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Northern Stars Supper Club

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This week marks North/South Food‘s second birthday, and after two years of cooking, experimenting, exploring and learning we’ve got possibly the best present we could envisage. I’ve briefly mentioned it before, but I’m hugely excited to properly announce our collaboration with the popular JoinUs4Supper evening at North Star Deli in Manchester on February 23rd.

This evening grew out of a food blogger, a food producer and a chef all being thrown together by the opportunity of a TV quiz – united by a zeal for good food  – and the three of us sharing so much passion for quality local produce that we wanted to share it with a wider audience. We started to talk about what we’d do if we could cook together, and before we knew it those wonderful folk at North Star invited us to guest at their supper club.

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So we’ve put our heads together and pulled out all the stops to design a wonderful winter meal, proudly featuring some of the best Lancashire and Yorkshire produce and dishes. We’ll be revealing the full menu details next week, but in the meantime I can reveal that SJ from Porcus will be providing the centrepiece to the main dish of the night… stunning free-range Tamworth pork, happily raised on the moors above Todmorden. A vegetarian option will be provided, using products from the Pextenement Cheese Company. If you’ve followed or read us over the last few years you may’ve spotted certain recurring North/South favourites: this is your chance to try some of them with us.

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TV Dinners: A Question of Taste and beyond…

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Well, as you may already know, Mister North is on TV tonight; part of a team on BBC2’s new food quiz ‘A Question of Taste‘. Our team, which we christened ‘Northern Stars’, is made up of a trio from the North West, united by our love of the knowledge and experience of food. (Update) You can now watch the episode on BBC iPlayer until Jan 30th, or on Youtube.

Myself, Joby aka Mister North: general food geek and co-author of this blog, alongside my London-based sister Miss South (who cheered from the audience but didn’t fancy being in front of the cameras on the show!) I live in Todmorden in the South Pennines (roughly half-way between Manchester and Leeds, straddling the Lancashire/Yorkshire border). Tod’s a lovely small town with a great market, a lot of brilliant local food producers, and through Incredible Edible Todmorden is leading the drive to become self-sufficient in food).

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Candied Bacon ‘N’ Pumpkin Ice Cream

I think we’ve touched on me being a bit of an Americanophile before. I have a total weakness for the literature and food of the USA. And I’m prepared to struggle for my art. The Kraft Mac n’Cheese might have defeated me, but like my first time reading Moby Dick, I don’t give up easily. Pumpkin pie didn’t float my boat, but I was determined to find a Thanksgiving inspired dessert that did this year. Pumpkin ice cream sounded just the thing.

Shamelessly copying this David Lebovitz recipe, I dug out the spare can of Libby’s from last year and got going. A rich thick custard was created, laced with vanilla and a lot more rum than he suggested and anointed with some proper amounts of spice. Half a can of the pumpkin puree was added in and the whole thing was churned til a beautiful golden shade of orange. It was then served as the highpoint after a proper Amurrican meal of corndogs and macaroni cheese with a friend from Chicago. And it tasted like grass.

Oddly powdery in texture with a strong vegetable taste that took over the soft spices and vanilla, it was the strangest ice cream I’ve ever had. The extra water content in the pumpkin made it freeze as hard as a rock and taste of ice crystals rather than the usual velvety blanket of churned cream I make. The rum didn’t help and added no flavour. And unusually for an American recipe, it wasn’t sweet enough. It seemed sparse and utilitarian. Neither of us finished our bowls.

But I had around a litre of it in the freezer and was loath to throw it out. It needed something to lift it and make it sweeter, more dessert-like and less like a very peculiar starter. And it need to be properly American in style. Hershey syrup would have worked. Maybe some of those mini marshmallows you get in American cereals. Butterscotch chips embedded in would be great. I didn’t have any of those things to hand and I refuse to pay Selfridges’ Food Hall prices.

What I did have to hand was some lovely unsmoked bacon from the Porcus people. I realised the time had come to get on the candied bacon bandwagon. It’s been uber fashionable to bacon everything possible in the past few years from chocolate to Baconnaise. Apart from one disappointing dalliance with the chocolate, I’ve steered clear, haunted by memories of bacon bits in adolescence. But when bacon is this good, it cries out to be coated with sugar, baked til crisp and then crumbled over ice cream and swirled with toffee sauce…

It went into the oven on a lined tray, heaped with sugar and cooked at about 200℃ for about ten minutes, then turned over and dredged through the syrup and cooked a bit more, before being cooled to a crisp. Shred it up nice and small. And then turn your full attention to the toffee sauce. I used equal quantities (handily unmeasured) of golden caster sugar, golden syrup, double cream and butter and boiled it for about 5 minutes or until I got bored waiting.

The rock hard ice cream had loosened up nicely and it got a liberal swirl of sauce and a decent sprinkling of bacon. Some crushed pecans nuts and a rasher of best back cut lengthways would make an amazing (and very adult) sundae. But we kept it simple and got stuck in. And it really worked. The sauce sweetened the ice cream and toned down the powderiness while the sticky shards of bacon added much needed texture. We finished the bowls with gusto this time.

Next year I won’t be bothering with pumpkin desserts, keeping my slices from the deli for soups and stews, but I recommend you combine this ice cream and the accompanying candied bacon one to have something to experiment with this time next year. You’ll be be giving thanks for the bacon all year round!

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Twice as nice… our daily bread

It’s said man cannot live on bread alone. Considering this statement, I’m surprised organised religion remained so popular for so long on our wee island, when you think what a cracking range of Irish breads there are (veda, potato bread, soda farls and wheaten bread amongst others). I’m all for a bit of decent bread, slathered with butter, rather than some dour sermonising or happy clapping. I’ll probably be smitten down by the hand of a deity for saying that, but at least I’ll go with a smile on my face and a full tum…

Sundays are ripe for laziness*, cooking, and loafing around the house. Today’s mission was to make a decent and homely wheaten bread, to help counter the autumnal blues outside. However we’d been out drinking in Leeds yesterday (sampling some great ales from Leeds and Ossett breweries amongst others), and after a late night and a fuzzy head this morning, something special was required for breakfast first.

I’d planned to make baked eggs, following the recipe from the Parlour Café Cookbook. These have rapidly established themselves as a brekkie standby, not least because they’re so easy to cook. Their simplicity belies their deliciousness. I swapped the Parma ham from their original recipe with some slivers of locally hand-crafted air-dried ham from my friends at Porcus. Their rare-breed pork is heavenly, and I’m privileged enough to get samples of their splendid ham from time to time. These were perfect to line the ramekins, before cracking a hen’s egg in each. But I felt I needed something a tad more substantial to accompany these, so I made some potato bread – a family favourite – for the first time ever.

As Miss South’s previously explained, it’s meant to be made with leftover mashed potato, but that’s rarer than hen’s teeth in my house, so I quickly cubed and boiled up a few spuds, ran them through the potato ricer, then mixed in some plain flour & a knob of butter to create a light dough with a bit of bite. Proportions may vary depending on how waxy/floury your spuds are, but normally you want 4 to 5 times more flour than mash. Miss South’s said it before and we’ll say it again: potato bread is dead easy… it takes a Herculean effort to mess it up. A perfect compliment to any kind of ham and eggs…

Wheaten bread, otherwise known as brown soda bread, is another one of those wonderfully yeast-free breads we love back home. As with soda farls, the secret is the baking soda which helps it rise. You can buy it in many supermarkets, ready-made and branded courtesy of Paul Rankin; and both it and the more well-known white soda breads are gaining popularity on this side of the water. No wonder, it’s both healthy and oh-so-tasty. The ever-reliable Dan Lepard popped up on Women’s Hour’s “Cook the Perfect…” last week with his own take on it, and this spurred me on to do it the North/South way…

We’re a bit more old school in our family, and the core ingredients for wheaten bread are normally just flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and a pinch of sugar. Wheaten bread’s at least as easy to make as potato bread, especially if you have some Northern Irish wheaten bread mix to hand (thanks to my mum for bringing some across this summer). Of course, you can instead use a good mix of plain and wholemeal flour instead… but try and use as coarse and bran-heavy a mix as possible, as this really contributes to the flavour. In a mix, the baking soda’s already in place, so today all I had to do was add buttermilk and sugar.

I’m lucky enough to be able to get buttermilk in my local Morrisons, but I hear it’s hard to source in many parts of the country, so you can use full-fat milk and sour it with some lemon juice, or mix in some live yoghurt instead. Use roughly 3 parts flour to 2 parts buttermilk… in this case I used 500g of flour and about 330ml buttermilk, with a teaspoon of caster sugar just to bring out that nuttiness of the bran even more.

Mix it all up until you get a nice dough, not too sticky or overworked. Then normally I’d roll it out into a roundish shape, about 1″ / 3cm thick, before scoring the top into quarters. I dusted it with a little plain flour, but it’s also good finished with some chopped rolled oats.

As I was mixing the dough I realised I’d not made this for far too long; in fact since I went to Rotterdam to visit friends from all over Europe and enjoy a good shared meal. My Italian mate knocked up some fantastic food, so I thought it’d be right to bring a decent Irish loaf to add to the mix. Most people smuggle addictive substances out of the Netherlands: I may be the only person to have smuggled a loaf of wheaten bread in!

This is a bread with instant gratification in mind, with no leavening or proving required. I baked this straight on the shelf in a pre-heated oven, rather than on a tray, for 35mins (200C/400F/Gasmark 6) straight. Once it came out, sounding hollow when tapped, it had to sit and cool down on a wire rack. This is one of my strongest kitchen memories as a kid. I used to hang around, greedily watching while my mum baked glorious bannocks of wheaten bread, but the hardest part was waiting for them to cool, far too slowly, on a wire rack, with a tea towel covering them. As I found out today, self-control still isn’t one of my strong points when it comes to wheaten bread, even after all these years. We succumbed while the bread was warm enough to melt great slatherings of butter.

Simple and effective with good butter, though I had a last-minute hankering for a bit of blue cheese, which works so well with the nutty sweetness of the bread. Cashel Blue would be the natural Irish choice, but I was able to pick up some very decent Jervaulx Blue instead, which I enjoyed along with a pot of Yorkshire Tea. Living just inside West Yorkshire, it seemed a perfect choice. It also makes superb toast. If you’re looking for something a little more special, slices of buttered wheaten bread alongside some good Irish smoked salmon, finished with a sprig of chervil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some cracked black pepper is to die for.

*”Oh wheaten it be nice…” with apologies to the Small Faces…

 

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Salade Niçoise with guinea fowl eggs

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To be honest; until I started writing this post I didn’t know very much about guinea fowl (or guinea-fowl), never mind their eggs. I’ve bought guinea fowl on a few occasions, to make Ghanaian dishes like Nkatenkwan, as their flesh is almost gamey and really benefits from slow, moist, covered cooking methods. I also knew the bird originated in West African, hence their name, and have long been a favourite with chefs (Larousse suggests they’ve been domesticated since Roman times).

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I’ve also spotted them pecking around farmyards on a few occasions, looking a little haughty and slightly out-of-place with their blue faces and wonderful op-art speckled plumage. Last week my friends from Porcus persuaded me to leave their farm with a selection of wonderful guinea fowl eggs (these are the same people who sated my quest to enjoy turkey eggs last year too)

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So I came home with six speckly guinea fowl eggs, undecided on how best to use them. I’d been warned they had thick shells, which could prove a bit of a challenge to break through, but I had an extra pair of hands in the form of our mum who was visiting. A quick search on the web threw up very few recipes specifically for guinea fowl eggs, but a friend suggested making a niçoise salad. This proved to be an inspired recommendation, as the diminutive hard-boiled eggs (sized somewhat between a quail and a bantam egg) looked gorgeous nestled against the other ingredients. Not that we needed an excuse to enjoy a classic summer salad (even when the sun is somewhat lacking) which manages to combine some of our favourite family ingredients.

In this case I followed an Antony Worrall Thompson recipe from the BBC website, deviating a little from some other versions, but ticked all the boxes in terms of fresh flavours. I started by marinating the tuna steaks for an hour or so in the vinaigrette mix while prepping the veg. These and the other ingredients filled a large salad bowl. Once the tuna was sufficiently soused it got seared on a very hot ridged griddle, then rested gently.

Meanwhile we boiled the guinea fowl eggs for six minutes, then cooled them off in cold water. They proved quite difficult to peel: the shell was indeed tough, and the inner membrane was equally resistant. Eventually we managed to de-shell and slice them, and were rewarded with sight of bright yellow yolks. They looked wonderfully pretty set against the rest of the salad. Once they were in place the tuna steaks were added, everything was drizzled with the vinaigrette, and we sat down to eat.

The whole thing looked and tasted wonderful: salty, smooth, crisp, sharp and rounded flavours contrasted just as you’d expect a salade niçoise to do. The eggs were creamy and more flavoured than hen’s eggs. The final verdict: great salad, and really tasty wee eggs. If you’re lucky enough to find guinea fowl eggs, don’t pass up on the opportunity to enjoy their delights. Cracking!