Planking, Tents and Food Festivals

Trending. Such a very 2010s phrase, used to describe by the vast tides of fickle popularity generated by ‘social’ media. But just think of Planking, the Harlem Shake and (soon enough) Twerking to see how fleeting this is. See, you’d forgotten them already.

Living in the UK, and having more than a fleeting interest I see food trends come and go in a similar, albeit less rapid fashion. The ‘modern’ Indian restaurant menu, cupcakes and food on a slate anyone?!

We’re currently awash with gourmet burgers, slow cooked meats and salted caramel and that’s no bad thing of course but one trend that does seem a little hit and miss, for me at least, is the rise of the food festival and specifically, ‘street food’. Done well, it’s delicious, exciting and genuinely interesting. The chance to sample street snacks from far flung cuisines had me reaching for my extra stretchy trousers, happily forking out a fiver for a cardboard plate of food and a napkin.

The Boiler Shope Steamer, Newcastle

The Boiler Shop Steamer, Newcastle – great fun, we’ll be back….

Street pizza at the Boiler Shop Steamer - very good.

Street pizza at the Boiler Shop Steamer – very good.

Helen enjoying beetroot falafel. I think I suprised her...

Helen enjoying beetroot falafel. I think I suprised her…

Done badly, however…..Well I’ve sampled a few such stalls over the summer and in some cases it seems pretty obvious that the purveyors are just ‘restaurants on tour’, or worse, those jumping on the bandwagon.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course when done well but I sometimes watched these poor souls, sweating in the summer heat trying to pull together something they could make with their eyes closed in their nicely fitted industrial kitchen. Now they’re in a tent, on a field, with a camping stove and a tiny table trying to cook and serve the customers simultaneously.

I think it’s fair to say the results are mixed. I recently paid £3 for a greek sausage sandwich. I’d never tried one before, and therefore I hope it was a bad example, but lets just say for once I was glad it was a stingy portion…

Conversely, some others are well setup for this form of cooking, particularly the BBQ guys with their beautiful smoking contraptions, Indian snacks and the good old Crepe stands of course. Food which originated in or suits the outdoors basically. I’m not sure a styrofoam tray of nuclear hot green Thai curry and rice does. And I love thai curries.

At the North East Chilli Festival

At the North East Chilli Festival

 Perhaps the biggest food festival I’ve been to this year however was in the Hamburg and wouldn’t you know it, the food was uniformly good and at times excellent. Typical. Rotisserie hams, slow cooked pork sandwiched, fresh donuts, excellent beer – although I think we run them very close here, bratwurst…I could go on. All run with that enviable German efficiency (even when it got busy, and boy, did it get busy) from custom made trailers or stands.

Rotisserie Hams, Hamburg

Rotisserie Hams, Hamburg

Roast Pork Sandwich, Hamburg
Roast Pork Sandwich, Hamburg

I’ve no doubt that the trend, originating in London’s wonderful cultural diversity, is slowly catching on, filtering its way up the country like electricity and mobile phones did in the last decade (no, not really). As such, I’m hopeful things will only continue to get better, but please, can we have more street food.


Slow Cooked Venison and Roast Butternut Squash


Well the sun was out, the temperatures were bearable and it’s the half term school holidays next week meaning one thing – everybody was out and about. We headed up to Gibside on the fringes of Gateshead for a walk around the ruined Gibside Hall. It’s eerie and spectacular in equal measure, being now little more than an overgrown shell of a once grand house. The chapel and ‘column of liberty’ have fared a little better and still stand a mile apart and in direct view of one another. Hopefully this lends a scale to the size of the estate. We headed up around the far reaches of the estate for the better views and steeper climbs and before we knew it a couple of hours had passed.


Gibside Chapel


Ruins of Gibside Hall

Column of Liberty

Column of Liberty

Front of Gibside Hall

Front of Gibside Hall

And so, a moderately lengthy winter walk requires a sturdy dinner. I’ll admit, I’ve put this together based on a couple of dishes I’ve eaten at The Broad Chare, a favourite of mine, mainly for its rustic British food and locally sourced produce. They were actually starters of braised venison with Elsdon cheese on toast and blood pudding with roasted squash and I kind of pulled the two together. Not having Elsdon (a firm goats cheese), I substituted some Wensleydale which has a similar sharp flavour. The venison was diced shoulder, slowly simmered for two hours in wine and beef stock until massively rich. The sweet butternut squash and sharp cheese were perfect companions!

For someting a little different, I tried an ingredient given to me by a friend in a Christmas hamper – some chocolate extract. Chocolate is seemingly unlikely friend of venison and this did lend a nice flavour to the dish overall, without dominating it. I’ll experiment further though….


Serves 2.

  • 500g diced venison suitable for slow cooking.
  • 2 large glasses of red wine, I used Rioja.
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 garlic clove, 1 carrot, 1 onion and 1 stick of celery finely diced.
  • 1 litre (2 pints) rich beef stock
  • 1 good splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves and a large sprig of thyme, leaves only.
  • 70g smoked bacon lardons
  • 1 butternut squash, halved, seeded and cut into chunks
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Wensleydale cheese to serve
  • Optional – chocolate extract to taste.

In a heavy casserole dish, heat some oil and fry off the venison and lardons (in batches) until well browned.

Stir in the vegetables and soften them. Return the meat and stir though the flour, adding a little water to make it ‘stick’. Pour in the wine and stock and add the bay leaves. Stir thoroughly.

Put the lid on the pot and simmer on the lowest possible heat for about two hours.

After an hour, place the prepared butternut squash in a tray, season with salt and drizzle with oil. Roast in a moderate oven for about an 45 minutes to 1 hour until very tender.

For the last half and hour of the vension, remove the lid to reduce and concentrate the liquid and for the last 5 minutes, add the thyme leaves. Add the chocolate extract to taste if using at the end – it’s worth a try.

Serve the dish up with shavings of Wensleydale cheese and a large glass of Rioja. Perfect.

Venison and Butternut Squash

Plaice with Sautéed Potatoes and Samphire

Plaice Sauteed Potatoes Samphire

I tend to do so many things accidentally as I’m so badly organised. It’s been snowing across the UK of late and with my wife’s car not being the most ‘snow friendly’ vehicle found myself driving her to work.

On the way, I passed our local fish deli which was open this time and I dropped in on the way back to the office. The store is called Latimer’s and they seem seriously dedicated to fresh fish, providing produce to a number of restaurants in the North East. Their website even has a page entitled ‘Today’s Catch’. I can vouch that the service is excellent and it’s a goldmine of advice.

I asked for a couple of plaice fillets (although in truth could have tried a bit of everything) and the guy serving asked if i minded hanging on while he cut the fillets as the fish had “only just come in”. Of course I didn’t – no vacuum packed week old fish sold here…

Plaice is a delicate fish and can be ruined by heavy or strongly flavoured sauces so I tried to keep it light, with a simple tried and tested caper butter. Samphire is now easily available, works brilliantly with fish and keeps a nice ‘bite’ even after cooking.

Helen made the sautéed potatoes and we went for some small new potatoes for a slight sweetness. She didn’t peel the potatoes and I think they’re all the better for it!

This is just my sort of thing and I thoroughly enjoyed it….


  • 2 Plaice fillets, about 200g each
  • 1 tsp oil
  • A small knob of butter
  • About two tbsp capers, drained and chopped roughly
  • Sea salt
  • About 10 small new potatoes, thinly sliced
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Some fine chopped parsley
  • (Optional) garlic infused oil to finish
  • Two large handfuls of samphire

Start the sauteed potatoes first by frying with a good pinch of salt on a moderate heat in a large pan for about 15-20 minutes. Some recipes call for par boiling them first, but it wasn’t necessary here.

The fish and the samphire cooking quickly, so start these only at the end of cooking the potatoes. The oven grill will be used so get that on if it takes a while to heat up (like mine). Heat the plates.

Bring a pan of water to the boil (or use a kettle) and blanch the samphire for a couple of minutes. Drain and return to the pan with a lid on to keep warm.

Heat a pan large enough for the fish with a small amount of oil until hot. Lay the fish onto the pan and hold them down to begin with to try and prevent them curling up too much.

They will take only minutes to cook from the bottom, but finish briefly in the same pan under a medium grill.

Once the potatoes are done, finish with a little garlic infused oil (if you want) and chopped parsley. Plate up the fish, potatoes and samphire.

To make the caper butter, simply return the fish pan to the hob and heat the butter and capers with a pinch of salt (and a squeeze of lemon if you want). Spoon it over the fish and you’re done.

Plaice Samphire Sauteed Potatoes Top View

Fish, Prawns & Risotto

I fancied trying something a bit different tonight. I’ve been up in Scotland today and popped into a farm shop on the way back down where I picked up some some haddock fillets landed in Eyemouth. I’m a huge fan of fresh fish, but it has to be fresh. We’re lucky enough to have the North Shields Fish Quays nearby and I get over there whenever I can.

For this dish, I had four pans on the go but it was worth it. The haddock was simply grilled with a leek risotto, whole prawns and a a sauce made from their shells. I finished it off which some pickled mushrooms, an idea I got from a local occasional TV chef called Kenny Atkinson after I saw a cooking demo by him. They really finish it off and contrast the richness of the other flavors.

I was pretty pleased with the results, as was Helen, and from someone who is normally fairly indifferent to fish, that’s praise indeed!

(Serves 2)

For the fish:

  • Oil – I used rapeseed
  • Salt and Pepper

For the Risotto:

  • 1 tbsp oil & 10g butter (optional, health fans!)
  • 150g Arborio Rive
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, finely chopped
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • Glass of white wine
  • 1 medium leek, finely sliced.
  • Handful of grated parmesan cheese (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper

For the prawns/sauce:

  • 6 whole prawns
  • About 300ml chicken stock
  • Dash of Brandy or Cognac
  • 1 tbsp double cream
  • 15 g butter (to finish)
  • 1 heaped tbsp chopped parsley

For the pickled mushrooms:

  • 100g button mushrooms cleaned and trimmed
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp stock
  • 2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
  • Salt

Start the prawns/sauce: Add the prawns and stock to a small pan, bring gently to the boil and poach for a few minutes until cooked. Remove the prawns with a slotted spoon and peel them -apart from the tail, it just looks better… Return the peeled shells to the pan for a while to extract more flavour for 10 minutes (or as long as possible). Keep the cooked prawns to one side, they’ll be warmed through later.

Ge the risotto started: Unless you have any homemade, get the kettle on and make up some stock (I often use the little pots made up with boiling water). Put the stock in a pan/Pyrex bowl and place on a small burner on your hob to keep hot.

Add the oil to a large pan, heat, and fry the celery,  garlic and leeks. Tip in the rice and coat well in the oil. Pour in a glass of wine and stir well until absorbed. Add a ladle of the stock and stir well until nearly absorbed. Keep adding ladle-fulls and stir in the same way  for about 15-20 minutes.

Whilst doing this, prepare the pickled mushrooms: fry the mushrooms in a little oil with some salt for a minute, add the vinegars, stock and sugar. Heat until boiling then leave to simmer very gently to reduce whilst you crack on with the rest.

Keep stirring the risotto and adding the stock! You need to keep an eye on this one!

Finish the sauce off. Strain the prawn shells using a fine sieve (or muslin cloth for a clearer liquor) and discard, keeping the liquid in the pan. Add the cognac/brandy, double cream and reduce for a few minutes. Add salt to taste and the chopped parsley. Finish with the butter by whisking it in until melted away. Add the prawns to warm through gently.

Finally! Cook the fish. Heat  the grill and put the fish under, seasoned with salt and pepper and brushed with oil. They will only take a few minutes to cook. I confess, I took my eye off them and slightly over did it, but it was still good!

I served it up with the prawns on the risotto, and the sauce on the fish, with a few of the pickled mushrooms scattered round the edge.

Phew! Bit of a balancing act, this one, but well worth sticking with! Lovely with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Down Under

Two good friends of mine were lucky enough to spend an entire MONTH travelling across Australia recently. I asked them to send me pictures of anything interesting they sampled en route. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what constitutes Australian food other than the stereotypes of barbecue, Vegemite and seafood, but that’s my ignorance. It seems, like the UK, they’ve adopted a lot of other cultural cuisines. But, from what I can see, light and fresh seems to be way of things. I guess this goes for most countries which, very much unlike the UK, are bathed in sunshine!

So, on their behalf here are some of the highlights!


Pork belly sandwich. Mouth watering and yet, literally, heart-stopping….


Gourmet crepes with kangaroo (yes, kangaroo) prosciutto, bush tomato chutney, egg cheese and baby spinach


Crushed avocado, feta and lemon juice focaccia


Mushrooms with balsamic reduction, feta and wilted spinach on sour dough bread.

Breakfast Royal


A rare thing for me, the time and inclination to have a proper breakfast.

I’m just not a morning person, so very little thought goes into it usually. Smoothie and microwaved porridge I’m shamed to say are the norm.

So today, having the opportunity to be out the office, I popped into Cafe Royal in Newcastle (opposite the Grainger market those who know the city).

I went for the Egg Benedict which were pretty good, but a bit tight on the Hollandaise, and a large coffee as I’m sadly addicted.

Anyway, better sign out and head back to the day job….

The Broad Chare, Newcastle Upon Tyne


Having spent the last few hours dodging around shoppers doing the zombie walk though department stores, decided it was time for a pit stop. Being pretty chilly we swung by a favourite joint.

The Broad Chare, near Newcastle’s Quayside, is a pub run by the 21 group and therefore has good food as standard along with a range of British, European and American beer.

Particular to this pub are the range of bar snacks on offer: cauliflower fritters, crispy pigs ears, Lindisfarne oysters, pork pies, monkfish cheeks and a 1/4 pint of prawn to name a few.

Top of the pile though are the scotch eggs. Somehow, they come out consistently good with a soft yolk guaranteed. Heaven.

So, it’s little surprise that, feeling a bit indulgent as it’s the weekend, we went for the scotch eggs (along with everyone else sat there it seemed) along with monkfish cheeks for me.

And a pint of ale of course. It is Saturday after all…


Wallington Hall

We nipped over to the Wallington Hall Food and Craft fair on Saturday. I was pleased to see the popularity of these events remains strong.

I really enjoyed chatting to some of the producers who’ve gone out on a limb and set up in business or changed their structure to sell direct to the public. was one, who specialise in organic free range produce (and probable source of the Xmas turkey this year) as do, who specialised in the small Dexter cattle breed and organic deer. Another was selling Alpaca meat which was a first for me. Might leave that for another day though….

There were many others though and I signed up for @tastenortheast information who supplied with the names of plenty of regional producers I was unaware of.

The chocolate and cake stalls were popular as ever, we got some salted rocky road which was delicious, and I couldn’t leave without buying the obligatory chilli sauce that will sit at the back of the cupboard with the rest.

Shame the ‘food court’ comprised three ‘Divine’ branded vans, a large catering chain. The food, invariably, doesn’t live up to it’s ambitious name and it’s a pity smaller independent caterers weren’t there.

Still, it was a nice day out. It’s Durham Food Festival next week, and more chilli sauce for me no doubt……

Slab of crab pub grub

We stopped off at the Highlander Inn, Belsay on the way back from the Wallington Hall food festival (more on that tomorrow). Lovely pub.

I ordered the Lindisfarne crab salad and got this bad boy! Never been intimidated by salad before…

The crab was delicious, but my only reservation was that the salad needed a dressing (in my humble opinion). Beer was was too (Nel’s Best, thanks for asking).