Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A Tale of Two Butties

I've been frequenting the quaint old village of Rufford for a few years now and have said many times 'We really should go and have some food outside at the Marina when it's nice one  day.' However, nice days are few and far between and we've never managed to get round to it until a few weeks ago. We were going to the Grand National and it's tradition to enjoy a champagne breakfast beforehand so our friends booked us all in for a table of 10 very smartly dressed giddy kippers.

I had the smaller breakfast, no beans, scrambled eggs and extra mushrooms (courtesy of friends that didn't want the poor things), There was sauteed potatoes hidden on there  too, along with black pudding and the usual bacon and sausage. We were permitted to bring our own champagne and I ordered fresh orange to add to make Bucks Fizz. Overall it was a decent breakfast; the meat was good quality and the vegetables tasty, the eggs seemed microwaved and weren't great - certainly not Moose standard. The service, atmosphere and setting were top notch and I was looking forward to going again and eating al fresco on a sunny day next to the canal.

However, my next visit was not as successful. We got the sitting outside box ticked but arrived at 11.45, missing the breakfast we were hankering after by minutes. I decided to go for a BLT sandwich which is the next best thing in my books. This is what showed up;

It wasn't good. For a start it wasn't a tripler. Then the fillings were all either sparse or terribly misjudged. There was one small slice of bacon on each half, not enough to fully fill the sandwich. This is probably a good thing seeing as it was cold, chewy and tasteless. It could possibly have been precooked and microwaved for people that miss breakfast. There were perhaps two thin slices of insipid tomatoes, and then the worst crime of all; prebagged salad leaves. AAARGH. For me, a BLT should be stuffed with fresh crisp iceberg lettuce. I know it's not the most fashionable leaf, but it works here. I don't want bitter purple crap and stringy rocket and watercress that's mostly stalk and no leaf. Get it away from  my sandwich, there's enough of it garnishing the bloody plate in the first place. The bread wasn't toasted so the whole thing fell apart on eating and there was NO. MAYO. This was brought over when asked to be fair, but still. Let me have my moment of drama.

A club sandwich shaped void had now opened up in my life and I needed to fill this with a properly made version that only I could do justice to. So here it is; the best club sandwich ever made™.

I know; it's a beaut ain't it? You've got a peek into the construction process too, you lucky things!

1) If you want to recreate this masterpiece (serves 2) you need to slice up a whole avocado and 3 tomatoes to make sure you have enough coverage and some to snack on when waiting for your bacon to cook. Get some chicken breast slices sorted too.

2) Put as much bacon as you can fit under your grill on a high heat (about 6-8 rashers) and don't even think about trimming that fat off.

3) Get six slices of bread and put four in your toaster ready. The other two slices can be toasted under the grill. This is assuming that, like me, you can only fit 4 slices in your toaster. After your bacon's been on a few minutes, put your toast on.

4) When everything's ready, quickly assemble. Slather mayonnaise over everything getting right into the corners. Then two slices of bread should be covered with the chicken and avocado slices, whilst the other two with at least three slices of bacon and 5/6 of tomato. CRAM IT ALL IN.

5) The chicken slice goes on the bottom, the bacon next and the empty slice on top. Cut in half and devour.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Midnight Feasts; Brie, Pesto and Tomato Bruschetta

So, it's late in the evening and you're wondering what to do with all that pesto I forced you into making in my last post. Well you make yourself this nice little supper, that's what.

My family have never really grown out of our childhood meal routines. Dinner is at 12 and tea is at 5 and that's bloody well that. However, I'm a growing girl and when it comes to around 10ish, there's nowt on telly and Pinterest has drowned me in picture perfect snacks and neato holiday themed popcakes, I very often find myself staring at the contents of my fridge wondering how I've got there. I'm usually looking for some sort of savoury snack, probably involving cheese in some way, so this is ideal.

Ingrediants (serves 1)
Half a baguette
Brie, sliced
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

1. Slice the baguette in half and place upside down under a preheated grill for 2-3 mins until the bottom is lightly toasted.
2. Carefully remove and spread with pesto, then top with the tomatoes and slices of brie.
3. Return to the grill for 3-4 mins, until the cheese is becoming golden and bubbly.

The brie should be nice and gooey, tomatoes fresh, bread crusty and satisfyingly chewy, all set off by the vibrant pesto. A perfect hungry girl snack. Naughty.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Recreating Ready Meals (M&S Standard!); Spanish Chicken

Every now and then I treat myself and go to Marks and Sparks' and drool over the food. And
I honestly get inspired by their vast range of ready meals! Gasp! Ready meals!? Naughty food blogger! Anyway, last Summer I discovered their Tapas style Marinated Chicken, Potatoes and Alioli and FELL. IN. LOVE. It apparently served two but I, of course, ignored this advice. They had somehow managed to bottle the very essence of a Spanish holiday, mix it with chopped tomatoes and sell it for our consumption. Or maybe it's just smoked paprika. Either way it's proper yum.

Out of interest I had a little look at the ingredients on the side of the box and wrote them down, then decided I would have a go at recreating it. I also added chorizo and it was one of the nicest meals I've had in ages. Now since then I have been back to M&S and, to my dismay, it appeared some MANIAC has discontinued this dish. How lucky am I that I wrote down that ingredients list!? I didn't write down my method though and so last week I muddled through, pen in hand, and wrote it down to bring you this recipe. I highly recommend it, particularly if you're fancying some sort of relaxed summery tapas evening with friends. This would be perfect.

N.B: These pictures are from last year when I first made it, and I had fried the chorizo separately. This recipe includes them in the sauce instead and is how I did it this time. Calm down, everything's going to be alright. You'll get your chorizo.


Chicken Marinade:
4 skinnless and boneless chicken thighs
Roasted cumin seeds
1 red chilli, diced
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp sun dried tomato paste
Olive oil

200g chorizo, sliced
1 red pepper, diced
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, diced

5 potatoes, diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp thyme
Olive oil

1) Prepare the marinade by lightly roasting the cumin seeds then adding them to the chicken along with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Give em a good squelch together. Go on really get your hands in there. Then cover and leave in the fridge to get all friendly. This should be done a good few hours before if possible. At least an hour if you're in a rush.

2) 40 mins before you want to serve put your chicken and marinade in a casserole dish and wack it in the oven at 180°.

3) 20 mins before feast time get your sauce started by frying the chorizo, garlic and the red peppers. Add chopped tomatoes, oregano and sugar. Bring it to the boil then turn down to a simmer and let it reduce nicely.

4) Lightly roast the fennel seeds then sauté your diced potatoes in olive oil with the smoked paprika, thyme and salt, until they're nice and golden brown.

Now the original dish was served with Alioli which took it from mouth watering to concerningly wonderful in one big dollop. The first time I made it I MADE alioli with a HAND WHISK drizzling olive oil drop by minute bloody drop and nearly wanted to die. It was good but just wasn't worth it. This time I just bought some in a tub from Morrisons. Soz.

Eat it outside with a lovely group of friends and family if possible. See that bright stuff in the pictures? That's sunshine that is. It will come soon, I promise. I can feel it in my chorizo.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Do You Like Green Eggs and Ham?

Can we just have a second to bask in the glory of the title of this post? I thought of it while shopping for the ingredients and almost grabbed an unsuspecting shopper to inform them of it, such was my joy. ....done with the basking? Good. On with the recipe.

I have posted before about the absolute heaven on earth that is Moose Coffee in Liverpool. They serve American/Canadian breakfast orientated cuisine, and if it's one thing those guys know, it's eggs. One of their meals is the 'Liberty Moose'; scrambled eggs mixed with pesto served with cured ham. I sampled some of Gav's on my last visit and was hit by a taste sensation. The pesto gives the eggs a vibrant boost you don't usually get from this sort of breakfast, and the ham provided a solid porky base. I just had to recreate it at home. 

Initially, I set out to buy some pesto but when I got there I remembered that we had some pine-nuts in and plenty of olive oil, there's always room for a bit of fresh basil and Parmesan in our house so why didn't I just go the whole hog and make my own. And so I did. HOW BLOGGY AM I. I also decided to try a new sort of ham while Lidl offer such a range. I went for some Mortadella as I'd read about it in my 'Cook Italy' book.

Here's the recipe. Stop thinking about it and just bloody well DO IT.


For the Pesto (makes a cute little jarful, as pictured):
1 handful pine nuts
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 good handfuls ripped up basil leaves
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Scrambled Eggs (serves 1):
3 eggs
Big old knob of butter
1tbsp crème fraîche
Salt and pepper
You'll also need a plastic spatuala thingy

Bread (for toasting)

First lets sort out that pesky pesto.

1) Lightly toast the pine nuts.

2) Whizz up the garlic and basil in a food processor. Add the pine nuts, whizzy woo again.

3) Add the Parmesan a bit at a time, stirring and adding enough olive oil to make it into a saucy pesto consistency.

4) Now it's just a case of tasting and adjusting as you see fit. Season. Add more cheese if needed. Bit more olive oil if the textures not quite right etc. The leftovers that you don't use will keep for a week in the fridge.

Now for the eggs.

I started using Gordon Ramsey's method for scrambling eggs about a year ago (after reading about them on lovely Shu Han's blog) and have never looked back; they produce a barely set, creamy, curdy egg so if this isn't how you like 'em just follow your own (substandard) method.  ;)

1) Put your hob on it's highest heat and crack the eggs into a cold saucepan. Add half of the butter. Don't mix them together yet. Don't season.

2) Put the pan on the heat. Wait a few seconds and let your worry about your poor cheapo pan build into the adrenaline required for all the stirring. Then get your spatula and stir and combine and make sure the eggs don't stick. Add the rest of the butter.

4) You don't want the eggs to get too hot and overcook so every 30 seconds or so take the pan off the heat, stir stir stir, put it back on the heat, stir stir stir, take it off the heat, etc. Do this for about 4-5 minutes and just when you're wondering why you ever listened to a blog chef named after a woodland creature, they'll suddenly come together into lovely scrambled eggs.

5) In the midst of all that you'll need to run over and put your toast on. Or you'll forget so do it now, quick!

6) Take the eggs off the heat and add the crème fraîche to stop them from cooking any further, and to make them sexy as owt. Nowwww you can season.

7) Add the pesto! Try 1 generous tbsp at first. Add a bit more if you want.

8) Serve with the toast, ham and a sprinkling of pine nuts.

9) Ask your mum, who is eying your plate with suspicion, if she wants a bit. Wrestle the fork back off her when she can't stop eating this bona fide taste sensation.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Rustique French Restaurant, York

My sister and I visited Rustique during our weekend away in York in February. This was prompted by an earlier conversation when we'd talked about our favourite cuisines. Both of us realised we'd never been to a French restaurant or eaten any authentically French cuisine. This would come as a surprise to those that know me and my love of butter, cream, sauces, rich food, red meat, cheese and the like!

Making a reservation a few days before wasn't as easy as I'd anticipated. Friday night? Nothing. Saturday afternoon? Nada. Saturday evening? Zilch. Oh dear. We ended up with a table for two at 12 o clock on the Sunday we were leaving. It wasn't ideal but I had a feeling it would be worth it. I was right!

The decor was warm and welcoming with lots of French artwork and lovely stained glass windows, one of which we were seated by. Complimentary bread and olives were offered, which I always think is a nice touch, and food came out very promptly.

I'd already decided that I would be having the snails, having never had them before. Our server, who was French and may have been the owner, was very helpful; showing me how to use the 'tools' and talking to us about each dish. I really enjoyed the snails and could have eaten a lot more of them. The actual taste is quite delicate, not earthy like I expected, it's more the texture that people enjoy about them. They're almost mushroomy in how they feel in the mouth, and the garlic and parsley butter they are served in is divine, particularly with the bread on offer. I would definitely have them again.

Jo has the Coquilles Saint-Jacques, another classic french dish that neither of us had tried before. It was traditionally served and beautifully cooked; with satisfying cheesy mash atop the hidden gems of juicy scallops in a light white wine and leek sauce. It wasn't a particularly creamy dish as I'd thought, and it all came together very well without being too rich.

When choosing our mains, Jo couldn't decide between the Venison and the Lamb before eventually ordering the latter. However, due to some error in the kitchen she was given the Venison. She didn't mind at all and was actually really pleased when she tucked in and it turned out to be one of the best meals she'd ever had. The steak was melt in the mouth perfect and complimented by a rich meaty gravy. Our server did walk past a little later, noticed the mistake and was very apologetic. He made sure she was okay with eating venison, which for some reason some people aren't, and told us that he would be reducing our bill. He really didn't have to do this as Jodie was really happy with her meal, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.

I had the Confit de Canard with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans. The duck fell off the bone after being slow roasted to within an each of its life and the fruity redcurrant jus was a nice balance to the fatty dark meat. The dauphinoise wasn't the overly creamy, probably completely bastardised version of the side dish that I'm used to, and which I probably prefer, but it was authentic and tasty.

I can't remember the total of our bill including drinks, and with the £7 knocked off for the mistake, but we felt it was exceedingly reasonable for the standard of food and service, and left a big tip. I think the French just completely get it right with food. Top quality meat cooked perfectly, indulgent side dishes and sauces, fresh vegetables, and lots of bread and butter to mop it all up with. If that's what you want from a meal then this is the restaurant for you. It's also only a couple of minutes walk from the excellent York Castle museum. We will definitely be returning (but booking well in advance) when we take our Mum to York next month.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Jamie Oliver Round Up, Vol. I

I've always wanted to choose a recipe book and cook every single recipe in it. So, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I've been steadily cooking my way through Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meal recipe book, and have really enjoyed it so far. The recipes are very easy to follow, and usually take me around the 45 minute mark. The ingredients lists are usually quite extensive so I doubt this is something you could cook every night as he suggests. However there's some really tasty special feeling meals in there that I'll definitely be cooking again. I think where he really excels are his exciting salads, which is something I never think to include with a main meal, especially a hot one.

So, here's my round up of the first five dishes I cooked.

1. Tasty Crusted Cod, my mashy peas, tartare sauce, warm garden salad.

The herb crust on the fish was a crunchy, well seasoned match for the clean fresh tastes of the cod fillet. The mash held all sorts of exciting textures and the mint sauce gave it an unexpected kick. Since making this recipe I've made the tartare sauce numerous times as it's easy and much more satisfying than buying it in. Also, it means the big jars of cornichons and capers that we wouldn't usually buy can be put to good use. The salad had crispy pancetta that gave the leaves a naughty fatty edge which is always welcome. Overall, an excellent alternative to an ordinary fish n potatoes tea. I'm giving this one 8/10.

2. Oozy Mushroom Risotto, Spinach Salad, and Quick Raspberry & Lemon Cheesecake

Lots and lots of STUFF was chucked into this risotto; rosemary, garlic, thyme, dried porcini and a variety of wild mushrooms. So I was very surprised when it actually tasted quite bland. Perhaps it was the quality of the stock that I used but it needed more seasoning and I just expected it to deliver more of an earthy mushroomy smack to the face. The actual risotto was easy enough and the consistency was perfect. Whilst the sun dried tomotoes gave the salad a much needed bit of excitement, plus I LOVE pine nuts. The quick dessert was the highlight of this meal and led to me discovering how ace lemon curd is. I've never been a fan before but it's lovely and sweet, and I got it from our new local family run village shop. How virtuous of me. A 6/10 because of the slightly disappointing risotto.

3. Summer Veg Lasagne, Tuscan Tomato Salad, and Quick Mango Frozen Yoghurt

I love different takes on lasagne and this one was really scrummy. The bulk of it was made from my favourite green veggies; broad beans, peas and asparagus. Then a creamy mix of cottage cheese and stock. It all got a bit messy and some parts of the pasta was a little chewy for some reason but overall it was summery and very satisfying, especially considering it was meat free. This was one of the best salads I've ever had. Big chunks of bread with fresh tomatoes and basil; sort of a deconstructed bruschetta. A proper revelation for me. I swapped mangos for strawberries which worked very well, only I made it ahead and froze it for too long which spoiled it a bit. Very quick and healthy though. An 8/10 for this meal.

4. Seared Pork Fillet & Catherine Wheel Sausage, Meaty Mushroom Sauce, Celeriac Smash, and Garlicky Beans

I always think fondly of this meal as when I was deciding which one to make, the man himself tweeted me! I always tend to veer away from pork as I've been put off by dry and bland chops. However, I went to  Chadwick's and picked up a bloody lovely piece of pork fillet along with some kidneys for the sauce and sausages. This new (on me) cut of pork was a real revelation as it was tender and tasty. But what made this meal was the sauce; the kidneys made it so much more exciting than an ordinary mushroomy sauce, so it was meaty as well as creamy. I couldn't get hold of celariac in any of the supermarkets I visited so we just had ordinary mashed potatoes which is always nice. The apples and sausage complimented each other really well but I think it was all a bit too much altogether. Especially considering the Catherine wheel sausage is the main component of another meal in the book. Overall a 9/10 mostly because of that pork and the sauce.
5. Super-Fast Beef Hash, Jacket Potatoes, Goddess Salad, Lovely Butter Beans & Bacon

This was one of those meals that I didn't think would be anything to write home about, but ended up being one of the nicest I've had in a long time. Avocado still feels like a bit of an exotic treat to me and I enjoy it in all its forms so the salad and dressing were lovely. The hash was hearty and comforting but still full of interesting flavours. The butter beans were absolutley gorgeous; meaty and fresh with lots of different textures going on. At all tasted very nourishing and everything really came together beautifully; a 9.5/10 as I feel I should reserve the big 10 as you never know what might come along!

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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Book Review; Cook Italy by Katie Caldesi

When in Chester recently, we decided to walk all around the city walls. On our way round we came across a treasure trove of second hand books; Bluecoats Book Shop. Gav lost me among the shelves and eventually found me huddled over in the cookery section, of course. It was a thick yellow book on Italian cuisine that had caught my eye and as I flicked through the beautiful pictures I knew I was going to buy it. It's called Cook Italy and is by Katie Caldesi; English born and married to a Tuscan chef. They own a restaurant and cookery school and I'm not in the slightest bit jealous.

Now this book is the American edition of  The Italian Cookery Course. I didn't realise this at the time but at £13 I was hardly going to be picky. However this means American measurements/spellings/ingredients so I would recommend you buy the English version if possible. I managed fine as I have a nifty little conversion cup thingy and I can handle translating egg-plant to aubergine without feeling the need to rage about it in a review on Amazon.

Throughout the rest of the weekend I was engrossed by this book. It was such an interesting read as well providing enticing recipes. It gave me a real feel for the role food plays in Italy and was full of little anecdotes and insights that gave the book it's own unique character. I read the entire thing from cover to cover and decided that the only thing I could possibly do next was to plan and create a FIVE COURSE ITALIAN FEAST. I said this phrase so many times over the following week I am ASTONISHED it didn't trend. So I planned and planned and planned and one wintery Sunday, I finally did it. What a better way to review an Italian cook book then?

So. I shortlisted and shortlisted until I came up with my menu; an Antipasti course, a pasta course, a fish course, a meat course (with a veg side) and a dessert. This pretty much reflects how the book is organised. I wrote out all the ingredients and recipes on the computer so that I could colour code them and print them out (saving me flicking from page to page). I then wrote a chronological colour coded to do list to coincide with the recipes. However, disaster struck when I couldn't get my printer to work. Gav to the rescue who sat and wrote out all my recipes by hand. What a hero. FIVE COURSE ITALIAN FEAST back on.

The antipasti course was made up of a couple of ideas from the book. This involved salumi; a selection of cold meats which Lidl came up trumps for, I recognised lots of what they had in store from the book. Formaggi included Gorganzola and Manchego. Yes, I know the latter is Spanish but I was limited by where I could shop ok? My olives were not stoned as I don't have a fancy de-stoner, get over it and buy me one for Christmas yea? We also had pane (lightly toasted) and olive oil. The night before THE FEAST I made salsa di pomodori (tomato salsa, similar to what you'd find on a bruschetta) and pure di fave which was a broad bean and pecorino dip. The dip was a big favourite and one of those things that you think Wow, I've never tried this flavour before in my whole life. All this time something I really like has been out there waiting for me to try. This makes me so excited for all the other things out there I haven't tried yet which could potentially be my favourite food!
For my pasta course I went for the ragù alla bolognese. The recipe included milk, chicken livers and bacon and sounded rather intriguing and decadent. I'd heard many a time and also read on Mr Food Urchin's hilarious blog that a good ragu needs to be made the night before. This allows the ingredients time to mingle and flirt and become extra tasty. So again, the night before I made the ragu (apart from the milk which was added during the reheating the next day). This was so so meaty! The liver added an extra dimension of texture and elevated this to so much more than your typical bolognese. The milk also gave it a slightly creamy luxurious edge that I would never expect from this dish. Definitely one to make again.

For our fish (pesce) course we had filetto di branzino con pure di cannellini e salsa verde or fillet of seabass with a canellini bean puree and salsa verde. I replaced the fish with tilapia, which I've had before and whose mild taste I knew would be a good partner to the bolshy salsa. I recommend this fish as readily available, sustainable and easy to incorporate into many dishes. The puree was a tasty alternative to mash, and the salsa verde gave the dish a much needed lift. In laymans terms, I would describe it as a tartare sauce without the mayonnaise. It's tart, rustic and very fresh, and is a great side to grilled or roasted meat and fish.

I had warned the family not to eat today but they hadn't listened and by now they were getting a little full. I hadn't eaten and was fine, but still we only had a small portion of our meat (carne) course of rotola di agnello con pecorino, menta e carfiofi served with insalata di verdure grigliate. This translates as rolled shoulder of lamb stuffed with pecorino cheese, artichokes and mint, served with a roasted vegetable salad. This was dead easy to do; just truss it up and shove it in. The pecorino was hard to find around here, I tried 4 places before I found some in Morrisons. The mint gave it a bit of a green tinge but we coped. The meat (from Chadwicks) was beautiful and the stuffing was another eye opening new taste experience. The veg was what it was, but the juices from the lamb took it up a notch.
For dessert I had chosen pere cotte ripiene di crema di ricotta all’arancia con salsa di cioccolato. Or poached pear stuffed with ricotta cream and orange with chocolate sauce. I love pears and have always fancied them poached. As you may know I don't believe in desserts unless they involve chocolate and this rich sauce was a great balance to the refreshing pear. The syrup that the pear had been cooked in did cause the sauce to go slightly seperatey and gelatinus, but all in all this wasn't a pretty dish anyway. The family loved it though and it was very different from what we would usually have.

So, as you have seen, I had a lot of fun with this book. I can't wait to explore it further. I loved spending the evening and the whole next day cooking and getting things together, and it was actually easier than most of the three coursers I've done before. I think this demonstrates that the Italian's seem to just know that less is more. They know the little that you need to do to well matched ingredients for maximum impact. This massively inspiring book has taught me a lot already and I can't recommend it enough. This is just the tip of the iceberg recipe-wise; it's rammed with over 400 of them with huge full colour photos. If you're interested in Italian cookery and learning more about the culture that surrounds it, look no further!