Saturday, 1 June 2013

Summer eating


After a Narnia-like, everlasting winter, Summer is finally here. I've been a bit of a lapsed blogger in recent months thanks to a strict pre-diet wedding regime which has involved a lot of eggs, lots of green things and me trying to forget the base pleasures Of the belly. But the wedding has taken place, the sun is out and I'm ready to eat.

Here's how I'm celebrating the season...

Earl Grey slushie 

Perfumed with citrussy bergamot oil, a pot of Earl Grey is my favourite way to pep up an afternoon.

But while purists (who would argue the tea should be drunk with nothing but a slice of lemon and certainly without interlopers like milk) might balk at the idea of an Earl Grey based cocktail, I happen to think it's an excellent partner for gin.

On a summer's day, my Earl Grey slushies will go down a storm. You just sweeten some Earl Grey tea with honey and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, let it cool, pop it into ice cube trays/bags and wait.

Once the concoction has frozen, blitz it in a blender for a few seconds (don't do this for too long) along with your favourite gin brand. Then it's bottoms up.

Broad beans

In the very depths of winter, one of the things I look forward to most is  getting a stash of broad bean pods, extracting the light green pearls and eating them raw.

Packed with fibre and protein, they're one of nature's most healthy and tasty fast foods.

Apart from eating them greedily in their raw, unadulterated state, I also like them scattered over a bowl of pasta that's been dressed with pesto.

Pesto is one of the easiest sauces to rustle up. It's always perplexed me why anybody would buy a processed jar of the stuff.

All you need is some pine nuts (or almonds, which are cheaper), fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and a few glugs of good olive or rapeseed oil. Just bring it together with a pounder to release the oils from the basil (while keeping some texture) just before you're ready to sit down.


Strawberries

If there's one good thing that's come out of our depressing, protracted winter, it's this year's crop of strawberries.

Apparently our longer-than-usual winter has made this year's strawberries bigger, sweeter and juicer than ever. 

Strawberries at their best need very little dressing up. Eat them with cream or ice cream, pair them with balsamic vinegar and Parma ham for a grown-up starter, combine them with oats and yogurt for a healthy breakfast smoothie, make a coulis to swirl into a chocolate mousse or turn them into a jam to enjoy the taste of summer all year round it's very hard to do wrong here.

But as Cate Devine reports for the Herald, demand for summer fruit like strawberries is entirely connected to the weather. It seems that once the clouds reappear, our strawberry cravings disappear. Why not do our farmers a favour this summer by eating strawberries throughout the season, rain or shine?

Oysters

Since we're warned that oysters should be avoided in winter (something about the lack of sunshine making them more likely to contain sea-borne viruses), I shot as many as I can in the summer.

I shall definitely be heading to Loch Fyne, perhaps for FyneFest, to sample some of their fresh (and virus-free) oysters very soon. Pass the Tabasco...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Pulled pork on brioche for US election night

Bear with me, I write this a wee bit bleary-eyed after staying up all night for the US election results.

Being a bit of a political geek, I always stay up on election night, waiting for each result to come in with a level of excitement usually only reserved for Christmas Eve. Yes, the media did exaggerate how close the race was and Obama was probably never in any real danger of losing to Romney. But it's the US election!


I'm always awed by Jeremy Vine's digital wizardry and representation of the electoral map, I love hearing all the clever pundits give us their predictions and admire how everyone keeps talking, even when the gaps between results feel like forever and nothing is actually happening.

Pulled pork on brioche

It can be a long night, especially for the US election results. In my experience, preparation is key, especially when it comes to food and drink supplies. You want to keep your energy levels and spirits up, but you don't want to be rummaging around the kitchen when they call a key state like Ohio or Florida.

My election night snack of choice this year was pulled pork on brioche, washed down with vats of coffee. Once I'd marinated the pork shoulder in the seasoning earlier in the day and then popped it into the oven, I didn't lift another finger until about eight hours later when it was ready.

If you get it right, it should be ridiculously easy and quick to pull the meat off the bone and plop it in a roll.

I did set my alarm in case I fell asleep with the oven on, but the anticipation of achingly soft pork (which I finally served to a grateful crowd at 3am) stopped me from flagging.

Americans are mad for pulled pork, especially in the South where they take it very, very seriously. This was my method:

The cut

Pork shoulder. This is a relatively cheap and fatty cut which keeps the meat moist. Although American recipes usually refer to pork butt, they are still talking about the shoulder cut.

My butcher tells me that pork shoulder is the most sought-after cut in Glasgow's West End at the moment thanks to shows like Man v. Food. I feel very on-trend, but I hope prices don't go up!

The rub

My rub included:
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Mustard
  • Cayenne pepper,cinnamon, coriander powder, ground ginger, paprika, black pepper and salt
  • Garlic (lots of it)
I smothered my shoulder in the rub and left it for a few hours, but marinading it overnight would have been ideal. The components of the rub can vary depending on which part of America you're in so I wasn't too precious about it, I just used what was in my cupboards.

The method

I put my pork skin side up on a rack in a roasting tin. I then poured apple juice, Lea and Perrins and apple cider vinegar into the bottom of the tin. I set my oven for 100 degrees Celsius and my alarm clock to go off in eight hours time. That baby needs to be cooked low and slow, as pulled pork evangelists say.

I didn't have time to make a gravy out of the juices, maybe next time. I pulled the meat off the bone in strands using a fork and squished it into a brioche roll. You could use any roll you like, but I just love the sweetness of brioche with pork. Perfect election night sustenance!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Do you decorate your cakes with edible glitter? Read this warning!

I've always been slightly suspicious of glitter in food, and it seems I was right to stay clear.

West Yorkshire public health officials have found that 'edible' glitter — adored by bakers out to impress could actually contain ground-up plastic or powdered brass. Doesn't sound very appetising, does it?


Public analyst Chris Hunt carried out the tests and warned: 'Many of these glitter products have been found to be made of plastic and would be suitable for decorating cards and ornaments, but are not designed to be consumed.'

And just because it's labelled 'non-toxic' doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to eat. While there isn't any evidence linking edible glitter to health problems yet, the official line from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is that plastic is not safe for human consumption. Sounds like sensible advice to me.

Whether you use glitter in your decorations or you buy a glittery cake from a shop, I would suggest doing a bit of research on the glitter being used first. For more information, read the FSA's guide to edible glitter.

If you've found a brand that you feel comfortable using, do let me know in the comments section or tweet me @MariasMouthfuls. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Highlights from Nigellissima: episode four

Clingfilm is dead. From now on, it will be forever referred to as cling.

If you missed the latest episode of Nigellissima, here's a collection of the best (and sauciest) bits.


1) We met the black box of liquorice. Draped in a slinky dressing gown, Nigella lets us have a peek into her utterly bonkers black box, which is filled with different types of liquorice. The compartments! The sleek, industrial design! I kinda want one, but I would use it for my extensive chocolate collection rather than liquorice.

2) She felt she needed an 'ungainly squirt of tomato puree' in her clam dish. And so it begins.

3) She got poetic about fregola: 'I love it when the clams have opened and the freggola are sort of nestling inside the shells on the cushions of clam'. You have to give it to her, she has a way with words. 

4) We all sighed wistfully when she likened folding meringue into her mixture to 'a morning walk on freshly fallen snow'.

5) The cling. Nigella admitted that she has struggled with tearing 'cling', much to the amusement of the Twittersphere. Her tip was to tear it from a standing up position. OK. Sue Perkins joined in too, tweeting 'I tore my cling once. Painful. #nigella'.  

6) The filth continued when she excitedly told us about how she loves finding ridges and crevices to poke her garlic into.

7) She gave us all a get-out clause for those times when our presentation lets us down, relating her method of pouring sauce onto her dessert to a Jackson Pollock painting. Works for me.

The food looked pretty nice this week too. Nigella is always reliably entertaining, but her recipes can seem a little bit OTT and too full of processed, packaged food. Ignoring the liquorice monstrosity at the start, the lamb looked lovely and I'll definitely give her meringue gelato cake a go.

Friday, 12 October 2012

My secret curry cheat for the best chicken curry ever

My name's Maria and I am a curry cheat.

A good curry is a delicate blend of different spices, expertly balanced. Being half Indian, I should have an innate ability to make a good curry, but they never quite taste like the curries my Grandma (the real expert) used to make when I was growing up in Singapore.

But I have found a sly little cheat: pre-mixed curry powder. Some people seem to think that buying jars and pastes are time-savers, but making a decent curry sauce is ridiculously easy once you've got a proper curry powder blend on hand. Then all you need to do is whizz together some onions, ginger and garlic and fry it up along with the powder (to release the oils). You then have the base of a really good, authentic curry.



Until a few years ago, my Mum (who has never been shy about using shortcuts in the kitchen either) would send over packets of the stuff from Singapore but there's no need these days. One of my favourites is a Malaysian brand called Adabi, which I get in my local Chinese supermarket. They have a version for fish and another for chicken and other meat. I always have one of each in my cupboards on standby.There's another brand I like called Babas, which is just as good but harder to find.

The flavour brings me right back to some of the curries I had in Singapore and they're just fiery enough for my liking. The smell of the powder being heated is pure, homely comfort.

All I add is a tin of coconut milk, skinless chicken thighs and a paste made from ginger, garlic and onion. I may introduce some tamarind to give it a sour dimension or jazz the paste up with fresh curry leaves if I find them in my local Indian supermarket, but it really doesn't need it. Once I've fried the paste with the curry powder, I bung the lot in the oven for about an hour and serve with some cardamon-infused basmati rice and homemade raita. 

Everyone is always terribly impressed, but I do feel slightly guilty about just how little I have to do when they start gushing. But I guess my secret's out of the bag now!

Monday, 8 October 2012

BBC Good Food Show Scotland 2012

The BBC Good Food Show — a major event in Scotland's food calendar returns to Glasgow from 19-21 October. There will be the usual assortment of producers and cookery demonstrations, along with a smattering of celebrity chefs. Scotland has so many unique and interesting food producers and champions who are absolutely crucial to the Scottish economy, and a lot of them will be on hand to share their passion.



I'll be checking out Mary Berry's jackets, drooling over Paul Hollywood's piercing eyes and very interested to see what Tom Kitchin cooks up. And my mouth is already starting to water at the thought of slurping on Loch Fyne Oysters with a dash of lemon and Tabasco. I went last year and had a fab day, so I have high hopes for this year's show.


If you're interested in acquiring free tickets (who wouldn't be), head over to the Scotland Food and Drink website. They've got some tickets up for grabs and all you need to do is tell them how many producers are featured in the Scotland, Land of Food and Drink Regional Village this year. You've got until 15 October to enter, good luck!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Urban honey in Glasgow

If you live in Glasgow and suffer from hayfever or just care about the plight of the poor old honeybee, Ed O'Brien is your man.

Ed's passion for bees is infectious. He'll excitedly tell you about how Glasgow has over 70 parks and public gardens teeming with bees, and that it's often in the city's most built-up, urban areas where you'll find the most bees and the best nectar.

The countryside, he laments, doesn't have the same diverse range of fauna. This has a lot to do with the wider issue of modern farming methods taking away nature's biodiversity. The city slickers with access to the likes of the Botanic Gardens get a more varied diet and produce honey rich in flavour and complexity.

He painted an evocative tale so full of adventure and intrigue about plotting a coup against a queen bee it could have come straight out of a Le Carré novel.

What about the honey? It's delicious. I found myself spooning it straight from the jar when nobody was looking, Winnie the Pooh-like. Ed doesn't treat his honey with heat or pasteurise it, so it tastes really pure and doesn't lose any of its naturally occurring antibacterial properties. And if you suffer from hayfever at all, eating local honey is supposed to help you build up a tolerance to pollen in the area it was made.

Though he travels all over Glasgow collecting honey, Ed's stationed at Glencairn Drive and promises to show you around if you pop by. Check out his website here: www.edsbees.com 

Not in Glasgow? The Urban Honey Collective has a directory of local beekeepers, so you can track down one near you: www.urbanhoneycollective.co.uk

Happy honey guzzling, and long live the honeybee!