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.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Slow Cooked Ox Cheek

I've been cooking this dish a lot recently, attempting to perfect it. Ox cheek is my current favourite when it comes to cuts of meat. They are a beautiful thing raw; a really intense deep red, and they smell lovely, an earthy meaty smell that I love. I haven't tried them raw, but they look like they might be tasty, and I've been thinking about curing and air drying a few as I think they would be rich and delicious.

Recently however I've been slow cooking them. I've taken advice from Richard Olney, Nigel Slater and Elizabeth David, not personally you understand, and have ended up with my current method which I'll continue to work on.

I think it is safe to say that a lot of the success of this lies in your beef stock, so be prepared to take your time over it. My last batch was my best yet. I think, that might have been down to the bone marrow... I found myself at the kitchen bench having a little snack of bone marrow sprinkled with salt at about 10am the other morning, I did think to myself 'what on earth are you doing eating this at 10am' but soon realised I didn't give a damn and was pretty delighted to be snacking on bone marrow at 10am. Perks.

If you make a big batch of stock you can freeze some, it then makes the ox cheek a much more simple dish to prepare next time you want to cook it. You will want to cook it again, I'm guessing. Ask your butcher for some beef bones, make sure you get a few with some marrow you can scoop out. Then roast the bones at 200˚C for about 20 minutes until they are golden brown and the fat is sizzling. 

While they are cooking get a big pan, heat a splash of oil, and fry a couple of chopped onions, a big pinch of salt, a couple of chopped red onions, a couple of chopped peeled carrots (the skin can be bitter in a stock) a couple of sticks of chopped celery, a chopped leek, a few sprigs of parsley, a couple of bay leaves, a few black peppercorns, a couple of cloves of peeled garlic and cook this all until it softens and starts to turn golden. Then add in the beef bones and enough water to cover everything, a few litres usually. You don't want too much water as you'll loose the flavour, just enough to cover.

Then bring the whole thing to the boil and simmer very gently for 3 hours. It should be only just moving. 'Don't boil the love out of it' someone once told me and I remember it every time. About half way through you should be able to scoop the bone marrow out of the bones, leave it to melt into the stock as it continues to cook. I usually do all this the day before as it's quite a time consuming task.

Now to the cheeks. I serve one cheek per person, but make a few extra just in case you fancy a bit more. Season the cheeks with salt on both sides. Heat a large cast iron pan or frying pan with a splash of olive oil and lay in the ox cheeks when it's hot. Don't crowd them, do them in batches if needs be. Don't move them around, just leave them to brown in one place for a couple of minutes on each side, you're looking for golden brown patches to form, all adding to the final flavour. Do this slowly, don't rush, and place the ox cheeks into a deep baking tray or oven dish as they are ready. Then add two sliced onions and two thickly sliced cloves of garlic to the pan you browned the meat in and cook slowly until golden.

Now add 125ml of red wine and the juice of an orange to the onion pan, heat on high and scrape up anything meaty stuck to the bottom of the pan, until it has reduced slightly, pour this over the ox cheeks, then add your delicious beef stock until the cheeks are just poking out of the top, about a litre. Finally add to the pan a chopped carrot, a couple of strips of zest from the orange, the skin of a pear and lots of black pepper. Cover with tin foil or a lid and cook in the oven at 180˚C for 3 hours, turning the cheeks occasionally. There's a turn the other cheek joke in there somewhere...

Then they are ready, they are the most beautifully soft melty delicious things, with a rich reduced gravy to boot. Serve an ox cheek per person with some vegetables and gravy spooned over, lots of horseradish or mustard, mash, polenta, whatever you fancy. It's been on the menu at Cook House quite a lot recently, I can't see myself tiring of it any time soon...