Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Garden for Free

Oot the front
When we bought our first house last year, one of the main things we were looking for, having previously been constrained to shared back yards, was a decent bit of outdoor space. We hit the jackpot a little bit as we've a paved area and a sort of rockless rockery out the front, and a decent bit of lawn out back. I spent part of a very pleasant day today tidying up, so I thought I'd bung up some pics.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Seeds, Sprouts, Buds and Sun

Carrot Seeds. And my hand.
The coinciding of a bank holiday with some of the finest weather of the year so far allowed us to put in a pretty full day on the plot on Saturday, sandwiched around a very pleasant and allotment-related trip to Wylam Nurseries. Much was sowed, prepared, bought, tilled and picked, the highlights of which herewith.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Recipe: Charred Leeks and Salmon, Sauteed Potatoes, Preserved Lemon Mayo

After pulling up the first of our over-wintered leeks on Sunday I had wanted to do something a bit more interesting with them than bung them in a soup, stew or curry; something a bit more befitting of a vegetable only two hours out of the soil. The overture to a stonking feast at House of Tides recently (did I mention we'd been? Yes, I think I did...) started with a whole steamed baby leek with onion puree and truffle. I liked the idea behind this, so thought I'd do something vaguely similar with our own. I've enjoyed them charred in fancy-pants restaurants before, so steamed-then-charred it was. Salmon fillets, spuds and a lemony mayo seemed like good companions for these mini-alliums. I pretty much freestyled this on the hoof, but it came out great. As far as recipes go it's a little bit of a faff on, but the whole thing only took about an hour to prepare from scratch, so not too onerous. If nothing else, I'd seriously recommend doing the leeks in this way on their own, especially as bbq season swings into view. Done over coals I reckon they'd be even better.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Mad, Bad and Dangerous Upon Which To Grow.

Full of chit
Don't let anyone ever tell you that allotments aren't wild and dangerous places to be. Within just a minute or two of arriving on site Sunday gone, and while doing my customary scout round checking for new growth and progress I was very nearly brained by a massive sheet of corrugated plastic, released from its moorings on our neighbours' greenhouse by a ferocious gobbit of wind. Having leapt out the way, pausing only to screech out some choice expletives, I did my best not to curse the neighbours' workmanship, reasoning that these things happen. Whether I'd have felt so magnanimous if I'd been decapitated by the thing is moot.

A fate that sadly became of this fellow. What is it, a female blackbird or a thrush or something else? Something had a right go at it, feathers everywhere. Must have been a cat I thought, although someone at work reckons blackbirds themselves can be absolutely ferocious and sadistic killers when the mood takes them. Anyone else heard of that? All of which excitement and alarm has hopefully grabbed your attention, but has admittedly been top-loaded into this post. That's the gore and murder done with, now let's talk about potatoes. Again...

Friday, 4 April 2014

Restaurant Review: The Fat Hippo Underground, Newcastle upon Tyne

Can ever a foodstuff so ostensibly humble have been so venerated, so lusted after, so - hyperbole klaxon! - fetishised as the burger? Having had to put up with some bloody awful specimens over the years, these sceptered isles have in recent times seen a wholesale improvement in standards, thanks in no small part to a certain London-based chain of grease-houses and all who followed in their slippery wake. Whole websites are now devoted to the things. My own personal epiphany came over a Dead Hippy a couple of years back. Holy effing shit! I remember thinking, as the perfectly calibrated mix of sweet, salt, meat, cheese and tang zeroed in on the cerebral cortex. Pretty much everything else has since then seemed sepia-tinged and tired by comparison, and so I'd basically given up on burgers, deciding that there's a glass ceiling on how good they can be in anything other than the most expert of hands.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Restaurant Review: David Kennedy at Vallum

A table with a view
I think we've now attended the full set of David Kennedy's north-eastern restaurants. From the rather fayne daining of the original Black Door to the more informal DK Food Social and its now-defunct sister outpost in Morpeth, the River Cafe on the fish quay, an excellent al fresco-ish lunch and now the main restaurant at Vallum Farm, the one word that has united all these eateries past and present is probably "reliable". Hopefully that doesn't sound like damnation by way of faint praise as we've had some stonking meals at Kennedy's places. Always good local ingredients, generally cooked very well indeed for a reasonable price. A meal at any of Kennedy's restaurants is one to be looked forward to safe in the knowledge that one's hard-earned dollar will not be spent in vain.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Spuds Away!

And we're up and running. A remarkably fine Sunday gave us the chance to commit our first potatoes to the soil last weekend. We dug over one of the patches that we've inherited from our former plot-mate Toni, having been given the all-clear to take over her side the the allotment. A smattering of horse manure was worked in, the usual trenches dug and in they went. We only planted our first earlies, which were Rocket and some other unknown variety (someone managed to throw out the label...), with second earlies and main croppers to go in this weekend if I get round to it. I'll be digging solo, as Kasia is out of town.

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Tonne of Stuff Going On

That's going to take a while to shift...
Since deciding where the raised beds were going to go, and actually putting them there a couple of weeks ago they have lain empty. The whole idea of getting them is that we might be able to grow some stuff that just hasn't worked for us previously - carrots for example - due to our heavy clay soil. So rather than fill them with that same soil, we took delivery of around a tonne of the council's "soil improver" , into which we mixed a smattering of rotted down horse manure. That should hopefully provide a decent growing medium.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Restaurant Review: Za Za Bazaar, Newcastle upon Tyne

Ah, the all you-can-eat-buffet. Something about the sheer egregiousness of the concept appeals to me on a quite deep level. In a world of scarcity and want, what could be more offensive than the idea of, for a moderate outlay of dollar, unlimited food? Well, a few things probably, but you get the idea. I still haven't completely worked out my grand unifying theory of the unlimited buffet, but I reckon I'm on safe ground in suggesting that something about the idea speaks directly to our inner child, whom, let there be no doubt, is a right greedy bastard. So much for the idea of the thing. What about the actual food? Usually pretty grim, carb-tastic or deep fried to a untasteful shade of beige, there is generally a powerful disconnect between the genius of the concept (Have as much of it as you want!) and the reality (I don't much want any of it) that kicks in strongly somewhere around the second plate. All that said, I have had at least one pretty great AYCE meal, and as with so many things, that one good experience is enough to convince, or at least tempt one to try again.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Restaurant Review: Kenny Atkinson, House of Tides; Newcastle upon Tyne

Beef Fillet, Asparagus, Morels, Wild Garlic, Nasturtiums
It's a pretty colossal understatement to say I'd been looking forward to this meal for some time. Partly because I reckoned on there being a good chance of eating some thoroughly top-flight stuff, but also to get the answers to a bunch of intriguing questions that had been floating rhetorically around since it was announced that Kenny Atkinson would be opening up on the quayside. What style would the food be? How had they squared the various circles that come with putting a restaurant in a grade 1 listed building that was meant for other things? And, having (somewhat bravely, I thought) gone tasting menu-only from the off, would there be any problem getting the requisite number of geordies to sit down to a not-inexpensive feast on a regular basis? Read on...

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Restaurant Review: Lane 7, Newcastle upon Tyne

Pulled Pork Bun
There are times, and circumstances, when once the possibility of a certain type of food has lodged itself in your mind, nothing else will do. Last Sunday was such a time. Friends were up for the weekend from far and wide (London and Bolton to be precise) and the Saturday night had passed in a predictably booze-soaked fashion. After tipping enough Brown Ale and Jack Daniels down my throat to bring a medium-sized elephant to its knees I was, come Sunday, feeling somewhere on that spectrum that runs between still pissed and repentantly shit. Plans for the day were hatched and then slowly ditched as time passed, light faded and day became night. The need for some kind of food was plain. A few options were mooted and discounted before someone said "Lane 7?" and someone else said "Fucking right!" and that was that. With renewed purpose we shambled out.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Oh Hi There, I'm Your Allotment, Remember Me?

One day my son, all of this...
Things have been awfully restaurant-centric on this blog of late. Not for no reason; the depths of winter are only for the most dedicated of gardener, and that is not us. However, even by my own half-arsed standards, a full month and a half without attending the plot once is the type of absence that makes the heart grow not just fonder, but almost forgetful of why we bother with all this in the first place. That being so, it was great, over the course of a few hours spent in nourishing sunshine today, to be reminded.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Restaurant Review: The Raby Hunt, Summerhouse

You don't see very many approving words written about the Michelin Guide these days. It's out of touch say its detractors, overly in thrall to the signifiers of the Gallic cuisine it originally described. Too many stars here, too few there. Critics, bloggers and other interested parties scratch their collective bonce as Rogan remains starless in Manchester while in London, Ducasse retains all three. The thing has become a running joke and should just be ignored, they say. And yet, and yet. If it wasn't for the attentions of the little red book we may still not have heard about the cooking of James Close at the Raby Hunt, much less have had the pleasure of settling in for a recent lunch of absolutely stellar cooking. So: thanks Michelin!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Restaurant Review: COOP Chicken House, Newcastle upon Tyne

This is a slightly tricky one to write up. In an alternate universe, not all that far different from the one you and I both call home, I'd be raving about COOP and telling you that you have to get down there post haste. The chicken is amazing, I'd say. Praise the lord for independent restaurants, just what Newcastle - currently besieged by more mid-brow chain places than you can shake a wearied shrug at - needs, I'd proclaim. Back on this galactic plane however, based on the visit we paid them after their having been opened a week, any such effusions have to be significantly qualified.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Restaurant Review: Rupali, and the Curry Hell Challenge, Newcastle upon Tyne

Hell Hath Fury
We're a peculiar species, don't you think? Having bossed the planet into submission with our opposable thumbs and our shit-hot comms skills, we seem to have gotten a bit bored and now many of our number seek out all manner of idiosyncratic challenges and tribulations. Some people lob themselves off buildings, others climb mountains. Others seek their glories in the consumption of stupefyingly spicy food, which brings us to a moist and unrelenting January Friday in Newcastle's Bigg Market.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Restaurant Review: Peace & Loaf, Newcastle upon Tyne

There seems to be a downturn-confounding slew of new restaurant openings in and around Newcastle at the minute. Either there are some foolhardy souls around, keen on ploughing money into new ventures despite the absence of disposable loot in people's wallets, or Newcastle has a restaurant-attending class of citizen sufficient to support all this. Hopefully the latter, obviously. One of the more interesting places to open doors over the last few months is Peace & Loaf in Jesmond.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Recipe: Decadent Baked Eggs

Partly because of seeing this video recipe by the excellent American food writer Michael Ruhlman, I decided to get Kasia some Le Creuset mini cocottes as part of her chrimbo box. Like her, they're irredeemably cute and, I thought, nifty for serving a bunch of different single-portion type stuff. Chicken liver pate, set custards and mini-gratins are all on the radar. But the idea of baked eggs struck me as brilliantly simple, and not a far cry from the coddled eggs we used to get treated to as kids. My dad's recipes for chocolate, not to mention peanut-butter, coddled eggs will, rest assured, never darken these pages...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Unusually sober notes from the plot

What's all this then?
I'm not normally given to taking part in well-branded mass participation larks, especially where they've shoe-horned the name of the month into it. You know the sort of thing: "Stoptober", "Movember" etc. The contrarian in me wants to smoke even more, or shave even closer than normal during such months, in protest at the depths to which, in an increasingly atomised world, supposedly shared experiences have plumbed. Anyway, for all that, Kasia is doing a dry January and I thought it only polite I should do likewise, the upshot being that it was with an unusually clear head and very little malice in my soul that I cycled down to the plot yesterday morning, the first such visit in a number of weeks.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Eating out: A North-Eastern hit-list of sorts

A restaurant somewhere that, in common with the ones in this post, I haven't been to.  Image: Sam Howzit/Flickr 
The end of the year is the great time for people who like a list. All year long things happen, and then at the end of the year we make a list of them, as if their mere happening in the first place wasn't enough. Some lists are clearly just rotten excuses for Channel Four to play a bunch of stock footage for a couple of hours as if it's an actual original tele program, while others can be decidedly more useful. Pitchfork's end of year top 50 albums is a great way of keeping in-tune with the music you should have been listening to over the previous year. Sometimes I download the whole damn thing and then systematically listen to it over the following year. Being musically a year out of date is a small price to pay for having your aural digest "curated" in such a hassle-free way, not to mention the contrarian thrill of being just slightly out of kilter with current hipster tastes.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Midwinter Roots in the Gloom

Hey look, an allotment!
With a fair dose of trepidation I shambled, rigger-booted and sporting a moderate second day hangover, down to the plot this morning. There had been grim communications from the committee to the effect that plots had been broken into and some property stolen. Also, I hadn't been down for a couple of weeks and, well, you just never know what might have blown away or gone tits-up, do you? Fortunately we were not among those singled out by whichever crew of barbarians has been nicking and smashing stuff. Perhaps because our plot's unkempt aesthetic does not lead one to (rightly, as it happens) believe that any especially desirable treasures lie within it for the taking.
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