Thursday, 31 December 2009

Jo and Emma's Festive Feast: Bites of Beef Wellington, duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage, satsuma granita cranberry soup

I finally cooked for Emma yesterday in the festive no-man's-land that is the days between Christmas and New Year. There was no need for Jo to text pictures this time. The remit was for a sumptuous dinner containing duck and red cabbage. There were also 15 no-no's including baked beans (has anyone actually served baked beans at a dinner party?), "lemon based savoury dishes" and my favourite "egg-sandwich style eggs". After much planning the menu was:
Bites of Beef Wellington
Duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage
Satsuma granita
Cranberry soup with floating islands

Bites of Beef Wellington

Succulent fillet steak on puff pastry with a duck pâté and mushroom duxelle. You only need a small amount of duxelle otherwise it overpowers the beef.

Duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage
Duck breast with a hash cake made using duck leg meat with red cabbage braised in balsamic vinegar

Satsuma granita
Refreshing crystals of satsuma ice to cleanse the pallet, presented in the shell of the satsuma

Cranberry soup with floating islands
A cranberry soup with poached meringues. Dried cranberries are incorporated into the meringues to give another texture. The soup has a bitter after note and needs work. The only fault of the menu.

Bites of Beef Wellington
100g beef fillet
Fresh thyme
Puff pastry (ready-cook)
100g Duck pâté
[NOTE: I used the magnificent Duck Liver Paté with Apricot Brandy from Patchwork Pâté. Foie gras would work very well too]
1/2 onion, finely chopped
100g button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 egg yolk

1. Roll out the pastry and cut in to circles about 1.5" in diameter. You'll need three circles per person. Glaze with egg wash and prick with a fork (to prevent the pastry puffing too much) then bake as per the packet instructions, typically 15min at 220°C.
2. Once baked remove from the oven and allow to cool.
3. Fry the onion in butter until soft. Add them mushroom and cook until dry.
4. allow the onion and mushroom to cool and then mix thoroughly with the pâté.
5. Liberally "season" your chopping board with thyme, salt and pepper. Roll the steak in the herbs until thoroughly coated on all sides. Wrap in cling film and chill.
6. To cook the steak, make sure it is at room temperature, then sear on all sides in a hot pan to get a brown crust and a rare interior. Leave to rest for a few minutes before carving into thin slices.
7. To serve, put two slices of steak on each pastry disk and top with a quenelle of pâté.

Duck breast with duck hash and braised red cabbage
1 duck leg and 1 duck breast per person
1 medium potato per person
1 onion, finely chopped
For the braised cabbage:
1 red cabbage, shredded
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 English eating apples, sliced
1 pack of smokey bacon, chopped
1oz demerara sugar
150 ml balsamic vinegar
1. Roast the duck legs for about an hour at 160°C. There's no need to add any oil or fat. Once cool strip all meat from the bone.
2. Fry the onion in butter until soft.
3. Boil and mash the potatoes.
4. Mix all the ingredients, then shape into rounds. Fry in butter until brown on top and bottom. Transfer to a baking tray. Bake at 180°C for 10-15 minutes.
5. Combine all the ingredients for the cabbage and either bake, covered at 160°C or put in a pan over a low heat until the cabbage is soft and vinegar has been absorbed/evaporate. This could take anywhere from 1-3 hours.
6. For the breasts, slit the skin to reveal the fat layer. Fry skin side down for about 6 minutes. turn and brown the under side. Then transfer to an oven at 180°C for 6-8 minutes (this will give a pink finish to the duck).

Satsuma granita (taken from Simon Hopkinson's Week In, Week Out)
500ml satsuma juice (14-20 satsumas)
4oz sugar
Juice 1 small lemon
1. Put a metal tray in the freezer.
2. Whisk all the ingredients together.
3. Pour the liquid into the tray and return to the freezer. Leave for 20 minutes.
4. Once ice crystal have formed about 2-3" from the edge of the tray lift the crystals into the areas in the middle where the liquid has not frozen.
5. Repeat every 20 minutes for approximately 2 hours, until the liquid has all frozen into soft crystals.
6. Serve the granita heaped into reserved satsuma cases.

Cranberry soup with floating islands - WORK IN PROGRESS
150g cranberries per person
1/4pint water per person
1oz butter
1 orange, juiced and zested
4oz sugar
For the meringues:
2 egg whites
2oz caster sugar
3oz dried cranberries
4oz caster sugar
1/2pint water
1. Fry the orange zest in the butter and remove before it colours.
2. add the cranberries and water to the pan and bring to the boil. boil until the cranberries start to split.
3. liquidise the mixture and pass through a fine sieve into a clean pan.
4. Reheat and add the sugar (or more to taste).
5. For the meringues, whisk the egg white until stiff. then gradually add the sugar until stiff. fold in the cranberries.
6. In a frying pan dissolve the remaining sugar in the water. Gently poach quenelles of meringue in the sugar stock for 4 minutes.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Egg-cellent presents

I'm always a tad wary when it comes to presents, I dread some awful "foodie" gadget that I'll never use. Nearly all the newspapers feature gift lists in the run-up to Christmas and invariably feature top ten foodie gifts and they are invariable full of a complete load of tosh.

I've not done too badly and fortunately never received anything that I didn't really want or wouldn't use. This year my sister came up trumps and gave me an egg, full of egg related gadgets. It brought a smile to my face when I opened them all!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Updates are required on a few things, so here goes:
  1. First of all, the bad news: I didn't win the Matthew Walker Christmas Pudding Competition. The entries were pretty varied but quite a few variations on a theme. The winner was Sabrina of Sabrina's Passions with a rolled fillet of pork stuffed with Christmas pudding.
    The judges felt that all of the entries were of an excellent standard - and it was a tough job picking the overall winner. Sabrina's entry however was really unusual and creative and she had taken the savoury take on the Christmas pudding recipe to another level. The recipe instructions were really clear, so that readers would be able to recreate the recipe to a high standard too.
    Quite similar to my ballotine of duck, but a little more elegant.
  2. More bad news, I didn't get into the last eight of the AA Home Cooking Competition. Mind you the winner, Rachel from Cook Your Life, clearly blew me out of the water. Her Fennel Dusted Lamb with Puttanesca Salsa, White Onion Puree & Beluga Lentils sounds great and was a cut above mine originality and flavour combinations. Clearly, I'm gonna have to up my game. Although well cooked, I think my recipe was just too "traditional". (P.S. Sabrina came third!)
  3. To try and keep the effects of festive excesses at bay I shall be doing the 100 push ups and 200 sit-ups challenges.
  4. The Krispy Kreme Challenge video should be done soon...

Friday, 18 December 2009

Cantina del Ponte

Cantina del Ponte
Had a night out tonight at Cantina del Ponte (yet another D&D place) with 5 bestest buds. I've previously eaten on the terrace next to the river, although it was a bit cold for that tonight.

We booked on a toptable deal and the offer menu was rather good. Almost all of us chose the same meal:

bresola con rucola e slasa al gorgonzola
cured beef, rocket, blue cheese dressing

Unfortunately the rocket overpowered the salad. Mind you the blue-cheese dressing was not particularly strong so it wasn't hard to mask its flavour
faraona con pastinaca, cavolo nero, aglio ed alloro
pan fried guinea fowl, roast parsnips, black cabbage, garlic and bay leafGreat hearty winter dish. Beautifully cooked guinea fowl: crisp skin and moist meat. The Parsnip chips were an excellent accompaniment. I'm not entirely sure what serving a bay leaf on the spinach actually added.
torta al cioccolato e polenta, mascarpone alaa vaniglia
chocolate & polenta cake, vanilla mascarpone

The cake was rather more solid and dry than I was expecting. There was also some kind of candied citrus peel involved, which was a most unwelcome addition.

Annie had the penne con crema di castagne e rucola (penne, chestnut cream & wild rocket) for her main and that was delicious. The chestnut cream sauce (note: must find out how to make it) was phenomenal and the rocket was a perfect accompaniment this time.

The service was excellent, as I've come to expect from a D&D place. Even though we were in there from 7pm on a Thursday night it was very quiet but the atmosphere did pick up as more people arrived. Somehow we were the loudest table (this is a recurring theme when I eat out with this bunch of bandits).

We had three bottles of house red and a glass of port each. The bill came to a very respectable £35 each. All in all a very good night and I would definitely recommend the Cantina for a quality Italian meal.

Cantina Del Ponte on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


This is hilarious:

Top 10 biggest food network foodgasms of 2009

I can't decide which is my favourite:

Just in case you're not sure what's going on here check the Urban Dictionary definition of foodgasm.

Chicken popcorn and corn fritters

Delicious and tasty supper tonight made from things just in the fridge and store cupboard: spicy chicken popcorn and corn fritters. I can imagine the popcorn being great as TV snacks too.

Chicken popcorn:
2 chicken thighs, diced
3dsp plain flour
1tsp Cayenne pepper
1tsp Paprika
1tsp Chilli powder
1tsp Dried oregano
Worcestershire sauce
Corn fritters:
Small can of corn, drained
Plain flour
1 egg

1. Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and cover with milk. Add approx. 1dsp Worcestershire sauce.
Leave to tenderise.
2. Mix the flour, salt and seasonings together in a large bowl.
3. Drain the chicken and then toss in the flour.
4. Fry quickly at a high temperature.
5. Mix the milk, egg and flour to make a thick batter. Add in the corn. Season.
6. Fry dessert-spoons of the mixture until brown.

NOTE: Self-raising flour or bicarbonate of soda could be added to make the corn fritters fluffier.
NOTE: This would be good served with a small herb salad and some sort of tomato salsa/dipping sauce.

Feeding the 5000

Today a free lunch made from delicious ingredients that would otherwise have been wasted will be prepared for 5000 people. Our aim is to highlight the ease of cutting the unimaginable levels of food waste in the UK and internationally. Find out more at

The event is being run with help from Fareshare, the UK's largest food redistribution charity. This is an event I whole-heartedly support and will be looking to volunteer with Foodshare in the new year.

Rosie Boycott covered the event in her column in the Evening Standard:

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Middle eastern fair

On my recent holiday to Dubai, I was looking forward to trying out some authentic middle-eastern cuisine. However, this proved more difficult than you would imagine.

In the malls (of which there are many) I was able to track down some Lebanese fast-food, which consisted of meat, chips, bread and hummus. Not unappealing but lacking in tradition, surely?

Saj Express - chawarmaMashawi Express - shish taouk classic

On my first night I did go to Karam Beirut which seemed much more authentic although I've never had such strong garlic sauce in all my days. I was amazed to find that it's far easier to get anything but middle-eastern food:

Julie & Julia

On the way over to Dubai I watched Julie and Julia a Nora Ephron film based on Julie Powell's blog "The Julie / Julia Project"

Watch the trailer care of YouTube.

Julia Child was an American chef who brought French cookery to the masses. Julie Powell's blog was about her trying to cook all the recipes from Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.

The film cleverly, and effectively, switches between Child's post-war experiences in France as she writes the book and Powell's challenge to cook the recipes. Meryl Streep gives a very strong character performance, but I have no idea how close it is to the truth. Apparently Child was an American icon, if Streep's performance is near the truth then she was certainly a striking individual.

The film is quite engaging but it is far easier to relate to Childs than Powell. Just what was Powell's motivation - was she after her 15 minutes of fame? It's a question that lies unanswered at the end of the film. It is clear that Childs loved food and was unapologetically enthusiastic about it too.

It a gentle film that probably hold more for foodies than most (there are a few sequences of excellent foodporn) but I can't imagine that I'll actively watch it again. It's a movie to watch when it's on TV, don't rush out and buy the DVD.

ICCHFC - Christmas Charity Cake Bake

Part of the reason for the break in ICCHFC activities was a Christmas cake bake in aid of the Samaritans hosted by the Communications team (although all the members of the ICCHFC submitted cakes).

The sale raised over £200!

Cakes on sale included: Yule log, chocolate biscuit cake, banana loaf, Nutella cinnamon cake, gingerbread, cranberry, pecan and white chocolate cookies, carrot cake, mince pie cakes, fruit cake, fairy cakes and a Victoria sponge.

ICCHFC - Week 15: Raspberry Bakewell cake & Week 16: Flapjacks

Louisa started off round 3 (week 15) with the choice of :
  • Carrot cake
  • Gingerbread men
  • Raspberry Bakewell cake
The Bakewell cake won by a country mile. Unfortunately there's no picture nor recipe...yet.

Sara followed up with flapjacks for week 16. The choice was what extras would be added into the mix: chocolate chips, cherries and walnuts or apricot and pumpkin seeds. Unsurprisingly chocolate chips were the most popular addition.I wasn't there for the tasting but apparently the flapjacks were
Gooey chocolaty loveliness

according to Jo. So, good work Sara!

Sara's Chocolate chip flapjacks (taken from Delia online)

4 oz light brown soft sugar
6 oz butter
1 dessertspoon golden syrup
6 oz porridge oats
150g chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C).
2. Place the sugar, butter and golden syrup together in a medium saucepan and heat until the butter has melted.
3. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the porridge oats.
4. Press the mixture out over the base of the prepared tin, and bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes.
5. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before cutting into oblong bars.
6. Leave until cold before removing the flapjacks from the tin, then store in an airtight container.

In my absence it was agreed to have a holiday hiatus until Monday 11th January when Jo will be producing some cakey delight.
PS Sorry about the delay I was on holiday and there's been a cakey hiatus!

Monday, 14 December 2009


Lunch today was care of the German Christmas market that has popped up outside Canary Wharf tube station. They are selling:
  • Bratwurst - German sausage
  • Krakkauer - spicy sausage
  • Curry sausage

The sausages are boiled and then finished on a massive 8' grill that's been set up in the middle of each hut. There's authentic, slightly spicy Continental ketchup and mayonnaise available too.

The sausages are good, but they come in a half baguette rather than the smaller traditional roll. Consequently the sausage:bap ratio is all wrong: too much bread not enough sausage. Nevertheless a tasty, if not expensive (£4.50 a pop!) festive treat. After all, everyone love a sausage!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Takeaways - Chowder pie

Last night I had a fish pie for dinner. I'd prepared it a while ago and frozen for just such a night when I wasn't in the mood to cook. Nothing too remarkable about that, I hear you say. And I'd agree, normally.

This fish-pie was the last one from a batch that I'd specially prepared as a take-away meal for a pair of friends...

Jo was going to visit Emma in Norwich for the weekend. Last time Jo had been round to mine it was for an AA tasting and she'd been teasing Emma with pictures of the meal as she ate. Emma felt rather hard done by that she'd missed out. One of them suggested that I should prepare a "take-away" for Jo to take up next time she went to Norwich. Thus the idea was borne.

I'm pretty sure it was a joke at first and neither of them really thought I'd do it. However, I've been thinking for some time about how to make cooking a bigger part of my life. One way may be to provide bespoke meals. This was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

The brief from the girls was a meal that was:
  • healthy and light
  • easy to prepare
  • not full of smelly stuff like garlic (so as not to scare off the boys!)
My first thought was some sort of pasta bake but that just seemed too easy and clichéd. Prompted by some items in the fridge I went for a fish dish: a cross between fish pie and a chowder.

Happily it worked rather well. The girls were very complimentary and enjoyed the lot.

Straight from the oven

All gone!

Chowder pie recipe

Smoked haddock (undyed) - 2 fillets
Cod - 2 fillets
Lemon sole - 1 fillet
1 bay leaf
1/2 Red onion
4 rashers smoky bacon
1 small tin of corn
Crème fraîche
2oz Butter
1 egg yolk

1. Gently poach the fish. Put the fillets in a frying pan and just cover with milk add a bay leaf and poach until cooked (3-5 minutes). If there's a lot of fish it would be better to do it in batches. Reserve the poaching liquid.
2. Cool the cooked fish and gently flake carefully removing any skin and bones into a large bowl.
3. Fry the smoky bacon in a little vegetable oil until crisp.
4. In the same pan as the bacon, fry the red onion until soft.
5. Combine the bacon, corn, onion and peas with the fish flakes. Add crème fraîche and Tabasco to taste. Season to taste.
6. Cook the potato until soft and then mash. Use butter and a little of the poaching milk, the mash should be reasonably dry. Beat in an egg yolk to the finished mash.
7. Assemble the pie by filling the dish 2/3full with the fish mix. Then top with the mash.
8. Bake at 200°C for about 20 minutes or until the top has browned.

Fire and Knives

Just seen that Fire and Knives has launched. It is
a print quarterly of new writing about food. We give established writers a place for work that would not be published elsewhere; new writers a place to show themselves and experts in other fields an opportunity to write about our favourite subject.

Sounds very interesting. A year's subscription is only £20. Is it a coincident that the launch happily occurs when people are in the market for presents?...

I think I'd be more than happy to receive this.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Snow-Flecked Brownies

My second monthly bake from Sweet and Simple Bakes was snow-flecked brownies. I was going to see my friends and sister in Liverpool so a batch of brownies seemed a suitable gift. They definitely went down well: apparently my sister's friend thought I should
Open a brownie shop

Not that I can any credit as all I did was follow a recipe.

Brownies have now been added to my list of things I want to perfect. Although these brownies are pretty damn near perfect, I might not have to search much more!

375g best quality dark chocolate
375g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
6 eggs (large)
350g caster sugar (superfine)
1 teaspoon salt
225g plain flour
250g white chocolate buttons or chips, or white chocolate chopped into chunks (or your own choice of chocolate)
2 tsp icing sugar, for dusting
Tin measuring approx 33cm x 23cm x 5.5cm

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4/350F.
2. Line the sides and base of a 33 x 23 x 5.5com baking tin with foil or baking parchment.
3. Melt the butter and dark chocolate together in a large heavy based pan.
4. In a bowl or wide mouthed large measuring jug, beat the eggs together with the caster sugar and vanilla extract.
5. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool a little, then add the egg and sugar mixture and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt. Then stir in the white chocolate buttons or chopped white chocolate. Beat to combine then scrape and pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin.

I had to use a roasting pan!

6. Bake for 25 minutes, You can see when the brownies are ready because the top dries to a slightly paler brown speckle, while the middle remains dark, dense and gooey. Even with such a big batch you do need to keep checking on it: the difference between gungey brownies and dry ones is only a few minutes. Remember, too, that they will continue to cook as they cool.
7. To serve, cut into squares while still warm and pile up on a large plate, sprinkling with icing sugar pushed with a teaspoon through a small sieve.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Entertaining two-fer and leftovers: Almond and celery soup, lasagne bolognesi, stuffed chicken thighs on Risotto, apple strudel tart

Last week I had people over for dinner on Sunday and two days later on Tuesday. So the challenge was to cook dinner without being left with a load of leftovers.

The menus ended up as:

Almond and Celery soup
Lasagne Bolognesi (Sunday)
Stuffed Chicken Thighs on Risotto (Tuesday)
Apple Strudel Tart

Almond and Celery soup

I always make this with left over celery (which I had from the lasagne).


Stuffed chicken thighs on risotto

Apple strudel tart

Almond and Celery soup (adapted from New British Classics by Gary Rhodes)

1oz butter
1lb celery sticks, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 small potato, peeled and roughly chopped
4oz ground almonds
500ml vegetable stock
250ml milk
250ml single cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Double cream
Celery leaves

1. Coat the vegetable in melted butter over a low heat. Simmer witha lid on for 10-15 minutes until they begin to soften.
2. Add the ground almonds, stock and milk. Simmer for 20 minutes unitl the vegetables are cooked through.
3. Add cream and return to the simmer. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
4. Liquidise until smooth and pass through a fine sieve.
5. Before serving gently re-heat and season. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to lift the flavours.
6. Garnish with cream, celery leaves and snipped chives

Lasagne Bolognesi (taken from The Pasta Bible by Jeni Wright)

150-250ml beef stock
12 dried lasagne sheets
2oz Parmesan
Meat sauce
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
130g streaky bacon, finely diced
250g minced beef
250g minced pork
Small glass of white wine
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
475-750ml beef stock
100ml double cream
White sauce:
2oz butter
2oz plain flour
11/2 pints of milk

Meat sauce
1. Fry the vegetables and bacon in olive oil until soft (roughly 10 minutes).
2. Add the minces, brown and cook for a further 10 minutes.
3. Add the wine and simmer until reduced.
4. Add the tomatoes and 250ml of stock and bring to the boil. Stir well and reduce the heat. Half cover the pan with its lid and leave to simmer for 2 hours. Stir occasionally. Add more stock as it become absorbed.
5. Stir in the cream then simmer for a further 30 minutes.
6. Season to taste and allow to cool. The longer the sauce is left to mature the better the flavours will develop. Ideally try and make the sauce the day before constructing the lasagne.
White sauce:
1. Melt the butter.
2. Stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for 2 minutes.
3. Gradually add the milk unitl the sauce is thick and smooth.
4. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 2 minutes.
5. Season.
Assembling the lasagne:
1. Reheat the ragu and add stock to make it quite runny.
2. Spread a third of the ragu on the bottom of a baking dish.
3. Cover with a quarter of the white sauce.
4. Apply four sheets of lasagne.
5. Repeat these layers twice more: ragu, white sauce, lasagne.
6. Cover the top of the lasagne with the reaming white sauce. Grate over the Parmesan.
7. Bake at 190°C for 40 minutes (or until the pasta is tender to a skewer inserted in the middle)

Stuffed Chicken Thighs on Risotto (adapted from this Gordon Ramsay F-Word recipe)

2 boned-out chicken thighs
4 rashers, rindless streaky bacon
2 good-quality pork sausages
Cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
1tsp dried parsley
25g butter
1/2 onion, finely diced
150g Arborio risotto rice
900ml chicken
75g peas (thawed if frozen)
25g freshly grated Parmesan
25g butter, cut into cubes

1. To make the stuffing, remove the skin from the sausages and mix with cayenne, garlic and parsley. Season well with salt and pepper.
TIP: Fry a small amount of the stuffing to check the flavour and seasoning
2. Open out the chicken thighs, season with pepper and divide the stuffing between them. Roll up to enclose. Lay 2 bacon rashers on a board, overlapping them slightly. Put one stuffed chicken portion on top and wrap the bacon around to cover completely. Repeat.
3. Wrap each chicken parcel tightly in foil, twisting the ends to seal. Roll back and forth to even the shape.
4. Poach the chicken parcels in a large pan of boiling water for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.
5. Allow to cool in the foil, then refrigerate for 30 minutes (this helps the bacon to ‘set’ around the chicken). Remove the foil and pat dry to remove any excess moisture.
6. For the risotto soften the onion in butter until translucent. Add the rice and coat with butter. Add the stock one ladle at a time as the rice absorbs the stock.
7. Add the peas at the end of the cooking with the final ladle of stock. Remove from the heat and add in the diced butter and Parmesan. Cover and leave the risotto to rest for two minutes.
8. Whilst the risotto is resting, sauté the chicken parcels until the bacon is brown and crisp on all sides. Transfer to a warm platter and rest in a warm place.
9. Beat the butter and Paremsan into the risotto. Season to taste.
8. To serve, cut the chicken into thick slices and arrange over the risotto.

Apple Strudel Tart (taken from Once Upon a Cakestand as I was searching for a way to use up nearly a full packet of filo pastry)

The only problem with this was the pastry had lost its delicate crunch overnight. Clearly a pie best served warm and in large quantities!Before the oven

Baked hot apple pie


1 packet of ready made filo pastry
2oz butter
400g quark
180g crème fraîche
3 eggyolks
1tsp vanilla extract
140g caster sugar
75g raisins
a pinch of salt
4 sour apples (about 400g)
3 egg whites
icing sugar, to dust

1. Generously butter a round 8" cake tin, line bottom with parchment paper and heat oven to 170C°.
2. Mix quark, crème fraîche, egg yolks, vanilla extract, sugar, raisins and salt in a large bowl until smooth.
3. Peel the apples, core and grate directly into mixture so the apples don't turn brown.
4. Whip the egg whites until stiff and carefully fold into the mixture.
5. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Butter one sheet of filo pastry and place (buttered side down) into the tin and make sure ends are overlapping the tin-rim.
6. Continue to line the tin until all the filo pastry is used up
7. Pour the filling into the prepared tin.
8. Fold the overlapping filo pastry over the mixture. Brush with some melted butter and bake in the bottom of the oven for about 50 minutes until golden and mixture has set.
9. To serve, dust a warm healthy slice with icing sugar. This pie is best served warm.

Pizza East - The Professional's view

In today's Metro the regular restaurant review by Marina O'Loughlin was Pizza East. The place I was lucky enough to go to when I volunteered at the London Restaurant Festival.

This is the first time I've seen a professional review of a restaurant that I've already been to. And our opinions couldn't have been more different, especially with regards to the pizza. Although we did agree about the cauliflower.

I think it just goes to show that the dishes you order definitely leave a lasting impression. Overall I thought the place was so-so, with room for improvement. I certainly wasn't left with the glowing impression Marina was.

Marina's article

In the finest traditions of Mills And Boon, Pizza East's initial effect on me is to set my teeth on edge - but true love is just around the corner...

When I phone to book and the cool gal tells me she'll need my table back by 9.30pm, I'm already irritated.

Then there's the location: Shoreditch, isn't it time you got over yourself? Didn't Nathan Barley teach you anything?

Also, for owner Nick Jones (of Soho/Shoreditch Houses, Cecconi's etc fame) to open a sprawling pizza joint might be construed as a grooming process for hipsters currently too poor for his other operations.

Moustaches twirling: one day, my dears, you'll be able to afford the REAL THING.

It is, too, a blithe rip-off, sorry, homage to Croc-wearing American superchef Mario Batali's Los Angeles raves – American staff and all.

Our imported waiter, complete with little brush 'tache, gives us a thorough patronising, possibly thanks to our lack of wetlook leggings or facial hair.

But from here on in, it's love. The place is framed in a familiar aesthetic: distressed paintwork, exposed brick, statement lampshades. But done well, as it is here, boy does it work.

There's a central kitchen with wood-fire belching oven and bar seats, perfect for single diners.

The mod-Italian food is far more LA than Lazio, not fancy-schmancy, but dependent on accurate cooking and decent produce.

The menu fizzes with so-now ingredients: soppressata, Boschetto al Tartufo, cima di rapa (although it's billed as simply cima, which is an entirely different thing), and divided into terse headings. I'd happily eat all of it.

Everything is good: pillow-soft, piquant mackerel escabeche (raw, citrus-'cooked') with lentils; wood-roasted squash with farro (spelt), mint and grilled chilli; a luscious cauliflower carbonara, posh cauliflower cheese, rich with cream, Parmesan and pancetta.

Slow-cooked beef cheeks slump at the touch of cutlery, porcini and parsnips adding autumnal depth.

But the pizzas... oh, mama. Plump, airy and pleasingly chewy, thicker – in the LA way – than the Neapolitan thin crust, with the tang of sourdough and the crunch of semolina, they are my second favourite pizzas in town, after Franco Manca.

Mine is a pizza bianca without tomato and with veal meatballs, cream, lemon, sage; not bland, but subtle, luxurious, a thing of real loveliness.

Thin-crust fans might not like it, nor will the wine on tap slapped into little tumblers appeal to wine snobs, but it's all doing it for me.

Fluffy little clouds of doughnut with a Valrhona chocolate sauce provide the final part of the seduction. This one's a keeper.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

CIPD Awards

I was in Manchester last night at the CIPD People Management Awards 2009.This was my first awards do and part of the night included a meal. The menu was:

Roast butternut soup with curry crème fraîche
Chicken Ballontine (sic) with spinach mousseline, chantenay carrots and fondant potato with a pea velouté
Raspberry and Belgian white chocolate cheesecake with a raspberry sorbet

On the face of it, it sounds pretty good. Let me give you a tour of the meal:

Roast butternut soup with curry crème fraîche

I'm not sure that the orangeness was due to butternut squash, I guess it must have been, but it sure didn't taste of butternut squash. It was a very thick pureé with almost no flavour. Seasoning anyone?

Chicken Ballontine (sic) with spinach mousseline, chantenay carrots and fondant potato with a pea velouté

So, a dry tasteless chicken filled with a green tasteless mush, accompanied by a soft but flavourless potato and a green flavourless sauce. The carrots were good though. I'm sure a dash of seasoning would have helped.

Raspberry and Belgian white chocolate cheesecake with a raspberry sorbet

The pudding is always a delightful way to end a meal, except in this case. A white chocolate cheesecake that didn't really taste of white chocolate, just sweet cheese. The biscuit base was far from crunchy. Perhaps I am being a little harsh it was definitely better than either of the preceding courses.

Seriously though, a physalis (aka cape gooseberry)? Does any one ever actually eat these ridiculous fruits or are the UK's entire supply reserved for decorating desserts at mass catering events?

So, it would seem that the key to catering on a large scale is to go bland. Or maybe salt and pepper just haven't reached Manchester yet...

P.S. That's a joke!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

ICCHFC - Week 14: Lemon squares

Hannah was back to close round 2 and gave us a children's theme:
Lemon squares won the day reasonably convincingly. I was dying to try the cake cones but the democratic process had to be followed. Perhaps I'll make some and take them in.

Anyway, the lemon squares were good. Very tall and the sponge had a good texture. I was surprised at how well the dolly mixtures worked. There were enough for two each as Hannah had baked the two layers separately (my preferred option) rather than trying to split one. Yet again Hannah, despite her protestations, pulls another gem out of the bag!

NOTE: Jo was on hand modelling duties as John was in a meeting. Who timetables a meeting when there's cake to be had?

Hannah's lemon squares
8oz unsalted butter
8oz caster sugar
3 eggs
About 150ml (¼ pt) milk
9oz self-raising flour
1½ tsp baking powder
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2oz sultanas
For the filling:
3-4tbsp good-quality lemon curd
For the frosting:
4½oz mascarpone
9oz icing sugar
3¼oz unsalted butter
Few drops of vanilla extract
1-2tbsp lemon juice
1 drop of pink food colouring
1 pkt sweets (eg Dolly Mixtures), to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). Grease and line a 20cm (8in) square cake tin.
2. Put the butter and caster sugar in a food mixer and beat until pale and light. Gradually beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then add the milk. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the lemon zest and sultanas and mix well.
3. Pour into the prepared cake tin and cook for 25-35 mins or until golden brown, or when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning out on to a wire rack.
4. When cold, cut the cake in half horizontally. Spread one half with the lemon curd, then sandwich it back together.
5. Place all the ingredients for the frosting in a food processor and blend until smooth. Spread the frosting on top of the cake. Then cut into 16 squares and decorate with colourful sweets.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

MasterChef LIVE!

Last Saturday I took the 'rents to MasterChef LIVE at London's Olympia.

First stop was an interview with Steve Groves, the sous-chef from Launceston Place, who was recently crowned this year's MasterChef: The Professionals champion.

Dad asked him if he had any tips for the Invention Test. Steve suggested making something tasty, remember to season and remember to taste, taste and taste again.

We then did a tour of the gallery. Amongst the numerous cheese, sausage, chilli sauce and oil vendors I did find some real gems:
  • Yum Yum Tree Fudge - unbelievably smooth fudge in a vast array of flavours. We bought 6 packets.
  • Kitchen Queen - Queen Hannah gives bespoke cooking lessons and is an inspiration to me.
  • The Ham and Cheese Co - I bought a hunk of absolutely AMAZING organic Parmigiano Reggiano
  • I also joined Slow Food UK the UK arm of the international campaign for good, clean and fair food. I'm looking forward to getting involved with some of the charity projects.
  • Unfortunately I missed out on osso bucco from The Real Veal Company: they'd sold out after less than two hours!
Having "done" the gallery there was just enough time to watch the Invention Test. This proved to be a daft idea as I started to get nervous, nearly an hour before I was due to report for my Test. It seemed very professional. I was staggered at the 5 deep crowd. Anyway, at least I knew I wouldn't be having pork to cook!
I'm not really sure what we did before me and my Dad reported for our Invention Test. I think there was a fair amount of wandering but I was concentrating on diverting myself from thinking about the task ahead to pay much attention.

3:15pm came round far too quickly. Dad and I reported to the Invention Test stage and were shown back stage. We donned our MasterChef aprons and waited while everyone else arrived. A hen party soon arrived en masse and provided a welcome distraction. Surely they'd be the focus of much on stage fun, wouldn't they? They were each wearing a customised apron with a picture of the hen, but they were forced to remove them. We were expecting 30 people to be taking part but there were only about 25 in the end.

About five minutes before the start we made our way onto the stage to choose a work station and get a sneaky peek at our ingredients:
  • Salmon
  • Raspberries
  • Paneer
  • Fennel
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Chives
  • Crème fraîche
  • plus loads of "store cupboard" items like a potato, lemon, flour, sugar, pasta, salt, a few spices etc.
Now before reading any further, what would you have cooked?

We were ushered off backstage again and the tension really began to ramp up. I spent the next few minutes trying to control my nerves and work out what to cook. I presume with the paneer and spinach they were trying to tempt us down an Indian route. However, I was not drawn. The most obvious choice for me was to do the salmon with some kind of watercress/spinach side.

Before I knew it we were back on stage and the next 1800 seconds went in a flash:
  • I tasted the paneer and rejected it immediately as tasteless rubber that I didn't have time to experiment with
  • I was surprised by the blunt knives
  • I could get used to having a sous-chef to fetch things!
  • I didn't notice my Dad having long conversations with Andi Peters or Greg!
  • Andi came by me and apologised for not talking to me. I didn't mind too much but got him to promise an autograph for my sister.
Even though the time went so quickly, this video proves I was definitely there. Check me out under John Torode's armpit:
Although the time went in a flash, I did feel in control of my domain. The worst thing was not knowing where to find things. This is what I managed to produce:

Pan fried salmon (Greg appreciated the crispiness of my skin) with a chilli coating. I served it on crushed potato that was made with crème fraîche and watercress. As a side I did wilted spinach with shallots and crème fraîche. As I was putting the chives on as a garnish right at the end, one of the roving cameras cam e and took a close up of my plate. It took me an eternity to cross the chives my hands were shaking so much!

Our mentors were Mat Follas and Steven Wallis the 2009 and 2007 MasterChef champions respectively. They were wandering around the stations before whittling us down to three top contenders who would be judged by Greg and John. Unfortunately I didn't make the last three even though I though I'd made a handsome plate of food (two of the fi nal three were very similar to my dish).

Steven was kind enough to speak to me afterwards and apologise for not really having a chance to have a look at what I'd done. I think he was reasonably impressed and gave me the impression that I'd only just lost out. My sous-chef seemed quite surprised when he tasted the spinach and remarked "that's pretty tasty".

Once Greg and John had come out and done their usual shtick we were free to leave. Surprisingly no-one seemed to be eating their food. I took mine b ack stage and chowed down. Everyone seemed quite miffed that they hadn't had the same idea. And even if I do say so myself, it was a very tasty lunch!

I got Andi's autograph (I must say he really seemed incredibly nice) and photo with Stephen. Stephen seemed very positive and encouraged me to "keep cooking".
After that we went for lunch in the Restaurant Experience. Ma and Pa had Lobster soup with brandy and saffron cream from Launceston Place. Somehow they got Steve Groves's autograph. I'm beginning to worry that Mother is stalking the poor chap!

I had a wonderfully bitter soft chocolate cake from Theo Randall's at The Intercontinental which marked the end of a terrific day.

All in all, I had a great day at MasterChef Live. I'd happily do the Invention Test again. I've got a host of info to follow up and a whole heap of desire to dive even deeper into London's foodie scene. And I met Andi Peters!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Matthew Walker Christmas Pudding Challenge

Yesterday I had the final tasting session for my entry to the Matthew Walker pudding challenge. We managed to munch our way through almost 600g of Christmas pudding. Let me set the scene:

Matthew Walker is the World’s Oldest Christmas Pudding Maker, creating puddings in the heart of Derbyshire since 1899.

Matthew Walker ‘The Pudding’ - made to "Recipe 13, "The Perfect Christmas Pudding Recipe" - contains the 13 core ingredients that were used to represent Jesus and his 12 Apostles. They are: sultanas, raisins, demerara sugar, currants, glacé cherries, Thornbridge stout, breadcrumbs, sherry, vegetable suet, almonds, orange and lemon peel, cognac and mixed spice).

The Pudding Challenge
To spice up Christmas, Matthew Walker set a challenge to use ‘The Pudding’ and create some cracking alternative Christmas fare to get the taste buds tingling! The blogger who conjures up the most creative cuisine wins a top of the range camera along with a one-to-one session with a respected home economist, to help make those foodie photos really stand out.

My Entry
My first idea was to try and conjure up a three course meal using The Pudding in each of the courses. However, I couldn't come up with a suitable starter, but have managed a canapé, two mains and six puddings. In each of the recipes I was trying to accentuate a flavour from The Pudding and also combine different textures and flavours. My recipes are:

Pudding nibbles
Small skewers with cubes of Lancashire cheese, caramelised cubes of "The Pudding" and cubes of apple (doused in lemon juice to keep the colour)

Ballotine of duck leg stuffed with The Pudding
The duck leg was boned and stuffed with a mixture of "The Pudding" and sausage meat, then roasted. The duck was served on celeriac mash accompanied by brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnuts. Some of the remaining stuffing was roasted and served separately.
Pork sausages stuffed with The Pudding
The sausage was split down the middle and a layer of The Pudding and Lancashire inserted. The sausage was wrapped in Parma ham and then roasted. It was served with celeriac mash and Brussel sprouts (as above).

Christmas Pudding Charlotte
This is a take on a classic English charlotte. A small Matthew Walker pudding was hollowed out and filled with a mixture of raisins and apple pureé. The pudding was served with a quenelle of brandy butter, cubes of caramelised pudding and caramel sauce and cream.

Baked "The Pudding" Alaska
A disc of The Pudding was topped with vanilla ice-cream (rum and raisin would work well also) and a spoonful of apple pureé. The whole lot was covered in meringue and baked. The hot Alaska was served with caramel sauce.

Queen of "The Pudding"
A take on the classic English queen of puddings. Crumbs of The Pudding were mixed with a fresh custard and baked until set. Orange marmalade was then layered on and the whole lot covered in meringue and baked until the meringue was cooked.

Panattone and "The Pudding" custard bake
This is a take on bread and butter pudding using panettone and The Pudding. Slices of The Pudding were caramelised and layered in a dish with slices of panettone. A cognac sabayon was then spooned over the slices. A liberal dusting of icing sugar was added before the whole dish was caramelised using a blowtorch

"The Pudding" parcels
A mix of The Pudding, Lancashire cheese and apple was used to fill filo "money bags" and served with a caramel sauce.

"The Pudding" Mess
This is a take on Eton mess using caramelised cubes of The Pudding, cream and berries.

After a couple of attempts at this I have decided my preferred layers are:

Chocolate shavings
Cream and mascapone laced with sherry
Caramelised cubes of The Pudding
Cream and mascapone laced with sherry
Winter berries
Cream and mascapone laced with sherry
Crumbs of The Pudding soaked in cognac

However, I couldn't try this out as I'd run out of pudding by this point!
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