Tuesday, 26 January 2016

'From Scotland with Love' at Newcastle Castle

On Saturday evening I found myself briefly alone on the roof of the Castle Keep looking out over the lights of Newcastle. It's a beautiful view, I've rarely been into the keep and have never been up on the roof in the dark, so I snuck up as the guests were arriving into the Great Hall and took in the view.

'From Scotland with Love' was the occasion, a delicious evening celebrating the relationship between Scotland and the North East at the Castle Keep and the Black Gate in the centre of town. Myself and Simon Preston put together the menu; researching dishes from Northumberland and Scotland and coming up with a host of ideas that led to the final menu. It was challenging, and I think the most ambitious menu I have worked on for a supper club yet.

To start we served an Elderberry Whisky Fizz in the Great Hall of the Castle Keep, with a Highland Caboc cheese and radish canape, a beautiful cheese almost like butter, which is always a good thing in my book. The guests toured the Keep, stopping for a little cup of Craster Kipper Cullen Skink along the way and then came over to the Black Gate for the start of supper.

We served a Smoked Eel Salad to start with a split pea puree, a nod to pease pudding; beetroot, horseradish, a beautiful oyster leaf from Ken Holland and an elderberry shrub dressing from Buck & Birch in Edinburgh. The smoked eel was from the Inverawe Smokehouse in Oban, it's so rich and delicious.

On the table were fresh breads from Artisan Baking Community served with a homemade Whisky Butter, an idea I got from my visit to Paradise Garage in London and one I will definitely be repeating...

Then a course I've been wanting to serve for a long time, Venison Tartare with Cured Egg Yolk. I have served it as straight tartare before up at Lindisfarne, it is rich and delicious with spikes of cornichon, caper and shallot. I've always wanted to add the cured egg yolk however, it is cured in a sugar and salt mix for a week until solid and then grated over the venison adding a rich sweet and salty hit to the meat. The venison loin is like butter when you cut it, red deer from George Bower Game Butcher in Edinburgh.

These were followed by a Spiced Lamb, Pluck and Barley, a take on haggis spiced with lots of white pepper, nutmeg and marjorum, served with pink pickled 'neeps' tattie scones and a Northumbrian Leek suet pudding.

A Scotland versus Northumberland cheese course followed, of Dunsyre Blue and Doddington. Then a palate cleanser of 21212 Porridge milk, sent from the restaurant of the same name in Edinburgh. A delicious blend of secret ingredients that I'm yet to work out. Finally followed by Edinburgh Fog, a cream and Drambuie pudding served with marmalade and malt whisky English scones. Guests chatted and laughed and ate and seemed to have a lovely time, I wish I'd had the time to talk to people more but the kitchen was a bit overwhelming by the end of the night and we needed to get home at some point, finding our way out from underneath all the dishes...

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Roast Tomato, Red Lentil and Harissa Daal

Happy New Year! Like many others I'm feeling the full effects of a two week daily cheese, wine, meat, pie and chocolate drip feed. So before I go to London tomorrow and intensively eat my way round every place I've had my eye on for the past year I've been trying to eat healthy vegetable based dishes. This has been my favourite go to for a while and is based on a recipe from Diana Henry's 'A Healthy Appetite', which I haven't really explored enough but everything I have made has been delicious.

So far my London itinerary includes Paradise Garage, from the people behind The Dairy, in a railway arch in East London, seasonal, british, tasting menu, all very current! The menu looks right up my street though, lamb heart, cod brandade with seafood crisp, smoked eel, venison tartar with cured egg... Then there's Pidgin, opened by James Ramsden who used to run supperclubs from his flat, but now has a little restaurant with a set weekly menu, the chef Elizabeth Allan is producing delicious sounding menus and has staged in some of the best restaurants including L'Enclume. Then Oldroyd, a little neighbourhood place in Angel with an Italian slant opened by Tom Oldroyd who headed up the kitchen at Polpo for years. I'm also hoping to squeeze in trips to Bao, Som Saa, Brawn, Barrafina, Black Axe Mangal and The Quality Chop House, which won't happen but I'll try hard; as well as some good exhibitions that are on too, and see some friends. I think I should just book tickets to go down again asap as I'm being massively overly ambitious...

Back to eating vaguely healthily... It's quite simple, this will serve two people generously. Half about 8 tomatoes and toss them in a baking tray with a big glug of olive oil, salt, pepper and a couple of tea spoons of harissa, then roast then at 180˚C cut side up, for about 45 minutes until shrunken and sweet.

In a small pan toast 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds and 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds for a few minutes until you can smell them, then grind them up in a pestle and mortar. In a frying pan heat a splash of olive oil and gently fry a chopped onion until soft and golden. Then add 4 cloves of grated garlic, the cumin and coriander, half a teaspoon of tumeric, a pinch of saffron, 2cm of grated fresh ginger, the finely diced stalks of a small bunch of coriander (keep the leaves) and one chopped red chilli. Then continue to cook gently for another five minutes.

Add 250g red lentils and stir to coat then in the spices and oil, add in most of the roast tomatoes with all the oil and harissa scrapings from the baking tray, save a few tomatoes back for the top of each dish, and about 700ml of water, add salt and pepper to taste, then leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Top up with water if needs be, but you want it to be quite a thick, daal/stew consistency. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt, chopped coriander and the reserved tomatoes.

I'll be back on the lentils and vegetables as soon as I've finished aggressively eating my way around the capital...