Let me tell you about one of the best things I’ve recently put in my mouth.
Naturally, it contained garlicky butter. But it also contained a few wonderful simple other things, and it was served at the bistro at the Cambridge Cookery School.
I’m not even talking about this sandwich, and it’s a great sandwich.
The bistro boasts “a strong Scandinavian and Italian influence”, as well as the customary local/sustainable/organic/crafted gubbins. While this sounded like fun, it did not prepare me for the Turkish Eggs. But I’ll get to that.
Carbonnade – sometimes called Belgium’s answer to beef bourguignon – is a rich, simple stew of beef cooked in beer, with a little mustard and an ambiguous bread topping. Much, much more on the bread part later.
The etymology is probably via charbon, from meat cooked over a coal brazier, or perhaps the stewpot itself simmering over warm coals. Either way, it’s a Flemish classic that makes use of the sensational beer brewed in northern Belgium. At its very simplest, you can just dump a kilo of beef shin in a pot with some onions, herbs, and a bottle of oud bruin. But then you’d miss the (questionably authentic) mustard croutons, and those are sodding delicious.
I’ve been making carbonnade for as long as I’ve been cooking, and its evolution in my repertoire is a mini history of me learning to cook. If I had a change log (sauce control?) it would be fascinating. Not least because I recently got all in a lather about the history of the dish, wondering exactly when people started topping it with mustard-slathered croutons?
Just off Oxford Street, you’ll find Cookery School – two bright, well-equipped kitchen/classrooms, right in the centre of London. As I’m taking a few days off to recover from some exciting/stressful Adulting, I decided to book myself onto their “Ultimate Fish and Shellfish” course on Saturday.
It was great. I cooked things I’d not cooked before, met some lovely folks, and dismantled a fine selection of water critters.
The course is about six hours, with lots of hands-on time, and an eye-popping quantity of things to eat at the end. It’s a rich, full day for brain and stomach. You can tell, because they kept me too busy to take any pictures. Also, we were reminded, smartphones are filthy. Hand washing was (correctly) mandatory after Instagramming.
All the images here are things I came home and cooked from the course, but if you want to get a feel, there’s some great food (and action shots) on Cookery School’s own Instagram feed.
Elderflower ‘champagne’ is basically prison hooch for people who read Country Life. Oh sure, it’s got this noble, rustic pedigree. But at bottom you’re fermenting sugar water in a bucket and flavouring it with something you nicked from a hedge. Foraged. Whatever.
Classy or no, it’s delicious.
Elderflowers are wonderfully pungent, and this time of year the Cambridge river banks are full of their scent. I can’t resist making buckets of this stuff – bottling away a little of that summer for later in the year. Also, did I mention the prison hooch? You can get utterly wankered for a tenner, and feel like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall while you do it.
This is the recipe for Elderflower Fizz I’ve been making for the last few years. It works, and it probably won’t explode.
Update: I’ve had some issues with the latest batch of this recipe coming out far too dry, so it may need a little work.
If you’ve ever found yourself staring into your store cupboard, wondering precisely why you have three separate mostly-used packets of cashew nuts, or a whole unopened bag of sesame seeds you don’t remember buying, or just why you have four types of lentil, then you’ll find my Sunday morning quite familiar.
“I should really” I thought “just use some of these bloody things to make some space”. Enter: mole poblano. A dry-goods tidy in sauce form. Well, if your dry goods include various nuts, seeds, and berries of unremembered provenance, and some fancy chiles. This ain’t helping with the lentils. Seriously, when do I ever use the big, non-puy green ones? What was I thinking?
Mole poblano is a Mexican classic, for years better known in the US than the UK. It’s fruity/sweet/smoky, thickened with nuts, and can take you most of a day to make. This is a veggie version, adapted both from Rick Bayless, and to what I had to hand. The nuts are different, and I’ve de-clawed the spice. It also takes less time.
That turned out to be good, because after tweeting about the annoyance of Bayless’ quarts/cups/imperial measure bobbins original, I needed that time back to block (or at least roll my eyes at) a parade of mansplaining neckbeards with no ear for tone.
My (fantastic) local pub does a pretty good vegan bean burger. It’s a rich thing, hefty on the cumin and sweet potato, and they serve it with a little avocado. A good time. I have, however, taken to polluting its vegan essence by ordering it with a slab of cheese on top. This is, if anything, an even better time. But you have to pick your cheeses.
Sharp cheddar on a bean burger, maybe even Red Leicester or a Wensleydale? Yup, for sure. Mozzarella? Not so much.
It ought to work, but the thick, gentle creaminess of the mozzarella just fights the cumin and the spicy/sweet of the dark beans and sweet potato. Hmm. What to do? Could I hack together a bean burger that would be a bit lighter and fit nicely with some melty-gooey cheese?
The short answer is “kind of”, and the long answer is this week’s experimental recipe.
This isn’t quite Christmas leftovers, but the dish does have a similar backstory. It began as the cauliflower and cabbage terrine recipe in Stéphane Reynaud’s book Terrine, becoming a variant when I uncharacteristically decided to ditch the cabbage, and (somewhat more on-brand) threw cheese at it.
The full recipe is at the end. I didn’t get a picture, so you’ll have to trust me that it turns out rather well – creamy and fresh with leeks and spring onion to contrast. We served it as a Christmas starter with a light mustard sauce, and folks seemed to go for it.
But what to do with the half pint or so of surplus tasty goo?
A potted paté, and one I’ll certainly be doing again now it’s had a few tweaks.
This is a new favourite. It doesn’t take too long, and it’s crispy, kinda rich, and implausibly moreish for what was once thought of as a deeply dull vegetable.
For years, the British have cooked cauliflower like it was the one vegetable they’d singled out as an example to the others. All flavour and structure boiled away, it was presented like a warning, lest anything else should get ideas above its station – say, providing vitamins, or tasting of something beyond anemically coloured water.
Lately, we’ve at least realised it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have fun with cauliflower, and one of the fun things you can do is to fry it crispy with just so much garlic.
Karaage is familiar to many as “Japanese fried chicken”, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be poultry, or even meat. I think the crux of it is a simple marinade before frying, and a light flour coating rather than dunking in batter. It’s a great appetiser or bar snack, and the idea to do it with cauliflower is shamelessly pinched from one of Cambridge’s street food vendors, the excellent Guerilla Kitchen.
Eat it there if you catch it on their rotation, but if not, well, you have to try this one.
Of Cambridge’s many and interesting food vans, perhaps my favourite is Jalan Jalan. They do a few bits of Vietnamese street food, but for my money the star is the tofu and ginger banh mi.
It is just the best sandwich, and I had to make it at home.
Banh mi – the gentrified current evolution of colonial food mingling – probably began life as light baguettes filled with fresh vegetables, over pâté and cold cuts. Being just super street food friendly, it’s got a bit more elaborate by now. There’s even a cookbook.
This means I don’t feel too bad about mine likely not being very authentic. It’s crunchy/sweet/fresh with crispy fried tofu and some zingy ginger. What more could you want in a sandwich.
Here’s one for the tail end of barbecue season. In fact, here’s one I was not quite brave enough to take to a barbecue yesterday (cancelled of course, because Grim Rainy Island).
It’s a bit of an experiment, and it drifted into my head after putting some leftover peanuts into a rather gentler pork burger mix for a different barbecue a few weeks back. It worked, but it made me think: aren’t we tottering close to a Pad Thai vibe here?
Why the heck not. In for a penny.
In, also, for an eye-watering quantity of fish sauce. Damn, that stuff’s pungent. Like, borderline is-this-recipe-worth-it pungent. Oh, it cooks out – it’s great. But there’s ten minutes coming up where you will not enjoy being in your kitchen.