Since I'm now part cow, from the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (or Ian Fleming, a contentious one is this) comes my new motto for life:
You only live twice;
Once when you are born,
And once when you look death in the face
17th December 2016
For reasons that will soon be apparent I've been thinking about what cows give us. Meat. For us confirmed carnivors it's probably the king of meats with dozens of cuts for different cooking techniques. Milk which also gives us cheese and yogurt. Their hides give leather. Gelatine for baking. Tallow for soaps. Even part of the five pound note. The list goes on.
I think so much of the cow that I've quite taken it to my heart. Literally.
After feeling like absolute crap for more than a year, it was discovered that my aortic valve was defective. I was 12 weeks from not being here.Thanks to the investigations by the excellent cardiac team at Milton Keynes hospital and the marvelous surgeons at The John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford this has now been replaced by a cow's valve. So this magnificent animal will always be with me.....
I'll never look at a steak the same again.
22nd December 2015
I've always professed to not being that fond of turkey, so have gone through the gamut of alternatives. Goose is my favourite but since you struggle to feed 6 people form a large and rather expensive bird, it is not viable for larger groups. I've also done confit goose legs in the past which can feed more but does need a large pot and loads of goose fat. Franklin's 3 bird roasts are also very good although not an inexpensive meal.
But when doing a Thanksgiving dinner in late November it has to be turkey. This year I got one from Pastures Farm near Olney. And what a revelation it was. Probably the best turkey I've eaten. The meat was firm, dense and moist, not the usual dry flaky meat I was used to. Much recommended, and maybe my bird for next year.
This year, though, I'm repeating last years offering and cooking cockerel. Once again supplied by Patures Farm, these slowly reared birds have a stonger flavour, somewhere between a chicken and guinea fowl.
The meal is also special for me since we will be joined at the table by my first grandchild, James Peter, who arrived in July this year. My son's partner and her parents will also be there. I'm looking forward to this meal.
As is always my tradition at Christmas I'm keeping the meal simple. I don't understand people who probably only cook one meal for a larger group each year and then make it complicated. My menu for anyone who's interested is:
salmon mousse wrapped in cucumber, caper berries, rocket salad, sourdough toast
citrus stuffed roast cockerel, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts with tomato and basil, carrot and parsnip mash,
chocolate chestnut torte, sweet potato pie, rum raisin ice cream
stilton, brie, yarg, biscuits
Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho!
7th October 2015
The following is taken from the MK Food Revolution site - sounds like a project worthy of your support
Based on the Detroit Soup model, MK Soup is a meeting place for people who would like to make the world a better place- whether through food, community action, sustainability or another idea. On the night of MK Soup you buy a £5 ticket for a bowl of soup and in return, you get to listen to four people pitch their community ideas. At the end of the night, the crowd votes for its favourite idea and the winner takes the profit of the night. Two months later, the group then hears back about what has been achieved with the money.
However, the Soup project is much more than just a crowdfunder for social projects. It offers you the opportunity to meet other people who would like to make a difference, raises money in a very organic way and emphasis what brings us all together: Good food! Recently the BBC has written a great article about Sheffield Soup and we are determined to make MK Soup as much of a success. We are currently looking for people who would like to raise money for their projects so make sure to register!
The first MK Soup is currently being planned for the first week of November. If you are interested in attending please sign up to our newsletter and we will keep you updated! If you are a project manager, submit your project above and we will let you know by the 26th October whether you have been selected to speak on the evening. You get 10 minutes for your pitch and can hand our flyers on the night, too. We can only ever select four projects so if we are not able to include you for our November event, we might be able to fit you in in the future! If you have any questions just get in touch.
2nd February 2015
So why are some restaurants so inconsistent? This thought came to mind yesterday when I visited The Swan Inn in Milton Keynes village. A place I've been frequenting for over 30 years and sometimes my favourite eatery in MK.
It wasn't yesterday.
Blighted by their frequent turnover of chef's, I think.
We arrived at 5:30 to be told by the waitress that they had run out of many menu items. This 2 1/2 hours before the kitchen was due to close. We decided to stay anyway. On reflection this was perhaps a mistake!
My wife ordered the chicken, leek and pea pie.
Pies at The Swan have recently been very good since they started making real pies. That is, filling fully encased in short crust pastry. A bit more work, I'm sure, but the results had made that worthwhile.
Unfortunately they have now reverted to lazy man's pie. Filling in a dish and topped with a crust of pastry.
This pie was also notable for the complete absence of chicken, leek or peas!
After much discussion between the waitress and the kitchen staff they decided that perhaps the pie had been mislabeled and was in fact a vegetarian pie. If I was a vegetarian, which thankfully I'm not, I would have been somewhat disappointed with this sorry offering. A photo is below. I've also shown a photo of the burnt Brussels sprouts.
If I'd served this meal to guests at home I'd be embarassed. As a commercial offering, The Swan shoud be ashamed of themselves.
What a pity!
chicken, leek & pea pie?
this is why your kids won't eat sprouts.....
11th January 2015
How may times have you been asked that? "Yes, it was fine" is the stock, unoffensive British reply. Well, it's not mine. If I'm not happy with the quality of the food I let them know. The result of years of living in New York, I suppose. This was the case yesterday when I revisited The Bell and Bear in Emberton. The beef dish I had just had, a de-constructed take on a Boeuf Bourguignon, was poor. It didn't come close to working. But when I gave this as my response to the stock question, the waitress just shuffled uncomfortably, said nothing and walked away. I received the same response two minutes later when the second waitress asked the same question. So why ask if you're not prepared for a straight answer?
My second visit to The Bell and Bear was certainly not the success of my first. Apart from the misfiring dish, the service was very poor. To the extent that my friends who had suggested we dine there, based largely on my strong previous recommendation, refused to leave a tip.
I think I need a third visit to decide which is the real Bell and Bear.
1st January 2015
New Years Eve. Most years I just go across the street to the house of one of my drinking buddies. And drink!
This year, though, we decided on a slighly more sophisticated event. Dinner and drink. Revolutionary. But rather than have the effort fall on just one of us we decided to spread the cooking between three of us. One course each. And served in each of three houses. Not a term I'd heard of previously, but this is apparently less than revolutionary and called a Safari Supper. Its been around for years. I'm very much in the trend follower category on this one. Fortunately we all live within Champagne cork popping distance of each other. So not far to stagger between courses.
My house first. This was very much a last minute decision so simple was the watch word. Well, it was certainly mine. After a glass or two of Mumms, we sat down to my smoked salmon mousse wrapped in cucumber with a peppery salad, toast and caper berries. Washed down with Gavi.
Onwards, walking all the way across the street to J & S's.
Here we had pork loin steaks baked with wild mushrooms and creme fraiche, green beans with shallots and herbed potatoes and parsnips. And a few bottles of Rioja. A perfect NYE supper dish. I must have been getting a little full by the end since I didn't finish off the extra pork loin steak on offer. I should have asked for a doggy bag.
So once more into the breach, walking two houses down to P & R's.
Dessert. A choice of two. Tiramisu and a berry cheesecake. Both excellent. Especially since tiramisu may be my favourite dessert. Some sauvignon blanc, muscat and more champagne (to ease the pain?). Oh, and since P is into his Scotch, a selection of old malts and some Armagnac for me since I'm not much of a Scotch drinker.
Somewhere along the way we rang in the New Year, but that seemed secondary to booze and sustenance. A very enjoyable evening. And not too much washing up in the morning for any of us. This kind of safari I could get into.
1st July 2014
Seen it yet? Hurry up then. It's one of the best food movies ever, IMHO. Together with Ratatouille and Babette's Feast.
One key scene is where Jon Favreau (Casper, in the film) makes a simple meal of spaghetti for Scarlett Johansson (Molly) during a key seduction scene. It seemed to work.....
175 ml extra-virgin olive oil
12 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
2 tsp crushed red pepper, plus more for serving
Maldon salt and black pepper
4 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the spaghetti, cooking until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving a little of the pasta water.
Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Add the crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper. Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and toss, adding a little of the pasta water, until the spaghetti is thoroughly coated.
Remove the pan from heat, add the parsley and Parmesan and toss well. Check seasoning. Add the lemon juice, garnish with more Parmesan and serve with lemon wedges and crushed red pepper.
So, Scarlett. What time are you coming round?
20th June 2014
Nice to have my daughter home for the summer. She's just finished her BA in History at Lincoln University and is planning to go back for her MA in Medieval History in September. So before she started her summer job on Monday, we set off for a day at Hampton Court Palace - old Henry VIII's place on the banks of the River Thames in SW London. Just before turning off the M1 onto the M25 we saw the signs saying the M25 was closed at J17. Great. Although glad not to be already stuck on the M25, we reluctantly turned round at Watford and since we were supposedly on a historical site day trip decided to go back up to Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington's family, near Banbury. About an hour in the opposite direction. We got there to find they don't open to the public on Fridays, except in August.
Obviously not our day!
We decided to have some lunch before heading back to Milton Keynes, so stopped into The Star Inn just up the road from the Manor. And what a great little pub it is. A 16th century Hook Norton Brewery inn, family run and a really welcoming pub, including the old rottweiler wandering around all the customers demanding attention. Just as you'd imagine an old country inn, uneven flag stone floors, nook and cranny rooms, and served straight from the barrel, probably the best pint of Hooky I've ever tasted. I could quite happily have spent the afternoon drinking large quantities of this nectar, especially since my daughter was driving. But as she reminded me, I wasn't on a boozing session with my mates, we'd come for lunch..... (I suppose someone in the family has to be a responsible citizen)
We both chose the same dish. Sea bass with Moroccan spices. Perhaps not what you'd expect to find in a small village hostelry in deepest, darkest Northamptonshire. The fish was fine but slightly lacking in what I consider to be Moroccan flavours. So it got me thinking about how it could have been done a little better.
This may (or may not) be it:
4 whole sea bass, cleaned and scaled (careful if doing this yourself - sea bass spines can hurt)
one portion of chermoula
minted asparagus, peas, broad beans and Jersey Royals
Make 4 slashes on each side of each fish
Rub the chermoula all over the body and cavity of each fish, working into the slashes
Place onto a dish, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 3 hours, if time allows
Heat the oven to 200C
Heat some oil in a pan and add the fish. Cook for a minute or so on each side to allow the skin to caramelise then transfer to a hot oven tray. Bake in the oven until just cooked through. About 6-8 minutes.
Place some of the minted asparagus, peas, broad beans and Jersey Royals onto the centre of a plate and top with one of the sea bass.
South African Chenin Blanc goes well with this
13th June 2014
Well, all bar this one - me. I've just come home early from an evening out. I had arranged to meet 12 others in All Bar One at the Hub, Milton Keynes, but I was not allowed in by Kreton on the door. My crime? Wearing sneakers. Well actually I was wearing Meindl walking shoes, but "Mr No Brain" on the door couldn't see past his inflated ego to be able to tell the difference. Give some people a uniform.... He seemed to get a kick out of refusing me entry. My request to see the manager was refused.
So what do you do?
Perhaps call ahead to see if they approve of your proposed outfit for the evening?
Or, maybe, just arrange to meet your friends in a different bar! Do you really want to give your hard earned cash to a company that hires such a person?
Through the years I've had food and drinks at some of the most sophisticated places on the planet. And I can assure you that All Bar One doesn't make that list.
1st June 2014
12 High St, Emberton, Olney, MK46 5DH - 01234 711565
The Bell & Bear isn't a place you're going to stumble upon by accident. In the small village of Emberton, a mile south of Olney at the end of a stone terrace, you wouldn't recognise it as a pub without the sign swinging above the door.
It's a small place. The bar on one side serving a number of local beers and ciders is a cosy village hangout. The barmaid seems to know most of the customers by name. You can get some great bread from Gareth of Amazing Grains on a Friday evening if you need an excuse to give it a try. Motor racing buffs can also see one of Dan Wheldon's helmets. He was from the village. But more importantly on the other side is the restaurant area. A small space with stucco and wood beam walls, less than 10 tables, you know you're in an old room that has seen generations of customers.
While sitting deciding what to drink, we were joined by Jon, the chef/patron who was more than happy to engage us in conversation. And a charming chap he is too. He recommended his favourite white wine of the moment since we were dithering over our choice of aperitif.
The food is modern British in style. With the emphasis on modern. The menus is small, 4 appetisers and 5 mains on this particular evening. This reflects the size of the kitchen. But more importantly it enables some real thought to be given to the construction of each dish. With as much food sourced as locally as possible, the menu is a who's who of the food producers world. Ashdale beef (which a panel of industry experts recently selected as the world’s best beef), Warrington Farm asparagus, Pastures Farm poultry, Woughton Orchard cider, Wodehill blue cheese. (look them up on Google!)
Three of us chose the rump heart of beef. This is one of the constituent muscles separated from a beef rump. Cooked for a few hours sous-vide (vacuum packed and cooked in a low temperature water bath) and then finished in a pan, leaving it nice and pink in the centre. Topped with asparagus, pommes pailee (match stick chips - I had to look it up!) and Maury wine washed blue cheese. Just marvellous.
My daughter went fishy with roast fillet of cod, samphire, brown shrimp and mushrooms. She works part-time in what is considered the best restaurant in Lincolnshire and felt this dish compared favourably with that of her work place. It certainly looked good.
Other dishes included a roast loin of pork with Iberico chorizo and a guinea fowl take on a Caesar Salad.
All top quality ingredients but served up with a twist. A reflection of the chef's personality and imagination. This is how a chef run restaurant should be. No corporate dictats here.
I won't go through all the desserts but here's the dish I had:
"Pot of "Acarigua" bitter chocolate spiked with Pernod, vanilla ice cream and caramel salted popcorn"
It was as good as it sounds. Enough said.
The menu gives a wine suggestion for each dish. The wine list is well constructed and reasonably priced. Service is friendly and accomplished.
This is a restaurant I've wanted to try for quite a while. I finally went yesterday on the occasion of my *0th birthday, and I wasn't disappointed. An evening well spent.