I don't really go in for New Year's Resolutions. I don't see much point in actually courting the sensation of failure when I don't lose 10kgs, save money, drink less, practice dancing more or learn a language. But I do think it is a good idea to take a step back from time to time, consider what you are doing and evaluate whether those things are constructive.
So I've been thinking about this blog in those terms. What am I doing? How is it going? What should I do differently? There are still some questions that I haven't resolved - the ones about accepting freebies from PRs for review and putting advertising on the blog, mostly - but I have made a few decisions. The main one is that I am going to post less often. Fewer "this is what we had for dinner" posts, and concentrate on some of the more interesting and unusual things that Paul and I attempt. More in-depth exploration of seasonal ingredients. Possibly more healthy options and perhaps even some slightly smaller portions in the photographs! But I'm not prepared to swear to that one.
And here, to celebrate my new found focus, is a Ploughman's Lunch.
Now, the origins of a ploughman's lunch are a bit hazy. It looks like a properly old-fashioned traditional sort of a meal, but it is believed that it was part of a milk marketing board campaign in the 1960s to get pubs to sell cheese. If that is true I think whoever came up with that campaign is a genius and should get a national holiday in their honour. Or at least a statue.
You are supposed to picture a brawny labourer - possibly with his shirt off and sweat glistening on his broad shoulders - sitting down in the shade of a tree, taking a lump of good cheese and some crusty bread from a cloth wrapping, and enjoying it with a mug of cool beer that a curly haired tot has carefully carried into the fields. You are going for rustic. Pastoral. Unspoilt.
We used to spend quite a lot of time at a pub in Sydney that did a killer ploughman's as a bar snack. The Lord Nelson ploughman's consisted of freshly made beer damper, enormous slabs of excellent cheddar cheese, pickled eggs and Branston pickle. And that really is the best model to follow.
In my opinion a ploughman's may contain: ham sliced from the bone, pickled onions, chutney, British cheese, celery sticks, crusty bread, apples, pickled beetroot. There is no room for: brie or camembert, tomatoes, sliced white bread, mayonnaise, ciabatta, sweet chilli jam, smoked chicken breast. And a ploughman's lunch is most emphatically NOT a cheese and pickle sandwich in a triangular carton selected from the shelf of a supermarket. Hell no.
For the last four years - ever since we bought it in a timber craft shop in Knysna - Paul and I have been saying that our blackwood carving board was the perfect thing to serve a ploughman's lunch on. It took a while to assemble all the other elements.
Beer damper: I followed this recipe, using half strong wholemeal flour and half plain white flour and adding baking powder to get the self-raising effect. I rubbed the butter into the flour as if I were making scones, and used Leffe Blonde as the beer because it tastes good, it was what I had and it was what we were going to be drinking with our lunch. The flavour of the beer does come through, so this is no time for cheap lager. I put the dough in a mound in a greased caketin, rather than wrapping it in foil. The hot bread was crusty and delicious, and the leftovers made really good toast the following day.
Pickled onions: I used this recipe of Delia Smith's for pickled shallots in sherry vinegar. They need to sit for a month before you eat them, so I'd had these in the cupboard since early December. These are much milder than a lot of commercial pickled onions, and they have a lovely crunchy texture.
Cheese: For Christmas I bought Paul a "hat trick" selection from the Cheese Society. For 3 months they will deliver him a selection of artisan British cheeses. For our ploughman's, we used Dambuster and Hereford Hop. The Dambuster is a waxed cow's milk cheddar from Lincolnshire (made with vegetarian rennet). It was full-flavoured without having that gum-ripping sensation you get from some mature cheddars and had quite a creamy texture. The Hereford Hop is also a cow's milk cheese made from vegetarian rennet. It's from Gloucestershire and is a bit softer and milder than a cheddar, the texture is almost like that processed smoked "bavarian" cheese you get with the brown rind. It's rolled in crushed hop flowers, which adds a subtle nutty, herbal flavour that I found extremely pleasant.
So there you have it. Home made bread, eaten warm, home made crunchy pickles, top notch cheese. A proper ploughman's lunch.