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.