Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Sympathy for the stuffed goose


For another seasonal guest recipe, I turn to the inspirational Philippa Davies, who despite currently living an oh-so-glamorous post-Mudchute existence, found time to put together this wonderfully characterful selection for your cooking, eating, and drinking pleasure. Take it away, Philippa...

"For those who consider food one of the major loves in their life, the festive period is a very exciting time. I, being such a person, hate to admit that my body has reached the age where it can no longer remained unscathed after days on end of banqueting, boozing and revelling, so I have had to start planning a more balanced Christmas. This is not say that I won’t have my fair share of goose fat roast potatoes or mums sherry trifle but I will be having the occasional lighter and digestible meal.

Ignoring the above, however (I did say it was about balance), firstly, I have a fun, festive cocktail to get you going!"

Clementine Margarita Cocktail

enough to make many merry
Tequila chilled in the freezer
200g White Sugar
1 bag clementines
Crushed Ice

Melt the sugar with 200ml water and leave to cool. Juice the Clementines. In a jug, add 2 parts tequila, 2 parts clementine juice, 1 part sugar syrup and stir. Taste to see if the balance is right and adjust accordingly - if you prefer sour add a squeeze of lemon juice or less sugar syrup. Serve in chilled glasses rimmed with salt or sugar and filled with crushed ice.

Baked trout with tahini sauce and greens

Serves two.

for the trout
2 small trout stuffed with parsley stalks, a pinch of ground cumin, lemon wedges, seasoned and drizzled with olive oil.
blanched winter greens like chard, cavolo nero or savoy cabbage.

for the tahini Sauce
1 large tbsp spoon Tahini
100ml Water approx
Juice of ½ Lemon
½ crushed garlic clove
1 tbsp Olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
¼ tsp sweet paprika

In a bowl whisk 2 tablespoons tahini with the lemon juice slowly whisk in the water until you have the consistency of single cream then add the olive oil, parsley and paprika. Season.

To serve, bake the trout and serve warm with the blanched greens and tahini sauce poured all over.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Saved by the Rillettes

One could never be more re-assured than when one has a good stock of potted meat up one's sleeve (or at the bottom of one's fridge, more likely).

If not servicing an ad hoc luncheon, gathered at one end of the kitchen table, or a late-evening fire side snack, a rillette will happily lye in wait for your next unexpected canapé party, drinks reception or amuse bouche. It is sure to satisfy all but the most salad-frenzied of guests.

Beware at this time of year of being without a jar of potted something-or-other at your disposal – you could come a cropper.

Duck rillettes


Duck, pork and rabbit, in my mind are the classics, but there's no reason why you shouldn't try it with boar, mutton, or game. Adjust the cooking times and accompanying spices accordingly.

for a healthy jarful
4 duck legs
lots of coarse see salt
a dozen juniper berries, crushed
coarse ground black pepper
a bunch of thyme
bay leaves
a good quantity of duck fat
a dash brandy
a few more sprigs thyme, leaves picked and very finely chopped
a pinch mace
a pinch allspice
a pinch of finely ground juniper berry
finely ground black pepper
orange zest

First, salt the meat to cure it add flavour. Mix the salt with the juniper berries and coarse ground black pepper and sprinkle a layer on the bottom of a plastic container. Lay the duck legs flesh side down on the salt, and pack the remainder of the salt mix, along with thyme and bay leaves.

The next day, remove the legs from the salt and rub off any excess. Transfer to a roasting dish. Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C. Gently melt some duck fat in a pan, and pour over the duck fat – it needs to virtually cover the legs entirely. Cover with some parchment, and cook in the oven for at least two hours. Four if your schedule allows. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Remove the legs from their fatty encasing, and separate the meat from the bones, skin and fat. In a suitably sized bowl, use two forks to shred the meat into very thin strips. Mix in the thyme, spices, orange zest and brandy, forking through a little of the fat for good measure as you go. Check the seasoning – it's unlikely to need more salt, but more spice may be required. Pack into a seal-top jar, and cover with a layer of duck fat – the mix will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, or longer in a sterilised jar.

When the time comes, break open a baguette, of the crunchy, thick-crusted variety, upon a bottle of something bold and red, and tuck in.

A most spectacular pie for Boxing Day (or the day after)

If I were to put my neck on the line, I would not be at pains to say that all pies are good pies. There are decorative pies, celebratory pies, pies of time and place and pies of national treasure. Even those curious specimens that come tucked away in a tin have their merits.

There are pies that float and pies that land with a thud. There are uplifting pies, and more commonly, steadying pies. On occasion, you will chance upon a pie that manages to achieve both... If and when this is the case, be sure to return for seconds!

There are pies of the everyday – humble pies, as the rhetoric goes – and there are decadent pies. Spectacular pies. Pies of distinction. Here is an example of such a pie:

Chicken, foie gras, wild mushroom and Dauphinoise pie


An extremely indulgent pie... Enjoy with irregularity; proof that one can have too much of a good thing.

serves eight
a whole chicken
stock veg for poaching – onion, celery, leak, carrot
a bundle of aromatics – thyme, bay, parsley, peppercorns
olive oil
goose fat
4 shallots, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic
a few sprigs thyme, leaves picked and chopped
a few handfuls wild mushrooms
100g butter or more goose fat if you like
100g flour
100ml milk (or milk used to poach foie gras lobes for a terrine)
100ml chicken stock
a glass Madeira, Sauternes, or white wine
a grating of nutmeg
raw foie gras (e.g. the offcuts from making a terrine)
salt and pepper
left over foie gras terrine, cut into chunks, or poached foie gras lobes
left over roast goose, in pieces (optional)
left over ham, in chunks (optional)
left over gratin dauphinoise
puff pastry, rolled out to a 3mm thickness,
1 egg, lightly beaten

First, poach the chicken – bring to a simmer with the veg and aromatics, and poach for 1 hour. Try not to let the water come to the boil, as the flesh will stay more tender. Leave to cool, remove the flesh from the bones, drain the stock, discard the herbs and veg, and reduce the stock by two thirds so you have a thick, syrupy liquor. It will be good enough to eat. But resist the temptation – it has a grander fate awaiting.

Sauté the shallots in oil for a few minutes until softened. Add the thyme and garlic, and cook for a little longer. Add the mushrooms and sauté until softened. Do this in batches if necessary, so the mushrooms fry, not steam. When cooked, set aside.

Make a roux with the butter, or goose fat, and flour, and gradually add the stock and milk alternately, stirring all the time, to create a bechamel. Finally add the Madeira or Sauternes. Add the nutmeg and season. Add the mushrooms and raw foie gras and stir to combine.

Find a suitably decorative pie dish, worthy of such a creation as this. A disposable foil tin will not do. Place a layer of dauphinoise at the bottom, a few centimetres thick – it should half fill the pie dish. Place the chicken pieces (and ham and goose if using) on top of the dauphinoise, then liberally tuck in pieces of cooked foie gras or foie gras terrine. Now is the time to put shyness and cholesterol aside. Pour the mushroom and foie gras bechamel on top, so it covers all of the meat below. It already looks fabulous, doesn't it? Lay the pastry over the top of your pie, and decorate with hatched ribbons of more pastry, and poultry pastry shapes, if you're of an artistic disposition. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Brush all over with egg wash, and bake in the oven, loosely covered with foil for 40 minutes, removing the foil for the final 10. Remove from the oven and present to your dining companions to allow for collective pre-feast marvelling. Rejoice. Enjoy.

L'excursion de Noël en Normandie

Christmas in Calvados Country...

Beetroot and orange-cured salmon.

Poached pears with creme-fraiche hotcakes and syrup.

Pear and almond tart...

Amongst many, many other things!

Christmas at the Rowland residence


A fabulous example of the recent autumn chutney being put to good use here... With no less than six types of cheese to accompany, as well as a selection of charcuterie, and even a perfectly decorated snowy-white cake in the background, this photo shows that Christmas snacking is something taken very seriously in the North East. Thanks very much for the picture, Patch!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A little festive supper...

Brunswick House Cafe friends and family preview - 21st December 2010


As some of you may already know, I've recently embarked on a new project in collaboration with the very admirable Jackson Boxer - formerly of Great Queen Street, and other such fine eating establishments, where I shall be taking charge of the food at the already excellent Brunswick House Cafe in Vauxhall.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Brunswick House, it really is a gem of a place; nestled in a crumbling Georgian town house, sharing space with antiques emporium Lassco, and decked out in all manner of reclaimed curiosities... It's difficult to do it justice here, so I suggest you come and see for yourselves.

With that in mind, I'm inviting friends, family, and readers of this blog to a special preview of my new menu, which will take place at the Cafe on 21st December 2010. Apologies for the short notice!

I'm not entirely sure what I'll be cooking yet, but the menu I put together last week including dishes like Wild rabbit, anchovy and wet polenta; Smoked mackerel, celeriac and prunes; Beetroot and Quenby Hall gratin; and the surprise star, Jerusalem artichokes, duck egg and parsley.

Since it's Christmas, I'm going to do all the food at cost price - there will be a set tasting menu, with a recommended donation of £6 per head. There will be a selection of cocktails available too, masterminded by Frank Boxer, of Frank's - the critically acclaimed rooftop bar / art installation space in Peckham.

Feel free to pass this invite on to partners, friends and relatives - it would be great to have you along.

Please RSVP with numbers to nbalfe@gmail.com

A Little Festive Supper

Brunswick House Cafe
30 Wandsworth Road
Vauxhall SW8 2LG

Tuesday 21st December, 2010. Drinks from 7pm, food from 7.30pm.
£6 donation per head

Monday, 13 December 2010

"Cocoa for your frosty button nose"


My first guest recipe, and second guest appearance, from my dear friend Haley, all the way from the frozen hinterlands of Arctic Canada. In her words, "Sweet Lord, the best hot chocolate in the world."

for one mugful
two tbsp cocoa powder
a quarter cup of eggnog
three quarters cup of hot water

"Add the cocoa powder to the eggnog. Be sure to whip up the cocoa in the eggnog real good before adding the hot water. That's it... So good!"

Haley, I look forward to sharing your lamb dish with the world very soon.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Lads wot lunch


Sixteen plates of Venetian snacks (including the chocolate salami and ricotta crumble to finish) and a few glasses of Prosecco... Good way to while away a few hours on a Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Apple and kalonji onion seed chutney


Following the success of my Autumn Blend Super Muesli, here's the second of my seasonal offerings for you, this time in the form of a tangy, eastern-spiced chutney, guaranteed to make your cheese sandwiches ring with excitement.

The apples are from my Grandma's garden in Devon, and the chillies, kalonji black onion seeds, and other spices are from the fabulous Helen's Health Foods shop, near my Mum's house in Weymouth. I made it about a month ago on a trip to the West Country, and now it's had plenty of time for the flavours to meld and mature. I have to say, it tastes pretty good.

As with the muesli, I'm selling the chutney exclusively to readers of For Those That Love To Eat at a special price of £3.00 per jar.

It's another very limited run, so if you fancy turning your next Ploughman's into something rather special, get in touch quick:

nbalfe@gmail.com

Look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Bitter sweet symphony


One could rarely complain about eating a brownie. A mixture of chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar, it would be pretty difficult to go wrong. I've munched on a few of late, and have never been disappointed, but find them most satisfying when the rich, gooey indulgence of it all is balanced by bitter notes from proper dark chocolate.

I've been meaning to try out this recipe for St John's Brownies at home for a while now... I've made it, and the Rochelle Canteen variation a few times in catering volumes, but wanted to give it a road test in domestic conditions.

After having knocked a batch up yesterday evening, I left a tray full in the fridge to cool over night. Judging by the fact that half of it had been schnaffled by my housemate by the time I returned, I think it's fair to say the recipe was a success.

Dark chocolate brownies


Makes a 20 x 30cm tray full
200g dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa)
200g unsalted butter
3 eggs
250g sugar
50g flour
50g cocoa
100g hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C, and grease and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave. Leave to cool slightly.

Mix the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl, using either an electric whisk, or a lot of elbow grease, until pale, smooth and doubled in volume. Fold in the chocolate / butter mixture. Sift in the flour and cocoa, add the hazelnuts, and pour into the baking tray.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or so. The brownie is done when the mix no longer wobbles in the centre when the tin is gently shaken. You want a papery skin on the top, and a slight stickiness in the centre.

Leave to cool for ten minutes in the tin before turning out onto a board. The brownie will be easier to slice when it's cooled completely, but it depends if you can wait that long.

Note: You can also omit the cocoa for a slightly less bitter brownie.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Autumn Blend Super Muesli - available now (finally!)


After much tweaking and tasting, the first of my limited edition range of muesli’s is now available for all those of you out there who love to eat! This one, the Autumn Blend, is inspired by the fruits and flavours of the season, with a fulfilling combination of apple, cinnamon, red raisin, and bramble, plus lots of toasty oats, nuts and seeds.

As with everything I make, taste certainly comes first, however, you might like to know that my Autumn Blend Super Muesli contains absolutely no added sugar, salt or fat, it’s wheat free, high in fibre, and chock full of vitamins and essential omega oils. The perfect breakfast for those that love to eat.

Order yourself a bag or two by email: nbalfe@gmail.com

400g = £2.50
800g = £4.50

I will either post your order out to you (postage and packaging cost tbc - I’m not quite that organised) or hand it over in person if our paths are likely to cross anytime soon.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Life in the Country


Autumn had barely begun to wrap itself around the land the last time I decamped from city life in favour of a green spell in Dorset. The pastures shone rich and full of life, the trees still proudly bore their leaves, and the hedgerows showed only the beginnings of their bejewelling in shades of crimson and magenta. Veg patches, allotments and orchards were replete with the spoils of summer growth. Mackerel, pollock and bream, seeking shelter in the milder coastal waters, were in abundance. Spring lamb were now fully grown, and ready for slaughter. There could not have been a better time to experience life at Park Farm, a place better known to most as the River Cottage.


Whilst the television show paints a fairly accurate picture of what goes on at the River Cottage, it's hard not to wonder if the lifestyle and activities that are portrayed are actually constructed purely for entertainment and viewer ratings. The cynics amongst us must surely question Hugh's picture-perfect rural existence, which complete with Barbour jackets, Land Rovers, and an Aga, is just as well accessorised as Jamie Oliver's urban-utopia ever was in the Naked Chef series.

But there's no expertly-crafted aspirational lifestyle reconstruction here. The River Cottage HQ isn't a 2-D set made out of plywood in a studio in West London. Nor was it dreamt up in a brainstorm by a bunch of Execs, peering over a flip chart in a meeting room. It really is a working farm, where traditional varieties of fruits and vegetables, and rare-breed animals are tended to and looked after by people who care about what they're doing, whether there's a TV series being filmed or not.

The River Cottage is many things. It's a mass market entertainment product, on a mainstream TV channel in a prime time slot. It's a promotional vehicle for a lucrative publishing enterprise. It's an ever-expanding product range. It is, without doubt, a fully functioning brand, with a growing portfolio of assets. But it's also a hub for the local community, a social enterprise, and a valiant attempt at experimenting with new ways of getting by. At the heart of it all, there's much more than a balance sheet and a shareholder meeting. There's a group of passionate individuals who not only believe the patter that they're peddling, they live and breath it. And that's what really defines the River Cottage; the collective desire to experience and share a way of life.

It doesn't take long to get an idea of what this life at Park Farm entails. Undoubtedly, seasonality, sustainability and environmental responsibility are key values, but more importantly, there's a sense of openness; that all are welcome to chip in and get involved – staff and punters alike. Attending a dinner or course there, as I was lucky enough to do on one of my days off, is more like hanging out with old friends than it is a formal dining or learning experience. You have a laugh and enjoy yourself, primarily because you see that's exactly what the staff are doing too.


On occasion, a sense of (only just) organised chaos slips into place at Park Farm, whether it be in the timings of day courses being treated with industrial standard elasticity, or the sous chef running platters of half-cooked food from the main kitchen in the barn, to the private dining room in the farmhouse opposite in the middle of a dinner for 85, or the cows happily grazing in the sheep's field, with the sheep looking on with what can only be described as vacant jealousy. Despite the sense that any concrete rules have been put aside in favour of loose guidelines, in it's own way, everything always seems to play out to perfection.


In amongst butchering hoggets from the farm, to preparing razor clams and seaweed that had been foraged from the Dorset coastline, to thinking up new recipes on the spot for the slew of freshly-picked fruit and veg that the gardeners would offload to the kitchen on a daily basis, there was always a sense that experimentation is universally encouraged at the River Cottage. Indeed, it wouldn't exist at all if Hugh hadn't gambled on ditching his city life in favour of a radically different existence in the country.

In my short spell working there, I often felt refreshed by how little the River Cottage seemed to be bound by the usual conventions of business. After all, the River Cottage as a business would not exist if it had not evolved out of a lifestyle decision; a desire to try something different. Intrinsically, the lines have been blurred between home, farm, restaurant, TV show, brand, and lifestyle. In one way or another it's all of those things, it just depends on how you choose to experience it.

On my final day working at Park Farm, a trailer full of beef arrived at the kitchen doorway. It was one of Hugh's Devon Blonde cows, fresh from the abattoir. I don't think I've ever seen so much meat in one place in my life. Most of it was to be used for dinners and events at Park Farm, aside from the sirloins, which Hugh had baggsied for his own personal kitchen, but not before we'd had a taste, however. Head Chef Gill sliced off a couple of the biggest steaks I'd ever layed eyes upon. This was to be my Thanks and Farewell staff dinner.


Once the beef had been dealt with, and we'd skewered a suckling pig, ready for spit roast the following day, we downed tools and tucked into our steaks, which Sous Chef Neil had expertly cooked - just the way I had asked for it – halfway between rare and medium rare. As we discussed the weeks that had just passed, I couldn't help but be impressed by what has been created here at an old farm in a valley, on the Dorset-Devon border. The River Cottage shows just how good life can be when someone follows their dream... It's enough to spur me on to follow mine.


Some more of the pictures I took during my stage at the River Cottage can be found here.

Rossi's Ices


Mum and I aren't the only fans of Rossi's Ices on Weymouth seafront. The first thing that owner Fulvio Fugliolini told me, before he was willing to discuss the ice cream, was that Rossi's has thousands of fans on Facebook. I found 56, but still, who's counting?


With another sunny day at the seaside, Rossi's service window remains open for another day... The look in Fulvio's eye, however, suggests he'll soon be packing up his ice-cream maker for winter.


Three of a possible five flavours today. Don't ask how they're made, as I made the mistake of doing. Don't ask for vanilla - it's Natural, ok? And definitely, whatever you do, don't ask for Mr Whippy!


Still, completely deserved of the title of "Weymouth's favourite". Long may their summer 2010 opening continue.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Judgement Sunday


Cooking the perfect roast was never going to be easy... Especially not for 90! After lugging two huge ovens upstairs, spending (literally) days peeling spuds, chopping veg, and boiling stock pots, it was great to see so many happy faces on Sunday.

Chris, Mark and I are probably our own toughest critics, and whilst we might not have reached absolute perfection, I reckon we didn't do too badly at all. Thanks to everyone who came along - hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Ham hock terrine, Chris' mum's chutney, pickled golden beets, London's finest sour dough.

Rare-roast ribeye with the works: Yorkshire pudding, duck fat and polenta roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, and proper gravy, plus smashed root veg and sauted curly kale, rainbow chard and broccoli on the side.

Dark chocolate pot with my foraged crab apple, rosehip and hawthorn jelly, chantilly cream, and almond 'triscotti'.

Chris' sticky toffee pudding, with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream... As described by one very satisfied customer as "orgasmic".

We're looking forward to the next one already!

(Thanks to Meesh for the photos)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Roasting!


Let's face it, a good roast can be pretty hard to find in London these days... So along with two old mates, we're putting on our own... For a full explanation, I'll hand you over to my co-chef (or perhaps that should be Head Chef) for the day, Chris Elliman:

"Hi, I'm Chris and I’m a chef from Yorkshire, where we take our roasts very seriously... I was talking with a couple of friends the other day (Mark Holland, a former colleague - five years of cooking Michellin starred food, Nick Balfe - of this very blog), and we were discussing the perfect roast and how they’re hard to find. Succulent, juicy, flavoursome meat, crisp yet light Yorkshire Puddings, golden, crunchy, fluffy roasties, rich, viscous gravy to coat the interesting, fresh, seasonal vegetables...


I used to work in a bustling little thatched roof pub, deep in the Yorkshire Dales. One of my regulars was a farmer who supplied all my Sunday veg in exchange for a roast for him, his wife and his grandkids. They’d always have the same table by the window and at the end of every Sunday service I’d get a big hug from Barbara, and Bob would shake my hand and say, “Chris-lad, she’s a bloody good cook and that was like Sunday lunch at home - but she let me drink more - see you next week!”. I loved cooking for Bob and Barbara.


So we found a nice little pub in the heart of Hoxton and told them our idea; We’ll buy the finest ingredients we can find in London (Smithfield for meat, local markets for my fresh vegetables), cook a perfect meal (risky, I know...), leave out the fancy chef’s presentation tricks to keep costs down (micro herbs anyone?) and hopefully make a few quid for a couple well earned beers. The succinct menu keeps the cost to you down too.


They said “great”, I enlisted a few friends, and here we are. We’ll provide the Bloody Mary's (for a fee of course!) and the papers, you come and join us, enjoy the day, and more importantly, enjoy the best value and quality roast dinner in North London you’ll ever have."


Due to flatteringly high demand, bookings for The Perfect Roast are now closed. Details of our next event will be released soon.

See you Sunday!