Month: November 2013

In praise of the traditional Welsh Rarebit

I have a friend who is as beautiful as she is kind.  Many years ago she had the most blisskins of a  job running a PR company that looked after many of London’s most luxury brands.  However, searching for something more than endless champagne and scrumptious canapés with the editors of glossy magazines she quite suddenly upped sticks and moved to the wilds of Yorkshire to raise her two equally beautiful boys.Welsh Rarebit

The point of this story is that when she moved she simply refused to change her outlook on fashion.  This is not a girl who could be converted to tweed and welly boots.  She knew what worked for her and was not about to copy the farmers wives in an attempt to fit in. She’s regularly seen marching across the village green on the school run in skinny jeans and sky-high heels with her Chanel chain bag flying like the most decadent of kites behind her.  I just wish that many of the pubs and restaurants that inhabit the same countryside could copy her example.

I recently managed to drag myself away from Somerset to spend a few days with her and her family.  One night we decided to try out the local village pub that had recently changed hands and was boasting a very impressive looking menu.  I have very fond memories of this pub; of snuggling by the roaring open fire, chatting to the locals and eating super hearty Yorkshire  food that was reasonably priced and reasonably tasty.  You left with a full tummy, a warm heart and a general feeling of the Bon Vivant.

As we stepped in through the renovated front door it was rather a shock.  It had been absolutely beautifully transformed into a cutting edge industrial eatery very much in the style of St John’s.  White walls, reclaimed wooden tables and  all manner of modernity.  The food was as wonderful and innovative as the interior and the wine list impressive but I all the time I was there I was filled with an incredible longing for the old version of this village pub.  I didn’t want this rebooted version of the boozer.  I wanted cigarette stains on the ceiling and a comforting pint of ale.  My bottom longed for the broken down leather chesterfield rather than the old school chair I was perched upon.  I guess I wanted the new owners of this freehouse to have the faith that they didn’t need to completely rip and replace to make it a success.   Comfortable and hearty can be mixed with the very best dining experience as the 2* Hand In Flowers has shown us.  I often feel that the modern restaurateur is so obsessed with making the experience they provide unique that they forget what their public really want.  I’m confident that this little pub tucked away between York and Harrogate will be a huge success but I’m also confident that most of their customers won’t be the locals.

This experience made me long for some of Great Britain’s most traditional of dishes and I’ve settled on heaping praise on the humble Welsh Rarebit.  This dish originates back in the 1700’s and with the use of a good local Somerset cheddar cheese and the addition of a Bath Ale can be claimed as Somerset grub!

Ingredients

  • 25g of butter
  • 25g of plain flour
  • l00ml of Dark Side Ale (Bath Ales) or other dark ale
  • 150g of Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar or other extra mature Cheddar
  • 1 free-range egg yolk
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 4 tsp Worchestershire Sauce
  • 4 thick slices of home-made bread
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

  • Turn your grill to high or check that the top oven of the Aga is fiery!
  • Melt the butter and stir in the flour, cooking through for about 30 sec to a minute. Add the beer and keep stirring until the mixture is velvety and smooth.
  • Add all of the rest of the ingredients.
  • Toast the bread and then place on a baking tray. Smother the toast with the cheese sauce and then pop under the grill or into the Aga until the cheese is melted.
  • Make yourself a big mug of tea, sit back and enjoy a dish that’s as tasty now as it was 300 years ago with no sign of reboot. Modern life can take a back seat for a while!

Comforting Cassoulet

It’s horribly cold here at Castle Farm, deep in the depths of Somerset. The wind is battering the house and however many pairs of socks I put on and however close I snuggle to the AGA I am still freezing. One might argue that this is just the time to turn up the thermostat but I am blessed with oil central heating.  Cassoulet

Back when I lived in civilisation and had gas gushing into the house I would happily switch the boiler onto constant and revel in the warmth not thinking for one moment about the bill coming my way. Now I have an oil tank that I have to refill I can see the levels dropping day after day as we literally burn through the cash.  This motivates you to hardiness, to eating your lunch in your coat and sleeping in two jumpers.

As energy prices rise I am rather thankful for my oil tank.  Not only are you more cautious about using energy but each time you fill the tank you can haggle and barter yourself to a good deal by playing the local suppliers off against each other. If only it were this easy to drive a deal with the Big 6 we would all have a lot more money in our pockets.  The Blonde and I have quite heated debates about the rights and wrongs of privatisation of the energy supply market but rather than bore you all with that here, can I offer another suggestion of how to keep warm as toast as we march into winter?

Cassoulet is rich and warming comfort food at it’s very best.  Originating in Southern France this delicious sausage delight is named after the pan it was traditionally cooked in. After a long hard day beating off the cold in the garden this is the perfect treat for all the family.  It’s best eaten with chunks of home-made bread, perfect to dip into the steaming sauce.

Ingredients

  • 250g of mixed beans
  • 800g of tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 400g of sausages
  • a good squeeze of tomato purée
  • 1/4 pint of stock
  • 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • splash of vegetable oil

Method

  1. Soak the beans in water overnight.  Drain and then boil vigorously for 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Chop the onions and garlic
  3. Melt the butter with a splash of oil in a medium sized casserole dish on the hob.
  4. Fry off the onions and brown the sausages in the casserole.
  5. Add the garlic and fry off but don’t let it burn.
  6. Add all of the remaining ingredients.
  7. Bring the Cassoulet to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  8. Transfer to a medium oven and cook for at least 75 minutes.

PS – I nicked this photo from Delia as I’d eaten ours before I remembered to take a picture!

Somerset Beef

We’ve had 15 house guests here at Castle Farm over the course of the last week and I don’t think I’ve done so much washing up since my time at Brownie Camp. That particular incident and my objection to Fairy Liquid led to a telling off from Brown Owl and my untimely departure from this hallowed organisation.  Somerset Cider Brandy

The Brownies today appear to be just the kind of club I’d have loved.  These fearless tank-girls are all in pursuit of wild adventures and are feminist to the core but back in the day it was all about learning how to be a good mothers-help, getting your knitting badge and learning how to cover a book in sticky-back plastic. I wanted to learn how to light fires using a magnifying glass, make money from selling lemonade and how to rule the world – sadly these vital life skills where deemed suitable only for the boys.    Now I’m all grown up I still shudder at the thought of dancing round a toad-stools  but my love of entertaining means I’m happy to live with the washing up.

One thing the Brownies did teach me was to be prepared when it came to domestic planning. So, with many mouths to feed this week I’ve embraced Aga cooking and have been perfecting my one pot wonders.  These are the staple of any house party when the hostess would rather be tucking into champagne with her guests than cooking at 8 o’clock as they can be prepared the day before they’re needed.  My Somerset Beef recipe is a rather tasty take on boeuf-bourguignon, drawing inspiration from the French classic while using the very best of Somerset produce.

You’ll need

  • 1.5kg/3lb5oz of braising steak (preferably raised in Somerset!) cut into pieces
  • 3 tbsp of Somerset rape seed oil (vegetable oil if you can’t get it)
  • 4 large onions cut into chunks
  • 2 sticks of celery cut up
  • 1 litre of Scrumpy Cider (normal cider will do if you can’t get hold of the good stuff)
  • 5 cloves of garlic finely cut
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 50g/2oz unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp of plain flour
  • 375g/12oz of mushrooms (what ever you can find or forage) 
  • 450ml or a pint of stock
  • 5 tbsp of Apple Brandy

How to Cook

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan. Add one of the onions, the garlic (both cut up) and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the cider and the bay leaves. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Place the beef in a large bowl and pour over the cold cider marinade. Cover and keep somewhere cool (and away from your greedy dogs) overnight.
  3. Drain the beef from the marinade. Keep the marinade safe.
  4. In a frying pan heat of some of the butter and a little oil and fry off the rest of the onions.  Then add and brown the beef in the pan. Tip all of this into a  casserole dish.
  5. Deglaze the pan with some of the marinade and tip this liquid into the dish.
  6. Stir in the plain flour, the remaining marinade and stock into the casserole dish.
  7. Bring to the boil, cover and place in the bottom oven of the Aga (or a low heated normal oven) for 4-5 hours or until the beef is very tender.
  8. Halfway through cooking, heat the remaining oil and butter in your frying pan brown off the mushrooms – finish off with the brandy and cook down for a couple of minutes.
  9. Add the mushrooms to the casserole.
  10. You can either eat this straight away or keep safe and cool for 24/48 hours when it can be re-heated.

If you’d like some suggestions for producers and suppliers of Somerset meat I can happily point you in the direction of Pynes the Butcher and his amazing farm shop.

Somerset Brandy has to come from The Somerset Cider Brandy Company and Somerset Rape Seed Oil from Fussels