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Monday, 5 December 2016

ASK Italian, Chelmsford … A Review

What, with all these new chains opening up in Chelmsford, I can barely keep up! But one thing that will set a good restaurant apart from the others, since the food is is usually comparable, is the service. One of my main bug bears is the fact that there aren’t more independent places here, but when there are, it seems they struggle to get the service right too. Take for example A Canteen. It used to be a fab little place, perfect for a hungover weekend brunch. Then they expanded … too fast: huge premises, wildly long opening hours, three menus throughout the day at first, and new staff, who were awful. And the food went downhill too – with so large a choice, the chefs just couldn’t do it all, And the lack of communication between front of house and kitchen is still very poor.

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Anyway, I digress. At many of the new chains, I have also experienced poor service. From tables not being served at the same time, some people having finished before others were served and the excuse being, “Well, we are very busy”, to poor knowledge of product from the waiting staff. At the press night at ASK, however, the staff and service was excellent. Way above anything else in Chelmsford. Staff were trained at the Billericay and Colchester restaurants for several weeks beforehand and comprised a mixture of experienced and new, which just seemed to work. Now, I know it was the press night and everyone was on best behaviour, but from product knowledge, personal experience and professionalism, to asking if we wanted the remnants boxed to take away without us asking, they were really superb. Difficult to find staff this good in when the market is saturated with new restaurants. We even received an email to say my partner had left his rucksack and that they had it safe for us to collect!

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And the food wasn’t too bad either! I’ve never been to an Ask before and was pleasantly surprised. The new mixed antipasti board was delicious, the tomatoes served at room temperature rather than straight from the fridge, so they actually had taste, and the mozzarella was soft, squishy and simply delicious. I chose a pizza with mixed salami which was exactly as expected…crisp and tasty, as was the super thin garlic bread we chose to accompany it. The OH decided on a meatball pasta, which was ok. A little more sauce would have gone down a treat as it was a bit dry, but came with a lovely side salad instead of having to order this separate and he ate it all.

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But the real star of the show was the Etna Dessert – I'll let the picture speak for itself, but if you go, you must leave a pudding space for this!

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The interior is the right side of industrial with open piping in the roof space but nicely finished wood and metal surroundings. There are a combination of booths and tables and plenty of space to fit buggies…always useful for a girly lunch!

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Here’s what ASK had to say about the opening …

“The new restaurant features seating for 140 guests, with capacity for an additional 60 covers outside in the warmer months, overlooking the river Chelmer. The imposing glass frontage floods the restaurant with light during the daytime and showcases a very impressive hand built wooden staircase.

Serving a range of dishes from starters such as Butterfly King Prawns, Antipasti boards and Dough Balls to mains including stone baked pizzas, pasta and salads, busy Chelmsford shoppers will be spoilt for choice at ASK Italian. One of the highlights has to be the very ‘instagrammable’ Chocolate Etna dessert where hot toffee sauce is poured over a dark chocolate cup at your table to reveal a hidden scoop of vanilla gelato on top of a hot chocolate fondant.”

We’ll see how they cope over the festive period, but if you fancy it, all 3 ASK Italian Christmas menu options are available to view online here

Classico – 3 courses for £18.95

Festivo – 3 courses for £22.95 or 2 courses for £14.95 (Mon-Fri until 5pm)

Super Festivo – 3 courses for £24.95

I’ll be visiting again next time I’m in town for lunch…here’s hoping the service is just as good!

Disclaimer: Our meal was complementary for review purposes. All opinions given are my own, honest and truthful.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Our Local Butcher … at last!

Something Chelmsford has needed since I moved here over 15 years ago is a decent butchers. A couple are in and around...the farm shop on Moulsham St. has a selection of meats and Lathcoats farm shop on Beehive Lane also sources and sells local meat. There are a couple of butchers in the market and a few  independents in most of the surrounding areas, such as the Vineyards at Baddow and the shops at Galleywood.

Now, Stock is much further out than 'Chelmsford' and his new butchers is just on the far side of the village, based at Stockbrook Farm Shop and Nurseries. Its’ here that James has opened up a little butchers counter. Although small, he is happy to make up or prep. ahead anything available for you to collect, or order your leg of lamb for Sunday roast in advance. And with a new delivery scheme set up, there's really no reason not to.
I visited this week and was pleased to see quite a big range of meats, including several pre-prepped options, such as hunters or lemon chicken, fresh stir fry or stuffed lamb noisettes. These sauced and pre-prepped options are always homemade from natural, store cupboard ingredients and perfect to pop straight into the oven. The meat is sourced as locally as possible, with pork from Wicks Manor and other meats from Hanningfield and Great Leighs. James has developed relationships and struck up friendships with Smithfields Market, London, and ensures all meat is high welfare, even if it's not always possible, due to demand, to ensure it's as local as he would like. Talking of local, nearby customers are also currently given a 5% discount!

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I chose four lamb noisettes and a chunk of rib eye which James chopped in two for me and was pleasantly surprised they only came to £15! I would have posted pictures, but we gobbled them up far too quickly! the steak was great, and I’d advise you to cook quickly on a high heat first to sear the fat and begin to melt it down, then finish them off in the oven to medium. I usually eat my steak rare – as in, just touched the pan rare – but with a ribeye, it’s important that if you want the full flavour, you need to crispen the outside fat and melt it down to make the middle moist. As for the lamb, I fried this. On a high heat to begin to, again, brown the far, then on a lower heat to begin to cook the middle. I ate this pink and it was delicious. I served it with potato dauphinois, baked tomatoes and mushrooms and roasted vegetables. They were utterly delicious.

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You'd definitely be advised to follow James Facebook page, Our Local Butcher, and new website to view the full range of meats, and to check out recipe ideas and meal suggestions from him too. The delivery service has just begun, with different areas of Chelmsford being covered on different days. Free delivery for orders over £25 and a £5 charge otherwise.

This seems like the perfect answer to fresh, local meat for me, until they invent chilled meat lockers on every road anyway (!) , and I’m already looking forward to this week’s visit. 

Photographs taken from Our Local Butcher website.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Spicy Pumpkin Soup




I always struggle to use up the bits and bobs of pumpkin that are leftover from carving. Doesn't everyone just scoop out the seeds and gunk and leave most of the flesh inside, or is that just me? Anyway, this year, I had a few pieces that I refused to throw away, so topped them up with other things to make soup. It was sooo easy.



Fry off the leftover bits of pumpkin along with a peeled and cubed sweet potato, a few stalks of chopped celery and a red onion. That's it. Once beginning to soften, add a stock of your preference and simmer until cooked through. Blitz in a blender and serve to your little monsters. For a spicier kick, throw in some chilli flakes and chilli powder. That's our post rainbows, pre trick or treating tea made then! 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Homemade Salted Caramel Buttered Popcorn

 

After recently attempting Laura Amos’ Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tart from her Dessert Deli, and giving the caramel at least three goes, I was more confident to try this on my own. So when we decided on a relaxed ‘cinema afternoon’, with the big cushions pulled off the sofa onto the floor, the shutters closed and the Lego Movie on the box, it seemed the perfect opportunity to try out a quick caramel to top our popcorn.

I’d highly recommend buying the corn kernels to pop yourself. They’re so cheap and easy…and fun, especially if you have a glass lidded pan so you can see them popping. Take care to put less than you think in – a layer over the bottom of the pan will be fine -  turn the heat up and keep shaking so they don’t burn on the bottom. As soon as they begin to burst, turn the pan lower and keep shaking that pan til popping slows.

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As for the caramel. you could make a simple sugar syrup…stop after the sugar has melted, or continue to make a richer caramel sauce. Pour a layer of caster sugar over the bottom of a saucepan and keep the heat on medium. Try not to stir the sugar, simply wait for it to melt and turn a golden orangey colour. If you end up with a lump of unmelted sugar, gently swirl the pan. Once all the sugar has dissolved, take the pan off the heat and quickly stir in a lump of salted butter – this will cause the mixture to bubble, but don’t worry and keep stirring. You can also stop at this stage or add a splash or two of cream. Again, keep stirring. If you get a few lumps, return to a low heat and stir, stir, stir. The more cream you add, the runnier the finished caramel. Once finished, add the popcorn into the pan and coat each piece thoroughly using a spoon.

Don’t forget to have some wipes handy for those sticky fingers afterwards!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Turtle Bay, Chelmsford–A Review

 

20160915_212452People know how I feel about chain restaurants, but with so many opening in Chelmsford recently, and about to in the very near future with the Bond St development, you just can't get away from them. The first phase to open has been The Exchange, home to Cote, Carluccios and Turtle Bay so far, and I was excited to have the opportunity to review the latter, especially as we have more Italians than we can shake a stick at! I hadn't heard of this chain before so was looking forward to seeing what Caribbean flavours were on offer, and I wasn't to be disappointed. 

From the outside, the restaurant looks vibrant and fun and that theme continues inside when you enter the bar area. By 7.30pm on this Thursday evening, there was already an hour and half wait for a table. The bar and restaurant itself was packed and the noisy chatter and easy music gave a brilliant atmosphere. The cocktail list is huge...mainly rum based for obvious reasons, and the Jamaican Mule with ginger beer and Koko Colada were delicious. I usually opt for beer or wine with food rather than a cocktail, but the creaminess and fruitiness of the Colada was just right to help tame the jerk spices! The other half chose a peanut butter and banana smoothy to accompany his meal, and had to order a spoon to go with it as the straw just wasn’t wide enough to actually suck  up any of this delicious drink.

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Our waitress, Millie, introduced herself and was lovely all evening, even checking how well we coped with spice before placing our order. She also asked someone else to speak to me regarding the dryness of the Rosé, just in case I fancied a glass with dinner, and he was happy to provide a taster for me. The bar staff were jubilant and efficient, balancing the right mix of friendliness and professionalism, even high fiving my husband! One of my favourite things was the size of the napkins...big. Think tea towels. This is especially important when dealing with jerk chicken, I have discovered! 

We chose the Beach Food Platter to share for starters, purely in the interest of you readers of course, so I could feed back on several of the starters rather than just two! Priced at £12.95, you get three of each taster: jerk chicken wings, pepper roti, sweet corn fritters and garlic and herb flatbread. A word of advice...have the wings last. They are incredibly flavourful, but also incredibly spicy. The flatbread had a chilli and mango drizzle across it, which was delicious and the pepper roti was nicely warming. The sweetcorn fritters certainly were tasty but still doughy in the middle...as Paul Hollywood says, I could squish the centre and turn it back to dough. Maybe that's how they serve them in the Caribbean, but a flatter shape would have ensured the middles were cooked through. 

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My husband couldn't resist the 24hr marinated whole jerk chicken served with Caribbean slaw and sweet potato fries while I opted for onepot Curry Pork Cheeks with sweet potatoes and pineapple chunks. The chicken was amazing, marginally less spicy than the wings for starters but probably because there was less surface area proportionately for the spice to stick to. It was grilled nicely and cut into easy to eat quarters which the OH attempted with knife and fork. I, on the other hand, just used my fingers. The slaw was crisp and crunchy and the sweet potato fries were crisp, and stayed that way, rather than soggy. My pork cheek curry was served in a one pot enamel bowl, half rice n peas and half curry. It didn't look a lot of food when it arrived but, after finishing, I realised it was just the perfect amount. I liked the fact it came with two small squares of flatbread too to mop up any leftover sauce. The pork was slow cooked but on the dry side rather than fall-apart tender. The cubes of meat were quite small so maybe slightly larger pieces would have ensured a more moist bite? The sauce of coconut, however, was delicious, as were the rice n peas. 

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I didn't have too much room left for dessert so chose a lighter option of BBQ Pineapple with a caramel sauce and coconut ice cream. The pineapple was just the right side of barbecued, and was really tasty, though I just couldn't finish it off. My husband had the Rum and Raisin Bread Pudding which, despite claiming the inability to eat any more after his whole chicken, he polished off in no time! 

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Bearing in mind my husband chose the priciest thing on the menu, the chicken at £17.50 (a similar price to full rack of ribs and Frankie and Bennys) we averaged £36 per head, which included two drinks each and three courses. I don't think that's bad value at all...if you took my two cocktails off, that's £22 for three big courses! 

Service was consistently good throughout the evening, and the atmosphere was buzzing, especially considering they've only been open a few weeks. A few outdoor heaters would have meant we could have had one last cocktail under the stars (well, streetlights) before heading home, and I think all tables should come with a stack of tissues to help mop up the spice tears! 

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Will we return? Well, as I said, there are a few other new restaurants I'd like to try out first, but yes, we will. I'd like to bring my little girl back to try out the Little Turtle menu as I think she'd love the beach theme and buzziness of it.

 

Disclaimer: Our meal was complementary for review purposes. All opinions given are my own, honest and truthful. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Strawberry Season

Yes, it’s that very short, but ever so tasty season again – Strawberries! We are very lucky, living just 15 minutes walk from Lathcoat’s Farm, predominantly and historically an apple growing farm producing it’s own juice, but also in summer a PYO farm for strawberries, raspberries, plums, cherries, and many more delicious fruit.

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You simply turn up with your container, or take one from the little picking hut, and pick til your heart’s content. We can never resist just one last berry, and always go home with far more than we can possibly eat, usually making jam from the remains. One of the best things about this farm is the fact that the strawberries are not along the ground, but on chest-height troughs making it far easier to find and pick, especially if you have a small 5 year old who is the perfect height to wander underneath and find all the ripe fruit! This punnet cost around £2.75.

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This year, due to the earlier wet weather, the season has been quite short-lived and much of the fruit now is going mildewy, but there are still a few lovely strawbs to gather in, and the plums will be ready soon too!

One of the things that irks me about the prep of these red berries is having to hull them. I’ve tried picking out the leaf with fingers but this always seems to leave the thicker green inner core. Another method with which I’ve had some success is to use a straw. Simply push up from the bottom of the berry, through the leaf and pick out. This works well but sometimes you still don’t get all of the green. I’ve resorted to simply using a knife to chop the top off, but am always upset by how much wastage there is of the actually berry.

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So, when I heard about the Oxo Good Grips Strawberry Huller, I couldn’t wait to give it a try. The instructions seemed pretty easy – push out the blades, stick them into the leaf section, twist and pull out, then push the end to release. And it really was that easy too. Even my 5YO could do it.

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It works better on bigger, firmer berries: when they are too soft, you can’t pull the hull out without squidging the rest of the berry, so choose your fruit carefully when picking!

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I’ll definitely be keeping this little tool alongside my Oxo Avocado Slicer as something I use rarely, but that does it’s job fantastically, making my work much faster and easier, and much less messy. A good little tool, especially if you can’t get enough of those summer strawberries. 

I’m going to be making mine into a Strawberry Prosecco Salad. Heat a pan with a little tiny drop of flavourless oil and add those squashed berries with a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of prosecco to make a strawberry sugar syrup. Chop some mint finely, sprinkle over the strawberries before drizzling the syrup over the top.

Disclaimer: Although I was sent products to try for the purpose of this post, all views and opinions are entirely my own, truthful and honest.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Reason...

Here she is...my excuse for lack of recent posts:


A few weeks early, but classed as term. All fit and healthy. We're back on the road to becoming a normal family again after the shock of no sleep, birth, stitches, feeding, etc. But I'm nowhere near being able to cook and blog! 

And prep. ahead has disappeared...or, as I now call it, very expensive Charlie Bigham ready meals (just like home cooked) but someone else has done all the prep! [http://www.bighams.com] I don't care at the moment tho, whatever feeds us as I feed her works for me! I've also gone back to my supermarket home deliveries, finding I spend less as am less inclined to purchase impulse buys. I am, however, more likely to buy pre prepared stuff as it's easier to find and add. Pluses and minuses. 

There will be more cooking and posts...keep an eye out. There'll probably be more baby posts too!

Looking forwards to getting back to blogging, but with a 4YO too, it may be a while. 


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