Sunday, 6 January 2013

First Catch Your Pig! The Milestone

In 2010 a small Sheffield gastro pub exploded onto our TV screens and, although it didn't quite put Sheffield on the food map, it sure did our city proud. And on making it to the quarter finals of Ramsay's Best Restaurant in 2010 The Milestone decided to make the most of it by launching its début cookbook; First Catch Your Pig!

It was also around this time that I started this food blog (who knew I'd still be at it two years later, eh?) and, in an effort to soak up a bit of the local 'food scene', I attended the opening of The Milestone's sister restaurant; the Wig and Pen. It was an evening of nibbles, booze, oysters and a goodie bag which included, of course, a copy of their cookbook. Over two years later and despite having the book all this time I have to admit that I've rarely used it, so I have been looking forward to working with it as part of my mission to revisit all my cookbooks.

Written by Matt Bigland and Marc Sheldon (the owners) along with Simon Ayres and James Wallis (head chefs at the time) The Milestone keeps this book Sheffield by using the Regional Magazine Company to edit and design the book. And it's a nice looking book too; full of mouthwatering pictures of smartly presented dishes, along with a few snaps of the Milestone team and some rather beautiful pigs!

Unlike a lot of other cookbooks the first few chapters don't take us through the history of the restaurant, nor do they provide a bit of a biography of the chefs. In fact the only reference to the past is a short piece detailing the history of Kelham Island and the building in which The Milestone is located. The rest of the introductory chapters focus on the The Milestone's mission (essentially good food in a relaxed atmosphere) and the produce they use (including unusual cuts of meat, foraged ingredients and vegetables grown in local allotments). There are then some profiles of some local producers who supply the restaurant.

This is all interesting stuff, but I buy a cookbook for the recipes and it's good to see that the majority of this one (over 3/4) is dedicated to cooking. Flicking through the recipes it's easy, for the home cook, to feel a little intimidated. All the dishes are dressed for service in the restaurant and they all look stunning! Having said that Marc and Matt introduce the book by saying that they think there's something for everyone; 'from the no-frills basic cook to the die-hard foodie'. And, once you look past the likes of Sous vide venison loin, nettle and haunch wellington, watercress purée, beetroot fondant, braised baby gem lettuce and game gravy (the dish that got The Milestone to the quarter finals no less) and rabbit loin, carrot purée, sautéed lettuce with rabbit leg, courgette and pigs tail cannelloni and a rabbit jus you do realise that there are some pretty straight forward recipes in there too... and as I'm no chef (and I have the world's smallest kitchen) I decided to cook some of those simpler dishes.

I kicked off with Salmon with a cardamom crust, sautéed new potatoes, cucumber and caper dressing as it sounded like a fresh and tasty option to serve up after overindulging over the Christmas period. The recipe was easy to follow; essentially there was a cardamom crust to make up, a warm salad of potatoes and cucumber and a dressing, so once I'd figured out the timings for everything it was just a case of getting the components of the dish ready.

I don't think I've ever combined cardamom and salmon together before, and I was intrigued to see how the flavours would work. Despite there being a quite a lot of herbs in the crust (parsley and coriander) the cardamom came through quite nicely and it didn't clash with the flavour of the salmon. It's a recipe that I would use again, although I might be tempted to add a bit of chilli to the crust. The warm potato and cucumber salad was fresh and light thanks to the caper dressing and the inclusion of the potatoes made the dish a meal. I actually added some watercress to the plate, but this was mainly because I had some that needed using up. In short this was a smart looking yet easy and well balanced mid-week tea and it will be repeated.

The next day called for more fish with Mackerel cooked in a bag with aromatics. Cooking in a bag is a something I've never actually done before (I know! I normally roast or grill my fish) and I'm glad that this recipe made me finally try it. The aromatics included cardamom, star anise and coriander seeds and with pak choi and chorizo also thrown into the bag, this was an incredibly simple dish especially as I didn't bother with any sides. It was great for a mid-week tea and I'll certainly try it again but I might experiment with different fish and spices depending on what I have to hand.

Come Friday and I was in the mood for something a bit stodgy and comforting so I was quite glad that I'd planned for Butternut squash and orange risotto. Recalling a squash risotto that Gav had cooked a while back I was pleased to see that this recipe called for the squash to be made into a purée which is then stirred into the cooked risotto (and thereby negates any opportunity to have raw chunks of squash in the dish). This did, however, mean that it took a little longer than I would have liked, especially as my squash took over an hour to roast. Onto the risotto itself and the instructions go a little off piste. There's mention of wine in the method, but not in the ingredients list and there's mention of herbs in the list but not the method. Thankfully I know how to make a risotto and these omissions didn't phase me.

I'll admit that I didn't really expect this one to work; butternut squash with orange? And tarragon? It sounded like a recipe for disaster, but it was delicious. Absolutely gorgeous... so much so that I urge you to buy the book for this recipe alone! The squash and orange complemented each other perfectly and the Parmesan gave a good level of creamy depth to the dish. It was beautiful and I would not change a thing when doing this recipe again (and there will be a next time!).

For a super casual Saturday night tea, I fancied giving the Yorkshire rarebit with Henderson's Relish a whirl. Of course, had I followed the recipe to the letter, I'd have made my own bread, but I just couldn't be bothered I'm afraid so I used shop bought (tut tut!). The recipe was easy to follow; it's essentially Welsh rarebit but with more beer and no cheese... oh and there's hendos rather than Worcestershire sauce.

The lack of cheese did concern me (the lack of cheese always concerns me), but I kind of thought that the extra beer would make up for the lacking cheese and it did... to a certain extent but if I make this again,l there will be some cheddar thrown into the mix.

Come Sunday and I finally had a bit more time to cook so I decided to make the most of the day by cooking the Beef Bourguignon - slow cooked ox cheek, herb mashed potato and Bourguignon jus as it takes over 8 hours. It's also one that Gav has tried in the past so I knew how good it was.

Sadly I couldn't find any cheeks so I decided to use beef skirt instead. Given that this is another cheap stewing meat I didn't alter the cooking times or any of the recipe. I would like to say that the skirt worked just as well as the cheek, but it didn't. Don't get me wrong, the meat fell apart at the touch of the fork, was tender and delicious, but beef cheek is amazingly melt in the mouth tender when cooked like this (it's cheaper than skirt too!).

The recipe was easy to follow and it was quite nice to cook this on a Sunday afternoon as, apart from reducing the Bourguignon sauce at the end, it just cooked away in the oven. Unfortunately I reduced the sauce a little too much which meant that there wasn't as much as I would have liked, but what there was, was really good. It was rich and salty and perfect with the mash and savoy served alongside.

Given the food I've cooked over the past week I'm really glad that I've finally spent some time with this book. And with starters such as Pea pannacotta, shoots, seeds, soil and flowers (looks easier than it sounds) and Salmon cured in botanicals with a cucumber, lime and Hendricks gin chilled soup and desserts of Chilled peach and champagne soup with strawberry pannacotta and White chocolate pave and cherries, sherry and maple syrup reduction I know that First Catch Your Pig! has more to offer.... imagine the dinner parties I can throw with this at my side!