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Autumn Sesame Slaw

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For some reason the word ‘slaw‘ seems to enrage people who demand to know when we stopped just saying ‘coleslaw’ and muttering about hipsters. I, for one, welcome the arrival of slaw. It tends to mean freshly prepared vegetables filled with colour and flavour instead of that limp mayonnaise-sodden white and orange woodchip style salad of the 80s and 90s. If hipsters have made that occurrence less likely, then I’m all for it.

This recipe is definitely a slaw. There’s no cabbage in it so it can’t be coleslaw by that token. It’s a bright mix of kohlrabi, beetroot, carrot and apple, packed with flavour and a colour reminiscent of soon to be falling leaves. Lightly tossed in tahini and yoghurt and scattered with sesame seeds, we ate a batch of it in a friend’s garden on the last summer night of the season and then I tucked into more on the first cool wet day we’ve had. It worked perfectly for both.

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The March of the Irish

After the local food delights of February’s Guestrant at Electrik with local chef Deanna Thomas, my appetite has been whetted at the prospect of more pop-up restaurant action. So when Deanna casually mentioned on Twitter she was cooking a St Patrick’s night dinner at the lovely North Star Deli in Chorlton it seemed like a no brainer to make a beeline for the event. My companions and I arrived at North Star Deli on the night to find ourselves warmly welcomed and shown our seats. Adam, the deli owner and Deanna’s brother, set the scene as we met a selection of the other attendees, an interesting and diverse selection of fellow food lovers. I’d never been to the deli before even during normal hours, having moved out of Manchester around the time it opened, and was taken by its individual charms and how well suited it seemed to intimate after-hours dining.

As this was the inaugural session of the pop-up restaurant evening not all the tables were filled, but the conversation was lively and the anticipation grew heady before the chef came out to introduce the starter. The venue itself has an open kitchen behind the counter, perfect for peeking over to see what’s going on. Not that I did so much, I’d tried hard to avoid finding out what was on the menu as I wanted to be surprised by what was on offer at this ‘Irish inspired feast’.

Irish food has historically reflected the fruits of the land, rivers and sea; whether simple working food, or a more grandiose country house style. However to many people Irish food is perceived as plain and indistinguished. Thankfully over the past few decades a generation of producers, writers, chefs and general food lovers have challenged the standard, simple stereotypes of ‘everything with potatoes and cabbage’, instead introducing or rediscovering more artisanal flavours, combinations and techniques. As a result Irish food in the twenty-first century is as dynamic, exciting and experimental as anything in the UK, hopefully continuing to develop despite the recent economic crisis.

A cursory glance on the ‘net around St. Paddy’s Day throws up a pretty frightening selection of green-dyed beer and leprechaun-themed gubbins (predominantly from our American cousins who seem to have a somewhat confused take on their culinary heritage from the Emerald Isle). Don’t forget the impressive marketing muscle of Guinness either,: they’ve managed to turn St Patrick’s Night into an event synonymous with their most famous dark drink. I was hoping tonight’s fare would be more exciting than a dodgy Irish Stew, a pint of the black stuff, and a Lucky Charms-themed dessert though.

The starter bode well. We started with wheaten bread and beautifully formed little star-shaped butter pats being brought to our tables. The wheaten bread was the foil to a deceptively simple crisp green salad studded with wonderful bacon, surrounded by roasted beetroot, and finished with a Cashel Blue dressing and a chive garnish. Cashel Blue is one of my favourite blue cheeses, and internationally acclaimed too so I’m not being overly biased with my recommendation of how good this Irish farmhouse blue is. It makes for a sophisticated blue cheese dressing with a selection of complimentary ingredients which left one wanting more. Earthy beet, tangy cheese, fresh leaves, sweet salted bacon proved to be amicable and perfectly partnered bedfellows.

When the chef came out to introduce the first course, explaining that the recipe was based on Richard Corrigan’s version of this favourite bread, she was unsure of the reaction from the diners. She had nothing to fear: this was wonderfully good wheaten bread, and I speak as a lifetime fan! Generally wheaten bread is a wholemeal soda bread, and owes much of its character and flavour to the use of baking soda as a raising agent (rather than yeast, so good for those who are yeast intolerant) and use of tangy buttermilk. It’s straightforward to make and doesn’t require too much hard work: in fact it’s one of the few breads I can confidently make. I once flew to the Netherlands with a freshly baked loaf, just so I could present it to friends as an accompaniment for a shared meal. We’re serious about bread in our part of the world. Side note: a slice or two of decent wild smoked salmon, served on some buttered wheaten bread with a squeeze of lemon juice is one of Ireland’s great food pleasures and most satisfying starters… at least in our family.

The main course, a beef & Guinness stew with potato pastry crust, was a wee bit more of a nod to ‘traditional’ Irish cooking whilst maintaining a modern character. First came bowls with healthy portions of fine chunky beef, glistening with rich dark gravy. These were topped with a triangle of light pastry. This in its own right was very good, two different cuts of meat in a beer gravy working well in that time-honoured combination of ox and stout, but more so when paired with the diminutive carrots and mash. Especially the mash – a hybrid colcannon/champ mix which prompted both an audience participation game on what best to call it (champannon, colchamp) and also a full-scale rush to clean the bowls it came in. You have to go far to beat the pleasures of good mashed potato with a rich stew… and I was pleased to hear a previous post of ours had influenced the introduction of scallions to the mix. By the time the course was over it was a potato-free zone on our table and elsewhere.

Dessert, as we’d expected after last month’s stunning chocolate torte from a chef with a serious track record in pastry, was a cracker*. A beautiful slice of apple and almond tart, served with Irish cream and a Guinness caramel sauce. The tart was perfectly light, the sweet and sharpness of the apples playing off against the pastry and almonds. The Irish cream, whipped up with Baileys, sat decadently with an rather tongue-in-cheek bright green shamrock candy astride it. Meanwhile elbows were sharpened and fingers utilised so everyone could enjoy the caramel sauce to the maximum. Seriously good, and provoking debate and discussion around the tables as to what gave it such a deep range of flavours. If memory serves me correctly the mystery ingredient turn out to be cassis: I hope I don’t get in trouble for spilling the beans!

The evening was hugely enjoyable: superb food, lovely setting and a great selection of diners. It was great to meet so many interesting folk with a shared interest in food. Thanks to Adam and the staff at North Star Deli for their enthusiasm and service, and of course to Deanna Thomas for a great Celtic-inspired menu. Let’s hope there’ll be more of these events in the future.

* With thanks to Frank Carson… it’s the way I tell ’em!

Veally good…

I love veal. I know some people are apprehensive about it due to the dark days of veal crates and the inhumanely reared tasteless wan meat they created. Sadly this meat is still available for purchase, but mainly in Continental Europe. Britain has embraced the much more humane and tastier rose veal in recent years and when I see this at the butcher it’s hard to resist, which is how I came to have to some stunning English veal fillet to cook on St George’s Day.

This sensational piece of meat came from Paul Stansfield at Todmorden Market and like all his meat, is top quality, beautifully prepared and is locally sourced, possibly from the same farm that produces the wonderful Pexommier cheese. I only wish I had a butcher like him handy to me in Brixton. In fact, I wish everyone still had a butcher like this available to them…we’d all be eating better quality, more ethically raised meat and probably enjoying it much more too!

I decided that a top class piece of meat like this needed to cooked simply and without much fuss, so roasting it seemed like the perfect way to go. I expected this piece of fillet to be more like pork fillet than beef due to the size of a calf compared to a cow, and therefore thought it would be good stuffed for flavour and moisture. But as you can see, when unwrapped, stuffing would simply have been unnecessary. Instead, I simply seasoned it, sealed it on all sides in a hot pan and roasted it in the oven at 190˚C for 20 minutes.

The lure of stuffing was too great to abandon completely, especially as I had some beautiful organic rye bread from the farm shop at Tebay just itching to become breadcrumbs. I mixed these up with some kale, sauteed with anchovy, garlic and lemon zest, then finely chopped with a russet apple and bound with lemon juice and an egg. This mix was rolled into stuffing balls and baked in the oven to be served on the side of the veal, along with some roasted beetroot.

The veal came out after 20 minutes and rested for another 10 while I deglazed the pan with a splash of red wine to make a light gravy. The meat was beautifully tender, still very slightly pink and extremely moist and juicy and carved as easily as butter. Served with a salad, the stuffing and beetroot, it made a very handsome plate of food.

Unfortunately despite the 45 minutes in a hot oven it had had, the beetroot was still raw when we tried eating it, but the veal was so good, nothing could have detracted from it. It was incredibly tender, genuinely melt-in-the-mouth and packed with rich, but light beefy flavour. It was massively enhanced by the sharp lemon tang of the stuffing and ably accompanied by a Chilean Carmenere/Syrah blend. It was without doubt some of the finest meat I have ever eaten. (And my stuffing was pretty damn good too!)

So if you happen to see some British rose veal on your next trip to the butcher or have just always wondered what actually happens to all those ickle baby boy calves that the British dairy industry creates each year, I suggest making a purchase and supporting farmers in rearing top quality, ethically sound meat. You won’t regret it!

Swedish Apple Cake

The weather may have warmed up in the past day or so, but it is still cold enough to justify a delicious helping of sticky sweet carbs which means Allegra McEvedy’s G2 Recipe yesterday for Swedish Apple Cake leapt out at me immediately, especially as I had some apples needing eaten up and it promised to take only 15 minutes to prepare. The fact she suggests using a deep frying pan instead of a cake tin really appealed as it sounded like a real time saver… Read more