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Posts Tagged ‘Great British food’

Vegetarians look away now!

There’s more to meat than a Sunday roasting joint, chop or pack of mince and if you’re going to eat meat I strongly believe you should know where it comes from. I don’t mean the butcher, market or supermarket but the provenance; how it has been brought into the world as an animal, cared for, slaughtered, hung, butchered and sold to us.

The Ginger Pig Meat Book, a collaboration by Tim Wilson, the farmer behind the Ginger Pig chain of butchers, and Fran Warde, cook and food writer, is more than just a cookery book. It tells the whole story, from terre to table, of the pig, the cow, the sheep, birds and game animals.

It’s an easy to read and skilfully produced reference book on the characteristics of different breeds, what is good and bad husbandry, humane methods of slaughter, good butchery as well as what quality meat should look like, how to pick the right cut for a dish and how to store, prepare, cook, rest and carve it.

Not only does it serve as encouragement to us all to choose our meat well,  but also to the growing number of farmers working to bring back traditional British breeds of animals, so-called rare breeds, pushed to the verge of extinction as a result of intensive farming.

The recipe section, complete with a collection of 100 recipes showing off head to toe cuts from all the great British animals featured in the reference section, are organised around a year in the life diary of a busy and bountiful Yorkshire farm.

The seasonal recipes cover family favourites (meatballs, burgers, casseroles), British classics (hot pots, pies and roasts), quick evening meals (I can vouch for the smoked bacon and cheddar tortilla, roast duck legs with lentils and fragrant lamb kebabs), dishes for entertaining (Navarin of lamb, roast Michaelmas goose) meals from around the world (Bogota bavette, goulash and lamb pilaf) as well as recipes for the more daring; curing your own ham for instance. There’s even a recipe for the Ginger Pig sausage roll which, according to Valentine Warner, is the finest sausage roll known to man.

In essence the recipes are for good, honest food, the key to which is quality meat.

The book has a charming rustic look and the beautiful photographs of happy animals in their natural habitat as well as the wonderful dishes they serve to create are plentiful. A real treasure and a fabulous book for any animal and meat lover.

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We’ve been to the Victoria Park many, many times since it opened in September; for a quiet drink, a lazy weekend breakfast, Sunday lunch and evening meals, so it is high time I wrote about this local (to us) treasure.

Until just a few years ago we didn’t have a really good local pub around Victoria Park. Yes, we had the Shakespeare, pleasant enough but a little rough around the edges, and a little further afield, the Windmill, but nothing on our doorstep. There was a time even that we’d cross the road so as not to have to walk past the front door of the Cumberland and the Raymend Hotel wasn’t exactly inviting. The area was crying out for a decent local pub and if it is was going to serve good, home-made, locally sourced food then all the better.

This arrived in the form of the Star and Dove. It had its teething problems since the owner was a chef, not a publican or business man and this showed, but the food was great and the atmosphere welcoming. We could finally pop round the corner for a pint and a bite to eat and know we’d get some good food at a fair price.

The pub changed hands, the ethos remained for a while but the teething problems never went away. We became disillusioned with the place and again started wishing for something better to come along. Maybe our fairy godmother waved her magic wand or perhaps the stars were aligned in our favour, or luck would just have it, I don’t know, but early last summer the now closed Raymend was showing signs of life.

The builders were in, posters appeared in the windows advertising for a chef. It was all looking positive. Several weeks and walks past later, I was caught with my nose up against the window trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside! The father of one of the new owners was helping out with the renovations and was only too pleased to tell me all. A group of friends, local lads, had seen the premises on the market and knowing the area was in need of a good pub decided to embark on a new venture.

Hopeful opening dates came and went as the extent of the work needed on the old, neglected building became clear but the door finally flung open to customers last September. We haven’t looked back. The pub has everything we had wanted and more.

The staff are friendly and go out of their way to accommodate your every request, so much so they were more than happy, though slightly bemused, to serve me deep-fried smoked paprika squid for dessert (well, I’m not a pudding person, am I?!).

The food, from a monthly changing menu, is cooked by head chef, Steve Gale, formerly of Harvey Nicks 2nd Floor restaurant. This is his first job as a head chef and he couldn’t be doing better. The food is seasonal, it’s local where possible, it’s value for money. It’s a well thought out combination of pub food staples, revived classic British dishes and influences from the chef’s travels around the world. The range of influences could spell disaster but the kitchen always produces a melting pot of great dishes.

The beer garden is massive, a lovely green space amongst the Victorian houses with an uninterrupted view across to Dundry. Glorious on a sunny day and soon to be enhanced with an outdoor kitchen.

Get in early for Sunday lunch to avoid disappointment and stay late into the afternoon to relax with the papers. There’s a book group meeting monthly, a Stitch and Bitch group, a mum’s and toddlers group and a quiz night. Open for coffee and cake in the mornings, sandwiches at lunch and a full menu in the evening. Three real ales on tap, local ciders, an interesting range of soft drinks and a good wine list.

Living south of the river has never been better. The Victoria Park is one more in an ever-expanding list of excellent local businesses to support.  I love it and want to shout about it…though not too loudly…I’d hate for us to have waited so long for somewhere like this to arrive and for the word to so spread quickly that we don’t get chance to really savour it!

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Mark Hix, British Seasonal Food. I couldn’t have received this book at a better time. Just as I was really starting to think that winter was never going to end and February’s lull of fresh and exciting home-grown vegetables would zap me of all remaining inspiration, I could at last look ahead to March with a gentle reminder of the joys to come with the start of spring. 

I felt the excitement bubbling inside of me knowing that soon purple sprouting broccoli would give rise to spring lamb, which would lead on to asparagus, broad beans, peas and then a plentiful bounty of summer produce, before we could harvest soft fruits and tuck into autumn colours and flavours. I almost felt ready to be able to look forward to next winter too, only this year armed with a month by month handbook to keep me sane. 

Hix shows us that with a dose of creativity, a bit of forethought, not too much planning, a hunt around the hedgerows or seashores and a good source of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables you can really make the most of the great British seasons. Some may see it as a romantic ideal but why not look on it as a challenge? If we open our minds, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve at least some of the food lifestyle changes he suggests. 

British Seasonal Food is about going back to our roots. It holds an abundance of useful information about ingredients, tips on working and shopping with the seasons, not to mention heaps of encouragement. Hix’s passion for British produce is addictive and really shines through in the recipes. Classics, such as faggots, are brought up-to-date, quick and simple meals like cabbage and bacon soup, are combined with the more elaborate, there are inventive demonstrations of under-used cuts of meat and fish (fish collar curry or cod’s tongues perhaps?) and every dish shows off produce at its best. All this will ensure I pull his book off the shelf at least once a month ahead of any other!

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As we prepare to head off to stay with my parents and meet a new generation of the Lisle family, I can’t help but ponder over the food which shaped me and my life as I was growing up. My food habits have changed substantially over the years; my knowledge and tastes  have expanded (who could imagine a time when I’d turn my nose up at garlic?!), the number of ingredients available have increased and the sources of inspiration have unfolded, but there are times when I still look back to my ‘food heritage’ and hanker after the simple food from my childhood.

The trip home is at short notice and, unusually, I haven’t put in any special requests for mum’s this or mum’s that, so I sit now and wonder about what she will have prepared for when we arrive late this evening.

My bets are on chilli con carne with jacket potatoes! Mum’s chilli was a regular when we were growing up and is one of the first things I learned to cook. When we were old enough to be alone in the kitchen, my brother and I cooked alternate Saturdays – Jeremy took on the Bolognese and I took on the chilli.

Both are, as they are in many British households, still staple meals for us. Whilst my recipes have been tweaked, honed and influenced by many a chef’s cook book over the year’s and now bear little resemblance to mum’s, on occasion there’s just no beating the originals for the memories they conjure.

Another meal I can almost guarantee to be served is a roast dinner. Mum’s sure to do some pork for me, with crackling of course, and for my brother there’ll be Yorkshire puddings and/or an apple pie (I know it’ll be pie not crumble because we had crumble at Christmas!). Sunday dinner was religiously served by two o’clock and the leftover cold meat with chips followed for Monday night’s tea.

My brother and I still fight over the crinkle cut chips mum fries in the chip pan which must be older than me. I’d attempt to eat as fast I could to get in for seconds before my brother could dive in to take, what I believed to be, the lion’s share but rarely made it. There’s something about those golden fries which brings out the worst in us!

I pray that, in whatever food is lovingly provided, there’s no celery soup – I can see the frightful soup in re-used Stork pots sitting in the chest freezer even now. And thank goodness we’re far short of February half term, when after playing in the garden in the snow or on our bikes in the street, we’d come in for Heinz oxtail or cream of tomato soup for lunch. The thought of tinned oxtail soup turns my stomach now but I’d happily tuck into some Ottolenghi oxtail stew instead!

I hope that my new nephew, Archie, will receive platefuls of love and that between us we can give him as rich a culinary heritage as my brother and I received as we were growing up. Welcome to an amazing world of food, Archie!

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It was my brother’s turn to host Christmas this year and with his first baby due at any moment it could have been an interesting one. As it happened the bump was quite content to stay tucked up and pig out with us so we managed to finish Christmas dinner without a trip to the maternity ward!

My family aren’t turkey fans so it’s quite normal to see a duck, goose or a ham on our festive table. My brother had decided he’d like to do something even more unusual this year and thought a Spanish-themed meal would do the trick. With a helping hand from a glass or two of Prosecco and his little sis, and the loan of mum and dad’s kitchen and dining room he pulled off a brilliant Christmas dinner.

Unfortunately we were all too eager to tuck in to dinner that we completely forgot to take any photos so you’ll have to take my word for it that it all looked, as well as tasted, amazing.

We started with raciones of albondigas (meatballs in tomato sauce), gambas al ajillo or gambas al pil pil as they’re sometimes known (prawns with garlic and chilli), pinchitos morunos (pork kebabs) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes in spicy tomato sauce).

My brother was hoping to have done too much so he could savour the leftovers on Boxing Day but more fool him for not having hidden any away before serving. All bowls and plates were well and truly wiped (though not quite licked) clean!

Now, I said my brother had a helping hand from his little sis. That comprised of shopping for and cooking the main course! To continue his Spanish theme I opted for slow roasted belly pork with a smoked paprika rub, roasted smoked garlic, and chorizo and black pudding stuffing.

Not wanting to stray too far from the traditional, I served the pork with roast potatoes (roasted in goose fat of course!), roasted carrots and parsnips with thyme and garlic and shredded spouts with bacon, garlic and rosemary. 

I handed the stove back to my brother for his trio of desserts! Christmas pudding for dad (the only one who’ll eat it!), and for the rest of us a choice of Christmas spiced apple crumble or an old family favourite,  chocolate puddle pudding. I have no problem taking credit for bringing the English classic back in line with the Spanish theme with the addition of cinnamon in the chocolate sauce!

Stuffed!

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We spent the weekend with friends who had rented a cottage for a week near Radstock. We arrived famished on Friday evening in the pitch black and pouring rain after having lost our bearings twisting and turning our way through the narrow lanes. We’d have to wait until morning to see the idyllic surroundings in which we found ourselves, and so with the promise of a glass of red and food warming in the oven, we quickly unpacked the car.

Our friends had spent the day visiting local farm shops and had picked up tonight’s dinner along the way. We tucked in to hand-made Scotch eggs, giant herby pork sausage rolls, deep-filled and chunky chicken and bacon pie, fresh baked bread and salad from White Row Country Foods in Beckington. If ever there’s a need to defend Great British produce and cooking, farm shops like White Row come to the rescue. This one is definitely worth a day trip for the sausage rolls alone!

On Saturday we awoke to see a stream running past the front of the house, goats and sheep grazing in the back garden and a view across luscious green fields. We set ourselves up for a walk to the public house in the village (not much effort involved with it only being a five minute walk!) with brunch of American pancakes with maple syrup. With local ales and ciders on tap we could have stayed all afternoon but returned instead to our temporary homestead to watch the rugby joined by two more friends (Wales v Australia and Wales lost, in case you’re interested!). After the torments of the match we refueled with that Great British classic cottage pie.

Before heading our separate ways today we stopped in the next village, Lower Vobster, for lunch at the Vobster Inn. This 16th century inn for travellers has a menu which shows off the best of British produce – cheese, seafood and game were highlights on today’s specials board.

 

We had starters of crab soup, creamy with a deep, rich flavour from both the white and brown crab meat; terrine of wild mallard, beautiful layers of duck and duck liver bound in a fresh herb jelly and served with a home-made brioche; and scallops, seared to perfection, served with white and black pudding and bubble and squeak.

For main course we had roast pheasant breast with pheasant boudin wrapped in proscuitto, saute potatoes and spinach; home-made beef burger with chunky chips and tomato salsa; and slow roast lamb with potatoes and vegetables.

We finished with a trio of fruit sorbet, warm chocolate brownie with ice cream and sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce and ice cream.

                                    

This isn’t a modern gastropub, it’s a good old-fashioned pub which champions great British produce, simply but very well cooked. All jaunts in the countryside should end at a pub like this!

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