Wednesday, 22 December 2010

10-Day Ham

Still hooked on slow-cooking, so doing a pork that takes 10 days seems just my cup of tea, and just in time for Christmas.  I am following a recipe, of course, and it's a Heston I pulled out of a magazine.  Lots of spices - but I have those from all my pickling.  First off I ask for a 3kg shoulder of pork from the butcher, and it's huge. It's all boned and tied by the time I see it, so I can't back out, so I lug it home, wrenching my shoulder. Turns out the recipe asked for boned leg, not shoulder.   A near kg of salt into a basin of 6 litres of cold water, then the spices you're going to add to the brine, tied in a muslin cloth.  I cut the little square too small, but stuffed everything in all the same. No orange peel from 2 oranges, thank you - to my taste, that would spoil it. I used only lemon rind, and no star anise.  Don't have it, don't like it.  I didn't whizz anything in the  blender first either (the rind and the garlic), I just pounded everything together in my lovely black pestle and mortar - that was pure aromatic heaven. I love the way different combinations smell so distinctive, even though you're using nothing new.  And this is what he asked for:

900g salt in 6 litres of water
1 head of garlic
zest of 1 lemon (I used 2)
zest of 2 oranges (nahh)
3 springs of rosemary (didn't have)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 bunch of thyme (had some outside)
7 bay leaves (outside)
7g star anise (you may like it - maybe it's the magic ingredient)
150g coriander seeds (this has got to be an error!  I used 10g)
2g cloves
4g allspice
1g juniper berries
2-3kg boned pork leg
I put this all into my black cast-iron casserole, which was far too small and far too heavy. Sealed and covered, I carried it outside to keep cool into the snow, and wrenched both shoulders this time, and my neck.  Next day I got a bigger plastic basin, covered it with foil, and got Michael to carry it to the fridge, where it sits, and will sit ....for 7 days.

7 days later.... during which an almighty snowstorm transformed our world - and here the footprints of a thirsty fox trying to get to the drinking hole we broke....
To get rid of all the salt you have to drain and soak for another 24 hours, changing the water three times or so.  The water didn't taste salty the third time, so we tied the pork with string, and filled the casserole with water right to the top and put it in the oven at 60 degrees (plate-warming heat) for 32 hours.  That came out last night, and the skin is certainly wobbly and cooked, and lots of fat came out too. It smelled divine.

But the proof, as they say is in the eating, so now we're going to have to wait for Christmas.....

Sunday, 21 November 2010

First Pick Your Mushrooms

Woke up to a beautiful mist today, the grass all crunchy underfoot. Yellow birch leaves are still falling slowly, one by one. They survived the gales, and are falling at their own pace, thank you very much. The pyracantha is holding on to its last brilliant berries, they have given a magnificent show, but not long now. You've done very well, I thought. I wasn't sure before, but you've earned your place here.... Yes, you shall cook for Michel....!
The last few field mushrooms are struggling on despite the frost, but I've left them for the slugs and the little mice that nibble at them. It has been a wonderful year for mushrooms.This autumn, along with the pink skies and the gentle mists, my back garden turned into my own secret woodland glade. Every morning I tiptoed through the dew see how the mushrooms were coming along. And there were hundreds. From teeny tiny ones to bright red Agarics, my lawn has been carpeted with them. It didn't take long to identify the clusters of white caps coming up - our very own Field Mushrooms. Brushed and chopped, fried in hot butter till a little crisp, served on sourdough toast, salt and parlsey, it seriously was the most delicious morsel I have ever tasted. Ever. Even Michel would approve. TV's Michel Roux, by the way, is the standard I now set for everything - even my poor shrubs!

This most bountiful of autumns has inspired me. Preserving. It started innocently enough with some quince jelly, and has turned into a compulsion, and I now have a whole selection of brightly-filled jars.
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My absolute best thing, though, was a full day making Pontack Sauce. Described by the River Cottage Cookbook as "pure alchemy" it is, exactly as they say, pungent, fruity and spicy. I bought 3 kg freshly picked elderberries from the Farmers Market - my fave new shopping experience - don't bother looking for them at Tesco. Almost black once you've gently baked them at a low heat with cider vinegar for 6 hours, the whole lot then crushed through a sieve. Ohh, the smell of it! Then add shallotts, cloves, allspice, mace, black peppercorns, fresh ginger, boil up for half and hour, sieve, re-boil for 5 minutes and bottle. And intriguingly, a "best after" date of 2017.
For a single 350ml bottle (folly!) here are the quantities: 
500g elderberries
500ml cider vinegar
200g shallots, peeled and sliced
6 cloves,4 allspice, 1 blade mace, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 15g bruised fresh root ginger

Last night I used a very generous glug in my Venison Casserole, and here it is:
4 onions fried in beef dripping.  Add a good handful of spelt flour, the venison chunks and fry to brown.  Then 2 bay leaves, juniper berries, some mixed herbs, tomato concentrate, pontack and some red wine. Just cover with boiling water and very slow cook for 6 hours. We had it with Delia's braised red cabbage with apples and dauphinoise potatoes.

Yes, I would cook that for Michel.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Mother's pride

Here I am again, and amazingly, it is exactly 1 year and 1 day since I last wrote - although it feels like 10 years! A wonderful busy year, lots of cooking, of course, and I shall catch up.

Two Sundays ago I picked up a magazine and saw a recipe for spelt bread - aha, a health bread! I'd like to say I kneaded and proved the yeast for hours, but no, you stir, shape, bake - done.

Now it's a loaf a week. Spelt is an ancient grain used since the bronze age. Tastes perfectly fresh and lightly nutty. Last night I swapped a third of the spelt for organic kamut, another ancient grain that the Egyptians used, although all available at Waitrose here in London. The best yet. Nutty and creamy and very filling.

The bread is truly divine when it's toasted, and we have developed a hopelessly uncomplicated dish of grilled tomatoes on toast. Halve the tomatoes, sliced spring onions and powdered veggie stock. Grill till collapsed. Plenty of butter on the toast. We had it again the next morning.

Spelt bread:
500g spelt flour
10g quick acting yeast
1/2 tsp salt (generous)
50g linseed, sesame, sunflower seeds (good handful each)
First generously butter the loaf tin and sprinkle with sunflower seeds (and any other seeds). Mix dry ingredients together well, add 400/500ml warm water and stir ...will be sticky. Form into a small loaf and place in the 1.2kg tin. Leave for 30 minutes (or not), then bake for 50 mins at 180C, out the tin, another 10 minutes.... ta-dah.