Monday, 30 May 2011

Craster kippers

Craster is about an hours drive north from Newcastle, The Little Idiot and I went for a windy picnic a few weeks ago. We ate on the harbour huddled behind the high harbour wall and then took a windy walk along to Dunstanburgh Castle. I'd like to describe a wonderful home-made picnic of pies and salads and ginger beer, but it was bad pots of salad from Tesco as it was a last minute decision. They were tasteless and full of regret...

Craster is famous for it's kippers, just a short walk up from the harbour brings you to the main smoke houses, where thousands of kippers are smoked daily. The herring are caught locally and oak smoked and distributed all over the country. I have read that the Royal family are partial to them for breakfast.

So if it's good enough for them then it's good enough for TLI and I on a sunny Sunday morning in May. Simply grill the kippers on each side for about 4 or 5 minutes and serve with a wedge of lemon and some buttered brown toast.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Skate, Capers and Bread

This is a very quick and simple dish to prepare, yet I would easily put it into the top five tastiest dishes I have ever cooked... Number one being woodcock, last autumn, on toast... I still think about it on a regular basis. In both cases the recipes have come from 'Nose to Tail Eating' by Mr. Fergus Henderson of St. John restaurant fame.

The last few times I have been down in London I have visited St. John Bread and Wine for a long afternoon lunch. I remember skate salad with lemon and capers, crispy sprats, langoustine in fennel, a bit too much white wine, cheese plates and a generally lovely afternoon. Especially when it is mid week and everyone else is at work... The St. John Hotel is the groups latest addition, opening recently on Leicester Street. It is definitely next on my list for a visit. I hear they serve dinner till 2am and there is suckling pig to share on the menu. I'm going to look into trains right now...

Last weekend we picked up some skate wings, kippers and mussels from Seaview in North Shields, and the first thing to get some attention was the skate. You will need to ask the fishmonger to skin the skate wings on both sides. To start you will need a frying pan that can go in the oven. I didn't have one so used a large casserole type dish which was fine. Melt a splash of oil and a knob of butter in the pan and add the 2 skate wings when it is hot and bubbling. Let it cook for a few moments, shuggle (a St. John description, I knew exactly what they meant...) the pan to stop the fish from sticking, then turn for another few moments and shuggle again.

Transfer the skate to a hot oven for eight to ten minutes. The skate is done when the flesh comes away from the bone easily when you prod it with a knife. Transfer the skate to a hot plate and cover with foil.

Add 200g of butter to the skate pan to melt, when it is sizzling add about twelve 2cm croutons of day old bread, with the crust removed. I used 2 day old sour dough, it worked perfectly. Fry them in the butter until golden and crisp but still springy in the middle. Add the juice of half a lemon until it sizzles and turns brown, then add a small handful of capers and cook for a minute. Finally add a handful of chopped curly parsley and pour everything over the skate wings straight away.

Serve with a crisp salad with a sharp lemon and mustard dressing.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Vegetable patch

I thought I'd show you how I'm getting on in the allotment and in the garden this year. It's hard work and very time consuming, but I seem to be getting to a point where the allotment is cleared, tidier and slightly under control. I've been reading the River Cottage 'Veg Patch' book from cover to cover and trying to do everything properly and at the right time.

The broad beans and the peas are coming on well, I've made circular cane wigwams woven with little twigs for them to climb up. I've planted six cauliflower plants this week. I think it is an under rated vegetable so am doing my bit to appreciate the British cauliflower. I have read that they are quite hard work to grow over the summer as they are demanding and thirsty... but I'll try my best...

The sunflowers are getting taller and taller. I'd like to have lots of beautiful flowers scattered around the plot as well as my vegetables, so have put in lupins and poppies, and still have cornflowers and nasturtiums to plant yet. The purple balls bobbing around on top of the chive plants look lovely.

In the garden I have a beautiful flower on the clematis plant, it has been growing for three years and has never flowered until now... I have put in six tomato plants against a sunny wall and one cucumber plant, which has already suffered a bit of damage from the ridiculous wind we're having but hopefully he will survive.

Finally in the house the sweetcorn has appeared in little spiky shoots and the climbing french beans have also popped up. They should be ready to go into the allotment next week and then it's on to the courgettes, turks turbans and cabbages...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Leek Fritters

This recipe for leek fritters comes from the Ottolenghi book 'Plenty', it is an old Turkish family recipe that is really delicious. I was in Turkey twice last year, once for a few days in Istanbul and earlier in the year on the south Mediterranean coast for a very relaxing week. It is a beautiful area. We were staying near the coast which is very dramatic with huge cliffs dropping to tiny little pebble coves that you have to walk down hundreds of steps to reach. But drive twenty minutes inland and we were up in high mountains covered with huge pine trees, with fast rivers full of fresh water trout.

The mountain drive took us home through huge rocky dry mountains surrounding low lush green plateaus of farm land, growing millions and millions of tomatoes as well as corn, aubergines and chickpeas. When we eventually found our way back to the coast, after a few hours longer than planned, we came across a tiny little road side fish restaurant... They had one little boat moored on the rocks, a few chickens and some funny looking dogs, we were brought a green salad with pomegranate seeds and a syrupy pomegranate dressing, thin fried potatoes and a big tray of different sized, shaped and coloured fresh fish to point at which ones we wanted. I can't even remember which ones we went for, but everything was delicious, sat in the sun after being a bit lost in the mountains for most of the day...

To start the leek fritters chop 3 leeks into 2cm thick slices. These amounts will serve 4 people. Finely chop 5 shallots and sauté them together in a pan, on a low heat, with about 60ml of olive oil until they are soft, for about 15 minutes.

While they are cooking you can make the herb yoghurt sauce. Add 100g of Greek yoghurt, 100g of soured cream, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt, 20g of parsley leaves and 30g of coriander leaves to the blender and blitz for a few minutes until it is a green creamy sauce. If you don't want to make the sauce, or don't have a blender, the fritters are still delicious with just a squeeze of lemon.

Take a large bowl and add all of the following: one chopped red chilli, 25g of chopped parsley leaves, ¾ teaspoon of ground coriander, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon of ground turmeric, ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. When the leeks and shallots are really soft add them to this mix and let them cool down.

Now whisk one egg white to soft peaks and add it to the cooled leeks. In another bowl mix together 120g of self raising flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, one whole egg, 150ml of milk and 55g of melted unsalted butter and mix everything together to make a light batter. Then stir this batter into the leek mix.

Finally heat 60ml of olive oil in a large frying pan. Spoon four large dollops of the mix into the pan to form four fritters, you will get about eight in total from the mix. Fry them for 2 or 3 minutes on each side until golden. Serve them warm with the sauce and a pile of salad...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Asparagus, Jersey Royals and a soft boiled egg

British asparagus is in season and I plan to cook as much as possible while it lasts... So far I have bought a bunch every time I have visited a shop... The season generally runs from the end of April to the end of June, so I have a bit of time left... It is difficult to grow, I gather, and you can't pick it for three years from planting, it is perhaps a bit beyond my gardening talents at this stage.

Asparagus has a natural nutty type flavour and goes very well with salty dairy ingredients like hard cheese, butter and hollandaise; as well as eggs, lemon, truffle, new potatoes and oily fish. I tackled my first hollandaise this weekend, a grapefruit one and it was delicious, you use the juice of a grapefruit instead of white wine vinegar, it was perfect with poached salmon and asparagus.

But for my first taste of new season asparagus I opted for a simple lunch of Jersey Royal new potatoes, asparagus and a soft boiled egg. The potatoes were tossed in butter, salt and pepper, the asparagus cooked in an inch of salted water for 4 to 5 minutes and an egg boiled for 3 to 4 minutes. Served together with a little pile of watercress it was delicious. I wish my egg had been a bit runnier to dip the asparagus in, I left it a little long...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Flageolet bean and cumin hummus

I've been busy planting this week. Sweetcorn and french beans are on the window sills waiting to appear. Tomatoes and cucumbers are in grow bags in the garden and at the allotment we have planted a lawn and put in some strawberries, chives, salad, rocket and cauliflowers. Actually making sure they all survive and produce food is making me a bit nervous, as it is already quite a long list of things of things to keep alive. I've been reading and researching each plant trying to learn all of the gardening tricks... It may take some time...

This was a quick little snack I rustled up to keep energy levels up for a few hours on the allotment. If you have never made your own hummus you should certainly try, it is much nicer than a tub from the supermarket and you can adjust it to suit your own tastes. I have made traditional hummus with chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon, but you can substitute the chickpeas for different beans and add different spices to make many different variations. For this version I used flageolet beans and toasted cumin seeds.

You will need a food processor and it will only take about 2 minutes. Toast 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds in a dry pan and when they are lightly browned add them to a pestle and mortar and crush them to a rough powder. Add to the food processor a drained tin of flageolet beans, a large glug of olive oil, some salt and pepper, a chopped clove of garlic, the toasted cumin seeds and the juice of half a lemon.

Blitz everything for a few minutes until smooth and serve with some toasted pitta breads and a drizzle of olive oil. It is creamy, spicy with garlic and toasty warm cumin. An alternative version I have also made, which was equally delicious, was with butter beans and a handful of bruised rosemary... lovely.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Spring Chicken Terrine

The Terrine is becoming a bit of a signature dish, every time I invite large numbers of people to dine I usually unveil a terrine. The Little Idiot is the master of them, but I am a fast learner. In autumn and winter we made them with rabbit and pheasant, heavy with garlic and juniper. This one was for picnicking in the Lakes and as it is spring and sunny we decided on a lighter chicken version.

To start you need to poach a good free range chicken, I went for a corn fed one that was lovely and yellow. The poaching is a tip learnt from the St. John recipe books. I always used to roast whichever meat I had chosen, but after poaching the chicken for the Chicken, bacon and caper pie I haven’t looked back... The meat is so much more juicy and tender and tasty.

Fill a large pan with water, an onion peeled and halved, a chopped carrot, a chopped stick of celery, some pepper corns, a pinch of salt and a bundle of herbs such as thyme, parsley and bay leaves. Put the chicken into the pot, it doesn’t need to be entirely covered, you can turn it half way through. Bring it to the boil and then let it simmer for 45 minutes with the lid on, turning the chicken over half way through. When it is done take it out of the water and allow it to cool. You then need to strip all of the meat into bite size pieces from the chicken, discarding any skin and bones.

While the chicken is poaching you can prepare the terrine tin. You need a long deep terrine type tin, or something a bit loaf shaped. Grease the inside of it with butter and lay a few bay leaves on the base for decoration when it is turned out. Line the whole tin with streaky unsmoked bacon, allowing it to flap over the edges so there is enough to turn over the top of the terrine when it is full.

Next prepare the sausage meat, you can get it from the butchers, or in large packets in the supermarket, or take it out of some actual sausages, but make sure they are plain ones as you will add your own flavour. The amount will depend on the size of your tin, I think I used about 750g. Empty it into a big bowl so you can begin to season it. Add a teaspoon of chopped lemon thyme, a teaspoon of normal thyme leaves, some salt and pepper and a splash of brandy. As we were going for springy and fresh we added the zest of half a lemon, 4 or 5 crushed juniper berries and a clove of garlic finely chopped. Finally I toasted some blanched almonds, chopped them up and added to the mix. It is not an exact science and has been different every time so far, but always good. If you can get hold of some chicken livers, chop about a handful and add to the mix.

Mix everything together with your hands and spread a layer of the sausage mix over the base of your tin, on top of the bacon, about 1cm deep. Then add a layer of chicken meat about the same depth. Continue adding alternate layers until the tin is full to the brim and turn the bacon over and in to seal everything up.

Next you need to cook the terrine. Cover the tin with buttered grease proof paper and tie it with string tightly around the top to seal it as best you can. Place the terrine into a large baking tray and pour in boiling water to just over half the height of the terrine tin, to create a bain-marie. Put it in a low oven at 150°C for about an hour and a half. Check it after an hour however, it is ready when the terrine has shrunk a bit and come away from the sides of the tin.

Take it out and let it cool on the side, grease proof paper still in place, with a weight on top to press it. Finding the right sized weight has always been a problem for me, a wine box with books and pans balanced on top this time round... A brick would probably be the ideal shape. This weighting makes sure the terrine has the correct pressed firm texture. Don't put a good book straight on it however as a little juice and jelly might ooze out.

Leave it to cool and press overnight as a minimum, after this it will happily sit in the fridge for a few days before you need it, the flavours only improve... When you are ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the tin and tap it out onto a board. Slice up and serve with a good chutney...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Barley and Pomegranate Salad

There has been a new addition to Newcastle dining this week that I think will fast become a favourite. Mr. Terry Layborne has opened The Broad Chare on the Quayside, a traditional pub which majors on its food. It has elements of St. John about it with rabbit pie, crispy pigs' ears, hot scotch eggs wrapped in haggis and pork pies on the menu. Little bar snacks are really interesting and delicious, while for those in search of more serious sustenance there are pies, ribs of beef, daily fish dishes and a seven hour shoulder of lamb to share... The lamb is for five people and at my sister's birthday supper we couldn't quite persuade enough people to go for it, next time it is a definite...

As we hadn't been able to persuade the table to go for the seven hour lamb we decided to do a version of our own at home over the weekend. The Braised shoulder of Lamb is based on a St. John Recipe, from the book 'Beyond Nose to Tail' which takes about 3 hours. It is a long but simple dish, the lamb just sits in the oven slowly softening and melting.

I decided to serve the lamb with a Barley and Pomegranate Salad to make it a fresh Spring type meal. It is a simple salad of 200g barley cooked until soft with a bit of bite still, drained, mixed with diced celery, 60ml olive oil, 45ml sherry vinegar, half a teaspoon of all spice, salt and pepper, then left to cool until later.

We used half a shoulder of lamb from Stewart and co. butchers, which would feed three people. Firstly peel about 15 baby onions and the same number of cloves of garlic, it seems a lot, but their flavour just slowly sinks into the meat while it cooks and is delicious.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a roasting tin that you can put in the oven with the meat in it. When the oil is hot add the onions and garlic and brown. Lay a bundle of thyme and rosemary on top of the onions and garlic when they are done and place the lamb on top of everything.

Pour 500ml of chicken stock and ¼ bottle of white wine over the lamb. Season the lamb generously and then cover the whole tin with foil. Put it in a gentle oven, about 150°C for up to 3 hours, until it is falling of the bone. When it is done you can just pull it apart it is so soft. The flavours are really amazing, the herbs, onions and garlic really perfume the gentle soft meat.

For the final stage of the salad add a big handful of chopped dill, mint and parsley and the seeds of one pomegranate to the barley mixture. It's really fresh and delicious with the soft warm lamb. I also put together a little leek fritter on the side, but will tell you how to make these another time.