Monday, 23 April 2018

I'm going to publish a cookery book!!

I am very excited to announce that my first book will be published next year! I have been keeping it under my hat for far too long! ‘COOK HOUSE’ will be a collection of recipes and the story of following my passion for food, published with the brilliant Head of Zeus in September 2019.

I have been working on my proposal since last summer, with the help of my agent Daisy at Lutyens and Rubinstein. The proposal described the concept of the book, which is a recipe book, but also the story of Cook House, of leaving one career to follow a true passion, I hope it will inspire other people to do the same, or at least dream. It also included a full recipe list and examples of my writing, example chapters and other little snippets I would like to include in the book, it was pretty lengthy by the end.

cook house recipe book by the grazer

We sent it out to a list of chosen publishers in February and then waited nervously. I was delighted when Head of Zeus made an approach to buy the rights. I went down to meet the team in London a few weeks ago and am really looking forward to working with them. I will be working hard to put the whole thing together by the end of the year, you can follow the journey on social media and here on The Grazer.

I can't wait to hold my own book, it is hugely exciting. It is so surreal to think I will be able to go into Waterstone's and pick it up, with my name on it. I still can't quite believe it!


Monday, 9 April 2018

Pickled Rhubarb with Ginger, Orange & Clove

My god it's been a long winter, not that we are even out of it yet, but at least there are some signs. Today I felt the warm sun on me as I walked outside and I began to feel hopeful. Tomorrow it is forecast to rain all day, continuing for the rest of the week; but at least there are glimmers of hope...

We really felt this winter at Cook House. I lost track of how many times they tried to fix the roof, each time it seemed to have stopped leaking there would be another big freeze, a thaw, a shift, and subsequently a new leak. From November to February there was an issue almost every day and I shed some frustrated tears on occasion. Then the snow storms came, and there were no leaks as we were enveloped in a layer of snow and ice inside and out, totally frozen solid.

pickled rhubarb recipe

I can talk about it now that the other side is in sight, now that the daffodils are coming out and the sticks of rhubarb are beginning to appear at the allotment. People often ask me what to do with lots of rhubarb, it is a common allotment affliction, I only have a small plant and it produces more than enough for all my rhubarb requirements. Pickling is one of the answers I think; this pickle is really pretty damn good. It's lovely on it's own, great with cheese, rich liver pate or on top of a salad, and its super easy to make.

pickled rhubarb recipe the grazer

Fill a large, sterilised, 2 litre kilner jar with rhubarb cut down into 1- 2cm diagonal batons. I have seen recipes that ask you to put the rhubarb into the hot pickling liquid, but I find this generally makes it fall apart, so prefer to add the hot pickling liquid to it, as it softens, but keeps its shape.

pickled rhubarb recipe the grazer

For the pickling liquid combine 750ml water, 500ml white wine vinegar, 350g caster suger, 15g maldon sea salt and heat to dissolve everything. Then you can add your flavours, I used thick slices of fresh ginger, a few large peels of orange zest, a cinnamon stick, 2 cloves, a pinch of chilli flakes and a few black pepper corns. They all bring something to the party, heat and a kick from the ginger, warming chilli, fragrant orange... I don't usually love cloves, but here they really work and the musky flavour is mild but pleasant. Feel free to experiment with other flavours such as juniper, mace, cinnamon, coriander seed, fresh herbs...

Simmer the mix for 5 minutes to bring out all the flavours, then pour the hot liquid over the rhubarb and seal the jar, it will all bob up to the top to begin with and you may need to push it back down a few times over the course of first few days. It is delicious after a couple of days, really delicious after a couple of weeks and will keep well for months if you can manage not to eat it all...

pickled rhubarb recipe - the grazer

pickled rhubarb recipe - the grazer

Monday, 26 February 2018

Whipped Feta on Toast with Smoked Leeks and Black Sesame

Sat round the little pot bellied stove on a winter lunch time, chatting with a couple of very talented chefs who wanted to come and do a guest chef night at Cook House, one of them suddenly looked at the fire and said, 'you could cook aubergines in there, or leeks...' and just as fast I was kicking myself that I had never thought to do just that. I love cooking on fire, I have a fire... it took someone else to join the dots that day, but I haven't looked back... Sticking a bunch of leeks into the flames before you could say... burnt...
This is now a staple item on the Cook House menu. The whipped feta is a good vehicle for any number of toppings, salty cheese whipped up with thick creamy yoghurt and bitter good quality olive oil. It works well with fruit or slow cooked veg, the salty bitterness of the cheese and oil balancing well with sweetness in the toppings.
Whipped Feta on Toast with Smoked Leeks - The Grazer

I've had it on and off the menu in a huge number or different guises; Grilled peach and mint, fresh pear and rocket, blood orange and toasted walnuts, pickled grapes and mint, roast tomatoes and lovage, roast red peppers with rosemary... But this was one of the first variations I came up with and is still a favourite.
Crumble 200g of feta into a bowl and add 50g of good quality, live, full fat yoghurt and 25g of extra virgin olive oil, either put it into a stand mixer and whisk on high for 5 minutes, or use a hand whisk to do the same. There will still be some tiny lumps of feta, but in general the mix should become lighter, smoother and more aerated. Now chill for an hour or so before using and it will set a bit and retain the air.

Smoked Leeks - The Grazer

Shove a couple of large leeks into the flames of your fire, so the whole of the white end and most of the green is engulfed by heat and flame, leaving the leafy end poking out so you can get hold of it to turn. You can do this in a woodburner, an open fire or if you're having a bbq shove them into the coals. They will take about 15 minutes, turning occasionally; the whole of the outside with go black and charred. You will know that they are done as when you pick them up, using long heat proof tongs, they will collapse and bend as the inside is cooked and super soft, juices sizzling into the fire.
Take them out and put them into a baking tray and cover with cling film, leave them to cool so you can handle them, this also allows the smoky flavours to sink in. When they are cool enough to handle remove the black outer layers, it's a messy job... You will be left with the soft cooked inner part of the leek that is lightly smoked and sweet in flavour. Shred this all up into a tangle and dress with a little olive oil and salt, it doesn't matter of you get the odd black bit here and there, I think its unavoidable really.

To assemble, toast some nice sour dough, spread with the feta mix, a good centimetre thick, then top with a tangled pile of smoked leeks and a scatter of toasted black sesame seeds. It's delicious; salty, smoky, sweet and nutty, a really good balance.

Cook House - The Grazer

Monday, 15 January 2018

Kombucha Tea Recipe

Happy New Year! Gut health isn't exactly a glamorous subject but one that has hugely interested me since reading Cooked by Michel Pollen and more recently since meeting Professor Tim Spector at the School of Artisan Food. He gave a fascinating hour long talk about understanding the microbes in our own gut, keeping them well looked after and in turn improving our health, weight and mental well being.

The gut is the largest organ in our body and keeping the microbes it contains alive and flourishing affects all aspects of our well being. It helps us digest things easily, controls calories absorbed, provides vitamins and keeps our immune systems strong. Modern diets that are full of processed supermarket ready meals, factory farmed meat full of antibiotics and fatty fast foods is destroying our gut health and preventing us from feeling fit and protecting ourselves against illness and diseases.

How to make Kombucha Tea - The Grazer


I've learnt that a diverse range of real foods, cooked yourself; and especially live foods are all things our gut loves. It's all good really as live foods covers wine and cheese; as well as live yoghurts, fermented foods such as kimchi, pickled fruit and vegetables, olives, miso soup, aged cheeses, live beer, sauerkraut, keffir and kombucha. These things used to be much more prevalent in people's diets when fridges were none existent or a luxury, as people were frequently preserving fruit, veg, milk, grapes etc as a regular part of life.

This led to my interest in keffir, which is a fermented milky yoghurt drink, and also kombucha which is a fermented sweet tea drink that tastes a bit like apple juice. I would highly recommend giving either a go at home if you are interested, we have both on the go, and also recently added a big vat of kimchi to our fermented house pals. Small bottles of keffir or kombucha are pretty expensive in the shops, but you can produce litres at home for pence.

Kombucha is such a tasty, refreshing, beneficial drink. I've also been looking at using it in our menus; whilst in London I had a salad of kombucha plums, beetroot and goats curd at Brunswick House. It was totally delicious. Simply by adding fruit to your kombucha for a week, you can flavour the drink and also get tangy delicious fruit to use in salads or puddings as you wish.

Kombucha Tea Recipe - The Grazer

This Kombucha tea recipe is pretty simple. I ordered my 'scoby' online, this is the live element which looks a bit like the contents of a petri dish, it's a bit weird! It was in a pouch with a little bit of kombucha liquid, already fermented, which gets your batch going. You simply brew a big batch of strong sugary tea, I used 2 litres of water, 7 tea bags and 170g of caster sugar. I've been using breakfast tea but am going to try out other types next, green and early grey I think. Leave the tea to brew for 30 minutes then remove the tea bags.

Kombucha doesn't like metal, so you now need to transfer the tea to something glass preferably, and stir with a plastic spoon if you need to. Once the tea is cold, combine the scoby and the tea in a big glass jar and then leave it to ferment, I cover the top of mine with some kitchen roll and an elastic band so it can get some air. It is ready when it no longer tastes of tea, the fermentation process feeds on the sugar so it is no longer sweet, almost like a tart apple juice, slightly cider like taste. Strain off the kombucha leaving behind the scoby and a cup of kombucha, then start the process again, brewing a new batch of tea.

At this stage you can flavour the kombucha you have removed. I like it as it comes, but you can add fruit, apples, oranges, plums, pears, ginger, herbs... for a week, the strain again and drink. You can use the fruit in salads or puddings too. My first batch took a month to ferment, but has since sped up to a couple of weeks as the scoby has settled in and grown a bit. It's a strange yet fascinating process! Feel free to get in touch with any tips or questions!

I love it, I'm also drinking as much as possible of it and my keffir at the moment, everyone around me has flu and I'm determined not to succumb. I'm armed with fermented fluids and a big bag of clementines!

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.

Gravlax Recipe - The Grazer

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...

Organic Scottish salmon - the grazer

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.

Beetroot and Dill cured Salmon - The Grazer

Beetroot and Dill cured Salmon - The Grazer

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.

Beetroot and Dill cured Salmon Gravlax - The Grazer

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.

Beetroot and Dill cured Salmon Gravlax - The Grazer

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.

Pretty canape ideas - the grazer


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...

Allotment Apple Tree - The Grazer

Apple and Cinnamon Cake Recipe - The Grazer

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.

Apple and Cinnamon Cake Recipe - The Grazer

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...

Apple and Cinnamon Cake Recipe - The Grazer

Apple and Cinnamon Cake Recipe - The Grazer

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!