Who needs electricity anyway?

I love waiting for things. Some things deserve a wait – a slow cooked kleftiko, a properly proved sourdough bread, a great Parmigiano. They all take a while. Apparently electricity takes a long time, too. The Lop Eared Pig Cafe is still waiting for electricity.

So, this Easter, I’ll be cooking on the farm without electricity, on a barbecue. Which is fine, it’s a method I’m very happy with. I’m happy to barbecue in the snow. Or the sun, or the hailstones. Whatever this Easter brings. Whatever the weather deals up, there’s stuff happening on the farm, and good food going on.

Just email me if you’d like to reserve a table, at thelopearedpig.gmail.com.

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Early days

Tim’s been busy ‘repurposing’ an old tractor garage on a farm.

It’s funny how things happen. If you’ve been following, you’ll know we’ve moved to the country, and have been visiting a free range, rare breed farm in Chesham, looking at the animals and talking about the produce.

Tim and the lovely people at Hazeldene Farm have been talking, and now there’s a plan. Which is all due to happen very soon.

Tim is going to open a cafe on the farm, in the old tractor garage. He’ll be doing lunch Saturdays and Sundays, using Hazeldene Farm’s own produce, and produce from other local places.

He’ll also be able to do the dinner parties that were so popular in Isleworth, and food for the events that go on at the farm.

We’ve set up a new WordPress site for the new venture, if you could follow that would be lovely!

It’s at www.thelopearedpig.wordpress.com

A ewe on the farm

Ewe on the farm

Free range chickens in Hazeldene Farm, in the snow

Free range chickens in the snow

How to make a perfect burger. And how not to make a burger.

To make the best burger, Delia Smith says it has to be 20% fat. John Torode says 40% fat. Heston Blumenthal’s epic burger recipe has a formula of 2:1:1 of chuck, short rib and brisket.

Donna Hay put this in her burger recipe: mince, garlic, tomato paste, sauce, parsley, salt and pepper.  Jamie Oliver’s burger recipe suggests adding 12 cream crackers, parsley and an egg to minced beef.

No one suggests a dash of horse meat.

A burger with oyster sauce - surf and turf

We thought we’d try a few different ways to make a proper burger.

Tim’s a bit of a purist when it comes to burgers. Actually, he a bit of a purist concerning lots of food. So his first method contains 100% meat. Well, meat and fat. He used one lean cut, one fattier, and some fat.

three ingredients for the burger

Three ingredients, meat, meat and fat

He recently found this brilliant beast of a machine, to hand-mince the meat. A food processor could overwork the meat making it sausage-meat like.

The Beat - a hand mincing machine for burgers

The Beast in all its guises

The Beast minces the meat for the burger

The Beast does its work

After mincing the meats and fat, he laid the meat out and seasoned it. Then he fried a little sample to check the seasoning. He formed the beef into patties using an earthenware tapas dish, which produced a nice round 190g patty.

Three burger patties

Three burger patties

For the first burger he topped it simply and traditionally with a grated cheddar – Montgomery is a good strong traditional one. He browned it under the grill, before adding the bun ‘lid’.

A cheese burger with Montgomery cheddar.

A cheese burger with Montgomery cheddar.

For a second version Tim went for a ‘surf and turf’ effect, making an oyster sauce.

A burger with oyster sauce - surf and turf

Burger with oyster sauce – surf and turf

Another topping variant was bacon and celeriac slaw.

Burger with bacon and celeriac slaw

The burgers were good, but for me, I felt they were a bit dense. So we did another version, adding finely chopped onion, a couple of spoons of  breadcrumbs and an egg to bind it. The egg actually made the mixture fall apart, so we added a touch more breadcrumbs until it held together again.

Whichever way you prefer your burgers, homemade is definitely best, particularly now we have all these Unidentified Frozen Objects around.

How not to make a great burger:

Larry Goodman of ABP Food Group, which owns Silvercrest Foods, said, “DNA will pick up molecules and something in the air.” If it’s the case that horse DNA floats around in the air, why haven’t more horses been mistakenly convicted of violent crimes and ram-raiding jewellers?

Paul Walker of Iceland, who’s the spitting image of the bloke that runs the hilarious and disastrous ‘The Hotel’ on TV  (and inspires just about as much confidence) said,  “OK, you can say we haven’t been testing for horse – well, why would we? We don’t test for hedgehog either.” He clearly didn’t give a flying horse about the issue.

I’m shocked that a massive supermarket doesn’t look into who they deal with a little more carefully. A quick google shows that one of the Irish meat suppliers they use has been previously caught out for less than squeaky clean activities.  They’ve been found out using illegal growth hormones in their cattle more than once, prosecuted numerous times for polluting the environment, and fined for evading tax on several occasions.

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/IFFY+LIFFEY%3B+Horse+meat+firm+has+previous+convictions.-a0315548059

Recipe for baked custard creams. Angels in the machine.

Baked custard creams

Baked Custard creams

This dish is simple and light, almost ethereal.

By happy accident Tim forgot to buy the caster sugar he needed, so he made the custard with brown sugar instead. The resulting flavour is like buttercotch. It’s like eating caramelised cumulus clouds, the custard melts in the mouth, and slips down in a flash.

This recipe makes 8 ramekins, depending on the size of your ramekins. You’ll find any spare ramekins of custard disappear mysteriously as if they never existed.

 Ingredients

500ml full fat milk

500 ml double cream

150g brown demerara sugar

6 egg yolks

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

How to make the baked custard creams

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C.

Mix the milk and cream together, and the vanilla extract.

Bring the milk and cream to just under boiling, stirring with a whisk to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

Mix the egg yolks with the sugar.

Pour some of the hot milk into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking constantly so that it doesn’t curdle, then pour back into the pan.

Pour through a fine sieve into ramekins.

Skim the bubbles off the top to prevent a crackled crust appearance to the top of the custards.

Make a bain-marie by finding a roasting pan big enough to contain your ramekins. Put the ramekins in and pour in boiling water up to 3/4 the height of the ramekins.

Bake for 20 minutes. Using a blow torch to burn the top of the custard adds an extra caramel flavour.

Gressingham duck with blackcurrant and cassis sauce

A Gressingham duck is rather like a Hoover. By that I mean a it’s a brand name that has become a noun. Tim and I were wondering about this the other day – whether Gressingham was a breed, or a brand name. Or a place of origin.  It turns out it’s all three. Gressingham duck is a wild mallard crossed with Pekin duck – known as a Long Island duck in the USA. There’s a lot of breast meat on it, and it’s know for its gamey flavour. It was bred in Gressingham, Lancashire by the Buchanen family, who later bought exclusive rights to breed the ducks, hence it becoming a brand name.

I was wondering about ducks and what they eat, when walking in the park. The ducks in the park here are also like a Hoover – for different reasons. They hoover up a lot of rubbish factory-produced bread that’s thrown to them. It can’t be good for them to eat stuff that’s so so nutritionless. I was chuckling at the thought that the ducks and swans on the river at Richmond where we used to walk probably live on discarded Poilane bread.

Duck with blackcurrant and cassis sauce

Gressingham duck with blackcurrant and cassis

I’ve fed the ducks and Canada geese here a few times with some sourdough, but having looked on the intertubes just now, it seems feeding them any kind of bread isn’t really a good idea, and not necessary for their survival – even in the coldest weather. If you’re going to feed ducks for the fun of it – and it is nice seeing them waddling up to see what’s in the bag, seeds would be better for them.

I love the colours of this dish, how the the blackcurrant and cassis sauce bleeds into the whiteness of the celeriac mash. I like the way the duck skin catches a little, offset by the softness of the mash.

This is an adaption of a recipe from ‘Ripailles’ by Stephane Reynaud.

Ingredients

2 Gressingham duck breasts

Blackcurrants 150g

1 whole celeriac, chopped into 1 inch cubes

110 g butter – 40g for the blackcurrant sauce, 70g for the celeriac.

120 ml Creme de cassis

300 ml red wine

2 shallots, finely chopped

1/2 a lemon for juice

Salt & black pepper

Make the sauce first. In a hot pan, pour in the red wine and reduce by half. Add the finely chopped shallots. Add the creme de cassis. Add the blackcurrants. Tim had some blackcurrants  in the freezer from a foraging day, he put them in frozen. Reduce down to a syrupy consistency. The blackcurrants will break down a bit, but you’re not looking for a completely smooth texture – in this case lumpy is good. Add the 40g butter. Check the seasoning – add a touch of salt. Put aside and turn to the celeriac.

How to make the blackcurrant and cassis sauce

Blackcurrant sauce

Put the diced celeriac into a large pan of cold water, and squeeze in the lemon juice. Tim’s note: anything grown below the ground (root veg) start in cold water. Anything grown above the ground, drop into hot water. It will take approximately 15 minutes to cook – test with a knife – it should be completely soft. Drain and put aside, keep warm.

With a very sharp knife score the skin of the duck breast in a criss cross pattern – don’t go into the flesh. Season the duck breast on both sides. Place in a hot pan, skin side down, no oil needed. Render the fat (melt down) on a low to medium heat, for 10 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 5 minutes. Rest the duck for 10 minutes before plating up. During this time, go back to the celeriac – mash and add the butter, season.

Panfry the duck

Panfry the duck

Slice the breast into 5 or 6 sections, lay out the celeriac and place the duck on it, then spoon over the blackcurrant sauce.

Duck with blackcurrant and cassis sauce

Panfried duck with blackcurrant and cassis

None of these ducks were harmed in the making of this dish

None of these ducks were harmed in the making of this dish.

Perhaps we should have gone for old ladies’ knickers.

When we set up the deli we were burning with all sorts of ideas about food. Many locals thought we were crazy to attempt to create good food, from good ingredients, in what was an old junk shop.

As Tim was doing the premises up locals gave us plenty of suggestions of what the shop should become. Some wanted a launderette. One old lady wanted a knicker shop, specifically for her and her friends, to save getting on the bus to Hounslow to buy big pants. It was an idea we dismissed.

We started off wanting to make everything organic, but as we were trying to keep it local, and were on the edge of London, we struggled to find the right suppliers. In the end we settled on the idea that everything in the deli had to be there for a reason.

Our old leaflet: We love small producers - organic - freerange

Call us picky. Or piggy.

Juggling free range, organic and local

Juggling free range, organic and local

We also started to get very interested in cheese. We became cheese spotters, cheese anoraks. We spent a morning in Bath tasting cheese – by lunchtime we’d tasted over 50 cheeses. We were cream-crackered.

We became cheese anoraks

We became cheese anoraks.

Our weekly cheese bill was massive. And cheese is surprisingly hard work to keep tip top – it needs a lot of babysitting. Running a deli unit to keep it creates humongous electricity bills.  The crunch time for cheese came when we noticed some people from one of the big 4 supermarkets came in to our second deli in Twickenham.

Would you like a plasma TV to go with your olives?

Would you like a plasma TV to go with your olives?

They had the name of their supermarket, which was just round the corner, on their clipboard. They had coffee, and took notes. A week later all the unusual cheeses we stocked, ones we’d never seen before in that particular supermarket were in stock. Plus all the chutneys, biscuits etc from our small suppliers. And of course, the supermarket buys by the pallet. So, we were very ‘knowingly undersold.’

We gave up cheese. Goodbye to the Stinking Bishop, Colston Bassett, Finn, Little Wallop. Au revoir, Epoisses. Arrivederci, Asiago.

The funny thing was, people would come in a year later, and say something like, “Oh, you don’t stock Comte anymore? But I always get my Comte here. I came in last December and you had it.” We’d probably make more money selling old ladies’ under-crackers.

So, things moved on. Tim started focussing on food to eat in, and dinner parties, which – truth be told – was what he always really wanted to do. We still had fabulous coffee, and classics like our gorgeous beetroot cake. We sold the Twickenham deli, as Tim couldn’t be in two places at once – I guess we should have worked that one out earlier. Duh.

Out of the blue, somebody wanted to buy the deli, the original one, at the end of our street.

Tim was tired, wrung out. We’d had four years of fighting against the recession, spats with the council about pavement licences that were 10 times the cost of those in neighbouring Richmond. There’d been issues with a trade waste company that put their prices up by 30% every 3 months – and picked up and charged for phantom bin bags.

So, the deli was sold. And now we’re here, out in the Chilterns. And there’s a new project on the way.

Looking back on our ‘manifesto’ as a chum called it – it’s clear we still care about the same things.

give_us_back_our_daily_bread

Give us back our daily bread


Our old Syon leaflet about bread

Give us back our daily bread

Now, we can achieve organic AND local. We can be closer to the animals that are behind it all. Tim can achieve the kinds of things he was trying to do when he was voted a ‘Local Food Hero’ on TV with Arthur Potts Dawson and Gary Rhodes. We can grow our own. Organically.

A rare breed sheep looking right back at you

Who’re ewe looking at?

New born rare breed piglets

One day old

A brace of pheasants

A brace of pheasants

A lop eared pig and...er... a ginger one.

A lop eared pig and…er… a ginger one.


It’s funny, filming the show took us to Devon, where we spent a lot of time searching out good produce.

But moving here, to Buckinghamshire, which is ‘going home’ for me, we’ve found there are lots of great suppliers of real food.

The new project will be up and running by the spring, we hope. It’s a bit quirky, a bit handmade, and on a shoestring. But we’re used to that. It will be working with those little producers who really care. And we won’t be competing with supermarkets. Or purveyors of senior lingerie.

A post Mayan End of Days supper

Well, it didn’t happen did it? Although the way people were descending on the local supermarkets it looked as if many people were stocking up for the apocalypse. Or maybe just Christmas. We headed off to the local farm instead.

Freerange chicken crossing the road to Hazledene Farm

Why did the chicken..

We spent some time with the chickens there – they are so relaxing, the way they cluck about happily. They are given complete freedom to potter about, the gates to their enclosures are open doing the day; they wander up and down the long drive way, in and out of areas of pasture, and around the farm shop.

No one here but us chickens

No one here but us chickens

In the farm shop one of the chaps working there spotted our crestfallen looks when we saw the fresh eggs tray empty. (They do stock other free range eggs when theirs aren’t laying, but we wanted the rare breed ones.) He slipped out of the shop and returned a couple of minutes later with a plastic container of muddy, but fresh eggs. He was apologetic about the mud – there’d been a constant deluge recently, and the some of the chicken were looking like they’d been having fun in the mud.

Freerange chickens including Marsh Daisies and Ixworth

Freeranging

Tim crouching down with the chickens

Chicken whisperer

 Free range Rare breed chickens on Hazeldene

Rare breed chickens freeranging

Rare breed chickens

I had to chuckle at Tim’s recipe-making in the kitchen today. The plan was that he’d make one of my favourite dishes – a perfectly poached egg with Halloumi and Puy lentils. Perfect for the post apocalyptic supper.

But Tim went free-range himself – with the Halloumi, poached eggs, the lentils cooked with a hickory smoked chicken stock, a salsa of chargrilled tomato and and a truffle infused cream sauce. And pickled red cabbage made the day before.

The chicken stock was made earlier with a free range Label Anglaise chicken – the farm doesn’t sell their rare breeds to eat.

Chargrilling the tomatoes

Chargrilling the tomatoes

Peppers chargrilling on the hob

Chargrilling the peppers on the hob. Otherwise known as making a mess.

14dish

Halloumi, eggs and smoky puy lentils

You can see from the pic below the difference between a fresh free range farm bought egg, and the supermarket free range. The egg with the thicker, more gelatinous white is the fresh farm egg, the one with the thinner is a free range supermarket egg, about a week old, and the one that collapsed at the back of the picture was also a free range supermarket egg – it’s probably about 12 days old.

Eggs comparison - free range and supermarket bought.

The one on the left is the pasture fed freerange egg