Friday 24 December 2010

Cherry Plum Gin–a homemade Christmas

Left it too late to get to the shops? If you’re anything like me, you’ll have used the snow as an excuse to stay in, keep warm in front of the fire and eat comfort food. What you won’t have done is brave the elements to finish the Christmas shopping. What I did do, several months ago however, was use the last of the cherry plums from the garden and pop them in a jar with some gin and sugar to make Cherry Plum Gin. At the time, it seemed the day would never arrive where I could actually open it again to see if it had worked, but that time has come. It’s not as sweet as I’d thought it would be, but the little sourness is actually quite nice, and I could always add more sugar if needed.


Usually, the girls and myself agree not to ‘do’ presents, but go out somewhere together instead. This year it was all planned, but we really couldn’t be bothered by the time the date came, so instead, I decanted the gin and gave a small present to each: perfect!

And it really is Christmassy, especially the colour!

Tuesday 21 December 2010

The Snow Day Bake-Off: Banana and Walnut Tea bread




I was recently invited to join Julia Parsons’ event, and since we’ve had many snow days, have regularly made this very easy and delicious tea-bread. It does taste best straight from the oven smeared with butter, but is equally as good a day later with a nice cup of tea. And it’s easy to make.


3oz butter

6oz sugar

1lb bananas

2 eggs

7oz self raising flour

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp salt

4oz walnuts


Combine the butter and sugar until soft and creamy.

Mash the bananas and add to the butter mixture.

Beat the eggs and add gradually, stirring thoroughly every time. It will curdle at this stage if your bananas were quite runny! Don’t worry.

Stir in the walnuts, then the flour, bicarb. and salt until just combined.

Tip into a well buttered loaf tin, lined with greaseproof paper.

Put into an oven at about 165 oC for about an hour. If if starts to brown too much on top, cover with foil. After an hour, turn the oven up to 180oC and leave in for another 15 minutes.

Turn out onto a wire cooling tray and see if you can resist until cooled!


Friday 19 November 2010

Jamie’s 30 minute ‘ Sea bass & crispy pancetta, sweet potato mash, Asian greens, 1-minute berry ice cream, sparkling lemon ginger drink’ meal!

This was a task for which I was thoroughly prepared: I’d bought all the ingredients (taking a list as long as my arm!); I’d watched the TV programme for the recipe I was going to do so I could visualise everything I should be dong and when; I had the book open at the right page; I placed ALL my equipment, and I mean all, out ready to use; the pan of hot water and warm frying pan were on and ready to go.


What more could I do? Well, little things did come up but I’ll tell you about those as we go!

So, the timer was at the ready to begin! And so was I!

I worked quickly and methodically through the instructions but soon confused myself. Actually, it wasn’t me that caused the confusion, it was Jamie! His TV show told me to do the pudding of frozen berry yoghurty ice-cream first, whereas that certainly wasn’t the first step in the book, but the last. I decided I’d like to get that done and get it in the freezer to chill, so I slotted that in earlier in the instructions. It also meant I didn’t have to do it when everything else was hot and ready to be served.

The second thing I soon realised was that having to read the instructions as I went along really slowed me down: moving the cookbook from surface to surface as I chopped, added to a bowl, popped into a pan, etc.!

As I chopped, sliced, stabbed, opened, threw, yelled and grated, I was desperately trying to think of things I could do to save even more time so I’d definitely make the 30 minutes deadline: peeling the little stickers off the lemons and limes, for example! One thing I hadn’t considered was the mess, and when I say mess, think every surface covered with a mixture of unopened and unused ingredients, bits of chopped off sweet potato, chilli seeds, the ends of the asparagus, empty packets of fish and pancetta, opened jars and bottles with their lids strewn around (probably on another surface or, indeed, the floor), splashes of berry and yoghurt mixture across the floor…you get the idea! It’s a good job I’ve got a kitchen with quite a lot of surface area as it really did cover the place. One reason is you can’t use the same table spoon twice, for example. It’s been dipped in honey and is then used for fennel seeds. Now normally, we’d wash it in between, but there simply isn’t the time – and I admit it, I didn’t count the amount of spoons I would need before beginning so found myself woefully short, using up valuable time to retrieve some from the dishwasher and hope they were clean.



The timer was still ticking as I turned the fish over to ensure the flesh was just cooked and as I began to plate them on top of the mash, it sounded its final bell.


Fortunately I’d also set the stopwatch, which was still going strong, so I continued. We sat down to eat 33 minutes after beginning the cooking process. The flavours themselves, as usual with any Jamie recipe, worked beautifully. With the addition of sesame oil, soy, ginger, lime and chilli, the meal was definitely Asian themed and although quite strong, complemented the fish rather than overpowered it, but one less wouldn’t have been missed. The OH actually went so far as to say that it was one of the best meals I’ve ever cooked and I must admit, it was very tasty.





As I’d worked quite quickly, it was hard to actually relax into the meal, and when I looked across at the kitchen, even less so. Although the dinner was very tasty and didn’t take that long, I didn’t enjoy the experience of eating it. A real shame. It is, however, easy and if you didn’t push yourself, (say, went for 45 minutes) cleared up as you went along , knew the recipe and flavour combination so you didn’t have to read as you went and peeled the sticky fruit labels before beginning (!) it would be a far more pleasurable meal!


If you’d like a go, why not see if you can beat my time? I’d be interested in knowing what you’d do differently to try to save valuable minutes. Watch the recipe at before you begin and see what you think! Read about the experience of others at the Guardian’s TV & Radio blog – I only found this as I was writing this post!

(Apologies for the quality of some of the pictures – the camera had a little tantrum!)

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Findus Fresher Taste

I recently picked up some vouchers for this new Findus range and thought, ‘Why not?’. I am, after all, human and don’t have time, or the inclination, to cook from scratch every night, even though it’s my downtime. So, last night, my relaxing was done in a hot bath and I opened one of the new products to see if it really was as good as a fresh meal.

Photo of Roasted Chicken Breast pack Photo of Wild Pacific Pink Salmon pack
Photo of Tender Chicken Breast pack Photo of Flaky Cod Fillet pack

The promotional text on the website assured me I’d want to ‘savour every mouthful’ of the Tender Chicken Breast with Vintage Cheddar and Bacon sauce – so did I? The chicken was moist, not dry after the recommended cooking time, and the sauce was tasty, but looked nothing like the think, oozing sauce on the picture: It was much, much runnier. The ‘buttery seasonal vegetables, which count as two of your five a day’ sort of made up for it as I rarely get my 5 a day, even on a good day!

The OH’s piece of ‘Flaky Cod Fillet’ was a remarkably small piece, and all I can say is that they must use side plates in the pictures on the website! His 1 of the 5 a day packet contained ‘a medley of crisp vegetables (which) completes this beautifully balanced dish’. There was a small piece of butter in with the vegetables to keep them moist and it did it’s trick, but unfortunately, this also meant the potato pieces were soft rather than crispy: you could always remove them from the pack for the last five minutes to crispen up in the oven, but that does of take the convenience aspect out of the equation.

Does it do ‘what it says on the tin’? Is it actually a fresher taste? My first question was exactly what I was supposed to be comparing the fresher taste with. If we’re talking about whether it tasted as if it was fresh produce rather than frozen, then yes, it most definitely did. The meat / fish was always cooked to perfection, never overcooked or dry, and the vegetables just past biting point. The only thing that gave it way was the slightly watery sauce. For taste alone, the flavours were strong and you could easily swap the vegetable packets over to put the greens with the fish and the potato and root vegetables with the meats, which I feel would work better. The addition of peppers to a white fish with a cream mornay sauce also seemed a bit of a strange combination, but maybe that’s just me?

As mentioned, I used vouchers to purchase my packets, but out of interest, wonder what you’d pay for this as a ‘ready-meal’ alternative? You get a small piece of meat or fish, a sauce, and a packet of vegetables that counts as one or two of your 5 a day. Very easy to prepare, either in the microwave or in the oven, you simply put two short cuts into the top of each ‘bag’, and they’re ready from anywhere between 7 (ish) and 25 minutes.

So have a think…my OH decided he’d pay up to £2.50, but then never does the shopping so doesn’t know the price of things! I’ll put the answer after the tags on this post to give you time…

£3.99 a pack. From a personal viewpoint I’d never pay this when you could make it from fresh ingredients for less, but it did take the phaff out of cooking one night from five, and tasted nearly as good!

(I have amended this blog after double-checking my facts and realising that the packs are on sale at £3.99, not £4.99 as I currently stated. I apologise for that: my memory obviously cannot be relied upon!)

Sunday 7 November 2010

Autumnal Treats–Pumpkin Pie

As you may know, over the last few weeks the OH has been improving his Sunday Lunch skills for friends. This week, Jamie’s roast chicken was accompanied by all the usual, and some of the unusual! Our friend, Neil, offered to bring a Pumpkin Pie for dessert. Now, if you’re like me, you may be forgiven for thinking that pumpkin pie should be savoury, but apparently not! As with many things American, this is a sweet, sticky, and most definitely desserty pudding.


It’s a combination of all things yummy and, topped with a splash of double cream, really can’t be good for you, but then, one slice of what you like never does you any harm. (If I keep telling myself that, I may eventually believe it!)

The recipe was taken from the Guardian Word of Mouth blog and looks relatively simple, though I can’t comment on that as I wasn’t the one who actually did the baking! Neil decided life was too short to make pastry, and I usually agree, so used ready-made and the edges were beautifully crispy.

For the filling, you mash and strain a small pumpkin, ensuring the excess liquid has fully drained off. Stir in 145g maple syrup, 3tbsp of golden rum and the spices (1tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ground ginger,
½ tsp ground cloves). Taste for sweetness, then mix in 2 large beaten eggs. Stir 150ml evaporated milk in gradually until you have a thick, creamy consistency – you may not need it all. Pour it into the pastry case and bake at 200oC for 40 minutes (checking occasionally after half an hour) until the filling is set but still slightly wobbly in the middle.


Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before serving. A splatter of cream really mellowed the sweetness, and although I only had half a slice to begin, I soon dug into the other half! Delicious and one I’ll definitely be giving a try this bonfire night. Thanks Neil.

Friday 5 November 2010

Merlotti vs Domino’s

As promised, I, (just so you didn’t have to, you understand) made my own version of a home delivery pizza, and now is the time to order the real thing and compare the two!


Now, the OH is always asking to order a pizza, and I always say no, having either begun dinner or thinking that the takeaway option is a bit of a cop-out. But, having completed one side of my ‘challenge’, it was only fair that I also completed the second half. Usually, we would choose a deep pan base (I always think that if you’re having a take away you may as well go the full hog!) but the Basil Burst Double Decadence is simply a layer of pesto sandwiched between two thin crust bases.

For comparison purposes, we opted for the same toppings as I had made: tomato passata, pepperoni, peppers, onions and mozzarella. You can choose all this and order via the website, but when I tried to ‘customise’ the Create Your Own pizza, the page wouldn’t load. If you’d rather telephone to order, then you’ll find your local Domino’s number displayed helpfully on the order page, but I stuck it out and, eventually, managed to complete my order, adding a tub of coleslaw, just because it’s yummy!

I followed our order with interest as, half an hour from delivery (eta 20.45), it was claimed that the preparation hadn’t yet begun! 20 minutes later, however, at 20.35, 4 out of 5 steps were complete and the order was at the delivery stage! The question is, would it be on time?

2 minutes to go and still no sign…

It’s now 20.47 and I’m writing this…

15 minutes so far between Stage 4, ‘Quality Control’ and delivery – will the cheese be chewy?

20.50 – Pizza’s here! Not bad…now, just a moment while I eat…




















Erm…not sure what to write. We encountered a problem. Delivered wasn’t the Double Decadence with basil burst pesto sandwiched between two thin bases, but was a deep pan with no sign whatsoever of any basil pesto. When I phoned (half way through digging in as we were starving) they explained they had tried to phone but it wasn’t answered (I left the house for ten minutes to pick up husband from the station) to say that they had run out of the pesto sauce. To be fair, the pizza we ate was very good, but not ideal for comparison purposes! And I’d been charged for the DD Pesto base, not a cheaper deep pan. What to do?


So, more than a week later, the promised voucher for a free pizza was, finally, dropped onto the doormat. Being one not to let things slide, I ordered immediately, by phone this time to check the sauce was in stock, and arranged for an 8 o’clock delivery.

Which arrived at two minutes to! I handed over the voucher, rushed to check it was the correct pizza, took a quick photo and settled down with the OH to get tasting.


It looked fantastic with much pesto sandwiched between the two thin bases as stated. It also had (according to the OH) that Domino’s smell! What that is I’m not sure, but it did, apparently, have it. The first bite was very pesto-y and the flavour and taste really came through. As I munched my way through another slice, however, the taste became less, just my senses getting used to it, and, after two slices, the base became harder to chew your way through. Maybe a single thin base coated in pesto before adding the tomato sauce would work better, but then you wouldn’t have the excitement of a ‘double decadence’ and all that jazz! I think this was because the two bases had little texture: They were cooked ‘flat’ like tortillas for quesadillas, so had no bubbly crusts. The toppings of pepperoni, peppers and onions were distributed nicely around so every bite and slice had something different and the pesto added to those flavours, so much so that I didn’t even have any of my usual ‘coleslaw’ additional topping!


So, what was my verdict?

Domino’s – wins for flavour of pesto

Merlotti – wins for texture of base (and, therefore, the ability to eat more of it!)

I know you were all hoping for an outright winner, but there really wasn’t one. I much preferred the base of mine as it had air bubbles, crispy bits and was only one layer thick, but the flavour of the basil pesto from Domino’s was much richer and more moist.

(If I had to choose an winner between mine, the DD Pesto and the Deep Pan Pepperoni, the Deep Pan would win every time!)

Sunday 31 October 2010

alice’s Cook Book - review

Some cookbooks are really just for looking at: browsing through whilst snuggled up in the front of the fire on an autumn afternoon. Alice’s, however, despite having many beautiful photographs and a casual, retro, arty layout, is all about the recipes. Each new chapter is introduced with a photograph and there are a couple more strewn throughout, but the real focus is food for friends.

With 5 chapters, including ideas for Sunday lunch, Camping and Open Fire cooking and Supper ideas to share, the recipes themselves are grouped into whole meal ideas for up to 6 people. Each idea also has a ‘hands-on’ time, making it easy to flick through and find something you can do in the time you have. Many of the smaller ingredients that create the flavour, however, aren’t the regular run-of-the-mill store cupboard options you might have in all the time and I feel a specific ‘shop’ to ensure you have everything you need would be in order before attempting some of these. Examples you might not have (certainly I don’t) include mustard seeds, elderflower blossoms, curry leaves, tahini, and chick-pea flour. And although I have red and white wine vinegar, I’d also need to add sherry, cider and rice vinegar to my collection.

Feeling peckish later in the evening after a Sunday dinner of ‘Very Garlicky Roast Chicken’ , a very moist and easy to prepare garlic and lemon chicken, I decided to use up some leftover roasties to make the Woodland Hash from the Picnics and Happy Camping chapter. This really simple recipe didn’t need an extra shop and said it would only take 10 minutes. I was very tempted by the Stickiest Gingerbread on the next page, but not having any stem ginger in syrup, I made the choice to stick with savoury rather than sweet.

The ingredients are simply potatoes, mushrooms, eggs and a flavoured oil, the preparation of which isn’t included in the 'hands-on’ time, but also, could be done much more quickly and simply if you were in a hurry, or, as Alice suggests, adding a few sprigs of thyme and cloves or garlic to the mushroom pan will do the job. The idea is to cube and gently fry the potatoes, turning up the heat to brown off when they’re cooked through. Use the same pan to fry the mushrooms, then move to the side of the pan and fry your eggs. I was asked to use ‘very fresh free range’ so used the last two laid earlier today from the hens! Plate up the fried eggs then pop the potatoes back in with the mushrooms to heat through.

The recipes are presented simply and are very easy to follow, written in short paragraphs so you can do one thing at a time without becoming confused as to what you’re meant to be concentrating on! There are also ‘short cut’ ideas throughout, from breakfast to tips for making life easier as you cook.

And the taste of our Woodland Hash? Well, I sat in front of the wood burner, not in a wood, with a plate of hot, warming and tasty food that I’d whipped up using leftovers, and a tasty recipe: Simple yet flavoursome. Thanks Alice!

Post Script: As a full-time teacher in my ‘real life’, I do think that your ‘sense of advanture’ (Page 53) when playing with the quantities for Damper Bread Sticks, should perhaps read ‘adventure’, but I know what she means!

Saturday 30 October 2010

Cooking made Easy–well, easier!

Having recently adopted three rather lovely hens, I’ve, I’m ashamed to say, been a bit lax with the cooking, and especially the writing about food that I so loved. Well, now the hens are settled in their purpose built run, I can, one again, continue with the cooking and writing that I so enjoy! I began with trialling a ‘basil burst’ pizza, but the recent star of the show has been the OH, who has discovered a liking for cooking Sunday Lunch.

Pizza Toppings – I didn’t chop the pepperoni – Tesco’s did that for me!pizza toppings

Now, this is something we don’t usually have, well, not in terms of a sit down roast dinner, normally opting for a bacon buttie and coffee, or similar. So this has been quite a treat, with him insisting he do all the work: He even cleans the kitchen after!


I must say though, that his life (and, therefore, mine too!) has been made a little easier with the recent present of a Jamie Oliver Knife block set, and all-purpose peeler from his new ‘Kitchen Kit’ range of all those basic tools that speed up the preparation tasks. The knives, in particular, are brilliant! They’re weighted just right and have a comfy grip you can really hold onto if needed, although the sharpness of them will mean that little effort is needed to cut through most things! Whilst preparing the roast, the OH used the paring knife to prep. small veg, then the utility knife for larger potatoes and parsnips. When the chicken was cooked (free range only in celebration of our new girls!), he even used the carving knife to serve up! As of yet, we’ve only used the basic peeling blade on the peeler as we haven’t found a need to peel tomatoes or julienne carrots and the suchlike! I’m sure there’ll come a time though.

For the real ‘knife’ fans amongst you, I’ve taken the details below from the Jamie website:

“This knife block set includes five knives: 11cm/4” Paring knife, 15cm/6” Utility knife, 19cm/7 ½” Chefs knife, 22cm/8 ½” Bread knife, 20cm/8” Carving knife. Each knife has a stainless steel blade and chunky bolster that provide superb balance and extra weight for easy chopping and slicing. Each knife is named at the handle so they can be easily identified in the knife block. Full tang MoV stainless steel blade.”

The one other feature that is so useful and often forgotten is that each knife is named on the end of it’s handle so that when they are in the block, you know which one to take without having to remember or guess!


Last night I had mum over and she took one of my old serrated knives to slice an onion. Since her eyes were watering, I took over the task and couldn’t believe how much effort was required to simply chop it up! Now all I need to remember is to keep them sharp – I’ll be needing one of his  ‘Really Sharp Knife Tools’ then!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

As good as Domino’s Basil Burst Double Decadence?

I’m afraid, since ‘tasting’ through the wireless waves hasn’t yet been invented, you’ll have to take my word for it when I have firstly, made my own version to see how easy it might be, and secondly, ordered an online pizza from Domino’s!

I was asked if I’d like to take on the challenge to make my own version, and who am I to turn down a culinary opportunity?

I began by hunting out one of the only pizza base recipes that I’ve felt actually turned out as I like it – Gino D’Acampo’s from his ‘Fantastico’ book. It really is simple:

Add a teaspoon of dried yeast to 140ml warm water. Pour into 180 g strong bread flour, along with a tablespoon of olive oil, and combine. Work for 5 minutes until stretchy and smooth then cover with a tea-towel and leave to rest for at least 45 minutes.

When rested, split into two balls and push outwards to form thin circles.

Now to make the pesto. Toast some pine nuts in a dry pan. Meanwhile, add basil leaves, salt, pepper and a drizzle or two of olive oil to a ‘whizzer’ (baby food processor!). Once the pine nuts are beginning to brown, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Add to the processor and blitz until smooth. Taste and add more of whatever you think it needs!


Now, this is the part where I wasn’t sure what to try. Should I aim to create an exact copy of the Domino’s version, sandwiching a homemade pesto between two thin bases? Erm…no. The reason? 1 – Worry over whether the base would be thin and crispy enough once layered, 2 – the oil from the pesto might leak into the dough and make it oily and sticky, not crispy, 3 – too messy!

So, option number two was to work the pesto into the dough itself, but I wasn’t honestly sure if people would like to eat green dough that might go that mushy brown colour once cooked. I decided anyway that one of the bases would have the pesto mixed into things, if only a little so the above didn’t happen!



There was one more option, however, which was a stuffed crust. This seemed a good compromise between the two: I might still get a crispy bottom, so to speak, and have the pesto combined with the dough in some way.

Before you begin topping your pizza, ensure everyone is nearly ready to eat so the toppings don’t make the base soggy, and that your oven is heated to at least 200 oC. Next, move the bases onto oiled baking trays because (and take it from me) if you try and move them after you’ve topped them, you’ll cry. Spoon a little of the mixture around the edge of each pizza and fold the crust over on itself – you can ‘stick’ down with a little milk if you’re worried about it coming undone!



Ensure the oven is up to temperature, top with a tomato salsa, mozzarella and whatever else you fancy. To make the tomato sauce, combine a can of chopped tomatoes, dried herbs, a pinch of sugar, a splash of red wine and seasoning, then bubble until it’s thickened.


Gino says to cook for 20-25 minutes, but use your common sense and remove before it’s burnt!

You should end up with something along these lines:



And the taste? Well, it depends upon what you’ve topped your pizza with, but speaking solely for the ‘basil burst’ part of it…with pizza 1, you could taste the herbs but only mildly and not when coated with tomato, cheese and pepperoni! Pizza 2’s stuffed crust was much tastier, although could have done with more oil in the pesto as it dried out in the heat of the oven. I was pleased that both of the bases cooked through well and were crispy underneath as well as at the edges, and that the herby pesto addition was not wasted and could actually be tasted! I do think it would work better with a more moist crust as mine was rather dry, but overall, I was quite pleased with the result, especially since I don’t often make pizza and was really keen on completing ‘the challenge’!

Friday 8 October 2010

Mushroom Loaves



These were what I wanted my bread rolls for: based on a recipe from Elizabeth Raffald's recipe for Mushroom Loaves from The Experienced English Housekeeper. Luckily, after asking my foodie Twitter friends, GoodShoeDay (whom I have discovered, has a vast collection of cookery books!) came up trumps with the recipe from the 1769 edition, as re-printed by Southover Press in 1997. It’s from the ‘Little Savoury Dishes’ section. You can also find it here, from Google’s library, P264!

I, however, didn’t use that recipe as I didn’t have button mushrooms or cream, and wanted to do it right the first time. So instead, I used tips from my River Cottage mushroom course and simply fried torn mixed mushrooms with olive oil and butter, and a little garlic and thyme tipped in towards the end. Leave the heat as high as you can stand without shaking the pan, then, as they start to brown, you can start to move them around a bit more! Take off the heat and add some crème fraiche. Season, scoop out the rolls (the recipe for which you’ll find here), and dollop the mixture inside. Top with the ‘lid’ and a few fresh herbs and tuck in! 

Monday 4 October 2010

Seeded Bread Rolls

First of all, can I apologise? It seems to have been nearly a month since I last posted, and I can only blame this on my sudden addiction to hens. Let me explain:

Over the last year I’ve hinted, cajoled, mentioned, left reminders about and, basically, begged to keep chickens, well hens. And for this birthday, all my hard work finally paid off…I’ve been allowed them, providing, they are "all my responsibility!” With this in mind, I’ve made quick work of acquiring said hens. Three, or possibly four, are arriving on the 16th, and we were completely unprepared. So, I’ve been ordering Eglus, runs, feed, woodchips, and all the equipment for a walk-in run so we can leave the little darlings outside during the day and they can have a bit more space! To hear more about it, have a look at The Cabbage Patch!

Anyway, apart from becoming slight obsessed, I think we’re virtually ready so I can, once again, pick up where I left off and continue my writing!

I had some spelt flour that I’d bought to make yummy rolls in the cupboard and also wanted to try out a ‘mushrooms in bread’ type recipe, so began. I looked and a couple of recipes: Hugh FW’s and Nigel Slater’s to be precise, then made up my own, using 500g flour to 300ml water, give or take a splosh.



The problem I find with bread-making in the Autumn is that the conservatory isn’t hot or sunny enough for the proving, and it’s not quite time to light the woodburner. So, to cut a long story short, the dough didn’t really rise, but I went ahead anyway…leaving to prove again after making the rolls.


Before baking, I sprinkled them with mixed seeds, although should have brushed them with beaten egg first to act as a glue, then baked for about 20 minutes until done!


They were, unsurprisingly, very heavy, but also tasty, and served their purpose of holding a mushroomy stroganoff well!

Thursday 16 September 2010

Let’s Get Baking

As I bake more and more, (I’m now the proud owner of many types of flour and yeast!), I find that I’m slowly learning the art of remaining patient: something I haven’t formerly shown a leaning towards. It’s all in the stretching and proving, and a hot conservatory certainly helps that. Along with this, and the running of The Great British Bake Off, I may even contemplate making my own pastry, something which I’ve previously always stated that life is too short for. The programme has, for me, been a nice combination of watching people like myself ‘having a go’ at something, and teaching me the skills to do so along the way: Learning why bread dough has to be kneaded and stretched and tips for an ‘unsoggy’ bottom to your pie!

So I’m going to use today’s post as a little ‘aide-memoir’.

I’d like to bake:

A proper pie with homemade cheesy short crust pastry

Cornish Pasties

A cob loaf

Seeded spelt bread rolls (although any recipes for such would be greatly received!)

One thing I can’t seem to find, though, are links to the recipes from the programme. Obviously, Paul and Mary’s are up on the bbc food site, but the contestants recipes are strangely absent, (or maybe I just haven’t found them yet!) If you do find them, feel free to comment under this post and add the link!

So, I’m definitely giving some of the ideas a go and will post again when I have been a busy baker in the kitchen.

If you haven't seen it, and are watching it solely for cooking tips, I’d recommend beginning with the Bread episode. Otherwise, as stated by the singing nun, start at the beginning!

Sunday 12 September 2010

L’Univers, Nice, France – Christian Plumail

Being a regular visitor to France, Nice in particular, then I thought it was about time we compared the Michelin Starriness of haute-cuisine to it’s English competitors. Over the last few years, we’ve been lucky enough to visit several starred restaurants in the UK but our visit to Christian Plumail’s L’Univers was our first European experience.

The restaurants is tucked just outside of the old town and facing the Place Massena with it’s strong, structural fountains (and the trams). It doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, or inside, with a series of bright, but slightly strange paintings are displayed: Those ‘love or hate’ types of slightly overweight figures.

To have with our aperitifs, we were served a slice of traditional pissaladiere and some lovely, small black Nicoise olives.


We were seated quickly at a lunch service and began choosing our food! They offer a fantastically priced lunch menu of two courses for just 20 Euros, but since it was our first visit, we opted for more varied dishes on the Menu Saveurs d’Ete, Flavours of Summer.


I’m not going to comment on the plates individually, except to say it was delicious. The flavours were fresh and local, textures well combined, and all beautifully presented.


Amuse-bouche were small raw scallops served with a crab foam. A little too ‘fishy’ for me, but loved by the OH.   SDC12821


To begin, the OH opted for Courgette with courgette mousse, a vegetable type salad and crispy sea food. Mine was the more conservative Crab and tomato roll with a citrus fruit summer salad, comprising grapefruit and fennel!



Main courses were Monkfish served with a Mushroom Fregola Risotto (sort of a Sardinian pasta risotto!) and Iberian Pork Chip topped with onions and cheese,  served with a puree of Cocos de Paimpol, a type of bean.


The cheese course was a simple (I say simple, but would find it difficult to make!) goat’s cheese panacotta served with cereal toast and Muscat grapes.


Puddings were excellent: Figs wrapped and toasted in gingerbread, a nutty nougat and rhubarb sorbet, or in my case, Lemon Verbena cream with brandy snaps, poached white peaches and lemon sorbet. Mmmm…


Served with coffee were a few other delights and the chef even came out for a chat, before, strangely, getting involved in some broadcast with sound people all over the place! Service was good, but not excellent, then, we are in France, and it was at least very friendly! I’m not sure the Michelin inspectors would have appreciated the phaff at the end of the lunch service with the sound men, wires, headphones and general kerfuffle that went on, but we certainly did!


There is a more expensive menu (ours was 44 Euros) at 70, with a great choice and based around flavours from the market in the Cours Saleya, but ours was perfect for a lunchtime treat. With a bottle of Rose to counteract the heat of summer, it was a perfect introduction to the starred restaurants of the South of France. Now, where next?!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.