Destination Northumberland for Stottie Cakes with Ham & Peasepudding

The next leg of our Around the World in Six Suppers summer tour takes us from New York to Newcastle upon Tyne, gateway to the ruggedly beautiful county of Northumberland.

Yes, it’s the second week of the school holidays and for my second dish, inspired by a ‘virtual’ holiday destination, I’ve chosen the simple but oh so tasty stottie cake filled with succulent home-baked ham and good old-fashioned peasepudding.

I lived in the North East of England from the age of five until I was twelve, so many of my early memories are firmly lodged in this part of the world.

Trips to the Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall, bike rides along the disused railway to Wylam, days spent on the long sandy beaches at Cullercoats and Whitley Bay, boat trips from Seahouses to see the puffins and seals of the Farne Islands, exploring the castles at Alnwick and Bamburgh, listening to the pipers at the Ovington Goose Fair…

It all sounds like a rather idyllic, Enid Blyton style childhood. Admittedly, these were also rather difficult years for my family for a number of reasons, but all in all, my memories of Newcastle and Northumberland are very, very fond ones. And I can’t wait to some day soon take my own family there for a proper holiday so I can properly show it off to them.

While Northumberland might not have an international reputation for its cuisine, one of my most vivid memories as a child is sharing a lovely soft stottie cake with my Mum, generously filled with ham and salty, stodgy peasepudding. And so this is the dish I have made this week to transport us to our second holiday destination.

Stottie Cakes

For those unfamiliar with the stottie I should explain it is not actually a cake. Rather it is a large, round, flattish bread roll, not normally seen outside of the North East. It is quite a heavy, doughy bread but I really like its heavy, chewiness. It is a very satisfying bread and when filled with the traditional ham and peasepudding it makes for a rather substantial meal.

Stottie cakes are easy to bake. I followed this recipe from the Ocado website and have used it again subsequently to bake bread buns for barbecued burgers, achieving perfect buns on both occasions.

My Mum used to buy stottie cakes for us from the butcher in the Grainger Market in the centre of Newcastle. I have no idea if you could get other fillings; ours always came stuffed with ham and peasepudding. Bizarrely I would normally refuse to eat peasepudding. I couldn’t stand the stuff. But in a stottie it was, somehow, transformed.

Home baked ham

There is nothing more delicious than a joint of home cooked ham. What’s more it is so easy to do. I simply took a 1.5kg gammon and soaked in cold water overnight. In the morning I gently brought the joint to a simmer in a large pan of fresh water, covered with a lid and put in the oven (preheated to 160°C/Gas Mark 2) for an hour and a half. You can tell if it’s cooked by sticking in a skewer; if it goes into the meat easily and the juices run clear, then it’s done.

Leave to cool a little and remove any string and skin. You can press the fatty surface of the joint with sugar and mustard powder if you like before baking, but I prefer to smother with a thin layer of sweet chilli sauce. I’m not sure what Geordie purists would make of that but I think it works well. Cover the lean meat with tin foil and place in a roasting tin. Bake in the oven (200°C/Gas Mark 6) for 10 to 20 minutes, until you get a good colour on top.

Peasepudding

For the peasepudding, I turned to this easy recipe from The British Food Trust. You’ll end up with leftovers, which apparently you can fry up, but I still can’t bring myself to eat it any other way except for in a stottie! I can’t wax lyrical about how wonderfully delicious peasepudding is, because I’m afraid it’s not. But it is the perfect slightly salty, slighty herby, stodgy accompaniment for ham, giving you the most amazing sandwich ever.

Now my kids can’t wait to visit Northumberland so they can try an authentic stottie cake. But I think I also sold it to them when I mentioned that the first few Harry Potter films were filmed in Alnwick Castle…

Destination New York for Burgers and Pickles

The six-week school holidays have started, and so has my family’s Around the World In Six Suppers adventure. Because this summer it looks like we’re not going to get away for a proper holiday, I’ve decided that the world will instead come to us in the form of six dishes from some of my favourite holiday destinations from bygone years. You’ll find the full itinerary for our culinary world tour here.

So our first stop is the Big Apple – New York!

I have only been to New York once and that was back when I was just 12-years-old. I’ve just realised that’s a quarter of a century ago. I really don’t feel old enough to be able to say that! The city made a big impression on me – I guess it probably does to everyone that visits – and I long to return one day. As a youngster discovering the thrills of the cinema, arriving in New York felt to me like walking onto a colossal movie set. I loved the size, the pace, the colour, the noise, the energy. I walked through the streets, trailing behind my mum, with eyes to the sky and jaw to the sidewalk.

As well as the sights, the shops, the people, the music, the galleries, the parks, the subway, the taxis – the other thing that left a big impression was the food. I can’t say it was the finest culinary experience of my life but as a child-almost-teen I was like a pig in muck. Fast food and soda and candies everywhere; everything bright and garish and so, so tempting. And yes, it’s probably a bit of a cliché, but the food I’ve picked to transport me back to New York is the ubiquitous and oh so American hamburger and fries.

Throughout my subsequent teens I enjoyed a love affair with all things Americana. I adored hanging out in Ed’s Diner in Leicester Square with my friends, where we’d sit for hours at the counter savouring our malted milkshakes and using up all our pocket-money in the mini jukeboxes. I listened to the soundtrack to American Graffiti endlessly. My favourite movies were Grease, Cry Baby, The Outsiders, Dirty Dancing and Back to the Future. And so, consequently, I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my time.

I can’t lay any claim to these particular burgers being an authentic American recipe. In fact it’s hardly a recipe at all. It’s essentially meat shaped into a patty and fried. I like my burgers simple – good meat, cooked rare. I’m more than happy to dress them up with pickles and cheese, sauces and salad. But I don’t like to do too much to the burger itself.

Before we get to the burger though, here’s a very simple recipe for quick pickled cucumbers. In my eyes, a burger has to be served with pickles and these are perfect – not slimy like the ones you might get slopped onto your burger in a high street joint. Even my husband, who doesn’t normally eat pickles, admitted to liking these.

Quick pickled cucumbers

150ml cider vinegar
75ml water
1½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp white mustard seed
½ tsp black mustard seed
½ tsp dill seed
1 tsp peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ cucumber, sliced

In a saucepan, mix the cider vinegar with the water, salt, mustard seed, dill seed, peppercorns and garlic and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.

Put the cucumber slices into a sterilised glass jar and pour over the boiling vinegar mixture, making sure the cucumber is completely covered. If not, add some more water. Screw on the lid and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Job done. The pickles will keep for a couple of weeks.

And moving on to the main event…

Simple hamburgers

Makes four burgers

450g minced beef – not too lean and the best quality you can afford
salt and pepper
large knob of butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 slices of mature Cheddar cheese
4 ciabatta rolls
2 tomatoes, sliced
quick pickled cucumbers
tomato sauce
mustard
skinny oven chips – cooked according to packet instructions

In a large bowl, grind salt and pepper into the minced beef and mix well. Using your hands shape the meat into four large patties.

Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan until the butter starts to foam a little. Add the burgers and fry until browned on the outside but still a little pink on the inside. For me this took around four minutes on each side, but it all depends on how fat you make your burgers. If in doubt, cut one open to check whether it’s cooked to your liking. When you’ve flipped your burgers the first time, lay a slice of cheese on each one so that it melts while the other side is cooking.

While the burgers are frying, slice open your ciabatta rolls and toast. Serve your burgers in the toasted rolls with slices of tomato, pickled cucumber and a squeeze of tomato sauce and that bright yellow mustard they love in the States, with a pile of skinny fries on the side.

Enjoy. Preferably with Green Onions playing in the background.

My family loved their hamburgers and we topped off our New York diner experience with a big fat slice of American-style baked cheesecake. Gorgeous.

Homemade lemonade

This afternoon the girls and I made our own lemonade after school, as I happened to have some extra lemons that needed using up.

Yes I know it’s December, but lemonade doesn’t have to be the preserve of hot summer days.

I actually think all that vitamin C makes it a very sensible winter drink.

You don’t need much and it couldn’t be easier to make, especially if you’ve got children around who love to squeeze the lemons for you.

Lemonade

750 ml hot boiled water
4 lemons
100g caster sugar
Ice

Peel the zest from all the lemons in wide strips and put in a heatproof jug with the caster sugar.

Pour in the hot water and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Add lots of ice and then the juice of the four lemons.

Strain into a separate jug to remove the pips and zest and when fully cooled serve over ice. Lovely served with some chopped mint.