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Saturday, 24 September 2011

New Voices in Food

New Voices in Food is a series of books published by Quadrille and featuring the up and coming writers of the moment.

At Abergavenny they had a master class featuring Niamh Shields who blogs as eatlikeagirl and James Ramsden founder of the Secret Supper Club.

Both were cooking from their new books Comfort and Spice by Niamh, and Small Adventures in Cooking by James.

I have an interest in both chefs; Niamh is a blogger that I follow whilst James is a Ballymaloe graduate, interestingly in the same class as Arun Kapil of Green Saffron Spices.

So, Sunday Morning saw me heading to the Ballroom of the Angel Hotel for the aforementioned master class.

Food and Wine go together naturally so it was a pleasure, and also a surprise, to find a glass of red being handed out on entry.

Both Chefs had already been busy, James running a pop-up restaurant in the Dewsall Yurt Village and Niamh baking for hours to ensure that we all had tasters!

The enthusiasm and infection of both is clear in their books, background pieces before recipes and short articles before sections lead you into not only the dish but the reason it is there. And so it was with the demo.

James started with Lamb Neck Fillets with a Chickpea and Harissa salad, which Mrs K said was delicious but, sadly, my allergy to Lamb meant that I could not taste. Using cheaper cuts of meat is one of James’ trademarks you get amazing value from his food. This particular recipe is “pretty speedy stuff” but you have to remember to remove the lamb from the fridge half an hour before cooking to ensure that your lamb is pink and soft not cold and tough!

Whilst James cooked this dish Niamh talked about the Blaa a roll from her native Waterford and one for which Protected Domain of Origin is being sought which will put them on a par with Parma Ham and Arbroath Smokies.

I have always liked these rolls and they are a highlight of breakfast once you have left the ferry at Rosslare, well breakfast in Waterford City is our norm before heading further west. They contain both butter and sugar because as Niamh said” we Irish like our butter and we are suckers for sweet stuff as well”. This doesn’t mean that Blaas are sweet; the sugar just helps activate the yeast. It was Blaas that had Niamh in the kitchen early and baking for us.

Whilst the Blaas went into the oven to bake James started his second speedy dish- Skate Cheeks with Pea Puree and Pea Shoots.

A speedy starter this can become a main course with the addition of a few potatoes. A good stock is made and then the Skate Cheeks are dropped in to quickly poach. Actually we had Cod Cheeks as there weren’t any Skate available but both work well and both are cheap – indeed if you can get fish heads from a fishmonger they are nearly or actually free. The pea puree is minted and spooned onto a plate before the fish is laid on top and a few pea shoots garnish the dish. Matthew Fort may not see the point of Pea Shoots, but I find them packed full of flavour and even easier than cooking peas!

Meanwhile Niamh had turned to making butter to accompany the Blaas. Simply churning double cream will bring out the buttery solids and leave buttermilk whey behind. Whilst churning may have taken hours of effort in the past a few minutes in a food mixer does the job these days. The butter is squeezed in fine muslin or cheesecloth to remove any additional moisture (and increase the time that you can use it) and a little salt added if desired. Niamh used the amazing Halen Mon Vanilla Salt which made a great accompaniment for the still steaming Blaas.

As we sat to taste/devour the foods on offer a second glass of wine arrived and a brief description from the suppliers and sponsors.

A great demo/master class and a brilliant advert for the relevant books from which the recipes were taken. Niamh and James may be ‘new voices in food’ but they will be around for a long time based on this event.

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