Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas cooking and carving

Christmas comes but once a year. Which is a blooming good job as far as I'm concerned.

What with the very unusual sub-zero temperatures, the snow and ice, plus looking after the incapacitated, I for one, am very glad to see the back of it this year.

Chris's wrist developed into gout which was very painful indeed and he was not the jolliest of Festive companions. Unusually I had left making my Christmas cake until the last minute. As he always ices it (and there was no way I was going down that route) I showed him various alternatives amongst my recipes. He was not impressed and said he would rather do without. (Cue for a martyred expression).

We went to my sister's for Christmas Day whereupon it fell to me to carve the turkey because everyone else professed themselves to have absolutely no idea where to start. Since my elder son once trained as a chef my guess is that he had more than no idea but, as it was Christmas, I thought I'd have a go. It was dead easy. Just another thing for men make a fuss about!!

I also carved the ribs of beef that I (over)cooked for Boxing Day. I cannot imagine how I ever passed Maths O level. I made a right hash of calculating the cooking time following Delia's tried and trusted method. The trouble was the conversions from kgs to lbs etc. I thought I'd got it right but the meat, good though it was, was drier and greyer than I would have liked.

Nigella's ice cream cake made by my sister was star of the show on Christmas Day. If you are ever entertaining people with a sweet tooth then you must try this. Mind you, it may contain nuts . . .

I made her Franglico tiramisu again for Boxing Day. It was much better this time (and I put it in a prettier dish).

But my favourite recipe was one which I remember my aunt making years ago. She cooked Christmas lunch for my dad this year and said that he had 3 portions of Brandy ice cream. This is easy, decadent and absolutely the tops with Christmas pudding. And it doesn't need an ice cream maker.

Belinda's brandy ice cream

4 eggs

5 oz caster sugar

5 tbsp clear honey (aunt uses 3)

1 pint double cream

8 tbsp brandy (aunt uses max of 5)

You need 3 large bowls!

1. Separate eggs.

2. Beat egg yolks and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in honey.

3. In bowl 2 whisk cream until thick then fold in the brandy.

4. Fold cream into egg mixture.

5. In bowl 3 whisk egg whites until stiff then fold these into the egg/cream mixture.

6. Freeze.

It comes out of the freezer soft, smooth and ready to eat. Makes 2 litres.

(Belinda was my cousin's bridesmaid who once went on a very posh cookery course and made the recipe there - this will have been about 30 years ago).

It's absolutely gorgeous.

A Happy New Year to one and all.
P.S. I managed to pick up a half price iced Christmas cake from Waitrose this morning. Just as well because a certain person had been saying it was a shame we hadn't got one!!

Monday, 13 December 2010


I would like to introduce Jumble. After the Batman episode I was initially determined never to have another cat. This modified into never having another kitten and then I happened upon the RSPCA website, saw Jumble and fell in love.

She is around 12 months old, possibly older, may have had a litter, and belonged to a family in Bushey well known to the local Constabulary! So she may have been a gangster in her former life.

Two weeks on and she has settled in brilliantly. Still not allowed outside (and desperate to do so) she makes an enormous fuss when she has to use the litter tray. It's quite a performance!

I took her to the vet today for her second lot of immunisation. He thought she was the loveliest cat he'd ever seen from the RSPCA. (Don't know whether this was a dig at them though). Another week and, as long as the weather is good, she can be let out. I tremble as I think of the foxes outside waiting for her . . . . What a shame there is no longer a Boxing Day Hunt!! (Only joking peeps).

It is not a good time here. My father remains very ill in hospital, Chris has broken his wrist and to complicate things now has man-flu. Josh goes to hospital tomorrow to have a ganglion removed from his wrist, bashing it with the family bible not having had much effect! Also my eldest niece has debillitating stomach problems and my sister is worried sick.

I suppose I shall do some cooking over the Festive period, but there have been an awful lot of ready meals and defrostings in the Lark household during the last fortnight. Thank heavens for freezers.

Oh, and did I mention that heavy snow is forecast for later in the week?

I blame Bing Crosby.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Dinner at Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons

On Monday November 22nd Chris and I celebrated our 30th Wedding Anniversary. This is no mean feat given that my parents thought we'd be lucky to make it through the first year.
I started suggesting a meal at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir at least 6 months ago. My children finally caved in, booked it up and gave us £200 towards it and the promise of a driver for the night!
I hope you can see from the pictures how special it all is. My main course of Brill in a wasabi sauce (and much more) was just beautiful, as was the Cornish lobster I had to start. Of the three chocolate puddings I'd be pushed to say which was the best but I think the one on the left filled with pistachio soufflé just about wins.

You get the full works at Le Manoir. A lovely lounge for before and after your meal. Drinks and amazing canapés beforehand, coffee and petits fours to finish. You pay for the experience of course (The bill was £281 before service)!
We ate from the A la Carte menu - the cheapest option. I didn't see anyone going for either of the set 5 or 9 course tasting menus. We shared a bottle of Temperanillo and a glass of dessert wine.
It was all fabulous but it makes the three course luncheon seem like an amazing deal at £62.50 per person, plus you get to see the fabulous gardens.

The next morning one of my fellow swimmers was telling me that she went to Le Manoir just before Christmas a few years ago. Apparently thay had drinks and canapés and then all processed down to the local church to a Carol Service. Then back to Le Manoir for a big meal. She stayed the night too and said she thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can well imagine.

And for those of you worried about the fussy eater, he ate all that was put before him - a duck liver concoction, Roast Piglet, and the Wrong Pudding. He'd ordered a pear tarte tatin and was given something totally different which featured passion fruit (he wouldn't normally eat passion fruit)! I think he'd forgotten what he ordered, ate it and then was told by the waiter that they had made a mistake and he wouldn't have to pay for it but he could still have his pear dish. He declined on the grounds of being completely stuffed!

He was up most of the night complaining of indigestion . . .

I'm sorry that this is so late and not very detailed. My dad is back in hospital, his wife is practically snowed in at home and I am back and forwards to Norfolk.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A tale of two puddings

One of the joys of being a new grandparent is that there are more opportunities for getting the whole family together for Sunday lunch. Taylor's aunt and uncles are all keen to see him at every opportunity and quite happy for me to cook for them! Taylor's dad is working in Texas for a couple of weeks so my daughter was at a bit of a loose end. Thus it was that we gathered at the family home for roast pork with all the trimmings. (My eldest son takes after his father in his belief that lunch on Sunday has to be a roast, it's the law)!

Some friends were performing a samba routine in the Lord Mayor's Show on Saturday and whilst settling down to watch it on TV I inadvertently caught the last 10 minutes of one of Rachel Allen's baking programmes. She is so smug that I usually want to hurl something at her but I was completely won over by the trainees who were making her sticky toffee pudding and her toffee sauce. In fact I was so won over that as soon as I had spotted Tammy and co doing their routine I was off to buy all the ingredients in Tesco. (Fortunately chopped dates were on a 3 for 2 offer). The cake was really tasty, dead easy to make and the sauce was sensational (and apparently it keeps for ages in a screw top jar). My family absolutely loved the pudding and it will be made again and again.

I had been wanting to make Nigella's tiramisu ever since I bought Kitchen. Tracking down Fra Angelico was a bit of a chore until I spotted a bottle in the largest of our local Waitrose stores. Well all I can say is that it wasn't really worth the effort. It tasted like Tiramisu always does. The family thought it too boozy and so I am still chomping my way through it on my own.

I had forgotten that we have a really fine cut glass bowl for trifley things. I don't think my lasagne dish quite does it justice.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Leckford chicken

When my family were growing up we often had a chicken as a mid-week roast. It fed the 6 of us and provided enough leftovers for my husband's lunchtime sandwich. In those days I would buy the cheapest intensively-reared birds I could get. Costco used to sell two for a fiver I seem to recall and I thought it was a lot of nonsense that a free range bird could possibly taste any different,

How times have changed. The various campaigns mounted by the TV chefs have all had their impact but the thing that swung it for me was the day I cooked a cheap chicken in my slow-cooker. I had been assured by friends that all I needed to do was stick the bird in, put the lid on and leave all day on low. Well yes. It was moist and it was tender. But oh gosh. The juices it had given off tasted terrible. Chemical and unnatural. From that day on I have only bought free range birds.

Waitrose sell Leckford chickens and I buy one whenever they are reduced to clear or on special offer. Roast chicken is now a real treat in the Lark household. Last Wednesday I picked up a 2kg RTC one for just over £8. It did a fab roast for 4, a chicken risotto for 2 and the chicken and mushroom pie pictured. The pie also served 4 and my daughter took what was left to school the next day for lunch for herself and 2 colleagues. And in the slow cooker the next day I made 2 litres of stock from the carcass. Not bad value was it?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The worst news

Our lovely little Batman disappeared last Wednesday. He had been allowed out for about 3 weeks beforehand and we thought he could probably take care of himself. We were wrong.

We leafleted and put posters up. People were amazingly helpful. One black kitten from the next road was brought round to us on 3 separate occasions. After 4 very long days and nights we were visited yesterday by a family from over the road. The dad had seen a fox with a black kitten in his mouth running past his house on Wednesday afternoon - they had been away since and of course the posters were not up then. There is little doubt it was our Batman as I had not mentioned anywhere when he had disappeared.

Batman was like a kitten on speed and from the early days when he broke his paw I think we knew he was always going to be "high risk". We are all still very upset but are grateful too that we were told what had happened. Rest in Peace little Batman.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Lunch at The Artichoke

It's half term again and that usually means a treat or two. My friend Liz and I were going to combine a little culture with an upmarket lunch but she had heard poor reports of the Gauguin exhibition we'd earmarked so we decided to give the culture a miss and just feed our faces.

Liz lives in a pretty village near Aylesbury and our halfway house for meeting is the market town of Amersham. Amersham is very posh and very expensive but there are several good pubs and eating houses.

We had eaten at Artichoke about four years ago and been very impressed. In those days it had something to do with Jean-Christophe Novelli - although I can't actually remember what. Then The Famous Fish restaurant next door (another favourite) had a major fire which also gutted the Artichoke premises and that was that.

Well, let me tell you. It has reopened and it does a very good lunch indeed. The set lunch is actually under £20 which in Amersham terms is a real bargain. Suffice to say that being the pseudo gastronauts that we are we opted for the `a la carte.

Our first treat (after the obligatory large Plymouth gin and tonics) was an amuse bouche of fennel soup. Now neither of us is a big fennel lover but this was absolutely gorgeous and we may well be born-again fennelists!

Liz then opted for the pan fried foie gras which was apparently amazing, so amazing in fact that I didn't get a look in. Boo. I went for the langoustines with pork belly which were very, very good indeed, but not as good as the Dedham Vale lamb which followed. Succulent, tender and with perfectly matched vegetables. You could not ask for more.

Liz chose the sea bass/lobster bisque combination and pronounced it outstanding.

We both ordered the chocolate delice with cherry sorbet (the one which looks a little bit like an ocean liner). What can I say? It was absolutely magnificent. James Martin would have been very proud of it and I want the recipe. Now.

I finished with a glass of ice cold Beaumes de Venise. Spot on.

A lovely lunch indeed. Quibbles? The price naturally. £70 per head put paid to much else at half term. The fascination for listing every single ingredient on the menu annoys (as does the lack of capital letters but that's probably just me). And the service which was madly efficient but lacked warmth.

There is no doubt though. We will be back.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Pregnant Jools' pasta

Jamie Oliver has a new TV series on Channel 4. I haven't seen the daily programme but they are being shown as an ominbus edition on Sunday afternoons. I could watch Jamie all day. He is so enthusiastic and also very uncheffy. And whatever he cooks I want to eat, apart from gravy.

I fell upon his recipe for Pregnant Jools's pasta. It looked right up my street. I love fennel seeds with pork, and the recipe was dead easy, especially after a long school day. A bit of light chopping and a lot of whizzing. However I did not rush around like Jamie, I was in no hurry and I did not make the pudding (we are on our 43rd apple crumble of the month) but did assemble the salad.

The ragu was just gorgeous. I hadn't expected the sweetness that the Balsamic vinegar gave it but it was lovely. The sourish bite of the salad complemented it magnificently. Chris of course didn't think much to it. The daughter quite liked it and took the remnants to feed the PE department at her school the next day. They loved it and have asked for a repeat performance!

I did take pictures but Jamie's look a whole lot better.

If you like gutsy food do try this recipe!!!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Nigella's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

I've been wanting to make this ever since Nigella's recipe appeared in The Mail a few weeks ago.

It was very easy and not as fiddly as I'd imagined it might be. It turned out well and would be an excellent cheesecake for a party. The trouble is that 3 of my guests decided to give Sunday lunch a miss. Of the remainder 2 didn't like peanuts . . . . .

It's a good job that the Bramley tree in the garden is still bearing fruit. I made an emergency apple crumble.

We shall be mainly eating cheesecake this week.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Heston's belly

I have been in the wars a bit lately. A nasty bout of eczema, followed by a heavy cold, and then an allergic reaction to the steroid cream prescribed for the eczema has left me feeling more than a little sorry for myself. The tops of my feet and various parts of my hands are home to various infected sores and I am being seen every other day by the Practice Nurse. So you can imagine that cooking at the moment as to be as easy as possible.

This week's Waitrose recipe from Heston Blumenthal looked just the ticket, Slow cooked pork belly.

Here is today's Top Tip. Don't try taking the skin off a piece of meat like this if you've got plasters all over your hands. And if the meat for the recipe has been criss-crossed by the Waitrose butcher it's not going to come off in one piece as the recipe suggests.

After the nine suggested hours the meat was still as tough as old boots so I whacked the oven up to 180 and cooked it for a further hour. It was OK but it was nothing special and I shan't be cooking it this way again. If I want to cook it slowly then I'll do it in the slow-cooker.

The crackling was good though.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Ozzie gets the cleaners in

This is Ozzie after mobile dog groomers SHAMPOOCH arrived yesterday. He didn't enjoy the visit one little bit but he is now clipped, clean and smells of doggie Cologne.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The cheek of it!

It is very unusual for me to try a new cut of meat, mainly because I am a curious and greedy eater and have had a stab at most things, with the exception of tripe which I really don't fancy. However, one of the latest "trendy" cheap cuts being lauded everywhere are pigs' cheeks.

I had seen this recipe from Diana Henry's new book in a recent Daily Mail feature, and I was tempted to try it the next time, or indeed if at any time, I saw these on a butcher's counter.

My friends at Waitrose obliged yesterday. And how. 7 pigs' cheeks came in at the princely sum of £1.64, and they weren't even Reduced To Clear. I was already impressed.

Lentils are a no go-area in this house. Chris won't try them because he had them once during the war, or some such nonsense. I prefer my mother's refusal to eat them. She was torpedoed coming back from Singapore at the beginning of World War 2 and spent some time in a POW camp where lentils were almost the only food available. She is not a fussy eater at all but cannot look a lentil in the eye, let alone eat one.

I varied the recipe slightly. The floured cheeks were fried with chopped celery and onion and then cooked very slowly in dry cider in the oven for 2 hours. I then added cream and Dijon mustard, reduced it a little and served it with pappardelle and peas.

A real triumph. They were gloriously moist and tender, a bit like a piggy version of shin of beef. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

But I bet they'd be even better with Puy lentils.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Spring Chicken

Although I have no energy for cooking during the week, Monday evening seems to be an exception - no idea why. Thus it was that I turned again to Nigella Kitchen and her recipe entitled Spring Chicken. No, it's not spring but as I could purchase all the ingredients, with the exception of fresh tarragon to garnish, I thought I'd give it a go. Sadly I can't find the recipe online yet but if I tell you that it consisted of chicken thighs cooked in dry cider with lardons, petits pois, leek, celery and dried tarragon, finished off with Dijon mustard and shredded Little Gem lettuce you'll get the idea. I served it with rice, but flat noodles would be great too!

It was good and will be made again. I think it would make a fantastic lunch party contribution as well. I had enough for 4 very hungry eaters, plus leftovers.

I even made a pudding, almost unheard of during the week. We have had the best crop of Bramleys ever this summer on our tree. I am still picking them and there must be enough pie fillings in the freezer to see us through several severe winters. So I was pleased to see RTC blackberries in Waitrose. They were large, plump and gorgeous, unlike the awful ones we had in the garden this year. I made a crumble, which looks lousy but was absolutely fabulous. 5oz flour, 1oz porridge oats, 3oz butter, 3oz Demerera.

The diet is on hold.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Batman 2

I just thought I'd share this. No, they're not really friends but Batman absolutely idolises Panucci and won't leave him alone.

Just after my last post Batman managed to "do something" to his front left paw. No-one saw it happen or is owning up to squashing him. He couldn't put any pressure on it and it was very swollen. This necessitated a trip to the vet. No. Of course he wasn't insured.

The vet wanted £300 to perform an X-Ray!! No way José. This in turn could have led to several thousands of pounds to repair a broken leg. I am coming back as a vet in my next life.

We went for the cheaper option, although how they justify £90 for antibiotics, paracetamol and ibuprofen will still remain one of life's mysteries to me.

Thank goodness it worked. She thinks he'd fractured the metatarsals (hope I've got that right).

Anyway now he is fine and, as you can see, can jump up onto the ironing board.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Marmalade Pudding Cake

Nigella has a new book out. Hoorah! Just exactly my style of cooking and much more in the mould of her earlier tomes.

When I saw this recipe for Marmalade Pudding Cake I knew that I would have to have a go just as soon as a pudding opportunity presented itself. That opportunity was Sunday lunch yesterday or, as my elder son called it, the last barbecue of the year.

The only deviations from the recipe were the tin shape and the fact that I couldn't find the light muscovado sugar that I knew was in the cupboard somewhere. So soft light brown sugar was substituted and, naturally enough, the muscovado turned up seconds later.

It was good, in fact it was very good. Definitely recommended as a cake. If anyone of us were custard-eaters I think we would have rated it a bit higher. It definitely seemed to need something warming with it. Cream was OK though but I couldn't help comparing it with the Three Chimneys Marmalade Pudding which ranks up there as one of my favourite puddings of all time. It lacked the depth of that but it was still pleasantly tangy and pretty filling.

Be warned if you try it though. The batter was very stiff and heavy and you need pretty strong wrists to scrape it out of the food processor.

I shall be making this again. After all I do have an awful lot of homemade marmalade to use up.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

A week in Wales

I have just returned from a week's holiday in South Wales with my oldest friend and her brother. The criteria for this annual jaunt is that we rent an English Country Cottage, usually in the middle of nowhere, it must have its own swimming pool, and there have to be some good restaurants in the vicinity as we treat ourselves to at least 2 excellent meals out. This time we stayed just outside the village of Dryslwyn, near Carmarthen, which has a ruined castle and one hotel and that's it!

We lodged in one of 3 cottages which had been superbly renovated and had at one time been a couple of barns. We were about a mile down an unmade road which traversed woods, cattle and beehives and had the beautiful River Towy running alongside. It was delightful.

On Sunday we made the trip to Laugharne, workplace and home to Dylan Thomas for much of his life. I was sorry that the famous Brown's Hotel had closed down as I had enjoyed a very good lunch there some years ago. Still, we had a good carvery lunch at one of the local pubs.

For Tuesday evening Liz booked Y Polyn a restaurant about 5 miles away which features in this year's Good Food Guide for the first of our foodie outings. The gentleman who answered the phone had said they could squeeze us in at 8. However when we arrived they had reserved a table for 2 not 3, told us it was our mistake not theirs and then made quite a fuss of trying to squash us in. This had the effect of putting Liz in an extremely bad mood for the whole outing. And given their credentials on the website they really should train their young front-of-house staff better.

Fortunately the food was amazing so the evening wasn't a disaster. As soon as we tasted the home-baked, gloriously salty foccacia we knew we were in for a treat. I started with a fabulous fish soup with rouille and croutons which was absolutely top-notch. Dave had local Black Mountain smoked salmon and Liz had pork rillettes. Unfortunately her pictures of their starters didn't work! I know they liked the food though. I tried the rillettes and they were just right.

For our main courses the others chose local rack of lamb and, as is getting more and more usual for me, I had to go with the crispy belly pork. Both the lamb and the pork were sensational. We shared a dish of Dauphinoise potatoes, baked fennel and leeks.

We all felt a bit too stuffed for pudding but decided that, in the interests of research we would suffer. I went for strawberry Eton Mess and Dave had a yogurty pannacotta. I'm afraid another downer for the restaurant was that there was only one pudding on the menu that was for dairy-intolerant people like my friend. That was Lemon Tart and she doesn't like pastry . . .

In fairness they did offer to bring her some fruit which she declined.

The meal for 3 included local fizzy water which was gorgeous and we shared a bottle of house red. The price excluding service was around £100. Liz treated us and I think she knocked the service charge down, if not completely off.

On Wednesday it rained all day and Dave paid for a very good lunch at Pizza Express in Carmarthen. I'm glad to see that those tiny macerated figs are back on the menu.

Thursday evening was to be my treat but in fact it ended up being the worst night by far of our holiday. The Angel at Salem was about the same distance away and also in this year's GFG. Because we were at the back of beyond we had very limited internet access and so we couldn't look up the URL and see that there was now a different chef. The meal was awful. Everything was served with chips and a pot of minted mushy peas. And it wasn't cheap. I brought home my so called rump steak as a holiday treat for the dog.

But at least I know now to double-check these places before I actually book them. So something else to put down to experience.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


We have another new member of the family. Meet Batman.

There was no way we were getting another kitten. The present cat incumbent Pannucci rejoices in being an only cat and has come into his own following the demise of the previous two during the last year. He is bossy, talkative in the extreme and makes Ozzie's life hell on occasions.

But we keep being offered kittens . . . .

Batman is our first completely black cat. His mother is, apparently, a pedigree. A pedigree what? Josh (who procured Batman) didn't ask.

So far Batman and Ozzie are friends. More or less.

Batman and Pannucci are not. But we've had him less than 24 hours so we have a while to go before we reach a verdict.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Taylor Made

Allow me to present our first grandson Taylor. He was born on Wednesday, nearly 3 weeks early but still weighing 7lbs, and has spent the first 3 days of his life in the neo-natal unit at Queen Charlotte's because he has had a few breathing difficulties. We went to meet him yesterday and within an hour he was allowed onto the main ward. Grandparent power eh?

I have been forbidden to post pictures on Facebook and "all over the internet" but hey, this is just one very small blog.

I cannot really do justice to what an emotional event it all was. The suspense when my daughter went into labour, the waiting game and finally the joy of the safe delivery. But. There was one thing I did not expect to feel and that was complete fear when he was taken to the special care unit. It wasn't just the normal fear I'd have felt if it was my baby. It went much, much deeper. It was extra fear for the complete desolation that my daughter and son-in-law must have been going through.

He is still on antibiotics, they don't know what the problem was but it seems to have gone away. Hopefully he will be home on Monday, 5 days after his birth. Gone are the days of my firstborn. 8 days convalescence in hospital. All to the good I think.

I can't wait to be a hands-on granny!

Monday, 26 July 2010

Jamie's Italian, Westfield

I am very lucky to have an astonishingly caring family. Because Chris was away for my birthday my lovely sister offered to take me out to lunch. We thought we would go to Wahaca in Westfield (Shepherd's Bush) but I remembered that the last time I was there they were interviewing for staff for a branch of Jamie's Italian which was opening soon.

We got lucky! It had been open for a week. It looked busy but once we got inside it had Tardis-like proportions and there was loads of space. It was a very neat building indeed. Lots of Jamie (and Gennaro) memorabilia of course but it did indeed feel very Italian. Well mock Italian anyway.

We shared an antipasti meat plank and I loved the idea of balancing a lump of food-covered wood over two cans of tomatoes. The coleslaw was an absolute star. Haven't quite worked out the mystery ingredient yet - possibly grated fennel. It was a bit filling for a starter actually but then Anne and I are not huge eaters. We just think with our stomachs.

Anne had a lovely fritto misto but I won with the chopped beef burger and garlic chips. Fantastic, really good. I'll be dreaming about those chips for weeks.

I chose a decaff affogato for afters, Anne went with strawberries and pannacotta. Both excellent. The bill was just under £70 excluding service. We'd had a bottle of Merlot as well.

I loved the child-friendliness as well although I was disappointed not to be given a badge like the lad on the next table had. It proudly proclaimed "I ate all my greens"! I suppose I should have asked . . . . .

We will, undoubtedly, be back. Well done to the Jamie brand.

And apologies to the two offspring and partners who turned up at our house expecting a barbecue. Pay attention please. That was never happening as I was expecting to be halfway up the M1 with your father!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

La Giralda

It was over thirty years ago that I read a review of La Giralda, Pinner Green in the London Evening Standard. And I was brave enough to turn up on my own, on spec, to see if I could get a table. It was packed and I think I got the last seat in the room. In those days it was owned by an Englishman named David Brown and his Spanish wife. Carmen. I had a wonderful meal and Chris and I have been back three or four times a year ever since. There have been a couple of mediocre experiences but the staff have always been helpful and dealt with them positively. Indeed over the last thirty years the staff have hardly changed. They are all Spanish and at least two of them are part owners. Juan, everyone's favourite waiter, has now retired but from time to time he returns from Norfolk to fill in whilst one of the others goes back to Spain.

It was my birthday on Sunday and Chris was off to Derbyshire to make violins for a week. So on Saturday evening he took me to La Giralda. The menu is quite extensive but there are 3 main courses that they do exceptionally well. Paella - which is enormous and not for the faint-hearted, rack of lamb in local honey, and Chateaubriand. You can see which one we had! It was gorgeous, meltingly tender and served medium-rare exactly as we like it. And they also make fantastic Bearnaise sauce.

I'd started with gazpacho which is another of their specialities. Chris had his usual paté. I can't remember him ever having a different starter there, but then adventurous is not a word you would apply to my husband!

I finished with profiteroles (as it was nearly my birthday). Chris went for the fruit salad just to make sure I looked even more of a pig.

With sherries, a bottle of house red and a glass of dessert wine the bill was a modest £67.

We are lucky to have such a gem on our doorstep. Restaurants around here come and go but you still need to book this one to be sure of a table. By the time we left on Saturday night it was completely full. After 30 + years business is still booming. Oh and by the way, the lunches are a steal.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Melba Pavlova - nearly!

In a school last week I happened upon a real gem. A CD of Dame Edna Everage narrating Peter and the Wolf and then Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The YPG was what got me into music, a terrible, stuffy (to my ears now) version narrated by Britten's long-term partner Peter Pears. To say Dame Edna's version was refreshing is somewhat of an understatement possums. Fab!

Time to have another try at Delia's Pavlova. Never let it be said that I am a quitter

It worked better this time (although still no pointy bits). It seemed firmer, took up more ground space and I was almost pleased with it. But when I was about to fill it up I noticed that it had leaked/weeped. That's a new one on me. Hey ho, back to the drawing board.

I had a punnet of beautiful ripe nectarines from Lidl and 2 punnets of their raspberries. I chopped 3 of the nectarines (no peeling or blanching nonsense, they were too good) and mixed these with the contents of one of the raspberry punnets. These were tastefully arranged on Delia's mascarpone/fromage frais filling.

I pulverised the other punnet of raspberries with a couple of spoonsful golden caster sugar and added this sauce just before serving.

It was ever so good actually. You will have learnt by now that I don't do complicated puds.

I hope Dame Edna would be proud of the Australian fusion.

(Or maybe she thinks Pavs come from New Zealand)!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Blueberry Crumble Cake

The younger daughter is 24 today. Happy Birthday Phil! Next weekend she is off backpacking in Thailand for the summer so we thought we'd give her a good send-off today, it being a Sunday and ever-so-nearly the School Holidays. Hurrah. So, another barbecue and another dessert-fest.

One of the puddings I have been making for years and years is this Blueberry Crumble Cake by Sue Lawrence which first appeared in the Sainsbury's Magazine not long after she won Masterchef. The quantities are in ounces so it must have been quite a while ago!

It might not look much but it tastes absolutely gorgeous. The mystery ingredient is quick-cook polenta.

You whizz up 8 oz plain flour, 4 oz polenta, 5 oz golden caster sugar, orange zest, 1tsp baking powder, pinch of salt and 5 oz unsalted butter. Then add an egg, 1 tbps of both olive oil and orange juice. At this point it is supposed to look like breadcrumbs - I have never achieved this, it is always quite stuck together. Line a 24 cm springform tin with two thirds of the mixture. Top with 12 oz blueberries which you have gently mixed with 1 oz demerara sugar and 2 tsp polenta. Crumble (or in my case dollop) the rest of the mixture across the top and sprinkle with more demerara. Bake at Gas Mk 4 for 45-50 mins.

It is absolutely fantastic served hot with Creme Fraiche, but it's nearly as good cold. It keeps well too and of course blueberries contain lots of anti-oxidants so it's (nearly) healthy.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Harrow success!

When I was in Tesco yesterday they had marked hundreds of punnets of raspberries down to around a quarter price. And they were very good raspberries indeed, Georgia, grown in Cambridgeshire.

I also bought a large flan case and tubs of mascarpone and fromage frais.

Those flan cases are very dry so I ladled about 6 tablespoonsful of Framboise liqueur on it so that it was nicely soaked. Then I made up the pavlova cream mixture that Delia used a couple of weeks ago - 250g mascarpone, 200g fromage frais, vanilla extract and a little caster sugar. Once the Framboise had been absorbed I spread the cream across the flan then added the raspberries.

The original idea was one of Shirley's, although I think she may have used sour cream instead of the fromage frais.

Is ever so easy, and ever so good.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Sam and Norm

Meet the two new loves of my life!

Our old AEG freezer has been a trusty servant but years of children not closing the door properly have caught up with it in recent times. The seal went, defrosting took an age and then needed redoing a month later. We couldn't afford a new freezer when we had the kitchen done a year ago but we made sure we left space for an American-style fridge freezer. The current fridge has never been satisfactory and was difficult to clean. So I was thrilled when my husband started looking at replacements. These fridge-freezers are not really big on freezer space so we bought a cheapish chest freezer which Chris installed in the shed next to the other old fridge which keeps our drinks cold. (Quite why he then decided to paint the wall green is not recorded). We filled that with the contents of the old freezer, emptied the fridge and waited for the Samsung.

I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it is. I sit and look at it whenever I can. How sad is that?
And it has cold filtered water on tap too.

I feel a very large baking session coming on. And an ice cream-making session too. But best of all my tomatoes aren't going to get blight this year and all my garden produce will see us through the winter.

In my dreams . . .

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Sunday lunch at St John

It seems a while since my oldest friend Liz and I have dined out together. Our usual plan is to fit in a bit of "culture" and then go and feed our faces but there haven't been any exhibitions recently that either of us has fancied. By chance I read a review of Rude Britannia at Tate Britain and decided that we both might enjoy it. And what better way to celebrate American Independence Day than by lunching at a very British restaurant, St John in Smithfield.

All train routes into London last weekend were very restricted by ongoing engineering works - such a cliché - so I decided that, as the weather was so hot, I would take the car into town. Parking is easy (and free to Blue Badge holders) at both venues so it made sense.

The exhibition was really entertaining, I particularly enjoyed the Gerald Scarfe bit whilst Liz is always a sucker for Beryl Cook. We then headed along the Embankment and the Sat Nav promptly got us lost even though we knew where we were going!! It appears that road menders/contractors in the City have taken their lead from Transport for London - many roads were closed and there were silly detours because it was the weekend. By the way London was absolutely heaving with people. Recession? What recession?

So we were hot and a bit late when we arrived at St John for a 1.15 lunch. The place was empty
and I wondered why I'd bothered to book. By 2 pm however every table had been taken and there was only room to dine in the bar. Most of our fellow diners were Japanese.
For the first time in five visits I did not begin with the Bone marrow and parsley salad. But I wish I had. I had an extremely tasty piece of home-cured trout with a punchy cucumber and mustard sauce, but the bones are better. That will teach me to deviate, and poor old Ozzie didn't get a doggy bag when I got home. Liz had smoked sprats with red cabbage and loved them. I nicked a sprat, very gamey taste. It reminded me of the bloaters I used to eat when I was about nine which seem to have disappeared from the British menu. Health and Safety probably have something to do with it I expect! We used to be sent bloaters by an aunt holidaying in Great Yarmouth.
For mains Liz chose calf's liver with chicory. It was enormous and absolutely fantastic, she reported. I was very adventurous and opted for chitterlings with broad beans. I really only had a
vague idea what they were but I surmised that as they are on the menu practically every day then they must be popular. My goodness they were absolutely bloody gorgeous. I may never eat another main course there again either! Very bacony, very tender and perfectly matched with the starchy beans. We shared a bowl of greens too.

I found out about chitterlings after I'd eaten them. Intestines boiled for ages and then fried. I wonder who thought that was a good idea? They were, of course, absolutely spot-on!
For pudding I had a baked cheesecake with marc-soaked raisins which was really, really good but was trumped by Liz's nectarine jelly with poached peach and clotted cream. So pretty as well. (And because she is dairy-intolerant I got to eat the clotted cream).

The bill which included 3 glasses of claret came to £90 including service. Expensive, yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Half-time saltimbocca

The Delia and Heston Recipe Collection continues at Waitrose and Half-time Saltimbocca was this week's offering. Now that England are out of the World Cup I am not following the football but we were playing the Aussies at Lords yesterday so there was, at least a sporting connection.

I haven't made all or indeed many of the recipes in the series but I have been tempted by several, not least Delia's disastrous Seafood Risotto. I bought all the ingredients but so far I haven't found any guinea pigs! Early in the series there was a good Bangers braised in cider which went down well here despite looking awfully beige.

The pork saltimbocca appealled for several reasons. My husband was due a treat. He has been decorating and tiling the bathroom for what feels like 6 months but may in fact only be 4 weeks. It is still not finished and he needs much encouragement to carry on. He has also cleared out the shed so that my spanking new chest freezer, which arrives this week, has somewhere to live. Now today I am off on a jolly with my chum Liz to the Rude Brittania Exhibition at Tate Britain. We are following this with Sunday lunch at St John, so clearly I also have a lot of guilt to assuage.

I grow sage in the back garden and I happened to have a quarter bottle of Marsala in the drinks cupboard. The pork tenderloin and the Parma ham were of course on offer so it worked out pretty cheaply. It was dead easy, worked perfectly, tasted great and even looked reasonable (for me). I thoroughly recommend it.

(Sorry about the pictures being in the wrong order - not sure why I can't move them about this time!)

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Harrow mess!

There are far too many things that I am not very good at cooking. Very near the top of the list is pavlova. However, being an optimist by nature I am always game for another go when I see a recipe I fancy, and I fancied this week's Waitrose recipe for Strawberry and Vanilla Pavlova from Delia very much indeed.

Despite my best efforts at getting little pointy bits right round the edge the pav came out of the oven looking like a cow pat. In fact looking like every other pavlova base I have ever made. It also stuck fast to the greaseproof paper base which was a new one for me!

The filling tasted absolutey gorgeous but made the base split as I piled it on.

Having a purée of some of the strawberries was a lovely idea and the whole thing went down really well here, after they'd stopped laughing at how it looked.

I still don't know whether I overbeat or underbeat but meringue continues to defeat me. It has been requested again so watch this space. I might just make one that looks as good as it tastes.