Apr 302009
 

Although many may call me a philistine, I like my strawberries with sugar and cream, even when they’re perfectly ripe and sweet! My usual preference is to chop them, stir them into some thick, unctuous cream and mix in some sugar to help draw out their juices. I then leave them in the fridge a few hours before eating!

Having been tempted by a double reduction on Spanish strawberries in my local Waitrose, I took the lazy option and used our Magimix to do the chopping for me, opting for floppy juliennes. Once I’d mixed the two punnets of strawberries with the two pots of extra thick double cream (and sugar) I realised I’d made rather too much for dessert!

After enjoying a portion each after dinner I followed the advice of some fellow foodies and used my little ice-cream maker to freeze most of the rest for another time.

I really ought to have added more sugar before doing this – the mixture was correctly sweetened for eating as it was but I remembered too late that an ice-cream mix needs to taste too sweet before freezing in order to be sweet enough once frozen. Still, it will make a nice, light dessert to enjoy soon and I can always make some chocolate sauce to serve with it, to add a little sweetness back.

 

Another pictureless post again, I’m afraid, sorry!

On Sunday night we made the simplest of risottos from Saturday’s slow cooker chicken and some of the (first round) stock.

We used just four Ingredients – arborio rice, butter, the homemade stock (watered down a touch as it was so thick and gelatinous) and the chicken meat (chopped into small pieces). No onions or shallots (or celery, which I detest), no garlic…

Method: Fry the dry rice in the butter until the rice becomes quite translucent, then add the stock bit by bit. Purists will use a second pan in which to keep the stock hot, add just a small ladle at a time and allow it to absorb fully into the rice before adding more. We, on the other hand, added the stock cold and in only 3 goes. Once the rice is cooked but still has some liquid left, tip in the meat and stir through until piping hot. The chicken will absorb the extra liquid.

That’s it! Who would have thought that such a simple dish could taste so utterly delicious? All down to the quality of the stock, which was amazing, and the chicken meat, soft and full of flavour.

Clearly proof of Julia Child’s assertion that “you don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”

 

On Thursday evening, before heading to Konstam at the Prince Albert for dinner, I made a pilgremage to Paul A Young’s shop in Camden Passage, Islington. (This is the chocolatier whose wonderful sweet basil ganache truffles I so admired at that chocolate tasting event a couple of weeks ago).

Throwing restraint out of the window I bought myself a box of 18 delicious chocolates, choosing 2 each of 9 intriguing truffles, so that I could generously share them with Pete.

Here’s what I chose.

Here’s the feedback on all the chocolates:

marmite truffle
Me: There’s definitely a hint of Marmite but it’s not too strong nor as weird as it sounds! It blends in to the intense chocolate flavour really well.
Pete: “Tasty. I think!” [said with utterly bemused expression on his face]

black raspberry ganache
Me: Reminds me of fruit cream chocolates but definitely superior to those you’d find in a cheapy box of chocolates!
Pete: “Quite dark for me, but nice.”

kalamansi ganache
Me: The citrus tang punches through the rich chocolate. Refreshing!
Pete: “Mmmm! Citrusy! The chocolate’s still posh but it’s tasty. It’s not too sweet which is good.”

pimm’s cocktail
Me: No discernable Pimm’s flavour at all until the chocolate is all eaten and then there’s the slightest hint of it in the aftertaste. Disappointing as a Pimm’s chocolate but a tasty generic chocolate truffle.
Pete: “It tastes like a fairly anonymous, faintly alcoholic liqueur chocolate.”

rose and geranium ganache
Me: Mmmm! Wonderful turkish delight flavour in a soft ganache and smooth chocolate shell. The flavours are robust enough to hold their own with the strong cocoa. I could eat a whole box of these. In one sitting!
Pete: “Tasty!”

sweet bergamot and maya honey
Me: At first the beautiful and delicate flavour of the bergamot comes through in the ganache but it’s too quickly overwhelmed by the unflavoured chocolate of the shell. Can’t detect the honey.
Pete: “Neither are particularly strong flavours; just a hint. Quite tasty.”

jasmine flower and lemongrass
Me: The best way to enjoy the flavour is to bite the chocolate in half and suck gently at the ganache. The lovely combination of perfumey jasmine and zingy lemongrass work so well. I do wish the shell carried through the flavour though, as when it starts to melt it’s robust cocoa overwhelms the jasmine and lemongrass.
Pete: “Odd” [But nice?] “Yes, nice! Similar issue to last one in that it has a thick shell which overwhelms the key flavours with chocolateyness.”

sweet basil ganache
Me: This is the truffle that pulled me down to the Paul A Young shop and prised that money out of my purse to buy this extravagant selection in the first place! I love the way the fresh, leafy basil flavour so utterly infuses the ganache. The flavour really sings and it combines particularly well with the chocolate flavour. Still one of my favourites after tasting all the others.
Pete: “Weird. I remain unconvinced that herbs are an appropriate thing to put into chocolate. Not objectionable; just not blowing my socks off.”

tawny port and stilton
Me: Wow! Both flavours come through distinctly. This is so unusual but I like it! Now, should I serve this with the cheese course, with coffee or with the after dinner port? ;)
Pete: “Mmmm! Interesting! Initially it starts out with more port than stilton but then the stilton is there. Mmmm! I like that!”

 

Looking for a nice lunch stop between home and Willows Farm Village (which we visited on Saturday to check out custom-made wrought iron gates for the new front garden wall) we decided to stop at The Green Dragon. We’d been once before and enjoyed the good quality grub and thought we’d see what they had on offer for lunch.


The menu looked great.

Starters were all priced at £4.50 and included Roasted Tomato & Basil Soup with Crusty Bread, Pea & Leek Tart with Glazed Asparagus, Roasted Pear Wedges with Maple Glaxed Pork Strips and Crispy Bacon & Poached Egg on a Rustic Bubble & Squeak with Hollandaise Drizzle. I’d happily have eaten any one of them.

Mains were £7.95, although two courses (starter and main or main and dessert) were just £9.95. Again, there were a number of appetising options including Steak & Ale Pie with Lyonnaise Potatos and Broccoli, Goat’s Cheese, Sweet Potato & Leek Lasagne with Buttered New Potatoes & Green Beans and Golden Crumbed Salmon & Hake Fishcakes with Fries, Rocket & Parmesan Salad.

There was also a section labelled Classics listing some main dishes such as Beer Battered Plaice with Mint Pea Puree and the Homemade Beef Burger. These were priced between £6.95 and £12.95 and were not included in the lunch special offer. A sandwich selection included fillings such as Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Mediterranean Vegetables and Crayfish Marie Rose with Rocket.

Inside The Green Dragon is modern without being too anodyne. Lots of light floods in through the windows, the furniture is comfortable and the staff smile often.

As indecisive as ever I decided to order two starters instead of a main and chose the Pan fried Chicken Livers on Toasted Ciabatta and the Golden Crumbed Brie Wedges with Fruits of the Forest Compote. I asked for them to be served together, at the same time as Pete’s Duo of Free Range Pork Sausages on a bed of Creamy Mash, Parsnip Crisps and Onion Gravy which they were.

My chicken livers on ciabatta and my fried brie and compote

The chicken livers were cooked as I like them – properly browned on the outside and pink inside. They hadn’t been fussed with, just a drizzle of what I first took to be balsamic but which I think may have been some kind of beetroot reduction, and some plain salad. Tasty! The brie was my favourite – the cheese itself had a decent flavour, unlike some of the more insipid examples of the variety and was beautifully melted inside the golden crumbs. The fruit compote was a wonderful mix of soft blueberries, tart raspberries and a sweet berry sauce. This dish may be ubiquitous but The Green Dragon made a very enjoyable dish from the cliché.

Pete had a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and I had a soft drink. Our total bill came to less than £19. For a well cooked, well presented meal served by friendly staff, I think this is very reasonable.


Pete enjoying his pint

Address: The Green Dragon, 2 St. Albans Road, Barnet, Herts. EN5 4RE | Tel: 020 8449 2972 | Web:

 

I recently blogged about my first attempt using a slow cooker which didn’t come out quite as well as I hoped. I tried again yesterday and this time, I was delighted with the results.

Yesterday morning I put into the slow cooker crockpot some chopped onions and carrots, a number of bayleaves and a small free range chicken. Over that I poured half a bottle of white wine we’d had lurking in the cupboard for years and the same again of boiling water. I switched the cooker on to high for the next hour and a half before turning it down to medium. (The low setting is, I’ve been told, just for keeping food warm once cooked and not for actually cooking anything).

It didn’t take long for wonderful smells to fill the kitchen and, later, the whole house but I didn’t get my hopes up since the last one smelled pretty good too. That said, this one smelled even better!

After 1.5 hours on high and 6.5 on medium it was time to eat and Pete helped me lift the bird carefully out of the pot and into a large waiting dish. I’d been warned it would be so soft it might not stay in one piece, and indeed one of the legs fell off during the transfer.

The meat was beautifully soft and it didn’t take me long to separate every last scrap of it from the skin and bones. I put half aside for a risotto for tomorrow night and we had half for dinner. With roast potatoes and some of the unctuous carrots, it was a lovely evening meal.

Later, we drained the cooking liquid and now find ourselves with a full litre of unbelievably tasty and rich stock. I’ve put 600 ml into the freezer and will use the remainder to make the risotto tomorrow night.

And, just to see whether it was worthwhile, I put all the skin and bones of the chicken back into the slow cooker together with the same carrots and onions I used first time around (perhaps should have used fresh?) plus the other half of the wine, 750 ml of water and some fresh bay leaves. I wasnt sure whether there would be flavour left in those bones to make a second stock. To my surprise, the second stock was also rich and full of flavour, so that’s another 750 ml of good stock to put into the freezer!

I’m so pleased at how the dish came out (though I completely forgot to take any photos) that I’m definitely keen to use the slow cooker again. (I’m borrowing it from my mum for a few weeks to help us decide whether or not we want to get one ourselves).

 

I adore alphonso mangoes, I really do! I’ve loved them as long as I can remember and they come right at the very top of my (very long) list of favourite foods. They used to be harder to find in the UK when I was a kid but these days, not only does nearly every Indian grocer and cash and carry in the country sell them, so too do some of the major supermarkets.

Only in season for 2-3 months alphonso mangoes are to those fat red and green simulacrums what the sun is to a 30 watt lightbulb. They put them to shame. Alphonso Mango for president!

Having remembered that the season was here at last, my number one plan for this morning was to head out and find my own box of manna from heaven. Luckily, our small local Indian grocery didn’t disappoint.

AlphonsoMango-7993 AlphonsoMango-7990 AlphonsoMango-7994

Having bought my prize home, I managed to resist diving in until after we got back home from a (fruitless) excursion to find a small square cast iron garden table, made less disappointing by diverting for a very tasty country pub lunch.

For those who’ve never enjoyed an alphonso mango (also known as the afoos or hapoos mango) the flavour is so wonderfully sweet, so perfumed and heady that you will, on trying your first one, surely fall as deeply in love with them as me.

Be warned though that they ripen quickly and have a short shelf life. I’ll be polishing off my box of 12 pretty fast!

 

Having occasionally caught snatches of The Urban Chef series back in 2006, I was aware of OIiver Rowe’s project to serve food made from locally-sourced ingredents, within Greater London if possible, in his King’s Cross restaurant. I was intrigued by the idea but, whilst I didn’t dismiss it as a gimmick as did some contemporary reviews, I forgot all about it until looking for a restaurant near King’s Cross for dinner with a friend last night. Konstam fit the bill for something a little different.

Arriving in the (still slightly seedy, despite the much-hyped “up and coming” tag) locality half an hour before my reservation (and my friend), with little in the way of (open) local cafes in which to while away the time, I go into The Prince Albert early. Disappointingly, none of the tables for 2 were located near to the open kitchen (allowing a great view of the chefs at work) so I choose one across the room instead and settle down with a glass of Chegworth Valley apple juice (from Kent) and the menu.

I’m quite surprised by the small size of the dining area; it has room for just 44 covers. It gives the space quite an intimate atmosphere. The decor is, at first glance, a little overwhelming, with a somewhat dark teal paint covering floorboards, walls, ceiling and chairs too; quite a dark colour to be used so liberally. The ceilings are strung with offbeat silver chain modern chandeliers; so many they create the impression of shimmering fabric draped above. But surprisingly, the overall effect is actually quite calming. The table tops, of pale green with a pale wooden edge, are left bare and dressed simply with plain glassware, a white cloth napkin and cutlery and a pretty glass bottle with a single pale green bloom. Open shelves around the room house glassware, drinks, a collection of recipe books and numerous gigantic jars of what I assume is home-made chutney.

A note at the bottom of the menu advises that Konstam sources “over 80% of it’s produce from in & around Greater London”. The website defines that as “the area covered by the London Underground network”, which I find an agreeable way of picturing it.

By the time my friend arrives bang on time for our 7pm reservation the space is filling up fast and it becomes quite challenging to catch the eye of one of the 3 waiting staff looking after the diners. Whilst service is warm and helpful throughout, this difficulty remains throughout the evening and leads to some longer than necessary delays, particularly at the point of being able to place our order and receive our bill. Still, as we’re meeting to catch up, the lapses aren’t too frustrating.

My friend has a glass of English white wine, and later, a glass of English red, both of which she enjoys. After my apple juice I order a glass of Konstam kir pétillant made with homemade marmelade. Luckily for me, it’s made with a sweeter sparkling wine than the usual brut which suits my taste buds perfectly. I really like the idea of marmalade rather than a cordial or fruit liqueur as a base and even ask for a spoon to scoop up the alcohol soaked rind at the bottom!

And on to the food: I have the Amersham pigeon wrapped in bacon with roast onion and hazelnut salad. The pigeon is served nicely rare and, with the bacon, packs a great gamey savoury punch. The salad of onion and hazelnut with herb leaves, is a delight; I would not have thought to pair hazelnut with meat but like it very much. My friend starts with the Norbury Blue, marjoram and onion tart with cabbage and walnut salad and seems equally happy with her choice.


My pigeon starter (sorry it’s blurry)



The tart

We both have the Charcoal grilled leg of Amersham lamb with fried potatoes, wild garlic, salt-packed Mersea sprat and white wine and rosemary sauce. When the dish arrives I wonder if the lamb’s a touch overcooked but I needn’t have worried – it’s tender and tasty. The wine and rosemary sauce works well with it. Although wild garlic has been growing in popularity over the years, I’ve somehow managed to miss it until now and am now lamenting all the time I’ve wasted. The dark green leaves have a strong metallic, mineral tang – like spinach – combined with the much loved flavour of garlic – lovely! The thin slivers of sprat seem a little superfluous but I finish them in one, salty bite. The fried potatoes are moreish and we both agree that they give the dish the welcome feel of comforting and well-executed home cooking. This is something that extends throughout the menu which is as packed with wonderful flavours, as one would expect from a good restaurant, without resorting to ostentatious techniques and showy presentation.


My lamb (sorry it’s blurry)

Neither of us can resist the Lavender and mamalade ice-creams & brandy snap which are as delicious as they sound. Neither are overly sweet, which the marmalade ice-cream in particular benefits from. The lavender ice-cream is the very essence of summer. The brandy snap is delicate; my friend says it’s like lace, as she peers through a piece.

Our bill comes to £83 plus tip. Given the quality of the food we both agree we’d come again, though the walk from Angel (on my part) and King’s Cross (on my friend’s) through somewhat grotty streets is mildly offputting, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it alone in the dark. This from two women perfectly happy to walk alone through streets lined with sex shops and drinking dens in some areas of Central London. If there are 3 or 4 in your party, I’d recommend asking for table next to the kitchen work surface, if you fancy watching Rowe and his team in action.

Konstam on Urbanspoon
Apr 222009
 

Pete first cooked the quick and easy Beef Stroganov from Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food several months ago. I liked it so much I wanted him to cook it the very next night but he’s kept me hanging till tonight. It was just as delicious as I remembered.

Yes, I know it’s odd to serve it in Yorkshire puddings but it’s what I really, really fancied so Pete indulged my whims!

We adjusted the amounts according to the nearest pack sizes available; it’s a pretty flexible recipe in terms of volumes. I’m listing the ingredients as we used them. The original ingredient details and volumes are provided in brackets in the ingredients list, below.

Ingredients
225 grams/8 oz rump steak (original recipe: tenderloin)
1 teaspoon paprika
salt
freshly ground black pepper
Butter for frying (
original recipe: 75 grams/ 3 oz)
Olive oil for frying (
original recipe: 1 tablespoon)
1 medium onion, diced (
original recipe: 175 grams/ 60z, sliced)
250 grams/ 9 0z brown mushrooms, quartered (
original recipe: 175 grams/ 6 oz)
1 tablespoon smooth French mustard
150 ml/ 6 fluid oz sour cream (
original recipe: 100 ml/ 4 oz)

Method

  • Trim the fat from the beef and cut into short strips, about a centimetre wide.
  • Quarter the mushrooms and dice or slice the onions.


  • Roll the beef strips in the paprika, salt and pepper and put aside.

  • In a large frying pan/ saute pan heat some butter and olive oil, add the onions and cook until soft.



  • Add the mushrooms and cook until tender.

  • In a second pan, melt some butter and cook the beef strips until the outsides are brown and the inside pink; it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.


  • Stir the mustard into the onion and mushrooms mixture and then tip the beef (and juices) in too.

  • Pour in the sour cream and stir through to heat.



 

I’ve been thinking about getting a slow cooker for quite a while. They seem to be going through a resurgence, perhaps in response to the recession and the growing interest in cooking cheaper cuts of meat slow and long, perhaps just because it’s time for this fashion to come around again. Certainly, I’ve been reading various posts about them on foodie chat boards for quite a while.

But I couldn’t decide whether I’d really use a slow cooker very much or whether it would end up being a white elephant along the lines of the electric donut maker my sister bought for my husband (yes, really – he asked for it, since he’s a bit of a J.Homeresque donut-fan, but it really wasn’t good) and the ice-cream machine that I bought myself last year (which has seen a little more use, at least). Being undecisive, as I am, my mum kindly suggested I borrow hers for a few weeks to help me make up my mind.

She delivered it on Thursday evening and I planned my first trial for Saturday. My sister-in-law was visiting and she and Pete had an agenda of lots of hard manual labour in our garden. A hearty casserole seemed just the thing to feed to them that evening.

Having read lots and lots and lots of approximate recipes, ideas and advice I bought myself some decent quality cubed steak, carrots, onions, garlic and some ready-made beef stock. (Although I do like making stock at home, it’s nearly always chicken since we rarely buy/ cook beef on the bone. I’d intended to pick up a pot of fresh stock but as there wasn’t any available, I opted to try the relatively new Knorr beef stockpots instead).

So on Saturday morning I peeled and chopped the onions, cut them into eights and put them at the bottom of the slow cooker crock. The carrots were peeled, chopped and added in. And in went 3 bulbs of garlic cloves, mostly whole though somewhat crushed (as that’s how I peel them, pushing down on them via the knife blade with the palm of my hand). I had planned to add potato too but realised there wouldn’t enough room so, on top of the vegetables, I spread out the meat. I dissolved one of the stockpot jellies into 400 (instead of the recommended 500) ml of boiling water and poured this over the meat. And then added 100 ml of port. And a sprinkle of rosemary.

And then popped on the lid, turned the slow cooker to high and left it going for an hour and a half. After that I turned it down to medium and left it another 5 hours. At this point, whilst I expected it to still need more time I was surprised that the meat, whilst cooked, was not yet tender at all. More worryingly, whilst the kitchen smelled absolutely wonderful, the taste of the dish was extremely bland.

I decided to throw in another stockpot jelly, a very generous squirt of double concentrated tomato puree and some more rosemary and turned the heat back up to the high setting for the next 2.5 hours. And crossed my fingers.

Luckily, the extra time, at high heat, did render the meat lovely and tender and the extra stockpot and tomato puree provided much more flavour.

Much to my surprise, I didn’t need to thicken the liquid before serving either. I’d fully expected to, given what I’d read about slow cookers in preparation. Not only was the sauce reasonably thick, as I served the stew over plain boiled potatoes, it was easy to mash some of the potato into the sauce too.

All in all, I was relieved that the final result turned out OK and was even relatively pleasant. But I was disappointed that it wasn’t more special. For example, whilst the long, slow cooking did make the garlic mild rather than strident, as it is when raw, it didn’t render it into a sweet, unctuous mush, as I would have expected had I cooked it in an oven.

If anyone has some tried and tested slow cooker recipes that are guaranteed to impress and to get me hooked on the slow cooker phenomenon, please do share! My plan for the coming weekend is to cook a whole chicken, with just a little stock at the bottom for moisture.

Apr 122009
 

We’d only made hot cross buns once before and, to be honest, they were disappointing. The texture of the bread just wasn’t right let alone the spicing and balance of fruit. This time, I decided to find a tried and tested recipe from one of the knowledgable posters on the BBC Food Chat board. When I say “I”, what I really mean is “we”, since Pete is definitely the master baker in this household! In the end we couldn’t decide between two recipes (by users X and Cherrytreeagain), so we amalgamated both. We also halved the amounts to make just 6 rolls instead of 12.

Well, we must have done something right, as the resulting hot cross buns were delicious! If I’d known they’d come out this well we’d have made the full 12!

I’m providing the recipe amounts doubled back up again to make 12. Note, we didn’t bother with crosses (though we probably will next time) or a glaze (which neither of us like).

Hot Cross Buns
(Makes 12)

Ingredients for buns
7 grams easy blend yeast
40 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
450 grams strong white bread flour
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
Half teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg (or a grating or two of fresh)
50 grams butter
140 grams currants, sultanas and/or raisins (dried weight)
Water, to soak dried fruits
50 grams chopped mixed peel
1/4 pint warm milk
1/4 pint liquid reserved after soaking dried fruits

Optional: Ingredients for crosses
75 grams flour
Milk, enough to make a pipable paste

Optional: Ingredients for glaze
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons sugar

Method

  • Soak currants, sultanas and/or raisins overnight in just enough water to cover.
  •  Drain dried fruits (reserving the liquid) just before making dough.
  •  Mix spices into flour.

 

  • Rub butter into flour until large crumbs form.

 

  • Add sugar, fruit, peel, yeast, 1/4 pint of warm milk and 1/4 pint of the soaking liquid and mix until the mixture combines into an elastic ball and leaves the side of the bowl easily. Note: It is better for the dough to be slack (wet) rather than tight (dry). Knead for a few minutes.

 


  • Cover and leave to double in size.


  • Knock back and knead again.
  • Shape into 12 rounds and put onto baking tray lined with non-stick paper or silicon baking sheet.

  •  Cover and leave to double in size.
  •  Optional: Mix flour and milk into paste and pipe crosses onto buns.
  •  Bake at 200C (fan oven) for 20 minutes.

 

  • Optional: A few minutes before the buns are ready to come out, mix milk and sugar and heat until sugar has dissolved. Brush over the cooked buns and return to oven just for a minute before removing.
  • Leave to cool briefly before eating or you’ll burn your fingers like we did!

Happy baking!

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