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!)