Monday, 21 October 2013

Random Recipes: Rub-a-dub venison and caribbean mash

 I've been meaning to take part in Belleau Kitchen's random recipes challenge for ages now, but somehow I never get round to it. I've even got as far as randomly selecting a recipe before, but then not got round to making it. Utter fail.

This month, however, was different. Inspired by the 'random local ingredient' theme of this month's challenge, I decided that I would definitely join in. 

I chose to think about a local ingredient I could use first, because living in the middle of a city does sometimes mean that local products can be limited. Dominic used Lincolnshire sausage for his dish, but there's not really a similar iconic product for Coventry... But then I remembered about Charlecote Park venison, which would surely be in season at this time of year.

We used this as an excuse for a trip out to the aforementioned Charlecote Park on Sunday - a National Trust property quite near to us, which includes acres and acres of parkland as well as a house and gardens. Apparently, there has been a herd of deer in the parkland since the tudor period (presumably not the same herd...)

Despite the forecast for yet more torrential rain, it actually turned out to be rather pleasant on Sunday morning, and we very much enjoyed a walk around the park and gardens in the autumnal sunlight (particularly as we got to watch some deer as well), before heading to the Gatehouse Shop where we purchased some venison leg steaks for my random recipe.

I was also delighted that the plant and vegetable shop on site was selling a really very impressive array of squashes.

If I hadn't already have bought the venison, I would have bought one of these for my random recipe!

Anyway, local venison procured, I then had to choose a random recipe. I recently joined a website called Eat Your Books, which is like a catalogue of all your cookbooks, so you can search for ingredients and see which books have suitable recipes in them. I searched for venison amongst my cookbooks and the first recipe that came up was 'Rub-a-dub venison' from Caribbean Food Made Easy by Levi Roots (p. 88). 

I hadn't cooked anything from this book in years, and yet it is a book which has some absolutely wonderful recipes in it, so I grabbed the opportunity to make use of it. I also thought it would be great to take a local ingredient and give it a Caribbean twist. The recipe involves marinating the venison steaks in a jerk rub - fairly easy to put together but you just need a little bit of time for it to marinate (a couple of hours or overnight). The blend of spices (allspice, ginger, chilli powder, thyme, garlic, all bound together with some oil) smelled wonderful, and promised good things.

Here are my steaks after marinating and about to go in the oven.

I followed Levi Roots's suggestion and made the Caribbean Mash to accompany the steaks, which is sweet potato, and a bit of nutmeg and allspice to season. I also steamed a bit of spinach as an extra accompaniment.

I was good and followed the instructions to make the steaks a bit rare, despite my tendency to overcook things! The steaks were delicious - very juicy (and really quite large!), and spicy and flavourful. The caribbean mash was great too - I loved the subtle hints of nutmeg and allspice.

So, I think we can say that my first random recipes challenge has been a success. 

Now, if anyone has any ideas for what I can do with the leftover marinated and cooked steak, do let me know. I'm thinking maybe some kind of stew, perhaps?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Garden Update: Autumn is here

It's been a while since I did one of my garden updates... I feel like Autumn has almost passed me by so far - the soggy grey days seem to be whizzing past at a phenomenal rate, but I'm going to try and take a step back and enjoy all that this time of year has to offer. 

Our abundance of veg is pretty much over now. I still have some leeks growing, and I have a butternut squash and potato plant, but nothing like the Great Courgette Harvest of the Summer.

Leeks and butternut squash, slightly battered by last night's rain

My one butternut squash which is currently growing... fittingly resting on a page from the Organic Gardening Catalogue!
My other raised bed which had previously been home to the monster courgette plants, has now been planted with a green manure. I couldn't decide which green manure to grow, so I chose a mix of four different ones: crimson clover, mustard, red clover, and Italian ryegrass. It's doing pretty well.

Green manure
A ladybird defending my green manure from pesky aphids
The plan is that I will cut the green manure before it flowers and then dig it into the soil - most likely in early spring.

Next month I will be planting my broad beans and peas, so I'll let you know how that goes. For now, I will continue to enjoy the rest of my Autumn produce.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Restaurant review: Miller & Carter, Mailbox, Birmingham

When I went on the infamous Mailbox Cocktail evening, I noticed that there were a lot of very nice-looking restaurants around, including Miller & Carter Steakhouse, where I sampled a very nice cocktail.

Just over a week ago, my husband and I travelled to Birmingham in search of steak. You know how sometimes you just really need a steak? This was one of those times.

First of all, I love the location of Miller & Carter - it overlooks the canal and offers very scenic views. The restaurant itself also has a very nice atmosphere: warm and cosy. And while it is a Steakhouse, it is quite an upmarket steakhouse, and the atmosphere and decor reflect this. My husband, Ian, even wore a shirt for the occasion, so it must be a bit posh.

They have some amazing-sounding starters - I was particularly tempted by the Black Pearl Scallops (£8.50), but I figured I probably wanted something quite light as a starter as the main was likely to be quite filling, so my husband and I opted to share the trio of bread and olives (£4.50).

This was tasty: the olives were nicely marinated and the different breads were nice and fresh.

The red wine we ordered was very nice and complemented both the bread and olives and the steaks. 
This lovely Rioja will set you back £21 - pricey, but a good quality wine.

It seemed rude not to have a steak for our main course, even though Miller & Carter do offer other dishes. I went for the 8oz fillet (£22.95), and my husband had the 14oz T-bone (also £22.95). While the steaks are on the expensive side, they are very good quality and also you get quite a lot of sides included - you get a choice of fries or a jacket potato (we had fries, of course), an onion loaf (this was more like an onion rosti-type thing - but very nice!), an iceberg lettuce wedge with a choice of sauce, and a choice of sauce on your steak. 

Ian's T-bone

My fillet
I had the five mushroom chasseur as the sauce for my steak, which I really enjoyed - it was very rich and really brought out the meatiness of the steak. My husband had the peppercorn sauce, which he wasn't that overwhelmed by. Although he seemed to do better with his wedge dressing: he had the bacon and honey mustard, which he really enjoyed, whereas I found my classic cocktail with croutons nothing too special and a little difficult to eat. 

The steaks themselves were pretty delicious, and the fries were very nice too. Ian says he would recommend the fillet over the T-bone and he would suggest following the recommendations on the menu for cooking style (he was offended that I chose to have my fillet steak cooked medium instead of rare as suggested...). He also thought the fries were some of the nicest he's ever had, but he still prefers larger-cut chips.

Seeing as we had travelled all the way to Birmingham, it would have been rude not to have pudding. And indeed cocktails. For my dessert, I had the banoffee pie (£5.25).

This was very nice, but I actually preferred Ian's intensely chocolate-y brownie and ice-cream (£5.95).

We both chose cocktails to accompany our puddings. Ian chose the Velvet Elvis at £6.95 (he liked the name), which he liked; but I struck gold with my cocktail choice of the Chocolate Martini (£6.50) - it tasted like alcoholic chocolate milkshake.

The flash has washed the picture out just a tad - my cocktail was actually a light chocolate colour. Other than the steak my cocktail was definitely one of the highlights of the meal.

Overall then, a quite expensive meal, but in lovely surroundings with very good service and delicious food and drink. We will be returning with friends in the future.

Disclaimer: We were given a discount on the meal for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.