Abbott

May 24, 2009

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Abbott Ale is full-flavoured and smooth. There’s a hint of malt and overtones of spice and really I can think of no better brew to settle down with in the corner of a pub and get quietly sozzled.

When I lived in Cambridge this was my favourite tipple. It’s brewed in Bury St Edmunds by Greene King (who also make the lighter IPA – Indian Pale Ale). So I associate Abbott with the huge, melancholy sweetness of the flat East Anglian landscape. Big skies and nothing but fields and streams from here to the horizon, with only the occasional church spire soaring up, from Cambridge to King’s Lynn to the Norfolk Broads.

Cambridge is a great town. The Backs, where the river’s sandwiched between ancient colleges and a meadow, is perhaps the loveliest spot. You can picnic on the grass, or take a punt, or wander over bridges and through cobbled streets to find a likely watering hole.

If you want a bite to eat with your pint of Abbott, a Ploughman’s Lunch would be good, or a fish pie, or just cheese on toast with a dash of Tabasco sauce.  Try to get your Abbott on draught. While the canned version crops up in most supermarkets, it doesn’t match the real thing. The delicacy of the drink simply disappears.

And if you can’t find it on tap, take a visit to Cambridge. You could work your way through dozens of brilliantly old-school English pubs. The Eagle, just near Market Square, was one of my favourites. Or there’s The Anchor, The Granta and The Mill, all right on the river.

Feelin’ Foxy

May 13, 2009

‘The essence of Stoke Newington’ says Time Out. A ‘hub of culinary and imbibing activity’ according to the Fox’s web-site. It’s very red, very cosy and yes, a lot of bottles go down there. Along with games of backgammon, a stack of today’s papers to wade through and some great grub.

the fox

Stoke Newington began to be trendy at least as far back as the early 1980s. Today there’s a picturesque line of independent shops, a pretty church and the green expanse of Clissold Park (where there are deer). Stokie (as I’m sure someone affectionately calls it) is now the home for those trendsetters from the 80s made good. (If you’re a struggling artist now you live on its cheaper shores, in up-and-coming Dalston or Finsbury Park, bask in Stoke Newington’s extended aura of very English Bohemia, and yearn.)

Facts to know about Stoke Newington:

Award winning Indian restaurant Rasa started here and now there are two branches on Church Street, one purely vegetarian. It’s well worth a visit.

The independent DVD shop (can’t recall its name at the moment) is great too. Full of odd titles that sound intriguing and suitably superior staff who chew gum and look like the coolest kids at school but know everything about film.

It’s the epicentre for urban lesbians of a certain age. (Get off your bus at Fresh and Wild, stroll down past the bike shop and towards the bakery and you’ll know I’m right.)

People either love it or hate it. A bit like Maupin’s San Francisco, you’re either an absolute devotee or you just don’t get it (and are secretly hugely jealous of those that do). Walking to the Fox on Sunday night I was accosted by one of the latter. A large very flushed man in a blue jacket with years of brewery on his breath, who wanted to know if I was ‘going back in there?’ He gesticulated, wild-eyed, up Church Street.

I was.

And what was I going to vote in the next election?

I hummed and hawed and then, since that didn’t work and he was standing scarily close and was bigger than me, I walked on fast, while he puffed after me and then began to roar ‘I am a Conservative!’ Here he beat his chest (literally). ‘What is wrong with us?’ he asked (still beating his sweaty white shirt). ‘I am a Conservative!’ he thundered.  I scurried off into the sanctity of liberal London.

And then, the evening’s excitement over, I settled down to a very nice imbibe of  expensive red wine and expensive but delicious bangers and mash, paid for by my wonderful friend B and her girlfriend (yes B used to live in Stoke Newington) and thought I must come here more often. To Stoke. To the Fox. I must learn to play backgammon. I must wear dungarees and a hat. Life can be good.

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On the day that world leaders congratulated themselves on having ‘hit back against recession’ and the narrow streets around the Bank of England were packed with demonstrators hemmed in by a massive police presence, what we really noticed was that spring had come to town.

In the countryside spring is unequivocal: everywhere you look are flowers or at least buds and the trees and hedges are spendthrift with blossom. But in the city where it’s hard to see the skyline,  spring views can only be taken in as fragments round corners, down alleyways, rapid glimpses from the train, a single tree covered in pink in a street of identical terraced houses. You feel spring as much as you see it, in the warmth in the air.

I sat beside the canal in Paddington Basin at lunchtime, under a clear blue sky, eating a Marks and Spencer’s Egg Mayonnaise sandwich. The sun was bright on the water and there were placid barges (Somerset Joy and Frideswid) with their tubs of daffodils and red tulips. It felt like I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was good enough just to be there.

When I got home the cherry blossom was falling on the garden. In Japan when the blossom falls they celebrate. I could see why.

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Cheese Scones

March 30, 2009

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When we think of scones it’s always teatime and there’s jam or honey and quite possibly cream. The sun is out. Bees hum in the roses and it’s all very Edwardian and English.

But there’s a whole other way of eating scones, where they’re a savoury item, to be eaten either on their own with butter, or with soup – best of all, to my taste, being sweetcorn soup.

These are they. The recipe has been handed down to me so I don’t know who was its original author. But the addition of the spring onions is mine, though you could use a leek.

Cheese Scones
at least 12

225g self raising flour
pinch salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
55g butter
100ml milk
1 egg
50g cheddar cheese, grated
paprika
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Set the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Grease an oven tin.

Sieve together the flour, salt and mustard powder. Rub in the butter.

Mix in half the cheese. Crack the egg into the middle of the flour and pour in most of the milk. Gradually work the ingredients together. Add the rest of the milk if it’s necessary,  but aim for a soft dough which isn’t sticky.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead a little, before pressing it down to form a slab about 2cm thick. Cut into 5cm rounds.

Place the scones onto the baking sheet and brush with milk. Then top them with a little cheese and a sprinkling of paprika.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

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Spanish Omelette

March 26, 2009

Why make it?

1. It’s simplicity itself.

2.You can share it with someone you like.

3. It’s a good excuse to drink some red wine, probably Rioja.

4. After the wine, you can say tortilla de patatas in a bad Spanish accent with a silly lisp.

5. It comes from my favourite country in Europe.

Spanish Omelette (Tortilla de Patatas)
for 2

1 medium red onion
12 oz potatoes
3 tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic (not authentic, but good)
4 large eggs

Peel the onion, cut in half width-ways and slice thinly. Peel and slice the garlic. Peel the potato and cut into thin slices. The thinner they are the quicker they will cook.

Heat 2 tbs of the oil in a sturdy frying pan, about 10″ in diameter. Add the vegetables and turn down the heat. Season well. Cook covered for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then. Breaking up the potatoes slightly with a wooden spoon is also good.

Crack the eggs into a basin and beat lightly. Season. When the potato mixture is done, add to the eggs.

Heat another tbs of oil in the pan, spoon in the tortilla mixture, cover and turn down the heat to the absolute minimum. Leave to cook for about 15 minutes.

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To cook the top of the omelette, cover the pan with a plate, holding it there firmly, and invert so that the omelette lands on the plate. Then slide it back into the frying pan to cook for another couple of minutes.

Serve with salad. And wine of course.

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The Honey Sandwich

March 18, 2009

Now that Marks and Spencer have unveiled their own jam sandwich, competitively priced at 75p, I feel certain that the time is ripe for an occasional series on my own favourite sandwiches.

The homemade sandwich is a very personal affair. Since most of us only admit to eating them when we have to  – ie for lunch at work – owning up to actually liking them feels like a truly personal revelation. Particularly on a food blog, you know? It sounds kind of slummy. Like telling you that I don’t wear underwear.

But there it is. I do (like sandwiches that is).

And this is my latest favourite.

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That’s butter (or Utterly Butterly to be perfectly exact) on granary bread. Plus a thick layer of set honey on one of the slices, and a thin layer of light Tahini on the other.

Tahini is made from sesame seeds and it adds a little chewiness, along with some protein and a rather larger number of calories.

It works, really it does. Try it. And then let me know your  own favourite sandwiches.

Parsley

March 5, 2009

It’s the most versatile herb in the kitchen and the most retro.  We keep thinking we’re too cool for it, but back it comes, never to be forgotten.  And did you know that the Romans used it as a breath freshener before orgies?

Now is it’s time.

Actually, any time is its time what with supermarkets, but now is the time to get your own seeds, bung them in a pot of compost and leave the pot on a windowsill to germinate. Then plant the seedlings out and you’ve got your very own crop.

Or if you’re too lazy for that, as I am, do what everyone else does. Buy a bunch down the corner shop. But please, please, don’t keep the parsley in a glass of water on your kitchen window. The water ends up green and smells vile  (though not as bad as daffodil water, that really does smell of sewers) and the parsley stems go soggy and the whole thing is absolutely disgusting. No. Don’t do that. Put the glass of water in your fridge, or wrap the fronds of parsley in foil or clingfilm and put them in the fridge like that. They’ll keep so much longer and stay crisp and fresh. After a week they shouldn’t be there anyway; you should have used them up.

Parsley works with everything. It goes in soups, stews, stocks,  and salads. If it’s cooked food, then the parsley is added right at the very end, so that it keeps its nutrients (vitamins C and A and iron) and the kitchen is full of that fresh scent, like beech woods after rain.

Put it in Tabbouleh. Put it in Italian Salsa Verde. Put it in Baba Ghanoush. Or best yet and most retro of all, put it in Parsley Sauce.

You remember parsley sauce, don’t you? You must have had it at school. It made the driest fishcake almost edible and you could drown the lumps in your mashed potato in the thick creamy stuff, flecked with pale green. I predict a big return through 2009 for parsley sauce: it’s nostalgic, reminiscent of the nursery, simple and cheap to make.

Here’s how. It’s basically like any white sauce, but the one essential thing is to totally pulverise the parsley before you add it in, so that any ghost of shape has been hammered out of it and it lies on your kitchen surface like damp aromatic moss.

Parsley Sauce (enough for about 4 people)
2 tbs butter
2 tbs plain flour
400ml milk
4tbs parsley, finely chopped (you can use some of the stalk too)
salt, pepper

Gently melt the butter over as low heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a pale yellow paste and let that heat for a minute or two. The flour gets cooked, but not browned.

Then the fun part. Begin to add the milk, little by little, slowly does it, stirring all the time. At some point, when the paste is becoming the consistency of sauce, you may want to move over from a spoon to a whisk.

Once all the milk is added, let the sauce come to the boil and simmer gently for up to 5 minutes, by which time it will be thick and creamy. If it’s too thick for pouring, add in a little more milk.

Take off the heat. Stir in the parsley, the salt and pepper, and then inundate those boiled potatoes.

NB. You can ring the changes with any or all of these: grated nutmeg; a teaspoon of Dijon mustard; lemon juice, just a dash; cream, about a tablespoonful.

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