A bunch of Sunday lunches

IMG_0503 oysters kilpatrick at Peppercorn 19-11-2017 14-26-02 19-11-2017 14-26-02

hereOysters Kilpatrick at Peppercorn

MY wife had stirred disconsolately through her bowl of modgy fish chowder, so thick and full of overcooked potato you could stand a spoon up in it. “I feel like Jacques Cousteau: I’ve just found a piece of fish at last.”

Oh, I remember it well: One of our many Sunday Lunches That Went Wrong.

We are speeding towards one now and have high hopes but to pass the time reflect on some of the others we have had in the 25 years or so when I wrote about restaurants for a living instead of for fun, as here.

Sunday lunches were our special treat and usually chosen carefully. We regarded it as a perk for filing a review on time and never missing a single week. It was also compensation for giving up our day of rest (Wednesday or Friday night reviews didn’t seem so onerous) and it kept down the housekeeping bills.

So we would make sure we did the Peacock at Rowsley (country house hotel with famous guests, super food and Sunday newspapers by the fire) at least once every three years and preferably on a rainy winter Sunday. There were a few others like that, on a rota, but every now and again you had to take pot luck.

Wherever I went I almost inevitably had roast beef. My reasoning was that this was the dish most people would order, certainly the men, and Sunday isn’t a day to go experimental. My wife could explore the menu’s more exotic slopes.

That modge of a chowder was in an hotel dining room on the edge of Sheffield where the chef had unwisely bunked off in the middle of service to leave a trainee in charge. My roast beef wasn’t any better but the gravy was surprisingly good. I shan’t name the place because it’s still there but I will the Middlewood Hall Hotel, long deceased, like the chipolata served up with my daughter’s roast. It had been baked so hard she couldn’t get her knife through it so gave it to her mum. Mum couldn’t either so it was Pass the Sausage and my turn. It was Man versus Chipolata and I lost.

IMG_0507 roast beef at Peppercorn 19-11-2017 14-44-30

I always order the roast beef

 

At another place, where customers piled their plates so high they looked like relief models of Mount Kilimanjaro with clouds around the top – oh no, they were cauliflower florets – the kitchen had burned an apple pie badly. The chef had tried to conceal the error, submerged under a sea of custard.

Sometimes we got it right but customers got it wrong. I trilled a hymn of praise to the rosy red beef and brown bread ice cream (in the days before it was retro) and the following week it was so inundated with customers they couldn’t cope. Diners hadn’t been reading my review closely. “My beef was undercooked,” one reader rang in, who liked his meat grey.

I went back some years later and the highlight of our visit was not the food but a diner who strode to the table in flat cap and Wellington boots. Well, it was in the countryside.

No one is wearing flat caps or Wellington boots at Peppercorn on Abbeydale Road South. We had meant to be a four but friends cried off so we kept the booking just for us. Now I have reviewed Sunday lunch on the blog here just over a year ago so I’ll keep it short. Chef-patron Charlie Curran and his wife Kelly had disappeared to Filey to relax before the Christmas rush leaving the kitchen in the capable hands of sous Dan Kidd.

It was notable for a starter I’d not seen before, oysters Kilpatrick. This comprised three rock oysters toped with cheddar cheese and bacon lardons, baked on hay. I think it’s Australian in origin and the cheese can be optional in most recipes I’ve seen. I liked it. Flavours were subtler than I expected, I didn’t get the briny blast you have with a raw oyster, so it’s not so much Margate, more Frinton. With light as a feather batter on my wife’s squid rings (“If my cheese soufflé is as light I’ll be pleased,” she said and she was) and up to the mark roast beef, we enjoyed ourselves.

#Peppercorn, 289 Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S17 3LB. 0114 235 0101. Web: www.peppercorn-restaurant.co.uk

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The King who came to dinner

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The Charnwood Hotel

 CHRIS King, the man who restored an historic building into Sheffield’s first boutique hotel and was a driving force behind the city’s culinary renaissance, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 81.

WHENEVER Chris King passed the crumbling Georgian mansion at the corner of Sharrow Lane and London Road he knew the best way to bring it back to life was as a hotel. The Grade II listed building had been built around 1780 by Master Cutler and scissorsmith John Henfrey on a site then on the outskirts of the city.

Chris didn’t start out as a hotelier, he was a structural engineer. So he knew if a building could be saved. However, as with so much of what happens in Sheffield, he had to battle with a city council which lacked imagination. It took over two years for him and his wife Val to get planning permission for the Charnwood, Sheffield’s first boutique hotel. It lasted for almost 20 years as a popular wedding venue and the focus of much of the city’s good cooking.

The 22-bed Charnwood opened in 1985. Its guests included stars from the World Snooker Championship and comedians Victoria Wood and Mike Harding. It also became the home of two top restaurants, Brasserie Leo and the smaller more upmarket Henfrey’s. Chris was not a man to cut corners. He employed celebrity chef and local lad Kevin Woodford as catering consultant. The Woodford Suite was named after him.

“Chris told me he wanted to do things right,” says Cary Brown, whom he appointed the hotel’s (and the country’s) youngest head chef at 21. He had dropped by to do a two day shift after leaving Claridges and was on his way out when he was offered the head chef’s job, provided he passed a three month’s trial.

Chris sent Cary to Paris to see how things were done there before opening Brasserie Leo. It was to be designed with banquettes, alcoves, gleaming brass, big mirrors and a splendid bar. Even the coat stands were authentic. And in the kitchen were a dozen copper pans.

The hotel aimed high. A lobster, truffle and veal sweetbread starter was on the menu for £17.95, a fortune, then as now, for Sheffield in the Eighties. Even Cary was worried about the price. “Chris said if it’s worth that, charge it,” he recalls.

He enjoyed his new life. Always impeccably dressed, he and Val could often be seen dining quietly in a corner checking the quality of the food and the reactions of customers.

Cary was followed by Wayne Bosworth, Murray Chapman and Stephen Hall as head chefs while other well-known names including Marcus Lane and Jamie Bosworth, who would both later run Rafters, and Richard Irving also passed through the kitchen.

While the cooking got the Charnwood into the guides the hotel ran smoothly with Chris and Val at the helm and her sister Anne Summerfield as head housekeeper. There were good years then bad as business was hit by a slowdown at the turn of the century. “The economics did not stack up, the economics of a small hotel against a big one,” he said then. Chris tried unsuccessfully to sell the hotel, on the market for £1.3 million.

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Chris King presents an award at a hospitality event

It closed on Christmas Eve, 2004, with the loss of 16 jobs. If Chris couldn’t sell the place as a hotel he would turn it into apartments. He supervised the work himself. “I do not want to pay people for what I already know,” he said. The project opened the following year renamed Wisteria Gardens, after the striking mauve and blue flowers which covered the walls. He had planted them a quarter century before.

Val, who predeceased him, died from cancer. Chris also had it but recovered and went to farm near Lincoln. However he returned to Sheffield later and died at Beauchief.

Cary Brown said: “He was a legend and pioneer in the hotel and catering industry. What he brought to Sheffield wasn’t realised until later. If it wasn’t for that hotel Sheffield would not have got on the culinary map until years later.”

#Chris King died on Thursday, 16 November, 2017. Details of the funeral will be announced here shortly.

Picture of Chris King sourced courtesy of Craig Harris.

Why I’m spluttering over this chutney

IMG_0485MY pan is spluttering and so am I. In fact, I’m cursing telly chef James Martin, that wannabe Keith Floyd, and fervently wishing that the next time he gets into his fancy sports car he drives over a cliff.

 My tomato harvest, chiefly in hanging baskets and grow bags by the kitchen door, has been a lovely one this year. I swear by that little cherry Tumbling Tom. But some have failed to ripen and I don’t want to waste them. You can smuggle some of them into a curry, as a sort of Pound Shop tomatillo, or you can make green tomato chutney.

 I made a few jars last year but was heavy on the spices and it is only just coming up to decent eating. It goes fine in a curry, though. What I needed was a chutney so on trend and clever it would knock spots off all other green tomato chutneys. Let’s face it, this is always a chutney with a whiff of waste not, want not desperation. Then I hit upon James Martin’s.

Yes, I know.

 The man is hardly trendy but he is ubiquitous. Name me a food fair, he’s there. He’ll turn up for the opening of a fridge.

IMG_0475 But what got me was that he caramelises the fruit. No one else did. Nifty, I thought, but there was a little niggle at the back of my mind as I followed the instructions.

 First you melt brown sugar in a frying pan until it caramelises than add some white wine vinegar and the other ingredients. Wait a minute, won’t that mean . . .

 TOFFEE!!!!!

 It did. I swore. My wife ducked out of the kitchen. Luckily I had only added the vinegar, not the rest, and it took 20 or so minutes simmering before the toffee melted again. Then I added the tomatoes etc and proceeded as normal.

 James Martin’s method, on the BBC food website, is less than 80 words and he doesn’t explain or allow for any of this. So what’s it like? Strangely, it does not taste of toffee. It’s OK and I’d judge that while it may improve with keeping it’s more or less ready to eat. I’ve got a jar and a bowl to use over the next few weeks with my cheese sandwiches. I’ll let you know.

 175g light brown sugar

150ml white wine vinegar

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2cm fresh ginger, grated

1 red chilli (I used some green chilli and chilli powder)

125g sultanas

600g green tomatoes, quartered

 Heat sugar in frying pan until melted and caramelised

Add vinegar (see above!!) and other ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for one hour until thickened and try the spoon test (trail through chutney to leave a channel).

Spoon into sterilised jars.

IMG_0478 Trying to melt the toffee! 06-11-2017 13-54-30 06-11-2017 13-54-30

A way with courgettes

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Marinated stuffed courgettes keep well in a jar

 

I USED to think the courgette was the vegetable that flavour forgot and have lost count of the times I have been served pallid little discs simply boiled or steamed in restaurants. But my wife likes them so I have to think up tasty ways to cook.

It wasn’t so much  case of away with courgettes as a way with courgettes!

Courgettes, of course, have this blotting paper capacity for absorbing flavours and Mediterranean kitchens know what melodies you can play with olive oil, garlic, lemon and herbs. And flour. Blogger Jane Sofos has a tempting picture of battered courgette ribbons on her excellent website www.kouzinacooking.com a rhapsody on Greek food and landscape seen from the eye of  a Sheffield woman.

I have yet to try this but often add courgette rolls to our ‘Italian evenings’ at home  – Parma ham, finocchiona (fennel salami), Gorgonzola, oven roasted tomatoes and focaccia with a good Italian white. I used to love seeing this delicacy in Nonna’s deli: griddled ribbons of courgette (or should I say zucchini as this dish is Italian?) wrapped around a stuffing and bathed in oil. It was so good last time my wife asked if I could bottle some so I did.

IMG_0454 cut the courgette into fine slices 06-11-2017 11-16-23

Slice the courgettes with a vegetable peeler

From one decent-sized but not over-large courgette, washed with the ends left on, I got 12 thin slices, using a vegetable peeler, pressed hard. They were put in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, minced garlic and thyme with salt and pepper and left to marinate while I heated the griddle. The strips cooked in a couple of minutes and I put them to cool in another bowl with the juice of half of half a lemon. I also griddled the ‘offcuts’ which I would chop and use in the stuffling.

Earlier this year I bought a couple of pots of Moroccan mint and it has grown vigorously in an old metal filing cabinet drawer onto which someone had soldered four legs then thrown over a fence near the Dronfield sewage works some years ago. I rescued it on a blackberrying expedition.

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Grilled and ready to be stuffed with mint

The mint has a vivid heady smell and flavour but I have not used it as much as I should. I made up for it by cutting off big handfuls and chopping it up finely. I added a few homemade nasturtium ‘capers,’ a little garlic, the chopped offcuts and added the drained lemon juice. The next job was to lay out each courgette strip and paste a teaspoonful of the mixture along its length before rolling it up tightly and securing with half a cocktail stick. You only need to do this last if you are putting them in jars. You can pack them neatly in a dish if you are going to eat them immediately.

IMG_0462 spred the stuffing on the courgettes 06-11-2017 11-48-23

Spread chopped mint on the courgettes before rolling up tightly

Of course you don’t have to use mint. It could be feta. Or chopped walnuts and herbs. Or simply strips in lemon and olive oil. But mint is what I had and I could make it for pennies. I can’t wait to eat it.

*IT occurs to me that my last couple of posts have been all about preserving – home marinated olives and pickled eggs – and my blogging chum Craig Harris has countered with oven roasted tomatoes and balsamic onions at www.craigscrockpot.wordpress.com a blog so passionate and enthusiastic you can feel the heat of his kitchen. We are not in competition but if he ups the ante I’ll be ready!

IMG_0464 Marinated courgetts are ready to bottle 06-11-2017 11-58-13

Ready to bottle

Fox got eggs in a pickle

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Clear vinegar shows the eggs off well

IF the fox hadn’t eaten the chickens I wouldn’t have pickled a jar of eggs. And I wouldn’t be writing this. I’d popped in the Down To Earth wholefood shop on Sharrowvale Road to offload some egg boxes and fill a couple up with their size ones from a farm at Whirlow. There weren’t any.

“Fox has got the hens again. There won’t be any more for about a month,” said boss John Leeson. But he did have some size threes, just the right size for pickling. I hadn’t done that for a bit. I bought a dozen and said: “All I need now is a packet of crisps.” He looked blank.

“You’re in a pub. You’ve got a pint of beer and feel peckish so you buy a packet of crisps and a pickled egg, put the egg in the packet and eat both together. Yummy,” I told him. He still looked blank. He’d never done it. Nor had other people I mentioned it to.

Now you can buy jars of pickled eggs but are they are very easy and cheap to make. And it means you don’t have to go to a pub to enjoy them.

Very often I fire off a blog, just because something has captured my imagination, and don’t expect many people to read it. Sadly, I am very often proved right. But the one here on eating a pickled egg in a packet of crisps  which I dashed off in June 2016 has, after a slow start, notched up over 800 hits and seems to gaining momentum. Something must be up.

So just in case you feel like registering the textures of egg and crisp and those little soft bits where the vinegar has soggeyed up the crisps, here’s how to do it. For American readers, crisps here are what you call potato chips.

I sterilised a big Kilner jar and boiled up the eggs. Here’s a tip: crack them all over and shell with the handle of a teaspoon, one with a rounded end and, if curved, have it pointing upwards so it doesn’t dig into the white.

You can buy a pickling vinegar but I like to make something unique. You don’t even have to boil the pickling spices first. You can use ordinary brown malt vinegar but that makes things a bit murky. I used white distilled vinegar and popped the spices in: some peppercorns, black and pink, a couple of blades of mace and two fresh bay leaves. I would have added some allspice berries but they’d gone AWOL. As the eggs take a couple of weeks before they are ready there is plenty of time for the spices to infuse.

Two weeks later they had and I ate the first one with a packet of crisps. Just as I remembered.

pickled egg in a packet of crisps

Crisps taste nicer with a pickled egg

 

 

 

 

 

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No beefing about my olives!

IMG_0419 Preparing the marinated olives 30-10-2017 13-07-11 30-10-2017 13-07-11

Preparing marinated olives

NOW I like a nice posh olive and always enjoy them in restaurants but I seldom buy them these days. I know, as a foodie, I should but I love marinating olives to fill quiet moments in the kitchen. OK, they may not be as good as fancy kalamatas or whatever but they finish up a lot better than they started. And cheaper.

I first got the idea from Michael Peano when he ran Restaurant Peano in Barnsley (he probably used more superior olives to start with) and I seem to remember Wayne Bosworth at Rafters doing it. He certainly preserved little goats cheeses. In my olive buying days I used to admire the lovely displays when Nonna’s had its deli in Hickmott Road. I’d see olives marinated with little strips of orange or lemon peel and think ‘I can do that.’ And as I did it more and more I bought them less and less. I am sure some of my regular foodie blogging chums will be horrified!

If you fancy having a go, this is what you do. I usually buy jars or tins of brined pitted green olives pitted black ones from the supermarket, drained but not washed so you don’t lose the saltiness. I mix them together in a bowl and pour over a little olive oil (not virgin) then whatever herbs and spices take my fancy. This last time there were chopped rosemary, thyme and chives from the garden, plus black and pink peppercorns, coriander, garlic and twists of peel. Sometimes I add chilli. The oil helps the herbs stick.

Sterilise enough jars and pour a little more plain olive oil in the bottom to avoid air pockets. Then add the olives. When the jars are half full poke a bay leaf or rosemary sprig down the side and fill to the top. Add enough oil to cover and seal. If you have any leftover olives they can be eaten immediately. The jarred olives are ready after about a week.

Then, when you have finished all the olives, strain off the oil which will by now be considerably improved and use it for cooking or in a salad dressing: a case of two things for the price of one.

Provided you sterilise properly and don’t use your fingers but a spoon the olives should not spoil. I’ve only had a couple of occasions when the contents have gone a bilious green. And don’t store them in the fridge because the oil can solidify. Do make sure the olives are always covered in oil.

It’s fun. It’s cheap. You can experiment. I’m thinking of marinating olives in Chinese or Indian spices. And stuffing them with anchovies. Once you start you can’t stop!

IMG_0424 The finished olives 30-10-2017 15-47-38

The oil will clear!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t trifle with this jelly!

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Jelly and ice cream the Rutland way

 

THERE’S always a moment of tension, isn’t there, when you rush to praise a dish to the head chef only to find it was made by someone else in his kitchen?

It happened to me the other day at the Rutland Arms on Brown Street, Sheffield, with a super little dessert of fennel ice cream and cucumber jelly (‘yes really,’ as it said on the blackboard menu). Coming after two classy small plates featuring octopus and duck croquettes I was bowled over by its refreshing qualities.

Unusual flavours of ice cream are not uncommon and as a lover of the aniseedy qualities of fennel I was pleased it came through clearly. As I always find the taste of cucumber elusive (it’s wasted on me in fancy gin and tonics) I was delighted it registered so brightly in the jelly. I fancy there might have been a bit of mint in it. The combination of the two was a delight.

To be fair to the Rutland’s head chef Richard Storer, or Chef Rico as he calls himself on Twitter, he didn’t turn a hair and was keen to give the credit to his assistant Kevin Buccieri. “We were all surprised how well it turned out. He’s excelled himself,” he said.

The Rutland is an enigma wrapped in a chip butty, which seems to be the most popular order, at least at lunchtimes. It’s not what you expect from a city boozer even if it is in the city’s Cultural Quarter. In other cities this inventive, clever, passionate cooking would have them queuing at the door. Here they ask chips. The Slutty Butty is popular here.

I visit it once a month to sample the food and meet old colleagues but I can’t wean them away from their butties even when I eat in front of them. They don’t know what they’re missing. Each small plate costs £4 or three for a tenner. For this you could have a burger but it won’t give your tastebuds such a treat.

IMG_0405 The Rutland's octopus 25-10-2017 13-00-17

Looking sexy – the octopus

The octopus arrived as a brightly coloured tentacle lolling seductively across the plate on chopped up sections of a fellow limb. Octopus scores more for texture than flavour. This was slithery, firm and tender. The tastebuds were treated to three kinds zing: a lemon and caper butter, pickled chilli and XO sauce, a favourite with Rico. “If you see a dish with lots of foreign ingredients, it’s mine. If it looks like something that comes from a chef who does Modern British Cooking, it’s Kevin.”

The duck had been cooked like a confit and shredded into rillettes, combined with Hoisin sauce. Rico has been raiding the oriental supermarkets again.The meat was rolled into balls, given a crunchy coating and fried. They came on a salad, a nod to that classic staple of Chinese restaurants, crispy duck.

For a tenner, it was a pretty memorable lunchtime. And so was that cucumber jelly. Perfect. “Kevin was at Sat Bains’ (the Michelin-starred Nottingham restaurant) the other week. His brain has not quite recovered,” joked Rico. If that’s what it does to your cooking, I’d better book a table!

*86 Brown Street, Sheffield S1 2BS. Web: www.therutlandarmssheffield.co.uk

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Duck croquettes with Hoisin sauce