Archive | February, 2012

The perils of offal – Good News and Bad

23 Feb

For my birthday, my boyfriend Daz got me a book called the Fifth Quarter (buy it here) which is a recipe book dedicated to offal! This is excellent as I don’t have any of the offal cookbooks that are floating around. There are some awesome recipes for lung soup, cockscomb rice pudding and jacket potatoes with a kidney in the middle. The best thing about it is that it is so inspiring Anissa Helou travelled around the world, basically collecting offal recipes, so there’s eastern european recipes, caribbean ones, modern american ones (not Maccy D’s I hasten to add) and loads more. At the beginning it also has a compedium of offally bits – which is found online at the Guardian here. I remember reading it and the cogs beginning to turn …

The Good News that I am delivering (not biblical) is that I am allowed CHICKEN WINGS! This is most important for my relationship with D Dizzle because we do like our monthly fried-chicken-and-cinema dates. In fact, the first thing I said on the evening of the 1st of January this year was “Oh no, we won’t be able to have Chicken Dates, what HAVE I done?”

However, Anissa lists wings as offal (though she does class them as “The Acceptable Face”). Therefore chicken dates were reconvened. We went to one of our usual chicken haunts where the chicken is juicy and savoury and delicious. I ordered some “hot wings”.By now you’ll be wondering what the Bad is – see below:

There was nothing “hot” about these wings. They were in fact cold, dry and a bit nasty. They were not plump and delicous, nor were they whole wings, more dessicated chicken forearms crusted with dubiosity. I did not do any impressed faces. What I felt like inside was this:

However, like the good offaltarian I am, I sucked it up. I said to myself, this is my current life choice, there are important ethical reasons why I’m doing this, get over it. Then I scavenged the tiny scraps of Daz’s still not very good leftovers. I’ll have to learn to Southern Fry at home.

In retrospect I became pretty concerned about maybe I shouldn’t be eating the cheap chicken at all for all the welfare reasons and to be honest I don’t fancy chicken that is kept like this:

So I checked with the KFC website. They state that:

All our chicken on the bone is bought from UK farms, and meets Red Tractor Standards.

We are proud to be part of Red Tractor- it’s a guarantee that food meets high standards of food safety, environmental protection, local porduction and animal welfare.

The Union Flag also guarantees that the product is fully traceable back to British farms.

That sounds quite good, but what is a Red Tractor Standard? I remember that phrase being bandied around about ten years ago as being a GOOD and INNOVATIVE thing. These are the reasons they justify themselves. It appears to me to be about food hygiene levels, as well as animal welfare and responsible farming. They say they have rigorous standards for “high animal welfare”. However recently there has been some controversy from an article in the Times that accused a Red Tractor farm of cruelty to pigs: “Pigs are beaten to death on ‘ethical’ farm”. This is their response. Basically the farm was part of the scheme, but they’ve now removed it.

Personally I would never try and beat a pig to death. They are pretty clever and would probably wrestle whatever blunt instrument you had with you off your hands and bludgeon you. Whilst using a trotter to flick a V at you. F*ck you for not believing Orwell!

The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes even the standards that are good have gaps in them where unethical producers can slip through. This happens within all large organisations. What is a little offaltarian like me to do? Going back to the chicken question, it is to make as informed decisions as I can. One thing I can say is that at least the Colonel attempts some transparency; the Chicken Cottage website doesn’t even mention animal welfare … I wonder how KFC hot wings are?

Quick Chicken Liver and Tamarind Curry

22 Feb

If you’ve ever lived with me, you’ll know that I have a penchant for suddenly making “curries” out of pretty much whatever is in the fridge. Kipper and swede curry, surprisingly good; curried bechamel parsnip lasagna, quite the disgusting disaster. Tonight however, with some defrosted chicken livers winking at me, I’m game for a new curry.

Chicken livers are fast to cook and well delicious. I first had them a few years ago fried with balsamic vinegar and wilted spinach salad, or something along those lines, balsamic was definitely involved. However, even though I know I like them, I really don’t ever cook with them. Time to rectify this!

At the start of January (the same day I bought my kidneys) I bought a packet of Sainsburys chicken livers in a fit of enthusiasm. I then realised I didn’t have time to eat them, so froze them. With the old offal, especially the organs you can only freeze things for a month, so the other night I combined unorthodox currying with my defrosted livers.

A while ago I made a tamarind stew which was super delicious (it may or may not have involved oxtail) and I thought the tamarind’s sour notes would be a good foil for the chicken liver richness. There is also an amazing chicken liver curry that you can get from Shabab’s that is spicy and delicious. With chicken livers, you can, I believe cook them until they’re slightly pink, but because these ones had been frozen I gave them a good cooking. This didn’t mean they were tough though. It’s all to do with cooking times. Like so much of cooking.

What I wanted was to get loads of flavour going in those livers, so I marinated them for half an hour or so, basically while I cooked the vegetable part of the curry.

I have a rice cooker, so before I did any of the following I put the rice cooker on with some brown rice in!

What you need is:

1 packet chicken livers;

1 onion chopped; 1 medium sweet potato roughly chopped; squirt garlic puree; 1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp tamarind paste; 1/2 tsp ground ginger; 1 teaspoon madras curry powder; 1 tsp chillies chopped in oil; 1 tsp cumin seeds.

First of all mix together all the spices. It will go to a dark loose paste. A teacup and a teaspoon are good tools.

Secondly, take half of the mixture and put in a bowl with the chicken livers. Mix this well. It is now marinading.

Thirdly, start to fry the onion, then add garlic, then the sweet potato. Cook this for a few minutes on a medium heat, then add the other half of the spice mix. Keep stirring. Add the tinned tomatoes. Keep it moving. The chicken livers take very little time to cook, so you want the sweet potato to be cooked through. This seemed to take about twenty minutes.I added the blood from the liver carton to the sauce too.

Fourthly, put the curried veg mix to one side in a bowl, and using the same pan add some oil and fry the chicken livers, along with their accompanying marinade. They need a couple of minutes each side on a higher heat than the vegetables did.

Don’t worry if they start to look a bit breadcrumby because the liver is full of blood and bits come off and make it all look a bit scruffy. You can see that below. Don’t worry.

I cooked them so there was still a tiny bit of pink in the middle, mostly because I knew there would be residual heat that cooked them further whilst I plated up rice, made drinks and faffed around. Also, you want to avoid cooking-the-shit-out-of-it-itis. By the time you eat it, the pink is pretty much gone.

Fifthly, add the vegetables back into the pan and combine them and the livers together. The crumby bits of liver will now combine in the sauce.

Get a plate, put some carbs on it, then add your curry. DELICIOUS!

Blood Pancakes … Are you Goth enough?

21 Feb

It’s Pancake Day! It’s time to use up all those terrible delicious things to get ready for the FAST to make ourselves EVEN HOLIER. This year I am taking up drinking appropriate amounts of liquid, rather than giving things up. It will be good for my diet, make me look like a supermodel and possibly I’ll be given some cetacean rights!

Back to the pancakes however. I found a recipe for Norwegian pancakes on the Guardian website today, and because I love Roalds Amundsen and Dahl so much I thought I’d give them a go. The recipe is here and it’s the top one. I enjoyed using the spelt flour, and really only intended to make some nice sweet ones with some stewed rhubarb.

However, I am not one to miss a oppurtunity and since I recently bought a large amount of dried blood for no real reason – other than I found it on the internet after having that boudin noir at Kendalls. I got it from a website called Tongmaster who specialise in selling all the things you need to make sausages and burgers as well as blood. My blood arrived two days after I bought it and POSTAGE IS INCLUDED. I’d definitely give their website a peruse if you’re thinking of doing things sausage related.

Yet, Hi HO, I thought, I bet blood is delicious when mixed with pancake batter. Well, my thinking wasn’t certain as that. More I reckon blood will be nice mixed with this, should I try it? As well as wondering what German for ‘blood pancakes’ was so I could sing it in a Rammstein manner whilst cooking.


So decided to re-hydrate some of the pig’s blood. Having never used it before, there was some trepidation, as to what the right thing to do was. I added 2 teaspoons of the powder to about 75ml of water and whisked. This seemed to give a thin blood, but not knowing how thick pig’s blood naturally is, nor about coagulation when something’s been dried, or indeed anything apart from what is on the packet above, I erred to the side of haemophilia. Do use a whisk, so you don’t get little dried blood pockets.

I added about 100ml of batter to the rehydrated blood and whisked. It looked like this:

I thought I had better build up to the making of the BLUTPFANNKUCHEN, so had a normal Norwegian one with orange and sugar. Then I thought, what if it’s disgusting? Best make a small one to test (forgetting of course, that there are things like bins, to put waste in).

Cleverly it took on an approximate geography of Wales. In you were wondering … GWAED CREMPOG!

Adding all the extra liquid does make the batter thinner. Luckily the spelt batter is pretty thick, but if you’re using a normal pancake day recipe it might be too thin, so make sure your batter is extra thick.

I hope you can see the slight nerves in my face …

The BLUTPFANNKUCHEN was actually so nice that I made another, full size one:

The blood doesn’t really taste like blood when it’s in the pancake. The best way to describe it would be to add depth and warmth and a more savoury note. The colour, I think is actually quite good, very Halloween. Both my housemate Liz (who was Goth enough to try it with me) and I agreed it tasted buttery, which is good because that’s what you want a good pancake to taste like. I think to make them again, I would see if I could hydrate the blood in the milk that goes in the original recipe, so they were quite thick and make like drop scones. Liz suggested a poached egg on top, which would be very breakfasty.

For tonight though, I ate it with some stewed rhubarb and some maple syrup. Rhubarb because I think the blood could be a bit rich, so the cuts through it. Maple syrup because it goes well with bacon. And blood is just like bacon.

Though perhaps now I look properly at the camera phone photos, it doesn’t look as delicious as it tasted. Maybe when i have a family we’ll always have Blood Pancakes and it will become some sort of tradition. Yellowbeestonbelly hybrid if you will …

I’m quite happy having dipped my toe in the dried pig’s blood bag that I would be able to do a lot more things with it. I’m not sure whether after the Haggis Making, I’d attempt things that involve stuffing slippery things into other slippery things, so black pudding might be out, but I bet it would make good casserole juice. And i think you could hydrate it in egg for omelets. Maybe even a blood rice pudding?

Sour Lamb Neck (deliciousness, but could be sourer)

8 Feb

Neck of lamb isn’t strictly speaking an offal, but it is definitely an underused cut of meat with bone in it, so I picked some up from my Mum’s butcher in Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire, and froze it until a occassion where I was skint. That occasion came and haunted by a delicious dish of lime lamb neck at a Lebanese restaurant in Leeds called Fairuz, I wanted to make something similarly SOUR. So the other name for this dish would be Lamb and Grapefruit Casserole.

There are no pictures of this gem, because it was another brown dish and you’ve probably seen lots of brown casseroles in your time. So, PAUSE, and IMAGINE a dish of brown …. like a nice dark brown, the colour of chesnuts exposed to the air for about an hour and a half*.

This recipe is different to my others, in that it seems to me to have an inordinate amount of ingredients, but essentially was made from what Daz and I had on the kitchen side. I’m not sure either if I’m writing the recipes out in a way that you can follow, so if it doesn’t make any sense, please let me know.

The ingredients fall into four groups:

  1. 4 tablespoons plain flour, 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 neck of a lamb cut into four by your butcher
  2. half a large aubergine, half a very large courgette, 1 whole turnip
  3. zest and juice of 2 limes, zest and juice of one yellow grapefruit, 2 teaspoon dried rosemary, 1 teaspoon hot paprika, half teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, 1 and a half teaspoon ground cumin
  4. 2 vegetable stock cubes, enough hot water to cover all ingredients, 4 dashes Magi liquid seasoning

What I did was to mix on a teaplate all the dry ingredients from 1, then coat lamb neck in mixture and fry off till browned. I put the neck in the slow cooker with the rest of the flour-spice mix. Then add 2 to the slow cooker and jumble them all together with your (washed) hands. Add all of 3, jumble once more. Add 4, stirring to melt the cubes of stock. If of course, you make/use real veg stock then reduce the additional water, please.

I left everything to marinate over night in the slow cooker and then switched it to high at about 8am the following morning. We ate at 7 that night. (If you don’t have a slow cooker a) buy one because they are ace and b) you can just do a normal casserole at 180 for 3 hours or so, the gravy might not be as thick but you can always add cornflour.) It was scrumblelicious, but didn’t have the sour sour tang that I’d been after. I blame the Asda grapefruit. Maybe it had lost its sour by sitting in my kitchen when it was already reduced to sell-by-fresh for two weeks.

Ideas for different things to make it sour are welcome – tamarind might work? preserved lemons? those gobstoppers I remember from being 7 which had SKULL GROWLING on them? I found this blog which is all about Cambodian food and how they love it sour. The rest of the blog is pretty good too. My friend Paul lives in Cambodia and he hasn’t mentioned the sour factor but has mentioned how they love to eat all the bits of the animals, perhaps a Cambodian special one week, prehaps I’ll cook some brains in a Pol Pot? *comedy trombone noise and muttered apologies*

*At primary school we did a day where we got a conker, broke it out and drew the changing shapes and colours of the darkening brown pigment. There are only so many times you can draw the same conker in one day.

Dining out at Kendells

2 Feb

One of the first challenges of the offaltarian diet you’d think was Eating Out. As a lot of vegetarians find, restaurant menus can be quite limited in what they offer and part of the point of my year of offal eating is to broaden out what I eat, as well as to make up my holistic carnivore debt.

As a very lucky lady, I got taken for the second time to Kendells restaurant in Leeds. It is very nice indeed. It’s pretty well-known for all the food awards it has won. It’s an excellent place to eat. What I want to add to the blogosphere of food writing was that the offal dishes that I ate, were not just excellent offal dishes, but were excellent dishes in their own right.

As a starter I had Boudin Noir which is French black pudding. There’s not a lot of similarities between it and the rounds you can buy in the supermarket. Soft, delicious and melting, I had to hold myself back from scoffing it all up super fast.

For my main course I had Foie de Veau which is calves liver, more of this in a second. Less recently than our trip to Kendells I was in Lincolnshire at the cafe I used to work at. In the Shire, offal is still pretty big. Liver and onions is on a lot of menus and people don’t think anything of it. I ordered Liver and Onions as part of my pact to order offal whenever I can. It was pretty gross. Cooked, frozen and re-heated, the liver was GREY and tough and I couldn’t finish it. So there was still a little trepidation when I ordered my baby-cow liver at Kendells.

I should have known not to be worried, because it was the tastiest meat I think I’ve ever eaten. Thin tender slices of pink-in-the-middle-sticky-grilled-charm on the outside, I well loved it. In all seriousness it was a whole new carnivorous experience. Liver is amazing when it’s done well. If you’re iffy about it, please don’t be, just go somewhere good and try it out! At Kendells served with creamy mash, crispy bacon, home-made onion rings and fried sage you can’t get any better! New taste sensation=liver+fried sage!

I’ve read a bit about calves liver now and if you’re thinking of going out and getting some, please ask your butcher if it’s continental or British. Continental is bad as the calves are kept in pretty nasty conditions. However that is outlawed in animal-loving England – even the RSPCA says it’s ok to eat British rose veal. There are a couple of companies that come up in a google search that appear reputable, so I might buy from them. Here and here. In fact I’ve already put together an order with the Alternative Meat company, oh yes! In my ignorance I didn’t ask the question at Kendells when I sat down to eat, but I’m crossing my fingers that it was Nice Veal.

Overall I would like to say a big Thank you to Kendells for introducing me to offally good delights and making me think further (after the eel debacle I should have known) about the provenance of the offal I’m eating!

Shake your Tailfeather (Tailmeat, rather)

1 Feb

Here you can see a picture of me holding some Oxtail in the area approximate to where I reckon my coccyx is. Let me know if I’m right or wrong. I was imagining, if you will, what it might be like to have a massive meaty tail. It hurt my arms a bit.

This is a post about the most accessible of the offal cuts. The one that has no challenging texture, needs no funny preparation and has a delicious beefy taste. If you’ve not cooked oxtail in your life, get on it like a bonnet, because a) it is delicious and b) the price has definitely risen in the last year. I think oxtail is the new pork belly and pretty soon we’ll be talking about it all the time.

Oxtail is available in a lot of supermarkets – I got mine from Morrisons – and is basically cow tail. So you could make a pie from it and then you’d get Cow Pie. But you could do that with any beef. I’m not much of a Beano reader as you may have guessed.

I find oxtail works best if you make it in a slow cooker. Not only are slow cookers dead easy to use, but a cut like oxtail needs a long slow braise to tenderise the meat and to make darned sure that all the deliciousness of marrow comes out of the bones.

I’ve cooked oxtail several times –  from Oxtail tomato something to Jamaican oxtail (No, it didn’t include Lilt) – this time because Daz hadn’t made oxtail before we used a very nice Jamie Oliver recipe which junipered up the oxtail. A few weeks on, I’ve lost the recipe, but found it on this blog! I’ve made my own changes though.

1 jointed oxtail; 1 de-stringed and chopped celery stick; 1 chopped onion; 1 peeled and chopped carrot; 1 leek chopped; 1/2 bottle cheap red wine; 1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds; 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries; 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; 1 teaspoon crushed chillies; 1 tablespoon tomato puree; 2 x 400g tins of tomatoes; 1 teaspoon dried sage; 1 teaspoon dried oregano; salt and pepper

The procedure for cooking is pretty simple and can be done pretty much the same if you’re slow cookering or casseroling in the oven.

Heat a bit of oil in a pan, brown the oxtail. Add all the vegetables to the pot and sweat them down with the browning oxtail. Get a pestle and mortar and crush all the herbs, berries and seeds together. Add that flavour mix to the vege-tail (*boom boom*). Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato puree. Mix it all together – or as Jamie would say “whack it all about” and then cover and either slow-cook for 4 hours on High or cook in the oven in a Heat-Proof casserole at 160C for 3 hours. It will go all lovely and melty and delicious. 

We decided to make dumplings to accompany the stew. Parsley dumplings at that, but I made the fatal error of not topping up the liquid in the casserole so it got a bit too sticky and maybe a little burnt. If you do add dumplings, make sure you add a tomato can of extra water to the mix, so that the dumplings have something to puff them up – you could use stock too I guess. I followed the instructions on the side of the suet packet and added 2 teaspoons dried parsley to the flour. Bob’s your uncle!