Ice Cream Wednesday started out as an evening of ice cream making amongst friends, after my friend Dom (the founder of Chocablog) and I were both loaned an Gaggia ice cream machine to review. I took my machine to Dom’s place and we gathered 11 of us together, along with an eclectic range of ingredients, and made 9 delicious frozen concoctions.

Dom has kindly given me permission to share his chocolate and honey sorbet recipe here as part of the #icecreamwednesday series, though you can also find it over at Chocablog. Over to Dom:


Ever since Gaggia lent me an ice cream maker to play with, I’ve been experimenting with it, making random ice creams with whatever happens to be available. But this has become my favourite thing to make, as it’s so simple and incredibly chocolatey!

This sorbet has all the flavour and texture of a rich, creamy chocolate ice cream, but has the benefit of being completely dairy free and incredibly easy to make – provided you have access to an ice cream maker!

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Chocablog’s Chocolate & Honey Sorbet

Ingredients

350ml water
100g caster sugar
200g dark chocolate
1tbsp honey
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt

Method

  • The first thing to do is dissolve the sugar in the water. You can make the sorbet mixture in a saucepan, but I just used a large pyrex jug, adding the sugar to boiling water from the kettle, stirring, then placing in the microwave for a minute to bring back to the boil.
  • Break the chocolate into pieces, then start to add to the hot water a little at a time. Use a whisk to vigorously stir the mixture each time until the chocolate has melted into the liquid. Repeat until all the chocolate is melted, whisking each time.

  • Add the honey, vanilla extract and salt, and whisk thoroughly again to make sure there are no lumps.
  • Allow the mixture to cool in the fridge, whisking occasionally to prevent any lumps forming. While it’s cooling, turn the ice cream maker on to pre-chill.
  • Add the mixture to the ice cream maker, set the timer for 30 minutes and start the machine.

  • When the machine has done its thing, transfer the sorbet to a plastic container and place in the freezer for a few hours (preferably over night) to firm up before serving.

You’ll find the sorbet melts very quickly, so for best results, pre-chill the bowls in the freezer too.

 

What’s In A Name?

Risotto – pronounced [ɾiˈzɔtːo]

a classic Italian dish of rice cooked in wine and stock to a naturally creamy consistency; traditionally made with high-starch, short grain rice varieties; the grains are usually toasted in butter and oil before liquid is added gradually; to finish finely grated parmesan cheese is stirred in

Rice is the key to risotto really; it’s in the name and everything…

Riso is rice. And -tto is, well, the rest of it!

But recently we made a delicious risotto-like dish using pearl spelt. Can’t call that risotto!

Sharpham Park call their pearl spelt products speltotto but I like the idea of sticking to an Italianate name and have plumped for farrotto.

 

About Spelt

When Sharpham Park asked me if we’d like to try their spelt products, it was initially the spelt flour that drew me to say yes. Pete is a great baker and has been baking ever better bread since we went on the Tom Herbert course earlier this year. The first spelt bread he made on receiving the Sharpham Park samples was a little heavy but with nice flavour.

Some people who have coeliac disease or a gluten allergy or intolerance, have found they can digest spelt with less difficulty than regular wheat. This is not because spelt has less gluten but is down to the molecular structure of the protein within spelt; it is shorter than in other cultivated wheat species and that’s what makes it easier for the human digestive system to break down. (Do get advice from your doctor or professional dietician before trying spelt, if other forms of flour are a problem for you).

Those same properties mean you can’t knead it as hard nor create as stretchy a dough. And it also has a lower absorption rate, meaning it needs less water to be added to achieve a workable dough. All this means that bakers must work differently when baking with spelt. Since his first attempt, Pete’s been working on adapting his recipes, kneading and proving times to suit spelt flour.

Spelt is an ancient species of wheat. During the bronze age, it spread widely across Europe and was an important staple through to medieval times.

Reading about the evolution of spelt is fascinating, not least because of a parallel speciation theory that the hybridisation between domesticated wheat and wild goatgrasses that created spelt may have happened not once but twice, independently in Asia and in Europe. Alternate theory states that spelt developed just once in the Middle East and was spread East and West to Europe and Asia by human cultivation.

Spelt fell out of favour because it has a tough, thick husk surrounding the kernel which makes it harder to separate the husk from the grain. It also has a lower yield per acre than newer varieties.

But it survived as a relict crop in northern Spain and central Europe (and also in the wild, I would imagine).

More recently, there has been a renewed interest in spelt for a number of different reasons.

I’ve already mentioned the increased market for spelt amongst some sufferers of coeliac disease. This is not the only segment of the health food market to show interest. Nutritionists claim that the nutrients in spelt are more “bioavailable”, that is more readily accessed and absorbed by the body during digestion, than in other wheats. Spelt is higher in protein than regular wheat, and is also a good source of zinc, complex B vitamins and riboflavin, the latter considered to reduce the frequency of migraines in sufferers.

The Romans referred to spelt as “Marching Grain” because of its high energy content.

There are also advantages for the farmer. Unlike modern varieties, spelt can grow well on poor soil – sandy or with poor drainage. It also requires less fertiliser than other varieties as its tough husk protects it from insects, which makes it particularly popular with organic farmers. That same tough husk also makes spelt grain more resistant to storage problems.

 

Chicken & Pea Farrotto With Braised Gem Lettuce

Spelt has a lovely nutty flavour, a little like wild rice. It works really well in a risotto-like dish and the cooking method is the same.

Ingredients (Farrotto)
Large knob of butter
120 grams pearled spelt per person
1 generous handful leftover roast chicken meat per person, chopped
1 small handful of peas, chopped mangetouts and/ or chopped sugarsnaps, per person
500 ml chicken stock per person
Ingredients (Braised Gem Lettuce)
Half a gem lettuce per person
Chicken stock to braise (see below)

Note: Amounts are approximate and can be varied by quite a large amount, according to what you have available. We used a selection of peas, harvested from the garden and leftover meat and stock from the previous night’s meal. The lettuce was also home-grown. Add water to the stock, if you don’t have enough.

Method

  • Wash the lettuce, chop the peas and leftover chicken and set aside.

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  • Put the stock on to heat.

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  • Fry the dry pearled spelt in butter for a couple of minutes, then add the warm stock bit by bit, letting it absorb into the grains before adding more.
  • Whilst the farrotto is cooking, cut the gem lettuces in half along their length, and place in a shallow baking dish. Add stock to come up about half way up the sides of the lettuce and bake in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes.

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  • Once the spelt is cooked (soft but not mushy), with a little excess liquid in the pan, tip in the meat and peas and stir through until piping hot. The chicken will absorb the extra liquid and result in a thick, untuous finish.

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  • Serve with braised lettuce over each portion.

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We absolutely loved the pearled spelt in place of the usual risotto rice and will definitely be making this dish again, as well as other farrotto recipes.

 

I’ve really been enjoying other bloggers’ My 7 Links posts.

The idea, as explained by Tripbase, is “to unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavour to share lessons learned and create a bank of forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.

Nominated by other bloggers, we are asked to share posts from our own blog, giving a link to one post for each of 7 categories. And to nominate 5 more bloggers to do the same.

I was nominated to take part by Nordic Nibbler, a Brit living in Oslo. His food blog is a great mix of Norwegian cooking and restaurants reviews, and London-based ones from his regular trips back to the UK.

So, without further ado, here are the posts I’m sharing with you as my most beautiful, most popular, most controversial, most helpful posts, the post whose success surprised me, the post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved and the post I’m proudest of.

 

My Most Beautiful Post: Food In The Falkland Islands

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I’ve said before that I love travelling even more than I love good food, especially when it’s travelling to see wildlife in its natural habitat. So our month in the Falkland Islands was very special indeed. Food wasn’t at all the focus of this trip, but we did eat well.

I created this post to say thanks to our many hosts and to share lots of images from a very special trip.

 

My Most Popular Post: Going Pro For A Day

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Not long after I started blogging, the opportunity arose to host my own stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market. I don’t harbour any dreams of launching a food business but loved the idea of experiencing this as a one off, to see what it was like on the other side of the trestle table. Usually I’m the one browsing such markets!

People really enjoyed reading about how we found the day.

 

My Most Controversial Post: What’s Your Ultimate Burger?

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Perhaps it’s a weakness that I don’t write much controversial content but I blog for enjoyment and what gives me pleasure is sharing positive food experiences. Whilst I did write a restaurant review that the new manager took exception to (emailing and then calling me about it directly), no one else took much interest.

So what to pick? It came down to two posts, one asking readers to tell me about their food and drink loves and hates at Christmas, and the other asking people to describe their ultimate burger. Lots of conflicting views, all good natured, of course!

 

Most Helpful Post: Food Styling & Photoghraphy Lessons

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Although I’ve been a keen amateur photographer for decades, I’ve never really got excited about food photography (though I really do enjoy visiting blogs who do it well). But I did enjoy learning food photography and styling tips from Alastair Hendy, a respected professional in the field.

In this post I share Alastair’s key tips, my favourite images from the day and the challenges I experienced in creating them.

 

The Post Whose Success Surprised Me: Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken

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I fell in love with Saraban by Greg and Lucy Malouf; a book about travelling through Iran, learning about the country, its culture and its cooking.

When I posted Greg’s recipe for Persian baked yoghurt rice with chicken (marinated in saffron and orange blossom) it proved to be the most popular of all my recipe posts. Indeed, more people let me know directly that they made this dish and loved it, than any other recipe on the blog.

It’s delicious – try it!

 

A Post I Feel Didn’t Get The Attention It Deserved: Talking Za’atar in Zawtar

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Sometimes, it’s personal! I had such a truly wonderful day visiting Abu Kassem, that I wanted my readers to be just as excited about it as I was.

And many readers did enjoy the post, and left some kind comments about the photographs, some of which I’m particularly proud of. The post allows me to relive one of our many special experiences in Lebanon.

 

The Post I Am Most Proud Of: Remembrance Day

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When I was invited to an event to celebrate the RAF, at which I’d also have the chance to meet some of today’s serving members, I was very pleased to attend.

My interest in history – which I studied at school, sixth form and university – arose from the WW2 experiences of some of our closest family friends. As soon as I started studying history in school, I was hooked. I always had a particular interest in the history of the late 19th century and all of the 20th century, because we could still see and experience in our current lives the effects of what had happened before.

I was very proud to write a post to commemorate and honour the RAF.

 

Pete Drinks

It wouldn’t be fair to draw attention to my 7 links without highlighting some of the posts my husband Pete has contributed, under the Pete Drinks category.

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Pete Drinks – Most Popular: The Kernel Brewery Tour At Home – May also be the most beers featured in a single post!

Pete Drinks – The Post Whose Success Surprised: Finchley Ales IPA – Largely because it was an early, fairly brief post but the stats suggest it’s ranked pretty highly in views. Also the beer itself was surprisingly good considering how cheap it is!

Pete Drinks – Post Most Proud Of: The Marble Brewery Tour At Home – Simply because it lead me to this fun idea of doing the brewery tours at home, which is a great excuse to buy a whole collection of beers from a chosen brewery and then drink them all, pretending to be “doing research”.

 

Passing It On

I’m cheating a bit (so sue me!)… there are 10 blogs I’d like to nominate, rather than 5!

I’ve gone for a wide range from the many wonderful blogs I love reading:

If you would like to participate, just write your own post sharing your selected 7 links!

 

After Leila’s guest post for last week’s #IceCreamWednesday, sharing a recipe for delicious Plum & Earl Grey Frozen Yoghurt, I had a hankering for some froyo of my own.

But sometimes, I’m just not in the mood for anything involving much of an effort.

Suddenly, I remembered The Collective Dairy yoghurts, which I first encountered a few months ago. “Those would make great frozen desserts”, I thought!

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I churned a pot of the Luscious Lemon in the ice cream machine for instant gratification. It was fabulous, with a naturally creamy texture and a perfect balance between sweet and tart. So very smooth and so very tasty!

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But one of the aspects I particularly love about The Collective Dairy yoghurts is the way the flavour component is not mixed in with the yoghurt but layered below and above it. Churning the yoghurt mixed the lemon curd thoroughly into the yoghurt, which tasted great but didn’t look as gorgeous as the swirls of bright yellow lemon against white.

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So I decided to put some of the Passion Fruit yoghurt into lolly moulds (after a quick dash to Poundland when I singularly failed to work out where I’ve managed to hide my existing moulds), all the better to retain the pretty layering between fruit and yoghurt. I loved how these came out, they were beautiful and really tasty!

I love the tang of froyo, not to mention the joy of feeling virtuous when eating something so decadent. So, I recommend having a go at churning or making frozen lollies from your favourite luxury yoghurt brands!

Aug 232011
 

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Every few days, Pete harvests a handful of plump sweet raspberries and tiny wild strawberries from the back garden.

The raspberries have that perfect balance between tart and sweet and that special flavour that distinguishes them from their fellow Rubus fruits.

The teeny tiny wild strawberries in particular are a revelation; the flavour is very different to the domesticated strawberries we’re all familiar with; to me, it’s reminiscent of bubble gum and perfume.

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Aug 202011
 

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You could be forgiven for believing that all I do is drink, but I’ve been known to venture into the kitchen as well. Especially if it involves yeast, and producing something that can be toasted and buttered. Ok, so technically crumpets aren’t baked but it’s close enough and ‘Pete Griddles’ doesn’t sound so good.

A comment from The Boy Who Bakes on twitter a few weeks ago made me realise that I hadn’t cooked crumpets in a long time and unusually, rather than just saying “ooh I should make those myself” and then remaining glued to my keyboard, I ventured downstairs and dusted off my cookbook and discovered that I even had all the ingredients in the cupboard.

The cookbook in question is one of those ‘must have’ books; it’s a tiny little thing with less than 50 pages to it, and I only bought it originally because it had a recipe for Aberdeen Butteries – however it’s filled with all sorts of other yummy bready delights too, including crumpets. See, even the book thinks they’re baked.

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Aberdeen Butteries, by the way, are a sort of Scottish take on croissants with added lard, which virtually deep-fry themselves in the oven. They’re probably not terribly good for you, but they taste divine and they’re almost worth all the fiddling about that making them requires.

Crumpets, on the other hand, are incredibly quick and easy to make – especially if, like me, you tend to go through recipes and remove anything that looks a bit complicated. It talks about heating milk and dissolving the sugar in it and it calls for fresh yeast but in keeping with my “reduce all recipes to standard Waitrose pack sizes” policy, I improved it. And I also shrank it, from experience.

The Recipe

  • 4 ounces plain flour
  • 4 ounces strong white flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pint milk and water (50/50 mix, ish) – warmed slightly in the microwave, to body temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • one packet of dried yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, dissolved in a little warm water

Throw everything but the bicarbonate of soda into a mixer and whisk for 5 minutes or so until it’s a smooth and slightly elastic batter.

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Put some clingfilm over the top of the bowl and leave it wherever you leave your bread to rise for an hour or two until it’s frothy and “about to collapse”. I have to say I’ve always found that sort of instruction in recipes about as useful as “bake until almost done”. How do you know when something is about to collapse? I certainly don’t; I leave it until it looks properly frothy and I can’t be bothered to wait any longer.

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Now add the dissolved bicarbonate of soda and stir it well in. This will knock all the air out as well and leave you with a slightly bubbly batter that’s the perfect consistency for pouring. Put aside to rise while you rummage around in kitchen drawers looking for those really useful cooking rings you know you bought and must be in there somewhere.

Get a good, heavy non-stick frying pan and start it heating over a medium heat. I don’t bother with any oil in the pan itself; the base of the crumpets don’t seem to ever stick. They will, however, glue themselves to your rings given half a chance – I have a shallow dish of oil and run the rings through the oil to get them well coated all the way around the inside on every batch. You’ll thank me later.

Oil the rings, place them in the frying pan, making sure they’re lying flat and aren’t on a slope running up the side of the frying pan (otherwise the batter will escape under the ring and you’ll be making very long winded pancakes). I find it easiest to use a ladle to pour about a centimetre of batter into each ring.

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Now wait. Don’t be tempted to poke or jiggle anything. In around 5 minutes (it feels more like twenty, but it honestly isn’t) you’ll see the top of the crumpets start to dry out and start looking, well, like crumpets around the edge.

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The ‘crumpetness’ will creep slowly in from the edges; once at least the edge is dry, you can safely remove the rings. I lift them off with our awesome oven gloves; they can sometimes stick – especially at the bottom – so a knife can help release them. I’ve found a flexible butter knife works best without the risk of slicing a lump out of your crumpet.

Once the top is dry, or at least almost dry, flip the crumpet over to brown the top for a minute or so. Take it out of the pan and let it cool on a cooling rack; if you put it straight onto a plate the bottom will get soggy.

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If you can bear to wait, let it cool before toasting it (to make the top lovely and crunchy) and drown in butter. Or cheese, or marmite, or honey, or whatever else you like covering your crumpet with. I’m rather fond of cheese myself, a good strong cheddar melting deep into the holes…

So, are they worth the effort over shop bought crumpets? Hell yes! They are so much lighter, fluffier and although the cooking bit does involve standing around in the kitchen for a while working through the batter three at a time (which is only a limit imposed by the size of my frying pan, to be fair) it’s not exactly tricky cooking – it’s mostly stood looking at the crumpets and reading a book. They also keep fairly well; interestingly enough after 4 or 5 days they start to taste much closer to shop bought crumpets which would seem to suggest that the crumpets I’ve always loved have always been stale.

Competition

But don’t take my word for it – try them yourselves! To make it easy (and, to be honest, to address the fact that somehow I’ve ended up with two copies) we’re giving you the chance to win your very own copy of ‘Favourite Home Baking Recipes’.

How to enter

  1. What’s your favourite crumpet topping? Leave a comment on this post with your answer and you could be cooking your own crumpets (not to mention Aberdeen Butteries) in no time. Please ensure you leave your email address* in the field provided or in the body of your comment. Entries without any means of contacting the winner will not be included in the draw.
  2. Enter (once per user ID only) on twitter by tweeting the following:
    I love Pete’s crumpets! Please can I win a copy of Favourite Home Baking Recipes from kaveyeats.com #PetesCrumpets

Details

  • The prize is a second hand copy of the Favourite Home Baking Recipes booklet.
  • The prize cannot redeemed for cash.
  • The prize can be delivered to UK addresses only.
  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Wednesday 31st August 2011.
  • A winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.

*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?

 

Let me take you back, back through the mists of time, or maybe just this summer, to the very first Ice Cream Wednesday, when 11 ice cream lovers gathered with two ice cream machines and a wide range of potential ingredients, to make and enjoy as much ice cream as we could in a single evening!

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One of my favourite ice creams of the night was Kate‘s incredible tarragon, lemon, lime and tequila ice cream, which she and Emma Jane made to finish the evening with a bang! Ever since, I’ve been chasing Kate to share her recipe, so you too can try this surprising, unusual and very tasty ice cream for yourselves.

Over to Kate:


Tarragon, Lemon, Lime & Tequila Ice Cream

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Tarragon is my favourite herb so wanted to experiment with it on #icecreamwednesday. My lovely friend Emma was bringing along some tequila so I was keen to incorporate that and thought that they’d sit well together. Limes are a natural bedfellow with tequila so I purchased some of those and Emma had also brought with her some lemons that her mother had grown in Spain. So this recipe all came about quite organically really.

I originally planned a sorbet for these ingredients as it seemed to fit well and would have a margarita slant to it. I still intend to try it out as one – I’m thinking it’d be a great palate cleanser before dessert at a dinner party.

Ingredients
285ml double cream
4 large egg yolks
170g caster sugar
30 tarragon leaves roughly chopped (as mentioned I love tarragon but it’s a strong herb so you may not want to use as much)
1 shot (about 30ml) tequila (recommend a reposado 100% agave tequila)
juice ½ lemon
juice ½ lime

Method

  • Heat the cream in a saucepan until it starts to boil. Whilst it’s heating whisk the egg yolks and sugar until they’re thick and creamy. Remove the cream from the heat and slowly stir in the sugar and egg yolk mixture. Return to the heat until it forms a thick custard (15-20 minutes).
  • Add the tarragon, tequila, lemon and lime and stir in thoroughly.
  • Leave to cool, pop in your ice cream maker to churn and then into the freezer. If you don’t own an ice cream maker, after cooling put into a shallow plastic container, put into the freezer and stir every 20 minutes.
 

Pete and I recently enjoyed a lovely weekend in Inverness, travelling there to attend and celebrate the wedding of our dear friends Kristine and Carlo. (Congratulations, darlings!)

With a few extra days in hand, we were able to enjoy some excellent meals during our stay, thanks to local and twitter recommendations.









The Mustard Seed

Since 1995 The Mustard Seed has been serving simple, tasty food in an attractive converted church building on the banks of the River Ness. The restaurant describes its cooking as using “quality Scottish ingredients to create a modern European menu with Highland influences.”

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The conversion of the interior (which I’ve singularly failed to capture) has created a very appealing open space with many original features combined with modern styling. We visited for lunch twice during our time in Inverness and were seated downstairs both times. The large ground floor windows were open, letting in a lovely breeze on two warm summer’s days. There is also a terrace floor above where some tables give a very pretty view of the river.

Lunch time visits are a steal; a special lunch menu offers two courses, a starter and a main, for just £6.95. There are five starters to choose from and six mains. The same menu runs for a week at a time, so we chose from the same list for both our visits.

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Very fresh and delicious bread and butter was served first.

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On our first trip, we both chose the homemade soup of the day, a butternut squash and garlic one. The flavour was decent though not as strongly butternut squash as I expected – the squash was clearly just one ingredient in a general vegetable soup. It was also thinner than I expected and Pete was not keen on the fact that it hadn’t been smoothly blended so there were fibres of vegetables (rather than chunks, which he wouldn’t have minded as much). That said, it was pleasant enough.

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One of our group had the spicy aubergine fritters in a cumin and corriander [sic] batter with dressed red chard and a sweetcorn and cucumber relish. This was again pleasant rather than fantastic – the chef had too light a hand with the cumin and coriander, they were difficult to detect. The “relish” seemed to consist of fresh corn and cukes in a bottled sweet chilli sauce. Nonethelsess, again, it was pleasant enough.

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Another starter, from our second visit, was a warm salad of roast beef, caramelised onions, pears and rocket with a walnut and chive vinaigrette. It wasn’t visually very appealing but it tasted nice. That said, I didn’t particularly find the steak was a winning match with the pear; it worked but didn’t jump out as a new genius food combination. It struck me as a way of using a surplus stock of beef, to be honest.

Others in our group ordered the salad of peaches, strawberries, fresh blueberries and charantais melon topped with raspberry creme fraiche and toasted almonds. Whilst this looked delicious, everyone around the table was in firm agreement that it was far better suited to either breakfast or a dessert than being listed as a starter.

The last starter in the list was a smoked trout, gravadlax and smoked halibut mousse with sweet pea mascarpone, lemon wedges and home made sweet potato bread (at a £1.85 supplement). It was deemed tasty.

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From the mains, I first tried the pan seared rump of beef on roasted potatoes, mushrooms and smoked bacon lardons with a herb and sunblushed tomato butter (at a £3.45 supplement). The steak and sunblushed tomato butter were really nice, I’d order them again. The mushrooms didn’t go well but the bacon downright clashed with the tomato butter and had no place on the plate.

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The roasted breast of chicken with sweet potato mash, grilled haggis and creamed leeks proved a popular choice. On the second day we went in, they informed us on ordering that they’d run out of haggis and were serving it with a slice of blood pudding instead. We thought this worked even better than the haggis, though both were excellent. The (generously sized) breast of chicken was deftly cooked, retaining moisture and flavour. The creamed leeks were excellent. The mild sweetness from the mash worked well against the haggis / blood pudding.

Feedback was also good for the grilled fillet of seabass on crushed lemon adn herb potatoes with sauce vierge (at a £2.75 supplement) and the marinated fillet of salmon in thyme, garlic and olive oil served with a crisp red cabbage, lemon and beetroot salad with chilli oil, which I might have ordered but for the red cabbage salad side.

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On our second visit, we shared a dessert of rich chocolate cake (£4.25) which was very dense and fudgy in texture.

All in all we liked The Mustard Seed. For the lunch time pricing, we were willing to overlook minor weaknesses in the combinations of ingredients in some of the dishes, and both the service and cooking were decent. I was a bit surprised at wine prices; a blackboard on the wall listed house wines of the month at £5.25 for a small glass and £6.95 for a large one!

I’d like to see a lunch menu that gives a choice of starter and main or main and dessert.

River House Restaurant

On the opposite side of the River Ness, next to a grand Victorian church (that’s now home to a funeral directors business) is River House Restaurant. It’s just by the beautigul Greig Street pedestrian bridge, a beautiful iron suspension bridge built in 1881 by local firm, the Rose Street Foundry.

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Friendly chef/ proprietor Allan Little (originally from Cornwall) offers a £13.50 lunch and early supper menu. It gives a choice of 5 starters and four mains and is what we ordered from on our lunchtime visit.

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Pete’s warm goats cheese tartlet topped with a cranberry and caramelised red onion jam was good. He felt the pastry was a little thick, but the flavours were good.

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A strange choice, perhaps, having just returned from a trip to Parma the week before, during which I sampled plenty of fabulous Parma ham, but I could not resist melon n Parma ham as my starter. The ham and melon were complimented by a drizzle of balsamic (keeping it in the Emilia Romagna region!) and a herb oil.

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The salad of pan roasted chicken breast, avocado and crispy pancetta with a honey mustard dressing was a generous plate. A lighter but filling option for a sunny lunch.

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I really liked my grilled fillet of sea bream served with a prawn, tomato and mascarpone risotto though I’d been concerned at how well the fish would go with the risotto. I thought it worked! The fish was fresh and moist and the risotto was perfectly cooked, unctuous and creamy yet not mushy.

Good food, fair prices and a very warm welcome.

The Kitchen

Almost opposite The Mustard Seed, and just a minute’s stroll from River House, The Kitchen is a second offering from the team behind The Mustard Seed, opened in 2007.

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Unlike the other two restaurants, The Kitchen resides in an uncompromisingly modern new building and diners are seated across three floors. If you book ahead, you may be able to reserve a window table looking out over the river.

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To our surprise, The Kitchen goes one better than The Mustard Seed; £1 better in fact: It’s lunch time menu is just £5.95 for two courses! Like its sister restaurant, its lunch menu offers 5 choices for starter and 6 for main. We visited one lunch time.

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We both chose Highland haggis and baked potato gratin served with a whisky jus. We couldn’t detect any whisky in the jus and the haggis didn’t come through that well amid the potato. And the mixed salad didn’t work well with it either. This was just OK.

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The home made beef and chilli burger on ciabatta with cheddar cheese, thin cut fries and garlic mayonnaise (£1.95 supplement) went down well. Pete forgave the ciabatta bun, though I’m not a fan. It was a decent burger, nothing to shout out about but great value for the price and Pete enjoyed it.

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My baked fillet of salmon served with a panache of roasted tomatoes and sautéed potatoes topped with a creamy crayfish tail and dill sauce was hit and miss. The salmon was excellent, cooked so it retained it’s moistness and a generous piece, I relished every mouthful. The potatoes were pleasant but the “roasted” tomatoes were virtually raw (and insipid). And the crayfish tails were complete mush and tasted of nothing; in fact the sauce itself added nothing to the dish.

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We shared two desserts, the strawberry custard tart and a banoffee cheesecake. The strawberry custard tart was oddly flat, with such a meagre layer of custard on it that it barely equalled the thickness of the pastry. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great either and didn’t get finished. The banoffee, on the other hand, was superb. I thought, when I looked at it, that the “offee” layer wasn’t generous enough but actually, everything balanced perfectly.

Of the two sister restaurants, we liked The Mustard Seed better, both in terms of the buildings themselves and food and service (though service was perfectly acceptable at The Kitchen too).

That said, we’d go to both again on a future visit.

Chez Roux

We visited Chez Roux for a splash out meal on our first evening in Inverness. Of the recommendations I’d been given, this one appealed the most, with its menu designed by the legendary Albert Roux. It’s in the Rocpool Reserve Hotel, a small luxury hotel in a converted residential building in an Inverness suburb.

Roux has fond memories of Inverness from family holidays there nearly 50 years ago. Back when the restaurant opened in 2009, he told journalists he wanted to recreate the kind of restaurant he remembered from his home town in France, offering “good and honest country cooking” at a price that would not require “ringing the bank for permission” first!

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On our arrival we were shown into the hotel bar for an aperitif and some amuses, and given the menus. The bar is attractive, but somewhat soulless, though hard to expect anything else from a bar in such a tiny hotel. The residential location precludes passing trade for the bar too, though I’m not sure it’s allowed anyway.

Chez Roux offers a set price menu at just £25 for three courses, available for both lunch and dinner. However, the à la carte is also reasonably priced and most three-course combinations would come to around £30, or just a touch over.

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Once we’d made our choices, we were shown into the dining room, very retro in black and white with red accents. The hideous carpet is an enormous shame; it let down an otherwise pleasant interior.

Service was friendly, helpful and professional right down to the youngest members of the team. It’s refreshing to see wait staff who are proud of their job, proud of their workplace and enthusiastic about the food they are serving.

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Bread was very fresh and very good indeed, served with enough butter that I don’t find myself begging for more, as is so often the case.

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Pete’s cheese and leek tart with seasonal salad leaves was excellent. A generous slice of a very well made tart, punchy cheese and leek flavours, well dressed salad and a simple but good sauce. He liked it very much.

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But it was my starter that stole the show. Souffle Suissesse, described as Albert Roux’s twice baked floating soufflé with Mull cheddar and Gruyère cheese was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten all year. So light I dreamt I was eating a cloud, it was served in a cheese sauce that packed so much cheese flavour it was cheesier than solid cheese! And yet, thin and light, not thick and oily and gloopy. Truly a delightful dish and one I’d go all the way to Inverness for, just to eat it again!

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Pete’s fillet of mackerel with crushed potatoes and sauce vierge is exactly what Roux aimed to provide – good and honest country cooking – using fresh ingredients simply to create a tasty dish.

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Back in the bar, I was told that the daily lobster special was grilled lobster served with boiled potatoes and salad with a caesar dressing. At £23.50 I couldn’t resist and did enjoy the dish, though the lobster was really overcooked, making the meat soft and mushy, rather than the usual slight resistance and bounce. It did have a nice flavour though. Either I misheard or there was some confusion, as the side salad had nothing caesar about it.

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Pete was happy with his cheese selection in place of dessert. The waiter talked us through all the cheeses and Pete tried all six. The Brie de Meaux was properly ripe and had the grassy hay notes that make it such a wonderful cheese. Livarot was mild, and not one I’d pick for a cheese board as it doesn’t hold its own against stronger cheeses. The Isle of Mull cheddar had a distinct hint of garlic about it, though I don’t think any is actually used. It was a great strong cheddar, really robust. Cuddy’s Cave was a mellow and quite creamy hard cheese, a good mid point between mild and strong. Northumberland Nettle is a hard cheese flavoured with nettles. It wasn’t to my taste but I’m not often a fan of cheeses with herbs or spices in them. I didn’t really like the Strathdon Blue either. It didn’t taste at all of blue cheese, rather the mould reminded me of dust – a musty flavour that had none of the normal piquant flavour of blue cheese mould.

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My hot chocolate fondant and caramel ice-cream and hot chocolate sauce looked pretty as a picture, served in it’s three individual dishes. The fondant itself was a little dry; there was some moistness in the centre but not enough and the outer two thirds needed a lot more moistness. The flavour was great though, and the ice cream and chocolate sauce did add liquid. The ice cream was delicious, though not overtly caramel in flavour, more like a slightly cooked milk taste. Nice though!

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The young lad who brought out our latte was keen to check whether it was OK. Pete had already commented (out of his earshot) that it was a good job; when we told him he explained it was the first one he’d ever made. Bless him! I had a mint infusion. With these we were served chocolates, all four were (very good) pralines, which meant I had to make the ultimate sacrifice and eat them all! Woe is me!

All in all we had an enjoyable evening, made so not just by the food but also the service. For Londoners used to much higher prices, we felt this was a great value dining experience.

 

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Meantime are one of those breweries with such an impressive range of beers that it’s hard to do justice to the whole lot in one go. I’ve previously tasted a couple of their offers back when they launched their London Lager; today I’m going through the bottles I’ve picked up recently but this doesn’t represent everything this London brewer has to offer!

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So, first up is London Pale Ale, at 4.3%. Golden amber in the glass, with a fairly loose, short lived head and quite a high level of carbonation bubbles. It has a sweet, gently hoppy, green nose and that sweetness remains on tasting. It’s a little over fizzed in the mouth, and I find that same tang that I get from fizzy water – maybe an artifact of the carbonation? The hoppy bitterness is there but I’m not getting the more floral, citrus notes that I’m expecting from the nose. It’s a perfectly drinkable beer, especially on a hot sunny afternoon like today, but it’s unremarkable.

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Next we have Meantime Wheat, slightly stronger at 5.0%. A surprisingly similar colour to the London Pale Ale – I’d have expected a wheat beer to be paler – with virtually no head on it. It smells much more like a wheat beer than I’m expecting – that Hoegaarden smell – with toffeeish notes, and you can almost smell the alcohol too. Those toffee, almost treacle hints are in the flavour too along with a sharpness that makes me think of grapefruit juice – it almost makes me wonder if it’s slightly gone off. I’ve got months left on the best before date though, so maybe this is how it’s supposed to taste. I’m not convinced by this one.

I’d like to apologise for the pictures from here on; I honestly hadn’t over-enjoyed my work, I just seem to have changed the settings on my camera and didn’t notice until I came to process them. I was tempted to go and buy more just for the photos, but I have so much beer at the moment that it would probably be a Bad Idea.

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London Stout is next, at 4.5%. Pouring deep, dark reddish brown with a fairly generous, open tan head and a roasted malt and chocolate nose. A good, full body in the mouth, creamy or even almost foamy, sweet dark caramel with just enough of a bitter hint to pull that sweetness back. Surprisingly refreshing for such a dark beer and very, very drinkable.

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Chocolate, the strongest of this batch at 6.5%, is the second of those distinctive ‘bell shaped’ bottles that Meantime use for some of their beer. Black in the glass, with a thin tan head, and the smell of sweet malt and dark fruits. On tasting, the warmth of the alcohol is apparent, along with sweet molasses – there’s something almost port-like about it. Personally, I didn’t get much of a chocolate hint either from the smell or the taste which is slightly curious. However, that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a great beer!

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Finally, the Winter Time Winter Warmer, at 5.4% and possibly the most inappropriate beer to be enjoying on a hot August evening. A dark reddish brown, with a lingering whitish head. Rich, roasted malts, a hint of coffee and caramel and a great bitterness running throughout (I also have ‘chocolate biscuit’ scrawled at the bottom of my notes, although it’s not clear whether that’s a tasting note or the start of a shopping list). It’s not too heavy, and considering how nicely it goes down in the heat of summer I can only imagine how great it would be sat looking out at the snow.

I personally think that Meantime are much stronger when they’re doing their dark porters and stouts; they’re big and bold, dark and sweet but always distinctive. In fact, their London Porter is often the first beer I reach for when I’m cooking something that needs a good dark beer in it (although to be fair that’s partly because it comes in a big bottle and I get to drink the rest while I’m cooking).

One thing I noticed running through a few of the beers was a slightly metallic tang; that ‘fizzy water’ tang I mentioned in the London Pale Ale. I’m not alone either; I’ve seen it mentioned in reviews of various of their beers elsewhere – I wonder if it’s an aspect of the mineral content of their water supply or something?

 

This week’s wonderfully delicious #icecreamwednesday post comes from my friend Leila Dukes, who now works at ING Media, a PR agency with a specialist food & consumer team. Leila’s long been considering setting up her own food blog. Please join me in encouraging her to do just that!

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Over to Leila for a fantastic fro-yo recipe:


I considered using the phrase “guilt-free” in the name of this recipe, but I don’t believe that an ugly emotion like “guilt” should ever be associated with food.

I never feel guilty about enjoying any food (it’s all about balance, baby – bring on the cheeseboard now and I’ll work it off tomorrow!) but this combination of creamy yoghurt, tasty plums, real vanilla, fragrant earl grey and just a little sugar can only be a good thing. It’s refreshing and fruity rather than overly sweet; I even had it for breakfast on a particularly hot & stuffy morning.

The origins of this recipe came from this ice cream recipe from Morfudd Richards that the Indy published a couple of years ago. I’ve tweaked it a little – mainly by replacing the cream with more Greek yoghurt, to make it lighter and fresher and because I almost always have yoghurt in the fridge but hardly ever have cream.

Plum & Earl Grey Frozen Yoghurt

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Ingredients

600g plums (around 6-7 medium sized – I had almost 15 baby ones)

1 vanilla pod

100g caster sugar

1 Earl Grey tea bag

150g water

150g Greek yoghurt (plus a couple of extra spoons for luck)

  • Wash the plums, cut in half and remove the stones. Place cut-side down in a wide, shallow pan (make sure it’s well-washed; you don’t want any lingering whiffs of onion/garlic to ruin your fro-yo).

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  • Split the vanilla pod along its length, scrape out the seeds and bung the whole lot in with the plums. Add the caster sugar, tea bag and water and heat until you get a few bubbles.

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  • Let the sugary syrup bubble gently for 15-20 minutes to get the flavour from the vanilla pod & tea bag. Turn the plums halfway through to make sure the fruit is completely softened.

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  • Pick out the tea bag and the vanilla pod (I stuck my vanilla in a jam jar of sugar to make some flavoured sugar) and blend the plums along with the syrup until smooth. Let the plum mixture cool down in the fridge for a bit.
  • When the plum mixture has cooled, mix in the Greek yoghurt and put in an ice cream maker to churn (or pour into a plastic container and freeze, removing the container every couple of hours to beat out any ice crystals).

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  • Because this is a frozen yoghurt, it sets quite firm so take it out of the freezer for 10 minutes or so before you want to scoop.

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  • I like this on its own or with a few crushed Amaretti biscuits sprinkled on top.
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