Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Wild garlic salad with poached egg

If you’ve walked in woodland, especially along river banks, in the last few weeks and seen some bluebells, you’ve probably experienced the smell of wild garlic in the air. It’s the leaves, as well as the flowers, that we tend to use rather than the bulbs which are much smaller than with normal garlic. It’s not difficult to find and you can’t mistake it. Lots of it grows together and it’s got green leaves that are about six inches long that grow in clusters straight from the ground. And if you’re in any doubt, pick a leaf, crunch it in your hand and put it to your nose. If it smells of garlic, it’s wild garlic. It’s that obvious.

It’s got a similar taste to domestic garlic but milder without the bitter taste and can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach. Just make sure it’s very well washed and, if using with a dressing, well drained.

We’ve frequently use it on our menu to flavour a salad which makes for a lovely quick lunch or supper dish and is a timely reminder that Summer’s on its way.

Serves one

One fresh free-range egg
A handful of mixed salad leaves - torn
A handful of wild garlic leaves – torn
A couple of teaspoons of vinaigrette
A slice of bread – cut into cubes
Rapeseed oil
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (gas mark 6)

Toss the cubes of bread in a little rapeseed oil and salt and pepper. Spread them out on a baking tray and bake in the oven for five to ten minutes until golden brown.

Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil and add a little salt. Break the egg into a cup. Using a large spoon, swirl the water in the pan until you’ve got a whirlpool. While it’s still spinning, pour the egg into the middle and turn the heat very low. Place a lid on the pan and leave to cook for three minutes after which you should have a runny yoke with the white set all around it.

During the three minutes cooking time, place the salad leaves and wild garlic into a bowl, spoon aver the vinaigrette and toss.

To serve, pile the dressed salad onto a plate, scatter the still-hot croutons over and around and, using a slotted spoon, lift the egg from the water, rest on a kitchen towel to remove excess water and then place on the top of the salad leaves.

Are you what you eat?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m all there. I know my wife does and thinks that I seem to daydream my way through life. She’s got a point as it appears that I’m always considering some grand plan or unreasonable (as far as she’s concerned) ambition such as running a bar on a bankrupt Greek Island or becoming a rock star.

But, the truth is, I love to let my mind wander. While not being a particularly creative person, I do enjoy giving my imagination as much free-reign as possible. And I find my meandering mind’s stimulated by people watching. I could quite easily be that sad bloke you see seated in the corner of the pub on his own. You may think I’ve no friends and while you’re probably right, I’m perfectly happy, sitting watching folk; imagining what they’re like, what their aspirations are and how they live.

There’re plenty of other opportunities for such a thing. For a start, I can begin every day crawling along in a traffic jam attempting to get into the small but perfectly formed city of Durham. This gives me the opportunity to look around and wonder what’s going through other people’s minds as they sit there too. It seems there are fewer mobile phones on the go since I got caught a couple of years ago, again stuck in stationary traffic but this time in Newcastle, making a call home to say I’d be late. So with less opportunity to talk, people do less dangerous things such as fiddle with the radio, eat sweets, light cigarettes, pick their noses and apply their makeup – sometimes not all at the same time – and, I suppose, think.

Well what’s going through their minds? It can’t be the same as mine otherwise we’d all be people watching the people watchers until the whole world disappeared up its own analysis.

Of course I’m also fortunate in that I can further my hobby as I’ve got my own restaurant in which to people watch. But I can’t be too obvious or I’d drive those same people away.

But then there’s the supermarket; which could be my favourite place to people watch and I should love it. For a start, I’m lucky in that I’m a bloke and more of the shoppers seem to be women than men. Now it’s not that I’m some sort of pervert, rather that I prefer looking at women. It’s not for nothing that the most famous painting in the world is of one.

I said I “should” love it rather than I do. Stick with me. There’s a classy looking woman pushing her trolley past the cheap chicken. Well that’s all right. She’s obviously been here before and is deliberately spurning the watery, inhumanly-reared stuff classed as A Grade. And she’s made a decision to walk straight past the sweaty bacon. You know the stuff; the sort that leaves brown gunge in your frying pan.

She’s obviously just my type - or so I dream. Smart, independent, well-dressed in a stylish yet subtle way and someone who thinks about what she’s eating. That’s so important to me. I wonder what she’s cooking tonight? Having already passed the vegetables, I assume that she’s obviously stocked up on the freshest seasonal, local produce at a farm shop. Maybe fresh spears of English asparagus or some purple sprouting broccoli and a few fresh herbs?

Being careful not to get arrested, I wonder over and glance expectantly into her trolley to find – white sliced bread, instant flavoured noodles, a tin of stew and some mass-produced cakes. How could I have been so mistaken? Are looks so deceptive?

But then it dawns on me: she’s shopping for a neighbour and is only staying in that street temporarily while waiting for her country cottage to be renovated. What a lovely woman she must be. It just goes to show; you should never judge a book by its cover.

Just because someone doesn’t appreciate what they’re buying, and doesn’t think about what they’re feeding themselves, doesn’t mean they’re not better people. Does it?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Ox tongue and beetroot with ramsons and horseradish

It’s all too easy to turn one’s nose up and something like ox tongue but, as I’ve discussed in the adjacent column, if you’ve decided to eat well-reared and slaughtered meat you might as well go for all the bits of the animal; particularly when it tastes as good as this.

You can buy pressed tongue from all good butchers but, if you wanted to do it yourself, it’s easy enough and so cheap with enough meat to feed a family of four . It just needs a little forethought. Take one salted ox tongue and soak it overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain, place in a large pan, cover with cold water while adding a few peppercorns and something like a couple of carrots, sticks of celery and a bay leaf. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 to 2½ hours until tender. Remove from the water and allow to cool a little before peeling off the skin and chilling well before slicing.

As for the ramsons (wild garlic), along with asparagus it’s one of my favourite seasonal vegetables of the moment and I love it because it’s free. Found in moist wooded areas, it’s recognisable by the garlic smell in the air and when the leaves are crushed between your fingers.

Serves two as a starter or light lunch

A few slices of ox tongue
One whole uncooked beetroot
Horseradish sauce
The zest of half a lemon
A large pinch of smoked paprika
Extra virgin rapeseed (or olive) oil
A handful of wild garlic (ramsons) leaves
A couple of walnuts or two or three hazelnuts
A few salad leaves of your choice
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Wash the beetroot but don’t cut off the stalk, just trim back a little with scissors. Piercing or cutting into beetroot before cooking dilutes the flavour. Place in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until it can be easily pierced with a skewer or pointed knife. Drain and allow to cool enough to handle.

To peel, you can use a potato peeler or sharp knife but the slices have a propensity to end up in the shape of a 50 pence piece. We use an old tea towel to rub the skins off but it will turn the towel pink.

To prepare the wild garlic, bring a large pan of water to the boil, blanch the leaves in it for a few seconds (this kills any germs or bugs) and then quickly drain and plunge into iced or very cold water. Drain well. Place in a blender, add the nuts, a little salt and black pepper and blend, adding enough oil to make a slushy sauce.

Place a teaspoon of horseradish sauce, the lemon zest and paprika in a small jar, add a little rapeseed oil and shake until well blended.

Place slices of ox tongue and beetroot on the plate along with the salad leaves. Spoon over then spoon over the horseradish and ramsons dressings.

Want my support? Tell me the truth

It’s got into the press that David Cameron’s in-laws are objecting to having a slaughterhouse built next to their home. Quite why I should be interested in the personal matters of the Prime Minister’s relations is beyond me as it’s doubtful they were a major influence in our decision at the last general election, but that’s to digress.

I’ve just read a letter to a newspaper that was written by a lady from an organisation called Animal Aid who suggested Cameron’s in-laws would benefit from being educated about the reality of meat production. She implied that all slaughtered animals went through terror and pain and went on to say that Animal Aid makes available films about the subject.

Now, I’m sure that she holds genuine feelings but in her enthusiasm to further her cause she makes the same mistake made by so many who want to change our views: she transparently told only part of the truth and, as a result, lost me as a potential member to Animal Aid. There’s so much more to this subject than she let on.

It’s possible she actually disagrees with the breeding, rearing and killing of any animals for food. She didn’t say in her letter. I wondered if she’d be happy for us to eat an animal that had been accidentally struck by a car, or - taking the human element out of things - had met its end purely by its own misfortune (one of my sheep tried to commit suicide this weekend and didn’t even thank me when I saved its life). Is it ultimately the eating of meat that she’s against or the rearing and killing? She didn’t say.

But what I know not to be true is the suggestion that all animals destined for our table go to their maker (and diner) filled with terror and pain. The majority do, and I’d have been reaching for an Animal Aid application form faster than the release of a captive bolt if she’d said that. But, and here’s the rub, a minority don’t.

Obviously I’m a supporter of eating meat. That’s why I do it and why it’s on the menu in the restaurant. But being the wise and intellectual race we are, surely it’s morally correct that any meat we do eat comes from an animal that’s treated as well as possible prior and right up to its demise? After all, few of these animals would exist outside sanctuaries if we didn’t choose to eat them. We’d still need cows for milk but what would happen to the 50% of boy cows born? I guess there’d be a few sheep knocking about to keep moorland grass down but rabbits seem to be amazingly efficient at that in my garden. And pigs? They’d have to be in zoos.

Animals can be reared in a way that gives them a good time on this planet. And it’s not beyond the wit of man to put systems in place where the animals aren’t stressed being transported to the slaughterhouse and then, when they get there, never actually realise what’s happening to them. It does happen. We do it for Oldfields and so do a number of farmers we use to supply us.

I’ve seen the two extremes of slaughter house: first the sort where animals are delivered in multi-storied lorries and know exactly that a frightening fate awaits them due to their treatment, the noise, confusion and smells. And then the other sort where the animals are kept calm and quiet, get no terror-inducing feedback and are quietly and professionally led away to a sudden and, if there is such a thing as an animal afterlife, surprising end.

It could be like that for all animals reared for meat. It’d mean more expensive bacon but that’s your choice.

But this is the sort of reasoned discussion we should be having rather than picking on some people who didn’t choose to be, and really shouldn’t be, in the public eye. Perhaps Samantha Cameron’s parents don’t actually want a commercial building built next to their house and it’s their right to object. Maybe they don’t actually believe in industrial-style slaughter houses. I don’t know as I’ve not discussed it with them.

What I do know is that I’d prefer organisations such as Animal Aid to tell the whole truth and make sure we’re all educated properly so as to be able to make informed decisions rather than preaching, as they do, that the only cruelty-free diet is a meat-free one. I beg to disagree with them but admit that the cruelty-free option requires effort. And that’s what we, at Oldfields, are trying more and more to do.

Sausage and black pudding casserole

Sausage and black pudding casserole might seem like a winter dish but it’s so popular in our restaurants that we often have it on the menu, no matter what the weather.

It seems obvious but a good casserole depends on the quality of the ingredients you use. Obviously you’re depending on someone else’s product when using sausages and black pudding so do try to get the best you can. It’ll make such a difference to the dish.

And for those people who aren’t that keen on black pudding, give this dish a go; particularly if it the texture you don’t like. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Serves four

600g good quality pork sausages
250g good quality black pudding - cut into cubes
Four carrots - peeled and roughly chopped
Half a swede - peeled and roughly chopped
One large onion – peeled and finely diced
Four sticks of celery – cut into  1cm pieces
One litre of chicken stock
A couple of sprigs of thyme
Two bay leaves
A handful of pearl barley
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Vegetable oil
Unless you like the look of pink sausages, lightly brown the sausages under the grill. They don’t need to be cooked, just coloured.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of oil into a large pan or casserole that can sit on the cooker. Heat, add the carrots, swede, onion and celery and cook over a low-to-medium heat until they start to brown. Add the chicken stock, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, add the pearl barley and allow to cook for a further ten minutes.

Then add the black pudding and allow to cook for a few minutes and you’ll notice the pudding start to break down a little and enrich the sauce. Turn the heat down and add the sausages along with a little black pepper. Cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes, tasting and adding salt if necessary.

To serve, pile into warmed bowls and accompany with crusty bread. Or, if you wished, it goes great with mash, bubble and squeak or a few new potatoes.

The pink pound of sausages

Have you ever met a homosexual pig? I was introduced to one recently and, I must admit, I had my doubts. It didn’t look any different from the other pigs. It wasn’t dressed in a flamboyant fashion, didn’t seem to demonstrate a greater sensitivity to what was going on around it and I’m sure, if there had been a TV, would have shown as much interest in Sky Sports as the next pig.

But its owners, soon to be suppliers of fine rare-breed pork to our restaurant, were convinced it was gay. Why? Because this male pig wasn’t – how do I put this? – doing its job when it came to the lady pigs. He didn’t seem to show any interest in the procreation department. While they fluttered their eyelashes and pouted, the females in the field couldn’t even muster a wolf whistle from the boar.

Now, the subject of animal homosexuality has interested animal and wildlife experts for some time but it seems there are very conflicting views on it. On one side of this major, world-changing debate are those who are convinced that there’s no reason why a pig shouldn’t be attracted to members of its own sex. After all, it happens with humans. But I’m not so sure.

First of all, just because a creature of one sex doesn’t actually fancy the opposite sex, preferring to hang out with members of its own sex, without actually having sex, does that make that creature gay or simply a golfer?

But there’s a danger in treating animals like people; giving them human qualities. We’ve got a cat at home who, due to years of conditioning, knows that it’ll get fed immediately it sees someone first thing in the morning and again at approximately nine in the evening. When friends come around, that 9pm can slide to midnight and the cat plays up by meowing louder than the background music and rolling on the floor, making throat-cutting gestures. Of course our friends accuse us of being cruel to the cat and depriving it of food. “Look at its little face,” they say, “it’s starving and begging you”.

No it’s not starving. It’s been out depleting the vole population all day and, to be totally honest, doesn’t actually need an expensive sachet of kitty fodder. But it’s been conditioned by us, the superior race, to expect free food at set times. We’ve trained it. Cats are not humans. Neither are dogs and pigs certainly aren’t.

Despite what people might suggest, they don’t train you. They haven’t got the same reasoning abilities that we have. But they do have intuitive skills that have been developed in the wild that enable them to focus on the important things in life: food, warmth, sleep, procreation. Don’t confuse those with intelligence. Otherwise, why have cats not invented a vole killing machine yet so that they can sleep even more hours of the day?

I believe this is one of the reasons that some people hate the idea of naming animals when they know that they’re being reared for food. A name encourages the already susceptible human to consider the animal even more like him or her self.

So if they’re not really like humans, can they be homosexual? Maybe our boy pig just wasn’t too turned on by nooky. So, in the real world of farming, this young - possibly gay - pig ended up as sausages. Which, of course, were pink.

Pan-fried Coley, tomato and fennel salad

Coley is one of the least expensive fish in the cod family and is generally regarded as a sustainable fish, unlike everyone’s favourite cod. On the fishmonger’s slab, the flesh appears a little pinky/grey but turns white when it’s cooked. Also sometimes known as saithe and coalfish, coley can be used in any recipe calling for cod. For reasons of speed and ease of cooking, thrift and the welfare of the cod itself, it really is worth a try. And if coley’s not available, hake is a great alternative.

Serves two

Two 200gm coley fillets – skin on, scaled and pin-boned by the fishmonger
One head of fennel
Two tomatoes
Six cherry tomatoes - halved
Extra virgin rapeseed or olive oil
A few mixed salad leaves
Lemon juice
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Flour for dusting the fish

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C , gas mark 6

Cut the fennel in half length-ways, remove the core and cut the remainder into 5mm-thick slices. Heat an oven-proof pan, pour in two or three tablespoons of oil, add the fennel slices and allow them to brown a little over a medium heat, stirring occasionally as you add a little salt and pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. Meanwhile, remove the eye from the two large tomatoes, cut them into wedges and add them to the saucepan. Give a further stir and place the pan, uncovered, in the oven for around ten minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Heat a frying pan and add a little oil. Dust the skin of the fish fillets with flour, shaking off any excess, and place in the frying pan, skin side down, over a medium heat. Season with a little salt and pepper but don’t move the fish. After four or five minutes of frying, add a walnut-sized knob of butter to the pan and carefully lift the fish to see if the skin appears golden and crisp. When it is, carefully turn the fillets over to cook for another three minutes.

While the fish finishes cooking, drain the oil from the fennel and tomato mix but make sure you reserve it as it makes the perfect dressing for the salad. Place the salad leaves and cherry tomatoes in a bowl together, pour over the reserved oil and toss. Pile onto plates and place the fish fillets on top or alongside.