Wednesday, 29 June 2016

BBQ Bavette and friends

I'm trying to expand my cooking on fire repertoire; so I took the opportunity to try a few new things recently, on a short break in the Lake District. Fire makes me a bit more apprehensive than the safety of an oven, but it also allows you to be outdoors, and is a lot more exciting... I'd always be outdoors if I could choose... if only the weather was a bit better...


I've been watching the new series of Chef's Table on Netflix, I love it, one of my favourite episodes is from the first series about Francis Mallman, he has a restaurant in Argentina that focuses on Patagonian cuisine. When he's not there he seems to wander the country cooking outdoors in the most remote and beautiful spots. At one point Francis and his team are out in the snow on the edge of the forest, they had dug a fire pit that morning and set up whole lambs cantilevered over it, cooking all day. They set up a full table, rugs, furs, chairs, giant bottles of red wine; and laughed and feasted in the snow, it looked perfect. He has a small fishing boat, that has a little BBQ attached to the side of it so he can float around on the beautiful lakes of Argentina, catching fish, putting them straight on the coals, relaxing in the boat, drinking red wine. So that's where I'd like to get to, set ups like these one day... out in the quiet, fresh air, water, nature, fire, cooking and wine, that's my idea of a good life...

But for now I've just got a small BBQ, and I'm thinking about where to dig the fire pit... but there's always the future. It's not all about huge chunks of meat either, so let's start very small... with BBQ pea pods.



Peas are in season right now, so get some fresh peas in their pods. You can put them on very early while you're still waiting for the coals to all turn white, when it's still a bit too hot for the meat. Lay out a layer of pea pods over the grill, turning them around now and again, until you get a good char on the outside, then take them all off into a big bowl. The peas will have steamed cooked inside their pods. Sprinkle with lots of salt and suck the peas out of their pods, a lovely snack while you wait.


BBQ New Potato Skewers are a good new discovery I've found. Par boil your new potatoes, about 3 per skewer, depending on how big they are. They should be almost done. Drain then, leave them to dry in their own steam, then toss them in olive oil and salt. Thread 3 or 4 onto wooden skewers and place them on the BBQ, leave them for a minute on one side, then turn, a minute on the other, depending how hot your fire is, they should take on a deep golden skin. Take them off when they are ready and serve with lots of cold butter or a really good aioli.


Then to the BBQ Bavette Steak. I used a 2kg piece of bavette, which is also known as the flank steak. This was for 6-8 people and was plenty. It is marinated, cooked quite quickly so it stays pretty rare then sliced thinly. Make the marinade first, some olive oil, a splash of sesame oil, a couple of centimetres of grated ginger, a clove of grated garlic, a splash of soy sauce, a teaspoon of sugar, salt and pepper. Mix it up and taste, alter to suit, more salt, more sweet, however you like it. Then cover the steak in it and leave at room temperature for an hour or so, or you can leave it in the fridge over night.

When the BBQ is hot, all the coals white and the flames have died down it is ready. Put the steak on and leave it, don't touch, give it 4 minutes on the first side, don't move it, this allows a crust to form, then turn, for another 4 minutes, but it can vary, so prod it with your finger, if it feels very soft it's still very rare, you want it when it just starts to firm up, like the bit of your palm feels next to your thumb when you prod it... Remember don't move it around, just two turns... Then get it off when you think it's done and rest it for 5 minutes, covered. This allows it to relax, keep its moisture and generally get over the aggression of the fire it's just been on... Get a sharp knife and slice thinly to serve, about half a centimetre ish... It should be beautifully pink inside and totally delicious...

Everything is a bit ish when it comes to cooking on fire, just try and practice and find your way, I'm starting to...






Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Hawthorn Blossom Syrup

The blossoms are in full bloom on the Hawthorns at the moment. I have read an account of people eating the new leaf shoots in sandwiches, in bread and butter, or in salads. I have tried them straight off the tree and I don't think they are much to shout about to be honest...


Then I found a recipe using the blossoms, an 18th century recipe that was published in E. Smith's The Compleat Housewife originally. They are long winded instructions about gallypots, thank fully the book I found it mentioned in simplified matters for me, a little bit.

I picked a carrier bag full of lovely white blossoms. You will need about 1 litre of blossoms. Gently snip the flowers from the stalks and pack them loosely into into jars in layers about 2.5cm deep. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar between each layer of flowers, until the jars are full.


Then heat 800g sugar with 1.25litres of water and 7 tablespoons of lemon juice in a pan, bring it to the boil for 3 minutes, then set aside to cool. Pour the cooled syrup into the jar with the flowers and put the lids on loosely. Stand the jars in a big pan on top of a few sheets of folded newspaper, with some newspaper between the jars so they don't touch. Then fill up the pan with cold water, bring to the boil slowly and simmer very gently for 1 hour.



Finally lift out the jars and tighten the lids. When everything is stone cold open the jars and strain the flowers out of the syrup through a cloth and seal into sterilsied jars or bottles. Keep it somewhere cool and it will keep for months.

It's a delicious apricot coloured syrup, serve with soda, ice and a squeeze of lemon, with a few flowers scattered on top... It's good with gin and tonic! or drizzled over panna cotta or ice cream...


Monday, 30 May 2016

BBQ Goat Chops

Having The Goat Company at Jesmond Food Market regularly means I've been able to get hold of goat meat much more easily; and hearing James Whetlot of Cabrito speak the other week about his endeavours to make it available more widely, has also encouraged me to try it out more. It's a really tasty yet subtle meat, which I would like to cook with more often. I tried out a goat ragu a couple of months ago; browned then slow cooked with onions, carrots and celery, some red wine and chopped tomatoes, served with polenta, it was simple and delicious, but not particularly photogenic. This time round I went for some chops...


I am without a kitchen at home at the moment and am really missing cooking for myself, friends and family. It has been knocked down to be rebuilt and will be wonderful once it is finished but washing up in the minuscule bathroom sink just isn't feasible so we're surviving on salad, Cook House leftovers and accepting every dinner invitation thrown our way! Subsequently a holiday in the Lake District, for a few days, with a working kitchen, bbq and smoker sent me into a bit of a frenzy... Menu planning, shopping lists, orders placed; this was not going to be time wasted! A little simple bbq to kick things of when we arrived was actually one of the highlights.



I began by marinating the goat chops in a mix of chopped rosemary, a clove of grated garlic, the juice of half a lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper. I thought simple was best, to appreciate the flavour of the meat and I like a BBQ that is a bit Greek in style; home made flat breads, choppy salads and dips... lots of things to pick at on the table, it's the best way and delicious.

Leaving the goat to sit for an hour or so, we lit the bbq... and I set about some simple side dishes. Some asparagus, spring onions and sliced courgettes, with just a bit of olive oil and salt are delicious on a bbq. More often than not people pile a ton of meat on, every type at once, with a token corn on the cob, but I like a vegetable on the bbq just as much as a chop!


BBQ pea pods were a good discovery over the weekend, just put fresh pea pods onto the bbq, turn until they are charred, then open them up and you have tasty steamed peas, sprinkle with a bit of salt. They can go on while the bbq is still too hot for everything else so are a good pre dinner snack, as they only take a couple of minutes...


I made some homemade flatbreads, which sounds like a lot of effort but is the opposite. 250g plain flour mixed with 150ml of warm water, a teaspoon of salt and a table spoon of olive oil, mix it into a dough and knead for 2 minutes then let it sit under a bowl until you need it. It will make 4 large flatbreads. Just divide it into 4 and flatten out into a thin disc when you need it and chuck on the bbq at the end, it will puff up and char a bit. The dough takes 2 minutes as does the rolling out and you will be rewarded ten fold by the delight of your own fresh bread!

I also made a sweet cumin yoghurt, a smoky aubergine yoghurt and a spicy tomato sauce; my favourite trio of dips, you can see how here...




Time to BBQ. Make sure you have left it calm down a bit, all the coals white but not volcanic, you don't want everything burnt to a crisp within a minute of being on the grill. We put the veg on first and a bit of sliced halloumi... lush... Then the goat chops, about 3 minutes on each side, I put a sprig of rosemary on at the same time as the chops which caught fire coating them in a lovely rosemary char... Then take it all off into a nice hot bowl and put the flatbreads on, roll them quite thin and they will only take a minute while everyone tucks into the rest of the offerings... It was a lovely evening.



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...