Category Archives: Food

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: A little Ukrainian inspiration – фаршировані яйця

As the glossy chocolate Easter eggs line up on the supermarket shelves, replacing the eternally dubious Valentine’s Day gifts, I have gone into Churton egg mode, with a Ukrainian slant.

I have an Eastern European recipe book, which is absolutely excellent, and has a few Ukrainian recipes in it. One of them is a stuffed egg recipe фаршировані яйця – farshyrovani yaytsya (or stuffed eggs).  Better and inferior versions of this are recognizable over most of Europe, and in 1970s Britain was a particular (very dubious) favourite as a starter, with the mayo mixture sprinkled with paprika and crossed with two salted anchovies.

In the Ukrainian version, the chopped egg yolk is mixed with mayonnaise (my mayo recipe is here), sour cream, as well as finely chopped chives or spring onions.  I put my sour cream into the mayonnaise as I was making it   I used chives, but I also added cress, and the result was excellent.  This mixture not merely stuffs the little yolk cavities but overflows to provide a really good dollop of the mayo mix.  Crucially, the egg is topped with caviar (please note – inexpensive Danish caviar).  Caviar is salty, which I love, and is delicious.

As I was eating the finished article, I wondered whether the salted anchovy fillets that usually sat on a 1970s British mayonnaise-stuffed egg were attempting to replicated the caviar experience, fishy and salty at the same time.  I am not denigrating the 70s version, which might well be worth revisiting

Photographs online show various different ways of presenting the Ukrainian фаршировані яйця.  Mine is topped with two chives pointing out at angles, emulating many of the pictures online, and some cress over the top of the caviar, which is nothing like the traditional pictures, but which I liked.  I have mine sitting on a fan of wild garlic leaves.  If you have the time in your life to stuff an egg, this is a really nice way of doing it 🙂

I have never used food dye before, but just for fun here’s a Ukrainian flag theme, using hard boiled eggs, halved.  I simply left hard boiled eggs, halved, with a few drops of dye in cold water in a glass bowl, and left in the fridge for a few hours, checking them occasionally to see what depth of colour had emerged.  The yolk didn’t survive intact, disintegrating slowly during submersion, so the result is rather more decorative than edible.

The above is light-hearted, but of course the situation in Ukraine is absolutely no joke.  It is peculiar how one’s mind turns to different ways of expressing any possible form of solidarity.

In an authentic assessment of Ukrainian Easter eggs, here’s an excellent link showing how Ukrainian eggs are not merely given a bit of a paint job at Easter, but are provided with remarkable and beautiful designs:  https://ukrainian-recipes.com/easter-eggs-discovering-symbolism-of-colors-in-ukraine.html. I really wish that my artistic skills were up to it, but they are not.

More adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs here

 

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: Mum’s chicken, egg, mushroom and spinach pancake.

With Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) coming up on March 1st, here is a recipe of my mother’s.  It always feels good to do some of the recipes that I associate exclusively with her, even when I have the devil’s own job reproducing them.  I’m not very keen on sweet stuff, so on Pancake Day savoury pancakes are excellent.

Eggs are used in the recipe both in the pancake batter (beaten) and into the pancake filling (hard-boiled and chopped).  The chopped egg makes a real difference to both the flavour and the texture of the filling.  This is an immensely filling dish. I make one small pancake and serve a light salad to accompany it.   It is a great dish for making use of leftover roast chicken, but of course you can grill or fry some chicken (thigh has great flavour) specially.

You may want to pre-heat your grill if it is electric.

Although most of my recipes are gung-ho, pancakes are simply not a suck-it-and-see item.  The relative proportions are important.  Hence, for two people:

  • 100g plain flour,
  • 190ml milk,
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten,
  • 1/2  tbsp vegetable oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • tablespoon of oil or butter for the frying/omelette pan

The eggs and milk are whisked together with the oil, then poured into the flour and whisked lightly, ignoring small lumps.  After a couple of failures on the pancake front, when I first had a go at this, I was told that being careful not to over-whisk the batter was important, and that leaving the batter in the fridge for a couple of hours, giving it a final stir before using, would increase the likelihood of success.  This seems to work for me.

Heat the oil or butter in the pan and pour in the batter.  Before flipping, it needs to be set well on one side, and I always take a sneak peak to make sure that it is going golden on the underside before flipping with a big wooden spatula.

To make the filling, which I do in advance, and heat through whilst making the pancakes, toss the following in hot oil and/or butter

  • two large handfuls of mushrooms (they shrink in volume when cooked)
  • two handfuls leftover roast chicken, thickly sliced or in chunks (or slice up and grill/fry a large chicken thigh)
  • crushed garlic, to taste (optional)
  • bay leaf (optional – and remember to fish out before stuffing the pancake)

When the mushrooms begin brown and give off a wonderful aroma, the following are mixed together and thrown in, and stirred just until everything is warmed through:

  • one or two hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • fresh tarragon, sage or oregano/marjoram to taste
  • a big handful of parsley
  • chopped spring onions or chives, to taste
  • seasoning to taste (I used salt, ground black pepper, ground fennel seeds and a few chilli flakes)

Next add the following, and stir gently until the spinach begins to wilt and everything is again warmed through:

  • some chicken or vegetable stock
  • cream (traditionally double cream, but I usually use crème fraîche, and sour cream also works a treat)
  • a really big handful of spinach

The filling is added to the pancake, heaped in a line up the middle.  The pancake is folded to cover the filling and overlap, and then turned onto a baking tray (which is how I did it for the photo on the right this time last year) or oven-proof dish (the one at the top of the page, which I did most recently) so that the edges are secured underneath.  I find that pancakes are so filling that instead of making two, I put additional filling down the edges of one small pancake in an oven-proof dish.  Cheese is grated over the top (for my most recent version it was a mixture of Cheddar and Emmental with chilli flakes sprinkled on top) and it all goes under the grill until the cheese starts to melt and go golden-brown.   In the summer I scatter over some fresh marjoram leaves from a pot on the patio to provide an aromatic edge.  On this occasion I served it with a light side salad drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette.

Notes and alternatives:

I have to take real care not to pour too much batter into the pan, which makes the pancake too thick.  A thick pancake results in something really stodgy, quite hard to roll and unpleasant to eat.  It needs to be thin and light.  Part of the trick is to make sure that the pan is hot enough to melt the butter or heat through the oil, but not so hot that the moment the pancake batter hits the pan it starts to set.  It needs time to  flow out to the sides of the pan and spread properly before the heat is turned up to allow it to set.

The previous time I did this I noted that the filling needed to be rather oozier than the one I made, because of course the pancake itself is dry, and requires a bit of liquid to balance it.  So I was careful not to simmer off too much of the stock and cream, and although it looked a bit too liquid, it actually provided a really good oozy sauce.  An alternative would be to make a sauce to pour over it, like parsley and chive, or chervil sauce.

If you don’t have time to fiddle around making pancake batter, or if it always comes out more like pizza than pancake, you can always use pre-made soft tortilla flat-breads instead, which are sold in all supermarkets these days.  I’ve had a go, and they work well if they are heated and softened gently in a dry non-stick frying pan just before adding the filling.

Whether using either pancakes or tortillas, if you are using a baking tray and serving on a plate, anything that has fallen out of the pancake during the perilous transfer from grill pan to plate can be served to the side of the pancake. To avoid having to move the pancake from the oven dish or baking tray to the oven, a good alternative is to serve it in individual oven dishes straight to the table, with side dishes on the side.

Alternatives or additions to the chicken in the filling could include pancetta or chopped bacon, sausage-meat balls, or chunks of ham hock, the latter going well with leeks added to the fill.  Dijon mustard is a great addition to the sauce for all these.

The basic recipe is easy to convert to a vegetarian recipe by adding extra hard boiled egg and replacing the chicken with loads of wild mushrooms, or/as well as leeks, asparagus, courgettes and/or fennel bulb, and using mustard and cheese to add more flavour to the sauce.  A very nice seafood version made with king prawns makes a great alternative by leaving out mushrooms and instead adding fennel, asparagus and/or leeks, and making the sauce super-cheesy.  This combination works well with ham hock as well.  

Leftover filling can be used on toast for lunch, or served deliciously on a baked potato, with  cheese or fresh parsley sprinkled over the top.  I often make more than I need deliberately to use in this way, and this is my plan for Shrove Tuesday.  I have a wood burning stove, and a maris piper spud wrapped in foil and chucked in for 45 minutes works wonderfully.  Even with the foil, the smoked wood flavour penetrates and is wonderful.

Enjoy!

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs – Avgolemono soup

Avgolemono, meaning egg and lemon in modern Greek, is both a soup and a sauce. As a slightly thickened sauce it goes wonderfully with fish or chicken, but it sings at its most sublime as a soup, with a handful of white long-grain rice and gently simmered, and a handful of chopped parsley thrown in at the end.  It is an utterly divine and life-changing taste-bud experience.

I first had it on Kefalonia in 2004, preceding an equally divine order of flame-grilled octopus tentacles, sitting on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace, watching the sun set slowly and spectacularly over the hills, and although the wine was seriously rough around the edges, I cannot remember the last time that a meal felt so perfect in all its parts.  It was on Kefalonia that I fell head over heals in love with Greek cuisine, but that particular meal remains my favourite.

Sunset on Kefalonia, 2004

I have reproduced the meal many times since.  Frozen octopus tentacles were available prior to lockdown in a Portuguese shop in Wrexham.  When I lived in Aberdovey my father used to lob a pack in his rucksack for me, and it was always terribly exciting to collect it.  Octopus has to be tenderized before it can be eaten, and the freezer is one of the best ways to achieve this, so frozen octopus is always a good buy.  Not having ventured into that part of Wrexham since lockdown eased, and unable to get it anywhere else, I’ve had to abandon octopus for the time being, but the avgolemono soup needs no special ingredients.  It does need good quality ingredients, but not special ones, which is the usual story with Greek cooking.

The recipe that I first used for avgolemono is the one that I still use.  I bought The Complete Book of Greek Cooking by Rena Salaman and Jan Cutler on my return from Kefalonia, where there are two versions described.  I use the first version, on page 96, although I note that the second one, on page 99, is very like Rick Stein’s version if you’ve ever tried producing that.  The main difference is that the version that I use has egg yolks rather than whole eggs, as well as rice, whereas the other version uses whole eggs and has strips of chicken stirred into it rather than rice.

Here’s my preferred version of the two in the book, a perfect use for Churton Honesty Eggs (or any other eggs, of course 🙂 )

Serves 4

  • 900ml home-made chicken stock, (in my case made by poaching a lot of chicken in water with parsley , onion and peppercorns)
  • 50g white long-grain rice
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 30-60ml / 2-4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • 30ml / 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • salt and black pepper
  • Lemons slices and parsley sprigs to garnish
  1. Pour the stock into a pan and bring to simmering point, then add the drained rice.  Half cover and cook for about 12 minutes until the rice is just tender.  Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, then add about 30ml/tbsp of the lemon juice, whisking all the time until the mixture is smooth and bubbly.  Add a ladleful of soup and whisk again
  3. Remove the soup from the heat and slowly add the egg mixture, whisking all the time.  The soup will turn a pretty lemon colour and will thicken slightly
  4. Taste and add more lemon juice if necessary.  Stir in the parsley.  Serve at once, without reheating, garnished with lemon slices and parsley sprigs.

Top tip:  The trick here is to add the egg mixture to the soup without it curdling.  Avoid whisking the mixture into boiling liquid.  It is safest to remove the soup from the heat entirely and then whisk in the mixture in a slow but steady stream.

The recipe advises against reheating to avoid curdling, but I prefer the soup hotter than it is at this point, so I heat it VERY slowly and carefully.

Don’t be tempted to skip the rice, even if it sounds a little odd, because it is really gorgeous, but must be cooked through.  12-15 minutes from when it enters the simmering water.  Rick Stein uses orzo instead, but I really don’t recommend it.  Far too solid and intrusive.

Churton Honesty Eggs

You can see my previous Churton egg adventures by clicking here.  Churton Honesty eggs are parked in a barrow by the side of the road, and operate on an honesty system where you drop coins into the barrow in return for the eggs.  You can hear the cockerel crowing, and he sounds like a fine fellow.  The eggs are excellent.

 

 

Adventures with Churton honesty eggs: A user guide to Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauce

Both of these butter- and egg-based sauces, hollandaise and béarnaise, only take about five minutes to make, but an awful lot longer to prepare.  You will see many alternative recipes in books, but Mum’s was based on Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, and that’s where I went when I had to start from scratch.  Hollandaise and béarnaise are based on a mix of base ingredients, but add different flavourings.   The basics usually include the following:  egg yolks, white wine vinegar, butter, peppercorns, and bay leaves.  The differences are described below.

Hollandaise is usually served used with fish and/or vegetables, and is traditionally made with egg yolks, butter and lemon juice.  It is a rich, buttery sauce that gives the kiss of heavenly life to poached salmon and asparagus.

Béarnaise accompanies steak and is defined mainly by armfuls of tarragon.   Another traditional differentiator is that it is  usually made with white wine and vinegar instead of lemon juice.

Breaking with tradition, my hollandaise and béarnaise both have the same base by using a same reduction as the base for both sauces.  I combine all three liquids, the lemon juice, wine vinegar and white wine and mix them together as a base for the reduction in both hollandaise and béarnaise.  The only differentiator in my version is that lots of tarragon is added to make béarnaise.  My reason for this blending of the two recipes stems from a comment of Elizabeth David’s that an hollandaise based on just butter, egg yoks and lemon juice is “apt to be insipid” and consequently she recommends the addition of a reduction of white wine or vinegar (as in béarnaise).  It works splendidly for me, but I would suggest that you experiment.  The only time I feel like doing an hollandaise the original way is with poached salmon, where the simplicity of the lemon, egg and butter mix is perfect.

Cover of the hardback version of Elizabeth David’s “French Provincial Cooking,” Grub Street, 1960, 2007

On this occasion I was cooking a béarnaise sauce, so I used a huge handful of tarragon from my garden.  A couple of nights ago I found a ribeye steak from Bellis (farm shop and butcher in Holt) in the freezer.  The Bellis ribeye is wonderful, although I have no idea where they source it from.  It deserved special treatment, and as I have three big pots of French tarragon in the garden, and had a box of Churton eggs at the ready, here’s how I did it, resulting in a happily successful outcome.

 

A couple of weeks ago I was very gung-ho about how easy it is to make mayonnaise in my post on the subject,  which I think is fair enough because it is so easy when you know the two basic rules about how to handle it.  However, I am never gung-ho about Hollandaise or béarnaise, because they can go seriously wrong.  I’ve only screwed it up a couple of times, and I have now learned some excellent risk-avoidance techniques and one or two rescue solutions.  Preparation minimizes the risks, but  things can still go wrong, especially when you are starting out.  On the other hand. WOW is it wonderful, so the best thing to do is to prepare well and experiment on someone who won’t mind being a guinea pig.  Once you have the knack, and you will have it for life.

Important Preparation 

There are a couple of technical points to take into consideration, other than briefly editing out the conversation of your friends.  Hollandaise and béarnaise are all about preparation, and that’s not just about lining up your ingredients and equipment, but understanding how it’s all going to work, and how you may attempt to to recover it when/if it goes wrong.

First, both sauces have a terrible reputation for splitting, which means that after being heated, the oil in the butter separates from the other ingredients and you end up with a big oily mess on your hands.  Eggs should be at a nice cool room temperature before you start.  This is only a small part of the prep work, but it is an essential one.

Two, I have experimented and found that clarifying the butter makes life a lot easier.  I have no idea what the proper way of doing it may be, but I simply heated butter in a saucepan and poured it into a small jug.  White bits (solids) drop to the bottom of the jug leaving a translucent, bright yellow liquid on top.  The yellow bit is the clarified butter and the white bits need to be left in the bottom of the jug.  It means that you use a lot less butter, because it emulsifies much more efficiently, which is much better for the health.  That in turn means that it forms more quickly.  As a technique, it is also easier to prevent separation of the oil from the egg because you can easily control the addition of the butter, in drops and a slow trickle, to the egg and vinegar mix.  So I now always start off by separating my egg/s.  Keep the clarified butter somewhere warm so that it does not solidify.

Three, make sure you have some ice cubes in the freezer.  If everything starts to overheat you will end up with scrambled egg.  A bit of cold water helps, but if it is going too far too fast, lob in an ice cube, stir it rapidly until the sauce starts to go slightly lighter in colour and then haul it out.  That usually does the trick.

My impromptu bain marie, at the back, consisting of a glass bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water that heats the sauce, reducing the chance of splitting. The asparagus is steamed, but here it is waiting in cold water prior to cooking, after having its ends trimmed. Don’t worry – not all of this went on to my plate!  Some of it made a leek and asparagus soup.

Four, if you don’t have a bain marie (I don’t) you need to sort out a glass bowl (not metal) that will sit over one of your small saucepans.  Anyone who has worked with chocolate will be familiar with this.  The water in the pan must not come into contact with the glass bowl, and should simmer, not boil.  You are cooking your eggs with indirect heat, not direct heat, a bit like steaming.  However, no lid is required.  A wooden spoon must be to hand for almost constant stirring, so that the sauce is moved constantly into and away from the heat.

Five, and assuming that you are making a béarnaise for steak (which means a lot of tarragon), take hold of your tarragon and divide it in half, finely chopping all of the leaves.  Do not throw away the stalks, but snap them into short sections.  Keep half of the leaves on one side and put the other half of the leaves and all the stalks into a bowl of white wine vinegar, shallot, bay and white wine.  Leave it to infuse flavour into the vinegar for an hour or so.

SixWhatever gas  you are cooking on, what you want for the sauce is a light simmer, absolutely not a boil.  If the water is boiling, you run the risk of creating scrambled eggs, not a sauce.  I am cooking on Calor gas, not mains gas.  Calor and Butane burn hotter and make it difficult to maintain a low temperature.  I have a set of round, diffusing metal plates with handles that  sit over the top of my hob and diffuse the heat, allowing the water to become hot but preventing it from boiling.  

Seven, if you are intending to serve this in a jug rather than just plonking it onto plates alongside whatever else you are eating, remember that the jug (as well as the plates) needs to be warmed through.  If you pour warm hollandaise/béarnaise into a cold jug you will instantly lose the heat and end up with a cold sauce and, more importantly, you will raise the chances of it separating before it reaches the table.  

Eight, there are conflicting views in the literature on whether you should use salted or unsalted butter.  I use salted.  Salt helps the emulsification (thickening) process but you can also add salt to a sauce made with unsalted butter to taste.  Just be sure to add it early on in the sauce-making process so that it helps to emulsify the sauce.  I’ve tried it and it works, but unsalted butter with no additional salt is risky.

Nine, keep some cold water in a jug at the side so that if your sauce starts to over-thicken you can loosen it up.  Add a teaspoon at a time until you have the right consistency.  Cold water also helps to prevent the sauce over-heating and separating.

Ten, the vinegar mixture must go into the egg and butter hot.  Do not let it cool down.

Finally, bear in mind that the whole process is only going to take a few minutes once you have added the hot vinegar mix to the egg yolk and started adding the butter, no more than five minutes, possibly less.  Most of the time is taken up with preparation.  Whatever you are intending to serve it with, you either need to be good at delivering multiple time-sensitive dishes in one go, or alternatively persuade someone to look after the rest of the meal while you concentrate on the Hollandaise or béarnaise, because the latter can turn against you in just a few seconds.

If this is your first attempt, I would suggest that you keep an emergency back-up sauce or herb butter on one side.  For the latter, finely chopped herbs added into soft butter, and rolled in clingfilm to form a cylindrical tube of butter, and placed in the freezer for half an hour to solidify before putting it in the fridge works well.  Before serving you can chop it into disks that sit on top of your steak or fish and melt beautifully to form a gentle butter sauce.  If I was planning to do a béarnaise, as in this case, the herbs chopped into the butter would be tarragon.  If the béarnaise works, you can keep the herb butter in the freezer for a quick way to liven up a piece of steak or fish, or use it to make unusual, flavourful sandwiches.


Getting on with it

Everything else is fairly straight-forward, but there are a number of steps that cannot be avoided.   I usually avoid writing down step-by-step instructions because whatever the recipe, the outcomes depend so much on the ingredients used and the equipment employed, but there are some things that really must be taken into account.

  • I recommend clarifying the butter.  Like mayonnaise, the key trick here is to add the butter so slowly that you begin to seize up.  Mum used to add small lumps one by one and not add another until fully incorporated, the system that I used until just recently when I read that if you clarify the butter, it reduces the risk of separation and stabilizes it at the end.  That end moment, where the sauce is ready but you may be waiting for vegetables, fish or steak to cook, is a terrible waiting game when you hope that the sauce stays in one piece, but worry that it might split.  Clarifying the butter reduces the risk and the stress at one and the same time.  Keep it warm until you need it so that it doesn’t solidify.
  • Remember that if you are using a jug, this needs to be nice and warm to receive the sauce, as do the serving plates.
  • When you are ready to cook, first you need to heat up your vinegar mix until it just threatens to boil.  Turn down the heat until it is just simmering and keep a careful eye on it.  You are aiming to reduce it in order to intensify the flavour.  If you’re cooking for two, you’ll need about a tablespoon and a half of clear liquid, but a dessert spoon for one.
  • When it has reduced, strain out the flavourings and retain the flavoured vinegar.  The vinegar needs to be hot (very warm rather than boiling hot) when you add it to the egg yolk.
  • Make sure that the water in the pan of your assembled bain marie arrangement is hot and place your glass dish over the top.  By sealing the water pan with the bowl you will cause the water temperature to rise, so keep an eye on it to stop it boiling.
  • Separate your eggs and put your egg yolks (one per person) into your glass dish.  Add your vinegar (still warm) and mix it very rapidly into the yolks.  You now have a beautiful yellow fluid that will start to heat in the bowl over the water.
  • Add the remaining fine-chopped tarragon and give it a good stir
  • The sauce heating in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, a quickly assembled bain marie

    Now your clarified butter (or small dice-sized chunks of butter) needs to be added, but oh-so slowly.  If your butter is clarified add it first in drips and then in a very slow and fine stream, stirring gently all the time and breaking now and again to ensure that it is fully incorporated.  If you are using chunks, make sure that each is melted before adding the next. I cannot repeat enough that you should go slowly.

  • Pause occasionally to ensure that the butter is being incorporated into the egg and vinegar mix.  Adding the butter is very much suck-it-and-see, but if you go slowly enough and keep stirring you should be safe.  There’s no clear guideline, because different butters emulsify the yolks at different rates, and egg yolks are different sizes.  
  • If it doesn’t emulsify properly, add another egg yolk and keep adding the butter.  That might produce rather more sauce that you were aiming for, but hey – it’s lovely stuff!
  • Continually make sure that the water is simmering, to heat the eggs, but not so hot that you end up with scrambled eggs.  If it begins to cook rather than heat, add either a little cold water or an ice cube to the egg mix.  Don’t forget to retrieve the ice cube before it melts.  You want to cool it down, not liquefy it.

Rescue

I’ve modified Elizabeth David’s recipes, as did Mum, but here are her originals on pages 118-9. Click to expand.

Don’t forget that if the water in the pan is too hot and the sauce starts to scramble, you can take it off the heat for a moment, and use ice cubes or cold water to help cool it down, stirring, and ensuring that the water in the pan has calmed down before placing the bowl back over the pan.  If the sauce is thickening too much, cold water is again a good solution, added gradually.

I have never successfully recovered an Hollandaise or béarnaise that has split completely (where the butter abandons the sauce and forms rivers of oil over a lumpy egg mixture).  I only ever twice split it in my early days of making this sauce.  Even following all the advice about rescuing a split Hollandaise, it was a matter of chucking it away and starting again or providing an alternative sauce.   But if you have used a rescue method that works, please do let me know.

The Final Product

Not an elegant presentation, but it tasted heavenly.  As I said, I was doing mine with rib-eye steak (with loads of black pepper ground over it), tender stem broccoli, asparagus and baby new potatoes (which, apparently unusually, I peel).  I like my steak cooked on an iron griddle pan, super-heated very quickly on the outside, which chars it but leaves it pink and moist in the middle.  The spuds were boiled, the vegetables steamed and the plate heated beforehand.  Terrible presentation, but in spite of that, it was a really  luxurious treat.

A classic vegetarian option that I have often served as a starter just because it’s so good, is asparagus Hollandaise (no tarragon).  Most fish works for a pescatarian option with Hollandaise, but salmon and swordfish are particularly good.  Strongly flavoured fish like tuna and mackerel won’t work.

Health and Safety

Your egg yolks will be cooked through when it comes to serving them, so don’t worry about serving raw egg.  You won’t.

Fat and cholesterol:  When I was editing this, I had also  been editing images of gravestones in Aldford and Farndon churchyards to go with a post on 19th Century Churton directory listings.  It reminded me that both hollandaise and béarnaise are exclusively for special occasions 🙂  All that egg yolk and butter!  To be handled with care, and reserved for special occasions, and avoid completely if you are trying to shed a few kilos.  But one of the most delicious things ever.  And don’t forget that if you clarify your butter you will use less than if you add it in chunks.

You can see my previous Churton egg adventures by clicking here.

For fun: Dolmades made with locally grown vine leaves

Whenever I see Ann Davidson, who runs the free magazine My Village News, we discuss gardens and she nearly always brings me cuttings and little plants grown from seed, of which a yellow dahlia is a particular favourite.  I haven’t seen her for a couple of months, but she remembered that I had said I would like to grow vines in the future, partly for the grapes but also for the vine leaves, which can be stuffed.  Yesterday I heard the doorbell go when I was in the shower, and by the time I emerged, no-one was there of course, but there was a bag in my parcel box with lots of vine leaves and several bunches of tiny red grapes.  The excitement!

Ann grows the vines herself in Bulkeley (probably best known as the home of The Bickerton Poacher, but perhaps that’s just me).  The vine is a variety called Black Hamburg (Vitis vinifera Schiava Grossa) that Ann found at Wroxeter Roman Vineyard (which lies partly over the Roman site of Viroconium Cornoviorum).   Wasting no time, I tried some of the grapes, which are tiny little explosions of massive flavour, utterly delectable, and I started looking at recipes for stuffed vine leaves (Greek dolmades).

I have had a love of Greek cooking for decades, due to the emphasis on quality ingredients and simple but big and well-matched flavours that taste, above all, fresh.  Dolmades were a feature of rural cooking, usually vegetarian, quick, easy and inexpensive to prepare, but full of taste.   In the vegetarian version the flavour comes from the onion, garlic, fresh herbs (including a selection from dill, mint, parsley, thyme, coriander, bay and oregano) and the stock in which the rice is cooked (which can be herb or vegetable stock).  In a meat-based version, the flavour comes mainly from the meat and a less lavish combination of herbs, but may have more spices  (such as cumin, paprika, fennel seed, nutmeg and cinnamon) and a vegetable-, herb- or meat-based stock.  The meat used is usually minced lamb or goat.  Coastal Greece and its islands have a shrubby, Mediterranean landscape that favours livestock that will browse on low quality vegetation.

Vine leaves are available in tins or vacuum-packed online and in some supermarkets, although I’ve never tried them.  Those need no preparation.  Ann’s, being fresh, needed to be softened a little, and the conventional wisdom of various recipes suggested that placing them in just-boiled water, taken off the heat, to poach for 5 minutes should do the trick, and it worked perfectly.  The green of the leaf becomes a little yellower in the hot water, in spite of lemon juice being added, but this is normal.

I didn’t have any lamb or goat mince, and at this time of year there are not enough herbs in the garden for a fully flavoured vegetarian version, but I did have some beef mince, so went with that.  I kept the spices and herbs simple:  ground cumin, dried oregano, plus fresh marjoram and a bay leaf from the garden and a heaped teaspoon of sun-dried tomato paste.

Onion and garlic are fried with raw long-grained rice, and when the rice begins to go golden, the mince is added.  Once the mince is browned, enough water is added to reach just below the top of the mince mix, and this is simmered off, so that a stodgy mix is left, and the rice has taken in some of the water to plump up a little.  At this stage I stirred in some chilli flakes, some cassia bark (a bit like cinnamon) and some paprika, just to give it a bit more pizazz.

You will need an oven-proof dish with a lid.  Place unused vine leaves on the base (the tatty ones or the ones that are too deeply lobed to hold the stuffing), and place tomato slices over the top.  The vine leaves and tomato slices act as a lining and trivet to prevent the dolmades from burning and impart flavour into the water or stock that you pour over before putting it into the oven.  I also added lemon slices to mine.

The rice mix is then added to the surface of the softened leaves.  The leaf is laid out with the untidy side facing upwards so that when stuffed it is the smooth side that shows.  Leave enough room for rice to continue expanding as it cooks.  The vine leaf is like a sycamore leaf, an upside-down heart.  I did mine by bringing together the two lobes of the heart across the mix, bringing in the two sides to cover it, and then pulling the pointed end over the top.  Place seam-side down on the tomato layer, and when all the dolmades are in, preferably tightly fitting.  I had a vine leaf left over, so aid it over the top, just for decorative effect.

Next add a  good glug of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon, then place an oven-proof plate or equivalent on top to prevent them unravelling when you add the water.  I used an all-metal pan lid.  Then pour over hot water or stock. This should reach the top of the dolmades.

Some people do theirs on the hob, some in the oven.  I did mine in a pre-heated oven at 190ºC (conventional oven).  Recipes vary on how you should proceed from here but I simply let mine cook for 40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to make sure that the dolmades didn’t dry out.  There was still some liquid left at the end of the process, which will make an excellent stock, having incorporated not only the dolmades stuffing flavours, but the tomato and lemon from the base too.

Vegetarian dolmades are usually served slightly warm, at room temperature, or cold whereas meat ones are often served hot, but may also be warm or cold. I had mine straight out of the oven, but I cooked double what I needed to ensure that I would have half left over to try cold, and will be trying it tomorrow.  The photo at the bottom of the page shows a tidy display, but that was before I drizzled the stock over the top of the dolmades, just to add some more flavour and interest.  The tzatziki, recommended by every recipe I read, worked superbly.

Traditionally dolmades are served with lemon slices and tzatziki (mint in yogurt), and I served mine with both, as well as olives and a mixed herb salad with feta.  It was not, however, a Greek salad, but a very English garden salad with mint, buckler-leaf sorrel, little gem, sweet cicely, marjoram and a lot of lovage, with some cucumber.  I drizzled the whole lot with chilli oil and lemon juice, with lots of black pepper.

It was all a bit cobbled together but it was nevertheless a resounding success.  I would like to do it with lamb and a different combination of accompanying herbs, and I must have a go at a vegetarian version, but the beef version was really excellent and will remain in my repertoire.  Of course, I have now added a Black Hamburg vine to my must-have plant list!  A visit to the Wroxeter Roman Vineyard might not be a bad idea either 🙂

The vine leaves before being drizzled with the Chilli oil and lemon juice.

Thank you Ann!

 

Cheshire Proverbs 6: Tied by the Tooth / Llyffethr wellt

Tied by the Tooth /
Llyffethr wellt

Bridge’s number 324, page 124

Dairy cattle relaxing at 4am on a misty morning in a Churton field in June 2021

 

Sheep on Craig yr Aderyn in midwest Wales

Bridge explains that this proverb refers to the fact that “sheep and cattle will not break through fences or try to wander if the pasture of the field in which they are grazing is very good.”  He had obviously not run into any pigs, which are extreme escape artists.

Bridge wonders which came first – the English or the Welsh version of the proverb, but both Cheshire and north Wales are prominent areas for the grazing of livestock, so it could have come from either.  Certainly around many areas of the Cheshire Plain the fields are full of rich pasture favoured by cattle, and the Welsh foothills and highlands are much better for sheep that graze on much sparser vegetation.

It sounds very much like the better known proverb in which the route to the male heart is reputed to be via his stomach.

Cattle grazing below Beeston Castle

A similar proverb in Bridge is “Hanged hay never does cattle” (Bridge 159, page 64).  The word “does” in this context derives from doesome, which means “thriving,” and hanged hay for is feed bought from a supplier and will probably be supplied very meanly to the cattle because of the cost, to the detriment to the cattle.

Both proverbs also resemble another of Bridge’s Cheshire proverbs (no. 208 on p.80, and no.159, p.64):  “A doesome child paises its pasture,” meaning that the health and wellbeing of a thriving child is credit to his or her food, and perhaps, by extension, to the care of the parents that provide the food.  The word “paise” comes from late Middle English and means to be “balanced” or “poised,” but in this context it may be a mistaken reading of “praise.”

For more about J.C. Bridge and this Cheshire Proverbs series, see Cheshire Proverbs 1.

For the other proverbs in the series, click on the Cheshire Proverbs label in the right hand margin.

Dairy cows grazing in a field in Churton

Grown in my garden last week and already eaten

For no better reason than I am so chuffed that I actually grew vegetables, lettuces and cucumbers in this, the first summer after moving in.  Showing off, in other words, although none of them are ever going to win any prizes.  I don’t actually have a vegetable plot, because I have turned everything over to flowers, shrubs and a small orchard, so these were grown in pots on a small south-facing side-patio.

The marrow speaks for itself (my fourth so far).  At the back, the little yellow globes are cucumbers (I promise you).  At the front is one of many golden beetroot, which have the lovely earthy taste of purple beetroot, perhaps a little more subtle, but don’t leak colour into everything you eat.  I like them steamed or roasted.  Once steamed, they are great cold too, with vinaigrette.

The salad and vegetable plants, except for the globe cucumbers, were all bought as tiny plugs from Bellis in Holt, but my goodness they grew!  The cucumbers were bought from the Grosvenor garden centre.  All were planted in general purpose compost, with mycorrhizal and bonemeal (in a ratio of 1:3 handfuls) placed in the hole in the compost before the plant was added.  Then slow-release plant food was scattered over the top.   

I have grown herbs outside in pots for years, as well as nasturtiums.  The ones above are lollo rosso and little gem.  Oregano, marjoram, mint, thyme and particularly lovage and the fluffy bits of fennel foliage make for a really special salad.  The round nasturtium leaves and flowers are excellent in salads, and their seeds are a little like capers.  I have also grown lettuces in the past, but not on such a grand scale.  

Feeling rather pleased with myself 🙂

 

Look what’s coming to dinner: giant puffballs found on a grass verge

If you are lucky enough to find puffballs, especially giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), in your travels they must be eaten almost immediately as they simply don’t keep.  Put them in the fridge, and they will last maybe two days, perhaps three if your fridge is very cold.  Freezing them on the same day is also possible but they are not nearly as good as when eaten fresh.  I used to harvest them from the golf course when I lived in Aberdovey, but never did I collect any this enormous!  My father had a couple, I had a couple and a neighbour had one.  These came from a local grass verge that I was driving past, and I pulled over to go and retrieve them.  Because puffballs reproduce during the decay of the puffball (at which point it puffs off its spores), always leave one behind to ensure that there is a chance of them coming back next year.

A giant puffball looks a little like chicken breast when you slice through it.

As always, collecting wild mushrooms comes with a health warning.  It is easy to mistake puffballs for mildly poisonous earthballs when they are both very small and white, although earth balls quickly become dark as they grow whereas puffballs look pure white throughout their growth cycle, until they mature and the spores (like seeds) are ready to depart when they go creamy yellow.  They are pretty well unmistakeable when they reach a size bigger than a golf ball, but read more about them here on the excellent Forager Chef website.

Puffballs have a subtle mushroomy taste and a soft texture, both of which are quite unique and utterly delicious.  When they are big enough, they are fabulous cut into big slices and tossed in  sizzling butter and fresh sage.  Small ones can be cooked whole.

Slices of giant puffball at the base were topped with smoked bacon, black pudding, crispy sage leaves, spinach and a poached egg.  A terrible photo – I really cannot take photographs in artificial light!  I need to sort out a mini home studio.

There are a million ways of serving them, some gastronomic, others rather more down to earth.  Last night I had mine fried in butter (yes, I know, but how delicious), served at the bottom of a stack made up of a rasher of smoked back bacon, a slice of excellent black pudding, both done on an iron griddle plate over a high flame, with a handful of steamed spinach over the top and a poached Churton egg on the top of that.  Bliss.  I’ve been a bit off food recently, but I couldn’t wait to cook this.

For a vegetarian version, the puffball slices would be excellent cooked in garlic oil, and served on griddled sourdough toast with the spinach, courgettes, and crispy sage leaves, or with asparagus, perhaps with a drizzle of cream.  For me, the poached egg is a must with this meal.

However you cook giant puffballs, be careful not to overwhelm their delicate flavour.  I would not, for example, do them in a red wine sauce, but they go well in a white wine and cream sauce, or in a pasta carbonara.  They are also sensational as an accompaniment for steak, and go very well with chicken or pork.  As tapas, they are divine cooked in garlic and sherry.

 

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: Garlic mushrooms, pancetta and courgette on toast, topped with a poached egg

After a divine curry last night, both invented and cooked by my father, whose approach to all cuisines is always creative and full of glorious flavour, I went for something rather more conventional tonight.  Mushrooms and garlic are a classic combination.  Some diced courgette, pancetta, finely sliced spring onions, parsley, oregano or tarragon and, if you fancy it, spinach (or wild garlic in spring) are great additions, as is a good dollop of cream or crème fraîche.  The poached egg on top is essential, as it rounds things off beautifully.

The mushrooms and pancetta are fried in butter until beginning to brown, at which point the diced courgette is added until it too is golden. The finely chopped garlic is then added, and when cooked through, some flour is sprinkled over the top of the mixture and stirred until it is invisible, helping to thicken the stock, which goes in as soon as the flour has been absorbed, just a little bit at a time, stirring constantly.

When the sauce reaches the consistency that you like, you might consider adding the following:  finely sliced spring onions or chives, chopped parsley and oregano and a few turns of the pepper mill. I also like to add a slosh of dry sherry  at this stage.   Mushrooms and sherry are a frequent combination in Spanish cooking, and work deliciously together.  I also like to add a handful of spinach at this point if I have some, which cooks through quickly as the egg is poached.   If the sauce is too thick at this stage, again add some more stock or water, a little at a time, and stir well to incorporate anything that might be sticking at the bottom of the pan.

Whilst this is gently heating through, the egg is poached and a slice of rustic bread or sourdough is griddled or toasted.  Poaching eggs is easy if a few basic rules are followed.  The eggs should be fresh and at room temperature.  The water should be boiled, and a glug of white wine vinegar added.  The vinegar helps the whites to solidify.  Create a swirl in the water, which helps to spin the egg whites around the egg yolk, and take off the heat.  It will now poach in the hot water, the whites becoming opaque as the egg begins to cook.  It takes about two minutes depending on the size of the egg.  Drain the eggs well in a slotted spoon or on kitchen paper to remove the traces of vinegar.

Back to the mushroom mix.  At the last minute, a small dollop of whatever cream you have to hand goes in.  I like either crème fraîche or sour cream, but ordinary single or double cream works perfectly well too.  Heat it through gently.  Then place the toasted bread on the plate (buttered if required), spoon the mushroom mix over the top of the toast and then place the the poached egg carefully on top of the mushrooms.  Scatter sea salt over the top of it all, and add a few turns of the pepper mill, and dig in!  It’s incredibly filling, so I don’t serve it with anything else.

Lots of variations are possible. If you have access to wild mushrooms, that makes it even better, but I had button mushrooms that needed using up.  Nearly all herbs will work, including sage, lovage, chervil and marjoram.  Diced aubergine goes well instead of or as well as courgette.  Bits of bacon or parma ham can substitute for pancetta.  Cream sherry can be used instead of dry if you fancy a slight hit of mellow sweetness.  Alternatively, instead of sherry, Marsala wine, which is utterly divine in all sorts of sauces, is excellent with this dish. It is not always easy to get hold of, and must be used with care or it takes over entirely.

A vegetarian version can be done by leaving out the pancetta.  If often do the vegetarian version, and it is delightful.

If you want to make it into a bigger main course, the mix works wonderfully as an accompaniment for pork or chicken.

More adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs

 

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: Seafood frito misto with tartare sauce

In Italy, frito misto usually describes food that has been given a coating of batter and then deep-fried.  On this occasion I deep-fried my seafood, but it was coated with flour rather than batter, so I may be playing fast and loose with the terminology.  Irrespective, it was delightfully crispy on the outside and beautifully hot and moist in the middle, which is at least in perfect keeping with the spirit of a frito misto.

In so far as tartare sauce is concerned, I often welcome the easy life that sauces in bottles provide, but tartare is always a problem for me as the bottled stuff is so very sweet.  I like my tartare sauce to be creamy but tart, with a lot of acidity.  Too much sugar ruins it for me, and by making the sauce myself I can modify the ingredients to suit my preferences.

This combination of crisp seafood and a soft but tart sauce can be served with whatever you fancy, which in my case is a salad based on garden lettuce and herbs supplemented with shop-bought items like cucumber and tomatoes that I have not yet started to grow (next year).

First, ensure that you have some kitchen roll to hand.  You will be using it a lot.

Next, dig out your eggs and make your mayonnaise (see my earlier post on how to make mayonnaise).  Lemon juice and/or white wine vinegar and a hit of mustard are standard components.  In the final stages of making the mayo, just as it begins to be fully emulsified, I add some herbs.  It’s a personal choice, but I like fresh dill, chives and parsley.  Don’t worry if the sauce becomes very solid, because that’s what you really need.  It needs to be structurally robust in order for the other ingredients to be absorbed without turning it all to liquid.  This is because other solid  ingredients are either wet or acidic.  Acid interferes with the emulsion and makes it much less viscous.

Your sauce should still be thick and gooey, so that when you touch it, it forms peaks like thoroughly whipped cream (just keep adding oil very slowly until it becomes nice and thick).  In the photograph it looks rather too solid for tartare sauce, but you are about to add sour cream and pickled veg to it, which will loosen in up a lot will and provide you with something a lot less viscous.  It is really important to have a good firm  base with which to work.

Sliced gherkins or cornichons and chopped capers are a great combination for tartare sauce.  If you add them straight from the jar, they will add the vinegar from the jar to the emulsion, and will loosen it up, causing it to become runny.  So I drain mine on multi-folded kitchen paper,  wrapping them and turning them now and again for a few minutes.  This removes the excess liquid and leaves you with all of the flavour.  The photo on the right looks a little ungenerous, but I was making a tartare for one.  Once dry, it can be added to the mayonnaise in the food processor and given a very quick whizz.  Remove from the processor and add to a bowl.

Add the sour cream a teaspoon at a time and gently fold it in.  The sour cream is glorious in the mayonnaise base, working with the dill, chives and parsley to provide a deliciously creamy setting for the the lemon, vinegar capers and gherkins, the combination providing real balance.  But do go slowly with the sour cream or you will end up with a soup rather than a sauce.  It will thicken up a bit in the fridge, but not sufficiently to rescue something completely liquid.  Here’s what it looks like, and do remember that although it firms up in the fridge it will relax and become more liquid as soon as it reaches room temperature.

My frito misto was based on seafood, using razor clams, prawns and whitebait, all delivered via Amazon from Morrisons.  Sadly, Amazon doesn’t deliver Morrisons products to Churton, but they do deliver to Rossett, and having a superior parent handily located there, I was able to place an order.  The razor clams are very difficult to source from anywhere else, and both their flavour and texture are unique.   All shellfish need to be extracted from their shells and dried in kitchen roll.  The patting dry will considerably reduce the spitting of the oil.

If you are cooking more than one batch you will also need to have the oven on, so that when you take out one batch and add another, you can keep the original batch warm.

The technique is very simple.  I have a deep-fryer but I rarely use it for fish, because it takes an awful lot of oil to fill it, and once used to cook fish, the oil cannot be used for anything else.  So I do mine in a saucepan large enough to handle whatever it is that I am planning to cook.  The key with floured fish is to get the oil really hot, or the flour falls off and you end up with naked fish and oil swimming in flour.  If you are using a thermometer the oil should be 350F or 180C, but if not just put in a piece of seafood and when it starts to sizzle instantly, you should be good to go.  I do have a kitchen thermometer but its batteries are dead since I moved in, back in February, so I have been using the latter system recently with great success.  Make sure that whatever you throw in is sizzling enthusiastically, because the moment you add another batch of seafood, the temperature will drop.  When you remove the first batch, put it in the oven to stay warm, and allow the oil to heat up again before putting in the next batch.

The fat from each batch needs to drain from the seafood, so have a plate covered in kitchen roll prepared in advance and keep tossing the seafood in the kitchen roll to reduce the oil remaining on the seafood.  It is never going to be a healthy meal, but removing the worst of the oil will improve both the flavour and alleviate a sense of guilt 🙂

Tip it all onto a pre-heated plate, tons of tabasco sprinkled over the top, your salad either on the plate or in a separate bowl (probably best if you have pre-heated your plates) and your tartare sauce on the side, with a chunk of lemon to sprinkle over the top and ENJOY! 

If you want to re-use your oil for another seafood dish, you can filter it through kitchen paper placed in a funnel into a jug or bottle.  The kitchen paper, acting as a filter, picks up all the bits of burnt flour and fish, leaving you with a clear oil.  It will still smell of fish, so seal it well.  I re-use an oil bottle with a screw top for mine.  Make sure that you label it clearly so that you don’t use it by accident for something else.  The fishiness could devastate another dish.  I only re-use it once before throwing it away, which means that this is a special occasion meal.

A lovely summer meal for al fresco dining.

More adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs