Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Coco Wood Kitchenware

Rather than the usual 1pm rude awakening when the world becomes unbearably noisy and you have no choice but to open your bleary eyes, rise from your not-really-sleep-because-I-passed-out-fully-clothed-when-I-got-home and immediately brush your furry teeth, it's sometimes pleasant to jump out of bed on a Sunday morning bounding like a gazelle and ready for the day. Only sometimes.
On occasions such as this, it's an East London rite of passage that you must be out of the house by 10am because you have to attempt to avoid the crowds at Columbia Road flower market, though they inevitably still beat you there every single time.
Perusing the endless flower stalls isn't really what it's about. More soaking up the atmosphere of irate boisterous middle aged women trying to get to antique wooden cargo boxes through 500 miles of relentlessly thick clods of tourists. Once you get past how busy it is, it's actually a lovely way to spend a morning. The street is lined with antique jewellery shops, second hand books, handmade cake stalls, independent stationers and even a wine shop with seats inside where you can enjoy an early morning glass of champagne, should you need it.
Along the wider end of the road where the flower stalls peter out, is home-ware shop Nom Living. Distinctive with its tables of unusual wooden utensils outside, inside the shop you can find an array of unique coconut wood kitchenware, colourful lacquer bowls and trays, spoons made from shell and horn and rustic uneven ceramic crockery.
I picked up this coconut wood pestle and mortar:

With the wood being so smooth, the inside bowl is designed with circular indentations to help grind herbs and spices.

The coconut wood has dark flecks running along the grain, so when cut across the grain these show as dots or when cut with the grain, as long lines. Using the wood to carve a shape with rounded areas adds to the striking effect.

The collection was getting a lot of attention in store. It was like a bartender had just announced free shots for the first 50 customers, the area around the collection was three-deep.

Not only does the pestle and mortar look pretty sitting on the work surface but having never seen kitchenware like it, anything from the coconut wood pieces would make unique gifts too. 
You can get them online here but for the real experience, get there on a Sunday morning to fight your way through the hoards. It's worth it.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Truffle Butter

I know, I know butter isn't 'primal' but I'm introducing myself gently. Baby steps! Also after reading the go-to bible on study based dietary choices - Nourishing Traditions - I'm sold on the idea of butter being one of the 'good' fats. Although I haven't yet managed to acquire any raw milk to make my own raw butter, I always get the best I can find in the local health food shop. On this visit it was Yeo Valley organic unsalted butter.
With regards to the truffle, I'm not entirely sure of the species as it was a very generous leaving gift from the head chef of a restaurant I recently departed. From the research I've done along with the current season, it would appear to be a black winter truffle (makes sense) and it's definitely from Italy.
I noticed it had started to 'give' a little when squeezed so worried it was going past it's best. Nothing stores and preserves fresh ingredients like fat, so I set about making truffle butter.

You will need:
1 pack of softened butter
1 ripe black truffle
Salt to taste
Fine grater
Mini blender or mini blender attachment for a stick blender

1. Grate the truffle with the fine grater and keep to one side on a non absorbent surface. Originally I had it on a wooden chopping board. Needless to say any fruit chopped on there over the next few weeks will be truffle scented. Fine if you enjoy your bananas like that. I don't.

2. Cut the butter into cubes and place into the mini blender with half the truffle. Whizz it up and add the salt to taste. Take out the blades and mix through the rest of the grated truffle gently as to not break up the pieces too much.

3. Scoop it all out onto greaseproof paper and mould into the desired shape. The best way to store it long term is to freeze it. Roll the butter into a log and twist the paper at both ends then seal in cling film or a freezer bag. Whenever you fancy a bit of decadence, slice off a chunk of the butter to melt into pasta or onto a seared steak. It should keep around 6 months frozen.

I used truffle salt too which added to the intensity of the truffle flavour. It was from Eataly in Genoa, Italy. They have branches all over Italy, in the USA and even in Japan but sadly none in the UK. So if you see this salt anywhere, snap it up. The tiny freeze-dried white truffle flecks add a surprisingly strong aroma which is delicious on poached eggs.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Magic Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise has always seemed so inconvenient to make. The constant whisking, the drip-by-drip addition of oil, the danger of splitting, getting the temperature of the ingredients right... Too much fuss. BUT as it turns out, a stick blender (sometimes called an immersion blender), can take the pain out of the normally laborious process. You can literally chuck all the ingredients together in a beaker and whizz it up. Even after seeing various sources claiming it was a 5 minute job, I felt dubious and documented every step of my first attempt incase it all went wrong.

What you'll need:
1 large organic free range egg
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup light olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt

Also a stick blender and a tall thin beaker or glass jar which fits the head of the blender all the way to the bottom. Most stick blenders come with this included in the box.

1. Crack the egg into the beaker or jar. Some recipes call for the egg to be fridge fresh, some call for all the ingredients being room temperature. Mine were bought fresh from the shop and endured the crisp 40 minute walk home so were more on the cold side of room temperature.

2. Add the teaspoon of Dijon mustard, which should be at roughly the same temperature as the egg. 

3. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice. 

4. And then the oil which should bring the total of the ingredients to one cup of liquid or eight fluid ounces.

5. Leave the ingredients to settle in the container. When you first add the oil it will agitate the other ingredients which can hinder the emulsification process. I left mine for around five minutes.

6. Put the stick blender all the way into the liquid, still switched off, and push down until it touches the bottom of the container. The comes the scary bit - switch the blender on! For the first 30 seconds you will need to hold the blender to the bottom of the container so it doesn't move. You'll see the mixture turn white at the bottom (your homemade mayonnaise!) and begin to slowly move up the sides and further up into the oil. Once nearly all the oil has transformed to mayonnaise you can move the blender around a little, up and down and tilting it. And... That... Is... It. 

Done! Thick and creamy fresh mayonnaise with none of the gross hydrogenated oils or added E numbers you find in the shop-bought version. It should last around 1 week kept in a tightly covered glass jar and can be flavoured in the same way as any mayo, add garlic and you can have homemade aioli or add capers, anchovy and tuna for an Italian tonnato sauce.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Beef Tallow

After a year or so hiatus, I'm back equipped with a 'proper' camera and some fancy settings. After trying out various low-carb-this and low-fat-that products to help my never ending quest for better health, a little internet research and experimentation has led me to try out living 'primal'. The in-depth fundamentals of the lifestyle can be found over at Mark's Daily Apple but I've been attempting to ease myself into it all with small changes. Though I'm not yet fully immersed, banishing bread and prohibiting pasta has significantly improved my digestion and already I'm experiencing higher energy levels.
Eating more meat is of course more expensive but using the leftovers can make this way of living more economical and less wasteful. The animal fat is a often discarded as unhealthy and high in saturated fat but as it turns out, saturated fat isn't what clogs up our arteries. So in my quest to produce less waste, I saved up around 500g of hard, waxy white beef fat from the fore rib. Here's how I rendered it down into beef tallow:

The fat itself had been in the freezer so I left it to defrost. Here it is before any prep:

Once fully defrosted, I painstakingly removed all the visible meat and chopped the fat into 1cm cubes then popped into a small stainless steel pan over a low heat:

Here is a picture of the gas underneath just to show how low it really was:

I kept the lid on to avoid the fat spitting and after half an hour, stirring occasionally, fat started to collect in the bottom of the pan:

Once there was enough to drain a little, I drained through kitchen cloth over a metal sieve and strained out all those little beefy crumbs:

After cooking for another half a hour, most of the fat had turned brown and crispy:

So I gave it one final strain and ended up with this much tallow:

Once cooled it turns opaque, white and hard like lard. It can be scooped out and used for frying or even whipped up with essential oils to make a body butter. Apparently it's the best fat for cooking the perfect crispy fries. And no food waste!