Sunday, 22 June 2014

Cook House coming along...

I've been forging ahead with my plans for Cook House; as well as travelling to London with a fridge on wheels to cook supper in a furniture shop, which was challenging to the extreme.

I thought I would share a few photos from Cook House to keep you up to date. I haven't been there much over the past week due to my Southern culinary challenge, and I've missed it. It's such a lovely peaceful place to spend time, especially when the sun is shining. I left Keith and Steve in charge of proceedings, and I now have decking, a plumbed in dishwasher, a store room ceiling, a lovely sliding panelled door, an oven that is nearly wired in and some new exterior lights... Just a few bits and pieces to go and I can start decorating and occupying the space, I'm excited to see it come together...

I've planted some of my new grow bags and have courgettes, french beans, spring onions, salad and broad beans all emerging. It is a little way to becoming a garden, the best part being that it fills with dappled sunshine through the trees every day at the moment, long may it continue...

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Pear Frangipane at Rochelle Canteen

So I found myself in London a couple of months ago walking over the Thames to work. What began as a slightly farfetched idea for a spot of kitchen experience had become reality and here I was about to start a week’s work at Rochelle Canteen, a lovely little place just off Arnold Circus, E2. It’s a canteen, open for breakfast and lunch, based in the old bike shed of a former Victorian school, now home to Shoreditch creative types. They also cater for events large and small, with an often high end client list, and are owned and run by Margot Henderson, whose husband Fergus is responsible for St John group and her business partner Melanie Arnold. The pair have been part of the London culinary scene for 20 years and more, initially starting out above The French House in Soho, one of my favourite spots for a glass of wine...

I arrived to some confusion, but once everyone realised who everyone was, I was given uniform and set to work. Washing nettles being the first task, but a good one to begin with as I could settle down and survey my surroundings. A simple, open, bright white shed space that is half kitchen, half dining room, with a lean to open air kitchen prep area out the back. They have their own little garden of raised beds growing salad and herbs and with the sun shining, the breeze blowing through and plants growing around you it was a lovely place to work. I was pretty happy standing there washing the nettles and smiled to myself that I was actually doing this.

Standing in Rochelle Canteen kitchen surrounded by their team of chefs it was easy to feel that I knew very little at all. I was there to learn though, how they did everything, even simple tasks like making mayonnaise or dressings. Everyone has their own method and I wanted to see how other people work. How they organised themselves (very well), how long they kept things, when they ordered stuff, how they reused leftovers, recipes, ideas, presentation; I wanted to know everything. So I set to it... Cut, chop, prep, observe, clean, watch, learn...

Anna Tobias is the head chef at Rochelle Canteen, she runs a tight little ship there, confidently and efficiently sending out tasty, interesting dishes everyday as well as catering for events. While I was there, there was a day long feeding of some fashion folk - which had an afternoon tea, picnic feel, all prawn cocktail, quails eggs, sausage rolls, poached chicken and cucumber sandwiches - and an elegant birthday party for thirty.

My first day’s work over, we all sat down for staff lunch, which included leftover rabbit faggots, (so good) mash, salad, lemony roast chicken, followed by some leftover blood orange sorbet and golden syrup biscotti. Well you don’t get much better than that in my books. I was (nervously) having a wonderful time.

The following days brought scone making, mango chutney to go with ham or kedgeree, pickled prunes, a ham and parsley terrine, a delicious deep onion, thyme and Lancashire cheese quiche and sausage rolls. I learnt new things with all of my jobs; techniques, recipes and new ideas.

One day a delicious looking roast chicken with crème fraiche and tarragon stuffed under its skin, roast to golden wonderfulness, a rib of amazing pink beef with horseradish and beetroot salad the next. They have a friendly, interesting and enthusiastic team, who were always chatting away about how they did things, no steadfast rules and always keen to hear each other’s ideas. They had collectively worked in some pretty prestigious kitchens around London from The River Cafe to Quo Vadis and St John.

Each day I left and found an interesting spot to write about my day. My memory is definitely not the best so it was important to note it all down before it slipped away. We were usually done by about 4.30pm and it was lovely to sit in the sun with a glass of wine or a coffee. I frequented all the Shoreditch spots, Allpress Coffee one day, Albion Cafe another and the Ace Hotel the next. I was the only one without a macbook in the Ace Hotel, I wrote with a pen in a book and people looked at me; but on my way out of the super cool lobby looking over their shoulders I realised they were all just on Facebook anyway...

The kitchen turned out some delicious food over the week, a rich black cuttlefish stew, a lovely chicken salad with lovage, capers and soft leeks; witch sole with a tartar sauce that is better than any tartar sauce I’ve ever had... full of tarragon, capers, chopped eggs, rich homemade mayo; and this lovely pear frangipane tart which I’ve had a go at myself...

Make your own pastry to start, it is very simple and so much tastier... In a food processor blitz 175g of plain flour with 115g of cold butter cut into cubes until you get a fine breadcrumb, then add 50g of icing sugar, 2 egg yolks and a pinch of salt and blend until it comes together in a ball, it’ll only be a few seconds, be careful not to overwork it. Then form it into a ball, wrap in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest. This might be more pastry than you need for one tart, but it will keep for a week in the fridge and also freezes well.

Peel two pears, something firm like a conference pear, and add them to a pan with 100g of caster sugar and 750ml water and simmer for about 20 minutes until soft. Leave them to cool in the syrup. Keep this and use it in cocktails! Delicious...

For the tart itself heat your oven to 220°C. Roll out your pastry, and gently line your tart tin, pressing the pastry into the edges. Leave it to rest in the fridge for half an hour, then line with baking paper and blind bake for 20 minutes, remove the beans (I use dried chickpeas) and leave to cool.

Using a food processor cream 250g of softened butter with 250g of caster sugar until light and fluffy, then add 250g of ground almonds, I like to grind these myself so you can keep some a bit chunkier, keep a handful back if you’re doing this to add texture. Then add 5 eggs one at a time, incorporating each one before you add the next so you don’t curdle, then add 50g of plain flour and mix thoroughly, adding in the courser almonds at the end. Fill the pastry case with the frangipane mixture. Then core the pears and cut into quarters, arranging them evenly over the mixture, so every slice gets a bit... Bake for 40 minutes at 180°C until golden and firm to touch.

I have tried a few different versions of this, some are very cake like and light, others use more of a dense almond paste, this recipe was the most consistent for me, but I’m still experimenting. It is delicious and almondy with sweet pears and buttery pastry, serve with crème fraiche...

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Summer Supperclubs with the National Trust

TICKETS AVAILABLE NOW - Phone Lindisfarne Castle on 01289 389244 to book

July and August see the return of a very exciting collaboration between The Grazer and the National Trust. Last summer we hosted four incredible evenings at Lindisfarne Castle and on the Farne Islands. The sun shone, guests enjoyed their amazing surrounds, and ate and drank into the night. We are offering you the opportunity to experience this once again, with two Summer Supperclubs on both the Farne Islands and at Lindisfarne Castle. 

Picture yourself on a private boat sailing over to the Farne Islands late in the afternoon, arriving on the white sandy beach of Inner Farne to be greeted with aperitifs and tasty treats. The evening will include a private tour of the island; beautiful beaches, the Lighthouse and its gardens, thousands of amazing birds, gazing back at Bamburgh castle and the beautiful long white Northumbrian beaches. At dusk find yourself sitting down to dine, in the tiny chapel on the island at a beautiful long table. 

Or you could find yourself driving over the causeway to supper at Lindisfarne Castle. Arriving on the battlements to canapés and aperitifs, looking out over the islands and castles of the Northumberland coast... A personal tour through the rooms of Lindisfarne castle, your own private residence for the evening. Supper will be served on the battlements; your view for the evening is the sun slowly sinking over the Cheviots. 

Once in a lifetime dining experiences in totally unique locations. There will only be four
events with a limited number of 20 places available at each:

Friday July 25th at Lindisfarne Castle - SOLD OUT

Saturday July 26th at Lindisfarne Castle - SOLD OUT

Saturday August 2nd on The Farne Islands - SOLD OUT

Saturday August 9th on The Farne Islands 

(The event will run from approximately 5-10pm, exact times will be confirmed according to tides and boat crossings)

Tickets for these once in a lifetime dining events are £99 per person and can be booked by phoning Lindisfarne Castle on 01289 389244. Prices include unique private access to the Farnes and Lindisfarne, private tour of castle and island, telescope tours of the coastline, history and nature talks from the National Trust and food introductions from The Grazer.

The evenings dining includes aperitifs and canapés, a set four course sharing menu of fresh local seafood platters, slow cooked Northumberland beef and plentiful puddings with matched wines and coffee.