If you go down to the woods today ….
You are quite likely to find a host of lush green edible leaves… and me picking them !
You are quite likely to find a host of lush green edible leaves… and me picking them !
The wild salmon and I were both caught leaping for joy at the prospect of spending some jolly time on the river Findhorn, though clearly with very different motives.
I spent a fun New Year cooking in a chalet in Val d’Isere, and despite the lack of snow I made sure there was no lack of cake.
Cooking for ski parties is another one of those jobs, like the shooting ones, that allows you to be fairly liberal with the butter and cream. I do find myself being slightly less precious about seasonal and local as when you are 1800m up in a snowy mountain, choices can be fairly limited. In these sorts of resorts though there are generally excellent butchers, green grocers, cheese shops and even decent fishmongers – although I drew the line at buying spider crabs from Japan.
Around New Year in various places in Europe, including the south of France, you will see stacks of ‘Galettes des Rois’ eagerly being bought and taken home. This ‘King Cake’ is said to celebrate Epiphany – the visit from the three Kings to Jesus.
There are several variations including ones with candied fruits, frangipanes, bread like casings, flaky pastry and spices. Inside each there is hidden a trinket said to represent baby Jesus and who ever gets the slice with it in gets to play King for the day and apparently has to make it their shout when buying next year’s cake. Back in the day a fava bean was used and then more recently a little plastic or porcelain figurine– unfortunately due to modern bakers not wanting to be blamed for choking anyone they will now often leave the trinket out for customers to hide themselves.
For New Year I baked a Gallette de Rois for the group and hid a hazelnut in the cake as my King. The children especially were keen to dive in and I was rather amused as the second youngest had their slice, didn’t find the nut then asked,
“so what happens if no -one finds the nut”?
“I guess we will just have to be a democracy” says eldest.
The nut was found, we crowned the King and celebrated the rest of New Year in regal style.
Every chalet should have: a deep bath
2016 running butter total: 10 of 10
2016 running egg total: 43 of 43
I’m traveling by: plane, trains and busses (sadly not skis)
I’m loving: My scenic walk to the boulangerie
2x 25 cm circles of puff pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbs milk
50 g ground almonds
70g ground hazelnuts
1 whole hazelnut
100g catser sugar
2 tbs honey
120g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp almond extract
50g plain flour.
Pre heat the oven to 180°C
Beat the butter, almonds, ground hazelnuts, honey and sugar together for a couple of minutes.
Then whisk in the eggs, spices and extracts and finally the flour.
On a large baking sheet lined with baking paper lay one of the circles of puff pastry brushed with the yolk mix on both sides.
Pour the almond mix into the middle leaving one inch from the edge.
Poke the whole hazelnut somewhere into the batter.
Lay the second pastry circle on top.
Crimp the edges and poke 5 small holes in the top (to allow steam to escape.
Lightly score with a pattern (I chose the fleur – de –lis) then brush the with egg yolk.
Bake for 30 mins by which time the pastry should be puffed up and golden.
Serve warm or cold (I like mine with cream but that’s really not done in France).
Who ever gets the whole nut gets the crown!
Within minutes of arriving at the lodge in the Highlands I was faced with a dilemma. It reminded me of the funny quandary questions children often ask like:
Would you rather be chased by a herd of angry elephants or a pack of hungry wolves? Or would you rather have to run 100 miles carrying a bicycle or swim 100 miles wearing roller skates and a riding hat etc.
My choice was:
Would I rather be eaten alive by midges or keep the kitchen window shut and practically boil alive in my Autumn attire.
I took my chances with the midges for a bit until we had regulated the inside temperature but with them being particularly ferocious this year I wonder in hindsight maybe I should have just got back into my summer kit despite being in the Highlands in late September and it exposing more flesh to midge attack.
I used to have a sure fire way of avoiding midge bites, which was to slap on Avon Skin So Soft every morning – as recommended by the Army and anyone used to being Summer / Autumn savvy in Scotland. I was put off however when I fairly recently lent out a bottle to have it quickly returned suggesting that it wasn’t the best thing to put on oneself, as it smelt of oil used by strippers. I didn’t enquire further…
My week in Scotland was cooking for a party of stalkers. Having done a fair few of these kind of jobs now, I felt I knew the drill. Big cooked breakfasts, groaning table spread of hams and cheeses, buns and sweets to take as pieces on the hill, afternoon tea consisting of freshly baked cakes and lashings of tea served by roaring fires and a hearty evening meal to help refuel after their 7 hour day stalking up, down and across mountain and moor.
Everything was as expected, accept for the breakfasts. In the entire week I didn’t make one traditional cooked breakfast. There were boiled eggs galore, a really delicious quinoa style porridge that I was inspired to make with almond milk, toasted nuts, grated pear and orange soaked raisons, a few American style pancakes, 2 kippers and 1 round of eggs benedict, but no requests for sausages / bacon / mushrooms etc. I guess this really shows that even in the most traditional of set ups peoples tastes, ideas and approach to food really are changing.
Stalking – the managed and selective shooting of deer – is generally seen as part of the essential management of a healthy and sustainable deer herd. With no natural predators numbers must be kept in balance with what the delicate habitat can support. As deer are prolific breeders numbers can quickly grow to the point where, unchecked, they will cause significant crop, tree and flora damage as they expand their range to seek out food sources especially in the winter months when starvation sets in due to excess numbers. Maintaining the size, balance and welfare of the herd proportionate to what the hill can naturally support is the objective of any good sporting estate and this takes much effort, skill and expenditure to achieve which is partly offset by the revenues generated from stalking.
The stalkers or ghillie (the persons accompanying the guest up the hill) job is to lead the party (generally of one or two ) to within range of the animal so it can be safely and cleanly shot. They have to know which ones are eligible for shooting, often the older or weaker ones, and get themselves into a safe position so a clean and successful shot can be taken. This can mean walking and crawling for hours in what may seem the wrong direction so no one is seen and the wind doesn’t carry the stalkers scent and alert the deer/stag.
With such full-on days you can see why it is so important on these weeks to be well fed. The hills are super steep, the weather can be hot, cold, misty or raining (possibly all of them within the hour when in Scotland), and there is only one way up and down and that is by foot.
Afternoon tea is one of the best moments for me as I love it when the guests arrive back rosy cheeked, exhilarated and exhausted from the day but when they see the roaring fire, hot pots of tea and big slices of cake, massive smiles of delight break out and the stories from the day’s adventures begin.
For this postcard recipe I would like to share one of my current favorite afternoon tea treats, a spiced banana and maple syrup cake.
Stags shot : 1
I’m driving: a VW Passat estate – favourite hire car I have had, there is a little tiger in the engine and its as smooth as a peach to drive BUT sadly their turns out o be a devil in the exhaust.
Cooked breakfasts eaten: 0 (!?!?%@**)
I’ve learnt: 1724 tonic is the cream of the crop when it comes to a perfect G and T.
Every lodge should have: at least 2 roaring fires.
The in vogue gift for your host: home grown veg.
For me this is the perfect banana cake, not too sweet, hints of spice and not too dense.
3 ripe bananas peeled
2 tbs orange or apple juice
130g room temperature salted butter
2 free range / organic eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ nutmeg – grated
2 tbs maple syrup
100g soft brown sugar
250g SR flour
Pre heat the oven to 170 ° C
Grease and line a 1 ltr loaf tin.
In a free standing mixer beat the bananas till mushed, add the juice, butter, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, syrup and sugar and beat for a couple of minutes.
Stop the mixer. Scrape down the sides then beat for another minute.
Stop it again, add all the flour in one go and then beat on a low speed for 1 minute and the mixture is totally combined.
Scoop the batter into the loaf tin and bake on the centre shelf for 40 – 50 mins or a cake skewer comes out clean.
This week, in order not to feel I was mindlessly cooking and gobbling lobster after lobster I have taken the time to learn a little more about this delicious crustacean.
Theoretically, a lobster can live forever. They have an enzyme called telomerase, which prevents the DNA from becoming damaged as it replicates – for us mere humans it is the shortening of the DNA strands that is thought to age us. What can however pluck the lobsters from their mortal coil are disease and various predators, including me.
In order to grow a lobster has to molt its shell. In the first year they do this about 40 times, the second year about four times, the third and forth years about two or three times and in the forth to sixth years about once a year. Once they reach age 7, which is roughly when they will be big enough to be eaten they usually molt once every two or three years. For Maine lobster it is about now in the year that they decide to do this.
The lobster sheds its shell then puffs itself up with water to stretch the new softer shell that was underneath until that too hardens. For eating purposes I think it is best to avoid these softer shell lobsters as although easier to get the meat out it can be quite watery and the yield much lower, particularly in the claws. On a side note, a lobster who has lost one claw is called a cull and for the poor things that have lost both they are called a pistol.
When catching lobsters in your own pots there are strict rules about what you can keep and what you must release. Size is important. It must be between 3 ¼ inches and 5 inches from the extreme rear of the eye socket to the end of the carapace – which is the head section of the shell. You are forbidden to take a female if she is baring eggs or if she has a notch in her tail. The fishing area around Main have introduced a system where if you find a female that produces eggs but otherwise would have been ok to take, you put a notch in its tale to the right of the middle flipper. This will be noticeable for a couple of years and stop others from taking the egg producing lobster even if it doesn’t have any at the time of catch.
From a chefs and diners perspective it is amazing to cook and eat so many lobsters in a short time span and totally get to grip with cooking times and preferred methods of preparation. I have given you a few recipes and methods below after this postcard recipe for when you next want to indulge in a lobster fix.
Besides the luxury of having an endless supply of lobster and getting the chance to cook it in every which way, my highlight of the week was …catching my first fish.
I will try not to embellish the story and let writers’ creativity move it too far from the truth but it was far more exciting than predicted.
Our early morning start (by 5:30 am we had our backs to the shore) was soon followed by a lecture, but not in boat safety or tips on how to cast. No. I had once again made the mistake of joshing with a fisherman that I couldn’t quite see what would be fun about fishing that and that I suspected a fishing boat was basically a floating ‘man shed’. Luckily the lecture was short and took mostly the form of just you just wait and see. I think this was due to the fact neither of us had had our morning coffee fix.
Traveling at a certain number of knots over a certain distance of nautical miles ( ok I clearly didn’t listen properly to that bit) we eventually stopped the boat and prepared to fish. Our aim was to catch some mackerel to use as bait to catch some striped bass – large silvery fleshsy white fish that are rather popular around the US of A’s East coast.
To catch the mackerel you dangle a line into the water dotted with bright lures and consistently sharply pull it up and then let it sink so it catches the mackerel’s eye. I did this for about 10 minutes to no effect thinking well at least it was kind of a work out but then found myself gradually becoming transfixed by the waves, the sound of the water and continual motion of my surroundings. I still hadn’t caught anything after 15 minutes but curiously noticed my involuntary reluctance at handing over the line. My fishing partner caught one in about 5 minutes, which made me even more determined to take back the line and get one.
I shorty did and then riding on the high caught another two at once. Total pro I know !
The mackerel were kept alive and hooked up to a bigger rod, which we floated out to sea to try and lure a striped bass on to. I could tell you how within the first 10 minutes we both caught impressive three feet fish and which would have fed the North End of Boston but I would be lying. We watched the lines bob up and down for about an hour then as there were no takers packed up and went home. Anticlimactic? Not in the slightest, there is something incredible about being out on the sea early in the morning; very peaceful yet demanding and I can at least feel myself getting hooked.
The lobsters are now partying as my bags are packed and I am heading to Logan airport to hop back across the pond. For this postcard recipe I give you the brioche recipe I used for making that East Coast traditional sensation: lobster sandwich.
Lobsters dispatched: 23
Mackerel caught: 3
The Field Magazine: have published my article on top shooting salads and recipes for what to do with this season’s grouse.
Top wine drunk: a delicious Peter Michael chardonnay from California
Definitely not one of my quicker recipes but I admit I am kind of obsessed with making it now I have mastered the perfect sugar / butter ratio in the mix.
2000 ml warm whole milk
9 g dry active yeast
1 large free range /organic egg
500g plain white flour
100g caster sugar
5g fine sea salt
6 large free range / organic eggs, lightly beaten
350g plain flour
180g cold salted butter plus 2 tbs. approx. extra for greasing
1 tbs. whole milk
I used an electric mixer fitted with a kneading attachment but you can make it
by hand if you don’t mind getting sticky and messy.
Also it was pleasantly hot in the States, so if making it somewhere cooler your
resting and rising times may be longer.
Put the milk, yeast, egg and 250g of the flour in the mixers bowl, turn on to a
low speed and mix for a couple of minutes (you can do this stage by hand or with
a wooden spoon if it looks like it will be easier ).
Once mixed remove the bowl from the machine and sprinkle over the other 250g
Leave at room temperature for 1 hour, it should be at least doubled in size and
the coating of flour cracked.
Grate the butter with a cheese grater on the large side then leave out to soften.
Once ready add the sugar, salt, eggs, and 200g of the flour to the sponge.
Place the dough back in the machine with the dough hook and turn on to a low
Let it come together then add the rest of the flour.
Turn up to a medium speed and mix for 10 mins.
The machine may need stopping and the dough pushing back into place as it can
wrap itself up the dough hook.
After mixing add the butter in three stages over a couple of minutes it should
incorporate itself into the dough but again you may need to turn off the machine
and give it a helping hand.
The dough should be shiny, and feel quite moist in comparison to a basic bread dough.
Place the dough in a large buttered bowl and leave to rise at room temperature for 2 – 3 hours – it should double in size.
After this rise knock the dough back, form into a ball in the buttered bowl. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 6 hours.
By then it should have risen again and is now ready for its final rising and baking.
Shape the dough into loaves – you can make a regular loaf or make 6 balls placed side by side in two rows depending what you want. It will be just over double in size when baked so choose the appropriate pan/ tin.
Leave at room temperature, covered loosely with some buttered cling film for two hours till doubled in size.
Pre heat the oven to 190°C place a baking rack near the bottom of the oven and a baking sheet at the top (this will help the loaf not take on too much color).
Mix the egg and milk for the glaze together.
When risen and ready brush the loaf with the glaze and bake for 30 mins. On the bottom rack.
Once cooked leave to cool for 5 mins then remove from tin.
Delicious warm/ cold / as is /toasted and especially good when used for a lobster sandwich.
Do NOT over cook your lobster – it becomes rubbery.
DO keep the shells it makes the most amazing stock
To boil a lobster;
Fill a large pot with water, bring to the boil and then add a good dash of fine sea salt.
Add your live lobster then place on the lid. Cook in small batches so the water comes quickly back to the boil.
A 1 ½ lb lobster needs to cook only for 10 mins, It will have turned a lovely shade of red and the meat will still be moist. Leave to rest for a couple of minutes before serving as it will carry on cooking and be perfect.
This is my favourite way to prepare and eat them.
Plunge them live into boiling water for 3 – 4 mins – you just want to kill them.
Pre heat your smoker to 200F
Cut up the top of the lobster tail with a pair of scissors and put some cracks in the claws.
Stuff with a few spoonful’s of butter studded with chilli and coriander or garlic and parsley.
Lay some foil on the racks in the smoker and place your butter-stuffed lobsters in there. Add some wood chips to the coals (I like using apple wood for this task as it is mild enough not to mask the flavour but still adds that smoky wonder.)
Smoke for 40 mins. Serve with any buttery lobster juice caught on the foil poured back over the lobster.
The shell contains an amazing amount of flavour and should never be just chucked away. Place them in a large pot filed with cold water and bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 40 mins then strain.
Reduce this to get your intense lobster stock. NOTE if you boil the stock with the shells in for too long it becomes bitter.
To BBQ ; get your BBQ to a high to medium heat and make sure the grills are clean. Prepare a flavoured butter such as chilli and lime or garlic and parsley.
Crack the live lobster in half by cutting down through the shell head first then along the tail – they do not feel pain in the same way we do so try not to feel bad while it gives you the evil eye.
Remove the claws and place them on the BBQ for 4 – 5 mins then place the split tail on flesh side down and cook for 3 mins each side. It will go translucent each side.
This week I’m using my ‘little grey cells’ with my trusted chef friend from Devon to solve a West Country problem, but first….
It is once again the foodie world equivalent of the Oscars (though probably involving shorter heels and less double-sided sticky tape) and voting will soon close for the annual Observer Food monthly awards.
I would be delighted if you would like to nominate Philippa Davis postcard recipes into their ‘Best Food Blog’ category.
Nominations can be made by following this link
Voting closes 30th June.
A huge thanks and appreciation for you support,
Having successfully painted the Emerald Isle red, I moved on to give the West Country a turn. Steaming through the rural landscapes I arrived in Devon with pearls and twinsets at the ready, home to Agatha Christie and supposedly cream teas.
On the wild off-chance that you are unsure of what a cream tea might consist of, by my standards its scones (freshly baked unless you want raised eyebrows), clotted cream, strawberry jam and naturally lashings of tea. Our problem was which should be applied to the scone first, the cream or the jam ? So with Poirot and Hastings like dedication, we set about our task.
For something so charming as a cream tea there is actually a dark undercurrent of controversy. There have been bickering’s, petitions and strong words exchanged as to where it originates from and so who can actually lay claim to being the true home of this afternoon treat. We did a bit of research and with Devon and Cornwall being the main contenders (and my affections lying in Dorset) I’m not going to get too concerned and am going with it’s ‘a West Country thing’.
Scones themselves most likely originate from Ireland so no points to either county there. Clotted cream was most likely bought over from what’s now Lebanon and Syria to Cornwall in approximately 500BC by the Phoenicians who where in search of tin. The recipe was given in part exchange for the metal (an excellent trade I think) and so again neither county edges into the lead.
Moving onto the practical side we both made a batch of scones. ‘Hastings’ with her heirloom Devon secret list of ingredients that produced a super rise and me with my recipe that although I am unsure of its origins has faithfully helped me produce over18,000 of the little fluffy light morsels over the last 6 years (I’m not exaggerating and got my Ph.D. maths friend to check my figures).
Luckily for our friendship it was not the best scone recipe which was in dispute. The real contention we were focusing on was how to assemble the scone once made.
In Devon they like to slather the scone with cream then top with jam but in Cornwall they insist on doing it the other way round.
We diligently tried both and after much tasting, considerations, note making and debate I concluded….who cares!? As long as its piled high with both it’s totally delicious.
My Devon friend tried to be a little more opinionated and swayed to her county ways of doing things but I did notice whilst my back was turned ‘the incredible theft’ happened and the Cornish style one disappeared with only a scattering of crumbs remaining.
I will happily leave you to dictate how you assemble your scone but for this postcard I give you my scone recipe.
I would love: you to vote for Philippa Davis postcard recipes as the Best Food Blog in the Observer Food monthly VOTE
Every good West Country home should have: clotted cream and strawberry jam at the ready.
Scones eaten: too embarrassed to say.
Mysteries solved: 0 (I know, Agatha would have been disappointed).
Modes of transport :Sea Tractors, boats, trains, Flybe flights and a nanny wagon.
Scones should be eaten on the day of making which should not be a problem as they generally disappear within minutes…
(Make approx 6)
8 oz Self raising flour plus a little extra for rolling)
1 tsp. baking powder
2 oz caster sugar
2 oz cold butter
110ml cold milk plus 1 tbs.
To serve clotted cream (Rhodas from Cornwall is my favorite), strawberry jam and loose leaf tea in a cup and saucer.
Pre heat the oven to 190° C
In a bowl briefly whisk the flour with the baking powder and sugar.
Grate in the butter using the large side of a grater.
Mix in using our fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Pour in the milk and bring together into a ball (you can add a splash more milk if needs but DO NOT over handle the dough).
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll out the scone to 2 cm thick.
Cut them out and place them on a baking sheet so almost touching and lightly brush with milk.
Bake for 10 mins or until risen and slightly golden
Once cooked leave to cool for a couple of minutes then split open horizontally and slather with clotted cream and strawberry jam in which ever order you see fit.
To help your scones give an even rise;
1) Dip your cutter in between each scone into a little bowl of flour, this prevents sticking and gives a more even rise.
2) Do not twist your cutter, plunge straight down and up – this again helps with an even rise.
3) The scones seem to form a better shape if once cut you turn them upside down on the baking tray before cooking.
4) Cut your scones close together to get the most out of your dough without having to re roll and over handle it.
The Emerald Isle
I am extremely fond of Irish Soda bread. Firstly because it tastes so good with butter, and secondly because it saved my arms from looking like the incredible hulks.
Back in my restaurant days I had to make a lot of bread. I would go to work earlier and earlier to keep up with the demand. I kept telling myself all that kneading was like a free Pilates class sculpting my arms but it is hard to describe the joy after one of my customers (a retired Vicar) offered to bring his Irish wife in to teach me to make soda bread. Ten minutes in from them arriving for my master class the loaf was already in the oven and we were sipping our second cup of tea.
In a bowl whisk together;
1 cup self raising flour,
1 cup wholemeal flour,
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of Soda,
1/2 teaspoon of fine salt
then mix in with a wooden spoon 1 cup of buttermilk.
Use your hands to bring together into a loaf shape ( a round is traditional with a cross slashed into the top)
Bake for 30 minutes at 180 c in a fan assisted oven, its done when you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow.
I frequently use this recipe and was not aware of any variations until I was on a recent job in Dublin. I was asked to make afternoon tea for some of the clients relatives who were to pop by later that day. In amongst the cheese scones, coffee eclairs and pots of Barry’s tea I decided to add the Irish Soda bread and serve it with horseradish butter, smoked salmon and lemon wedges, it was surely going to be a hit at this gathering….
Indeed the guests devoured it and as I was clearing away the empty platter and being complemented on the bread recipe the matriarch of the family chipped in that of course she always rolled her soda bread in oats before baking it. That sounds lovely, I thought, and then someone else said they always put caraway seeds in…again I thought that sounds delicious. My favorite idea however was had I tried making it with “the black stuff” …….Guinness, now you’re talking!
Makes 1 small loaf
I use a measuring jug and do it all by volume.
1/2 pint self raising flour
1/2 pint wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoon brown sugar
Tip all these dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
Pour in 1/4 pint of Guinness and 1/4 pint buttermilk. Bring together into a round loaf, scatter some rolled oats onto a baking tray and roll the bread in them until it is coated all over. Slash the top with a cross ( legends dictates this lets the evil spirits out – I think it looks good) and bake for 35 minutes in a preheated 175 c fan assisted oven.
Cool on a rack then slice, slather it in horseradish butter ( I mix 3 tbsp soft butter with 2 tsp horseradish sauce) and serve with smoked salmon and lemon wedges.
Job done! My bags are packed and next I am crossing the Irish Sea and am off to the west country …..