crackling back into a hot oven on a new roasting tray for 20 minutes or so as the meat rests. That usually does the trick. The meat was pretty tender considering it had been roasted rather quickly - shoulder would usually be done cooler for longer. But it was in no way too tough. Perhaps that's also a mark of the quality of the meat - a saddleback from Oakcroft Farm, bought at Cullompton farmers market. As I've said before in my Top Roasting Tips, the quality of your meat is more important than pretty much anything else in my opinion.

The roast out of the oven. Looks a little 'caramelised' on the edges perhaps (i.e. burnt :-) but there was no bitterness at all

Sliced meat ready for serving. Lovely and tender.
Finished dish
All in all I can definitely say this is a dish I think I'll be doing again, though perhaps with one or two more tweaks.

P.S. It also went on to make a great sweet & sour pork dish later in the week with almost no more effort, so two dishes in one here!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wild Mushroom Foraging: How to tell Real Chanterelle from Fake Chanterelle

Well mushroom season is back again, finally, and we had our first outing yesterday. I'd heard from others that it was a good season already, and sure enough we weren't disappointed - sometimes we go looking and come back empty handed, but this time around I'm happy to say that we got a pretty good haul.

Boletes & Chanterelles
I've been foraging for wild mushrooms for years now, and have slowly built my skills so that I can identify mushrooms correctly. I still find it tricky to tell the difference sometimes though, I have to say, and usually find myself poring through my mushroom books once home just to make sure. Roger Phillips's "Mushrooms" (he has a website too at is my key tome, as it is for many others, but I also have several others from people like Carluccio. I actually keep the Phillips book in the back of the car with my mushroom knife - you never know when you might find something tasty!

How to Start Identifying Mushrooms

Learning how to identify mushrooms takes time above everything else, partly of course because mushrooms are seasonal, so you only have a few months in which to practice. I think there are two great pieces of advice I would pass on to any budding mushroom hunter:

  • First, get to know the major poisonous mushrooms before you know any others. There are actually quite a small group of common dangerous mushrooms, e.g. Death Cap, Panther Cap, Destroying Angel. Once you get your eye in and know what to look for it's relatively simple to spot them, and you can then be comfortable that you're protected from at least those deadly mushrooms that really will kill you.
  • Second, pick a small group (i.e. genera) of mushrooms and focus on that, so you can comfortably identity mushrooms within just that group. Once you start learning more about mushrooms you soon realise that there are many, many different structures within them that set them apart from each other, so mushrooms that previously seemed exactly alike will suddenly be quite obviously different. You learn that even things like size can be quite specific, sometimes it's possible to rule out a certain species based on size alone.

Identifying Real Chanterelle versus Fake Chanterelle

When it comes to identifying mushrooms, one thing that has taken me years to feel truly confident about is telling the fake chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis Aurantiaca) from the real chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius). Many books and websites will tell you that it's quite easy to tell the difference between these two, but that's not been the case in my experience, so I thought I'd share here what I know just in case others have been equally as frustrated.

Chanterelle (or Girolle as they're also sometimes known) are of course one of the very best edible mushrooms - the Italian would probably say they are the best I reckon - and we're lucky enough to know a few local patches where they grow. Mushrooms of course grow in the same spot year in year out, provided you don't damage the underground root structures (i.e. mycelium) when harvesting, so once you've found a good spot it's worth keeping it under your hat! Trouble is fake chanterelles very often grow in the same locality, so chances are you'll probably encounter both.

I've read books that say you can identify which is which by colour, but they often seem very very similar. Others say you can by smell, but whilst true chanterelles smell of apricots, I've often found fake chanterelles can smell a bit fruity too. In blind tests I've always been able to spot one from the other if I have both, but given a single species I'm not so sure I could tell by smell alone. Another point of difference seems to be that the fake has a hollow stem, but the trouble is you could possibly find a true chanterelle with enough maggot damage (the mushroom hunters nemesis!) to confuse I reckon.

For me there is one absolutely unmistakeable difference between the true chanterelle and the fake chanterelle - the gills. A true chanterelle has primitive gills, a fake chanterelle has true gills.

Now the trouble with that statement of course, at least the trouble if you're not familiar with mushroom structure, is that the chanterelle is not a fish. Gills, from a mushrooms point of view, are what runs from the stem to the rim under the cap of the mushroom. On your normal supermarket mushroom they're usually white.

I'm not going to go on at length about them here, as this is actually a really complex subject, but it's hopefully enough to say that the diversity and structure of the gills is an absolutely key part of identifying mushrooms. Some mushrooms don't even have gills, but have other structures in their place. The wonderful hedgehog mushroom (which is delicious by the way) has spines for example, not gills at all, making it almost impossible to misidentify, as mushrooms which have spines are a very small group.

Chanterelles are unusual in that they have primitive gills, and that's exactly what it sounds like. Normal mushroom gills are thin and papery, well formed and uniform. Primitive gills are more like ridges on the surface of the mushroom underbody, they tend to be more haphazard and are an extension of the underbody itself, rather than a thin sheet of material protruding from it.

But enough words from me, I'm going to let my pictures finish this post. Below are a number of shots I took of two mushrooms, the first on the left is a true chanterelle that's destined for risotto. The second mushroom on the right is a fake chanterelle that's destined for the recycling bin. Hopefully the difference between their two gill structures is clear!

Update, August 2018

Just back from a lovely walk through the woods as the season slowly shifts from Summer to Autumn, and it looks like it's amazing season for one of these two - but unfortunately it's the false chanterelle! They absolutely carpet the ground in some spots, and to the casual eye look very much like chanterelles, but on closer inspection it's obvious they're not. I picked one particularly good specimen and shot a video back home which hopefully adds a little more detail about this gills business, check it out below, as well as a few more pictures.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Food, Fashion & Fish: How being a bit different can save you a packet

I'm an avid collector of cook books, but not just any cook books. I tend to look for books which offer specific insights into a region or type of cooking, or older books which might have information which has been forgotten. You'll often find me in charity shops or second hand book shops rummaging amongst the shelves looking for hidden gems.

One of the last I picked up on one of these haunts was titled "Fishing for Food" by Trevor Housby. It was published in 1979 and sold then for the grand price of 99p. It cost me 50p, which I suppose isn't bad depreciation for something that's over 30 years old, though of course 99p would have bought you a fair bit more back in '79.

It's a fascinating book (well, more an extended pamphlet really) on all different types of fishing, whether from shore or boat, and also on lots of different types of fish and how good they are to eat. The usual suspects are there, bass for example is highly recommended, but I noticed as I skimmed through there was a section at the back for 'Odd Fish' and what should I find tucked in there but monkfish - and what it had to say there was quite surprising. It very clearly stated that "monkfish has very little value as food".

Monkfish? Not good eating?

Now I've enjoyed the odd bit of monkfish in the past, and have done the usual recipes that most cooks will have done, e.g. the roasted loin wrapped in ham, But to be honest I've never been able to justify the experience of eating monkfish with the price. It's an exorbitantly priced fish at the best of times, and when there is so much other great fish to choose to cook I can't stomach the (no pun intended!) extra cost - I just don't find I get the extra flavour that I expect with that extra cost.

On closer examination it seemed my new book was actually talking about a slightly different monkfish to the ones we usually consume - monkfish and angler fish are often called the same thing, and it's the angler fish which has the tasty tail, some other monkfish truly are not good as food. But it did spark me into thinking a bit more about food and fashion nonetheless, and specifically fish.

Last night was a case in point. I was at a local fishmonger looking for something for supper, and being the end of the day there wasn't much left. It was dabs, plaice, monkfish, dover sole or whiting. Now dover sole is marvellous stuff, no question, but very expensive too. I'm very fond of a bit of plaice though, and these were still stiff as a board they were so fresh - a great sign in fish. But it was the price that was most surprising. I could have bought some monkfish at £31 per kilo, but the plaice were selling at only £9 per kilo! No doubt in my mind what to buy, so I spent £5 on a couple of lovely fresh plaice which I then cooked up meuniere style with new potatoes and runner beans from the garden.

Plaice Meuniere

I guess many people are aware that fashion changes the price of food - it wasn't so long ago that oysters were food for the poor for example, and now they're served with champagne at specialist oyster bars. If you can move beyond the trendy food though you can save yourself a packet and still enjoy really great fish and other seafood.

Try something new, save yourself a packet

Plaice it seems is there right now, but if you're not keen on that there will always be things like dabs - fish too small and too plain to attract the interest of chefs. Another great fish that is often still cheap is Gurnard, an odd looking thing but with a wonderful flavour and a great texture too - much better than your monkfish I reckon, and at at least half the cost! My favourite way is cooking is whole and skinned with sage butter, wonderful stuff.

Gurnard pan fried whole with sage butter and lemon mash

Whatever fish you choose, just remember that something a little different might be more rewarding than you think, and be cheaper to boot. Diversity is the spice of life, so save some pennies and buy something different!

P.S. As an interesting aside, whilst researching for this post I came across this article talking about the rise of monkfish back in 1997. 
P.P.S. Another interesting aside perhaps, and a lesson to those who always trust the first website they read. Here are two articles on Gurnard. Apparently it's either got a stunning flavour and a good texture or is bland, depending who you believe :-) Personally I think I'll stick to believing my tastebuds, and they give it the thumbs up!
P.P.P.S. One final note then I'm done, honest. If you're looking for a good book on fish in general, and not only how to get your plaice into fillets but also to prepare a meuniere sauce, then look no further than Rick Stein's Seafood. Techniques and recipes for just about all the classic fish dishes you could want.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Farfalle with Broad Beans, Bacon, Red Onion & Thyme

Not strictly a Sunday roast this, but it's one of my own inventions that's good enough for sharing I think. I tend to be an inventive cook ... but as with all inventions, not everything is worth sharing, believe me! I wanted to go for a bit of a photo recipe this time around, as I'm aware I can be a bit lax with measurements - hopefully the photos make up for it.

I first knocked this together a few years back when we started to grow our own broad beans. It was one of those classic "what can I cook with these leftovers" dishes, when all I had was a ton of fresh broad beans, a few bits and pieces in the fridge, and plenty of summer sunshine. It's simplicity itself to make - the secret of all good Italian food, but relies on excellent quality ingredients in the correct proportions - that's the other secret to Italian cooking, and the one that most people tend to overlook.

Fresh broad beans, ready for cooking
Now in truth I'm not brilliant at measuring ingredients - unless I'm baking I tend to play it very much by eye/nose/whatever. I can't give exact proportions here, but hopefully the pictures will give you a clear idea of just how much of everything you'll need if you wanted to try and replicate this dish.


  • Farfalle pasta (the little bows)
  • Broad beans (cooked and shelled unless very fresh)
  • Streaky bacon (I prefer mine unsmoked, but that's a matter of personal preference)
  • Red onion, thiny sliced
  • Fresh thyme
  • Lemon zest
  • A little white wine (optional really)
  • Creme fraiche

Some of the ingredients

First off prepare the thyme and lemon. I love thyme - well, I love all herbs to be honest! - so am very generous, but add as much as you think you'd like to eat. The lemon zest should be done lengthways to give a little texture as well as flavour, and the thyme simply needs to be pulled off the woody stems.

Lemon Zest and Thyme
Now the broad beans. Cook the de-podded beans by boiling in salted water for about 8-10 minutes or so, depending how large they are, and then leaving them to cool slightly. You're trying to get a very slight al dente type bean, doesn't matter if some are firm as they will be reheated again. Slip off the outer skin once cool, which should come off nice and easily, and put the lustrous green bean halves to one side.

Cooking broad beans - two different varieties here, hence the different colours
The cooked beans. These have been added to the Thyme/Lemon mix as this will all be added back in to the pan at the same time
Next get some onion cooking. You're looking for quite a sweet finish, so the onions are going to need to cook in a mixture of olive oil and butter for at least 15 minutes in order to sweeten. Whilst they're cooking put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

Onions cooking, these are about half way there
Now the bacon. Once the onions are cooked take them out of the pan, and add in the bacon chopped into strips. No need for extra oil or butter as the fat from the bacon itself will soon cook down and do the job for you. Crispier the better in my book, but cook to taste. When the bacon is about half way there, you'll need to get the pasta in the water. Different farfalle's will take different lengths of time, but for an average farfalle cooking time of 10 minutes now is the right time.

Farfalle pasta
Once the bacon is crispy, it's time for the rest of the ingredients to go back in. Add back in the onions and the broad bean, thyme and lemon mixture.

Bacon, onion, broad beans, thyme and lemon back in the pan
Once this comes back to temperature deglaze with a splash of white wine if you like, cook off some of the liquid, and then add in a good dollop or two of creme fraiche.

Adding in creme fraiche
You should end up with quite a loose sauce, ready to dress the pasta with.

All the sauce ingredients mixed together
Season well with salt & pepper, and add the pasta to the sauce (or should you add the sauce to the pasta? I'm never convinced by either camp if I'm honest) and you're done.

Pasta just added to the sauce, ready to mix
Top tip for pasta here - when you're draining it, always try and keep a little of the water from the pasta back in the pan. You can then use this liquid to loosen the sauce if you're accidentally let either the sauce or the cooked pasta get a little too dry.

Once you're ready either serve the past straight, or you can add a little more thyme and some parmesan for that finishing touch. I also like a couple of Bibanesi on the side, but that's not something you can easily get in the UK

The finished dish
A scrumptious light summer lunch, full of seasonal freshness and healthy to boot. What more could you want?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The shameless supermarket rip off ... and the numbers to prove it

I've long been a big supporter of local food and smaller businesses, preferring to buy my food from farm shops, farmers markets, butchers, fishmongers, etc. - basically any specialist who knows what they're doing. I do use supermarkets, but most of the time it's for bulk purchasing of things that aren't so easy to find locally, the boring stuff like toilet rolls and pasta. But I'm not just some local eco-warrior, a middle class idiot with enough cash to be able to waste what I earn. After all I work in education, and that's not known as a particuarly well paid profession, and on top of that the west country isn't exactly the best paid place to work either!

I was raised a thrifty shopper either way, and I've long been convinced that buying locally not only helps to support local business and ease pressure on the environment, but that it also saves me money in the process. Up to now this has been more of an ad hoc belief, based on the odd price that I've compared here and there over the years, but this morning I decided to finally sit down and work it out pound for pound - and the results are pretty astonishing. Let's put it this way - I think I know where the supermarkets like Tesco are making those billion pound profits - the truth is if you're a supermarket shopper, then they're basically ripping you off.

Exe Valley Farm Shop versus Tesco, Sainsbury & Asda - the Numbers

I use the Exe Valley Farm Shop for most of my shopping, and this morning I popped down there for potatoes and some fruit for the week ahead. As usual I managed to buy much more than I planned- there's something that's no different from supermarket to farm shop! - but the whole lot only cost me £8.96. That's not so unusual to be honest, but we had so much I thought it was about time I did a comparison shop.

My food basket, not bad for a quick trip down the farm shop and back

Unfortunately I didn't take down every individual price in the farm shop, but I realised I had enough info to create a comparison none the less. All I needed to do was weigh everything I had, and then spend some time going through each of the supermarkets websites to see what they would charge for the same thing. And here are the results - personally I found them pretty shocking.

The upside is that my £8.96 basket of food from the farm shop would cost £14.82 at Tesco, £15.48 at Sainsbury and £12.52 at Asda. Whichcever way you look at it, the supermarkets suddenly don't look quite so 'super' any more.

Spreadsheet comparing price of goods at the Exe Valley Farm Shop versus Tesco, Sainsbury & Asda

The supermarkets have long been trying to convince us that they save us money, but the plain fact of the matter is that they don't save us money, they make supermarkets money. That's their sole purpose in life, to make money, and they have absolutely no qualms about doing it. They are machines set-up to extract as much money as possible from our pockets, whilst at the same time they have marketing machines spending millions convincing us that it's all in our best interest to keep shopping there.

I've not even mentioned the health or environmental aspects to this, it's all been about the money. But my basket contains (pretty much) only local food, sourced within a few miles of where I live, and has all been grown pretty naturally. I know the onions, for example, are from my own village, and the apples are from an orchard just a couple of hills away in Cadbury. How does that compare with Dutch onions shipped in across the north sea, and apples flown all the way from New Zealand? Now my local farm shop isn't some sort of charity, sure they sell some food from a long way away, but they're pragmatists and know they need to meet customer demand. That said the majority of their food is local and fresh, and they support a wide range of local producers across the full spectrum of foodstuffs.

So that's the Veg - but what about the Meat?

One more thing before I wrap up - the main reasons for going to the farm shop this morning was for potatoes to go with my Sunday roast. Seeing as I was comparing prices anyway, I wondered just how my lovely 3-rib forerib of beef on the bone from my local butcher here in the village would compare with the supermarket prices. No prizes for guessing - turns out they would rip me off just as badly for the meat as they would do for the veg. I bought a fantastic piece of meat for £35 from my butcher, which I know will be enough for at least 35 meals, if not more (and if you doubt that, just flick through some older postings for ideas about leftovers). A quick check on the supermarkets sites show that for the same quality meat I'd be paying at least £20 more. In fact the only way I could get meat cheaper would be if I paid for the very lowest quality that they offered, and even then it would only be a small saving - and somehow I don't think such cheap meat would stretch as far as I have planned for what I've bought. No bones to boil up for stocks and soup, that's for sure - and once that sort of meat has been minced up for chilli and bolognese I think you'd be hard pressed to find the flavour.

Anyhow, I hope this Sunday rant has perhaps convinced the odd sceptic out there to try more local shopping. But one more caveat perhaps  - there are farm shops, and there are farm shops. There are still local monstrosities that need avoiding - Darts Farm, for example (in my experience at least) is even more of a rip off than the supermarkets. I would put their prices up to show you, but it's not something they like to share on-line it seems. Knowing some of their mark-up I don't blame them! I guess at the end of the day you need to shop with eyes wide open, but just don't let those supermarket bullies convince you they're doing you a favour by selling you all that nice cheap food. It 'aint half has cheap as they make out ...

Rib of Beef for Sunday lunch - meat from the village butcher, veg from the farm shop (not to mention runner beans from the garden), wine from the local vintner. And a hell of a lot cheaper than you'd pay from your supermarket.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

RSPCA Freedom Food Update

Last year I wrote about the RSPCAs "Give Animals a Voice Campaign", which was encouraging us all to think about animal welfare when choosing our BBQ meat. Well it seems it did some good, that and the other campaigns by folks like Jamie Oliver. The RSPCA wrote to let me know that sales of RSPCA Freedom Food chicken in particular have increased significantly.

Glad to be doing my little bit to help the cause of animal welfare. I'm not a vegetarian by a long shot, as anyone who reads this blog will be well aware of, but I do believe that animals deserve to be treated fairly before the inevitable chop.

I should confess that I do have an ulterior motive for posting this - the RSPCA know how to wrap a food blogger around their little fingers, they sent me a small plastic chicken as a thank you. Now who could receive something like that and not write a blog post in support?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Beefy Leftover Special: From Roast Topside to Vitello Tonnato

I'm a sucker for Farmer's markets, rarely get my food from anywhere else, and last Saturday it was Killerton House's turn (third Saturday in the month, in case you're local). This market has only been running for a year or so, and has attracted a couple of new meat producers recently. A while back I tried some lamb from Peradon Organic farm (, which I made into Spit Roast Lamb and Wild Garlic Mash - unfortunately never got a chance to blog about that one. However last week I decided to plump for Beef instead from West Kidland farm ( what what a piece of beef it was!

Anyone who has read this blog before will know that I also have a weakness for Rib of Beef on the bone, so it's not really like me to choose Topside, but it looked like a lovely piece of meat and a bargain at £15 for 2kg. It was very well hung too. I won't go into the way I cooked it this time, suffice to say that it was a pretty standard roast, that I served with a rather large yorkshire pudding, carrots, peas (in their pods) and new potatoes. Lovely stuff, which you can see on my Picasa food site if you're interested.

But what I really want to talk about is not the roast beef, it's what I did with the leftovers - Vitello Tonnato.

Vitello Tonnato aka Veal in Tuna Sauce

OK, first things first, obviously I wasn't using veal. But you don't really need to, to be honest. We've done this before with not only beef, but also lamb and even chicken. What is it? Basically it's cold meat dressed with a tuna sauce. It's simplicity itself to make, but like all simple food if the right ingredients are combined in the correct way then a few simple things can be transformed into something much greater than the sum of their parts. It should also be done with mayonnaise to be truly original, but as we're expecting our first child at the moment raw eggs are off the menu, so we are tending to use creme fraiche instead and that works out pretty well.

Ingredients (for four hungry people)

Tuna, 170g (in olive oil), chopped finely
Capers, 2 tablespoons, chopped finely
Mayonnaise (or creme fraiche), 150g
Anchovies, if you like them - not something we're keen on

Beef (or other meat):
10-12 thin slices of beef

(doesn't really need seasoning)


  • Mix all the sauce ingredients together - easiest done in a blender if you have one.
  • Layout beef on a serving platter, slightly overlapping.
  • Dress with a thickish layer of the sauce, then leave to come to room temperature.
  • Serve the platter in the centre of the table, and allow people to help themselves.


Boiled potatoes work well, or saute (my preference) - again left over from the roast.
A fresh green salad with cucumbers and tomatoes works well.

It's a fab dish for a hot summers day, and a very tasty way of using up leftover beef. I must admit I was a bit suspicious when the Italian first suggested this dish many years ago, but have enjoyed it many times since. I do urge you to give it a try, hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kudos to Kenwood, Customer Service to be Celebrated

I must admit I have something of a reputation for writing extensive reviews for disappointing service. I love the way the web allows someone as insignificant as me to have a voice that can spread so much further and wider than was previously possible, and there's something deeply satisfying about doing your little bit to stand up to bullies. But that said I recognise that I don't perhaps write quite as often as I should about the good things in life. Thought I'd go some way to mending that by writing about my recent experience with Kenwood.

I needed a new food processor last year as my old Moulinex Ovatio gave up the ghost, so bought a Kenwood FP950 Multi Pro Libra Food Processor. Been very happy with it overall (love the fact that it can weigh food as you add it), but not so long ago part of the mechanism that locks the bowl in place snapped off. It still worked OK most of the time, but it was a bit weird to have such an expensive piece of kit break. I have various Kenwood tools (including one of their very first generation Chefs, still a stalwart in the kitchen) but the rest are generally well built.

Broken safety switch - now that shouldn't happen

Anyhow, to cut a short story even shorter I contacted Kenwood about this, and after a few emails back and forth they were satisfied purely on the basis of the photos that I supplied that it was a problem with the machine, and a brand new bowl arrived this morning, no charge.

Brand new bowl, no charge - now that should happen!

The machine was out of warranty by the time I contacted them, and although I know there are further European laws I could have tried I think in stands in Kenwood's credit - and for that matter Zoe Hall from Kenwood who dealt with it - that what could have become a long winded and difficult situation was dealt with efficiently and appropriately. One happy customer, many thanks Kenwood, and Zoe.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Roast Duck with Lavender & Herbs ... and Three Tricks for Leftovers

Sunday Roasts are in my blood. A traditional middle class English background means that I've spent so many Sunday's enjoying a roast joint with the family that that's an inescapable fact, so I guess I'd be bound to continue this tradition. But as much as I enjoy the pleasure of cooking and eating a Sunday roast, it's perhaps the leftovers that I enjoy more than anything. This duck was no exception, and it did such a great job feeding us through the week, I thought I'd make a bit of a special post about leftovers. But first, the main event.

Roast Duck with Lavender & Herbs

Duck is a bit of novelty for me, and once again was I was inspired to cook it by "a woman at Cullompton Farmer's market". I forgot her name last time I bought something from her (Roast Guinea Fowl with Lavender, Mint & Thyme) and now I've gone and done it again! Next time I really must make more effort. She doesn't half deserve the credit as well - not only does she sell great meat, but she makes some of the best pies to be had in Devon I reckon.

Just like that Guinea Fowl, I decided to follow a recipe (well, mostly follow a recipe, I was kind of following several) for the Duck, and from the same "Flavours of the World" book. I've becoming quite fond of Lavender and meat, and this was done with fresh thyme from the garden as well, made into a kind of salty rub that's pressed all over the lightly scored meat before cooking. Wonderful stuff.

The Lavender and Thyme salty mix

Scored and dusted duck ready for the oven

Close up on the dry mix on the bird

The duck itself has been lightly scored to let the fat run, and I'm using a support in my roasting tray as well so that it won't sit in the fat as it's running. This was cooked fast then slow, pretty normal cooking style for me, but longer than I usually do for poultry as I prefer duck either pink or well done, kind of how I like my lamb. It's quite a complex recipe, involving making stocks, reducing them, etc., so I won't go into it all now, but fun to do and not at all challenging, just time consuming.

Duck out of the oven, ready to rest. Lovely crispy skin

Came out pretty tasty, with a wonderful sticky sauce. Lavender's not something to use often in the kitchen perhaps, but now and again it does add a welcome and interesting variation to dishes.

The Roast Duck finished dish, minus vegetables

But then what to do with lots of leftover duck? Duck's often not a huge bird, true, and we had a female this time around which is much smaller than a drake, but you still get a fair bit of meat off it. First things first, it was time for stock.

Duck Stock

The first thing we tend to do with any roast is get the meat off the bones and make a stock. That's one of the great things about always going for meat on the bone, you've not only get a better roast but also bones for stock. I'm not really someone who bothers much with trying to create elaborate stocks, honestly it's usually just bones and water for me cooked for an hour or two, but this time I added the usual suspects of carrot, celery, onion and bay leaf.

Stock being made

To be fair it does add extra depth to a stock to do this, but I had an ulterior motive as well - I'd worked out what to do for my first proper left over dish - duck & noodle soup.

Duck & Noodle Soup

As ever with these things, my leftover cooking is largely driven by what's in the fridge. The meat may be the core of any dish, but it needs other things to make it into a complete meal. This time around it was cabbage & spring onions that needed eating, so I decided to plump for an oriental style soup.

Ingredients for soup ready to go

By taking the remaining breast off the bird and slicing it into delicate thin discs I intended to make a simple spiced soup, with noodles cooked in stock at the bottom, and cabbage, spring onion and slices of duck on the top. Simple as anything to make. I strained some of the stock off and added some Chinese five spice and soy sauce to taste, and then added each ingredient according to how long it would take to cook.

The stock strained and enriched with soy sauce

Cabbage was first for about 10 minutes till it was getting really tender, then in went the spring onions and noodles for 3 minutes, some very finely sliced fresh ginger (done in inch long extra thin match sticks, to add texture and interest) and some very finely chopped red chili, and finely the duck back in for just a minute at the end to warm it through. Lovely stuff.

Duck & Noodle Soup in the office

This is one of my first trick to leftover cooking - you have to ignore the 'rules' of cooking fresh meat if you want to make the most of leftover meat. If I'd put the duck in earlier it would have got tough and dry, but by reversing things and just adding it at the end you get the opposite effect. By using the stock as well you still get full flavours, without needing any long cooking.

We got four large portions out of this, soup always goes a long way I find. Well, unless the Italian gets hold of it, she's a fiend for soup! Still had lots of duck left though, so next up ...

Roast Duck Ragu

The English are pretty keen on Italian food generally, and in a mixed Italian/English house like hours that's even more pronounced. Ragu or sugo is therefore a bit of a staple way of using up leftovers. Just to clarify, the term sugo generally means a slightly more smooth sauce than ragu, which usually has larger pieces of meat and a rougher texture.

And here the second of my tricks with leftovers. When it comes to well cooked meat you can't really mince it up and re-fry it, that just dries it out or makes a mush - not pleasant. The technique I use these days is to flake the meat, creating texture while preserving the moisture within it.

The flaked duck meat

You still need to cook a ragu long and slow, as tinned tomatoes need time for their flavour to develop, but by flaking in this way and cooking slowly in a liquid environment the meat will enrich the dish and not get tough or dry.

I always do my ragu's the same way, the usual sofrito of onion, carrot and celery is cooked till golden and tender, then in with the meat, deglaze with wine if you like, and in with the tomatoes and herbs.

That leads me to my third trick with using leftovers, adding something from the original dish so that you always get a different result, that way your food never gets too samey. For this one, for example, I chopped up the leftover skin really finely and added that to the sauce with all it's flavours of lavender and thyme. Once that's blended with the rest you don't really pick up the individual notes of flavour anymore, but it does add a subtle distinctness which makes all my ragus or sugos different, no matter what they're based on. Whether it's a lamb cooked with lemon balm, or chicken cooked with basil, I think your main roast always ends up adding something special to a leftover dish, which you'd otherwise be hard pressed to create. Sometimes it may be that the meat itself is simply infused with interesting and different flavours, other times there may be something leftover you can add, but either way it keeps you from getting bored with your food.

Ready for deglazing, white wine this time (usually what Italians use)

Now with the tomatoes added, ready for long slow cooking

One note on ragus and sugos - don't skimp on the tomatoes, or the herbs for that matter. I used six tins of tomatoes I think, plus a large bundle of marjoram, thyme, bay and rosemary. Your sauce will be very wet to start with, but the long, slow cooking will slowly reduce it down, concentrating the flavours. I think I must have done this one for about two hours at least, maybe three. Served it with a good thick pasta, and that made supper for the two of us and then lunch the next day as well. Then it was off to the freezer with the rest of the ragus for other days.

Ragus ready for the freezer

These old cheese pots are fabulous for this - they just about contain two portions per pot, and not skimpy ones either. Let me put it this way, I'm not exactly losing weight eating portions of this size! "DS" stands for Duck Sugo here. Our freezer is usually full of BS, RS, VS, LS - you get the drift I'm sure :-) The labels are for ever getting rubbed off, and we end up playing the mystery sugo game - still, it's all good.

So that's my leftover odyssey. I hope it might inspire others to make more of their Sunday roasts. Duck is an expensive meat compared to others, this one cost about £15, for example, but if you consider that I managed to make twenty four meal portions from it, suddenly it doesn't seem so expensive at all. All the other main ingredients, i.e. pasta, noodles, carrot, onions, etc, are very cheap - and the lavender and herbs free - so it's relatively simple to turn out pretty good quality food like this for less than £1 per meal. Personally I'm amazed people think they're getting a good deal from places like McDonalds, I find it a bit galling to see people chucking tens of pounds at those places, and then claiming they don't have any cash. Still, different folks, different strokes I guess.

All comments welcome, as ever!


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