Monday, 31 January 2011

Shooting day in Yorkshire, part 2

This is second part of my photo story about shooting day in Yorkshire of which first part you can find here.

The morning and part of the afternoon until lunch break I spent with the guns and after the lunch I joined those who take care of the whole thing, so it goes smoothly. It made me understand how it actually works and why such a number of people who don't shoot is needed. At the same time I was lucky to see and take photos of young deer.

(click the photos to enlarge)

Two the most experienced men, I believe they are called head keepers, took care of everybody was on a right position, and the group move in controlled way, it is important for the number of birds to be scared away from the woods. They use small radios so they can communicate without shouting, the same way they communicate with landlord who looked after the guns.

There are many people who take part of the shooting day, except from guns. There are people with the dogs, who make sure none bird is left behind, but also there are beaters who are very important. They have sticks and when walking across the woods they beat the ground, trees and bushes to scar away the birds. Some of them also have colourful flags that they use to divert birds if they go in the wrong direction (away from the guns).

Guns always wait for the sound of the whistle that means the beginning and the end of the shooting on each drive. We finished last drive around 4 pm, when the night started to get in. I had warm clothes on however I was quite cold, because it was windy and wet on the higher slopes and I found first part of the day with the guns less dynamic than the one with beaters. With the guns I had to wait until landlord sets everybody in the correct positions - nothing really happens until everybody is ready and the whistle goes on. Those on the first positions wait longer and in North Yorkshire, especially on the Pennines slopes in January weather can be quite nasty. This meant that I waited for some time in one position whether with beaters most of the time I was constantly walking and this kept me warm. Yes, the second part was more dynamic so I did not have a change to get cold. I came back home with red cheeks - was it the weather or emotions? Probably both.

What sort of impressions I had after the day of shooting? First of all I assured myself one more time that I like the smell of the gunpowder and guns make me quite excited. I use to shoot bottles using a airgun, I am not an excellent gunman however I love guns and if I could afford I would definitely have one for myself. Would I go shooting if I afford it? I don't know. I am not sure if I could kill an animal. I think it could only be danger or starvation that would make me kill an animal. I admit - shooting is a fantastic social thing and it makes it attractive, however it does not attracts me that much to actually shoot the birds myself. Perhaps the reason for this that I am not a part of English upper class? Let be honest - shooting is upper class, rich people activity, with hundreds of years of history and tradition available only for those privileged.

I was not impressed with the smell of the dead birds, but I have to admit my nose is quite sensitive. The smell is in the air when shoot birds come down to the ground (you have to be careful, they fall down with such a speed that they can make quite a lot damage) and all day long. Even after I had long, hot shower at home I could smell it afterwards. After some time you get us to it, you can still smell it however it is not so irritating.

There is one more thing that I have found attractive in shooting. We live in hard times when our freedom is limited by orders, laws, bans. Anytime we can expect new EU health and safety directive banning dish beef tartare made from raw meat (like very sarcastically stated Niki Segnit) as it is severe danger of death (and we will tell about it our grandchildren along with the one about driving without seat belts on and smoking in the pubs). Shooting day gave me this feeling of old times, when people were free to do whatever they feel comfortable with, like driving without seat belts. The shooting group is on a private estate, landlord makes sure everyone is safe. Nowadays when you cannot simply go to the shop and buy a gun such an entertainment surely makes people feel more liberated. This is what made me feel good about the whole thing.

Lastly few words about the shooting fashion, you can see form the pictures that tweed is the main fabric, also when it comes to the hats. Wellies guarantee dry feet all day long and woollen fancy socks with specific type of bond just under knees keep them warm. Please pay attention to the accessories too: special belts for cartridges or small bags.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Shooting day in Yorkshire, part 1

(click the photos to enlarge)

It has been nearly five years since I moved to Yorkshire, but it was only last Saturday that I had the opportunity to take part in the tradition that makes many people come here from Britain and all over the world – game shooting.

Shooting season for pheasants starts in October (partridges in September) and lasts till end of January, but this is not what attracts foreigners the most. The reason for this is that pheasants can be shot in many places in the world, but it is only Great Britain where you can find grouse. The grouse shooting season starts on 12 August, so called The Glorious Twelfth and finishes on 10 December. Thanks to our landlords Adrian and Bridget Thornton–Berry I had the opportunity to watch the group shooting pheasants and partridges.

It is too expensive entertainment for me and surely I would never had the opportunity to take part in it – it is not even the cost of the gun and fancy clothes (yes, you will se from the pictures that special outfit is required), but the actual cost of shooting day can be quite high. This is the reason why I was extremely happy to be a part of it on Saturday and watch the others shooting.

You would think that shooting day does not require much of preparation – so many guns goes to the place where they suppose to shoot and they just wait for the birds. (by the way fox hunting was banned in UK, first in Scotland and the in England and Wales in 2004, however there are still some fox hunting going on in the country, due to some gaps in law). It actually needs months of preparation, it has to be well organised and requires a work of many people.

Preparations to shooting season take months. Landlord employs people who breed the birds, look after them on his land, so called game keepers. Population is placed in few locations and about autumn the birds are big enough and the shooting season starts. This is what mainly generates the high cost of such day out.

We have started around 9 am and gathered outside of my landlords’ house and we were driven in 4x4 cars to the first location. It was a group of guns as well as people who take care of all the, lets call it technical background. We had seven drives in total – five before lunch and two in the afternoon, all on the private estate. We used cars but only to the certain moment, and then we had to walk to some areas, because I presume so, we could scar away the birds, as well as some areas were unreachable by cars.

Landlord and a host of shooting day was giving the instructions to each man with the gun where to stand, every few meters on each location. Each gun had their number that was drawn in the morning. It helps to organise everybody in quick and easy way – the host was telling where different number should go or which car to use. It made the whole thing work smoothly. This time it was family and friends day out so it was more relaxing and without a pressure to shoot the exact number of the birds, that client on normal let day would pay for.

Most of the guns that day were accompanied by women, however I do not think this is everyday situation especially that this time none of the women shot. They do in general, you can see women actually shooting, but that Saturday I presume they were there for social reasons. Actually the whole thing, as I thought is more about socialising, wearing fancy clothes and having lunch together rather than actual shooting. This is how I see it.

We had a lunch break about 1 pm and before the break we have done 5 drives. This time the lunch was served at landlords’ house but you may often see shooting groups having a lunch break in the local pubs or restaurants. It is this time of the year that nights are getting in quite soon in the afternoon, so after lunch we only had two drives before it got dark. Also on one of the locations we had a short break and charged our batteries with some sweets and a glass of damson gin (it was sweet, very sweet).

Also I have to mention our four leg companions – Spaniels and Labradors. The Labradors are often called the ideal dogs for gentleman's shooting companion; obviously they have to be properly bred and trained. Dogs are needed to collect dead birds from the ground after shoot in each drive. They can perfectly smell the dead birds and bring them back to the owners. Most of the birds I believe are plucked and cleaned and then sold to the local pubs, restaurants and butchers. Making sure that none of the shot birds are left behind is also important because some of the inexperienced guns may injure the bird, but do not kill it. Injured birds are not able to look after themselves, they will either starve, bleed in pain or be attacked by other animals, therefore somebody has to kill them – this is why there are also some extra people needed on the site, so they can make sure all the birds are killed fast and in least painful possible way.

Dead birds are bound together in pairs (so called brace) and hung on a special metal frame on the back of a car.

To be continued…

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Mulled cider

As I mentioned on Facebook I am currently preparing a photo story about shooting day in Yorkshire. While you are waiting please enjoy a recipe for mulled cider. I have seen it on Jamie's website before Xmas but due to being on medication for few weeks I only managed to try it after New Year. I have to say I like it better than mulled wine or hot lager. It was great treat after a day of running up and down Pennines hills on wet, cold January day.

I have changed his recipe, I just followed the idea of hot, spicy cider, however I will make it one day following his recipe.

Serves 2

pint of cider (I used Irish Bulmers)
3 strips of orange peel (use veg peeler and make sure you don't have too much of white bit; the same with lemon)
2 strips of lemon peel
cinnamon stick
5 cloves
some freshly grated nutmeg
1 whole allspice
1 anise star
2 level tsp of sugar (or more depends how dry the cider is)

Place all of the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil gently. Don't cook it too long as the alcohol will evaporate. Using small sieve drain the cider into two mugs and serve immediately.

I hope I will take you again to Yorkshire this weekend. You are very welcome so stay tuned!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Celeriac, blue cheese & walnut bake

Yes, I am still dating intriguing Mr. Celeriac. My feelings towards him are getting stronger and stronger…

Some time ago I wanted to make a twist on traditional potatoes dauphinoise and use celeriac instead but after I have read this book I could not resist some new experiment. Although the author did not mention celeriac but celery I decided that I will take a risk and mix it together with blue cheese and walnuts in one dish.

This was the most definitely the best celeriac dish I have ever made. I love Mr. Celeriac even more and I desire more suppers with him.

Makes 2 as a main dish
or 4 as a side dish

big celeriac, about 800g, peeled and finely sliced
handful of shelled, chopped walnuts
about 100g blue cheese (I used Blue Stilton)
about 100ml milk
about 100ml double cream
about 100ml vegetable stock
freshly ground black pepper
little butter for greasing

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

Grease an ovenproof dish with some butter and fill with sliced celeriac.

Place milk, double cream, crumbled cheese and stock in a pan and bring to boil. Season with pepper (no salt required, cheese is quite salty), and leave it to simmer until the cheese is melted.

Pour sauce over the celeriac and sprinkle with walnuts. Cover with piece of tin foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Then uncover and bake for further 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, leave it to cool down a bit for few minutes and cut with a knife. Portions are easy to remove from the dish by using a spatula or a fish slicer.

I served a quarter of the bake as a side dish together with roasted chicken breast, stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in Italian ham.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

French toasts with orange syrup

Some people say that we should eat breakfast like a king, dinner like a noble and supper like a peasant. Do you remember emperor's omlette? This time I have made lovely breakfast which I think is worth at least royal table. However like a peasant I used stale bread. Filling, comforting, delicious twist on French toast.

Serves 2

6 slices of stale baguette
2 eggs
about 100ml milk
zest and juice of one large orange
2 heaped tbsp of caste sugar
few tbsp butter, for frying

Mix eggs with milk and orange zest and soak bread in this mixture, turning once after 2 minutes, so it soaks evenly.

Place sugar and orange juice in a pan and boil until syrupy.

Fry soaked bread in the butter, until golden on both sides. Place onto a plate and drizzle with orange syrup.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Anchovy pasta with breadcrumbs

Why I love pasta? Mainly because pasta dishes take about 15 minutes to cook. Also because I can seat anywhere with a bowl of pasta, on my favourite sofa, even on the floor in the front of fire place and eat my dinner with one hand. In addition pasta dishes don't have to look elegant, and bowl of pasta always bring smile to our faces. It was exactly the same with this pasta. It is tasty, spicy, salty and it has a little bit crunch.

Serves 2

about 200g spaghetti
5-6 tbsp olive oil
8 anchovies
handful of fresh parsley
1 red chilli
about 4 tbsp bread crumbs

Put the water to boil the pasta and prepare rest of the ingredients.

Deseed and chop chilli finely. Chop the parsley finely. Smash anchovies with knife on a chopping board and then roughly chop.

Heat a pan and add olive oil. Next add the chilli, parsley and anchovies, mix well and fry for about one minute. Next add the breadcrumbs and fry until crispy and golden. If they seem to be bit dry add some more olive oil.

Meanwhile cook the pasta accordingly to producer's instruction, drain and add to the pan. Mix well with other ingredients and serve immediately.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Lamb breast with apricot stuffing

Sometime ago food was not widely available and was not relatively cheap people were not wasting any bits i.e. after slaughtering a cow, only because some bits were less tasty than others or needed more effort to cook. It is not only the industrial revolution age that I am writing about when some people's only dinner were cheap eat cuts or offal; the food was rationed in Britain until mid fifties. People in age of fifty or so do not remember those days but older generation still remember times when some product were difficult to get hold of.

The food market has changed and in general the food is widely available and relatively cheep nowadays for most western societies. Some of the old times dishes are nearly forgotten now. You still can see some offal on the menu in traditional pubs or some good restaurants, but these are not very popular in many homes. It is similar with some cheap cuts such as belly pork that I showed you on this blog and lamb breast that I am showing today.

Both cuts are very cheap and I have to admit that they are not extremely meaty but fatty. However fat makes them really tasty, aromatic and meet underneath is very tender. Coked in low temperature for long time will provide lovely crispy skin and the centre that melts in your mouth. All they need is bit more time to cook and few culinary tricks.

Today the recipe for lamb breast stuffed with apricots. There are not many recipes on-line so I have asked my butcher how to cook it and I have improvised with the stuffing. The result was amazing and I going to cook this cheap, tasty, forgotten cut more often.

Serves 2

ok. 700g lamb breast
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
handful of dried apricots
2 slices of stale baguette, diced
4 tbsp olive oil
small handful fresh mint
freshly ground black pepper
lemon & thyme salt (or sea salt)
cup of vegetable stock
3/4 cup of dry rd wine

Fry the onion in the 3 tbsp olive oil until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and fry for another minute or so. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool down slightly.

Place diced baguette, apricots, mint, some salt and pepper in the food processor. Add fried onions with garlic making sure you scrap as much olive oil as possible - it will help the stuffing come together. Process, but not until very smooth, but some little pieces of fruit are left.

Smear the stuffing over lamb breast, roll it and secure with a string. Heat the remaining olive oil in the pan that you have used for frying the onion and brown the meat on each side over a high heat.

Place the meat in an ovenproof dish, add wine and half of the stock, cover with piece of tin foil and place in the oven preheated to 140 C. Roast for about 3 hours, then uncover, add the remaining stock, turn the heat up to 180 C and roast for another 40 minutes (uncovered).

Remove from the oven, place on a chopping board, cover with piece of foil and leave it to rest for about 10 minutes.

Cut into slices and serve. We had it with potatoes, carrots, parsnips roasted in goose fat with garlic.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Five or less ingredients #4

Previously in this series:

#1 Series rules and pork stir fry in caramel sauce

#2 Salmon baked with fennel and black olives

#3 Tagliatelle with courgettes & sun blushed tomatoes

Right, I think it is time to come back to 5 or less ingredients series, and this time I will show you something lighter for a change. Something for light lunch, perhaps a starter, or a snack, when you fancy something nice and not too big. Accordingly to series rules (that you can find in the first post of this series) I have excluded salt and pepper from the list of ingredients.

For the first time I mixed avocado with blue cheese but I have to say it works for me. Well for both of us. However next time I will try to mash the cheese together with the avocado and make smooth dip and see if it works well too.

Avocado & blue cheese bites

Serves 2-3

2 ripe avocados *
zest and juice of one lime
4-6 slices of baguette (you can use stale one – toasted or grilled)
some crumbled blue cheese (I used Blue Stilton)
freshly ground black pepper

Hold the avocado in one hand and use a sharp knife to cut it in half around the stone. Twist one half to release it from the stone and set aside. Hit the stone with a large sharp knife, and then twist the blade - the stone should come out of the avocado when you pull the knife away. Remove the flesh with a spoon and place in a mini chopper or finely smash with a fork. Add lime zest and juice, salt, pepper and process until smooth. Smear the avocado paste over the bread slices, crumble some cheese on the top and serve.

* quite often you can’t get really ripe avocados in the shops so buy some in advance wrap it in a paper or newspaper and leave it in room temperature for 2 days or so.

Monday, 10 January 2011

My subjective guide to culinary books, part 1

I was thinking about writing a cookery or other culinary books reviews on this blog for some time. However something happened only last week that was an impetus to actually start this new book section. I have bough a book, that I became obsessed with and in my opinion this should be a bible for every food lover, keen cook or just somebody interested in different flavour combination. This book made me feel like I really want to start. It is "The Flavour Thesaurus" by Niki Segnit.

Have you ever wondered what makes a good cook? If you are good cook? Does following the recipes from a books so they turn up as nice as on the colourful pictures or trusting your intuition that some ingredients will work together (and thy do) makes a good cook? I still think I can't cook, have got so many things to learn and often wonder if in 10, 15, 20 years I will be able to say that I actually know how to cook and I do not need cookery books or magazines anymore.

Same dilemmas had the author of this book, asking herself if she really can cook and if the dozens of book were a symptom and a cause of her lack of kitchen confidence. Also some dinner did not help to pick her confidence up. Is was a dinner served by a friend that contained a dish using two ingredients it would never have occurred to her. She started to wonder how her friend knew that this is going to work and this is what forced her to look for something like a flavour thesaurus from which she could learn some flavour combinations. However she couldn't find it so she decided she might compile one herself.

Although Niki describes herself as an untidy person this book is incredibly legible, well composed and easy to use and to find information. It becomes really hand when you have some ingredient and you are unsure what it will go nicely with. After you read the introduction you can stick your finger anywhere in the book and find something interesting. This is not typical cook book however there are some recipes in it, but no pictures at all. What you find in this book are incredible almost poetic descriptions of flavours, their historical or cultural backgrounds - this book is packed with lots of information. This makes it enjoyable, relaxing read rather than a book that you would use when cooking, however the knowledge you acquire from it will certainly help you to become a better cook and understand how and why one flavour might go with another.

Segnit has taken 99 basic popular ingredients and grouped them in 16 sections such as roast (chocolate, coffee, peanut), meaty (chicken, liver, pork etc), earthy (cumin, mushrroms, beetroot), marine (caviar, white fish, oysters, shellfish), woodland (butternut squash, hazelnut, chestnut etc) and many more. She obviously omitted some such as courgettes and she apologies for it. First of all she did it because this book does not make any claims to be the last word on a subject. Secondly I think taste is such individual thing and she simply did not think that courgettes are so important.

Next she put them in 980 pairs. The total of possible combinations of 99 ingredients is nearly 5000, and if you think about adding third ingredient the number of possible combinations increases to over 150,000! Therefore adding extra ingredient would have made this book difficult to write and less enjoyable to read. Besides if you wish to make a trio of flavours you can work on those pairs already described in book and experiment with adding the third one basing on your knowledge how different the flavours work together.

What more should I add other than this book had stunning reviews in the national newspapers such as Sunday Times and Observer and my culinary guru - Heston Blumenthal describes it as an original and inspiring resource?

Since I started to read it I simply cannot get enough of it and feel like I discover new planets every time I read about new flavour combinations. Even if sometimes they are obvious for me, but even more if I disagree with the author (she finds chocolate with beetroot unattractive), but how flavour is so individual things, isn't it?

Niki Segnit "The Flavour Thesaurus"

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2010
Hardcover, 400 pages

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Celeriac, ginger & pear soup

I have got this impression that celeriac in not particularly popular in many kitchens. It is a shame because it's bitterness and strong smell can be quite intriguing. 18th century French courtesan Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV knew this and she cooked celeriac soup for him and perhaps this is why she was his favourite mistress?

Celeriac is packed with the vitamins and minerals and it suppose to keep you young and relaxed. Not even mentioning it's fame for being an aphrodisiac food. If I tell you that I cooked a soup made with this veg and another famous aphrodisiac - ginger - would you give it a go?

Inspired by "Olive" magazine (February 2009 issue) I made two versions of this soup.

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp sunflower oil
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
piece of fresh ginger, about inch size, peeled and finely chopped
celeriac, about 800g, peeled and diced
2 ripe pears, cored, peeled and diced
1l vegetable stock
frshly ground black pepper
some chopped fresh parsley

For vegetarian version: piece of stale bread roll, diced, drizzled with little olive oil and roasted in the oven until crispy.

For meat lovers one: some bacon sliced or diced and fried in dry pan until crispy.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the shallots, garlic and ginger and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not browned.

Add the celeriac, pears and stock, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for about 20minutes, until the celeriac is softened.

Remove from the heat and liquidise with blender until smooth, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with croutons for vegetarians or with bacon for meat lovers.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Sweet & sour chicken

To all working-class people!

A spectre is haunting Europe - spectre of plastic, artificial food! Rotten Western countries has overpowered us with quick instant dishes, ready made sauces from the jars, even East very often betray us - I bet your local Chinese take away add some magic powder to their meals. Also they contain massive amounts of sugar and salt! We would be able to feed all members of proletarian movement with those amounts!

Those who have been reproached with the desire of loosing few inches in their waists in new year should stop buying take away dishes and start to cook their own classic Cantonese dishes at home.

Let the take away bars tremble! You have nothing to lose but your chains. They have great amount of taste to win.

Lovers of sweet and sour dishes of all countries, unite!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Right, after this ridiculous introduction inspired by one of the most absurd things I have ever read* please let me invite you to my kitchen for an absolute Chinese classic dish, that most of you probably know and like, however I am not sure if you know hoe to cook it from a scratch at home. It is worth as much effort as it takes to cook it - it is tasty, and you know what you eat and it only takes less than 30 minutes to make.

The recipe for sweet and sour sauce comes from "Foolproof Chinese Cookery" ** by Ken Hom, that contains easy to make, step by step everyone's favourite Chinese recipes. It goes nicely with chicken, prawns or pork. It is also up to you to decide what vegetables you want to use - those that I used today, or perhaps thinly sliced carrots, exotic mushrooms or water chestnuts.

Serves 2

tbsp groundnut oil
fresh ginger, a walnut size
2 garlic cloves
4 spring onions
2 small chicken breasts
red bell pepper
green bell pepper
tinned bamboo shoots, 120g drained
piece of fresh pineapple (I used a quarter of small one, you can use tinned instead, but in my opinion fresh is more tasty)
black pepper

For the sauce:

150ml good quality chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp tomato puree
3 tbsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp corn flour (starch) or potato flour blended with 3 tbsp water

Prepare all the ingredients so they are ready to stir fry: peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger, slice the spring onions diagonally, deseed peppers and slice into strips, thinly slice the chicken breast, cut pineapple into bite size chunks.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep pan and stir fry over a high heat the ginger with garlic and half of spring onions (I save the darker, top parts for garnishing) for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken breast stir fry until seared. Next add the peppers and bamboo shoots, season with salt and pepper and meantime prepare the sauce.

Mix all of the sauce ingredients except the corn flour and set aside.

After about 5 minutes of frying the vegetables with chicken add the pineapple and fry for another minute or so then add the sauce and bring to the boiling point. Add the corn flour blended with water, mix well and cook for about 30 seconds - the sauce should be thick after this time, so remove it from the heat.

Serve with boiled rice and sprinkled with some spring onions.

* The Communist Manifesto, originally titled Manifesto of the Communist Party (German: Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei)
** I believe my sister Miki didn't have bad intentions when she gave me this book of which title contains the word "foolproof", ha, ha! I have made a very good use of this book and would recommend it to anybody wanting to cook easy Chinese dishes at home.