Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cauli_Cheese: Slight Reprise

Heston's cheese sauce was the culinary revelation of 2012. The gastronomic Dangermouse made béchamel obsolete by mixing cornflour with finely grated cheese, rather than add it into the liquid to thicken the sauce. Oh, and the liquid isn't milk, which compromises the sauce's cheesiness, but bouillon, which perks it up! 

Cauli w/Red Liecester cheese & Serrano purée sauce.
This revelation occurred on TV in the depths of winter as I was rapidly losing my eyesight. Several times over the ensuing months, as the darkness encroached, I asked my carer, or anyone willing, to make the comforting cheesey sauce for me. Vision restored by surgical intervention, I did not wait for my second cataract operation to essay it here and Easy Macaroni Cheese with Peas was the first proper post on my renamed 'n' reloaded food blog, More Gravy.

Since then, I must have made my crude version of this sauce a million times. Well, a couple of dozen, anyway. Not bragging but FYI, late last year, I cooked a cauliflower cheese for thirty-plus hungry people. For the sauce, I used 3L of Marigold to 800g grated Cheddar, plus two heaped tablespoonfuls of cornflour. It took a minute to thicken, but I am gratified to report that the sauce came together beautifully in the finish & right on time.

At home, I have been known to use my handicap as an excuse to  purchase ready-trimmed florets of cauli 'n' broccoli from the diabolical, rob-yourself so-called 'convenience' store on Walworth Road. I'd much rather use an organic cauli from FareShares, obvs. but they usually sell out pretty swiftly on Thursdays. I'll quickly knock up a cheese sauce while the florets steam, using whatever medium hard cheese is to hand: red Leicester; double Gloucester and, of course, Cheddar, Cheddar, Cheddar.

If I have cheese rinds collected in a little tupperware in the 'fridge, I simmer them in the bouillon to infuse it with cheesiness for twenty minutes or more before making the sauce. Sooner than over-cook the florets, I crisp 'em in the oven. I'm not so fond of cream cheese that I regularly have the stuff hanging around, but if so, I'll finish the sauce by beating a good dollop in, off the heat. More often, liking chilli, I'll mix hot sauce in to finish as with the Cajohns serrano purée in the red Leicester sauce.

The Last Cauli_Cheese supper
But all that cheesiness is behind me, now, for I have given up cheese - and eggs & butter, too - for Lent, to see what it's like being vegan for forty days. If pushed to explain, I refer to this satirical song about spiritual one-upmanship, Dude by I-Fly: 'I've said no to eggs and cheese, but you're just eating what you please.' I know they're joking and I am not particularly respectful of religious rituals, but I suppose I was looking for an opportunity to abstain from consuming all animal products, at least for a while.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Regal Borscht

I have at last joined FareShares, which is going through a transitional phase, you might say. In order to facilitate more relaxed and happy communications at its meetings on the 15th of each month, I suggested that we hold these meetings up the street, at 184 Crampton Street, aka the Pullens Centre and serve food. Specifucally, borscht.


Bootiful borscht with perfect purple ladle
This, then, was the venue of Pullens Soup Kitchen, some seven years ago, a radical experiment in community cohesion that involved making soup in the centre every working day and giving it away at lunchtime, by donation. Some Pullens TAR committee members responded to this subversive initiative with a virulent hate campaign that eventually led to my illegal exclusion from their community association.

Back then, some seven years ago, Prince was in London, playing his legendary 21 nights at the O2. Tickets for those shows were notionally priced at a very reasonable £31.21 - '3121' was the name of the album Prince was promoting and a copy of it, as I recall, came free with each ticket. However, all 21 nights sold out before I got my act together and so I was obliged to work the secondary market, via eBay, or go the traditional route, bunging a wad of cash to a tout outside the venue. Either way, it was loads of hassle and would've cost the best past of an 'undred quid to go on my own to see the little man in a big arena and so, one way or another over three weeks of 02 nights, I passed up the opportunity to experience Prince in the living moment and, boy, do I regret it. It's never the Prince shows one catches that are regrettable.

posh bowl by Daniel Reynolds, Reynoldsware
Back then, Borscht, as recoded on the blog became one of the emblematic soups that our fragile community kitchen did well. After they shut me out, Pullens TRA committee paid one of its members to rip out the old kitchen and bar counter, throwing away the old furniture. They sanitized the building, installing central heating and the ugliest laminate flooring known to man. It is really sad how they have ruined the character of a building that was originally & ingeniously converted for community use by ex-squatters. Still, life goes on and however soulless the remodelled Pullens Centre may be, with its frightful flooring, it remains a perfectly good venue for meetings and there is an oven & hob to reheat food.

In FareShares, I've joined a volunteer organisation that's demoralised by a long-running battle between an increasingly isolated individual and the collective, which seems to be leading inexorably to that individual being excluded. With my own history of exclusion, I would hate to see that happen. We should all be able to get around a table and talk reasonably about our differences. I found through the Soup Kitchen that soup has highly conciliatory properties. Perhaps it has to do with water being such a resonant vehicle for intentionality, so that one can literally taste the love in food that is deliberately made as an act of devotion. I talk of borscht.

standing in your purple moccs
Borscht is Princely, souperficially (sic.) because it is purple. Deeply purple. I too am pretty purple, having recently scored a pair of purple suede moccasins - by Dunlop! - and a purple silicon ladle, from the kitchenshop on Walworth Road formerly known as Paul's (which has actually improved since Paul retired). My old mate, Michael, RIP, he used to love that shop. He used to buy objects from there for their beauty that he would never actually use. But my Mick memorial purple silicon ladle is better than beautiful, it is a perfect tool to perform the jobs I bought it for: forcing puréed borscht through a sieve with the back of it; using its plasticity to scoop thickened soup from the corners of the borscht pot. Worth every penny of the six quid it cost me. My purple ladle is fit for purpose & does not disappoint.

What's further enhanced the quality of my life over recent months is tapes of Prince's gigs with his latest group, 3rdEyeGirl. It's a female power trio, like a funky Band of Gypsys, with Prince wailing on guitar. If you are unaware of Prince's status as a guitar slinger, watch this take over of a supergroup salute to George Harrison. Observe the expression on Dhani Harrison's face at 4:46!

With 3rdEyeGirl, Prince has got his full range of Hendrix tricks & Santana licks out of the box and is playing crunchy, grungy 'reloaded 'versions of old hits from his purple pomp - Let's Go Crazy, She's Always In My Hair - plus his classic guitar solo tunes, such as Bambi and, obviously, Guitar, as well as new group songs with titles in BLOCKCAPSNOGAPS: FIXURLIFEUP & PRETZELBODYLOGIC.

Now Prince is in London, playing shows around town while I am making a fresh vat o' borscht with Lincolnshire-grown beets, plus one Bramley apple per kilo to add a certain jaunty juiciness. Last Sunday, Prince played the Shepherds Bush Empire, but I did not stir my stumps. This Sunday, Prince played Koko in Mornington Crescent and I did make it up there, but baulked when I saw the length of the queue. Someone tweeted that four hours queuing + £70 cash on the door was generously repaid by a stunning, intimate three hour show, but I no longer have the stamina, sadly, to hack that. I have a gammy left foot that can't take too much standing around, even for His Badness. So I may have to reconcile myself to missing his purple nourishment this time around, too.

The previous day I had concocted a hearty purple borscht for the sake of FareShares. The trick to emulating beefiness in a vegan borscht is to mince field mushrooms and sweat them in the base so that they disappear into the soup, leaving their boskiness behind. That and a dessert spoon of yeast extract per litre of bouillon. We shared it, along with other offerings that made up a really good meal, actually, before conducting our monthly FareShares business meeting.

We agreed that next month, March 15th, the evening shall be open to everyone. Past, present and future volunteers are welcome to share food with us. At the February meeting, we were only seven and the conundrum faced by FareShares cannot be resolved in a single sitting, but as Prince famously declared, "All seven and we'll watch them fall. They stand in the way of love & we will smoke them all. With an intellect and a savoir-faire, no one in the whole universe will ever compare to the healing power of vegan borscht."

Not being maudlin about it, but this picfure of my beetrooty left hand is poignant, since it was cut off on 13.04.11. Truly, you do not miss something till it's gone. On the other hand (sic) there's loads of borscht left & I froze some! Prince promises to stay in town for as long as people want to hear him play, so that's not over yet, either. Maybe 3trdEyeGirl will pop up at the Pullens Centre next Friday night?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Automatic Chilli

Inside the space capsule.

I'm evolving a series of 'automatic' recipes, in which one simply puts all the ingredients in my 1.5L pressure cooker, and this Red & Black Bean Chilli may be the best yet.  

I buy black turtle and red kidney beans from FareShares, soak and cook a cupful of them together in their soak water with chopped tomato and  sweet pepper purée plus chilli 'n' garlic. I lightly roast whole heads of garlic before peeling the cloves and preserving them in oil in the 'fridge for cooking and tend to throw in whole cloves, as seen in this here picture.

I start by frying half a finely-chopped red onion in a splash of vegetable oil and an (optional) knob of butter, adding garlic and chilli. I did have a little of my very own chilli jam - made with a punnet of Scotch bonnets, minced, with a carrier bag of diced sweet red 'n' yellow bell peppers and sweated down with a tablespoonful of molasses - in the bottom of a jar. It got left out of the 'fridge for too long during the Summer and fermented somewhat.  I bunged what was left of it into a big chilli I made last week and I don't know when I'll make more.

Speaking of Chilli Jam, Hot Headz currently has The Chilli Jam Man Original - the original jam that started it all - at half price! Until I get around to making more of my own jam,  I have a jar of chilli powder mixed with smoked paprika that wants using and it's not as if there's any shortage of hot sauce around these parts. Just the other day, I scored a bottle of Walkerswood Scotch bonnet sauce for £1.49 from the Buy'n'Buy Halal meat shop that occupies the former premises of The Beaten Path on Walworth Road.

To cooked onion & chillies, I add half a can of tomatoes and a tablespoonful of red pepper purée  - biber salçası -   sweet or spicey. I tend to buy tatli, the sweet one, and depend upon chillies for heat. Morrisons sells 390g tetra packs of Italian chopped tomatoes with garlic & onion, which I prefer to tins unless they (a) have ring-pulls and (b) are cheap. Alternatively, deploy passata or even a leftover tomatoey pasta sauce. I recently made a chilli using half a jar of Arabiatta.

Add the beans, in their soak water, into the pressure cooker with the other ingredients and add a bit more water to cover them, leaving the 'cooker at least a quarter empty. Put the lid on and cook on high heat until the steam escapes, then turn the heat down and cook on for a further 20 minutes before turning off the heat and leaving the pot to cool as its contents continue to cook.

Red & black bean chocolate chilli on mash.
When the pressure cooker has cooled and relaxed, open it and empty the cooked chilli beans into another pot. If it seems a bit less sloppy than you might prefer, add water. Your chilli should be rich, dark and unctuous. It's almost ready to serve, but before you go ahead, consider the issue of chocolate.

Some say a touch of chocolate in your chilli adds another dimension to its flavour and what they say turns out to be true!

You may add cocoa powder, but I've experimented with the buttons of 73% plain, vegan chocolate sold in the radical bookshop that occupies FareShares' back room, 56aInfoshop. Five buttons melted and mixed in with the chilli certainly gave it a certain je ne sais quoi, but any more buttons was definitely de trop.