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!

Post news

I realise it's been a bit quiet of late but there has been lots going on and there are a few irons in the fire:
  • The AA Home Cooking Competition cook-off has happened. Unfortuntely I didn't make it into the last eight but a few of the members of the UKFBA were in the cook-off so I'm dying to know how they did.
  • Yesterday I had my tasting day for the Matthew Walker Christmas Pudding competition - 2 mains and 6 puddings. Need to post about that before Friday.
  • I did the Invention Test at MasterChef LIVE on Saturday which was a mixed bag...
  • On a similar note. I might be hosting a Ready, Steady, Cook night soon. Three of my chums form the office are each going to chip in £5 for ingredients at lunchtime. Then it'll be back to mine to feed them...(Interesting how the MasterChef Invention test and RSC are basically the same thing....)
  • Me and a chum had another crack at the Krispy Kreme challenge. I'm working on my first video post, which is taking a tad longer than I had anticipated.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Boy's Buzz! night with mini toad-in-the-holes with red onion marmalade, Parma ham and mascapone pizza, chilli and garlic bread, sweet potato wedges...

Had some of the boys round from work last night for a catch up over a few beers and Buzz! Naturally I laid on some snackage:
  • Mini toad-in-the-holes with red onion marmalade
  • Parma ham and mascapone pizza
  • Chilli and garlic bread
  • Sweet potato wedges
  • Qesadillas - garlic mushroom, red onion, pepper and paprika
Amazingly these were all hoovered up leaving the (pre-prepared) chips and dips left-over. I reckon that makes it me 1 - snack makers 0!

The recipes:

Mini toad-in-the-holes with red onion marmalade

In each of the mini Yorkshire puddings I put a teaspoon of my red onion marmalade then topped each off with half an apple and pork sausage. Allow to cool slightly before serving as the sugar in the marmalade is far too hot to eat straight from the oven.

Parma ham and mascapone pizza
I came up with this recipe after tasting this pizza on a trip to Italy. The combination of sweet mascapone and salty, savoury ham works fantastically.

Pizza base (taken from The Big Book of Bread by Anne Sheasby):
225g strong white flour
1/2tsp salt
1tsp dried yeast
2tbsp olive oil
Warm water
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 onion, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, crushed to a paste
Parma ham (I use 1 whole packet per pizza)
1/2 tub of mascapone
Olive oil

1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl then stir in the yeast
2. Make a well in the centre and add the oil. then add sufficient water to make soft dough.
NOTE: If the dough is too dry add more liquid, if the dough become too wet add more flour
3. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth. Shape in to a round then put into an oiled bowl and leave to prove, until doubled in size, in a warm location
4. Make the sauce. Gently fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic.
5. Add the tomatoes and reduce gently until the sauce is very thick (reduced by about 3/4). Season at the end.
NOTE: The sauce can be blitzed in a food processor if you want a really smooth sauce.
6. Knock back the dough on a floured surface. Then roll out to about 12" diameter and transfer to a baking sheet.
7. Spread the sauce over the base.
8. Arrange teaspoonfuls of the cheese over the base. Then arrange the ham.
9. Bake at 220°C for 20-25 minutes, or until the base is cooked.

Chilli and garlic bread
To make this I used one of the "bake at home" loaves. Once the bread was cooked I sliced it almost through and slathered each section with a mixture of butter, garlic, chilli flakes and dried parsley. Wrap the loaf in foil and re-heat in the oven.

Sweet potato wedges
Par boil chunky slices of sweet potato for about 3 minutes. Place in a baking tray (skin side down) and drizzle with olive oil and season. Bake at 200°C for about 30 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally to stop them sticking.

Qesadillas - garlic mushroom, red onion, pepper and paprika
To make these I use shop-bought tortillas. Prepare the filling first; typically I fry off the filling (in this case vegetables). Then in a dry frying pan place a tortilla, cover with the filling, add a (generous) layer of grated cheese. Top with another tortilla. Fry until the tortillas are crispy and the cheese melted (about2/3 minutes per side)

Monday, 9 November 2009

ICCHFC - Week 13: Chocolate and walnut brownies

Marianne come up trumps with walnut brownies for week 13, after another decision using the Die of Destiny. The ties was three votes each for the brownies and chocolate courgette cake.
They were amazingly rich: a dense chocolate cake and a thick layer of decadent smooth icing. It went wonderfully well with a cup of coffee which helped to cut through the sweetness. I'm still to be convinced about the presence of nuts in brownies though.
NB This is the first joint hand modelling picture: digit by John (as usual) but Jo's got in on the act providing a supporting hand and displaying a delicate wrist.

Marianne's chocolate and walnut brownies - recipe to come

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Living Room - Oxford

Had a trip to Oxford last night for a dinner date. We went to The Living Room.

I've never heard of it before, but it would seem it's a small chain with 15 venues in cities around the UK.

The dining room and bar were very contemporary with big chunky dark wood and leather furniture. Even though it was a Tuesday night there was a lively, informal atmosphere. The bar and dining areas are separated by a dark wood partition that allows the ambience of the bar to feed into the dining area without over-powering it.

I was looking forward to good things. However, I was disappointed.

Starters consisted of a sharing platter. What should have been top-draw favourites were executed poorly. I think I only ate as much as I did because I was famished.
  • Tiger prawn toast with sweet chilli sauce - tasty although not much evidence of prawn
  • Houmous with toasted sesame seeds and grilled pitta bread - worst houmous I've had in a restaurant. Strange texture and an over-powering hit of garlic
  • Honey and mustard glazed baby sausages - these were off a tasty glaze but with a very slimy texture. Also the sausages had a very strange spongy, almost undercooked, consistency.
For main I chose "Free range chicken breast, roasted, with pan-fried mint gnocchi, creamed garden peas and prosciutto crisp". This in the main was excellent lovely crispy prosciutto and well cooked chicken. The gnocchi were very tasty and complimented by the peas and mint well, with the rich and unctuous cream sauce. Unfortunately small things let the dish down. I only had about 6 gnocchi and the onions in the sauce were CRUNCHY - can you believe?

I chose not to complain as I was on a date (that also explains the lack of photos), but I was not impressed.

On to dessert and I chose the "Warm treacle tart with raspberry ripple cream" to cheer me up. A classic English comfort pud that's difficult to get wrong. However, they managed it. The tart had an over-powering orange flavour which wasn't too my taste. The ice-cream was good from what I could tell from the tiny quenelle I had.

Puddings are supposed to be a delicious naughty treat to round off a meal, I felt cheated. I slice of tart, less than an inch thick at its widest point and a spoonful of ice-cream - that's just plain mean!

I don't think I'd recommend The Living Room. I'd happily go back to the bar for a cocktail or two, but on the evidence of last night, I'd steer clear of the restaurant.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Restaurant at the top of the BT Tower

The revolving restaurant at the top of the BT Tower is going to re-open in 2011, apparently.

Currently the search is on for a suitable chef willing to take on the challenge. It'll be a must try eating venue if it does happen.

More on The Londonist

AA competition entry... Rack of lamb with fondant potato, smoked shallot puree, caramelised tomatoes and a creamy mint sauce

The deadline has passed for the AA Home Cooking competition and I've submitted my entry, so I can finally reveal my dish:

Rack of lamb with fondant potato, smoked shallot purée, caramelised tomatoes and a creamy mint sauce

Astrid was the first to try it out:

I tweaked the recipe (namely the sauce) for Jo and Liza.
Annie got the final version:Also got my friend's dad involved. He's the wine buyer for BA so gave me some top quality advice on what wines would go well.

Anyway, I don't think I'll get any where but I had fun trying. Thanks to all my willing victims, I mean, tasters. We had a few crackin' nights in the process and that's what counts. On to the recipe (which serves two):

3 tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1lb shallots, peeled
1/2 pint lamb stock
1/2 glass red wine
3oz butter (clarified)
6-bone rack of lamb
2 potatoes (approximately 150-200g each) peeled and shaped
Handful of mint
2 springs of rosemary
50-100ml double cream
Vegetable oil

Smoked shallot puree
1. Peel the shallots and toss in vegetable oil to evenly cover. Roast at 140°C for an hour (or until tender). Leave to cool.
2. Line a pan with foil and put 2tbsp wood chips on the foil. Sprinkle with water and put over a moderate heat. Put the shallots on a rack and place in pan. Heat the pan until smoke starts to come from the wood chips.
3. Put a lid on the pan, remove from the heat and leave until cold.
4. Blend the shallots with a little cream and season to taste.
5. Pass the puree through a fine sieve and keep refrigerated until required.
6. Reheat gently before serving
Fondant potato
1. Peel the potato and shape into a round (either use a cutter or a knife) about 1” thick (~150-200g)
2. Melt 2oz of butter in a pan.
3. Fry the potato on one side until brown. Flip and cook over a low heat until the butter is absorbed.
4. Remove the potato from the pan and drain away the used butter.
5. In a clean pan melt a small knob of butter and put the potato in the pan. Pour stock into the pan until halfway up the potato.
6. Put 2 sprigs of rosemary and 2 peeled garlic cloves into the stock.
7. Put the lid on the pan and cook over a low heat until the potato is tender.
Caramelised tomatoes
1. Chop the tomatoes in half
2. Melt 1oz of butter in a frying pan and place the tomato halves, cut side down in the pan. Fry gently until the tomatoes are caramelised. Whilst cooking pierce the skin of each tomato with a knife (5mins).
3. Once caramelised, turn the tomatoes and fry gently until they start to collapse (10mins).
4. Once cooked remove from the pan, de-glaze the pan with red wine, and add the cream and mint.
5. Reduce slightly and season. Serve in a separate jug.
Rack of lamb
1. Trim the rack of lamb, cover the bones with foil and rub the meat with oil and season.
2. Seal the lamb on all sides over a high heat.
3. Transfer to a roasting pan and roast at 200°C for 8-10 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven and allow to rest.

ICCHFC - Week 12: Cheese scones

Controversy surrounded the ICCHFC this week: the poll was tied. After six votes the standing for John's scones were:
  1. Yoghurt - 2 votes

  2. Berry - 1 vote

  3. Cheese - 2 votes
After much discussion about how to break the tie, the die of destiny was produced. After a high-tension roll the winning scone was Cheese.

All John's were recipes taken from the Great British Kitchen.

The scones provided a welcome savoury diversion. They were very buttery and cheesey - delicious!

John's Cheese and Grain Scones

225g/8oz Soft grain flour (Use granary flour if soft grain flour is unavailable)
Pinch Salt
1 tbsp Baking powder
50g /2oz Butter
50g/2oz Red Cheshire cheese, crumbled
150ml/1/4 pint Milk
Sesame seeds (Try using poppy seeds instead)

1. Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. Stir in the cheese. Add the milk and mix to a dough.
3. Roll out on a floured surface to 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick and cut out with a 5 cm (2 inch) scone cutter.
4. Place on a greased baking tray and brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
5. Bake at 230°C / 450°F / Gas 8 for 10 minutes.

Interestingly, John still had his scones with cream and jam...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

White Chocolate & Orange Cookies

I've taken part in my first blog event which was the monthly bake from Sweet and Simple Bakes and made a batch of chocolate and orange cookies.

I started at about 9:30pm (after watching the semi-final of Masterchef: The Professionals) and had a batch of 24 ready by 11pm. They were very easy to make and delicious. In fact, you could even say it was a sweet and simple bake!

I took the majority into work and received universal praise. In fact, in less than an hour only two cookies remained and even they had been reserved!

These cookies have encouraged me to add cookies to my list of "perfect recipes". I want to be able to make delicious cookies that are just chewy not brittle and biscuit like (just like the ones from supermarkets but home made without all the dodgy additives).

The event recipe is on the SaSB blog, my version is below. I adapted the recipe slightly and reduced the amount of chocolate and also used a mix of white and dark chocolates.

Ingredients: 4oz butter, softened
200g caster sugar
1 egg
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ baking powder
¼ tsp salt
50g white chocolate, chopped
100g dark chocolate, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
2. Beat the butter and sugar. Add the egg, orange zest and vanilla extract.
3. Chop the blocks of chocolate into cookies sized pieces (~5mm cubes) and stir into the butter mix.
4. Sift the dry ingredients together into the butter mix and beat together until well combined.
5. Roll into balls. Use your fingers to flatten onto a non-stick baking sheet 5cm apart.
6. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool for five minutes and transfer to a cooling rack

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