Strawberry Custard Tart

Served as part of my June Supper Club menu, on the 5th and 13th of June.IMG_0652IMG_0831

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This last photo is from Medley Manor Farm, on the inside of a rustic little shack where you weigh and pay for your pick-your-own strawberries. It’s a quote on the topic of strawberries from Reverend John Fuller, circa the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and it reads “Doubtless God could have made a better berry. But doubtless God never did.”

What more can you say?

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Picking your own strawberries is one of the more agreeable ways to spend a sunny afternoon in June. However if you spend as much as a whole afternoon picking, you’re liable to end up with an infeasibly vast amount of strawberries – these are quite literally easy pickings and 15 or 20 minutes is long enough to snag a kilo or so (about 2 large punnets).

There’s not much of a saving in picking strawberries yourself compared to buying at the supermarket. The real benefit is in quality. Strawberries are at their sweetest and most flavoursome when they’re perfectly ripe – but they don’t pack or travel so well at this point because they’re so soft. As such, to look good on a supermarket shelf, strawberries are bred and picked for firmness over flavour. Fresh from the field you can handpick and lovingly transport home only the reddest, ripest, juiciest, most yielding and tender berries, and the few that get bruised on the way home are acceptable jammy casualties for the privilege of what you’re about to eat.

My strawberry custard tart is my attempt to celebrate the berry that God did not trouble Himself to improve upon. I blind bake an almond shortcrust pastry shell – first with beans until it will hold its shape and then open and empty until golden brown, at about 190 C. With the tart shell still in the oven, I pour in hot custard from a jug right up to the brim, and turn the oven right down to 100 C and let the custard slowly cook, without browning the pastry any further, until it sets with only the barest wobble to indicate the creamy unctuousness below its surface. The strawberries, hulled and quartered, are sprinkled with caster sugar and just a few drops of balsamic vinegar to macerate in their own juices for a hour or two until the tart has cooked and cooled down, and then arranged across a slice like a bright red slash with a few leaves of basil or mint from the garden to garnish. I also use this combination of strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar in one of my favourite ice cream flavours. I make a basil ice cream by infusing the cream with fresh-cut basil for three days. I cut strawberries quite small and drizzle with balsamic and sugar before roasting them gently in the oven to dry out and concentrate the flavour. After churning the basil ice cream until almost completely set, I swirl in way, way too many of the diced strawberries, and reserve in the freezer for a few hours. Sometimes there’s even some left by dinnertime.

Crabcakes and Asparagus Ice Cream

Crabcakes

This is an update and review of a dish from my April Supper Club, held on the 17th. The next supper club date is Saturday the 9th of May. To attend, please email me at smokeandthyme@gmail.com, letting me know how many guests you’d like to bring, a contact phone number and any special dietary requirements I need to be aware of. The menu changes every month and the price is pay-what-you-want.
Lemongrass, coconut, coriander, green chilli. Fish sauce, ginger, soy. My Thai soup with mussels demanded a perfectly smooth sauce, which meant sieving out a heartbreaking amount of immensely flavoursome but slightly stringy pulp from my green curry sauce. Not until after I’d thrown the first batch of it away did I get the tip from a friend that this lumpy by-catch could be mixed with mashed potato and cooked crab for a fantastic green curry crabcake.

With cauliflower still in season and my previous pairing of it with seafood  in mind, I wanted to test out a non-potato binding for another type of crabcake. Adding cayenne and paprika and sumac gave the mixture a dark, red-brownish colour, and unable to pick a favourite between the green Thai or the red cauliflower crabcakes, I decided the colour contrast would justify putting both on the plate.

Asparagus ice cream

As with so many weird food trends, the blame for savoury ice cream lies with Heston Blumenthal and his infamous bacon and egg flavour frozen treat. Much as I adore Heston’s cuisine however, challenging my diners’ preconceptions isn’t usually my main goal. I was concerned that asparagus ice cream in a starter would be too much like a gimmick – like I’m trying to make a point of doing something wacky. So I was delighted when my guests recognised it for being just a really nice (if slightly unusual) combination of flavours, textures and temperatures.

The cream melting over the deep-fried crabcakes is like any cream sauce on seafood, except for being cold, which cuts through the spiciness of the crabcakes. Asparagus, especially when paired with salty samphire, is perfect with crustaceans or anything else from the sea. Sadly at this point we run into my mistake – not nearly enough asparagus flavour to the ice cream. So pungent when boiled or steamed, asparagus’ water-soluble flavour molecules are not taken up so well by fats and oils, and the cold seems to lock them away as well. The temperature and textural contrast of the ice cream worked great, but against the bold, spicy flavours of the crabcakes the asparagus flavour was much too mild.

Verdict

Ultimately, though I liked the taste of the spiced cauliflower crabcakes, I found it too hard to explain what they’re all about to want to serve them again. The thing I liked best was that they provided an alternative to the stodgy, flavour-absorbing mashed potato of a typical fishcake. The Thai green curry ones on the other hand were both delicious and well defined. My next experiment will be to use the same flavours but with a crab risotto (instead of mashed potato) to bind them, and a tempura batter rather than breadcrumbs. The asparagus ice cream will be back, bigger and stronger, and other savoury ices may make their way onto my non-dessert courses in the future.

April Supper Club: Offishial Menu

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A little delayed by Easter but here it is: The April Supper Club – Seafood Edition. This Friday (April 17th), 7.30pm, at The Church Farmhouse in Holton. Email smokeandthyme@gmail.com to make a reservation.

Lets check out the menu:

Canapes:

  • Vegetarian nigiri
Starter:
  • Crabcakes with asparagus ice cream and samphire salad
Main:
  • Salmon with saag aloo (pictured above)
Dessert:
  • Five-layered white chocolate cake

For those of you who haven’t been before, these supper clubs are my opportunity to get feedback on the new dishes I’m developing. There’s no fixed menu and no fixed price – you get to try some brand new dishes, tell me what you think of them, and at the end of the evening, you pay whatever you think the night was worth. To learn more about the supper clubs I run check out the supper club page

March Supper Club

This is an update and review of my March Supper Club, held on the 7th of March.
The next supper club date is Friday the 17th of April (changed from Monday 6th). To attend, please email me at smokeandthyme@gmail.com, letting me know how many guests you’d like to bring, a contact phone number and any special dietary requirements I need to be aware of. The menu changes every month and the price is pay-what-you-want.

Scallops with Bacon and Roasted Cauliflower Puree

Although this dish kicked off the meal, it was actually the last that I decided on. I’d kept the budget well under control for the main and dessert courses, so I had some room to splash out on this one. One of those ingredients that I truly love but can only occasionally afford are scallops.

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Though mild, scallops are often paired with very bold flavours. My former partner Finn had told me years ago about a dish he served with scallops and a cauliflower puree. When I worked at Borough Market, Shellseekers Fishmongers served scallops with bacon and onions in their own shells. After a quick test of roasting up and blending a cauliflower, I knew how I wanted to go – a dollop of spiced cauliflower puree in a scallop shell, a sautéed scallop and a garnish of diced crispy bacon and fresh coriander.

One of my guests suggested adding saffron to this dish. Although I’m not a great fan of saffron myself, I think in this case it would go really well in the roasted cauliflower puree. The other blindingly obvious addition that I can’t believe I forgot was a squeeze of lemon – both the scallop and the cauliflower would have been enhanced by this. Other than that, I think this dish both presents and tastes beautiful, and I’d definitely do it again.

 

Roast Beef with Blue Cheese Butter and Bone Marrow Mash

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I had bought a piece of beef almost a month ago to experiment with dry-aging. Good beef can be hung for anywhere between three weeks and two months, but it’s an expensive process because it loses weight and requires space and attention. The results however are well worth it.

Silverside isn’t one of my favourite cuts, but I got a bargain on a really well marbled piece. I kept it on a wire rack to help the air circulate and kept an eye on it until I thought it looked ready, which fortunately turned out to be right before the date for this supper club. Cutting off a slice and frying it up, I decided that it was a bit tough to do a steak, but the flavour was really good (a common tradeoff). So I decided to roast the beef and slice it extra thin, letting my knife rather than my guests’ teeth do the work.

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Choosing what to serve with the beef was less about coming up with ideas and more about narrowing them down. Bone marrow mash (from the Pitt Cue cookbook and sold on the name alone), blue cheese butter (a pick from Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection series), caramelised onions (because caramelised onions), and gravy made the final list. The picture in my head of the plate I wanted didn’t have anywhere for veg, but I decided a big bowl of braised cabbage on the table would finish things off nicely.

Verdict: I knew that this one was always going to be a crowd pleaser, but my concern was that it wouldn’t look or be sophisticated enough to fit with the rest of the meal. Turned out I needn’t have worried – this dish looked elegant and the flavours were comforting and traditional but still complex. I liked the table dish of cabbage – it kept the plate presentation delicate while adding to the community feeling of the night. I loved the slick of blue cheese butter on top of the beef, but I think that next time I might mix the blue cheese with the marrow and put those two great flavours right up front, and let the buttery mash stand for itself, or even substitute it for a parsnip dauphinoise or just some more of that fantastic cabbage.

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Mint and Candied Pistachio Ice Cream

When I’m looking for things that will go well together, I often try to find something in common that they share. This can be a flavour, a season, or a location, or in the case of this dessert, a colour. Pistachio and mint are not just green, they are famously green – they’re shades-on-the-Dulux-chart green. And in an ice cream parlour, they’re the green ones. This is what was in my head when I decided to try pairing them. I also decided that, rather than the homogenised and occasionally grainy texture of pistachio ice cream, I would preserve and enhance the crunchiness of the pistachios by coating them in a hard crack sugar syrup, rather like a boiled sweet

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Another thing that mint and pistachio share, at least in my mind, is a Middle Eastern connection. Baklava – the combination of nuts, sugar syrup and filo pastry, accompanies mint tea. Just a couple of weeks ago when I was cooking Paul Liebrandt’s Gold Bar dessert, I was struck by the crossover potential of one of the elements of the dessert – the crepe dentelles. These fine, flaky, brittle sheets are halfway between pastry and sugar work, taste like a super rich and buttery version of an ice cream cone, and a stack of flat squares perched atop a scoop of ice cream reminded me of baklava. The connection was irresistible to me – the dentelle would not overshadow the ice cream that I felt really deserved to be the star of the dish, but would enhance it and tease at the baklava connection that I had already made in my mind.

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After testing this dish out, frankly I just loved it. Elegant, simple, clever, sophisticated yet easy to make, this was probably the dish of the night for me. Immediately my mind was spinning off into other flavours of ice cream with a Middle Eastern theme – orange, cardamom and ginger, lemon, honey and pistachio, pomegranate and rosewater – watch this space.
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“Hedgerow” ice cream with apple crumble

Blackberry, rosemary, elderflower cordial and white chocolate chunks

Hedgerow Jaunty

The only thing better than food is free food. That’s why there’s no time of year quite like blackberry season. All along the banks of the river and at the borders of every park, hedgerows burst into fruit, and any walk is liable to leave me with crimson-stained fingers until I get home.

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This dish was inspired by the bounty that this season offers up for free: blackberries from Shotover park and Mesopotamia walk; elderflower cordial made from Warnford Meadow; apples from our garden and rosemary purloined from someone else’s

It’s also a little bit of a twist on the gastropub stalwart of blackberry and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. I’ve never liked putting blackberries in apple crumble. The blackberry flavour diminishes in the cooking and you’re left picking seeds out from between your teeth.

This ice cream, with the rich, fresh blackberry flavour, is great on its own, but it goes perfectly with apple crumble. I’ve included a recipe for that as well, but there’s nothing new about it – I’ve cooked it the same way since I had to stand on a chair to reach the table.

Apples on the tree 2Hedgerow Ice Cream with Apple Crumble

Blackberry purée
Makes 200g-300g
400g (or more) of blackberries, washed and drained

Continue reading ““Hedgerow” ice cream with apple crumble”