It’s OK if you’ve not heard of Wimborne St Giles. I hadn’t either. I’ll use any excuse to jump on a train and head out of London. Lisa Osman runs All Hallows Cookery School and Bed & Breakfast in a small village about half an hour from Salisbury. She’s also an approved AGA Cookery School and a perfectionist.
She lives in this beautiful farmhouse, along with her husband Stuart and between them they keep with well-appointed rooms, and she teaches various classes.
Lisa is an excellent cook and a chef by trade; she’s also a well-respected judge on the food circuit which is how I have come to know and love her.
Her kitchen is light and bright and is an excellent space in which to learn.
I was invited to take part in a one day course which involved a little pudding making and some floristry.
She’d organised for the author of Pride and Pudding Regula Ysewijn to come over from her home in Belgium to cook from her latest book.
It takes a look at the History of British Puddings from boiled and steamed to milk puddings and jellies. She also collects kitchenalia, and her eighteenth-century cutter and stamper seemed like a torture tool, but I can assure you while it looks easy to stencil and stamp, it’s a real art.
We learned how to make a great puff pastry, using a Magimix.
two great tarts
an early type of Churros and we were going to make a bread pudding, but we ran out of time.
Throughout the day we were fed and watered, very well.
Lunch was a fantastic beef and onion stew with red cabbage and Dauphinoise Potatoes, the testament to Lisa’s excellent cooking skills on her racing green Aga.
In the afternoon we were shown how to make a Christmas wreath.
The pace was great, Lisa’s attention-to-detail exemplary and the small group meant that everyone could take part.
You can stay at All Hallows, even if you don’t take a course.
All Hallows Cookery School, Wimborne St Giles, BH21 5NJ
When I got asked to come and try the food at The Laughing Gravy, I’d just finished a 12-hour shift, and there was the prospect of schlepping it over to Southwark. I am so glad I did. This neighbourhood restaurant was heaving on a Tuesday night, and there was no particular price or discounted set menus hauling diners in either. I’m assuming they’ve discovered that this restaurant is not bad at what it does, great food at a good price point with a superb drinks menu. I’m a little bit loathe to bang on about just how good, and the only reason I will is because selfishly I live West and it won’t be my regular haunt, but I will be going back, without a doubt.
The a la carte menu offers up some inspired dishes from a pigeon and oxtail sausage roll, a mead-glazed pheasant leg and a veal chop. Just a small table of us sampled the a la carte menu and a few offerings from their Christmas 2016 menu. A three-course meal turned into a series of various courses, thankfully I wore the elasticated pants.
A plate comes out from the kitchen looking like a work of art. It was hot smoked whisky-cured Loch Duart salmon on Guinness and malted sourdough soil with horseradish mousse and truffle snow. What to say? Sweet salmon, that maltiness from the sourdough and beer and sweetness from the horseradish. Delicious.
I began with the roasted and pickled Heritage beetroot, goat’s cheese, preserved apple with candied cashew (£8.50). A lovely plate with super sharp apple, gloriously sweet beetroot and that sharp tang of the goat’s cheese was a joy. It had been rolled in apple gelee which was amusing and unexpected.
Another, plate, destined for the Christmas menu, although I wouldn’t wait for December for this one, a lovely pinwheeled roll of wild boar and pistachio with damson chutney and purple potato crisps. Beautiful. A reasonable £50 for three courses and not a Christmas pudding or mince pie in sight.
This wonderful duck terrine and chicken liver and Foie gras pate is a plate of fabulous, complete with sour cherry puree and candied hazelnut.
Stupid me I went and ordered a main before the outpouring of dishes.
The wild mushroom and salted deer stuffed venison fillet Wellington was served with tender stem broccoli, horseradish and white truffle celeriac puree and scattered with toasted almonds (£24). If there were a gripe to be had it would be the not quite there pastry. A little ‘flabby’ for me but this kind of thing is all subjective. It was cooked, but I wanted a bit more flake. The venison was just perfect.
A plate of pan-fried market fish with braised leek, kale, buttered new potatoes and Brixham crab broth arrived, (another Christmas menu offering) again just superb flavours brought together so very well.
No dessert for me. Of course, that wasn’t true because we were treated to a taster plate of what’s on offer. Amaretto sour and caramelised banana sundae with candied cashews and a seven-year aged dark rum soaked raisin and roasted pecan pie with vanilla and nutmeg infused eggnog popcorn brûlée. The salted caramel mousse with vanilla fudge, shortbread and chocolate rum ganache filled Caramac cylinder was a clever nod to my childhood. I’m a sucker for salted caramel ice cream and this was just perfect with the chocolate brownie.
After all that food, the Chef wanted me to try a milk jam ice cream sundae sandwich? I had to put my foot down, but it was more that the elasticated pants were at their upper limits and I had to waddle to the door.
If you live near the Laughing Gravy, lucky you. If you don’t, make the trip before everyone finds it and you can’t book a table for love or money.
This Google Map shows you exactly how central it is, right near The Cut at Waterloo and a short stroll from Southwark.
The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Rd, London SE1 8EN
Have I signed up for an online course which encourages me to work and focus even more than I do already? Yes, dear reader, I have. The University of Reading and The Historic Royal Palaces have hooked up to offer ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’. Coursework, over a period of five weeks, each taking up three hours a week, will showcase the power and wealth through five generations of royalty and their Palaces. I’ve just completed Week 1 which focuses on Hampton Court and Henry VIII. Part of the coursework is exploring Tudor Food, and thankfully someone’s converted the English ingredients so I can make it and share the recipe and images with you.
I appreciate it’s nowhere near Lent, but this cheese tart contains all the things forbidden during the period – cheese, cream and eggs, encased in pastry.
Tarte Owt of Lente
Original recipe Gentyll manly Cokere (Manuscript Pepys 1047, c.1500).
Take neshe chese and pare hit and grynd hit yn A morter and breke egges and do ther to and then put yn buttur and creme and mell all well to gethur put not to moche butter ther yn if the chese be fatte make A coffyn of dowe and close hit a bove with dowe and collor hit a bove with the yolkes of eggs and bake hit well and serue hit furth.
Adapting the recipe for modern use
250g Quark soft cheese (or similar)
100g grated cheddar
150ml double cream
Shortcrust or other pastry (I used a pre-made block of Puff pastry)
Egg yolk to glaze
Chop and pound cheese in a mortar.
With the modern technology available in my kitchen, I cheated and used a grater and a food processor.
Interesting Fact Alert: Men cooked and served in a Royal Household, or in most cases, any noble household, for three main reasons. Only having male staff living on site removes all relationship problems; large scale kitchen work is hard and heavy; and it shows that the head of the household is a man above all men, served by men. If a mixed staff served the nobleman, then he would be the same as a merchant in the city.
Add the other ingredients and make a spreadable paste. Make a pastry tart case, about 25cm (10″) diameter, you can use a pie tin if easier, and thin pastry lid.
I made a few crowns to top the cheese mixture but you can make a full-on pastry lid. Fill the case with cheese, cream, egg and butter mixture, then put on the pastry lid (or pastry motifs) seal and glaze with egg.
Bake at 220°C/gas mark 6 for 40 minutes or until golden.
You could use any pre-1600 variety of cheese, such as Cheshire, Wensleydale, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, or Cheddar, but the original probably used curd cheese (the recipe specifies it should be neshe – soft), so ricotta or quark would also work well. The egg stops it curdling.
I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so tasty and so I’ll try another, next time with shortcrust pastry.
Thanks to Future Learn who offer hundreds of free online courses from top universities and specialist organisations.
I tend not to mention the ‘C’ word until the start of December but as you know I love my gin, and there’re so many great things around this year, I fear if I don’t mention them early, they’ll be snaffled. So, lovely reader, here’s my 5 Gin-tastic Christmas offerings for the gin-lover in your life.
Got one of those friends or family members who’s tough to buy for? Get them to blend their bespoke gin. You’ll find The Ginstitute on the top floor of the Portobello Star and make sure they’re wearing drinking boots because they’re in for the long-haul. Kick off with a Tom Collins and then have an hour chat about the history of gin. Then it’s a G&T and up to the Still Room. A quick overview of how it’s made and the botanicals used, then it’s all about making the bespoke stuff. Each gin has it’s own unique custom number so if you love what you’ve done you can re-order it for £35 (70cl). Go to their website for more information.
I love a play on words, and this Gin-gle Bells beanie is nicely priced for the female gin-lover in your life. £20, John Lewis.
What’s good enough for the future King and Queen of England is good enough for you too, eh? The Oak & Rope Co was commissioned to make an engraved swing for Prince William and Kate’s wedding in 2011. You may have seen Prince George swinging on it, on his third birthday?
If you haven’t got a meadow or a large tree, then this fabulous G&T-Board by the same company is easy to store and beautiful too. From £45.
Christmas Jumper? Buck the trend and go sweatshirt. Oakdene Designs have designed a take on the Christmas classic O Come All Ye Faithful, I love this lovely Oh, Come Let Us Adore Gin number, £30.00.
I love the boys (and girls) at Sipsmith and so I can’t do a gin present round up without including them. Choose any of their gins, and you won’t be disappointed. Their latest is available at M&S and it’s a liquid Lemon Drizzle Cake … Yep …. drool.
There are quite a few other gin-related presents out there – these are some of my favourites.
Rejoice cake lovers for it is National Bundt Day.
I converted the 10-cup Nordic Ware US ingredients and made a couple of tweaks.
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
450g soft brown sugar
320g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
30g cocoa powder
4 whole medium eggs at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar
1–2 drops of red, bake-safe, food colouring. I use Wiltons.
125g icing sugar, sifted
250g Quark or full fat soft cheese
4 tbsp Milk, or as much as you need to get it to a pouring consistency
Grease and flour the tin or use a cake release spray. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan).
In a large mixing bowl, add oil, buttermilk, eggs, food colouring, vinegar and vanilla. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium, for 1 minute. Turn mixer to low and add flour mixture, a little at a time, and mix until each addition is just combined.
Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for around an hour and ten minutes, but all ovens run at different temperatures, so keep a close eye. Use a cake tester or skewer through the deepest part of the pan, and if it comes out clean, it’s ready. Leave to cool before you turn it out.
Do not be tempted to fill the pan right to the top. Fill to 3/4 and use the other mix for cupcakes to cook when the cake is out.
Mix the Quark, icing sugar and milk together. You’re looking for a thick pouring consistency. Make sure you protect the surface under the cake and pour evenly over the top. I used one of the cupcakes I baked to decorate the bundt with the crumb.