Sunday, 31 October 2010

Eating in Norwich - pigeon on toast and roast pheasant

Spent the weekend in Norwich eating and drinking. Friday was spent at the Norwich Beer Festival. Saturday was spent eating, browsing great Norfolk produce and then cooking and eating it. Sunday was a modest recovery followed by plenty of sea-side indulgences at Great Yarmouth.

Saturday's dinner was:

Pigeon breasts on toast with mushrooms in cream.

Roasted pheasants with celeriac mash, braised red cabbage, spicy roasted squash and a gravy of roasting juices and red wine.

Followed by an apple and quince crème brûlé.

Pretty good Saturday night, if you ask me.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Autumn feast

An autumnal feast for supper tonight:

A fat pork chop with blue cheese butter atop a melange of pan roasted vegetable (salsify, parsnip, carrot and apple).

Project: Salt Beef - Part I

This evening saw the start of a major foodie project: I'm having a go at making my own salt beef.

This has been prompted by my desire to emulate the amazing salt beef bagels from Brick Lane and the very good Birley salt beef sandwiches which I have recently been introduced to by a colleague as a "pay day treat".

What could be better than a vast quantity of salt beef on tap? In fact Jess (said colleague mentioned above) is also joining me in the quest for pink beef joy.

Initial research revealed that saltpetre (potassium nitrate) is required to keep the beef characteristically pink. A little help from the internet was required to locate the requisite chemical.

Once this arrived we ordered the beef brisket from Drings which we picked up on Monday. Yesterday saw the purchase of the plastic boxes.

4lb of prime beef brisket ready for the curative brine. The beef fat I've rendered down to be used for some lovely roasties at some point in the future.

After an exhaustive search on the internet for an appropriate recipe we finally settled on this one from Martha Stewart. Although with input from other recipes I've adapted it a little (see below for the low down on what I actually did). So this morning I made the brine and this evening put my brisket into its salty bath.

Now all that's left to do is to wait 10 days to see the fruits of my labour...

Recipe for salt beef:

15g (half a jar) pickling spices
1 cup Maldon sea salt
2.3l water
~4lb beef brisket, trimmed of fat
1 bulb garlic, slice through its equator
½cup soft brown sugar
4 bay leaves
1dsp saltpetre

1. Firstly make the brine by putting all the ingredients except the saltpetre and garlic into a large pot and bring to the boil. Stir until the salt and sugar has dissolved.
2. Take the pot off the heat and leave to cool COMPLETELY.
3. Trim the beef.
4. Put the cold brine into the plastic box and mix in the garlic and saltpetre.
5. Completely immerse the beef in the brine. Use a bowl to weight it down if required.
6. Turn the beef daily (use tongs to prevent bacteria from your hands entering the brine)
7. Leave for 10 days to two weeks.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

ICCHFC - Week 57: Pecan blondies

I'd completely forgotten that Hannah wasn't in on Monday so her box of pecan blondies was greeted with much desire!

I've wanted to make blondies for ages, so I was intrigued as to what they were like. Far less rich than brownies the nuts were a welcome addition (I prefer brownies without nuts) as the white chocolate flavour was not particularly dominant (although I'm not sure any white chocolate cake ever really has a very strong flavour of white chocolate). Nevertheless the blondies were incredibly moreish the whole box got finished off in double time and there was almost a rumpus over the last bits.

Hannah's pecan blondies (care of the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook)

5oz white chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups plain flour
Pinch salt
1 cup pecans, chopped

1. Line a baking pan (46 by 23 cm/18 by 9 inch) with parchment paper and preheat oven to 160°C.
2. In a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, place chocolate and butter (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.
3. Add sugar and stir until well incorporated. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring briskly so that you don’t allow the eggs to scramble. (Don’t worry if the mixture looks as if it is starting to split.)
4. Add flour, salt and pecans and stir until well combined and the nuts are evenly dispersed.
5. Spoon mixture into prepared baking pan and bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and the centre is still soft.
6. Let cool completely and cut into squares.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Feeding the parents...

Went home this weekend and cooked attempted to cook a nice meal for the parents. All week I was suffering from the cook's equivalent of writer's block and just could not come up with a decent menu.

I did know that I was going to finish with Queen of Puddings as that gave me an opportunity to use up the masses of cake left-overs from the wedding cake tasting. I also knew I wanted to do fish and something very meaty to please both parental units. A rather successful trip to the Saturday market resulted in me settling for:

Sea bass in a spicy broth
Rib-eye steak with roast potatoes and mustard cream cabbage
Queen of puddings

Sea bass in a spicy broth

I got a pair of sea bass fillets and a pint of prawns from the fish man at the market. I made a broth using the prawn heads and shells and some Asian aromatics (ginger, coriander stalks, lemon-grass and chilli). Unfortunately I used a touch to much chilli: one red chilli finely sliced with seeds. When will I learn how to use chilli? I either get too much or not enough - grrrrrrrrrrrr! Anyway, I served the fried fish fillets on a mound of noodles surrounded by coriander and prawns. Obviously the picture looks very dry. Mainly because I made a bit of a boo-boo and strained the soup into the wrong bowl so instead of a clear liquor it was a touch cloudy. Still it tasted OK, just a touch hot and I cooked the fish pretty well.

Rib-eye steak with roast potatoes and mustard cream cabbage

No picture here as this was not the roaring success I had envisaged. Error after error here meant I wasn't best pleased with my steak or potatoes. Let's just say they were "very caramelised". I could blame a strange kitchen and equipment but that would be a cop-out. Frankly, I cocked up. Still Ma very much enjoyed it. And I completely forgot to top the steaks with the blue cheese butter I'd made.

Queen of puddings

Despite all the earlier mistakes I'd left the best till last. Both parents loved this pudding and despite seconds even managed to leave some for another day. This was the only recipe (from Phil Vickery's Proof of the Pudding) that I'd used and the piped meringue and different fruits really improved the presentation: I'd made a pair of contrasting compotes: plum and pear and cinnamon. Quite a difficult beggar to serve up nicely though. At least I ended on a high note.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

ICCHFC leftovers - orange crème caramel cheesecakes

Sara wasn't a fan of the orange frosting she made for her pumpkin cake this week. Consequently I volunteered to use up the orange, sugar and cheese mix (far better than throwing it away).

I found this recipe for orange crème caramel cheesecakes which I duly made. The one I had at home turned out pretty well:

It had a very subtle flavour and a lovely texture, smoother that a traditional cheesecake. The caramel delivered a very strong flavour hit and I could happily have had more (I would have done had I not made 8 smaller ones rather than the 6 in the recipe). The biscuit was über crunchy and gave an excellent textural contrast.

The ones I took into work had to stay in the ramekin moulds and had the biscuit "base" on top. Nonetheless everyone was still rather complementary about them despite the presentation.

All in all a good result for some left overs. Although I did use rather a lot of energy and extra ingredients to prevent something being put in the bin. I do wonder what the best option would be had I done some sort of carbon analysis of either landfilling the leftover frosting or making a the puds...

Here's the full recipe, just in case you don't have any leftovers to use up!

Orange crème caramel cheesecakes recipe

300ml double cream
peel from 1 orange
8oz caster sugar
4tbsp orange liqueur
200g tub cream cheese
4 eggs
For the biscuit base:
250g digestive biscuits
85g butter, melted

1. Heat oven to 150°C. In a small pan, bring the cream to the boil with the orange peel, then set aside to infuse.
2. Tip 5oz sugar into another saucepan with just enough water to make it sludgy. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and boil to make a darkish caramel. Add 2 tbsp of the orange liqueur (watch out as it will splutter). Leave it to settle slightly, then pour the caramel over the base of 6 x 250ml ramekins and set aside.
3. Beat the cream cheese and the remaining 3oz sugar together in a large bowl, then beat in the eggs and the remaining orange liqueur. Strain in the infused cream, then beat everything together to make a custard. Skim off any froth and set aside.
4. Place the ramekins in a deep roasting tin. Divide the custard between them - it will only come to halfway. Then bring the tin to the oven and fill with boiling water so it comes halfway up the outside of the ramekin dishes.
5. Bake the cheesecakes for 40 mins or until just set, then remove from the oven and the tin. Leave to cool, then chill at least overnight. These can be made up to 2 days ahead and left to chill.
6. For the bases, crumble the biscuits into a food processor, then blitz to fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse until everything is mixed.
7. Divide the biscuit mix between 6 ring moulds on the serving plates. Pack the base firmly into the moulds and chill.
8. To serve, unmould the cheesecakes, saving the caramel sauce in the ramekin. Top the bases with the crème caramels, drizzle the sauce over and around the plates.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Rabbit weekend

Last weekend was dedicated to the rabbit which had been sitting in my freezer since I picked it up at the London Farmer's Market in Broadgate in August.

My guide for rabbit adventure was Week in Week out by Simon Hopkinson. It has an entire section devoted to jointing and then cooking the different rabbit parts.

I started off with the whole rabbit

and ended up with two shoulders, a saddle and two legs:

I started off with the slow braised rabbit shoulders with white beans and parsley for lunch on Saturday.
Great lunch time fodder; hearty, warming and incredibly easy.

Then I moved on to the saddle for dinner:

I had these quick braised saddles with some Purple Majesty potato mash. Delicious.

Sunday's dinner was a fitting finale as I used the legs to make lapin à la Dijonnaise.

I think I paid tribute to the rabbit with these three dishes. Each was wonderful and made me wish I was in the French countryside, rather than in a flat in the capital. However, I think my heavy handedness with quantities reared its head once again. Rabbit's quite a subtle flavour and the copious amount of sauce and side dishes I had may have masked the other flavours (especially the rich cream mustard sauce of the finale).

Nevertheless it was a great weekend of eating.

On to the recipes:

Slow braised rabbit shoulders with white beans and parsley

1 tin haricot beans
2 rabbit shoulders
4 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
300ml water
100ml white wine
Handful of parley, chopped

1. Season the rabbit and brown in olive oil. Add the garlic and fry until slightly coloured.
2. Add the beans, wine, water and bay leaves and the 2tbsp olive oil. Cover and bake at 150°C for 1-11/2 hours, until the beans are soft.

Quick braised rabbit saddles with lemon, rosemary and white wine

Rabbit saddle, trimmed of sinew
2 glasses white wine
2/3 sprigs rosemary
Juice lemon

1. Season the rabbit and fry until golden in olive oil.
2. Add 1 glass white wine and the rosemary. Partially cover and leave to simmer until nearly all the wine has evaporated, ~10-15mins.
3. Turn the saddles over add the remaining wine and half the lemon juice and cook, uncovered, for ~10minutes until the juices have mingled and the saddle is firm to the touch.
4. Add the remaining lemon juice and remove the saddle to rest.
5. Carve the met from both sides and serve with the juices.

Lapin à la Dijonnaise

2 rabbit legs
25g butter
2 shallots, chopped
150ml dry white wine
100ml dry cider
200ml double cream
2tsp Dijon mustard
Lemon juice, to taste

1. Season the rabbit and brown all over in butter.
2. Remove rabbit from pan and sweat off shallots.
3. Add the wine and cider and reduce by half.
4. Add the rabbit back into pan and bring back to the simmer.
5. Put in an oven at 170°C for 40mins. Turn the rabbit legs half way through.
6. Once baked, remove the rabbit from the pan and strain the cooking liquor.
7. Add the cream and reduce until the desired consistency is reached. Then whisk in the mustard and lemon juice. Season to taste.
8. Return the rabbit legs to the pan to warm.


Had the "perfect" English muffin, that I picked up from the Flour Station stall at the cheese market I went to on Sunday, tonight.

I split it and topped with some Comté that I also got at the market. Chefs always seem to be banging on about Comté so I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

The muffin was pretty damn good as expected and the cheese was quite like Gruyère. I was a little underwhelmed as it didn't blow my socks off, but I'd agree that it's pretty good.

Monday, 18 October 2010

ICCHFC - Week 56: Pumpkin cake

Sara was baking duty this week and went very seasonal with a pumpkin cake.

It was very carrot cake-esque, with a similar texture and flavour. I'd need to have a slice of each side by side in order to tell the difference (that's not a slight on Sara's cake rather a comment on my rubbishness). I was the only person to have the orange cream cheese frosting and I thought it added a lovely piquancy. Definitely better with than without.

However, now the remaining frosting has been donated to me to do something with (or else it would have been chucked). I think a baked cheesecake may be in order.

Sara's pumpkin cake (taken from Good Food)

300g self-raising flour
300g light muscovado sugar
3tsp mixed spice
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g sultanas
½tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten
200g butter, melted
zest 1 orange
1tbsp orange juice
500g (peeled weight) pumpkin or butternut squash flesh, grated
For drenching and frosting:
200g pack soft cheese
85g butter , softened
100g icing sugar, sifted
zest 1 orange and juice of half

1. Heat oven to 180°C. Butter and line a 30 x 20cm baking or small roasting tin with baking parchment.
2. Put the flour, sugar, spice, bicarbonate of soda, sultanas and salt into a large bowl and stir to combine.
3. Beat the eggs into the melted butter, stir in the orange zest and juice, then mix with the dry ingredients till combined. Stir in the pumpkin.
4. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30 mins, or until golden and springy to the touch.
5. To make the frosting, beat together the cheese, butter, icing sugar, orange zest and 1 tsp of the juice till smooth and creamy, then set aside in the fridge.
6. When the cake is done, cool for 5 mins then turn it onto a cooling rack. Prick it all over with a skewer and drizzle with the rest of the orange juice while still warm. Leave to cool completely.
7. If you like, trim the edges of the cake. Give the frosting a quick beat to loosen, then, using a palette knife, spread over the top of the cake in peaks and swirls.

TIP: Pumpkins can vary dramatically in water content, so keep an eye on the cake towards the end of cooking - yours may take less or more time to cook through. Butternut squash works brilliantly, too.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cheese market

Went to a cheese and wine festival on the South Bank this morning. There was plenty of English and French cheese on display. These pictures will probably make my sister ("turophile" that she is) quite jealous.

For lunch I had a tarte-diot: a traditional Savoie tartiflette (potatoes, onion, wine, lardons, reblechon cheese) with some very tasty sausages.

To be honest it was a little disappointing as it was a touch luke warm, but it did serve to fill me up after an exhausting morning watching Psycho at the Empire Leicester Square.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Brasserie Joël

I went to Brasserie Joël to take advantage of the special LRF menu. The restaurant is located in the very swanky Park Plaza hotel at the end of Westminster bridge. The fantastic modern interior of the hotel and buzz in the bar while we had pre-dinner G&Ts helped cement my high expectation for the meal.

I was quite surprised that the LRF menu was basically the same as the pre-theatre menu with just a couple of differences. Still no problem, I was expecting a limited choice for only £16.95 for two courses. The second surprise of the night came with the addition of a cover charge. There are very few restaurants in London that have a cover charge and this unexpected extra always niggles me a little. I felt like I was being duped before I'd even started looking at my set price menu. Nevertheless, A and I enjoyed copious amounts of very good bread and lovely soft creamy French butter whilst making our choices.

A had the spinach, beetroot and ricotta salad, or as the bizarrely phrased menu put it:

Ricotta buffalo

Which was OK, nothing too special. It seems that the combination of flavours I featured in my beetroot soup is quite popular at the moment. [I feel as if I have unexpectedly tapped into the Zeitgeist for the first time ever!]

For my starter a bowl of artfully arranged trompette mushrooms and buffalo ricotta was placed in front of me before the waiter dramatically poured the soup over. "Great," I thought, "this is gonna be a special eating 'event'". That thought quickly disappeared from my mind as I took my first sip of lukewarm soup. Quickly followed by a grainy mushroom and then a mouthful of grit. Someone had forgotten to wash the wild mushrooms: disgusting. There was nothing I could do but spit it out and ask for another starter. I should really have asked for the chicken liver parfait but instead asked for the soup again. A fresh one was brought this time piping hot and with clean mushrooms (although I have to admit each time I put one on my spoon I wave of anxiety washed over me).

For her main, A went with a baby artichoke and wild mushroom risotto with Parmesan and pea shoots, which came in a saucepan (sorry about the photo).

I had roast chicken of Bresse with a fricassee of Jerusalem artichoke.

I was quite excited at having some of the renown blue-footed Bresse chicken and was half-expecting the label to be presented with the dish (I'm sure I'd read somewhere that some restaurants show the label to prove the provenance of the AOC protected chicken). It was bloody good chicken, but I'd like to to a taste test with some "normal" chicken to see just how amazing the Bresse chicken is.

Unfortunately the shine was taken off this dish by the artichokes. I don't like crunchy Jerusalem artichokes, it's like eating raw potatoes: horrible. I asked for the artichokes to be checked if they had been served as they should. Apparently, when the chicken came back it was clear that whoever was on the pass had decided that I should have crunchy artichokes. I contend that this was a mistake.

Having had almost four courses and far too much bread there was no way I could even contemplate a dessert.

The service was excellent. The waiters dealt with my problematic dishes graciously and with no hesitation. Although the dining room felt slightly buried in the midst of the hotel I really liked the modern décor and the atmosphere had an enjoyable buzz. It's just a shame the food wasn't up to the same standard.

Brasserie Joël on Urbanspoon

Friday, 15 October 2010


Went to the new outlet of Belgique on the river-front at Canary Wharf for lunch today. I wasn't sure what to expect and didn't take my camera, but I wish I had. What a little gem.

The food we had was pretty good, although the frites were slightly disappointing just because we all had such expectations. The portions were massive as well.

I think we'll definitely go back there so I'll report back when we do.

However, I can tell you how great the patisserie is because I has this wonderful strawberry bavarois for threeses.

An ethereal strawberry mousse held by a very light sponge and topped off with beautiful berries (spoilt only be a stick of candied angelica, which is anathema to me).

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Bits 'n' pieces

So it would seem I've not been up to much foodie stuff recently, not quite sure why. Maybe it's because I haven't been eating out nor having people round recently. Must do something about that but there are a few irons in the old fire.
  • I'm waiting to hear back from the SRA having offered to volunteer with them this week.
  • I didn't get a chance to work at the LRF this year but I am going Brasserie Joël to try out their Festival menu.
  • I haven't done a cooking "project" for a while but I have a few up my sleeve including a rabbit based weekend of food, making salt beef (or corned beef as the Americans call it), making the apple doughnuts that James Martin made on Saturday Kitchen recently, which he said "no-one would make", and a home-made recreation of Ikea's Swedish meatballs.
  • Just found the Everything Burger blog which puts my burger post to shame.
  • Also just found out about an Ikea cookbook which has uniquely stylish ingredient photos by photographer Carl Kleiner like this one:
  • On a similar arty subject I've just got hold of a copy of Food for thought, thought for food - The creative universe of elBulli's Ferran Adrià. A reflection on the worlds of avante-garde cooking and art. Some amazing photos in it, I'll let you know how it reads.

ICCHFC - Week 55: Coconut, lemon and blueberry cake

Week 55 was back to Marianne and despite all her protestation, she still manages to produce one good cake after another.

This time she made a coconut, lemon and blueberry cake to use up the lemon curd she had in her fridge.

This cake had an amazing texture profile. The top section was slightly crisp and chewy because of the coconut. This gave way to a light sponge. Hidden at the bottom of the cake was a gloriously rich combination of just cooked blueberries and lemon. It didn't taste too bad either!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

ICCHFC - Week 54: Plum cake

Despite being off on Monday, there was some of Johnny's plum cake left for me to have some and the rest of the ICCHFC to have seconds.

John made a rather scrummy plum cake care of this Nigel Slater recipe.

There were loads of beautiful ruby plums in this cake surrounded by a soft lightly almondy sponge.

We decided that this was not only a good cake but would be great served warm with lashings of custard.

John's version of Nigel Slater's plum cake

150g butter
150g unrefined golden caster sugar
16 plums
3 large eggs
75g plain flour
tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds

1. Set the oven at 175°C. Line the base of a 20-22cm cake tin with baking parchment.
2. Beat the butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy. Stop when the mixture is light, soft and the colour of vanilla ice cream.
3. Meanwhile, halve the plums, remove the stones, then cut each half in two.
4. Break the eggs, beat lightly with a fork, then add them bit by bit to the butter and sugar.
5. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold them gently into the mixture. Fold in the ground almonds too.
6. Scrape the mixture into the cake tin. Place the quartered plums on the cake mixture. Bake for 40-45 minutes, then test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready.
7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 15 minutes before turning out.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Leftover week

Last weekend's roast and cooked breakfast left me with a host of leftovers. I'm quite glad to report that I managed to subsist on these alone. Here's what I ate during the week.

Monday - I had cabbage and pork pasta that I'd previously made with pork belly, simply substituting my left over pork for the belly.

Tuesday - Cold meat and apple sauce, mash and beans. Simple, but tasty.

Wednesday - Pork "stroganoff"

Slices of onion and mushroom gently fried. Then paprika and cream added to create a sauce to warm up the pork.

Thursday - Pork, fennel and potato salad care of HFW

Crispy potatoes, big chunks of caramelised fennel and pork. Seasoned with a squirt of lemon juice. Absurdly simple but delicious.

And not to mention more than a few very tasty sandwiches made with the cold meat and various leftover garnishes like apple sauce. Although I must say this pork, tomato and fried egg sandwich for Saturday brunch was particularly good.

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