Life is finally returning to a measure of normality after a frenetic Christmas and New Year. As always, it’s such a pleasure to be surrounded by my lovely family and good friends.
My first canape party of the year
The reality is I am about to start on an exciting new project in Cheltenham. All I can tell you at this stage is, it’s about gin! Needless to say, I am very excited!
In the meantime I have been doing some experimental cooking. I am a great lover of sourdough bread. Sadly my immediate vicinity is lacking a decent artisan bakery. There are a couple of major players, at least, in Cheltenham and if you get the chance, I strongly recommend a visit to The Sandwich Box in Imperial Square or Baker and Graze in Suffolk Road. Not only do they have great sourdough, they both have a sublime range of cakes, pastries and lots of other delicious goodies.
Baker, Dom Salter, Outside The Sandwich Box
Baker and Graze
Making sourdough needs some research and pre-planning and a week or so before Christmas I created my own ‘sourdough starter’. Until the middle ages bread was always made without yeast but with ‘leaven’. Leaven or starter is a natural culture made with strong white flour and water. It takes several days before the culture comes alive and it needs feeding daily with flour and water. I picked up my methodology from a website, The Sourdough School. Your starter will keep for ever. One baker told me he used a starter that was created 63 years ago!
Lovely, bubbly, 3 week old sourdough starter
Once your starter is ready you can begin the process of making your bread. Essential equipment is a baking stone (pizza stone), a banneton and a very sharp knife. Sourdough has a delicious sour flavour. Another benefit is you can keep it much longer than yeast bread, probably for up to a week.
Banneton proving basket
My very first sourdough
Father Christmas brought me a pizza stone for Christmas (he is such a clever chap!). Authentic pizza making takes time to perfect but don’t give up! There are cheat and easy alternatives but go for as authentic as you can and follow the method carefully. My latest try last night was a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo. It wasn’t perfect but good progress made. You can also make great pizza with a sourdough.
…… and my very first pizza
A recipe – Shakshuka
I know it’s Veganuary and I fully support the decision of those who choose to be vegetarian or vegan. I just don’t understand how one month of veganism is going to save the planet! Sorry! Rant over! Here is, however, a vegetarian recipe for Shakshuka which I love. It’s North African and this particular recipe is by a favourite chef of mine, Yotam Ottolenghi
For 4 people you need:
½ tsp cumin seeds
190ml light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into 2cm strips
4 tsp muscovado sugar
6 sprigs thyme, picked and chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped or use a tin of chopped tomatoes
½ tsp saffron strands
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Up to 250ml water
8 free-range eggs
You can spice it up with some Harissa paste, herbs and spices of choice and preserved lemons.
In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bayleaves, thyme, parsley and two tablespoons of coriander, and cook on high heat to get a nice colour. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavoursome. You can prepare this mix in advance.
To accommodate all the eggs its best to split the mixture between 2 large lidded pans. Break four eggs into each pan, pouring into gaps in the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with chunky white bread.
Out and about
I haven’t had too much time to eat out yet this year but top of my bucket list are The Ivy Montpelier Brasserie and The Bell Inn at Langford. I was so delighted to be invited to the launch party (see previous blog post) and I have heard nothing but highly positive reports on both the food and the service.
The Bell Inn is a complete unknown to me. I was first made aware of it by a blogger mate, Honeybourne Line. Last Sunday it was reviewed by Giles Coren in The Times. He says “I had not just the best mouthful of the year, but the best mouthful of my life”. Cannot wait to try it!
The Bell Inn, Langford
One really great experience was on New Years Day. I was fresh as a daisy. When you have worked on New Years Eve for more than 30 years, all you want to do is slob out on the sofa the next day! Anyway, this was a day to visit The Fish Hotel. The normally beautiful walk from Broadway didn’t happen due to the terrible weather. The hotel was hosting a winter barbecue the day before refurbishment closure. It was such fun with a scrummy barbie and lots of fun for kids and families – and the weather perked up significantly.
Chef cooking up a storming winter barbecue
Beautiful views from the barbecue deck
Me and one of my besties at The Fish
The refurbishment and restyling of the hotel is very exciting. The restaurant will reopen under the name ‘Hook by Martin Burge’ in a completely different style, rooms and bathrooms will be refurbished with the addition of 10 bedrooms, tree houses and more hilly huts. The Fish opens again on March 6th and I can’t wait to see it!
bye bye Fish. See you in March!
I did haver a solo lunch at The East India Cafe and it was as sensational as ever.
The Lygon Arms are hosting a dinner with Theo Randall, renowned Head Chef at The Intercontinental Hotel on 1st February. Theo has a reputation for his high end, rustic style of cooking. It’s selling fast so you need to get in pretty quick!
Not food – but this is something you MUST see
It’s called Hamilton and has just opened at The Victoria Palace Theatre in London and written by a genius called Lin Manuel Miranda. It’s been on Broadway and has won every possible award. Hamilton is the story of the founding fathers of America including Alexander Hamilton. “Bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman – his name is Alexander Hamilton“. The music is hip-hop and the whole production is memorable.
Lin Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in the original Broadway production
Bye for now