Friday, 31 August 2012

Sweetcorn soup-er supper

I've just made myself a most satisfying soup supper that was simply superb. (I'll stop with the alliteration now, sorry) I made a sweetcorn soup (garnished with crispy fried corn and bacon bits - soups are all about the garnishes) with a Gorgonzola croûton.

The tang of the Gorgonzola was offset by the sweet soup to absolute perfection. The crunch of the corn and bacon contrasted with the silky soup. Every mouthful was fantastic. IT did take more than a modicum of self-control to not dig into the portion I had set aside for the freezer

Soups are so easy I don't really understand why I don't make them more often. Especially when they are as comforting as being wrapped up in a big duvet by a fire during a snowstorm.

Anyway, here's the "recipe", if you fancy this spectacular seasonal supper. (Sorry!)

Sweetcorn soup

2 corn on the cobs, kernels removed
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1/2 potato, cubed
~450ml stock, chicken or vegetable
~100ml double cream
For the croûton:
Slice of bread
Some blue cheese, I had Gorgonzola
A dab of butter
A splash of double cream
To garnish:
A bacon rasher, fried until crispy and chopped roughly
A few corn kernels fried till brown and crisp

1. Sweat the onion and celery in a knob of butter and oil until softened.
2. Add in the potato, stock and corn, kernels and cob.
3. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10mins or until the potatoes are cooked.
4. Remove the corn cobs and blend.
5. Add the cream and some water to get the soup to a satisfactory consistency and season.
6. For the croûton, lightly toast the bread on both sides.
7. Meanwhile, mix the cheese, butter and cream to a spreadable consistency. (I added a shake of cayenne pepper too, to add a bit of life).
8. Slather the cheese mix all over one side of the toast and return to the grill until brown and bubbling.
9. Fill a deep bowl with the soup. Garnish the with bacon and corn. Sit back and enjoy by dipping the crouton in soup.

P.S. A couple of days later I was watching Thomasina Miers on "Mexican Food Made Simple" with Thomasina Miers and she added a touch of allspice to a corn soup she made...

Thursday, 30 August 2012

That was then, this is now

Having sung "Happy Birthday" in my head (some murmurings may have escaped into the outside world...) to celebrate doing this blog thing for three years, I settled down for some reflection.

This has definitely been a story of two halves. For the first 18 months, I was in deep, very deep. I posted prodigiously about everything that caught my eye, or that I did, that was in some way food related. And it was great. Most of my spare time was either taken up with eating at "some place nice" or cooking something good. Or thinking about eating some place nice or thinking about cooking something good.

Then things changed. Real work became less satisfying and I needed a new challenge. I wanted to do something meaningful as opposed to cruising (not in a gay way). So a new job, away from London, was the result. Consequently, as I seemed to spend a greater proportion of my life travelling rather than doing anything else, the blog suffered. Thus for the last 18 months my output has shrivelled to merely one or two posts a month.

Things have improved a little recently as the new job is great, but it is all consuming.

So now, three years on what the plan? Am I any closer to being a foodie? Is this bloggin' malarkey ever going to lead to anything more? Do I need to re-focus perhaps with a more refined subject matter; can I find a niche? Does it need to?

Guess I'll just keep on writing and we'll all have to wait and see if any of those questions get answered...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Doughnut challenge...

Last Friday I got an e-mail from a colleague:

Subject: Monday morning, get up early and...

Nothing more. Simply a culinary gauntlet thrown with stark impunity. There was clearly no way I was not going to make jam doughnuts. It was on my mind all weekend but there wasn't an opportunity to make them until last night.

I have an unstable relationship with yeast. Sometimes I crack out some beautiful airy doughy delights. At other times I get heavy hard lumps.

After mixing the dough together, I was not hopeful. It seemed very tough and even after kneading for a while it hadn't become any more elastic. Nevertheless, I left it to prove (I recently learnt that the term is used because you are "proving" that the yeast works, so now you know) with scant optimism. Even after a good hour the dough had grown only little bit, but since I'd invested so much and I do so love using my mini deep-fat fryer, I decided to carry on and formed my doughnuts. The dough wasn't pliable enough to be worked into proper buns, so I ended up with some round-ish balls.

By this time it was quite late in the evening and I was quite up for a tasty deep-fried sugary snack. 8 minutes of frying in the hot vat later I had a golden ball. A quick roll in caster sugar and it was ready to eat.

It was too hot to attempt to squeeze in the jam, so I just spooned some on the side. And I have to say it was pretty good. A touch dense but a hot sweet sticky doughnut it most certainly was. (Is there anyone who can resist hot doughnuts? Those vans that sell 5 for £1 are my dirtiest guilty pleasure.)

I fried off the remainder and resolved to take them in to work.

In order to get the jam in I heated it up and put it in a squeezy bottle. I also let the doughnuts cool down a little so I could actually hold them. I thought I did a reasonable job of getting jam in each one. Turns out that wasn't the case. The dense centre (as a result of the dough not proving) meant that the jam had nowhere to go. I hadn't noticed the dense texture with my warm one. These doughnuts were most definitely best fresh out of the fryer.

Still I think they went down OK with the selected few who I dared offer one too:

taste is good as you said rather dense and because of that the sweetness doesn’t last through the amount of time to eat the mouthful

Great 1st try though – happy to try them until you reach dunkin donuts standard!
Mine was on the dense side, I certainly know I eaten one – tasty tho Good work

You just know I'm going to have to have another go at some point...

Jam Doughnuts (from The Guardian)

300g strong white flour, plus extra to dust
7g dried yeast
½ tsp salt
15g caster sugar, plus extra to dust
20g unsalted butter, at room temperature, chopped, plus extra to grease
65ml whole milk, warmed
45ml warm water
1 egg, beaten
6 tsp raspberry jam

1. Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Put the butter into a bowl with the warm milk and water, and stir to melt. Pour this into the mixing bowl, along with the egg, and stir until it comes together into a dough: it should be firm, but soft.
2. Tip on to a lightly floured surface, or into a mixer fitted with a dough hook, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Put into a lightly greased bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour).
3. Shape into 6 balls of about 80g each, folding each side tightly into the centre in turn, turning as you go, then turn the ball over and put it on a lightly floured baking tray or board, spacing them well apart. Cover and leave to rise again for 45 minutes.
4. Heat the oil in a large pan or deep-fat fryer to 160C. Cook the doughnuts in 2 batches for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden, then blot with kitchen paper and sprinkle with caster sugar. Allow to cool slightly, then make a small hole in the side of each, and use a piping bag to inject a splodge of jam. Eat immediately, while they're still warm.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Duck and Waffle

Went for a lunch today at the brand new Duck and Waffle on the 40th floor of Heron Tower, London's third tallest skyscraper (After The Shard and One Canada Square). Now it's been a while since I was up with the latest foodie goings on in old-London-village, but since I was meeting my friend at Liverpool Street Station, which it is just opposite, it seemed an opportunity too good to miss.

It's exciting hurtling up to the restaurant in the super-fast glass lift on the outside of the tower. The sense of anticipation continues as you make you way up further via a spiral stair case all the while surrounded by the great views of London the floor-to-ceiling windows afford. It's actually takes some time to get to the welcoming bar as you can't help but keep stopping and pointing out various landmarks on the way.

The dining room is full of heavy wood: tables, bar and the open kitchen. This all contrasts very well with the otherwise stark modern tower interior. I think it also gives you a sense of being grounded, despite being so far up in the sky.

They're serving up an all day menu in a tapas-esque style i.e. plates to share. It's the sort of fabulous food that you can't help but enjoy. We had, in no particular order,:

bbq-spiced crispy pig ears
These came in a brown paper bag with a wax seal embossed with a duck's head. Crisp shard of porky deliciousness.

rabbit rillettes / sourdough / beer chutney / pistachio
Smooth and delicately rabbit rillettes. Although the chutney was so good I slightly over indulged. Again. And again.

burrata / capers / pickled red onion / parsley

roasted essex beetroot / goat curd / honey / watercress /
Fantastic beets brought to live with the curd. Earthy and packed full of flavour; each component well balanced against the others.

duck & waffle / fried duck egg / mustard maple syrup
Confit duck leg on a billowy waffle topped with a perfect duck egg. Amazing. The maple syrup works very well, but go easy and try and make sure you get some of the mustard seeds out of the jug, otherwise the sweetness will be too much.

I could quite happily have carried on eating for some time, if only I wasn't so damn full. It's the sort of stuff you don't ever want to stop eating. I'd be flabbergasted if I went there with someone and there wasn't at least one thing on the menu that they'd like (to be honest, if that was the case, I think they'd need de-friending).

My lord, the food certainly befits its surrounding. What a contrast to Barbecoa last night!

You simply must go. I've told everyone who'd listen that they have to go. You won't be disappointed.

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

P.S. This was the view from our table. I've had a pretty scenic 24 hours of meals!

Friday, 10 August 2012


K and I embarked on another restaurant adventure tonight, this time at Barbecoa in One New Change in the city. This place focuses on serving big lumps of meat cooked in a barbecue fashion using a variety of grills. You know what to expect: big steaks, racks of ribs and pulled pork.

It's a joint venture between Jamie Oliver (sufficient time having passed that my previous experience of Jamie's Italian had receded from my consciousness) and Adam Perry Lang, an American chef specialising in American barbecue who also has a TV career on NBC (thanks Google). So, a pair of popular chefs, each bringing their own style, combined in an alter to seared meat overlooking St Paul's Cathedral. Sounds like a reasonable set-up.

The interior is very modern city chic: dark, leather, metal and glass everywhere. As you walk to your table you walk passed the kitchen which has a window so you can see in apart from the pass which is open directly to the dining room. The restaurant definitely makes the most of its location. One entire side of the place is glazed giving a view of the cathedral from every table. The ambience is good with the buzz that comes from people eating out on a Friday night. This was the view from out table:

But, was the food any good?

Pork Scratchings
Apple and Thyme Sauce

A massive board of warm crispy bits of pig skin with a few crispy sage leaves and an apple sauce dip with a wonderful scent of thyme. So good they went down rather quickly. A cracking start.

Pit-Smoked Baby Back Ribs
Coriander and Chilli

The ribs were a tender pork-fest. The meat was stripped from the bones with only the slightest tug from my lips. The barbeque sauce was like HP on steroids full. The chilli and spring onion didn't really do it for me. The onion was too harsh and over-loaded the barbecue sauce and pork far too easily (as did the chilli, but I am a massive softy when it come to the Scoville scale). I'd have much preferred these without the garnishes.

The Crispy Calamari K had were good (suitably tender) and accompanied by some creamy avocado.

Dry-Aged Rump Steak
Charred Aubergine, Shallots, Tomato, Chilli and Sweet Marjoram

Clearly I was only ever going to have steak (what else would you have at a steak place?). Whenever possible I tend to go for rump as its got more flavour than other cuts. The downside to this is that you need it medium-rare rather than rare to ensure that you don't get a work-out for your jaws, so I was quite surprised when the waiter said I could have it blue. That's a little too far for me. With some caution I went for rare.

The steak was well cooked, perfectly rare with a dark crust and surprisingly tender. A good flavoursome steak served with reasonable salad and relishes. It provided the beef hit with to a good standard. It didn't make me want to jump out of my seat and bellow its praises from the rafters, unfortunately. A distinct case of "hmmm, yeah, nice steak", nothing more.

K's Pulled pork waffle and BBQ sauce was not so good either. The sauce was far too sweet and overpowered everything. On the evidence of this, I'd suggest that "restraint" hasn't entered US English.

Since K had practically already had pudding and there wasn't really anything interesting on the dessert menu, not to say we were both pretty full of protein, we didn't finish with anything sweet.

Overall, I felt a little cheated by Barbecoa. It's in a great location and the service is good and the food perfectly acceptable. I was expecting a riot of meat and American barbecue like you see on Man vs. Food or Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and I just didn't get it. Everything seemed just a little to restraint(!). Maybe it's because Barbecoa is aimed at a the city's slightly posher crowd; the bill certainly is.

Barbecoa on Urbanspoon

On the way out I noticed that Ramsay's recently opened Bread Street Kitchen is just opposite. The media got far too excited about Ramsay and Jamie opening up next-door restaurants when it was first announced. I'd quite like to see what the competition is like.

Fungi Forays

Autumn if fast approaching and with it the mushroom season, so I was a little bit excited when I came across Fungi Forays, who offer "wild mushroom safaris in the woods of Wales".

The idea of going and finding fresh wild mushrooms then cooking them up is really quite appealing as they're just do hard to get hold of (unless you go to Borough Market or somewhere particular).

They are based in the Elan Valley, so it's a bit of a trek from Londinium but the two day trip would work...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A private Edinburgh food "fest"

I've just come back from one of my "regular" trips to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe which, as usual, was most excellent. What was not quite so usual was the level of high quality eating that was involved.

The eating started off with a lunch at the Edinburgh institution that is The Dogs. Some pre-trip research made it clear that this place is viewed quite fondly by Edinburghers. And I can see why. As you walk through the big front door and up the stairs, the abundance of dark wood and dog-related decoration is very welcoming in a well-lived (and ever-so-slightly ramshackled) gran's house way, albeit with slightly less chintz and fewer doileys.

The Dogs' popularity was demonstrated by the virtue that there was only one small table left in the main dining room as all the others were already booked for lunch, despite us arriving barely after noon. I had a devilled ox liver, onion, bacon and mushroom on toast. It was good but they certainly held back on the devilling; it took my breath away. I had to quench the fire between each bite either with wine or another mouthful of the delicious fresh warm bread. I was jealous of my companion's Stornoway black pudding hash with fried duck egg. I think it was pretty good given the frequency of the simpering moans of pleasure emanating from her after nearly every fork-full. (There was no point in my trying it as my palette was awash with spicy liver). I also feel like I should have had the haggis, oh well. Definitely a place to go back to and explore a bit more of the menu.

The Dogs on Urbanspoon

Our next lunch-time treat was at Cucina a rather good Italian restaurant in the Hotel Missoni on the North Bridge. It was very modern restaurant: plenty of light highlighting a minimalist interior whilst remaining suitably plush and without that over-riding feeling of being in a hotel.

I had some great Speck ham to start with which came with some fried polenta (Speck con polenta fritta e bagna cauda) which had an incredibly light and fluffy interior; I could have eaten a plate of that on its own. Next up I had Conchiglie al ragu, which was a perfect example of a pork ragu if ever there was one. The scent of rosemary that finished each mouthful was exquisite. I finished with a tiramisu (well, you just have to don't you?), which was OK. It certainly came packing a boozy punch but was a little too creamy for me. Again the food envy hit when over the table from me when the Lacrima di Morro d'Alba chilled soup, cinnamon crumble and strawberry sorbet arrived. It was a pretty dish oozing elegance and summer berries and it was quite possibly the best fruit soup I've ever tasted.

Still I had made my bed by having the set lunch, which at £18 is an absolute bargain. Cucina is definitely a place to go back to.

Cucina on Urbanspoon

On the way down to Leith for our final lunch we stopped off in the Italian deli Valvona & Crolla. And what a place. Packed with fresh produce, tempting meats and cheeses and glorious baked goods. There's even a cafe at the back serving up an array of tempting delights made from the excellent produce at the front. This is the kind of shop I could happily spend plenty of money on a regular basis, if only it wasn't in Edinburgh...

Caffe Bar @ Valvona & Crolla on Urbanspoon

Saving the best to last, on our last day we went to Tom Kitchin's The Kitchin in Leith. Kitchin is one of the best known Scottish chefs. Having worked under Koffman and Ducasse he has an approach grounded in classical French cuisine and is a strong proponent of using local and seasonal produce. Needless to say I was expecting great things from the one-star chef. I'll cut to the chase and tell you that I wasn't disappointed.

The tempo was set with a rather good Edinburgh gin and tonic and crudités, with a frankly outrageously delicious blue cheese dip, in the sun whilst perusing the menu.

I was quite surprised by how small the dining room was, with only ten or so tables. WE were sat opposite the rather large window into the kitchen. It was understated elegance as you'd expect in a quality fine dining establishment.

I started with satueed Perthshire girolles served with crispy lamb sweetbreads and a poached hen's egg. Let's face it the combination of tasty bits like lamb, mushrooms, bacon, egg and a red wine jus is always going to be a winner: a dish which excited my palate with every mouthful. Even if it wasn't quite as subtle as my companion's exquisite langoustine ravioli.

Next up was a seared fillet of North Sea hake served with a herb crust and red pepper piperade. The piperade was a revelation; so strong in pepper and tomato flavour with a real lingering presence. The hake was strong enough to hold its own but the herb crust was lost frankly.

I finished with a custard tart served with Scottish brambles and a bramble sorbet. Now I might have grumbled about the measly slice of tart (barely a finger's worth) if my breath hadn't been taken away by the blackberry sorbet. Simply stunning, bursting with rich blackberry flavour, tart enough to excite but with just enough sugar to prevent a pout. A joyous end to the meal.

Quite frankly £60 for an excellent three course meal with matched wines and a G&T is value you simply can't argue with. A great restaurant that I am determined to go back to.

The Kitchin on Urbanspoon
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