Tuesday, 30 March 2010

ICCHFC - Week 27: Toffee apple and yoghurt cake

John was off ill for most of the week so voting was dispensed with and John brought in a toffee Apple and yoghurt cake (recipe care of Yeo Valley) which did not disappoint.

John's cake looked exactly like the picture on the Yeo Valley website. (eyes right ->) [Ridiculously, I had a meeting at cake time, which meant I missed out on taking a picture. Thankfully the other cakers did save me a slice!]

It was brilliant. I've never had a cake made with yoghurt before and it was incredibly moist and light. John thinks the apple content could be doubled and I reckon you could pump up the toffee aspect too. But that's just nit-picking.

Recipe for Toffee Apple and Yogurt Cake (taken from Yeo Valley)

175g Yeo Valley Organic butter, softened slightly
175g Golden caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
200g self raising flour
½tsp ground cinnamon
45ml Yeo Valley Organic Toffee yogurt
1 cox apple, cored and diced
1 tsp golden caster sugar for the top
75g Yeo Valley Organic butter
175g icing sugar
2tbsp Yeo Valley Organic Toffee yogurt

1. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs, with a teaspoon of flour if it begins to curdle.
2. Fold in the sieved flour and cinnamon, then fold in the yogurt and apple.
3. Divide the mixture between 2 greased and lined 17.5 (7") sandwich tins and cook in a preheated oven Gas 4, 180 C for 20-25 minutes until golden and springy to the touch. Sprinkle the extra caster sugar over one of the cakes. Cool on a rack.
4. Beat the butter for the icing until fluffy and gradually add the icing sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt and mix well, do not overbeat. Sandwich the cakes together with the icing.

TIP: Try using Yeo Valley Organic Greek yogurt with honey or natural yogurt with vanilla instead of the toffee yogurt.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Odds and ends...

So, it's been a while since I've done a brief update and there are a few things to discuss:
  • I went to the Unearthed picnic on Tuesday afternoon which was a good afternoon. It was good to meet some of the Unearthed team and get an understanding of the company. I also briefly met Silvena Rowe and recorded a video which might be used...I'm looking forward to the first tasting panel event.
  • Went into Harrods this week and came across my first Whoopie Pie. This New England phenomenon, and a Pennsylvania Amish tradition, is made with two soft cookies with a fluffy white filling. They are about the side of a hamburger patty. The original and most commonly made whoopie pie is chocolate but today pumpkin whoopie pies are a favorite seasonal variation. I think I'm gonna have to make me some of these!
    Much more info on Whoopie Pies.

  • On Thursday went to Champor Champor for a Malaysian meal, which was over-priced and really not that good.
  • Elaine has come up with a genius idea to cook the last recipes from a TV show notably Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets. I think there could definitely be something in that...
  • Apparently Findus crispy pancakes will be back in the shops from April. apparently voters on a facebook group asked for the curry flavour to be brought back. Now, I have some chive pancakes leftover from making beef wellington. Maybe I should make my own crispy pancakes. Eighties night anyone?
  • I've submitted an idea to Olive magazine for a feature they will be running with Gordon Ramsay. I've asked him to give me a "recipe that'll convince me and my friends to try cooking offal at home". I doubt it'll get used, no one ever wants to feature offal!
  • One day I really will finish the Krispy Kreme challenge video...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

ICCHFC - Week 26: Easter buns

Marianne was on a mission to get Cadbury's Mini Eggs and cupcakes into her options this week. Her choices were:
  • Easter buns (3)
  • Chocolate mini egg buns (2)
  • Fairy cakes (1)
Easter buns just edged out the other options to win through. Marianne produced a light lemon sponge cupcakes with beautiful pastel coloured icing embellished with three mini eggs. Curiously the mini eggs had decidedly non crispy shells...

Monday, 22 March 2010

Pear recipes - pear and celery soup, venison steak with pear and battered pear pud

Had quite an interesting weekend putting together a menu of dishes using pears (if truth be told I was doing it for a blogging event - A Fruit A Month - but only just realised the post I read was from 2008!)

Anyway, I came up with three dishes, although each could do with some further refinement. It's times like this that I'd love to work in a professional kitchen and be able to tweak a dish until it's "perfect". However, given the limitations of cooking at home, like limited ingredients and time, I can only suggest how to improve things and wait for another opportunity (like when someone comes round for dinner and pears are in season) to try out the new and improved recipe.

Pear and celery soup

The idea for this was taken from a recipe for pear, celery and Stilton vichyssoise from Passion for Cheese by Paul Gayler.

My first attempt used 3 pears, 2/3 of a head of celery, a potato (to thicken), a pint of chicken stock and half an onion and about 100ml of double cream. The flavour of the pears didn't really come through, though; celery was the predominant flavour. I tried Stilton-on-toast croutons, which didn't really work. They just lost all their crunch, the big punch of Stilton was a good though. Similarly, braised celery in the base of the dish didn't really work either.

My second effort was a bit better although still lacking in peariness. For this attempt I used the remaining celery, so 1/3 of a head, 3 pears, 1/2 an onion and 1/2pint of vegetable stock and finished with 100ml double cream and a splash of lemon juice. The garnish this time was croutons, julienne of pear and diced Stilton, which worked brilliantly.

I think the difficulty with this soup is using fruit and keeping it savoury...

Venison steak, rösti and pear sandwich

I'll come clean and admit that this came about from some reduced price venison steaks in Sainsbury's! Also, I have to admit that I really over-complicated this first time round.

I put a garlic mushroom layer in the middle of the rösti, sat the venison on top and made a bacon, emmental and pear sandwich as a garnish/side. Then made a perry cream sauce with Stilton.
The separate combinations like pear and venison, mushroom and venison, garlic and mushroom, pear, cheese and bacon all work, but by putting them all together nothing stood out and there was just too much going on. The venison, which should have been the star, was swamped and lost.

Consequently, second time around I peared things back. The venison, sitting on a simple potato and pear rösti (cooked in duck fat) with a perry cream sauce. This was much better, but I'd over salted the rösti, which was a shame. I think rösti is another skill to add to the list of things to perfect.

Battered pear pudding

In contrast with the other two dishes the pudding worked out pretty well. I made a batter (2oz plain flour, 1/2oz caster sugar, 1 egg and some perry) then deep fried the battered pear until golden. I sat a quenelle of vanilla ice-cream in the recess left from taking out the core of the pear (using a melon baller). The plate was decorated with a caramel sauce and the whole dish dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon.

This was pretty good but the perry was lost in the batter. I wonder if a tempura style batter might work better. Also there was loads of batter left over. I fried some of these as scraps and instantly realised that they'd have made a great garnish adding a real crispiness.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Rocca di Papa

Jo and I ended up in Rocca di Papa for a spot of late dinner last night. Having found that Bumpkin was full, we stumbled across this little Italian on the way to South Ken tube station.

And a pleasant surprise it was. Run and staffed with Italians it's décor provokes thoughts of Tuscany which provided a lovely atmosphere. It was bustling with chat and full of strong Italian aromas. Every time food was delivered to a table near ours I just had to turn and follow the smell...

mixed breads served with fruity olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar
a plate of Italian cheeses

Good breads and cheeses to start. I've never had cheese as a first course, but I think I would. There wasn't a description of what the four cheeses were and two of them were good enough to stand up on their own. The other two were helped on their way with some quince jam.
chicken with goats cheese, mixed peppers, caramelised onions and pesto dressing
free-range egg, garlic, spinach and mozzarella

We both had pizzas and they were pretty good. Plenty of toppings and very tasty, crisp, bases. Although I must stick to my guns in future. Chicken really isn't a suitable pizza topping. The texture is just all wrong.

Rocca di Papa is serves good quality "standard" fare you'd expect from an Italian restaurant with a lovely atmosphere at very reasonable prices. There's no reason not to go back.

Rocca di Papa on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Duck risotto for Jo

Finally finished off the last remnants of the duck from Jo and Emma's feast in December. It seemed quite fitting that Jo came round for a duck risotto made with the stock from the birds.
Recipe for Duck Risotto (modified from Risotto! Risotto! by Valentina Harris)

2 duck breasts, trimmed and skin scored
Onion, finely chopped
Garlic clove, crushed
1 glass dry white wine
1dsp tomato purée
3oz butter
1 1/4 cups risotto rice
1 1/2 pint duck stock
3dsp grated Parmesan

1. Fry the onions in olive oil and 1oz butter until soft.
2. Add the rice and fry until starting to go translucent.
3. Add the wine and stir until it has all evaporated/been absorbed.
4. Add the tomato purée and sage.
5. Gradually, one ladleful at a time, add the stock and allow the rice to absorb the stock before adding the next ladle.
6. Once the stock has all been used and the rice is tender, turn off the heat and add 2oz butter and the Parmesan. Leave, with the lid on for 2 minutes then season.
7. Serve the risotto with a sliced duck breast per person (cooked for about 4 minutes each side with 5 mins rest - add any released juices into the risotto).

Lemon meringue cake

This is the cake I made for the Shelter cake sale. It turned in to a bit of a weekend project, as I did spend the best part of Sunday making the various components. However, it was definitely worth it. I'm not sure a cake could taste any more lemony or have such a pleasing combinations of textures.

It is a lemon sponge with a meringue topping decorated with lemon icing and filled with cream and fresh lemon curd. There's also a beautiful sticky lemon drizzle in the lower layer.
Lemon meringue cake
3 eggs
6oz plain flour
6oz butter
6oz caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
Zest of two lemons
Juice of a lemon
100ml double cream
Meringue topping:
2 egg white
2oz caster sugar
3tbsp lemon juice
1.5tbsp golden syrup
Lemon curd filling (makes enough for about 2 jam jars):
12oz caster sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
Grated zest and juice of 4 lemons
4oz butter
Lemon icing:
1dsp lemon juice
6dsp icing sugar

1. Cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until combined. Add some of the flour after each egg to prevent the mixture splitting.
3. Beat in the lemon zest and juice.
4. Sift in the remaining flour and fold until combined.
5. Divide the cake mixture between two 8" greased and lined cake tins. Put slightly more mix in one of the tins.
6. Whisk the two egg whites. Once stiff, gradually add in the sugar until smooth and shiny. [If the egg white don't want to whisk try adding a touch of cream of tartar to help the process.]
7. Spread the meringue over the cake batter which is the smaller of the two.
8. Bake at 180°C for 20 minutes until the sponge is cooked (the top will spring back and the sides will have come away from the sides of the tin). Leave the cake with the meringue topping in the oven and cook for a further 20minutes.
9. Pierce holes in the top of the first cake removed from the oven with a skewer. Warm the lemon juice and golden syrup together and slowly spoon over the cake until absorbed by the sponge. Remove from the tin once the cake has cooled.
10. Whilst the cakes are cooling make the lemon curd. Place the ingredients in a heat proof bowl and suspend over a saucepan containing hot water. Cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 20 minutes.
11. To construct the cake, spread lemon curd over the drizzled cake. Whip the cream and spread over. Sandwich with the meringue topped cake.
12. To decorate with lemon icing warm the lemon juice and then add enough icing sugar to make a smooth thick icing. Drizzle over the cake.

Note: I've entered this into the Tesco Food Club Bake Off competition. The winners and runners up with the most original and appealing recipe will be picked out by the competition judge on Monday 19th April and notified within 21 days...

Monday, 15 March 2010

Shelter cake sale

This week the ICCHFC hosted a Cake Time bake sale to raise money for Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity.

We enlisted many other people to create a buffet with nineteen different offerings. Charging £1 per slice/cake we raised over £200.

Lemon meringue cake

Pecan and toffee cake

Orange cake

Peanut butter buns

Pineapple-upside down cake

Banana cake

Millionaire's shortcake

Ginger loaf

Banana muffins

Chocolate and almond cake

Fruit cake

Victoria sponge

Custard tart

Lemon drizzle

Fruit loaf

Orange drizzle

Chocolate coconut squares

Orange and chocolate brownies

and vanilla cheesecake

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Michelin Guide

I just watched Michelin Stars - The Madness of Perfection on iPlayer which was an interesting investigation into the Michelin Guide, of which the 2010 version was recently published.

The Guide, which started as a advertising tool for Michelin tyres, has taken on a life of its own and is now the bible by which top chefs live and breathe.

In the programme Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, explained the three criteria by which restaurants are judged:
  • choice of product
  • how the product has been cooked and presented ("the personality of the chef should be expressed on the plate")
  • consistency
These seem pretty straight-forward but the assessment is cloaked in secrecy with anonymous Michelin inspectors judging restaurants numerous times. Many a chef is quoted as not understanding the judging criteria as they fight their way up the ladder; it seems that is is much harder to go from two to three than to achieve a single star.

The programme made me think about what the Michelin Guide means to me. I think it has come to represent the pinnacle of haute cuisine. I aspire to eat at these sort of restaurants and I expect to be amazed every time. Although when you look at the actual definition of the stars. I shouldn't really be expecting this:

* One-star: A very good restaurant in its category
The star indicates a good place to stop on your journey. But beware of comparing the star given to an expensive de luxe establishment with that of a simple restaurant where you can appreciate fine cooking at a reasonable price.

** Two-star: Excellent cooking, worth a detour
Specialities and wines of first class quality. This will be reflected in the price

*** Three-star: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey
One always eats here extremely well, sometimes superbly. Fine wines, faultless service, elegant surroundings. One will pay accordingly!

While there's no doubt that stars have a commercial impact nowadays, it seems remarkable the drive with which some chefs pursue them. When you think about, it the quality of food in a restaurant won't affect the world it is only dinner. But given that food is something everyone has to consume, I figure you might as well enjoy it as much as you can. I think that's the reason why I do this blog and spend so much time in the kitchen. And whilst I might dream of a food-based career, the pleasure for me come in the eating and making friends and family happy; seeing that smile on their face as they dig into a something I've made for them. I'm not sure I could ever care quite so much about a complete stranger....

2010 Michelin starred restaurants in the UK

Programme information:
Food writer and critic William Sitwell investigates the passions, pressures and obsessions behind that apparently all-important description, 'Michelin-starred chef'. 'It elevates your average stove monkey to superior cheffy status; it puts you in a completely new culinary class. But how relevant is Michelin? Do we want poncey food? Or can you get a Michelin star for a good steak and chips? Is the Michelin Guide harmful in its influence? And does the path to Michelin-starred perfection lead to dangerous obsession?'

In the lead-up to the 2010 Guide's publication, Sitwell goes behind the scenes to hear contrasting views on the Michelin phenomenon, from Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White to chefs dreaming of stars and restaurateurs dismissive of them.

He rolls up his sleeves and immerses himself in this extraordinary world, spending a day in the kitchen with Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley hotel, who has two stars and is hoping for that mythical third. He learns just what is involved at this level, from the precise placing of a sliced fresh chestnut on a bed of Dorset crab, to the presentation of today's pre-starter: fish and chip soup. In France, he encounters the big boss of Michelin at their Paris HQ and hears from the widow of the celebrated three-star chef, who was the ultimate perfectionist, a passionate chef who took his own life. And he explores who the strictly anonymous people are who make these apparently vital decisions. A senior British Michelin inspector, interviewed in shadow, confesses to enjoying the anonymity, likening himself to a secret agent, 'licensed to eat'.

Broadcast on: BBC Two, 9:00pm Thursday 11th March 2010
Duration: 60 minutes
Categories: Factual, Food & Drink

Friday, 12 March 2010


News hit the UK today that a New York politician has introduced a bill to ban the use of salt in restaurants in New York city. Chefs would face a $1000 fine for every dish served with salt!

New York Daily News article

This is most definitely the most ridiculous thing I've hear in a long while.

Salt is an integral part of good food, used to enhance the flavour i.e. it helps make food taste good!

There's a lot of scaremongering about salt increasing the chances of heart related illness, which I don't disagree with. However, as with most things, moderation is the key.

The problem lies with pre-packaged food not freshly prepared food. Manufacturers have to add CRAZY amounts of salt to ensure that their stupidly cheap "value" food actually tastes of something having undergone industrial processes which are so far removed from real cooking it's scary.

People need to take responsibility for their own health. I don't want to live in a nanny-state where there's always someone to blame and I'm told what's good for me by the government.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


Went to Giraffe on the South Bank last night for a meal and catch-up with friends.

The founders wanted to create
Somewhere relaxed where people could have a great coffee and freshly cooked food at any time of day – all to the spirited sounds of world music so you could imagine yourself being anywhere from Sydney to Israel – somewhere sunny and full of smiles.

Hence the eclectic menu of "world food" available. I'd been there before and had a great burger and know people who rave about the place, so I was looking forward to trying something a touch more interesting than a burger.

Crunchy Nachos Melt
Melted jack cheese, guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, sour cream & jalapenos topped with crispy chorizo

Pretty good nachos, but I've never had sweetcorn in guacamole before. I'm not entirely sure that it added anything. Neither did the additional chorizo; it was simply over-powered by the other flavours.

However, I love nachos (who doesn't?) and Giraffe made the usual gaffe of too small a portion despite being a sharing platter. I also have issue with the distribution of the garnishes. On each and every tortilla chip I want some cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa. Perhaps I need to do a post on the perfect nachos...

BBQ Chicken And Smoked Quesadilla
Toasted flour tortilla oozing with melted smoked cheddar & filled with shredded bbq chicken & black bean chilli, served with chipotle aioli & salsa picante

Now this was a curious one. The over-riding taste was that of slightly sweet tomato with a pleasant under-current of bbq. The aioli practically blew my head-off. The lure of a creamy dip lulled me into a false sense of security and I forgot about the chipotle, fool that I am.

As quesadillas go these were pretty good and very moorish despite (or maybe because of) the bizarre tomato ketchup flavour.

My friends both enjoyed their mains of piri-piri half chicken and a classic burger (which came with some crackin' fries).

Our Giraffe "Crumble" With Apple And Passion Fruit with very vanilla ice cream

Why, oh why, oh why, did I choose to end, what had been a pretty good meal, (and yes, I know I was supposed to be testing the range of the menu and basically ended up eating Mexican. What can I say? I am an absolute sucker for the joy of tortilla, meat and chilli...) with a classic English comfort food dessert: crumble?

If I'd actually spent an iota of effort to think about my choice I might have been more sensible. What I got was not what I call a crumble and what's more, I am terrified that it's what people around the world think a crumble is.

The topping had obviously been baked separately as it was über-crunchy and had a gravel consistency. In my mind, crumble is ALL about the topping. It should gradually transform from crunchy on top through to dense cake just above the fruit, and all variations in the spectrum on the way.

The fruit and ice-cream were ok, not that there was much evidence of passion fruit apart from a splodge atop the ice-cream.

A disappointing end to what had been a reasonably good meal, but I blame myself really. I think my friends enjoyed their sundae far more.

So, I didn't really give the eclectic menu a good going over but I'd definitely go back. On a cold Wednesday evening the place had a lively atmosphere and the service was cheery and welcoming. I'd say Giraffe is a great a mates place: somewhere to catch up on gossip and have some tasty food at the same time.

Giraffe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

ICCHFC - Week 25: Lemon coconut layer cake

It was my fourth bake this week and I was lacking inspiration for my choices so I had a thumb through the biggest recipe book I have, The Practical Encylopedia of Baking, and decided on layer cakes as my theme. The cake layers I proffered were:
  • Walnut
  • Lemon coconut
  • Banana lemon
  • Caramel
Surprisingly, the dice of destiny was required to choose between the last three options. Fate decreed that I'd be making a lemon coconut layer cake.Amazingly the cake managed to last three days i.e. without being completely eaten or stolen by the OCT (office cake thief). Even after three days the cake had not dried out at all. Sabayon based cakes always seems to have a slightly chewy consistency and this was no exception. The lemon curd could definitely have been more lemony and I misunderestimated how much dessicated coconut would be left decorating all the surfaces of my kitchen! However, the multiple layers means an much larger filling:cake ratio which always hits the spot. I think the cake is on the right track but the individual components could be improved. Still everyone in the ICCHFC seemed to enjoy it especially Hannah and John (;-)).

Also, in a first for an ICCHFC bake, the cake was actually rated using the same criteria as A:

6 - This is a pretty high score since I'm not a great fan of coconut or lemon curd.
8 - Love lemon, like coconut so you couldn't really go wrong. Plus it's taken away the rank taste of the soup I had for lunch.

5 - Enjoyable but wouldn't ever make it into my top ten cakes. The ingredients are working against you here. Dessicated coconut with sticky curd and a chewy sponge. Remarkable considering my stance on these flavours.
6 - Hmmm, ok. I'd vote for more butter icing and less lemon curd but that's just my personal taste.

5 - Rustic but I guess that's what it's supposed to be.
4 - I might be biased by the mangled bit I had today!!!

Expectations met:
11 (assuming this is out of 10) - Exceeded. I really didn't think I'd like it but I did. Enough for three portions. I had to over-score since my expectations were very low for this cake.
10 - Layers, lemon, coconut, lots of icing: well satisfied. Sorry I don't give 11s.

Recipe for Lemon Coconut Layer cake (taken from The Practical Encylopedia of Baking)

5oz plain flour
1/8tsp salt
8 eggs
12 3/4oz caster sugar
Grated rind of one orange
Grated rind of two lemons
Juice of one lemon
2 1/2oz dessicated coconut
2tbsp cornflour
250ml water
3oz butter
For the icing:
4oz butter
4oz icing sugar
Lemon juice
4oz dessicated coconut


1. Place six eggs in a bowl set over hot water. Beat until frothy with an electric mixer.
2. Gradually beat in 5 1/2oz of sugar until the mixture leaves a ribbon trail when the beaters are lifted out.
3. Remove the bowl from the hot water and fold in the orange rind, half the lemon rind and 1tbsp lemon juice. Fold in the coconut.
4. Sift the flour and salt and fold in.
5. Divide the mixture between three 8" cake tins (which have been greased and lined).
6. Bake for 25-30mins at 180°C or until cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the tins.
7. For the filling blend the cornflour and a little cold water to a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining eggs until just blended.
8. Over a moderate heat the butter, remaining lemon rind and juice and water until boiling.
9. Whisk in the cornflour and egg mixture and return to the boil. Continue to whisk until thick (approximately 5 minutes). Remove from the heat.
10. For the icing beat the butter and sifted icing sugar until smooth. Stir in the lemon rind and add enough lemon juice to form a thick spreading consistency.
11. To assemble the cake, sandwich the three layers with the lemon curd mixture. Spread the icing on the sides and then roll the cake in the coconut. Ice the top of the cake and press on coconut.

P.S. I made Jo an individual lemon layer cake as she has an aversion to coconut (using the same batter just separated before adding the coconut and a little flour added in as a substitute)
Jo also rated her personal cake:

Taste - 7
Texture - 5
Presentation - 6
Expectations met - 7

Sunday, 7 March 2010

200 hundred sit-ups - DONE!

Just completed the two hundred situps training programme.

Still working on the one hundred push ups.

Now gotta find some other workout to allow me to eat!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Le Bouchon Breton

Last night I re-visited Le Bouchon Breton in Spitalfields market and had another cracking meal.

Le Bouchon is a little bit of France tucked away in east London. The restaurant is on the first level and takes bit of finding (at least two of my friends rang for directions having wandered haplessly for a while), but once you do, it is worth it, especially if you enjoy traditional French fare. And I'm not sure I could have had a more authentically French meal, if I tried!

Les 12 Escargots de Bourgogne
"12 Snails with Garlic Butter"
So, I started with a dozen snails, as you do. Well, I 'd never had snails before and it seemed like a good time to start. As a rule I always think it's best to try something new for the first time at a restaurant, as, chances are, it'll be cooked well so you stand a good as chance as any of liking the new food.

What I hadn't reckoned with was the new utensils I'd have to get to grips with, in order to get to grip with my molluscs (see below). Snails come on an escargotière, or escargot plate, a metal platter with recesses for the snails. You also get a pair of snail tongs with which to grip the little beasts and a snail fork with which to prise the meat from their shell.

Fortunately I was amongst experts who were able to explain just what to do. Once I'd realised that I had to stop pressing down on the tongs once I had the shell enveloped (further pushing on the tongs just opens them wider!), I was off. The technique is to plunge the snail fork into the meaty bowels of the shell and then twist to pull out the meat.

The actual snail was covered in a gloriously green and garlicky butter. Now, unfortunately I did not have an epiphanous moment and discover an amazing new gustatory pleasure. I can report that my snail experience can be reduced down to three words: rubbery garlic butter. Each snail was a perfect morsel but tasted of nothing more than the garlic and herb butter.

On the basis of this experience, I'm not sure I shall be bothering with snails again. Unless I'm in France, or maybe The Fat Duck...
Cassoulet des Landes
"Hearty Stew of Confied Duck leg, Toulouse and Garlic Sausage in a Rich Confied Tarbais Beans and Tomato Ragout"
Cassoulet is a revered, historic, regional dish in France. A little research (what would I do without Larousse and the interweb?) leads me to believe that what I had a was a variant of a Toulouse cassoulet without the mutton. To give it a restaurant appeal I think the duck was cooked separately as the skin was magnificently crisp (which made up for the lack of bean crust).

The dish was very rich and wonderfully flavoured. Absolutely terrific. If I had a minor quibble it was that the beans were mushy. The combination of duck, sausage, fat, beans and tomato must surely be as close to an ambrosial experience as man can get.
Clafouti aux Pruneaux et Creme a l'Armagnac
"Warm ‘Clafouti’ with Brandy Soaked Prunes and Cream"

A clafoutis is a baked batter pudding embedded with black cherries. Here the brandy prunes were a beautiful accompaniment to a rich batter. To be honest, by this stage I'd maybe had a glass of wine or two too many (hence the lack of photo) and can't remember if the cherries had been replaced with prunes too; there certainly weren't any stones.

We also had a platter of seven cheeses, which were, obviously, typically French. What I mean is seven completely delectable, distinct cheeses each as moorish as the next. There's no chance of me remembering what seven we had apart from the fact that despite being stuffed to the gills, I couldn't resist. I would love to go to one of Le Bouchon's cheese masterclasses though I'd have to make sure that it wasn't preceded by a large meal, in order to appreciate the fromage.

Le Bouchon probably isn't a destination restaurant (as is clear from the fact that on a Friday night it was nearly half empty) but it does offer traditional French fare at very reasonable prices. I really can't conceive of anyone going to Le Bouchon and not having a great meal.
Le Bouchon Breton on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 March 2010

Happiness is cake...

I made a small banana and caramel cake for two friends at work today and I couldn't be happier with their delight at this small gesture.

We'd been in the pub last week and had been discussing the fact that since I don't work in their department any more, there had been a distinct lack of cake for them. Then yesterday A emailed me saying she was looking forward to their cake. I had no idea what she was on about, thinking that I'd made some kind of promise in the pub which I couldn't remember.

Turns out that A was only joking. But I hate to disappoint and so last night I spent half hour or so putting together a small banana cake.

It wasn't much effort but the sheer delight, when I turned up yesterday morning with a little cake especially for A and D, was brilliant. It reminded me just how satisfying it is to make other people happy through the wonder of food.

Their "verdict" was as follows:

Taste - 8 - Yummy. More caramel next time – maybe ice the top in caramel?
Texture - 7 - Heavy but not stodgy
Presentation - 5 - More decoration required, where’s my mini iced banana decoration?
Expectations met (i.e. banana cake should taste of bananas) - 10 - Fully met

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Sustainable Restaurant Association

The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) is a newly launched organisation aiming to make restaurants more sustainable.

Sustainability is "Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." (Brundtland, 1987).

This means that restaurants must manage their impact economically, environmentally and socially.

I believe that ensuring our economy and way of life becomes sustainable is one of the key issues facing society today. The launch of the SRA is an important milestone for the food and restaurant industry which I fully support.

The SRA defines sustainable restaurants as "restaurants that are making an active commitment to being more sustainable, by addressing issues and activities that fall into our 14 areas of sustainability. "

1 Local & Seasonal
2 Environmentally Positive Farming
3 Ethical Meat & Dairy
4 Sustainable Fish
5 Fair Trade
6 Supply Chain
7 Energy Efficiency
8 Water Saving
9 Waste Management
10 Workplace Resources
11 Healthy Eating
12 Community Engagement
13 Treating People Fairly
14 Responsible Marketing

Directory of Sustainable Restaurant Association Members.

toptable is an SRA partner and will enable booking at SRA restaurants directly.

10 Incredible Eatable Artwork Examples

Apparently food is quite commonly used as an artistic medium as this top 10 edible artworks list demonstrates.

My favourite is the picture above, by photographer Carl Warner, just because it looks so realistic, even though the mountains are loaves of bread! I think there was a similar series of pictures as part of Art on the Underground.

The toaster made of toast, by Ingrid Falk and Gustavo Aguerre, also appeals and strangely makes me feel peckish...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

ICCHFC - Week 24: Orange drizzle cake

Jo's fourth cake was a closely fought contest with orange drizzle cake winning the vote by one from chocolate cherry cream cake and lemon Victoria sponge.

The cake was an adaptation of a traditional sponge. The cake itself was lovely (as usual) but not being a fan of marmalade I was not won over by the filling. I think the marmalade changed the flavour profile from sweet and sour to sweet and bitter. However, I was in a minority as everyone else loved it.

The sugar cubes on top was a touch of genius, adding a fantastic additional, and unusual, texture.

Jo's Orange drizzle cake recipe (taken from BBC Good Food)

200g butter
200g caster sugar
200g self raising flour
4 eggs
Zest of 2 oranges
For the filling:
100ml crème fraîche
6tbsp orange & tangerine marmalade (the recipe states orange curd, but I couldn't find any)
For the drizzle:
Zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp of the orange juice
100g white sugar cubes

1. Heat the oven to 180°C, line two equal size (20cm) cake tins and grease the sides.
2. Put sponge ingredients in a bowl and mix using an electric whisk.
3. Divide the mixture equally into the two tins. Cook for 20-25 minutes until golden. Remove from tins and leave to stand.
4. For the drizzle, roughly crush the sugar cubes with orange juice until they absorb the juice and become slushy.
5. For the filling, whip the crème fraîche until stiff. Spread over one of the sponges, then spread the other with the marmalade and sandwich the two together.
6. Spoon over the drizzle and serve.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Life as a foodie...

It struck me today that when you have a passion which other people can understand, or appreciate, it really seems to affect their opinion about you. A few examples:
  • People can't invite me round for dinner because they could never live up to my "standards"
  • Apparently I spend most of my time eating in high-end fine-dining Michelin restaurants at over £100 a pop
  • I can't ever go and have "dodgy" pub grub of high-street food because it'll not live up to my "standards"
None of this is true, obviously. I just happen to particularly enjoy filling my face with tasty grub. I don't really how I get my fix, as long as it's scrumptious. I like a dirty kebab as much as the next man; everything has its place.

I won't deny that I do like apparently being an "expert" but just occasionally this backfires on me...
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