Recipe | Cheese fondue

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Round and round the garden….

I really wanted to call this post ‘the naked chef ‘ but there was a strong possibility of it slipping straight into your spam box or me having plagiarism issues with Mr Oliver.   So for an easier life I have settled with ‘round and round the garden’ for reasons which I shall explain later.

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Recently returning from cooking in a ski chalet nestled into the spectacular snowy mountains of Val d’Isere I was delighted to come back to a Blighty turning its back on the so called “ clean eating’ trend. Not only do I think this is mentally and physically better for all of us (and in some ways the environment) but also means you are far more likely to try this postcards cheese laden recipe.

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Cooking for ski jobs means stepping slightly stepping away from my usual mantra of shopping for local ingredients and focusing on seasonal cooking. You wont find many edible delights growing or being produced on top of the mountain and Ive never had a request for a Marmot (mountain squirrel) stew. There are the occasional cheese factories however dotted around the white slopes and I clearly remember when I first learnt to ski forcing myself prematurely down a red run in order to visit one.

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Ski resorts like Val d’Isere have to cater to a jet set crowd and in the last few years I have noticed the improvement and greater diversity of available ingredients. Unlike all the other places I visit in France, where markets will focus on their local food and mostly ignore food trends, ski resorts seem to be the exception. Global ingredients like fresh coriander, lemongrass or Soba noodles are easy to find. As with most places in France even the supermarkets have very good fresh meat counters and there they had a suitable selection to please their international market from pork ribs to beef fillets and rabbit to pigeons. Fish is ok but obviously not being anywhere near the sea and not being in the easiest place to get to it all requires close inspection before buying, even from the good fishmongers.

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Generally for a chalet job the chef does breakfast, which requires an early morning visit to the boulangerie that comes with a very pleasant blast of fresh cold air, unbeatable for a quick wake up. Clients are usually out for lunch on the mountain on one of the impressive restaurants on the piste so the next meal is afternoon tea consisting of a calorie laden cake and lashings of tea then a 3 or 4 course dinner complete with drinks and canapés. As everyone has rather long energetic days appetites are healthy but even so I have noticed as the week progresses a shift to slightly more balanced eating with more fish, vegetables and lighter evening meals being requested. Highlights included a delicious Greek night which kicked off my ‘cook a new recipe at least once a week ‘ plan for the year ( you can follow this on my instagram feed postcards from a private chef) and beef wellington that although isn’t necessarily a lighter option it was certainly a great party piece. Having made quite a few Beef wellingtons in recent months and read the various versions and advice I am going to be bold and confess to not agreeing with the shame attached to having a soggy bottom. What could be more delicious than a mushroom and beef juice soaked piece of buttery puff pastry after all? This is also far superior to wrapping a pancake round the beef as some suggest which I think adds an unwanted heaviness or the inclusion of a layer of Parma ham which I find a distracting flavour…so sorry Mary Berry but we cant agree on everything!

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Once I had finished my weeks cooking I headed over the boarder to Switzerland to visit friends,, which is where the naked chef comes in..

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Knowing that one of my hosts cooks the best fondue on the planet I put in my request to have one during my stay.

Coming from the French word ‘fondre’ , to melt, cheese fondue can be traced back to the 18th century in Switzerland. With limited access to fresh food in the winter, heating the older cheese with wine and dipping in the slightly stale bread to use it all up became a popular dish with mountain dwelling villagers. Unlike France bread making was not done every day. In the 1930s the Swiss cheese union started a grand campaign to increase Fondues popularity and therefore sales. This was temporally suspended during rationing in the second world war but quickly resumed as Europe recovered.

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The authentic cooking pot is called a caquelon and all recipes call for garlic , cheese and wine then some may include additions of spices or herbs but I feel these are really not necessary. Once made the fondue sits above a small flame on the table and the feasting can begin with diners dipping in small pieces of bread and swirling it round to coat it in the magnificent melted cheese. Some like to dip their bread in kirsh or vodka first but I tend to steer away from this as eating fondue does not come with out its perils. Double dipping is clearly a no no but even more a serious offence is loosing your bread in the pot. The penalty for this varies from house to house and can include being landed with the washing up, kissing your neighbor (which I guess could be bonus depending on who you are sat next to) or as in the case with my friends, running round the garden…..naked.

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At the end of the intense fondue eating session we were left with ‘la religieuse’, the nun, a crisp thin cracker of cheese that forms at the bottom of the pot.. The flame is extinguished and the disk scraped off and shared. This is impossible to resist, even if you feel you are ‘cheesed out’ already.

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So for this postcard recipe I give you the worlds greatest fondue recipe. If you don’t have a fondue pot you can use a heavy based pan or could try getting married as they are pretty much a guaranteed wedding present here in the UK.

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This week

Cheese eaten: an impressive amount that I’m too ashamed to write

Laps round the garden naked : xxx

I experienced: how seriously the Swiss take their chocolate

Layers needed to keep warm: 5

Every home should have : a fondue pot

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Cheese Fondue

The Swiss recommend 200g of cheese per person but believe me that is a lot so I would go with 150g each. Dry white wine or hot tea is the usual accompaniment with a shot of Kirsch for those who are feeling bold.

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1 garlic clove

1 glass of dry white wine

600g fondue friendly cheese – its hard to beat gruyere or Emmental though the packet stuff often has a bit of swiss vacherin in it to.

Splash of kirsch

3 – 4 tsp cornflour

In a small cup mix the kirsch with the corn flour.

Peel and smash the garlic clove and enthusiastically rub the inside of your fondue pot.

Add the glass of wine and heat so just about to simmer then start adding your cheese, stirring constantly in a figure of eight shape until it is all in and melted.

Add the corn flour and continue to cook and stir for a couple of minutes, it should thicken slightly.

Serve with baskets of one bite size pieces of bread and make sure you have your trainers at the ready…

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Next stop… the West Country

 

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Recipe | Spiced Sticky toffee apple and pear cake

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Season Eatings…

Season greetings to you all, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas!

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Currently at an airport waiting to board my next flight I wanted to send you a quick christmas postcard but I am seriously distracted by the festive flavours going on in the coffee shops, although not at all tempted.

I simply can’t imagine what Gingerbread house latte laced with elf shavings would be like or how eggnog essence mince pie tea topped with Santa’s beard sprinkles would work on the palate. However it is amazing how quickly even the thought of some flavours can make a dish be Christmassy.

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Over the last few days back at base, unable to tear myself away from the stove, light on the festive flavours I was not. Unctuous Cinnamon and star anise slow cooked local beef Brisket with clementine’s and ginger went down a treat, super tender with a crackling crunch free range pork belly with plum sauce and five spice was gobbled up and there is not a trace left of the chocolate, chestnut and brandy log.

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Although not strictly speaking a traditional Christmas food household there are certain foods I will always make sure are in stock around this time of year. Layers of locally smoked trout, wedges of Dorset Blue Vinny, home made mince pies ( I am still working my way through the pots of 2013 filling that I over enthusiastically made), mint chocolates ( currently stocking six different varieties) and of course mountains of clementines.

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The other staple that I like to have waiting in the wings for those unexpected guests or hungry family members or even a pre breakfast breakfast is plenty of cake after all mince pies alone are not a balanced diet.

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So, just before I dash, for this postcard recipe I want to share with you my sticky toffee apple and pear cake, obviously laced with festive spices.

 

This week

Turkey cooked: 27 kilos

Spice cupboard : much depleted

Brandy used : 1 bottle ( yes that’s a lot…it made its way into a fair few cocktails )

Clementine bowl : now empty

 

Apple and pear caramel cake

5 small Apples

1 tbs Demerara sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

Caramel sauce

150g salted butter


110g golden caster sugar


60g dark muscovado sugar


260ml double cream

Cake batter

250g soft salted Butter

250g caster Sugar

250 g Self Raising flour

4 organic Eggs

2 tsp ground Cinnamon

½ grated Nutmeg

1 tsp Ground ginger

2 pears

Line a 10 inch deep cake tin with baking paper.

In a small saucepan gently bring all the ingredients for the caramel sauce to a simmer and cook for five minutes.

Pour half on the sauce into the cake tin.

Peel and core the apples then split in half horizontally toss with the 1 tbs demerara sugar and 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 ts ground ginger. Place into the cake tin and move around to coat with caramel sauce then arrange flat side up.

To make the batter

In a bowl beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.

Add half the flour, all the spices and 2 of the eggs. Gently beat until combined then add the rest of the eggs and flour and gently beat again.

Grate the pears , sin and all but discarding the core. Stir through the batter then pour on top of the apples.

Bake on the middle shelf for 40 mins or until a skewer comes out clean ( its just the batter you don’t want to see on the skewer – there may be caramel sauce

Leave to cool in the tin then turn out on to your serving platter.

Gently arm the rest of the sauce and pour over the top of the cake.

This is delicious with whipped cream or even brandy butter.

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Next stop… Val d’Isére.

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Recipe | Christmas Champagne Cocktail

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Jingle Belles

Armed with my lists, menus, timings, recipes, dietary requirement sheets and suitcase of red aprons I was totally ready for this job. Five days of feasting and festivities for 20 people heading to the ice blue skies and rustic, rural, rolling landscape of South west France.   I was prepared for the fast and furious few days I knew it was going to be but the one big problem was… there was no one there to pick me out from Toulouse airport.

I rang the number of the contact I was given and was told by a grumpy French man that I had the wrong one. Texting base to enquire a bit more about who I was looking out for I was told he was very French, medium height, suave looking and around 50. Looking around arrivals there were about twenty men who fitted this description (worse case scenario I guess I could have gone round them all to see if they were waiting for a chef sent to cook Christmas dinner but I deduced this probably wasn’t wise).

“There are about 20 of those !” I texted back.

“….. he is afraid of cows, you could try mooing ?”

“mmmm… I think not…” maybe I will start asking.

Spared at the eleventh hour by a text with his exact location with suitcase in tow  I speedily wheeled my way to meet him. First part of the mission accomplished we now had to go and do the big shop. He cheerfully told me that he had never had to shop in his life before and under no circumstance was I to tell his wife about what I was about to make him do.

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Ignoring his raised brow and tuting at my insistence at getting two massive trollies I boldly strode into the supermarket to start my Dasher round… There would be no time for shopping once the job had begun so it all had to be got now and I knew that would take at least two and a half hours. Realising I had to keep him sweet if we were to survive this ordeal I sent him off to choose some wine for mulling and charcuterie and cheese. I was greatly relived that by the time we had got to the end of the list and had successfully negotiated the check out that  patience and moral was still intact (mine, his, the cashiers and other shoppers – waiting for multiple over flowing trollies to check out for some reason in France is really not appreciated). Car jammed full we headed back to base to get cracking.

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As it was to be a big weekend communication was of up most importance so we set up the ‘Jingle belle’ messaging logistics and action team. Our Jingle Belle leader had gone impressively all out with sourcing Christmas decorations. Whilst rolling out the mince pies and whipping up the first batch of brandy butter in the kitchen the stash of decorations were brought through the kitchen each more glorious and dazzling than the next. Tinsel, wreathes, meters and meters of lights, table glitter, candles, sparkling table runners, live camels 😉  and perfect bunches of mistletoe and holly all came through  –  I had more boxes than I could ever dream of to play with to decorate the tables!

Christmas decorations I am well aware are a great matter of personal taste, some go for the tasteful ideal home look, some let the kids have carte blanche on the putting up (or sneakily taking down depending on their age and enthusiasm) and some go for the all out kitsch approach. I love it all ! Though personally at home I still have a thing for gold-sprayed small dinosaurs.

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With the Christmas tunes on and someone revealing themselves to be quite the Dancer, the kitchen was a solid hive of activity, fun and a few challenges. Excited children running through every five minutes, a stone coloured dog on a stone coloured floor that encouraged me to make Prancer like moves every time I went to the oven, an impressive list of dietary requirements that made menu planning like an advanced Sudoku puzzle and at one point we even had a power cut, raw Brussel sprout salad anyone? Actually I have a very nice cranberry, chestnut and raw Brussels sprout with clementine dressing Christmas salad recipe.

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There was an impressive fashion show of Christmas jumpers including ones with Christmas puddings, snowman, sparkly trees and a rather foxy Vixen. During the days of feasting there were dumpling stews, honey roast hams, pasta bake, risottos, pies, steamed puddings, two roast turkeys and some punchy Christmas cocktails that could make you see Comets!

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The top cocktail that seemed to be embraced with Cupid like love by the group was our twist on the champagne Cocktail which has made it as this weeks postcard recipe. Taking into consideration our location I replaced the brandy part with Armagnac and to give it a festive twist rubbed the sugar cube on clementine’s. Served with warm cheese swirls they were delicious and I have to say very classy (the absolute antithesis of a Jager bomb and a Donner Kebab).

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Another part of the Christmas I really enjoyed was being given their family recipes to use for the traditional Turkey feast particularly the chestnut and breadcrumb stuffing, even though I had to stand there for quite a while Blitzen the bread in order to get the right consistency.

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By the time the weekend was over everyone was really well fed, watered and festivised, my job was done and it was time for me to fly…

This week

Mince pies made 94

Brandy butter: 1.250 kilo

Clementine’s Ive eaten: 153 ( not joking I can not get enough of them)

Christmas Kitsch love: 100 %

Reindeer in blog : all 9

 

Champagne Armagnac Cocktail

Makes 8

8 white sugar cubes

2 washed and dried clementine’s

16 drops angostura bitters

200ml Armagnac

1 bottle of very cold champagne

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Rub all sides of the sugar cubes on the clementine’s to release the citrus scent, carefully drop on a dash of angostura bitters (I admit I find this bit tricky as the pourer and I do not get on well) and place the cube in the bottom of a flute.

Add 25 ml Armagnac to each glass (clearly if you want a merrier Christmas feel free to add a larger dash) then top with the very chilled champagne. Serve straight away.

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Next stop Flying home for Christmas!

(Though as Rudolf is currently busy it will have to be Easy Jet sorting the transport).

 

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Recipe | Garlic, garlic and Pheasant casserole

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Phestive Pheasant Phun…

“Welcome to Scotland, Its -6 °C”! the cheerful staff at Enterprise car hire chirped.

I think if they had looked closely at my 5 layers, hat, gloves, fur lined boots, hunched shoulders and hopping around moves, they would have been well aware that I had totally sussed that part of the situation out.

Winning top prize for the most polite and helpful car hire location ever they helped me gather my luggage which included suitcase, aprons, knives and half a butchers shop, chip through the ice cube in which my car was apparently hiding, triple checked I had everything I needed and knew where I was off to then practically waved me off with off with marching bands and a ticker tape parade. I glanced in the mirror as I slipped through the exit barrier to witness the dabbing of wet eyes and the Enterprise team dishing out moral boosting hugs (OK that last bit I actually imagined but they were just SO unbelievably nice). Heart and mood well warmed I headed northwards to Perthshire to cook for a weekend that promised to be filled with fun, pheasants and frivolity.

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In keeping with a proper modern day but nod to the traditional ‘shoot weekend‘ there was to be a balance of hearty food, healthy food, game, games, cocktails, drinks, fresh air, very late nights and very early mornings. By the time I had unpacked the shopping the fridges, larders and cold rooms were bulging with lush ingredients, the butter and cream supplies looked top and everyone was excited…including the spaniels.

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As the heart of the weekends activities were focused around pheasants this postcard recipe is of course championing this delicious, iron, potassium, vitamin B and protein rich meat.

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I often feel it is a great shame that many people generally dismiss all game when cooking, shopping or choosing from a menu. It can have wonderful flavour and is generally less strong or ‘gamey’ that many people assume, especially since it has long since moved out of the macho /over hung maggot infested era. Perhaps people have issues with its firmer texture, distinct of the hill flavour, potential lead content and wild lifestyle but for me that is part of the attraction ( well maybe not the lead bit).

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Pheasant makes an excellent substitute for chicken in most dishes, it just needs a little extra care and attention when cooking. The fresh meat is available in the UK from the 1 st October to the 1 st February and/or if you know anyone with countryside connections there is high probably there will be one lurking in a freezer near you. Pheasant meat is lean so care has to be taken not to over cook it as it will dry out but when successfully done the taste rewards are great. Young birds at the beginning of the season are often more tender as they have not been flying around or had to toughen up as the weather turns colder. It is in the first few months I like to roast the birds whole or quick fry the breasts. As the season goes on and the bird ages they can toughen up so it is best to slow cook or braise them with plenty of liquor. This postcard recipe is perfect for pheasants around now as the slow cooking and lashings of juice will ensure it wont dry out.

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This week

Every home should have: pheasants

I used: 121 eggs

They consumed: 16 packs of butter

I love : Thomas Goodge crockery

I’m driving : an ice cube

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Garlic, Garlic and Pheasant casserole

This is a great dish for this time of year, slow cooking ensures tender and tasty results for the pheasant and the garlic hit may help ward of *vampires and colds

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Feeds 6

3 heads of garlic

5 tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 pheasants jointed into legs and breasts (use the rest of the carcass to make a delicious stock for soup or risottos)

3 tbs olive oil

12 leaves of bay

3 leeks washed and cut into 2cm rings

2 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

¼ bottle dry white wine

200ml cider

2 tbs chopped parsley

Pre heat the oven to 170 °C

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Peel all the garlic cloves and put 3 to one side. Gently fry the rest in a large pan on a low heat in 2 tbs of the olive oil until lightly golden then place to one side.

Turn the heat up to a medium and add another 2 tbs olive oil. Sear all the pheasant pieces on each side, season with salt and pepper and place into a casserole dish.

Add the last of the oil to the pan and sauté the onions and leeks until just softening (about 10 minutes) then mix in with the pheasant.

Add the garlic, wine and cider, season with extra salt and pepper then cover with baking parchment then foil.

Bake for 1 ½ hours stirring half way through, the meat should be tender and prepared to fall off the bone, if not cook for another ½ hour.

To serve

Finely chop the 3 remaining cloves of garlic and sprinkle on top with the parsley.

This dish is delicious with mashed potatoes or celeriac.

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*Garlic health benefits and vampire repelling qualities are diminished once cooked.

 

Next stop… Pre Christmas Christmas near Toulouse

 

 

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Recipe | Pumpkin pie

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A pumpkin pie is for life…not just thanksgiving.

Defra and the City of London Pollution control team, are currently analysing some mysterious anomalies in their data for the end of November. With readings off the charts and new territories reached on the Decibel scale I hear they are truly puzzled.
Well… I will fess up. It was us!
Thanksgiving celebrations, west London area, a bajillion children and a lot of excited American ex pats celebrating their grand federal holiday. It was my first one and I loved it!

For those of you who have never celebrated thanksgiving think levels of Christmas preparation, planning and excitement just without the carols and presents.

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Thanksgiving is generally thought to have come about from the 102 Pilgrims who set sail on the Mayflower back in 1620. It was a very harsh first winter so most of them stayed on their ship. About half of them died and those that survived were understandably not in great shape. When they finally all came ashore come spring time they were met by local Native Indians who taught and helped them grow, hunt and gather food in order to survive in their new environment .

The pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest in November 1621 and invited some of the local Indians which many consider the first of thanksgiving. Over the years the tradition of giving thanks around harvest time spread to other areas but it wasn’t until 1863, during the civil war, that President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving would take place on the last Thursday each November. For a while the date was moved forward a week, this was done during the great depression in 1939 by Roosevelt to help boost sales but as so many objected in 1941 a bill was signed placing it on the forth Thursday of November where it remains set to this day.

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( above are the welcoming margarita clementine cocktails)

Over time it is not just the date that has changed but the menu as well.

Turkey meat was unlikely to have been part of the earlier Thanksgiving suppers, although they would have been some wild ones living around the Plymouth area where the pilgrims landed. It is likely they eventually got incorporated into the feast, as they were large enough to feed a crowd plus could be spared as they don’t lay lots of eggs (unlike chickens) or produce other useful produce like milk.

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Although I wouldn’t place Turkey at the top of my favourites list I was amused by the idea that every year in the States it has become custom for the president to pardon one.
From thousands of birds around 80 are randomly selected from the National Turkey federation. They are fed a quick fattening diet of grains and soybeans so they can look the part if they go on to be the ‘chosen one’. The 80 turkeys are put into celebrity turkey training camp and exposed to flashing camera lights, loud noises and given exposure to large crowds. Twenty finalists are then chosen to live on and are closely monitored to see which are the best behaved, most good-looking and largest. Eventually two ‘chosen’ ones will be named by The White House and then finally one will go on to be Americas next top turkey and the ‘pardoned’ one.

 

The tradition of giving turkeys to Presidents had been going on for many years but it was only since Reagan that they started being pardoned and not until 1998 in George HW Bush time that the tradition really set in. Once the razzmatazz of being spared is over the turkey will live out the rest of its days either in a petting zoo (in which case I cant help but feel the turkey may have preferred to get the chop rather than deal with being manhandled by hundreds of visitors a day), or on a farm probably in Virginia or even go to Disney land where it becomes the honorary marshal of the Thanksgiving day parade. I kid you not. One should note however as the turkey is encouraged to become in what human terms we call obese it doesn’t live that long anyway.

2016-11-30_0001 The thanksgiving meal I cooked for happened in two sittings. First came the bajillion children and then the adults. My morning was spent weight lifting huge turkeys from lidgates to the house , roasting and peeling mountains of chestnuts and sceptically making the star of this postcard recipe a, Pumpkin Pie.

Before you pumpkin pie fans raise your eyebrows at my scepticism (or you pumpkin pie non converts click away) let me explain. I am of the opinion if a certain dish was that good or that well loved it would appear more than just once a year, the British obsession with turkey at Christmas being my prime example.

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Pumpkin pie has never really been adopted by us Brits and from what I can tell only really gets attention the other side of the pond around thanksgiving. Well this has got to change ! Pumpkin pie it turns out is totally delicious and should be eaten for life (ok when is season) and not just for Thanksgiving .

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When the job was done and as I was saying my good byes we discussed what fun it was and I expressed how much I enjoyed cooking for my first Thanksgiving.
“Great” my clients said …
“Next year we will get you a baseball cap to cook in “! they yelled as I headed out the door
“ but perhaps maybe some ear plugs too ” I muttered as I headed down the street on to my next job …

So for this postcard recipe I give you… Pumpkin Pie.

This week

I love : Pumpkin pie
Every home should have : Alexa
Favourite pumpkin trivia : In 1705 the Connecticut town of Colchester famously postponed its Thanksgiving for a week because there wasn’t enough molasses available to make pumpkin pie.
Turkeys spared : 1 ( by Obama not me)

Pumpkin pie

You may wonder why I use squash when the title suggests I should be using pumpkin, basically squash is much less watery,  tastes better and close enough so allowed in.You may also wonder why there is no photo… basically  it got eaten before it could be papped !

Serves 8
You will need a 28 cm pie dish

For the pastry
250g plain flour plus extra for rolling
1 tbs icing sugar
1 x orange, zest only
50g cream cheese
100g butter, chilled
1 – 2 tbs iced water

1 medium butternut squash
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbs demerera sugar
200ml maple syrup
4 tbsp brandy 
4 medium eggs, beaten
150ml evaporated milk

To make the pastry ,
In a food processor blitz the flour with the icing sugar and orange zest.
Grate in the butter and add the cream cheese in small spoonful’s. Pulse a few times.
Add the egg yolk and ½ tbs iced water and blitz. Stop as soon as the pastry starts to form into a dough (you may need to add a little more water.
Lightly flour a piece of baking paper and roll out the dough to line  your pie dish. Press well into the edges and reline with the sheet of baking paper.
Pre heat the oven to 200 °C
Leave to rest in the fridge for 30 mins then pour in baking beans and cook for 15mins , then remove the paper and beans and cook for a further 10( it should be lightly golden).
Leave to cool.

Reduce the oven to 175 °C.
Peel, deseed and chunk the squash into 1inch pieces. Toss with the cinnamon, ginger and the sugar.
Roast on a flat tray for 40mins or until soft.
Place in a food processor (scraping in a any spice bits from the tray) and blitz to smooth.
Place a clean thin tea towel or muslin cloth in a colander set over a bowl or pot and scoop in the squash puree. Leave to drain for 1 hour then weigh out 300g. You don’t need the remainder for this dessert so I popped mine into a celeriac and squash gratin but could go into a soup cet.).

Place the weighed puree into a bowl and hand whisk in the syrup, brandy, eggs and evaporated milk, you are just doing this to mix rather than to add volume or air into the mix.
Taste to see if it needs extra spices then pour into the pastry and bake for 40 mins – 1 hour or until set.
Leave to cool then serve in slices with whipped cream and plenty of American cheer.

Next Stop… Pheasant weekend shoot in Perthshire

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Recipe | Venison Scotch egg

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My Fair Lady meets Braveheart

From an early age much of my time has been spent on and off stage so I’m well aware of what it takes to make a production run smoothly. All going well on the face of it we see the actors entering and exiting at the appropriate moments,  impressively and seamlessly remembering their lines (we hope) and brilliantly drawing us into their world.   What we tend to forget as an audience member however is how much work has to go on backstage to achieve all this.

People have been working tirelessly on costumes, props and  scenery.  Directors, musicians , techies and other crew have all shed blood, sweat and probably tears to get the show on the road and not to mention the gentle cajoling , ego massaging, support and camaraderie that has gone on to hold it all together by everyone.

What has all this got to do with venison sausage rolls I hear you ask?! And how can she possibly link this thespian theme to her latest job cooking for a Highland partridge shoot? Well…

Up on the Cawdor estate near Inverness, it’s hard not to get drawn into a dramtic mood, not least because it is the home of the Scottish Play (or Macbeth for those of you who are less superstitious). Add 42,000 acres of extraordinary Highland landscape, endlessly changing light, some of the best field sport in the country and boundless amounts of fresh air and you can understand how one can easily become theatrical. 2017-01-20_0002

Shoot jobs are always busy as there are a lot of hungry men (and more and more so women) to feed.  Despite November being quite late in the season to still be eating outside the group was game to have their lunches up on ‘the hill’, the in the know term for on the moor.

I am always delighted to to be heading out on these adventures, braving the elements, dirt tracks and overcoming the challenges of transporting and serving a top not lunch to the middle of nowhere. The shooting crowd are definitely a set who love their food so ones efforts to go all out are always appreciated.

As the chef your day starts early in the lodge kitchen doing a big cooked breakfast and preparing the elevenses baskets for the game keeper to takeaway for the gun’s mid morning snack. Once breakfast is cleared away the preparing and packing up of a top notch lunch to be served way up on the hill can begin.

Food has to be carefully packed along with tables, tablecloths, plates, candles if the day is dark, flowers, wine (of course) and fire wood into the trusty Range Rover and driven across narrow bridges, winding tracks across babbling burns and reversed down slippery paths to a bothy hidden in the depths of the moor. Undoubtedly more fun than an office job I imagine.  Once there, everything is unloaded come rain or shine or wind (though often in Scotland a bit of all three) and set up, the wood burner lit, hot soup made ready to serve and the wine opened in anticipation for the arrival of the hungry and often cold and wet guns.

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On one of the days on our way to the bothy we had to pause on the hill as the beaters (people with flags energetically waving them on command whilst walking down a hill to flush the birds towards the guns and not Harry Potter like children on broom sticks playing quidditch), were making their sweep ahead of us.

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Turning on our radio to the channel that the head  keeper and beaters were using we received  instructions to wait there for a wee while longer.  Not wanting to scare the birds off course we switched off the engine and due to our remote location and therefore lack of signal to Radio 4, listened into the “ backstage” working of the shoot.

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Like a director of an enormous production (think Aida on a Verona scale) the head Game keeper directs his backstage crew to flush the actors (partridge in this case) onto the stage (the area surrounding the pegs) where the eager audience (the guns) get to take their shot.

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In this case however the actors (partridge) are more temperamental than the worst of divas and it takes great skill and combined effort to get them to fly where and when you want them.

Listening to the instructions was a bit like listening to the shipping forecast, you enjoy it and are strangely addicted but don’t quite understand all that is said.  None the less it was hard not to get swept up in the team effort of getting the birds in the right place and the building excitement of whether it would pay off.

“ Flag up, flag up !!!!! “ was repeated many times and moments later a flurry of flag waving from the guys and girls on the hill.

“I canny see Eion , get oot ‘o the gulley” !! also seemed to be a popular communication.

The crackly line coupled with the heavy Scottish accents meant I couldn’t follow the script exactly but the most entertaining moment was when one group of partridge was spotted flying too far left, the beaters were directed to reposition themselves sharpish to correct the flight path and I distinctly heard in My Fair Lady meets Braveheart style from one of the keepers:

“ come on…come on!…come on !! …come on Beaters, move yer bloomin’ arse!” .

The ripple of gun fire a moment later indicated the move was successful and that the guys on the hill had done a good job. Then came the sound of the horn indicating the end of the drive and our cue to get a move on to the bothy to set up lunch.

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During a lunch the game keeper will inform the head of the party their current bird count ( bag), if their booked number has already been met and if it has if they would like to carry on, for a second act.  Invariably  the answer is yes, unless the weather has turned really foul, so once the feast is finished they all had back out for a few more drives.

At the end of the shoot day, once the show is over, everyone returns back to the lodge and the day’s bag is laid out for the count. The beaters, dog handlers, game keepers and guns gather round for a wee dram and exchange highlights and tales of the day and it is at this point that the backstage crew can take their bow and be thanked for a tremendous show.

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For this postcard I want to share with you my new favourite snack I like to make for the elevenses basket namely venison scotch eggs.  To qualify for a good elevenses shoot snack the food has to be able to survive  transportation, easy to eat with one hand, hearty and  suitable for ketchup or Tabasco (that’s a must according to Lord L who apparently is a connoisseur when it comes to elevenses).

Scotch eggs are totally worth making from scratch as you can get the eggs perfectly cooked ( unlike the obligatorily over cooked shop bought ones)  and the meat perfectly seasoned.

These Venison ones have the advantage that the meat is known to be full of minerals and iron and is low fat.. which in my book translates as you don’t have to feel so guilty about scoffing a whole one.  I have to say on a personal note that when Lord L is not looking you should also try it with crab apple jelly as its mix of tart and sweetness pairs beautifully with game flavours.

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This week

Best bag: 434

Best Bag: Bottega Veneta

Every home should have: A piper

I used : 94 local eggs

Butter usage : off the charts

I’m driving : a Range Rover

 

 

Venison Scotch Eggs

Makes 8

800g venison mince

2 slices white bread

10 eggs

splash of milk

200g bread crumbs ( panko are the best) placed in a small bowl

100g cornflour, placed in a small bowl.

1 litre veg oil for frying

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Bring a pan of salted water to the boil.

Gently plop 8 eggs in and cook on a high heat for 7 minutes.

Gently drain and fill the pan with cold water and a few handfuls of ice.

Once the eggs are cool peel them.

In a large bowl season the venison mince with salt and pepper.

Break the bread into bits, crust and all, and splash on some milk and 1 raw egg. Mush about then mix well into the mince ( if you are feeling fancy you can add 2 cloves finely ground clove and 1 tbs of finely chopped parsley but for me home made venison scotch egg is excitement enough).

Take 1/8 of the mince and wrap around 1 of the cooked eggs. It is easier if your hands are wet.

Repeat with the other eggs.

Then break the last egg into a bowl and add a splash of milk and beat. 

Dip each of the meat wrapped eggs into the cornflour, then egg mix then breadcrumbs.

It is less messy if you dip every egg into the cornflour, then every egg into the egg, then finally the breadcrumbs otherwise you end up with breaded fingers.

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Pre heat the oven to 200°C

Heat your oil in a deep pan, When hot ( a small lump of bread when dropped in should go brown and crispy in seconds) fry the eggs individually until golden ( a minute or so) then lay on a flat baking tray nicely spread apart.

Once they have all been fried, bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

Remove and transfer onto a wire rack to cool a little.

Eat warm or cold as the perfect elevenses snack.

 

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Next Stop …Thanksgiving

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Recipe | Poached quince

whisk

Not the apple of my eye

I will admit I go through obsessional phases with certain foods. Looking through my October menus, despite there being a broad range of occasions – think Jewish New Year to Partridge Shoot Suppers, there has definitely been a lean towards one certain ingredient.

Pomegranates, anchovies, star anise, honey, caraway, venison… are some of the foods that have had their moments as the centre of my culinary attention, though thankfully with not too much overlapping but right now, clients are highly likely to see me suggest Quinces on their menu as I cannot seem to get enough of these mysteriously rewarding fruits.

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History and literature also seems to have had its fondness for the Quince over time with the first records of them being planted in 1275 at the tower of London during Edward I reign. Paris gave Aphrodite a quince in exchange for the love of the most beautiful women in the world, Helen of Troy and it is often seen in her hand (Aphrodite’s) as a symbol of love. Up to the 18th century the soon to be father in law would often give a basket of quince to the bride to be to bring happiness to their marriage (admittedly not necessarily a sure fired method but at least something to throw if things quickly turn sour) and we must not forget this fruit was also part of the marital feast for the surprisingly romantically entwined couple, ‘ The owl and the pussy cat’

‘They dined on mince, and slices of quince,’

The Rosh Hashanah supper I was asked to cook for at the beginning of the month, which celebrates the beginning of the Jewish New Year, despite having plenty of traditional and symbolic foods that had to be woven into the feast also managed to accommodate some quince.   On a tangent to this blogs quince centric theme I found planning the food for the Rosh Hashanah a fascinating task as there is so much symbology with the food.

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The meal starts with honey, apples, pomegranates, dates, challah and blessings and then moves on to other dishes like fish, meatballs and of course dessert. Below are a few of the foods and why they are included in the feast.

Apple and honey: to bring in a sweet new year

Round loaves of Challah: to symbolise the continuity of creation (as with any foodie groups the callah had to be bought from the best bakery in London which meant queuing for hours at night ( admittedly not by me ).

Pomegranates: representing a new fruit in season, is to wish our good deeds for the new year will be as many as the seeds in a pomegranate and to be thankful for bringing us into the new year.

Fish complete with head: to symbolise the start of the year and moving forward and to remember it as the ancient symbol for fertility and abundance.

Leeks: the word for leeks is related to the work to cut kareyt, so the leeks symbolize cutting away those who wish to harm us.

Dates – similar in Hebrew to a word translating to end, so dates are eaten in hope that enemies will cease. Also it is generally believed that when Israel is referred to the land of milk ad honey that to refers to date honey.

Beetroots and their leaves: The Hebrew word for beets is selek and is similar to the word for “remove.” Beetroots are eaten in hope of causing the departure of our enemies.

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Then later in the month there was the partridge shoot weekend near Chichester that of course also managed to accommodate quince based dishes.

2016-10-23_0008  It is worth noting while we are in the hight of shoot season that Quince goes really well with game as its fragrant flavors contrast well to the earthiness of the meat.

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For this postcard recipe I will give you a basic method of cooking quince which you can then use to add the fruit to other dishes.

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This month

Quinces cooked with: 87

Dishes involving quince: 15

Cocktails drunk with quince juice: count unreliable but lets say more than one.

Every home should have: a quince tree.

Peter Quince : is a character is Shakespeare’s, A midsummers night dream

The apple of my eye : is in fact a quince

Baked quince with brandy, cinnamon and star anise

The recipe below can be seen as just a starting point. Once the quince is cooked you can simply serve as is with cream, ice cream, crème fraiche or yogurt or to take it further you can chop it up and add to apple pies, crumbles, stewed brambles ( blackberries) to eat as a compote, whizz it up and make into sorbet or one of my favourite uses adding the fragrant cooking liquid to cocktails.

Serves 8

8 quinces

3 sticks of cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

2 star anise

400g light brown sugar

water

1 and a bit glasses of Brandy

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Peel the quinces and chop in half vertically.

Place in a pan with spices, the sugar, top up with water and add a glass of brandy.

Bring to a simmer then pop on a lid and cook until the quinces are all soft – this can vary greatly in time but start checking after 30 minutes.

Once cooked add a splash more brandy and serve two halves each, warm or cold, in a bowl with some of the juice and a dollop of cream,

The quinces will keep well In their juice in the fridge for at least a week ( unless I am around).

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Next stop…. Cawdor.

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Deepest Dorset

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 Deepest Dorset …

Its here ! A brilliant new book called Deepest Dorset discovering the people, places and roots of a unique community.  Contributors include Julian Fellows, Rose Prince, Kate Adie, Valerie Singleton and recipe sections by me!

(Link to buy the book is in ‘This Week’ section at the bottom of the post).

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When I was asked to join in on this project I was  very excited (even by my standards).  I moved to this county at the age of 4 and have had roots here ever since.  It was here my love, interest and obsessions were cultivated with food and how it is produced and I learnt the joys and importance of sitting around a table and sharing a meal together with friends and family.

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Dorset has been described as England’s Tuscany ( a quote that particularly tickled me ) but more importantly set me thinking.  Having traveled a good bit of the world, writing and waxing lyrical about the exotic smells and spices of the far east, the wonderful markets with their perfect produce of Provence, the inspiring localness and seasonality of Paros and Sardinia  with their rich history of food and the beauty of Scotland with its wonderful abundance of wild food I have slightly been ignoring the incredible offering on my own doorstep.  Text book slip up but on reflexion it would obviously be hard to find greener grass elsewhere….

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The book is raising money for Dorset Charities: The Royal National Lifeboat Institution , Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, Weldmar Hospice care Trust and Community Foundations Dorset Fund. We were lucky enough to hold the launch at the stunning house St Giles that has been the ancestral home to Earls of Shaftesbury for many generations.

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I was asked to do the food for the launch party but decided rather than rolling out the canapés we would carry on the theme of celebrating Dorset and get local suppliers and producers to show case their food and drink.

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When deciding on my recipes for the book I wanted to highlight the wonderful diversity we have here : a fabulous coastline of fish, a rich abundance of wild food like venison, mushrooms and hedgerows of berries,  impressive fruit and veg growers ( including of course our apple orchards) delicious cheese including Woolsery Goat and one of my favourite blue cheeses,  Blue Vinny  and now our award wining sparkling wine and beer makers.

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(pic. Viscount Rothermere one of the trustees of  The Rothermere foundation whom kindly funded the book )

The brilliant authors and editors of the book Fanny Charles and Gay Pirrie  – Weir were delighted with all this and even more so when I suggested I wanted to photograph and serve the food of platters made by                                               Dorset potters.   2016-10-11_0001 They did however think I was taking my Dorset enthusiasm  too far when I suggested we find some local alpaca or sheep wool to knit clothes out of for the waiters to wear on the night….

photograph by Hattie Miles ... 28.09.2016 ... Book launch of 'Deepest Dorset' at St Giles House, Wimborne St Giles ... Delicious food from around the county was enjoyed buy guests ... here are some of the catering team ready for the event.

The project was such fun to be involved with from the meetings with the editors, and the discovery of Dorset suppliers and producers to the party planning and book talks. I confess I had a sight twinge of post party blues as we finished the get out from the launch however on very much the upside I now have a copy of the book Deepest Dorset and am greatly enjoying reading about our impressive art, music, film, food, literature, landscape and history.

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 This Week

Every home should have : a copy of Deepest Dorset. To buy the book please click on this link Deepest Dorset.  Money raised will go to 4 Dorset charities.

I discovered : Liberty Dorset vodka ( a great use of Dorset’s abundant sacks of apples )

I’m reading : Deepest Dorset (obv)

Im eating : Capreolus charcuterie ( some of the best I’ve ever had)

Next stop …cooking for a Rosh Hashanah supper and my annual trip to the charming Witterings …

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Where to eat in Venice

whisk

Don’t Cook Now

After a busy and fun week cooking in Dublin then buzzing around for a long weekend on a bee project I was totally ready to jump on the plane to Venice, the location for the brilliant film thriller “Don’t Look Now” based on a Daphne du Mauriers’ short story, for a few days off and a feasting extravaganza.

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Completing my Front tuck – round off, back spring somersault down the garden path in the direction of Mr Del Monte I delightedly informed him I had finished making our reservations for Venice restaurants and that I had succeeded in getting tables at all the best places. I am not sure if he was genuinely as delighted as I was or if the discovery of two baby lemons on the tree he was tending had put the look a look of satisfaction and success on his face.

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Venice, more than almost anywhere in the world, is notorious for being a tourist food trap (and has been so I have been told for over 2000 years) so I was putting extra effort into my research so as not to slip up on the food side of the break. I had no doubt as we were heading to Italy that churches, statues and art would be very hard to miss.

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Whether I am traveling for work of pleasure I tend to do a crazy amount of research on what and where to eat. I spend the weeks before ringing, texting, twittering and chatting to everyone I think may have the skinny on my destination. I go through my address book of friends and family which includes chefs, clients, food writers, food producers, foodies, food retailers…. you get the picture, it’s a lot of people who know a lot about food.

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I could say this slightly obsessive behaviour was because as a well travelled chef/food writer I feel the pressure to know about these things from others and the answer to “Where should we eat tonight” should come from me but its more because I love doing it and I see food as one of the most interesting and important aspects and reveals about people and places.

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So for this blog it’s a mini food review, tips and tricks of what and where to eat in Venice.

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Firstly NEVER, EVER wonder down a street, peer into a restaurant and think “ooh that looks nice, lets eat here”. Yes that’s a fun approach and works perfectly well else where but in Venice its is a sure fired way of being disappointed and ending the evening in frosty looks and mutterings of “ well it was your idea” as the bill for a bajillon euros reaches the table and you are trying to digest your canned luke warm spaghetti alle vongole.

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Trust your sources. When researching and asking people be honest and think do I trust their opinion (having just reread this blog that last sentence makes me sound much less easy going than I actually am ( promise). Some food review sites like trip adviser, that although have some of the biggest collection of views, include everyone’s opinion and so are open to the restaurants friends and family putting positive or false opinions up eg “ eating at Besta Pasta in Towna was the best dining experience I have in the entire universe” or on the other hand allows disgruntled customers to rant or even the competitive restaurateurs to have their say e.g. “ This Venice restaurant should be allowed to sink, the waiters had less charm than the tasteless slimy sea slug like gnocchi being served on my plate” .

I stick to food bloggers websites, trusted sources of friends and family and take note if certain restaurants are repeatedly mentioned on ‘where to’ lists published by magazines and newspapers.

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It’s perfectly acceptable to have a sharpener before 11. As you wonder through the markets and peer into tratorrias and bars you will see locals casually sipping on glasses of prosecco, wine or my favourite Venetian drink, the spritz. These can be taken with Aperol ( the scary orange stuff) that is actually delicious but quite sweet, Select, the medium sweet option, or my top choice Campari which is deliciously bitter. The drink is topped off with prosecco and soda water and is served on the rocks. It is usual to get a bowl of crisps or fat green olives along side your spritz and bizarrely is often one of the cheapest cocktails you get over there.

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North Eastern Italy produces some good wine that is worth trying so don’t dismiss the Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Alto Adige, Trentino, and Veneto regions when flicking through the wine list ( for reds Valpolicellas and Bardolinos and for whites Soaves are the ones to look out for).

You may of course be tempted to try the Peach Bellini , created here at the iconic Harrys bar in the 30’s / 40’s consisting of white peach puree and prosecco. Whilst drinking it at this charming canal side bar, former watering hole of Hemingway and Welles, you will then of course have to wear your large ‘I am a tourist’ badge. (Yes I’ve done it)…(ok… yes it was fun).

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Focus on fish. With its infamous fish market near the Rialto bridge, it is not surprising that fish is the dish to order in Venice (although they are still arguing with Tuscany trying to claim to be the birth place of beef Carpaccio and Venice also loves it liver and onions).

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Based on my extensive research the restaurants that made it to my ‘must get a table or there is no point going to Venice at all’ list were;

Al Covo

Locanda Cipriani

Antiche Carampane

Alle Testiere

 

The results…

Al Covo is set in a small square and  was staffed by charming waiters. The wine list is very reasonable and the menu is encouragingly small.   Simply done fish and desserts worth saving room for makes this a place I would definitely recommend and visit again.

Wallet damage- 60 euro per person approx for 3 courses and wine

We scoffed;

Salted Anchovies with country butter

Marinated anchovies with fennel fronds and aubergines

Fritto Misto of red mullet, squid and sole

Pan fried prawns and squid with lemon

Ricotta cheesecake

Wild strawberry frittas

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Locanda Cipriani

If staying in Venice for a coupe of days I would definitely recommend the boat trip out to Locanda Cipriani on the small island of Torcello. Taking public transport can be a great way to collect the ambiance of a place (unless you are in central or the West Coast of America) and unless you fancy selling your Louboutins or a kidney to fund taking a private water taxi, hop on a vaporetto and enjoy the group ride. If you set out early enough ( 9 ish in holiday terms) you can stop at Murano ( the island for glass) or Burano ( the island for lace) for a quick look before carrying on to the very charming Torcello for lunch. With one road / canal leading from the vaporetto stop to the restaurants ( I think there are 3 in total) and the church you will not need a map.

The restaurant has a charming garden which half made the experience for me so I would suggest going in the warmer months. Service was good and the food very enjoyable.

Wallet Damage – 90 euros per person approx for 3 courses, wine and a view.

We scoffed;

Crab gnocchi

Seabass and sautéed potatoes

Poached Peaches with prauline icecream

Hazelnut crème brûleée

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Antiche Carampane

When this restaurant gets mentioned there is usually reference to how difficult it is to find though fortunately for me Mr Del Monte had a knack of easily sorting out these navigational issues so we only ended up down one dark alley with a group of Japenese tourists and their selfie sticks to give each other the acknowledging grins of ‘you’re exploring (aka lost) in Venice too’ . I was concerned by the non Italian vs English speaking ratio of customers here ( the waiters were charming enough not to be snobby about having to mostly speak in their non native tongue) but it was delightfully a top meal and well worth finding.

Wallet damage – 50 euros a head for 2 courses and wine.

We scoffed ;

Spider crab linguini ( sooo good)

Spicy seafood linguini

John Dory with wild mushrooms and zucchini ( this was one of my favourite dishes if the week)

Seabass and salad

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Chechetti

On the forth day the sun had gone, the rain had started and moral was sinking to a low. I had not booked a restaurant for lunch this day, as there are only so many three course meals a girl should eat in five days, but I was keen to stick to my rule of not being fooled into stumbling across and eating at the wrong place. It was then that data roaming, foodbloggers of venice and Mr Map Reader Extraordinaire saved us. Just as I was about to push him into the canal he found the chechetti bar that I suggested as salvation to the situation. Chichetti can be found all over Venice and although food writers will tell you of there favourite spots I think providing you are not on the main tourist drags you will be able to spot a good one. Very reasonably priced little slices of bread topped with salted cod or cured meats or grilled vegetables are laid out on trays under the glass counters. You go and have a good stare then point and order the ones you fancy along with a glass of something. My advice would be, as they are usually eaten standing up, is choose somewhere that looks like it has a good atmosphere and the chechetti haven’t been sitting there since time began.

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Alle Tesiere

If you want to eat here, this restaurant has to be booked well in advance. You can email, then have to ring to arrange deposit of your grandmother / child or lumps of cash to secure your table. Sadly my Italian currently has limited abilities and it wasn’t until I managed to make the waiter understand I was at the ready to handover my credit card details stage of the booking that he started to thaw to the determined English girl at the end of the phone.

The 24 ish seat restaurant is not particularly good looking and I admit expectations were high. Antipasti and primo were delicious but I think if you are used to eating fresh simply cooked fish the main courses can be underwhelming. The wine list encourages you spend and although I am pleased to have it ticked off my list I would not recommend it to those that eating simply cooked very good fresh fish is nothing out of the norm.

Wallet damage : over 100 euro per person for 4 courses and wine

We scoffed

Spider crab

Prawn ravioli – which was really delicious

Squid and cinnamon gnocchi

3 Small whole turbot

3 Small monkfish

pistachio cake with pistachio ice cream – sooo good

Panna cotta

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Next time I visit I would be keen to have lunch on the terrace at the Gritti Palace which I am told is a wonderful place to watch venice float by and I should also mention a restaurant by the Rialto bridge called Bancogiro which has one of the most romantic out door spots at night and serves some delicious food.

This week

I ate.

Next stop… Deepest Dorset.

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Recipe | Roast suckling pig

whisk

This little piggy…

Sardinia meant a new destination and new client for me so all seemed very exciting. The initial introductions were done over the phone and all seemed like it would work out very nicely until…

“ Oh yes we eat practically anything”! (client)

“Great” (me)

“Yes, and we wondered how you felt about cooking baby … phone line crackles at inopportune moment.

‘I’m sorry?”

“Baby…!” more phone crackling then the line goes dead.

Cripes I thought, what had I got myself into?!

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Turns out they were saying baby pig or as its locally called “Su Porcheddu” the Sardinian specialty of suckling pig. Which is totally delicious, though I was surprised when I got mixed reactions of me giving ours a little pre roasting massage with olive oil on my instagram account phollowphilippa. I haven’t concluded yet if I feel bad about eating something so young but I definitely know there are more important issues to confront when buying, cooking and eating meat.  High standards of animal welfare and minimising wastage being top of my list

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I flew into Olbia airport on the north east side of the island and having had an incident earlier in the year of almost being picked up by the wrong chap in Val d’Isére I had swapped photos with my client of what I looked like and what they looked like ( his wife joked I just had to imagine him without the helm and sailors cap).  The spectacular drive to the house took about an hour along the textbook Italian winding roads that gently carved through the hot rugged hills.

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The island, although not home to many of the charming old settlements you will find elsewhere in Italy, has an interesting Gaudi-esque style of archictecture and a mix of brown, orange and white villas secludedly dotted over the hills. A boat trip around the coast or to one of the islands is a must and for you history buffs we were interestingly near where Nelson kept his fleet in the Napoleonic wars.  I am told though Nelson himself never set foot ashore as was in ill health.

Upon arrival it was straight into the kitchen for me, the best way to break the ice I feel, and on with the lunch prep. The first shop had been done for me and so I wasn’t sure what I would find behind the fridge door and in the cupboards.  Red apron on and pony tail up, I happily set to work in the very pretty blue tiled kitchen and was delighted to find bowls of perfectly ripe tomatoes and peaches and a fridge shelf full of soft fresh mozzarella.  There were some whole skin on almonds, bottles of excellent Italian extra virgin olive oil and so lunch pretty much made itself. Judging from this first bounty I guessed that this would be one of those places where shopping would fully focus on purely what was local and therefore in season.

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There are a few places in the Med that I go where I have noticed over the years they have given in and opened up their shelves to suit the tastes of their increasinlgly international clientele. For an island that is super popular with the jet-set crowd I was pleased to see that the shops in our area really did stick to what was local.

This meant produce available was at its best and helped to support the island’s economy. It was quickly clear that the local clientele had no problems buying food that was misshapen and not of uniform size or feel repelled by it if it had mud caked across it. I was also glad to see that shops didn’t feel they could charge extra for these features either.

For me shopping, cooking and eating in places where available ingredients are dominated only by what can be got locally is a fantastic way to discover the local food culture.  Without a choice you are drawn into discovering and cooking the areas traditional food. I was amused when I couldn’t find any chocolate to cook with at the local supermarket  but I could easily lay my hands on five different varieties of peach. I admit though as a private chef I like to give my clients a constant variety of dishes when cooking for them so over long stints it can become very challenging when no other food cultures have infiltrated an area.

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For those wishing to embrace the Sardinian food culture here are my favorite things you should look out for:

Su Porcheddu – suckling roast pig

Malloreddus – my new favorite semolina pasta that is shaped like a curled up contact lense. It shelters sauces brilliantly and so is a delight to eat.

Bottarga – salty dried fish roe

Fregula – small round cous cous like shapes that are actually pasta balls that can be cooked like risotto or regular pasta.

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The malloreddus pasta nearly pipped the pig to the post for this postcard recipe as I was seriously taken by its  delightful size and perfect shape.  It went particularly well with a pork sausage, fennel seed, dried chili, fresh tomato, saffron and pecorino sauce I made for lunch one day and undoubtedly would suit a clam and white wine sauce recipe.

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As you are not allowed to BBQ or have outside fires on the island due to previous serious incidents all the food had to be cooked indoors.  I totally understand this but it didn’t stop me thinking that this place could be my paradise if only I was allowed an outdoor wood oven.   The menus involved lots of pastas and risottos but with plenty of shellfish , salads and vegetables in the sauces and eaten in the true Italian way as a Primo ( like a starter ) they were not too filling.  Pan fried meats were often served with wedges of lemon to keep it fresh and bowlfuls of salsa verde and pesto sauces.   Bulbs of garlic seemed to be needed with practically every shop, we had got it down to a fine art of going every other day, and so did cases of the incredible Sardinian Vermentino, currently my favourite white wine.

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With much debate as to what to write for this weeks postcard and quite a few dishes vying for the spot in the end I had to choose the suckling pig. It was the most delicious thing I have cooked and eaten all year… so far. The smells as it cooked were so superb that everyone, including me, could not resist opening the oven to have a better sniff and peak at the pig.  It hadn’t been since my London restaurant days that I had got to cook one (although I had recently cooked suckling wild boar) and  having topped up my research and feeling that I have perfected it I want to share with you my tips and tricks.

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This week

Super yachts spotted : 8

Peaches bought and eaten ( by us all) : 103

Varieties of peach bought : 5

Pasta cooked : 5.1 kilo

Olive oil used : 4.2 litres

I’m loving: walking to the end of the garden and falling into the med.

Every home should have: a Bose wireless mini speaker ( they are amazing)

I’m reading : The Magus, compelling read despite some of the most dislikable characters ever written.

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 Suckling pig .

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 suckling pig

1 fennel bulb

2 apples plus one small one for serving

handful each of parsley and thyme

1 garlic head cut in half horizontally

1 onion, red or white, peeled and chopped into four.

½ pint dry white wine like vermentino

Pre heat the oven to 160 C

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With a damp kitchen paper towel give the pig a quick wipe.

Sprinkle with salt and give a quick massage with oil all over

Stuff the belly with fennel , chopped apple , thyme , parsley stalk , garlic , onion . If the kidneys and heart are in you can leave in as they can be eaten and or will add the flavor.

Then sit pig upright and try to position front legs stretching out and back legs tucked under – like an Egyptian jackal statue .

Cover the ears in foil for cooking as otherwise will burn .

If you want to stuff apple in mouth at end stuff a ball of foil in mouth at this stage.

Slit the pig in a few places so skin does not burst when cooking ( I made incision by armpits and back legs – but not too deep)

Bake at 15 mins per pound at 160 °C

After 1 1/2 hours add 1/2 pint water to the tray .

At 2 1/2 hours add 1/2 pint white wine to the tray .

Baste occasionally.

The Liquids will keep the pig moist and produce your gravy but you don’t want to add them too soon as you also want the pig to roast.

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Once cooked Let rest for 1/2 hour after cooking lightly covered in foil .

There should be lots of lovely natural juice you can strain off and use for gravy.

Remove the foil ball and earmuffs and stuff a small apple in its mouth

Serve at the table to lots of oohs and ahhs with some delicious Sardinian wine.

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Next stop … Dublin

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