Saturday, 29 May 2010

Spring Lamb Shepherd's Pie

Spring Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherds pie is a British classic.. I simply love it! I love to cook it all year around, and because I cook seasonally the dish is always changing. In Spring I love to use all of my favourite spring vegetables in this recipe and it’s a real treat on a cool Spring evening.

Ingredients:

1kg Shoulder of British Spring Lamb (de-boned)
1kg of Jersey Royals or New Potatoes
Small Bunch of Spring Onions (8 - 10) 
1 x 400g can of plum tomatoes, chopped
2 sticks of celery
4 Asparagus Spears
6 small new season carrots
250ml Lamb stock
Worcestershire Sauce
Glass of Rose Wine
Hard Sheep’s Cheese (I used Spenwood)
Rapeseed or Olive Oil
Maldon Salt
Black pepper
Knob of butter
1 Tbsp Flour

From the Garden:

Small bunch of Rosemary
Small bunch of Mint
Small bunch of Parsley
Small bunch of Garlic Chives

Take your lamb and remove any fat or sinew (although there shouldn’t be much on a British Spring Lamb!), then cut the meat into pieces that will fit into a blender. Pulse the blender until roughly chopped. Place the mince in a bowl, then add the flour and season well, mix until the lamb seems to absorb the flour.

In a large frying pan add a large glug of the Rapeseed Oil fry the mince on a high heat until brown. Whilst your Lamb is browning, chop your vegetables. Finely dice the Celery, slice the new season Carrots into thin rounds and chop the Spring Onions on the diagonal. Add to the pan and gently fry for 5 or so minutes. Once fried add your meat back to the pan and stir in. Turn the heat right up and then add your wine, allowing the alcohol to burn off. Now add your tinned tomatoes, chop and add your Rosemary and a good glug or Worcestershire Sauce, pour in the Lamb stock and stir well. With a lid on this will require 45 minutes or so simmering on the stove.

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Meanwhile, take a saucepan and ¾ fill with water and season generously with Salt. Once boiling add the Jersey Royals and cook until tender. Once cooked drain and allow to steam for a minute or so allowing the potatoes to dry out a little. Once this has happened using a fork, lightly crush the new potatoes and a good glug of Olive Oil a knob of Butter, the mint and stir (trying not to break the potatoes up to much!!). Check the seasoning and set aside until your Lamb is ready.

Warm the oven to 200 degrees.

Now the Lamb should be quite tender and cooked, test the seasoning and correct accordingly. The sauce or gravy should be quite thick, if it isn’t heat it a little longer with the lid off to reduce a little.

You are about to assemble the dish but before you do first chop the Asparagus into 2-3 cm sections and add the Asparagus along with the Garlic Chives and Parsley to the Lamb.

Add the meat mix to a suitable oven proof dish so that the gravy reaches to at least half way up the edge of the dish and then gently (using a fork) place the half crushed minty new potatoes on top making sure that you cover the meat and gravy entirely. Crumble your Sheep’s cheese over the top and then finish the potatoes with a crack of Black Pepper and some more Rapeseed Oil.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until bubbling and the potatoes have crispy edges and serve with some caramelised radishes and a dressed Pea Shoot salad.. Might ands well finish the bottle of Rose you opened earlier as well!!
This pure British Classic brought up to date and made with the finest ingredients of Spring.

Delicate, delicious and down right tasty, try it!!

British Food Home

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

EYFC Essex Young Farmers Country Show

A belated report on the fantastic local food producers that I found at the The May EYFC Show

It was a new one on me, admittedly I had seen the odd road sign pointing to it in the past but this time I had decided to go and see what was happening. The EYFC or Essex Young Farmers Country Show was hard to research. The little I had found on the internet about it didn’t quite emphasise how large the show was and when we turned up the next day we were quite shocked.
The show was being held at Boyton Hall in Roxwell, Essex. We were first greeted by who I would assume to be young farmers dressed in luminescent security vests beckoning us into the car park. The car park was in fact a huge hilly field and just after lunchtime when we arrived was nearly full with 1000’s of cars.

The queues to get in weren’t too bad, but the cost of entry was a little steep at £10 per person. I of course arrived with a hungry head, I didn’t know what foody treats were hear but I did know that farmers and farmer folk in general loved their food and were the source of most of my foody moments.

We had all been out the night before so the first stop was a conveniently a hog roast stall that also sold sausages in rolls and bacon sandwiches, the smell of which had greeted us and then drawn us toward it with supernatural powers. The queue was long but moving quickly. The hog roast stand was serving 2 people every minute with an average order value of £10 you can only imagine how much money they made! The crispy pork was served in a white bap with plenty of sweet apple sauce, a delicious way to start the day!

Stomachs full we pushed on into the show.. We could see working steam engines and a traditional, what I think was a steam powered fair. No food to see here so we pushed on. The country show was exactly that and the stalls changed from trade stands selling the latest farming equipment through to grain salesman. We eventually moved into the hunting area where shotguns and antique rifles were on display. Moving into the first marquee we found our first food stand. A pie company who were demonstrating how to skin rabbits and prepare game. We stayed long enough to see an unsuspecting lady get hit with some rabbit entrails as an over enthusiastic chef pulled the skin off a rabbit in a single slick move (hilarious even with a mild hangover!). I was tempted to buy a game pie as they looked delicious but we moved on with the expectation of many more food stalls to come.

The next tent was a collection of competition entries from the children farmers. Brightly decorated wellies and more food! There had obviously been a serious bake off earlier in the day and the rich smell of chocolate filled the air. By the time we had got to this grand baking exhibition it appeared that a few hungry farmers had made it there first and in true testament to the young cook’s skills the cakes had become irresistible and some lay in taters.

By now the temperature was rising and although only in the late teens when the sun came out it made for short sleeves weather.

Finally I could see it gloriously sign posted by a huge sign on top of the marquee exclaiming the bright green words ‘Food Tent!’.. It wasn’t the next tent, but finally in reach. We passed through the craft tent with pace passing by various craft stalls including basket making and some amazing woodworking, anyway.. On to the food tent.

The tent was busy! No clear exit or entry was visible and turned away from one busy end of the marquee switched tactics and made for the second door. First to greet us was a small stall selling well, Ginger!! Everything you could ever think of made of Ginger including a homemade Ginger wine. What I wanted to find was local producers and farmers so although the ladies stall looked lovely I was not after one of her sweet treats. A lemonade stall, followed by a traditional candy shop. Finally at the end of the huge tent and through the busy people I saw it. The crusty Pie Company!

The Crusty pie company make pork pies of all flavours! The stall was busy, very busy and queue’s snaked in all directions I settled on an end and waited it out. By the time I got to the front of the queue my mind was made up, I could see they were bagging 4 large pies for £10.. Well it would have been rude not to do it! I opted for Spicy, Traditional, Stilton and an open pie with Apple Sauce on the top. Pies in the bag and my eye in I continued my search for local foods.

The rest of the tent lacked any specific producers, it wasn’t until I got back to the door that I entered I realised that I had walked by many stalls on my way in.

These stands were lined up in a nice orderly arc and I was going to investigate each one in turn.

The first stand was a farm called Great Garnetts. Great Garnetts farm in Great Dunmow, Essex produces its own pork and makes Gammon, Sausages and the first thing that I had to have Bacon! I always buy smoked when I see that it is naturally smoked, I grabbed the biggest pack of Back Bacon and bought it.

The next stand was the Lymn Bank Farm who produces a number of handmade Cheeses from their farm in Lincolnshire. They had another irresistible deal; 3 Cheeses a packet of Oatcakes and a chutney of choice for £10! Fantastic, but which to pick!? I drew my weapon of choice – a tooth pick – and then begun my duel with these tasty cheeses. I ended up opting for a Lymn Bank Strongest which is basically an eye poppingly mature Cheddar, Two Smoking Barrels an interesting little cheese that encapsulates some of my favourite things.. Smoke and yeast extract (Marmite), although a little novelty yummy none the less! And the third was a strange cheese that just caught me by surprise – Apricot, Chilli and Lime! Although these flavours are not traditionally added to cheese they did catch me off guard and well.. I liked them! I added the oatcakes and a Sweet Tomato and Chilli Chutney to the bag, handed over my tenner and was very pleased with my purchase.

The next stand was one I was very familiar with.. The green mobile stand of Howletts Farm Game I recognised it instantly. They were a regular on the farmer’s market circuit and my primary source of good game!

This time I wanted more than just my next dinner, I asked the lady if I could speak to the owner to see if I could get on one of his shoots. It’s a long story but he agreed and well, it’s a long story that I’ll come to another time. As we weren’t really in any game season I bought some Wild Boar sausages, the Wild Boar are reared on Howletts farm too and regrettably we moved on again. The next stall sold one of my favourite local ingredients. Farmer Browns Cold pressed, Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil, I snaffled a bottle and made my way onwards. We passed many other stalls but none that drew me in like the previous ones. My arms now laden with goodies we moved onto the Livestock area of the show.

Although I had got what I had come for I found this section of the show very interesting. I am not only obsessed by the provenance of food but the types and breeds too (particularly how they taste!)! This part of the show showed off the prize wining pigs including Welsh Blacks and Saddlebacks. The next section showed off Turkeys, Rabbits and then the various types of chickens. Next, the sheep and finally the Cows and Horses. The animals were great and the cutest and funniest of all was a single lamb that had clearly Baa’d so much it had lost its little voice.

One final stop near the exit was the new Horticultural stalls, this included yet another but smaller Marquee with huge displays of indoor and outdoor plants. I followed a sign that pointed out ‘Herbs’ and followed it to what can only be described as the Eden of all herb stalls!! The herb stall was huge almost 40 feet in length and at least 4 feet in depth and covered in interesting and varied foliage. It was being managed by a gentleman who later was to tell me that they were Herbal Heaven who also has an online shop. I am personally obsessed with Herbs and my garden is an Aladdin’s cave of herbs with every corner or pot with another edible leaf hidden within it. There was one herb that I wanted and could not find in any of the seed catalogues was Lemon Verbena (excellent in puddings) and here it was bang in the middle of the stand, that was 1! Being a lover of Wild Food too, when I saw that they had Wild Strawberry plants I had to have one. I have many Arctic Strawberry plants which also produce the very small yet super charged Strawberries and I wanted to compare the two, so the Wild Strawberry was number 2! Number three was inspired by the programme ‘Grow your own Drugs’ as I had heard that its root made an extraordinary Hot Chocolate as well as had incredible medicinal values, the third was Valeria and I wanted it for its root. I picked Borage (as the slugs had got mine) and I love its cucumber flavoured leaves and flowers. The girlfriend came in with number 5 a Lime Basil and then the sixth.. If Willy Wonka did herbs, he would have come up with this one. I have many types of Sage in my garden but the newest Blackcurrant Sage is the king! This really does give off the strongest most intense blackcurrant’y smell you can believe. The stall owner told me to use it in biscuits and cakes but when the plant settles in to its new home in my garden and kindly starts to grow more foliage I have plans for it that involve duck!

As per normal there was one last stop on the way out that just so happened to have a ‘I must have that’ on it. Hand weaved Willow basket just perfect for collecting Wild Mushrooms in a perfect gift for a forager.

And that was it, I long trudge back to the car laden with foody goodies and before you know it I was back home examining the finds!

The EYFC or Essex young Farmers Country show is a definite must whether you are a farmer, foody or just enjoy the country life! Can’t wait for next year!

British Food Home

Monday, 17 May 2010

Spring Chicken with warm Potato Salad and Spring Vegetables

Serves 2

Just got in from work on a day where the sun came out in the afternoon and reminded me it was Spring.. I wanted something light and flavoursome and I couldn’t get three ingredients out of my mind. I knew that I had all of these ingredients at home and they were Chicken, Asparagus and Eggs. Well I toiled over what I might cook and after a glance through a few cookbooks I eventually came up with this..

Spring Chicken with Warm Potato Salad and Spring Vegetables

Ingredients:

2 x Organic Free Range Chicken Breasts (Large)
2 x Organic Free Range Eggs
2 Tbsp Flour
500g of Jersey Royals
8 Spears of Asparagus
¼ Cucumber
3 Spring Onions
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
1/2 Tsp White Peppercorns
100g Unsalted Butter
Squeeze of Lemon Juice
Maldon Salt
Black Pepper

From the Garden:

Bunch of Lemon Thyme
Bunch of Mint
Bunch of Parsley
Bunch of Garlic Chives
Small bunch of Tarragon

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

Basically we are going to make a warm potato salad coat the potatoes nicely in the sauce and crunchy spring vegetables and sit the herb encrusted chicken breast on top. You’ll need a large oven proof frying pan a saucepan for the Potatoes and two small saucepans to make the sauce.. Oh and a blender!

First start with the herbs; chop the Lemon Thyme, Mint, Parsley and Garlic Chives you’ll need quite a lot as each Chicken Breast will take a lot of herbs. Place the herbs on a plate. On a second plate sprinkle your flour and season. Get a third plate ready for the egg whites that you’ll separate later.
To cook the potatoes first get a saucepan on the hob fill it with boiling water and season well with plenty of Salt. If you have muddy Jersey Royals give them a light clean and chop the bigger potatoes in half. Get them in the boiling water and cook for 10 – 12 minutes until cooked. Just before the potatoes are cooked break the thick end of the Asparagus spears off and chop the remaining edible part of the stalk and tips into 2 cm sections. A minute before the potatoes are cooked throw in the chopped Asparagus sections. Drain after thirty seconds allowing the potatoes and Asparagus to steam in the Saucepan.

Place the two small saucepans on the stove, both on low heats. In one saucepan place the butter (roughly chopped) and in the second place a splash of water, cider vinegar and the peppercorns. Bring the vinegar and water solution to boil and reduce by half. The butter should also be brought to a soft bubbling boil.

Meanwhile, take your eggs and separate putting the egg yolks in the blender and the whites to the third plate you prepared right at the start.

Get the frying pan on with a good glug of Olive Oil in it (Medium heat).

Back to the chicken, season the fillets and then roll in the flour and then the egg white and then finally the herbs; you want a complete coating of each of the layers. As you finish a breast place it into the frying pan and then repeat the process with the second breast. Lightly fry the breasts turning when the coating goes light brown. When the chicken is lightly browned place the pan in the oven to cook for 10 to 12 minutes.

When the vinegar and water solution has reduced strain out the Peppercorns and add the vinegar mix to the butter. The butter and vinegar mix should be brought back to a bubbling boil.

Get the top of the blender on you are going to pour the hot vinegar and butter onto the egg yolks whilst the machine is on slow so leave the little top open. Make sure that the pouring is slow and only a thin trickle should be going into the eggs (the machine should be on the whole time). Slowly pour the mix into the eggs until it is all in the machine allow to mix for another 30 seconds and then pour the mix into a warm bowl and set aside for a few minutes. It should stiffen up a little more this is when you can chop your Tarragon and add it to the mix alongside a twist of Lemon and seasoning. If it’s not thick then place the bowl over a boiling saucepan (make sure your dish is capable of doing this!) and whisk continuously until the desired thickness is achieved (you want a thick sauce similar to Mayonnaise).

Nearly there!

Chop the Cucumber and Spring Onion and then add them to the now warm Potatoes and Asparagus. Season the potato mix and then stir in two or three tablespoons of the Tarragon sauce. The chicken breast should have come out of the oven three or four minutes before where it could rest in the pan. Place a nice pile of the warm potato salad onto each of the pre heated plates. Slice the chicken into thick slices and fan nicely over the potato salad. Spoon a little more of the sauce over the chicken and then serve immediately.

This take on a BĂ©arnaise sauce with the Asparagus and soft umptuous Chicken is simply delicious! The Lemon juice and Tarragon simply brings the dish to life and the nutty full flavoured Jersey Royals and crunchy Cucumber and Spring Onions just make every mouthful a fresh taste of Spring!

It’s lovely, you must try it!

British Food Home

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Toad in the Hole with Roasted Onions and Cider Gravy

Serves 2 hungry people!

A real classic!! Toad in the hole is common place in British homes. The actual dish is made up of very few ingredients so the trick to making a successful and tasty Toad in the Hole is to use the highest quality ingredients you can get your hands on!

Ingredients:

6 Good Quality Sausages (I used Giggly Pig Sausages, Chunky Bacon)
2 Red Onions
1 cup of plain flour
1 cup of Milk
2 free range Eggs
½ tsp Chilli Flakes
Maldon Salt
Black Pepper

From the Garden:

Three of 4 spears of Rosemary (Chopped)

For the gravy:

1 tsp butter
1 large onion, peeled and cut into quarters
1 Carrot
1 stick of Celery
1 tsp plain flour
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
250ml hot chicken stock
400ml dry cider

From the Garden:

Small Bunch of Thyme
3 Bay Leaves

Get the oven on to 225 degrees

I used an award winning Cider from Somerset called Sheppy’s which is matured in Oak vats for an extra rounded flavour and Giggly Pig Sausages with chunks if bacon through them that I had sourced from Barleylands farmers market.

Place your toad in the hole baking dish in the oven to heat up with a generous glug of oil.

Firstly the batter.. There is a fail safe formula you should always use for batter making, remember this and you will never have Yorkshires that sink again! One cup of flour, one cup of milk and an egg, beat it together and rest in the fridge for an hour – simple as that!! When you are cooking your Yorkshire puds make sure that the oil is oven hot before you pour the mixture in and you will always have Yorkshires that rise! In this case I wanted to make the batter a little richer so I added an extra egg and to flavour it I used some chopped Rosemary and a small amount of dried chilli – as well as seasoning of course. Mix this all together and allow to sit in the fridge (minimum 30 minutes, hour by preference) whilst you prepare your other ingredients. I had a simple parsley and mustard mash with mine so I peeled the spuds and got them in a pan of salted water.

In a frying pan fry off your sausages in a little Olive Oil, you want some colour on the outside but they do not need to be cooked through.

Peel your two onions and chop into lengthways quarters.

Now, by now the dish that you have had in the oven should be very hot and the oil smoking. Carefully through the whole of the next process! Take your batter mix from the fridge and pour the batter evenly into the baking dish. The oil will splutter and spit so be careful! This is the secret to getting your Yorkshires to rise..! You will see the batter start to cook around the edges this is an excellent sign. Now, using a pair of tongs evenly place the sausages into the batter and in the gaps place the quarters of onion semi-submerging each piece. Get the toad in the hole back in the oven as quickly as possible and set the timer for 30 minutes.

In the frying pan that you cooked the sausages in add a knob of butter. Chop an onion, a celery stalk and a carrot and fry in the sausage fat and butter mix with the Bay leaves. You want the vegetables to take on colour and soften this should take 5 minutes or so. Now add your flour and mustard powder stir into the fat and cook for another 30 seconds. Now uncap your cider and pour into the pan carefully as it tends to froth up. Once in, add your Chicken stock and allow to simmer until you are ready to serve.

The toad in the hole is going to take 45 minutes in total to cook so although I told you to set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier when it goes off its time to get your potatoes on!!

When you are getting close to serving; get your plates warm and pass your gravy through a sieve and into another pan to keep warm (put it on a low heat and check the seasoning). Mash your potatoes if you are having a mash with it.

Now, the big unveiling!

Your Toad in the Hole should be crispy on top and around the edges whilst being soft and fluffy underneath, the onions roasted and sweet and the sausages brown and nicely cooked.

I served this with a Mustard and Parsley Mash and Asparagus although any green seasonal vegetable is perfect bathed in the Cider gravy!

This is great for a chilly Spring evening, in fact its perfect for any chilly evening which is why it’s a very regularly eaten! The crispy batter, plump meaty sausages and sweet roast onions.. And then, the rich apple’y gravy.. Delicious!

If it has been a while since you cooked Toad in the Hole get some great sausages in and start cooking!

British Food Home

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Barleylands Farmers Market - Local Food Adventures Essex

Saturday 8th May and I woke up with a mission in mind.. From a few searches on the net I had already found out that Barleylands had a Farmers Market on.. The market started and finished early (930 – 1230), so I was determined to sacrifice my Saturday lay in and get there nice and early!

I woke up early on the Saturday and couldn’t wait to get started. We had already decided to get breakfast there so within 30 minutes of waking up we were in the car and heading towards the farmers market.

Barleylands itself is huge! It is a massive combination of Farm Park and a Jumble of Craft Shops selling everything from teddy bears to blown glass ornaments. We parked in the car park which was already very busy, rolled up our sleeves and prepared to do battle!

The farmers market at Barleylands is held in an outside barn, half inside and half outside. The first stall we were greeted by was a stall selling game, game that was shot locally, I recognised their green van instantly as it regularly does the markets in and around Essex. Next was a vegetable stall by Manor Farm and then a new stall to me called the Giggly Pig.

We were confronted by a passionate member of the Giggly Pig team who begun her pitch as soon as we were in range. She continued her rhapsody whilst thrusting a wooden toothpick into each of our hands and beckoning us to taste the various sausages on her tray.

She continued to tell us that all of the pork was reared on their farm in Harold Hill I later found out that the pigs are all rare breed Saddlebacks. She continued, they make 40+ flavours of Handmade Sausages and they are even launching a specific range for the World Cup, no doubt inspired by the countries that are in the tournament. We tasted the sausages that they were cooking behind the stall and well, they were tasty. Hot Chilli sausages spiced with Scotch Bonnet and an interesting sausage spiced with Chilli and Lime. Strangely delicious at the time but I wonder what I am going to do with them!? I also bought Hickory smoked sausages which I am looking forward too and sausages that contained whole pieces of their very own bacon. I purchased the sausages and then we moved into the market ready and primed to taste even more treats.

We wanted to recon the market so the next step was to force our way through the people and see all of the goods that were on offer.. There was about 10 stalls in the barn selling everything from sun dried tomatoes and Olives to the more traditional Chutneys and Preserves. We scouted around the market planning which route to take and then following our noses ended up at a Sausage barbecue were we picked up breakfast!

Once the sausage rolls were consumed it was to the bread stall. The bread stall was stunning. Stacks and piles of different breads in all colours and shapes. Knitted loafs to huge round buns, I had been craving some excellent bread and we were not disappointed! The bakery that provided this generous show was McCarthys of Brentwood and we were quick to take him up on a 2 for £10 deal where we had a half a round of Rye bread and a Sourdough loaf.

We moved around the market until we were at the back of the barn until we were stood in front of a small stall adorned with many green bottles. Bottles that were familiar to us both as we had been regular buyers of this fantastic Apple Juice. We were standing in front of Stoke Farm Orchards stall and the brand of Apple juice that we were so familiar with was Appletree Hill.

Speaking to the owner of the farm we discovered that the orchard was only considered to be a small orchard (30 acres or so), but my god do they create some fantastic juices! We were offered tastes of the 10 or so varieties they had on show. They press juices from many types of Apples including Bramley, Russet and Cox all which are grown in the farm in Suffolk. I settled for my favourite Cox’s Orange Pippin and Discovery. Both of which have a lip smacking taste that is just delicious!! We were also offered a home made lemonade that was very nice and another product that I also bought a cider called Dog Rapper, apparently a very dry cider and one that I am looking forward to tasting!

Sausages, Bread and Apple juice in the bag we moved just a few feet onto the next stall where a lovely older lady stood proudly behind her biscuit stall. I am sorry to reference the ladies age in the previous sentence but I do this for a reason! Baking to me is a skill that I believe takes many many years to develop. There are tricks that older cake and biscuit makers probably aren’t even aware that they are using that seem to make a huge difference when preparing these delicate treats!

The company was called the Perfectly Delicious Company and to say that the name underrated the ladies produce was an understatement. The biscuits were packed and packs of six but prior to making a purchase we had the traditional tasting!! We were offered pieces of the handmade biscuits and told that she made them in many flavours including Coconut, Ginger Snap, Shortbread and Classic Cookie flavours. The flavours of biscuit that we settled for were Oatmeal with Fruit and another essential flavour, Chocolate. Now referring back to my original point – never trust a young biscuit maker – the chocolate biscuits that I chose were amazing. The strong rich aromas of chocolate that filled the nose and the mouth were one thing but the unnatural and extraordinary crunch was something else. The dark art of biscuit baking, especially when it comes to the WI is usually a secretive world of experience and tricks but I had to know and pressed the kind lady for her secret. It turns out that the Chocolate'y biscuits crunch was down to crushed Organic Corn Flakes being added to the mix, a trick that I will now borrow and use! Biscuits in the bag we moved on to another familiar local brand Wicks Manor Farm.

Wicks Manor is a local food success story. Wicks Manor is a pork farm that produces high quality pork that it sells locally and in some Supermarkets. They are a pig farm but also have a large amount of arable land that they use to grow the food and bedding for the pigs reducing the food miles dramatically and creating an uber local and fantastic product. Personally I love their bacon. They produce a dry cured smoked back bacon that is simply delicious, I was told by the gentleman running the stall that they also smoke their pork on the farm too. The bacon, well is lovely. While I sit here writing this post I have just eaten a sandwich made from the Wicks Manor Farm bacon and the Sourdough bread bought earlier on. I grill the bacon so that the fat almost soufflĂ©’s and the tender meat crisps – stunning sweet meat! We bought two packs of the delicious bacon and moved on to the busiest stall of them all, a Cheesemonger that had set up camp in the middle of the barn.

I unfortunately forgot the Cheesemongers name; I must have been drunk on the strong smells of mature cheeses.. The stall had huge rounds and wheels of cheeses all nicely tagged with their names, countries and regions for ease of identification. The portly cheesemonger was run off his feet and the queue snaked around and past his stall obscuring a second bread stall from view. As people queued past his stall they were entertained by other people’s purchases. Soft Ripe cheeses almost needing a spoon rather than a knife to cut, a pink cheese flavoured with port and blue cheeses from all over the UK and indeed Europe.

By the time it was my turn to pick I had already made my mind up on two of the three cheeses I wanted to buy. Brie made in Somerset that had been smoked, the edges cracked and aged and the skin brown with the flavours of smoke. The second cheese a Cornish Org dressed in its coat of nettle leaves and the third I needed direction on.. I asked the stall holder for his opinion. I love Cheddar, but I love Cheddar that is seriously mature!! I want a piece of Cheddar to twang the taste buds and almost burst the saliva glands in your mouth as it releases its amazing flavours!! This is what I requested and to my amazement I was asked to taste an Austrian cheese.

Not being Cheddar or British, at first I declined until he persuaded me to taste. Well, the thin soft slice of cheese was amazing, not deeply flavoured but it did have a twang that was sheer pleasure. I enquired about a huge Cheddar standing proudly in the middle of this cheesy display and asked for a taste of this proud looking cheese. This was what I was after!! The unpasteurised cheese was delicious rounded mature flavour, tangy and delicious!! I bought a wedge and that was my cheese purchased.

My final stop was the veg stall standing at the entrance to the barn. I picked up my seasonal veg including some fat round Radish, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Spinach.

My day was not over yet as on the return journey we also stopped off at the Billericay Cook Shop, picked up some essentials at Waitrose and then foraged a few Wild Food goodies in a nearby wood.

A fantastic foody day that we are going to remember for ages. I fully recommend a visit to Barleylands Farmers Market, great selection of foods and many delicious treats available!

British Food Home

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

English Onion Soup with Giant Cheddar Cheese Crouton and Sage

This is my kind of starter.. Make in advance and warm up when required. It is simply packed with flavour and highlights the work horse of the kitchen the humble Onion!

 Ingredients:

4 White Onions
4 Red Onions
6 Shallots
2 Leeks
4 or so Spring Onions (if available)
Olive Oil (Rapeseed Oil is even better!)
Tbsp Butter
Maldon Salt
Black Pepper
Small Glass of White Wine
2 Litres Chicken Stock
250g Extra Mature Cheddar
Small Loaf of Bread (Wholegrain or Country Loaf)
Worcestershire Sauce

From the Garden:

Bunch of Sage Leaves (Green, Purple and Varigated)
Small Bunch of Thyme
Small Bunch of Garlic Chives

I made this for 7, but obviously it depends on the size of your bowls and how generous you are going to be with the soup!

Any onions will work, just get a variety and get the best of everything!

OK, you’ll need a substantial high sided pan that is big enough to hold the soup and is good to fry in – get it on the stove with a medium heat under it.
Pour in a really healthy glug of Olive Oil and add a Tbsp of Butter, this is going to be the oil for all of the frying so lets add some flavours to it now. As the oil is heating up select 16 or so of the Sage Leaves – get a mix of colours (obviously it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got different colours of Sage). When the oil is hot place these selected leaves in the oil to deep fry, they won’t take long, so when they appear to be cooked remove from the oil and place in a piece of kitchen roll to drain.

Now prepare your onions, peel and slice all of the onions except the Spring Onions and then add them to the hot oil. Chop your Thyme and the remaining Sage leaves and also add them to the Onions with a good pinch if Salt and a fresh grinding of Pepper.

Now you want to cook the onions for a long time but without colouring them. So cover the onions with a lid and leave on a medium heat but stirring occasionally and making sure that the onions do not catch – this will take 30 minutes or so.

Remove the lid and add the chopped leeks, then cook for another twenty minutes or so.

When the time has passed check your onions for flavour, you want them to be sweet, I mean really sweet. If they aren’t return them to a low heat and cook for a little longer. Once you are happy turn the heat right up and add the wine, reduce the wine by half and then add the stock. Cook for 5 minutes or so and then check your seasoning. Sometimes you’ll need to add a small amount of Worcestershire at this point, sometimes not it depends on the flavour of the onions and how that sweetness developed in the pan.

So, that’s it!! Done! The soup can now be allowed to cool and then re-heated when required. Making the giant croutons is so easy..

Cut thick slices of bread from the loaf, cut them on the slant and then in half. Place on a tray and toast one side. Turn the bread over so the uncooked side is up and then cover in chopped Garlic Chives, then grate your Cheddar over the top – generously!! Cover until ready, these can put under the grill when required.

When serving make sure the soup is piping hot and the cheese on the crouton is bubbling. Place two croutons on the soup and the garnish with chopped Spring Onions and the reserved Crispy Sage leaves.

This soup is delicious!! Cheese and Onion with the contrasting flavour of Sage running through the whole soup, on top of all of that it is also conveniently convenient for dinner parties!

English Onion soup with giant Cheesy croutons, delicious!

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