Explosions of flavour down on the farm

P1060313 'Scotch egg' from Stephen Wallis 09-07-2017 21-16-49

‘Scotch egg’ starter – there’s mango in the yolk

CHEF Cary Brown and I are peering at a little pyramid of pink peppercorn meringue. I take a bite and after the initial burst of sweetness comes a very peppery hit. “Too much!” I say. He shakes his head. “Now have that meringue with the pineapple.”

 I cut a piece of the fruit, which has been macerated in Sheffield rum and Malibu, then blowtorched, pop some meringue on my spoon and eat them together. The pepperiness has retreated gracefully into the background but is still there in a bath of pineapple and coconut flavours.

 “That’s very good and I don’t even like pineapple” says Cary, late of the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, and like me a judge in a heat at Whirlow Hall Farm’s annual cheffy contest, Sheff’s Kitchen. It may be for charity but the chefs take it seriously so we do, Cary even turning up in his whites.

 Whirlow’s own head chef Stephen Wallis is up against Scott Philliskirk from the Hidden Gem. They have each got a budget of £150 and one sous chef to cook for 23 paying guests and one judge. Diners eat either from the red or black menu and don’t know who is who.

 Cary and I decide the fairest way to judge is to eat liberally from each other’s plates and compare notes as we mark the scores in a series of categories. We quickly realise that while guests may have paid £30 a head they are getting a bargain with meals easily worth £40 – £45. And what is also impressive is the high degree of skill and dedication on show as well as different styles of cooking.

 “We are being very picky,” I murmur as we carefully deconstruct each course – is this pork too dry and this sauce too reticent? – which other diners are happily wolfing down. “We have to be,” says Cary, relishing the task.

At Whirlow there is really only one kitchen plus a bit of one so as Stephen was on home territory he generously offered the main one to his opponent and, with the help of a couple of bain maries, found himself plating up in the courtyard. Thankfully, it didn’t rain.

 Dish of the night is red menu Scott’s cannon of lamb, an explosion of flavour and so tender it almost hurt, rolled in crushed pistachio (“with a little bit of garlic,” notes my fellow judge) with a stunning roast cauliflower puree. Even the fact that the fondant potato could be softer doesn’t detract.

 Yet Scott, who won the popular vote from diners, didn’t win the contest. Stephen inched ahead, first with a complex starter of a ‘Scotch egg’ with a yolk made from pureed mango and carrot. He lost out on the main as the lamb rump delivered to the judges was a little undercooked. We’d been served first and noted that other plates would have rested that little bit longer and the meat would have been that much better. Chefs in future rounds may want to take note of this.

 But he won on a Battle of the Spuds, his carefully constructed smoky potato terrine fighting off the fondant.

 By now there was only a point or two in it. Which chef would get his just desserts? And that was the course we were judging. Was it Scott’s peppery pineapple backed up by a ginger mousse, coconut milk ice cream and ginger crumb? Or Stephen’s Whirlow strawberries, dark chocolate terrine, honeycomb and dark chocolate tuille?

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Whirlow’s Stephen Wallis plates up in the yard outside the restaurant!

 Perhaps it was the richess of the terrine or the unexpected sherbet hit from slices of dehydrated strawberry that just tipped him over the line first.

 I found it extremely instructive sitting down with a professional chef and examining the food mouthful by mouthful. Of course, you can get too technical and I was there to provide the viewpoint of the experienced diner with some 1,400 restaurant visits under his belt.

 “What dish would I eat again, the one with the technical expertise or the one which blows me away?” muses Cary. We hope we got it right but in a sense we didn’t. “Both of you deserve to be in the final,” he tells the two chefs.

 Charlie Curran of Peppercorn takes on Chris Mapp from the Tickled Trout in the next heat on August 13 but all the tables have been fully booked. There are tables available for the semi-final at Sheffield College’s Silver Plate restaurant on September 28, a much bigger venue than Whirlow Farm. To book visit http://www.sheffskitchen.co.uk

 *Cary Brown judged just 24 hours after quitting his excellent restaurant at the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, a fish-orientated stay which lasted only 14 months. It would be accurate to say the parting was not amicable. He’s considering his next move. “I’ll come up with something.”

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Scott’s cannon of lamb

A few more shots from the evening.

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Stephen (left) and Scott before the cooking begins

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Final touches to the pineapple dish

whirlow's dessert

chefs and judges at whirlow

Chefs and judges

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A little of what you fancies . . .

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Scones and fancies at the Flying Childers

I’M raising a cup of Darjeeling in the finest Wedgwood china during afternoon tea at Chatsworth, in honour of a horse called Flying Childers. In fact, we’re in the restaurant named after this 18th Century stallion once owned by the second Duke of Devonshire.

With six wins out of six the Duke wouldn’t sell him for his weight in gold. No matter that three of those wins were walkovers, the old boy (the horse, not the duke) went on to sire a champion called Spanking Roger.

And spanking, as in spankingly good, is how I’d describe the twelfth duke’s Wedgwood Afternoon Tea which costs £35 a head. Why, you could almost buy a Wedgwood china sugar bowl for that money. An extra tenner gets you a glass of champagne.

Our table top can hardly be seen for pretty, delicate Wedgwood in bright patterns and colours. There are plates, teapots, cup and saucers, a sugar bowl, milk jug, tea strainer bowls, gold coloured Wedgwood cutlery – a cake knife, fork and spoon – with a Wedgwood china dish to rest them in.  Only the sugar cubes aren’t Wedgwood. “When it arrived we were terrified of breaking anything,” says café manager Meire Heard. So are we and I nearly succeed when my tea cup tips over.

The new menu was launched in March and has been a hit. Chatsworth has invited my wife and I as guests to see just how good it is. The restaurant is in a glazed arcade which runs the length of one side of the old stable block and the first thing you notice is a painting of the eponymous horse.

Walking to our table we pass a party of Japanese women enjoying their scones and jam. The way the Flying Childers does it, this English tea ceremony is almost as complex as their own.

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Coronation Chicken was our favourite sandwich

First you are asked to choose your champagne (if you’re having it) and then the tea. Don’t look for PG Tips or builders’ tea. And it’s loose. A teabag at the Flying Childers would be a scandal. There is Earl Grey but as my wife is already wearing Earl Grey and cucumber perfume she doesn’t want to be mistaken for a tea pot so opts for  full-bodied Ceylon while I have fragrant Darjeeling. “My grandmother told me to always put the milk in first so it wouldn’t crack the china,” says my wife. I’m thinking of my mother who would always crook her little finger whenever she had a naice cup of tea in a naice place to match but this is 2017 so I don’t.

The Wedgwood Afternoon Tea is treated like a three course meal (cheaper versions are available). First comes some ‘gin and tonic’ cured salmon, cut thickly, with a citrusy crème fraiche, salted cucumber and rye croutons. It sparkles as much as our champagne.

This is followed by a plate of sandwiches and tartlets: Coronation Chicken, egg mayonnaise and cress and ham and chutney sandwiches in white and brown bread, and two beautifully done miniature pastries: a goat’s cheese, pine nut and red onion tart in a red (beetroot juice?) embossed pastry case which crumbles as you touch it and a more robust but still excellent pesto and vegetable quiche.

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Goats cheese tart: so tiny but big in flavour

It’s the pastry work at Chatsworth which always has me purring in admiration. There is more in evidence in the third course, the scones, cakes and fancies. The scones, cherry and sultana, are tiny but light and moist. The fancies are terrific: A Black Forest ‘gateau’ is hardly that although it comes with a couple of drunken boozy cherries in a box of the crispest pastry. There’s also a zippy lime and rhubarb shortbread cheesecake, well-scented Earl Grey panna cotta and little kiwi fruit tarts.

The only thing we’re wary of is the macaroons because we fear a sugar rush but, at the risk of sounding like a Two Ronnies’ sketch, I’m glad to see Chatsworth insists on two Os in macaroon and not this new affectation for calling them macarons.

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The Flying Childers restaurant

If all this seems like indulgence you’d be right. The menu wickedly urges you to ‘indulge yourself’ several times. But even gastronomic hedonism has to come to an end.  After a relaxed hour there are just crumbs on our plates (but not many) and a lonely macaroon, while the glasses of Laurent-Perrier champagne have been drained. It is expensive but you are paying for first class service, elegant surroundings and some wonderful patisserie work.

Plus a memory or two. For us it’s already up there with afternoon tea at The Ritz, cucumber sandwiches, harpist and all.

# Wedgwood Afternoon Tea costs £35, with champagne it’s £45. You can book online at www.chatsworth.org or drop in. Teas are served between 2 and 4pm.

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This painting of Flying Childers is at the restaurant entrance

Strawberry fields forever

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Tom picks strawberries at Birchin Lee

I HEARD the grandchildren being told to pick the strawberries and not eat them or at least not too many! So I told myself the same, filling the cardboard trug as swiftly as I could and taking only the occasional nibble. Mmm, firm and decently sweet.. Around me on this sunny Saturday morning in a field on the fringe of Sheffield other families were doing the same, at least one, with a child, from Eastern Europe.

I hadn’t done this for at least five years, with another set of grandchildren. I have been fruit picking in between, blackcurrants and gooseberries, blackberries and apples and rowans but it has all been for free, in parks and neighbours’ gardens. And my own. But on a Pick Your Own site, as at A Pearson & Sons at Dronfield Woodhouse, you queue up to weigh and pay.

PYO was always worth a story in summer when I ran the Sheffield Star’s Diary page. I’d ring Edwin Pocock at Totley Hall Farm because he was an obliging sort, only too happy to stride over the strawberry fields, pick the biggest and reddest one and pose, jaws ready, to be snapped eating it for my photographer. And, of course, I got some to take home.

Eventually, even though I christened him King Strawberry, he stopped growing soft fruit and, instead, concentrated on running nativity scenes in a barn with a friendly donkey or two. He blamed a lack of trade on people no longer able or knowledgeable enough to make jams, jellies or pies.

I try this on Howard Pearson, third generation soft fruit grower at his BIrchin Lee Nurseies but he’s not having it. Business is still brisk although there are fewer PYO sites, he says, flicking through that day’s bills in the post while watching the till. What variety of strawberries is it? Elsanta? (that’s the only one I know.) “I don’t like Elsanta, too hard. We’ve got Lucy and . . .” he mentions another variety I forget.

The company website tells you that Howard’s grandfather George took over an old nursery as a market garden at Mickley Lane, Totley, in 1889 and expanded to Bichin Lee in 1910. The business wound up in 1961 for family reasons and Howard’s father started the present firm as market gardeners. They grew, among other things, strawberries until 1976, a hot summer “when all the strawberries were ripening faster than our staff could pick them. We decided to open the fields of strawberries to the public for Pick Your Own and we have been doing it ever since.”

So far there are strawberries and gooseberries to pick with a few raspberries already ripening. I tried a few but they still needed sunshine. Howard begged to differ – he’d had half a punnet for his tea – but then it is his business. There were plenty of gooseberries and I picked a pound or two but not not as many as one family who’d picked two big trugs full. Their car was next to mine. What were they going to do with them? “Jam,” said one of the women. “With elderflowers,” said the chap and strode off, presumably to find some.

On the way back we stopped at Sharp’s greengrocers on Abbeydale Road and found 250g boxes of raspberries at two for £1 so bought 1.5 kilos for jam and tea.

I follow the Delia Smith method for making strawberry jam, which keeps the fruit whole. For every pound of fruit you use 14oz of sugar (or 450g of fruit to 400g sugar). Mix gently together in a bowl (or in your preserving pan), cover and leave overnight. The following day the juices will have dissolved much of the sugar.

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The strawberry juice dissolves the sugar

Gently reheat until all the sugar has melted and bring briskly to the boil, adding the juice of at least half a lemon, for pectin. I don’t use a thermometer but put some plates in the freezer to chill. When you think you are ready turn off the heat, pour a tablespoon of jam on the plate and leave in the fridge for five minutes. If it wrinkles, it’s ready.

If you had plenty of scum when the fruit was boiling get rid of it by turning off the heat and whisking in a knob of butter. It really works.

I like a light set with my jams which usually take 24 hours to stiffen up. If your fruit rises to the top of the jar simply upend it (as you would with marmalade) and keep doing so until it is more or less evenly dispersed.

I got five half poundish jars of strawberry jam and the same for raspberry jam. You can proceed as for strawberries but the fruit is much more prone to breaking up. Use equal amounts of fruit and sugar and lemon juice for pectin (or redcurrant if you have it).

My grandchildren love raspberry and strawberry jam. It shouldn’t last long!

Visit http://www.pearsonsnurseries.co.uk

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Raspberry and strawberry jams

Definitely not the same old poutine

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John Parsons’ poutine at the Beer Engine

POUTINE sounds like a female follower of Russia’s President Putin but actually it’s a foodie fad which in my sheltered life I’d never come across until a year or two ago. It’s the Canadian version of cheesy chips, that student stand-by, although as I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties the most exciting thing to eat was a late night Wimpy. We never went exotic and put cheese on chips.

Back in 2015 I saw it on the blackboard at Jonty Cork’s eponymous little café on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, and asked what it was. He’d been taught it by a Canadian houseguest who was on a cheesemaking course at Welbeck School of Artisan Food.

The idea was to cook some chips, add cheese curds and bathe the lot with gravy. It is, apparently, a fast food dish which started life in Quebec, the mostly French speaking province of Canada. As I recall Jonty had a bit of a problem getting the right curds – apparently they have to be the same size as the chips – until he settled on a squidgy German mozzarella.

Well it was breakfast so I didn’t get to taste Jonty’s poutine although I saw it on other menus and, once, chalked on a wall. As I’m a bit of a food snob there never seemed to be a cheesy chips moment and then it seemed to fade from fashion.

But I’ve been going to the Beer Engine at the bottom of Cemetery Road quite a bit lately and noticed it on chef John Parsons’ menu. Still, I shunned it in favour of dishes like pig cheek ragu, dipped ox cheek sarni and crab and prawn rice rolls. Then, lunching with fellow foodie blogger and Masterchef contestant Craig Harris, we reckoned that if ever there was a cheesy chips moment it was then.

John makes no claims to it being authentic but says it is his Sheffield version. He didn’t use the word but I will, superior. It is listed as Sheffield Poutine: cheesy chips and ox liquor gravy with cinema cheese sauce. I had to ask what this last was and was told it squirts out of a bottle. See what I mean about a sheltered life? The chips were big and fat. The cheese sauce (curds are not the way with this dish) was a béchamel with cheese (I forget which), spiked with paprika, and the gravy the left-over liquor from the ox cheek. It was lovely with a glass of Neepsend Blonde.

“It’s been on the menu since I started. It’s a case of using up whatever is in the kitchen,” said John. It costs £4 and fills you up splendidly. There’s a veggie version but you’d miss the best element, the ox cheek liquor. So is it poutine a Quebecker would recognise? Probably not but I’d take this any day.

We had only one complaint: you needed a hunk of bread or a spoon, which we got. John was taking no criticism. “You do this” – and he mimed picking up the dish and drinking the gravy down – “particularly after a few pints!”

Check out the Beer Engine at http://www.beerenginesheffield.com and Craig’s excellent blog at http://www.craigscrockpot.wordpress.com

STOP PRESS: John Parsons has now left the Beer Engine (as from August) and is mulling over new plans. It is certainly still worth a visit, particularly for the Korean chicken wings.

I’m a fool for gooseberries

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Cheap as chips and good enough to eat!

AS a kid, whenever I asked the question how I’d been born my mother would brush me off by saying I had been found under a gooseberry bush. This time of year I spend plenty of time hanging around them, collecting box in hand.

 They are cheap enough in the shops but free gooseberries taste even sweeter, albeit with the addition of a few tablespoons of sugar. I have my own special hunting ground in one of the local parks where I also pick blackcurrants, cherries, apples, damsons and plums in season. I’m not telling you where!

 I am usually surprised no one else bothers but this year I thought someone had beaten me to it at the bigger of two bushes. There were only gooseberries at the highest levels but once I’d got my eye in I found more. The smaller, more accessible bush, had hardly been touched. I quicky collected a shade short of two pounds.

 Some of them were going to make a gooseberry fool, the most spectacular and cheapest of desserts and, more to the point, the only way I can get my wife to eat them. This is a deluxe version of the recipe I gave last year here and this time with measurements.

 To fill two large wine glasses you need 300g of gooseberries but taste one first to judge how much sugar you’ll need. I used two tablespoons and then a bit. Last year I used elderflower gin but it has gone off so I added a capful of my favourite gin, a tablespoon of water then nipped down the bottom of the garden and nicked four of my neighbour’s heads of elderflowers. As they were next door that counted as foraging. On the way back I took some fragrant (unidentified) blossoms from my hedge. That wasn’t. You will also need thick yoghurt and, if you’re being really snazzy, some crème fraiche and ice cream.

 First top and tail and wash your gooseberries. That removed a caterpillar. Put them in a heavy bottomed ban with the sugar, liquids and very well shaken blossoms. Using a simmer plate and the lowest heat, watching like a hawk, I cooked the berries until soft, about 20 minutes.

 I strained the gooseberries and reserved the best ten for garnish. I measured the liquid and used only half of it, putting it in the blender with the cooked berries and pressing the button. This is a very good suggestion from Nigella Lawson, on whose recipe mine is loosely based. This is to stop the puree being too runny. I put the remaining liquid in a shallow box to freeze to make water ice.

 Now mix half the resultant puree with a few tablespoons of yoghurt and leave in the fridge to cool. Check the water ice after a couple of hours and mush up with a fork.

 This is a last minute assembly job. In two large wine glasses I put some ice cream in the bottom followed by layers of yoghurt-puree mix, the remainder of the gooseberry puree, some crème fraiche, splinters of water ice and finally the reserved gooseberries, garnished with a spring of garden mint.

 It tasted as good as it looked. You could simplify this, as Nigella does, and just have yoghurt and puree but don’t forget the water ice, something for nothing. As were the gooseberries. We reflected that in a restaurant this dessert would easily have cost £6.50. Not bad for an hour’s foraging.

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Chickens

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ONE of the continental book fairs, I can’t be sure whether it was Frankfurt or Hamburg, used to run a competition for the silliest book title. My favourite was Know Your Pony but another year The Joy of Chickens came top of the list.

I’ve never forgotten it and it makes the title of this post. If you’re a foodie who cooks and wastes nothing you will already know that a chicken just keeps on giving and the initial cost, whether cheap or expensive, is spread over meal after meal.

The other day we bought a medium chicken from Kempka’s on Abbeydale Road (you have to order in advance these days and collect on Saturdays), see http://wp.me/p5wFIX-K8 and I cut it up into portions because I was going to marinate it in lemon, olive oil, garlic and herbs before grilling for Sunday lunch.. As there was just the two of us, my wife settled for a breast and I had a leg. We didn’t want the skin so while I was busy in the kitchen I snipped it into bite-sized bits and gently fried them as a snack, see here.

It was amazing how much meat was left, if you really looked for it. I got enough for a curry and a stir fry, which I froze, with some left over for a pie. The carcass made a stock for a soup, although I grilled the wings for part of my Monday lunch. I had bought some leeks so the greens went in the stock while the whites made it a chicken and leek pie. So one chicken gave ten main courses (the soup was substantial) and a couple of snacks.

You really can’t do this with any other meat: leftover beef or lamb with give you a cottage or shepherds pie, duck just runs to fat. For me it really is the joy of chickens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There by the skin of my teeth

I ONLY got to judge Radio Sheffield’s chef cum celebrity cook off this Bank Holiday weekend at the city’s food festival by the skin of my teeth – literally. I was having the two front teggies replaced by implants but not until after the contest. Then disaster! The temporary falsies snapped and the standby teeth shot out every time I sneezed.

A food critic is no good without his gnashers but luckily my dental surgeon got them fitted in time.

It was fun. The radio station’s presenters Paulette Edwards and Steve Bailey were paired with two of Sheffield’s finest, Lee Mangles, late of Silversmiths, now at the Lawn View Clubhouse, and Luke Durkan from Craft & Dough, respectively.

Both chefs had 20 minutes to cook up a dish with celebrity help, or hindrance in the case of Luke, from a box of mystery ingredients. I was a little surprised they didn’t have the same ingredients. 

Lee had a baby rack of lamb which he finished off as three chops, served with spinach and an ace onion jam, made there and then. Nice but he wasn’t given any rosemary and the pressure of time (or helper Paulette) lost marks because the broad beans hadn’t been skinned. They weren’t young or tender enough to eat unskinned.

Luke’s fillet of Moss Valley pork won the day on taste and a clever little orange, garlic and chilli sauce, even though Steve lost half the orange zest while prepping.

It genuinely was close and while I was there by the skin of my teeth poor Lee lost through the skin of his beans!

Paulette, Lee, Steve and Luke cook like fury at Radio Sheffield’s cooknoff