Wild garlic butter

We sat down to supper, the children just having gone to bed. They were supposed to be asleep, yet by the volume of giggling wafting downstairs were still wide awake. Perhaps we could finish our meal in peace before resorting to investigation followed by threats.

I'd spent about half an hour in the afternoon making wild garlic butter from scratch. About 600ml of double cream into the churning jar was enough for a large pat and the buttermilk left over will go very well in some scones or to marinate some chicken.

A few handfuls of the garlic leaves and flowers, dug from the garden and cleaned of soil were wilted in a pan and squeezed dry. Salt and a pinch of turmeric went in to the blender with the butter until it became a vivid green, then I poured it, still fairly liquid, into a dish in the fridge to firm.

Making your own butter means you can choose cream that you know comes from well looked after cows. Grass-fed and allowed to live as they should: on pasture and well treated, contributing to and being part of the wider healthy biosphere. There is also a freshness to homemade, as well as a the excitement of seeing the simple magic of separating whey from fat. And once you've rinsed and squeezed it through muslin you can flavour it as you like.

When the children help, we wrap and label theirs with their names so they have personalised butter pats. They usually stick to plain butter, but you could spice it with garam masala or a tablespoon of harissa, rosemary or tarragon. You could even go sweet with ground cinnamon and sugar.

When you make a batch, roll each into a cylinder and wrap well in paper. You can freeze for later use or keep in the fridge for about a week if salted.

I used the wild garlic butter last night with chorizo scrambled eggs. The spices from the meat mingling with the deep green butter as the cubes sizzled and crisped. On the side were garlic-laden sautéed courgettes and a green salad lightly dressed with a punchy mustard vinaigrette. As if it wasn't rich enough, I had some very creamy goats cheese on my eggs. Maybe I'm calcium deficient at the moment and my body is trying to tell me something. If that meal was the result of subliminal dairy messaging, then I'm all ears.

Rouille of fortune

It's a rare occasion that sees me pass a merguez sausage without buying it. Many a night, in the back streets of Toulouse after a hard day at Art college followed by the necessary 'unwinding', I could be found loitering by one of the many 'merguez-frites' vans. The meat may have been dubious, but if you add enough spices to something (and by those spices I also include everything that went in the sangria at Le Chat d'oc) it tastes amazing.

These days, I neither spice myself nor eat dubious things from vans. No matter that eating from a van or a skip is the height of fashion, and far be it from me to not appear as a man about town, full of a la mode encounters, I prefer to have a cosy night in knowing that what I'm eating is of du bon provenance, as it were. And besides, the idea of eating on a cold London street is frankly quite beyond the pale for a man of my age.

The newly opened butcher's shop down the road from us knows each farm that supplies their meat, if not each animal they slice up in the brightly lit back of the shop in the village. If things aren't up to scratch, they don't stock them. This gives me confidence in them, they really seem to care.

A large vitrine looks into the chilly fridge as you walk in the front door, framing the animal version of a gruesome Mafia scene and a pale red neon glow gives a rather voyeuristic feel to the whole set up. I ask for some bones for the dog, stock up on chicken and beef then spot the merguez. Ben, the tatooed and bearded man with the cleaver hands me the bag of body parts meat and I slowly, smilingly, back out of the shop and drive home through the leafy sun-dappled streets of Dulwich.

Back home, the dried butter beans(*) go into a bowl, covered with boiling water and soak for an hour before cooking. And I cook them in chicken stock made from Fosse Meadow farm birds until soft and velvety. Stirring through a good handful of parsley and a large pinch of dried mint I then pour in a lot of olive oil and leave the beans to quietly cool in a corner of the kitchen.

Later I will grill the merguez until oozing red oil comes out and the skin starts to crisp. The egg yolk(**) I've kept back from the stock clarifying is perfect for the rouille to go on top. All it takes is some toasted cumin seeds(***), ground to a powder with some saffron(*****), a couple of small garlic cloves(*****) and some salt(******). The olive oil(******) goes in a thin stream into the mortar as the egg yolk breaks golden into the spices. Thickening slowly it will add a hit of flavour to bring the sausage and beans together like a sun-tanned priest at a wedding.

*From Madagascar, apparently. For some reason or other I'm sure.
**From a nice farm in the Cotswolds.
***Packed in the UK, apparently. What a weaselly thing to say.
****From La Mancha. Saffron Panza de la Mancha. A quixotic strand.
*****French. I think.
******This, of course, is from Maldon.
*******La bella Liguria. This is really all over the place isn't it?

Lamb Shanks with Spaghetti Squash

Last night the oven caught fire. I'd only popped out for a while and left Bee a lasagne to heat for supper. We've had it for about 13 years, and it has seen two replacement heating elements and a couple of glass doors which shattered for no obvious reason. It also has always sounded like a derailing freight-train since we bought it, so perhaps it's time for a new one.The central heating part of the boiler, which now is being called into service after it's summer holiday has decided it also has had enough. Even that has had so many parts replaced I'm not sure if it's the same boiler we started with.And finally, to complete the trinity, the brakes on Bee's car failed as well. It's been a good week for the repair industry.Back in the kitchen, all is not lost without an oven. I'm baking bread in my neighbour, Russel's one, which has its own peculiarities. It's rather like the peasant taking his loaf to the village bakery to be cooked. I can't, however, impose full roasting usage upon him every evening.  So it's pots and pan cookery for the immediate future.Fortunately, the season is perfect for slow cooking. A strong, heavy deep pot, preferably cast iron and with a lid is a kitchen essential. You can make meals with just one burner and fill up on hearty and healthy food.I'm buy our meat from Heal Farm in Devon and the quality is amazing. Knowing where it comes from and being able to speak directly to the farmers is a privilege. It's not much more expensive than the supermarkets and the little extra it costs is, in my opinion a price worth paying for the quality and care.These lamb shanks were so rich and flavoursome. A proper autumn meal, and very easy to cook using one pan. Fortunately, I roast the squash earlier in the day so it only required a quick warming through. You, with your fancy, functioning oven should be fine to cook it as normal. If you can't find spaghetti squash, swap it for pumpkin or sweet potato mash with thyme and almonds.This is a rich and meaty meal. A proper dish if you've just been out hewing logs or something. And one that, after a few minutes preparation, pretty much cooks itself. It's also perfect for the slow cooker if you have one. Eight hours on low should do it.Ingredients for two2 lamb shanksOlive oil1 tin of chopped tomatoes1 bulb of garlic, halved equatorially1 large red chilliA pinch of cumin seedsOne spaghetti squashA pinch of fresh thymeA small handful of toasted almond flakesSalt and pepper to seasonMethodSeason the lamb shanks with salt and pepper then brown them all over in a little oil in a very hot pan.Deglaze the pan with about a mug-full of water and add the lamb and liquid to a heavy, lidded casserole dish.Add all the remaining ingredients and cook for about two and a half hours on a low flame. It's even better if you cook this the day before you need it. It tastes just a little more rounded after a good rest.For the spaghetti squash, roast it for one hour in the oven at about 180c. Leave it to cool a little, so it doesn't steam your face off when you cut into it. Scoop out all the flesh. Sprinkle over some thyme and almond flakes and a little seasoning and serve with the lamb and sauce.

Pork Chops with Mustard and Cream

pork-chopsWe don't often eat pork chops in my house. We've had the fear put into us by my mother-in-law that we will have a terrible night's sleep if we eat pork in the evening. Also, I've possibly been put off it by years of having to endure eating grey, leathery shoe-sole tasteless meat disguising itself as food. You'd think it was still wartime the way some people still cook it.Make sure you but good quality pork, from well looked after pigs. That's a good place to start. And don't be scared of it being a little pink in the middle. That way, it will be juicy, tender and flavoursome and will, with hope, overcome bad memories of the school lunch hall, chewing interminably and trying to move 'food' around the plate to make it look as though you've polished most of it off and are bloody well grateful, boy. I didn't fight in the trenches surviving on tinned pilchards for you to etc etc.Today's recipe is simple and very quick to make. Pork, creamy mushrooms and mustard is a classic combination and while it may seem to be a little old-fashioned, there's nothing wrong with that; delicious is delicious. The sesame broccoli brings it out of the aspidistra lined 1970's suburbs a little, just don't boil the veg. for four hours.Ingredients for four people4 good thick pork chopsA few handfuls of button of chestnut mushrooms, sliced1/2 a red onion, finely sliced2 sprigs of rosemaryA few large sage leaves300ml double cream1-2tbsp wholegrain mustard (I like Moutarde de Meaux, very tasty and has no sugar or other nonsense)Olive oil for fryingSalt and pepper to seasonEnough broccoli for four people, stems too1tbsp sesame oil1tbsp sesame seeds, toasted if you likeMethodWhile heating a cast iron skillet for the meat, gently soften the onion in a sauté pan in the olive oil until translucent then add the herbs and mushrooms.Season well and cook until the mushrooms are colouring. Add the cream and stir in the mustard. Cook for a few minutes until the cream thickens. Loosen with a little water if it gets too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning and mustard.Cook the pork chops on a high heat for a few minutes on each side until golden and the fat is rendering and crisping. Hold it down on its fatty edge to achieve this. Leave it to rest and boil the broccoli for about four minutes. I slice the stems and throw them in a minute before the florets. Drain very well, water really gets stuck in all those buds and drizzle over the sesame seeds and oil.Serve the pork with the sauce and broccoli.

Roast Vegetables

IMG_6877Throwing a load of vegetables in a tin with some herbs, oil, salt and pepper is about as easy as cooking gets. Easier than boiling an egg, even. It's a great accompaniment to roast meat and steamed fish and gets a load of different colours on your plate. I love picking out the caramelised, sticky and juicy bits that have caught in the pan while roasting, it's such a comforting and delicious treat that the cook gets all to their sneaky self.Often I'll roast a chicken or joint of pork on top of the veg, that's a real treat. The meat takes on a deep flavour, and the juices in the pan are so rich and delicious, you just pour them over, there's no need to make a sauce.I've even roasted a load of sausages in among the vegetables, a perfect one pot meal. All it takes is a little peeling and chopping then the oven does the rest.  You can throw in some tomatoes too, they give off their juices and mingle deliciously with the other veg. Fennel softens beautifully, giving off its light, mellow aniseed to the pot and onions turn golden, sticky and sweet.Use what is available at the time and keep an eye on it while cooking so it doesn't burn. 35-45 minutes at 180c is normally about right, depending on what veg you use. One tip I'd give is to have the more delicate vegetables at the bottom and harder ones such as beetroot, carrots and the like on top.Drizzle everything in olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Mix through some hardy herbs such as rosemary, sage and bay leaves and finish off with some young thyme and perhaps chilli flakes as it comes out the oven. Put it straight on the table and dig in.