Digital Commonwealth

This is the first dispatch from the Digital Commonwealth training sessions where I’ll be learning how to use blogging, audio & video production and social media to tell stories. 

So far we’ve shared stories with others in the group, watched a couple of excellent videos (from blogging about your school dinners to live-tweeting a cricket match), set up new WordPress blogs and folk are now typing away on their first posts.

We’ve set up a separate blog for Lambhill Stables and the plan is to use the skills we’ve learned at these workshops to get more and more people involved in the online side of things. The Silver Surfers group has been running for a month now and people have been giving us really positive feedback about their experiences with the technology. First experiences with Facebook have gone down a storm, with one photo provoking a stream of comments from people across the world saying hello. Francis from Ireland enjoyed using Google Street View to look at villages and towns back home, while many other participants have been brushing up on photo editing and storage thanks to the expertise of Sam, the mastermind behind the Lambhill Stables Photography Club.

Later on today we’ll be updating our blogs with photos and videos, and further on we’ll be sharing the things we create in the other workshops here.  

Chilli jam and the quesadilla of dreams

ImageGreetings chaps! Here’s your ticket to chilli jam heaven:

  • 10 mixed peppers, diced
  • 10 chillies, diced
  • 8 tomatoes, skinned & diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped

So, mix together in a saucepan one cup of caster sugar and three cups of white wine vinegar. Add all the chopped ingredients and boil to a jammy consistency. This can take a reasonably long time – maybe 45 minutes. Keep an eye on it. Don’t over-reduce it or it will be too thick and will taste burnt.

This makes about 3 jars worth – it will keep for months if you pour it into hot, sterilised jars. If you keep it in the fridge once opened it’s still fine for a good month.

This is great on burgers and in sandwiches – particularly with chicken and cheese. My personal favourite use for it is to make the following quesadilla:

  • 1 tbsp chilli jam
  • Couple of slices of smoked cheese
  • Red onion
  • Olives
  • Cubed chorizo

^ Spread the jam over half of a flour tortilla, sprinkle the other ingredients on top then fold over & toast in a hot pan (no need to even oil the pan) til golden brown and oozing with melted cheese…  Something about the sweet kick of the chilli jam with the smokey cheese taste and the occasional morsel of olive makes this quesadilla stand head and shoulders above its peers. I’ve eaten one of these for lunch for something like the last 8 shifts running, and I’m really not a creature of habit when it comes to food.

Awesome!

Image

Awesome!

Much as I enjoy cooking I sometimes find actually working in a kitchen to be stressful and hellish. However, some days make all the long days and the smell of fryers and the burnt fingers worthwhile – like today when a plate came back with “Awesome” written on it in brown sauce. Kind and noble mystery diner of Glasgow, I salute you!

Almond Cake

Weekends are really things that happen to other people when you work in bars – however I have enjoyed doing some weekend-y things recently. Yesterday I went to the new velodrome in the East End to see the qualifying rounds of the Track World Cup:

 

Very exciting to see this in real life especially when you see the hellish height and steepness of the bankings – yikes! Apparently they let punters on it when they aren’t hosting world championship events… Must investigate further…

That evening the splendid Paul was dressed like a character in a Godard film and had brought boeuf bourguignon, buttered macaroni and red wine up to the flat – just when I thought I couldn’t like him any more. Soppy. Dreadful.

 

This morning I spent longer than anticipated grappling with a 1970’s oven whilst baking cakes for the Glasgow Stationery Co.‘s Xmas perty held in the basement cafe of Rig Bike Shop on West Regent Street. We had a chocolate beetroot cake with framboise icing and edible cornflower petals (oooOOOOooo!) (of which more later) and this Spanish classic:

 

This is a traditional cake eaten in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the end of the pilgrim route (which in medieval times was up there with Rome and Jerusalem in terms of hardcore pilgrimages) . It should really have a fiddly cross stencilled on the top in icing sugar but I decided against that considering it had to be transported across Sauchiehall St wrapped in a flimsy sheet of tinfoil. This cake is an absolute skoosh to make and tastes superb – the almonds make it moist with a grand texture and the citrus zest flavour is just the right level of subtle. I’m really not a subtlety hand but in this case you wouldn’t want anything more from a cake. Claudia Roden’s recipe (found here along with loads of other tantalising Spanish dishes – quail with caramelised onions and brandy mmm) asks you to grind whole almonds but due to blender issues (lack of one) I used pre-ground and it turned out fine. Incidentally here is a very familiar tale from the National Geographic of a guy walking this gruelling route and feeling pretty sorry for himself before having his sense of solidarity and general happiness restored by a plate of trout. Know the feeling pal!

Almond Cake

  • 250g almonds
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 4 drops almond extract

As mentioned, an absolute skoosh: beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Mix in the zest, almond essence and ground almonds. In another bowl beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the almond mixture; the almond one is very thick so you do have to give it a good mix. I feared this would undo the work of beating those egg whites (by hand yo!) but it turned out fine, the cake didn’t rise a great deal but it was never really going to with all those almonds involved.

Fire it into a greased & floured 28cm cake tin and bake at Gas Mk. 4 for 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. I just gave it a wee dusting of icing sugar and some extra zest over the top – utterly restrained and classy!

TD; DP

You know how on forums when people write long, rambling posts and kindly put TL;DR and a wee summary of the content? Nabbed the acronym style (Too Long, Didn’t Read) for today’s internet discovery – Too Delicious, Didn’t Photograph. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…

CAKE IN A CUP.

As in, fire a few spoonfuls of stuff already sitting in the cupboard into a Catalan national party mug, microwave it and you have a fully formed cake-like pudding-like delight!!

I would say I’m keen on food and cooking in general, read a lot of cookery books and blogs, rip recipes out of papers in cafes (erk), hassle people for family recipes, and thanks to more than a decade of these high jinks I though I was relatively well-versed in things to magic out of a skimpily stocked cupboard. Like a sauce made only of tinned tomatoes, butter and a halved onion. But this cake-in-a-cup discovery has blown me away! Literally 30 seconds of stirring and a minute in a clapped-out 70s microwave and you have something that would definitely not be chosen as an impostor in a line-up of chocolate fondants. Do it, do it now:

1 Catalan solidarity mug’s worth, adapted from this superb recipe due to kitchen cupboard limitations:

  • 2 tablespoons self-raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (I used dark brown soft)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dundee orange marmalade
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Mix the lot in a mug, microwave on full for a minute, hang head in shame thinking of excessive time and effort spent on inferior puddings in the past. Caution: over-microwaving this will definitely end in rubberiness. We want it melting like it had a square of fondant painstakingly buried in the centre!

I’m doing this for the Christmas dinner – no joke. Last year I made this: Image

(Raymond Blanc’s chocolate delice)

And honestly, the microwave pudding cake was probably tastier. Marmaladey and with hints of coffee, a mixture of molten and spongey, tastefully presented – it’s the midweek dessert of dreams.

Air Meal from Colombia

An article I wrote for the Bogota City Paper back in 2009 and recently rediscovered in the murky depths of My Documents…

A love letter to corrientazos

A disclosure: I love corrientazos. They embody everything I hold dear about Colombia – the mix of culinary traditions and diverse regional identities, the ingenuity and resourcefulness of its citizens, the sacred ritual of vast plates of rice and bizarre ingredient combinations, the endless variety of the place. What follows will be no measured review of dining options but rather a love letter to a country and its many lunchtimes, from a steaming bowl of ajiaco in the Boyaca countryside to fresh snapper and coconut rice by the balmy Caribbean shores.

What is a corrientazo? 

The humble set lunch is popular across the continent in different incarnations (in Brazil you choose your options from a buffet and the plate is weighed at the till), however in Colombia it has been made into an art form. The infinite variations on the soup theme are often cited as the reason for the Colombian set lunch’s standout charms but these plates of liquid goodness are just one part of the real joy that is the corrientazo (“Electric Shock”). The presence of the corrientazo in every corner of the country is evidence of the importance of lunch to Colombians, and the variations between regions exhibit the richness of the many different cuisines and cooking styles within the country. Even the name is charming, although all the set lunch has in common with an electric shock is the ability to leave you stupefied and gasping for breath (in a good way).

Perhaps part of the joy of the corrientazo as a lunch choice is the range of variations within a rigid framework. Every self respecting corrientazo should contain soup, main course, juice and dessert  but within these categories endless combinations arise at the whim of the diner…

Soup (ajiaco, sancocho, the alarmingly tripe-addled mondongo, consomes, hearty minestrones, plain cream of tomato, plantain soup, maize soup, barley soup, fish soup, chicken soup, chicken feet soup…) main course (your choice of accompaniments – including potatoes, yuca, spaghetti, platano, lentils or beans and your choice of meat, chicken or fish, more up-market gets you named cuts of meat or fancy sauces. Salad generally a laughable affair comprised of wet onion and tomato rounds.), juice from a vast range of fruits from the relatively prosaic (mango, pineapple, blackberry) to the downright weird (curuba, tree tomato, feijoa) and usually a dinky portion of dessert – Lego-sized cubes of translucent jelly, a slick of figs with arequipe, the slightly odd combination of squeaky white cheese (cuajada) and sticky sweet syrup (melao) or just a boiled sweet that arrived with your change.

Basic corrientazos can be ridicuously cheap. Anything under $3,500 seems too good to be true, and the tastiet of the basic corrientazos tend to hover around the $5,000 mark. $6,000 and up is classified as an “executive lunch” and generally brings a greater variety of options.

The importance of the corrientazo to the Colombian national identity cannot be underestimated. Disbelief and derision await the person who divulges that lunch isn’t that big a deal in the UK, that people normally eat sandwiches and (worst of all) often don’t even leave the office in order to do so.  “Don’t you get hungry?”, the Colombians  enquire in an appalled tone. Of course, I explain, but then again you don’t get that unbelieveable desire to put your head down on your desk and sleep for a few hours that goes hand in hand with polishing off a hearty bandeja paisa. “That’s what coffee is there for”, they patiently explain to me, shaking their heads in disbelief. This love for a freshly-made, delicious hot lunch has led enterprising Colombians to open up corrientazo restaurants worldwide serving nostalgic ex-pat communities their daily ration of carhbohydrates. Nobody finds it strange that their plate contains potatoes, yuca, rice, patacon and spaghetti alongside the meat and desultory salad.

Some of the best sights to see in Colombia have their accompanying corrientazo. Palm trees in the Eje Cafetero’s Valle Cocora look that little bit more beautiful when seen over a steaming platter of trout in garlic sauce, while nothing perfects a Guajira sunset quite like a crisp fried snapper with zingy lime wedges and a cold beer. From pork chops in a 70’s bakery in Sogamoso to chicken with crisp bubble and squeak-esque fritters in a rodside cafe in Tierradientro, no sight worth seeing is without its lunchtime delights worth trying.

Due to Bogota’s teeming population of  inhabitants from all over the country, many of Colombia’s regional culinary delights can be experienced within the capital. Atmospheric Paisa restaurants invariably have incomprehensible jokes written on the walls and often boast amiable waiters in typical Antioqueno clothing. Costeno lunchtime eateries usually emphasise the fish options, with rich seafood broths and crisp patacones not to be missed, while restaurants with a more Andean touch usually tend towards the warming stews with several varieties of potato, not forgetting the famous ajiaco Bogotano.

Corrientazos are to be found in almost every corner of the city,  however a general rule of thumb is that the more affluent the area, the less common it is to find a corrientazo. Almost any corrientazo place has the potential to serve up a meal of outstanding deliciousness and immense variety, so just take the plunge! You won’t regret it.