On the road: The Wellington Arms

It has been a while since my last blog post – it came as quite a shock to see how much time had past since I last properly posted here. I’ve still been trying new recipes and ingredients but only recently realised how much I’ve missed writing about my culinary adventures. After what has been a tough year so far, I’ve decided to return to blogging and plan to post here regularly – at least once a week. I will continue to focus on seasonal, local ingredients, with the odd detour along the way, including documenting any great restaurant finds.

Indeed my first post is on a fantastic restaurant Bill and I discovered with friends a few weeks ago – The Wellington Arms in Baughurst, Hampshire. I was tasked with finding a country pub or restaurant halfway between Surrey (where we live) and Oxfordshire and after some searching came across the Independent’s Top 50 Country Pubs where The Wellington Arms came highly recommended.

After visiting the website I came across a glowing recommendation from one of my favourite food writers, Diana Henry: “At this tiny but perfectly formed pub, it is worth fighting for one of the twelve tables.” My mind was made up and I desperately hoped they would be able to squeeze us in. Our luck was in and I managed to secure a last-minute booking for Saturday lunchtime – no fighting needed.

The drive along winding country lanes to the tiny village of Baughurst was beautiful and picturesque – I wish I had had a proper camera with me to take photos of the stunning countryside with contrasting fields of vibrant yellow oilseed rape.

Arriving at The Wellington Arms, we were greeted by this sign:

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The Wellington Arms has its own rare-breed hens, along with pigs, sheep and bee hives. Using homegrown, local and organic produce, the owners Simon and Jason grow salad leaves and herbs in their kitchen garden (using polytunnels in winter) and asparagus, courgettes, pumpkins, salads and root vegetables in raised beds.

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This already seemed like a special place and worthy of the rave reviews I had read online. This was confirmed when we settled down at our table (after a very warm welcome from Simon) and read through the excellent menu.

My starter, twice-baked Westcombe Cheddar cheese soufflé on braised leeks with double cream & Parmesan, was incredible – rich in flavour with a light, fluffy texture.

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My main, baked potato gnocchi with roasted butternut squash, walnuts, sage and Parmesan, was equally delicious and incredibly filling. The flavours worked in perfect harmony, with the sage and Parmesan providing the perfect savoury foil to the sweet squash, caramelised walnuts and sticky balsamic dressing.

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My dessert (yes, I was full but there was no way I was turning this down) was a warm and comforting Seville marmalade sponge pudding with homemade custard.

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This restaurant embodies everything I love – seasonal, local produce cooked well. No fancy techniques, just great food, with the produce the stars of the show. We shall definitely be back.

Goodbye winter, hello spring

Spring is finally here, and I’m back blogging. I don’t deal very well with winter, so decided to take a break from this little corner of the web; I wasn’t feeling very inspired and B. ended up cooking for most of the season. But now I am back and full of ideas – and, most importantly, feeling excited about food again.

When produce that has been absent for so many months comes back into season, it really does feel like I’m welcoming back old friends. I was so happy to get hold of some purple sprouting broccoli (finally!) and wild garlic this week – two signs that spring has finally sprung.

I had great plans to experiment with PSB this year, but because the season is so short, when it came down to it I had to have purple sprouting broccoli with cream (courtesy of Nigel Slater). Possibly my favourite dish ever, I have now had it three times in two weeks!

As well as having a fantastic mild garlic aroma, ramsons (as wild garlic is also known) adds great colour and vibrancy to many dishes, including soups, omelettes and salads.

After last year’s risotto, I decided to try something new with my wild garlic, even if it was still on the Italian theme. Pesto is so simple and seems to be a popular way to use up wild garlic, so I decided to give it a go myself and branch out from the classic basil variety I usually knock up.

I warn you now, this stuff is potent – you and your house will smell of garlic but it is totally worth it. I added some basil leaves to temper the flavour, and used a grassy tasting good-quality olive oil.

The resulting pesto was, as you would expect, very garlicky, and had quite a kick to it. I stirred it into gnocchi and these little potato dumplings were the perfect partner, adding substance while allowing the wild garlic flavours to sing. I found this pesto to be a fantastic alternative to basil, plus I didn’t get the usual indigestion I have following a particularly garlicky meal – bonus!

There was enough pesto leftover to turn into a fish stuffing the following day. To bulk it out I added a bunch of fresh parsley and coriander, capers and a couple of anchovy fillets to turn it into a pesto/salsa verde filling for mackerel. The flavours were a perfect foil for the oily fish; it was a fantastic spring lunch served with potato salad and fresh bread rolls.

All in all, this is a fantastic, simple sauce that heralds the arrival of a new season. Goodbye winter, hello spring!

Wild garlic pesto
90g wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped
2 big handfuls of basil leaves
20g pine nuts, toasted
65g Parmesan, grated
Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Pound the wild garlic leaves and basil in a pestle and mortar (or in a food processor). Add the pine nuts, Parmesan and continue to pound/process.
2. Pour in enough olive oil to make a fairly loose consistency but not completely runny and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Snow day

Snow. As a child, the sight of those icy flakes falling was of the utmost excitement and held the promise of sledging, snowball fights and days off school. Basically, the best thing in the whole world to a small kid. How times have changed.

This week in Surrey, we got a lot of snow and with it treacherous roads and difficult journeys to work. And by Wednesday it stopped me getting in to work altogether. On Thursday after yet more snow I had to walk to the supermarket to get food and I was able, for a short while, to appreciate the beauty of a snowy vista – I think I must have one of the prettiest routes to the supermarket.

Of course, a snowy day is perfect for settling in the kitchen and baking something warm and comforting. B. is the baker in our household and something I had been wanting him to try for a while was his Nana’s Welsh cakes. I must admit, whenever his Nana baked them, I wanted to eat them all – to be polite, I only ate a few at a time.

Welsh cakes are a true symbol of frugal baking – which is also very apt at the moment – and are similar to the very English scone. They are very simple to make and use just a few ingredients: flour, sugar, dried fruit, butter and eggs.

So, while I got on with some work, B. baked me some Welsh cakes. They were fantastic, and very similar to his Nana’s – although he used butter rather than margarine, so they were slightly richer. They can be eaten hot or cold, although I like them best when they are still warm from the pan. The perfect teatime treat, and just right for a cold, snowy day.

Welsh cakes

Makes 24 cakes

225g self-raising flour
85g white granulated sugar
¼ tsp mixed spice
115g butter, room temperature and cut into small cubes
Good handful of sultanas (about 100g)
1 small egg, beaten
Vegetable oil for frying

1.  Put the flour, sugar and mixed spice into a bowl and mix together with your hands. Rub the butter in with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the sultanas and mix well. Pour in the beaten egg and mix to a dough. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on baking paper until it is ½ cm thick. Using a 58mm cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Dust each round with a little flour on each side.
3. Heat a little vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan or skillet over a medium heat, then turn down to a low heat. Begin by frying just one or two rounds to test the oil. Fry for 2 minutes on each side, then a further 1 minute on each side until the cakes are a pale golden brown. Be careful that the oil is not too hot – if the cakes start to go dark brown or a slight grey colour, turn down the heat immediately as this means the sugar is burning. Continue in batches of 6 or so (depending on the size of your pan), adding more oil in between batches.
4. Put the cakes on a cooling rack to cool – eat warm or cold.

Hitting the right note

As I have mentioned many times before, I love cheese – I can’t get enough of the stuff, and I love finding new cheeses and new ways of eating them. I was intrigued when I heard about the cheese plates at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey. There, head chef Skye Gyngell serves one cheese with a carefully selected accompaniment.

Although I have never had the pleasure of eating a proper meal at Petersham, I did attend a Cooking with Tea workshop run by Skye Gyngell there earlier this year. Her food epitomises the very best of seasonal cooking. Skye’s dishes are true showcases of the ingredients she uses and her flavour pairings are truly amazing. So, when I saw this event advertised, I booked a place immediately.

This workshop was focused on cooking with tea rather than with a seasonal ingredient, but Skye’s skill with flavours still showed. We ate tea-smoked quail (which was fantastic and something I hope to recreate and blog about soon), tea sorbet and tea-smoked prunes. Skye paired the latter with a trio of cheeses: Ossau, Tipico and Brillat-Savarin, and the flavours were fantastic when mingled together – both the prunes and the cheeses were able to shine.

After attending the workshop I decided to re-create the tea-soaked prunes at home, as I was keen for B. to experience it and see what he thought. Skye explained during the workshop that they tasted many cheeses before settling on the ones they served. It was important that the flavours of the cheeses were subtle to begin with so that the prunes could take centre-stage, followed by the taste of the cheese.

First off, I made the tea-soaked prunes by soaking Agen prunes in a mixture of English Breakfast and Earl Grey tea (see recipe below), as Skye had done. I left it to cool, then put the tea and prunes in a sealed container and refrigerated for a week (Skye chilled hers for two weeks).

I paired it with was Maroilles, a cow’s milk cheese made in Northern France. It is a powerful cheese with a moist, sticky orangey-red rind and was first made by monks in the 12th century. Maroilles’ flavour develops slowly in the mouth, making it perfect for pairing with the prunes. Maroilles has a fairly complex flavour that develops as you eat it, so it enabled the sweet prunes with a hint of tea to come through first, before balancing the sweetness with its piquant, tangy flavour.

Despite the success of the Maroilles, I must admit it still didn’t marry as stunningly well with the prunes as the Brillat-Savarin did during the workshop, and when we tried it at home, B. agreed. It was wonderful. I had never tried Brillat-Savarin before the workshop; made with triple cream, it is a rich creamy brie-style cheese with a faint sour note to it, which went perfectly with the sweet prunes. The cheese is fittingly named after gastronome and food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who once said: “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”

Brillat-Savarin and prunes makes for a fantastic cheese course and one that I will most certainly be serving when I next have a blow-out meal for friends. Although a good cheeseboard is a great ending to a meal, some occasions call for a perfectly chosen cheese plate to hit the right note.

For more about the Cooking with tea workshop at Petersham Nurseries, see the review I wrote for the delicious. website, here.

Tea-soaked prunes

500g Agen prunes
450ml tea: English Breakfast and Earl Grey

1) Make up the tea using 450 ml boiling water, 1 English Breakfast tea bag and 1 Earl Grey tea bag
2) Put the prunes in a sealable container and pour over the tea. Set aside to cool.
3) Once cooled, seal and place in the fridge and use in 1-2 weeks. Eat at room temperature.

The perfect finish

One of my favourite things about this time of year is enjoying the fresh air when it is cold and crisp outside. I am not an outdoorsy kind of person, and I’m very sensitive to the cold (must be the Caribbean blood in me), but there is something about this time of year that has me yearning for a walk when the weather is right.

It was just such a day – clear and fresh – when we walked around some local haunts and also paid a visit to Secretts farm shop. I love this place, and always get a little over-excited when we go there. As well as having a wonderful array of seasonal produce, they have an amazing cheese counter. It is basically my perfect shop. However, it is not cheap, so B. and I don’t go there too often, otherwise we would be bankrupt!

Nevertheless, it’s great to go there once in a while. As well as picking up two of my favourite cheeses (Godminster Vintage Organic Cheddar and Munster), we wondered amongst the produce, looking at the selection of beets, carrots and root veg.

Then we came to the squash and pumpkins.

I’ve already professed my love of squash – colourful autumnal treasures; as well as their appearance, I love their wonderful sweetness and deeply coloured flesh. So when I saw these beauties at the farm shop, I had to buy a selection. They called out to me to turn them into soup – perfect for Halloween or Bonfire Night.

I decided to roast the squash to preserve their sweetness, along with thyme and sage – basically as I did with the butternut squash risotto. To balance out the sweetness I added that wonderful umami flavour by boiling the stock with a Parmesan rind (inspired by this recipe). Finally, I added smoked paprika to round the soup off – it made a huge difference.

This soup sings autumn and is just the thing after a cold day outdoors. The sweetness of the squash hits you first, followed by the comforting smokiness of the paprika and umami notes from the Parmesan. Then, finally,  the heat of the paprika comes through. It’s the perfect warming finish for a cold autumnal day.

Roasted squash, Parmesan and smoked paprika soup

1.2kg squash flesh
1.4 litres vegetable stock
20g pack of sage
Several sprigs of thyme
2 garlic cloves
Parmesan rind plus 20g grated
½ tsp smoked paprika

1. Peel the squash and cut into wedges. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place the squash in a roasting tin, season with sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Roast the squash for 20 minutes.
2. Remove the tin from the oven and add the unpeeled garlic and chopped sage and thyme. Return to the oven and roast for a further 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft and starting to caramelise. Remove the roasted squash and garlic from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, simmer the stock in a large saucepan with the Parmesan rind. Once the squash has cooled, cut into small pieces. Add to the simmering stock along with the garlic, squeezed out of its skins, and cook for 10 minutes.
4. Remove the Parmesan rind, add the grated Parmesan, then pour the soup into a blender and blitz until smooth. Return to the pan, stir in the paprika, then serve.

The first step

I’m lucky to live in a village that still has a butcher and fishmonger – fantastic ones at that. At a time where large supermarkets still dominate despite the growing desire to shop local, it is cheering to see a queue snaking out of the butcher every Saturday, at pretty much any time of day (although not in the photo below!).

Rawlings of Cranleigh is a family-run butcher that has fantastic meat, award-winning sausages, pies, and also a well-stocked cheese counter, with cheeses ranging from Stinking Bishop to the local Norbury Blue. The staff are very friendly, and (like good butchers should be) are always on hand with advice and cooking suggestions.

Although I won’t pretend that we do all our meat shopping there, we try to visit our butcher whenever we can; the meat is much better and more varied, which in turn helps up to discover and cook new things.

One of the things B. and I wanted to do once we had our house was to cook more of the things that we would simply buy – especially things we count as treats (or should do now we have a mortgage!). Making pâté is the first step, and hopefully you will see more posts on here of this nature in the coming months.

This weekend when we went to Rawlings, there was mixed game they had prepared displayed at the front of the shop. I had been intending to get a couple of rabbits to make pâté, but a pack of venison, pigeon, pheasant, duck, partridge and rabbit seemed too good to pass up.

I consulted a few recipes, and found that what goes into pâté seems to be pretty flexible. The constant is cooking it in a bain-marie, but in terms of what you put in there, you need some kind of fat, such as pork belly and bacon; livers add flavour but it isn’t essential. Egg or breadcrumbs are good binders. If you can, it’s good to marinate the raw meat for a few hours or more beforehand – I didn’t have the time, but found my pâté to still be full of flavour.

Pates can be cooked in a terrine/loaf tin or in preserving  jars – the cooking method remains the same; if you cook in a terrine, then you need to line it with bacon and then once cooked, weigh it down with weights in the fridge for 24 hours.

All in all, I was pleased with the results. It came out a cross between a spreadable pâté and a sliceable terrine – I am guessing if you increase the liver content it would become more spreadable. Nevertheless, this does spread – especially if you use some of the surrounding fat – not very healthy, but it tastes so good! It was gamey, but not overly so, and the flavours of the pork and chicken livers also came through to make a deliciously meaty pâté.

In B.’s words: “We’ll never buy pâté again when we can have home-made stuff like this.” I have to agree.

Mixed game and pork pâté

One word of warning: when the pate is cooked, it will be swimming in fat. I was worried as no recipe I had looked at had mentioned it. Luckily I then found a Delia recipe, where she notes that her coarse pork pâté “ will be swimming in fat, but ignore it – you are not going to eat it but its presence around the pâté keeps it moist.”

2 large knobs of butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Splash of vegetable or olive oil
600g mixed diced game
225g sliced pork belly, cut into chunks
240g chicken livers
300g streaky bacon, chopped
3 tsp redcurrant jelly
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed and then chopped
400g sausage meat
Glass of port
25g breadcrumbs

1) Heat a large knob of butter over a low heat and cook the onion for 5-10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic for 2 minutes to cook through. Set aside in a large bowl to cool.
2) Add more butter and a splash of oil and cook the game and pork belly for several minutes until browned. Pour the liquid that comes out into a separate bowl, then transfer the meat to the onion bowl.
3) Quickly fry off the livers and bacon, then pour the excess liquid into the reserved cooking juices bowl. Transfer the livers and bacon to the game and onion bowl. Add the redcurrant jelly, juniper berries and thyme to the cooked meat and stir well to combine.
4) Pour the reserved cooking liquid into the pan, along with a few glugs of port. Reduce until it forms a glaze, then pour into the meat bowl. Leave to cool for 45 minutes or so – this will also give a chance for the flavours to mingle.
5) Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Pulse the meat mixture (including juices) in a food processor along with the sausagemeat and breadcrumbs until you have the texture you want – I went for quite a fine pâté.
6) Pack into sterilised preserving jars – we filled 2 x ½ litre jars and 1 x 250ml jar. Place in a deep roasting tin or casserole and fill with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides. Cook in the oven for 1¼ hours until the pâté is coming away from the sides at the top. There will be quite a bit of fat in the jar (see my note above) – it will keep the pâté moist. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
7)  Chill in the fridge once cooled. The pâté should keep for at least a week, but it should last longer as the jars have an airtight seal. It will taste better if left for a day or two for the flavours to develop. Serve with good bread or toast.

A change of heart

I’m very sensitive to the cold, as people who know me will attest, so all week I have been thinking of what comforting autumnal pudding I would cook this weekend to warm me up. I toyed with apple crumble. However, despite what I said last week, I plumped for rice pudding.

For the past 18 years, I have hated rice pudding with a passion; the very thought of it made me feel sick. However it wasn’t always like this – there was a time when the thought of my mum’s rice pudding was enough to make me very happy. But then I had it at school and it all changed. It was horrible and ever since then I have been unable to bring myself to eat it (apart from one occasion about a year ago, when I tried a ready-made one – not the best one to try and turn me).

Then, this week rice pudding came out of the test kitchen at work; I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a go. I wasn’t expecting to like – but it was amazing. I kept sticking my spoon back in, wanting more. It was rich, creamy and comforting – just as it was when I ate my mum’s rice pudding all those years ago.

There are many food-related perks for working for a food magazine, but the best thing has been discovering that I now enjoy foods that I once hated. Beetroot is another example; all I had were the memories of the pickled stuff, but when a beetroot risotto came out (with broad beans – another thing I disliked), I devoured it and went back for seconds. B. couldn’t believe it when I told him. Raspberries too; while I still don’t like them by themselves, I will happily work my way through any dessert that includes them – also to B.’s delight.

So, after this latest taste revelation, I had to make my own rice pudding – I also thought it fair to end B.’s rice pudding drought. And after being inspired by the latest episode of River Cottage Every Day where Hugh made apple compote, I decided to make my own to accompany the pudding. My favourite desserts are apple-based, so I thought it only fitting to combine a new sweet love with an old one.

Since I had never cooked rice pudding before, I consulted a few recipes, including one of Hugh’s and, of course, Delia, before coming up with my own. Although it took a while to cook, it was worth the wait, and the slightly tart apple compote perfectly complemented the rich, sweet rice pudding. Just the thing for a cold autumn evening – a treat I would have missed out on if I had not had a complete change of heart. I’m so glad I did.

Rice pudding with apple cinnamon compote

Serves 6 with compote left over

600ml milk
170g tin evaporated milk
240ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
Lots of freshly grated nutmeg
50g golden caster sugar
100g pudding rice
Pinch of salt

For the compote
800g Bramley apples, well peeled
3-4 tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Heat the milk, evaporated milk and double cream with the scraped vanilla and pod over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until it is hot but not quite boiling. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.
2. Add the caster sugar, a good grating of nutmeg and the salt. Stir well, then add the rice. Heat for a couple of minutes over a medium heat.
3. Meanwhile, butter a 23cm diameter oven dish. Pour the milky rice mixture into the dish, cover with foil and put in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven, give the mixture a good stir and put back in the oven, covered with foil, for another 30 minutes. Stir again and return to the oven, uncovered, for 1¼-1½ hours until the rice is creamy and tender, but the pudding is not too dry.
5. Meanwhile, make the compote.  Finely slice the apples (I used a vegetable peeler to make it easier and quicker.) Put the sliced apples into a saucepan over a low heat with 2 tbsp water and 1 tbsp of the sugar. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. When the apples have cooked down to become a smooth puree, add the sugar and the cinnamon. Taste and add more sugar if needed. Stir well and set aside.
7. Serve the rice pudding with a dollop of compote. The remaining compote can be kept in the fridge for a week or so.



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