It’s been a whole month. And who knows what I’ve been up to. Oh, I know. WORK! After a long and tedious period of not much work this past year I’ve been through a career crisis, confidence crisis, and general all round crises of every type and description. Charcutepalooza has given me something to look forward to most months. I say most because the Hot Dog challenge brought about it’s own cooking crisis involving the untimely demise of a blender amidst a lot of swearing, but otherwise it’s been a treat and definitely helped to keep my spirits afloat during the dark days. Continue reading


Damson in distress

Pork pie:  Meat, Pastry.

Jelly optional.

Or essential if, like me you are a fastidious nerd who likes to do everything from scratch… I might not bother with it again because of the time involved. Boil up some pigs feet, tails etc. then simmer for hours and hours, strain and reduce for many more hours.

I would so love to evangelise to you about how we need to discover the cheap cuts and eat more offal, but seriously. Pigs feet? Ok, so they do make amazing jelly, but picking through them afterwards searching for meaty morsels, all I could find was gelatinous goop. I don’t really get why you would eat them… unless, of course they prove to be the Elixir of Life.

The jelly was brown and murky – on account of me adding ground spices (as opposed to whole) – but it made a nice reflection of some trees and a fence in my garden. Reflectojelly.


Pretty simple really. Minced pork shoulder, bacon, a few herbs and the secret ingredient: Anchovy sauce. I don’t want to get all ‘Proper’ on you, but I do believe that when it comes to Pork Pie anything claiming to be authentic really should have Anchovy sauce in it. Not that I ‘ve done my research or anything. I could be gravely mistaken. But I’m holding to what Jane Grigson says, and she says Yea! to Anchovy sauce.


So beautifully soft, on account of the obscene amounts of lard. I once heard some TV chef/baker man say the dough should be “as soft  as the inside of your best beloved’s thigh”. Ahem. Well there you go. I don’t have a best beloved just at the moment so we’ll have to take the word of the TV chef/baker man on that one.

Baked until the lard oozes out of the gold pastry crust

And there they are, looking great and tasty until someone (me) drops them all on the floor. *tears*

Well not all of them. I ate a couple first.  And no, I didn’t take a picture of my floor smashed pies.


Actually, on second thoughts, did I say I was fastidious earlier in this post. Hmm, perhaps not, given that it’s 2 hours to the Charcutepalooza deadline, and part of the challenge is to post recipes along with our experiences. Even though I wrote this post in good time I’ll be honest, I TOTALLY forgot about the recipe part. I’ve been working my butt off (a gal’s gotta earn dough to make dough).

Enter panic and distress!

However, I did make pickled Damsons recently, and although I didn’t actually eat them with my Pork Pies I think they’d be a great accompaniment to pies, terrines and all sorts of Autumnal Charcuterie goodness. I also learned that Damson juice would make excellent fake blood (a girl also has to earn dough to buy a new and better camera).

So here it is. It’s not even my recipe. Like dodgy bloggers across the world I stoled it off the internet and jiggled the ingredients to my personal preference.

Pickled Damsons

1kg damsons
cinnamon stick
3-4 cloves
grated zest of a lemon
2 inch nub of ginger
1 teaspoon allspice berries
150ml balsamic vinegar
450g dark sugar
Prepare the damsons by washing and removing the stalks, and pricking each one with a pin to prevent them bursting (Sorry what? I mean, do you have ANY idea how small Damsons are and how many of them there are in one kilogram?).
Tie the spices in a muslin bag – or not if you are lazy like me.
Melt the sugar in the vinegar, heating until it has all dissolved.
Add the damsons and spices, cook on a low simmer for 10-15 minutes until they are soft
Strain the damsons and pack them into clean preserving jars, reserving the juice.
Bring the strained juice to the boil and reduce until it has a syrup consistency
Finally pour the syrup over the Damsons and seal the jar

The Pitt (Cue) of Despair

The  benchmark by which I measure disappointment in life is ‘Caravaggio – The Final Years’. The 2005 National Gallery show featured just 16 late works by one of my favourite artists, the master of dark shadows and searing light. The exhibition was lauded, applauded and generally agreed upon by all and sundry to be really rather good.

But I never saw a single one of the paintings in that show.

Days and weeks floated by, somehow I just couldn’t find time to go along. On the very last day I decided to put an end to the madness. I awoke early and headed off to queue for a ticket. When I arrived at 8am the line of people had already weaved its way around the building but after two and a half hours standing in the howling gusts and drizzle I finally reached the front of the queue, ready to pay for my ticket.

I hit a snag. My wallet was not in my bag.

But then, oh! sweet relief I had my cheque book with me.

Then a final insurmountable obstacle: gallery policy was not to accept any cheque without a guarantee card. No exceptions. Despite my desperate pleading, complete with smarting eyes and quivering lip the stone faced cashier was unrelenting.

I remain convinced his veined marble visage was only in place to cover an unbeating heart of black obsidian and have forgiven errant lovers more readily than I could forgive that horrid jobsworth.

I freely admit that my short cycle home was a blurry mess of tears. I’d blown my last chance of seeing this once in a lifetime show and other than the despised cashier,  really only had myself to blame. Even now, when referring to events unattended, missed opportunities and suchlike I am likely to conclude that at least it wasn’t as traumatic as ‘The Caravaggio Incident’.

It has taken these six years to experience a similar disappointment.

Pitt Cue installed their shiny food truck under Hungerford Brigde where they have been peddling pulled pork, brisket and other smoked delights over the whole summer. It has been received with rapturous delight and universal acclaim. I’ve been several times, but they’ve either been closed, or sold out. Someone’s timing totally sucks. Probably mine.

Yesterday I decided enough was enough, got up rather late and winged my way to the South Bank for I knew it was the last opportunity to savour the delights purveyed through the serving hatch of the Pitt Cue trailer. I stood in the queue. There was a bit of the howling gusts, but the drizzle had passed. I got to the front of the queue after not too long, money at the ready, wallet in hand.

And then. The crushing blow.

The boy ahead of me in the queue, whose fine face I had been admiring to while away the waiting time, had been served the very last portion of food.


I didn’t weep. I don’t hate the cashiers or the pretty queue boy. But I am sad.

There is something to take comfort in however: that the logistics involved in organising repeat ‘showing’ of the Pitt Cue trailer are not quite so insurmountable as the gathering together of the fragile precious artworks of a certain moody, mysterious, even murderous 16th century painter.

Eating the Past

For his most recent television programme, Rick Stein embarked on a jaunt ’round Spain – exploring it’s culinary heritage. Whilst passing through the Basque country he called in at barbecue restaurant run by a man called Victor, who in turn stopped Rick in his tracks with his food.

Victor cooks on a barbecue that he designed, using home-made charcoal just the way it was done by his parents, and their parents before them. Steaks come from 12 year old Dairy cow rather than a young cow bred for beef – also in keeping with the ways of old.

Victor spoke briefly about how this journey of opening his restaurant was very much an emotional one. Through the translated English one could hear the word ‘niño’ popping up in the background. His restaurant is a time machine. A vehicle in which Victor travels back to reconnect to the past, to his childhood, family, traditions, and sustains deep ties to the ageless mountains and forests that make up the landscape of his terroir.

It all struck a chord with Rick who bubbled in effusive agreement that  “…all i try to do is go back to my childhood and try to recreate those flavours [of] when I was little”.

He then proceeded to scoff one of Victors barbecued prawns and disappeared for a moment from this world into a rapturous stupor which left him speechless and incoherent. In fact, even the 12 year old dairy steak left him gasping in awe. Such was the effect of Victor’s time-travel food.


A recent post by Matthew Fort on his blog mentions that “Food is about taste and memory…” and talks of meals that “…I will be able to recall with pleasure as I sit drooling in a wheelchair with a rug over my knees waiting for my daily gruel in the Blue Bayou Sunset Home”.


And beyond the veil of weird science Heston Blumenthal constantly talks about his desire to recapture memory through food: “I wanted to do a dish that conjured up memories. Food has the ability to generate emotions because it’s the one thing we do that uses all the senses, and food has the ability to trigger memory and nostalgia”.

Of course none of this is news. The connection between food and memory, emotion and nostalgia is long established and has been discussed in depth and detail everywhere from Nigel Slater’s Toast to dissections of Proust’s Madeleine.


I’ve been struggling to recall the definitive meals of my formative years, and don’t seem to come up with all that much. Perhaps I’m trying too hard to force the issue. Memories of eating mainly consist of feasts unadulterated by human interference, knives or seasonings. I remember standing next to, or being perched in a tree and supping on fruit at the source, so to speak. Figs, grapes, mulberries, naartjies (clementines), peaches and more.

Not that my mum was not a decent cook, but not many meals really stand out in my mind. In fact, after much cogitation I can only really think of one just now. Every so often she would make Chicken liver paté which contained a thrilling and forbidden ingredient: Sherry. In our teetotal household this addition was as  foreign and intriguing as some exotic spice. Perhaps in this recipe lie the roots of my predilection for Fino.

Fortified wine from Jerez is my own potable time machine, what is yours?


So despite the allure of Headcheese, for this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge I decided go back to the future and make my mum’s recipe for Chicken liver paté.

First onions are finely diced and fried in butter until soft and translucent

Meanwhile chop the chicken livers into small chunks

Add these to the onions, along with wine, rosemary and cook for a little while. Watch it cooking if you can –  this is the last time it will look appetising.

When cooked add cream and sherry, then liquidise and strain. It will look hideous. I mean REALLY ugly. But it will smell and taste amazing. Honest.

Add gelatine and pour into bowls, then chill. Once cooled cover the top with a layer of clarified butter and decorate with bay leaves if you wish

For me, to have an authentic time-travel experience the following is also necessary: this paté must be eaten in the afternoon after school (work) with Melba toast, straight out of the crock, using the toasts as a ‘spoon’ whilst watching a classic ’90’s sitcom gem such as Frasier, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Or Family Matters, or Blossom(apparently popular in Spain), or Doogie Howser or The Wonder Years... having wrestled the telly remote control from your pesky little brother of course

Time travel chicken liver pate

This is best made 3 days in advance.

Serve with hot buttered toast.

150g butter

2 onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

A few sprigs of rosemary

350g chicken livers chopped

250ml red wine

200ml dry sherry

150ml thick double cream

Bay leaves

1 teaspoon gelatine dissolved in a little water, (stand in a cup in a
saucepan of hot water to dissolve)

Melt the butter and fry the onions garlic and rosemary, till the onions are translucent.

Add the chopped livers to the pan.

Throw in the wine and cover.

Cook on a low heat for 20minutes then set aside to cool

Once cooled liquidise in a blender

Work the mixture through a sieve (it will look like a grey sloppy mess)

Add the sherry and the cream and mix through

Add the dissolved gelatine before putting the paté in to crocks, allow to cool

Cover with melted butter to seal until use.

Garnish with bay leaves setting them into the butter before it solidifies.

Refrigerate until an hour or so before serving.

Absolutely delicious.

Gardenfest 2011

Aah. The now ubiquitous pop-up. Daily they spring up all over London like flowers in the springtime, and just as full of hope and enthusiasm. If you weren’t at Gardenfest 2011 you missed out on a truly glorious variety of pop-up.

Gardenfest – a one-day festival of music, picnics, rainbows and fabulous food in took place in a certain North London back yard, but really we all pretended we were located across the pond in the South Eastern United States, what with the plethora of Fiddles, Mandolins and Banjos about the place – and the corresponding abundance of old timey music.

I sold bbq pork rolls complete with coleslaw and spicy Bourbon bbq sauce. I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t proper pulled pork, although it was damn tasty. Proper pulled pork shreds into soft strands and because I was using a foreign unfamiliar (gas) bbq I didn’t have quite the control over the temperature as I would have liked. I was also so exhausted that I slept in.

In the spirit of myself eve being my harshest criticts I have to say – let’s face it, although the pork was pretty amazing after 6 hours on the bbq it would have been all the better after 12.  Also there were real actual North Carolinians at Gardenfest, and it would be rather presumptious of me to claim to be an expert in the prescence of such discerning folk.

If you are wondering where all the cool pictures are of all the bands and revellers and rainbows – well all I can say is HELLO I was selling pork rolls at a ridiculous rate of knots and had no time to document anything except…


See that faint pink line around the outside of the pork? Well that my friends is a smoke ring. You cannot imagine my glee – for the smoke ring is a sure sign of wicked bbq skillz. So next time I forgo the lie-in and make sure my meat gets shredded!

So if you want another view of Gardenfest the best I can do is point you in the direction of my fellow festival bloggers Heather and Bruce who covered all the corners of Gardenfest 2011 that I couldn’t. See you there in 2012.

I heart beef heart tomato

A while back, when things were worse than usual money-wise a friend treated me to something wonderful. For quite a few months – I forget how long – about 9 months perhaps – an Abel and Cole veggie box was delivered to my house and paid for by someone else. It was a perfect gesture of charity to a broke-ass wannabe foodie*.

The best thing about it was that it made me think more about what I was eating. Instead of just throwing a whole lot of veg together and boiling up some pasta I actually did think ‘How can I do best honour this kohlrabi and cook it in a way that will do justice to its true kohlrabi-ness.

Feel free to point at the screen now and laugh at how ridiculous I am, but I’m afraid it’s true.

Recently I haven’t been paying attention to what I’m eating – there is no rhythm or routine to my eating habits. I don’t think it’s a good way to live.      So in an attempt to restore some vague sense of order I went food shopping yesterday. I popped into The Peoples Supermarket where I chose, from the rainbow array of Red-orange-yellow-green-(not blue or indigo)-purple tomatoes, this enormous Beef Heart.

And today I sliced that baby up, drizzled walnut oil on it, sprinkled salt and pepper and the chopped up stalk of fresh garlic and ate it for lunch.

WOW. When last did you eat a tomato that tastes like a tomato, and not mealy cardboard?

Ok, so that’s not all I had for lunch. I also ate the pickings of a chicken carcass I’d made stock from and had a glass of wine.

*I have no objections to using the word foodie as some do.

A dog is for life

Note: Alas I have misplaced my camera and had to proceed with making the sausages without it until my flat-mate came home and I could borrow hers. Totally my fault for leaving it to the last minute of course, but then she went to bed and I didn’t have the cable to download the pics. DISASTER : [  I did manage to revive my ancient Canon Ixus (circa 2002) for long enough to take a picture of the end product but I’ll update this post with the pictures I took as soon as I can.

May I present the cutest hot dog in London.

American food in London is riding high on a wave of revival. I recently enjoyed a Big Apple hot dog at Tweat-Up which brings food lovers together to support new food startups in London.  It’s so good having the excuse to eat, drink and be merry in the name of research and development.

So then, on to my version.

I always try to buy ‘real’ meat from ‘proper’ butchers and taking part in Charcutepalooza gives me the chance each month to try out a different butcher.  At first I am met with bemusement and surprise. The wry smile on the face of every butcher I’ve encountered that betrays a certain incredulity and disbelief when I order entire pork bellies, or great hunks of beef with instructions to:

‘Please leave it ON THE BONE. I’ll DO IT MYSELF. No I really do WANT to do it myself. Yeah I’m making sausages (or pastrami, or bacon)…NO! For heavens sake DON’T mince the meat I’M doing that. ‘

But that doesn’t last long, because after the realisation dawns that I’m really quite serious their curiosity is piqued and the questions start flowing. Before long they’re very excited about this ‘young lass’ whose taken their dying trade to heart and aare asking me to bring in samples and recipes. I’m not sure how much of this is down to me being a girl but I’m sure it helps.

For June’s hot dog challenge I thought I’d give O’Shea’s of Knightsbridge a go. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with London – it’s just across the way from Harrods and the area is what you might call ‘well Posh’. I was terrified of how much this excursion was going to cost.

Well, it wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t as ridiculous as I feared. They were very friendly and the butcher who served me told me about the shop he worked at in New Zealand that served 37 different types of sausages including Pork & Banana and Mussel & Onion. We chatted about sausage in an entirely innocent way for at least 15 minutes before I cycled off with my meaty purchases.

Once home I proceeded with the usual sausage making process of cubing, chilling, grinding, etc. The difference with hot dogs is that the fat and protein are blended together to form an emulsion, giving a much smoother texture. With emulsified sausage the meat is sprinkled with salt and left to rest so that the protein Myosin, which helps the ingredients bind and improves the texture of the sausage, can develop.

It’s a bit of a pain really – espeacially as I don’t have a mixer or food processor. In the end I blended the meat to a paste with the egg beater but it could have been much more paste like. Still not bad.

I’d like to do this again and not be in such a rush, but actually have time to enjoy the process and learn more about emulsified sausage. Good thing then that I’ve been commissioned to make Bratwurst for a friends birthday!

After stuffing the sausages I cold smoked them for a few hours with Cherry wood. I decided to stick with convention – hot dogs are a classic and as they say why fix what ain’t broke eh? I braised the dogs in beer before enjoying my hot dog in buttery brioche roll with French’s mustard and caramelized onion. And more beer.


Caramelized Onion.

A few white onions (perhaps one per person) sliced

Fat (I used dripping – but Lard, oil or butter will do too).



Mustard seeds (optional)

Heat the oil in a pan.

When hot add the mustard seeds and fry for a few seconds before adding the onions.

Fry the onions on a medium heat for about 20 -30 minutes keeping an eye on them and stirring occasionally so that they do not burn.

About half way through cooking season the onions with salt and a sprinkle of sugar to taste. It doesn’t need much, but the seasoning will concentrate the sweet taste of the onions.

They should be soft, nicely browned and not at all crunchy.

Serve as a garnish on hot dogs, or any other suitable food. Or if you’re like me just eat them staight out of the frying pan.