Friday, 27 March 2015

The Nook On The Square

In March last year I was one of many to watch a very interesting series of programmes called The Restaurant Man where chef Russell Norman followed the journeys of people who packed in their day jobs to follow their dreams of opening a restaurant, despite having no catering experience.
For me, having been in the trade since leaving school 30 years ago, it was a very interesting set of programmes, especially as the final episode was a new cafe opening just 12 mins drive from my home.
Sisters Kate and Alex had a dream of transforming the ground floor of Kates house in the small village of Dunchurch, Rugby into a quaint, shabby chic cafe - The Nook On The Square.
In the program we saw the sisters taken to a top London hotel to learn about the etiquette of afternoon tea service, and to a transport cafe to experience the pressure of fast paced service and finally to France to be shown how to create beautiful square quiches.
Russell felt that being in a quiet village The Nook needed a signature dish to bring in regular customers and the quiches would be that such dish.

The Nook On The Square, Dunchurch, Rugby
Word spread about the cafe and it's involvement with the BBC 2 series and, on opening day, there was a queue down the street of inquisitive customers. A couple of months later the program aired and custom again went through the roof. It was far busier than either of the sisters ever envisaged.
Alex eventually left to return to nursing and a new manager was employed, along with several more staff.
And me? Well out of the blue last August I spotted an advert for a head chef for The Nook On The Square and, having been very unsettled with my job at The Red Lion for quite a while, I had no hesitation in applying for the job!
On August 28th, 2014 my new journey began!

Roasted Squash, Beetroot and Feta Salad

We've had some really good trip advisor reviews just recently.
I have wrote before about the good and bad sides of the site. Constructive criticism is always welcome to improve any business, unfortunately some people can be extremely rude and nasty.

One suggestion on a recent review was that a salad would be a welcome addition to the daily menu as most of the meals were heavy with pastry or bread,and a salad would be a lighter, healthier option.
Taking this comment on board Kate suggested a warm salad with roasted vegetables and feta.
Straight away I looked through pinterest for ideas and put together the lovely salad in the photo below.
The reviewer on trip advisor was correct, it was a great success on the menu. Many were ordered and lots of great feedback was received.

  The dish comprises of mixed leaf salad, cherry tomatoes, warm roasted squash, beetroot,and small chunks of feta. I caramelised some onion in balsamic and sugar and spread over the salad. The finishing touch of was a scattering of pomegranate seeds and roasted pine nuts.

Roasted Squash, Beetroot and Feta Warm Salad

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Ham, Potato, Leek and Herb Hotpot.

I have now adapted the lunchtime menu at The Nook to change every couple of days which keeps me interested in always looking for new ideas and trying new dishes as well as the customer always having a new experience each time they come.
The menu always consists of our signature quiche dishes and then a couple of paninis or focaccia, a light bite and a hot dish of the day.
Searching through recipe books takes up a lot of my time but is well worth the effort when I find something that works well as a dish, and that customers love.

Few weeks back I found a James Martin recipe book in a local charity shop which had a few good ideas for ne to try and what a bargain at £2.00!
The book, called "Eating In With James Martin", contained a brilliant recipe for Ham, Potato, Leek and Herb which I tried and had great success with in the cafe and, since posting photos of my completed dish, I have been asked for the recipe.

So below is a photo of my dish and underneath the photo is James Martin's recipe for everyone who asked for it.
1 Red Onion (peeled and finely chopped)
4 Garlic Cloves (Peeled and finely chopped)
2 Small Leeks (cleaned and sliced)
225g Butter
200ml White Wine
500ml Fresh Ham Stock (if you don't have the time or inclination to make ham stock, use fresh chicken stock, available from supermarkets)
450g New Potatoes (cooked)
550g Cooked Ham (cut into chunks)
Salt and Pepper
65g each of chopped, fresh Basil, Parsley, Chives and Coriander

Serves 4

1. Using about 55g of the butter, sauté the onion, garlic and leeks in a large pan until soft.
2.Add the white wine, ham stock, potatoes and ham and cook for 5-10 minutes until everything is hot.
3. Drain off the liquid, keeping the meat and vegetables warm. Gently simmer the liquid, adding the remaining butter bit by bit, whisking all the time to thicken the sauce. Do not boil.
4. Put all the ingredients back into the sauce and season. To finish, add all the chopped, fresh herbs. Serve piping hot.

Many other really good recipes can be found in this book. Well worth the money!!

Parsnip And Horseradish Pate

During the 80s If I dined out, and had a starter, I would always look for chicken liver pate on the menu as it was my firm favourite.
Chicken livers cooked in heaps of butter and an alcoholic beverage, such as sherry, and compact into a tight mold to eat with warm toasted breads was my idea of heaven.
Over the past 3 or 4 years as my interest in food has developed I have moved on from the traditional meat pate to other vegetable and fish varieties.
It was at The Old Red Lion that I first made mushroom pate to go on the main menu. So easy and quick to make and so tasty.

Mushroom Pate, Onion Chutney and Toast
I can remember during my interview for the head chef position at The Nook On The Square I witnessed Eli whizzing together her own recipe for salmon pate. Frequently on the menu it is a huge hit with the customers as a light bite.

Eli's Smoked Salmon Pate with Cucumber, Cress and Celery salad and Toasted Breads
This week I thought I would try something new. Amongst our vegetables I had a couple of parsnips and a horseradish that had been bought in for another dish but not used.
I used a similar concept to the mushroom pate recipe and fried off some chopped shallots and garlic in a pan in a rather generous helping of butter!
I peeled and grated the parsnip and added to the pan with some salt and pepper. Not really knowing how much horseradish to put in, as I hadn't used it in it's raw form before, I grated 2 heaped tablespoons and added to my mixture in the pan. Adding more butter, so that the parsnip didn't burn, I left to cook until soft. This was probably about 10 minutes.
I transferred the mixture to the food processor and added a small tub of cream cheese and whizzed to a smooth paste.
The taste was lovely, although I did add a teaspoon of horseradish cream from a jar as it needed just a little more taste.
I served the pate on a bed of roasted, mixed veg and toasted sourdough.

Parsnip and Horseradish Pate served on a bed of roasted vegetables with toasted sourdough
And the verdict?
The customers loved it!
I was surprised how many people ordered it but so pleased with the feedback.
Would definitely recommend you try this one!
I have now made 2 batches and they have flown out of the kitchen .

Monday, 2 March 2015

Square Quiche - Famous Signature Dish at The Nook On The Square

During filming of The Restaurant Man, The Nook On The Square was given advice to have a signature dish on their menu. After a visit to France it was decided that square quiches would be a unique selling point for the small village cafe.
The concept worked and in the first few months The Nook struggled to keep up with demand as the quiches were so time consuming to make.
They remained popular even when the hype from the tv show calmed down, tho not as many sales.
Early January 2015 The Nook closed it's doors for a week to decorate and carry out maintenance and, during this time, I put forward the suggestion of changing the quiche flavours. I felt it would be great to start the New Year with a change.
After some taste testing we went with:
Bacon, Spinach and Mushroom
Smoked Haddock and Watercress
Broccoli, Goats Cheese, Cashew Nuts and Pesto.
The new flavours went down well on re-opening. There was the odd customer that moaned because the vegetarian had changed, or turned their nose up at the thought of smoked haddock in a quiche but overall sales are back up and The Nook remains to be as busy as ever.

Below are our Smoked Haddock and Watercress square quiches being prepared.

Preparation of Smoked Haddock and Watercress Square Quiche at The Nook On The Square.

And here are the Bacon, Spinach and Mushroom. Our in house baker Vanessa tends to make between 32 and 40 per day.

Preparation of Bacon, Spinach and Mushroom Square Quiche at The Nook On The Square
All quiches are served warm from the oven with a fresh mixed leaf salad and celeriac and apple slaw.

Bacon, Spinach and Mushroom Square Quiche at  Nook On The Square
During December we offered The Christmas Quiche.
Filled with free range turkey, bacon, stuffing balls, cranberry sauce and leeks the concept worked brilliantly served with potatoes, peas and brussel sprouts.

The Christmas Quiche
Free range turkey, bacon, stuffing, cranberry sauce and leeks cooked in our famous square quiche cases
So if you're in the area pop in, say hi and try one of our quiches for yourself .