A pickled egg in a packet of crisps

pickled egg in a packet of crisps

Crisps taste nicer with a pickled egg

We all have a little snack or two to fill those hungry gaps, or occupy our mouths when we’re feeling bored, which you would never claim to be culinary marvels. But they can be a great comfort all the same.

Sometimes I have a yen for a crisp sandwich: white bread, real butter and a packet of scrunched up ready salted for preference as the filling. But even better is a pickled egg in a packet of crisps, preferably in a pub with a pint of beer.

I’ve been eating it for years but I still come across people who have never heard of this little nibble. So perhaps it is a regional thing. They certainly know about it in the West Country, where I ate it a lot while working on the now deceased Sunday Independent newspaper in Devon.

(For North American readers I ought to explain here that a British crisp is the same as a potato chip to you, while a potato chip for us is a your French fry).

It was never better than when you had a packet of Smith’s Crisps plain crisps with the salt in a little blue paper twist which you sprinkled mostly over the egg. Hopefully the egg should have been scooped by the barman out of the jar with a little bit of vinegar so, in the end, you got salt and vinegar crisps. On a good night you had a riot of textures: the rubbery egg white, soft yolk, and crisp-going-on sogginess of the crisps, depending on where in the packet you delved.

Some, like me, preferred plain crisps. Other people reckoned cheese n onion was the flavour to go for.

The other night I had just such a yen. I had the pickled eggs, home made of course. But I didn’t have any crisps so I tried it in a packet of Quavers. Not bad but not as good as proper crisps. So I bought a packet of crisps and tried it again the next day.

 

Farewell to the house of fun

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Buckets of humour at Greenhead House

The last time we went to the Greenhead House restaurant in Chapeltown we paid just under £120 for two but despite the size of the bill it was a night of fun from start to finish. Owners Neil and Anne Allen might serve up posh food but they do like a giggle.

It was summer and the tables had brightly coloured plastic seaside buckets and spades with windmills. And there was something to smile about when you went upstairs to spend a penny – at least in the Gents.

There was a Beano annual, a pocket bagatelle and, in a corner, a roll of vintage Izal toilet paper, the hard, shiny Made-in-Sheffield bog roll which we employed as tracing paper as kids. You weren’t meant to use it (there was softer stuff available), not when it cost a tenner on eBay. It was there for a laugh.

Now Greenhead House is to close towards the end of August after 33 years. Considering very many restaurants can’t even last for three years, that is some achievement. Considering the Allens were serving the top end of the market, it is even more of one.

They’ve not announced it yet but word has got out by what Anne calls “bush telegraph.” So people who have been before have rung to book their last suppers and people who have never been have booked to see what all the fuss is about. And the consequence is that you can’t get a table for love or money between now and closing day. At least, I can’t.

“We should have done this (announced their retirement) in the recession years,” says Anne when I rang. And she recollects that this was a bit like how it all started, by word of mouth. When they opened for business in 1983, serving country house style food with classical French overtones, South Yorkshire was a gastronomic wilderness. Whatever they would have cooked would have been welcome. Thankfully it was good. People loved what they offered although with a tiny dining room seating only 30 the place could be booked up weeks, if not months in advance. It took me ages to book a table for my first review there because with small children to look after we could not commit months in advance.

Neil was 25 then. He’ll have just turned 58 when he cleans down the kitchen for the last time. And he was, he says, “a bit of an innocent” back then. True, both he and Anne had been in the hospitality business from the age of 14, part-time. He’d already worked at the Savoy and the legendary Sharrow Bay in the heyday of Francis Coulson and Brian Sack so the food reflected that. Greenhead remains the only local restaurant to offer a second course ‘refresher’ of sorbet or soup (or mousse).

You paid, then as now, by the price of the main course, currently £51 but it includes everything, from appetisers to coffee with petit fours.

The restaurant got early approval from the Good Food Guide by being made South Yorkshire’s restaurant of the year. There were good years and lean, particularly during the recessions. At one point they went into the luxury soup business, selling tubs of it to selected delis. “Lick and stick!” says Neil, remembering the job of pasting on the labels.

Neil says he won’t be sad to close because, while the restaurant has given them a good life where they have raised a family, he won’t miss the cooking because he’ll still be doing it, but for his family. Then there are his two vintage caravans to play with, holidays and travel. But first they’ll be moving – downstairs.

There is planning permission to convert the former 17th century cottage back into a private house. “When you are working you don’t have time to enjoy the house. We like living here,” he says.

While Neil’s precise, careful cooking, often with a sense of humour, was the big draw it was Anne’s front of house skills which played an equal part in the restaurant’s appeal. In many places the bigger the bill the bigger the degree of snootiness. But at Greenhead you never felt there was any arty-farty foodieness or gastro-gabble.

How could there be when the butter pats were shaped like hedgehogs with peppercorn eyes or puddings came in jam jars with gingham WI lids? We’ll miss them.

 

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Why Audrey is my top banana

Banana tea bread

It seems to be the case that every food blog worth the name has a recipe for banana tea bread. It almost goes without saying that all have the definitive version, the best ever, the top banana of recipes. You may have noticed that this blog is sadly lacking in that department.

It has recipes for making bacon, brown sauce, curried apple chutney, elderflower gin, pickled rhubarb, Melba toast and goodness knows what else but there is a big tea bread shaped hole among the 139 posts. Today it is filled!

I can confidently say that this recipe for banana tea bread is the best ever but I am making no claim that it is mine. It belongs to a food blogger in the USA called Audrey and she says it is the best ever. And it is.

Audrey, a married lady who blogs at www.meladycooks.com and is given to watching TV while munching on a cucumber rather than a chocolate bar, is a very kind follower of Another Helping. She doesn’t pretend she came up with the recipe herself. She found it online , only she has forgotten where (we’ve all been there), tinkered with it until she was satisfied and published it, almost in passing.

I, too, have tinkered. Well, it is part of the fun of cooking. I have rarely exactly followed a recipe in my life because, like most cooks, I obviously know better!

This recipe has become a staple in our household, not just for elevenses or afternoon tea but as a pudding. Last year I filled a big jar full of wild cherries picked in a deserted graveyard and topped them up with brandy. A slice or two of banana bread soaked in cherry-flavoured brandy, garnished with cherries and served with icecream or yoghurt makes a great standby dessert.

The catalyst for this post is that we had too many brown bananas and to use them up I made my best ever version of this best ever recipe.

So I give you Audrey’s recipe without tinkering. All I will say that I use more bananas than her two, and very often a pinch of cinnamon. Audrey is wary of adding spices and going over the top with the bananas but I like the flavour and, anyway, they probably have bigger bananas than us in the States.

So here it is:

Banana Bread {Best Ever}

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 bananas
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon buttermilk (I use milk curdled with lemon juice)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 °F Grease bottom of a 12″ x 3 1/2″ loaf pan.
Stir together flour, sugar, soda and salt in one bowl.
Mash bananas then combine eggs, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir just until combined.
Pour into greased pan and bake for 1 hour or until toothpick tests done.
Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto a rack and cool completely. Store in a covered container at room temperature.
Thank you Audrey.

 

 

 

 

Messing around in the kitchen

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Gooseberry yoghurt fool

It all started when I decided to make some tarka dal and was rooting around the cupboards wondering whether the chana dal in a half-empty packet was the same as the packet of yellow split peas (it isn’t). Then I saw a third packet of yellowish objects.

This was not dal but popping corn with a sell-by date of 2008. I’d better use it, then. Later that evening I had a bowl of dal soaking overnight and a saucepan full of popcorn. It didn’t seem too bad, considering it was eight years out of date, but there was too much for one man to eat.

Then I had a brainwave. How about using it as a breakfast cereal? I dunked some in a bowl of milk and, if not quite the same as Sugar Puffs, it wasn’t at all bad. And then I wondered if I had created something new. So I asked Google. I had only typed in “Popcorn as b. . .” when it finished it for me, “breakfast cereal.” So, hardly new, but it’s an idea to bear in mind if you’ve made too much popcorn or have run out of cereal.

This last week it has rained and rained and rained and so, unable to get out to plant more lettuce or pick the first of the gooseberries, I have been mooching about the kitchen even more than usual. This is some of what I’ve been doing – no recipes, just ideas because that’s what I like from blogs.

The dal (made with chana although the split peas would have done at a pinch) was lovely. There’s no recipe because there are millions out there but I like to fry an onion with ginger, garlic and spices before adding the dal, then frying whole spices at the end to temper it. I had the spices ready but forgot! The dal didn’t really suffer because of the spices at the beginning. We had it with rice, a little potato and pea curry, home made chapattis, raitas and some bought samosas. Apart from the samosas and some really thick Greek yoghurt for the raita, it cost pennies.

 

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Dal and rice croquettes

It was even cheaper because the leftovers made lunch the following day. This is an idea I picked up from an Indian on a YouTube channel. Leftover rice, or dal, or both, can be made into croquettes. I stirred in the remains of the onion and mint raita, a few breadcrumbs, freshly rasped, and a teaspoonful of egg yolk to bind. Then I made little patties rolled in chickpea (gram or besan) flour but you could use any flour to give a crisp coating.
They were fried off and served with home made chilli jam mixed with some more of that creamy yoghurt, plus a little salad.

And still it rained. I had planned to pick some gooseberries and elderflowers to make a gooseberry fool but, as luck would have it, found a box of last year’s fruit in the freezer. I realised I could use my elderflower gin (more a liqueur, really). I wasn’t going to get soaked going to the shops for cream but Delia Smith has a recipe for gooseberry yoghurt fool. There was still some of that extra creamy Greek yoghurt.

Once the berries were defrosted I was ready to go. Delia says to cook the fruit in the oven but I did it gently on a simmer plate, once I’d added some sugar and a tablespoonful of gin. They cooked without bursting.

I reserved a few for the topping, then drained the juice from cooked fruit. I put half of it it back when I blitzed the gooseberries, putting the rest in the freezer to make an impromptu water ice. Only using half the juice is Delia’s idea: otherwise the puree would be too thin. I chilled the pulp before mixing half with some of the yoghurt.

From then on it’s an assembly job. Put the remainder of the pulp in a glass, add the gooseberry and yoghurt mix on top and finish with the reserved cooked gooseberries and a mint leaf. There’s nothing like a wet and rainy day or two to play around with ideas. And I’ve still got some yoghurt left.

 

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Last year’s gooseberries from the freezer

Cary has a Concept and I have a shower

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Thumbs up for Cary

Whenever I wanted a little innocent amusement I turned to TripAdvisor and the reports of the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley. This award-winning pub drew plaudits and brickbats in equal measure but what added a touch of spice, an unexpected piquancy, were the landlady’s comments.

“Clearly it would have been better for all concerned if you had simply gone to KFC and eaten a bucket or two full of what you normally eat, the finer things in life aren’t for you.”

“Please spend your weekends in Huddersfield away from our pub, we don’t need or want customers like you.”

Now, though, the tone is more upbeat. “My, has the place improved,” notes one reviewer. “This is just what we need, great hearty food,” adds another.

The place, a lovely pub in the middle of some quiet, gentle countryside, is in new hands and one pair of them belongs to charismatic chef, Cary Brown. By both our reckonings this must be his tenth venture or rebranding but, duck for cover chaps, Cary has a Concept.

The man who did fine dining at the Charnwood and Carriages, made fish sexy at Slammers, spinned pizzas at the Limes and transformed himself into The Pub Landlord.1 at the Royal Oak, Millthorpe, with the finest Sunday dinner I’ll ever have on earth, is now The Pub Landlord.2

The Concept is simple, says Cary. It’s a pub. It’s a bit posh but it’s not a gastro-pub. It serves proper food. Don’t panic you might get swirls or flecks or foams. You won’t. It tastes good. No pressure if you don’t want to eat but that bloke at the bar just came in for a pint and weakened at the thought of a lobster roll. You pay for your food and drink when you order and don’t ask for a tab.

“In the past it was a pub with a restaurant. We want to get it back to being a pub again with drinkers in. Nice drinkers – imagine that, people drinking in a pub! –eating pork scratchings,” he says.

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Fishy blackboard at the Devonshire Arms

There’s an echo of his fish restaurant days with a blackboard offering prawns, crab, lobster, thermidor “all served with bread and proper butter.” There was also grilled lemon sole and roast halibut but both had gone when we arrived. Cary promises the offering will get ritzier as time progresses.

We arrived on the day of my former colleague Lesley Draper’s review in the Sheffield Telegraph. She’d liked it but reported there were no starters as such. That’s the Concept although I must admit it took me some time to grasp . And, as she says, since everything is on blackboards, there’s a fair bit of walking about as you decide.

For non-fish eaters there was poussin, a burger, proper corned beef hash (he corned the beef himself) and, among other things, rib eye with Bearnaise. Hearty stuff.

Cary’s partner Shelley Chilton, the other pair of capable hands involved, suggested my wife have the salmon briefly seared and it proved a revelation, firming up nicely and deepening the taste. I had, for some reason, half a pint of king prawns which you could call a sort of deconstructed prawn cocktail.
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You shelled them yourself, of course. I had to be careful as the heads were full of blood which spurted. They were tasty, particularly when dipped in Marie Rose sauce, and if you were looking for lettuce (this wasn’t a prawn cocktail) there were a couple of basil leaves for greenery. It came with Melba toast made from Cary’s own Bloomer but I had to pinch my wife’s butter.

This dish also includes a shower. The lot is served on one of those pesky boards and when it came to clearing away the waitress slipped and the finger bowl of warm water splattered my trousers. Many chefs have wanted to do something similar over the years.

For ‘mains’ my wife had a half lobster thermidor, which at £12 is a bargain and could well become the pub’s signature dish. So far he has sold 160. If you’ve never had this combination of grilled lobster, creamy sauce, mustard and Parmesan try his gutsy version.

I had Brixham crab with a salad big enough to defeat a field full of rabbits. I did think later that Cary had had very little to do with the crab, which must have come already dressed, except to artistically arrange the cucumber slices on the top. But he has never served me a dull mouthful and this was as seafaringly splendid a crab as you’ll get.

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Half a pint of prawns or DIY prawn cocktail

At this point I had to mention his obsession with Melba toast. I got it again. And without butter, despite the blackboard promises. Bread, preferably brown, and butter is a must with crab. When I asked why he said it was just himself in the kitchen and easier to do. So far he’s been working alone as he builds up the business.

One of his jobs, he says, is to win back the locals so the sort of food he is offering is an attempt to persuade them they won’t have to have a three-course job if they cross the threshold. They’ll find a roomy pub with slick modern décor, not a horse brass or a Toby jug in sight, neutral tones, downlights and the occasional sign (apart from those blackboards) to complement the wooden floor.

There’s a no bookings, no tab policy and, currently, there are problems over the website which is for the previous business. Check things out on the Facebook page listed below.

So, nice one Cary but ditch that flippin’ Melba toast; this is not the Sixties nor the old Dore Grill.

PS: My trousers survived the soaking.

The Devonshire Arms is at Lightwood Lane, Middle Handley, Sheffield S21 5RN. Tel: 01246 434 800.

Web    https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=the%20dev%20middle%20handley
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A burger in Bradfield

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The Schoolrooms burger is a tasty bite

A while back I wrote that ordering the soup is a good way of testing a chef. So let’s see how it goes with the leek, potato and Stilton at the Schoolrooms cafe, Low Bradfield. Nice. The kitchen certainly hasn’t stinted on the cheese – or the seasoning.

As I finish I notice the little black grains at the bottom of the bowl which gave the soup (£4) added pep and zip, a toned-down version of the buzz you get from chilli. I once had a fascinating mini-tutorial from a Keralan chef on the importance of coarsely cracked black pepper in his region’s cooking so it can pay to go heavy on this spice we take for granted and don’t always use properly.

We’ve been invited to sample lunch at The Schoolrooms, just a year after owner Rachel Hague, from a local farming family, reopened it. She and partner John Woodhouse had converted the former school in 2011 into a farm shop, deli and butchery with a café upstairs.

After a while Rachel leased out the business but things didn’t quite turn out how she’d planned. The place closed for a time but re-opened last June. As Bradfield is in one of the most glorious stretches around Sheffield we didn’t need to be asked twice so we took the pretty way, out along the A57 before turning off towards Strines and then snaking round the hillsides until the Agden reservoir appeared below.

Low Bradfield, with its cricket pitch, bowling green and post office, is quintessentially English and makes for a great place to stroll around, grab a bite to eat and perhaps do a bit of food shopping at The Schoolrooms.

My last visit was four years ago but there was a familiar face in the kitchen, head chef James Gray. He’d been sous to the talented Thomas Samworth but is now in charge with Laney Smith his number two.

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Laney and James in the kitchen

He’s back after two years cheffing in Canada. So what, I asked, was the most notable thing he had learned? “It was in Whistler, British Columbia, at a ski resort, where there was a very high turnover. I learned organisation – and how to cook a steak better, about the only thing they eat out there!”

The café doesn’t do steaks but it does do a pretty good burger (£8), made by the butcher downstairs from local beef. It’s about an inch thick, moist and juicy with plenty of taste and, need I say, well-seasoned. It is served in a brioche-style bun made, like all the breads here, by the Bakewell Pudding Company.

The café likes to present it platter-style on a wooden board so this won’t please the WeWant Plates lobby! It comes with excellent skin-on, chunky chips, salad and a rattlingly good tomato and caramelised onion chutney. That chutney was so good I’d hoped they had made it themselves and could pinch the recipe but it seems they don’t.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that burgers and fish and chips, sold on Fridays for a giveaway £6, are the two best sellers in the café.

It’s a hot day and most diners are outside – the Schoolrooms does plenty of sandwiches and salads, and is licensed – but we stay inside where it’s cooler. The place looks much the same from our last visit, still with animal pictures by artist Lynne Williamson brightening up the walls.

My wife has a rustic looking ham, Stilton and asparagus quiche (£6) from Toppings, the Doncaster pie company. Appropriately it’s pie-like in design with a tasty pastry and good, soft custardy filling.

We finish with cake and excellent coffee, dispensed by Anna from Poland.

*This blog ate as a guest of the Schoolrooms.

The Schoolrooms, Mill Lee Road, Low Bradfield, Sheffield, S6 6LB, is open Wednesday to Sunday. Children’s menu. Car park. Tel: 0114 285 1920. Web: http://www.theschoolrooms.co.uk

 

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The Schoolrooms at Low Bradfield

Pipe down! No muzak with my meal

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There was an item in the paper the other day about Pipedown, a pressure group dedicated to getting restaurants, pubs and cafes to turn down the volume on canned music. Co-incidentally, Marks and Spencer has just stopped playing muzak in its stores.

Not a moment too soon in my book. Perhaps we could add my local branch of Majestic whose young staff insist on playing loud music inappropriate to the age of its customers and almost any former building society, now bank, which blares pop to patiently waiting investors. Santander is the worst but you may know better.

But let’s stick to music and food, often a great combination but not always. Why is it I always seem to get the table underneath the speaker?

Ideally, a place should be so busy the chatter of its customers should provide aural ambience but things do get quiet. Then, and only then, should the music be on. AND NOT TURNED UP TOO LOUD.

I was in an Indian restaurant which played Abba all night. When I bemusedly asked if the owner was a fan he replied “But I thought Western people liked it.” Not with my biryani, Mohammed. At one time, every single place my wife and I went to seemed to be playing Nora Jones singing Don’t Know Why. No I don’t either. If you were unlucky you got the whole album. Then again.

But nothing can beat the restaurant which played orchestral versions of TV theme tunes all night: Z Cars, Coronation Street, Emergency Ward 10. Yes, it was a few years ago.

Pipedown urges people to pipe up when the music is too loud. That didn’t work at one restaurant when I politely requested they turn the volume down. They did, grudgingly, but it soon crept up again as the manager made barbed comments. It was a great pleasure to tell him I was reviewing the place when I paid the bill.

A year or two ago I went for Sunday lunch to a recently opened place which rather fancied itself but just hadn’t got the thing quite tickety-boo. There was no sound system so they piped Magic AM, yes, that’s right, complete with commercials, from a screen in the corner of the room. And guess who had the table by the screen?

I am not alone. LBC, the radio station which doesn’t play music, did a survey which found 50 per cent of people would walk out of shops which played music. The lovely Joanna Lumley has done it “because of hellish piped music.” I am not so lovely but I once got no further than the threshold of a recommended restaurant because I was met by a gale of muzak.

The best kind of music is the sort you can’t actually hear, pitched at such a level that it doesn’t register. When I wrote reviews for a living I would have a little slot to say whether a place took credit cards, had vegetarian food, parking , music, etc. And I’d ask my wife: “Did they play music there?” It was a service very much appreciated.

For more ammunition visit http://www.pipedown.info

STOP PRESS: We recently had dinner at the White Horse, Brancaster Staithe, and found our table was beneath a speaker. The music was far too loud. I politely said we would go elsewhere but the music was turned off. No one complained. If anything, the atmosphere in the room was pleasanter.

No longer a mystery diner

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Food critic Jonathan Gold waits for dinner

It’s usually a good idea for restaurant critics to be anonymous so they can do their job properly. So they book under an assumed name, slide in quietly and keep the notebook hidden. Well, most of us do, although I was at Fischers of Baslow Hall when Michael Winner of the Sunday Times phoned to say he’d be making a state visit. Or, rather, his secretary did.

That was the case with me until my newspaper decided I was a ‘brand’ and stuck my photo at the top of the page. Even then, it was surprising how many times I could still be incognito before the ‘reveal’ at the end of the meal.

There looks to be an interesting film, City of Gold*, at Sheffield Doc Fest about how the Pulitzer Prize winning Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold operates for the L A Times. Using a battery of disposable phones he calls to make bookings in city restaurants. But you do have to wonder just how secretive you can be as a very fat man in braces with long, untidy hair, arriving in a green pick up truck and dining alone.

Particularly as for the last four years a camera crew has been following him around as he reveals the “culinary geography” of the city. Gold is rightly celebrated for bringing the food in Los Angeles’ myriad ethnic restaurants to public attention and good for him. It looks to be worth a watch.

This blog very quietly records the food (and drink) of a much less glamorous area than LA. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be getting a call from a documentary film maker!

*Showing in Screen 2, The Showroom, on Friday, June 10 at 1pm