Take Stock

Not enough people make their own stock.  I see this as a real shame for a few reasons; homemade stock cannot be beaten on taste, it’s far healthier for you, and it’s a great use of valuable food that we all too often end up throwing away.

There are great methods out there for quick vegetable stocks which I’ll cover at a later date, but I’ll focus on chicken stock here.

This is how, and why, I do it:

I’m one of those people that loves to buy whole chickens and butcher them myself.  I’m lucky enough to have been gifted a small vacuum packing machine which means that I can very efficiently portion the meat and freeze it neatly, making a significant financial saving at the same time.  I’d go as far as to say that I would never again buy chicken that wasn’t whole.  It’s just a shame that we are not more like the French and buy them with the heads on and still in possession of their vital organs.  Anyway, I digress somewhat.

I’ll buy a few chickens at once (especially if there’s a good deal to be had) and after breaking them down, I’ll make a stock from the remaining carcass.  If it’s just the odd bird, I’ll freeze the carcasses one by one, making a stock when I have enough to make it worthwhile.  Top trick: I also pop carrots and celery into the freezer if they’re starting to look a little limp. You can make an entire stock from the freezer – No waste!

Now, the best chicken stock is made with roasted bones.  You can roast your chicken whole for a ‘Sunday Lunch’ or in portions, and then freeze the bones post-meal.  Making stock really isn’t a science, it’s rather like making soup – pretty much anything goes.

 

So, the basics.  Bones, a couple of halved onions (you can leave the skins on), a stick of celery or so, carrot, a few peppercorns, two or three bay leaves.  Fresh herbs to hand? chuck a few in.  Top your (large) pot up with water, bring it to the boil and then simmer for a few hours on a low heat.  Strain it when you’re happy with the colour, depth and taste, and we’re done. 

Making Chicken Stock

One of the most important reasons for making your own stock is salt.  You can regulate exactly how much is in there, if any at all.  We first started with this when Felix was a wee pup and we were making all of his food from scratch.  

Fresh Chicken Stock

Freezing stock 

So you have made a batch of several litres.  What now?  Fill a jug and pop it in the fridge for using that night/the following day; pour some into Tupperware boxes and open freeze (you could even use old ice-cream tubs!).  You could subsequently vacuum-pack the solid blocks of stock, but I generally don’t bother.  You can pop the blocks out once frozen, and literally stack them in the freezer.

Open freezing chicken stock

 

What do I use it for?  Mostly risotto.  It is after all probably my ‘signature dish’, as much as it pains me to write that.

Try it, it’s very satisfying and you won’t regret it (or use those horrible little powdery cubes again). 

 

Labneh

What is it?  Soft Cheese.  What’s brilliant about it?  You can make it in your refrigerator at home, and all you need is a pot of yoghurt and some patience.

Labneh is Middle-Eastern, but the concept of this cheese or ‘strained yoghurt’ is found all over the world in varying consistencies and by names such as Labnah, Chakka, Suzma and Zabedi.

Labneh is made by simply straining the yoghurt to remove the whey.  

To make it at home, you’ll need some muslin/calico/cheesecloth, a sieve or colander, a bowl for it to rest over, and a little salt.

I buy a 600ml pot of natural yoghurt – you choose the fat content – and then stir in about half a teaspoon of salt. I’m into using Maldon or Himalayan salt these days as it has better qualities than regular table salt.

Line your sieve with the cloth and pour in the salted yoghurt.  Tie it up and pop it in the fridge over a bowl.  Make sure the bowl is deep enough that the cheese will sit above the whey.

Making Labneh cheese

The longer you strain it for, the firmer the cheese will become.  I tend to leave it for about 24 hours.

The result is a rich, creamy, slightly sour and deliciously tangy soft cheese.

I’m pleased to say it’s my new favourite thing, and I’m not even a massive fan of yoghurt!  It goes insanely well with Harissa and flatbreads.

Fresh Labneh Cheese with Roasted Harissa Shallots and Flatbread

Roasted Harissa Shallots

 

If you like, you can add spices into the mix to flavour the Labneh, or if you make it relatively firm, it can be shaped and either rolled in fresh herbs or stored under extra virgin olive oil.  I like the idea of using Za’atar or Sumac.

Labneh Cheese in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Rolling Fresh Labneh Cheese in Herbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a go and experiment to find your favourite.

I would really recommend hanging onto the whey; I use it to make bread with spectacular results.  Just replace some of the water with the protein-rich whey you’ve collected.  It works wonders in a bread machine if you’re not into baking by hand.

Really, I should make the yoghurt myself… perhaps that will be the next blog post.

What’s With All The Intolerance?

This isn’t my kind of subject, but I feel I need to provide at least some comment as a way of documenting for future reference.

I’m fairly sure that you all know someone that has a food intolerance right?  I seem to have a growing number of friends that are not specifically (medically) allergic to something, but react adversely and thus impose strict dietary regimes upon themselves.

What’s that all about?  It’s pretty easy to be negative about this subject but we could all do with trying to improve our understanding.

Perhaps these intolerances have always been there. Perhaps we have just become more accurate and astute at diagnosis?  I don’t buy that.  There has to be a root cause.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to exclude so many things from your diet; Vegetarianism seems like a dream by comparison (for both cooks and their guests!).  When you start to look into how many products contain say gluten or fructose, wheat or dairy, you can start to appreciate just how very limiting these intolerances are.

On a positive note, I’ve surprised myself recently as it turns out it’s quite possible to produce some lovely dishes that you wouldn’t believe could be gluten-free.  Quiche anyone?

Gluten Free Quiche

GF Quiche

Is there something that should be raising serious concern here?  I’ve heard some astonishing figures recently, such as “35% of the population in the UK have some form of intolerance”.

We have to get one thing straight here before I get lynched: there is without doubt a rather broad spectrum which is very real, and ranges from those making a conscious choice i.e. “I feel much better in myself if I cut out bread”, to those unfortunate enough to be Coeliac. 

I’m going to share my view on this, but given that i’ve decided to write about it, I’m sure that you already know what I’m going to say…

I think that perhaps we’re all now experiencing the impact of a hyper-processed diet in our younger years, certainly those of us having lived our childhoods in the 80’s anyway. 

With the uptrend of Real Food and the general public being more switched-on about what they eat and drink, I think that our bodies are paying the price for our past.  If you’ve been used to having over-processed ingredients for most of your life, how is your body going to react to the real stuff…

So is balance the solution? I’m fairly confident that it’s the best preventative method.  Fingers crossed for Felix. 

For recipes and ideas take a look at www.mazwo.com

Gin Fit For A King: Sibling Distillery

Not exactly ‘Fit For Felix’ (only 13 years to go young man!), however this Felix is one of four young entrepreneurial siblings in Cheltenham that are hitting the spirits market with the first of their small-batch treasures.

Their somewhat unusual choice of career is not terribly surprising what with their parents being the proprietors of the outstanding Battledown Brewery.

Cicely Elliot-Berry & Felix Elliot-Berry: Siblings Distillery

Now to the most important part; sampling. I was a little apprehensive taking a sip of neat Gin over ice just after breakfast, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Wow in fact. I can’t profess to be an expert, but the quality and refinement that you can taste in the glass is quite something. The addition of tonic and I’m in heaven. How pleased am I that I stumbled across their pop-up marketing stand.

Now this is a small-batch, triple distilled product made locally here in Cheltenham, and as such, it isn’t cheap. Is it worth £32/bottle? Oh yes. I can’t imagine what a bespoke Carter Head still costs these days.

Those clever little Elliot-Berry’s have given their Gin the edge by subtly flavouring it via vapour infusion with vanilla and blueberry… Seriously, who comes up with these ideas?  

 Sibling Distillery Gin Bottles

I even think that the bottle and branding is something that they should be very proud of. 

So here’s to another wonderful local product that really is right up my street.

Cheers.

Home

Top Tip for Food Education

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: Ambassador Challenge #3:

“Share with us your top tip for food education. What one skill or piece of advice would you teach to/share with others?”

 

Here’s a piece of advice that we tend to hear fairly often but alas find it hard to take on board:

“Recipes are only guides”

Now, you can say that there are plenty of recipes out there which simply wouldn’t work if you dramatically changed the quantities or ingredients (i.e. baking etc), yeah fine, I see what you mean, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  Substitutions, alternatives and ‘rough measures’ are all good.  My wife’s a great cook, and I’m not sure that she has ever opened a cookbook in her life..  We all need to develop the confidence and self-belief that we can do whatever we want – that’s how the recipes evolved in the first place!

How do you know that your own version isn’t going to turn out better than the recipe you were following verbatim?  If you haven’t got everything that a particular recipe requires, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t make it. Lots of the things that I cook are based on snippets from other recipes that I find in books and online and then splice together to fit what I have to hand.

As I have said before, we could all do with relaxing a little more and taking it easy – cooking shouldn’t be stressful.

Padrón Peppers

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: August Challenge #1.1

I couldn’t resist!  Outdoor Dining is just so special to me.  I think that we’ll all agree that childhood memories of eating seem to always stir emotions and unexpectedly transport us to happy places.

My second serving on this challenge is Padrón Peppers.  We’re bang in the middle of the short but fiery season and I know that I’ll be gutted when it’s all over for another year.

Usually served as Tapas, eating Padróns is Russian Roulette.  These wonderful little ‘vegetables’ are grown in Padrón, northwest Spain and have a delicious sweet taste.  The fun part is that about 5% of them are stinking hot, and to make it better, there is absolutely no way to tell which ones..

Padron Peppers

Cook these bad boys quickly in a large frying pan over a high heat with some good quality olive oil.  When they blister and soften a little, scatter then with plenty of flaky sea salt.  Sharing these is so much fun and I can guarantee you that you’ll end up disappointed if there aren’t any hot ones.

Cooking Padron Peppers on the camping stove

The season runs from May to October and I’ve noticed that akin to other chilli peppers getting hotter towards the end of the season, we certainly get more hot ones per bag.  It somehow feels like better value-for-money!

We can’t go camping without them – just don’t forget the Rioja.

Faustino Rioja

Miss Winter @ Farm Park

“Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non”

(“Padrón peppers, some are hot, some are not”).

Robert Fedorchek 2010

 

Challenge for me: do something different with Padrón Peppers.  Nah, madness.

[I may or may not end up deep frying some in panko breadcrumbs.]

 

Who needs light anyway

Cooking Padron Peppers at sunset