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 Unfortunately it had been replaced by pork belly, the ubiquity of which is making less of an automatic choice.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.
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