Monday, 24 December 2012

Amaretto Mulled Wine

Just a quickie here. I saw this recipe for Amaretto Mulled Wine on the Domestic Sluttery blog and all I can say is DO THIS NOW*. For one, Amaretto is great and wonderful, and for two adding it to mulled wine makes it one hundred times more Christmassy. You should preferably have it with some Christmassy biscuits like I did.

Hope all my readers have a Merry Christmas!

*Ok maybe not now if you are reading this blog post just as I've written it at 11am. But you know, maybe you should, it is Christmas.

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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Thalis from Pri's Kitchen

Last Thursday evening a lovely lady called Priyanka delivered a hot, freshly cooked thali directly to my door - my door which is attached to a cottage in a very small village tucked away in Cambridgeshire. Things like this don't happen often around here, if you don't fancy cooking our options are a questionable pizza delivery or trekking out in the car to a supermarket or to the dreaded golden arches.

Really you shouldn't require a knife and fork...
Pri's Kitchen is based in Priyanka's home in Saffron Walden - every Thursday, Friday and Saturday she cooks up orders of thalis for residents in Saffron Walden and the neighbouring villages. She'll make you a meat thali or a vegetarian thali and deliver it to you in the proper metal tray and bowls piping hot and smelling delicious.

To explain, a thali (Hindi for 'plate') consists of various different Indian dishes, which vary from region to region, consisting of several different curries, rice, dahl, raita, rotli or puri, sometimes a chutney or pickle and a sweet too.

Meat Thali
We ordered a vegetarian and a meat thali. Both had dahl, aloo jeera (cumin potatoes), chole (chickpeas), gobi (cauliflower), raita, rice, roti and a chocolate burfi as the sweet. My meat thali had a lovely lamb curry and a spinach and chicken curry. The veggie thali had a paneer curry and bhindi - okra.
Spinach & Chicken Curry, Lamb Curry
Aloo Jeera
My god everything was delicious! Everything was perfectly spiced, not too heavy on the chilli which good Indian food should be, perfectly cooked and each dish so different from the next - which is the best thing about a thali. It might sound odd but it was nice to eat it from a proper plate, it was obviously the authentic way to do it but it also just made it more like homecooking, which it is, very much so.

If you're local, or fancy coming around my house for a thali, you can order directly from Priyanka's website. She will then contact you to arrange a delivery time and day. And then a week or so later she'll come and collect your empty plates and bowls - and if you are smart you can arrange it for when your next Thali is arriving!

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Friday, 21 December 2012

Parsnip & Sage Soup

It's December so every restaurant menu is awash with parsnip soup with various additions and of varying quality. Inspired by many disappointing parsnip soups I've had in Christmasses past, I thought I'd whip up this festive version with a bit more punch than your average Christmas pub menu soup.

I think this soup would be a great way to use up leftover roast parsnips from Christmas Day, to make a nutritious and virtuous Boxing Day lunch. My parsnips were raw chopped ones boiled but I think roasted ones used the same way (but cooked for less time) would be fantastic.

Parsnip & Sage Soup
Serves 4 (2 for dinner and 2 lunch sized portions!)

Olive oil
1/2 white onion
3 large parsnips
Handful of fresh sage
3/4 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
mascarpone and your favourite bread to finish

Heat oil in a large saucepan, roughly chop your onion and fry it in the oil for a few minutes on a medium high heat. Peel and roughly chop the parsnips and add to the pan, fry for a couple of minutes til they start to get a bit of colour. Season well and then chuck in in the sage (stems and leaves are fine) and pour over the stock - you want the stock to go about an inch over the top of the vegetables.

Simmer for 15-20 minutes til the parsnips are very soft. Blend with a stick blender, check for seasoning. If it seems a little thick add some more stock to thin, or a little cream if you are feel fancy.

Serve with a nice dollop of mascarpone and toasted bread. I had some lovely pumpkin seed and cranberry bread from Morrison's (thank you Miss Sue Flay for the tip!) which is nice and festive as well as being yummy.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A Little Weekend in Paris

I visited Paris the week before last, half for work, half for play, and with clear intentions to eat some great bread, a great pastry, a Pierre Herme macaron, try a crepe and do some shopping - I am happy to say I achieved all these things and a few more. I also got to meet one of my favourite bloggers, David Lebovitz, at his book signing on Saturday evening at La Cuisine cookery school - I was probably a bit fan girl about it and I hope I didn't come across as a weirdo (probably did).

So here goes with my quick round up of a beautiful city, can't wait to go back.

I didn't take any pictures of the meals I had during the work part of my stay but I would recommend the brilliant (and very typically Parisien) Chez Prune (36 Rue Beaurepaire, 75010) bar for atmosphere and great wine, we ate at Philou (12 avenue Richerand, 75010) one night where I had a brilliant cassoulet and we all shared a huge and delicious chocolate fondant pudding. I mostly hung around in the 10th arrondissement which is a great neigbourhood, with lots of restaurants, bars and also very chic (but sadly out of my budget) clothes stores from independent designers.

On the first day of freedom (i.e. my first day in Paris when I wasn't working) I headed straight for the bakery around the corner from my flat - Du Pain et Des Idées - I'd already walked past it the evening before and saw a queue snaking around the corner, so it had to be my first port of call.

This little bakery is run by smiley friendly staff selling baguettes, breads, pastries, but with some inventive additions. I'd read up before I went along and their 'Pain Des Amis' seemed to be the one to try - a sourdough bread with a smoky flavour and a great crispy crunchy top. You can buy a huge loaf - which I would assume is for share with your 'amis' but they do also sell it in smaller portions.

I also picked up a couple of L'Escargot pastries - one with pink praline and one with pistachio. I do believe they are the sugariest things I've ever eaten - which is brilliant. The pink praline was my particular favourite as it had a mixture of caramel stickiness and crunchy pieces of praline amongst the flaky pastry. We tried again on Saturday morning to get some croissants  but unfortunately they only open Monday to Friday - next time!

On the Friday evening we were both tired (in no way was I suffering the effects of too much good Bordeaux) so we just chose a bit of an unspiring pizza place across the road from our flat (Canaletto) - if you want to try a better pizza place The Pink Flamingo is fun and the American Italian owners are really nice, they have several branches in Paris (yes I ate pizza twice whilst in Paris!).

On Saturday we hit Boulevard Haussmann for some retail therapy,  we spent most of the day in the stunning Galleries Lafayette which is a shopaholic's dream. The ceilings are also beautiful and even more beautiful with the enormous Swarovski crystal decked Christmas tree through the centre. We of course also went across the street to the food hall where we marvelled at all the cheese, so much cheese, along with lots of other amazing looking food. I particularly liked the little spice market, lots of spices, dried herbs, tea and even paan masala piled up beautifully ready for you to scoop up in to little bags and take home.
The wine section is also a thing to behold, we browsed the vast array of wine including the impressive selection of vintage wines, one bottle was €2300! We picked up a slightly more €13 bottle of Macon Cremant - sparkling wine. Macon Villages 'Chamorey' wine is also excellent, we've had it before and it you can pick it up in Waitrose and sometimes Tesco.
We also stopped at Pierre Hermé for macarons and a selection of chocolates. The display itself is as beautiful as the macarons themselves - we opted for white truffle & salted caramel (pictured), rose and yuzu, salted caramel, milk chocolate and pistachio. We decided not to go for the foie gras festive editions, he may be a master at flavour combinations but foie gras in a macaron? Hmmm. The white truffle split us - Mr hated it but I thought it was brilliant, the truffle was delicate and earthy - a little strange but I think it worked. The chocolates we took back home feature similar flavours and also some others - one of which is smoked salt - which tastes like bacon and chocolate - a bit like those brownies I made a while ago!
After spending most of the day shopping we wound our way (got lost) down towards the river to La Cuisine cookery school for a book signing with one of my favourite bloggers, David Lebovitz. I'm afraid I was a bit of a superfan geek but I really do love his blog and the way he writes. I am now the owner of a signed copy of David's book, The Perfect Scoop. *grin*
After the book signing we headed to the trendy district of La Marais to have crepes and galettes at Breizh Cafe. I'd been recommended this traditional Breton cafe by a friend and been reassured it was very authentic and many of the ingredients sourced in Brittany - also crepes are great if you are with a vegetarian. It's tough finding veggie food in France! I started with a Kir Breton (breton cider and cassis)  which is something I've never heard of and it works really well, something I am going to recreate at home.
I had a galette (the difference between a crepe and a galette is that galette is made from buckwheat flour, whereas a crepe from regular wheat flour) with ham, gruyere cheese, a soft egg and confit onions.
The confit onions were my favourite part, so sweet and savoury at the same time, I also enjoyed the dippy egg and galette combo!
Mr had a goat's cheese galette which came with a large serving of creamy goats cheese, salad and more of those confit onions.
The pudding was the real star, we shared a tarte tatin crepe made with the most amazing caramelised apples I've ever had. The apples were infused with vanilla and just a little spice and I think either cider or apple juice - they were gorgeous with the light crepe and homemade ice cream. I kind of wished we hadn't decided to share a pudding!
For our last day, Sunday, I had plans to visit Saravanaa Bhavan, a vegetarian Indian restaurant just near Gare du Nord. The restaurant was absolutely heaving when we arrived about 12.30, we were told to find a seat where we could, and ended up sitting with others which totally does not appeal to Brits, but it was quite good fun in the end. It was chaotic but the atmosphere was buzzing - full of families - Indian and French, tourists, people alone getting a taste of home. A great place to people watch.

We were planning to eat lightly before we got the Eurostar that evening, so we went all out for lunch. We both ordered a dosa - a classic masala dosa for me and a paneer dosa for the Mr. Both were very very crispy, freshly made with a great spiced potato filling and the accompanying sambar, coconut chutney, chilli chutney and dahl were all perfect.  After that we shared a 'North Indian Thali' which contained dahl, mushroom curry, rice, potato curry, spinach curry, raita, papar, poori and finally a sweet - sooji. They have restaurants all over the world - including London and randomly Ilford which isn't too far from home!

After our meal we caught the metro to the Champs Elysees and walked down to the Arc du Triomphe including Jardin des Tuileries. There is a very touristy Christmas market down there where we had some pretty bad churros, I'm sure there are better Christmassy things to do in Paris, I would avoid that. The shops, however, were great and I managed a little more shopping before we had to catch the train back to London.

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas Telly! Nigella, Bake Off, Nigel Slater and more...

It's Christmas Food programmes week! Over the last few days I've seen loads of adverts for various Christmas specials, so in order to do a service to you, my lovely readers, I thought I'd do a round-up so you don't miss out on Mary Berry's top tips, Nigella and her soft focus kitchen or those rather fabulous baker brothers.

Nigellissima  - An Italian Inspired Christmas
BBC2, Monday 17th, 8pm
I've enjoyed the Nigellisima series, she has toned down the ridiculous and I've tried a few of the recipes which have been good, although I don't think I'll be giving her Meatzza a go anytime soon. Hoping the Christmas special will be good, and that she might do some edible gifts as I have some to make still! Also, if someone can tell me where her dotted top is, that would be great. 

The Fabulous Baker Brothers Do Christmas
More4, Monday 17th, 9pm
Being advertised as Christmas with a twist 'with not a sprout in sight.' Seems like less of the baking this time and more about general Christmas recipes including spiced mulled cider, lobster and the ultimate Christmas hangover cure. Sounds greedy!

Great British Bake Off Christmas Special
BBC2, Tuesday 18th, 8pm
Another masterclass episode from Mary and Paul, I've already mastered mince pies but I'll be looking forward to their tips anyway! They're also making Christmas pudding and cake so if you need to improve this years effort, makes some notes for 2013's festivities.

Heston's Fantastical Christmas
Channel 4, Wednesday 19th, 9pm
Heston being crazy and trying hard to use up his massive budget again. I've found his latest series a bit too silly, but it has been interesting sometimes. In this episode, he has challenged himself to make the biggest Christmas pudding ever, as you were probably expecting. That or a mince pie.

Nigel Slater's 12 Tastes of Christmas
BBC2, Friday 21st, 7.30pm
This is episode 2 of 2, I missed one but I'll be catching up on iPlayer whilst making jewellery one evening this week. For me the latest series, Nigel's done, Dish of the Day, has been a bit bonkers (banana in a crumble anyone? Almond lentil stew? Not sure) so I'm not expecting great things from the usually great man. But I am addicted to food programmes so I shall tune in nonetheless. Am not coveting his Christmas jumper the same way as Nigella's top though.

The River Cottage Christmas special was also on on Sunday night, with Steven Mangan, Mark Heap and Kathy Burke - some good recipes and the programme was quite funny too - catch up on 4oD.

Happy Watching & Eating! :)

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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mince Pies : 5 Top Tips

I am currently basking in the glory of having made a near perfect batch of mince pies*, so I thought I'd share with you some tips for making them. I blogged the recipe I use last year and the pastry is yet to fail me, which is saying something if you know about my pastry history before that.

1) Make or buy a jar of really good mincemeat
My Mother-in-Law very kindly gives me a jar or two of her homemade mincemeat once a year, which is excellent. If you can, make your own but if don't it is worth buying a good quality homemade mincemeat - farm shops, delis and local farmers markets have lots of choice. Supermarket mincemeat tends to be full of too much sugar,  which means the sugar caramelises in the oven and bubbles over the sides of your pies. And it also makes the pies stick to your tin if you are particularly unlucky.

2) Grate your butter, don't dice. 
This tip works for all pastry and also for crumble, it is so simple but it makes making pastry ten times easier, and keeps the butter cold. Freeze your butter beforehand if you can too as it makes it easier to grate. Another tip I picked up, which was from Mary Berry, is coating the butter in flour makes it easier to grate without getting in a big mess.

3) Thin pastry is better
It makes sense, a big thick lining of pastry is going to take ages to cook and you'll end up with claggy horrible mince pies. A nice thin layer of pastry, about 3-4mm is best for mince pies - that way your mince pies will stay crisp and will bake in 15 minutes.

It is really important to chill your pastry after you've made it so that it doesn't shrink up or go all melty in the oven. The pastry recipe I use also doesn't contain any liquid but if you find it takes a while to come together a bit of ice cold water won't hurt, but it helps if you chill your pastry down for a bit longer to counteract shrinking/melty pastry. After filling and topping my mince pies I also give them another 15 minutes in the fridge for the same reason.

5) Don't use too much mincemeat
I'm starting to sound a bit mean now, aren't I? It's ok, you can just eat two instead of one. A scant teaspoon of mincemeat is enough, otherwise you'll have mincemeat bubbling over the edges of your pastry and your mince pies will burn on top and probably stick to the tin.

So there you are, happy mince pie making! I made a double batch of dough and the second half is waiting for me in the freezer so I'll be making another batch this weekend.

Merry Christmas!

* They lose marks for not being too pretty, but if it tastes good, who cares?

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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Herman Friendship Cake

If you google Herman Friendship Cake it is basically all over the internet, there is even a whole website dedicated to it.  Basically it is a sweet sourdough starter used to make cake, you divide it into 5 portions - make a cake with 1 and distribute the rest to 4 lucky friends. I'd heard of it a while ago and a couple of weeks ago I got my hands on a bubbling pot of Herman starter from Vanessa.

I fed it with milk, sugar and flour, stirred it (not with a metal spoon, very important) and it stunk out the kitchen with yeasty smells for about a week. I've tried sourdough before, and whilst it was successful soon my starter started to smell of paint and it didn't make good bread anymore, so in the bin it went. Maybe my kitchen has the wrong atmosphere?

I wasn't intending on keeping this starter or passing it on as you are meant to (what can I say, I am greedy) - mainly because I'd never remember to feed this little floury pet every few days for the forseeable future. So about 1/3 went into a Herman friendship cake and the rest into a semi-sweet sourdough loaf (which actually didn't come out too well but let's not talk about that...).

I used this recipe here but substituted the oil for cooled melted butter, because you know, butter is better in a cake. I also added four chopped pink lady apples (and a few sliced up on the top) and a generous amount of vanilla extract. The resulting cake is very proper looking - homey, HUGE with a lovely crispy top. Had I had got around to making custard, I'd say it would be great with custard.

The cake has a yeasty taste which isn't as odd as it seems, to me it tastes a bit like a chelsea bun  - which is why I expect the original recipe contains raisins, I think some nuts would be great too.

I now kind of wish I'd saved the starter for more cake, I'll just have to make more friends with Hermans!

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Friday, 16 November 2012

Addicted to Instagram

Amazing doughnut dessert at The Hole in the Wall (doughnuts, ice cream, vanilla cream, cherry chocolate sauce) - oh my.

Miss Sue Flay's Apple Cake at Clandestine Cake Club

My cold/virus saviour - homemade chicken noodle soup

Cafe CouCou (Saffron Walden) - French Onion Soup

Migas - well my not too authentic version, with avocado and lavash bread

I am all too aware that I am neglecting this space at the moment, but I am still, as ever, addicted to Instagram - anything that can make a quick snap of my lunch/dinner/quick snack look better than my photography skills is good! Have been working too much and been ill too much with cold so not much except quick recipes, some treats in my favourite places and nourishing food.

Have got myself a sourdough Herman friendship cake starter, so hoping to be back soon with some more posts about that! Oh and I'm off to Paris in a few weeks, and I am looking forward to some major food tourism - bread mainly. 

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Monday, 5 November 2012

Margarita Cake & Clandestine Cake Club

Another day, another cake club! My favourite cocktail is a margarita, and I didn't have to think hard when asked to make a cocktail inspired cake for the next Clandestine Cake Club. Apart from anything else, I already had triple sec and tequila in my kitchen, all I needed was limes (oh and butter, sugar, flour...) and a spare evening.

I was also particularly excited because last night's cake club was my first as official co host. It was held at the lovely Greens Coffee in Cambourne, and a dozen cakes and guests settled around a long table filled with all kinds of cakes. We were also joined by the lovely Leanne from Cambridge News, more on that in a couple of weeks....

This cake gets all the flavour after baking - the sponge is a simple vanilla with lots of lime zest stirred in. After it comes out the oven a tequila sugar syrup is poured over the cake to soak in whilst it cools. Then it is topped with even more booze - in the form of a tequila, triple sec, lime and cream cheese icing.

Margarita Cake
makes 1 loaf cake

For the cake:
200g unsalted butter, softened
200g golden caster sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 2 limes
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder

Preheat your oven to gas mark 4 / 160 c fan / 180 c conventional. Cream together the butter and sugar til light and fluffy. Then add in the eggs one by one til well combined. Add vanilla and lime zest. Add in all the flour and baking powder and gently fold in til just combined. Bake in a lined loaf tin for 25-30 minutes.

Margarita Syrup
2 tablespoons of icing sugar
1 capful of Tequila
1 capful of Triple Sec
juice of 1 lime

Mix all the ingredients together til the sugar is dissolved.
When the cake is cooked, leave in the tin for about 5-10 minutes, then remove and put on a plate. Poke small holes in the cake with a skewer and then evenly pour the syrup over the cake. Leave to cool.

Cream cheese icing
100g cream cheese
25g of butter, softened
1 tablespoon of Tequila
1 tablespoon of Triple Sec
juice of 1 lime
150g - 200g icing sugar

Cream together the butter and the cream cheese, then add in 100g of icing sugar and the spirits and lime. Add in more icing sugar as you combine til you have a thick icing, slightly thicker than custard - you want nice pourable icing. Refrigerate whilst the cake cools.

This cake is best iced just before you serve it - which I didn't think through very well because it meant I had to arrive at cake club with a tub full of it and a spoon ready to ice at the table. Just pour tablespoon fulls of it over the cake in a 'rustic' fashion! If you have some left it will freeze well and you can use it for another cake.

Our next Cambridge Clandestine Cake Club is the 24th November, sign up on the website.

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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Benares restaurant, London


 I think I've lost count of the amount of times I've seen Atul Kochar on Saturday Kitchen and said 'oh I really want to go to Benares.' Finally last weekend we made it there for our 3rd wedding anniversary. We booked it way back in late August so I've been looking back and forth at the menu for weeks and the anticipation was great.
 We started with little poppadoms with three chutneys - pineapple, tomato (my favourite) and mango & ginger, they were a good introduction to the style of spicing used at Benares, all very well selected, not too hot but with enough to leave you with a slight chilli warmth when you've finished eating.

My started was the 'Mumbai Pizza' - I guess they were trying to be lighthearted with the name but I think it didn't really sell the dish very well! It was tandoori fish kebab (made with the catch of the day which was Hake) on a sundried tomato naan with micro leaves, lovely pink pickled onion and black olives. The olives worked really well, surprisingly so, especially when you added some of the coriander chutney the dish came with. I would have preferred my naan to be a little crispier, the dish had plenty of oil which didn't make it taste oily but it did make the naan a little softer, but not soggy.

Mr had the roasted autumn vegetable pastries with plum chutney, I of course snuck a taste and they were lovely, possibly a little forgettable but I was concentrating on my starter instead!

For main Mr had the cottage cheese and apricot koftas, which came with herb rice and a tomato and fenugreek sauce, I loved these, a really innovative vegetarian main and despite neither of us being that crazy about cottage cheese or apricots, we both thought they were great!

My main was braised lamb neck fillet with masala turnips and a green peppercorn sauce. The lamb was as I'd hoped, super tender and the spices ran all the way through it. I could have broken into the kitchen and taken home a whole pan of it. Something I definitely want to recreate at home. As part of our mains we also got some tandoori bread, onion rice and gorgeous red dahl - all lovely and a nice touch to have something to share on the table which is so much a part of Indian food.

I'd also ordered some Bhel Puri, which is one of my favourite things to eat, but unfortunately it didn't actually turn up and both of us didn't actually realise this til we were half way through our mains so we didn't ask for it. We probably should have done, but given the quality of the restaurant you'd have hoped they would have remembered! Bit of a shame.

Desserts were chocolate mousse (Mr's) which was encased in a chocolate globe with raspberries both fresh and dried with extra chocolate sauce and orange. Mine was spiced poached pear with vanilla custard and some excellent pistachio kulfi. Both beautiful and just the right amount of spicing again without being over the top.

We also ordered tea - a light darjeeling tea for Mr and some masala chai for me, and happily we also received some perfect petit fours - possibly not entirely sticking to the Indian them but they were excellent - cinnamon shortbread (which were a lot like Nankhatai), peanut butter filled chocolate domes and raspberry rice crispie squares. Loved the fun element of the rice crispie squares, the raspberry flavour was really fresh and vivid.

The tea menu was extensive, with 6 darjeeling teas alone, many of which are exclusive to Benares. The masala chai was made traditionally, although with honey not sugar, and everyone knows masala chai needs to have plenty of sugar, but luckily I'd been provided with a little bowl of it - I guess they know too!

Overall the meal was fantastic and memorable, really interesting food which uses traditional recipes and techniques but gives them a bit of a modern / western twist. The service was a little slow at times - they forgot one of our dishes and we had to wait a while for the bill, so something to improve upon given they have a Michelin star.

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