Thursday, 25 July 2013

Battenberg (and baked potatoes)

Tonight was the culmination of yet another culinary challenge from K&A. The theme was Battenberg and baked potatoes in recognition of Rhod Gilbert's latest comic DVD offering. I'll give you one guess as to who was providing the Battenberg...

First order of the day was research. Now a cake always has to taste good, but in this case appearance was just as important. A Mr Kipling Battenberg was duly procured. I'm not a fan of using food-colouring but there'd be no option this time. The determining factor for my square cross-sections would be the rise of the cake. Only once the cake was baked would I be able to determine the appropriate proportional length.

Interestingly the packaged described the multi-coloured cake as
chequered sponge with apricot filling wrapped in almond flavoured paste

Hardly mouth-watering, eh?

Once I worked out how to bake "squares" (I divided an 8" square loose-bottomed tin with a greaseproof paper-covered foil divider), I was just left worrying about making marzipan. My Dad always makes the marzipan for our Christmas cake so I knew it was possible and a damn sight tastier than the packaged stuff. I was amazed at just how easy it is making marzipan. Far simpler than I had expected. (Mind you, had the marzipan gone wrong I was prepared to resort to packet-stuff. Only as a last resort back-up.)

It turns out my cake was a behemoth when compared to the mass-produced ones. I'd provided the large Mr Kipling but there were also mini versions available. (It's as if there was no faith in my Battenberg-producing skills...)

In terms of overall appearance I think I did pretty well. It could have been a little pinker and maybe I should have trimmed the brown edges sides of the cakes. I also hadn't enhanced the yellow part of my cake, relying on the natural colour of the sponge.

Taste-wise I think I trumped Mr Kipling. My cake was less sweet and had a far less "false" chemical flavour. I was right about the marzipan being far more palatable too. I now understand why people say they don't like it. I wonder how many of those have actually tried home-made marzipan? It was so good even the leftovers were made light work of.

Anyway, on to the recipe

Recipe for Battenberg cake

3 eggs
6oz plain flour
1tsp baking powder
6oz caster sugar
6oz butter
1/4tsp almond essence
Red food colouring
Apricot jam
For the marzipan:
75g icing sugar
1 egg
1tbsp lemon juice
175 ground almonds
1 egg yolk

1. To make the cake make a three egg Victoria sponge batter in the normal fashion (cream the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs and then fold in the sifted baking powder and flour).
2. Divide the batter into two equal portions. To one half add red food colouring until a desired level of pink is achieved.
3. To the other half add the almond essence.
4. To prepare the tin, first of all grease liberally. Then make an 8" foil divider and wedge in the middle of the tin. Then line the tin, and divider with greaseproof paper leaving the ends overlapping (so that it is easier to remove the cake).
5. Put the two cake mixes either side of the divider and bake at 180°C for 20min or until done.
6. Once cool, stack the two cakes on top of one another and trim so that they are the same size. Then split in half longitudinally.
7. Gently warm some apricot jam and slacken with a dash of water until a smooth easily spreadable consistency is achieved.
8. Sandwich the four rectangles of cake together with the jam, making sure to alternate the cakes to achieve the chequerboard effect.
9. For the marzipan, whisk the egg, egg yolk and sugar in a bain marie for about 10mins until pale and thick
10. Take the "sabayon" off the heat and beat in the lemon juice and almonds until smooth.
11. Chill for 30 mins.
12. Roll-out the marzipan, dusting the surface with icing sugar. Ensure the marzipan is large enough to completely enrobe the cake.
13. Brush one edge of the cake with jam and place on an edge of the marzipan. Brush the remaining exposed sides with jam (not the ends!) then swaddle the cake in marzipan. Try to keep the seam at the bottom. Trim any excess marzipan.
14. Tidy up the end by chopping them off (chef's perk!) to reveal a marzipan encased cake.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Tap Water - know your rights!

I hate having to buy mineral water at restaurants. I'm perfectly satisfied with a glass of tap water. has produced an excellent guide to getting free tap water in restaurants. It seems that
...only licensed establishments (those that serve alcohol) in England, Wales and Scotland must provide free drinking water.

According to Section 136 of the Licensing Act 2003, which came into force in April 2010, all restaurants in England and Wales that serve alcohol are legally required to give customers free tap water (the legislation for Scotland is the same, but it's a different act). Those that don't are under no obligation to do so.

That doesn't mean that they can't charge for the use of a glass!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pied a Terre

I went for lunch today at Pied à Terre which " reportedly one of London's best value lunch menus for Michelin star dining.". Unfortunately, it was so good it didn't actually end up being as bargainous as I thought. Now, I don't mean that in a derogatory way. Far from it. It exceeded my expectations for a lunch by so much we were there for over two hours savouring every bite.

We should have realised this was going to be no ordinary lunch as soon as the fresh truffle croquette (a delightful crispy, earthy mouthful) and scallop ball appeared. Canapés at a lunch? With truffle? My my.

Now gnocchi are one of my (many) weaknesses, so there was simply no chance of me not having the chestnut gnocchi. They were billowy pillows lightly fried anointed with Parmesan. The mushroom vinaigrette and the slivers of spring truffle accompanied them perfectly. It made for quite an autumnal dish but so delicate it was perfect for a mild June afternoon.

I'd had a quick perusal of the menu on-line before going and had decided on the rabbit for the main course. Unfortunately it had been replaced by pork belly, the ubiquity of which is making less of an automatic choice. Instead I had to "make-do" with the perfectly roasted fillet of sea-bream. This came with salt baked celeriac and a silky smooth asparagus and Parmesan cream. Delicious.

Oh and the bread! At least five freshly-baked (as in still-warm-from-the-oven) types continuously offered during the first two courses. Are you sure this is the set lunch?

By now dessert was a foregone conclusion. But first, of course, the pre-dessert, a pair of sublime quenelles: coconut ice cream and mango sorbet. The white chocolate tart with poached rhubarb and a rhubarb sorbet that followed wasn't bad either. The tart was actually a white chocolate custard tart with a brûléed top, not what I was expecting but perfectly executed: thin crisp pastry, a layer of rhubarb purée and a ridiculously smooth and just barely set centre.

Coffee was accompanied by a seemingly never ending selection of petits fours: a mango jelly, lemon tart, white chocolate fudge, fresh cinnamon doughnuts and a coconut truffle. And don't forget this was just lunch. Seriously.

The service throughout was impeccable and friendly. A simply faultless meal exceeding all expectations. What a lunch. I need to find an "excuse to go again". You simply must go if you have any appreciation for good food. But just don't go expecting to have "just" the set lunch...

Pied à Terre on Urbanspoon

Tasty Art

Tasty Art specialise in food-based art. That is art featuring, not made of, food.

They specialise in London-based artists and feature photographers and artists. It looks like I finally have a reason to do some interior design...

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Avocado and Peanut butter

Tonight I hosted a celebratory meal for a very new primary school deputy-head. In order to celebrate suitably a meal featuring avocado and peanut butter was requested.

Now I love the challenge of sculpting a meal to a certain set of conditions but I wasn't too sure what to do with avocado. It's never really used as the main thrust of a dish more as a featuring accompaniment. Thus I turned to Niki Segnit's The Flavour Thesaurus for inspiration and found it in spades. The peanut butter element was far too easy as I love peanut butter and it makes for a great dessert. The problem was more trying to reign myself in. Anyhoo, we ended up having:

Avocado and Cucumber "soup"
Avocado Tasting Plate
Spring Vegetable Tagliatelle
Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich and Grape Sorbet

Avocado and Cucumber "soup"

On a warm June's evening this was a delightful fresh start. The flavours of the avocado and cucumber complemented each other perfectly, accented by lemon juice. A little dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper gave a rounded and more complete mouthful.

Avocado Tasting Plate

Because I wasn't quite sure what to do with the avocado I put together an avocado tasting plate pairing avocado in three different ways: avocado with bacon and blue cheese; grilled avocado, grapefruit and prawn; and finally avocado and mango. I had a hunch that these should be eaten in the same order going from a very savoury salt end through the flavour spectrum to almost sweet with mango.

Rather pleasingly it all worked out rather well. Each of the combinations worked really well. So much so that all the trimmings were very quickly hoovered up and a various different combinations were tried and tested, not all quite so successful as my original!

Spring Vegetable Tagliatelle

Having put so much effort into the avocado and peanut butter elements, I was little lost for inspiration in terms of the main course. I went for a simple spring/summer vegetable pasta: mangetout, peas and asparagus seasoned with lemon and mint. Fresh, seasonal and very tasty.

Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich and Grape Sorbet

For dessert I put together a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Two peanut butter cookies sandwiched together by fresh peanut butter ice-cream and blackcurrant jam, served with a  grape sorbet.

The ice-cream was delicious but was over-whelmed by too much biscuit. Peeling off one of the cookies gave a much better balance. The grape sorbet gave a lovely contrast to the rich creamy ice-cream and also prevented the peanut-butter flavour from being too dominant. It went down well but not the resounding finish I was hoping for.

To try and improve I gave it another go the following day, essentially making and ice-cream "cheesecake". I crumbled one of the peanut butter cookies up as the base, covered that with jam and then put the ice-cream on top. It was served with the sorbet on top and a shard of salted peanut brittle. This had a much better balance although it was just too big! (Not something I ever thought I'd say!)

All in all a very good night. Here are the recipes:

Avocado and cucumber "soup"

Half cucumber, de-seeded and roughly chopped
Medium-sized avocado, roughly chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Sour cream
Cayenne pepper

1. Put the avocado, cucumber and lemon juice in a blender. Blend until smooth adding a little water at a time to achieve a silky consistency.
2. Season with salt and pepper (and lemon juice) to taste and chill.
3. Serve in espresso cups topped with a teaspoon of sour cream and a restrained sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

Avocado Tasting Plate

Two ripe avocados
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, cut into three
2 slices of dry-cured bacon
Half red chilli, finely diced
Lime juice
Red grapefruit, segmented
Mango, sliced
Mint, chopped
Melted butter

For the avocado, bacon and blue cheese:
1. Fry the bacon until crisp, leave to cool and then cut into pieces.
2. In the same pan, fry one side of three of the bread slices in the bacon fat until crispy.
3. Brush the other side of the bread with melted butter and fry until toasted.
4. Mash half an avocado with lime juice, salt and pepper and chilli to taste.
5. To serve, liberally spread the avocado on the toast. Sprinkle over the bacon bits and add little pinches of blue cheese. Finish with a light drizzle of olive oil.
For the avocado, grapefruit and prawn:
1. Slice and avocado thickly. Liberally brush three slices with melted butter and season. Grill.
2. Brush three slices of bread with melted butter on both sides and fry until toasted.
3. Fry the prawn in a dash of butter until just cooked and then season with lime juice, salt and pepper.
4. To serve, place an avocado slice on each piece of bread, top with a grapefruit segment and a prawn
For the avocado and mango:
1. Marinate slices of avocado and mango in lime juice and mint.
2. Brush three slices of bread with melted butter on both sides and fry until toasted.
3. To serve, top the bread with a slice of avocado and a slice of mango.
[Note: This might actually work better as a mango and avocado salsa, rather than slices of each]

Spring Vegetable Tagliatelle (serves 3, inspired by Simon Rimmer's Pasta primavera)

1/2 onion, finely chopped
300g tagliatelle, cooked and cooking water reserved
2oz butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g asparagus, blanched, cut into bite-sized pieces
200g frozen peas, podded
200g mangetout
150g baby spinach
1 lemon, juice and zest
Parmesan shavings
Half bunch mint, chopped
Half bunch parsley, chopped

1. Heat the butter in a pan, sweat the onion until translucent then add the garlic and fry for one minute.
2. Add the asparagus, peas, mangetout and spinach and stir fry for 1-2 minutes, until the spinach has wilted slightly.
3. Add the pasta and a little of the cooking water to the pan and stir to combine.
4  Stir in the lemon juice and zest and the herbs and season, to taste.
5. To serve, divide the pasta and sprinkle over Parmesan shavings and drizzle with olive oil.

For the dessert I'll just give you the recipes for the peanut-butter ice-cream and grape sorbet.

Peanut butter ice-cream (taken from Allrecipes)
Makes 500ml

2tbsp caster sugar
2 eggs
125ml milk
100g peanut butter
80ml sweetened condensed milk
60ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract

1. Beat the sugar and eggs with an electric mixer until thick, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
2. Bring the milk to a simmer over low heat.
3. Take off the heat and gradually add the milk to the eggs while whisking vigorously. Then pour the whole mixture into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in peanut butter. Allow to cool slightly, then whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, single cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.
5. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Or put in a container and freezer, taking out of the freezer and whisking every hour for the first three hours. Then leave to freeze.

Grape sorbet (from Niki Segnit's The Flavour Thesaurus)

250ml red grape juice
100ml water
100g caster sugar.

1. Warm the water and sugar together in a pan until the sugar has dissolved.
2. Take off the heat and combine with the grape juice. Leave to cool.
3. Once cool, pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Or put in a container and freezer, taking out of the freezer and whisking every hour for the first three hours. Then leave to freeze.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Pineapple steamed puddings

Three things coincided today which resulted in this little pud being created: I was bored and had time on my hands; I fancied a pudding; and I had a fresh pineapple to use.

It had a deep caramel flavour combined with the warm spice of cinnamon and all spice which provided a contrast to the perky fresh pineapple. The little bits of red chilli gave it a very gently kick at the end. A little blob of sour cream rounded things off nicely. As with all steamed puddings it was comfortingly fluffy and yet light (and small) enough to be OK for a sunny day.

Not bad for a little Saturday afternoon experiment.

Recipe for Pineapple steamed puddings (makes two)

2oz butter
2oz dark muscavado sugar
1 egg
2oz plain flour, sifted
1/2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp cinnamon
1/4tsp all spice
2dsp Golden Syrup
3tbsp fre3sh pineapple, finely diced
1/2 red chilli, chopped finely

1. Make the cake batter as per a normal sponge: cream the butter and sugar until pale. Beat in the egg and fold in the flour, baking powder and spices. (Note: add more spice to suit your taste but remember, you can always add, but never take away...)
2. Butter two dariole moulds thoroughly.
3. Put enough Golden Syrup to just coat the bottom of the moulds (about 1dsp).
4. Mix the chilli and pineapple pieces and liberally fill the mould to about 1/2" depth.
5. Divide the batter between the two moulds.
6. Secure a lid of pleated greaseproof and foil on.
7. Steam for 45mins (until a skewer comes out clean from the middle).
8. Un-mould on to a plate and serve with a dash of sour cream.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Asparagus Soup

I don't think anyone would disagree with the fact that it has not been a classic season for English asparagus (pesky rainy weather). Nevertheless, it is still an annual treat to ram as much of these delicious green spears down as possible. Earlier this week I picked up a particularly thick bunch (in contrast to the more desirable wispy stalks) and was trying to work out what to do with them.

Perusing BBC Food for inspiration (doesn't everyone?), I came across this James Martin recipe for an asparagus soup. Given the delightful spring day (note heavy sarcasm) and the state of the asparagus, a soup did appeal.

The soup was rich and smooth, but surprisingly light. The crispy potatoes and asparagus tips meant that every mouthful had lots of different textures. The watercress was slightly odd (but I didn't de-stalk) and I would leave those out in the future.

Definitely a good way to use up either old or less aesthetically pleasing asparagus.

Asparagus Soup (based on this James Martin recipe)

2oz butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme
300g asparagus, stalks roughly chopped, tips set aside for the stir fry
10fl oz chicken stock
2tbsp sour cream
For the garnish:
4oz Jersey Royal potatoes, cooked and cut into cubes
Asparagus tips
1. Sweat the onion and thyme in butter for two minutes.
2. Add the asparagus stalks and cook for one minute.
3. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes, until the asparagus is just tender.
4. Remove from the heat and blend until smooth.
5. Return the soup to the pan over a medium heat and add the cream. Stir well and season, to taste.
6. For the garnish, fry the potatoes in olive oil until beginning to colour.
7. Add the asparagus tips and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the asparagus is cooked through.
8. To serve, divide the potato and asparagus stir fry equally among the centre of shallow soup bowls and ladle the soup around each.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Morrocan lamb, asparagus and rhubarb

My first proper dinner guest for quite some time (potentially the first this year). I went very seasonal with the menu and also made use of some rhubarb from a colleague for pud. We had:

Lamb "Pastilla"
Asparagus Risotto and Watercress Salad
Rhubarb Cheesecake

Lamb Pastilla

This was quite involved for a starter: a lamb filo parcel (the pastilla), a red pepper sauce and tzatziki. The three elements really worked together. The lamb parcel was crispy and full of fragrant and savoury lamb (although it could happily have coped with more apricot). The red pepper sauce added some heat and moisture. The tzatziki cooled the heat and provided a creamy contrast with a fresh herbal hit.

I'm very glad that all the effort was worthwhile.

Asparagus Risotto and Watercress Salad

A nice spring risotto which brought the asparagus to the forefront (highlighted by lemon). The watercress salad helped to keep the meal fresh. And I finally managed to make a decent Parmesan crisp!

Rhubarb Cheesecake

The cheesecake wasn't as good as I hoped. Not to say it wasn't tasty, it just wasn't very rhubarby. It was simply too lemony which overpowered the rhubarb.

It was a baked cheesecake, which I haven't really made many of in the past. Mainly because I just don't see the need to bake a cheese cake; I don't see what it adds. Yes it was incredibly creamy and had a velvety smooth texture, but the base was soft. I love the contrast of the traditional biscuit and butter base.

There's no picture as late season rhubarb is never as pretty (i.e. pink) as the forced stuff. Also the cheesecake was supposed to be marbled. However, the rhubarb just sank to the bottom. Nobody's life will be enhanced by a picture of a white slice of cake with a stripe of green and brown at the bottom.

The rhubarb crisp garnishes were great though. Thin strips of rhubarb steeped in a vanilla stock syrup (100ml water, 100g caster sugar and ~1tsp vanilla extract) until soft. Then baked at 100°C for ~10mins until dried out.

Here is the recipe for the lamb starter. The risotto is pretty straightforward. Just make a risotto in the normal fashion. For the asparagus I sliced the spears thinly, reserving the tips. The asparagus was blanched in the vegetable stock until tender (~1-2mins) then stirred into the risotto at the end. The cheesecake definitely needs some work and I'll post a recipe once it's up to scratch.

Lamb "pastilla" (makes three)

250g lamb mince
Star anise
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2tsp allspice
1/4tsp chilli flakes
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp cumin
2tbsp dried apricots, finely chopped
1tbsp parsley, chopped
3 sheets filo pastry, cut in half
Melted butter
Sesame seeds
For the red pepper sauce:
2 red peppers
1tsp tomato puree
Garlic clove, sliced
1/4tsp paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper
Lemon juice
For the tzatziki:
Greek yoghurt
Mint, chopped finely
Half cucumber, de-seeded and grated
Lemon juice
Olive oil

1. For the red pepper sauce, char the outside of the peppers, leave to cool and then remove the skins and chop roughly.
2. Gently fry the red peppers and spices in olive oil for ~1min. Add the tomato purée and fry for ~1min. Add the garlic until it just started to colour.
3. Add 100ml vegetable stock and simmer for a few minutes. Liquidise the pepper mixture and return to a clean pan.
4. Reduce the sauce to a suitable consistency (covering the back of a spoon) and season with salt and lemon juice to taste.
5. For the lamb, chop the apricots and cover with boiling water and leave to rehydrate.
6. Fry the mince with the star anise in batches over a high heat. Remove the mince as soon as it is browned.
7. Add the onion and fry till brown. Add the spies and fry briefly.
8. Combine the mince, onion and spices, drained apricots and parsley in a bowl and mix. Season to taste.
9. Take a sheet of filo and liberally douse in melted butter. Repeat with another sheet of filo. Put a third of the lamb mince along a long edge and then roll tightly and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all the mixture and filling has been used up.
10. Liberally brush melted butter over the outside of the filo tubes and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 200°C for 20mins until the pastry is browned and crispy.
11. For the tzatziki, put the grated cucumber in a sieve and leave to drain for a few hours then squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
12. Combine the Greek yoghurt, cucumber, chopped mint, lemon juice and olive oil to taste. Season.
13. To serve, put a puddle of pepper sauce in the centre of the plate. Cut the pastilla in half and place on the plate. Serve the tzatziki separately.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Cinnamon Kitchen

Tonight, I was going out for dinner with a friend I haven't seen for a while. As it was a Friday I'd suggested a curry down Brick Lane or maybe some kind of "gourmet" fast-food in one of those swanky Shoreditch places that seem to be all the rage at the mo (Could the end of that sentence sound more patronising? (even though I didn't mean it to at all)).

Things didn't quite go to plan as we ended up at the Cinnamon Kitchen

Not that I'm complaining, but clearly a cheap night was no longer on the cards especially when I had the £40 meat tasting plate. This had distinct portions of lamb, red deer and Scottish angus beef. Each was spiced and garnished in a complimentary fashion that brought the flavour of the meat to the fore. The lamb was absolutely epic. The deer was nearly as good. Remarkably the beef was bringing up the rear flavour wise.

The excellent gin and tonic beforehand and accompanying red wine may have tarnished my memory of the meal somewhat. Consequently, I can't really remember more details of the meat dish or what I had before (I do remember that there were some perfect examples of three breads). We were both so full that there was no danger of any pudding going down. (Although somehow we did end up in Androuet for cheese and port).

I do know that it our meal at Cinnamon Kitchen was excellent and I would gladly go back.

Cinnamon Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Ice-cream bread

You know how sometimes someone tells you somehting and you just don't know whether to believe them or not? Well, this is one of those times.

My sister just sent me this link to an article about making bread with ice-cream:

Now thinking about it a little, I guess it is a bit like Irish soda bread really, so maybe it's not quite as nuts as it first seems. It just doesn't seem right and I still want to try it.

Recipe for ice-cream bread

2 cups of ice-cream
1.5 cup self-raising flour

1. Mix the ingredients until combined.
2. Put dough in a loaf tin and bake at 180°C for 45 min.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Norwich delights: The Pigs

I just spent the weekend in Norwich and got taken to a couple of foodie gems.

First up was the most amazing deli: Bakers & Larners.

This place was amazing. It had anything and everything you could think of. High quality local artisan produce aplenty. I just wanted to eat everything there and then. I'm pretty sure if I lived anywhere nearby I would struggle to not spend a lot of money.

That was followed by dinner at renown Norfolk eatery: The Pigs. It did not disappoint.

The Pigs is a countryside pub that place specialises in all things porky. It seemed churlish not to embrace this, so we basically had everything porky on the menu.

We started off with a couple of Iffits which are apparently "the Norfolk version of tapas". Firstly a ham hock scotch egg with piccalilli. It is clear to me that there are few things better than a freshly fried scotch egg. This was a a brilliant example. Beautiful tender hock meat mixed with an occasional cornichon and a soft egg in the middle. All enveloped in a crispy golden breadcrumb coating. Delicious.

To go with the scotch egg we had pigs ears and tartar sauce. What's not to love: crispy bits of pork with a rich yet  pungent dipping sauce. I admit we may have gone a little deep-fried heavy, but, hey, I was on holiday...

We followed these up with a couple more porky iffits (OK so this might have resulted from a slight amount of indecisiveness when ordering as opposed to any great "plan" per se...)

A kilner jar of potted pork was served straight out of the fridge much to its detriment. Once it had warmed a little this was classic rillettes and the accompanying apple chutney was superb: chunky and robust. While we were waiting for the potted pork to warm up we tucked into a plate of honey, marmalade and Colman’s mustard glazed pork ribs. These were excellent, the bones came out clean but the meat still had enough a satisfying bite to it. I wasn't too impressed by the marmalade glaze nevertheless these were good local ribs just don't expect a classic BBQ rib.

By this stage we were getting a little full so decided to share the belly of "Perfick Pork" with smoky bacon beans, apple chutney, black pudding and crackling. This was about as good as pork gets. The belly was perfectly cooked tender and flavoursome. The beans used a mix beans and were absolutely delicious. The black pudding was top-drawer and not too peppery. My only complaint was the cracking - simply not enough of it, only a single crispy shard each.

We didn't have room for pudding despite contemplating it for some time; there was simply no way to fight against the preceding pile of porky protein.

If you're in Norfolk, you should definitely get to The Pigs. I shall be going back for sure.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Waldorf salad soup

What to do with leftover celery is a perennial problem for me. I can't believe I've never thought of using it up in a Waldorf salad. Mind you it's not exactly been salad weather of late, so I thought I'd try out a riff on the flavours using a celery and blue cheese soup as the base with various Waldorf-esque garnishes.

First up was the soup with croutons fried in walnut oil, caramelised apples pieces, celery leaves and extra helpings of blue cheese, drizzled with final flourish of walnut oil.

This was like a meal in a bowl: all kinds of bold flavours and textures built on a creamy base. This is not soup for the feint-hearted. The sweetness of the apple was amazing in the way that it gleamed like tart, fresh, juicy jewels against the celery and blue cheese and acting to bring the whole thing together.

Next came a more refined version heavily garnished with chopped parley and walnut oil with a big blue-cheese croute.

If you don't like blue-cheese, then you sure as hell aren't going to like this. This soup was a symphony in blue-cheese with the parsley helping to not make it so over-powering.

Celery and blue cheese soup

Small onion, chopped
~1lb celery, peeled and chopped
Small potato, peeled and chopped
1oz butter
1dsp walnut oil
1pint vegetable stock
150ml double cream
150g blue cheese
Parsley, chopped
Reserved celery leaves
Croutons fried in walnut oil
Apple pieces fried to give a light caramelised edge
Blue cheese
Walnuts, dry fried and chopped

1. Sweat the celery, onion and potato in the butter and walnut oil in a covered pan without colouring.
2. Add the stock and bring to a light simmer. Cook until all the veg is tender.
3. Add the blue cheese and cream and liquidise.

Garnish according to what you have and what you fancy!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Ox-tail soup

I was visiting the 'rents at the weekend and was delighted to find that a new traditional butchers had just opened:

Naturally, that gave me the perfect excuse to go in and see what interesting cuts I could get my hand on; the sort of thing supermarkets simply don't stock. I've fancied making ox-tail soup for a while and the rubbish weather meant that such a warming broth is still welcome.

I did a fair amount or research into finding a great recipe for ox-tail soup. I was quite surprised that there was very little variation so I think what I made was pretty "authentic"and I couldn't have been much happier.

The soup was very rich and very meaty but refreshed by the hit of parsley. It had a real depth of complex flavour. The strands of meat were meltingly tender with an occasional crispy jewel. The time invested in making this definitely paid off. It's little wonder that this is a timeless classic.

Ox-tail soup recipe (Serves 4)

1 ox-tail ~900g/2lb
Seasoned flour
Onion, roughly chopped
Celery stalk, roughly chopped
Carrot, roughly chopped
Turnip, roughly chopped
Bay leaf
Thyme, two sprigs
Star anise
7 black peppercorns
1tbsp tomato puree
225ml red wine
1.125l beef stock
1oz butter, softened
1oz flour
Parsley, to garnish

1. Roll the ox-tail pieces in seasoned flour and knock off any excess.
2. Brown the meat over a high-heat in a little hot oil with the star anise. Once darkly caramelised remove the meat from that pan.
3. Turn down the heat, add the vegetable chunks to the pan and fry briefly to add a little colour.
4. Add the tomato purée and fry for a minute. Add the remaining aromats and deglaze the pan with the white wine.
5. Add the meat back to the pan and add the stock. Bring to a very gently simmer and cook for 2.5 - 3 hours, covered, until the meat is very tender.
6. Remove the meat from the stock and allow to cool.
7. Strain the cooking liquor, cool and refrigerate over-night.
8. Remove the hardened layer of set fat from the liquor the next day.and remove the meat from the ox-tail bones and shred.
9. Warm the soup in a large pan. To thicken the soup, mix together the butter and flour and whisk in, if required.
10. To serve, fry the meat to give it a crispy finish, then pile into bowls. Spoon the soup around the meat and garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Penis cake!

I do hope that I never get given, or have reason to purchase, my own Pecker Cake Pan.

Thankfully if I ever do find myself in a situation where I do have said cake tin sitting idly in the cupboard, one woman has made it her mission to find alternative uses.

I think the Christmas tree cake actually looks pretty good and you'd never guess its origins.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Quick Bailey's cheesecake

A trip back home meant that my sister wanted a quick pud to follow her tuna pasta bake. thus a rapid cheesecake was put together. 

Crushed up plain chocolate digestives, covered with a mix of whipped cram, mascapone and Bailey's, topped with a massive Yorkie man-button. Assembling rather than cooking. Lovely nonetheless! Just goes to show things don't have to be complex to be satisfying.

PS Yorkie man buttons are amazing: 4cm discs of Yorkie. Genius!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Lamb breast

Lamb breast (or belly; I've never been able to get my head around the fact that the same bit of an animal is called different things depending on the beast so you get lamb breast, pork belly and beef brisket. Anyhoo, moving on.) is something I've been wanting to try for ages. A pre-Alpine leaving feast, was the perfect excuse to go to the butchers in Banners and get my hands on a big old breast of lamb. (Well over a kilo of lamby goodness for a little over £3: bargain!)

(Sorry for the terrible photos, I got a bit in to the swing of hosting and only remembered to take any photos at the last moment.)

I stuffed and rolled the lamb and slow roasted it. As my friends arrived they both commented that they could smell the lamb way out in the landing outside me flat. The lamb skin was incredibly crispy, quite like pork cracking. The meat was meltingly tender with the fat having rendered away leaving a strong flavour of lamb. The sides of broccoli, courgettes and carrots were suitably light and fresh (despite the appalling weather outside).

For pudding, I put together a little trio of puds. I made Heston's passion fruit and chocolate tart, which is quite possibly the silkiest, smoothest thing I have ever made. Simple chocolate deliciousness. To go with the tart I made a berry sorbet and finished off with a piece of my favourite brownie. All in all a pretty damn good pud plate: complimentary flavours, different textures and contrasting temperatures.

On to the recipes.

Stuffed lamb breast

Lamb breast
For the stuffing: (use quantities as you see fit and to reflect your palette)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
~80g best sausage meat (lamb sausages or mince would be great)
Zest of 1/2 a lemon

1. Sweat the onion until transparent and soft. Leave to cool.
2. Mix all the stuffing ingredients together.
3. Trim any excess skin or fat from the lamb. Rub a cut clove of garlic over the meat. Spread the stuffing all over the lamb. Roll the belly tightly and tie.
4. Brown the meat all over in a pan then roast at 150°C for 3hours. Once tender (a skewer should pass in to the meat with no resistance). Leave to rest for about 15mins.
5. Carve in to thick slices and serve.

Roast courgettes with lemon (a recipe from Sainsbury's)

6 courgettes, trimmed and cut into thirds, then each third cut into thick strips
1tsp lemon juice
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp mint leaves, chopped

1. Put the courgettes in a roasting dish in a single layer.
2. Whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil, then drizzle over the courgettes. Turn to coat.
3. Roast at 160°C (fan oven) for 30 minutes. Spoon into a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the chopped mint.

Steamed broccoli with toasted sesame seeds (a recipe from Sainsbury's)

900g broccoli, cut into small florets
1tbsp olive oil
1½ tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

1. Steam the broccoli over a pan of boiling water for 7-10 minutes until tender.
2. Fry the sesame seeds in the oil until lightly browned. Add the broccoli and stir-fry briefly. 

Lemon and parsley carrots (taken from New British Classics, Rhodes, G, 1999, BBC Worldwide)

1lb carrots, sliced thinly
1tsp caster sugar
1oz butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Parsley, chopped

1. Put the carrots in a medium pan and barely cover with water. Add the sugar, half the butter and a pinch of salt. Cover with a butter paper and bring to the simmer. Cook until tender.
2. Remove the carrots and reserve.
3. Bring the cooking liquor to the boil and reduce by three-quarters. It should be nearly a syrup.
4. Add the lemon juice and simmer for 1min.
5. Season to taste. Add the carrots and re-heat. Stir in the parsley before serving.

Exploding chocolate gateau recipe (Heston's recipe with some steps slightly simplified)

For the base:
150g all butter shortbread biscuits
30g butter, melted
2 tbsp white caster sugar
25g orange popping candy

For the chocolate ganache
• 175g whipping cream
• Pinch of salt
• Pulp from 6 passion fruits
• 50g fresh custard
• 110g dark chocolate (minimum of 60% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
• 50g milk chocolate, broken into pieces

1. Place the biscuits in a food processor and add the melted butter and sugar. Blitz until the mixture resembles fine sand in texture.
2. Gently stir in the popping candy. Place the mixture inside a 20cm cake ring placed on a tray lined with baking paper. Flatten using the back of a spoon then put to one side to set.
NOTE: Heston uses a smaller 15cm cake ring which gives a very satisfying deep slice
3. Add the cream, salt and passion fruit to a small saucepan and place over a medium heat until it almost comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes, then stir in the fresh custard.
4. Put the dark and milk chocolate in a bowl. Place over a bain marie (a pan of gently simmering water) and allow to melt completely. Remove from the heat.
5. Strain the infused cream and add to the bowl of melted chocolate a third at a time, making sure to incorporate the cream thoroughly after each addition. Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature.
6. Pour the ganache into the ring and place the tart in the fridge to set for 2 hours. Place the tart in the freeze.
7. Remove from the freezer 20 minutes before serving.

Creamy berry sorbet (a recipe from Sainsbury's)

500g frozen summer fruits, slightly defrosted
60g caster sugar
125ml pomegranate juice drink
30ml double cream

1. In a food processor, whizz the berries, sugar and pomegranate juice drink together until smooth. With the motor still running, gradually add the cream and continue to whizz until well blended. Transfer the mixture to a stainless steel bowl, cover with clingfilm and put in the freezer.
2. Freeze the sorbet for between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes or until set. Take the bowl out of the freezer at 15 minute intervals to whip the mixture with a spatula - by doing this, you'll break up any ice crystals that might have formed, resulting in a smoother, creamier sorbet.
3. Remove from the freezer 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Red rice salad with mackerel

I've been wanting try red rice for ages and I finally managed to get my hands on some. It was a bit like wild rice; firm but a bit nutty in flavour. It went really well with red peppers and mackerel.

Red rice and roasted red pepper salad with mackerel (taken from Rice Ingram. C, 2001, Hermes House)

Ingredients (for 1):
2 mackerel, fillets
2oz Camargue red rice
Vegetable/chicken stock
Red pepper, de-seeded and sliced thinly
2-3 sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 whole garlic cloves, unpeeled
1tbsp parsley, chopped
1tsp vinegar, red wine or balsamic (lemon juice would work too)

1. Cook the rice, following the instructions on the packet.
2. Fry the pepper slices in olive oil until softened, approx. 4 mins.
3. Add the tomatoes, whole garlic cloves and onion. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 8-10mins, stirring occasionally.
4. Remove the lid and fry for a further 3 mins.
5. Meanwhile fry the mackerel in olive oil, skin side down for 3-4mins, then turn and fry on the other side for 1 min. Remove form the pan and leave to rest.
6. Take the rice off the heat and add the parsley, vinegar and season to taste.
7. Peel the garlic and cut into thin slices.
8. To serve, spread the rice on a plate, put the peppers on top, scatter the garlic slices and top with the mackerel.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Burger and Lobster

Much has been written about Burger and Lobster since the first branch opened in late 2011. There are now four restaurants in the chain and I finally got to experience the phenomenon at the newest branch at 1 Bread Street tonight.

The menu choice is simple:
  • Burger
  • Lobster (steamed or grilled)
  • Lobster roll
That's it. Just three things on the menu. £20 each. All come with fries and a salad. In the interests of foodie investigation I had a steamed lobster and a burger. 

The lobster was pretty damn good: tender sweet lumps of crustacean goodness anointed in a bath of garlic butter. Only picking from the shell slowed us down. The fries were good, although saltless and the salad was perfect accompaniment. Well worth £20.

The burger was OK. Not the best burger I've ever had, but definitely the most expensive and not really worth it. The patty was medium-rare and packed a meaty punch, the salad and pickles added a refreshing zing and the bacon and cheese rounded off with an umami hit. Unfortunately the roll wasn't really up tot eh job and had disintegrated by the end. A good burger but not £20 good.

At this newest city outpost there is limited booking. Fortunately for us at 1800 we managed to just walk in and secure a table for four. The place filled up pretty quickly and was buzzing by the time we left. The service was pretty good although once the silver platters are delivered there's not a great deal to be done. Although we did seem to be the only table not to be offered a plastic bib to protect from the lobster juices. I'm not sure if this was simply and over-sight or a conscious snub. I hope the former. Also it's worth mentioning the cocktails. They were good. Definitely worth getting there early and hanging out at the bar for.

I'd go again but just stick to the lobster.

Burger & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cantina Laredo

It was my sister's birthday today so in celebration we had dinner at Cantina Laredo on Upper St Martin's Lane.

Now I am a sucker for Mexican food. I love the mix and match appeal of Mexican, you can configure the food anyway you like it. As for nachos, as simple as they are, they are a divine trinity of taste for me. Now I'll hold my hands up and say that just because I like what passes for Mexican in the UK it doesn't mean I know a great deal about authenticity. Although it's not difficult to spot that Wahaca is a great deal better than Chiquito. (I would love to go to Mexico one day but there's part of me that thinks it would be inevitable that I'd never enjoy a "Mexican" in the UK again having had the real deal.)

Now Cantina offers "modern mexican" and it's certainly a world away from anything I've had before. When I got there I was already a margarita down and there were only the scraps of tortilla chips and salsa left. (Quite why they didn't have the nachos is beyond me).

For main I had the "camaron poblano asada":

Grilled carne asada steak wrapped around a fresh poblano pepper filled with sautéed tiger prawns, mushrooms, onions and monterey jack cheese. Served on a bed of chimichurri sauce and Mexican rice 

A steak wrapped around a stuffed pepper: mental. It was a pretty good steak and the pepper was stuffed full of prawns and cheese. Although it was sad waste of prawns as the cheese dominated everything. However, it was good enough for me to happily polish off and temporarily put my aversion to green peppers to one side.

Dessert, however, was something else. I had the biggest, fattest churros I've ever seen. Liberally doused in sugar and cinnamon, they came with orange cream and spiced chocolate sauce which were a perfect compliment. Since I've never been a fan of the orange-chocolate combo, that's really saying something. I don't think my family were quite so enamoured with their mexican apple pie or tequila lime cheesecake with avocado ice-cream. Mind you they were quite a few more margaritas to the good so the plates were sent back spotless anyway.

The service was faultless. The prices for the mains were in the £15-£30 bracket and were bit steep for what we got. I'd gladly go back to try out some other interesting things on the menu but I'd need a "wow" experience to go back again. A slightly reserved thumbs-up.

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon

Paternity cake: A challenge

Assume your best Mel (or Sue) voice and read on.

"Get ready bakers … "
"It’s time for the Show Stopper Challenge …"
"And today’s theme is  … "
"Paternity cake."

"It should not look like this …. "

"You’ve got between now and next week to wow us [without including dried fruit]"

"Do your worst."

And thus the gauntlet was thrown down. Seven days to produce a paternity cake that both tasted good and looked the part.

This cake was always going to be about a funky decoration (as well as taste; it's always about taste). I had an idea for the design that meant I needed an oblong cake. The size of the cake would be constrained by the size of my baking tin and the boxes I have to transport the cake to Banners.

Now, I'm not the best with fondant icing (or piping for that matter), so I had to find a way of getting the planned design on to the cake. Fortunately The Cake Shop in Banners has a machine that prints onto icing. Happy days!

All that was left was to make the cake. The father in question had already hinted that a lemon cake would go down well so that's what I went for. I made a typical 4888 sponge flavoured with lemon and baked three cakes in my 8.5"x10.5" tin. Turns out that's not quite enough cake batter. There were a couple of crispy edges and missing corners, but with some judicious rotation during the layering, I just about got away with it (well, nobody complained anyway).

The sponges were sandwiched with some home-made lemon curd and a mascapone-cream mix. I topped the lot off with lemon butter icing. Then managed to use white fondant to give a reasonable finish. Turns out kneading the fondant is the key; it makes it much more pliable and easier to roll out. Who knew?

I picked up the print this morning and it better than I could ever have hoped for. Every detail had come out. Amazing.


The cake went down exceedingly well. Notable comments included "Oh, I thought you bought it" and "why aren't you married?". I do wonder, sometimes, if my cakes are preferred to the efforts I put into my actual day-job...

The original design:

Three cakes in eight days, that's not too shabby.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Mexican chocolate birthday cake

Today was the day of the Mexican Six Nations Fiesta. Some friends needed an excuse to cook a massive batch of pork pibil and apparently England vs. France in the Six Nations and a 5-day early birthday bash was a good enough reason.

It was amazing. Nachos with great guacamole and fresh chilli con carne followed by delicious pork pibil with great rice and some orange marinated red onion - DELICIOUS!

My role in the event was to provide a birthday cake. Taking my cue from the mexican theme rather than the rugby I made a chocolate cake with ancho whipped cream taken from Mexican (Tausend. M and Williams, C., Simon & Schuster Source, pp100-101)

I've very mixed opinions about this cake. It's supposed to be made with Mexican chocolate which is very different to European chocolate in that it is flavoured with cinnamon (and sometimes almond). The cake also had vast quantities of almond and some ancho chillies.

The cake itself was dense and yet light. Although the flavour of the cinnamon and chilli didn't really come through. You could tell it was not a "pure" chocolate cake as there was a depth of flavour that seemed much longer than simply chocolate. (Although one of my friend picked up the cinnamon, so maybe it's just my cursed palette). Consequently I may have over-egged (or over-chillied) the cream icing (hence the slightly odd colour). The chilli in the cream did add a definite kick, but I'm not sure if I liked it or not.

Someone commented that a chocolate cake should just be left as a chocolate cake and I'm inclined to agree. I think the whole delight is to revel in the decadence and luxury of chocolate cake.

Anyhoo, it was all eaten with a good level of "mmmmmmmmmmmm" all round, so I can't complain too much. Here's the recipe if you want to give ti a go.

NB. I found the poblano chillies really difficult to get hold of and was forced to shop in evil Tesco.

Chocolate cake with Ancho whipped cream

3oz dark chocolate, grated
5.5oz ground almonds, toasted
1.5oz plain flour
3/4oz cocoa
2 ancho/poblano chillies, ground
4oz butter
8oz caster sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1tbsp Kahlua
1/4tsp almond extract
Pinch salt
For the whipped cream:
3floz double cream
1tsp chilli powder
10floz double cream
1tsp vanilla essence
3tbsp icing sugar

1. In a bowl mix together the chocolate, ground almonds, flour, cocoa and 1tbsp of the chilli.
2. In another bowl, cream the butter and 4oz of the sugar together. 
3. Add the egg yolks one at a time beating until smooth.
4. Add the Kahlua, almond extract and chocolate mix and beat until smooth.
5. In a clean bowl add the salt to the egg whites and whisk until frothy. Add the remaining sugar gradually and whisk until stiff.
6. Vigorously beat a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mix until combined. Then gently fold in the remaing egg whites.
7. Fill a greased 9" spring-form cake tin and bake at 180°C for 40mins (or until a skewer comes out clean from the middle).
8. Once baked allow to cool completely.
9. While the cake is cooling, make the ancho cream. Whisk 3floz of the cream and the chilli powder until combined. Add the remining cream, vanilla extract and icing sugar and whisk to soft peaks.
10. Once cold coat the cream with a thick layer of the cream. Top with grated chocolate.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Macaroni cheese-cake

As I may have mentioned, I have become slightly obsessed with the Readers Recipe Swap in the Cook supplement of the Saturday Guardian.

This week was macaroni. I was determined to come up with a sweet recipe. I was desperate to make a pun-tastic macaroni cheese-cake, but just couldn't devise a suitable recipe. Macaroni is just too big to deep-fry or caramelise (unlike vermicelli).
Consequently I've ended up with a cheesecake-trifle hybrid. I think it's a cold comfort pud. I've flavoured this with seasonal forced rhubarb. An alternative would be to make a chocolate custard, use bananas as the fruit and garnish with caramel.

Also, I must apologise for using Bird's custard powder. I didn't have the time (or eggs) to make real custard. Sorry.

Makes 4 individual portions


For the custard base:
100g macaroni
400ml milk
1tsp vanilla
2dsp caster sugar
1tbsp custard powder
For the cheese topping:
200g mascarpone
200ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract
For the roast rhubarb topping:
400g rhubarb, cut into 2" batons
Juice of an orange
4tbsp demerara sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
For the crunchy garnish:
Breadcrumbs from a single slice of white bread
½oz butter
Ground ginger


1. First of all make the macaroni custard base. Put the macaroni, milk, 1dsp sugar and vanilla in a pan and gently bring to the boil. Put a lid on and reduce the heat to the lowest setting so that the surface of the milk is barely moving. Cook until the pasta is soft. (This took about 20min on my hob)
2. Meanwhile prepare the moulds. Line the outside of four 8cm chef’s rings with cling film.
3. Mix the remaining 1dsp of sugar and the custard powder in a bowl with a splash of milk to a smooth consistency.
5. Once the pasta is soft, sieve the milk into the custard mix. Whisk to combine and return to the pan. Put on a low heat until the custard starts to thicken (this should be pretty quick).
6. Once the custard has thickened add in the cooked macaroni and mix. Divide equally between the prepared moulds. Leave to set in the ‘fridge.
7. For the rhubarb, mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Transfer to a baking tray and bake at 180°C for about 10mins, or until just tender. Leave to cool.
8. For the topping, beat the mascarpone in a bowl until soft. In another bowl whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. Combine the cheese and cream and gently mix with the juice from the rhubarb until combined.
9. For the garnish, melt the butter and then fry the breadcrumbs until they are golden. Drain on some kitchen paper and shake over as much ginger as you like.
10. Once the custard has set, remove the cling film and then plate. Fill the moulds with the cheese mix.
11. Remove the moulds (I use a quick waft of a blow torch). Lay the roasted rhubarb on top. Then sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Serve at room temperature.
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