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Thursday, 23 June 2016

Cooking Hogget

I first met Tim from Bourton Farm Food in February at the first MK Feast but I didn't exchange more than a passing nod with him then. This was one of his first events, selling pork and lamb that they had grown on the family farm.

When I was at the Food Fair at Galleon Wharf on 12th June, my table was next to his so I had chance to have a proper look at his wares. On this occasion he was again selling pork and lamb from the farm near Buckingham, some of it in the form of sausages.

I am a bit partial to a sausage so I was interested in his products: a spicy lamb sausage that he said was similar in flavour to kebab meat, a 100% pork, which had nothing other than salt and pepper added to it, and a more finely ground 80% pork with the other 20% being rusk. It is no easy task selecting a sausage that my whole family will enjoy as Steve and I prefer a properly meaty sausage and the girls prefer theirs to be more pasty and, actually, cheaper in quality. Fortunately, Tim had a little pack of four 100% pork sausages that was just the perfect size for me to take home to try.

I was also intrigued by his diced hogget as this isn't a term I come across very often. Tim explained that hogget comes from 1 year old lambs and is part way between lamb and mutton. It would require, he said, slow gentle cooking, but the flavour was amazing. Given that I love the flavour of lamb, particularly casseroled, I was keen to give this go so ! swapped a bottle of brown sauce and jar of chutney for a pack for his hogget.

Thinking about it, I realised that I had first come across the term "hogget" recently when Gordon from Urban Grilla had mentioned that he was now using Bourton Farm Food's hogget in his street food, so I decided to ask him how he cooked it.

"I start by browning the shoulder on a barbecue," he said. "This gives it a lot more flavour than browning it in the pan. After it's got a nice, brown crust, I pot roast it with rosemary and garlic, carrots, onions and celery. I season it well and add a few ingredients of my own and add a bottle of Hornes Brewery Triple Goat porter, whilst trying my hardest not to drink any of it. I then put it in the oven between 120 and 140°C, and leave it to cook slowly for between 5 to 8 hours. I know its ready when the meat literally falls off the bone. Bourton Farm hogget is some of the tastiest lamb I've ever eaten which is why they are our main suppliers."

Now doesn't that sound amazing? Something to put on my "must try" list for sure. Maybe I'll catch up with Gordon and some slow cooked hogget at the Wolverton Food & Fun day on 2nd July.

In the meantime, not having a whole shoulder of hogget to play with, I decided to stick to my original plan of casseroling it. I browned it first, in a conventional frying pan I'm afraid, and added it to some lamb stock I'd made previously from the bones of a roast leg of lamb. To this I added par boiled carrots, celery, leek and butternut squash. Then I briefly fried an onion, some mushrooms and garlic, added a splash of mushroom ketchup, soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce and added these to the dish too. This I topped with slices of par boiled potato before giving it a splash of Worcestershire sauce to finish it off. After an hour in the oven at 180°C, the potatoes were crisp and the meat tender.

I did kind of expect the first mouthful of meat to blow me away - you know, like the flavour of the first hungry bite of steak, onions and mustard - but it didn't. It was tasty and tender but not in your face. Then, gradually, over the course of the meal, the flavour seemed to somehow build, developing a depth and savouriness that younger lamb doesn't have. It was a bit like the opposite to a Chinese takeaway where the first mouthful is amazing and then half way through the meal you get fed up with it. With this casserole I enjoyed the flavours more as it went on and right to the last mouthful. I ended it feeling suitably satisfied.

It was a few days later that I cooked up the sausages to try. They were undeniably meaty and it was nice not to have them over-complicated with herbs and spices. Personally I think they could have tolerated a slightly higher fat content but others might prefer their lean qualities. But it is hard not to feel happy about eating a 100% pork sausage from a local farm for the principle alone so its delicious meaty flavour just seals the deal. Sadly, my daughter refused to even try these, preferring her lesser quality ones, but no matter as they made a delicious cold sausage and ketchup sandwich for lunch the next day.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The ARTearoom - it's all about the setting

Last year when we were in the middle of extensive house renovations, there were days when our builders politely asked if we could just go out for a bit and get out of their way. On such occasions we would try to find somewhere nice for lunch and on more than one occasion we ended up at The ARTearoom at Wakefield Country Courtyard off the A5 at Potterspury. So this year, for our wedding anniversary, we decided to pay a return visit to the tearoom and enjoy a quiet lunch for two.

The setting of the tearoom is lovely; first up a well maintained driveway, then into the good sized car park next to the field and close to the attractive stone buildings. On this occasion, not long after getting out of the car, we were treated to the drama of the hairdresser's dog escaping and excitedly chasing the resident chickens around the car park. Probably not fun for the chickens, or the people attempting to recover the dog, but somehow a typically British moment in time!

Inside the tearoom, it is as always, like stepping back in time to a tearoom from the 1930s or 40s. You half expect to find Miss Marple sat, sipping tea from a china tea cup, at one of the tables. The room is decorated with china teaware and quaint nick-nacks, with artwork for sale on the walls and windowsill and fitting period music playing in the background. This, you feel, is a place you would be happy to bring your nan for afternoon tea.

The use of the word "tea" in the name of this place is definitely significant as tea is a key element. There is a whole section of the menu dedicated to different types of tea and in the past Steve has had a fairly lengthy conversation with the guy who runs the place about tea. It comes in china teapots, with a knitted tea-cosy and a proper cup and saucer, a tiny jug of milk and a mini Jammy Dodger. A big tick for the tea then. I, however, don't drink tea or coffee so I ordered an apple juice and was sadly disappointed with the very much standard clear apple juice that arrived. Given that this tearoom is literally across the courtyard to Upton Smokery Farm Shop, which stocks, amongst other delights, Virtual Orchard apple juice, why was this not what was served?

Every time I come here I order the same thing - a toastie. I have varied it a little between the plain cheese one, the cheese and homemade chutney one and the ham and chutney one. Steve, on the other hand, always goes from the bacon, brie and cranberry one. It is impossible to quibble about the consistency of the lunch because it always comes exactly the same - two triangles of toasties accompanied by salad, a purple coleslaw and vegetable crisps. To demonstrate what I mean, I have included two photos - one from this year and one from last. So if you have it once and you like it, you are sure to not be disappointed the next time. Personally, I do like it, although Steve always says the coleslaw is too vinegary and leaves most of it. As it happens I make a lovely purple coleslaw using red cabbage, red onion, grated raw beetroot, salt & pepper and mayonnaise so in contrast, this version is rather wet and acidic.

On this occasion I ordered the cheese and homemade chutney toastie and I did really enjoy it. Having said that, I do secretly like toasties made from plain ordinary ingredients. This was standard sliced white bread, a mature Cheddar and something that reminded me so much of childhood packed lunch sandwiches that I would swear it was Ploughman's Pickle. But maybe I'm wrong and it really was a homemade chutney... if it was, I'd like the recipe. So I think for a lot of people this would tick the box for a straight forward, not scary, lunch. However, having tasted, as I have, The Good Times Cafe cheese toastie made on Geoff's Real Artisan Bread sourdough I am perhaps forever spoilt!

So, another lovely lunch in a lovely setting and I have to wonder if I should just be happy with that. A lot of people would be and they are customers too. However, I cannot help but wonder if the location of this tearoom means I should expect more. If I am the type of person to drive out here and visit the tearoom and then Upton Smokery Farm Shop, am I not the type of person looking for that little bit extra when it comes to food. Customers of Upton Smokery don't go in there and say, "Well, we could buy cheese cheaper in Lidl and pop it in a sandwich with some Tesco Value Bread." No, these people are looking for something special - maybe local, maybe unusual, maybe just better quality, handmade or with a good provenance. When they drop into the tearoom they are undoubtedly going to adore the decor, the music and selection of tea. Serve up some local cloudy apple juice and lunch made with local artisan sourdough and actual homemade pickle and they are just going to lap it up.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Swan Woburn Sands Refurbished

It is hard to miss The Swan in Woburn Sands, sitting as it does on the roundabout that is so central to Woburn Sands. People who follow The Swan on social media will be aware that it shut in mid-May for a refurbishment. This was a serious re-vamp of everything from the decor to the menu. With it now all bright and shiny and new, I went along, with my friend Steven, for an evening meal to see what it is like now.

It's been a while since I've been to The Swan so I was surprised as I turned into the car park to find that it is now pay and display. I suppose since the Tesco Express opened across the road, they have suffered from people using their car park whilst shopping. It did say that pub customers could get their parking fee back but I didn't get chance to find out how this works because the car park was completely full. This was something of a surprise, it being a Thursday evening, and it was slightly embarrassing to have to perform a very tight three-point-turn in front of all the dinners on the patio! After that I managed to find some roadside parking on the road to Woburn.

Inside, the first impression was very good, as you might expect from somewhere that has just been redecorated. The table was nicely set too and the waiter was attentive. I asked for a soft drink, something along the lines of a J2O, but was offered a slightly weird selection of juices. I plumped for the Apple, Raspberry and Sloe juice and that turned out to be a good decision as it was really tasty - a mental note to try making that combo next sloe season.

For starters I selected the chicken liver, sherry & balsamic parfait with crostini and when it arrived it was just as I expected - pate and toast. This is always one of my default starters where available and I enjoyed this one. The pate flavour was good, the crostini were suitably crunchy and the portion size was appropriate for a starter. Steven enjoyed a plate of scallops.

Next came the main. I had left the house in the mood for a burger and so I selected the wagyu burger. To be honest I didn't know what a wagyu burger was but Steven explained that wagyu burgers are special, with the animals reared in just a handful of places across the world and the animals are of a particular rear breed and they are fed beer and massaged to produce the best quality meat. It turns out the wagyu cattle produce a meat with a high content of marbling and this is supposed to provide a superior flavour. We asked the waiter if he knew what the country of origin was for the wagyu burger and he went off to ask the chef. When he delivered my burger, he said that the chef has told him at length about the burger and its origins but the answer was Australia. Not the most desirable Japanese wagyu then but that is hardly surprising at the price. 

I was asked if I wanted any extras on my burger but as it already came with smoked cheddar, crispy onions, relish, sweet potato fries and aioli, I decided that was quite enough. I was disappointed to see that it came in a brioche bun. This is a food trend that I never took to and is so over-used that it is now positively boring. Why pair a savoury burger with a soft, sweet bread? I don't get it. When I make a burger at home I make fresh crusty bread rolls or toast a bun to crisp it up. Bun aside, there was plenty inside - although the burger itself was somewhat lost amongst the heaps of salad - masses of lettuce, a big slice of tomato and a couple of slabs of gherkin. So, having suitably adjusted the contents of my burger bun to make it possible to taste the meat, I tucked in. The burger itself had a great flavour and I enjoyed the sweet potato fries, onion rings and garlic mayo (or should that be aioli?) too. In the meantime, Steven tucked into his seafood linguine. The menu has plenty of fish dishes on it so I think I shall have to go back at some point with my husband as he loves fish dishes and is often disappointed by lack of seafood variety on menus.

Finally onto dessert and, being the fan of cheesecake that I am, I went for the Baked New York Cheesecake with strawberry coulis. The waiter was pleased with my selection as he said this was his favourite. This was a decent slice, served with whipped cream, a sliced strawberry and a sprig of mint. I was surprised by the lack of sweetness of the dish. The strawberry coulis had a lovely fresh strawberry flavour but wasn't very sweet and the cheesecake was verging on savoury; so much so that I would have been happy to spread it on some crackers. Given that I don't have much of a sweet-tooth, it was surprising that I would have preferred this to have been sweeter - maybe not the cheesecake itself but the strawberry sauce. Steven didn't have such issues with his sticky toffee pudding.

That was the meal over and I had had a very enjoyable evening. The setting was pleasant and the staff had been excellent. The menu and food is a notch up on what you might expect for a pub meal although not faffy or overly cheffy. If you fancy an evening out and a decent meal then you could do a lot worse than the newly refurbished and revamped Swan in Woburn Sands. I'm pretty sure I'll be going back soon.