Thursday, 11 February 2016

Chifafa, Clerkenwell


It’s not unusual to talk about the meaning of life in a kebab shop. I’ve done it countless times before and perhaps you have too. The delivery can sometimes be confused but nevertheless, I find that the humble doner is a great vehicle for incoherently putting your point across. Seriously, spilt lettuce, red cabbage and slithers of brown leather falling onto the floor are perfect metaphors to describe the act of shuffling off one’s own mortal coil. One minute, there we are, a happy bundle of juicy meat, cosseted in the warm bosom of flat bread and pickles. And in the next, there we lie, desolate and scattered in or on the ground. Withered, dry, lifeless, turned to dust. C’est la vie. Yes, with mouth burning red hot, I have often sprayed this message into the faces of friends. Sometimes it’s hard to handle, hearing soliloques of stark intensity and truth. Often, the same said friends….OK, friend, would soon fall unconscious as a result. Normally at the bus stop. It was the best they could do in such circumstances. Whilst I carried on, shouting and crying towards a blackened sky.

Yet when the very same subject came up in a conversation in Chifafa recently, a kebab outfit on Clerkenwell Road, it was dealt with in an entirely different manner. For a start, I wasn’t 18 and nine sheets to the wind. Nor did I have to contend with a bellowing for ‘extra special sexy chilli sauce’ in the background, residual grime on my elbows or the threat of violence, for having accidently ‘looked’ at someone’s girlfriend in the queue. Of course, I am conjuring up stereotypical memories about kebab shops here. Some of which probably still exist, outside nightclubs in Romford, Basildon and (Jesus!) Southend. No, Chifafa is certainly a world away from all of that and I must admit, I don’t think I was quite prepared for its calm, clean and efficient atmosphere. The death chat was also a complete surprise but still, it was all in keeping with the contemplative mood inside. It was instigated by founder Nick Green by the way, this wander into what it means to die. More about that in a second though.

First then I should give a quick appraisal of what Chifafa actually is or what they are trying to do. Well of course, they are in the business of selling kebabs, with the aim making them not only an affordable bite to eat but also a healthy one. Oh and they want to save the reputation of kebabs in the UK too. Which is a high minded and naive prospect if you think about it. Turkish food does pretty well really, especially in London and no doubt, some chefs over at Green Lanes would relish the idea of nipping over to EC1 with sharpened flat skewers, just to see what these upstarts are doing. However, having taken a lead from Berlin, where they go mad for ‘kebaps’, Nick saw a middle ground between the restaurant experience and late-night elephant leg merchants, that didn’t exist in this country.

They’ve been going for about a year now and from what I saw and tasted, Chifafa has plenty going for it. The unit is small with spartan metal tables, steel flooring and an imposing central bench, that should ensure that people enter, eat and leave in true teutonic style. But the smells of the place are enticing and appealing enough to draw and keep you inside, should you want to; largely due to what is going on under the domed lids of their Big Green Eggs in the kitchen. Namely lamb, chicken, veal (interestingly) and halloumi. With falafel frying away in the background for good measure. A good selection of salads and pickles are on offer too and having been invited as a guest, I got to try a lot. Not the lot, but a lot. All the meats were imparted with a smokey flavour that was slightly different from the char that you get from a regular shish. Smoked all the way through, rather than seared on the surface and the veal was my favourite, purely for the extra element of sweetness. The halloumi salad box was good too, especially the butternut squash with chickpea and sesame.


If I had to gripe, I would say that their souvlaki breads needed to be a bit bigger, to accommodate properly, the generous filling they give. It’s nice to receive something that is bursting with ingredients but it’s not so nice they burst out all over the place after unwrapping. As an aside, a lot of street food vendors seem to do this too. You glory at the amount of stuff going in, then wrap, chomp, bang and you soon find yourself juggling and eating off the back of both your hands, forearms, shoulders, etc.

Anyway, Chifafa still got tops mark for me and part of that came down to the conversation I had with Nick, a natural raconteur. Obviously he can’t give his time to every single person who walks in and talk to them but it was great to see his passion for the business and hear his stories about previously working in the area. The creation of the name ‘Chifafa’ was the scene-stealer; born out of hearing an emotional Dustin Hoffman talk about his mother’s cooking on radio. They were fairly poor by all accounts, yet when the occasion could afford, she’d tell Dustin that she had rustled up something special for the table, with some ‘shifafa’ on the side. Which is turn is related to a line from ‘The Frim Fram Sauce’, a jazz song made famous by Nat King Cole. Dustin, being the Hollywood lovey he is, broke down into tears after playing the damn song on the radio and Nick was suddenly inspired and to cut a long story short, well it all amounts to a lovely hook for the brand and it’s one that they should definitely sell more.

The main point being is after hearing that tale, we soon started talking about our kids, the future and as you do, the Grim Reaper. Loads of stuff in fact and it occurred to me after leaving, that while Chifafa is the ideal sort of place for some quick respite. you could also easily while away some time in there; with a friend or partner and a beer or two. A far cry from the kebab shops that I grew up with. And halfway there to the restaurants whose good food they are eager to emulate.

Just the sort of place to ‘ussin-fay’ about in really.


Selection of kebabs

Big Green Eggs and halloumi salad

Man in cap, looking for prospective ussing-fay

Friday, 5 February 2016

unearthed Blogger Scholarship 2016


Have you just started a new food, travel or (ye gads) lifestyle blog in the last few months? And are you eager to get it thrust out there, into the abyss that is the internets; that vastness of space that seethes with a gajillion voices and cute photos of cats? Do you want people to hear what you've got to say and would you like some help along the way? Are you full of witty ideas, can type imaginative, informative prose and raise a smile or two? Is this going to be a hobby? Or do you want to use your blog as a launch pad into the scribulious, and sometimes pernicious, world of professional writing?

How about tapas, cured meats, olives and most importantly, pork rillettes? How do you feel about those things? Do they float your boat? Can you use these ingredients, along with the very synapses of your mind and create dishes of luminous, ethereal quality? Recipes that will transport people into another dimensions? A parallel universe of flavour and taste?

Or are you currently sat there, reading this and frothing, with a very twitchy eye? And again, I have to ask this, do you like pork rilletes? Come on, what do you want? I mean seriously, what the hell do you want?

I have, perhaps, asked too many questions here and have gone too far, but if you've answered 'Yes' to the majority of them, then the unearthed Blogger Scholarship Programme may just be the thing for you. For these purveyors of exciting and authentic foods from around the globe (well, mostly Europe) have just launched an initiative to help new bloggers to get their foot on the ladder. And I am on board as a judge. Partly because founder Simon Day has promised to buy me a fancy wig. But largely because they are a brand that I have worked with and been enthused by, for a long time now. The team is small but very passionate about what they do and have made great strides in introducing all sorts of unusual products to the public at large. All done in a quirky, entertaining and unobtrusive sort of way.

I like that and as such, unearthed products always make their way into my shopping basket whenever I am planning a special, romantic carpet picnic on a Friday night, for myself and my wife.

Not that kind of carpet picnic by the way, you filthy buggers. I have learned from experience that smearing nduja everywhere stings to high heaven and should never be repeated ever again.

So, if you are new to blogging and fancy your chances, then please do enter. It's a great opportunity to dip your toe in the water, to work with a friendly, co-operative brand and to receive some excellent goodies. But please do also read through the t&cs to make sure that this competition is right for you.

Because if you are already an established blogger, making extra jam alongside your regular bread and butter; then obviously, this is not the right thing for you.

It is very important that you like this sort of stuff

How to enter

Entrants must write and post a blog (on their own site) related to the theme #keepdiscovering. The post must include a recipe, incorporating an unearthed® product with photographs. The post must be a minimum of 250 words. It must then be promoted via at least 2 social networks (Facebook, twitter, Instagram or Pinterest) and mention @foodsunearthed.

All entrants will receive £15 worth of John Lewis vouchers, towards the cost of ingredients bought to create the recipe post.

All entries must be received by midnight on Sunday 21st February 2016.

Important note – we are only running this scheme to mainland UK residents. This is due to the majority of our events taking place in England. In addition, suitable logisitics for sending chilled (unearthed®) products to our bloggers, to create recipes and review, are not available off the mainland.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Smoked Pork Knuckle, Carlin Peas and Root Vegetable (Salad)


This dish started off with all the best intentions of becoming a hearty and warming soup, to slurp on a frostbitten day. Something not too dissimilar to a London particular and everything was going swimmingly, until I decided to start picking at things. Don't get me wrong, the mantra of 'tasting as you go' is a good one to apply when cooking. A little nibble here and a thoughtful bite there does no harm along the way. And of course, your taste buds can act an early warning system; the equivalent of keeping a caged canary down a tin mine so to speak, to avert any possible disasters ahead. Alright, there would be a terrible irony if you ended up poisoning yourself with E.coli after using this method of assessment. In which case, I would also suggest that you keep your throat canary in tip top condition, as dead canaries can lead to...deadness.

Anyway, there is a problem with tasting, insofar that it is very easy to get carried away. I mean, how many times have you knocked up some flour, sugar and butter for cake, absentmindedly taken a lick of the spoon and before you know it, have eaten the whole damn mix? You done that before haven't you? Yes, I know you have.

Well, this is what sort of happened with the soup. It started with the root vegetables. Carrot, celeriac, onion and garlic, all collectively bubbling away in the pan, in a light bath of melted butter. In their raw states, these sort of root veg are fairly unassuming. Yet apply some heat and get them starches converting and they soon transform into cuboid jewels of tuberous joy. Provided that you've diced them up properly that is. But hey, even the most lopsided brunoise can taste of sweet shop candy.



Then came the black badgers and by that, I don't mean the stripey-headed type, marching into the kitchen, going "BADGER, BADGER, BADGER." I am talking about Carlin peas, famously from Lancashire and currently making waves as the pulse of choice. In certain vegan circles. Where the association with badgers comes from I don't know. But having kept a box of them from Hodmedod's (again, another curious name) in the cupboard for nearly over a year, I felt it was high time that they got used. For much needed fibre, if anything else. Now, Carlin peas are a lot earthier than most pulses but they've also got this alluring nutty flavour. So after simmering them for 45 minutes or so, I found myself popping badgers into my mouth with alarming intensity. Which is something I never thought I would ever hear myself say.



The last temptation came in the form of a smoked pork knuckle, bought from McKanna Meats on Theobolds Road; who are surely the most happiest of butchers in all of London town. Given that my last post made mention of easing back on meat, I have no qualms about harping on and eating this brilliantly frugal bit of pig. My eyes always twinkle whenever I see them on the counter, fondly recalling a huge knuckle once served up in front of me in Krakow, Poland. Boiled then roasted hard, so that the skin crisped and crackled, it was plated up atop a mound of fermented cabbage and nothing else. Ploughing through it was glorious; picking through pink flakes and wobbly fat, trying to dislodge sticky slabs of skin from my back teeth. I was carried out of the restaurant that day, all woozy and disorientated, with my chin glistening in the winter sun. No, you can beat a pork knuckle and as such, it all becomes very hard when contemplating about throwing it into a dish willy nilly. Especially something like soup.

So I didn't. I thought 'Sod it, let's just hold back some of that beautiful liquor for another time and make a sort of warm salad out of this instead.' Whether this recipe actually qualifies as a salad I'll leave up to you. But having left out the stock and the laborious process of having to pull the blender out from the back of the cupboard, and then blending, and then pouring back into a saucepan, and then washing up the blender, and then cleaning down the sides, because you forgot to put the lid on the blender; well, this works so much better without all of that.

Oh wait, this dish also contains kale and a dressing. So yes, it is a salad!

Smoked Pork Knuckle, Carlin Peas and Root Vegetable (Salad) - serves 4


Ingredients

1 pork knuckle, approx 1.2kg, smoked or plain
1 tsp of peppercorns
1 tsp of coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
1 glass of ginger wine (optional, I threw this in just for a little kick but not essential)
750mls water
50gms butter
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 small celeriac, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
200gms Carlin peas, soaked overnight
300gms kale, stems trimmed out and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, for seasoning

For the dressing

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsps cider vinegar
6 tbsps rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper, for seasoning

Method

First, heat your oven up to 140C and place the pork knuckle into a casserole dish, adding the peppercorns, coriander seeds, bay leaves, ginger wine (optional) and water. Bring up to a simmer on the hob and then place into the oven, covering with a lid. Leave to slowly cook for 3 hours or so, until the meat is very tender and starting to fall off the bone. Then take the knuckle out of the stock and leave to cool slightly. Pull the fatty skin away and separate the pork and lightly shred with some forks. Cover with foil and leave in a warm place.

During the slow cooking of the pork knuckle, it would also be a good idea to cook your Carlin peas. So put them in a saucepan and cover with a generous amount of water. Place on the hob, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes, until they are nice and soft. Drain and leave to one side.

(You could throw in some aromatics in with them, if you wanted to. Some herbs, garlic, chilli, etc. But whenever I have done this in the past to pulses, I have found that it hasn't made much of a discernible difference. So I don't bother)

Next, you need to cook off your root vegetables. Take a wide pan and place on the hob over a medium heat. Add the butter and leave to melt and froth before throwing in the onion. Stir for 5 minutes or so and then add the carrot and celeriac. The aim here is to fry and soften everything slowly, so reduce the heat a touch and leave to cook for 20 minutes but stir often to prevent catching.

Whilst the root veg are frying away, blanch the kale in boiling water for 2 minutes and then drain.

To finish off the veg, throw in the garlic, peas and kale and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes and taste for seasoning. As that cooks off, quickly make up your dressing by combining the ingredients in a small glass or jar and mix together with a fork, or tiny whisk.

To plate up, portion out the root veg and kale into bowls and lightly drizzle over some of the leftover stock. Then add a handsome amount of knuckle meat on top and finish with another drizzle of the dressing.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Goat Tagine with Chickpeas and Prunes


Here is something that I have always wondered. Do you actually need a tagine to make a tagine? A proper, glazed, conical pot that is; resplendent with a tiny little hole to let steam escape and to flood the air with the smell of fragrant rose petals and heady spice. It is one of those ponderous, philosophical questions after all. Up there with 'Does a tree make a noise, in a forest, when it falls down, inexplicably, all by itself, for no apparent reason, and there is no-one around to hear it, or even care?' I don't own a tagine you see. By all accounts, due to a poor record with earthenware and an increasingly overpopulated kitchen, it's an unnecessary purchase. Still, every time I make one (and I often do) I usually have this nagging doubt inside that says 'This is just a stew Dan. No more, no less. Don't kid yourself. This is not (pause) a proper tagine.' Which makes me feel quite sad. Quite sad indeed.

Obviously, you may already be reading between the lines here and have noticed that last bout of melancholy is a blatant and somewhat immature attempt to get my own way. But I do hope to get my hands on a tagine one day. And if that means plucking on HARDENED and BRITTLE HEARTSTRINGS, then so be it. In the meantime, I shall continue to use my battered Le Creuset pot instead.

In short, I made a lovely tagine the other day using some excellent goat meat from Cabrito Goat Meat, who are now making the foray of introducing their product to a wider audience via Ocado. There's a great story behind Cabrito and it is one that is worth repeating. Saying that, I have already written about them before on FU so you'll have to read this instead. I would like to make a new observation though, in that whenever I see founder James Whetlor roaming about the place, in person or on TV, the man is always dressed in shorts. Maybe someone once told him that he has got sexy knees. Or maybe he just waiting for the kid chops, mince and shanks to start flying out and then he will be able to afford some proper trousers. Because they are keenly priced but justifiably so. Corralling suppliers and implementing a new preventative system for an industry that routinely slaughters 90'000 billy goats a year can't be easy. Or cheap. I'd like to think that Cabrito are slowly but surely getting there though.

Another voice in my head then has been urging that, as a household, we really should focus on buying better quality, ethically sourced meat; which naturally, is going to come at a higher price.  You're probably thinking right now - 'You don't already? You bar steward?!' But alas, it's true. I still waver between the keen-eyed, apathetic, supermarket bargain hunter and the austere, worthy shopper who waves wads of notes tearfully for rare-breed flesh at farmer's markets. I am sure that is typical for a lot of people but I am working on steering our meat buying towards the 'good' method. Rather than the bad.

As such, I am also beginning to also think (shock, horror) that we should buy and eat less meat. Marginally for health and environmental reasons but most importantly to elevate it to the status of a treat, rather than an everyday occurrence. Which includes leaving out ham from sandwiches!

*faints*

Coming back to the carnal pleasure of eating meat for a second or two, having served up this tagine, at least I know the promise of this recipe at the weekend will make up for beans and cabbage in the week. Especially for my daughter, as she scoffed it in minutes. My son even went so far to say at the dinner table "F**king hell Isla, you ate that quick." A statement that was issued so calmly and innocently, that at first, it was as if nothing untoward had just happened. Don't worry, mouths soon dropped wide open with gobsmacking gobsmackness and the sound of forks and spoons fell clanging down on plates, and the boy turned a bright shade of crimson red.

The dishing out of admonishment fell quickly into my lap and the first thing I could think of saying out aloud was "Where the f**k has he got that from?!"

And this my friends, is one of the many, many reasons why I am not allowed to have a tagine.

Goat Tagine with Chickpeas and Prunes - serves 4

400gms goat meat, diced
2 onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
150gms prunes
400mls chicken or lamb stock
2 tbps Ras el hanout (Whenever I think of Ras el hanout, I always think of Ra's al Ghul. Do you?)
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper
2 tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Oil
Mint, for garnish

Diced kid, prunes and my Le Creuset pot (not a tagine)
Method

First heat a good splash of oil in your pot on the hob and then add the diced onion and fry off, stirring continually until it softens and starts to caramelise. Then add the garlic and ginger and continue to saute for a minute or two.

Next add the goat and brown off quickly, and then add the Ras el hanout, paprika and prunes. Again, cook off for a minute or two and the add the tomatoes and stock and taste for seasoning. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and leave to cook on the hob, with a lid half covering the pot for one and half hours to two hours, or until the meat is completely soft and tender.

About twenty minutes before serving, throw in the chickpeas and stir. The liquor should start to thicken after a bit. When ready, serve in bowls or on plates, with an accompaniment of your choice (we used boring ol' cous cous) and throw a load of torn mint leaves over. Nice.

Goat Tagine with Chickpeas and Prunes (and cous cous)
Fin's plate, that wasn't finished as quickly as Isla's

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

How to catch a haggis for Burns Night (well, how to make one)


This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

I spotted a sign hanging at my local butchers recently that proudly displayed the selection of local game that they were able to supply. All the usual suspects were there; mallard, pheasant, rabbit and pigeon.  Then at the bottom of the list I saw that they were also able to get hold of haggis. This was quite reassuring because to be frank, the haggis problem around my neck of the woods is starting to get out of control.  Just the other day, I had to chase a pair out of my garden with a rake, as they are fond of digging up bulbs and shrubs. Wee blighters are fast too. As I watched them zip off into the distance, with that horrible shriek they make, I knew they would be back soon enough. So I’ve invested in a large net and plan to lure them in with some cat food (they favour Whiskers) and before long, I will have my own steady supply of haggis to eat.

Of course, haggises aren’t really these cute little woodland creatures that guilefully roam about the countryside. You know that and so do I. But I suspect for some, the idea of tucking into something that was once wild and free, sounds a lot more palatable than the prospect of slicing into a sheep’s stomach casing, stuffed with minced heart, liver and lungs, along with oats and spices. For that is what haggis truly is.

Now I love haggis and will gladly consume it throughout the year; without all the pomp and ceremony of having to toast and address it, and hauling the ol’ bagpipes out (in our house, it’s a pink recorder). But there is something nice about eating it specifically for Burns Night. A bit of drama and theatricality at the end of a dreary January, along with some whisky, always goes down well. Normally, I go out and simply buy one from the supermarket but this year, I decided that I would try and make one from scratch. As testimony to doing the whole nose to tail thing properly and in the spirit of adventure.  

So I got hold of a haggis kit from Sous Chef, an online emporium of culinary delights and unusual ingredients, and conducted a road test, to make sure I got everything right before next Monday. A slightly adjusted recipe that came with the kit will follow but first I thought I should offer a few observations, should you be considering making your very own haggis.

And I really think you should.


1. Ordering pluck is a lot easier than you would expect. Pluck being the informal term for the collection of organs found inside a lamb. The heart, the liver and the lungs. I had a mild panic attack that I wouldn’t be able to get hold of some but after a couple of quick calls, I was reassured that my pluck would be available within a day or two. I got mine from TheGinger Pig.

2. When you finally get your hands on some pluck, it will test you and your capacity for the visceral nature of cooking. Everything will still be connected via a windpipe and the lungs in particular are challenging to handle. It was heartening though when my children came into the kitchen and asked what I was doing. As I explained with bloodied and shaky hands, they took it all in rather nonchalantly, before scratching their behinds and going back to the TV.
 

3. Handling the ox bung, the last metre of an ox’s intestine, is very challenging. It smells curiously of blue cheese and is quite slippery to handle after soaking. It also looks just a tad…wrong. But if generations and generations of hardy, tough and slightly psychotic Scots can deal with it, then so can you.
 

4. A little goes a long way. My wife saw me stuff the bung with practically the whole bowl of ingredients before suggesting that I was only catering for four. And she had a good point. I just wish she had said it sooner rather than later. But yes, smaller haggises are easier to handle and once the component oats begin to swell, you will soon have a lot of haggis to serve.


5. Last of all, if your haggis splits, all is not lost. I had two sat nicely poaching away in some simmering water and decided in my infinite wisdom to turn the heat up. A minute later, I glanced back into the pot to see bits of meat bouncing upon the surface. One had popped but after quickly fishing it out, wrapping it in foil and placing back in, the poor wee haggis didn’t suffer any real ill effect.

In fact, the final result was fantastic.  Having been able to control the seasoning at my end and add in a few flavours of my own, I would say (smugly) that a homemade effort tastes much better than any shop bought haggis. A fine fair proposition for your honest, sonsie face, to celebrate that great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!

Traditional haggis – makes 5 to 6 small haggis or one 3kg haggis

1 ox bung, soaked for 4 hours and well rinsed
1 lamb’s pluck (heart, lungs and liver) approx. 1.4kg
500g beef or lamb trimmings or stewing steak
200g suet
500g coarse oatmeal
Seasoning (adjust to taste)
2 tbsp black pepper, ground
1 nutmeg, finely grated (Sous Chef recipe uses mace, but I didn't have any)
4 tsp ground coriander seeds
4 tsps fine sea salt
Method

Rinse the whole pluck in cold water. Trim off any large pieces of fat and cut away the windpipe. Place in a good sized pot and cover with cold water. The lungs float, so keep submerged with a plate or a lid. Bring to the boil and skim the surface regularly. Gently simmer for 2 hours.

Lift the meat from the pot with the tongs or a slotted spoon, and rinse in cold water to remove any scum. Place into a bowl and leave to cool.

Strain cooking liquid through a fine sieve and put back on the stove to reduce until you have roughly 500-1000mls of stock. Leave to cool.

Whilst the stock reduces, finely dice the cooked heart and lungs. Grate the liver using the coarse side of the grater. Finely dice the trimmings. Mix together in a large bowl, along with the suet, oatmeal and spices.

Measure how much stock remains from cooking the pluck, and make up to 1l with cold water. When cool, add to the haggis mixture.

To check the seasoning, pan fry 1 tbsp of the mixture for 2-3 minutes and taste. Add any extra salt, pepper or spice if needed.

Spoon the haggis mixture into the soaked, rinsed ox bung.  Be aware the filling swells as it cooks, so pack quite loosely, and keep a little bung at each end.

When the haggis is the size required, expel any extra air, pinch, tie with string and cut with scissors. Tie the new end of the bung, and continue stuffing.  Freeze any spare haggises.


Before cooking, pierce the haggis several times with a needle. Place in a pan of cold water, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1.5-2 hours. When ready, the internal temperature should read at least 74C.

Serve with mashed potatoes and swede. Or neeps and tatties. And a whisky cream sauce.

Recipe reproduced with kind permission of Sous Chef.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Red Thai Curry with Duck and Persimon

Kaeng Phed Ped Yang

To my eternal shame, I ignored these persimon* over the Christmas period. Plenty of fruit came and went and throughout, these unusual, slightly alien-looking, bright orange globes simply waited there, patiently in the bowl. No doubt whenever anyone approached the bowl, with hand hovering over, there were steadfast whispers of - 'This is it chaps One of us is going over the top. Good luck!' And yet time and time again, hopes were dashed, with bitter accusations to follow:

'What's wrong with us?'

'Apples, it's always the apples. Bastards.'

'It could be worse, we could be plums. Look at that poor fella over there, all wizened underneath those bananas. It's like he's been forgotten altogether. Look, he's beginning to weep.'

'Those aren't tears Barry.'

Poor persimon, getting the cold shoulder.

Persimons of neglect.
There was a good reason for this though, as persimon falls into that category of fruit that likes to ripen on a whim. They can remain rock hard for weeks, or so it seems. However, if you don't inspect them daily, nay hourly, there is the danger of missing that small window of opportunity; when the fruit is just starting to yield to the touch and just starting to emit a sweet perfume. After that, it's sticky thumb time.

Maybe I am going overboard with all the examining and scrutinising here. I mean I definitely don't go through any sort of daily ritual of thrusting fruit under my nose like the man from Del Monte. I simply pick and go. But I have been burnt before with persimon. After plucking one and shining on my lapel and then biting into it, I am sure that I turned into the veritable picture of child-like disgust afterwards. You know the face. One eye closed, cheeks scrunched up, mouth gurning with half masticated gunge spilling off the tongue. To land splat, on the floor.

I needn't have worried about these persimon. The variety was Rojo Brillante, harvested in Valencia, Spain and are noted for their firm flesh and lack of astringency (I know this because I kept the pamphlet) and true to the script, they deliver on that. Once I tasted one, giving it the thumbs up to the rest of the brood (a bit like the man from Del Monte actually) they were soon devoured and I am sure we will make the best of the season when it rolls around next time. Which is October to January, should you need to know.

I deliberately kept one back though, as I had an idea that the underlying tartness would go well in a spicy red curry, with duck and aubergine. Or Kaeng Phed Ped Yang, as it is known down at my local Thai restaurant.

Alright, so I am basically taking a fairly well known recipe and swapping out the pineapple for persimon here. I don't expect applause. I don't expect flowers. But the sweet persimon really did deliver when I rustled it up for lunch the other day. Where pineapple usually helps to cut through the rich coconut with it's harsh acidity, the aromatic flesh lends a more delicate, redolent quality to the curry.

Other fruit, such as grapes or lychee apparently also work well with Kaeng Phed Ped Yang but stick with persimon, should you want to try this out. Just because it's a bit mysterious still. A little bit 'ooooh' and a litttle bit 'aaaah' if you like. Definitely not 'uuuuuuuuuuuggggh' anyway. I think that sort of persimon is a thing of the past.

*When I first posted this recipe, I was spelling persimon as 'persimmon'...which is a correct way of spelling. But persimon without the added 'm' relates specifically to the Rojo Brilliante by way of trademark, including a much lauded D.O status. The Valencians are obviously very protective of their beloved persimon and rightly so.

Chunks. Duck. Another shot of some persimons.
Red Thai Curry with Duck and Persimon - serves 2

ingredients
2 duck breasts
2 tbs Thai red curry paste (I used ready made, don't shoot me)
2 tbs sunflower oil
400mls coconut milk
250mls chicken stock
1 persimon, cut into large dice
1 aubergine, cut into large dice
8-10 cherry tomatoes
2 tbs fish sauce
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 tbs palm sugar or soft brown sugar
1 long red chilli, one half finely chopped, one half sliced
1 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper
Coriander, for garnish.

method

First cook your duck breasts by placing them skin side down into a cold frying pan and then place on the hob over a medium to high heat. As the pan heats up, the fat will start to render out and the skin will start to crisp up. Fry skin side down for 5 to 6 minutes and then flip and fry for another 4 to 5 minutes. Depending on the size of the duck breast, this should cook it medium. Leave the duck to rest.

Next, place a wok or saucepan on the hob over a high heat and add the oil. Once it has heated up, add the Thai red curry paste and stir constantly for about about two minutes to cook the paste out. Then add the coconut milk and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add the fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and half of the finely chopped chilli and stir, reducing the heat to a simmer.

Throw in the aubergine and cook for about 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes and persimon. Cook for a further 2 minutes and the curry should be done. Taste for seasoning and add the lime juice in at the end, stirring through.

Ladle the curry into deep bowls, slice the duck breast on the diagonal and spread across the top and then add a scattering of chilli and coriander for garnish. Thai basil would be a better option, but I couldn't get hold of some.

Serve with boiled jasmine rice.

This picture is a little bit rude. Sorry.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

'my recipe'

Yesterday was spent finally getting to grips with the remaining detritus of Christmas. Or namely the business of cleaning the house for the first time proper since, ooh about December 19th. There was no point in trying to tidy, sweep or shift anything from that point onwards really. Because as soon as we tried, that space would soon be swiftly occupied by some sort of matter. Sometimes organic, usually plastic, stuck upwards at vicious angles and ready to pierce the soft under-skin of my sweet bare feet.

Yes, my children really are untidy little shits and over the holiday period they seemed to veer from room to room like two small dusty tornadoes, spewing up and ejecting furniture all over the place. The best I could do was to follow them slowly around the place and observe; whilst gently weeping into my mug of tea and wondering where the hell had I put my slippers.

Thankfully, they are back at school now and so I started on sweeping up the vast amount of paper that had accumulated in all corners. White sheets bent into shapes, full of pictures drawn in vivid colour, with words scrawled, frenetically; stories that desperately needed to come out. I love that they like to write and I will never stop encouraging them but the editing is a pain in the bum. By editing, I mean deciding on what pages to keep and what pages to throw into the orange recycling sack. A method of recycling by the local council that still doesn't entirely convince me.

Usually, as the momentum builds, I tend to become more and more indifferent to what I read. Wolverine has defeated some aliens, yet again. Mummy is the best Mummy in the world, yet again. And ffs, Daddy still has issues with flatulence going on (they really do like drawing pictures of me farting, for some reason).

Blah, blah, blah. I have heard it all before and so on this occasion, I started swooping up everything wholesale.

But then, luckily, I stumbled across this gem, a recipe written by my daughter and whilst I am aware that this is developing into another soppy blog post, I wanted to share it. Not just for the smiles I hope it will raise but as an antidote to all the January healthy eating horlicks that is going on out there.

I for one think that wiping food with a little bit of ice-cream is a great idea.