Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Food for Thought Weekend

I listened nervously to the speakers on Saturday at The School of Artisan Food, knowing it would be me in the spotlight the next day. But actually in the end the nerves disappeared until about ten minutes before I went on, I ended up totally distracted by all the fascinating people, and by the endless food and drink being proffered in my direction...

Unfortunately we were on the A1 while Jeremy Lee, Joanna Blythman and Jeanette Orrey were speaking, but we arrived in time to hear Bee Wilson speak about how people learn to eat; or to feed. A really interesting insight into how children develop eating habits and how to help them and make food a delight, teaching them to take pleasure in eating everything available.

Olia Hercules took to the stage that afternoon and told us lovely tales of fermenting foods in the Ukraine, so many ideas I want to try and places I would love to visit one day. The summer kitchens of Ukraine sound like beautiful places to hang out, I'd like to have one in Newcastle but we don't have any issues with it being too hot up here... and we don't even have a garden... so that's the end of that pipe dream. If you don't have Olia's book Mamushka you should get it, it has beautiful recipes and is written with such warmth and humour.

After a lovely evening of food, wine and new friends I was first up in the morning. I had written my speech over the course of the week before, not leaving quite enough time and interrupted by life and escaped bees I only finished it the night before, turns out talking for 45 minutes is a LOT of words, about 6000 actually. I will publish it here at some point soon...

I told of my journey from architecture, to food blog, to market organiser to shipping container restaurant owner and everything in between over the past 5 years. I included lots of beautiful photos just in case I froze. There were a couple of moments when my mouth felt like it wouldn't move and I forgot to breathe occasionally, but I got through it and everyone was very complimentary at the end.

That morning we also heard from James Whetlor on the challenges of trying to farm goats on a scale to supply national supermarkets. It left us thinking that there should be some level of shop between farmers market and supermarket that allows these producers to make a decent living without having to jump through all the impossible hoops the supermarkets impose, let alone the cost of getting through those hoops... A farm shop chain specific to the region it's in... a future project perhaps. after the summer kitchen...

Next were Honey & Co. duo Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, who told the charming tale of opening their place in Soho, and its background in the food they grew up on. Finally Andrew Graham Dixon, then Ivan Day, a wonderful food historian, who told us about the Coccagna festivals held in Italian cities in the 17th century. They were based on myths where money and food grew on trees, rivers flowed with wine and if you worked you went to prison. Sounds alright? They constructed huge pavilions of cake and bread, formal gardens made from hams and cheese, fountains of wine, you can't imagine anything like it. Constructed by the king and then given to the poor of the city to feast on...

I still feel a bit overwhelmed by the whole weekend, it was wonderful!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Nettle Soup

On Monday morning I arrived at Cook House to open up, I glanced down the side of the containers and went to pick up some rubbish, at the same time noticing glass everywhere and my heart sank. It's really pretty soul destroying when you work hard at something and people decide to just help themselves. I'm pretty resilient most of the time but waiting for the police, surrounded by mess and glass, I felt pretty fed up and disheartened...

But then this morning an old man appeared at the door of Cook House with a bunch of flowers. It was Bill. A few weeks ago I found myself again on the phone to the emergency services as Bill, one of the tour guides from the Victoria Tunnel next door, had tripped in the road outside. He had hit his face on the curb and couldn't move, lying in the road outside Cook House. It was a bit scary as there was so much blood, but luckily a young doctor happened to drive past and put everyone at ease, eventually taking Bill off to hospital himself...

Bill is ok thank goodness, his face is fine but he has broken his shoulder in three places, yet is on the mend. Standing in the door of Cook House with some flowers. So I'll just concentrate on the lovely Bill's of this world and not the toe rags.... and on soup, because that always makes you feel better in times of trouble.

Did you know you can pick young nettles with your bare hands and they don't sting you? Don't blame me if you do get stung, but I've tried it and found it to be true,... most of the time... I picked about a carrier bag full. 

Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and about 25g of butter in a big pan. Add 3 sliced leeks, thoroughly washed, 3 sliced onions, 2 cloves of crushed garlic and a big pinch of salt and sweat gently for about half an hour. Then add two large potatoes, peeled and diced, and leave to sweat for another ten minutes. Cover with a litre or so of either water, ham stock or vegetable stock, whatever your preference. I like to use the stock from simmering ham hocks, diluted down with water a bit so it's not too salty. Simmer everything until the potatoes are soft.

Finally add the nettles, again thoroughly washed, and grass picked out... I sometimes add a bit of spinach too depending how many nettles I've picked. Simmer for a couple more minutes then blend until smooth. Add lots of black pepper and the quantity of salt will depend on which stock you have used, keep adding in small quantities until it tastes delicious. You will probably need to add more stock or water too until it is the desired consistency. And there you have it, nettle soup, delicious, free ingredients and restorative...

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Wild Garlic Harissa

The wild garlic is back in abundance, I looked a few weeks ago and it had just started, a few shoots here and there, but nothing more than a dainty garnish. A little bit of sunshine and suddenly there's a carpet of it. I filled a bin bag full last week and started to think of things I could do that I hadn't tried before...

I've made a lot of wild garlic pesto in the past, it's good in obvious things like pasta or a poached chicken salad. I like it drizzled into soup, particularly a new season nettle soup. I made some in Cook House last year and loved it. I also hadn't known until then that the new young nettle shoots don't sting you, you can just pick them with your bare hands... I'm still quite tentative though...  

Last week I made a form of green harissa for some canapes I was serving; a little fresh cheese and green harissa tart with sumac and pine nuts, they were really pretty tasty. I used coriander, parsley and rocket as the green base, but thought it would be good with wild garlic too. This green harissa is a mild form of Zhoug, a middle eastern green chilli paste.

I used two chillis, deseeded and chopped up, 60g coriander, 60g wild garlic, juice of quarter of a lemon, a pinch of salt, a good grind of black pepper. Then lightly toast half a teaspoon of coriander seeds, half a teaspoon of cumin seeds and half a teaspoon of cardamom seeds, and crush them until they are a fine powder in a pestle and mortar. Add this to your green mix and blitz the whole lot, gradually adding a stream of olive oil until you have a thick paste. It's delicious, a bit like a pesto but it has heat and spice and depth to it. It was delicious with my homemade fresh cheese.

I also added it to a salad of beetroot, feta and green lentils, lovely. A warning not to have it and go straight to a meeting, it tends to stay with you for a little while! Next up I'm trying some wild garlic oil, which you can use to drizzle into soups or salads, but sounds like it might be good to make mayonnaise with too... fried chicken and wild garlic mayo I'm thinking...

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Cured Egg Yolks

I was watching a programme about the MAD Food Symposium on line somewhere when I came across Christian Puglisi and his restaurant Relae in Copenhagen. An ex Noma chef who has gone it alone, whose restaurant sounded like somewhere I'd definitely like to eat. He talks of tiring of fine dining and opening his own place with no tablecloths, filled with laughter and joy and a great kitchen. It's very inspirational. After reading more and more, I ended up ordering his book of the same name, Relae.

When the book arrived I read on. It is the story of how he opened and his ideas, theories and inspirations behind his food. It's quite full on. What became apparent also, was that Christian's version of a stripped back restaurant project that was bistro in style, simple with no fuss, was slightly higher end than mine. The individually hand made wooden tables that have a secret drawer for your knife, fork and napkin; they gave that away. Christian was not scrabbling around saving money for a new toaster; nope. But inspiring non the less, it's reading stories like his that make me think I can do more. It inspires me to imagine new projects, keep going and work hard; to create delicious food and places that people like to come to.

So as well as all that, this book was my introduction to cured egg yolks. At Relae they serve a 'snack' that is a taco made from a disc of baked celeriac filled with a celeriac remoulade with lemon creme fraiche and buttermilk, topped with peppery cress and then a heavy grating of cured salty egg yolk.

I know that you're not going to look at this and think 'mmm... I'd love some cured egg yolks for dinner...' but bear with me. They are delicious. At Relae they cure theirs in pure salt for 24 hours and then dry them in a dehydrator. I did some reading around the subject, as I don't have a dehydrator, and settled on this method...

Start by finding a small container that will fit 6 egg yolks and some room to breathe, then mix equal quantities of caster sugar and fine salt together, I used 250g of each to cure 6 eggs. Mix the salt and sugar thoroughly then spread half of it over the bottom of your container.

Make 6 small indentations into the salt and sugar mix and place an egg yolk into each, this is a good excuse to make meringues with your egg whites too if you fancy. Then cover the yolks completely with the remaining salt and sugar. Cover and place in the fridge for a week.

After a week take them out of the fridge and carefully dig the yolks out of their hiding place, you will find hardened golden yolks as your prize. Rinse them off under a cold tap, I them left them to air dry on a rack for an afternoon. Then they are ready to use. I used this lot grated thickly over a venison tartar at a recent supperclub, they are a delicious rich sweet yet salty addition that was lovely with the irony meat and sharp capers and cornichon.

I'd like to try them in a version of a carbonara, with fried guanciale and grated egg yolk. I think a version of a Lyonnaise Salad would be good too, with bitter leaves, herbs, bacon and grated yolks. Or with some fresh hot asparagus and hollandaise, rich egg on rich egg...


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Newcastle: The Story of a City through Its Food

You can listen again here...

Mid January on Tuesday lunchtime and I nervously awaited the arrival of Dan Saladino at Cook House. It's pretty high up on my list of good moments, Radio 4 at Cook House! I'm a Radio 4 listener and a Food Programme fan... (I also like The Archers... don't judge me... when is Helen going to see sense and leave Rob!?)

Over January The Food Programme has been broadcasting programmes from around the country from spots they believed a bit unrepresented in the past. Leeds was first up, then Cardiff and finally Newcastle. I babbled nervously as Dan held a huge microphone in my face. We chatted about Cook House, how I'd ended up cooking in a shipping container for a living, putting markets together, about the burgeoning food scene in Newcastle and it's people.

The programme visits Ken Holland in his shed, Terry Layborne, The Grainger Market and it's traditional traders as well as its new wave of food vendors, Matt Boyle of Wylam Brewery, The Comfry Project cooking and growing with refugees, Food Nation and their cooking school and new take away project, behind the scenes at Fenwick's Food Hall and a few other interesting folk. It's a charming representation of our city and its food, it's great to have it broadcast nationwide...

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

'From Scotland with Love' at Newcastle Castle

On Saturday evening I found myself briefly alone on the roof of the Castle Keep looking out over the lights of Newcastle. It's a beautiful view, I've rarely been into the keep and have never been up on the roof in the dark, so I snuck up as the guests were arriving into the Great Hall and took in the view.

'From Scotland with Love' was the occasion, a delicious evening celebrating the relationship between Scotland and the North East at the Castle Keep and the Black Gate in the centre of town. Myself and Simon Preston put together the menu; researching dishes from Northumberland and Scotland and coming up with a host of ideas that led to the final menu. It was challenging, and I think the most ambitious menu I have worked on for a supper club yet.

To start we served an Elderberry Whisky Fizz in the Great Hall of the Castle Keep, with a Highland Caboc cheese and radish canape, a beautiful cheese almost like butter, which is always a good thing in my book. The guests toured the Keep, stopping for a little cup of Craster Kipper Cullen Skink along the way and then came over to the Black Gate for the start of supper.

We served a Smoked Eel Salad to start with a split pea puree, a nod to pease pudding; beetroot, horseradish, a beautiful oyster leaf from Ken Holland and an elderberry shrub dressing from Buck & Birch in Edinburgh. The smoked eel was from the Inverawe Smokehouse in Oban, it's so rich and delicious.

On the table were fresh breads from Artisan Baking Community served with a homemade Whisky Butter, an idea I got from my visit to Paradise Garage in London and one I will definitely be repeating...

Then a course I've been wanting to serve for a long time, Venison Tartare with Cured Egg Yolk. I have served it as straight tartare before up at Lindisfarne, it is rich and delicious with spikes of cornichon, caper and shallot. I've always wanted to add the cured egg yolk however, it is cured in a sugar and salt mix for a week until solid and then grated over the venison adding a rich sweet and salty hit to the meat. The venison loin is like butter when you cut it, red deer from George Bower Game Butcher in Edinburgh.

These were followed by a Spiced Lamb, Pluck and Barley, a take on haggis spiced with lots of white pepper, nutmeg and marjorum, served with pink pickled 'neeps' tattie scones and a Northumbrian Leek suet pudding.

A Scotland versus Northumberland cheese course followed, of Dunsyre Blue and Doddington. Then a palate cleanser of 21212 Porridge milk, sent from the restaurant of the same name in Edinburgh. A delicious blend of secret ingredients that I'm yet to work out. Finally followed by Edinburgh Fog, a cream and Drambuie pudding served with marmalade and malt whisky English scones. Guests chatted and laughed and ate and seemed to have a lovely time, I wish I'd had the time to talk to people more but the kitchen was a bit overwhelming by the end of the night and we needed to get home at some point, finding our way out from underneath all the dishes...

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Roast Tomato, Red Lentil and Harissa Daal

Happy New Year! Like many others I'm feeling the full effects of a two week daily cheese, wine, meat, pie and chocolate drip feed. So before I go to London tomorrow and intensively eat my way round every place I've had my eye on for the past year I've been trying to eat healthy vegetable based dishes. This has been my favourite go to for a while and is based on a recipe from Diana Henry's 'A Healthy Appetite', which I haven't really explored enough but everything I have made has been delicious.

So far my London itinerary includes Paradise Garage, from the people behind The Dairy, in a railway arch in East London, seasonal, british, tasting menu, all very current! The menu looks right up my street though, lamb heart, cod brandade with seafood crisp, smoked eel, venison tartar with cured egg... Then there's Pidgin, opened by James Ramsden who used to run supperclubs from his flat, but now has a little restaurant with a set weekly menu, the chef Elizabeth Allan is producing delicious sounding menus and has staged in some of the best restaurants including L'Enclume. Then Oldroyd, a little neighbourhood place in Angel with an Italian slant opened by Tom Oldroyd who headed up the kitchen at Polpo for years. I'm also hoping to squeeze in trips to Bao, Som Saa, Brawn, Barrafina, Black Axe Mangal and The Quality Chop House, which won't happen but I'll try hard; as well as some good exhibitions that are on too, and see some friends. I think I should just book tickets to go down again asap as I'm being massively overly ambitious...

Back to eating vaguely healthily... It's quite simple, this will serve two people generously. Half about 8 tomatoes and toss them in a baking tray with a big glug of olive oil, salt, pepper and a couple of tea spoons of harissa, then roast then at 180˚C cut side up, for about 45 minutes until shrunken and sweet.

In a small pan toast 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds and 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds for a few minutes until you can smell them, then grind them up in a pestle and mortar. In a frying pan heat a splash of olive oil and gently fry a chopped onion until soft and golden. Then add 4 cloves of grated garlic, the cumin and coriander, half a teaspoon of tumeric, a pinch of saffron, 2cm of grated fresh ginger, the finely diced stalks of a small bunch of coriander (keep the leaves) and one chopped red chilli. Then continue to cook gently for another five minutes.

Add 250g red lentils and stir to coat then in the spices and oil, add in most of the roast tomatoes with all the oil and harissa scrapings from the baking tray, save a few tomatoes back for the top of each dish, and about 700ml of water, add salt and pepper to taste, then leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Top up with water if needs be, but you want it to be quite a thick, daal/stew consistency. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt, chopped coriander and the reserved tomatoes.

I'll be back on the lentils and vegetables as soon as I've finished aggressively eating my way around the capital... 

Monday, 14 December 2015

Wild Duck, Pistachio & Juniper Terrine

I just picked up Jane Grigson's 'English Food' to see what she had to say about terrines, and it turns out nothing. I had presumed that a version of the terrine was rooted somewhere in English food history, but it seems that we only have the French to thank, as far as Jane is concerned anyway...

Elizabeth David has a lot more to say with recipes for Terrine de Campagne, duck, veal, hare, pigeon and rabbit terrines. She employs two methods, the first is to pack a terrine tin with all your ingredients, then cover with aspic, a jellied stock made from pigs trotters, then cook. Or, the method I use, to line your terrine tin with bacon, layer in your terrine ingredients, seal with bacon, then cook and press overnight.

I am not au fait with an aspic yet, and Elizabeth says that they keep better using the bacon method anyway. A terrine was a preservation method originally. The terrine itself keeps very well for about a week, and improves in flavour after a few days. But if you seal it into the tin after cooking and cooling, with a layer of pig fat, it can keep for up to a month.

Most of the recipes that ED uses have similar flavours, juniper, thyme, brandy, some sort of liver, lemon zest, bay, mace and garlic appear in most instances. In spring and summer i would use fresher flavours, perhaps a poached chicken with lemon zest, thyme and almonds, then in autumn and winter I prefer game; duck or pigeon, with juniper, brandy and rich chicken livers.

I'll tell you my method, it is easily changeable depending on the season and what is to hand. Once you have made a couple you can switch things around and experiment, I don't think you can go that wrong once you have mastered the basics.

For a duck terrine I use two small wild duck, for pigeon you would probably need 4 birds and you can see the chicken method here... Roast the duck at 200˚C for 15 minutes. They don't need to be entirely cooked as you are going to cook the terrine again, very pink is fine as you want it to stay moist, a dry terrine isn't good.

Leave the birds to cool and when you can handle them cut off the breasts and legs and shred every scrap of meat you can get off them into bite size pieces, this is best done by hand. Keep the carcasses to make stock if you wish, it's lovely for a Cassoulet.

While the birds are cooking and cooling you can prepare the sausage meat. I use 800g of sausage meat, for a 30cm terrine tin. Get it from the butcher, you want it to have a decent amount of fat in it, minced meat in the supermarkets these days is fatless to the point of ridiculousness.

Now you can freestyle, but I'll tell you what I add. 2 tablespoons of brandy, a clove of grated garlic, 5 juniper berries crushed and finely chopped, the leaves from a large sprig of thyme, half a teaspoon of mace and a large handful of chicken livers cut into bite size pieces. I used to mince it finely, but now I prefer to come across these rich creamy pieces while eating the terrine. Then a handful of pistachios, I like the added texture of a nut, and a little pop of bright green when you cut it open.

Then I grease the terrine tin with butter and place three bay leaves on the base. These look pretty when you turn it out, but they also add flavour as the terrine steams in the oven. Line the tin with unsmoked streaky bacon, about 600g. The whole thing needs to be wrapped in the bacon, so line the bottom and the sides, leaving longer pieces so you can wrap over and also seal up the top.

Then you are going to layer up the sausage meat mix and the duck, starting with a layer of sausage meat, you will have three layers of this, with two layers of duck in between, starting and ending on sausage meat. So add a third of your sausage meat mix to the bottom of the tin and flatten it down with your hands into a pressed layer. Then add a layer of the duck meat, half of it in total, spread it out evenly over the sausage meat and again press it down, then the next third of sausage meat, then the remaining duck, then the final layer of sausage meat, pressing down the layers in between. When it is all in, then fold over the bacon sealing up the top, add a few extra bits here and there if you have any gaps.

Now it is ready to cook. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper slightly larger than the tin, and tie this up with a piece of string. Place the terrine into a large deep baking tray and fill with water about half way up the side of the terrine tin. You are aiming to slowly cook/steam the terrine, so don't add boiling water, I usually add something tepid as freezing cold slows everything down too much. Then put into the oven for about an hour at 150˚C, until the terrine has come away from the edges of the tin If you want to measure it with a probe, the internal temperature should be about 68˚C. Remove from the oven and pour out the water.

Now you need to press it, put it back into the baking tray as juices will spill out as you weight it down. I have used various ramshackle methods of doing this, but you need something the same size as the terrine to sit on top of it, then heavy stuff. Another terrine tin filled with weights is a good idea. I currently use one and a half bricks, which fit nicely, on top of another layer of greaseproof paper, then I balance chopping boards and heavy pans on top. Like I say it's a bit ramshackle, whatever works for you, but figure it out in advance. I've had angry moments in the cupboard under the stairs looking for anything that might fit in the bloody terrine tin.

Then leave it to sit over night weighted down. I find it best to then leave it in its tin for a further day in the fridge for the flavours to really come out. Then slice and eat. It is good with hot toast, chutney or pickle. I made some pickled damsons which were lovely with the game, a spiced apple chutney is good, or a sweet pickled cucumber, or just a few little cornichon. It's a good thing to have around over Christmas if you can find the time to make it in advance as it can just sit in the fridge if you need a snack or guests arrive for lunch... It has a lovely rich flavour, spiced, moist duck, creamy chicken livers... delicious.