Jul 272009
 

So the apple cinnamon jelly went wrong! Those of you who follow my antics on twitter, facebook, LJ or even in real life (whatever that is!) will already have heard of my woes with the jelly. The chutney, various pickles, ketchups, marmalade and jams all came out beautifully. But that darn apple jelly, a recipe mum has made without a hitch for decade upon decade, went wrong.

But the thick, sticky accidental concoction tasted far too good to throw away so we’ve been racking our brains to think of a way to utilise it’s wonderfully caramelised texture and flavour. My clever colleague, Jill, came up with my favourite solution: jam tarts!

Here’s the first experimentation and I’m pleased to say that the caramelised apple cinnamon jelly is an absolutely perfect filling!


The pastry recipe we used needs work – more butter and more liquid to make it moister and more pliable. But I did really like the inclusion of orange zest, which adds a real zing to the tart case, so will be keeping that element of the recipe. (I happen to have about 6 tiny bags of orange zest in the freezer from oranges I zested before eating some months ago, and for which I’ve been seeking uses, so double happiness).

No recipe to share as the filling was an accident and the pastry needs reworking!

Jul 252009
 

So, we unexpectedly had a boned forerib joint of beef on our hands! What to do? We popped half of it into the freezer and roasted the other half for an indulgent weeknight dinner.

With it we enjoyed potatoes harvested from the garden just minutes before cooking, a beautiful yellow courgette and two teeny tiny parsnips that were far too small to have been pulled! Oops!

Now, I have to be honest, I wasn’t that excited about trying the boned joint. We switched to rib of beef for our roast dinners a couple of years ago when I finally got round to trying it and realised the hype was true – it’s a truly marvellous cut of beef. And we buy it regularly from our local Waitrose. Waitrose has a pretty good reputation for the quality of it’s meat so I just assumed the Abel & Cole version would be more of the same but for a higher price. It had really been the bone in joint I’d wanted to try as that’s a cut I’ve not found easy to source locally and is reputed to be even better.

To my shock, the flavour of this beef absolutely blew me away. As soon as it came out of the oven I (as the Mrs Spratt of the family) sliced off some of the crisped fat. The orgasmic sounds started there and then! And all the way through the meal I just couldn’t stop myself oohing and aahing and making delighted comments about how exceedingly good the meat was. I was so repetitive about it Pete near as damnit told me to shut the hell up! The texture was as good as it always is for this cut, and the moistness that results from the marbling of fat was evident too – so far so expected. But it was the flavour that was so unexpectedly fantastic. I cannot remember the last time I so enjoyed a piece of beef in any format or dish.

Some of you may assume that I’m being extra nice because of the free nature of this beef. Anyone who knows me in person knows I’m far too blunt for that! (And did you see my comment on the utterly manky carrots I received in my first free delivery?)

This beef genuinely left me gobsmacked. Before we ate it, I was curious about how it could possibly justify it’s £26 price tag. Now I’m thinking about how far in advance I should order for Christmas Day! Yeah, really!



Oh and our first home-grown roasties were delicious too as was the courgette. It had grown so much in the last couple of days before we harvested it that I’d worried it may have gone too far towards bland marrowhood but it was sweet and flavoursome and a great foil to the beef. The parsnips didn’t taste of anything much and I’m hoping another few months underground will turn them into something more special.

 

Some of you may know I’ve been working on produce for my day manning a stall of my own on the Real Food Market at Covent Garden (27th August).

These pictures are just a small selection from two marathon sessions up at my parents’ house in Luton. Thank goodness for my mum and my cousin, who shared the heavy workload!


Spicy Tomato Ketchup

Apple and Sultana Chutney

Tamarind ketchup – it took so long to hand squeeze that sauce mum’s pouring from the tamarind blocks soaked in water – ouch!





Apple jelly – well it was back then; now it’s caramelised chewiness!


Chilli and ginger pickle


Lemon Pickle

A different chilli pickle




My favourite of the lot – nectarine and amaretto jam
 

(Skip to the end for the recipe)

Being invited to review Abel & Cole organic meat deliveries

When Abel & Cole’s PR contacted me about reviewing their products several weeks ago, I mentioned that I would be much more interested in reviewing their organic meat than the fruit and vegetables.

We’d trialled a Well Thrifty Box from the Well Hung Meat Company some weeks previously (which I really ought to summarise in a separate blog post at some point) and have been investigating other suppliers too. Ideally we’d like to try a few alternatives before a) working out which one we like best for quality, money and service and b) whether any of the options beat popping to Waitrose (2 minutes walk from our house) and buying what we need as we want it.

Their first delivery contained a mixed fruit and veg box, the contents of which were very inconsistent in quality, plus an organic chicken; a beautiful bird – plump, firm meat which, when cooked, retained both moisture and a firm texture and tasted wonderful.

So I was delighted when I was offered further meat products to assess and review.

Problems with the delivery

Friday’s delivery was duly arranged to include an boneless half leg of lamb and a bone in forerib joint of beef. I’d specifically mentioned that I’d like to try a bone in beef joint as this is something I find hard to source in local shops (Waitrose included) and would be interested in ordering online if it proves to be as good as I hear and read. So I was particularly pleased that Abel & Cole were generous enough to include it in my second delivery.

The meat arrived in the usual polystyrene box, wrapped in plastic and surrounded by ice-packs. Opening any deliveries that arrive by post is always a little like Christmas for me – even when I’m expecting the package and know just what’s inside.

Lamb? Tick! A fine looking piece of meat. Perfect for the family BBQ at my parents’ home on Sunday.

Beef? Oh no! Instead of the bone in joint, we find a boneless forerib instead. Scratch the plan to make stock from the bones!

Quickly, we check the paperwork. The receipt confirms that the order was placed correctly for boneless lamb and bone in beef. Looking at the beef itself, the label clearly reads Boned Forerib. I scramble onto the A & C website and notice an odd thing – firstly, although the text on the packet reads Boned Forerib, the product code, in slightly larger text, is the code for the bone in joint we expected. And what’s more A & C don’t even list a boned forerib joint!

I drop a note to the PR and marketing ladies and explain the mistake. “Exactly how would your customer services team respond to this mistake for a regular, paying customer”, I ask? “I’m reviewing not just the product but your full service”, after all.

The issue is passed across to Greg in Customer Services and the response I get is a good one: The letter starts with a sincere apology, a full refund for the beef joint and some information about how feedback on mistakes feeds back into the process and helps them to reduce repetition of such errors going forward. Chris goes on to make the following offer:

“I can’t apologise enough for the inconvenience this has caused you and in the light of the problems you’ve experienced previously I would be more than happy to offer you the Forerib Joint, Bone In (1.5kg avg) free of charge next week should this be convenient for you. I would also hope you might be able to use the boned and rolled joint you have received in error as we would be happy for you to keep the item without charge. If it is no longer convenient for you to receive the beef joint we could always arrange to send you a free bottle of wine or olive oil as an apology instead.”

The problem for me lies in the inconsistency – having made meal plans based on what one has ordered, it’s very frustrating to receive something different (or of unusable quality) and have to juggle those plans at the last minute. Of course, A & C’s generous attitude when putting mistakes right absolutely takes the edge off that frustration – after all, the upshot is that the customer receives two (very expensive, in this case) items for free – but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re not getting it right in the first place.

On one hand, their genuine warmth and desire to make amends when reacting to mistakes is commendable. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to see that the quality control issues that plagued them some years ago are still prevalent.

It’s all about the sumac!

I earmarked the lamb for a family BBQ at my parents’ house long before it arrived. As I’d already promised that I’d be bringing and preparing it, I was relieved it was the beef and not the lamb that had been mixed up.

But what preparation for the lamb would suit being cooked on a BBQ and also work well with the loosely Indian-themed dishes mum had planned? I was stumped and asked for advice on food chat boards and from the twitter food blogger community.

Sumac seems to be one of the flavours of the moment and was recommended by quite a few folks so I plumped for a sumac-based marinade suggested by fellow food blogger, Gillthepainter, though I decided against the almond yoghurt sauce she made as an accompaniment.

I’ve never cooked with sumac before and actually had no idea what flavour it would give. Luckily, I did know where to find some as a small Iranian and Mediterranean shop has very recently opened just around the corner from us!

I blitzed the sumac with garlic, ground coriander seeds, olive oil and seasoning and rubbed and squished the resulting paste over and into my lamb, which I left to marinate in the fridge overnight.

In the event, the skies opened with a monsoon-like deluge and we switched to an indoor feast.

Honestly, I can’t remember how long we roasted the lamb for – there was so much going on – but it was cooked just as I’d wanted – nicely brown on the outside with one end cooked medium and the other medium rare.

The lamb was absolutely lovely. Tender, moist, firm meat with a lovely flavour – a beautiful piece of meat. The marinade succeeded in the difficult task of allowing the lamb to shine whilst serving up something a little different.

The sumac gives what I would describe as quite a subtle citrusy flavour – not what I was expecting at all. It worked well with the garlic and coriander seeds and gave a pretty pinky-red colour to the dish.

I was gratified to see guests go back not just for seconds but for thirds too, with a number of comments about how good the lamb meat was.

Jul 182009
 

W’eve been harvesting more beautiful produce from the garden!

Despite the mildewy leaves, the courgette plants seem to be fruiting happily. We picked three beautiful specimens, leaving a number of smaller fruits to grow bigger.


As you can see,the three courgettes came to a whopping 828 grams and we used them, chopped, in a huge pan of Thai red curry with chicken thighs and peas. We made enough to freeze portions for 6 more meals for 2 plus the one we’ve already eaten.

Yum!

Jul 162009
 

In June we thrilled to the taste of our (first ever) home-grown sugarsnap peas, enjoying good yields eaten raw in crunchy, flavoursome salads.

July will be the month of our (first ever) regular peas!

We’ve been growing our own vegetables for several years now and have been enjoying savoy cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, courgettes and sweetcorn for a long time. Each year we’ve increased not only the volume but the variety of what we sow. This year we’ve added the two varieties of peas not to mention parnsips. And it’s only our second year for carrots, peppers and aubergines. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share our harvest with you throughout the year, as well as some interesting recipes using all our produce!

On Monday evening, within minutes of my arriving home, Pete and I were out in the garden harvesting peas! We’d shared the peas from just one single pod a week previously and knew our peas were sweet and good!

Picking only a share of the many pods hanging pendulously on the plants, we returned indoors and started to shell. With superhuman willpower we resisted popping peas like candy as we shelled and I’m thus able to report that our first harvest provided us with a whopping 238 grams of beautiful peas!

I ate my share just as they were, unadorned and unadultered. Pete ate his portion lightly boiled with chocolate mint (from the garden) and butter.

Pea-rfect!

And the winner is…

15 Jul 2009  Comments Off
Jul 152009
 

Having spent most of the day on my feet making chutneys, pickles, ketchups, sauces and jellies I’m now wondering why I didn’t go to bed earlier last night and leave the draw until Friday!

But in a crazy fit of excitement I stayed up till just after midnight so that I could ensure that all entries were received, and then get on with drawing a winner.

All the names were listed in order of the comments being posted and then I simply used a random number generator tool to pick the winner for me.


I know the time stamp is wrong but it was after midnight UK time!

And the lucky winner is… Danny aka FoodUrchin aka Daisy! (Who managed to freak me out on twitter earlier today when he asked, with strange prescience, whether I knew who the winner was yet!)

Congratulations, Danny!

Danny wins a box of 12 Artisan du Chocolate Couture Collection chocolates. The box will contain two each of Banana & Thyme, Tobacco, Green Cardamom, Coriander Praline, Feuillantine and Verbena.*

Danny, please drop me a note with your postal address and I’ll pass it on to Artisan du Chocolat who will assemble your box and post it directly to you. I hope you’ll love the chocolates as much as I do!

*If any of these are unavailable on the day the box is assembled Artisan du Chocolat will substitute others from the Couture Collection.

 

Somewhat galetted and creped out, Pete and I decided to treat ourselves to a resolutely foodie lunch on our last full day in France. Finding ourselves in Vannes late that morning, I checked both my (Eyewitness) guide book and the printed recommendations I’d garnered online and found they both converged in an enthusiastic recommendation of Table des Gourmets. Having phoned to check they were open for lunch, we duly enjoyed an amble through the beautiful streets of the old town, pausing in two chocolate shops and a covered food market, as you do!

Vannes

But when we finally made our way to the address (6 Rue Alexandre-le-Pontois), directly opposite the beautiful old ramparts of Vannes, we realised that a new restaurant had taken the place of Table des Gourmets. It hadn’t occured to me to verify the restaurant’s name when I’d called – I’d asked only whether they were open and if they had both a la carte and fixed price menus available.

But the menus posted outside Les Remparts looked appealing and the welcome was warm so we decided to let fate guide us. We were quickly seated inside by the window.

Lacey net curtains obscured the view out, which is a shame, given the location just across the road from the Château d l’Hermine and the beautiful formal gardens infront of it (laid out in the former moat). They also concealed the more mundane sight of constant traffic, so not entirely without merit!

The interior successfully balanced a traditional décor with a clean, modern finish. Dark panels on the lower walls and dark, bare wooden tables on a tiled floor were lifted by buttery yellow paint on the upper walls and lots of natural light. Walls were adorned with a few simple artworks and hanging blackboards listing specials, set menus and wine lists.

Menus

With our menu we were bought a pot of soft white fish meat with a basket of little toasts. Fresh, light, moist fish delicately flavoured with fresh green herbs, it was a lovely start.

M Bertrand – the owner of Les Remparts

As I more commonly go for seafood than fish, I was unfamiliar with many of the French names for fish but the waiter was happy to describe them to me (in French) along with their preparation. Pete had an easier choice, as he didn’t feel like fish (in which the restaurant specialises). As well as the a la carte menu we could also have chosen from a lunchtime menu, a daily suggestions board and a special set menu.

I went for the set Menu Gourmand at 36 € for starter, main, cheese and dessert. Pete ordered a starter and main from the standard menu; we decided to share the cheese and dessert from mine.

Bread and “the” butter!

Orders taken, we were served a basket of fresh white bread and a pat of butter, perched on a large pebble. And oh, that butter! The waiter (who by then, we’d discovered was also the owner, Bertrand Séjourné) saw our delighted expressions and nodded sagely as he explained it was a local butter and that Brittany excels in producing high quality dairy. On the evidence of this butter alone, I was willing to concede superiority on behalf of the rest of the dairy producing world!

Foie gras mi-cuit

We both started with the Foie gras de canard mi-cuit, chutney carottes & dattes. We adore foie gras mi-cuit and the slabs we were served did not disappoint; buttery-rich, velvety-smooth and utterly self-indulgent.

St Pierre (John Dory)

The main on my Menu Gourmand was St Pierre smackée, blettes & aperges, marmalade de champignons. The John Dory was simply and perfectly cooked. The vegetables were flavoursome though, as is the French style, cooked softer than would be common in London restaurants. (And it’s we Brits with a reputation for boiling our vegetables to death!) The mushroom marmalade, which I’d describe as duxelles, was packed with earthy funghi flavours. I enjoyed this all the more because of it’s rarity for me – I most commonly order meat or seafood over fish, when given the choice. No bad thing for me to be channelled into a bit of a change as I really enjoyed it.

Chicken

Pete chose Blanc de volaille laqué, légumes croquants, émulsion d’herbes which was so much punchier than it’s description suggests. The chicken meat was very moist and tender and most wonderfully flavoured with a red marinade on th meat and a green herb oil alongside. The vegetables were cut thinly, lightly cooked and balanced the dish well.

I’m afraid I neither took a photo nor notes on the cheese plate, though we did enjoy it. Only one of the cheeses was relatively local (from within the province but not the department). Given the high volumes of dairy production, I expressed surprise that Brittany doesn’t have the plethora of local cheeses common to most regions of France.

Gratin de fruits rouges

The Menu Gourmand allowed me to choose our dessert from either the specials board or the main menu. I opted for Gratin de fruits rouges which was a fantastic choice. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and cherries were all the best of their class – fresh, ripe and oozing berry goodness. These were blanketed in a light, sweet sabayon with gratinated sugar. Though the fruits had a wonderful natural sweetness the fruit and sabayon combination was irresistable!

During and after our meal we chatted to M Bertrand about our visit, about our difficulty in finding small local artisan food and drink producers open to visits from tourists and about many things food!

The wine menu

He also told us very proudly about his wine list, virtually all organic and certainly all produced using natural methods. “Des vins d’auteur”, he called them, and then, in English, “wines with soul”. This, as well as the provenance of his ingredients (something I’d have liked to discuss with him in more detail) is clearly something he is passionate about.

Bill paid, we continued on our way (to the impressive standing stones of Carnac), having been able to give just the briefest of greetings to the female chef who ventured shyly out of the kitchen once the lunchtime service had ended.

Our chance find had been a serendipitous one – this self-styled Restaurant & Bistrot à vins had delivered good quality ingredients simply and deftly prepared – certainly our best meal of the week.

 

Dinner first…

Tonight I thought I’d make an effort to use up more of the contents of the mixed fruit and veg box we received from Abel & Cole last Friday.


Burgers with mushrooms and spuds

Wednesday’s dinner was simple – Waitrose fresh beef burgers served with mushrooms (chopped and fried) and royal jersey potatoes (boiled and served with butter).

For dessert I figured I’d better eat the large mango – it was feeling soft and ripe and might well be past it’s best by Friday, when we’d next have a chance.

But, as regular readers will know, I’m a mango snob. I prefer the wrinkly green-to-yellow Asian varieties of mango of which alphonso and kesar are the stars. The depth of flavour and the heady perfume of these mangoes put the fat, rounded red-green ones in the shade.

Sure enough, when I cut into the mango, which was perfectly ripe, it was neither as sweet or as flavoursome as I would like, though nice enough.

Mango – great condition, ripe but lacking flavour and sweetness

What to do?

A while ago I particularly enjoyed a salsa (served with empanadas in a South American chain restaurant) and guessed that it contained mango, tomato, red onion, mint and coriander. With that in mind I decided to combine coriander and mango into a dessert dish.

And for dessert – Kavey’s Coriander-Marinated Mango

I chopped up the flesh, threw in a few spoons of white sugar, mixed in lots of chopped fresh coriander leaves and left it in the fridge for just under an hour.

Delicious! Though you can’t see the juicy syrup that was created!

When I came to eat it the sugar had drawn some of the juices out of the mango flesh to create a delicious syrup and the coriander had imparted it’s unique taste. The combination was absolutely terrific, even better than I’d hoped, and one I’ll definitely do again.

Jul 012009
 

Whilst I was delighted with the quality of Abel & Cole’s chicken their fruit and vegetables continue to be a mixed bag (or should that be box), just as they were when we finally cancelled our order back in 2007.

I’ve already posted about the rubbery carrots and the slightly yellowing giant spinach leaves. The fruit was in far better condition and I looked forward to biting into the smooth, attractive nectarines. Small but perfectly formed, these nectarines looked beautiful!

When I did so on Tuesday evening, they were perfectly ripe, soft and full of juice – but oh so very sharp!

Now, I’m known for my overly sweet tooth so I passed the fruit over to my husband – he has a taste for much sharper fruit than I. He too dismissed the nectarine as far too sharp to eat. I bit into nectarine after nectarine until a pile of 6 nectarines sat next to me, each one with a small bite taken out of it. Not one was sweet enough to eat and yet so soft and juicy with ripeness they could not have been left any longer without rotting.

Determined not to waste the fruit I roughly cut the flesh away from the 6 small fruits and threw it into a small pan with some white sugar and stewed it for several minutes until the fruit released some of it’s juice and this mixed in with the sugar to create a tasty sweet syrup.


Still a touch sharp for my tastes, I should probably have added a little more sugar. I ate these as they were but they would have been lovely with a dollop of creme fraiche or mascarpone.

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