Thursday, 31 March 2011

let's get to the meat: panch phoran pork belly

I'm going to keep this short. Yes, I am. This post is all about the meat. Because, in this case, the meat - courtesy of the recipe - was so bloody good, you really need to skip my verbiage and get on and make it yourself.

In short, it's pork belly, confited and infused with a wonderful blend of subcontinental flavours - cumin, fenugreek, mustard, fennel, and kalonji seeds - that makes up panch phoran. And then roasted. Your home will be filled with splendid aromas for hours, and you'll want to make it again as soon as you've finished eating it, if not sooner.

I made this over 2 afternoons when I was short on hover-over-the-stove time. Hence the lack of photos at every stage. But I hope you'll get the idea.

First, confit your slab of pork belly along with a tablespoon of panch phoran rubbed into the skin. (It should take about 3 hours.) The original recipe suggests grinding the spices first; I opted for the more jewel-like effect of keeping them whole. Then, do a cheffy thing of flattening a bit and leaving it in the fridge overnight weighed down by tins or any other suitably heavy objects. Like this:

panch phoran pork belly 1

The next day, remove the tins and your pork should look something like this:

panch phoran pork belly 2

Pretty, innit?

Without further ado, whack your oven up to 220C. Surround the belly with the best red grapes you can get hold of...

panch phoran pork belly 3

... plus the odd piece of star anise if you've got it, and slam the lot in for 20-25 minutes until the pork skin has become crispy, and the grapes have turned, well, squashy. It probably won't be much of a looker*, particularly if you have a patchy oven like I do, with unpredictable hotspots, but don't be deterred. It WILL taste sublime.

panch phoran pork belly 4

Leave it to cool just a tad before you tuck in, otherwise you'll burn your mouth in the attempt to shove in as much of this porky wonder as possible. Serve with rice and whatever else you fancy - I suggest something green and zingy...

panch phoran pork belly 5

... in this case, purple sprouting broccoli quickly stir-fried with a ginger and garlic paste and some red chilli flakes. Perfect for the job. And then eat. Complete silence reigned while we ate ours. Never has so much pork been devoured in so short a time by so few. You have been warned. This stuff is seriously addictive.

* I defer to the author of the original recipe on this. His most definitely is a looker (as is his entire blog - well worth following, IMHO). There's no way mine was ever going to look like that, not least because I was far too preoccupied with how quickly I could get it in my mouth rather than how beautiful I could make it look. It's all about priorities.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

No-apology chocolate cake

chocolate yogurt cake 1


It hasn’t escaped my notice that I seem to post rather a lot about chocolate and cakes, and often both at the same time. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. World peace could probably be achieved if only there was enough chocolate and cake to go around, but that’s another discussion entirely.

So, because I firmly believe in not fixing something if it’s working perfectly well, I hereby bring you yet another chocolate and cake post. It will add inches to your waistline, up your cholesterol levels, stoke up your blood sugar and, most of all, do wonders for your soul.

This particular creation of chocolate joy is all the more delectable for its idiot-proof simplicity and use of store cupboard ingredients. You don’t need a kilo of chocolate or tons of butter to make it, and nor do you need any fancy gadgets or trickery. You just mix everything together, slap it in the tin, and wait for it to emerge from the oven some time later. Even I can do that.

chocolate yogurt cake 2

I first came across this recipe a few years ago, when moneysavingexpert.com was a relative novelty (and when Twitter had barely even got going), and I was drawn to the site for its gathering together of food-loving wallet-watchers. As Frugal Cook would surely agree, some extraordinarily good recipes can spring from straitened times.

You can either read the original post, recipe, and commentary here, or read on for my ever-so-slightly edited and tweaked version.

Chocolate yogurt cake
5 fl oz vegetable oil
5 fl oz natural yoghurt
4 level tbsp golden syrup
6 oz caster sugar
3 eggs
8 oz self-raising flour
3 rounded tbsp cocoa
½ level tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ level tsp salt

1. Heat your oven to 325°F/160°C/gas mark 3. Grease and line an 8" round cake tin.

2. Place oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl; beat with a wooden spoon until well mixed. Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into bowl and mix well.

3. Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake in centre of oven for 1hr 30 mins - 1hr 40 mins. Test with the fingers. If cooked, the cake should spring back and have begun to shrink away from the side of the tin.

4. Leave cake to cool in tin, then turn out and remove paper. EAT! (when cool, obviously... Patience is a virtue, remember.)

chocolate yogurt cake 3

To store: wrap in foil; keep 2 to 3 days for full flavour (a cruel tease, I know), then up to 1 week in a tin.

If you want to create some additional interest, throw some ground cardamom and/or orange or lime zest into the mix. There’s no reason, either, why you shouldn’t smother the whole thing with ganache. But it really is perfectly good on its own, or else served with a dollop of crème fraiche.

chocolate yogurt cake 4

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

the Great Little BakeOff, or when Hollywood came to rural Kent


Wingham BakeOff 3


When friends, family and neighbours found out last year that we were planning to move from London to a teeny-tiny village in east Kent, the most common reaction we elicited was one of a dreamy wistfulness - along the lines of ‘I don’t blame you – I’d love to leave London’; or ‘I’d love to live in the countryside’; or words to that sort of effect. Of course, there were contrasting views, too, such as ‘I could never leave London’, or ‘I’m a city girl/boy through and through’, and ‘I could never live in the country – I hate spiders’ (fair point).

To be honest, we were looking for the best of both worlds – a home in the country, for a bit of peace and quiet in our daily lives (police sirens screaming past our front door at all hours in SW12 didn’t always do it for us), but fast and ready access to London for when our hankering for the bright lights gets the better of us. Thank you, high-speed rail link.

With our rose-tinted specs determinedly on, we also hoped to find a sense of community, a commitment to the area – where we could feel a part of ‘something’, and where folk pull together for the common good. Just like in the olden golden days. Obviously you can find that in parts of London, too, but it certainly wasn’t happening where we lived.

On Saturday, we witnessed the most brilliant illustration so far of precisely that community and commitment in action.

Our local primary school needs a new playground surface. The grand sum of £20,000 is required to get the job done – money that local and central government simply aren’t willing or able to spend.

Enter Paul Hollywood – a local, for one thing, and celebrated baker for another – and a Big Idea. What if the school held a mini-version of the Great British Bake Off to raise the money? (For those of you who missed it [why? how? where on earth were you?], GBBO was the televised baking competition which entertained us over several weeks last year, and which proclaimed the lovely food blogger and Twitterer, Edd Kimber, as the worthy winner.)

A plan was hatched in the form of said bake-off. Money would be generated by charging everyone a small fee to enter their baked goodies, and an entrance fee to be charged on the day to anyone wanting to come and see and eat cake. Word was circulated around the neighbouring villages. Glittering prizes were promised. Stellar judges were lined up: not only the dashing Mr Hollywood (aka the Silver Fox)...

Wingham BakeOff 7

Dashing. Silver. Foxy.

... but also his fellow judge on GBBO, the evergreen Mary Berry*, AND the winner of Masterchef 2010, the gawjuss melty-eyed Dhruv Baker, and, er, Rufus Hound.

Wingham Bakeoff 4

Judging. It's tough work, honestly.

But it was also a huge gamble. Would the mighty reputations of the judges positively scare people off? And would people even come?

Stupid questions. The bakers of east Kent, including the children, baked like their lives depended on it.

Wingham Bakeoff 1

The children's (under-12s) competition. Mighty impressive.

Large cakes, small cakes, cookies, savoury bakes and bread crowded the massive trestle tables.

Wingham Bakeoff 5


And the locals turned out in their hundreds. For most of the time, it was too packed even to move. The judges got going...

Wingham Bakeoff 9

Oh, the scrutiny, the tension.

... while never in my life have I seen so much cake eaten in one place. And not just by the judges (whose task wasn’t necessarily the dream gig you might imagine, viz. Dhruv: “it was a dream to start with but Rufus and I were not eating professional amounts (like Mary) and were stuffed pretty quickly!”).

Wingham Bakeoff 6

Dhruv and Rufus deep in discussion. R: 'Can you eat any more?' D: 'Please don't make me.'

The paying public also played its part with suitable gusto, devouring those cakes removed from display as soon as they were deemed not to have made the final ‘top 20’ (for another money-raising bargainous charge of £1 per stomach-busting slice). Everywhere I looked, there were plates piled high with carb goodness, along with chunky mugs of tea, being taken back to friends and family seated around little kiddy-sized tables.

So many cakes, so much happy munching, so many smiley, happy faces (sugar highs, don’t knock ‘em). And if we weren’t contributing enough by eating cake, more money was being prised from our pockets in the form of side attractions (really? Dhruv needs a side attraction?) which included raffles, ‘name the bear’ and ‘guess the weight of the cake’ competitions, and stalls selling homeware and cookery books.

But, like all good things, the feeding frenzy - sorry, jollity - had to end some time. There’s only so much cake folk can eat in an afternoon, after all.

Wingham BakeOff 10

Dhruv. Eating 'non-professional amounts'. Struggling. Eh, Dhruv?


Late into the afternoon, final decisions were made, prizes announced, speeches made, and thanks went out to all involved. Everyone had pulled together. Everyone had a great time. The school will get its playground, and that, in turn, will help ensure that families with children will still want to come and live here, and that the villages and their communities live on.

And that is exactly what we moved to the area for. The quality of cake baking around here has absolutely nothing to do with it, honest.

*fellow blogger, MiMi (also @meemalee), asked me the following question on Twitter: “Does she look as much like Nicholas Parsons in real life as she does on the telly?” I couldn’t possibly comment, except to say yes. Yes, she does. Or is it the other way around?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

making a pig's ear of it, or not. A simple, tasty, cheap snack of porky goodness.

pigs ears 1

Yes, EARS. Big, flappy, hairy things. Much eaten in, say, Spain, but pretty much shunned over 'ere (geddit?).

So, first - a mini-rant. I despair of those who express revulsion at 'unusual' bits of animal, not least because it often transpires that they've never actually tried said part. They just don't like the idea, and never get beyond that. What a tremendously dull way to live your life.

People, the bits of animal most frequently discarded are often the most fantastically flavoursome. Good quality offal, for example, is an absolute joy to eat. Other points in favour of unpopular bits and pieces is that, in these frugal times, they are great wallet-savers. Many butchers can barely give the stuff away (as also observed by Fiona Beckett in her excellent Frugal Cook blog). The pig's ears I used for this recipe cost me a grand total of 50p. My butcher threw in a pig's liver for free, because 'nobody else will have it and I was going to chuck it away'. Fantastic. That's one delicious pot of Sorpotel coming right up, then.

Anyway, to ears. A little glimpse as to how to make a tasty snack from them.

First, take your ears. Or, more precisely, the pig's ears.

pigs ears 2

Singe or shave off any excess hairy bits. Chuck the ears in a pot. Cover with water. Bring it up to the boil. Reduce the heat until the water reaches a simmer, and then bubble away for as long as it takes for the meat to become tender - anywhere between 1hr 30mins and 3 hours. And no, I can't deny it - they won't look pretty in the meantime.

pigs ears 3

Nor, if you're of an overly-sensitive disposition, do they look especially wonderful straight out of the pan.

pigs ears 4

To someone like me, however, they look good and ready for the next stage. With a sharp knife, slice the ears into thin slivers, and blot them as dry as possible with kitchen towel.

pigs ears 5

Either dig out a deepfryer, or 2/3rds fill a pan with oil for frying. Once the oil is good and hot, dunk the ear slivers in, and give them a bit of a poke around to help prevent them from sticking to each other. AND - be careful. Hot oil + pig's ears = much spitting.

BUT - the end result is totally worth it. Remove the slivers with a slotted spoon once they've crisped up, and season them liberally with your very best salt and pepper.

pigs ears 6

A chilled dry sherry makes an excellent accompanying slurp.

Not convinced? Please, at least TRY. And if you don't want to cook them for yourself, book yourself into St. John, and let Fergus Henderson and his nose-to-tail-championing team work their magic for you instead.