Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mill Street Pub and Kitchen, Oakham


Talking to strangers always has an enlivening effect on me. So much so, that I often wonder why I don't do it more, to initiate or participate in conversations that come out of the blue. Or to offer a simple willingness to answer a question. The buzz I get from it is amazing, so why don't I do it more often? An easy answer could boil down to the fact that I live in London. Well, Zone 6. Stop laughing at the back, it is still classed as London and the unwritten rule in this country's capital, is that we must not talk to each other. Ever. Except maybe to argue over personal space, to pour scorn on which side of the river you live, or to ask - 'Are you reading that?'

Amongst many, other, things.

A damning start to proceedings then and probably an unfair one at that. Someone is bound to pop up and say 'Oi, aaah dare you say that!? I talk to facking people all the time!' And OK, Mr Imaginary Mary Poppins Type Character in my head, it might not be all that bad. Yet, whenever I do get out of the city, I sometimes can't help but feel a sea change. Outside the M25, along with the fresh air and bracing walks, I don't know, people just seem friendlier. The dogs even more so. But you'll have to read right up to the end of this blog to hear that story.

In the meantime, here is a nifty review of a pub and restaurant we stayed at, as a family recently, called the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen; which is based in Oakham, in the county of Rutland. Small in size but not so diminutive in character, this county has come under attack from various invaders in the past. Namely from the Vikings, Leicestershire and Eric Idle. But Rutland has stood steadfast down the ages and having thwarted any attempts to blot out its heritage, is now carving out a reputation as a destination of choice in the UK. A bucolic alternative to Norfolk in the east and an excellent respite from the Midlands to the west. It is literally a 20 minute drive from Corby. So people of Corby, don't panic, you do have the chance to escape to somewhere nice if you want to.

This was the first time I've ever visited the area, so what do I really know, but having had a quick wander around Oakham, I was pleasantly surprised. As a hub, it is fairly lively, with lots of shops, pubs, restaurants and delicatessens and if I were to point out one place in particular, it would have to be the ramshackle Castle Cottage Cafe. They do a great sandwich, slice of cake and cup of tea. The actual castle next to the cafe is a slight misnomer. Insofar that it resembles a grand hall, rather than a castle with turrets, moat and drawbridge. But it is steeped in history and laden with horseshoes and the kids loved running inside and around the grounds, so I can forgive that. What I can't forgive is spotting a pack of halloumi going for £5.25 in one of the aforementioned deli's. That really is a scandalous price for a block of squeaky cheese.

Perhaps Oakham is aiming high, which brings me back to the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen. Squaring itself up as boutique retreat in the country, the pub does come with all the usual whistles and bells that accompany this brand of accommodation. Quirky, mismatched furniture, anthropomorphised animals in picture frames and a huge glass fronted cellar are just some of the ticks in the luxury box. But the pub doesn't suffer any less for it. I've stayed in places similar, thinking that I should really be wearing my best Gabicci and Sta Press Farahs, whilst lounging on a cow hide covered chaise lounge and supping a tobacco-infused, pine spritzed Daiquiri in the bar. And feeling totally out of place. Thankfully, the atmosphere at Mill Street is a lot warmer and convivial than most, which is down to the very friendly and attentive staff who work there and the fragrant whiff of wood smoke that permeates the building. That scent is so welcoming.

The room that we shared, unfortunately with our children, was also very comfortable, catering for all our needs with extremely fluffy pillows and glorious hot running water to bathe in. Speaking of scents, I was also very much taken with the range of toiletries that were sadly screwed the wall in the bathroom. No matter, I made sure that I used at least half a bottle of sexy shower gel every time I showered (about 3 times) and I certainly turned some heads and flared some nostrils when I approached the bar before dinner. Including that of my dear wife. Like I said, it was a shame we brought the kids along really.

By adding the word 'Kitchen' to the name above the door, I took this as a statement of intent that Mill Street are looking to push the beyond the pale with their food offering. Rather than delivering your basic pub fare. And for the most part, they succeeded. Set in the corner of their airy atrium or conservatory, we all first got stuck into some warm bread with whipped rapeseed oil and sunblush tomato butter and then swiftly followed onto our starters. I may well have mentioned this before but unfortunately my wife and I do often fall into what is known as 'competitive ordering.' And it peeves me to say on this occasion, she scored the first goal. With her choice of black pudding Scotch egg and apple ketchup.

Black Pudding Scotch egg and apple ketchup
It was careless really, to pitch up against a Scotch egg, all dense and rich, and with an egg yolk, all deliquescent and bold. Not forgetting to mention the apple, that was sharp and biting and a perfect accompaniment. By contrast, my dressed Brixham crab, with blood orange and rye bread was a little muddled. The white crab meat was overpowered by the introduction of some heavy Asian flavours and didn't quite sing as I thought it would. It was pleasant but set my world alight in a way that I hadn't expected. Crab is wonderful and delicate and best left alone in my opinion.

Dressed Brixham Crab, with Blood Orange and Rye Bread
However, from then onwards, the scores on the doors really did start to ramp up. Especially for the twins when their mains arrived. Schmicks had ordered a sizzler hotdog, with chorizo relish, mustard mayo and crispy onions. Proper kids food for grown ups. Or vice versa in this case. When I was able to get a bite in towards the end, I can confirm that the dog had the all important 'snap' and that there was just the right amount of heat coming through from the paprika.

Sizzler Hotdog, with Chorizo Relish, Mustard Mayo and Crispy Onions
Finston, a growing lad who is growing up too fast for my liking, went for the steak and kidney pie, with horseradish mash, sprouting broccoli and gravy. I wish I could report back on the pie but I can't because he demolished it before I could get a look in. Still, it keep him quiet.

Steak and Kidney Pie, with Horseradish Mash, Sprouting Broccoli and Gravy
As for the adults (one heavily perfumed) we deviated from the menu and had a crack at the specials board, with Mrs FU opting for the grey mullet with mussels, samphire and wild mushroom gnocchi. A great catch, by all accounts, delivering crisp morsels of meaty fish alongside sweet and creamy shellfish. The gnocchi could have been a touch lighter in texture but the abundance of foraged sea vegetable more than made up for it.

Grey Mullet with Mussels, Samphire and Wild Mushroom Gnocchi
My dish was a combination of Shepherd's pie and a selection of spring vegetables dressed in a lamb jus and topped with a wild garlic mousse to melt through. It was glorious. The pie, though scalding hot to begin with, was full of succulent chunks of lamb and the mash set atop delivered an excellent contrast of crusted and smooth, billowing potato. The chunks, slivers and crests of pared vegetables had been cooked just right, with a lovely bite to each one. And the wild garlic mousse, once it melted down delivered a perfect extra layer of seasoning. As is my habit on these occasions, I did whisper to the waitress, to let chef know, that I could get him loads of wild garlic, if need be. But she just replied 'S'all right mate, loads of it grow round here.'

Shepherd's Pie, Spring Vegetables, Lamb Jus and Wild Garlic Mousse
Coming towards the end of the meal, we were pretty much stuffed, although the twins couldn't say no to a sweet shop sundae each. Which is a sundae, with a sweet shop thrown on top of it. Not wanting to let the side down, Mrs FU and I went for the dark chocolate and salted caramel delice, with cherry ripple ice-cream to share and were blown out of the park. Indulgent doesn't even come near to describing this pudding and we were left in a blind stupor after scraping the last crumb; but it really doesn't bode well, to waste such naughty and decadent food. Admittedly part of the numbness could also be attributed to a bottle of Languedoc rose (2016 Le Paradis, Domaine Preignes Les Vieux) and a cider or two (Rutland cider, yarp) but hey, the kids are awful snorers.

Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Delice, with Cherry Ripple Ice-cream
When evaluating whether you've had a good time or not, it can easily be dealt with by asking the question: would you ever return again? Having visited Mill Street Pub and Kitchen and dined and slept there (and not forgetting enjoying their exemplary breakfast) the answer would have to be a resounding yes. If I didn't know better and when looking around for places to stay, I might have easily formed another opinion. There is a place in my heart for the more traditional countryside boozer after all. And for Travelodge, when money is tight. Although the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen isn't that expensive really, especially for a family of four and yes, this is where I reveal that we stayed as guests. But coming back to discovering an area that is new and only 2 hours away by car, Rutland is a bit of a find. We're already talking about coming back in the summer, to properly explore Rutland Water, a magnificent man-made reservoir that dominates and defines the area.

Which brings me back to that story. Because on the way home, we stopped by this huge lake for a quick look around, just to see what it was all about and we got chatting to this lovely old couple who were walking their dogs. They were local and had lived nearby all their lives and the chap in question took great lengths in telling us about the waters, the surrounding sights and the specifics of the reservoir. It was all very interesting. But then I became aware of a sort of nudging and shuffling on my foot, as if a shoe shine had suddenly appeared and wanted to buff one of my walking boots. A furry white shoe shine, in the form of a Bichon Freise, shaking, trembling.

'Um, I think your dog is up to something,' I whispered.

'Oh don't mind him. He's just being friendly,' the friendly man countered, before shooing the deviant ball of fluff away.

And I really didn't mind. It's just the sort of enlivening effect you can expect when talking to strangers. It's not a problem and it could well have been down to all that shower gel. It was probably my fault.

No, the real problem is trying to explain to your young children in the car, on the way back, why some dogs like to do that sort of thing. That's when conversation gets really tricky.

Big thanks to The Mill Street Pub and Kitchen for our stay and for their hospitality. For reservations, you can contact them on 01572 729 600 or email: millstreetoakham@epicpubs.com

Interiors and the basement
Logs, port, wine and flowers



Breakfast, hot chocolate and the 'Family Room'

Bread and whipped butter, menu and Schmicks by Rutland Water

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Goat Lahmacun



During the school holidays, we often have hoards of children running around our house, destroying everything in their wake. This sounds fairly horrific doesn’t it? However, it is simply part of a system we employ as parents, with other parents and relatives, to take our beloved offspring off each other’s hands. To provide short periods of time and respite. A sort of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back’ arrangement that more than makes up for the ensuing damage. Sleep is priceless, after all and last Wednesday, our house was full to the brim. It was our time to keep watch.

Feeding this ‘orrible lot though, can be a tricky affair. Kids are notoriously picky. They know what they like and irritatingly, they often know what they don’t like. But if you announce in the garden that pizza is on the table; generally, you will always get a chorus of approval and a stampede.

And this is where I like to get particularly sneaky. Because with pizza you can often introduce an ingredient that otherwise would be sniffed at and dismissed. Such as goat, which is a wonderfully ethical and sustainable source of meat. Great strides have been made with lots of chefs and restaurants now putting it on the menu and you are starting to see it slowly emerge at the supermarket but I would say that it is still slightly under-appreciated in this country.

Perhaps putting goat on pizza is a way forward. Or using it to make ‘lahmacun’ I should say, a Turkish or Armenian street food, that roughly translates as ‘meat with dough’. When I first tried lahmacun, at a street food market near Barbican, London, it’s hard to say or remember what impressed me most. The spicy lamb mince, coated in a rich pepper paste. The fresh, punchy accompaniment of parsley, lemon and pickled chilli. Or the pillowy, chewy dough that wrapped all that deliciousness up. It is certainly a handful to savour and a filling one at that.

So I made some at home recently, for myself and the kids, and I’d say that goat delivers even more flavour than lamb, purely because it is a touch sweeter and not quite as cloying. The youngsters certainly enjoyed it and wolfed the slices down with aplomb. After picking the chilli off of course.

The best part was seeing young George out the door, when his Dad arrived, and laying on the plaudits for his good behaviour.

‘Aaaaaand, did you know that George tried some goat today for lunch?’

‘I did?!’ replied George.

‘Yes, you did mate! It was on the pizza.’

To which he responded by giving a shrug of the shoulders and a thumbs up before jumping into the car.

Next time, I am going to see how he copes with octopus. But I suspect that I am going to have to cut up the tentacles just more than a touch for his pizza next time round.

This recipe post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

Goat Lahmacun

Ingredients

Lahmacun dough
500g of strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
10g of salt
7g of dried yeast
10g of sugar
250ml of water, lukewarm
50ml of olive oil



Goat lahmacun topping

500g of goat mince
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 white onion, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 pinch of red pepper flakes, or chilli flakes
25g of tomato purée
1 bunch of parsley, (small) roughly chopped
30ml of olive oil
salt
pepper



To serve
1 red onion, finely diced
pickled green chillies
flat-leaf parsley
pomegranate molasses

Method

To begin, make the lahmacun dough by mixing the flour and salt together in a bowl. Empty the yeast into a jug of lukewarm water, along with the sugar and olive oil, mixing to combine.

Pour the water into the flour steadily and begin to mix together by hand so that it forms into a rough dough. Take out of the bowl and begin to knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. If it feels too wet, add a touch more flour. If it feels too dry, a touch more water.

Place back in the bowl and sprinkle with a touch more flour. Cover with a tea towel and leave it alone, in a warm space, to rise for an hour.

Now preheat the oven to 230°C/gas mark 8 (this will also help warm the kitchen).

Next, make the goat topping by placing the mince in a bowl and all of the other ingredients in a food processor. Blitz until you have a smooth paste then pour over the goat mince and combine everything together by hand. At this point, it would be good to check the seasoning, so take a small piece of meat, roll it into a ball and quickly fry off in a pan with some oil. If it needs some seasoning, add a touch more.



When good to go, if you are opting for making the proper wraps, take the dough and divide it into 8 balls. Otherwise divide into four balls to make larger, pizza-style flatbreads for slicing.

Roll each one out, so that they are approximately 15cm in diameter. The larger ones to 25cm.

Top each one with a generous amount of the goat mix, spreading it out across the flatbread with the back of a spoon to the edge.



Place on a baking tray and pop them into the oven. The smaller ones will take 6–7 minutes, whereas the larger ones will take about 10 minutes.

When done, the meat should be sizzling on top and the base should be lightly browned.

To serve, sprinkle a good amount of chopped red onion and parsley on top, along with a scattering of green chilli. Drizzle over some of the pomegranate molasses, roll up and wrap with some kitchen towel. Enjoy!



If making the larger, pizza-style lahmacun for the kids, do exactly the same but then cut into wedges.



Saturday, 29 April 2017

Borough Market Food Photography Residency with John Holdship


There is nothing like watching a grown man, all dressed in purple, taking a photo of a block of butter and feeling safe in the knowledge, that he knows exactly what he is doing. If I were given the task of doing the same, there is no doubt that I would spend a great deal of time, too much time, pontificating and reflecting upon my muse. You know, looking from different angles. Squaring up my fingers and thumbs. Eating a ham sandwich. That sort of stuff. So much so, that by the time I actually picked up the camera, there would probably be nothing but a puddle of yellow fat to snap; with a milky white residue on top, spilling out towards the edges.

Actually that sounds quite arty and could make for a decent shot. But that is not the point. A large degree of food photography is about being in the moment. To highlight the plain majesty of a dish or the simply beauty of an ingredient, all it takes is a degree of consideration, some thinking on your feet and a willingness to make the most of opportunities as they present themselves. Think about the natural light as it moves around you (not forgetting to switch off those kitchen spots) and juggle about with the composition, yes. Just don't think too hard. Just do it.

At least this is the kind of vibe I got from Borough Market's house photographer, John Holdship, when I attended a preview evening earlier this week, to showcase his residency in May. Over the course of the next four weeks, John will be in attendance in that well known food mecca in SE1 and on hand to help novices and keen photographers alike; to help improve their food photography skills, using both digital SLR and phone cameras. A sort of drop-in centre for those who are terrified of switching from automatic to manual, and for the Instagram generation too.

Personally, having had a run through with John, it was refreshing to see this onus on relaxing into things. I can get very tense whenever I am shooting pics. Partly due to a certain amount of dithering and not really knowing what I am doing. But largely because I usually have a table braying at me in the background, screaming 'Where's our food?' Of course, there is a bit more to it than this zen-like approach. Being able to dip into a toolbox of knowledge, accumulated from years of experience, obviously helps. Lest not we forget the plethora of software that is out there, to help enhance, tweak and manipulate. But like I said, it was a pleasure watching a professional go about his business and to grab some new tips and ideas along the way. And yes, I am buttering him up here, to make up for the snarky, sartorial comment at beginning of this post. (Don't worry John, I've got a similar pair of violet jeans in my cupboard, that I used to wear in the 90's, and still occasionally squeeze into.)

The added bonus of this class though, was getting to photograph and eat some lovely dishes prepared by food writer, historian and Borough Market Cookbook host, Angela Clutton. In keeping with the straightforward approach, she prepared a quick pasta dish of fettuccine with porcini, garlic and parsley and also made some trembling panna cotta, all rich and creamy and spiked with bay. Pasta, with all its beige inequity, is a demon to capture and jazz up for the camera. However, with careful positioning and some resulting shadowing, we all managed to get some rather sexy shots. I did have to smile when Angela interjected halfway through our snapping, with a bottle of olive oil to enliven and spritz our tiring plates up a touch. 'Another trick of the trade,' she winked. Which says to me, that no matter how fast you work, there will always be a degree of fixing in food photography.

Still, that really is the name of the game and I have no doubt that if you were to pop down to Borough Market over the next few weeks, John, Angela and co will be able to help you add a few more weapons to your photographic arsenal.

The first session starts next Thursday, 4th May, between 12:30 and 2pm, where John will be working with Masterchef finalist, Tony Rudd, and paying homage to home grown asparagus.

For further information, go to the Borough Market website here.

Angela Clutton shows us how to make fettucine with porcini, garlic and parsley
Photos, of photos, of photos. All very meta. 



My latest portfolio

I call this 'Pasta, On A Chopping Board'

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Spanish Chicken with Rice, Sherry and Sweety Drop Peppers


Ordinarily, I am always up for injecting a bit of patience and time into proceedings when cooking. An afternoon in the kitchen, chopping and whittling vegetables down into their smaller constituent parts is time well spent and braising joints of meat overnight in the oven always yields the best results. The smells alone that permeate the house in the early hours have to be the best alarm call ever. Even if you do wake up with your head stuck to a sodden pillow, because you’ve spent the best part of the dawn chorus dribbling in your sleep. Yes, slow and low is the way to go.

Of course, sometimes (well, actually a lot of the time) we often have to produce something quick for the table and short-cuts have become a necessity of life, and this recipe is full of them. I have made arroz con pollo y pimientos a fair few times now, having been introduced to this Andalusian dish by Claudia Roden, one of our most revered food writers. The easy translation is ‘rice with chicken and red peppers’ – which sounds fairly straightforward. But once you begin to break things down, it soon becomes apparent that a bleedin’ awful lot of work needs to be done. The chicken needs to be roasted whole, so that precious juices can be collected afterwards. A healthy, rich stock needs to gleaned and formulated from the carcass to provide backbone. And the onions have to be cooked for no less than 45 minutes, so that they become sweet and decadent. All in all, it can take up to three hours to put this together. Which is no good for a midweek dinner, when you’ve got just a small window of opportunity, before scooting back out to deliver children to after school clubs.

So I have made a few nips and tucks to this recipe and added a couple of tweaks along the way. The first being to break down and joint the chicken for pan frying and I actually believe that you can make a decent chicken stock quite briskly. There really isn’t much to be gained from stewing for hours on end. That said, you don’t want to boil the chicken bones either but a 30 minute gentle simmer will do the job. I promise. Equally, the onions can be stir-fried and caramelised in a flash, just so long as you keep an eye on them and add a drop of water if they are beginning to catch.

The twists come in the form of using sweet drop peppers, rather than roasted red peppers. You could use the latter, also straight out of a jar, but I find that these tart, scarlet teardrops provide a lovely contrast against the inherent creaminess of the rice and resulting broth. And because I have sped up things a touch, I like to use a lot of thyme and bay, just to build up an extra layer of woody and aromatic flavour in the background.

I have timed myself on this recipe before and with furrowed brow and intense concentration, I have brought plates to the table in just under the hour. And even within that hour, I can tell you that the resultant salivating has been no less. My kids may be nine now but I always make sure they’ve got their bibs on when I am cooking this.

This recipe post first appeared on Great British Chefs in collaboration with Cooks & Co.



Spanish Chicken with Rice, Sherry and Sweety Drop Peppers serves 4-6

Ingredients

Chicken
1 free-range chicken, approx.1.5kg in weight, jointed into 4 pieces (breasts and legs)
oil, for shallow frying

For the stock
1.5l water, just boiled from the kettle
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 celery stick, chopped
10 peppercorns
3 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves

Saffron rice
4 tbsp of olive oil
4 large onions, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
250g of dry sherry
500g of paella rice
75g of sweety drop peppers
1 pinch of saffron
salt
pepper

Method

First, get your stock going by placing the chicken carcass and wings in a saucepan. Cover with the just-boiled water, add the vegetables and aromatics and place on the hob over a medium heat. The key is to bring things to a simmer and gently bubble away, so adjust the heat accordingly. Remember to skim any scum that rises to the surface.

Once the stock is on the go, take a wide saucepan or casserole and place it on the hob over a medium heat. Add the oil, followed by the sliced onions. Stir through then cover for 10 minutes until they’ve begun to soften then take the lid off and turn the heat up.

Now briskly stir, moving the onions about until they become golden brown. This should take about 10 minutes. If they look like they’re burning, add a drop of water. Once the onions are golden, turn the heat down and add the garlic and thyme leaves. Stir through, cooking for 5 minutes.



Next, add the dry sherry and simmer for another 5 minutes, until it has reduced a touch.

By this time, your stock should be ready, so take the stock saucepan off the heat and drain the chicken liquor through a sieve into a jug. You will need 1 litre.

Next, take the onions off the heat and pour your jug of stock into the wide saucepan and then using a hand blender, blitz until everything is smooth. The result should have a nice light broth but be careful, as everything will still be quite hot.

Once done, season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle the saffron stems over the top, crushing the stems with your fingers as you do so.

Now place the wide saucepan back on the heat and bring the broth back up to the boil.
When ready, add the rice to the wide saucepan and stir through. Leave to cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, pan-fry the chicken joints. Place a frying pan over a medium to high heat and add a splash of oil. Lightly season the legs first and place them in the pan skin-side down, until the skin becomes crisp – this takes about 5 minutes. Once crisp, flip over.

Sprinkle the sweety drop peppers over the simmering rice and place the legs on top. Cover with a lid, bringing the heat down to low.



Lightly season the chicken breasts and add them to the frying pan skin-side down, again frying until the skin is crisp – this will be quicker and should only take about 2 minutes. Flip over the breasts.
Lift the lid off the wide saucepan and place the breast pieces next to the legs. Cover again and leave to gently poach for 10–12 minutes, until the chicken pieces are cooked through and the rice is soft and tender.



When ready, remove from the heat and leave covered for just another 5 minutes, for everything to rest. Serve up by removing the chicken pieces and spooning a generous helping of the rice and peppers onto each plate. Cut the breast pieces into slices and joint the legs into two. Divide accordingly. Finish with a few more sprigs of thyme (if you fancy) and serve.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Wild Garlic, Egg and Bacon Filo Pie


Don't tell anyone this but I bought some gardening clogs the other day. Signalling a new direction in my life, going rapidly south. The kids are only 9 but they've already noticed this sea change and are no doubt thinking horrible thoughts, as they see me shuffle around in the flower beds; all bent and stooped. Maybe not so much about impending mortality but more about the fact that roles will be reversed at some point and that one day, they will have to wipe my bum. Perhaps I am over-analyzing here. Perhaps I am anxiously screwing. Over feeling so damn comfortable in my gardening clogs. It feels like a dirty secret. So please, keep this one safe.

But seeing as this is supposed to a quick post, I think I should get to the point and share a rather nifty recipe for wild garlic, egg and bacon filo pie. Or spanakopita, as the Greeks call it. I don't think I have to explain too much as to why I have used wild garlic as a principle ingredient. A lot of similar recipes call for spinach but if you are going to inject some green into proceedings, why not use something a bit more pungent. Especially if you have lots to hand. Egg and bacon is always a happy marriage but in this case, they serve really to bind everything together and to provide a bit of seasoning. Creating a softly scrambled and porcine base for a light, Spring-like lunch or dinner.

Be careful with the filo though. Regarding the use of wafer thin pastry, some naysayers will scoff at the suggestion of the word 'pie' for something so delicate. But after a brush with some melted butter and a quick brush in the oven, those scrunched pieces can turn into razor sharp shards. So eat with care.

In some cases, you may want to take your teeth out first.

Bacon, Parmesan, Wild Garlic Flower

Wild Garlic, Egg and Bacon Filo Pie - serves 4

Ingredients

4 sheets of ready made filo pastry
4 eggs, lightly beaten
100gms smoked bacon lardons
1 good handful of wild garlic, leaves washed and roughly chopped (and a couple a flowers can be thrown in too, if you like).
100gms feta cheese, crumbled
50gms Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Black pepper
Butter, for melting and brushing

Crispy, filling, crispy
Method

Heat your oven to 180C and place a frying pan on the hob, over a medium heat. Add the bacon lardons and quickly fry off, until they slightly browned and crispy. Leave to cool.

Once cool, mix the bacon with the eggs, feta and Parmesan and wild garlic together and then season generously with some black pepper. (Note, I haven't added salt on account of the bacon and the cheese).

Next, grab a pie dish and take the filo pastry out of the fridge and leave it out on the side for 20 minutes.

Melt some butter and brush the base and sides of the pie dish and then drape a sheet of the filo across, pushing it gently to the inside and there should be plenty to hang over. Repeat with two more sheets, criss-crossing them so that all the sides of the dish are covered.

Now pour the filling into the centre, pressing everything down a touch so that the base is covered. And then pull all the remaining hanging filo over, scrunching and twisting to fit.

You will probably have a gap in the middle left uncovered, so take the last sheet of filo and again scrunch and twist to fill in the gap.

Using some more melted butter, brush the filo all over the top and place into the oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until the top turns crisp and light brown (keep an eye on this).

Leave to cool to room temperature and then slice up into quarters and serve with a mixed salad.

Sexy wild garlic clog time
Wild Garlic, Egg and Bacon Filo Pie and salad

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Iceland's Luxury Rack of Lamb with Yeasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Fried Caper Berries


Given that I have now the steered the ship of approximately 2381 barbecues, you'd think that I would be quite the veteran or expert by now, wouldn't you? Well, yes, I am. Let's make no bones about this. Having spent a large part of my formative years hunched over disposable trays, I have since dabbled in a vast array of techniques, tempering (or tampering rather) with heat and fire, in the great outdoors. Underground, overground, wombling free. Smoking, choking and inadvertently setting my neighbours fence alight. Rotisserie, patisserie and lest we forget, deep frying whole potatoes in a bubbling cauldron of beef dripping, over naked flame. An episode that still fills me with horror because seriously, if there had been just the slightest of nudges, from say, an itinerant foot; we would have been in big, big trouble. We filled that pot up with so much fat that day. Too much fat. I blame John.

You're probably getting the picture by now, that perhaps I am not quite the expert. I still have much to learn. Largely about safety. But I really do love to cook outside. It really is joyous and as such, I am always looking around and thinking of different ways to do things. Or for new adventures, as it were.

One project that has been on my mind for some time now, has been to cook an entire meal on charcoal. At this point, you may be thinking 'Oh, here we go, Danny is going to be selling himself as the next Niklas Ensktrak...Extra....Einstein...that beardy, chef bloke from Sweden.' I am not. I do love Niklas' book though and am in awe of the stuff he does but he is operating in another universe. By comparison, I'd have to start off from a very small leaping point. Well, relatively low.

So the other day, I cracked out both my ProQ and a galvanized tray (from an old portable piece of kit) and set to creating a meal, with an Easter vibe, some punchy flavour and all cooked over glowing white coals.

Lamb obviously had to be the star of the show and on this occasion, I returned to Iceland. Again, I know what you are thinking. 'Oh, here we go, Danny is back on the sell.' But my cynical heart really has been melted by some of the offerings in that store and as such, Iceland is now on my 'go to' list. Admittedly, that list is very large anyway. Growing in fact, as I am a bit of a food shopping, male strumpet. But I suppose what I like most about Iceland though, is the benefit of reaching into those laden freezers and pulling out some ingredient that is out of the ordinary. Octopus, red snapper, smoked duck wings, frutti de mare, rose veal saltimboca, even croquembouche kits. For when you want stuff your bouche with choux pastry, chocolate and caramel. Like you often do. (Yes, I know you do).

It's amazing to have access to stuff like that on the high street, to picked up conveniently and the quality is surprisingly good. Compliment that with an array of frozen vegetables and fruit, for nutritious sides and healthy breakfasts (the kids love a dollop of red berry compote in their otherwise mundane porridge) and suddenly, Iceland doesn't look too shabby.

More interesting for me though is the phenomenon of feigned surprise and subsequent embarrassment whenever I bump into someone in there. The sort of thing that was once reserved for shopping in those now very popular Germanic stores.

'Oh, hello. I don't normally come in here you know but the frozen fish is really quite...commendable!' they'll often say. Using words that don't quite fit their regular vocabulary, before scuttling off down the aisle, hoping that I haven't seen the stack of stuffed crust pizza at the bottom of their trolley.

Still, the tide definitely seems to be turning for Iceland.

Scenes from an outdoor kitchen
Coming back to the task in hand though and the element of cooking a whole meal over flame, I kept things simple for my first time out. The aforementioned lamb, sourced from British Red Tractor assured farms, was all pretty much taken care of, as it came with an even crust of parsley, breadcrumb and shallot. I just had to make sure that my ProQ was up to speed with the temperature for some indirect cooking. Of course, cooking the lamb this way also injected a lovely touch of smoke and if you fancy doing something similar, I would err on going for 30 minutes (rather than the 35 on the instructions) to keep a touch of pinkness.

Rose-tinted rack of lamb
The trickier part is perhaps pulling together the yeasted cauliflower, to provide a rough puree or bed of umami. However, this only requires a small degree of patience. It was quite relaxing actually, stirring the small florets into butter and watching them soften and break down, whilst contemplating the wild garlic nearby. That is slowly taking over my garden, house, life. I acquired this method for cooking cauliflower from Jackson Boxer of Brunswick House by the way. It really is gorgeous to eat, alone or otherwise, and definitely gives that cheesy cousin a run for its money.

The three stages of yeasted cauliflower
Wilting some fresh spinach and quickly frying off some caper berries on some hot coals is, OK, a bit of a no-brainer but once everything was on the go and coming neatly towards the end, I don't mind admitting to standing back and feeling proud about my first attempt at al fresco cuisine au total. A tear even dropped onto my cheek, dispelling any notions of proper caveman cooking. Real barbecuing men don't cry, they just sport ridiculous looking clothes. Yet when I shouted out to the kitchen inside, where the gang (including our nephew, Bo) were assembling one of those rather naughty croquembouches I mentioned earlier, to come and have a look at what I had done, not one person beckoned to my call. They were all too busy sucking up left over caramel, straight from a piping bag. Including Mrs FU. In essence, they couldn't give a monkeys about my exploits in the open air. This assembly of a fantastic meal, conjured magically upon wood and fire. Next to the wild, wild garlic.

It was only then that I really got upset.


Iceland's Luxury Rack of Lamb with Yeasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Fried Caper Berries -serves 4

Ingredients

2 packs of Iceland Luxury Rack of Lamb, defrosted
2 cauliflowers, leaves removed and florets picked into small pieces. For the remaining stalk, chop that up into small pieces too.
20gms dried yeast
150gms unsalted butter, cubed
150mls whole milk
500gms fresh spinach, washed
12 caper berries, rinsed
50ml rapeseed oil
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to season

Method

First, a quick addendum. Given that I have employed two methods here i.e. indirect cooking and open grilling, it is obviously going to be hard to do this all on one bbq, especially if you don't have ProQ or Weber or any sort of bbq with a lid. If so, slam that lamb into the oven but do carry on with the vegetables on the grill. Or if you do have a bbq with a lid, live a little and build a makeshift one just next to it. It's not that hard.

Now, to start, you need to fire up your bbq's and I am not going to tell you exactly how because that might be like telling your Grandma how to suck eggs. But essentially, you need your bbq for the indirect cooking to reach 180C and the coals on your open grill to be glowing white before cooking.

So, place your lamb, crust side up and place it into your bbq. (Remember, 35 minutes as per instruction, or 30 for medium).

Next, place a wide saucepan on the coals and add the butter. Once it starts foaming (and it will) add the cauliflower, yeast and a touch of salt. Briskly stir fry so that everything gets coated and then leave, giving another stir every now and then, to prevent it catching too much.

After about 20 minutes, the florets should be quite soft and begin to turn to mush. Encourage this by pressing down with the spoon and continue to brown things off for another 5 minutes or so.

Then add the milk and incorporate together and then using a masher, mash it all together to form a rough puree. Or mash! Ha! You could go the extra mile and blitz with hand blender but quite frankly, getting the extension lead out would be going too far. Even for this project. Taste for seasoning and keep warm.

Using another wide saucepan or wok, place that on the coals, along with a smaller saucepan. Add the washed spinach to the wok and oil and caper berries to the small pan.

By now, your lamb should be done, so take that out of the bbq and cover with foil and leave to rest.

Finish by wilting the spinach down and turn the caper berries over so that they crisp up a little, then add the lemon juice and parsley to the capers and stir through.

To serve up, spoon a generous amount of the cauliflower into the centre of a plate and top with some spinach, making sure you squeeze out any excess liquid first.

Carve and portion up the lamb cutlets and arrange of top of that and finish by dotting some caper berries around the plate and drizzle over some of that citrus and herb oil.

Lamb al fresco, with beer

Open cooking

Croquembouche excitement

Tender and sweet


Saturday, 8 April 2017

Whole Deep Fried Poussin with Tarragon Mayonnaise and Potato Wedges


The internet can get you into a whole load of trouble. It can put ideas in your head. Dangerous ideas. Like deep-frying a whole turkey. I first stumbled across this novel way of cooking a while ago, whilst scanning YouTube for outlandish food experiments. And it looked amazing. The theatre and spectacle of plunging a huge brined bird, into a bowl of seething gold, in someone’s backyard in small town US of A at Thanksgiving; well, that seemed hard to beat.

Then I stumbled across the warning videos. The ones that showed where this type of cooking can go horribly wrong. Showing what happens to turkeys that have not been duly drained of their salting liquor before making that descent. Boom! You get huge explosions. Water and boiling oil does not mix you see. The subsequent drop of the camcorder and high pitched scream of ‘Oh ma Gaad, Cletus! Are y'all OK?’ will haunt me forever still.

But like a moth to a flame, I’ve always fancied returning to the idea and when I saw that one of my peers, a rather good baker who resides in Holland, had been getting up to the same tricks with chicken, I felt that I still had to give this method a crack.

With safety in mind though, I decided to scale things down further and pitch my first attempt at ‘whole bird’ deep-frying by using poussin. Poussin that had been brined overnight in buttermilk. Given that this young bird provides a delicate and light meat anyway, you may be wondering why I went through the extra rigmarole. But brining does still add an extra dimension prior to cooking.

You see, by curious osmosis, the whole process is about manipulating proteins by fattening them up and breaking them down a touch before the real cooking gets under way. The reason why some meat, poultry in particular, often comes out dry, is down to that fast shock of initial heat, and this is because the water in the proteins comes flying out, leaving them dense and tight. Having just read that last sentence back to myself, I do realise that this is not a very science-sy way of explaining things but simply put, brining ensures that everything stays nice and juicy.

Anyhow, that was my reason for marinating the poussin in an acidic bath overnight and I am sticking by it. You could source ‘buttermilk’ by the way, but after strenuous research (i.e. asking Twitter) skimmed milk mixed with lemon juice or vinegar also does the trick.

The biggest leap of faith comes to the actual frying and if you own a proper deep-fryer, it is probably best to use that but it might not be big enough. I went down the route of using my beloved deep stock pot, called Barry White, and accomplished a very good result. The poussin was lovely and crisp on the outside but still supremely succulent inside. It left me very happy.

Yes, it’s awesome what you can achieve with a steady hand, nerves of steel and a taped off kitchen. Next time, I think I may even invite my wife in to film me.

This recipe post first appeared on Great British Chefs.


Ingredients

Poussin
2 poussin, corn-fed
3l sunflower oil, or vegetable oil

Buttermilk brine
1l skimmed milk
1 lemon, juiced
4 tsp flaky sea salt

Seasoned flour coating
2 eggs
5 tbsp of plain flour
1 tbsp of oregano, dried
1 tbsp of thyme, dried
2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper, cracked

Potato wedges
750g of Maris Piper potatoes, skin scrubbed then cut into neat equal quarters
3 tbsp of rapeseed oil

Tarragon mayonnaise
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tsp English mustard
200ml of rapeseed oil
1 bunch of tarragon leaves, (small) chopped
lemon juice, to taste
salt
pepper


Method

To begin, make the buttermilk brine by combining the skimmed milk with the lemon juice and salt into a bowl and whisk together for 5 minutes. The milk will curdle but that is fine – the main point here is to incorporate the salt.

Place your poussin in the bowl, cover with cling film and place in the fridge. The minimum time to marinate or brine your poussin would be 4 hours but it is good to leave overnight. Return every now and then to turn the poussin over.

When ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

Place a large saucepan of water on the hob to bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the potato wedges and simmer for just 5 minutes, then pour into a colander in the sink and leave the potatoes to steam for another 5 minutes.

Take the poussin out of the buttermilk brine and stand them upright (cavity facing down) in a sieve or colander over a bowl and leave to drain.

Meanwhile, take a large roasting tray, add the rapeseed oil and pour in the wedges. Toss around to get a good even coating, add a touch of salt and pepper over the top and place in the oven. Check on them every 15 minutes or so to shake and move about. All in all, the wedges will take 45 minutes.

To make the tarragon mayonnaise, place a small bowl on top of a wet kitchen towel or tea towel (this is to stabilise the bowl) and add the yolk and mustard. Whisk together until everything becomes creamy then very slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking all the while. Keep going until everything starts to thicken and emulsify until all the oil is gone.

Add the chopped tarragon and a squeeze of lemon juice, folding everything in with a spoon. Season to taste, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge.

To coat the poussin for frying, combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and crack the eggs in another bowl, beating lightly to combine. Roll the poussin around in the egg wash so that it gets a light coating and then dump them in the flour bowl, again, ensuring they get an even coating all round. Set aside on a plate so they are good to go.

If using a fryer, heat the oil to 180°C. If you are using a stock pot, like I do, pour in the sunflower oil and place over a high heat on the hob, using your biggest burner. Keep an eye on proceedings by using a temperature probe, waiting until it reaches 180°C.

When ready, carefully drop both poussin into the oil and deep-fry for 15–20 mins, turning the poussin around occasionally. To make sure that they are cooked through, use that temperature probe and take a reading from the thigh – it needs to have an internal temperature between 72°C–75°C – if it’s not quite there you may need to pop them back into the pot.



Before serving, place both the poussin and wedges on kitchen paper to remove excess oil, then slice each poussin straight down the middle with a sharp knife. Set each half on a plate with a generous scoop of wedges by the side and finish with an equally lavish blob of tarragon mayonnaise, straight from the fridge.