Sunday, 20 January 2013

Roast Woodcock on Toast

I can't stress enough how strong my feelings are for woodcock. It's real love I think. I first came across the tiny little guys two years ago and they are one of my favourite things I have ever tasted. Quite a statement I know, but it's true. I now remember vividly every time I have eaten them since. Only three times, but they were three magical times indeed. Once was only a taste of TLI's in a restaurant where I idiotically ordered venison when I could have ordered woodcock, and twice I've been given some from a shoot and cooked them myself. They are far and away the best thing I've ever cooked; but that is down to them, not me...

I was beginning to worry that this shooting season was fast coming to an end and there was another year passing without a taste of wonderful woodcock. But last week I heard my phone beep in the other room and suddenly there was TLI holding my phone, grinning, telling me I had a new message... It read 'I have three woodcock for you' I don't think I've ever read six better words...

They are beautiful, tiny birds, a little bit magical looking I think, with big eyes and a very long beak. I have an affection for them that I don't have for say a pheasant. It feels an honour to have one to eat, so I take great care with them and really appreciate every mouthful as they are such special little birds. They travel over in the winter from as far as central Russia, Belarus and Scandinavia, arriving tired and bewildered over the North East coast. Before people understood migration there were several wonderful stories about where they appeared from and where they disappeared to. It was thought by some that they arrived by full moon and come summer they went back to the moon for a few months, living on the lunar landscape. Others thought they buried themselves in the sand on the beach and crawled out come winter. In fact they are just delicate little things and are often found exhausted on the beach during winter, having flown over on freezing cold winds from the East.

The only way I have ever eaten them and probably the only way I ever will as it is so delicious is simply roast on toast. You make a pate type sauce with their insides and some red wine and spread that on the toast. It may sound a little unusual but it is totally delicious. If you are lucky enough to find yourselves with a couple of woodcock this is how I cooked them.

Start by spreading a little soft butter on their breast, a little salt and pepper and then one slice of streaky bacon cut in two laid over each bird in a cross. Roast for 16 minutes at 230°C for a pink rare bird, 20 minutes for well done, but I would recommend them pink. When they are ready take them out of the oven. Remove the bacon, and scoop out the insides with a teaspoon. They empty their guts before they fly so don't hold anything nasty inside them, so everything is edible, except the gizzard. It is about the size of a hazelnut and quite obvious when you've scooped everything out. When you have done this cover them with foil on a hot plate and rest for 10 minutes.

To make the sauce chop up the bacon and fry it in a knob of butter until crispy, add the insides of the woodcock and mash it all up with a fork over a medium heat. Then add a couple of teaspoons of red wine per bird and bubble for a minute or two. Spread this onto a piece of thick buttered toast and top with a roast woodcock. Serve with mash or roast potatoes, game chips, buttered cabbage, whatever you fancy...

The woodcock is rich and gamey and delicious, my favourite of all game, not overpowering at all just rich and tasty. The pate type sauce is just one of my favourite things ever, irony, meaty, delicious with buttery toast and amazing meat. A highlight of the culinary year for me and it's only the end of January...

Monday, 14 January 2013

New Supperclub date!

'The Grazer's Middle Eastern Meat Free Feast'
8th and 9th February 2013 7pm - Midnight


What is this?

'The Grazer's Supperclub' a regular pop-up feast hosted by The Grazer at Ouse Street Arts Club. A night of feasting in a totally unique space, fire, food and booze...

Where’s that?

Ouse Street Arts Club is a brand new creative space within Newcastle’s vibrant Ouseburn Valley. An interventional development with xsite architecture converting 2 ISO shipping containers to realise a unique and innovative social event space.

What will we eat?

A three course vegetarian feast, think table long smorgasbords full of homemade dips and Lebanese breads, handmade pastries and Arabian salads sprinkled with spice. Rich deep warming Moroccan tagines, buttery nutty couscous with pickles and North African condiments... a scattering of puddings infused with rose water, cardamom and perfume... The menu will be confirmed and sent out to you a couple of days before the event.

What will we drink?

There will be a special cocktail on arrival, inspired by the menu and setting. Following that this is a BYO affair. You will be sent the finalised menu prior to arrival so you can decide on your chosen tipple to bring.

How much will it set me back?

You will be given an envelope at the end of the evening. We ask you to leave what you think your whole evenings experience has been worth, venue, food, drinks and service... How do you put a price on an evening of feasting in a shipping container, you decide... Please bring cash.

How do I book?

Just email me at to reserve your place, these events sell out very quickly so don't hang about... We will let you know asap if you have got a place.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Slow Oxtail and Shin Stew with Polenta and Braised Red Cabbage

I have every intention of having a more healthy January, cutting out canap├ęs until next year, climbing more mountains (one of my resolutions!) and eating more salads and vegetables. I couldn't face the thought of any more meat last week, and I'm fully engaged in experimenting with Chinese cookery with the help of Fushcia Dunlop, which, handily, is very vegetable focused. But sometimes you're just cold and tired and feeling a little bit frail, you need help, you need the comfort of a slow cooked rich warm stew. There is just no escaping it. This is my current favourite to help me along in times of need...

A lovely slow cooked stew using oxtail and beef shin, cheap cuts of meat that become sticky and melty after hours of cooking, shredded and pulled apart in a rich red wine sauce with buttery polenta and sweet sharp red cabbage. I think people are often nervous of unusual cuts in the butchers, knowing what exactly to ask for, prices per weight instead of per piece, worrying you're going to be handed far too much or far too little. I have started to be more adventurous, with both success and failure. I won't be cooking devilled kidneys again in a hurry, but oxtail and I are friends now and really enjoy hanging out together! 

These amounts will serve 2 generously. Chop 2 carrots, 2 sticks of celery and an onion, add to a pot, with some thyme, parsley and a bay leaf. I used a mix of oxtail and shin, you can use both or just one or the other; the ox tail adds a real stickyness to the stew but you don't get a huge amount of meat from it, what you do get is delicious, but I'd go for both. Use about 5 pieces of ox tail, approximately half a whole tail, then about 500g of beef shin. I got mine from the Grainger market and it was lovely looking meat, dark red and rich... Cut it into big chunks.

Add the meat to the pot with the vegetables and herbs along with a big piece of orange rind, then cover the whole lot with cold water and bring it to the boil. Don’t add any seasoning at this point as you reduce the sauce quite a lot later. For the first 5 minutes skim off any foam or brown scum from the surface, then leave to simmer for 3-4 hours, until the meat is melty and soft.

While that is simmering make the braised red cabbage. Shred quarter of a red cabbage finely, then add it to a pan with a diced cooking apple, and half a diced onion, about 250ml of cider, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and 100g of brown sugar. Some orange zest and a teaspoon of allspice, 15g of butter and some salt and pepper. Then leave to simmer very gently with the lid on for an hour, taste to see if you want it sweeter, or with more vinegar after about 10 minutes when everybody in the pan has got to know each other.

When it is ready remove the meat from the pan and leave to cool. Leave a few bits in with the vegetable and you can have this for lunch the next day, it makes a lovely beef broth, with a bit of seasoning and a little bit of meat shredded into the stock. When the meat has cooled enough to touch pull the oxtail off the bone and put apart the large chunks of shin. 

Ladle about 4 ladles of stock into another pan, and add ¼ bottle of red wine, then boil to reduce until you have a thicker sauce, then add the meat back into the sauce. You can add some wild mushrooms at this point also, I've soaked dried ones and stirred them into the sauce on one occasion, delicious. Serve with buttery polenta and braised red cabbage.

The meat is rich and soft in its red wine sauce, with the buttery warm soft polenta and sharp sweet red cabbage it is a match made in heaven.. It'll warm you up a treat over winter and into miserable January...

Friday, 4 January 2013

Too much of a good thing?

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a good time over Christmas and New Year. I caught that dreaded bug that was going around and am still feeling a little under the weather, that and the fact that I ate and drank far too much before and after said bug... I had a lovely time with friends and family, lots of delicious meals and walks on Bamburgh beach in the sunshine. I hung out there over New Year reading books and eating, it was a fine time!

Two books of note have entered my life this Christmas, firstly 'Misson Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant', a fascinating account of line chef Anthony and his wife in San Francisco who borrowed someone’s food cart to start their food dreams, followed by borrowing a Chinese takeaway on the days it was shut to starting their very own restaurant. Very inspiring, this year will see lots of action from my Supperclub and markets, so watch this space for new ideas and events...

The second book is Fushcia Dunlop's 'Every Grain of Rice'. My knowledge of cooking and eating Chinese food is really limited, but having read this from cover to cover over the past few days I'm feeling inspired... It is full of beautiful sounding dishes, often vegetable based, seemingly quite simple. New skills and vegetables seem a perfect way to start January...

So if you're feeling anything like me you are probably cowering at the thought of red meat or chocolate. I have put together a little medley of vegetables and salads, that will hopefully fill you full of vitamins and sprite!