Belarusian breakfast

June 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

The latest in the series making up our Breakfasts of the World project.

What an anonymous and grim-sounding place Belarus is. It’s a landlocked country nestling between Poland and Russia which declared independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The landscape is largely flat, marshy and forested and thanks to this and the Soviet legacy its economy is dominated by agriculture and manufacturing.

Whilst researching Belarus and its food I was amused to come across Alby’s travel blog documenting the all-action Italian’s trip there in 2005:

“It’s difficult to give impressions about Belarus. From a certain point of view travelling here it’s nice: no hassle with the policemen and it’s quite safe, but on the opposite the landscape is monotonous and there’re not highlights enough to justify the trip. In addition the food doesn’t help, since it really sucks, but what can push you there is the possibility of a off-of-the-beaten-track travel in a country almost under a dictator that today turns out the most isolated in Europe.”

The dictator he refers to is Alexander Lukashenko who has held the presidency since 1994. Although not at the forefront of news stories, various European countries have imposed economic sanctions as a response to Mr Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule. Things may be changing – there are very recent BBC news reports of protestors defying the ban on public demonstrations in Minsk and making silent, peaceful protests. Something to watch as well as the higher news profile Arab Spring/Summer stories.

Perhaps understandably given travel blogger Alby’s view of the food he ate on his trip, descriptions of Belarusian food are few and far between on the web or from other sources. I did come across this little snippet from an unknown author on http://www.mapsofworld.com/belarus/society-and-culture/

“Belarusian cuisine mostly comprises of meats, vegetables and breads. The staple food of Belarus includes pork, potatoes, cabbages and bread. The diet of a typical Belarusian includes a very light breakfast with two heavy meals and the dinner becomes the largest meal of the day. Both wheat and rye breads are consumed in Belarus society and culture. Drinks are also a very popular part of the culture and society of Belarus.”

So, not much to go on. I decided a light breakfast might mean a cup of tea and a piece of rye bread. So far so good as, thanks to last year’s baking course at Welbeck, homemade 100% rye sourdough is now a regular feature of the breakfast table. It doesn’t appeal to everyone but I enjoy its dense, dark sourness. Rye bread takes well to the addition of fruit and,on a whim, I threw a handful of dried apricots into this particular loaf:

Surely that can’t be it though? I had another hunt around for Belarusian recipes and came up with Draniki, a fried potato pancake which is the de facto national dish of Belarus. I don’t know if draniki are eaten for breakfast in Belarus but that’s how we chose to eat them, with the addition of sour cream and smoked salmon as an atypical decadent touch:

The Draniki turned out pretty well and reminded me of Jewish latkes:

In fact, looking through a few recipes for latkes now, I see that the list of ingredients and the method are practically identical. In common with many simple, traditional recipes, it seems that each person has there own way of making draniki. Some say no flour, some say a little; some grate the potato very finely almost to a purée, some have more distinct potato pieces. The draniki recipe I give below is the one that I used having looked at a number of different Belarusian recipes. What’s important is to get the grated potato as dry as you can by draining off the excess water.

If emerging Belarusian tennis star Victoria Azarenka breakfasts like this today she’ll certainly power through her match to make it the Wimbledon semi finals – I’ll be watching later…

Recipe for draniki

Makes 8-10 individual pancakes serving 4 people in a modest way

Ingredients

6 medium potatoes
1 onion
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
flavourless vegetable oil for frying

Grate the potatoes finely into a bowl. Drain off excess water, pressing with kitchen roll to absorb more liquid if necessary. Finely chop the onion and add to the bowl. Add the beaten egg, flour and seasoning to the bowl and stir together vigorously with a wooden spoon to make a thick batter.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan until hot but not smoking. Drop in spoonfuls of batter which will form thick round pancakes. Fry until golden brown then flip over and fry on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil and serve.

Recipe for rye bread

You can find this in a previous post here

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Salad from Sale

June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you’ve ever been tempted by the mound of dainty salad leaves sold by weight in Chorlton’s legendary Unicorn grocers, you may have noticed not only that they beat supermarket sealed-bag salad leaves hands down for flavour and freshness but also that they are grown just down the road at Glebelands Road in Sale by an outfit called Glebelands City Growers.

Glebelands City Growers threw open their picket gates for last week’s Open Farm Sunday so I decided it was time for another visit to this idyllic little urban growing spot on the banks of the Mersey. Arriving via a very ordinary looking urban street, you turn down an alleyway between two semis and suddenly you arrive in the most unexpected haven of lush greenery.

Glebelands City Growers is not a faceless organisation but is Charlotte, Adam, Sally and Ed who collectively bear more than a passing resemblance to Velma, Shaggy, Daphne and Fred from Scooby Doo – no dogs in evidence last week though. The four of them have established a most happy blend of idealism combined with capitalism. They farm their small patch of Eden using organic methods and produce some of the products that we’re all clamouring for: unusual salad leaf mixtures complete with edible flowers if you’re lucky, coriander, basil, baby spinach, broad beans – the kind of stuff that finds its way into glossy food mag photo shoots at this time of year. So they’ve got the product range right on target and they succeed in making a profit but also follow sound ethical principles too – organic, sustainable, local, all with a healthy dash of pragmatism thrown in.

We were welcomed on our arrival by Adam with big mugs of tea or a glass of his home made elderflower cordial. The forecast rain arrived then, right on cue so we sheltered in one of the seed cultivation areas whilst people arrived ready for the first guided tour. We were in distinguished company – here’s Trafford Mayor Jane Baugh rubbing shoulders with the commoners in the high-tech potting shed:

When 30 or so visitors had arrived, the tour began. The team grow all their own plants from seed, unlike some growers who buy in seedlings to grow on. Polytunnels are used extensively to provide protection from the worst of the weather and play a part in keeping weeds and pests under control. Here’s Ed demonstrating the use of the hoe, the primary technique for keeping weeds under control:

Growing under cover provides protection from the wind and cold, but how are the plants watered if there’s no rain falling on them? The answer came as we entered the next polytunnel which housed a crop of fragrant basil. The plants are nurtured using efficient drip-hoses fed from collected rainwater where possible:

At the heart of an organic farming system is the idea of feeding the soil rather than the plant. This is achieved firstly by applying organic matter in the form of home made compost. The team has an arrangement with Unicorn whereby all the shop waste is composted down and applied to the soil. The second key feature is the use of a crop rotation plan whereby different plants are moved around the plot each year so pests and diseases never have chance to build up in the soil. After a period of trial and error, the team work to a five year rotation in which the land is left fallow in the fifth year. In the next picture you can see a fallow strip on the left and a crop of broad beans on the right, a legume performing its vital nitrogen fixing role as well as tasting good.

Finally, we learned about the harvesting of the leaves which takes place four times a week and is carried out by hand using a pair of scissors. The produce then travels some 3 miles to its primary retail outlet, Chorlton’s Unicorn Grocers (Chorlton is a suburb in South Manchester). It really is fresh and local.

Fortunately for us, there were a few bags of salad for sale on the day. I’m ashamed to say that once the tour was concluded, I raced to the trailer where the salad was for sale, shamelessly overtaking other visitors as I didn’t want to miss out. We were rewarded with a lunchtime salad to savour:

SO, if you can’t grow your own and live in the South Manchester area, get yourself down to Unicorn and try it for yourself. Just remember they’re not open on Mondays though.

Contact details

Unicorn Grocery
89 Albany Road
Chorlton
Manchester
M21 0BN

Tel: 0161 861 0010
Email: office@unicorn-grocery.co.uk
Web:http://www.unicorn-grocery.co.uk/

Glebelands City Growers

Email: contacts@glebelandscitygrowers.co.uk
Web: http://www.glebelandscitygrowers.co.uk/

Bajan breakfast

June 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

Bajan being the correct adjective to describe something from Barbados, this was the latest in our series of breakfasts of the world.

At 431 square kilometres, Barbados is a tiny country, approximately one third of the size of my own UK county, Greater Manchester which clocks in at 1,276 square kilometres. It was one of the earliest British colonies with settlers arriving in 1627. The British heritage is evident in the island’s organisation and placenames – it’s divided into parishes each named after a saint. The capital and main city, the very British sounding Bridgetown is in the parish of St Michaels.

Barbados may be a small country but it’s a familiar one. That Desmond Dekker song, sugar, rum, cricket and of course the larger-than-life Rihanna all come immediately to mind. That’s not all that’s larger than life as Barbados can put on a big breakfast. The Bajan breakfast option priced at $22 on the menu from Simply Gigi’s, a hotel restaurant which looks out over Barbados’ Dover Beach reads “Flying Fish, Bakes, Eggs, Onions, Peppers, Plantain”. Much more adventurous sounding than the Full English or bog-standard American options. After a little research and judicious cheating, this is the colourful plate of food I came up with:

First find your flying fish, the favourite fish and symbol of Barbados. This is not as easy as it sounds. I did track down a UK wholesale supplier of frozen flying fish fillets but couldn’t face ordering the industrial-sized minimum order quantity.

Next step was a trip to the cornucopic fish stall on Manchester’s Arndale Market which goes by the very mundane name of “Direct Fisheries”. They had all sorts of exotic species on offer as you can see:

but sadly, flying fish wasn’t one of them – it’s occasionally requested, said the fishmonger, but a bit pricey for most people so they’ve stopped selling it. I opted for a couple of seabass instead. No idea whether it’s like flying fish but it’s a very adaptable fish which works with all sorts of flavours.

The recipe involves a brief period in which the fish fillets are first marinaded/infused with aromatic flavourings (herbs, green pepper and lime juice), then, top side only, lightly coated in egg and breadcrumbs and quickly shallow fried.

Far from being just a regional curiosity, this is a handy little recipe which I’ll definitely be trying again. The marinading period gives the fish zingy flavours and the crispy golden crust gives a bit of fast food type appeal.

Next step was to find out what Bakes were. This is by no means a selection of bread rolls on the side but a little doughy Bajan treat which paradoxically is shallow-fried rather than baked. Bajan chef John Hazzard’s (pronounced Has-Ard rather than as in traffic obstruction, moral or Dukes of) little videoclip on was helpful in showing exactly how to whip up a batch of bakes.

I had planned to put in here the link to John’s handy little video which I found on a site called theholidaychannel.net but sadly the site appears to have been suspended. You’ll just have to take my word for it that he had a great relaxed manner and his lilting accent was rather lovely to listen to as well.

I followed Chef Hazzard’s instructions to the letter and he end result was rather good – a cross between a Scotch pancake and a doughnut. The brown sugar and spices provide flavour and the cornmeal a pleasing chewy crunch. I can see why the islanders get so passionate about bakes.

Sugar has been the mainstay of the Barbadian (or should that be Bajan?) economy for centuries so it seemed fitting to round off breakfast with something sweet. My choice was Bajan sweet bread, not a true bread but a coconut cake baked in a loaf tin. This beauty is made with refined sugar rather than what we know now as Barbados or Muscovado sugar, it’s studded with garish glacé cherries and raisins and has extra sugar and coconut strip concealed within the cake like so:

With all that refined sugar, coconut and artificially coloured dried fruit it could almost be a Scottish delicacy couldn’t it?

The end result looked impressive in a bulky golden brown homespun kind of way but sadly it was a bit disappointing. It was a bit dry and oversweet, it crumbled rather than slicing neatly, the coconut stuffing fell out rather than maintaining structural integrity and it went stale within 24 hours. For that reason I’m not going to painstakingly copy out the recipe here. If you’re interested, here’s where I found my recipe, a Paul Hollywood (not so) special – he’s the sleek silver haired judge on last year’s BBC programme “Great British Bake Off” you may recall.

http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/515131

Recipe for fried flying fish fillets

I found this recipe in a Barbados travel blog http://barbadostravel.squarespace.com so thank you to blog author Linda Thompkins.

Works well for other medium to large fillets of firm white fish such as seabass.

Serves 4 (generous portions)

Ingredients

8 flying fish fillets
1 small onion
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
t tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and pepper
juice of a lime
1 egg, beaten
dry natural breadcrumbs
oil for frying
to serve, lime wedges

Mix the seasoning ingredients together and spread over the meaty side of the fish. Leave for about 1 hour. Remove the fish from the seasoning mix, pat it dry it on kitchen paper. Dip the meaty side of the fish fish into the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Fry gently in a little oil for 3-4 minutes on each side until cooked through and crumbed surface is crisp and golden. Serve with lime wedges.

Recipe for Bajan bakes

Bajan chef John Hazzard’s recipe. John has twice been awarded the title “Caribbean Chef of the Year” so he should know what he’s talking about.

Ingredients

1 cup of plain flour
4 oz cornmeal (polenta)
3 oz brown sugar (I used demerara)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch allspice
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
6 oz water
to fry, 2 tablespoons flavourless vegetable oil

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add most but not all of the water and mix well with a spoon to form a batter with a stiff dropping consistency. Add the reserved water if required to achieve the right consistency.

Heat the oil in a frying plan until it reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit (what I would call a medium heat)

Drop generous spoonfuls of the mixture into the frying pan and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve.

Weird fish

June 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

The weird fish in question is a ling, a member of the cod family. Rick Stein writes about ling in his “Taste of the Sea” like this:

“Ling is one of those underrated fish which, in addition to being reasonably flavoured, is also firm in texture – a cheap version of monkfish, if you like. It is an extraordinary looking fish which could easily be mistaken for an eel, so long and sinuous is its appearance.”

He’s certainly right about how it looks as the picture above, snapped at Samantha K’s fish shack on the harbour at Southwold, shows.

Over the years we’ve gently fallen in to the routine established by my husband’s family of joining a large family party at Southwold on the Suffolk coast. We eat out some of the time but for the most part take turns to cook an evening meal served on the big kitchen table.

Last Thursday, it was my turn to cook so, being by the seaside, I decided to cook fish. One of the pleasures of a holiday in Southwold is wandering along the Blackshore Harbour waterfront to buy the freshest possible fish without guilt – it’s caught sustainably on lines by small day boats which supply the harbourside shacks in the most direct way possible.

You have a choice of 3 fish shacks to buy from. My favourite is the smallest and simplest of the lot, Samantha K’s:

The Sole Bay Fish Company, a pebble’s throw away is good too and clearly has a superior PR machine. Blimey, you can even find Jasper Conran extolling its virtues in a Guardian Online article…

Having looked at what was on offer, I couldn’t resist choosing the impressive and rather scary whole ling. All mine for £24. The fish guy kindly filleted the monster for me while Tim and I slipped off to the Harbour Tearooms for an early morning coffee and toasted teacake.

I chose a simple Indian-inspired recipe to show off the fish at its best – the fish fillets are briefly marinaded in lemon juice plus added aromatics, then coated in lots of chopped fresh herbs before being baked for 20 minutes in a hot oven.

I included wild fennel which I found growing wild on the beach in my fresh herb mix for a truly local flavour:

It’s a very adaptable recipe which would work well with all sorts of white fish and the half hour marinading period gives the cook a perfect excuse to slip off to the local pub for a sundowner.

Cooking with fish this fresh was a real revelation. The raw fillets on the board didn’t smell fishy at all, there was just the faintest seaweedy smell of the sea. The cooked fish flaked easily, was an amazing pearly white and the taste was clean, fresh and very summery. So yes, Rick, I agree with you about the fish being underrated and reasonably flavoured but beg to differ on its texture being similar to monkfish – it’s much closer to the flaky texture of cod. A cheaper version of monkfish really would have been too good to be true.

I served the fish with spiced basmati rice, an Indian style grated carrot salad, cucumber raita and some simply steamed greens. A shameless attempt to persuade some of the curry fans in our family to give fresh fish a try – it seems to have worked:

Recipe for fish baked with herbs

I’ve adapted this recipe from one given in Thane Prince’s “Summer Cook”, a slim paperback volume perfect for slipping into your bag if you’re heading off on a self-catering holiday. Her recipe is called Pudina Macchi and she attributes it to Indian chef Satish Arora. Pudina is the Hindi word for mint, a key ingredient in this summery, fresh tasting and straightforward dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 square chunky pieces of white fish fillet, one per person, each weighing about 6 oz so approx one and a half pounds in total. I left the skin on to help the fish keep its shape. I used ling but cod, haddock or any similar variety would work fine in this adaptable recipe
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 fresh red medium hot chilli deseeded and roughly chopped (adjust quantity of chilli to suit your group’s capacity for heat)
juice of 1 lemon
small bunch each of mint, coriander and an aniseedy herb such as fennel or dill
2 tablespoons light olive oil

In a shallow glazed ceramic dish which which will hold the fish fillets snugly without overlapping to much mix together the garlic, coriander, chilli and lemon juice to form a marinade. Place the fish in the marinade flesh side down, skin side up, cover with cling film, refrigerate and leave in the marinade for betweeh 30 minutes and 1 hour. Don’t leave it longer than this as the lemon juice “cooks” the fish and you’ll end up with a ceviche on your hands rather than fish ready for cooking.

Meanwhile, prepare the herbs. Remove the leaves from the mint stalks and chop roughly. The coriander and fennel/dill can be chopped just as they are as their stems are tender. Mix together the chopped herbs.

Once the marinading period is over, remove the fish from the marinade and discard the liquid. Press the flesh side of the fish into the herb mixture aiming for a really thick generous herb coating. Place the fish skin side down, herb side up in a shallow baking dish.

Drizzle the light olive oil over the fish and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for approximately 20 minutes. Test the fish for doneness as it approaches the end of its cooking time by pressing with the point of sharp knife feeling for the difference in resistance between just cooked and slightly underdone fish.

The Southwold Dilemma

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Suffolk seaside town of Southwold where we spent our half term holiday is somewhere life moves at a gentle pace and the sun always shines. Think of it as Trumpton meets Cath Kidstonville. It’s a place where the town council has no more onerous concern than opening the annual Charter Fair on the village green;

a place where the biggest news event of the year is that local brewer and wine merchant Adnams has started distilling its own very superior gin (very delicious with Fevertree tonic water, ice and, if you want to look knowledgeable, a strip of cucumber rather than the usual lemon);

and a place where the only dilemma that need concern one is whether to eat at the town’s flagship hotel The Swan:

or its more approachable Adnams stablemate,The Crown:

With our large mixed age party we plumped for the more relaxed atmosphere of the Crown. They don’t take bookings so to secure a good table (queues form outside the door in high season) we arrived promptly at the start of evening service at 6.00. The main eating area with oak beams and cosy snugs is by the bar but we asked to be seated in the adjacent airy dining room:

It has a certain understated elegance don’t you think? Having done a little research I see that it was recently redecorated/refurbished by international designer Keith Skeel who has worked with Donna Karan and Marco Pierre White amongst others. It’s a measure of how successful he’s been that you can’t tell that an interior designer has been at work here.

Enough of the décor and back to the food. The menu changes regularly, and offers (the now ubiquitous) Modern British cooking. There’s lots of intriguing things to choose from which is always a good sign, and head chef Robert Mace is clearly up to speed with current cooking trends – local, seasonal ingredients, carefully cooked cheaper cuts served alongside the more usual restaurant staples, witty touches like tonic flavoured jelly cubes served alongside gin-cured trout.Thank goodness there are no foams in sight – this is meant to be a pub after all.

I checked the Adnams website after our meal and worryingly, top of the list of situations vacant was that of head chef for the Crown. It looks like the talented Mr Mace (known as Macey to his kitchen colleagues) is moving on which must be a blow for the Crown – definitely a name to watch on the restaurant scene.

Back to our meal. We began with the savoury snack of the moment, two dishes of popcorn, one flavoured with pesto which was OK but a tad oily. The second dish, enlivened with chilli flakes and salt was much more like it and is a simple idea I’ll be trying out back home. Watch out book and recorder group!

I couldn’t resist choosing the rainbow trout cured with the aforementioned Adnams gin and served with cubes of tonic jelly and a cucumber-heavy salad – gin and tonic on a plate if you like:

The witty idea worked on the plate but if I were to rework this dish at home I would use the gin to cure salmon gravad lax style, I would intensify the tonic flavour of the jelly cubes, I would increase the cucumber and drop the rocket in the salas and finally add a citrus note to the plate which was missing.

Before deciding on the trout, I had been tempted by the rabbit three ways too. Fortunately, being a family occasion, sharing was encouraged so I could taste everything:

My main course was Dingley Dell pork cooked two ways – a chunky piece of fillet propping up a more flavourful strip of crunchy roast belly pork. The pork was served with excellent mash, steamed spinach and a creamy leek sauce. A good dish but perhaps a little autumnal for a summer evening? And I’d have preferred more of that crunchy belly pork.

Incidentally, the slightly twee Dingley Dell name (from the fictional village in Pickwick Papers) is the name of an entirely non-fictional high-welfare pig business based in nearby Woodbridge, Suffolk.http://www.dingleydell.com/

Outdoor-reared pigs are a familiar sight (and smell!) in the Suffolk countryside – here are a few pigs I snapped on the journey from Southwold to Halesworth:

I’m not usually a pudding person usually but the highlight of my meal was the quirky sounding peanut butter sandwich, complete with toast and lashings of raspberry jam:

The peanut butter had been transfigured into a smooth parfait, and the toast was crispy melba toast, lightly caramelised. Just perfect.

The Crown is an Adnams establishment and makes good use of the expertise of the wine merchant side of the business – the wine list is interesting and varied and there’s plenty of interesting wines offered by the glass, especially dessert wine.

GoodcCoffee afterwards was served without frills and service was friendly and efficient. I just hope they have some strong applicants for that head chef vacancy.

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