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The Secret Garden

The central pathI’ll get my excuses out of the way early. I’ve been meaning to go to The Ethicurean for quite some time but have never made it. Until today.

Bad excuse and reason to pull my finger out number one: It is situated around 10 miles from our house in Bristol and, not being cyclists, realistically it means driving out there, for which I’d have to be the designated driver. When there are so many good places to eat in and around town to which we can walk somewhere else has taken precedence when we’ve been choosing a restaurant.

Rubbish excuse and reason to just head on over there number two: The Ethicurean struck me as the kind of place you’d want to visit on a good day, not in the depths of winter. A bright, warm, sunny, spring day like today is an ideal day to go but having visited, I can imagine going back time and again, in all seasons. Yes, there are the gardens to wander round which is always going to be more pleasant when it’s dry but the café is set up to accommodate all weathers.

The Ethicurean was, until recently, one of Bristol’s best kept secrets. It’s a café (you could argue it’s a restaurant) within the grounds of a stunningly beautiful, organised and expansive walled garden and orchard. It’s that kitchen garden and orchard as well as local produce (foraged, shot, donated or ethically sourced) which inspires Chef Pennington and his team in their compact kitchen.

The lunch menu was relatively short (five or six choices for each course) but varied enough. Thought had clearly gone into what could be produced for such good value within the confines of their small premises and from the seasonal produce available. It wasn’t overly ambitious but neither was it uninteresting.

St. George Mushrooms w/ Jonogold Apple, Ribwort Plantain & MintThe produce was the true focus of each of the dishes, no more obvious than in my starter of St George mushrooms; a raw assembly of thin slices of mushroom, jonogold apple, mint and ribwort plantain. Everything tasted so fresh and was bursting with flavour.

Jed’s ham hock consommé was as equally fresh tasting and at the same time satisfying and soothing. Perfectly clear, slightly salty and intensely ‘hammy’, it contained decent chunks of ham hock, fresh wilted rainbow chard and a poached egg.

Roast Sirloin of BeefThe goat in my meatballs and Jed’s roast beef were incredibly flavoursome. It perhaps sounds like mumbo jumbo to some but I’m convinced that the flavour and texture of the meat we ate was the result of well-cared for, bred, slaughtered and butchered animals. These were animals which had had a good diet and a good (albeit short in the case of the goat) life and were so much more enjoyable as a result.

The vegetables from the garden tasted like vegetables should taste and, I’d like to say that these guys can make mashed potato. It was probably laced with pounds of butter but boy did it taste good!

Not having a sweet tooth, for me it was an obvious choice to end the meal; the cheese platter. A very generous portion of Old Demdike, Gorwydd Caerphilly, Keen’s Cheddar and Blue Vinny with a wonderful carrot pickle, onion marmalade and membrillo. Incidentally, if you’re not driving you might like to have a taster of their homemade membrillo vodka!Cheese Board

For Jed, however, it was a much more painful decision to make. Clearly the Ethicurean know how to make desserts and cakes. With the choice narrowed down to two, it took some recommendation from the waiter to arrive at a final decision of a bit of both! Their signature sticky toffee apple cake (people have threatened to kill them for the recipe) with rhubarb and elderflower cream was gone in minutes to a soundtrack of mmmms. I believe it was good!

Amazing ViewsThe place and staff are relaxed, they’re happy to talk to you about the gardens, the food and its provenance as well as make recommendations. You can even buy some of their produce (jams, apple juice, vegetables and plants) to take home with you.

The view from the dining room is impressive and on a day like today it’s the kind of place you just don’t want to leave.

No more excuses. No more holding back. When the mood takes me, I’ll be there in a flash!

Thank you to througheye for the photos.

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32 dishes and 7 weeks later, I’ve reached the end of my challenge!

The season is almost over here in Bristol and my husband, family and friends now groan at the sight or mere mention of wild garlic so it’s time to call it a day.

There are recipes, like wild garlic pasta, a rabbit and cider pie topped with wild garlic pastry and confit salmon with wild garlic puree, that I didn’t get chance to test before the garlic was past its best but I’ll save those for next season!

As we munched our way through handful after handful of the tasty leaves, it didn’t take long to deduce that not only can wild garlic be used in just about any dish (although I drew the line at desserts!) but also that, above all, wild garlic has an affinity with eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, cheese and peas. They were the ingredients which really suited the flavour of the wild garlic and let it shine.

There were several highlights throughout the challenge (wild garlic and cheese twice baked soufflé, mushroom and parmesan stuffed chicken breast wrapped in wild garlic and prosciutto, wild garlic mash, wild garlic and chive scones, beetroot, feta and wild garlic sandwich and wild garlic paneer to name a few) but without doubt the best dish was so embarrassingly simple; scrambled eggs with wild garlic on seeded wholemeal toast.

But what of this week’s challenge?

Wild garlic, pea, courgette and stilton frittata. I couldn’t finish the challenge without making a frittata and as I’d already established that eggs, cheese and peas are the best matches for wild garlic, my frittata had to combine these in some way. This week of the challenge coincided with National Stilton Week so my frittata combined the sharp cheese with the sweetness of peas and courgette and the mellow flavour of the cooked wild garlic.

New potato salad with a wild garlic, parsley and cider vinegar dressing. This potato salad (I used Cornish new potatoes but you could use Jersey Royals which have just come into season, or any other new potato) went well with a salmon burger and green beans. A simple and satisfying tea.

Onion, pea and wild garlic bhajis. There is rarely a week go by that I don’t make a curry for dinner. This week I made some tasty bhajis, incorporating wild garlic, to go with alongside a sag gohst.

Roast turkey with wild garlic and tarragon butter and wild garlic dauphinoise. Spot on for Sunday dinner and a wonderful end to the challenge. I slow roasted a turkey thigh as an alternative to a joint – more than enough to feed two of us – basting it in the wild garlic and tarragon butter. Served with the creamy and mildly garlicky dauphinoise and vegetables.

I’ve got just a couple of dishes to share with you from week six of my wild garlic challenge but I’m looking forward to trying out several new recipes in the week ahead. My mind was working overtime the other day so I’m itching to get in the kitchen!

Wild garlic and chilli meatballs. With my father-in-law staying with us at the moment I bravely took on what I consider to be his signature dish, spaghetti and meatballs. These meatballs, made with just some green chilli, chopped wild garlic, a few breadcrumbs and seasoning, really packed a flavour punch. I was honoured to have him tell me he thought they were better than his own – and I’d drive miles for his meatballs!

Wild garlic mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is such an obvious way to use wild garlic that I wanted to discover other ideas before making it. The time was ripe this week. You could serve it with countless dishes (I’m dreaming of a hot roast chicken sandwich with wild garlic mayo right now!) but we enjoyed it with smoked salmon fishcakes and salad.

What a difference a week makes. As I reached my foraging site earlier this week I was stunned by how much the wild garlic had grown since my last visit. Much of what is there is now so large it’s past its best but there are still fresh young leaves to be found amongst the larger leaves.

I was met with mixed emotions on seeing the flowers starting to open. Joy at their beauty and the thought of how they could be used but sadness because their appearance means my challenge will shortly be drawing to a close.

I had better make the most of the time I have left and get my thinking cap on for ways in which I can preserve the leaves for a little while after the season has ended. In the meantime, this is what I’ve been making this week:

Crispy shredded wild garlic leaves. I deep fried the shredded leaves, crispy seaweed style and used them to sprinkle on top of a Thai style pork mince, vegetable and noodle dish. The crisp texture was perfect to finish this dish and the intense flavour really complimented the spicy, sweet, salty, sour combination.

Wild garlic paneer. Paneer (Indian cheese) is a ridiculously easy way to start making your own cheese. All you need is whole milk and lemon juice. I haven’t yet graduated beyond my own paneer but there’s still time! I flavoured mine with chopped wild garlic leaves before forming and pressing and turned it into an Indian stirfry with coriander and mustard seeds, curry leaves, spinach and coriander. We ate the paneer as part of a thali with ginger and cumin okra, tarka dhal, kachumba and chapattis.

Wild garlic stuffing. I sweated some finely chopped onion in oil, mixed with breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and finely chopped wild garlic leaves and used it to stuff a pork roasting join. A salty crushed fennel seed and black pepper rub for the crackling worked well with both the pork and the stuffing.

Wild garlic crostini. I used the remainder of the wild garlic oil I made to go with the pea soup in week two to drizzle onto thinly sliced bread which I then toasted. I served the crostini with my chorizo and butterbean stew.

We moved house at the weekend so with much of the kitchen packed in boxes and plenty of other priorities, the wild garlic challenge had to take a back seat.

The challenge wasn’t a complete write off though – this week was all about quality not quantity! I highly recommend you give these dishes a try.

Wild garlic carbonara. Spaghetti, bacon, wild garlic, eggs, parmesan and black pepper transform into a quick, simple and satisfying dish. Use good quality smoked bacon or pancetta for this dish.

Wild garlic and cheese twice baked soufflé. OK, so a soufflé can be scary but the beauty of the twice baked version is that if it doesn’t rise as you’d hoped it doesn’t matter. Once it’s cooled, you turn it out of the ramekin, cover it in cheese and bake until golden. It might also seem like a bit much work for a week night meal but the soufflé can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge, or even frozen, before the second baking.

 

A Perfect Day

Weekends are all too often over in a flash, usually crammed with visits to see family and friends, catching up on dull chores, shopping, out for celebratory meals…occasionally, just occasionally, there’s one blissful day when there’s time for a little self-indulgence and kitchen therapy. This was one such day.

It started, as all perfect days should, with a lie in followed by a lazy brunch; perfectly poached eggs, ham, muffins and perfect hollandaise combined to make a dreamy eggs Benedict.

A brisk walk in the wintry sunshine set us up for a hearty Sunday dinner. Perfect roast chicken, roast potatoes and gravy with plenty of veg preceded a perfect rhubarb and apple crumble. The day ended, after stripping off the rest of the meat from the chicken carcass, making the perfect stock ready for a soothing broth in the week ahead.

That week we also dined on perfect omelettes, cottage pie, kedgeree, coq au vin, guacamole and flapjacks.

The simple meals in life, done well, are comforting and hard to beat. A number of the recipes in Felicity Cloake’s Perfect may be simple, every day dishes and perhaps well-established in your culinary repertoire but I’d like to make the case that her book isn’t, as you might think from the dishes I made, just for beginners but also for keen and competent cooks who are willing to look at ways to improve on their results or understand why the way they’ve always been doing it is the right way.

Felicity has trawled through recipe book after recipe book and thoroughly researched each and every dish in her book. She’s tested umpteen different versions of the same dish, pitting many a chef against a host of cookery writers, to discover how different preparation techniques and ingredients affect the end result and, most importantly, where recipes work or fail. From that she determines what makes the perfect dish and provides us with her ultimate recipe.

OK, so perfection is subjective and not all the dishes we tried from the book met completely with my idea of perfect (after all, I’ve spent quite some time aiming for perfection myself with a number of the same dishes) but having said that we thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate, all the recipes were successful and a doddle to follow.

Felicity’s straight-talking style makes this book easy and enjoyable to read. It’s well-written and thoughtful and I very much envy her for being able to spend so much time reading cookery books, delving into the history and origins of food, testing recipes, writing and eating!

If you’re still not sure then check out Felicity’s column in the Guardian where some of the recipes featured in the book and many more can be found. Just for the sheer amount of washing up she must do this lady deserves our support by buying the book!

I’ve struggled this week – not because supplies are running out, far from it, I’ve got wild garlic coming out my ears; not because I’m running short of ideas, they’re still coming thick and fast; but because I sadly haven’t had enough time in the kitchen.

I fear the same may be true next week, the week before we move house and much of the kitchen is in boxes. I will soldier on and do my best to at least make a few wild garlic dishes. A girl has got to eat after all!

This is what we’ve been dining on this week:

Beetroot, feta and wild garlic sandwich. I really like the combination of salty feta and sweet beetroot with a grinding of black pepper, but a couple of wild garlic leaves is what had apparently been missing all this time.

Creamy wild garlic mushrooms on toast. Fried mushrooms, a few shredded wild garlic leaves, black pepper and crème fraiche. Simple. I had mine on toast for lunch but it would work equally well with pasta. Throw some chicken, bacon or ham in too if you want to make it meaty.

Wild garlic parathas with keema. The star of the week. Making parathas, if a little time-consuming, is quite therapeutic and most definitely worth the effort. I mixed shredded wild garlic leaves into the dough and next time would also try infusing the ghee with wild garlic for added flavour.

Wild garlic bread. Like garlic bread only better and slightly addictive! All the garlic flavour but none of the harshness you sometimes get with garlic bread.

Wild garlic guacamole and wild garlic salsa. Fresh accompaniments to our chilli con carne.

Chicken goujons in wild garlic crumbs with wild garlic coleslaw. Finger food for children and adults alike. You couldn’t particularly taste the garlic but it just added a little something very satisfying to the overall flavour of the dish. The wild garlic bread crumbs would work equally well for coating homemade fish fingers.

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