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Preview: a forkful of spaghetti

a forkful of spaghetti

stories, inspiration, recipes, reviews, and other tasty strands from a foodie life

Updated: 2017-12-15T01:10:11.653+00:00


learning to QOOQ


A few days ago, on the universal grapevine that is Twitter, I saw a flurry of activity surrounding something called a QOOQ. It turns out that it’s not a new addition to the Star Wars dramatis personae, but a kitchen recipe gadget of the interactive variety.Now, at this point, a warning or two. I’m about as techno-friendly as a lobster with a migraine. Ergo, I don’t possess any iStuff or equivalent. Nope, not even an iPhone. So if ‘there’s an app for that’, it ain’t no use to me. I AM LUDDITE.But. But...  the QOOQ (pronounced ‘cook’ – geddit?) is a dedicated recipe thingy, specifically designed for kitchen use, being non slip, wipe clean, splash- and humidity-resistant as it is. And it has a little built-in flip-out stand. So, as much as I’d like to pretend otherwise, I confess that I am, in fact, mildly interested, despite the above warnings and latent bah humbug tendencies, especially when faced with this sort of blurb:“Each QOOQ comes preloaded with 1,000 international recipes that can be accessed by cuisine type, difficulty level, preparation time and ingredients, helping to customise the cooking experience to suit the chef and his or her kitchen. At the touch of a button, users are also able to purchase additional recipes, which are available individually or in themed packs and are focused on such topics as a destination, an ingredient or a specific chef. There is a catalogue of over 4,000 exclusive multimedia recipes made for QOOQ by more than 100 chefs.” “Video speed is controlled by the user, and videos can be paused while the user accesses separate tutorials that explain specific culinary techniques. There is also behind-the-scene footage of the chefs’ restaurants, as well as hundreds of ingredient fact sheets that detail how individual products should be chosen, kept and cooked. For the health-conscious, recipe pages detail the calories contained in a dish and the Meal Planner function allows users to monitor and vary their diets.”You get the idea.Anyway, the first test for the QOOQ is, of course, whether I can, y’know, set it up and get it to work without assistance. Since it looks and feels much like an Etch-a-Sketch pad, which I vaguely remember being able to use, I feel dangerously confident.  Plug it in, turn it on, and...   oooh, look, things start happening. So far, surprisingly competent (me, not the QOOQ). Oh. It needs a WPA code to hook up t’interwebs. Cue interval of some minutes while said code is located. But then we’re away.  And I really mean it. It takes absolutely no time at all – literally – to start finding your way around the QOOQ. It’s a touchscreen interface, so you simply poke the screen at anything that seems appealing and take it from there. And appealing, it is. The visuals and text are clear and bright, and even for a techie numpty like me, it’s instinctive and intuitive to use, pretty much along the same lines as iStuff and their ilk. If instruction booklets put the bejasus up you, then you’ll have no such worries here – you simply don’t need one. There’s not much the makers haven’t thought of. You can access recipes by a number of routes – by ingredient, occasion, chef, cuisine, theme, ‘inspiration’, etc. Once you choose what you want, it tells you (under respective tabs), the method, ingredients, and even the utensils you’ll need. Other information includes skill level, time to prep and cook, cost, and calorific content (yikes). Many recipes also incorporate videos to show you how to do anything remotely tricky – such as boning a fish (and yes, there’s a separate, dedicated techniques section to the QOOQ, should you need it) – and these can be paused and re-started as you flip back to the recipe. Amongst the other plusses is the ability to scale a recipe up or down at a prod of the screen (I loved this, although it does lead to anomalies – 2 and 5/8 of a tablespoon?), and a weekly meal planner and shopping-list maker. The search facility is fast and accurate should you know wha[...]

something for Christmas...


No, not in that 'something for the weekend' way. I don't do that kind of thing, thank you very much. No, I mean something that you might buy for someone else, or even for yourself (yes, why not? It's Christmas. That's what it's for). Earlier this year I was sent a couple of books to review. Speaking as someone who happens to have a weak spot for baked sweet things, they could hardly have been more lustworthy - Signe Johansen's Scandilicious: Baking, and Laura Amos's The Dessert Deli. (I'll come on to the pudding basin later.) Let me explain. I reviewed Signe's first book last year. I loved it. The news that she was to write a second book, purely on baking, was always going to be food to my ears. Because, in my very humble opinion, the Scandinavians are the vastly underrated geniuses of the baking world, and any book - especially by Sig, who can, y'know, bake a bit - on Scandi baking has therefore to be a VERY GOOD THING indeed. As for Laura - well, we have 'history'. I've followed her progress ever since she set up a tiny stall in Hildreth Street Market in Balham a few years ago. Her desserts and cakes were insanely good, right from the off. It's been a real pleasure to watch her business grow rapidly since then so that she's now one of the most sought-after independent dessert chefs in London. It's a testament to her huge success that she's now in print - and it's great for fans of her food, like me, to see all her regular stall favourites in her new book. So - the brief lowdown... For the baked goods glutton in your life, both these books are must-haves. Signe's is the weightier tome, with a greater number and variety of recipes - including breads and savoury bakes as well as cakes and puddings. Laura's is just as you would expect from a book entitled 'The Dessert Deli', and a budding amateur patissier's delight - packed with recipes for luscious cakes, desserts, petits fours, and similar. I've baked most from Signe's book, if only because I was sent it earlier, and had more time to 'play' with it. As with her first book, it's appealing to use - the gorgeous recipes are laid out clearly, with lots of white space around the text, and there are plenty of colour photographs so that you can see what you're aiming for. Laura's is a different kettle of, er, cakes, but still another glossy production. The layout of the recipe pages is rather more cluttered (albeit with helpful tips!), and I'm not a fan of the swirly title and sub-title font used. But the photo:recipe ratio is even higher than in Sig's book, with a picture accompanying every single recipe, and the dribble factor is enormous. Both authors' recipes are evidently much tried and tested - quite simply, they WORK (not a given, in my long baking experience). I could bleat on about them in lyrical fashion, but really, there's little point. These are highly desirable books, and well worth buying for any keen baker. Even Lorraine Pascale says so (she endorses both of them). For Christmas presents, if I didn't have them already, they'd be top of my wishlist. The pudding basin? Oh, yes. From Mermaid, maker of many of my baking tins. It's ideal size and shape for your Christmas pudding, and for any steamed puds, come to that. I'd also use it for making ice cream-based desserts, like zuccotto. And, speaking as someone whose wrists can be a bit cream-crackered at this time of year, it's a good lightweight alternative to your traditional ceramic basins. As with other Mermaid products, I highly recommend it. Right. Christmas Public Service Announcement over. You know what you have to do. Me, I'm off to bake Laura's Christmas cake and Sig's clementine butter biscuits. In case you're interested. With thanks to Hodder and Stoughton, Legend Press, and Mermaid (via The Lenny Agency). [...]

rhubarb and ginger polenta cake


Nothing irritates me more than inaccurate or unreliable recipes. Over the years, therefore, I've created a 'bank' of trustworthy writers whose recipes and cookbooks I use time and time again, and who I'd happily recommend to others

In more recent years, there are many food bloggers who have joined that bank. One of my latest 'finds' is the sage and amenable Carl Legge, who writes his stuff over at (and elsewhere).

I 'met' Carl on Twitter a few months ago, and have tried several of his recipes since. A short while ago, his rhubarb and polenta cake recipe caught my eye, and I've been keenly waiting for the first of the season's rhubarb so that I could give it a whirl.

That time happily came around this past weekend, so off to the kitchen I scampered. Five easy steps later, a big wedge of rhubarb cake was nestling down comfortably in my belly.

I heartily recommend it to you.






candied and vanilla-salted pecans and walnuts



I'm surprising myself here. Two blogposts within a fortnight. Good grief.

Anyway. It's THAT time of year again. Time for a bit of ho ho ho and goodwill to all men. Or something.

Over the past few Christmases, I've been ditching the shop-bought snackage and making more and more festive titbits at home. Frankly, they taste so much better, and usually cost a fraction of the price.

These here nuts are now part of our household's newer Christmas traditions. Every year, I try to find a spare few minutes to have some sticky, nutty fun.


Once they're made, I break them up into manageable bite-sized clusters, and bag them up, ready for tucking into stockings for Christmas morning.


Like most of the recipes on this blog, these candied nuts are quick and easy to make, and ridiculously tasty. And, happily, they give a yielding, crumbly, not tooth-shattering crunch, so even Granny can have some. It's also a highly adaptable recipe, so you can add whatever you fancy by way of spices and the like. But I have to say, I like them just as they are. The secret, I think, is good vanilla salt - I use Halen Mon's.

To make them, you'll need (adapted slightly from here):

125g pecans or walnuts, or a mixture
115g unrefined caster sugar
0.25 tsp vanilla salt

First, roast the nuts for 5 minutes or so at 180C/350F/Gas 4, until they're just starting to toast. Keep a close eye on them, because you don't want them to start catching. Once they're done, take them out of the oven and set them aside.

In a heavy-based saucepan, melt the sugar over a gentle heat. Once it's turned liquid, throw in the pecans, and stir quickly to ensure the nuts are covered thoroughly.

Tip the nutty-sugary combo out onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Working as quickly as you can, spread the nuts out - I use a couple of forks. While the sugary syrup is still warm, scatter the vanilla salt over.

Leave the nuts to cool. Once they're completely cold, break into bite-sized clusters and keep in an airtight container or bag them up for presents.

* Want savoury snackage for Christmas as well? Some equally simple-to-make and super-tasty cheese biscuits are over on my other blog, here.

Merry mincemeat morsels


As aged and commensurately cynical as I am, I do love a spot of Christmas. But preferably not starting until about, oh, Christmas Eve.However, there is one festive frippery I'll happily indulge in before the Christmas holiday period, and that's mince pies. Mmmmm, mince pies. There's something so very right about them at this time of year.I've never really been one to make my own, not least because when I lived in London, our nearest deli - all of 30 yards down the road - supplied some exceedingly good ones from 1 December through to the end of January. By which time, I was pretty much mince-pied out for another season.And... *whispers this quietly* .... I was also partial to the odd Crimble Crumble from a well-known takeout store.But now, living out in the rural wilds of Kent as I have done for the past few months, the above options are, sadly, no longer open to me.What to do?Embracing the spirit of self-sufficiency (the damson voddie is rather nice, thank you), I've taken it upon myself this year to make my own mincemeat thingies. And, since tasting the results, I'm confident in declaring that I'll be doing so from hereon in for a very long time to come. They are, if I may say so, rather wonderful. And I can say that, because the recipe's not mine.Really, they're dead quick and easy to make (oh, and cheap - about £3 max), and a fantastic alternative to mince pies and those Pret versions... They're also utterly addictive, so don't bake them unless you have company.And, because it's Christmas, they're obviously best served with a glass of something appropriately boozy. Failing that, a good ol' cuppa.The recipe is taken from the excellent Joy of Baking, and is very slightly edited/adapted here.260 g plain flour20 g corn flour1/4 teaspoon salt225 g unsalted butter, room temperature70 g light brown sugar1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract400 g good quality mincemeatPreheat oven to 375F/190 C and place the wire oven rack in the centre of the oven.Grease a 20 cm x 20 cm square baking tin.In a separate bowl whisk the flour, cornflour, and the salt. Set aside.In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.Evenly press two-thirds of the shortbread into the bottom of the prepared pan. Then evenly spread the mincemeat over the shortbread base, leaving a 1/4 inch border.With the remaining shortbread dough, using your fingers, crumble it over the top of the mincemeat. Then lightly press the dough into the mincemeat.Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven, place on a wire rack, and while still hot, cut into 16 squares. Allow to cool completely in pan.Makes about 16 bars.My tips:I mixed in the flour using my hands. I simply find it easier to make the dough come together that way.pastry and shortbread bakes better from cold. I therefore put the shortbread base in the freezer for 5 mins (once pressed into the baking tin), and put the remaining crumble mix in the fridge while I was waiting.I found the crumble mix just a little on the claggy side, so I added some icing sugar (about a tablespoon) to the mix to make it lighter and more you can see from the photos, I finished the squares with a light dusting of icing sugar, too. Well, it is Christmas.for my next batch, I'll be substituting some darker sugar and a pinch of cinnamon to the pastry.[...]

The Allotment, Dover


Dover. Hmmm. Fair to say that it's probably not the first place that comes to mind for a 'decent weekend nosh' destination. Unless, that is, you happen to remember a Jay Rayner review of a couple of years ago or so, live a short train ride away, and like the idea of a restaurant championing uber-local and seasonal produce. In which case, Dover doesn't seem such a bonkers idea after all. (And, while we're at it, the Michelin-starred Marquis at Alkham is just a short trip out of the centre.)So, one chilly but cheeringly sunny October afternoon, we rolled up outside the rather splendid Town Hall (worth a visit in itself, honest). And there, across the road, and largely obscured by a million speeding cars, was our modest little venue:If outside was traffic madness, The Allotment's interior was - thankfully - a haven of calm and warmth.And, er, a certain degree of worrying emptiness. Yikes. A glass of Chapel Down's Flint Dry was swiftly ordered - and brought to the table - as a nerve steadier.Still, everything seemed broadly encouraging. Wonderful decor (tongue and groove panelling everywhere, high ceiling, groovy retro-nod lighting, suitably aged wooden flooring), decent tableware, friendly waiting staff. Menu? Well, ish:It's not that there was anything wrong with it - it just wasn't the kind of menu to get me positively dribbling with excitement. Some might regard that as a good thing, not least of whom my dining companion.I gave the aforementioned the task of choosing a starter for us to share. The result? 'Vegetable quesilladas.' Right. I won't be making that mistake again.Or will I? Y'know, they were really rather good. I'm no expert on Mexican food, and I wouldn't mind betting these would have offended the authenticity hunters, but these prim little quesilladas ticked our boxes for kick-off. Beautifully light, gently crisped, filled with spicy (if unspecified) veggie goodness, and accompanied by a convincing guacamole. And, thankfully, not drowned with sour cream. Relief all round.Onwards, to mains. For no particular reason, it's been a while since I've eaten sea bass, so that was precisely what grabbed my fancy here. With a buerre blanc? Oh go on, then.Sea bass? Check. Buerre blanc? Check. Melty mash? Check. But, um, braised red cabbage? I don't know whether the chef was recovering from a big night out, or whether cabbage was all they had to work with that day, but I wasn't wowed by the prospect. Mildly alarmed would be rather nearer the mark.But, dang it, The Allotment tricked to deceive again. It might not have been the most seamless match ever, but I ate it all, as did The Other Diner, so what does that tell you? Perhaps it says most about the cooking here - it's assured, light of touch, and all about the yum factor. The bass was superbly flavoursome, the buerre blanc spot on, and the mash was a winner for butter lovers everywhere. And that cabbage - whether as a mouthful on its own, or scooped up with the bass and everything else - was actually a pleasure to eat. That'll teach me.By this time, I'm happy to report, the place was filling up. Some, like us, were late lunchers, but it seems that this is also the local 'go to' place for some serious indulgence of the carbohydrate kind. Generous cakes and tarts with rustic eye appeal occupy the deli-style counter by front door, so perhaps that's no surprise.The pudding menu was equally big on comfort factor - apple crumble, double chocolate mousse, baked blueberry cheesecake, raspberry and almond tart, and meringue with poached plums.The Other Diner opted for the plums:And I decided on the tart:If I use the word 'light' again, this time for the tart, you'll probably shoot me, won't you? But it was. And moist. And liberal with both ground almonds and raspberries. Most tarts like this tend to be a tad on the dry or claggy side, but not this one. Not a soggy bottom in sight, either. Pure tart joy. With a dollop of excellent vanilla-flecked[...]

The Sportsman, Seasalter


No, this isn't going to be a review of every single thing I ate. If you want a blow-by-blow account, see e.g. the excellent reviews by fellow bloggers EssexEating, CheeseandBiscuits, FoodStories, or HollowLegs, which cover much of the same territory (the tasting menu doesn't change a great deal, it seems). I'm far too lazy to do all that. So I'm just going to stick up some photos, identify them (as far as my memory serves me), add a few comments as I go along, and then finish off with a few thoughts at the end. OK? Here goes: Not going to win awards for stunning exterior facade, but... ...inside, it's cosy but airy, comfortable, and relaxed. The breads: sourdough, soda, and focaccia. The dark, treacly soda was particularly amazing, but they were all fantastic. The butter is made on the premises from raw cream. Pickled herring (a sweet cure) on rye, with gooseberry jam. And lighter-than-light pork scratchings. A great way to start. Poached oyster, with pickled cucumber and Avruga caviar. Not mine (after a nasty incident involving oysters a couple of years ago), but The Other Diner's. Reported to be 'delicious'. Liver pâté. Probably the lightest, smoothest, and most flavoursome liver pâté I've ever eaten, on the most exquisitely thin Melba toast. Dainty beetroot tartlets. Made with super-delicate, friable pastry and punchy roasted beetroot. Chilled beetroot soup. I am not the greatest fan of soup, and the idea of this one - prior to its arrival - didn't thrill me. Oh, how I ate my words. The flavours sang as brightly as the colour. My word, it was good. So, so good. Slip sole in seaweed butter. It had both of us licking our plates for every last morsel, every last droplet of molten butter. So simple, but utterly stunning. The Other Diner's crab risotto. Made from the brown meat, with the white meat atop. Pronounced 'gorgeous.' My Salmagundi. In times gone by, this was a sort of random leftovers salad mashup. At The Sportsman, it was elevated to the realms of salady godliness. All manner of vegetables were crammed into it, in one form or other - raw, pureed, pickled, blanched... (carrot, aubergine, tomato, cauliflower, cucumber, courgette, broad beans...) And underneath the leafiness was a perfectly poached egg. Joy unconfined. Courgette 'spaghetti' with parmesan, topped with The Sportsman's home-cured ham. As beautiful as it looked, I wasn't madly wowed by the ham. The courgette creation, however - YES. Made from raw courgettes, it was soft, moist (ooer), melty in the mouth, and with just the right proportion of cheese to make it umami-ly moreish. The King of Fish - braised turbot with sea beet from the shoreline 'out the back', baby sage leaves, and smoked roe velouté. Turbot is a rare treat at the best of times, and on the odd occasion I've eaten it previously, I've sometimes been left a little disappointed. Not here. It was every bit as wonderful as it should have been. Stephen Harris really, really knows how to cook fish. Breadcrumbed and fried lamb breast with the ultimate mint sauce. Comfort food of the highest order. With a mint sauce far, far removed from any mint sauce you can find elsewhere on this planet. Scrummy. Roast lamb from the farm across the road. It doesn't get any fresher or any more locally sourced than this. Tender and tasty. The only meat dish on the menu. And, strangely, perhaps the least compelling. But still, by anyone's standards, very good indeed. Cherry ice lolly with Madeira cake milk. Exactly what it says on the tin. Take Madeira cake, soak it in milk for a wee while. Strain off milk. Eat with luscious cherry lolly. Run out of superlatives. The fruitiest fruity lolly I've ever had the pleasure of eating. I have no idea how many cherries went into it. Possibly an entire orchard. Even the Other Diner, who professes not to like cherries, was groaning with ecstasy. Cream cheese[...]

new beginnings, and the Fairy Hobmother



*taps microphone*

Anyone still there?

If so, you have the patience of a saint, and your reward is a nice, big piece of chocolate cake.

I've been busy, a bit unwell, and generally all over the place of late, so blogging hasn't been high on my list of priorities, as you've most probably noticed. Maybe.

Anyway, I thought I'd break my deafening silence to let you know about two things. One - is that I haven't been entirely idle all this time. Not quite. In yet another burst of wine-fuelled insanity, I've started another blog, over here: (Twitter ID @akentishkitchen). *End of shameless plug*

Two - you might have seen, around and about the blogosphere, that the Fairy Hobmother (aka Appliances Online, who sell cookers and other white goods) has been dishing out surprise kitchen appliance gifts to unsuspecting bloggers. Well, I'm happy to say that the Hobmother - actually called Dave, but we'll overlook that for the moment - would like to pay a similar visit to one super-lucky person who comments on this post.

So what are you waiting for? Get commenting. I don't mind what you say, but if you'd give me some feedback on the new blog, then so much the better. And please keep it clean. The Fairy Hobmother certainly won't visit you otherwise.

Good luck. Over and out.

Scandilicious: a review


Cookbooks, eh? There are seemingly more of them being published by the day than you can shake a wooden spoon at. Whoever said print media was dead?For any aspiring author, however, this means that it’s harder than ever to get your book noticed. To make any headway, you need to bring something fresh to the mix.The author of Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking, Signe Johansen, has done just that, and has written the book that everyone is currently clamouring to buy. Why? Quite simply because she’s articulate, informed, sparky, humorous, endearingly self-effacing, and – hoorah! – she writes fantastically attractive and accessible recipes. Put those ingredients together for a cookbook, and you have everything you need and more for a bestseller. Saltyard Books (an offshoot of Hodder and Stoughton) must be hugging themselves – a new publishing and meeja star is theirs.Thanks largely to Noma, and other, now highly acclaimed Scandi chefs, Scandinavian food is of course no longer a suspiciously fishy novelty in the UK. In London, eateries such as Texture, Madsen, and the Scandinavian Kitchen, have also been doing their bit to further the cause of Nordic cooking.But in my view, there’s been no cookbook to date that reflects the best of all that Scandinavia has to offer. Maybe it’s just me, but those that have gone before have come across a tad austere, a little too ‘clean living’ and hair-shirted for me to truly warm to them.And therein lies a clue to the critical factors responsible for the success of Scandilicious. It’s warm, engaging, generous, and indulgent. It’s packed with recipes for food that you really, really want to eat. (Examples? To list but a scant handful: banana, coconut and chocolate milkshake; cinnamon and chestnut bread; Jarlsberg and fennel muffins; blackberry, almond, and cardamom cake; Daim cake; lemony choux buns; anchovy and potato gratin; Bergen fish chowder; evening pancakes; Norwegian cheesecake with tipsy strawberries.... need I go on?)Scandilicious is big on home-style Scandi cooking, as influenced by Signe’s childhood and lessons learned at both her grandmothers' apron strings. In short, it appeals to the big-kid-who-likes-licking-the-bowl in all of us. (And yes, there is an entire slaver-inducing chapter on 'Afternoon Cake'.) Unreserved gluttonous enjoyment and comfort therefore abound: cream, cheese, chocolate, alcohol - they're all here in gleeful dollops (to the extent that Signe's Scandi version of macaroni cheese should probably come with a health warning), along with a great deal else.But there is far more to Signe than home cooking – not least a Leith’s diploma, a stint at the Fat Duck, and significant contributions to other recipe books, to mention just a few strings to her rather full bow. An enviably impressive skills set underpins her recipes, not to mention rigorous attention to detail and a real desire to bring the joy and diversity of Scandinavian food (if you think it's all meatballs, berries, and gravlaks - think again) to the UK public. You won’t find flights of fancy here – just straightforward, reliable formulas, together with a wealth of genuinely explanatory hints and tips, for stupendously delicious nosh. And that’s precisely what makes it such a cracking cookbook.Thankfully, Saltyard Books have given this publication the red-carpet treatment it warrants. It’s beautifully produced, and replete with sumptuous photographs throughout. It’s the kind of book that would look great on a coffee table – but frankly, that would be a travesty (unless, of course, you buy two copies – one for looking gorgeous in your living room, and one for the kitchen). This is a recipe book you’ll love to use daily, from breakfast through to supper, and through all the seasons.There is so much more I could say, but I realise I’m in da[...]

tongue and groovy: ox tongue fritters and green sauce


So there I was at the weekend, getting my ducks/photos in a row, ready to write this post on ox tongue and green sauce.And then I sit down to read the paper, and see that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has stolen my thunder and written about the VERY SAME THING in the Guardian. I mean - how very dare he? I shall be having a word with his people, never fear.In the meantime, dear reader, I decided to persist. I did so, not least because HFW missed a trick.And that trick is to fritter away your tongue. Well, not yours, but the ox's, obviously. Frittering it makes it much more fun to eat and, I'll suggest, more darn tasty and more suitable for summer, too. It's also a cunning way of disguising tongue if you're planning on serving it up to those who, shall we say, might be a little squeamish about all things offal. Prepare it like this, and you'll never hear a negative squeak of disgust or dissent.*Here's how, in short. First, buy a salted ox tongue from your butcher. It should look like the photo above. You might want to leave it to rinse in cold water for a while before you get properly started - or, if you've got a nice butcher, s/he might have done that for you.Then, cover the tongue with water (you'll need a BIG pan), bring it to the boil, bubble it away for a couple of hours with a few tasty bits and pieces, such as these:But unlike me, try not to forget the head of garlic.It's done when you can pierce the meat readily with a knife. It won't look any prettier than it did before you cooked it, but at least it's edible now.Remove it from the pan, and leave for a couple of minutes while it cools a little.While it's still warm, peel away the skin from the tongue. Yes, I know - yeeeeeeeeeuch - but it's got to be done. And it's much easier to do while the tongue's warm. So just get on with it.Once you've taken off the skin, it's ready to serve. For fritters, cut the tongue into slices of about 3 or 4mm. Dip each slice in beaten egg, and then in white breadcrumbs seasoned with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and Halen Mon's rather wonderful celery salt. Shallow fry in hot oil - turning once - for as long as it takes for the crumbs on each side to turn golden brown.Serve with a really punchy green sauce. You may as well use HFW's recipe. Grrrr. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Really, I'm not. Make it as the man says (or as Fergus Henderson says, if you've got Nose to Tail), and don't stint on the parsley, anchovies or capers.Tuck in, and don't stop until you've licked every morsel from your plate.*Well, it's worth a try, anyway. Worked for me ;-)[...]

A Royal Wedding, a village, and a party with a potent (Courvoisier) punch


Take one memorable Royal Wedding. Add a village in deepest Kent, a generous offer from the nice people at Courvoisier, and a gathering of folk quick to recognise a chance for a party when they see one.Place all ingredients in a good-sized village hall. Mix well. Stand back, and let the fun commence...the goodies arrive...... along with the top-secret recipe...dress code...the hall gets a makeover...... and the newly-weds put in a guest appearance. Honest.the stage is set...... while, backstage, things are looking promising...... and there's time for a couple of trial cups...... which seem to go down pretty well...... and why stop at a cup or two when you can have an entire bottle?thankfully, a dashing manservant is on hand to make sure the punch is shared around...the village hall quickly starts filling up...... and our immaculate MC announces the arrival of....... YES! The fish and chip van! Cue frenzied queueing!... and tough decisions. Ketchup, tartare sauce, or both?'Can I nick your chips?'No time to digest, as the disco cranks up...... Camilla puts in an appearance...... and there's yet another chance for an all-important photoshoot...... or a spot of dodgy Dad* dancing... (*not mine)... before, all too soon, the night comes to a glorious, riotous end, marked by that well-known hymn to sobriety, YMCA. And I'm pleased to say that there are rumours that we'll be doing it all over again soon. Diamond Jubilee, anyone? BRING IT ON.[...]

Feting the feta: a slice of Ottolenghi magic


Quick post again, as the house refurb drags on...

I should have posted about this yonks ago, like last year when I first made it. I didn't because the photo was taken only as a hasty afterthought, isn't very good (and, worse still, betrays my laziness when lining tins), and doesn't remotely do the food justice.


But the 'cheesecake' is just so darn good, and our current spell of fabulous weather so utterly perfect for it (lunch al fresco, anyone?), that it would be wrong of me to neglect it any longer.

Like most (all?) of Ottolenghi's recipes, it is a work of genius. The main ingredients are simple and, of themselves, unspectacular (aubergines, feta, tomatoes). But combine them with some Ottolenghi magic, and you have something altogether quite wonderful.

I served it up to a party of 10, of whom one was a professed vegetarian. Needless to say, all the carnivores tucked in, too, and everyone fought for the crumbs. I won't make that mistake again. I'll be making two. I might even make it the centrepiece. It really is that good.

let's get to the meat: panch phoran pork belly


I'm going to keep this short. Yes, I am. This post is all about the meat. Because, in this case, the meat - courtesy of the recipe - was so bloody good, you really need to skip my verbiage and get on and make it yourself. In short, it's pork belly, confited and infused with a wonderful blend of subcontinental flavours - cumin, fenugreek, mustard, fennel, and kalonji seeds - that makes up panch phoran. And then roasted. Your home will be filled with splendid aromas for hours, and you'll want to make it again as soon as you've finished eating it, if not sooner. I made this over 2 afternoons when I was short on hover-over-the-stove time. Hence the lack of photos at every stage. But I hope you'll get the idea. First, confit your slab of pork belly along with a tablespoon of panch phoran rubbed into the skin. (It should take about 3 hours.) The original recipe suggests grinding the spices first; I opted for the more jewel-like effect of keeping them whole. Then, do a cheffy thing of flattening a bit and leaving it in the fridge overnight weighed down by tins or any other suitably heavy objects. Like this: The next day, remove the tins and your pork should look something like this: Pretty, innit? Without further ado, whack your oven up to 220C. Surround the belly with the best red grapes you can get hold of... ... plus the odd piece of star anise if you've got it, and slam the lot in for 20-25 minutes until the pork skin has become crispy, and the grapes have turned, well, squashy. It probably won't be much of a looker*, particularly if you have a patchy oven like I do, with unpredictable hotspots, but don't be deterred. It WILL taste sublime. Leave it to cool just a tad before you tuck in, otherwise you'll burn your mouth in the attempt to shove in as much of this porky wonder as possible. Serve with rice and whatever else you fancy - I suggest something green and zingy... ... in this case, purple sprouting broccoli quickly stir-fried with a ginger and garlic paste and some red chilli flakes. Perfect for the job. And then eat. Complete silence reigned while we ate ours. Never has so much pork been devoured in so short a time by so few. You have been warned. This stuff is seriously addictive. * I defer to the author of the original recipe on this. His most definitely is a looker (as is his entire blog - well worth following, IMHO). There's no way mine was ever going to look like that, not least because I was far too preoccupied with how quickly I could get it in my mouth rather than how beautiful I could make it look. It's all about priorities.[...]

No-apology chocolate cake


It hasn’t escaped my notice that I seem to post rather a lot about chocolate and cakes, and often both at the same time. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. World peace could probably be achieved if only there was enough chocolate and cake to go around, but that’s another discussion entirely.So, because I firmly believe in not fixing something if it’s working perfectly well, I hereby bring you yet another chocolate and cake post. It will add inches to your waistline, up your cholesterol levels, stoke up your blood sugar and, most of all, do wonders for your soul.This particular creation of chocolate joy is all the more delectable for its idiot-proof simplicity and use of store cupboard ingredients. You don’t need a kilo of chocolate or tons of butter to make it, and nor do you need any fancy gadgets or trickery. You just mix everything together, slap it in the tin, and wait for it to emerge from the oven some time later. Even I can do that.I first came across this recipe a few years ago, when was a relative novelty (and when Twitter had barely even got going), and I was drawn to the site for its gathering together of food-loving wallet-watchers. As Frugal Cook would surely agree, some extraordinarily good recipes can spring from straitened times.You can either read the original post, recipe, and commentary here, or read on for my ever-so-slightly edited and tweaked version.Chocolate yogurt cake5 fl oz vegetable oil5 fl oz natural yoghurt4 level tbsp golden syrup6 oz caster sugar3 eggs8 oz self-raising flour3 rounded tbsp cocoa½ level tsp bicarbonate of soda½ level tsp salt1. Heat your oven to 325°F/160°C/gas mark 3. Grease and line an 8" round cake tin.2. Place oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl; beat with a wooden spoon until well mixed. Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into bowl and mix well.3. Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake in centre of oven for 1hr 30 mins - 1hr 40 mins. Test with the fingers. If cooked, the cake should spring back and have begun to shrink away from the side of the tin.4. Leave cake to cool in tin, then turn out and remove paper. EAT! (when cool, obviously... Patience is a virtue, remember.)To store: wrap in foil; keep 2 to 3 days for full flavour (a cruel tease, I know), then up to 1 week in a tin.If you want to create some additional interest, throw some ground cardamom and/or orange or lime zest into the mix. There’s no reason, either, why you shouldn’t smother the whole thing with ganache. But it really is perfectly good on its own, or else served with a dollop of crème fraiche.[...]

the Great Little BakeOff, or when Hollywood came to rural Kent


When friends, family and neighbours found out last year that we were planning to move from London to a teeny-tiny village in east Kent, the most common reaction we elicited was one of a dreamy wistfulness - along the lines of ‘I don’t blame you – I’d love to leave London’; or ‘I’d love to live in the countryside’; or words to that sort of effect. Of course, there were contrasting views, too, such as ‘I could never leave London’, or ‘I’m a city girl/boy through and through’, and ‘I could never live in the country – I hate spiders’ (fair point).To be honest, we were looking for the best of both worlds – a home in the country, for a bit of peace and quiet in our daily lives (police sirens screaming past our front door at all hours in SW12 didn’t always do it for us), but fast and ready access to London for when our hankering for the bright lights gets the better of us. Thank you, high-speed rail link.With our rose-tinted specs determinedly on, we also hoped to find a sense of community, a commitment to the area – where we could feel a part of ‘something’, and where folk pull together for the common good. Just like in the olden golden days. Obviously you can find that in parts of London, too, but it certainly wasn’t happening where we lived.On Saturday, we witnessed the most brilliant illustration so far of precisely that community and commitment in action.Our local primary school needs a new playground surface. The grand sum of £20,000 is required to get the job done – money that local and central government simply aren’t willing or able to spend.Enter Paul Hollywood – a local, for one thing, and celebrated baker for another – and a Big Idea. What if the school held a mini-version of the Great British Bake Off to raise the money? (For those of you who missed it [why? how? where on earth were you?], GBBO was the televised baking competition which entertained us over several weeks last year, and which proclaimed the lovely food blogger and Twitterer, Edd Kimber, as the worthy winner.)A plan was hatched in the form of said bake-off. Money would be generated by charging everyone a small fee to enter their baked goodies, and an entrance fee to be charged on the day to anyone wanting to come and see and eat cake. Word was circulated around the neighbouring villages. Glittering prizes were promised. Stellar judges were lined up: not only the dashing Mr Hollywood (aka the Silver Fox)... Dashing. Silver. Foxy.... but also his fellow judge on GBBO, the evergreen Mary Berry*, AND the winner of Masterchef 2010, the gawjuss melty-eyed Dhruv Baker, and, er, Rufus Hound.Judging. It's tough work, honestly. But it was also a huge gamble. Would the mighty reputations of the judges positively scare people off? And would people even come?Stupid questions. The bakers of east Kent, including the children, baked like their lives depended on it.The children's (under-12s) competition. Mighty impressive. Large cakes, small cakes, cookies, savoury bakes and bread crowded the massive trestle tables.And the locals turned out in their hundreds. For most of the time, it was too packed even to move. The judges got going...Oh, the scrutiny, the tension.... while never in my life have I seen so much cake eaten in one place. And not just by the judges (whose task wasn’t necessarily the dream gig you might imagine, viz. Dhruv: “it was a dream to start with but Rufus and I were not eating professional amounts (like Mary) and were stuffed pretty quickly!”).Dhruv and Rufus deep in discussion. R: 'Can you eat any more?' D: 'Please don't make me.' The paying public also played its part with suitable gusto, devouring those cakes re[...]

making a pig's ear of it, or not. A simple, tasty, cheap snack of porky goodness.


Yes, EARS. Big, flappy, hairy things. Much eaten in, say, Spain, but pretty much shunned over 'ere (geddit?).So, first - a mini-rant. I despair of those who express revulsion at 'unusual' bits of animal, not least because it often transpires that they've never actually tried said part. They just don't like the idea, and never get beyond that. What a tremendously dull way to live your life.People, the bits of animal most frequently discarded are often the most fantastically flavoursome. Good quality offal, for example, is an absolute joy to eat. Other points in favour of unpopular bits and pieces is that, in these frugal times, they are great wallet-savers. Many butchers can barely give the stuff away (as also observed by Fiona Beckett in her excellent Frugal Cook blog). The pig's ears I used for this recipe cost me a grand total of 50p. My butcher threw in a pig's liver for free, because 'nobody else will have it and I was going to chuck it away'. Fantastic. That's one delicious pot of Sorpotel coming right up, then.Anyway, to ears. A little glimpse as to how to make a tasty snack from them.First, take your ears. Or, more precisely, the pig's ears.Singe or shave off any excess hairy bits. Chuck the ears in a pot. Cover with water. Bring it up to the boil. Reduce the heat until the water reaches a simmer, and then bubble away for as long as it takes for the meat to become tender - anywhere between 1hr 30mins and 3 hours. And no, I can't deny it - they won't look pretty in the meantime.Nor, if you're of an overly-sensitive disposition, do they look especially wonderful straight out of the pan. To someone like me, however, they look good and ready for the next stage. With a sharp knife, slice the ears into thin slivers, and blot them as dry as possible with kitchen towel.Either dig out a deepfryer, or 2/3rds fill a pan with oil for frying. Once the oil is good and hot, dunk the ear slivers in, and give them a bit of a poke around to help prevent them from sticking to each other. AND - be careful. Hot oil + pig's ears = much spitting.BUT - the end result is totally worth it. Remove the slivers with a slotted spoon once they've crisped up, and season them liberally with your very best salt and pepper. A chilled dry sherry makes an excellent accompanying slurp.Not convinced? Please, at least TRY. And if you don't want to cook them for yourself, book yourself into St. John, and let Fergus Henderson and his nose-to-tail-championing team work their magic for you instead.[...]

Happy Barfi to me: recipe testing for Prepped!


One of the best things about being a food blogger is that, from time to time, some fun and interesting opportunities come along. For me, one of those is recipe testing. I like 'playing' with recipes anyway - and the chance to do so more constructively for someone else is an offer I rarely pass up.So when Vanessa Kimbell - a woman on a crazy-lady mission to write a recipe book within a year, having given up her job to achieve that ambition - asked me if I'd liked to test her orange and cardamom barfi recipe, I was hardly going to say no.Two more factors added to inevitability of my taking up this particular challenge: I have an unhealthy love of sweet treats, and I adore Indian food. And how.But enough about me. This is about Vanessa. It's about her book, Prepped!, now reaching its very final stages before publication. Another book is, I understand, in the pipeline. Prepped!, her first, and not even on the bookshelves just yet, is receiving a great deal of attention, and the sense of expectation is tangible. And her admirable decision to go after her dream is already taking her places - she was recently invited to front a local radio show on which she gets the chance to talk yet more food. A career in the industry is clearly already evolving, and fast.What's different about Vanessa and her cookbook? Well, I could try giving you a synopsis (it's aimed at 'time-short foodies'), but frankly, you'd do a lot better to read it straight from the horse's blog - at (and you can pre-order the book from there while you're at it).But the question is - is the book any good? The proof of the recipes is, of course, in the testing and tasting, so here goes... Take a look at it, accompanying video and all, here.You don't need many ingredients, so that's a good start for a cook in a hurry. You just need these......none of them particularly difficult to get hold of, although I found I could only get full-fat milk powder from an Asian store. Butter will do in place of ghee, although it's worth going the extra mile for ghee if you can.Then, as the recipe indicates, it's pretty much a case of warming a few ingredients and mixing them all together. It really is that simple. My only word of warning is that at the second mixing, you need to stir vigorously and thoroughly, or you might find that you get a few lumps forming. If you do, it's not a disaster - but it will mean that your barfi don't have an even texture.I used an 11" x 7" baking tin to put the mixture in. A shallower, wider tin, such as a swiss roll tin, should also work fine - it all depends on how chunky you like your barfi. I like something I can sink my gnashers into, so the tin I used was perfect, as it yielded barfi a shade under an inch thick (Yes, I know. I have a cavernous mouth.)Anyway, one way or another, you should end up with something that looks like this:... at which point, you can either cut it into pretty shapes, like Vanessa did or, as I did, simply cut it into smallish squares. (You might find an oiled knife useful for the task.) I found that I got 24 good-sized pieces from the tray. I don't want to throw down rash challenges, but for me, one piece at a time was ample - what with the full-fat milk powder and the ghee, it's incredibly rich stuff.And the all-important taste? As scrummy as any barfi I've eaten. The addition of orange zest undoubtedly acts as great foil for the richess, as does the cardamom. I loved 'em. Yes, past tense, because - true to form - I've already hoovered the lot up. And that, I think, tells its own story.In short, this is a dead easy and speedy recipe that any lover of swe[...]

Who's going to Dinner?


Oooooh, look - ANOTHER shiny new restaurant in London Town. Welcome, Heston B. Join the thrusting throng.Is it me, or does a new eating place open there every day at the moment? It seems as though the world's chefs, their wives, and their dogs are all clamouring for space in the capital. Which, y'know, is all very nice an' all, but why did they have to leave it until I was moving out of town? Hmmm? Well, Heston?Anyway, moving on...In this particular instance it gives me particular smug satisfaction to say that I've been to Dinner already. Lookee here - pictorial proof:And very good it was, too. If Chinese/Szechuan cooking is your kind of thing, then I suggest you hop over to the loveliness of Oslo and get yourself some decent nosh.I had the pleasure when I was there last summer. It's right slap-bang in the middle of Oslo, just a 2-minute short stroll from the harbour. No, it wasn't my first choice of places to go, but since the much-recommended Theatercaféen was closed for a refurb (how dare they?), we had to go off-piste.You might think that a posh Chinese place in central Oslo might not be the most popular place to eat at. Think again. We could only get a table for 6.30, and even by then, it was packed - and I'd guess it had about a hundred covers. No mean feat, especially when you bear in mind that the residents of Oslo (we seemed to be the only tourists) are pretty choosy about their food.And, because I didn't take notes, I can't remember what the hell we ate. Yes, as a food blogger, I am a useless waste of space. I am a disgrace to my peers. I shall press on regardless.But, BUT - I DID take photos. In a very dark room, with no natural light. Does that help? I'm guessing probably not, but here goes anyway.Starter: erm, dumplingy things, probably Dai Chi Kau. Some Char siu so. Ubiquitous crispy spring rolls. And a couple of other dim-summy yummy bits and pieces. I'm no expert on Chinese food, but these all seemed very well done. Punchy. Not greasy, soggy, or anything else inappropriate. The seafood and fish stuff was as fresh as anything, of course - this being Norway. Very tasty.To follow: yikes. I think this was braised duck breast with lychees, amongst other things...... and this was definitely beef - grilled tenderloin with a mouth-zapping pepper sauce, and Gai Lan..And, woah, I do remember that it was, er, a tad on the hot side. Still, since it wasall washed down with a zingy little medium-dry Riesling (well chosen, Mister Sommelier), we weren't complaining. Just a bit sweaty around the forehead and jowls.I wouldn't normally 'do' dessert after a meal like this, but it being my holiday... well, a waistline deserves to be pampered, doesn't it?Bring on the not-very-temptingly named 'mango pudding with sabayonne sauce, mango and pitahaya':With the texture and appearance akin to a 1970s crème caramel (complete with accompanying psychedelic fruits), this little retro pud had all the marks of 'bleurrgh' written across it. Instead, it was actually bloody good. Beautifully soft, possibly even a shade too much so (useful to remember if you ever take elderlies with you), and intensely mangoey. 'Twas a welcome cooler after the assault by chilli, and really rather lovely. A lip smacker, no less.All in all, then, a damn fine meal. Yes, it was kinda Westernised and sanitised, but the food was still notably good. It WAS spenny, but then everywhere in Norway is, and it was no more or less pricey than pretty much every other place we ate at.I suppose the real test is whether I'd go back. And the answer is 'yes'. Yes, I would. And given what I'm sure will be an inevitable 1[...]

Hallo again, and Christmas thoughts...


Yes, I know I've been very naughty again by neglecting this blog. But I have a good excuse (don't I always?) - I've moved house! I've shipped out of London, after several years there, and have moved to the supposed peace and quiet of the countryside.It's all gone pretty well, but it has of course been made infinitely more interesting by the recent weather. Now that we live out in the sticks, the sudden realisation that an 'extreme weather event' (who on earth came up with that phrase, anyway?) can be a very real obstacle to putting food on the table is a bit of a wake-up call. I've quickly learnt the art of stocking up at any and every opportunity, and of using the freezer for keeping stuff other than ice cream, ice cubes, and voddie. ;-) London habits are dying hard, and quickly. It's all about survival of the fittest around here, me hearties.On that note, here are a few Christmas thoughts and tips (in no order of significance) to help you get through the festive season of ho! ho! ho! and goodwill to all men, women, and random waifs and animals.1. No amount of kisses in your letter to Father Christmas will guarantee you a Thermomix, iPad, or Lumix camera. There's a recession on, and Father Christmas's priority is to keep Rudolph out of Battersea. 2. Never, ever leave your Christmas tree and pets together unattended. Ever. This applies particularly if you have terriers and/or cats with a known love of shiny things on string.3. It is too late now to make a Christmas pud or cake, so there's no point panicking about it. If all else fails, buy the richest fruit cake you can find, and pour a litre of whisky over it. Or just drink the whisky.4. When wrapping the kids' stocking presents, remember that the wrapping paper you're recycling from last year may have wording written on it like 'To Jan, with love from Aunty June'. 5. There will be key points on Christmas Day when you need to remember to turn the oven on, and to turn it off. Try not to confuse the two.6. Going to church IS important on Christmas morning. It's all about the baby Jesus, after all, and the fact that you want Jemima to get into the local church-run school is entirely unrelated.7. Make sure that Grandad/Granny has his/her hearing aids switched on, and enough batteries to last through the holidays.8. You haven't gone grey overnight. It's icing sugar.9. Granny will insist she doesn't touch a drop. Keep her glass topped up anyway. She'll provide hours of free after-dinner entertainment.10. No matter how well you've cooked the Christmas dinner, the senior females in your family will all claim they can cook the bird/roast potatoes/gravy/bread sauce/Christmas pud (delete as appropriate) better than you, and your children will agree with them vigorously. Smile sweetly throughout.11. The tradition is to set fire to the Christmas pudding, not to the house. And holly stinks when it burns.12. Squirty cream isn't funny and it isn't clever. Still, if you can't get hold of anything else, tell everyone that retro Christmases are 'in' this year and that you're channelling Fanny Cradock.13. For one sodding day of the year, do NOT take photographs of the food, and do NOT blog your Christmas dinner. 14. Your mother-in-law and your daughter's new Goth metal boyfriend will hit it off and form a worrying alliance. Be very afraid.15. Even if you don't watch the Queen's Speech, she has her uses. Invoke the old dear as an excuse to pour another drink, and raise a toast to Her Maj.16. Yes, you did tell your brother that it was fine to get your two-year old a mini drum set.17. Dogs don't like Quality S[...]

Les Deux Salons: one to recommend


When one food-loving acquaintance whose judgement I trust recommends a restaurant, I’m all ears. When two of them do, it goes to the top of my list. When three or more are all championing the same place, it’s clearly time to drop everything and go.Which is pretty much how it was with Les Deux Salons. Except that before going myself, I recommended it to another friend who was after ideas for a new weekend nosh place. ‘Go to Les Deux Salons,’ I said, confidently. ‘Everybody’s talking about it, and it’s all good.’And so I sat back, happy that I’d done my good deed for the day. And then. And then I started to worry. I scolded myself for being lazy. I should have gone to LDS first before mentioning it to others. Or should I? Didn’t other positive feedback count? Could I really trust those who had gone before me? What if it wasn’t up to much after all? What if, what if?Aaargh. Cue much anguished hand-wringing and soul searching.But lo. The appointed day came around. And I received a message: “It was fab. So grateful for recc. You must go”. Shortly followed by: “Superb lunch at Les Deux Salons. Quince, wet walnut, dolcelatte salad, saddle of rabbit + pumpkin gnocchi, Paris Brest.”THANK. MY. STARS. And – where’s my phone?Skip forward a few days, and I finally arrived at LDS to see/hear/smell/taste for myself.I must admit, I was already favourably disposed – not just because of the impressive reviews I’d been hearing, but also because of the menu, handily displayed on LDS’s website. There is NOTHING on there that I didn’t want to eat, or dip my head into, as Gregg Wallace would say.First impressions? Niiiiice. Smart, in a chilled kind of way. Slick, but not creepy with it. Definitely salon-like. Resembles a centre ville bistro/restaurant in a respectable French town. Buzzy and busy. Lots of people already there, munching away, looking and sounding happy. Plenty of staff, whizzing around quietly and efficiently. Shiny new well-stocked bar, already doing plenty of trade.Not two moments after entering and disrobing, The Other Diner and I were – in true brisk French fashion – swiftly seated at our linen-covered table and brought menus, a generous basket of fresh bread, butter, and water.Unremarkable, you might think, except that a little mention at this point should go to the set menu...... which, at 3 lip-smacking courses for a shade under £16 has – surely – to be most outrageously bargainous lunch in London right now. Prove me wrong.But my tastebuds had already been well and truly tickled by the à la carte menu, so, as tempting as the set menu seemed, it was cast aside for another visit. THIS time, I was after the full whackeroo.Between us, The Other Diner and I ordered the ravioli of rosé veal, fresh goat’s curd, cavolo nero and the lamb sweetbreads ‘Bouchée à la reine’ to start, and then, to follow, the saddle of rabbit, pumpkin gnocchi and hazelnuts, and the slow-cooked ox cheeks and parsnip purée.While all that lot was being cooked, we dribbled expectantly and occasionally slurped a jolly good, crisp, Grüner Veltliner. It was all rather, well, cosseting.Soon enough, the feast appeared before us, carried on huge trays by two serving staff – neatly attired in shirts, ties, and long aprons, French-stylee – who then waited momentarily for a senior waiter to arrive (differentiated by their shirts of random colour, no ties, and no aprons, since you ask*) and to actually present us with our food. Yes, it’s the little details, and I have no shame in admitting[...]

A dark affair: chocolate, stout, and raisin cake



I have always loved chocolate cakes - more so even than chocolate itself, or at least until recent years, in which time I've had the pleasure of discovering real chocolate. (The sickly stuff of my childhood never did it for me. And yes, I probably was a strange kid.)

But you'll never, ever wean me off chocolate cakes, and for that reason, I hereby confess to spending a shocking proportion of my time seeking out the best chocolate cake recipes.

For the most part, I'm a purist. I don't my my chocolate and/or cocoa messed around with too much. But when I spied a Dan Lepard recipe for a chocolate cake which also incorporates stout and raisins, I couldn't help but be tempted. It was the stout that got me, doctor.

Purist, be damned.

And so, I baked. It's an incredibly easy recipe, and pretty foolproof, so long as you don't heat the chocolate over a fierce flame. Chocolate is a fickle mistress, and likes to be treated gently. Overdo things, come on too strong, and - like most affairs of the heart - it'll all go horribly wrong.

Regard patience as a virtue, and you'll soon enough end up with a generous slab (the recipe doesn't say as much, but you'll need an 8" square tin) of a moist and seductively dark cake, with just a hint of bitterness to offset the richness.


I used London Porter instead of Guinness, but I think - to give Dan his due - Guinness would indeed be better. If you're wary of stouts, or think you don't like them, there's no need to be afraid of the bitter tones in this cake, because (a) they are gentle, and (b) there is, in any case, plenty of sweet chocolate frosting to counter them.

In fact, I thought the recipe made rather too much frosting - I left about a quarter in the bowl. And even doing that, there was plenty on the cake. Mr Lepard clearly has a sweet tooth.

Overall verdict? A real heart stealer, and one that you can enjoy on the side without anyone else knowing... Oh, and it goes well with cream and/or crème fraîche, too, just in case you feel like upping the pleasure levels. Just saying.


impressions of Norway: some sights


I've been away from this blog for so long that I'm going to have to ease myself back in gently. Excuse me while I get the harness dusted down and sorted out.In the meantime, some of you (particularly those of you on Twitter) may recall that I spent a couple of weeks in Norway - well, Oslo and Bergen, at any rate - in the summer. To be brief, I loved everything about it. And, needless to say, the food was one of the many highlights. I'll come on to that in my next post - which, I promise, will follow shortly.But for now, I'll try to give you an idea of some of the sights, including the good, the bad, and the frankly bizarre...let's start with the blindingly obvious...spectacular fountain in central Oslo...Oslo old town...cute scooter...view from Oslo harbour...another of Oslo harbour's assets...Oslo concert hall/opera house...chef resting after service...Oslo flower market...view from Oslo castle...the Ice Bar...out for a paddle...friends...Oslo Nobel peace museum...Oslo flower market: the reprise. With added pigeons...Whiter than white: walking on Oslo opera house...view from Bergen hotel window...Bergen public sculpture. Lots of it there....view from atop the funicular...erm, a rose...typical Bergen weather...the handsomest fish, Bergen fish market...more of that public art I warned you about...the funicular cafe. Great location, shame about the cafe...erm....[...]

cheese, please, but pass on the service: La Fromagerie


Cheese. A world without it would be very dull indeed, IMHO. As I've noted before on this blog, I bloomin' love the stuff, and would happily eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And sometimes I do.It's not going to take you more than a shake of a lamb's tail, then, to anticipate that I'm likely to be a supporter of London's finest cheese emporia. Neal's Yard, Paxton & Whitfield, Hamish Johnston, La Cave à Fromage... they're all close to my heart, not to mention my stomach. But La Fromagerie, tucked away in a quiet corner of Marylebone, should be on that list, right?And it is, kind of. The cheeses there are worth the trip. A huge selection, all in pristine condition, ready and ripe to go. But the rest? The shop? The café? Not so much.I visited a few weeks ago, and although satisfied by my intake of the whiffy stuff, was distinctly less so by the service throughout. Put simply, the latter put the dampers on my lunch, and might have blighted my entire afternoon, were it not for a post-La Fromagerie visit to Ginger Pig's droolworthy shop right next door, where service is cheery, friendly, helpful, and expert. The contrast could hardly have been greater.La Fromagerie, pleeeeeeeeease take note: if you're going to sell premium products, then please at least TRY to make sure the service is up to scratch, too. So, having sight of a menu when I'm seated would be good. Not 15 minutes later. If I ask for a wine recommendation to go with my cheese, I do NOT expect, 'Well, if you like white, go for the house white, but there's the red, if you prefer red.' I mean, WHAT??? Oh, and - in the event that I do in fact opt for a glass of vino after such brilliant guidance - I'd prefer to drink it from a clean glass, please. Not one that seems to have been handled by the entire staff first, going by the number of fingerprints all over it. And the slices of pear that come with the cheese plate - any chance they could be replaced with slices that aren't bruised?Grrrrrrrrrr. I expected better. A lot better.Anyway, for what it's worth, here are the pics:Waiting to be seated. I'm expecting a disco in the interim, 'cos of the glitterball, natch. Seated. It's a little on the cosy side. But you've gotta love that clock.The view behind me. Cheese room in the background - where the service is as chilly as the room temperature, but more of that later...The cheese plate. Can you see the bruise on that pear slice? Thought so.OK, well, the cheese was good. Clockwise, starting from 3 o'clock as you look at the plate - Sariette de Banon (goat), Camembert Fermier Durand (cow), Haut Barry (ewe), Lou Bren (ewe), Devon Blue (cow). For me the standouts were the Sariette de Banon - creamy, flaky, and slightly fruity - and the Haut Barry - earthy, slightly sweet, and nutty.And what I also liked about the Haut Barry was its ridiculously colourful (and wholly natural, I hasten to add) crust...Pretty, innit?Portion sizes, although the picture may not suggest as much, were pretty much spot on, I thought. Not too little, not too much, and just about acceptable for the moolah involved (£13.50).And then, my friends, is the small matter of cake. Or rather, the large matter of cake:Soft hazelnut meringue filled with Valrhona ganache? Really? Do I have to? Oh, go on, then.Again, you probably don't get quite the sense of scale from the photo, but these slices were IMMENSE. A couple seated next to us gasped when they saw what was being put in front of us. I smiled back, reassuri[...]

rhubarb, rhubarb...


Yes, that's rhubarb, twice over.It would be true to say that, once the first signs of summer arrive, I develop a bit of a rhubarb habit. I don't think it controls me, but on balance, it's probably a good thing that it's not available all year round. Any which way it's possible to do so, I'll consume it. Compotes, jams, fools, pies, crumbles, jellies, cakes - I've been there, done them, and will no doubt do them many more times yet.But drinks - not so much. Not until this year, anyway, when several conversations with various Tweeters, and especially @goodshoeday (a veritable doyenne of bottling all things fruit and veg), and the acquisition of Mary Prior's rather brilliant little book, Rhubarbaria, made me think it was high time I tried making my own rhubarb beverages, too.And now that I have, I can tell you that it's a dangerous path to tread. Making rhubarb drinks is so darned easy, for one thing. And the results are just too good to make you want to settle for anything less. You WILL be making them time and time again. Consider yourself thoroughly warned.Thus far I've made a ridiculously simple and oh-so-refreshing rhubarb and orange cordial, which involves nothing more than a bit of a boil-up of, well, rhubarb, orange, lemon, and sugar:Pretty, innit? And even prettier at the end, when the finished product has a pinky-peachy glow to it. I recommend you make this recipe EXACTLY as Lotte Duncan suggests - the balance of flavours, sweetness and acidity is perfect, and so much better (and far less sticky) than any shop-bought varieties. Make it up exactly as you would any other cordial.Of course, there are times when only a drop of the hard stuff will do. At such times, rhubarb vodka is your friend.There are so many recipes for this that you're spoiled for choice, frankly. I refer you back to @goodshoeday's blog for one way of making it, but in this instance, I used one of Mary Prior's recipes:300g/12 oz rhubarb, chopped120g / 4 oz sugar60 ml / 2 fl oz water1 litre vodkaCook the rhubarb with the sugar and water until tender. Put in a large glass storage jar or bowl. Cool. Add the vodka and cover. Store for about a week. Strain the vodka off the fruit pulp and bottle. Leave to mature for a bit. (Ha! Define 'a bit'...)HOW EASY IS THAT?? No excuses, you CAN make this.I love this stuff. I particularly love it neat, poured over 3 or 4 large ice cubes, in a large glass. I don't know why (and I'd be grateful if someone could explain), but adding the ice cubes seems to bring out more of the rhubarb flavours than if you omit them and simply drink the vodka chilled. Answers on a postcard, please.Meanwhile, I'm off for a little sip of something...[...]

some ideas for broad beans, peas, and rhubarb


Yes, I know I haven't been here lately. A lot going on...

Still, just to prove I haven't been entirely idle, here's an article that I wrote for fellow Twitterer, @FrancoiseM's newsletter, published a few days ago. Have a squiz for a summery pasta, a recipe for pea ice cream, and details on how to make your own rhubarb drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

Enjoy, and have yourself a great Bank Holiday weekend!