Friday, 30 December 2011

Chocolate truffle torte

The recipe for this cake came from James Martin's website. Unfortunately it's not there any more but as I had saved it as a Word document I can reproduce it here. It is essentially Delia's recipe with changes to the quantities.  I used Green and Black's 35% milk chocolate because my family prefer it. And the sugar mice were there because they were reduced to clear in Waitrose. I haven't had a sugar mouse for over 50 years!

James Martin chocolate truffle cake

25g/1oz butter, plus some for greasing,
100g/4oz amaretti biscuits,
400g/1lb dark chocolate (70-75% cocoa solids),
4 tbsp liquid glucose,
4 tbsp rum,
1 x 568ml tub double cream, at room temperature,
cocoa powder, to serve.

1.      Line a 23 cm cake tin with baking parchment, then grease the base and sides with soft butter. Melt the butter in a small pan. Crush the biscuits, mix together with the butter, then spread over the base of the tin.
2.    Break the chocolate into squares and put them in into a heatproof bowl, with the liquid glucose and rum. Place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn't touch the water, then leave it until the chocolate has melted and become slightly smooth. Stir , then take off the heat and leave to cool slightly.
3.    In a separate bowl, beat the double cream until only slightly thickened. Fold half into the chocolate mixture, then fold that mixture into the rest of the cream. When blended and smooth, spoon it into the prepared tin. Tap the tin gently to even the mixture out, then cover with clingfilm and chill overnight.
Just before serving, run a warm knife round the edge to loosen the torte, then remove from the mould. To serve, dust the surface with sifted cocoa powder.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Hugh's Parmigiana

My favourite cookbook at the moment is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg everyday. Famously carniverous, Hugh has made the monumnetal decision to eat far less meat and this book (and accompanying TV series) is the result of his endeavours. The book is beautiful - my cleaner took one look at it yesterday and rushed out to buy herself a copy. You just want to cook and grow everything within.

Sadly, my husband doesn't consider a meal without either fish or meat to be dinner so it will be some time before I have cooked my way through the pages. The Aubergine Parmigiana was made yesterday because my one-time colleague and long term friend Daniel was paying a Christmas visit. Daniel loves his food and he especially loves aubergines.

It is a very good recipe. The only change I made was to use 3 rather than 4 tins of tomatoes. I salted the aubergines as instructed - still not sure whether that was necessary but hey ho. It was very tasty indeed and Daniel loved it. I served it with olive ciabbata and a green salad.

For dessert we munched our way through a tray of baklava given me by my lovely friend Lulu. It was a perfect lunch. And it is Christmas after all.

Chris had Tuna pasta bake . . . .

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Another sad day

Jumble was run over on Friday evening. The vet phoned us to say she had been brought in to him unconscious and that she had died shortly afterwards. We are all very sad because she was such a beautiful and intelligent cat. Very high maintenance - woe betide you if she didn't give her a sachet of food every 3 hours, very  talkative,  and very friendly when she wanted something. It is a year to the day that we collected her from the RSPCA and she went from being a fluffy but skinny, wary little thing to a chubby, still fluffy, confident lady. We miss her.

We still have Pannucci but there will be no more cats for us whilst we live here. It's too painful.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Pollen Street Social

I have not seen my friend Liz since our Dorset holiday in August and we had promised ourselves some culture and a lunch treat way back then. The plan was to do the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery. How very naiive of us! Liz applied for tickets on the day they became available, the website had crashed because of the unprecedented demand, and she spent 4 hours on the phone trying to obtain some. She had to admit defeat this side of Christmas but has secured a pair for January 16th. We shall be going then if she doesn't succumb to an urge to flog them on e-bay for a vast profit.

As Liz had worked so hard over this we decided to forego the culture part of our day and head straight for lunch. Because of spectacular success finding Bocca di Lupo and Les Deux Salons for our previous two excursions, restaurants that Liz has subsequently returned to, I was entrusted to come up with the venue again. Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social has had some very good reviews and it is comfortably near Oxford Circus which is on a direct tube line from Harrow and Wealdstone station walkable from my house. I booked around 3 weeks ago and was told they had no lunch tables available in the restaurant but that we could have a table in the bar.

The building is very swish indeed and very comfortable, Lots of wood, lots of glass, comfy chairs, lovely loos. The waiting staff were brilliant and the food was out of this world. An amuse-bouche of black olives came with a dish of something that tasted like taramasalata but wasn't pink. Liz though there might have been cream in it. It was a lovely start.

Because I love oysters I had to have oysters. These were West Mersea English molluscs and I chose the option of having chorizo with them. Genius. Totally fabulous.

Even more genius was Liz's Cornish crab vinaigrette, Nashi pear, cauliflower sweet 'n sour dressing with frozen peanut powder. Liz pronounced it the best starter she'd had for years and marvelled at how delicate it was. (The picture doesn't do it justice).

My main course was Rack of Cotswold lamb, braised shoulder, creamed spiced aubergine and black olive reduction. The lamb which I ordered medium rare just melted. It was a fabulously intense dish. I think that may have been goat curd on the side. One sniff was enough not to try it.

I am very sorry that I didn't take notes. Suffice to say that Liz's Venison dish was also amazing. I know Chanterelles, more pears and more cauliflower were involved. Liz is pretty sure that Jason Atherton has cornered the market in cauliflower!

Those who know me will be flabbergasted that we eschewed puddings. The menu was tempting enough but Liz thought they were nearly all outside her whey-allergy comfort zone, and I wanted cheese. I have been dieting for the last two months and cheese has barely passed my lips. So I ordered the cheese plate with piccalilli and green tomato chutney and Liz opted for the Chocolate table, handmade chocolates to die for. The cheese was spot-on although my chum didn't rate the goat as the best she'd ever tasted. The Comté was especially wondrous. Again an absence of a notebook plus a surfeit of punchy Temperanillo means I am hazy as to what the others were, other than delicious. Interestingly the piccalilli disappointed slightly, not edgy enough for me. (And more cauliflower)!

Our bill, which included a large G&T, an Armagnac which looked like it was called Danni Minogue, a bottle of fizzy water, and aforementioned Temperanillo came to £170 all in. The most expensive lunch I have ever had in fact. It was a good job it was pay day!

We had been given keys at the start of our adventure and these unlocked our "free gifts" on departure. "Tea on us". An unnecessary but nice touch.

And I will be back. And next time, guess what? I mentioned earlier that Liz had revisited the previous two restaurants. She dined with her erstwhile sister-in-law who is a Glaswegian GP. Said lady, Anne, was so impressed with Bocca di Lupa that she took many GP friends there when they were on a London jolly. (I really should be on commission). A few weeks ago she was London-bound again and Liz suggested Les Deux Salons. She loved it and said that next time she was down she would very much like to treat me to a meal somewhere special. Woo hoo!! Pollen Street Social here we come.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Lunch at Yalla Yalla

Yalla Yalla is a very tiny restaurant which opened a few years ago down a seedy little side street in Soho. So tiny in fact that it has been very hard to get a table (they have or had a no-booking policy) and so I have been giving it a miss since my 3 early visits. I was therefore delighted when my friend Daniel, who lives in a block of flats above said seedy little side street, told me that they had opened another, much larger branch in Winsley Street near Oxford Circus. The particular brand of Lebanese street food served in both establishments is earth-shatteringly tasty and so Daniel and I agreed to meet there for a half term treat and a gossip about our peripatetic colleagues.

Drinks come with olives and pickles. Delish. We shared 4 plates of mezzé, fattoush, hummus, chicken livers with pomegranate (sawda djej) and tiny Lebanese sausages (soujoc) which are Daniel's particular favourites. The mezzé was outstanding, truly.

Follow that lot with an enormous mixed grill and some tasty gossip and you will find a pretty much perfect lunch. And of course we had to have baklava for pudding. It would have been rude not to.

Yalla Yalla is an eaterie not to be missed. It's right up there with Wahaca! The lunch bill which included a bottle of Bekaa Valley red came to £70 including service.  I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The recipe for Lulu's chocolate caramel cake

As she wrote it. The recipe uses a Bundt tin.

-N 1-

This is cream caramel ingredient

3 eggs

3 cups powder milk

3 cups water

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 lemon peal

Mix all to gether

-N 2 -

This is choclate cake ingredient

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup Mazolla oil

1 cup flour

1/2 cup milk

little vanilla

2 teaspoons baking powcer

1/4 cup Nescafe

1/2 cup cocoa powder

Mix all to gether as if you are making cake

Grease a tin with a hole in the middle.

In a saucepan put 10 table spoon sugar on the fire until it melt brown colour and put it into the greased tin. The add caramel -N 1 - into the tin thenput -N 2_ choclate cake on it slowly. They will mingle together (Don't worry). Put them in the oven in a pan with hot water.

Put in the fridge one night before. Next morning put on the fire a little bit until the bottom melt then turn it in the dish.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Chocolate Brownie Cake

This cake jumped out at me from my BBC Good Food Binder when I was looking for something a bit different to my usual Sunday Lunch family get-togethers. It is very good being both nutty and sweet. It's not as deep as the picture they show but I put that down to Good Food being vague about the tin size. Mine was 25 cm.

I'm told it was very good and that I must make it again so that's a result. (I am dieting hard at the moment so didn't try it). It was certainly very easy.

I served it cold due to pressure on oven space. They thought it might be better warm.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Dinner at Lulu's

In case you don't know, I have a guilty secret. I belong to a band of dedicated but slightly bonkers women who are early-morning swimmers. At 6.30 every morning you will find me ploughing up and down the middle lane of the LA Fitness pool at Northwood. Well actually I swim backstroke so maybe I plough down and up.

There are about 20 or so of us who have been there for years and, on the whole, I don't mix with socially other than at swim time. In fact I know none of their surnames. Even Lulu's whose feast this was. (Actually I have seen her surname written down and it something like Tamagotchi, which made me laugh).

Lulu and her family fled from Iraq over 25 years ago and have lived in a splendid house in West London ever since. She seems, from her conversation, to entertain every night of the year and is forever being descended upon by Iraqi/Iranian friends and relatives. Lulu is a bit good at cooking and so I was delighted when she invited us swimmers (and a few gymmers) for supper last night.
In truth all I can do is add some photographs and a few comments. It was bloody amazing.

The Persian rice with saffron and nuts tasted even better than it looks. And she makes it in exactly the same Tefal rice cooker that I have. Must get recipe.

I forgot to take a picture of the tabbouleh but it was sensational. There were kibbeh too. And a fantastic bean/chickpea/lentil salad which she had derived, made and multiplied from the ingredients on the side of an individual M&S portion.

The salad at the back left was extraordinary. I've probably missed a vital ingredient but it was cooked aubergines and toasted pitta bread covered with yogurt, pomegranate and tomatoes and was just drop-dead gorgeous.

We also had baked chicken in pomegranate molasses and stuffed vine leaves. Divine.

The desserts too were wonderful. I adored the date and walnut sweetmeats below.

And the baklava which she cooks with an olive oil spray so that there are almost no calories. (Yeah right! Lulu is Twiggy like)!

And then there was this wondrous cake/pudding which translates from the Arabic as something like God's Gift cake. It's one of those bung it all in and it sorts out the colour-scheme for you whilst it's baking. The chocolate dense and the top a kind of creme caramel cheesecake texture. (Yes I know that's vague but I've never had anything like it). Another recipe to pinch. Although I may have to buy a fancy tin.

Just in case Lulu hadn't over catered enough there was also a foreign intruder by the name of Tiramisu (which actually wasn't boozy enough for me) but of course I had to try it. Slimming World can go hang this week.

We all came home with Tupperware or foil bags of leftovers and Lulu will be able to feed her family for a week on the rest. The company was great too. We had a Jewish girl from Sunderland, a South African, a Malayan, a Sicilian, a French lady who was brought up here, an Irish girl and 3 home grown, including myself.

A wonderful evening but I am spoilt now. Oh and the top tip? Don't bother making your own hummus when the M&S version is so good.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Spiced apple and ginger wine loaf

Like most people who are blessed with apple trees in their garden I have been looking for new ways to use up the glut. There are only so many apple pies and crumbles that my family will eat and my freezers are full to bursting - last year was a very good year too and I suspect that there are many packs of stewed apple still to be unearthed.

I was very pleased then to see this recipe from Diana Henry for a cake which contains ginger wine, a favourite of my husband.

The cake was very easy to make. I didn't bother with the apple topping as my friend Suelle had not thought it added anything. And I didn't bother with the icing as I didn't have any icing sugar in the house. Next time it will be iced and I shall take on board Suelle's suggestion of adding a chopped apple to the batter as my husband didn't feel it was "appley" enough. However he loved the spicy, gingery taste and the texture.

Definitely a cake to go into my repertoire. Which is why I'm blogging about it because otherwise I shall forget all about it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

Yes I know. It's not authentic Indian etc. But I am not very good at curry anyway and  had all the ingredients in the house - well OK I omitted the fenugreek and the fresh coriander,  and I hadn't any cream so made up the shortfall with extra yogurt!

But this recipe is ace, a really good storecupboard meal, just as long as you have the Patak's Masala Paste to hand!

I am only blogging about it so that I can find it easily next time. And googling the recipe came up with huge lists of spices to grind alongside the paste. This did for us nicely. And painlessly . . .

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Eating out in Dorset

I have just returned from my annual holiday with Liz and her brother. As per usual we ate out a lot. Our first port of call was Mat Follas' bijou little restaurant The Wild Garlic just up the road from our holiday cottage in Beaminster. I had been looking forward to it for ages and my meal didn't disappoint. Scallops for a starter were just right, and they were followed by one of the biggest plaice I have ever seen on a dinner plate, simply grilled with lemon and capers. Dave chose venison which arrived on a very cheffy plate of this and that complete with a pot of steaming pine needles to inhale. (Liz and I both thought lavatory cleaner). 

He didn't think it added much but the venison was very good. Liz chose cider braised pork belly, crackle and sweet potato which again came in a cheffy arrangement pictured above. The crackle was pronounced inedible because it was so hard. And her meal was disappointingly tepid. We shared a plate of cheeses and a selection of desserts. The cheese won hands down although Mat when questioned didn't know which cheeses were on offer. The puds looked lovely but the flavours lacked oomph.  Service was lackadaisical, dirty glasses being left on the table for ages for example. It was, however, pretty cheap for evening service. With drinks beforehand, a nice bottle of Temperanillo and a glass of pudding wine the bill came in at just under £140 for the three of us. And we saw Mat a few times, which was nice. (And by the way Mat the amuse bouche of carrot soup was revolting).

Yes, I would go back. It was just a shame that on that particular evening Liz didn't experience the wow factor.

Wednesday saw us returning to The Riverside Restaurant in West Bay. This really was a meal to write home about. Liz has been going there for years and says it never disappoints. I had been once before and had good memories. I started with my favourites. Oysters. Mmmm!

Oh how I love oysters. I love mussels too which is what the others had. All were delicious. And I could have eaten all the mains but settled on roasted wild sea bass with sea blite and a red wine jus. I didn't think it quite worked as the sauce tasted quite sweet and I'm not mad on fish with a sweet tang. It looked lovely though but I wish I'd had what Liz did, pan fried brill fillet with a leek, crab and mustard sauce.

The desserts were first class (better than Mat's I'm sad to say) and I chose an iced white chocolate, raspberry and almond parfait. It was a good choice. The others fared well too.

So, if you are ever in Dorset this is a fish restaurant not to be missed. I shall be back.

We spent Thursday morning on the beach and out on The Cobb at Lyme Regis, beloved by The French Lieutenant's Woman. Tempted though we were to go off on one of the many mackerel-fishing trips the unpredictability of the wind put us off. And anyway none of us are big mackerel fans. We had driven past Mark Hix's Oyster and Fish House but had decided to save that for another visit. As the wind increased and the sunshine began to disappear we hot-footed it back to the car and decided to find lunch out of town. In another town in fact. We had read that River Cottage had opened a canteen and deli in Axminster. We thought it would be very busy and that we would buy enough items from the deli to picnic with. In fact the canteen looked so warm and inviting we queued up for a table, not much of a queue either, perhaps a 5 minute wait.

The canteen does what it says on the tin. Seasonal fresh food simply cooked. My fish soup with croutons and rouille was perfect, Liz and Dave had corn on the cob which they both enjoyed. I then went for the organic beefburger which was, quite frankly, overcooked although the meat was tasty. Dave pronounced his pork koftas excellent and Liz's sardines in parsley and lemon were outstanding.

We had become seasoned chip eaters during the week and we all thought that those served here won first prize. Only Dave could manage a pudding. His blackberry pannacotta looked and tasted superb.

Lunch included a bottle of Rioja and came in at £68 which we thought represented good value.  On the way back to Bridport we passed the new River Cottage. It was a shame we hadn't realised our holiday cottage was in the same grounds as the original!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Lunch at The Waterside Inn

Once a year Liz and I treat ourselves to a very high quality (i.e. Michelin-starred) lunch out. Usually this is just after my birthday and my part is funded by the cheque my dad always gives me. But of course my dad passed away earlier this year and so I have been squirreling money away for this very special treat since then.

The Waterside Inn in Bray is very posh indeed. It is in a posh village (also home to Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck), it is in a posh part of the country (just to the west of Windsor) and it sits on a posh part of the River Thames. Last year the restaurant celebrated 25 years of holding 3 Michelin stars. Previously Liz and I had only eaten at a 2 star establishment, Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, so we were expecting great things. And by and large we got them.

You drive down a narrow village lane and The Waterside Inn is at the end (as is a slipway leading into the river). You are waylaid by the restaurant's valet who parks your car for you. This is a first for me and certainly for my beaten-up old Honda. A friend had reminded me that he would need tipping on car collection but as he had only in fact reversed it into a space 5 metres away I felt that was a bit OTT. I was left wondering if he thought I might have gone down the slipway . . .

On entering the building I was greeted by a fairly frosty French receptionist who informed me that they would not be open for 4 minutes and would I like to wait over there (pointing at a couple of generously sized sofas). Liz was making her own way so this was fine by me. At that moment Alain Roux the head chef (and son of the great Michel) walked through in his chef's whites so I knew we were in good hands.

Liz arrived and we were ushered through the restaurant and out of the large glass doors onto the riverside terrace for our aperitifs. As it was such a lovely day we really reaped the benefit of the splendid views.

If you are feeling very flush you can book their boat (for £65 per half hour!) and take your drinks and canapés off for a little river trip. Sadly another party beat us to it. maybe next time (when I've won the lottery)!

Ah yes. The canapés. Absolutely gorgeous. I particularly enjoyed the carrot, ginger and vodka shot, and the little round one which was foie gras with something. You will have to forgive the fact that I had nothing to write on and forgot to get a copy of the menu on my way out so details of some of what we ate are a bit sketchy!

The restaurant itself is a bit tardis like, much larger inside than it looks. The clever use of mirrored panels all around the room also means you get to see everything that is going on, great for nosey people like me! We chose the 3 course Menu Gastronomique (basically the set lunch) at £68 for three courses. The other diners all appeared to be doing the same but this was hardly a surprise. We also noticed that all customers were drinking wine by the glass. Having seen the prices on the Wine List this was no surprise either. We both chose the smoked eel/celeriac/crispy egg as a starter. It was a very good combination indeed although the egg was a bit bland. Liz doesn't do eggs but I didn't feel inclined to help her out. The alternative was a creamy corn and prawn soup. The lady on the next table had that. It was decorated with popcorn. I am underwhelmed by great restaurants serving popcorn! Le Manoir used it last time I dined there.

It is now that I should mention the absolutely fantastic service. There were so many waiters running around that they reminded me of the penguins in Mary Poppins. But the service was faultless, friendly and they were all very French. They were charming to talk to as well. It was a bit like being pampered by a lot of lovely young men. Really top drawer. (And the waitresses were very sweet too).

I cannot remember all of the ingredients in our mains. Suffice to say that Liz had Red mullet and squid on a kind of potato wafer and I had roast rump of beef on spinach in a really rich jus serve with timbales of pearl barley which tasted nicer than they sound. It was topped with a lovely splodge of bone marrow, one of my very favourite things. Both mains were exemplary.

By now we were filling very replete but truly the best was yet to come. I think my dessert was probably the best dessert I have ever tasted anywhere. It's right up there certainly.

So we have a pistachio mousse with strawberries served on shortbread, strawberry sorbet and the best pannacotta ever which was enriched by having a trifley bottom. Just looking at the photo again makes me drool. Liz went for a passion fruit/mango sorbet/chocolate dessert concoction and pronounced it very rich but delicious.

 We were then escorted back outside to the river by yet another gorgeous boy where we enjoyed coffee (decaff of course) and wonderful little sweet treats. We must have sat there watching the world go by for a good hour. Really lovely.

 It was, as they say, A Grand Day Out. VAT and Service are all included and the bill, which boasted a large G&T and 2 glasses of wine, was £149. For a special occasion I don't think it can be beaten. Except by Le Manoir maybe.

We think next year's outing will be to Le Gavroche, if we can get a table.