Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Duke of Cumberland Arms


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I can be extremely demanding, often. One one such occasion I wanted to have lunch in a country pub that had all of the following things: a log fire, beams, a display of friendly dogs, relaxed and amiable staff, proper ales, nice wooden tables and rustic charm in abundance. Not to mention a total absence of a TV blaring in the background, silly posh furniture and novelty ornaments. When it came to the food, I wanted delicious hearty home-cooked food NOT served on irritating square plates, and not heated up out of a sous-vide packet. Not much to ask is it??? Well I find that sometimes country pubs have all the charm of a Harvester, with those horrible over-long menus filled with flowery menu descriptions, that always have some strange kind of faux-Asian crispy duck pancakes in the starters menu, or something ‘drizzled in balsamic jus’. (Weird).

This pub happily ticked all of the boxes that I needed it to – no mean feat! Tucked away down a verdant country track, flanked on either side by tiny houses that look like fairytale woodcutter cottages, The Duke of Cumberland, near Midhurst in West Sussex, is a little jewel shining in a sea of lacklustre country taverns, serving wonderful food and ales in a blissful setting.


It looks like something out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale:




The homely interior, like a cosy front room:




On one afternoon in February, the friendly staff at the Duke accommodated 16 hungry adults and 3 energetic toddlers with such a chilled out friendly attitude I thought I’d died and gone to service heaven. They seated us in a lovely snug room with wooden trestle tables at the front of the pub, which we had all to ourselves. Even though we were chaotic, noisy and messy, the staff catered to all whims with wide smiles. It’s not easy finding a pub that will happily let kids run riot and make a mess. The Duke has pretty gardens and ornamental trout ponds which kept the kids captivated, and the adults didn’t feel they were having to compromise on having a grown-up style lunch. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention a splendid wooden outdoor seating area inside which a log fire was kept roaring all day, so you could sit outside and have a ciggy while keeping warm and dry.

And now to the food…

Ham, egg and chips - mighty fodder:




Hare pappardalle: rich delicious sauce, light buttery noodles:




The Duke’s signature Cumberland sausage and mash - hearty:




A crab risotto, full of spring-like flavours:




Desserts were also good, although I was slightly mystified by the need for the sticky toffee pudding to be cut up into several ornamental pieces and presented on a swanky square (tsk tsk) plate – I would have preferred it wedged in a bowl drowned in custard. But it still tasted lovely:




The chocolate fondant was deliciously gooey:



I can’t wait to go back to the Duke of Cumberland for a lazy summer afternoon where we can all sit outside in the beautiful gardens and sip ales in the sunshine – followed by a light lunch of sausages and puddings!

The Duke of Cumberland Arms: website
Henley, nr Midhurst
West Sussex

Friday, 25 March 2011

Fire & Knives

This is a delicious new(ish) print quarterly on all matters to do with food and drink. And I’ve got an article published in this month’s issue, hot off the press! You'll find all sorts of quirky articles in here from a wide spectrum of writers covering weird and wonderful topics - retro food, knives, ham and all things nostalgic. One contributor has submitted photographs of his deceased grandfathers's beautifully handwritten food shopping lists, and there is even has a crossword! Fire & Knives is lovingly put together by The Guardian's Tim Hayward.

You can subscribe to it here.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Lemon curd cheesecake


I used to work as a freelancer on various food magazines – when I was allowed to write something, I loved it. But most of the time I did sub-editing and proofreading of recipes and supplement sections – it could be the most toe-curlingly-dull work ever. Not least because everyone typically ignores the freelancer, stuck at the crappy corner desk, as though they are some kind of alien species. But one benefit of my time on these magazines was that it made me super-anal about recipe quantities. I get so irate when cookbooks and mags don’t get their quantities right. It’s easily done, though – we’re all human.

I often find that Nigel Slater’s recipes in the Observer have mistakes in them. I know too well how that must happen – the recipes get sub-edited down to death to fit a tiny space. Many was the time I was driven around the bend by the same problem – trying to make 250 words fit a 50 word space – argh! I probably did exactly the same thing 1000 times over during my years at Delicious or Waitrose Food Illustrated magazines. And probably do it all the time on this blog. Oh well!

Anyway, since the news is unrelentingly depressing at the moment, I thought I’d put up a nice cheesecake recipe to cheer everyone up. I love cheesecake, and recently have been craving lemony tangy flavours. This one is based on two recipes by Nigel Slater, which I’ve tweaked around a bit. It’s a bit bloody good.

Serves 8 – 10 people who don’t count calories

You will need:

Lemon curd topping

Zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons
150g sugar
100g butter cut into cubes
3 organic eggs and 1 egg yolk


Biscuit base:
90g butter
350g digestive biscuits (or a mixture of 200g shortbread and 150g oatcakes)

1 x 284g tub double Jersey cream
100g sugar
500g full fat cream cheese (eg Philadelphia)
Scant capful of vanilla extract (use cap from bottle)

First make the lemon curd. Put the lemon zest, juice, butter and sugar into a heatproof bowl set over a simmering pan of water – make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir from time to time until everything is melted. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and egg yolk with a fork, then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the mixture cook over the simmering water, using a whisk to stir regularly, for between 10 and 15 minutes, until it thickens up like custard. Take off the heat and let cool down. As it cools, give it an occasional stir with the whisk. (If you can wait that long, it will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge)


Your lovely lemon curd:




Now make your cheesecake base.  Line the base of a 23-cm springform tin with a disk of greaseproof paper. Blitz the biscuits to fine sandy crumbs in a food processor, then melt the butter and mix everything together in a bowl. Press the buttery biscuit crumbs into the base of the tin with your fingers, pressing hard to compact the crumbs together. Put the tin in the fridge to let the base harden for about 30 minutes.

To make the cheesecake mixture, whip the cream and sugar together until just stiff – it will take mere seconds if you use an electric whisk. Then using a spatula  (not the whisk) mix in the cream cheese and vanilla extract. Then take your cooled lemon curd and fold two thirds of it into the cheesecake mix – try not to mix it in totally as it’s nice to get a ‘ripple’ effect. Tip the mixture into the cake tin and spread flat with a spatula. Then spread the remaining lemon curd on top of the cheesecake – you want to get a nice even spread of lemony goodness. Chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours before serving with a dollop of lemon curd on the side if you have any left…

A deliciously untidy slice of lemony heaven: