Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Amerigo Vespucci

I went out tonight with Robin of Source it, cook it, eat it for one of our semi-regular catch-ups over a decent meal. It was my turn to choose the venue and I'd seen a £15 for two courses deal at Amerigo Vespucci that was too good to turn down (especially when coupled with a voucher for a free glass of Pimms each).

The Early Bird menu we'd gone for was very limited: only two or three choice which were not on the à la carte menu. I went for the spaghetti carbonara and then the trout alla finocchi (trout with fennel).

We had some bread whilst waiting for our starters. Nothing remarkable about that but on this occasion quite a notable experience. Having asked for bread we were poured extravagant amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar onto our side plates (I was even treated to extra vinegar splashed over me). Then nothing. We waited a fair while, finished the Pimms and took in the beige surroundings and awful background music, before hunger took over and we asked for the bread that had been promised. The Italians, kings of tasty carbs, serving up dull bread which I'm pretty sure it wasn't made on site. What a disappointment.

My carbonara was good: plenty of crispy bacon in a cream sauce that wasn't too rich. The pasta was a touch too al dente. When propositioned with extra pepper from a laughably huge pepper grinder I couldn't possibly refuse, so I'll take responsibility for that.

My trout was not so good. The whole fish was presented on a bed of fennel and onion. I presume the whole lot had been steamed together. However, it was undercooked. Never before have I had such trouble removing fish from the bone. The accompanying potatoes and veg were ok, but emptying the side plates onto my plate was unnecessary. Why not just leave the dishes on the table and I'll help myself?

Halfway through my fish I was accosted by a waiter as he lent round the corner and over me to give Robin his second glass of wine. Commendable flexibility from the waiter (scoring an 8.5 from the Russian judge) but an armpit on my head it not conducive to a great dining experience.

We briefly contemplated a dessert but a lacklustre selection and the promise of a beer proved more tempting. Then when the bill came we were charged for some olives which we never had (maybe the waiter ate them while we were waiting for the bread). This pretty much summed up the meal.

Amerigo Vespucci is just round the corner from my office and I'd heard great things from quite a few colleagues. I'd wandered passed at lunchtime when a host of be-suited gents were basking in the midday sun feasting on great food. I was looking forward to finally eating at one of Canary Wharf's hidden gems. I wanted to rave about this place but, alas, it is not to be. I'm so disappointed that the food was merely OK, by no means great, and the service risible. I'll certainly not be heading back there soon, especially not at full price.

Amerigo Vespucci on Urbanspoon

ICCHFC: Week 49 - Poppy seed cake with vanilla butter icing

Hannah was back this week and gave us a choice of:
  • Poppy seed cake with vanilla butter icing
  • Hazelnut and chocolate cake
  • Chocolate and orange truffle cake
Needless to say the poppy seed was by far the most interesting option and was duly voted for.
This cake is only flavoured with poppy seeds and their flavour, whilst distinctive, is subtle. The cake was quite dense and the butter cream was an essential addition. I'm not sure anyone particularly loved it, but then no-one hated it. I don't think anyone would rush to bake it again. An unremarkable cake.

It must be noted that Hannah's version looked exactly like the picture in the recipe!

Hannah's Poppy seed cake (a Rachel Allen recipe as featured on the Good Food Channel)

150g butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
100g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
75g poppy seeds
For the vanilla buttercream icing:
75g butter, softened
125g icing sugar, sifted
½tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas 3. Butter the sides of a 20cm cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
2. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs, beating well between each addition.
3. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the poppy seeds and stir until well combined.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, making a slight hollow in the centre with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until it is cooked in the centre and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to stand for five minutes before carefully removing it from the tin and transferring it to a wire rack to cool.
For the buttercream icing
6. Using an electric whisk, beat the butter until pale and soft, beat in the icing sugar and vanilla extract.
7. When the cake is cool, split it in half using a long-bladed serrated knife. Place one layer of the cake on a serving plate and spread over two generous tablespoons of the vanilla buttercream, then place the other half of the cake on top. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides with a palette knife or table knife. The cake can also be kept whole, with the icing spread over the top and sides.

Monday, 30 August 2010

One year ago today...

...I wrote my first blog post on a whim and it's become a normal way of life. To celebrate I made myself a little cake.

However, the real way to celebrate is via the medium of stats. In the past year,
  • I have written 195 posts (196 with this one) meaning I post every 1.87 days. At what rate does that become an addiction?
  • People have visited my site from 64 different countries. Unbelievable!

  • My most popular recipe has been about what to do with duck leftovers.
  • I've been to, and reviewed, 26 different eateries from all over the shop (not enough time to work out the number of miles visited, although it's something to bear in mind):

  • 33 people have been fed Chez Buttaz and had their meals photographed and written about.
I wonder what the next year holds.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Triple-Layer Cappuccino Cake

I brought in a birthday cake for Astrid today (although it was her birthday nearly three weeks ago, today was the first opportunity for celebration cake). Astrid had requested my take on the Marks and Spencer Triple Layer Cappuccino Cake:
Layers of chocolate and coffee cake, filled with coffee buttercream and decorated with chocolate squares and curls, dusted with cocoa powder.
but without the chocolate squares.

I love a challenge and this also was a good chance to try out some of the ideas for the wedding cake. A baking two-fer you say? Perfect.

I think Astrid was pretty happy with the end result, if not a little surprised with the sheer size of the thing. I don't think I'm over-egging the cake to say that it was ma-hoo-sive.

I was a bit worried the coffee layer wasn't going to be coffee flavoured enough, but it was good (mind you I think the 10oz of butter cream coffee icing helped).

I also learnt some good things in preparation for the wedding cake, like not touching up the icing in isolated areas (see top left corner of the first pic) and that pressing grated chocolate on to the sides of a cake is pretty difficult.

All in all a definite success for me and Astrid.

Here's my recipe for an 8" Cappuccino cake:

12oz butter
12oz caster sugar
11oz plain flour
6 eggs
3tsp baking powder
1oz cocoa
4tsp instant coffee dissolved in as little hot water as possible
For the icing:
10oz butter
20oz icing sugar
4tsp instant coffee dissolved in as little hot water as possible
To decorate:
150g grated chocolate

1. For one cake layer, cream together 4oz butter and 4oz sugar until pale and fluffy.
2. Beat in 2 eggs alternating with a spoonful of flour if the mix looks like it is curdling.
3. Sieve the remaining 4oz flour with 1tsp baking powder and gently fold into the mix.
4. For the chocolate layer use 3oz flour and 1oz cocoa. For each coffee layer use 2tsp instant coffee dissolved in as little hot water as possible.
5. Spoon the mix into a greased 8" cake tin and bake for 20-25mins at 180°C (the cake should just about be coming away from the sides and should spring back when gently prodded).
6. Leave to cool in the tin for 20mins before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
7. For the filling mix 4oz butter and 8oz icing sugar together with 2tsp instant coffee dissolved in as little hot water as possible. Sandwich the cakes together (coffee-chocolate-coffee) with half the icing between them.
8. Mix the icing sugar, butter and coffee together to cover the top and sides of the cake.
TIP: A palette knife dipped in hot water works really well here.
9. Grate the chocolate and gently press on to the sides of the cake.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Food waste

I just watched Great British Waste Menu and feel compelled to actually write a post I've been thinking about writing for ages about the problem of waste food. The programme was trying to ram home the message that
Just because food is misshapen, blemished or the wrong size, it doesn't mean it's inedible. Yet every year retailers bin a shocking 400,000 tons of food.

To do this Angela Hartnett, Richard Corrigan, Matt Tebutt and Simon Rimmer created a banquet for 60 using waste food sourced from supermarket bins, restaurant waste and suppliers whose food didn't live up to the supermarkets standards.

It's this last thing that really irritates me. The way in which supermarkets dominate the food industry in this country is just madness. They are the ones that introduced these ridiculous standards like tomatoes being perfect crimson red spheres. Consumers have got so used to this that now that's what they expect. Now we've got a vicious circle where supply meets a demand it created and perpetuates. If you go into any supermarket on the continent they have real vegetables that are all different shapes and colours but all taste great (far better than the bland uniform single species we are subjected to).

We need to get back to eating seasonal local food. Isn't it ridiculous that the UK can't now produce enough food to sustain its own population? English asparagus is a wonderful treat available for only a few weeks a year. We should cherish and celebrate this, not fly in supplies from Peru. It's an irresponsible way to behave. [Note I realise I'm over simplifying and that there is now a huge moral dilemma created by importing from a third world whose economies rely on the export trade.]

Another aspect of the problem is that people just don't apply common sense. Slavish conformance to a confusing food labelling system means perfectly good food is thrown away. This is compounded because people just don't cook any more, so they don't know what to do with the random leftovers in the fridge.

This is such a massive subject that something radical needs to be done so that society starts behaving responsibly and acting in a sustainable manner, it leaves me wondering what I can do.

I know something can be done because I barely throw any food out because its gone off. I don't live a puritan lifestyle either. I just buy what I need and make sure I use it all. It's not rocket surgery.

I whole heartedly support WRAP's Love Food hate waste campaign and the work of FareShare. There must be more I can do; maybe teach people to cook or finally find a charity I can volunteer for. It's so very frustrating not being able to make a difference...


Monday, 23 August 2010

Infrequent news update

It's been a quiet couple of weeks on the foodie front. Needless to say I still have some irons in the fire, including:
  • I've got a commission for a wedding cake! We've nailed the conceptual design (well, subject to bridal confirmation). "Just" a trial run to confirm the actually cake and icing layers to be used. Am massively nervous about this and very conscious that there's barely more than a month till the big day. GULP! More posts to follow as things progress from paper to cake.
  • Am currently considering the options for my first "proper" set of knives. I know it doesn't make sense to do as much cooking as I do with only one knife. I guess I've just never got round to buying any more. It's the last big thing missing from my culinary toolbox.
  • I might be doing some work on Unearthed environmental performance which would be a good mix of business and pleasure.
  • Finally apparently I'm going to be hosting a supper club, starting up a restaurant and giving lessons quite soon. At least if you actually believe the drunken musings of my friends...
P.S. My sister's just started a holiday around Italy. How jealous am I of all the amazing food she's going to eat (especially the gelato)?

ICCHFC: Week 48 - Pecan and apple muffins

Marianne was back on cake duty today. She seems to be making here way through the Hummingbird Bakery book that she was given for Christmas. This time she went for pecan and apple muffins. Committed to the max (as ever), Marianne brought in disposable plates and cutlery so that we could have the clotted cream as recommended in the book!

Marianne was needlessly worried about these little muffins. Although the advertised apple didn't really put in much of an appearance, these muffins were packed full of pecans and spicy cinnamon. They were a tasty pick-me-up for a first Monday back in the office.

Monday, 16 August 2010

ICCHFC: Week 47 - Bara Brith

According to everyone else, John brought in a brilliant traditional Welsh Bara Brith. Unfortunately I missed out as I was learning about the "wonderful" PRINCE2 project management methodology in Liverpool Street. I did have more than my fair share of break-time biscuits over the week to compensate, although nothing beats a slice of cake.

NEWSFLASH - Turns out John's Welsh pal had made the cake for him and gave it to John to take back with him at the end of his trip to this motherland!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Rhodes W1 Brasserie

I had my first Gary Rhodes experience this week when I went to the Rhodes W1 Brasserie with The Sisters. We went using an offer from lastminute.com: £20 for three courses.

The Brasserie is located right at the front of the hotel and has a contemporary minimalist feel about it with high ceilings, lots of glass, dark wood and shiny metal. For a Tuesday evening it was pretty busy and there was a friendly atmosphere albeit slightly subdued due to the cavernous room and the almost gloomy lighting (which also accounts for the slightly worse than usual pictures that follow).

I was expecting a limited menu but got a little carried away when E and I were discussing the menu outside. It was only after we'd decided what we were going to have that we saw that none of our choices were on the menu! It turns out that the three options for each course on the offer menu were completely different from the à la carte menu, which was surprising. Normally offer menus have a selection of the cheapest dishes on the standard menu with maybe a few tweaks.


Warm steamed smoked salmon with apple and celeriac remoulade
A perfectly cooked cube of warm salmon on a very complimentary remoulade. However, the grapefruit garnish was tongue-puckeringly sour (even though the little yellow pieces had been given a going over with a blow torch). The sister both enjoyed their (uninspired) starters of chicken liver parfait and gazpacho.


Chicken sautéed with mushroom, tarragon and green grapes served with buttered tagliatelle

My chicken was heroically moist and tender with a delicious crispy skin. The tagliatelle, mushrooms and tarragon cream sauce were rich and well matched to the chicken. I'm not really sure what to say about the grapes, they sort of passed me by neither adding nor detracting from the overall experience. Pretty superfluous then, I guess.


Strawberry sundae

The desserts were a rather safe affair with a choice of lemon tart with a strawberry and raspberry coulis, crème brûlée or a strawberry sundae. The sundae was pretty good with a balanced mix of sorbet, ice-cream, coulis and Chantilly cream (although someone had been a bit heavy handed with the lemon). The tuile was raised above par with slices of golden raisins running through it.

We had a good night overall. The food was OK, the service excellent but it did feel like we were sitting in reception of the hotel which was bit odd. I wouldn't rush back although having said that I'd like to try the à la carte menu. Mind you, I'd be unhappy at paying pretty high prices (£8 starters and £15 mains) if the food was just as uninspiring, even accounting for the fact that this is the brasserie.

Monday, 9 August 2010

ICCHFC: Week 46 - Saffron cake

This week we had a guest baker, Seb, who is temporarily working in Comms. He'd been thoroughly indoctrinated in cake club etiquette and gave us his three options with aplomb:
  • Honey cake – Honey infused sponge cake, topped with icing
  • Chocolate, Chilli & Orange cake – Layered sponge of orange then chocolate & chilli with an orange glaze
  • Saffron cake – A saffron infused cake with currants and mixed peel
I was torn as to how to vote but went with the exotic saffron cake and this won by a single vote.

Now, I was on site this morning and so wasn't around at eleven. However, I did manage to get my hands on the remains of a piece:

Moral of the story: be there at eleven for cake!

The cake was very dense and packed with fruit; a substantial cake if ever there was one. I was a little surprised that it wasn't overly saffron flavoured. A good effort from the interloper!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Family buffet

Had a mass family gathering at mine this weekend. Given the number of people and the amount my family eats, a buffet was the only viable option. An additional complication was that my aunt is a vege, so coming up with a meat-free selection added an interesting curve ball to my usual thought process. The buffet ended up as:
  • Strawberry and rocket salad
  • Broad bean frittata
  • Tomato bruschetta
  • Chips, crudites and dips - smoky roast aubergine, green pea, garlicky butter bean
  • Quesadillas - re-fried beans and mature cheddar and red onion marmalade and Cheshire cheese versions
  • Cheese and pesto wheels
  • Courgette carpaccio
I think the food went down pretty well, I was surprised by the lack of left-overs I had to choose from. Also I forget that this is a blog and people can read it and one of those people is my sister. She had guessed what was going to be on offer before I even had it on the table. I think I still managed to pull a few surprises out of the back though!

Also kudos to my sister who provided an ace beetroot chocolate cake for afters. It was demolished in moments; always a good sign.

Ah yes, then there's the issue of the photos. Not my best work, I'll admit, but I was caught in the eternal blogging conundrum of taking pictures and playing host. I want to take pictures and yet there are starving hordes salivating on the carpet and baying at the kitchen door demanding to be fed. How does one satisfy ones own needs whilst simultaneously pleasing guests? I'm not sure there's an answer to this one.

Courgette carpaccio

I was doubtful about raw courgettes. I was glad to be proved wrong by this elegant platter.

Strawberry and rocket salad

"Strawberries. In a salad?" silently questioned the collective cocked eyebrows. This doubt was rebuffed by this ridiculously tasty (yet incredibly simple) salad.

Broad bean frittata
This would definitely have been better slightly warm. I couldn't believe how much it shrank as it cooled. And before you say it, yes, I did slightly over cook the onions...

Dips - smoky roast aubergine, green pea, garlicky butter bean

I only made a small amount of the aubergine dip as I'm not a fan of baba ganoush, but I should have made LOADS! The smoked paprika made this phenomenally tasty. Definitely one to keep in the repertoire. The pea dip was refreshing and the butter bean dip was just a humous replacement (butter beans, garlic, lemon, olive oil) albeit remarkably smooth.

And finally, yet by no means least, the magnificent beetroot chocolate cake from my sister.

She showed me a picture of the batter which was deep crimson. It's a shame that colour didn't keep through the baking process. Guess that means I'll just have to make a red velvet cake...

Anyway, on to the recipes:

Courgette carpaccio (recipe from English Patis)

500g courgettes (about 4 courgettes)
Parmesan shavings
Parsley, finely chopped
For the dressing:
5tbsp olive oil
3tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1tsp wholegrain mustard
1tsp honey

1. Wash and dry the courgettes. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, shave the courgettes lengthwise into ribbons.
Tip: Peel one side until you get to the seeds, rotate 180° then peel the other side. Finally rotate 90° and peel the sides off (each piece should be bordered by green skin).
2. Mix all ingredients for the dressing together by shaking in a jar. Pour over the courgette ribbons. Stir and mix carefully. Arrange on a platter.
3. Refrigerate for an hour or two to allow the flavours to develop.
4. When ready to serve, top with shavings of Parmesan and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Strawberry and rocket salad (taken from this recipe from ProCook)

1 punnet Strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 bag rocket
Balsamic vinegar
½ red onion, sliced finely
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Briefly (~30-60s) blanch the red onion in a pan of boiling water. Dry on kitchen paper.
2. Place strawberries, rocket and onion in a salad bowl. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and toss to coat.
3. Season to taste with pepper.

Broad bean and feta fritatta (taken from this Valentine Warner recipe)

7oz small broad beans (podded weight)
2tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled, chopped
6 large free-range eggs
100g feta cheese, crumbled
small bunch fresh mint

1. Cook the broad beans in a pan of boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes, or until tender. Drain well, then refresh in cold water. When the beans are cool enough to handle, peel away the outer membranes.
2. Heat the oil in a small ovenproof frying pan over a low heat. Add the onion and season with a pinch of salt flakes. Fry for 8-10 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.
3. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to its highest setting. In a bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined and full of air, then season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4. When the onions have softened, increase the heat to medium and pour in the beaten eggs. Sprinkle over the crumbled feta, mint leaves and cooked broad beans. Leave the pan on the heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the underside of the egg mixture is pale golden-brown.
Note: Do not stir the mixture.
5. Transfer the pan to the grill and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the top side of the egg mixture is firm and pale golden-brown.
6. Place a large plate upside-down over the pan, then turn the pan over so that the fritatta falls onto the plate.

Smoky roast aubergine dip
(recipe from Cook Sister)

1 large aubergine
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
Handful of flat-leaf parsley
¼tsp smoked paprika
2-3tbsp plain yoghurt
Olive oil

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Cut the aubergine in half lengthways, brush the cut sides with olive oil and place skin-side down on a baking sheet. Roast for about 20mins or until the cut flesh starts to turn brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
2. Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil. Once soft add the paprika and fry for a further minute.
3. When the aubergines are cool enough to touch, either scoop the flesh out of the skins.
4. Place the aubergine flesh, cooled onion mix and flat-leaf parsley in a food processor and pulse to a chunky paste.
5. Spoon the mixture into a bowl, add the yoghurt and mix well. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Green pea dip (taken from this James Martin recipe)

1lb frozen peas, defrosted and drained
½ red onion, finely chopped
Garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves
4oz plain yoghurt
½ red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
1tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
1 lime, juice only
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the peas, onion, garlic and mint leaves into a food processor and blend to a thick purée.
2. Add the yoghurt and blend again, leaving the mixture slightly lumpy.
3. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the chilli, cumin, coriander and lime juice and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4. Spoon into a serving bowl and drizzle with the olive oil.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

More Unearthed products

Tonight was the first time I've done anything for Unearthed without input from anybody else. This time I was tasting pork rillettes and French pavé peppercorn salami.

I wasn't quite sure what rillettes were. The packet said a pork pâté and Larousse said
A preparation of pork, rabbit or goose, or poultry meat cooked in lard then pounded to a smooth paste, potted and served cold...

Turns out these descriptions were a pretty fair reflection of what I got: a pot full of tender pork aching to be spread on a baguette. Very rich and luxurious, but I thought it just needed a touch more salt. The salami was also pretty good with a decent peppery kick from the whole peppercorns. Yet another smashing set of products. I'm quite glad I didn't do the tasting with anybody else, it means I get to eat the lot!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

ICCHFC: Week 45 - Raspberry tray bake

The ICCHFC is evolving at the moment as people are leaving work in their droves. Laura is a new recruit and was straight into the thick of things with her poll and bake offered minutes after last week's elevenses.

Her choices were:
  • Fruitastic tea bread
  • Belgian chocolate fudge cake
  • Raspberry and almond tray bake
The raspberry and almond tray bake won, and what an inaugural bake!

Juicy tart raspberries encased in a delicate almond sponge with a surprise coconut topping add crunch. Simply perfect elevenses.
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