Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Rhubarb & Almond Cake with a side of Michel Roux Jnr

It's been a very busy few months, with charity and TV taking up all my time, which sounds glamorous but in fact has just been very, very hard work. Something for Syria came to life at the end of February. A night that began as an idea at Christmas to raise some money for the people of Aleppo and escalated into a full on massive do at Wylam Brewery that raised over £30,000; thirty thousand pounds! It still makes me quite emotional. It just shows what you can do when a few of you put your heads together and call on the kind and talented people of the North East...

Just when it felt calm and I could get back to the work and life I had totally ignored running up to the event I got a call from Boomerang Productions; I was going to be on tv... Cook House appeared last week as part of a new series on Channel 4 called Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jnr. The crew spent 10 hours filming at Cook House last summer; who knew there was so much to film in such a tiny space! I was incredibly nervous, thankfully that didn't seem to show through too much.


So one August morning Michel Roux arrived at the door, off we went to the Ouseburn Farm and picked some lovely fresh vegetables and herbs then cooked together at back at Cook House! I lost all sense of what to say, how to move and talk at the same time, how to chop... but thankfully they were a very encouraging and friendly bunch and were also very good at editing! That Michel was a pro, super professional, a really nice guy. Since it has aired Cook House has been inundated with new customers, which is wonderful, and incredibly hard work! I'm definitely going to need a holiday at some point!


In other news the rhubarb is up! So I thought you might like a simple but delicious cake recipe! Heat the oven to 160˚C. Then melt 150g of butter in a pan, once melted set it aside to cool slightly. Combine 225g of self raising flour, 225g of caster sugar and a teaspoon of baking powder in a bowl. Then beat 2 eggs and 1/4 teaspoon of almond essence together in another small bowl.

Prepare the fruit, for this I used 2 sticks of rhubarb cut on the diagonal and tossed in a bit of sugar to take the edge off them. This cake also works well with apples, raspberries, pears, plums... anything fruity you can throw at it I think!

Line a regular cake tin with greaseproof paper, I cut mine into a circle and tuck it in rather than faffing on with different pieces, it also makes it easy to lift out at the end and deals nicely with my slightly leaking cake tin.


Finally combine the flour mix, butter and egg mix. Bring it together with a spatula, it is quite a thick batter like mix when it's done, mix it until it is smooth. Then add 3/4 of the mix to the cake tin and spread it out. You will think it seems like not very much but don't worry. Then lay the rhubarb over the mix in an even layer. Add the final 1/4 of the mix to the centre of the cake on top of the rhubarb. Quickly pop it in the oven and bake for 50 minutes.


It is delicious, one of my favourite cakes, not overly sweet, but buttery and crumbly. The outside of the cake forms a delicious buttery crust and it is soft and fruity in the middle, lovely with a dollop of cream!



Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Venison Loin in Butter, Thyme & Garlic

'Are you interested in a roe deer?' Well yes, in short; regardless of who is asking and in what context. Max the chef at Bistro 46 had a deer going spare 'head off, hoofs off, skin on' did I want it? So I found myself the owner of a new headless pet... I enjoy a bit of butchery, but have only really dealt with game birds and small animals to be honest. The thought of the deer didn't really phase me. I was excited to get to grips with it, really interested, and I like learning new skills. I watched a few videos, but in the end I took it along to Charlotte's Butchery and asked her to give me a lesson, as I was concerned I didn't have the right tools, I need to invest in a few saws...


Charlotte took me through it. Removing the skin to start, which wasn't as difficult as I thought, then breaking down the deer into shoulders, legs and loins. I'd happily tackle the next one myself as it is easy enough to figure out, following muscles and the obvious joints of an animals body. It's an art I think, and one I would like to become better at.





There are two loins either side of the spine that once you know what you are doing are pretty easy to remove. They would serve 4 people, but we ate one between two because that's what often seems to happen in our house and also, we were on holiday. I have to say it is the most delicious venison I have ever had, which could be for any number of personal reasons, but it just was. It was shot near Chevington, just up the road, and I hope it won't be the last venison I can get from Max.



I haven't had a pan large enough on any occasion to cook the loin all in one piece, and it doesn't suffer at all from being cut in half, one end seems slightly thinner than the other, this may be my butchery skills, so it needed a touch less cooking.

Bring the loin to room temperature, for at least an hour, maybe more; then dry it thoroughly with kitchen roll and season generously with salt and pepper, more than you think, as if you were salting a pavement I read somewhere...



Take a heavy non stick frying pan and add a little bit of oil, it doesn't need too much. Then when it is hot you can add the venison, it should sizzle loudly as it hits the pan. Add both halves to the pan, don't move them or touch them or press them, just leave them to cook for 2 minutes. Watch them, the pan should be hot, but if it smells like its burning then turn it down a touch. After 2 minutes turn the loin onto the other side and give it 2 minutes again, it should have taken on a lovely golden colour.

I'm generally more at home with slow cooking, lots of flavours gently mingling together, rather than fast paced hot pans. But I find it exciting, I'm working on becoming more au fait with cooking with fire. Francis Mallmann, Niklas Ekstedt and others are inspiring me. Ideally I would have done this in a big heavy cast iron pan over a drift wood fire on the beach... another time, this time will come.

When the loin has had 2 minutes on each side turn the heat off and throw a big knob of butter into the hot pan, along with a crushed clove of garlic and some thyme. Then start to baste the meat for ten minutes, spooning over the delicious melted butter that has picked up all the flavours of the meat, the garlic and the thyme.



Finally remove the loin and rest it somewhere warm for 5 minutes. Carve into 2cm slices and serve, drizzle a little of the pan juices over the meat on the plate. We had it with some sticky beetroot and red cabbage and some celeriac mash with lots of butter and a bit of nutmeg. The meat is on the rare side of medium rare, and is so beautifully soft and delicious. I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed both of the loins, each as delicious as the other.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Shetland Scallops smoked over Seaweed

The little grey fish van pulled up just as we were about to give up. We had seen a few up in Scrabster; little vans that drive around, you can flag them down and buy fish anywhere you see them. We hadn't found any fish shops and had left a message with a man about some lobster but that was yet to come to fruition.


We've been up in the very North of Scotland for a weeks holiday, just a cottage on a beach, surrounded by sea, big skies, hills and nature.

There were no lobsters and langoustine aboard unfortunately, but plenty of other guys, we ended up with some massive Shetland scallops, a couple of kippers and a wild card of some cod roe. I wasn't sure what to do with it at first, but ended up smoking it by the beach fire and blitzing it into a version of taramasalata that was delicious, considering I guessed how to make it.



I'd read something in Niklas Ekstedt's book about scallops and cucumber steamed over seaweed, so set about making a plan, as when you're staying in a cottage on your own beach that's the kind of wonderful plan you need...

I wandered down and cut some fresh live seaweed from the rocks, you shouldn't use stuff just lying on the beach. I've been reading a bit about seaweeds lately, you can eat all of them in Britain I believe, but some are just disgusting, I plan to dry some out and use it for seasoning. There were a couple of types on the rocks, the one you make nori from and another with bits you can pop, I'm not down with the names just yet. I picked a big serving bowl full.



We built a small fire in amongst some massive rocks, where it would still get plenty of air flow from below, but was a bit sheltered from the winds whistling in off the sea. We got it going using driftwood twigs and dried out seaweed from the beach, topped with some birch logs. Nicklaus always uses birch wood so we followed his advice, he knows what he's doing when it comes to fire, and scallops for that matter...


There are two stages to this; the pan, then the seaweed... So once the fire was pretty strong I put a bit bit of butter into the pan and heated until it sizzled over the fire. I need to invest in some good cast iron numbers for this really. Then add the scallops and cook for roughly two minutes on each side. They will have taken on a lovely golden colour, remove to a warm plate, then add a bit more butter to the pan until melted, stirring up all the scraps of flavour from the bottom of the pan, then remove the pan from the fire.



Now quickly cover the fire with seaweed, all over, you don't want it to go out but conversely you don't want the flames coming through burning the scallops. A nice thick seaweed bed for the scallops to sit on.

I'm not sure whether Nicklaus' version is to steam or smoke these scallops but ours were definitely smoked. I left them on for about 2 minutes on each side, the seaweed began to change colour to a deep green and just as it began to catch fire and flames began to lick through the seaweed we took the scallops off. Season with salt and drizzle with hot butter from the pan.


I loved them, I really hope I get a chance to do this again. They were rich and smoky, but slightly different to a wood smoke taste, more mellow, and you could still taste clearly the sweet soft scallop and the sea. I really loved them, did I say that already... There's something exciting and magical about cooking outside on the fire, it makes everything taste better. We rushed inside to eat just as it started to rain.