Economy Gastronomy: A Whole Pumpkin

I carry around with me a sordid little secret that only those closest to me are privy to. It weighs heavy on my soul and mocks me from a relentless and endless base of ammunition. Whether its the half-full packet of chicory that I bought for just one recipe, slipping further from its sell by date or a plate of cold cuts that grow drier and drier with each passing day, everything screams at me in protest as its swept once more unloved into the abyss. To paraphrase: “You cruel and deplorable wretch! Does thou know no end to thy gluttony?” That’s right, I am a chronic food-waster.

I’ve tried to right this over the last six months but in all honesty I have found it a struggle to build any real consistency in my efforts. My one ham-fisted weapon being either to bung all of the remaining veg into a mega pasta or a stir-fry dish on a Monday night. I knew there were far more exciting things I should be doing but I suppose the forward planning aspect (bulk buying/menu planning/freezing) had put me off.

As I’ve now got a dauntingly enormous mortgage just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this in earnest and that’s when I remembered this book that I had procured on first moving up to London with a promise of saving money through eating more intelligently. A whim that died off as quickly as many others over the years.

Although Economy Gastronomy contains a huge array of recipes, the cornerstone of the book is built around the following premise:

– Invest good money in a high quality ‘Bedrock’ ingredient on a Sunday for a hearty weekend lunch/dinner.
– Bedrocks include things like: leg of lamb, shoulder of pork, a whole salmon or a ton of chickpeas.
– Follow the recipes in the book to create 2/3/4 meals more out of the bedrock ingredient throughout the week.
– Each time you cook a recipe, you are cooking in bulk and then freezing the leftovers.
– Thus creating a constant stash of home-cooked, frozen ready meals that can be reheated when you have no time to cook.
– And so, keeping you away from expensive and unhealthy options elsewhere (i.e. the takeaway).

So I began on my first. The pumpkin…

A 4 kg pumpkin plus all the other stuff required for this course of recipes set me back roughly £30 which is pretty amazing considering it yielded the following:

4 portions Pumpkin Risotto with Roasted Walnuts, Red Chicory and Gorgonzola (2 eaten, 2 frozen)

The Risotto

The Risotto

4 portions Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage and Ricotta (2 eaten, 2 shamefully binned)

The Cannelloni

The Cannelloni

The Cannelloni

12 portions Spicy Pumpkin Chowder (2 eaten, 2 fridged, 8 frozen)

The Chowder (not sure why this isn't just called soup, because it definitely is just soup)

The Chowder (not sure why this isn’t just called soup, because it definitely is just soup)

And ready for freezing…

That is a whopping 20 portions of food at roughly £1.50 a portion. Granted yes, there is no meat present which would normally drive up the cost but I did push the boat out a bit on the other ingredients (top range cheese, organic etc) so its still spectacular value. Especially when I probably average about £10 to £15 per visit to the Sainsburys Local on the way back home for a single meal for the two of us.

My one issue with this was that (bar the soup, which was amazing) none of this really tasted that great. I do however think that this was my fault for not following one of the key principles of the book which is implicit when it tells you to invest in a high-quality bedrock ingredient (the pumpkin) as it will inform the rest of the dishes.

Incidentally, and counter-intuitively, Halloween time is probably not the best time to be cooking with pumpkin. The shops are flooded with cheap and enormous orange beasts such as my 4 kg one above. In retrospect, I realise these are terrible to eat as they are not designed to be consumed.

This is coupled with the fact that the pumpkin I used was the one that had been sitting on our windowsill for a few weeks after Halloween had passed. Laura hadn’t got around to carving it so it sat facing out of first floor lounge, a limp offering to All Hallows Eve. It was fine to eat in terms of decay. I think.

I’d recommend either finding a guarenteed high quality pumpkin to make the above recipes or using 3/4 kg worth of butternut squash which should be more readily available.

Still, I’m pushing on this week to the next batch of recipes which involves a 1/2 collar of gammon. I’m hoping this proves my theory correct, that a higher quality bedrock ingredient will yield much more consistent results, and not Laura’s insight that the ‘recipes in the book are just crap’…

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This Massive Piggy Went To Brixton

Proud Father

I think the sheer prospect of doing justice to our efforts on that temperamental day back in August had intimidated me into a three month writing hiatus. Plus, lets not forget my inherent laziness as a person. And GTA V, of course. Many an hour on GTA V.

However, I will now proceed to give it a go and do what I can to chronicle with mere words the day that was Yamb, Lamb and Ham…Please Sir, I Want Some More.

Our Porcine Muse(s)

There is a healthy element of debate between the three of us (Skinny Pete, Pete Croft Baker and I) as to who’s idea this was in the first place. I can only vouch for my portion (Michael Pollan) but, if there is an ancient barbecue deity out there somewhere, I imagine he had a greasy  hand to play in bringing us all together with a glorious vision. To roast a whole hog on a homemade BBQ in a small Brixton front garden.

Naysayers were certainly not scarce (“What’s the point?”, “Why don’t you just pay someone to roast it for you?” “You’re going to poison everyone!”). Actually, these were all from just Laura but there were plenty more. I like to think we won them round in the end.

The pig (a Gloucester Old Spot) was sourced from a great little place called Keythorpe Valley Farm in Leicester. Due to a slight miscommunication, the old fella was slaughtered a week early. This was fine at first as it could be kept on the farm in the fridge for five days. However, it then had to be released to us a day early which resulted in an overnight stay in Skinny’s bath tub (below).

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

Again (as would become a recurring theme to the next 36 hours), this was a perfectly agreeable solution in theory. What Skinny failed to realise though was the plumber (hence the tools, great time to redecorate) had detached the bath. This meant that come 2 a.m, pig juice and ice water began pouring through the ceiling. Grim yes, but the Tarantino-stylings weren’t to stop there as we moved into the prep the next evening.

The Prep

The Cleaver. Great new addition to any kitchen.

The Cleaver. Great new addition to any kitchen.

Aside from what proved to be the relatively straightforward job of lopping off her legs and tail, it all got a little weird for a while at this stage. In retrospect, it was a heady combination of the beer, the late night and lugging around a 50 kg pig corpse. But what tipped the transition from a little weird to downright surreal was PCB putting on our backdrop music Seasick Steve Never Go West.

It was to this soundtrack, which reminded me of the True Blood theme song on crack, that we proceeded to hammer in our (sanded and sterilised) scaffolding pole into the pig. I literally mean hammered with a sledgehammer. The hole wasn’t big enough. Picture that if you will and listen to Seasick Steve and you’re someway there.

But huzzah! We got there eventually!

Effortless.

Effortless.

I should at this point mention the oven itself. This was an incredible feat of ingenuity and all credit must go to Skinny Pete for its design and build. We’re all glad that those four years studying Mechanical Engineering have finally been put to good use. This was certainly his Magnum Opus.

And hardly cost anything. Cashback.

And hardly cost anything. Cashback.

The Big Day

As I cycled down to Skinny’s from Clapham at 5.30am, BBQ grill strapped to my back, I remember a distinct feeling of nerves and excitement. In theory (that phrase again) everything was accounted for.

The pig was fully primed, we had a fat drip, there was ample booze, Laura was on apple sauce duty, there was lamb for non-piggers, it only promised to shower occasionally etc etc. But I couldn’t shake a feeling of apprehension. We had one-hundred people due round for food at 3.30 pm and a completely raw pig spread eagle of Skinny’s lounge floor, violated by a scaffolding pole. Aside from the responsibility, I think a big part of the nerves was wanting to do the pig itself justice and cook it properly.

Part of the reason we had all agreed we wanted to do this was to get closer to our food, away from the endless packs of chicken breasts and sausages that are arguably a far cry from meat in its honest form. Anyway, enough of the amateur philosophising. We stoked the first of many (many) bags of charcoal, hoisted our good lady onto the pit and away we went.

Men at Work

Men at Work

Although Skinny’s rolling joints for the pole were another spot of genius, it did mean that every 10-15 minutes for 12 hours we had to manually turn the pig. It was also a two man job. Labour heavy, sure. Would it be worth it? Absolutely.

All went swimmingly for some time. Not a drop in the sky, skin crackling up nicely, fat tray working like a beauty.

Golden Wonder

Golden Wonder

Even when it started to rain, we took it in our stride. Constructing not only a practical, efficient shelter but one with some panache.

Pride before the fall...

Pride before the fall…

Looks too good to be true at this point. And it was. Ten minutes later, only a couple of hours before she was ready to serve, one too many coals plopped into the increasingly clotted fat tray at the bottom of the pit.

I have never seen a fire so quickly erupt from nothing in all my life. It took the tarpaulin, the board and half the top of my hair with it as well.

There were no photos of the fire, despite my useless mate Simian standing there chatting on the phone while I tried to rescue the hog single-handedly. You could have at least got a photo, you bell. Here is an artist’s impression:

This, but worse.

This, but worse.

The bad news was, we lost most of the crackling. The good news, the rest of the big was unbelievably unscathed! Onto the service…

The End

5pm. The moment we had all been waiting for. We hoisted our dear friend onto our shoulders once more and carried her into the lounge, placing her on the dining room table that would serve as her final stage.

What a carve up.

What a carve up.

The hog was served and I took a much needed shower, although I didn’t feel clean again for several days. And my hair didn’t grow back for several more after that.

It was juicy and packed full of flavour. At the sagely advice of many pro-hog roasting Youtubers, we had kept the seasoning simple: just salt and garlic powder. It was all it needed. Alongside went the lamb, the apple sauce and the rest. I’d also like to (selfishly) mention my own home-brew with a rather snazzy label designed by Rosie Davies:

I think I drank most of this...

I think I drank most of this…

After the food, there was much merriment and dancing, with our very own wedding DJ Dyson spinning the tunes until the early hours with his disco-ironing board and bushy beard.

I wouldn’t actually know though as I was in bed by 10.30 pm, exhausted and contented by a monumental day of hogging with pals.

‘South African’ Eggs Benedict with Parmesan Hollandaise / English Muffins

The Daddy

The Daddy

As a breakfast, I didn’t think regular Eggs Benedict could be topped until I tried this (yes, even by a Full English). As far as I’m aware, there is no such thing as South African Eggs Benedict. I have just only ever eaten this or seen it on a menu at The Peech Hotel in Jo’berg. Hence the imaginative leap to the name of the dish.

In total I think I’ve stayed at the Peech for seven nights over the space of a year. Six times I’ve had this breakfast and once I regretted my foray into omelette territory. Not that it was bad, but a far cry from the above.

I knew I must recreate this dish at home. The difference being between a regular Eggs Benedict that instead of spinach, avocado is used. And of course the parmesan that goes into the hollandaise. I had thought bacon instead of ham was also an innovation but apparently this is a more common exchange.

For this, I also made a batch of English Muffins (veering for a change away from the safe doughy hands of Paul Hollywood and using this recipe instead). You can obviously use store bought ones (in which case skip the below), but I’d urge you to give it a go. They were dead simple to make.

English Muffins

Having never made them before, I was expecting oven baking to be involved but was more than pleasantly surprised to find I’d be shallow frying them in a ton of melted butter.

Golden brown, texture like buns

Golden brown, texture like buns

 

I cannot implore you enough at this stage to cut one of these open while they’re hot, slather it in butter and make it your bitch. Muffins done.

The Eggs

First things first is the hollandaise. There are tons of ways to make this from quick cheats to slow cooking. I figured as I’d bothered to already make the muffins, I should probably give this a full going over too so I went for the latter option, reducing down some white wine vinegar and water with a bay leaf and pepper corns. Boiled it down to about a tablespoons worth.

I’ve made hollandaise a few times now and it can be a cruel mistress if you’re in a hurry. The eggs will curdle at a moments notice if they get too hot. Use a bowl like the above, moving it on and off the top of a boiling pot, using the steam as heat. If in doubt, slow it down until all the butter has been slowly added and set aside. While you cook the bacon and eggs, occasionally bring it back over the heat to stop it solidifying.

Apologies for the photo above. For the assembly, toast the muffin and thinly slice just over two thirds of an avacado over the top.

As the bacon crisps up, poach the eggs in boiling water (with a dash of white wine vinegar) for exactly 3 minutes. Make sure you use a whisk to create a swirling vortex before sliding the eggs into the water.

Add the cooked bacon as per the above. You might want to depress the middle and do your best to create a dent for the eggs to sit in, or they will slide off.

Add the eggs on top and at this point grate some parmesan into the hollandaise. If you don’t want to use all the hollandaise at this stage, section some off and add the cheese to this otherwise the main mix will curdle. Then, whisk it up for about a minute to get it nice and thick (something I neglected to do).

Revel in its buttery decadence!

 

Bigotry and Pasties

The other day I received some detailed feedback to my blog which I have in turn shared below:

‘Right mate, while I can appreciate you put alot of effort into this I don’t see any mention of the northern classic, the meat and potato pasty.

I’m not talking about any fancy rubbish that makes you slobber like pavlov’s dogs or whathaveyou, son, I’m talking about greenhalgh’s own. Follow it down with a pint of bitter or few and bob’s your uncle.

Perhaps your palette isn’t suited to England’s true culinary delights, perhaps italian and french quisine is more your cup of tea but the thing is mate, the time to learn is now. As an aspiring food critic you are no doubt constantly looking for ways to improve your ability to evaluate what the culinary world has to offer, well let me tell you now boyo, the greenhalgh’s meat and potato is the bee’s bloody knees. It’ll take your tongue to places unimaginable and line your stomach good and proper while it’s at it.

Now you might be thinking, eh, greenhalgh’s, why don’t I just skimp and go for Gregs, it’s the same, right? Well, you’d be bloody well wrong. Greg’s pasties are an affront to pastry and supporting that defiler of the north’s greatest treat is a travesty against food that even Houdini couldn’t escape. My mate Chris saw a spider crawl across the pasties on display in the front of Gregs and let me tell you mate, I’ve not let their produce touch my lips since.

Let the taste of meat and taters take you to paradise.

Also, now I’m fine with people being up for “playing for either side” in bed mate but if you’re going to drop such blatant hints as ” Plus plus, I’m a massive sucker for anything that includes black beans on the side. A truly spectacular affair and I’m salivating right now more than the collective of Pavlov’s dogs just thinking about it. “, you may as well just come out and state your new orientation bud. We’re all behind you bud, don’t you worry, you’ll be no less of a man.’

Given the length of the comment, my immediate reaction was that this must be one of my friends. However, upon further investigation, it turns out that this chap (who goes by the username ‘Ghostymudy’) is a completely random reader and obvious pasty enthusiast. I am flattered he has taken time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts and, amid the occasional grammatical slip and thinly veiled homophobia, he does make a point. I have neglected the pasty.

Shame on me as I talked of scotch eggs, sausage rolls and pork pies without even tipping my cap to this cornerstone of Great British snackery. So I thought I had better rectify that fact with the below attempt, although I fear I haven’t done Greenhalghs proud…

Cornish Pasties

Battle lines are drawn

Battle lines are drawn

I didn’t exactly use the same recipe as on the link here but I think I probably would have been better off if I had done. It seems to pay much more attention to the creation of the pastry which was my ultimate undoing. The proceedings started positively enough though as I sliced and diced my way through onion, potato, rosemary, thyme, skirt steak, carrot and butternut squash. All into 1cm pieces. Chuck in a bit of nutmeg and plenty of seasoning/olive oil and we’re looking rosy:

Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

With the filling quite frankly nailed down to a tee, I swaggered over to the mixing bowl to begin the pastry. Plain flour, butter, water. Seemed simple enough especially after all the bread making. Naive fool I was and quickly found myself with a sticky ball of unusable gloop. Having run out of flour though, there was no turning back. The depressing montage below speaks for itself:

Six packages of pure disapointment

Six packages of pure disapointment

2013-06-23 14.19.48 2013-06-23 18.55.47I ate half of one of these an hour before having to play football. The undercooked innards plagued me well into the final third of the game.

Well Ghostymudy, we can but try…

One is the Loneliest Number (Part One)

I was absolutely positive that a Simpsons episode existed where Homer moped down the street with this song playing in the background. After thirty fruitless minutes spent searching on YouTube for the video to insert, I’m still not convinced I’m wrong. If anyone knows which one I mean please let me know, its driving me insane!

Anyway that aside, I wanted to start what I hope will be a string of themed posts around a subject that I’ve struggled with over the years – being bothered to cook a proper meal when you’re on your tod. My aim being to create a collection of tried and tested recipes for the solo chef with the following criteria to dissuade away from the usual suspects of the stir fry, pasta or ready meal:

– Quick to make. Ideally 20-30 mins all in, no more than 50 mins.
– Cheap
– Tasty and varied in ingredients/cuisine
– Doesn’t rely on just cooking more and eating half the next day.
– Also, not a marked point, but stuff that uses up store cupboard items is always a bonus as a money saver as per the two recipes below.

Points one and two are self-explanatory but I think three and four are just as important. When you walk into your high street supermarket, the sheer range of different cuisines available at only a five minute blitz in the microwave does make for tough competition for aspiring home solo cooks. People will always be tempted to pay for convenience.  On point four, you can always get creative with leftovers to make new dishes and this is obviously a great way to save money. However, as I sit mashing my keyboard at work, usually by noon I’m giving serious thought as to what I’ll be eating that evening and I’m not often inspired by eating the same basic meal two evenings in a row.

So without further ado…

Pork with Garlicky Bean Mash

2013-06-11 20.15.00

Speed: 25 minutes
Cost: £9 approx
Taste/variety of ingredients: Good chunk of pork made a change for mid-week plus garlicky bean mash was delicious and not something I’ve ever made. Healthy alternative to mash tatties.
Leftovers: None (but I did eat both pork loins like a boss)

Really simple, quick and nutritious to make. I also had some leftover tomatoes and carrots that I grilled and boiled respectively. Cost is a little higher than I’d hope for single service but it wins out speed, taste and the no leftovers. Can see how few ingredients needed below.

2013-06-11 19.57.19

Shepherd’s Pie Potatoes

2013-06-18 19.42.25

Speed: 50 minutes
Cost: £4.50 approx
Taste/variety of ingredients: As mentioned before, mince for me is actually a bit of a treat so I lapped this up. Although the ingredients won’t win any prizes for novelty, it is a clever way of making a single service Shepherd’s Pie, essentially using the potato as the baking dish.
Leftovers: Decided to cook the rest of the mince pack at the same time, will sling on some spag later in the week no doubt.

Bit more labour and time intensive than the first recipe but basic and cheap to make. Little stodgy for the summer but would be perfect with a glass of red wine on a cold winter’s eve.

2013-06-18 18.54.47On an entirely unrelated note, check out these badass Gaming Cakes. Rock and/or roll.

Dulce de Leche Cake with Pumpkin Seed Brittle / Rye and Spelt Loaf

Basking in an amateurish Instagram light on our living room table, here are my first two physical contributions to this blog in all their finery: a razzle-dazzle Dulce de Leche Cake with Pumpkin Seed Brittle and a juxtaposingly sombre Rye and Spelt Loaf. Let’s kick off with latter.

Rye and Spelt Loaf

This was taken from Paul Hollywood’s Bread book. Despite his recent streak of philandering he is still the ultimate yeast machine and, who knows, maybe the marriage had just gone stale (zing). I’d highly recommend this book for anyone who has ever given bread making a try, anyone who has thought about giving it a try or even anyone who has simply lusted after the smell of freshly baked bread. Word of warning: leave your bread makers at home (or rather in the cupboard), this is hand-made only. Bring your A game.

Because its taken from a published recipe book, I won’t post the details here. What I will say though is it uses both Rye and Spelt flour (obviously) but with a side of Strong White flour to help bind and rise. The most interesting aspect though is it employs an old sponging technique that I was unfamiliar with, at least since I used to steal my mates’ baked beans in my student days (zing 2). It essentially involves pre-proofing (without kneading) an amount of dough. Similar to a Sourdough culture I imagine although I am yet to take on this challenge.

I got a bit nervy on this bake. The loaf came out like a brick and only at that stage did I notice I’d forgotten to add olive oil at the start. However, it was seriously tasty and absolutely perfect with crab pate (which I had handily been gifted by a Chilean customer only the week before). Amazing, crunchy crust.

Dulce de Leche Cake with Pumpkin Seed Brittle

This tasty little number (link to the Good Food site recipe above) was born out of a Mexican themed dinner party I went to last Saturday in Peckham. The hosts always put on a spectacular feast (despite being a veggie, my mate Oli cooks a mean bit of Chorizo). I normally just turn up, scoff my face, win at Trivial Pursuit (no biggie) and leave. This time I thought I’d bring something to pay my way. In the end it was this cake plus a fiver. But I did in turn receive a six-pack of the best sausages in London from Peckham’s Flock and Herd Butchers. They’re nestled comfortably in our fridge and I shall be chomping on them this evening along with mash, red onion gravy, broccoli and (of course) lashings of Colemans. Excited.

Back to the cake. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert cake maker by any stretch of the imagination but fortunately a friend of mine is and she was happy to dish out advice. Specifically around the unusually long bake time (1hr 20mins). However, this is it at a very low heat 140 fan assisted plus we figured (rightly or wrongly) that the Greek Yoghurt would retard the baking process. Which it (or something) did.

It was meant to serve 12 but nearly all of it got munched by about half that number in the space of an hour. Result. Plus the brittle looks dead swanky.