Greenmarket tasting menu

IMG_9364UPDATE: View the full menu with photos here

Announcing a new upcoming event from Smoke and Thyme: The Greenmarket Tasting Menu. A seven course tasting menu based around local & seasonal fruit and vegetables. Over 90% of the produce for this night is grown within a day’s walk of where it’s being served, selected at its peak and cooked in the way that shows it off at its absolute best.

In a world where supermarkets can ship your asparagus from Peru and your strawberries from Spain, there’s no need to follow the seasons anymore. But constant availability comes at the cost of losing touch with what grows close to us and when it’s at its best. A sad result of the loss of quality that comes from picking produce for its ability to travel instead of for its taste, is that too often, vegetables get treated just as a supporting player on a plate where meat or fish is the star.

IMG_9352This tasting menu is completely suitable for vegetarians, and includes vegan alternatives for any dish that isn’t vegan already. You may have read my blog post about why I love cooking for vegetarians, and this night has definitely been inspired by the fantastic experiences I’ve had developing meat-free dishes for my supper clubs. It’s not just for vegetarians though – it’s for anyone who wants to celebrate the fact that during the summer and autumn, we have loads of amazing produce grown in allotments, gardens and farms all within a handful of miles of Oxford. 

I’m planning to run several dates with this menu throughout June and July. Click here to view available dates, or sign up for the mailing list to be the first to know about all new events. 

April and May Supper Club Menu

Asparagus, broccoli and blue cheese soupTo begin: Asparagus, broccoli and blue cheese soup
Every year as I wait on tenterhooks for the beginning of asparagus season, this is the recipe I’m waiting to make. A lesser blog might give you the useful tip that you can use the leftover hard woody ends of asparagus to make the soup, but to be honest, I buy asparagus to make this soup out of the ends, and have to come up with uses for the rest. 

Main course: Slow braised lamb ragu with gnocchi and ribboned asparagus
My search for the perfect slow-braised lamb came complete with this dish – 48 hours of sous vide cooking at a low temperature leaves the lamb meltingly tender but without having lost any of its flavour to the sauce. For this Supper Club I’ve paired with a pile of pillowy, buttery gnocchi and ribbons of seasonal asparagus.
or
Wild mushroom and truffle ragu with gnocchi and ribboned asparagus
The wild mushroom ragu “alternative” is a creation that won over one of my most ardently carnivorous friends at a recent dinner party, who swore that while eating it he forgot that it was vegetarian. The depth of flavour comes from the variety of different types of mushrooms used, and is punched up by a good dash of truffle oil right at the end. 

Dessert: Salt caramel custard tart
In my kitchen, scraps of pastry and leftover crumbs get saved up in a jar, and when the jar is full, I mix them with melted chocolate and press them into a shell to make the base for this tart. Salt caramel custard, baked until set inside a chocolate pastry case, bruleed until the top is a crunchy, glass-like shard of caramel. Decadent. 

All dates for this menu are sold out, to be added to the waiting list for April or May message me via the contact page.

 

Fishmas – December Fish tasting Menu


Over the past year and a half, I’ve been testing dishes out at supper clubs with a view to assembling a series of themed tasting menus. I’m delighted to announce that the first of these menus has finally been written, and will be making it’s debut next month.

Smoke and Thyme: Fishmas 2015:

6 Lobster Tortelini

A seven-course tasting menu of the best fish and seafood dishes from 2015. Including such favourites as beetroot cured salmon , Thai crab cakes and lobster tortellini, with optional matching wines. Served in an intimate 12 seat conservatory setting in East Oxford.

18th and 19th December.

Merry Fishmas!

Tickets are £30+ booking fee, wine pairing menu is an additional £22 or BYO for £7 corkage.  Ginger Squid salad

Tickets can be purchased at Eventbrite through the links be
low.

Please pick your date:
Friday 18th December
Saturday 19th December

 

The Menu:

  1. Trio of cold fish starters (Beetroot cured salmon, harissa anchovies, octopus salad)1 Trio of fish starters
  2. Thai crabcakes2 Thai crabcakes
  3. Green curry soup with mussels3 Thai Green Curry Soup with Mussels
  4. Soft roes on toast4 Soft Roes on Toast with Sherry Cream
  5. Rainbow trout with courgette ribbons and chimmichurri5 Rainbow Trout and Chimmichurri
  6. Lobster tortelini6 Lobster Tortelini
  7. Sea salt caramel ice cream7 Sea Salt Caramel ice cream

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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Salmon and Saag Aloo

Salmon and Saag Aloo

It started with a fish.

I’d been looking for sea bass, but the sea bass were looking a bit fishy. My eye drifted over to the salmon, and I was hooked.IMG_0477

I came up with a plan:
Buy a whole salmon, fillet it myself. Preserve one side with a beetroot-cure and cook the other side for dinner tonight with nothing but a little salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon and maybe a bay leaf in the pan – just crispy skin and the essential flavours of the salmon.

But what did I want to serve it with?

A bowl of hot, buttery, new season potatoes, crushed by a fork and sprinkled with grassy chives and flakes of sea salt? Or a nest of wilted spinach – a bitter, dark-green, iron-y tang against the sweet, rich, blushing pink flesh of the salmon?

The answer obviously was both, but as soon as those two ingredients were in my head, my thoughts went to saag aloo. Melding spinach and potatoes with Indian flavours is the best thing I can think to do with either of those ingredients, let alone both, so I was sure it would be the perfect complement to the salmon.

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And it is.
Against a plainer accompaniment salmon can dominate a plate, but faced with the bold and spicy saag aloo it reveals the more delicate side of its fishy nature. At the last minute, I decided to add a vegetable fritter, which backed up the crispy salmon skin beautifully and brought the whole dish together.

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Salmon and Saag Aloo

Continue reading “Salmon and Saag Aloo”

Leek and Wild Mushroom Fricassee

Leek and wild mushroom fricassee

Folklore says that stepping inside a fairy ring, a ring of wild mushrooms, leaves one in thrall to the illusions of the the fairies who built it. Now I might not be superstitious, and I certainly don’t think that the fantastic flavour of this dish is just an illusion, but if garnishing my plate with a ring of wild mushrooms might give me a helping hand from the supernatural, I’m not about to pass up the chance.

This is a dish that, appropriately enough, has mushroomed into my life – coming out of nowhere and rapidly expanding in size and scope until I ended up cooking it for thirty two people on Thursday, in two separate gigs. In this great but slightly busy past week that I’ve had, I’ve cooked and tweaked this fricassee at least eight times, so I reckon I’ve got it down.

“Fricassee” isn’t the most familiar of culinary terms, but it’s an elemental preparation in classic French cuisine. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child describes it as midway between a sauté and a stew. A stew starts with liquid from the beginning, a sauté cooks “dry” – with fat or oil only. A fricassee starts off pan frying in the same way as a sauté, but then adds a liquid to continue cooking as a stew does.

As I mentioned in my previous post, leeks are in season right now, and this is probably my favourite way to prepare them. Leeks can be a stringy mass if underdone, or a sulky mush if they’re overcooked, but fricasseeing allows for a lot of control and a wide margin for error.

Because it’s creamy, delicate and saucy (yet substantial), when I’m not just eating it on its own I like to pair leek fricassee with white meats and white wines. It goes exceptionally well with slow roast pork belly, and at my pop-up we served it with a stuffed chicken ballotine. It also makes an exquisite pasta sauce, especially if you add a fried handful of lardons and use the rendered bacon fat to sauté the mushrooms.

Fricassee close up

Leek and Wild Mushroom Fricassee

Serves 3-4 Continue reading “Leek and Wild Mushroom Fricassee”

Crispy Leek and Celeriac fritters (and tips for deep frying)

Towering

Quick message: I’m looking for some volunteers to try next week’s dishes. Get in touch if you’re free in Oxford on Saturday November 2nd.

I love this dish because it’s a simple preparation can be deployed against almost anything lurking in the veg drawer. Previously, this was a courgette and onion fritter dish. And that was adapted from a spring onion bhaji recipe. I’ve done it with carrots, with parsnips, I’ve used the batter to coat slices of aubergine, and to bind little balls of cauliflower and sweetcorn. This time of year, leeks and celeriac are at their best, and they go really nicely together.

The vegetables are pretty interchangeable though – its the batter which is the key. It takes all of about five minutes to make, binds the vegetables together, protects them against the heat of the deep fryer and turns golden brown and crispy in the process.

Deep frying gets a bad rep for being unhealthy, inconvenient, or even dangerous to do. Because of this, its a method that most people don’t do that often, so they don’t feel confident that they know what they’re doing, they don’t get right every time, and therefore tend not to bother with. But deep frying is not to be ignored as a technique – its just too damn tasty. So I’m going to take some time in the Tips for Geeks section to talk about how to do it right.

Full shot

Crispy Leek and Celeriac Fritters

Serves 4-8

It almost seems absurd to give quantities for this recipe, as I always just make it by eye. However… Continue reading “Crispy Leek and Celeriac fritters (and tips for deep frying)”

“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.

Blackberries

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”