Bean and gone in 2 minutes flat …

The Food Flunky Blog is now hosted here (thefoodflunky.com) click here to see the new site and read all your favourite posts!! Tom aka The Food Flunky

Pre-roasted coffee beans

... before the roasting ...

This post is by no means a shameless plug but … having had multiple mini ‘epiphanies of the bleedingly obvious’ like I did on my recent visit to see my good friend at Pumphrey’s Coffee, Blaydon, Tyne & Wear, then I certainly think Stuart deserves a shout-out for his forthcoming Barista Training Class (details below) at the afore mentioned Pumphrey’s Coffee, Blaydon, Tyne & Wear!

Now for the sake of keeping this post short, the most prominent ‘bleedingly obvious’ that transpired was this:

“Within 2 minutes of grinding a coffee bean up to 80% of the subtleties and character of that bean are lost.”

That’s 80% of the beauty of the bean lost, nada, gone and never to return!! So no amount of almond syrup, steamed skinny milk, extra shots yadah yadah yadah are going to resurrect those flavours. All the majesty imparted in the growing, roasting, and preparation of those seductive little beans is ruined in 2 minutes flat! This is not to say that within that window of opportunity, an inexperienced barista can’t turn you off the notion of coffee drinking for life (just look at the impact one of our starry-eyed high street coffee houses has had on a generation of caffeine thrill seekers).

Without getting sentimental or overbearing with this coffee bean revelation, I just think it’s a beautifully simplistic notion that transfers to every facet of food.

If we don’t try to capitalise upon the true character a particular food possesses and we continue to under appreciate the full potential, and essentially the optimum way to prepare fresh ingredients then we are doomed to walk naively past subtleties and taste sensations forever more.

Heavy I know but true …

Tom

The unashamed plug …

Stuart will be holding a half-day Barista Training course at the Pumphrey’s Coffee Roasting Rooms on Monday 29th September 1pm – 5pm.

I cannot recommend this highly enough and it’s a snip at £70.50!

For more details contact the Pumphrey’s team on:
0191 4144510

And so to the fungi, the mushrooms, the spores … Wild Mushroom and Goats Cheese Pasty Recipe

The Food Flunky Blog is now hosted here (thefoodflunky.com) click here to see the new site and read all your favourite posts!! Tom aka The Food Flunky

The finished mushroom pasty article...

The finished mushroom pasty article...

I’ve found myself justifying my blog title namesakes of late and therefore promise to keep the posts brief and to the point. Again the scene: a damp Saturday morning, the bewer, a hangover and a mission.


1. Clear the hangover
2. Keep the bewer happy
3. Pick mushrooms

1 out of 3 aint bad?!

Armed with my innocent looking, bravado inspiring, forager romanticising, £1 “Mushroom Hunting” by Collins, from the local charity store I endeavored into the wilds of Wimbledon Common (pre-empt: No Wombles on this trip). Now a “common” to a common man such as myself pertains to a … common, a field or grassland if you will, not a forest. Granted the eerie sounds of fauna are replaced with the A4 and various other major road truncations but here I’ve found a woodland Mecca on my doorstep (via the 219 Bus from Balham to Wimbledon Broadway and a 15 minute walk up the hill).

Excited with my Earth Balls, disappointed with their promised nauseating tendencies, reinvigorated by the crop of Cortinarius, again disappointed by their kidney failure inducing properties but elated by the Birch Puffball and the Yellow Swamp Russula. 3 hours later, with a chest proudly puffed, I had a babies-fistful of edible mushrooms and after a swift, rather fitting pint of real ale it was on to the kitchen.

Not wanting to detract from the earthy flavours of the mushrooms it was a toss-up between buttery mushrooms on toast or the pasty option. The latter winning out.

This recipe is so simple and really does justice to the mushrooms. To avoid swamping the dish with the richness from butters, I recommend adding the goats cheese. The creaminess of the cheese will obviously compliment the butters but the slight sharpness harnesses all the gout inducing goodness and perks the dish, helping unravel the complexities that may have otherwise been lost.

I must confess that the foraged readies did need a helping hand. I simply bulked up the puff pastry filling with Portobello mushrooms from Trinity Stores in Balham, Merchant Gourmet pre-cooked chestnuts, just a touch of seasoning and served the beast with a dressed bitter leaf salad.

(A Cheats) Wild Mushroom and Goat’s Cheese Pasty

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main meal):
400g wild mushrooms, wiped with any nasties removed and coarsely chopped (or try oyster, field, chestnut, or any other in season mushroom)
70g salted butter
1/2 onion, finely diced
100g pre-cooked chestnuts, finely chopped
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, woody stalks removed
splash of white wine
handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
100g tangy Welsh goats cheese
1 pack ready rolled puff pastry
freshly ground salt and black pepper
1 beaten egg

To serve:
1 handful each radicchio and frisee leaves
a glug of good olive oil
juice 1/2 lemon

Method:
Pre-heat a baking tray in the oven to 200℃.

In a large sauté pan over a medium to low heat, sweat the onions with a knob of butter for 10 minutes. Once translucent, add the thyme sprigs, the remaining butter, mushrooms and chestnuts.

Once the mushrooms have released their juices and reabsorbed them (approximately 15 minutes) add the splash of white wine to remoisten. Cook for a further 5 minutes and season to taste with freshly ground salt and black pepper.

Cut the puff pastry into a circle with a diameter of approximately 25cm. Add the parsley and the lemon zest to the to the pan and give one final stir. Spoon the mushroom mixture into the centre of the pastry disk, leaving a 5cm outer ring for crimping. Dot the mixture with the goat’s cheese and carefully fold one-side of the pastry to the other to make a bulging semi-circle.

From the bottom point of the semi circle, pull the 5cm rim over onto itself and tuck underneath each fold to completely encapsulate the mixture. Brush with the beaten egg and carefully transfer the pasty to the preheated baking tray. Dress the leaves with lemon juice and oil.

Bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until the pasty turns a golden biscuit colour.

Fanfare the pasty from the kitchen to the table on a wooden chopping board, Allow the chosen few to serve themselves and watch them happily fight for the corner you haven’t already laid claims to. Cleanse each pasty mouthful with a chomp on the dressed leaves.

The marrow after the courgette before … Stuffed Courgette Flower Recipe

The Food Flunky Blog is now hosted here (thefoodflunky.com) click here to see the new site and read all your favourite posts!! Tom aka The Food Flunky

Before the battering ... fershly picked courgette floweres

Before the battering ... freshly picked courgette flowers

I think, without naming names, that for the majority of my tender years I’ve been misled into chomping marrows rather than courgettes.

Now I’m sure that a marrow’s pure economies of scale justifies over boiling, steaming and/or over processing this off-white, green skinned vegetable and passing it off as “courgette” to unsuspecting school children, nieces/nephews and grandchildren but enough is enough. Through pure coincidence I’ve now had two tastes of zucchini zeitgeist and suspect that I (would have) always (given the chance) loved courgettes but I still rather dislike marrow (I’m happy to stand corrected on my current false-economies-of-marrows view point. All marrow recipes will be gratefully received info@tomdowson.com.

My recent mid-summer encounter with, what I was told were, lightly charred sliced baby courgettes, tossed in fruity olive oil, with toasted pinenuts, sultanas and plump shredded mint stirred through was the first welcome revelation. The simple dish giving an awesome prelude to the second and to my first forray into the rather strange courgette flowers.

Because of my initial distaste towards the “courgarrows” that I’ve been fed over the years, I’ve always chosen to ignore these alien spore like flowers as nothing more than chefy non-entical foodstuffs. How wrong could I have been!

I’ll set the scene … see post: Provenance, Perseverance, Preserves …

… so anyway the afore mentioned PYO centre had healthy crops of … yes your guessed it … courgettes! Still with slight scepticism I picked fruit plus flower with caution. The last thing I wanted to discover was that the wool had been pulled yet again and I’m back in courgarrow purgatory. I was confident that I could do justice to the mainstay of the vegetable using the recipe above, but the recipe below was one of the most triumphant cooking moments that I’ve ever had to date.

Like a mulberry hand-bag (so I’ve been told), you can dress a courgette flower up or down (in this case a simple batter), and whatever you put in (ricotta), the contents are invariably going to be given auto kudos because of what they’re housed in. Essentially both are simply great taste!

I don’t want to say anything more on the subject (nor on my handbag fetish) the recipe and result do more than enough talking, other than to: proclaim my undying love for courgettes, insist that you must try the recipe and emphasise my utter remorse that I may have to wait until next season to produce the same again!

Stuffed Courgette Flowers


Ingredients (enough 2 as a large starter):

7-8 fresh courgette flowers (carefully washed if necessary)

For the filling:
200g ricotta cheese
75g Parmesan cheese
1tsp fresh shredded basil
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2tsp of lemon zest
freshly ground salt and pepper

For the batter:

100g plain flour mixed
110ml ice-cold water
extra lightly seasoned plain flour for dusting

For deep frying:
750ml sunflower oil

To serve:
homemade Balsamic vinegar reduction or shop bought version
whole basil leaves and thyme sprigs

Method:

If necessary wash the courgette flowers carefully, lightly dry and set aside.
Pour the sunflower oil into a large pan and set over a medium heat.

Mix all of the filling ingredients together and carefully spoon into the courgette flowers. Twist the tips of the flowers to enclose the filling.

When the oil has reached a sufficient temperature (a cube of bread should brown and crisp in approximately 5-7 seconds), lightly roll the flowers in the seasoned flour and then holding the flower by the tips, dip into the batter mix and then straight into the hot oil. Fry in 2 batches.

When golden and crisp remove the flowers with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll.

Drop the basil leaves and thyme sprigs into the oil for literally 10 seconds to crisp and remove.

While still hot and crisp, plate up the courgette flowers, drizzle over the Balsamic reduction and top with the deep-fried herbs. Devour, making as many ridiculous breathy vocal sounds as possible when you inadvertently burn your mouth on the filling.

Provenance, Perseverance and Preserves … (Wild Strawberry and Raspberry Jam Recipe)

The Food Flunky Blog is now hosted here (thefoodflunky.com) click here to see the new site and read all your favourite posts!! Tom aka The Food Flunky

Now I’m going to end up sounding like a broken record on the topic of food sourcing but alas I’m a born again forager, and proud of it!

So my bank holiday Sunday recently departed was spent picking my little heart out at Secretts Garden Centre in Milford, Surrey. Granted it was battery-farmed foraging and the first locally based pick your own I stumbled upon but boy did it deliver. And as a result of the bumper harvest, I now have arguably the most unique collection of receptacles dedicated to housing the spoils of my visit.

This is by no means a macho brag list but here are the fruits and vegetables of my (and the bewer’s) labour:

1.5kg Raspberries
1.4kg Blackcurrant
1.2kg Strawberries
0.4kg Blackberries
1kg Courgettes (plus flowers)
1 handful Puffball Mushrooms

I will talk about the courgettes with their alien like qualities and the mushrooms later, but for now I’ll suffice in talking about the jam.

I tracked down, both on and offline recipes, as per usual however, my mum came through with the goods, reiterating the fundamentals of many of the methods sourced. The bewer and I tested various combos (minus the inclusion of courgettes and mushrooms) and quantities but the method and recipe outlined below seemed to be the most consistent and requires no elaborate equipment.

It literally works with all the fruit we gathered. Being a non-puritan preserver, personally I think the combined fruits work best.

So here it is …

Equipment:

2 very large heavy based pots
3 – 4 saucers (left to chill in the freezer)
Ladel
Funnel
As many jars with lids as you can lay your jammy mitts on, steeped in boiling water for 20 minutes (don’t touch the inners of the jars and lids to avoid contamination)

Ingredients (this recipe makes enough for about 2kg of jam or approximately 4 regular sized jars):

1kg of washed ripe mixed berries (I’d personally recommend combining strawberries and raspberries in equal quantities. Chop the strawberries if large and always ensure the fruit is devoid of insects, rot etc)
100g caster sugar
30g jam sugar (sugar with pectin)
Juice of 1 lemon

Method:

Place the pan over a medium heat and pour in the 100g of caster sugar. Heat until the sugar begins to dissolve on the base of the pan. Stir frequently to avoid the sugar burning on the base.

After about 5 minutes add the mixed berries to the pan and stir quickly to ensure all are evenly coated with the granulated syrup that’s formed in the pan. Turn the heat up and stir for a few times until the berries begin to release their juice.

Once the berries begin swimming in their own juice, give it one last stir and add a lid to the pan. The berries should now begin to boil rapidly.

After approximately 5-10 minutes, remove the lid and add the lemon juice and jam sugar. Boil for another 5-10 minutes until the berries are almost completely broken down (Don’t bother skimming the surface to remove the foam … it’s way too laborious and for me, achieves nothing).

Now remove one of the saucers from the freezer and using a teaspoon, carefully place a small dollop on the centre of the saucer. Return the saucer to the freezer.

After 2 minutes check the “jam” on the saucer to see if it is at all set (the surface of the jam should wrinkle slightly when pushed with your finger). If so remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes. If not repeat the last step every 5 minutes until the desired consistency is reached.

Once you have your jam, begin filling every last receptacle with your spoils CAREFULLY!

Seal the jars with the lids and add to another large pan filled with cold water. For additional sterilisation, place the pan on a high heat and boil rapidly for about 20 minute.

Leave to cool completely, adorn the jars with any Lakeland Plastics labels and lumberjack shirt material you wish, store in a cool dark place and mention your homemade jam in polite company at every given opportunity.

26 years in the making but such simple ingredients …

The Food Flunky Blog is now hosted here (thefoodflunky.com) click here to see the new site and read all your favourite posts!! Tom aka The Food Flunky

Well it’s an ice-breaker of sorts!

A well developed crop I think you’ll agree? … the hair! (I’ll talk about the courgettes later).

It’s rather difficult to start this post, especially with a mandatory introduction.

Hopefully once this initial post has been created, I can kick back and let the food do the talking? … as if!

Without trying to create a needless manifesto, I do feel a need to justify my blogging-clogging and hopefully substantiate my presence on these pages.

Well here we go …

In a nutshell it’s “food” and I’m reckoning that these rambling posts will be some sanctuary for myself, friends and family, who, I hope, enjoy the food I create, but would rather not have the reasoning, provenance and historical importance of the various ingredients rammed down their throats.

At least now they’ll have the option of engaging me in my culinary pursuits and I’ll be able to vent my enthusiasm in a documented medium with a wistful and romantic notion that somebody out there might actually be interested in the fact I made a pot of jam (to come).

Even if only for the sustanence of life, I think we all share an affiliation and passion for food. I know for me it’s been nurtured from very much home grown roots (no pun intended).

I was born into an environment where food was currency. My old dear, confidant and walking/talking reference library, runs a catering business in my hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne. She is undoubtedly my biggest culinary sensei and the cause for the purgatory that finds me consumed with the subject.

Having been brought-up on the delectable scraps of jobs well passed and through the sheer lack of my mother’s time and patience to produce the food requested on the whimsical wants of a Geordie teenager, I’ve actually had the opportunity to witness and taste mini food revolutions on a daily basis.

For approximately 24 years I was an innocent bystander to food. Although for most of them I’ve cooked with vigor and a passion, I think it’s only been recently that I’ve begun to understand, or at least want to understand food.

And so I find myself here … 26 and teetering on the edge of a stock pot abyss not knowing which way to stir the spoon …

This blog is intended to do nothing more than chart this journey and/or free fall.

And for anyone who gives a hoot, I’ll post the vital stats in a bit ;-)

Down to business!