Monday, 25 July 2011

The Search for the Perfect Side Dish

Carbs. Wonderful, satisfying carbs. Oh how I pity these crazy 'no carbs' dieters! I have no idea how they do it. This post will focus on the humble potato. If pushed I'd probably say my favourite way to serve them is in the form of a creamy daupinoise, but this is often far too rich an option for some recipes. That's why I decided to start researching some more interesting side dishes to add to my repertoire.

I was particularly eager to find a tasty alternative when I came across this lamb recipe on a favourite blog of mine. It was a hungover Sunday (I'd been watchin Tom Jones the night before, I do like a bit of variety in my live music experiences!) and when I saw this recipe I knew I had to give it a go. Usually I see these ideas and then never actually get round to making them, but something about the juicy, fatty lamb and the light, in-season vegetables seemed to match my mood and the beautiful weather we were having perfectly. Note: I hadn't cooked with broadbeans before; podding and shelling them took a while but they were definitly worth it. Plus me and my mum could have a competition of who could shell the most =) Really enjoyed the combination of those, along with the rocket and peas.

Now when it came to the sidedish, the original poster hadn't had much luck. So I had a big delve into my cookbook cupboard and emerged with an old favourite: The Good Housekeeping All New Cookbook. It's from 1995 and so is a little dated, but the variety of recipes is vast, the pictures plentiful and it's full of little forgotten gems. I chose this potato recipe as I felt the mint would obviously compliment the lamb, and although it involved cream and butter I felt there wasn't enough to become too rich and change the summery feel of the dish. Anyway here's the recipe:

New Potatoes with Creamy Mint Butter
(serves four)

25 g butter, softened
2 tsp chopped fresh mint (from my little herb garden --->)
575 g small new potatoes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp crème fraîche (oh how I love thee)


1) Beat together the butter and mint. Spoon on to greasproof paper and shape into a neat round. Chill.
2) Boil the potatoes in salted water until almost tender. Drain well.
 3) Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Sauté the potatoes over a high heat until golden brown.
 4) Lower the heat and add the crème fraîche and chilled mint butter. Serve immediately.
This meal was pretty much spot on, I'll definitley be adding it to my new recipe collectors moleskine I got for my birthday! The lamb was succulent and the potatoes really hit the spot. They were very popular with the family with my sister requesting them again, and she isn't usually very fond of new potatoes. I've also made them again as a side to a Greek dish, but swapped the mint for oregano. 
Do you have any potato dishes you've come across that you'd like to recommend?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Miller & Carter, Parbold, and some Guilty Pleasures Revealed

I, like many of the food bloggers I follow, try to avoid restaurants that are part of a 'chain' as I often find they can lack in character and imagination. After a few particularly bad experiences in a row (including a mouldy banana, a variety of hot meals that were served cold, overcooked steak and servings of clearly microwaved pre-portioned cack) I swore off these branded restaurants altogether. However I've heard excellent things about the Miller & Carter in Parbold (used to be The Wiggin Tree) so my sister and I decided to give it a go.

I've always loved the location of this place; sat atop Parbold Hill which provides magnificant views of Wigan, Ashurst Beacon,  Liverpool, Skelmersdale, and even Blackpool Tower on a clear day. The ice-cream van opposite is perfectly placed for when you fancy a cheap dessert and the rural setting is a beautiful backdrop for a weekend dinnertime treat. The restaurant itself is dark with lots of square lines and sturdy wood, reminiscent of a Revolutions Bar, I feel. Not really my taste but it works.

The main menu seems full of hidden treats, I was quite excited and tempted by many of the dishes, and the descriptions were very detailed so I knew exactly what to expect. There's also a very affordable daytime fixed price menu offering some of the simpler dishes at £2 per starter/dessert and mains for £7-£9.

Here is where the revelations start. I'm sure I'm not the only 'foodie' (can I call myself that? I'm sure my friends will agree that I can) to indulge in some guilty food pleasures now and again. Those favourites you have that may be ridiculed, looked down upon and are probably far from classy, but to you they can't be beaten when you're in that certain mood. One of mine is fish fingers, peas (or sweetcorn!) and mashed potatoes with lots of butter and black pepper; top class comfort food. Another, pastries and soup (together!), stems from my first job at Greenhalghs Craft Bakery when a 10 minute break meant shoving down anything in sight at lightening speed. Sausage rolls dipped in mushroom soup, were a popular choice, or my ultimate Dinner of Champions (TM) a beefsteak pie with pea and ham soup and a brown scotch bap! Anyway the point of these scandalous disclosures is that on this particular day I ordered another of my guilty little pleasures: a prawn cocktail. There I've said it! And I'm not ashamed! I don't care how 70's it is, how many times it's sneered at on a Come Dine With Me menu, I LOVE a good prawn cocktail! The juicy prawns, the crisp lettuce, the bite of an optional cucumber slice, the creamy indulgent tang of the marie rose sauce... I can never get bored of this much blighted starter. Throw in a hunk of good quality wholemeal bread and I'm yours! 

And so, I found myself gazing at this somewhat hilariously presented dish:
When we spied this masterpiece with it's proud lettuce leaf bobbing through the restaurant, looking like it belonged on the headdress of Little Plum (read the Beano you philistines!), my sister and I couldn't help but stifle a giggle. Ah well, better than the usual half cucumber sliding it's way down from the edge of your glass! And it tasted great. Not mind blowing, but fresh, light and with plenty of bubbly prawns. My only critisism is that the bread was a little bit on the chewy side. Darling Sister went for the Baked Cheddar Mushrooms in an alfredo sauce. She didn't seemed to mind it but I felt it was a little tasteless and the promised sauce was quite watery; I wouldn't recommend.

For my main meal I ordered the seabass; something I'd never tried when eating out before so I was very excited. And I wasn't dissapointed:
Oooo a nice big picture for you to gander at there. My my MY this was a good meal. The white fleshy fillet was wrapped in pancetta and served in a saffron and cream bisque. These flavours complimented each other beautifully without overpowering one another, and were perfectly matched by the subtly herbed 'crushed' new potatoes, and a variety of seasonal greens. I really, really enjoyed this dish and am thinking of trying to recreate something similiar for the family (I'll keep you updated...). Beloved Sister had the fish and chips, which again was nothing too creative but did the job.

Linguine from my 2nd visit
This meal was a definite success for me and after visiting again since I can safely say that this is a branded restaurant I won't be avoiding in the future. I hope they change with the seasons, continuing with the more inspiring dishes and either ditching or sprucing up the bland dull failsafes. Then they'll definitley be onto a winner.

P.S. it's been my 23rd birthday today (18th July) and I had a lovely day/weekend involving a Snoop Dogg gig, friends and family get togethers, thoughtful presents and lots of food. We went to the Fiveways in Ormskirk for the family meal today and I'll be posting on this soon as I've visited four times now and simply must tell you about it!

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Trio of Treats; Ensaladilla Rusa, Prawn Tempura, Seafood Parcels

Let me just get this off my chest before we go any further. I LOVE Daily Cooks Challenge. This probably shouldn't come as a surprise to those who know me, put me in front of anything vaguely food related and I'll be engrossed; Britains Best Dish, Dinner Date, the This Morning 11.55am 10 minute cookery section... I could go on. Anyway, the aforementioned gem is one I love to race home for. If you haven't heard of it, that's cos it's tucked away on itv3 (channel 10 on Freeview, who knows on Sky and all that malarky) and is on from 4.10-5.15. It's hosted by Worrell-Thompson and features different TV chefs each week including Merrilees Parker (why doesn't she have her own show?), Aaron Craze (down to earth and lovely) and Gino D'Campo (cue oh so predictable and embarressing swooning) to name a few of my favourites. They cook to impress celebrities and I just LOVE it!

In case you're wondering, there is a reason for this impromptu rant: I've been meaning to try out one of the programme's recipes for ages and I finally got round to it a couple of weeks ago. I plumped for the Seafood Marinara Parcels and served this after some tapas style starters of Ensaladilla Rusa and Prawn Tempura. I've written out the pasta recipe that I ended up doing as I changed the original according to my own ingrediants.

My mum said mine was tastier than Casa Carlos's! Praise indeed =)

Prawn Tempura:
75g cornflour
75g plain flour
1 egg
6½ fl oz sparkling water
Deep heavy-bottomed pan a third filled with vegetable oil
50g plain flour
King prawns (as many as desired)
Chilli sauce, to serve

Mix the cornflour and flour together. Make a well in the centre, add the egg and sparkling water and whisk. You can now cover this batter with cling film and put into the fridge until you wish to use it.
Heat the oil (you can test if it's hot enough by dropping a bread crumb in it and seeing if it turns brown).
Here I'd advise you set up a conveyor belt like I did:

Pick up a prawn, dip in flour, then in the batter then drop in the oil. Do this quickly with a batch of about 7, then add them to the hot oil to deep-fry in for 2-3 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Lift out with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper, then serve immediately.

I'm afraid these crispy little morsels were so popular I only managed to photograph a few! A bit mauling to cook though as you can't leave the oil at all because you end up with burnt bits of batter in it, rendering it unuseable. This meant I was stuck in the kitchen whipping up more and more prawns, while my mum and sister sat at the table demanding more and more prawns! Greedy buggers!

Seafood Marinara Parcels:
(Served 3)
200g pasta shells
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sticks Celery, finely chopped
50g mussels, cooked and shelled
50g small prawns, cooked and peeled
king prawns (a few for each person)
100g cod cut into thin slices
125 ml white wine
400 ml passata
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 pinches dried red chilli
1 tbsp oregano, chopped
50g Mascarpone
(plus extra to serve)

1) Preheat the oven to 180°c. Prepare 30cm squares of greaseproof paper for the parcels.                                                                                            2) Cook the pasta for 6 minutes; it should not get to ‘al dente’. Drain and toss with 2 tbsp of the olive oil.
3) While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and celery. Pour in the wine, add the passata, lemon zest and juice, chilli, oregano and mascarpone, reduce until thick. Then add seafood and fish, cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pasta.
4) Place the fish pasta in portions in the centre of the prepared sheets and wrap up to make neat packages, place in a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. 
5) Serve with a blob of marscapone.

This pasta was such a hit even Bob wanted a taste!
I'd say the only improvement I would make on this recipe next time is that I'd add a couple of tbsp's of the pasta cooking water to loosen it up a bit, as the end result was a little 'claggy'. All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable feast and I highly recommend these recipes, if you have any questions do feel free to ask!