Chocolate chip cookies and an English Greek Salad

An English Greek salad

An English Greek salad

Yesterday was our tournament finals day at Eardisley tennis club. Tragically, Mary and I failed to retain our mixed doubles title. But it was a perfect sunny autumn day and a lot of good food was brought including some seriously good Chelsea buns from Norma – so I’m not complaining. A day of tennis and food on a beautiful day comes high on my list of good things.

I brought along a sort of English Greek salad and some very American chocolate chip cookies. A kind of yin and yang on the perceived healthiness continuum.

An English Greek salad

At home we’ve been eating something similar to this perfect simple salad regularly since the start of two delightfully overlapping seasonal deliciousities: Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes and runner beans. You can also add cucumbers and olives and substitute fresh oregano for basil.

500g runner beans, topped, tailed and finely sliced. The fineness of the slicing is important to get a good final texture without overcooking
350g Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes, halved (other well flavoured tomatoes can be substituted but this isn’t a salad worth making with poor quality tomatoes)
60ml olive oil
200g crumbled feta cheese
20-30 basil leaves, finely chopped

Add the beans to a large pan of boiling water. Once the water has come back to the boil continue boiling for no more than 2 minutes until the beans are just tender. Drain at once. If you’re going to eat the salad straight away then don’t bother to refresh them (it’s quite nice having slightly warm beans in the salad). But if you’re making it to eat later then plunge the beans into cold water for a couple of minutes and drain thoroughly.

Mix the cooked and drained runner beans with everything else. No need to season as the feta provides plenty of salt.

Chocolate chip cookies

Up close to a cookie

Up close to a cookie

At my Hereford and Cambridge cafes we always want to offer more cakes, tarts, buns and biscuits than there is room for on the menu. But one day we will start selling chocolate chip cookies and when we do it will be to this recipe. There is a recipe for chocolate chip cookies in my first cookbook but my taste has evolved over time. This recipe, based on one from convicted insider-dealer Martha Stewart, is just as buttery and chocolatey as my earlier recipe but a touch less sweet and all the better for that. I’m always suspicious when recipes are described as ‘quick and easy’ but this is genuinely quick, easy and exceptionally delicious.

makes 30 cookies

250g softened butter
300g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten together
1 tsp vanilla essence
325g plain white flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (less if you’re using salted butter)
350g good quality dark chocolate chips

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C (using a fan oven)
  2. Butter and line with baking parchment two very large (or several smaller) baking sheets
  3. Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor until pale brown and fluffy.
  4. Add half the egg and the vanilla essence. Whizz until incorporated and then repeat with the other half of the egg.
  5. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and mix for as a short a period as necessary to mix it all properly together.
  6. Add the chocolate chips and pulse briefly to distribute them through the mixture.
  7. Using two desertspoons put blobs of the mixture on to the baking sheets. Each blob should weigh about 40g to make an even batch that Paul Hollywood might approve of but no harm will be done by creating a variety of sizes. You need to leave big gaps around each blob as the cookies will expand as they bake.
  8. Bake at 180C for 10-14 minutes until brown at the edges.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes and then transfer to cook fully on a wire rack. When completely cool, store them in an airtight jar. But they’re best eaten within a day or two of baking.

h.Food: The birth of the Hereford Fringe Food festival

h-food-logo

h.Food @ All Saints 23rd to 25th August

If you live anywhere near Hereford you’ll probably already know about the official Flavours of Herefordshire food festival. This year it’s on Hereford’s Castle Green. The star attraction is Mary Berry and there’s lots of food stalls, street food and stuff for kids.

A few months ago a group of us got together to chat about whether there was something a bit less conventional that we could run alongside the Flavours festival. Martin Orbach (Shepherds ice cream & the founder of the very successful Abergavenny food festival), Pete Norton and Kate Gathercote (the team behind New Leaf’s successful h.Energy festival) and Mo Burns (catalyst for almost everything good that happens in Hereford city) and myself thought we could put on something low key but fun right in the middle of the city.

So, come along to All Saints over the Bank Holiday weekend and see what we’ve come up with. And as well as the evening events at All Saints, h.Food will be putting on a food trail, films and music during each day. Visit www.herefordshirenewleaf.org.uk/h.Food for up to date details and to book tickets for any of the All Saints events.

Potentially the most chaotic (but I think highly entertaining) event will be the community pop-up picnic party on the Sunday night at All Saints. The idea is that everyone brings some Herefordshire-based food and shares it at long communal tables. You can bring your own drink – but the All Saints bar will also be open if you’d rather do that. We’ve then got an award-winning comedian (with a name like Esme de Flange she’s got to be good) , live music and most of all: everyone else’s food to eat. Will everyone bring the same thing? And if so, how many strawberry cheesecakes can 120 people eat? Who will bring the tastiest focaccia or the most succulent smoked ham? Herefordshire produces so much delicious stuff, it should be a great evening to celebrate all that.

To book your place (it’s free but you’ll still need a ticket) go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hfood-festival-fringe-pop-up-picnic-tickets-11745207231

Our three All Saints events are:

Saturday 23rd August at 6.30pm
How local is local?
A food quiz followed by ‘Any Questions’ to a panel of local food and farming experts.
£10 including a pork or goat’s cheese bun

Sunday 24th August from 6.30pm
Community pop-up party picnic
A local food feast with laid back music and an award winning comedian. You bring Herefordshire food to share and we’ll supply live music, an award winning comedian – and all for free..

Monday 25th August at 6.30pm
How to feed the world?
Debate and Q & A featuring renowned food and farming writer and broadcaster Colin Tudge.
£10 including a pork or goat’s cheese bun

We hope that you’ll come and enjoy Mary Berry’s buns during the day on Castle Green and then wander over to All Saints for our events there which will be at 6.30 each evening. I’ll look forward to seeing lots of you there!

Spring is sprung

rhubarb 003

The rhubarb is thrusting vigorously upwards and our chard which was looking very moth-eaten after the winter has started bursting with new growth. So last weekend we had 2 springly, kingly snacks.

Firstly I made some utterly simple rhubarb fool. I cut the first few stems of rhubarb, mixed them with some sugar and put them on a baking tray covered in foil in a medium oven for about 20 minutes until they had just begun to soften and issue some juice. I let them cool and then mixed with some rich Rachel’s greek yoghurt with stem ginger.

Next I made some incredibly delicious individual spinakopita: chard and feta wrapped in filo pastry. If you’re going to do this make sure that your filo pastry is completely defrosted but still chilled before you start. Otherwise you end up trying to speed-de-frost it in the microwave (as I did on this occasion) and you create a lot of mess and much less elegant parcels.

To make about 20 bite-sized parcels pick enough chard (spinach would do fine as well) to nearly fill a Sainsbury’s plastic bag. Wash it well and then finely chop it. Sweat it in a big pan on a medium heat with some olive oil with a good clove of crushed garlic, salt, pepper and some scrapings of nutmeg (freshly grated is massively more flavoursome than ready-ground). When it’s tender (max 5 mins) take off the heat and mix with about 150g of crumbled feta. That’s the filling ready.

Melt about 50g of butter. Lay out the first sheet of filo pastry with the long side towards you. Brush it with melted butter. Cut into strips about 6cm wide. Put a good desertspoon of filling on the near end of the first strip. Take the bottom left corner and pull the pastry over the blob of filling and press down on the opposite side of the strip about 6cm up. You should have the beginnings of a triangular parcel. Roll the parcel over and over maybe 3 or 4 times until you’ve reached the end of the strip. Brush the outside of the parcel with melted butter. Repeat for subsequent parcels until you’ve used up all the filling. Bake at 220C for about 10 to 15 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before passing round and greedily eating accompanied by a glass of white wine.

Perfect green and pink spring tastes.

chard 001

Slow roast pork for a long summer evening

 

When the cousins come to stay we feast fatly. And when cousins of the cousins come to supper as well then there’s going to be some serious eating.
 

We started with Kir Royales made with Herefordshire cassis and moved on to a small but rich mushroom mousse (mushrooms gathered in the field next door where they’ve been growing in extraordinary profusion this last week) with some courgettes fried briefly with a little finely diced chorizo (the chorizo brought back by the cousins from their Spanish holiday).  Then on to slow roast pork with rosemary flatbread and rocket. And finally Sarah’s honey and almond cake with gooseberry/strawberry/nectarine compote and cream. I’m feeling a mixture of hungry and very full just writing it all down.

If I’ve ever given the impression in this blog that I’m a capable gardener then I must disabuse you now. The vegetable gardeners in our household are Sarah’s father Jim (executive head gardener) and my son Jonathan (skivvy slave gardener who needs the cash). However, I’m proud to say that I planted the rocket seeds so I’m going to claim the credit for the rocket which has been astonishingly successful. Serving it as a vegetable with roast meat is not only tasty and a great contrast with the cidery juices of the roast pork but also one of the few ways that we can eat enough at a time to keep up with the rocket’s vigorous growth.

Slow-roast pork has become a modern classic. There are competing but similar versions probably kicked off by the River Café  and then tweeked byNigella Lawson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This version is simpler than all of them and stunningly delicious. Most of them specify 16 to 24 hours at 110C. I cooked the pork for about 10 hours (which avoids the necessity for overnight cooking) at about 130C – turning it up when it looked like nothing was happening and turning it down again when there were serious signs of the liquid evaporating. It’s not really even a recipe more of an approach to a fine bit of pig.

Fresh soft bread is the ideal accompaniment for mopping up the juices. I made a batch of slackish white dough starting with a 1.5kg bag of strong white flour & a slug of olive oil, rolled it out into 2 very flat rectangles – as though for pizzas – and then put chopped fresh rosemary, crunchy salt and more olive oil on top before baking. I then made a standard white loaf with the final third of the dough which was perfect for roast pork sandwiches to sustain us on a walk up the Cat’s Back the next day.

Get a good sized shoulder of pork on the bone (mine was just over 4kg) which the butcher has scored. This served 12 for dinner and another 6 with roast pork sandwiches.

Then make a rough paste by finely chopping together:

6 good cloves garlic (peeled)
4 tbs fennel seeds
2 dsp salt

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C.
  2. Put the pork in a roasting tin and rub half the paste into the skin side of the pork, working it into the slits in the skin where possible. Put the pork into the hot oven for half an hour for an initial sizzle, skin side up.
  3. Then turn the oven down to 130C (without the fan on if you have the option – probably 120c if your oven forces you to use the fan). Take the meat out of the oven and turn it over and, preferably without burning yourself, work the rest of the paste into the underside of the joint. Add a 500ml bottle of good quality cider and another 300 ml of water and put it back in the oven for about 4 hours.
  4. Then turn the joint the other way up again – so the skin is once more on top – and continue cooking for another 4 hours or so. All these timings are highly flexible. An hour more on one or both 4 hour stretches will do this marvellous joint no harm at all. Just check the liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish from time to time and add a bit more hot water if necessary
  5. When you are about half an hour from when you want to eat, take the pork out of the oven, turn the oven back up to 220C and slice the skin off the pork discarding any excess fat which clings to it. Put this back in the now hot oven to create lovely crunchy crackling.
  6. Meanwhile slice/pull (depending on how well done it is) the meat into thick chunks returning them to the cidery juices as you cut.
  7. As soon as the crackling is done you’re ready to eat and create much happiness for many people. Make sure everyone gets their fair share of meat/cider juices as well as the meat itself.

 

 

Bridget’s sauce with sea trout, new potatoes and samphire

Sarah’s Mum Bridget was a great cook. Her prime cooking years were the dinner party years of the 1960s and 70s. A couple of times a week she and Jim would either entertain or go to friends’ houses to eat. These were the days when a dinner party involved four courses and a choice of puddings so a massive amount of cooking was done – and that was in addition to cooking proper food every night for the family.

This recipe – fish baked in foil with wine – was, I think, one of the most popular ways to cook fish in those years. Bridget cooked it often and it was always delicious. Since Bridget’s (much too young) death Jim has become a great cook and, now that he lives next door to us, we often benefit and he’s made this dish for us a few times. So, a couple of weeks ago I plucked up courage to give it a go myself and I’ve now done it twice: once cooking a whole seat trout and once using the same method for individual seat trout steaks. The bit I have trouble with (because I’m cack-handed and am unable to wrap presents) is wrapping the fish in foil without tearing the foil. However it’s not a disaster if you do tear the foil as long as you’ve got the package sitting in something that will contain the juices. You can either cook the foil package in the oven with the foil package sitting in a baking dish or, in a fish kettle on the hob.

It’s a dish that cries out for new potatoes and either asparagus (in May/June) or samphire (June to September). If you’ve not used samphire before you’ve got a treat in store. Sometimes called ‘sea asparagus’ it’s a delightfully weird-looking vegetable that grows wild in coastal areas particularly Norfolk and Brittany and is now also cultivated in Israel year round. It’s more often sold in fishmongers than greengrocers. Don’t bother with pickled samphire which (to me) looks and tastes horrible. You need to pick through the samphire and pinch off any hard brown bits at the bottom of the stems and then boil it very  briefly – no more than a minute – in a large pan of boiling water and then toss in olive oil and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.

Seat trout with Bridget’s sauce
(salmon also works well)
serves 6

1 whole sea trout (approx 2kg), gutted or 6 good sea trout steaks
200 ml white wine
2 bay leaves, torn in half

50g butter
50g plain flour
400ml whole milk

1. Put the fish in a foil with the bay leaves and wine. To do this lay the foil (the wide foil designed for turkeys is easiest to use) on whatever you’re going to cook in i.e. either roasting tin (for the oven) or fish kettle (for the hob). Be sure to leave lots of spare foil to wrap with. Lay the fish carefully in and add the wine, bay leaves and two halves of lemon and then pull the edges together to form a parcel. If you’re using the fish kettle add half a cup of water to the bottom of the kettle underneath the parcel so create some steam.

2. If baking, then bake at about 180C for about 20 minutes (longer for a whole fish) until the fish is just cooked. If cooking on the hob, steam for about 10 minutes (again, longer for a whole fish) until the fish is just cooked. For those like me who are not highly experienced fish cooks there is no substitute for putting a knife gently in to the thickest part of the fish and looking to see if the flesh has gone opaque – which means it’s cooked.

3. When the fish is just cooked, carefully pick up the foil parcel and, forming a spout with one end of it, pour off the cooking juices. Dont’ waste a drop – it’s these juices that will make your sauce unutterably delicious. If you’ve cooked the fish on the hob then make sure you also collect the water from the bottom of the fish kettle.Meanwhile leave the fish keeping warm while you make the sauce.

4. In a smallish saucepan, make a roux with the butter and flour. Warm the milk (in a jug in a microwave is the easiest way). Slowly add the cooking juices to the roux whisking all the while to keep it smooth. Add the milk whilst still whisking. When all the liquids have been added continue to simmer for a couple of minutes to make sure that the flour is properly cooked. Adjust the seasoning and consistency, adding more milk if necessary. Serve at once with the fish and with your new potatoes and samphire.

I’m not generally a great believer in serving at the table (I find it much easier to put food on plates straight from the pans you’ve been cooking on) but a whole fish looks so lovely that it’s worth serving it at the table so that your eaters get a chance to enjoy the sight.