Beetroot and black pudding salad (no bird)

You won’t find any decomposing bird carcasses in this salad recipe.

While you recover from that truly horrible thought, perhaps you can help me out. What exactly is the definition of a salad? The dictionary tells me that it is a cold dish that includes green leaves such as lettuce. This is clearly nonsense as I have had warm salads and salads without the tiniest speck of rabbit food on them. So what specification does a dish have to meet for it to be called a salad? Such things have the power to bother me.

This salad is really good as an autumn supper, full of earthy ingredients. Heck, some of my favourite ingredients of all. It’s very seldom my fridge doesn’t contain a ring of black pudding, a bunch of beetroot, a lump of goat cheese and there are always hazelnuts in the cupboard. Toss in a few pea shoots or watercress and this instantly becomes a healthy salad, of course.

Beetroot and black pudding salad

1-2 beetroot per person
50g goat cheese per person (your preference)
4-5 slices from a black pudding ring per person
8 or so whole hazelnuts per person
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (or wine vinegar is fine)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of fresh parsley with a few mint leaves
  1. Pull any stalks and leaves off the beetroot but leave the skin on. Boil them in their skins for 30 minutes, or until you can easily shove a knife through one. Once drained, you should be able to rub the skins off and just chop the beetroot into bitesize chunks.
  2. Fry the black pudding rings in a little olive oil. I find a moderate heat and a longer time is a better, a bit of softness inside is good but the black crunchiness is really important to enjoying black pudding. Once a little cooler, you could chop each slice in half or quarters to be bite-sized.
  3. Roast the hazelnuts in the oven at 150C for about 10 minutes. I hesitate to give an exact time as ovens vary, but keep an eye on them – you want them to go golden brown where they show through the skin, not too dark. Once cool you should be able to rub the skin off, and then halve them.
  4. The dressing is made by beating the mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and oil together to emulsify and then stir in the herbs finely chopped and season. Dress the beetroot and the pea shoots/watercress separately, or the red stain will spread!
  5. Assemble the salad however you like: beetroot, black pudding, cut or broken-up goat cheese, leaves, hazelnuts, a drizzle of dressing.

This could be the side-dish for a pan-fried mackerel, or an omelette. I like it as a supper, perhaps with a poached egg on top or with some boiled potatoes added to lengthen it all.

Adventures in salad

  • Pick different leafy stuff to balance the earthy flavours, but go for something with taste such as chicory or a herb salad. Rocket might be a tad strong.
  • I like the parsley with a lift of mint, but I also enjoyed this vinaigrette with fresh thyme and it could be great with sage as well.
  • Any number of other scrunchy things would work instead of hazelnuts: toasted pinenuts, walnut pieces, crutons.
  • Omit rabbit food entirely, add fine beans simply boiled instead.
  • Add a couple of rashers of smoked streaky, or some bits of chorizo lightly fried to give another meaty note
  • Do not under any circumstances try adding a decomposing bird to this salad.

I could go on forever. It almost feels cheeky to call this a recipe, when it’s really just a bunch of my favourite ingredients tossed together with a dressing! Enjoy.

Foodie’s day out, Bath-style

Whenever I visit Bath, and I do visit at least three or four times every year, Saturday morning is invariably given over to a jaunt down to Green Park Station for the weekly Farmer’s Market. Of course, it seems that every town in the land can now boast a Farmer’s Market, and a jolly good thing that is. But there are markets and there are markets. I do start to feel a little sceptical when I see more iced cupcake and turkish wrap vendors than I do fruit and veg stalls. It’s understandable: you need a particular combination of good local producers and well-heeled foodies who spurn supermarkets to make a really splendid Farmer’s Market viable. Bath most definitely has that combination.

I can’t really explain why this is my favourite Farmer’s Market, but at least in part it’s the sense that almost everyone selling here has come from no more than ten or fifteen miles away, and everything is superb. It should definitely be the cornerstone of any foodie weekend break in Bath. You will come away with enough stuff to keep you pigged out all weekend, even without all the eating-out options in this handsome little city.

My purchases this time included a couple of great cheeses I’ve never tried before, a bag of Jerusalem artichokes and other fresh organic veg, a bottle of single varietal apple juice (Foxwhelp, actually a cider apple and you can really taste it), some dramatic black salt, lamb chops, a box of perfect little mushrooms, very colourful beetroot bread, my favourite smoked mackerel pate, and fresh ravioli filled with garlicky lamb and woodsy mushrooms.

We devoured the pasta for lunch, it was delicious. I may well place an online order soon, Jazz Hands Artisan Pasta, at least once you get your online order form up!

So, let me think. You’ve come for a foodie weekend in Bath and have dutifully followed me to Green Park Station on a Saturday morning. What else are you going to do? How about a very quick run-down of some of the places I like eating in Bath (all of which I’ve visited within the last six months)…

Start with breakfast at Jika-Jika, where they take their coffee seriously, their artwork whimsically (and slightly rudely), and their food jolly tastily.

Elevensies would be good at The Fine Cheese Co. which could equally call itself the Fine Cake Co. along with great coffee and a lovely deli. Afterwards you will buy lots of cheese, of course.

Lunch! Try the idiocyncratic Cavendish Cooks, although you’ll have to be lucky with a table. It’s a lovely open kitchen where they cook trad meals to take-away but also have 3 or 4 tables where you can sit and eat whatever they’re cooking today while you watch them cook it.

Tea-time for me would be Metropolitan Cafe, inside the nifty Bloomsbury shop. Their cakes have “naughty” written all over them; icing is thick, filling ooze out, the cakes are slightly misshappen, mmm.

Pre-prandial cocktails? Try Sub 13, under an eatery on George Street. Blinding julep, some good inventions, and a terribly tempting 2-for-1 happy hour(s).

For dinner you could do worse than enjoy some old-school brasserie cooking at Woods. Very traditional, very unchallenging, very un-foodie. A useful antidote to all the raging modernity, and I always feel very relaxed on my occasional visits there.

Review: The Pony and Trap, Somerset

The Pony and Trap came as a bit of a surprise when we bundled in out of the rainy car park this evening. I’m used to Michelin-starred pubs being of a particular style. Still pubs, sure, but very much the kind of public house where the squire and the landlord might meet up for a drink and a roast while discussing the Enclosures Act. The Pony and Trap is much more the kind of pub where the farmer and the farrier might come to discuss the damned (beggin’ yer pardon) landlord. We felt cosy.

Bread and olives were good. My starter was a quail leg on celeriac puree with crispy bacon, pear and chicory. The quail was very nicely cooked, but the presentation of the dish was at odds with what were quite rustic elements; bits of pear, bits of chicory. Maureen’s starter was devilled duck liver and heart, and it was exactly that, on a good slice of sourdough toast. Nice and fiery, and no attempt to look anything but rustic.

For main I had a big piece of brill, perhaps just over-cooked, on top of confit chicken leg and purple sprouting, with a brown shrimp butter. I definitely applaud the seasonal sensibility of the dish; it’s hard to get a fish dish feeling properly autumnal. But overall nothing leapt out at me about it, nothing wowed me in the cooking or the plating. Maureen’s dish was pork two ways: successful and unsuccessful. The success was a marinated fillet, which was dense and pink and utterly chewsome. The unsuccessful was a pressed pork belly; for both Maureen and me the fat was still too obvious, white and fatty throughout.

Alongside our mains we got a dish of mixed veg, boiled al dente, and some potatoes. And this perhaps pinpoints the trouble I’m having reviewing The Pony and Trap with an open mind. Because it has a Michelin star, and so I keep catching myself judging it against Michelin standards (or rather, what I’m used to in a Michelin-starred restaurant). Our meal, including 2 glasses of wine and 1 dessert shared between two, was about £60. Surely at that price-point a side dish of boiled veg should be acceptable? Maybe. But I can’t help recalling the lovely honey-roast carrots and creamy cauliflower cheese we had with our £10 roast at Cavendish Cooks the other day. Or the three course lunch with amuse bouche and pre-dessert at The Crown, Whitebrook which was elegant and accomplished throughout and barely £5 per head more.

Chef Josh Eggleton sets out his stall as a 100% focus on local and quality produce, which is worthy (though hardly original). And if you live near Chew Magna or are holidaying in the Mendips then you’ll certainly appreciate having the Pony and Trap as a local. But while nothing was bad, none of our plates were exceptional, none of them opened our eyes to anything new, and none are likely to stick in the memory in years to come.

I guess Josh might see a few more reviews like this, caused more by the accolade of the Michelin star and people’s expectations of what that means, rather than by any fault in his chosen style of cooking. Fact is I’ve had plates as good and better in other dining pubs that haven’t had a sniff at such a high accolade yet. The Michelin man has left me confused again. I can only assume he was seduced by the sheer pubby-ness of it all – I can see him using the words “authentic” and “honest” abundantly in his review.

Selecting cheeses for a cheese board

Presumably a lot has been written about cheese. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never read anything on the subject, which is slightly surprising given how much I love the stuff. So this is my self-taught soliloquy on choosing cheeses for a cheese board. Surprising what you can learn from chatting to cheesemongers and sampling hundreds of cheeses over the years.

Now, I certainly don’t have a cheese course with every meal, oh no. If I detect from the menu that I’m going to be served three lumps of something entirely predictable (brie, stilton and cheshire for example) then I generally look for some pudding instead. Even if they’ve picked good makers and kept them well, I can buy and keep perfectly good lumps of these at home. Cheese is the one course in a restaurant where I can honestly say that I could (often) do it better myself. So, I only bother with the cheese course if I know that I’m going to be presented with a creaky little trolley crammed to bursting with a wide-ranging selection of cheeses that I can spend a happy five minutes cooing over, asking the waiter about, and generally reducing my dining companions to a slump of yawning boredom. Bliss!

Almost as much bliss as dithering in a well-stocked cheesemonger trying to decide which cheeses to take home and present on a nice wooden board to round off a meal with friends.

My cheese tastes have evolved, something I’ve managed to observe almost objectively (weird stuff, cheese). My first love affair was with anything repulsively stinky; rind-washed goo like Stinking Bishop and Epoisses. I still want something pungent on a cheese plate, but my tastes gradually shifted to an adoration of ripe and often ashed goat cheeses; Selles sur Cher and Sainte-Maure de Touraine are a couple of favourites, or Ragstone and Lightwood Capria from the UK. Perhaps three years ago I began to find a much higher proportion of blue cheeses in my semi-regular trips to the Teddington Cheese, as I ate my way through all kinds and found that they don’t get much better than Barkham Blue, or Cashel Blue for the Irish contingent. The blue cheese fad didn’t last, as I’ve matured (haha) now onto firm, salty cheeses like a good Manchego, or Premier Cru Gruyere, or local examples like the excellent Berkswell.

You can consider all those to be recommendations! Your cheese board cannot fail if you have one from each of those categories, along with some Montgomery’s Cheddar and a nice creamy specimen of Wigmore or Waterloo for those who fancy something milder.

Oh! Oh! Not forgetting some of the “specials” that don’t really fit a category. Gaperon is lovely, with a gentle garlicky taste. I generally despise flavoured cheeses in the UK – it’s usually some cruddy cheddar with a load of harsh chilli or whatever mixed into it. The French do it properly. Another example being the kooky Boulette d’Avesnes, flavoured with parsley, tarragon and paprika and delighting in the nickname ‘suppositoire du diable’. One truly great cheese you can only put on your board between October and April is Vacherin Mont d’Or, a gooey treat that holds a very slightly spicy flavour from the spruce bark it is wrapped in.

To tart up your cheese board I would personally suggest putting a big blob of quince paste in a gap between the cheeses, and tucking little clusters of 3-4 grapes snipped from the bunch in as well. I reckon quince paste makes a better accompaniment to the whole range of cheeses than most relishes and is also the One True Way to enjoy eating quince. And grapes are just a bit more appealing at the end of a meal than austere little sticks of celery.

I’m not sure what to say about bread and biscuits. It’s such a dry subject. HahahahaHA! Yes. I prefer some kind of artisan bread flavoured with something that goes well with cheese; walnut bread, for example. But a mixture of any quality bread and biscuits can’t go wrong.

Finally, I have a question for any erudite foodies reading this. Several years ago I had a French cheese on a cheese board at the Fat Duck that was creamy, rinded and with a pronounced saffron flavour. It was lovely, and I’ve never found it again nor been able to locate it on the internets. Any ideas?

Review: The Crown at Whitebrook

They were very nice at The Crown when we showed up for lunch unannounced, in my case in muddy jeans, a T-shirt and walking shoes. I might not have blamed the maitre d’ for taking a long look at me and then deciding that they were fully booked. It’s possible that my jacket redeemed me, or simply that the terribly harsh life in an isolated, wet and mossy valley on the Welsh borders tends to breed hospitality.

The Wye valley is seriously beautiful. If you’ve never been, go.

The Crown was clearly once a pub, but inside they haven’t taken the “posh pub does food” route, they’ve transformed it entirely into a soothing dining room of warm whites with a comfy lounge on the side. Oddly the door in from the car park still looks like it belongs to a boozer; just a minor touch that could be neatened up.

The two of us chose a la carte, which effectively gave us the 6-course tasting menu as the dishes were all on the a la carte and we dipped our forks freely across the table. Very freely, because we both had dishes that were attractive to look upon and delicious to eat!

Amuse bouche of butternut squash, ham hock and foraged leaves with truffle foam was good, and I’d love to know how they got that slightly sturdy texture into the squash. Good bread selection. My starter of shredded ox-tail in open lasagne with Madeira was cosy. Like me, you probably read that and expect a rich Madeira gravy over the ox-tail, but no! There were instead beautiful little cubes of Madeira jelly, and the flavour was startlingly clear and zippy. Yum. Maureen’s starter of smoked haddock brandade, pig’s head and sweetcorn was an even better dish, very fitting to the blustery autumn afternoon outside with the last of the leaves coming off the trees. Both dishes were prettily plated and nicely balanced.

For my main I had a chewily good piece of monkfish on samphire with pieces of artichoke and a tangy aubergine puree. The novelty item for me were the Japanese artichokes, which look like fat grubs and were scrunchy (presumably blanched only) and had a mildly Jerusalem-artichoky taste. Otherwise, a pleasantly austere fish dish. Maureen riffed again on the theme of autumn with some good pink duck breast served with a bacon and lentil gravy and some deeply flavourful butternut squash. Nothing innovative, but the flavours melded together into a warm glow, like a good bonfire night.

Desserts were pretty decent. Maureen’s white chocolate and tonka souffle had a good flavour, though the crème anglaise added to finish it didn’t really do much. My date and fig pudding was neatly served in an individual Le Creuset, and was delicious with the dark caramel sauce, although the pudding was actually rather dry on its own. Good enough, but not epic.

For £30 this was a seriously good value 3 course lunch, and this is all technically great cooking with neat presentation and splendidly seasonal flavours, albeit with only a modicum of innovation. If you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest a meal out at The Crown, though it’s perhaps not enough of a destination to take a six hour round-trip from London for on its own. Ah… but I did say you ought to visit the Wye valley anyway…