Saturday, 28 April 2012

Travel: Sweden: Butter Viking

In their little red house in the woods, where bobcats and ferrets roam through oak trees, wild flowers and sorrel, Patrik and Zandra make butter for the best restaurants in the world.
Owls hoot and their little boy puzzles the mysteries of mermaids while Patrik churns butter: the 'virgin' kind he sells to Noma, it is airy, acidic with a high percentage of buttermilk (40%).
The cream will be left to ripen for two or three days, allowing aroma and flavour to develop.
Salt is added
The yellower the butter, the less buttermilk. This is the other kind of butter that Patrik makes.

There used to be 6000 small dairies in Sweden before dairy giant Arla bought them all in the 60s.
Sweden was the biggest exporter of butter in the 1800s. Nowadays most butter and cheese is industrially made, whereas before Sweden used to have several types of hard cheese.

"The Swedish taught the French how to make butter." said Patrik as we watched his son squeeze his feet into a mermaid tail that he'd fashioned from bubble wrap. Patrik was inspired by his grandmother who was a cook for a rich family and churned her own butter.

It takes 20 minutes to churn in this butter churn imported from India. Supermarket butter takes 3 seconds and is done in 'canons'. Smor buttery has been going for 4 years. Patrik and Zandra have won awards for their butter.
Potential mermaids.
Vidar and the mermaids.
Patrik has made 'Bog butter' with Ben Reade, a food scientist who works with Noma restaurant: they fashioned containers out of birch and buried it in a grave, a kind of Gravad smor... He will exhume it this summer, then in one year, in five years, in 30 years.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Good companions: plants that help each other

Our next Secret Garden Club workshop, on Sunday May 27th, will discuss the principles of companion planting, with lots of examples of good plants to grow next to each other for their mutual benefit. 
The sort of mutual benefits we're talking about here include the following:

  • Some plants will deter pests, perhaps because they are thorny or prickly, or they give off a repellent odour. Such plants can act as bodyguards for those that are vulnerable. If you plant carrots and onions together you will find that the oniony smell deters carrot fly, and the smell of the carrot plant can deter onion fly. 
  • Similarly, some plans can act as decoys: attracting pests away from the plants you want to protect.
  • Legumes - peas and beans - can fix nitrogen in the soil through their roots, and so are immensely useful as companion plants for those that use up a lot of nitrogen. 
  • Plants with broad leaves provide ground cover, suppressing weeds and keeping the soil moist and cooler for plants that don't like their roots to get warm - clematis, for example.
Broad-leaved pumpkins and squash provide good ground cover.

  • Plants which attract beneficial insects will bring bees and hoverflies to your ground to boost pollination. 
  • Plants which bear berries will attract birds, which in turn will eat insects (of the not-so-beneficial kind) and slugs and snails.

Many companion planting practices have been passed down the generations, and are being revived again now as people become more interested in growing organically, minimising the damage done by pests and diseases and increasing the nourishment of plants without resorting to manufactured or synthetic fertilisers or pesticides.
We'll look at all of these, with the discussion continuing through to MsMarmiteLover's afternoon tea, with a companion planting inspired menu. Guests will be able to do some companion planting themselves, with plants to take away and we hope, lots of good ideas to try at home. 
Book here for your place on the Companion Planting workshop, Sunday May 27th.

Grafted tomatoes - a progress report

Our grafted tomato plants are progressing nicely. We removed the grafting clips five days after the grafts were performed and found that on each plant the graft had taken nicely. The plants were then moved out of their intensive care unit (in reality, a quiet indoor corner out of direct sunlight) and into the greenhouse. It's still too cold for them to go outside.
Left: the stems immediately after grafting - held together with a grafting clip. Right: the clip removed after five days and the graft has taken.
The next step is to complete the graft. At the moment, the top growth is being fed by two root systems - the root and stem from both the scion (top plant) and the rootstock. Once you see evidence of new growth at the top, it's time to cut off the bottom of the scion just below the graft. Be very careful here and make sure it is the stem of the scion that you cut, not the rootstock.

Left: the tomato plants on the day of the graft. Right: ten days later, the plants are growing well and are much bushier. 
Once that's done, you will have a fully grafted plant, with the vigorous, disease-resistant rootstock feeding the high-yielding fruit-bearing scion. Keep the plant in a warm sheltered spot again until it's fully recovered and then grow on as normal. The plants should be ready to go outside from mid-May here in the south-east.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Travel: Sweden: how to make cinnamon buns

'What are you doing?' asked Tommy.
'Well, if I say I'm sweeping the chimney you wouldn't believe me, as clever as you are' said Pippi. 'As a matter of fact, I'm baking but that will soon be out of the way. You can sit on the wood box in the meantime.'
Pippi could work very fast. Tommy and Annika sat on the wood box and watched how she cut her way forward through the dough, and how she threw the biscuits onto the tins, and how she slung the tins into the oven. They thought it was all rather like something in the films.
'All clear' said Pippi at last, slamming the oven door after the last tins with a bang.

Pippi Longstocking

In Kastellgatan street in Gothenburg live the strongest girls in Sweden: Fanny, Lizette and Sabina. They have shapely muscly arms and broad shoulders: everyday they work from the middle of the night, all day and their husbands never see them. (But their husbands still love them for they smell of yeast, cinnamon, sweat and sugar). These ladies dress like pirates; striped tee shirts, bandanas, rolled up trousers and wear no makeup bar a fine white powder dusted over their pale complexions. Fanny is their leader, she owns this Sourdough bakery Alvar and Ivar which has the very highest standard of ingredients. Little girls watch them work and go home and dream of becoming bakers.

Kanelbullar (Fanny's recipe)
500g whole milk
50g fresh yeast
500g plain flour
350g spelt flour
125g cane sugar
10g cardamom seeds
7g salt
180g butter
100g butter at room temperature
50g cane sugar
15g ground cinnamon
1/2 tbsp water
Prepare the filling: mix butter, sugar, cinnamon and water to make a paste.
Prepare the dough: put flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom and milk in a bowl, add the butter in pieces and mix the dough for five minutes. It should be smooth and a bit shiny.
Let it rest for 20 minutes then put it on a floured surface.
Divide it into two pieces, shape them as loaves and out them in the fridge for one hour to rest.
Take out one piece and, on a well floured surface, roll it out to a rectangle of approximately 20 x 30 cms and 3mm thick.
Spread the filling gently with a palette knife or dough scraper all over the rectangle. Evenly; not too thin, not too thick.
Starting at the top, fold the edge carefully and start rolling it downwards. You want a thinnish roll as this means you get more filling in your bun.
When you have a nice roll, cut your roll into 2.5cm slices, put them on a baking tray, cover and let them rise somewhere where it is warm until doubled in size.
Spray them with water if they start to dry.
Then brush with milk or a lightly beaten egg, sprinkle some cane sugar on top and bake them at 250 degrees centigrade for around 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Postcards from the fridge: Georgia and Spain

Inspired by the feasts and food of Georgia and also by some of the tapas I recently had in Seville, last night I created a menu for a Natural Wine dinner at the Large Glass gallery near Caledonian Road. Large Glass is a new gallery, open less than a year, curated by Charlotte Schepke. The idea behind Large Glass gallery was to create a space, on a street which isn't known for galleries, very different from the art world establishment in the West End or East End. The latest show, about postcards, is very accessible. Postcards, a relic from the pre-digital world, can be described as 'small intimacies', a specially chosen image with thoughts from another part of the world, they connect people and places in a lovely way.
The postcard heyday was the early 20th century, many obviously featured landscapes but some were also illustrated by food; one postcard featured a couple of punnets of the first strawberries from Tennessee. A seemingly mundane image but food, noise and smells are our most intense souvenirs from a trip...
Back information.
Packing eggs for England: a flourishing industry.

So this meal was comprised of edible postcards from my 'holidays', an uncomplicated connection with the theme of the current exhibition.

Here was the menu which was served 'supra' style, small plates coming one after another:

Georgian cheese bread: khachapuri with egg
Plates of fresh herbs including summer savoury (like stinging nettles!), purple basil, sweet basil, tarragon, coriander, parsley, mint.
Sunflower oil brought from Georgia (unfiltered, cold pressed)
Plum and chilli sauce: green and purple from Georgia
Beetroot and walnut balls
Aubergine rolls stuffed with spinach and walnut 
Beetroot pelmeni stuffed with goat's cheese and walnut
Georgian egg salad
Georgian potato and walnut salad with sunflower oil dressing
Pomegranate, cucumber, onion and parsley salad
Lobio bean stew
Yoghurt with sumak
Pickled peppers stuffed with saurkraut
Pickled garlic and mushroom
Pickled green tomatoes
Georgian folded mozzarella and mint dish

Rrom Spain: clams with mini artichokes in olive oil
Spinach with cumin and chickpeas

Napoleon cake with hazelnuts
Roast quinces with honey and all spice
Fruit leather
Dried Sharon fruits


1.     Zanotto, Col Fondo, Veneto, Italy, 2010

2.     La Biancara, Sassaia, Veneto, Italy, 2009

3.     Antadze, Mtsvane, Kakheti, Georgia, 2010

4.     Aleksi Tsikelashvili, Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Georgia, 2010

5.     Nika, Saperavi, kakheti, Georgia, 2010

Isabelle Legeron matched the meal with a succession of rare and interesting Natural wines from Georgia. If you want to know more about Natural wine, there is a 'RAW' wine fair in London on the 3rd weekend of May. 
I am grateful to food bloggers @foodstories and Sarah Lohan of for helping with prep and cooking. It's much tougher doing supper clubs in another location, you have to be very organised and take everything you need with you. 

 Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
 Making pelmeni pic: Kerstin Rodgers

 Beetroot walnut balls Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
 Georgian egg salad Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
 Rolled aubergine slices with spinach and walnut.  Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
Clams with mini artichokes Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
Lobio/bean stew  Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
Beetroot ravioli/pelmeni Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
Stuffed pickles Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl
Napoleon cake pic: Kerstin Rodgers
Napoleon cake being cut up Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl

Myself, Isabelle Legeron and Helen Graves. Pic: Niamh Shields of Eat like a girl

Monday, 23 April 2012

Sherry and tapas in Jerez

It's afternoon, I'm in the Sherry hotel and I've been drinking sherry for 48 hours straight. Hard core eh? However this is not a mumsnet Sherry bender version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for I've been invited by Tio Pepe to Jerez, the Andalucian Spanish town which is home to Sherry.
Sherry, as every self-respecting food and drink hipster knows, has moved on from granny Christmas tipple: sherry bars such as Pepito in Kings Cross hum to orders of 'Fino' and 'Make that a PX'. There is a range of sherries; from dry, citrusy and light 'Fino' to heavy, syrupy, raisin-hued 'Christmas in a glass' Pedro Ximenez or 'PX'. 
In between those two extremes, we start with the 100% Palomino grape sherries: Vina AB, Alfonso, Leonor then Del Delque (aged 30 years) then moving towards more sweetness we add different amounts of PX grape: Apostoles (13% PX), Matusalem and Solera 1847 (25% PX), and lastly Noe and Nectar (100% PX). The last is basically pudding rather than a drink.
I learnt about the Solero method of blending Sherries: I've had it explained before but somehow my brain couldn't understand it until I was physically standing in front of a "leg" of barrels in a darkened cellar in Spain. By the way, the swelling odour of Sherry cellars is remarkable: vanilla, chalk, figs and dirty sex.
The Solero method: the oldest barrel is at the bottom, the youngest at the top. Three times a year , a third is emptied from the barrels and replaced with the sherry in the barrel above. By the time the bottom barrel has matured it contains several vintages.
Spanish brandy has a dodgy reputation: but you can also get very good quality Sherry brandy. This area, black with essential mould, is where it's made.

Sherry has two main markets: the Spanish and the British.

The earth in the Jerez region is chalky and infertile; it gets the best from the vines.

Eiffel designed this building.

The tap for the Queen's barrel

In one room the barrels are marked with the names of the apostles.

Celebrities sign the barrels: film director Orson Welles.

Barrel signed by Picasso. The stipend for the poet laureate for Queen Elizabeth II is paid with a barrel of sherry or 'sack', they get to sign it.

The windows in the cellars are covered with rush matting to control the tempature.
Antonio was conceived and born above the Tio Pepe cellars.

I often feel Sherry matches better with food than wine; the virtually savoury, almost salty, flavour brings out the best in Spanish food.
I did two tapas tours: one in El Puerto, near Jerez, which primarily serves seafood and another in Seville, hosted by a lady I met through Twitter: @sevillatapas. Go and find out more about tapas at her site here.  She took me to places I could never have discovered on my own. The food was incredible. I also visited a Seville supper club hosted by @lebanicious which I'll write about in another post.
 My favourite sherry cocktail: rebujitos, fino sherry, ice and 7up. Very refreshing.

Spaniards have an incredible array of seafood. Prawns aren't just prawns, the Spanish know each type and want to know where it's from. Click on the collage to see more.

Personally I found these pretty horrifying; goose barnacles. People risk their lives climbing down cliffs to get at them, so they are very expensive in this country.
Here is a close up of the inside. Gross.
Tapas and dishes I had in Jerez
Jerez cathedral, surrounded by blossoming orange trees. 

 The market in Jerez: well worth a visit.

 At the market, the heads are pulled wide to display the  red gills; a sign of freshness

Snails, jerez de la frontera, Spain
Wild asparagus, jerez de la frontera, Spain.
MARKET TRADER,  jerez de la frontera, Spain.
MARKET,  jerez de la frontera, Spain.
Large man on a little stool
PANADERIA,  jerez de la frontera, Spain.

Churros maker; they were salty then had sugar sprinkled on them.

The churros maker
Dried pepper seller
The bullfighter on the left with the eyepatch is Juan Jose Padilla, whose picture went around the world when his eye was gouged out by a bull. Padilla is from Jerez. He returns to fight, less than a year after his accident, in the Jerez feria in May. The top bullfighter makes money; it's one of the few ways out of poverty. In Southern Spain, the recession has hit hard, almost nobody under 25 has a job. 
Spanish embroidered shoesHair combs, flamenco style

Spanish haberdashery: I bought this ribbon for my shelves

Flamenco shoes for children, espadrilles