Friday, 18 November 2011

A New Old Christmas


I've always had such a crush on Donna Reed.

     ‘It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, it’s Christmas...’  This was my Father’s mantra...he more unable to wait than us...standing by the door at ridiculous o’clock and slowly unlocking our fitful slumber with this Yuletide whisper until my brother and I bolted and tore off to the tree screaming with excitement.  Dad quietly cackling to himself, Mom not quite ready for it all.  
     What is Christmas to me?  Well, this most Christian of celebrations has come a long way from simply being baby Jesus’ birthday.  All I see when I glance around is the same old marketing tripe being trawled out from last year, hastening us shoppers into an anxious frenzy of retail fear, a maximum overdrive of pumped up promises that are laid bare on that anti-climatic day.  The boring party menus slogged out by chefs dreading the hardest month of the trade, the garish blockades of hypermarket tat and poor quality chocolates near depressing me into a Scrooge like hibernation, stooped and snarling to my fellow giddy citizens.  

     But wait, this is to be no bah humbug story.  Now that I myself have a wee one it becomes easier to sift through the sands of time and cast the mind back to my own childhood.  Real food made by real hands with real love.  Grandmothers and mothers painstakingly preparing the mountains of sugared delights.  The homemade popcorn strings, crocheted and starched tree ornaments, sparkly paper chains and real mistletoe stealthily hung.  I remember it was a time to be dressed in one’s finest to make the rounds, the annual visits to family and friends not oft seen throughout the year.  Cards exchanged with clinking glasses.  Best behaviour of course.  If we were lucky we would get two turkey dinners on the big day, our families being so large.  And, of course, the presents.  But what I remember is quality.  The whole ‘it’s the thought that counts’ never really washed with me.  Poor gifts always told me thoughts were what they were without.  I always strive to get the exact right gift for the person in mind.  Not ten rubbish ones, just one or two ‘this tells you I care’ gifts.  They don’t need to be expensive, rather, just right.  And homemade gifts are brilliant, if you possess actual artistic skill.

So, what has happened to this holiday?  This historic birthday bash?  Are we really just too busy now, working too hard?  Both parents now bent to the grindstone, leaving not a lot of time in the run up for baking and festive games.  The further factor of smaller families aids to the tarnishing of old baubles.  For my own part, it’s a tough one.  I’ll be working from 8:00am till quite late on Christmas Day.  The thing is, now that we have Master D, all those childhood memories come flooding back.  The years of not really caring about Christmas, in fact slightly dreading it due to the job are over and I want to ensure the boy gets a taste of all the good things I had whilst growing up.  So, Christmas Eve’s importance may grow, and the gifts may not be attacked until I get home the next day.  Folk adapt, new traditions are forged.   Alas, I may be sneaking out the door when Dad used to be waking us up, but maybe the wife will be thanking me for that one in the end.  

The inspirational wave crest I am currently surfing is due greatly to the sparkle of my new domain.  Southernhay House Hotel is a real gem and where else could one summon up the ghosts of Christmas‘ past, present and future but in this grand old city house.  The spirits of Dickens, Queen Victoria and an England of yore weigh heavy and I can honestly say I have never put so much effort into seasonal menus.  Proper, old school British, reliant on local harvests and damn delectable.  Here are some new old favorites that may just wind their way into the customs of my family.  For that, I thank you.  Happy Christmas to all.

Game Terrine & Mosaic Membrillo
Ok, a posh pate.  Lined with Pipers Farm streaky bacon and chock full of every type of game shot in the region.  Rabbit, pheasant, venison, partridge and pigeon.  The forcemeat is a healthy mix of the game trim and ground pork.  Texture contrast and color spikes provided by some toasted pistachios and dried fruits.  So lucky to have Hillside Specialty Foods providing a bespoke mosaic quince cheese or ‘membrillo’.  Deck the halls!

Spiced Beef, Beets, Oranges & Mulberry Dressing
When I first tried this out it was one of those moments.  Epic.  How this could fall out of favor I’ll never know.  More an Irish thing, but not unknown to these parts, it is a spice cured silverside that is then roasted and sliced very thinly.  I have foregone the usual saltpetre treatment, as you can see the dish is colourful enough.  A few weeks ago I was very fortunate to receive a big basket of mulberries which I promptly transformed into vinegar for a bright and fruity dressing.  

Stuffed Pipers Farm Goose, Duchess Potatoes & Cranberry Gravy
Sorry people, I’m just all turkey-ed out.  18 consecutive Decembers playing about with turkey crowns, turkey ballotines, turkey galantines, roast turkey...argh.  So proud to be able to showcase a much more princely bird.  Old school, new techniques.  Brined, stuffed and given the sous vide treatment, these birds will never toughen up.  Succulent, rich and truly more Christmassy than a gobbler.

Partridge & Pears
Ya see what I did there?  Huh?  For me, large birds for breaking down and cooking separately, small birds for roasting whole.  Rested to perfection and served up with some young Comice pears poached in a simple syrup and pan roasted.  Gravy finished with Hillside Specialty Foods pear fruit paste.  I’m all about Jay’s fruit pastes at the moment, much healthier and stable than the ol‘ monter au beurre.
Venison Olives on Trencher, Elderberry Gravy
Based on the classic beef olives.  This dish has nothing to do with olives, the moniker referring very roughly to the shape of the batted out meat; stuffed, rolled and tied.  Served up on a medieval ‘trencher‘ or ‘bread plate‘ originally used in place of a dish.  Also lovely for soaking up all that fruity gravy that has been jacked up with some old school pontack sauce, or spiced elderberry vinegar.  Garnish with a few choice girolles and chestnuts and, well...you just might break into Gloria in Excelsis Deo.  

Torbay Sole, Brown Shrimps & Grapes
Right, the only conceivable good reason for not eating meat as your major course come Christmas Day is a clever guise of keeping it light to enable you to gorge on the rest of the courses.  Extra cheese perhaps?  A sole, any sole, cooked a la meuniere and tarted up with brown shrimps, peeled grapes, celery leaf and capers might, just might turn a hardened carnivore’s eye.  For a moment.  Snarl.
Exeter Pudding & Hard Sauce
Has it really taken a Canadian to get this pud back on an Exeter restaurant’s menu?  The shame.  I’ll admit, taken just as it is out of Mrs. Beeton, it really did need some work.  This lightened up version punches above its weight with big apricot and almond flavors and is a nice alternative to the Marmite sentiment of the traditional Christmas Pudding.  (P.S. I hate it.)  Served with a dollop of traditional hard sauce- simply creamed butter and sugar with your choice of booze.  Amaretti here seemed appropriate.  

Damson Jelly & Eggnog Custard
There is something special about damsons.  The color, the unique tartness...oh what a jelly.  Pair it up with a wee bit of sweeter compote and a traditional English eggnog flavored custard...yes, you read right, eggnog is traditionally English.  Discarded along the way like so many of your goodies, and made more popular across the water.  Well here you go, lobbed back from across the pond.

Potted Beenleigh Blue & Port, Medlar Cheese
Potting and waiting just seems to make everything better.  A bit of softened and mashed blue cheese with half its weight again in butter, spices of your choice, a little English mustard powder and some reduced syrupy port.  OMG.  Sealed with some clarified butter this will only improve with age.  Served with the unknown Devon delicacy, Roman import and Victorian favorite- medlars; I mean; how unique, seasonal and perfect can your afters get?

Merry Christmas
An edited version of this article featured in Devon Life magazine December 2011.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Children's Menu


The standoff
'Children's Menu'...The very words beckon a red mist to my beleaguered chef’s brain.  Children’s menus are unnecessary, cheapen the establishment and are, quite simply, naff.  Surely, now that Britain is basking in a golden age of celeb chefs, influential restaurants and general foodie madness; we can do away with this sad and cheesy little document.  Half portions from the a la carte or starters should suffice, no?  How condescending to our little people that they aren’t ‘allowed’ to eat the delicacies of which we partake.  I’m not even going to touch the hot topic of what many parents are feeding their presumably precious ones at home.  There oughtta be laws.

Having a kid really threw me.  No two ways about it.  My little dude is now 1.5 years on our crazy ol’ planet and it really is a great bit of luck to discover that he is the most handsome, perfect and advanced lad that ever blossomed from the union of two.  But, my oh my the challenges.  At 1yr he was well past the blitzed pap stage and was wanting some bite to his diet.  He refused to wear a bib and ceased to let us feed him.  I approach every meal, (my wife deals with far more than I) with trepidation.  Is he in the mood?  Will it be floor scrubbing and wall scraping for dessert again after the latest foray into self nourishment?  I mean, how much banana squishing, raisin tossing, plate flipping and juice pouring can one toddler achieve in a day.  Quite a lot actually.  As you can imagine, I am pretty keen that he grows up with more than a passing knowledge of food, and, at the very least, a decent palate.  As far as I am concerned it nearly goes without saying that he isn’t munching on rich tea biscuits, chips, candy or any rubbish.  If we are on the go, we are obsessive over what packaged food to purchase.  All of us have to buy the stuff sometimes, just be sure to check out the ingredients.  If you start the man off on rice cakes, he won’t hanker for wotsits.  At least that’s the theory.  There will be enough time later when he has grown beyond our reach for him to indulge in processed crap. 
So, what does a chef cook for his most vocal and violent little critic?  Pretty much whatever the wee man will eat.  When you find something that works, and is healthy, it becomes part of your homespun ‘children’s menu’.  It really has been strange making scrambled eggs without salt, seeking out the very ripest fruit to puree so as not to have to add sugar, and dealing with the rejection of putting in a heck of a lot of effort to see it swept onto the floor with a smirk.  My sure thing is softish scrambled eggs with buttery soldiers.  They always seem to do the trick.  Other success stories seem to be anything colourful cut into the right size for his little hands to grasp.  Ham and roast beef also fare well and yogurt is a must.  A warm bowl of porridge in the morning usually does the trick and a firm favourite for sometime has been pureed cauliflower with a little smoked salmon.
I love watching him explore a new texture, examine a new colour.  The expressive wonder of his blessed countenance, rolling a bit of melon around his mouth for the first time.  It really is all about initial impressions, finding his way around a new flavour.  Freud likened these little monsters to pure Id, and I think he may have hit the nail on the head.  The snatch and grab constant robberies that occur when, heaven forbid, you might be trying to pop something into your own mouth...it’s all gimme, gimme, gimme.  Trickery abounds.  When I pretend to covet and hide broccoli, sure enough he screams until I let him have it.  ‘Oh, ok, if you must have Daddy’s special overcooked brassica.’  
I look forward to his first bit of foie gras on toast.  His first juicy steak.  His first asparagus and poached eggs.  I see these as important and fun as when he first watches Loony Toons or Stars Wars, listens to Beethoven or Led Zeppelin, reads Kipling or Hemingway.  It’s my job to lead him to the water, it’s up to him whether he takes a big drink.  But if all else fails, a toy with tea usually helps.

Gammon Steak & Green Stuff



½ Just Us Organic gammon steak
Assorted green stuff- broad beans, courgette, peas, green beans, broccoli etc. Cooked just beyond a crunch.
Pile it up and let him pick it apart, throw it around, mash it into the wood grain of the table and hopefully swallow some.

Fruit Fun



All manner of fruits peeled where necessary and heaped together in a kaleidoscope of I-can’t-resistness.

Surefire Scrambled & Soldiers



Bright yellow yolked free range egg whisked with a little cream and cooked in butter.
Brown buttered toast soldiers.


An edited version of this article can be read in the October issue of Devon Life Magazine

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Maddocks Farm Organics




    A good chef can spot a top ingredient at 100 yards.  The first time I found myself at Cullompton’s Farmers’ market, I zeroed in on these fantastic and vibrant salad bags.  It speaks volumes that before Jan agreed to supply the hotel I worked at the time, she secretly came and ate...to check if I was worthy!  Thus began a long and fruitful relationship and friendship with one of Devon’s top producers.  Salad leaves can often be such an oversight in a restaurant.  And, lord knows, the supermarkets don’t shine on this one.  Hand on heart, I can state that these are the best tasting, freshest and most diverse range of leaves, lettuces, herbs and edible flowers that I have encountered.
    The story began ten years ago for Jan and Stuart, (her professional philatelist husband/farmhand.) and it is one shared by many.  London dwellers, the pitter patter of little feet, too many glasses of wine whilst watching River Cottage and an ache for The Good Life.  Well, the Billingtons are case in point for what a slow and steady plan, hard graft and total commitment to quality and detail can reap.  The irony of the situation is, of course, you actually end up with less down time than back in the big smoke.  When does the watering, weeding and planting stop?  Their stunning ‘plantation’ on the edges of Kentisbeare is a little slice of heaven with listed farm house, acres of greenery, duck pond and their fab ‘The Haybarn’ holiday let.


    Certified Organic, Jan has a lot to say on the topic and we have had many a heated discussion about the whole matter.  Essentially we agree.  There are so many misleading food buzz words out there.  Someone does something good and right and then the marketers and money men grasp hold in grubby hands.  Organic to Jan is an ideal not just a soil sample and relevant certificate.  Jan states, ‘Organic should be about quality, freshness, integrity and miles.  A thought to the environment around you, cause and effect.  It isn’t just about supplying what people want or what was ordered, it is about providing what is best on the day.’  Maddocks Farm delivers goods that are picked that morning.  Period.  The salad bags aren’t pumped full of nitrogen, the leaves aren’t washed in a chlorine solution.  When you buy lettuces or leaves that are ‘just picked’ they will last five days in the fridge without unwanted and artificial aids.  Force Jan to sit down a moment over a cup of tea and she can wax lyrical.  ‘When all is dewy and a bit foggy in the morning, when I go out and survey the crops, it’s about intuition.  An innate sense of what is at its very peak of perfection.  Those are the lovelies that find their way into the bags that day.’  When I see the obsessive attention Jan puts into each leaf, I coin a new term.  Organically Certifiable.  Respect.  

    Dare I wade into the organic debate?  Are fresh picked, non-organic yet naturally grown vegetables from just down the road better than fancy wrapped organic product at your local hypermarket?  Probably.  Taste the food.  Let your tongue make decisions rather than packaging, food trends, ad words or price.  Remember, we are lucky down here.  The South West has little issue with poor animal welfare, pesticides or chemicals.  The U.K. is one of the safest places on the planet to buy food due to past crimes and hard lessons learnt.
Before
After
    Meanwhile, back at the ranch.  Never mind the backache, the never ending days and the soiled hands, it is the weather that poses the most difficult challenge.  Climate change is pretty bloody obvious when snow starts ravaging this little island and you have the driest and hottest spring on record.  Luckily, Maddocks Farm have their own bore hole for watering and reams of fleece to blanket the crops saved most of it during the odd -15 degree night.  With the summer months now upon us the team is full steam ahead.  Everything in bloom, Jan and her lieutenant Mandy Christie start early and finish late to ensure all is picked, washed, bagged and delivered.  Much of Jan’s business is to Posh Nosh, one of the South West’s top event caterers and weddings are in full swing.  The edible flowers are a real favourite for these dos and add class and colour to festive functions.  For my own use, I use a tailor made, uber colourful and herby mix for the Southernhay House Salad and a mix of green lettuces for a simpler side dish.  The flowers are also fab for spicy and aromatic compound butters that jazz up any vegetable, grilled fish or meat dishes.  Now is the time for courgette flowers which I like to stuff with a scallop mix, dip in tempura and fry.  Jan and I came up with this great Pimm’s jelly utilizing her ginger mint and borage flowers which we showcased a la demo in the Dart’s Farm Tent at the Exeter Food Festival.  It’s all about relationships, obsessive individuals and the cross pollination of enthusiasm and ideas.  Keep the faith and lead the way Jan.
    Details of where you can purchase, eat and learn about all things Maddocks Farm can be found at- www.maddocksfarmorganics.co.uk  


Pimm's Jelly with Jan's borage flowers




As seen in Devon Life magazine July 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever

John Lennon's inspiration


Let me take you down indeed.  The ultimate British band waxing lyrical about the quintessential British berry.  Hard to imagine what the lads were on about, but how could they go wrong with Fragaria; the strawberry, symbol of the Virgin Mary and summer itself.  This Latin name Fraga refers to the fruit’s fragrance.  The English word ‘strawberry’ is due to the ‘straying’ erratic habit of the plant, much like many of its rose and blackberry cousins.


The cultivated berry with which we are so familiar is well travelled and not so very old.  An American variety, unsurprisingly plump and proud found its way to France with a French officer in the 17th century, but it was the Brits that were the innovators and pioneered large scale breeding; producing two famous varieties, the Downton and the Elton.  The very names conjure up some past-it pop star strolling the regal corridors of his empty abbey.  Yet it was a market gardener called Michael Keens that produced the ‘Keens’ Seedling’, blowing all others out of the race with sensational size and flavour.  The 1821 advent of this new super berry spread rapidly to the continent and back to America.  Nearly all modern varieties are derived from Michael’s magic seed.
So what makes the strawberry so special,  so perfect in every way?  Well, the timing couldn’t be better.  A long, often droll and boring English winter, (ok, I know, not this one) gives way to a wet spring, (ok, yes, driest on record...climate change and all that) and then strawberries hit late spring/early summer.  It is one of the first sure signs of good times ahead, a bright red siren of juicy goodness beckoning in the heat of July and August.  The Brits perfected them, sent them off for the world to sample, catching on like wildfire.  They are yours.  The strawberry is simply...well...English.  And we can be ruddy proud of that.  And we can make damn sure that we are savouring them as God intended, during the English strawberry season.  Take heed all you chefs and supermarkets that insist on plying us with foreign fluff in January...they may look like strawberries, but they don’t taste like strawberries and it just isn’t cricket.  Never mind animal rights protesters.  (No, seriously, never mind them)  Someone should start up a seasonal vegetable/fruit protesters organisation.  Picket those uncaring fools selling asparagus in December.  But, I digress.  It is the flavour really, isn’t it.  Sure, we can allude to the sexual nature of the sidelong glance of a halved strawberry, it’s aphrodisiacal qualities, but it is our singing taste buds that elevate this berry to heavenly status.  An actual burst occurs in your mouth with a well sun-ripened specimen, just the right amount of acidity with that unmistakable taste.  God’s own bon-bon.  And I haven’t even mentioned the wild variety.  The flavour packed into the little crazies you see topping my desserts here...well, Willy Wonka himself would scratch his head in wonder.  Where did I get them?  Never you mind, but Devon I swear.  



Timing, flavour, what about the fact that they are wholly unique in the entire fruit world?  Technically they are known as an ‘accessory fruit’.  The seeds which, unlike those of any other, are on the outside and are the true fruits of the plant.  Huh?  The fleshy ‘berry’ to which they are attached is an enlarged, softened receptacle, corresponding to the small, white cone connected to the stem.  This cluster of dry fruit seeds is described in Radio 4 circles as an ‘etaerio of achenes’ as opposed to the raspberry’s ‘etaerio of druplets’.  Of course.  Thank-you Alan Davidson.
So, how to eat them.  Straight up with a little caster sugar stirs my boyhood memories.  The sugar acting as a seasoning, bringing out the flavour even more.  The Wimbledon way, with cream, one can never go wrong.  The North American strawberry shortcake is a winner, or a touch of sophistication from the continent, macerated in red wine.  Preserves, The Devon Cream Tea, the list is fairly exhaustive.  However you indulge, just make sure they are served at room temperature, like a good tomato; fridge cold is pointless and painful on the teeth.  Also, dipping in chocolate is a no-no.  Doesn’t work.  Tastes horrible.  White ‘chocolate’ yes, dark, no.  Personally, I don’t think they can be beat with a just-whipped vanilla cream or panna cotta.  Fragaria lend themselves to dairy so well.
‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, doubtless God never did.’
-William Allen Butler



Panna Cotta & Strawberries
Serves 5

600ml Double cream
150ml Milk
150g Caster sugar
3 Leaves Gelatine, soaked in cold water
1tbsp Marsala
1 Vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
Fresh Devon strawberries at room temperature

  1. Place the cream, milk, sugar, marsala and vanilla in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the gelatine.
  3. Pass through a fine sieve and pour into dariole moulds.
  4. Refrigerate until set.
  5. Turn out onto a plate by dipping the mould in boiling water for a few seconds.
  6. Garnish with sliced strawberries and strawberry sauce (optional).



Merlot Strawberries, Vanilla Cream & Black Pepper
Serves 6



600ml Quality merlot
5tbsp Caster sugar
¼ tsp Freshly ground or crushed black pepper
600gm Fresh Devon strawberries, quartered
300ml Double cream
½ Vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped

1. Place the red wine, sugar and black pepper in a bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.
2. Add the strawberries and let macerate for 30 minutes.
3. Whip the cream and vanilla.
3. To serve, divide among six wine glasses or champagne flutes and dollop with cream.
As seen in Devon Life Magazine, August 2011

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cod Verdure

Cod Verdure
Cod Verdure
For 4

1tsp White wine vinegar
1tsp Lemon juice
1tbsp Double cream
150gm Butter
1 Bay leaf
250gm Mix of your favourite green summer legumes and/or vegetables such as:
Peas, courgette, fennel, broad beans, sugar snaps, runner beans, asparagus, spring onion etc
A few choice Scottish girolles (optional)
Parsley, chives, dill, fennel frond and/or pea shoots
4x 180gm Cod fillets

Method:

1) Combine the white wine vinegar and lemon juice in a small saucepan.
2) Bring to the boil and add the cream and bay leaf, reduce somewhat.
3) Reduce the heat and whisk in the butter a bit at a time.
4) Cover with a lid or cling film and leave somewhere warm.
5) Season the cod fillets well and fry in a hot non-stick pan until golden.
6) Turn the fillets over, baste in a little butter and if they are very thick, pop in a hot oven for a minute or two.  If not, let rest in a warm place.
7) Quickly blanch the green veggies and girolles if using and drain well.
8) Warm the butter sauce gently and fold in your ‘verdure’.
9) Add chopped herbs of your choice and mix well.

To serve:

    Divide the verdure mix between the four plates and top with a golden fried cod fillet.  Garnish with pea shoots, dill or fennel and serve with a crisp white such as a good Chablis.

Notes:

    Verdure: 1. greenness, especially of fresh, flourishing vegetation.
    I have always loved this word.  Many will know me as a bit of a wordsmith as well as a cook and more and more this is filtering into my menus whether it be from an historical aspect or something that just sounds apt.  Verdure is a perfect word for this dish as it uses the very best of the peak summer.  All things green and good.
    I haven’t cooked with cod for around six years.  I’ve missed it and felt that it was my duty to give the fish a break due to apparent dwindling stocks.  Turns out it isn’t the stocks that are the problem!  There is only so much we can do as cooks and diners, I’ll pick my battles elsewhere and enjoy cod again for awhile.  It really is a perfect fish, wasted in batter to my mind.

A Southernhay House Hotel signature dish.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Just June

Southernhay House Hotel

Pre-opening madness, opening aplomb whilst fighting fires, settling in and working hard.  Throw in some ice hockey and Glastonbury 2011 and you've got a June to remember.  One thing is for sure, it's great to be back at the stove.  As I take this much needed moment to reflect, I find I am certainly inspired by Deborah's vision and this grand house, its 'look', its history.
My menu is indeed nodding towards the grandes brasseries of Paris via the trends of modern London.  French classics sit well with Empire Food now that Britain can hold its head high in the culinary world.  There is no need for us to be one or the other...how limiting, how boring. Entente Cordiale dahling.  I know not what Modern British cookery is...I give you...Antique British?  Like this grand old home and its original and current owners...well travelled, well heeled and very cosmo.  Oozing history but still reading the papers.  Breathing new life into Southernhay and Exeter itself.  Enough talk...eat, drink and be merry...for tomorrow you could be stuck in the mud in a Somerset field or in mad embrace while a city burns.  I smell smoke, or could it be a wrongly braised pancetta.  Right, I'm outta here...salmagundi and knickerbocker glories beckon.
Some images of my June-


Motley Crew
The Importance of Waiter Tastings
Chandelier Take 2
Congrats Djokovic
Riot Here, Riot Now...
Vancouver proves once again to be the poorest of sports.
Glastonbury 2011
Glastonbury 2011
Hungry?  Get down to Southernhay House!
 

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Stinging Nettles

Nettle Soup with Créme Fraiche

Ingredients for 4:

1/2 Diced white onion
1 Minced garlic clove
130gm Peeled and diced potato
400ml Water or vegetable stock
200gm Nettles (Tops and young leaves preferable, not too stalky.)
40gm Butter
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Seasoning
Créme fraiche

Method:

1) Melt half the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
2) Add the diced onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook gently until softened.
3) Add the water and bring to a boil.
4) Add the potato and nutmeg and simmer until fully cooked.
5) Pour into a blender and add the nettles and spinach a bit at a time, pushing down into the hot   liquid with a spoon.
6) Blitz on high for two minutes, drop the remaining butter in and blend for another minute.
7) Check the seasoning.

To serve:

Ladle into four bowls and top with a spoonful, (or a one-handed quenelle) of créme fraiche.  Serve with crusty bread and a crisp, dry white wine.

-Jon Slack, nettle eater extraordinaire
 “I must be an idiot. My goal is to eat 12 feet of nettles, but I draw the line at eating my own vomit.”
Notes:
On nettles:

Nettles can be used much the same as spinach.  When cooked they lose their infamous sting.  When picking, use gloves or grasp them very quickly, the stinging hairs are very delicate and won't hurt you if tackled hard.  Nettles are considered by some to be a super food and contain vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium.  Evidence supports them to be an aid for all manner of ailments such as arthritis, kidney problems, anemia and hay fever.  You will find nettles to be a fairly common ingredient in shampoo as they are known to help control dandruff and impart a glossy sheen.  Hence the old tradition of farmers adding the abundant weed in with the animal feed.  Cornish Yarg cheese is wrapped in nettles and Hugh's tipple 'Stinger' is a competent ale.  An annual Stinging Nettle Eating Championship, (where I lifted a couple of these pics...) is held in Dorset where competitors strip and eat raw leaves in a fixed time trial.  Nettles are everywhere.  As soon as the winter chill lifts the plant goes mad till next winter.  I challenge anyone to go for a walk in the West Country and not come across heaps of nettles.  Free food people, get picking.  Stick to the young tops high up...dogs also like a good walk.


On créme fraiche:

Unsurprisingly a French product.  A soured cream containing around 30% butterfat.  It is quite easy to make your own by adding a little buttermilk to double cream in a bowl and letting it sit for several hours at room temperature.  The bacteria will take hold, thicken and sour your cream.  The only real difference between actual 'sour cream' and creme fraiche is that the former contains less fat and is a little more sour.  Fab as a finisher for many sauces.  Avoid the low fat alternative if heating as it will curdle.  I realize Heinz beans are the favoured topping for baked potatoes around these parts, but you lot have obviously not savoured créme fraiche, butter, black pepper and chives on your crisp skinned spud.  Put down that tin opener and go for the gold.


Parting shot:
'Tender handed stroke a nettle and it stings you for your pains.  
Grasp it like a man of mettle and it soft as silk remains.'
-Old English rhyme



Cornish Yarg Cheese