Sunday 31 January 2010

Come Dine with Donna!


Our final one in the series was at Donna’s. The setting was lovely: a beautiful house with a snug room made all the more alive by the wood burner, and a large open kitchen, the table laid with homemade slate table mats and coasters! What more could you ask?

To begin, we had a selection of nuts and crisps with a sweet chilli dip. We then moved into the kitchen and were excited to find a scratch-card each in our places. Quickly agreeing to share the £100,000 when one of us won, we eagerly began our starter: Asparagus wrapped in mozzarella and pancetta with a rocket salad. The asparagus was cooked perfectly with some bite left in it, and the saltiness and crispiness from the pancetta complemented the creamy cheese perfectly.










Next, as we couldn’t wait any longer, was the chance to win some money. Does £1 count? Only one of us found it, but there you go…we still had the rest of the dinner to look forward to!

And with grilled trout with a selection of roasted vegetables, spinach and sliced potatoes, you couldn’t have asked for more. I’ve never had trout before, thinking it to be too slimy, but that was all in my imagination, as this was cooked well, sprinkled with pine nuts to give another texture and the crème-fraiche and horseradish (I don’t actually think it was horseradish but can’t remember what it was – Donna, can you add a comment under this post to tell me please! Sorry,) mayonnaise was lovely. Our host was cross with herself as, whilst pouring the wine, she left the potatoes in for longer than anticipated, but they were still tasty, and, lets’ be honest, wine is more important than potatoes!


Last up was ‘Crunchie Surprise’. And as we delved deeper, we found the surprise: a Malteser! This was simply crumbled Crunchie, and a Maltester, with natural yoghurt spooned on top, then more Crunchie and a drizzle of honey: Rich, creamy and sweet.

SDC11333 SDC11332













The girl done well! Having never cooked for anyone other than her partner and her parents before, she knew what she liked to eat and hoped we’d like it too – which we did! A success. We then retired to the snug and a huge cheeseboard was delivered with grapes, celery and all the other accoutrements you can think of! Stacy was catered for with a little round of Boursin while the rest of us dug into the stilton and brie whilst trying to guess who were were from the answers to our 20-questions!

A lovely evening…now we wait for the results, delivered, hopefully, on a ‘Best of the Best’ evening where we each take everyone’s favourite course: Amuse Bouche and Mackerel Pate from mine, Grilled Trout from Donna’s, Sticky Toffee Pudding from Stacy’s and last, but not least, Cheesecake from Jemma’s. Can’t wait!

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Come Dine with Stacy!


Our 3rd in the series, and one which we all looked forward to eagerly, even though our host was a little more reserved about the evening. Let me tell you something about her: she’s a brilliant cook, she just doesn’t enjoy it, and tonight was to be the first ever full 3-course meal, so expectations were high, and we were not to be disappointed!

The tray and presentation by itself was exciting, without even seeing the food: a lovely napkin, a flower and a little treat for post-dessert, not that we were still hungry! To begin, we had crudités and dips with nuts and crisps – perfect to nibble on while the chatter flowed. Our host regularly popped her head out from the kitchen to check we were all ok and waited on us all night; points for attentiveness I think!


We began with Smoked Salmon parcels, which were perfectly-sized filled with prawns and crab and a horseradish mayonnaise. These were served with a green salad and balsamic dressing. The flavours were lovely and rich and it was lovely to see chunks of fish rather than a pureed mixture.


Next up was a stroganoff, which I always struggle to make, but which Stacy did to perfection. Simply a mixture of onions, chicken and mushrooms, fried off, with a can of cider added, (our host used Scrumpy Jack,) simmered down with lots of dark soy sauce until reduced, then lots of cream. She added a timbale of rice, again cooked perfectly, to the plate and all was gobbled down by each and every one of us.


For dessert, a Stacy Speciality: Sticky Toffee Pudding…a toffee based cake, with half the amount of dates, so a little less sticky than usual, but this was more than made up for with the sweet toffee sauce. We could have all eaten a second helping, even though portions were perfect, as it was soooo scrummy, but decided against spoiling the evening!

And as for the scores? Well, you’ll have to wait and see until we’ve voted on Come Dine with Donna and they’re finally revealed!  

Monday 25 January 2010

Saffron Walden Cafe Cou Cou

What a surprise we had when visiting Saffron Walden last Saturday. A hidden gem, and not one that everyone knows about. Tables free as and when with no-one waiting, but one always coming up at just the right time.


The counter at front displayed many lovely cakes, all freshly made with a combination of individual ones and slices of gooey looking things.


The cafe served the usual fayre of scones, toast and doorstep sandwiches, which, unfortunately, were too doorstep to be able to a) get in your mouth (usually no trouble with a mouth my the size of mine!) and b) cut through with the knife! Several meals were written up on the chalk boards too, including tarts, quiches and coronation chicken.


I opted for the Goats’ Cheese and Caramelised Onion tart, with filo pastry, served with a green salad and excellent quality balsamic. It was delicious, all very sweet and rich, but did perhaps need a more vinegary dressing to cut through the cloying textures.


It was refreshing to visit a typically British café  on a dull, winter’s day and find such a bustling    atmosphere combined with good quality, home-made food. 

Friday 22 January 2010

Bon Anniversaire à Nous! Happy Birthday Bon Appétit!

We’re 1 today! A whole year later than I began this blog and I’m still here – unbelievable. And it’s thanks to you – everyone who signs up, or follows, or comments…and of course, the main star of the show; the food!

What a year it’s been: I’m sitting in the same chair as I began my writing but the wall that was behind it is no longer there (neither’s the ‘hatch’ that I used to serve tea through!); there’s a different hole through both room which has been filled with a multi-fuel stove; the kitchen that was so difficult to manoeuvre around has now vanished and been replaced by an ultra-sleek, ultra efficient white version, although it hasn’t improved the quality of food delivered from it I’m afraid!; and my fiancé finally turned into my husband! Wow. (Pause for breath!)

Looking back at my first ever post, I’m quite surprised how well it was written; I really must have had inspiration that evening and a head full of words and phrases ready to jump from my thoughts to my fingers! As the blog grew, so did the use of the apostrophe and it’s something I’ve really had to look out for along the way.

I guess the purpose of this is to see what happens. It's like when I pick up a wet leaf from the pavement - just to see; you never know what amazing patterns you're going to find underneath. Look at my little dinosaur leaf in Budapest! I couldn't just leave (he he he) him lying there on his own! So that's what this blog is: a leaf, well, the pattern left by it on the pavement. An experiment. To see what happens if I write a blog.

So, what pattern has been left? Over the course of the year, what influences have I responded to? Where and when were the highs and lows? And the best plate of food this year?

There ‘wheres’ are easy: two very different meals, at very different prices and eextremely different costs! The first in the year was at a shed on the island of Mersea, off the Essex coast. When I say a shed, it’s more of a barn, The Company Shed, brimming with atmosphere and fresh, just-caught fish. You queue outside to put your name down, bring your own extras, and lap up the simple, clean and fresh fish. Delicious! The second was a wedding present from friends; vouchers to Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. A completely different experience with excellent service and food.

Cooking at home has also taken a turn for the better with far more inventive things being trialled. A One of my successes has been learning the benefits of patience, especially while making bread-related products, such as Bread Pots and Flat breads. After several attempts, and much waiting around, looking to see how much each batch had risen, they finally ended as they should; puffy, airy, light and golden.


As for the failures, there have been a few! But, you only learn through making mistakes, if, and it’s a big if, you know what went wrong and how to change it; unlike my Raspberry soufflés, which I had to re-name soup in case of misrepresentation! I was a little upset this is such a common mistake, but am determined to learn more about them in order to improve. All suggestions gratefully received. A long-lasting favourite is the Chilli Jam, of which I have made several batches, many given away to friends.

I’ve been lucky enough to gain many blogger friends whose ideas I’ve stolen over the year, two brilliant ones being Dan’s Chocolate Fondants and Anne’s Sweet Potato Bites, both of which will be made again and again and certainly become a classic in our household.

Growing and cooking our own food has also been a highlight of the year. I sorted all the raised beds and surrounding area a the beginning of the year and soon began to dig and sow; soon I had a row…of…cabbages from the Cabbage Patch. It’s fantastic knowing where the food has come from and that it’s wholesome and good for you. 

Eating with friends has been far higher on the agenda than any other year, and two memorable events stand out. The first was a Walkers’ Taste Test on 5 new flavours, and the second a round of Come Dine with Us, which is, at the time of writing, still unfinished with one to go.

Enough of the past, though, let’s look forward to the next year. My main ‘hope and dream’ would be to do this full time. How I wish to cook, invent, create, photograph then write about it. Any offers?!

Saturday 16 January 2010

20 Great Foods You Aren’t Eating, according to The Times!

The Times Online today has an article entitled “20 great foods you aren’t eating”. I say an article, but really it’s a list of “easy-to-buy superfoods (that) could help you to live a healthier, flat-bellied and longer life”, according to their nutritionist, Amanda Ursell.  Nowhere in the ‘article’ does it comment on how she knows that we are ‘not eating’ the listed foods, and as Lizzie ‘Hollowlegs’ of Lizzie Eats London has tweeted, “surely we eat LOADS of tomatoes, apples and parsley?!”  Bethany, aka Dirty Kitchen Secrets also comments how she eats them all except oats and baked beans, whereas I only eat 75%, with grapefruit, pomegranate, green tea, oats and prunes being the exceptions. And it’s not that I don’t eat them, but simply that I don’t find them great ingredients to cook with, and since I rarely eat breakfast during the week and just have toast at weekends, grapefruit lingers at the bottom of the list, with oats marginally in front.

Becoming more interested in this idea of foods we don’t eat, I randomly searched my blog to see how many recipes the foods I thought I did eat were included in, and this is what I found:


Number of posts found on Bon Appétit Comment
Baked Beans 0 but there were 7 recipes when I searched for ‘beans’!
Green Tea 0 no surprise there then
Oily Fish 10 I searched for ‘fish’, several of the results being mackerel.
Parsley 12 as a main ingredient and a garnish
Apples 3  
Grapefruit 0  
Tomatoes 20 thought as much!
Pomegranates 0  
New Potatoes 7 now I didn’t think there’d be that many of those
Oats 0  
Poached Eggs 1  
Frozen Peas 4  
Prunes 0  
Dark Chocolate 7 really…that many?
Frozen Berries 0  
Olives 2  
Almonds 5 wow
Chillies 19  
Wholewheat Pasta 13 I never buy wholewheat so simply search for pasta, although I suspect it’s the ‘wholewheat’ part that makes it a superfood!
Turmeric 0 although this has definitely been in some recipes, I’m sure!
To my surprise, one recipe came up again and again, thus leading me to believe it must be a very healthy recipe indeed – Herb Pork with Bean Puree. It was delicious!
So, in which types of recipes can you find these superfoods? Well, I’ve copied a selection below so you can try some out.
Oily Fish – Mackerel Pate
Apples – 3 Little Pigs (Pork stuffed with spicy apples), Toffee Apple Sponge Pudding
(Wholewheat) Pasta – Tortelloni and Penne, Orzo Feta and Pepper salad,
In future posts, I hope to add recipes using the 7 ‘zero’ food stuffs from the list, (not including turmeric as I really have used that somewhere, I’m sure!). So, look out for grapefruit, pomegranate, green tea, oats and prunes coming soon to Bon Appétit!

Friday 15 January 2010

Winter Vegetable Soup


It’s sooooo cold at the moment, we all need something that will really warm us up and make us appreciate the seasons, rather than complain about them! This recipe was inspired by our cookery club at school. The children were testing their knife skills and making a plain winter vegetable soup, the recipe taken from the ‘Let’s Get Cooking’ website.

2 turnips OR 1 swede
1 parsnip
1 potato
1 carrot
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 x can mixed beans
1 x 5ml spoon dried mixed
herbs or a handful of fresh
herbs (oregano, thyme,
1 litre water
1 vegetable stock cube
1 x 5ml spoon vegetable oil
Black pepper

Now, I used whatever was in the fridge – parsnip, carrot, potato, onion and lots of herbs. I think that was it!007

1. Wash the potato, parsnip, turnips or swede and carrot. Peel and chop into small cubes

2. Peel and slice the onion into small pieces.

3. Peel and crush the garlic. If using fresh herbs, finely chop them using scissors.

4. Heat the vegetable oil in the saucepan over a high heat. Add the crushed garlic and all the chopped vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Stir regularly.

5. Dissolve the stock cube in a litre of water and pour into the pan.

6. Drain the beans and add them to the saucepan.

7. Stir in the fresh or dried herbs and black pepper. Turn the hob down to a low heat, place the lid on the saucepan and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

I then added loads of salt and pepper, blended until smooth, toasted a few croutons, grated some cheese and served piping hot!


Tuesday 12 January 2010

Jamie’s Italian – Canary Wharf Review

As if we hadn’t been out enough over the Christmas period, we decided one more outing couldn’t hurt! Having been over the family a few days after Christmas, we decided to meet in Canary Wharf one evening before new year and try out the newish Jamie’s Italian there.

As I was on holiday, I trundled in to the shopping centre a little early in the hopes of bagging myself a few bargains! Having never been before, and also having heard it’s a great set of shops, I was quite excited, but once I arrived, it was all rather disturbing. Now, I know I should have thought about this beforehand, but I hadn’t realised that both centres would be underground. Secondly, they’re positively like rabbit warrens, running under the parks. They go along in a straight line, then one end goes up through 4 floors of circles. Meanwhile, there’s the stations somewhere in between on a level that’s meant to be ground level, but I’m not sure is as you can also reach it from the level above. After wandering very confusedly for about an hour, I gave up trying to locate any shops, also giving up my, usually quite good, sense of direction, and followed signs for Jamie’s in case I got lost later when we were meant to be meeting!

I then snuck around to the ice rink, where I found a fantastic bar called The Moose Bar! I sidled in, asked if they did mulled wine, which of course, being a log cabin based on the après-ski theme, they did, and took it outside to watch the skaters until my hubby arrived. Brilliant! It’s there until nearly the end of February and was so chilled, if you’ll pardon the pun.

We arrived at Jamie’s about 7pm and were told there’d be an hour’s wait. We took a pager, stepped over to the bar and ordered a little aperitif. After less than half an hour, our pager was buzzed and we took our seats.  The menu looked great and half the  fun was seeing what everyone else had on their plates and choosing that way instead! We opted for the cold meats antipasti to begin for all four of us. This was a selection of cold meats, olives, and cheese and chilli on corn crisps. All were delicious and served on a long wooden plank supported by two huge tins of Italian tomatoes! Very rustic.


For mains, we all wanted the Carpaccio, but all chose something that was cooked and home-made rather than home-prepared. The menu consisted of a selection of pasta and meat and fish. No pizzas here, but a large range of other lovely things from which to choose. After much deliberation, I was torn between the wild mushroom ravioli (I think I remember correctly,) and the carbonara. When our meals were served, the most noticeable thing was the unusual pasta, which I presume is made on the premises?

PC300400The spicy sausage pasta was twisty and long, I can’t really describe it, but very different from anything I’ve seen before.






The Carbonara looked rich and creamy, with the sauce slid over and off the pasta.





I plumped for the parcels, which were thin packages filled with the stuffing, which was smooth and tasty, and covered in a buttery sauce.



Portions were just right and the service was excellent.

Prices were more expensive than a usual bowl of pasta, but the fact you know it’s good quality more than made up for that. The restaurant was larger than expected, but the atmosphere fantastic. I’d definitely return and am looking forward to trying it again before Moose Bar closes!

Sunday 10 January 2010


I saw these little darlings being made on the Hairy Bikers ‘Mum Knows Best’ recent episode and decided to give them a go. I thought the new stove would be the perfect place to help the batter rise and also to toast them once made: How wrong I was!

The recipe is really very easy…


350ml/12¼fl oz whole milk
225g/8oz strong white flour
125g/4½oz plain flour
1 x 7g/¼oz sachet fast-action dried yeast
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml/5¼fl oz warm water
butter, for greasing, plus extra to serve

Warm the milk through.

Meanwhile, sift the flours, yeast, salt and sugar into a large bowl.

Make a well in the middle and stir in the milk. Beat for several minutes until smooth.

Cover with cling film and leave to rise until it’s doubled in size.

This is where I went wrong! I popped the bowl on top of the stove and left it for about half an hour. After this time, I was excited to see it had already doubled in size, so went on to the next part of the recipe, whereupon I discovered that the batter mix at the bottom of the bowl had begun to cook! Now I had lumps in the mixture, but I tried my best to get them out, and when that didn’t work, I simply ignored them!

Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warm water – it’s this that gives the bubbles you find in the top of the crumpets, which might explain why I didn’t have any, as I used baking powder.

Stir this rapidly into the batter mix, cover and leave again to rise for half an hour or so. (This time I left it by the stove, rather than on top of it!)

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Grease the cooking rings, and place on a medium hot flat griddle or a frying pan. Do not butter the pan. Add a couple of dollops of the mixture and let cook for about 6 minutes. Prick with a toothpick if the bubbles don’t appear on their own. When the mixture begins to set, you can flip them over and lightly brown the top.


Toast on an open fire, or if, like mine, they go black because you’ve held it in the flame, cheat, and pop into a toaster! I would also suggest that when you cook them in the pan, you turn the heat down and just lightly toast the bottom and the top to give more opportunity for cooking it through in the toaster!


Serve with slathers of butter dripping from the crumpet.

Friday 8 January 2010

Bacon and Winter Vegetables in White Wine


This week, we’re eating up everything in the freezer in the hopes of saving a bit of money after Christmas. Tonight, it looks like pasta bake with tomatoes and homemade root vegetable soup for starters. Having said that, until it’s defrosted and I can actually get into it, it could be mince and home-made stock! The excitement is becoming too much to bear!

As for this meal, all it really consists of is a ‘bottom of the fridge’ combination: one of my specialities! Other recipes include Spanish Omelette and Mediterranean Chicken.  It was one I knocked together last week from the many Christmas leftover vegetables.


Any meat – I used chopped bacon

Any veg. – I used shallots, new potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sprouts and leeks

Chicken stock

White wine

Plain flour

salt and pepper

Pour a little olive oil into a pan and fry off the meat until browned but not cooked through (unless it’s bacon, in which case, fry until crispy!) Remove from the pan.

Use the meat residue to fry off the chopped vegetables.

Return meat to the pan and season well. Pour over a large glass of white wine and let sizzle.

Stir in a tablespoon of flour to coat everything and add the stock.

Let it bubble away until the meat is cooked through, I put a dampened cartouche on top to stop the juices evaporating, and serve in large bowls with dumplings.

It certainly did the trick of warming us up on these cold winter evenings and, having never made it before, would certainly make it again. A quick an easy tea-time treat, especially if you use Aunt Bessie's ‘in the freezer’ dumplings instead of making your own!

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley

In the many long hot months of the summer, (they seem so far away with all the snow in the last few weeks!) my then fiancé and I finally did it – we tied the knot and got married. Guests will testify it was one of the hottest weddings ever, being in Nice, and it was great to see so many family and friends come over for the event. One of the lovely presents we received was a trip to Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, and we were not to be disappointed!

We booked it up for a Friday in December, and became very excited as the time neared!

I made it into London after school, even bumping into X-Factor contestants on the tube, and sat for a drink or two with hubby in the bar first, where he was very excited to find Donna Air! Dinner was not until half past nine, always a worry you’ll have too much to drink first, but a couple of cocktails surely wouldn’t harm?!

We were shown to our places and immediately offered a glass of champagne with a choice from the ‘trolley’. Ok, trolley doesn’t do it service, but I can’t find a more appropriate word right now! This was served with amuse-bouche: foie-gras, guacamole and sausage rolls!


Now, people who know me will also know that this is my favourite part of any meal, and these were no exception. Delicious bite-sized pieces of all sorts! We opted for the Prestige Set Menu, there was, I think, a choice of 3, and were not to be disappointed, especially with another set of amuse-bouche!


This time, it was a fish veloute with bread sticks!

SDC11082Now, I can’t honestly remember how every little thing of every course tasted: this could have been something to do with ordering the wine tasting menu as well, after two cocktails and a glass of champagne with only amuse-bouche to eat, no?SDC11084




I’m not particularly good, though, at warmed foie-gras. Something to do with the texture rather than the taste as I love it cold.



Now, it was getting to the point in the evening where I forgot to take pictures, and just concentrated on the eating. So, the quail below is the last one until pudding! Cooked beautifully with a rich gravy, it was divine; the toast foam, though, made it! A real magic treat!


The scallops, lamb and pigeon (we chose a different main each so as to try them both!) were just as delicious, but by this time, we were incredibly full of food and drink! Not to mention a little worried about making the last train home as we didn’t actually start eating until after ten!


And as for Arctic Roll for pudding? I’m never a fan of fruit and chocolate on the same plate, and although both were delicious, I wish people would stop putting them together. The roll itself, again, I’m not too keen on the papery, flaky outside mixed with the smooth creamy middle, so although I thought they worked separately, the pudding didn’t hang together as one dish for me. The little chocolate gifts to take away with us more than made up for it though!

Special mention should be made of the service, as I actually felt that although the food was innovative, exciting and tasty, the service was even better: Going to the loo for the first time found someone at your shoulder before you’d crossed the dining room to ensure you knew exactly where to go! The staff ensured you were fully involved in every aspect of your meal, very polite, but also smiley and happy to chat and banter – you know how I score points for banter! It’s not a combination you often find, and that’s what really made the evening!

So, thanks to Tony and Lynn, Lorcan and Lisa, Pete F, Simon, Neil and Pete D for their kindness; it was a very much appreciated present!

Tips for next time? Book an earlier table, don’t have two cocktails beforehand, and have one good bottle of wine rather than the wine tasting menu!

Sunday 3 January 2010

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String…and hopefully a cookery book with lots of fabulous pictures inside it!



Isn’t that what we all hope for at Christmas? And maybe no-one buying us the same one?! Well, I was lucky enough to receive 3 fantastic books this year, all of which are lovely in their own way. I’d given huge hints about ‘Coco’, and if you’re a foodie and you haven’t flicked through this huge tomb, you really should! It’s a collection of some of the world’s top chefs and their recommendations of other chefs they value. The book is ordered alphabetically through the 100 contemporary chefs, detailing their food, restaurant, and key recipes. For each of the 100, one of ten ‘leading masters’ introduces them and each leading master corresponds to a coloured ribbon in the book! The last section showcases classic dishes by each of the leading chefs. Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse are included in the leaders, with chefs such as Jason Atherton, Tristan Welch, Tom Kitchen, Theo Randall and Glynn Purnell named as a handful amongst the hundred. As well as an interesting flick through, it also serves as a cookery book and restaurant guide! What more could you ask from this work of art?

My other two books were both Nigel Slater. Now, I now some people find his television programmes a little laboured, slow and over produced, but that’s exactly what I like about them! They’re artful, beautifully shot, gentle and interesting. And I really do care how and where he grows his food. ‘Tender’ is a collection of ‘things to do with things you’ve grown’, and like Coco, is ordered alphabetically, this time detailing vegetables, not chefs. Each chapter then explains how he has grown his, gives ideas as to the different varieties, then suggestions for cooking it and using it in recipes. The photography is plain and understated, with an emphasis on the food itself. Calm and gentle.

‘Kitchen Diaries’, as my hubby pointed out, is a blog through Nigel’s year of food. He comments on what has been eaten and cooked when, the photos being taken in ‘real-time’ after the dish has been cooked and before being eaten! If he’s anything like me, the food will rarely be hot after the time spent getting the photography right, but then, his photographer is probably more skilled than me! Again, there are recipes throughout the book, but it’s the ‘chat’ I like best, and the pictures, and the fact it’s a signed copy! I’m going to try to read it day by day, but as it begins with New Year’s Day, I’ve a little catching up to do. He hasn’t written an entry for every day though, so I should make good time.

All that’s left for me to say is Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you enjoy cooking and trying some of the ideas posted here in the next few months. If you’ve got any of the books I was given for Christmas, you can keep one step ahead!

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