Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Four Uses For a Rather Large Pumpkin

We had visitors soon after Halloween who arrived with a monster pumpkin, grown on a Manchester allotment. The 5.24 kg (11 lb 6oz) squash had served its decorative function, and last Sunday I rather belatedly started to cook it.

When you cut up a vegetable of this size, you need to have a number of uses planned for it. So, I cut the surprisingly thin-skinned pumpkin into four and it went its separate ways.

The first quarter was soon being made into a risotto, following the method I frequently use for butternut squash risotto. Cubed pumpkin was roasted with butter, salt and pepper; meanwhile chopped onions and bacon were fried in a risotto pan. Arborio rice was stirred in and hot home-made chicken stock gradually added, with some thyme. The cooked buttery squash was stirred in toward the end; grated cheese optional.

My partner took the second quarter and made chutney, following the recipe in The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles for Butternut, Apricot and Almond Chutney (pumpkin instead of butternut squash). The other ingredients included onion, coriander seeds, cider vinegar and orange juice. As there were less apricots and almonds in the cupboard than the recipe suggested, the jars were just labelled ‘Pumpkin Chutney’. This turned out to be a golden-coloured, sharp-tasting chutney, with the almonds giving it plenty of crunch and the coriander rounding out the flavour. It will mature for a month or so before we start eating it.

I made a soup with the third quarter. Looking through the Riverford autumn magazine and recipe files from vegetable box deliveries, I found a couple of promising ideas. The Dev-Mex Pumpkin Soup looked good (pumpkin or squash, onion, garlic, paprika, chillies, tomato, kidney beans, lime juice etc) - that’s Devon-Mexican, by the way. However, I decided to do that another day and go for the Spiced Pumpkin Soup. I roasted pumpkin cubes and fried onions, then simmered both in chicken stock with cumin, coriander, grated nutmeg and a little chilli sauce. The soup was liquidized and a dollop of sour cream was mixed in to serve.

With the last chunk of pumpkin I was tempted by some recipes in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, which has a particularly good selected of pumpkin recipes. I liked the sound of Toulouse Lautrec’s Gratin of Pumpkin (Gratin de Potiron), for instance, taken from the French artist’s collected recipes. However, on reflection, I decided to complete a sort of three-course pumpkin meal with an American-style Pumpkin Pie for dessert.

A look through some US recipe books, collected while touring the States, suggested that all those Halloween pumpkins probably end up in the bin, because most recipes seemed to use canned pumpkin. I decided to go with a custard-style pie based on a recipe in a regional home cooking book (see below), but using fresh pumpkin. I filled a pastry casing with a mixture of mashed pumpkin, canned condensed milk (omitting the canned evaporated milk), beaten eggs, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, vanilla essence and rum. Not bad, but next year I’ll stick to Jane Grigson’s Pumpkin Pie!

Cook books referred to:
The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles, Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew, Anness Publishing Ltd, 2004. Page 186.
Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, Penguin Books, 1978. Pages 417-429.
Riverford Recipe Files (in Vegetable Box), 24 Oct 2011 & The Riverford Farm Cookbook, Jane Baxter, 2011.
Our US cookbooks include small press and amateur publications, which collect people’s regional home recipes and gave an insight into what people really cook (e.g., A Taste of New Mexico from the Junior League of Albuquerque; Best of the Best from Florida Cookbook etc). The Florida cookbook has plenty of microwave recipes and includes unusual dishes such as Coca-Cola Chicken: “mix ketchup, Coca-Cola and Worcestershire sauce and pour over chicken”. Sometimes, you get handy hints along the bottom of each recipe page in this type of book (e.g., Household borax dissolved in water removes stains and smells after your child has been sick”). We also have similar cookbooks, sold for charity, from regions around the UK, which must look equally strange to people from out of town.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Great British Food Revival: Beetroot

One of the best things on TV recently has been the second series of Great British Food Revival (BBC2). The series aims to promote underappreciated British vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and shellfish, in order to try and change the public’s perception of these foods. This is needed to reverse often alarming declines in their production, with serious implications for British farming and food culture.

Different chefs have championed different foods. Highlights of the series so far have included John Torode on beef from heritage breeds, Valentine Warner on cockles and mussels, Raymond Blanc on plums, Richard Corrigan on mackerel, Michael Roux Jr on bread and on pears, and the Hairy Bikers (yes, really) enthusing about cauliflowers. With its farm-to-fork emphasis on seasonality, local produce and traditional cooking, this is my kind of cookery show.

Last night, Antonio Carluccio was promoting beetroot. I had been aware of this program since July when I briefly corresponded with Assistant Producer Isaure de Pontbriand, who was using my e-book Beetroot (2004) for research. We agreed that getting production statistics for this crop is very difficult. I think more is probably grown on allotments and in gardens than is produced commercially. They reckoned that beetroot accounts for just 1% of vegetables grown in Britain.

For those who missed it (or saw it and would welcome a summary), Antonio Carluccio started by roasting a large beetroot in embers and relating the type of statistics that have become all-to-familiar during this series. Half of all British beetroot fields have been lost in the past 30 years. In the case of beetroot, the post-war trend to preserve it in cheap heavy vinegar has seriously damaged the crop’s reputation.

Antonio talked to beetroot supplier Graham Forber and the general farm manager of Riverford Organics James McGregor, who both agreed that beetroot still has an image problem to overcome. At the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, Head Gardener Nicola Bradley introduced us to some heritage varieties, showing the diversity of beetroot. They can be cylindrical or globular, and range in colour from purple to red, orange and white.

The health benefits of beetroot were illustrated using recent research at Exeter University showing that beetroot juice significantly enhanced exercise performance. This research is new to me, and I would like to read a bit more about it. I know that discussing the health benefits was the hardest part of writing Beetroot, because there is so much flaky stuff out there. The general health benefits of consuming beetroot are not in doubt, however. If Team Britain does consume concentrated shots of beetroot juice as a “secret weapon” (oops!), then they should probably be warned about beeturia (that’s red pee, to you and me).

Interspersed with his peripatetic wanderings, Carluccio cooked a three-course meal using beetroot: A Beetroot Soufflé with Anchovy Sauce, a Timbale of Beetroot (white sauce, ham, leeks and cheese), and a Panna Cotta Dessert with lime syrup and beetroot.

Simon Hulstone, the Michelin-starred head chef at The Elephant in Torquay, likes to cook with beetroot. His Beets and Curds features a range of heritage beetroot varieties, including Chioggia (white with red stripes), Golden, a white variety (possibly Albina Vereduna), and a dusting of red beetroot powder. The heritage varieties are all grown especially for him by a local farmer. The dish looks great and I’ll certainly be ordering it if I ever find myself in Torquay.

This was another excellent edition of Great British Food Revival.

I am currently harvesting beetroot from a deep bed in my Welsh garden. My personal preference is for the cylindrical varieties (which actually predate the globe ones), with Forono being my favourite. At the time of writing Beetroot (2004), I had an allotment in Stevenage, England, where I grew a range of modern and heritage varieties. You can see photos of them in the final section of the e-book, which comprises a dictionary of cultivated varieties (The photos included here are of the heritage variety Bull’s Blood).

Beetroot (2004):

Dictionary of Beetroot Varieties:

Monday, 14 November 2011

Family Dining at the Red Hot World Buffet

The opening night showed that the Red Hot World Buffet and Bar in Cardiff is a fun place for adults, with plenty of great food on offer, but what would children make of it? To find out, I made a return trip with my daughters (aged 8 and 15) and partner to see how it rates as a family dining experience.

Our oldest daughter has developed a taste for sushi, so Red Hot World Buffet appeared to be a winner even before we entered. The display of sushi and seafood looked very inviting through the window. The younger daughter spotted the pizzas being prepared nearby and was similarly impressed.

To start our meal, I joined our oldest in assembling a starter plate of sushi and other seafood. I can’t get as excited as her about sushi generally (too much sticky rice for me), but the shrimps and the New Zealand mussels at Red Hot are a real treat (don’t miss the little trays of mussels with buerre blanc in the European section).

After her pizza slices fresh from the pizza oven, which proved a hit, the youngest (who is also into noodles) joined me at the Teppanyaki and Noodles section, one of ten live cooking stations around the buffet. We selected, from containers in front of us, the type of noodles we wanted, then the meat and vegetables. We passed these to the chef who stir-fried them on a hot plate with our choice of sauces. As throughout the buffet, most of the counters are low so that children have no problem seeing the food. The element of theatre and having food cooked while you watch is one of the best things about this buffet experience.

Both girls also took a liking to the adjacent Tex Mex and Louisiana sections, and corn-on-the-cob, nachos, quesadillas, olives and potato wedges were all sampled approvingly (although the youngest found the Taco tray filled with chilli and sour cream a bit hot for her taste). There are also beef burgers and BBQ chicken on offer in these sections, which I recommend as a diversion for dessert-fixated kids.

My partner was keen on the salads. I had overlooked them on my previous visit, but investigation revealed a wide range of interesting salad options around the buffet. There is also a vegetarian section that is worth sampling.

I helped my eldest daughter sample a couple of flavours of small pancake hot off the griddle, although even better were the Belgian waffles on sticks - dripping with the maple syrup she had spooned on. The ice creams and sorbets did not disappoint. My favourite was the kulfi.

For her final visit to the buffet, our youngest returned with a plate of sweets. She seemed to be finding her way around, or at least finding items on the buffet invisible to adults. Apart from the plate of sweets, and one rather overloaded dessert plate, both girls made sensible choices in taste combinations (unlike some food bloggers at the opening night party!).

We were given a tour of the buffet by Saurabh Khare, who had previously worked at the Liverpool branch. The chain was started in Nottingham in 2004 by Helen and Parmjit Dhaliwal, although Saurabh reckons it was in Liverpool that things really took off. Cardiff is the seventh Red Hot Buffet and Bar to open; in three year’s time they hope to have a total of 25 restaurants like this in the UK.

Cardiff has 35 highly-qualified chefs cooking up some 300 dishes. They specialize in particular cuisines, as Saurabh points out, so chefs from Chinese backgrounds are more likely to be cooking Chinese food, and so on. Additional buffet areas have been created in Cardiff, most notably the central live dessert station where six pastry chefs work. There are some beautifully-crafted confections on show, behind the display of over thirty tempting desserts. Saurabh admiringly admits one of the chefs is a bit of an artist. Looking up, we see previously unseen chefs on a mezzanine floor preparing salads.

Saurabh says that lunchtimes and afternoons (12pm-4pm Mon-Sat) are the main times for children in the restaurant. He indicates the area where a line of pushchairs can usually be found. They have 40 highchairs stacked somewhere to cater for a rush of younger children. Families are seated downstairs, so the upper floor remains a child-free dining zone.

The buffet opens at 5pm in the evenings, and it was already packed by 5.15pm when we arrived last Friday. There were a fair number of children downstairs and red balloons were being handed out. Around the buffet, children of all ages seemed to be mainly encountered around the ice creams (15 flavours). There was a lull around 7.30pm, and then it filled up again quickly but without children. We took our well-fed offspring home soon after, planning another trip over the Christmas holidays (note: they are getting heavily booked).

I don’t want to give the impression that this is a children’s restaurant. It might not be the best place for a children’s party, for instance, whereas the place is made for office parties (all tastes and cultures catered for). Younger children also need close supervision around the buffet due to the hot food. However, children are made very welcome at Red Hot World Buffet and it provides a unique family dining experience. Best of all, it’s a great place for children to try out new types of food, which they might not have tasted before.

Red Hot World Buffet and Bar
3-6 Hills Street, St David’s Dewi Sant
Cardiff CF10 2LE

Set prices (Children under 10 eat for half price)
Lunch: Adults from £7.99 (rising to £12.99 on Sundays when they are open all day)
Dinner: Adults from £12.99 (rising to £14.99 on Friday and Saturday evenings)
You can book online:
Opening night at Red Hot World Buffet Cardiff:

Monday, 7 November 2011

Farm to Fork: The Pork at St Fagans

We took visitors to St Fagans National History Museum yesterday and had Sunday lunch in the museum’s Vale Restaurant.

The open air museum, on the edge of Cardiff, is Wales’ most popular heritage attraction. The large site contains over 40 historic buildings from all around Wales, which have been moved and rebuilt. They show how people have lived in Wales over the ages. Our visitors are never disappointed by St Fagans.

I had the roast pork for lunch, which came with boiled and roast potatoes, cabbage, fluffy mashed Swede that had an unexpected hotness, some parsnip and stuffing, gravy and apple sauce. The meat was delightfully tender.

All the pork served in the restaurant is from pigs reared at St Fagans: at the Llwyn-yr–Eos Farm just a few hundred yards from the restaurant. The farm is in its original site, with the farmhouse preserved as it would have been at the end of the First World War. The pigs are traditional Welsh pigs, kept in traditional sties. The larger pigs have access to a field. You can see that the pigs and other animals are well-cared for.

I approve of the trend for suppliers to be listed on restaurant boards and in menus. I think that knowing more about how your dinner has travelled from farm to fork really adds to the dining experience.

In addition to the home-reared pork, St Fagans sources ham and potatoes from Pembrokeshire, butter from Swansea, and cheese from south Wales: Smoked Caerphilly, Welsh cheddar and Perl Lâs. The latter is described by its makers, Caws Cenarth of Carmarthenshire, as a mature Caerphilly cheese that has become naturally blue.

St Fagans: National History Museum, Cardiff CF5 6XB

Friday, 4 November 2011

Wally's Kaffeehaus

For lunch on Wednesday at Wally’s Kaffeehaus, in Cardiff’s Royal Arcade, we went for Open Sandwiches.

I had the Tyrol, which consisted of Roast Chicken breast, sweet Spanish chorizo and shaved manchego cheese, with Piquillo peppers, garlic mayonnaise and rocket, topped with black olives and served on toasted artisan sourdough.

My partner (the one who always chooses best) had the Baden, comprising German dark smoked black ham, Hereford Hop cheese and ploughman’s chutney with green salad, chopped balsamic onions and sliced pear, served on wholegrain seeded bread.

Although I really enjoyed my Tyrol, the Baden seemed to have more going for it, with a wider variety of flavours and textures, especially the tangy balsamic pickled onion and the full-flavoured cheese. The bread was also tastier and there was more of it. I know it’s an open sandwich, but I felt I wanted an extra bit of sourdough, that wasn’t under all those ingredients, just to better appreciate the bread.

There are eleven Open Sandwiches to choose from (all named after Austrian towns or villages), all served with a side garnish of potato salad, including two vegetarian options: the Rohrbach, with grilled aubergine and Caerphilly cheese, and the Linz, with marinated mushrooms, sun-blushed tomato and Perl Las cheese. I noted the Kitzbuhel, which included liver sausage and sauerkraut, and the Wiener, with marinated herring and dill pickle, for future reference. We were also tempted by the Aufschnitt: selections of cold meats and cheeses on a platter for two.

Wally’s Delicatessen has been in the Royal Arcade since 1981. It doubled its size by taking over an adjoining shop a few years ago. The Kaffeehaus opened above the Deli about a month ago. It is a family business owned by Steve Salamon - who was chatting to diners in the Kaffeehaus on Wednesday. See the Deli website (link below) for the fascinating family history.

The Kaffeehaus aims to bring Viennese Coffee House tradition to Cardiff (Steve’s father Wally Salamon was born in Austria). That is, there’s no rush, feel free to chat away or read the newspapers provided, while listening to Beethoven and Mozart on the sound system.

There is a pleasing synergy between the Deli and the Kaffeehaus. The café obviously has a wide variety of delicacies they can draw upon (the staff regularly bring trays of ham and cheese up the stairs), and the menu is designed to showcase what the Deli has to offer; while diners can take home the favourite ingredient from their lunch. We particularly liked the Hereford Hop cheese and bought some downstairs in the Deli on the way out.

The Deli sells all manner of things (around 1,600 products from all over the world) and there’s always something new to discover. I also bought fresh yeast this week and have subsequently been doing some baking (but that’s another blog post).

Wally's Kaffeehaus and Wally's Delicatessen
38 - 46 Royal Arcade, Cardiff CF10 1AE