After 6 weeks I was just crawling out from the sea of nappies and wiping the baby puke off me. I was thinking about doing some proper cooking and then our induction hob ceramic top spontaneously cracked , it’s inspection and repair took more than 3 weeks.
In fact it took receiving a lovely cookbook falling through my letterbox to through the post to spur me on , the new book by Valentine Warner dedicated to his own new baby girl Minnie
The Good Table is a collection of recipes brimming with Valentines food philosophy as he writes in the introduction
”I like my food to have a sense of roots : a kind of doffing of the hat to all that came before”.
I like anyone who uses the word “doffing” and the doffs come thick and fast ; family ( Mum’s Citrus Yogurt and Black Sugar Pudding , Dads Prawn Curry – Do all Dads have a prawn curry recipe?!) , friends and neighbours (Harira from a mobile food stand in West London , Jerk Chicken from Notting Hill) as well as travel influences ; heavy on European classics ( Britain, Spain, Italy & France) there are also plenty of doffs to South America ( Mexican Carne Con Chile) and India (Sri Lankan Venision Curry)
I loved Valentine’s previous TV series “What to Eat Now” which focused on sourcing seasonal food and his most recent series on sustainable Fishing on UKTV Food – all these influences shine through in this collection.
As Valentine puts it,
“The idea of geography people and produce brings into play the enjoyable pursuit of cooking and eating seasonally. Sometimes I cannot resist reaching for an aubergine or chipolte chile but on the whole eating his way is a gentle dictatorship I will happily follow “
As this blog testifies I reside under the same benign dictatorship so the only negative thing I can say about this book is I will have to wait months to eat some of the dishes which are already causing me to salivate.
The chapters and some of my top picks
- Meat and Bird sections bringing back some old cuts ( Seared Lamb Neck , Ox Cheeks ) but also wild meats , Vension Curry , Rabbit with prunes , Mallard and Cabbage. Top of my list immediately and seconded by my carniverous partner was a Pickled onion , Steak and Ale pie. I have recently discovered the joys of a good suet pudding (cooked in the slow cooker) and the addition of pickled onions sounds great.
- Vegetables and Foraged Foods. Plenty of seasonal vegetables ( for autumn Kale , Squash & Beetroot) and hearty pulses ( Beans and lentils) Swede , Apple and Plum Pickle or Raw Brussel Sprouts with Ricotta are do-able soon while delicious sounding Aubergines with Dill and Vinegar or Young Broad Beans Cooked in their shells will have to wait til next summer
- Sustainable fish dishes Recipes for Bream, Sardines, Squid and Mackerel also Razor Clams ( one of my faves ). I’m keep to try Squid with Tomatoes and Brandy and Sweet and Sour Mackerel
- Bread Eggs and Cheese includes Huevos Rancheros , Pickled Eggs and a pizza bianco recipe that reignited my dormant passion from last year when I made them with rosemary and anchovies or shaved asparagus
- The chapter heading that made me chuckle Toast as a Vehicle. Can I ask for a whole book on Toast as a Vehicle next time? Definitely time to break out the chicken livers again , and definitely for an evening home alone a Cheese on toast recipe featuring anchovies and scattered with raw onion. I will also be scavenging the end of the season tomatoes for a Grilled Tomatoes with Cream and Thyme
- Puddings and Drinks . Happily fruit features heavily from tarts to brulees . The aforementioned Citrus Yogurt Pudding with Brown Sugar looks no-bake brillaince I have to try also the Poached Pear autumn trifle. Watermelon with Lime chile & salt and a Gooseberry Ice Cream are boomarked for next year
The recipe descriptions are clear and easy to follow. While the design mixes Valentines own illustrations and photography from Jonathan Lovekin , whose unfussy style brilliantly captures Valentines’ philiosphy. This book is destined to be well thumbed and food stained the mark of any well-used cookbook in my kitchen.
The first recipe that grabbed me enough to try was Stubby Beans, this is Valentine’s preferred take on Baked Beans using “the stump” of the pig – the hock.
In fact I presented it for dinner calling it Stumpy Beans in error , which led to it being called Stumpy Pumpy Beans when I mentioned that Valentine recommended Blazing Saddles as post dinner viewing. Reference to the ” farting cowboys” scene always a favorite when I was a little kid
I am trying a lot of bean dishes now that the pressure cooker has eliminated the need for overnight soaking which with my “baby brain” is a blessing . Giving the beans a little pre-cook means they can be slow-cooker ready I also added the ham hock to the pressure cooker which saved me an hours simmering.
500g of dried pinto beans ( haricot or borlotti are also reccomended)
2 smoked ham hocks ( about 1kg)
leaves from 8 springs of thyme
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp English Mustard Powder
1/2 tsp of ground cloves
2 x 400g of chopped tomatoes
50g of dark muscovado sugar
10g flaked sea salt
black pepper to season
- Valentines methods sees the beans soaked for at least twelve hours before cooking and the hock simmered for an hour in water. Using the pressure cooker I cooked the beans unsoaked with the hocks covered in water on the highest pressure for 20 minutes.
- Fry the onions with the thyme in the lard ( you could use butter at a push but the lard is more authentic)
- When softened add the garlic, mustard powder and cloves , cook for a minute
- Then add the tomatoes and sugar
- Add the drained beans to the casserole with the whole hocks ( it is your choice if you leave the skin+fat on) plus a litre of the stock from the beans ( the slow cooker acutally needs a lot less stock and the beans are partially cooked so 500ml was fine)
- At this point you can either cook in the casserole on the hob simmering for an hour with the lid on then 30 -50 minutes hour with the lid off ( or as I did transfer everything to the slow cooker on high for 4 hours, the smell on returning to the cooker was gorgeous)
- It is now a case of stripping the hock from the bones stringing it and putting he meat back in with the beans. ( If you have kept the fat on Valentine recommends slicing it htne poppoing it into a hot oven to crispt up and eat as a snack)
- Season to taste I would suggest tasting before you add salt or pepper. I was tempted to add a spash of worcestershire sauce as I do with baked beans
Valentine’s suggestion of serving with cabbage is definitely a winner, I have some leftovers for some gourmet beans on toast. I will definitely be making this as a dish to take camping and for Bonfire Night