Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Beetroot and Dill Gravlax

I'm just back from an intense eating schedule in London. A wedding invitation that wasn't even in London but took us quite far south was excuse enough. I mark little stars on my maps of everywhere I'd like to eat around the world, with London being particularly heavily populated. The trouble is trying to narrow it down when we actually visit anywhere. I have the fear of getting it wrong, I only trust a few people to recommend and even then I don't always agree, I'm not fussy, I'm just always in search of the perfect meal!

We took in Kiln, a lovely wedding, St John (my all time favourite) A Wong, Brunswick House, Noble Rot, Pop Brixton and Black Axe Mangal... all in the name of research you understand, I took a lot of ideas home. I won't be adding up the receipts. 


I have been getting my salmon from the Grainger Market at Lindsey's recently; they get it from Wester Ross, a salmon farm in the sea lochs of North West Scotland.

Salmon farming is a contentious subject and one that I have read frankly disgusting things about, I wouldn't buy salmon from the supermarket anymore, nor meat to be honest. So apart from eating wild salmon that isn't always available, I have been looking for sources and information that I trust. This is an independent operation that uses no antibiotics or chemicals, rears their fish by hand and gives them space and clear water to grow in without growth promoters or supplements.

I'm always looking to find out more however, about where my food comes from and the life it has had be it fish, fowl or fennel...


This works best with a big piece of fish, preferably a whole side, which will set you back about £35. I'm thinking Christmas here, as once cured it keeps well in the fridge and you can cut slivers off as required for canapés, starters and unexpected guests at any time.

Check over the salmon gently with your fingers and remove any bones with a pair of tweezers, then cut your piece of fish into equal length halves.

In a large bowl combine 300g caster sugar, 300g maldon sea salt, 15g black peppercorns crushed in a pestle and mortar, a roughly chopped bunch of dill and 2 peeled then grated beetroots. Give everything a good mix.



You will need a container that the salmon fits quite snugly in, I use a tupperware. Add about a quarter of the mix to the base, then one piece of salmon skin side down, then add about two thirds of the remaining mix and spread it over the salmon, add the next piece of salmon, skin side up, like a sandwich, then top with the remaining mix. Then you need to weigh it down, I usually slot in another tupperware and fill it with tins, or use a plate with something heavy on top... Then pop in the fridge.


If you are using large pieces I would cure it for about 5 days, turning both the pieces of salmon over daily; smaller pieces will be ready in 3 days. When it is ready take it out and brush off the mix, much of which will have turned to liquid and rinse under cold water, then dry thoroughly with paper towels. You will notice how much it has firmed up as it has cured, shedding its water and absorbing flavour. As you do this more you will learn whether you prefer the firm very cured bits at the edge or the softer lightly cured almost sashimi bits in the middle and you can cure your next piece to suit.


Leave the salmon attached to its skin and carve very thin slices with a very sharp knife on a slight angle. I love it with a winter salad and some brown bread and butter, I could happily eat a whole plate as canapés topped with fresh dill, and I particularly enjoy being the one carving as you get all the scraps. The sweet, salty flavour is delicious, oily rich fish and earthy beetroot and dill.



Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Apple and Cinnamon Cake

We have a ton of apples again this year at the allotment, part of one of our trees has collapsed due to the weight of apples and our trees sag across the path blocking people's way with apples. I am pretty sure everyone at the allotment thinks we are useless, we haven't been as much as I'd like this year, but I still love it.

Our allotment is 'wild' in style. I'm very tidy in the rest of my life, constantly picking things up, cleaning, reordering, stacking, straightening... I think you need to be like that to run an efficient kitchen... but it's nice to have a place in my life that is just a bit messy and free and still beautiful at the same time. I don't care if you can't get down some of the paths, or that you have to crawl under the apple trees to get in. It is overgrown with apple boughs, flowers, vines, blackberries, honeysuckle, creeping nasturtiums, huge fennel plants that have gone to seed, but I personally think that that is the beauty of it. It's not like it's a big patch of nettles; but I'll await my next warning email because I don't think the allotment committee agree...



I think I've been asked for this recipe more than any other recently, pretty much everyone who has ordered it at Cook House wants to know how to make it so I thought I'd better get on with writing it up.

Incidentally it is the cake that a woman once described on Facebook as 'so dry it was impossible to swallow'. She laid into me in front of lots of customers at Cook House when I had just opened, I'll never forget it. She said she would never be back, thankfully. I'd also like to add that she ate every last (dry) crumb of her cake. Thankfully everyone else seems to like it a lot. I suggest you try it and see for yourself...

Get your cake tin ready and lined and preheat the oven to 160˚C.

Peel one large cooking apple... I'm going to have to make a lot of cakes to get through all the allotment apples! and cut it into thick slices.

Melt 150g of butter in a pan on a gentle heat. Then add 225g of self raising flour to a bowl, followed by 225g of caster sugar, a teaspoon of baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Give all the dry stuff a good mix and make sure there are no clumps. Beat 2 eggs in another bowl and add a dash of almond essence, about 1/4 teaspoon.

Then add the eggs and the melted butter to the dry mix and quickly bring it together using a spatula, it is almost like a batter when it is fully mixed.


Add 3/4 of the mix to a lined cake tin and spread it out. It might seem like there's not much of the mixture to you, but don't worry, that's how it is meant to be. Then add a layer of apples to the top of the mix, covering the whole lot. Then add the remaining 1/4 of the mix to the middle, on top of the apples. Then quickly pop it in the oven and bake for 50 minutes.

Sprinkle the top with a tiny bit of sugar when it comes out, it will smell amazing, all being well. The batter like mix means you almost get a buttery crust to the edges of the cake, with the middle staying warm and crumbly with soft layers of sweet apple. It is very good still warm from the oven with a dollop of cream, and will keep well for a couple of days in an airtight tin if you're feeling restrained and don't eat it all at once...



Sunday, 24 September 2017

Spiced Goat Mince Meatballs in a Roast Tomato & Pepper Sauce

These meatballs were just a bit off the cuff on a Friday night faffing about in the kitchen; I had a packet of goat mince that needed cooking and made it up as I went along. They turned out to be an absolute triumph, and one that I can't wait to make again. I flavoured the meatballs with fennel and coriander seeds, roast them and tossed them in a roast tomato and red pepper sauce, it was so delicious! If you haven't had much goat in the past I would highly recommend it, not as strong as lamb or beef, just a really delicate beautiful flavour, try it out...


Start with the tomatoes, I used a packet of regular sized vine tomatoes. Cut them into quarters and pop them into a baking tray, add a generous splash of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar and some black pepper, give it a good mix and then pop it in the oven at 200˚C for 30 minutes, keep an eye on them as all tomatoes differ. You want it to start to colour and most of the water to cook away, until they start to look a bit sticky and caramelised. When they are ready tip them into a little blender and wizz them up until smooth, they almost become creamy. It's my new favourite way of making a tomato sauce, especially while tomatoes are in season I much prefer this roast fresh tomato method rather than using tins.


While you are waiting for the tomatoes you can start the meatballs. I used one slice of stale brown sourdough bread, crusts removed, wizzed up into a fine crumb. Put the bread crumbs into a bowl and added a splash of milk and leave them to soak.

Toast a teaspoon of coriander seeds and half a teaspoon of fennel seeds in a small pan until you can smell them, then pop them into a pestle and mortar and grind until you get a rough powder.

I used 400g of goat meat for 2 people, this was quite generous, and would feed 3 easily! I get my goat meat from The Goat Company who trade at Jesmond Food market, on the third Saturday of the month. Get a few packs and keep it in the freezer, it really is such delicious meat.


Crumble the mince into a big bowl and add the spices. Then add half a finely chopped onion, a grated clove of garlic, a big pinch of maldon sea salt, some black pepper and the bread crumbs; and mix it all together. Then form into balls and roll together in your hands, about the size of a golf ball.

Put them into a baking tray with some olive oil and a thinly sliced red pepper, coating everything in oil before putting them in the oven. Bake them for 25 minutes, but give them a shake after 10 minutes. They should take on a bit of colour but you don't want them to cook for too long and dry out.

While they were in the oven I cooked a sliced onion in a bit of oil and butter until golden, then added the blitzed tomato sauce into the pan to warm through. A lot of fat came out of my meatballs, which was great as they ended up so juicy, so instead of adding the sauce into the baking tray I scooped them out of the fat with the peppers and tossed them into the sauce in the pan.

Serve with some buttery polenta and some chopped fresh sage. They were SO good, really juicy delicious meatballs and the sauce was lovely and rich, perfect with buttery polenta and little bursts of sage.


Saturday, 23 September 2017

Nasturtium Pesto

When Channel 4 phoned and said would I be interested in cooking with Michel Roux Junior on television, this was the recipe I came up with, on top of a chilled summer cucumber soup. I think I was a bit overwhelmed to be honest. I'm still a bit confused by my decision, and couldn't tell you where on earth it came from, but it is definitely tasty. I was inspired by the Ouseburn farm where I get some of my veg, it was August last year and there were huge beds of bright nasturtiums climbing all over, little courgettes, herbs and spiky cucumbers all waiting to be picked. So I made the soup and Michel made the pesto, he was very nice if you're interested, very nice indeed...


It seems like Autumn is on it's way in , but I still have nasturtium leaves creeping all over the allotment, so if you have access to any you could give this a go...

You need approximately 25g nasturtium leaves. These are very easy to grow in a pot if you fancy, just chuck a packet of seeds in some compost early summer and they should provide you with spicy leaves and edible flowers all summer. Pick 6 mint leaves and 10 nasturtium seed pods. These look a bit like capers and have a massively spicy kick to them, when the flowers wilt you're left with a seed pod, which you can eat, or keep and plant again. You will need 25g pumpkin seeds or pinenuts, a pinch of salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.


Michel does things properly so set about this is a pestle and mortar, but I mostly use my little whizzer; don't tell him. Add the nasturtium leaves, mint, seed pods, pumpkin seeds, a pinch of salt and a good glug of olive oil to the whizzer and blend until smooth. You might need to add more oil, I like it so you can drizzle it off a spoon rather than a thick paste, but it's up to you. Add the lemon juice at the end to taste, just a dash should do.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Grilled Peaches with Cheese - Sweet or Savory

I had some amazing peaches arrive at Cook House a few weeks ago, the perfect sweetness and the perfect ripeness, I have been putting them on the menu at home and at events as much as possible ever since. It's a good time for these late summer fruits; apricots, nectarines, grapes too... I've been cooking, grilling, pickling, poaching and more.


We held a big BBQ night at Cook House a few weeks ago and decided to do every course on the BBQ, including pudding and cheese accompaniments... When you have cooked all the meat and vegetables on your BBQ it often gets to the point that you think it's a shame that you still have such a nice fire and nothing else to cook. So I loaded the grill up with fruit! Grilled grapes are delicious with cheese I've found, just pop them on the BBQ at the end until they start to blacken and burst, let them cool a little and let people pick at them with some lovely local goats cheese.

Grilled peaches are my current favourite, and can be served in a number of ways, just with a dollop of cream or here I've included two recipes; a lovely lunch dish with feta on toast, and also served as a pudding with a delicious sweet whipped cheese.

Your peaches need to be ripe to start with, there is just no point in putting on a rock hard under ripe peach. This might mean buying them a good few days before you need them if they are not ripe in the shops.


Run a knife round to half them and twist to free from the stone, then lever the stone out with a knife. Brush the cut side with some oil and place cut side down on the grill. I grill them for about 5 minutes on this side, don't move them around, just leave them, if your fire is particularly hot they may need less time. Then using a fish slice scrape them free and flip over, and leave them to grill until hot and juicy, until they look like they are starting to collapse a bit. The fire brings out all the juices and delicious sweetness. Remove from the heat when you think they are done, they can be served hot or left to cool to room temperature.

They are great in a salad, with crumbled cheese, toasted nuts and rocket or with some cured meats. Here I have included a savory lunch dish and a sweet pudding both based on the same idea of fresh cheese with peaches and mint...


Grilled Peaches with Feta & Mint on Toast


Toast some sliced sour dough and drizzle with some good quality extra virgin olive oil, crumble over some feta cheese and top with the room temperature grilled peaches, some torn up mint leaves, a bit of black pepper and some more olive oil. The sweet peaches are delicious with the salty cheese and fresh mint.


Grilled Peaches with Whipped Fromage Blanc, Mint & Toasted Hazelnuts

Whip together 150g cream cheese, 100g double cream, 150g yoghurt and 75g sugar. Whip with an electric whisk until it starts to thicken, it takes a while, then add the juice of half a lemon and whip for a few more minutes. Serve this sweet cream with warm grilled peaches, a sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts and some torn mint leaves. The sweet cheese is a bit like a cheesecake topping and is so delicious with the juicy peaces and the crunchy toasted nuts.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Poached Peaches with Ginger, Lemon & Cardamom

Apricots, strawberries, peaches, cherries, raspberries are all abundant at the moment and we've been ordering them by the box load at Cook House. The window between not ripe and overripe can be small, sometimes overnight on a hot day... Remember those, we had a few before we hit monsoon season...

We're pickling cherries by the bucketload, using a Diana Henry recipe with vinegar, sugar, cloves, black pepper and juniper, they are totally delicious with cheese... I want to keep plenty for autumn however as I think they will be brilliant with some autumn game; duck, venison, pigeon... The syrup even has a use when the cherries have all been eaten, a splash of soda and you have yourself a brilliant cherryade! Add gin at your own discretion... 


I've been poaching the apricots and peaches, to serve with a cardamom panna cotta and also with yoghurt and granola for breakfast. I love the flavour of both and I think poaching them really brings it out, it's like that peak ripeness that you get for 5 minutes extended into something that keeps for a while. It also takes me back to those tins of fruit that my granny used to serve with ice-cream and a wafer. I always liked the peach, the bright red cherries were the best, and I staunchly avoided the gritty white bits which I guess were pear perhaps? 


I've been poaching them in a 1 part sugar 3 parts water syrup, it isn't overly sweet, I prefer it this way as I want to taste the fruit not a sugary sweet syrup, but if it is not sweet enough for you just increase the amount of sugar.

Take 400g sugar and add to a pan with 1.2litres of water and heat to dissolve. I've added a few different flavourings, I really like a bit of fresh ginger, if the peaches are quite ripe they need a bit of lemon and today I added 2 bashed pods of cardamom. Other ideas I might try are rosemary, juniper, thyme, pepper, star anise, fennel seeds...



I added 1 lemon, the juice squeezed in and the squeezed halves added in too, 6 or 7 slices of fresh ginger and 2 bashed pods of cardamom. Simmer this for 5 minutes, then add the peaches. I used 6 large peaches cut into quarters with the stones removed. Simmer the peaches gently for between 5 and 10 minutes, until soft. It will depend on how ripe they are to start, it's better to be a bit under cooked as they can fall apart when overcooked. The skins will fall away as they cook, just pull them off. Cool them in the syrup and keep them in the fridge.

They are delicious with yoghurt for breakfast, or with a bit of thick cream for pudding. I've been serving them on top of a cardamom panna cotta too which is bloody lovely!




Sunday, 11 June 2017

Elderflower Vinegar

Flavoured vinegars bring to mind a foodie gift that no one uses, in a pretty bottle from a posh deli. At least that was until I started experimenting with making shrubs; flavoured vinegars for drinks and cocktails, and suddenly I've become a bit more interested...


At Cook House at the moment we have vinegars infused with pineshoots, cherries, raspberry and black pepper, lovage and parsley, and most recently Eldeflower. I've got a long list of other things that I want to get on the go as they come in to season; full tomato stems on the vine, fennel, nasturtiums, gooseberries, rhubarb...

The Elderflowers are out everywhere at the moment, it seems to be a bumper year as I've spotted their big white blousey flowers waving at me everywhere I go. I have a good spot near Cook House that I pass when I walk down in the mornings so I filled a bag as soon as they appeared.

I've made batches and batches of Elderflower cordial in the past, but wanted to do something a bit more interesting with them this year, and something that I could add to the preserving shelves and use all year round. I'll have to think of something else to do with them too as there are just so many it seems rude not to.


I gave the flower heads a gentle shake to get rid of the tiny black bugs that love them so. Some of these will no doubt get in to the vinegar, but you can strain it through a cloth before you use it and it'll be fine. I went for the most straight forward approach for this vinegar, no heating or additional flavours. Simply fill a jar with flower heads and pour over good quality white wine vinegar. That's it. Give it a bit of a shake to get rid of any air pockets and then leave.

I've been giving it a bit of a swirl everyday and after a week the smell was delicious, really powerful Elderflower, stronger than the vinegar. Sometimes it can smell a bit sickly sweet for me so it works well in vinegar which balances it out. It is great in salad dressings, drinks or a spritz over BBQ'd meat or fish in place of lemon.


I have left the flowers in for two weeks so far and it is smelling and tasting very good. I strained some off to use in a cocktail at Cook House's Spring dinner evening last week (you can see photos here). We served 1 part gin, 2 parts lemon cordial, 1 part Elderflower vinegar and topped up with soda water. It was delicious! The cocktail aspect has definitely got me thinking about what to pop in the next jar of vinegar that might go well with a gin...


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Lovage Salt

I don't know why you don't find lovage in the shops alongside the likes of parsley, mint and dill. It's very easy to grow, keeps well and has grown in Europe for centuries.

Some friends gave me a cutting of it a few years ago to go in the allotment, it took well and we now have a huge bush of it that requires no looking after at all. I hadn't really known it's flavour much until then as you rarely come across it.



The leaves are used like a herb and you can eat the root too, but I'm yet to dig it up, the seeds can be used too. It's flavour is similar to celery, celeriac and parsley, but I enjoy it more than all of them, slightly more pungent and complex. If you just eat a leave straight off the plant it is pretty intense, it works best in small doses to complement other things.

I love it in a tomato salad, in a leek and parsley soup, in a mayonnaise; it works really well with roast chicken which is how this salt came about, a simple idea but lovely sprinkled over moist roast chicken and it's buttery juices. I have chopped it up and mixed it with crème fraiche before and stuffed it under the skin of a chicken before it goes in the oven where the cream and flavours sink into the meat as it cooks.

I have used it in sweet stuff too, to flavour a panna cotta, and while going through a phase of candying everything last year I candied little sections of the stem. It's delicious as something sweet, a bit like angelica, lovely sweet fennel like flavours

This salt also works well with other herbs; like thyme, sage or dill. Simply chop the herbs finely and mix with an equal quantity of Maldon sea salt. Mix them together and I find it best to put it in the sun and let it dry out over a few days. The water will gradually evaporate and you are left with a delicious flavoured salt that can go on roast meats, salads, soups, bloody mary's, whatever you fancy...



If you want to try this with roast chicken, I would smear it all over with butter, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, pop the lemon in the cavity and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes very hot, about 220˚C, then 40 minutes at 190˚C for a relatively big chicken. When it is done leave it to rest for 15 minutes then carve it into the buttery juices in the tin and sprinkle with lovage salt.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Butter & Cardamom Buns

I was back at the School of Artisan Food again this month, for their Food for Thought lecture weekend; not as a speaker this year, but a guest. Which meant I could fully enjoy it with no nerves. It was a brilliant weekend last year and proved so again this year. It's almost a bit overwhelming listening to that many fascinating speakers.

Over a sunny weekend on the Welbeck Estate we listened to Bronwen and Francis Percival talk about cheese, about tracing flavours back to what the cow eats in the field and everything along the way. Nicole Pisani and Oli Pagani spoke about the move from professional Nopi chefs to running school canteens for over 500 children. We heard about biodynamic soil, Pakistani seasons from Sumayya Usmani, spices, the power of food social media from Felicity Cloake, diet myths and gut microbes from Tim Spector, sustainable diets for the future from Professor Tim Lang, small food revolutions and much more besides, it was utterly fascinating, hugely educational and inspiring.


The School of Artisan Food is an amazing place, with the baking at the school being particularly impressive, over breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea we were served sour doughs, focaccias, malt loaves, crackers, cookies and amazing brownies...

I've been baking a bit more recently, we currently have a pork bun on the menu at Cook House. Pork we buy direct from the farm in Medomsley, it's a mangalitza, saddleback, middle white cross and it is so delicious, a real depth of flavour that I've not had the like of before. It seems only right to give it a freshly baked bun each morning. I guess these little buns have similarities with a brioche style bun, slightly sweetened, inspired by reading the Nordic Bakery book.

Get everything ready before you begin. Weigh out 500g of strong white bread flour and add a 7g sachet of dried yeast. Weigh out 75g of sugar and add 1 teaspoon of salt. You can add flavour at this point, I have used ground fennel seeds, ground cardamom or black pepper in the past, my favourite is the cardamom, add half a teaspoon of your chosen spice.

Weight out 75g of softened butter, and beat one egg in a separate bowl.

Heat 250ml of milk until warm, not hot, test it with your finger to check. Remove from the heat and add a couple of spoonfuls of the warm milk into the egg, mix, then add the milk and egg back into the milk pan. Then add in the sugar, salt and spice and whisk until it is all dissolved.

If you are using a stand mixer or Kitchenaid combine everything into the bowl, flour, yeast, butter and the milk mixture, and put it on to mix with a dough hook for 10 minutes.

If you are doing it by hand combine everything in a large bowl, bring it all together with a spatula and then turn out onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes. It is quite a light sticky dough, so you may need to keep flouring your hands.

Bring the dough into a ball and leave it in a large bowl, covered with cling film in a warm spot for about an hour or until it is doubled in size. It starts about the size of a melon. The weather and temperature of the day have a huge difference on how quickly this happens, it won't take long on a warm sunny day and you'll get sick of waiting in the winter! After this time knead again for 10 minutes either by hand or in the mixer.

Now it is time to form the buns, tip out the dough and weigh it, for tiny buns divide by 20 and for larger buns divide by ten. If you do ten they end up roughly the size of a burger bun.

Cut off the correct amount of dough, it is usually about 95g for the larger buns, then holding your hand like a claw with the dough under it, move the dough round in circular motions on the work surface. You might need a little flour if it is really sticky but I find it easier to form without. The motion should be pushing the edges round and under and forming a neat little ball. I then dip the bottoms in flour and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof a few inches apart.

Cover them all with cling film and let them sit for another half an hour. Then wash the tops with beaten egg and you can sprinkle on seeds or spice too.



Bake at 200˚C, 10 minutes for the tiny buns and approximately 15 minutes for the larger ones. I turn the larger ones after 10 minutes if they are not browning evenly, you want an even golden colour all over and they should sound hollow when you tap the bottoms. Then leave them to rest for half an hour before you dive in...

They are so bouncy and delicious, slightly sweet and buttery and especially good with cold butter or slow roast pork!

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.