Tag Archives: cheese

Lobster Macaroni Cheese

Lobster Macaroni Cheese

I wasn’t planning to share this, as I just used Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his new Comfort Food collection, with none of my own tweaks or touches. But for three reasons I decided to say something about it…

  1. It’s delicious! It damn well should be, being easily the most expensive mac and cheese dish I have ever made, or ever will, but still – it’s delicious! And I think more people should know about it and treat themselves.
  2. My diners agreed about the deliciousness thing – one came back for seconds, four times! – and asked me to write about it.
  3. I photographed the dish against a black and white gingham tablecloth which rendered extracting the foreground image several miles beyond the farthest limits of my photoshop skills. Enter Vern, my genius photographer friend from Singapore. He worked his magic, but claims it nearly sent him blind, so I wanted to share to thank him for his help and the sacrifice of his dear departed eyesight.

Jamie hasn’t made the recipe available online yet, he clearly wants you to buy the book. If that changes I’ll post an update. So for now no recipe, just a description. Essentially it’s about pimping your cheese sauce – make this with equal parts gruyere, cheddar and parmesan, sauteing an onion in butter at the start of your roux, and enrich with a couple of anchovies, some white burgundy, mustard, cayenne pepper, and of course the meat of the lobster. Mix the sauce with cooked pasta, top with breadcrumbs, garnish with the head and tail shells, and finish in the oven.

You won’t want this every day, and unless you’re an oligarch with a couple of football clubs and a a few hundred metres of yacht, the housekeeping probably wouldn’t stretch to that, but once in a while we all deserve a little indulgence. And it doesn’t get much more indulgent than this.

#ComfortFood

Being Judgemental Again

Badge awarded to judges at the 2010 World Cheese Awards

I’ve confirmed that I’ll be judging at the World Cheese Awards again this year, on 28th November at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC. For 2012 there are almost 3,000 cheeses from 300 countries. If you want to come and watch tickets can be had from the BBC – there’s all sorts going on and proper foodie slebs like James Martin and Paul Hollywood as well, not just cheesy old farts like me. This will be my third outing, you can read about the first one here.

Comfort Food Challenge!

A fish finger [fish stick] sandwich with salad cream

Sod spending January nibbling away on some rocket detox diet crap, the winter months with the cold, the dark and the economically enforced hibernation mean comfort food is the order of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love a decent salad [although I loathe rocket] – on a sunny day, in the garden, with a glass of something cold and pink. But not in any month where I can see my own breath outdoors, or when I’m to be found wearing a scarf more for warmth than dramatic effect.

We’ve had quite a mild start to the year so far but if the downward temperature trend forecast for next week follows a linear progression throughout February even the nitrogen in the atmosphere will be falling as solid snow by the 29th. So I’m retreating to the kitchen, in a cardigan, making food as warm and comforting as a duck down duvet.

In the past week alone we have seen:

  • Fish finger [US translation = fish sticks] sandwiches with the a compulsory splodge of salad cream for Sunday lunch – see picture above. A double whammy of winter woes and a hungover heads demanded nothing less than this king of comfort foods.
  • A baked Vacherin for supper with the sort of dipping ingredients I’ve already mentioned in this fondue recipe.
  • A surprise roast turkey dinner from the Shopkeeper – an unexpected weekday treat – and cauliflower cheese has accounted for around three of my ‘five a day’ for most of the week since.
  • A whole roast crispy duck’s worth of pancakes.
  • The remains of said duck with some mushrooms, wine, mustard and rosemary in a creamy pasta sauce the next day.
  • And tonight we’re heading for some slow braised steak and buttered baked potatoes.

I’m booking my arteries in for a re-bore sometime in March, but that’s the point – now is not the time to stint on culinary comforts! So your challenge is this…

Leave a comment listing your favourite comfort food between now and the 4th of February, after which I’ll pick my favourite and come up with a version of it to publish here. Feel free to leave just the name of a dish or a whole recipe, and if you want to tell me why it’s your comfort food of choice so much the better.

Over to you…

Build your own Cheeseboard!

I realise it’s been a while since I’ve shared any real food with you but it’s a busy time of year for a cheesemonger. So until the next edible instalment here’s a distraction from the library pages of the yellowwedge website – the opportunity to build your very own replica cheeseboard! And if you’re still looking to pick up the real thing the shop will be open until 3:00 PM on Christmas Eve. [PS – do us both a favour and don’t leave your shopping until 2:55!]

Cheeseboard outline

Looking for a Christmas distraction for the kids? If they’re old enough to wield a pair of scissors and can be trusted with the dining room table then this might keep them busy for an hour or two…

First download the template from here.

Assembly instructions:

  • If you’re old enough to do so, pour yourself a glass of wine [if not, get an adult to pour one for you].
  • Cut out the cheese shapes along their outer black borders.
  • Score the remaining black lines and fold the cheeses into shape.
  • Glue flaps and carefully assemble the components of your cheese board.
  • Arrange artfully upon a suitably board-like surface – a cheese board works well [NB these can be purchased from yellowwedge cheese].
  • Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours [and the wine, see above].
  • DO NOT EAT – please remember that these are mere paper facsimiles of the real thing, for which you should visit yellowwedge cheese.

Your finished components will roughly resemble an assemblage such as the above, but arranged as you please, and slightly more colourful, unless you have made a basic error and constructed the pieces inside out – in which case it’s back to square one, but perhaps you should skip the wine next time?

The board includes replicas of Appleby’s Cheshire, Colston Bassett Stilton, Morbier and a Valencey Goat’s Pyramid. If you’re not sure which is which, you know where to come to find out.

Goat’s Cheese Tart

In the latest edition of My St Margarets Magazine I wrote about remembering your summer holidays through food, and as Autumn’s tendrils start to twine through the thinning rays of October sunshine you may be tempted to do the same. You can read the full piece ‘Look back in hunger’ [and indeed the whole magazine] here but the viewer does require Flash, so for my iPad using readers I’ve reproduced the goat’s cheese tart recipe below…

Goat's Cheese Tart

Nothing says French holiday quite like a ‘Tarte au Chevres’. Returning holiday makers however please take note – not even an award-winning local cheese shop is likely to be able to source “the wonderful little goats cheese made by the old man with a stall every other Thursday in such and such village in the Loire”, as his cheese probably never makes it as far as the next village on, let alone out of the country! This is your opportunity to recreate a happy facsimile with something more local. Last time I used Pant-Ys-Gawn, next I intend to use Dorstone.

For one large [20cm] or four individual [8cm tarts] shallow tart cases

NB – this is easiest with ready baked tart cases. If making your own blind bake first.

  • 6 small tomatoes, quartered
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced and sautéed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon crème fraiche
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves OR
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
  • 1 Pant-Ys-Gawn goats cheese, or equivalent quantity of your chosen cheese

Paint the inside of the of the pastry case[s] with the mustard. Arrange the tomato quarters neatly in the bottom, strew over the sautéed onions and season well. Mix the beaten eggs, herbs and crème fraiche and pour around the tomatoes – they should just break the surface. Crumble the goats cheese over the top [or for individual tarts try slicing into four neat discs and place one in the centre of each], and season again with plenty of black pepper and any stray morsels of herb. Bake in a 220°C oven for 20 minutes. The top should be golden with brown tinged edges and corners here and there. Allow to cool and eat at room temperature. A simply dressed salad of fennel, olives and chicory eats well with it.

Homemade Mozzarella

Not my worst disaster, not my finest hour…

Homemade Mozzarella with heritage tomatoes, edible flowers and Parma ham

After four years of selling cheese, frankly it felt like high time I tried my hand at making some. I had been warned, by no less an authority than writer, columnist, restaurateur, TV chef, fish fight champion, and all round food hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that “making mozzarella is more difficult than today’s other cheeses”. Pah! What does he know? I’ve read the recipe, and I once saw a short video of skilled Campania artisans with decades of know how making the stuff. So what that I’ve never made so much as a simple strained curd before – how hard can it be…?

The vegetarian rennet had been sitting in the cupboard for a while, glaring at me with the resentment born of neglect every time I reached for the sea salt, and the award-winning Laverstoke Park have just opened a butchers in Twickenham which means ready access to buffalo milk. The only thing missing was citric acid, which my dad always had hanging around at home for his wine making, so I guessed it couldn’t be that hard to come by. 

What I’d missed in the follow-up correspondence from Hugh’s article, until the Anthropologist pointed it out to me, was that most household name chemists now refuse to stock the stuff because it’s used by dealers to ‘cut’ cocaine. And so it proved in my local Boots who “haven’t had that here for some time”, but who recommended, in hushed tones, and with much furtive sideways glancing, that I might try the small independent chemist round the corner. 

WFTTD: “But I only want it for making cheese.”
Chemist: “Yes sir, I’m sure you do.”

Bloody hell! I felt like a criminal already, and by the time I got to the little local shop I was in a cold sweat. I’d stayed outside to finish my fag – had they been watching me from behind the counter and wondering why I was loitering? Was I plucking up the courage for my clandestine purchase? I blurted out my request [why was my voice so high-pitched?] and then came “Certainly sir, how many packets would you like?” 

Yikes! Was this a cunning test? Could I ask for two, ‘one for a friend’? Or would that be classed as intent to supply?! I left with just the one, the suspicion that my name was already being placed on some sort of register, and nagging doubts about what my dad had been up to all those nights in the kitchen with his demijohns. If you have trouble tracking any down it might be easier just to ask your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer. 

Back in my crack den – sorry, kitchen – I got out another toy I’ve been dying to play with, my electronic food thermometer probe thingy, which would have been used for long slow roasts by now if my oven could be relied on to maintain an even low temperature [It can’t]. Happily the device is just as handy for measuring the precise milk and whey temperatures needed for this task, which by now was starting to feel more like a chemistry experiment than the production of food. And I was rubbish at chemistry at school. I’m rubbish at seeing blindingly obvious omens too. 

Mozzarella is a pasta filata or stretched-curd cheese. In other words the curd junket is heated in hot water or whey until elastic and pliable, and then stretched and folded. This creates long filaments of protein which when melted give the stringy cheese effect so beloved of pizza advertisers everywhere. But to achieve this you need a smooth, coagulated curd junket which I can now tell you won’t get if you don’t pay close attention to the instructions supplied with your rennet.

Hugh’s recipe stipulated a quarter teaspoon of rennet, and looking back it seems obvious that he was talking about powdered animal rennet. My liquid vegetable version says ten drops per pint of milk, but of course I hadn’t read that and ended up with about that amount in roughly four and a half pints. So the curds I needed to heat were not smooth but crumbly, and what should have been a gentle stretching and folding process was more akin to ‘pulling roughly apart and squashing hopefully back together’. 

Some white-ish, fairly bland balls of vaguely mozzarella like material were the result. But was it a complete disaster? My guests, who included the Shopkeeper’s Sister and her Spouse, made appreciative noises about the effort which had been gone to [though I made sure to serve some shop bought stuff on the side], and no one got sick or died, which is generally regarded as a plus when cooking. And it was a first attempt, and therefore a learning experience. 

My top learning tips for next time: 

  • Take recipe, or copy thereof, to shop to avoid repeated trips for more milk.
  • Find source of citric acid which doesn’t suggest criminal intent, or result in arrest.
  • READ INSTRUCTIONS on rennet!
  • Use more salt in the whey poaching bath.
  • Sprinkle with further salt once the cheese is cut. 

I’ll let you know how the next attempt turns out. In the meantime if you want to try this or one of Hugh’s other homemade cheese recipes you can find them here.

Birthday Bouquet

A bunch of wild garlic in a glass

When you live in or around London there seems to be no bigger a challenge than getting from one side of it to the other. You pick your compass point [I’ve done them all over the years] and can normally manage to make it from there to the centre and back, but god forbid you should be forced to make the tortuous schlep across town. We’ve got friends in Switzerland we see more often than those round the South Circular.

So I was surprised and delighted when the lovely Lucie and Lucas trekked all the way from Camberwell for my recent birthday drinks in St Margarets! I daren’t even check the details on the Transport for London Journey Planner for fear that the sheer number of connections and modes of transport will crash the site permanently. But arrive they did, both beaming broadly and bearing a fragrant birthday bouquet – of wild garlic! Lucas had been in Somerset that morning [the boy clearly likes to get about] and had been so excited to see such an early crop that he must have denuded an entire forest floor.

Wild garlic is excellent forager’s food being easy to identify, difficult to confuse with anything dangerous, and abundant. And in this age of austerity free foraged food can only be a good thing. When walking in the woods keep a nostril open for the perfume of garlic, then look for the spear shaped leaves, similar to lily of the valley. Just don’t forget to give it a wash when you get home – you know what bears [and other more common quadrupeds] do in woods.

Then use it, well, just about everywhere and anywhere. This week so far it’s been popping up in soups, salads, sauces, and mashed potato [let it infuse in warm milk or cream], and there’s a pesto still to come. But I think my favourite was a simple omelette, topped with chopped wild garlic while the egg still ran, some Somerset cheddar [in case it was feeling homesick], a good grind of black pepper and finished under the grill. Eggs, cheese and sweet, sweet garlic – I don’t know what it’s like for you reading that list but I can’t write it without salivating.

So much tastier than a bunch of tulips.