A few years ago I ordered belly of pork at a rather smart restaurant with lots of awards on the wall outside the premises. It was probably the most awful meal I ever had, and that’s saying something. It was nothing more than mouthfuls of pure fat – no meat content whatever. Of course I didn’t complain, as I was clearly intimidated by all those important awards. Sometimes we don’t trust our gut reaction (no pun intended) to something that doesn’t live up to our expectation, like a meal or service. Rather, we put our faith in those we assume to know better than we do about such things.
I think today, we are probably better informed through our diverse experiences, as we travel in an ever-shrinking world. To that end, I found myself staring at a very meaty piece of belly pork last weekend at my butchers and decided to bite the bullet and right a wrong-taste experience for myself.
To say the experience was life-changing is probably gilding the lily a bit, but it is close enough. Here’s what I did.
I scored the skin with a sharp craft knife and scalded it with boiling water to ensure good crackling. Then I wiped it dry and baked uncovered in a high oven for 30 minutes. Next, I turned the temperature way down to 100*C for four fours. The result was unctuous meat that I could pull apart with two forks – a sublime eating treat and I couldn’t stop nibbling. Now I know what real pork scratchings should taste like – that crispy crackling was a delight. The real deal.
My faith has been renewed in belly pork and I encourage you to try it for yourself. You will not be disappointed. I guarantee it!
Pre-heat oven to 180〫C / 350〫F / Gas 4
Grease or oil a round 22cm loose-bottomed tin
In a bowl put:
230g / 10 oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp ground ginger (yes really!)
1 tbsp mixed spice
230g / 10 oz muscovado sugar
100g / 3½ oz finely chopped almonds (or nut of choice)
Add 230g / 10 oz coarsely grated carrots
To a jug add:
155 ml / 5¼ fl. oz sunflower oil (or Donegal rapeseed oil, if you can get it – superior stuff)
3 medium free-range eggs (if poss)
1 tbsp molasses or treacle
Mix all wet ingredients with a small whisk. Pour over other ingredients and mix until well combined.
Bake in oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, checking with a skewer after an hour. If the skewer comes out clean, then the cake is done!
For the cream topping:
In a bowl put 200g / 7oz each, of cream cheese and mascarpone. Mix until soft and creamy. Then add either 1tbsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract. The bean paste gives lovely flecks to the finished cream. Using a spatula, spread all over the cake, being as swirly as you dare! Enjoy!
My love and passion for Italian foods goes back many years. Because I am fortunate enough to have Italian family, I have had many culinary adventures in Liguria, Lombardy and Piedmont, learning from real Italian people, just how it should be done. And yes, they often took me to task about using too many ingredients. Their philosophy really is, less is more.
Having recently bought a pretty poor imitation of a jar of pesto for the second time in as many months, I began to ponder on the question of who is responsible when the customer is not happy. Should the market-holder or deli only stock produce that they know is of quality, and of a standard?
I take pesto as a case in point. Most of us in the domestic setting do not have access to large quantities of basil. Neither does basil grow particularly well in the Irish garden, unless under optimum conditions. Therefore, we have to rely on some skilled producers for our fix. Because I prefer to support artisan producers and markets over the multiples, I go out of my way to source a good pesto if the opportunity presents. However, at best it has been hit and miss, and at worst, an expensive endeavour!
I come therefore, once again, to the question. Should markets and delis stand over the artisan produce they carry? I believe if they want to hold on to their loyal customers they should. Any expert in marketing or business will tell you how important it is to keep your loyal followers. What do you think?
Pre-heat oven to 230*C/450*F/Gas mark 8
1lb7ozs/650g strong bread flour
1tbsp vegetable oil
7g pouch of easy-blend yeast
14flozs/400mls warm water – 2 parts cold to 1 part boiling
Mix flour, salt, yeast, oil and honey.
Add water and mix to a oft dough.
knead for 10/15 minutes until soft and elastic.
Shape into one large round or two loaves and put in a warm place to prove, on a baking sheet for 45mins, covered with a damp tea towel – no draughts.
When doubled in size, bake for about 30 minutes, until the bottom is hollow when tapped.
Cool before slicing, if you can wait that long – the cook gets the end slice, slathered in real butter:)
Cooking with Devil’s Dung or the pleasures of Asafoetida
Asafoetida is a powdered resin gum made popular in Roman times. Although not native to India, it is widely used there, and often by those who, for whatever reason, choose not to use onion or garlic in their cooking. It is also popular in vegetarian cooking as it brings out the flavour and meatiness in mushrooms. In the Moghul Empire c. 1500s the singers of Agra and Delhi believed it enhanced their voices and would eat a spoonful mixed with butter before practicing on the banks of the river Yamuna!
In my experience asafoetida enhances the flavour of onion and garlic when frying as a basis for many dishes, bringing out its ‘savouriness’; but one thing is key – no more than a quarter of a teaspoon should be used. You will immediately notice a citrusy aroma when you add it, which is a very pleasant experience as it gets the salivary juices going in anticipation.
And yes, asafoetida can be a pungent, savoury spice on the nose, hence the name Devil’s Dung, but please, don’t let that put you off – It will bring a whole, new and delightful dimension to your cooking experience.
Useless info: Believed to be useful as an anitflatulent – I cannot corroborate this 🙂
Preheat your oven to 220*C/425*F/Gas 7
1lb/450g plain flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
4oz/113g currants or sultanas if you prefer
1 tsp bread-soda (level)
2 tsps vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract (not essence!)
12-15 fluid ozs/350-425ml buttermilk (absorption of liquid varies with different flours, so start with smaller amount)
Combine all the dry ingredients including the fruit, making sure to sieve the breadsoda to distribute well, as it can be lumpy.
Pour in the milk, about 12ozs/350mls. Add vanilla and mix well with your hand. You will know if more liquid is needed – aim for a nice, soft dough but not too wet and sticky. Form into a ball and turn out onto a lightly floured board. Knead briefly with the heel of your hand. Form into a nice round shape, not too shallow. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with some sugar. Then into your hot oven for just 15 minutes – then reduce the heat to 200*C/400*F/Gas 6 for a further 30 minutes. The underside will be hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack (if you can resist) before cutting a slice for the cook and slathering it with butter. If you don’t eat it all on the day, toast any left-overs and smother with butter and jam – need I say more???
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a well-stocked larder. Ideally, it should be easy to see at a glance what foodstuffs you have, and to this end a dedicated space such as a press or cupboard is perfect. It should be the key to easy meals and indeed, a source of great inspiration. I would regularly stand at my larder looking for ideas for dinner, with nothing particular in mind, other than knowing my start point is perhaps some chicken fillets or a nice bit of fish. I might then decide on some noodles with condiments like teryaki sauce, mirin, honey, garlic and lemon – hey presto! we have teryaki salmon and noodles – it really is as easy as that.
I find that the best place to keep spices, herbs and condiments is as close to the hob as possible, in plain view, ready to inspire me.