Netherton Foundry Shropshire

Netherton Foundry Shropshire
Classic cookware, made in England

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

FRIDGE FORAGE, COOKING UNDER PRESSURE

It's been one of those days; late deliveries, cold callers offering health protection for me and my boiler, lost pens, blunt scissors, a truculent computer and cold rain.
Time to switch off the lights, lock the doors and head home.
Our 13 mile commute takes us through the Wyre Forest, an ever changing backdrop and a daily game of "dodge the Deer" as muntjac and fallow pay no heed to the Green Cross code.  Darwin may well be Shropshire born, but he may have re-thought his theory of evolution if he'd met these Salopian residents.
Time to let go of work and slip back into domesticity.
So an idyllic countryside gives way to a home-scape of breakfast pots left on the worktop, a discarded pair of trainers in the middle of the floor and a washing machine in need of emptying.
Dinner is required to feed body and soothe the soul. It's midweek and a quick fridge forage is initially uninspiring, but a little imagination and inventiveness, fuelled by hunger, can generally result in something edible.

There is a number of staples that, as a rule, I can rely on finding - onions, garlic, pulses, sundried tomatoes, spices, a selection of carbs and, more often than not a lemon or two.
Do you have any ingredients that are always in the cupboard, from which you can make a meal, however basic?

Life before blog and social media was simpler, make food, serve food, eat food.
But now, I constantly ask myself whether or not the dinner is photogenic; worth recording for posterity, or at least the occasional repeat or refinement; can I/ should I recreate it; shall I jot down the "recipe" on the back of an envelope as I go along; was it well received; did it pass the second helping test?

In the past, something thrown together in a hurry has turned out to be delicious and two hours later I have forgotten what I did, so now I try and take a more methodical approach with pen and envelope always to hand.
The recipe that follows was definitely born of desperation, but turned out to be a keeper.

1 pack of good quality sausages, once again I turned to my stash of Finnebrogue sausages
2 red onions, sliced
The zest of 1 orange
8 sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 bottle red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a cast iron casserole, over a medium heat.
Add the sausages and brown all over. Add the onions and soften.
Add all the other the ingredients.
Put the lid on and simmer for 40 minutes.




Serve with creamy mashed potatoes and green beans.

What inspires and drives you in the kitchen? Do you prefer the luxury of perusing your book collection, making copious notes, carefully selecting a menu, shopping for the ingredients and then spending the afternoon carefully creating your chosen dishes?
Or do you work best under pressure - fridge forage, the baying of "hangry" kids and a deadline of getting dinner on the table in time for football practice or their favourite TV programme.
Whichever it is, I urge you to enjoy your kitchen time as much as I do.

© Netherton Foundry 2017

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Cooking for a food writer


So what do you do when a Leith trained food writer comes to see you? 

1. Offer to cook them lunch.
2. Panic.
3. Lie down in a dark room, waiting for the rush of blood to pass and figure out what you are going to prepare.  Let's face it, a sandwich is not going to cut the mustard.

On Thursday, we had a visit from Xanthe Clay, to talk to us and find out more about what she described as our "famous pans".  You may already have seen some of the pictures she posted on Instagram.
As she was due to arrive, with photographer, at around noon, it would have been churlish to offer no more than a cup of tea and a biscuit, so I took the sound advice offered up by Bill Clinton in his 1992 campaign KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid.

The weather being somewhat unpredictable at present, soup seemed like a good option; warming if the wind blew in from the North East, but full of Spring vegetables.

This is what I made and I am pleased to say everyone present had 2 helpings.  What more could I ask for?   The onion and olive focaccia was baked in a 10" Prospector pan and the photo is courtesy of Xanthe.


2 Tblsp rapeseed oil, we always use Bennett and Dunn 
1 large onion
3 carrots
1 potato
1 can cannelini beans
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
750ml water 
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 handfuls kale
1 handful wild garlic
1 tsp sugar
2tsp salt

Finely chop the onion.  Cut the carrot and potato into 5 - 10mm dice, trust me, this is the hardest part of the whole recipe.
Pour the oil into a casserole or large pan and warm gently.
Add the onion, carrot and potato and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes. You do not want the vegetables to brown, just soften.
Add the drained beans, tomatoes, thyme, sugar, salt and water. Cover with a lid.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Roughly chop the kale and throw into the soup.



Cook for another 10 minutes, then add the chopped wild garlic (omit this if it is out of season, when you can substitute spinach if you wish).
Let the garlic wilt into the soup and serve immediately.





© Netherton Foundry 2017

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Marmalade flapjack

As you may know if you follow our social media accounts, we are fond of the outdoors and all manner of outdoor eating.
That extends to packed lunches for walking and climbing trips and my challenge is to keep coming up with new ideas. 
OH is very fond of home made malt loaf and I follow a recipe from my Good Housekeeping recipe book, 1979 , baked in our own loaf tins, naturally.



But he also likes a good flapjack and I have been working on some new combinations that are a little less sweet and sticky and a bit higher in protein, great for topping up on the go or post exercise.

This recipe can be modified by changing the dried fruit; try apricots or cranberries or a mix of whatever you have in the cupboard;  chuck in some chopped nuts and ring the changes with the seeds, I used sunflower and black sesame this time, but chia and pumpkin seeds are also good.

4oz butter, 
4oz peanut butter
4oz marmalade -  I used home made 
2oz golden syrup
8oz porage oats
4oz raisins
2oz mixed seeds

Pre heat oven to 150ºC

Melt the first 4 ingredients in a saucepan 




Put the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well to distribute the fruit and seeds.
Pour in the melted ingredients and mix thoroughly.


Line a 20 x 20cm baking tray with greaseproof paper or a butter wrapper.
Turn out in to the baking tray and pat flat.

Bake for  20 - 25 minutes.
Turn out while still warm, not hot, and cut into squares.

© Netherton Foundry 2017

Sunday, 12 February 2017

A day at Otter Farm 3

Wear sensible shoes. So said the joining instructions for the course.
OK, so the footwear is sorted, sort of. But what else to wear, is there a dress code for this kind of event?  The nerves tingle and sting like Spring nettles. What will everyone else be wearing? Am I being too shallow? Will there be a yummy mummy contingent,  ladies d'un certain age and a certain, confident style, media maidens, sassily strutting their AllSaints apparel?  Nothing in my wardrobe shouts "writing course" at me, oh where is my Elizabeth David outfit when I need it.
Pull yourself together, woman. This is a food writing course, not a remake of The Devil Wears Prada. You are meeting Diana Henry, not Anna Wintour.  All the same, as the saying goes, clothes maketh the (wo)man, so I need something that is not only comfortable, but which will also boost confidence.
Black dress, black boots, grey cardigan, done.
And as I walk into Mark and Candida's glorious kitchen at Otter Farm and meet Diana, I take in her black dress, black boots and grey cardigan.  I feel better already.  Better yet with a cup of coffee and a still warm, fennel fragrant biscuit, produced by the disarmingly youthful 5 o'clock apron, aka Claire Thomson.
The other course attendees start arriving.  Coffee and tea flow freely and initial, introductory conversations stutter into life. We are issued with sticky name labels and V. uses hers to cover the toothpaste mark on her black top and I inwardly acknowledge my right to be here.  What's more it's a joy to discover that I already "know" some of these people from the virtual world of social media, where we so often expose our personalities and hide our identities.
More coffee, and, with the arrival of long distance traveller, A., we begin.

I open the beautiful notebook, given to me at Christmas by my daughter, especially for today. I don't want to miss a thing.






There is so much to take in, Diana has structured the course to cover as much material as possible In the time available.
I listen, I make notes, I drink more coffee, I eat sublime cake, thanks again Claire, listen again, make more notes, eat a delicious lunch, yes, prepared by Claire, and swig home made Limoncello with sparkling Otter Farm wine. 



Enough to be glad that I am not the one to be driving home, not so much that the afternoon will be a somnolent haze.
Just as well, because as soon as the lunch  dishes are cleared, it's our turn to work.  Write a piece in 45 minutes; a metaphoric blank piece of paper insolently defies us to pick a topic, an audience and a coherent collection of words.
THIS IS NOT EASY. But harder yet is reading it aloud to the group.
Deep breath, don't look up, go for it. There is appreciation, laughter - reassuringly in the places I'd expected - and relief.  I listen to the others' pieces; this room is brimming with talent, wit and warmth.

The day is over, we have run over our allotted finish time and yet it has past all too swiftly.

I am not going to divulge details of the course itself, you will have to attend yourself for that.  Only that way can you benefit, as I did, from one far more qualified than I am to deliver pearls of writing wisdom. Cliched that may be, but believe me, pearls they were, lustrous, precious and certainly not found in every shell.

It is time to go home to homework, housework and getting these in the right order.  This post is part of my homework, whilst the dishes languish in the sink!

Many thanks to Mark and Candida for arranging the course and opening their beautiful home to us, to Claire for feeding us so wonderfully,  I can still taste the marmalade polenta cake and, of course, to Diana for sharing her skill and talents with us so generously.

© Netherton Foundry Shropshire 2017


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Cranberry and marmalade cake

I have never been one for the type of resolutions that see you having to give up something pleasurable during the grey days of January.  Admittedly the days are technically getting longer, but you'd be hard pushed to admit that that's what it feels like.
There is, I have no doubt, a different shade of grey for every day of the month and yet they all merge into one long, washed out blur of monochromatic misery.  Not quite 50, but let's not go down that road.

It's hard to feel cheerful faced with the monotony of bad, but rarely so bad you can't go to work, weather; the comedown after Christmas, when you no longer have the tree, but the pine needles keep turning up under the sofa, the last of the slightly dodgy chocolates that you received in the secret Santa sack, the sad resignation of not being able to gorge yourself on mince pies for another 10 months, at least;  eating the last slice of Christmas cake; acknowledging that a nice glass of sherry mid afternoon is no longer acceptable; higher heating bills that coincide with the arrival of the Christmas credit card bill. April is most certainly not the cruellest month.
January is not the month to be contemplating fresh starts, it does not live up to the promise of a new year, new start -  more like new year, let's just pull the blankets over our heads and wait for Spring.

But there are reasons to be cheerful - no more bloody trite TV ads for a start and no more celebrities smugly telling us about their perfect Christmas,when we all know that they pay someone else to decorate their tasteful tree, cook their dinner and wrap their overindulgent, media friendly presents.

Bah humbug indeed.

Mid way through the morning of my day at Otter Farm, Clare presented us with a slice of still warm, marmalade, polenta and thyme cake.  Divine,
I also have my own, slightly different and seasonal marmalade cake, which I shall share with you.
This is a perfect January dish, when you still have cranberries hanging around after Christmas and the first Seville  oranges are in the shops.

I used the last of the cranberry sauce I had made at Christmas, which had been decanted into a jar and stored in the fridge.
You can, of course, use commercially made sauce, but it will be too sweet and sticky without a little adulteration. I suggest that you warm 2 tablespoons of sauce gently over a low heat and add the juice of 2 Seville oranges.
If you want to start from scratch, measure out enough fresh cranberries to cover the base of your loaf tin and then transfer them to a pan. Add the juice of an orange and cook gently until they start to burst and the juice starts to run. Add sugar to taste, but go carefully, this will be the topping for a cake, so don't overdo it or the end result will make your teeth ache.

Pre heat the oven to 180º

Weigh 2 medium size eggs, in their shells and then measure the same weight of butter, marmalade and self raising flour.
You will also need ½ tsp fennel seeds, although I know opinion is fiercely divided on this subject, so feel free to omit them if you are not a fan and 2 tablespoons cranberry sauce

Beat butter and marmalade together.  Add the eggs and beat thoroughly.  A food mixer or processor is best for this, you want as much air in the mixture as possible.
Sift in the flour and fennel seeds.

Grease a 1lb loaf tin and spread the cranberries over the base.






Top with the cake mix and spread evenly.



Place in the oven and bake for approx 30 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Leave to stand for 10 minutes

Run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert the tin onto a serving plate.



Serve with creme fraiche, mixed with grated orange zest and a sprinkle of icing sugar, or simply eat as it is with a cup of coffee.

© Netherton Foundry Shropshire 2017

Monday, 30 January 2017

Memories

I have just come in from a visit to Mum in St Catherine's Hospice, just around the corner from my parents' house, but a 4 hour drive from home and am using Sunday newspaper immersion therapy to restore some emotional equilibrium.  Not easy when pictures of Theresa May and Donald Trump, hand in hand, adorn every front page.

Diana Henry's feature in the Sunday Telegraph on chicken soup soothed the nerves, whetted the appetite and let forth a string of memories. More than ever, I acknowledge and appreciate the evocative nature of reminiscences triggered by thoughts of food. Later I will describe how a particular taste can carry me straight back to my childhood, when summers were sunnier and autumn days were written about in lyrical poetry.  Ah, those were the days, right?
Earlier in the day we had all been talking about how, over 50 years ago, Mum made lunch of rabbit stew for "old Mr Barker", as he was universally known, our neighbour and my surrogate grandfather, tricking him into eating it by telling him it was chicken and her admission that all the highly prized, well hung game birds that she was given by her eccentric employer, Sir John, went straight into a deep, deep hole in the back garden. There may be a modish trend for eating grubs now, but  back then maggots were definitely not on the menu.
My brother and I astonished ourselves with our ability to recall being pushed around the garden in Mr Barker's wheelbarrow and the long summer holidays, spent on Sir John's estate, while Mum was working.  A landlocked version of Swallows and Amazons, or so hindsight would have us believe.

My mum's chicken soup came out of a tin; usually Heinz, never Campbell's and occasionally Baxters, although the latter was generally regarded as an extravagant indulgence.  To this day, she has never bought a carton of Covent Garden Soup, her Yorkshire sensibilities unable to equate the higher price with, to her mind, the cheaper packaging of a cardboard box.
Thick, bland and bolstered by small, unusually shaped shreds of indeterminate poultry, these tinned soups were invariably thinned down with milk to eke them out and boiled into submission.
Not every bowl of chicken soup is a well of comfort.

Mum's cooking was solid, predictable and traditional, although not the traditions so beautifully written about by the likes of Jane Grigson.  Tradition meant simply what had gone before and, it has to be said, it was never very good.  She was never going to poison us, but the nourishment only went as far as meeting our basic bodily needs.  My mother is not an emotional or demonstrative woman and nowhere was this more obvious than in her food.
And now she lies in a hospice, with the days slipping ever more quickly by and so I feel guilty and somewhat traitorous in writing this, particularly as she prided herself on her cooking skills and my father, bless him, ranks her above all others. She is his very own domestic goddess.
With a few truly surprising exceptions, my abiding memories are of undercooked pastry, tough, pale and often sitting soggily beneath some dubious pie filling and overcooked meat, grilled pork chops, served without any form of lubrication to help them down.
Perhaps the most extraordinary meal she ever produced was more like an abstract art installation, "Absence of Taste"; a monochrome meal of poached cod, mashed potato, cauliflower and white, not cheese, sauce served up on a white plate and with no side order of irony.

Would she have been more creative if my father's tastes had been less restrictive.  Who knows, they have been married for almost 60 years and we are not going to find out now.  We talk much these days about the lack of culinary skills in current generations and look back with nostalgia to a golden age when every woman could whip up a meal from scrag end of mutton and a few potatoes.  Believe me, it wasn't so, the reason my father thinks so highly of my mother's talents in the kitchen is because his own mother's cooking bordered on criminal.

My (almost) lifelong interest in food has developed as a reaction to my parents' dining table. A prescient friend bought me Cordon Bleu Cookery, by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes for my 18th birthday. The first cookbook I owned and one which I still use to this day, always thinking of my school friend Margaret as I leaf through the yellowing pages. Food fashions and trends come and go, but classics and basics remain and I faithfully use Rosemary and Muriel's recipes for savarin and profiteroles.  Here is their choux pastry.......



Which leads me back to my mother and a couple of examples which either identify her as being ahead of her time or show up some contemporary chefs, who are keen to trumpet the novelty of their thinking, as being, perhaps less innovative than they might think.

Whenever I go blackberry picking, I am transported back to Yorkshire, to country lanes and high, thick hedges, sticky purple fingers and scratched legs. Family outings in hot, unreliable cars to gather blackberries in Tupperware tubs, with the lids then tightly sealed to encourage any wildlife to crawl to the top and be discarded from the underside of the lid when we got home.
It's now called foraging, but dragged out on a Sunday, away from friends, books and the new top forty on the radio, it was once known as torture.

We didn't have a freezer in those days, so with enough put aside for a couple of blackberry and apple pies, the rest of our harvest had to be preserved.
Inevitably there were jars of jelly and I cannot eat bramble jelly now without the image of thickly sliced bread speared on a toasting fork before an open fire, the slightly charred edges speckling the butter and the jelly beginning to melt slightly and drip down my hand. 
But there were also bottles of homemade blackberry vinegar,  a historic throwback that no-one else we knew ever seemed to make and certainly not something you'd find sitting next to the ketchup, malt vinegar, Colman's mustard and salad cream in the supermarket.
This was the one thing that I recall Dad enjoying that was, in any way, out of the ordinary. What he really loved, but may not have eaten in years, was thick slices of bacon, served with a fried banana and drizzled, not a word he would have chosen, with blackberry vinegar.  He had a point, the combination of the salty bacon and sweet banana with the vinegar deglazing the pan is hard to beat.  Try it, you may be pleasantly surprised.

As Mum slowly slips away from us and Dad is clocking up the years, he is 88, I know that soon will no longer be able to share these memories with them, but will only be able to carry them around within ourselves.  There are photos, of course, of the people we cherish now, the images of them throughout the childhood we have left behind and of their younger selves, whom we never knew. But photos are only one dimensional and are only brought out on anniversaries and at family gatherings.
And so it is that I have to thank Heston Blumenthal for the ubiquity of the thrice cooked chip, whose appearance on a menu will instantly evoke images of a kitchen in Yorkshire with steamed up windows and the sound of a sizzling chip pan.
Peeled potatoes, they absolutely had to be peeled, no skin on wedges here, cut into chunky chips and bathed three times in varying degrees of hot beef dripping were the norm in my mother's kitchen over 40 years ago and if she could get up now and cook you a plate of chips, that's  exactly how she would do it ..... the proper way, her way and therefore, the only way.  If she were to live til the harvest of the first new potatoes of the year however, there would be no chips... the right type of potato was essential and she had no truck with doing anything other than serving her new potatoes with butter and mint.

So, Mum, as your days shorten, let me tell you that I love you and that your threat to return and haunt us is no idle threat, you will live on in every gastropub in the land.


© Netherton Foundry Shropshire 2017

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A day at Otter Farm 2

Chapter 2.
Arrival

We are early.
Progress down the M5 can be as swift and smooth as sugar spilling out of a split bag or as frustratingly slow as a watched kettle.  Today it has been a straightforward journey, the workman-less roadworks are under populated and traffic is moving apace.
Even a "Road closed " sign just outside our target village did not impede our journey - the closure, such as it was, being approximately 30m beyond the entrance to Otter Farm.

Now I would always rather be early than late, but too early is no better mannered in my view than late. So we park, out of the way, in a farm entrance and steel ourselves to listen to the 9 o'clock news on Radio 4. So far, Donald Trump has not blown anything up (besides Obamacare grrrr) and 9 more people have been rescued from the avalanche hit hotel in Italy.

It's going to be a good day.

We refer to our instructions and pull into a lay by.
"This is it," I confidently announce.
"How can you tell? Are you sure?"
"Look over the gate"
"That's  it?"

Oh yes, that, very definitely, is IT.
Otter Farm, star of Grand Designs, partially financed by a hugely successful Crowdfunding campaign that had me and many, many more dipping their hands in to their pockets, enthused and inspired by Mark and Candida's vision, is unmistakeable.

Distinctive, arresting, a fascinating combination of traditional methods, materials and crafts providing the structure for a thing of contemporary beauty and functionality.
It's only as I write this that I realise I could, on a smaller scale, be describing our cookware.  Never off the job!

Minutes later and Candida is opening the gates and welcoming us, more than happy to let Neil gawp in admiration at these awesome buildings.  Awesome, a word hijacked and abused by a generation, really is the right word to use here, the house and cookery school leaving us wonder-struck and marvelling at both their physical beauty and creative construction.

Neil leaves, off to visit Devon dwelling family. I enter the house and as the front door closes behind me, the day really does begin.  MY DAY.


© Netherton Foundry Shropshire 2017