Monday, 29 June 2015

Cook House by James Byrne

The morning I picked all the elderflowers James Byrne came round to Cook House to take some photos. It all worked out pretty well as big bowls of flowers hanging around the place really brighten things up. James came to a supperclub many moons ago when Cook House didn't even have a name or a dishwasher... he took some lovely photos on that occasion and I've followed his career since. His work is always beautiful and it was a pleasure to have him back at Cook House snapping away, I don't even mind the photo of myself which is an incredibly rare occurrence...

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Elderflower Cordial

It doesn't feel right somehow, telling you how to make Elderflower Cordial while I have the heating on, rain beating against the window and am watching the fence nearly blow down in the ever present wind. I don't previously remember a year this windy; every day my container doors are blowing open and closed at Cook House and generally annoying the hell out of me. Where is summer? 

A man came in the other morning for breakfast and remarked that he thought we'd had it, that brief spell in April, or was it May... and it filled me with sadness that that might actually be true; because all I'd been focusing on was that at some point, it must get nice, at some point perhaps I could go out without a coat on?

It rained nearly all day at Jesmond Food Market on Saturday, but on a very positive note that didn't put people off at all. It wasn't as busy as last month but it was still full of people shopping and eating all day, only this time they were wearing rain coats and were under umbrellas. I admire the British spirit, a bit of rain won't keep me from cheese and pies... oh no...

Back to elderflowers, lovely summery elderflowers... It surprises me each time I pick them just how much of elderflower they smell, it's really powerful. I picked a big bag full on the way down to Cook House the other morning, about 20 heads, that should make about 2 litre bottles of cordial. They are best gathered on a warm dry day, so good luck with that; and also when not fully opened yet, just on their way. The ones around the Ouseburn are pretty much spot on at the moment.

Pick out any insects that might be lurking and put the flowers in a big bowl, grate in the zest of 3 lemons and then cover with 1.5 litres of boiling water. Then leave the whole lot to sit over night. The next morning strain through a piece of muslin into a pan and add the juice of the 3 lemons and 1kg of sugar. Bring it all to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.

Pour the cordial into sterilised bottle and it's ready to use. So far I have used it in a salad dressing, as a cordial with fizzy water, in a cocktail with gin and soda which was delicious, and reduced a bit to drizzle over a lemon cake... 

I also experimented with leaving the elderflowers to infuse for a couple of days, and ended up with a really dark cordial, that tastes a lot heavier, I think I prefer the light bright one, but I might just be being deceived by the colour. Have a go and see what you think?

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Lindisfarne Summer Supper

I love Lindisfarne Castle. Spending time in the kitchen, with the sun shining in off the sea, chopping, cooking and preparing supper, listening to the birds nesting outside and the call of the seals on the wind; it's a very special place to spend time. I'd love to live there, which I guess is pretty unlikely, so I'll settle for the next best thing and continue to pretend it's mine on the occasional evening and invite some folk over for supper.

It was a lovely evening. The sun came out for the guests arrival and we had drinks outside, watching the seals by telescope over on Ross Sands. The guests had a little tour of the castle with Steve and Daniel from the National Trust, I could hear them laughing and chatting as they wandered around the castle thoroughly enjoying themselves, as I finished off supper...

They started with fresh pea pods and a chilled cucumber soup made with yoghurt, herbs and walnuts topped with hot smoked salmon. Followed by a smorgasbord of poached lobster, dressed crab, soused mackerel, pickled quails eggs and a salad of sea aster and samphire.

The main course was a slow roast shoulder of lamb with peas, broad beans and asparagus topped with pea shoots, chive flowers and wild garlic flowers. Served with a delicious date and mint jam, jersey royals and baby carrots and turnips. They all loved it, which was a huge relief...

The evening ended with little rhubarb and mead trifles, big bowls of fresh strawberries and shortbreads with coffee. Everyone was chatting away in the Ship Room, quite at home in their castle. Lovely guests and a lovely evening all round, aside from the washing up...

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Lindisfarne Castle Summer Suppers Return...

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

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

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

Saturday 30th May 6pm – Tickets Available

Saturday 13th June 6pm – Tickets Available

(The event will run from approximately 6 -10pm, exact times will be confirmed according to tides)

Tickets for these once in a lifetime dining events are £99 per person and can be booked by phoning Lindisfarne Castle on 01289 389902. Prices include unique private access to Lindisfarne Castle, private tour of castle, telescope tours of the coastline, history and nature talks from the National Trust and food introductions from The Grazer.

The evenings dining includes aperitifs and canapés, a set four course sharing menu including chilled cucumber and yoghurt soup, dressed crabs, langoustine, slow cooked Northumberland spring lamb, samphire, shoots, flowers, plentiful puddings, matched wines, coffees, teas and treats.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Lunch with Barbour - Seafarer Collection Launch

A few weeks ago I found myself setting up for lunch surrounded by an amazing paraphernalia of ship wreck items. Giant wooden ladies looked down on me and huge Wallace and Gromit style lifebelts with attached pantaloons dangled from the ceiling.

Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade Museum is an amazing place. I hadn't even known it was there until Sarah from Barbour rang me suggesting we put on a lunch there; to launch their new Seafarer collection. It was a perfect spot, looking out over the mouth of the Tyne, a beautiful wooden clapper board building built in 1887. Inside it is full of tragic stories and wonderful artifacts; everything that has ever been washed up from ship wrecks dating back to 1864. John showed us round, with a story to match every lamp, chest and treasure.

The Barbour guests arrived into the base of the watch tower on a beautiful sunny morning, looking out to sea, with tea served from a giant ships tea pot salvaged from a shipwreck. While we prepared lunch a fashion show took place in the main hall, there were models running around, directors, people filming the fashion and us preparing the food in a tiny galley kitchen. It was a very enjoyable morning.

I had designed a nautical table, with blue and white plates, spring bulbs potted up in stripey Breton pie pots, paper boats and lemons with tiny sails decorating the table; I even threw on a few beach stones I collected up at Lindisfarne.

The menu was suitably nautical too, most of the guests were from outside of the area, London, Scotland and Europe, and I thought it was important to showcase produce we have on our doorstep here in Northumberland. They started with a Craster Kipper and Potato Soup with Chives, followed by a platter of dressed north sea crab, poached lobster, homemade mayonnaise, an apple herb and cucumber salad, spring chicken terrine, devilled eggs and other bits and bobs. Finishing with a blood orange and lemon posset with butter biscuits. It all went down very well which was a relief, I had been having sleepless nights...

I'll definitely be back to the museum, I'd love to hold another lunch there, I think people would love it. Thanks to all the lovely Barbour folk as well for bringing it all together and getting me involved, it was a lovely memorable day.

Photos are a selection from Barbour, myself and Rachel Phipps, you can read Rachel's lovely blog post about the day here...

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Guanciale - Cured Pig Cheek

I had the best carbonara the other week. It was a Sunday night, and everyone was feeling a bit tired and down, comfort was required, carbonara was required... and even better with homemade Guanciale, which sounds a bit smug, but isn't actually that difficult to make, as long as you are patient... I started a few months ago, it hasn't required much effort, and now I have lots of cured pigs cheeks to play with...

I keep saying I will experiment with more curing of meat, prior to this I have only tried different types of salami, but the success of these little cheeks has spurred me on to try more. I'd really like to have my own pastrami and bresaola in Cook House, as well as salami and other bits and bobs, a Cook House charcuterie board is the aim at some point, I'd better get on with it...

I ordered 6 pigs cheeks from Charlotte and they arrived the next day. They are quite big, something everyone seems to comment on, but I guess pigs have big heads. That one in the Ouseburn farm, Babooshka, is a monster...

I followed a recipe from one of the River Cottage handbooks about curing and smoking. I free styled with a different cure, I wanted something with bay and sugar in it, rather than just a straightforward salt cure. So I used equal quantities of salt and light brown sugar, 90g of each, added torn up bay leaves, some cracked black peppercorns and some crushed juniper berries.

You need to remove any hairs from the pigs cheeks, either with a sharp knife or a blow torch. I haven't graduated to blow torch ownership yet... There might be grey pappy glands still attached to the cheeks, so get rid of these.

Then simply mix up the ingredients for the cure. I put the cheeks in a big tupperware and added everything, if you are only doing a couple it is good to use a freezer bag. Distribute the cure mix evenly so it covers all of the meat, squeeze out as much air as possible and seal. Then place in the fridge. I cured mine for 2 weeks as I was doing so many. They say 3 days per 500g, but the longer you cure them the more flavour gets in. Turn them over every few days so that the cure distributes around evenly, it will become liquid as time passes.

When they have finished curing remove them and give them a wash under cold running water, then dry them thoroughly with kitchen roll. I then gave them a little dusting of extra cracked black pepper. You can tell that a lot of the water in the meat has come out during the cure, as they are a much firmer thing than two weeks previous.

Finally I made a hole in the top of each cheek and strung them up. They need to be somewhere with airflow, out of direct sun light, not to hot or cold, a bit humid... But obviously you can only work with what you have. At cook house I hung them near the back door, at home I use the top of the porch. Then wait... I wrapped them in little muslin bags after the initial few days of drying as I didn't want flies landing on them.

They will take 3-5 weeks, keep weighing them to check, but they are ready when they have lost 30% of their weight and they smell really meaty.

I've had one down off the hook so far, the smallest one. It's delicious as a cured meat, just sliced really thin. Diced up and fried it really crisps up and is delicious in pasta or on top of a risotto. You can taste that it was a sweet cure, which I really like, there are hints of the bay and the juniper too, it's a much more fragrant cured meat than I am used to, which is very pleasant. It is also really very meaty, it smells powerfully of cured pork, but that's how I like my kitchen to smell of an evening if I'm honest... The skin has turned into a coat of steel however, cutting through it is a right pain, I need to invest in a proper meat slicer before I take my hand off trying to saw through it! It's a cross I'm willing to bear just now though...