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The majority of my friends are real killjoys when it comes to fancy dress, so I seldom indulge. But last year, I went to town with hair dye, skeletons, cobweb scarf, spooky jewellery and green nails.

I think I got the “demented witch” look down pat!

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You can learn more about the origins of halloween in my pumpkin carving post from last year.

Happy Halloween from Kavey Eats!

If your interest in pumpkins veers more to the eating than the carving, here are some great Indian recipes for pumpkin from Mamta’s Kitchen, my mum’s website:

And lastly, a recipe that’s also perfect for Diwali celebrations:

Enjoy!

 

Time Out have updated their 2009 guide to eating and drinking out in the capital.

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(I’m not sure why it’s titled 2012, when it ‘s clearly been compiled from 2010/2011 data, for publication this month, but perhaps it’s something to do with a commercial fear of being deemed out-dated too quickly?)

I turn less and less to the words of professional restaurant critics these days, preferring instead to get a consensus view from the posts of numerous food bloggers. That said, I do respect Time Out’s decision to review anonymously and paying their own way, to replicate the normal consumer experience as much as possible. Of course, one does hear that restaurants have photo sheets in their staff areas to help them recognise “anonymous” restaurant critics… wonder if that’s true?

Other pluses are that Time Out covers all cuisines, and all levels of dining. And all the places they list are marked on maps. Oh, and establishments can’t pay for inclusion, either.

I have five copies of the Time Out London’s Best Restaurants 2012 guide to give away to readers of Kavey Eats.

How to enter

  1. Leave a comment on this post telling me about your favourite London restaurant visit this year. 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 on twitter by tweeting the following:
    I’d love to win a Time Out London Restaurant Guide 2012 www.kaveyeats.com #kaveyeatstimeout

Details

  • One blog entry per person. One twitter entry per person.
  • There are five individual prizes, each one is a copy of the is a selection of the Time Out London’s Best Restaurants 2012 guide , as pictured above. The prize cannot redeemed for cash.
  • The prizes are offered and will be delivered directly by Time Out Guides.
  • The prizes can be delivered to UK mainland addresses only.
  • The deadline for entries is midnight BST Thursday 10 November 2011.
  • Five winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The winners will be notified by email or twitter asked to provide a delivery address. If no response is received by Sunday 13th November, that prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

*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?


Time Out London’s Best Restaurants 2012 is available from Amazon. RRP £11.99.

Kavey Art!

28 Oct 2011  8 Responses »
Oct 282011
 

I’ve recently had two rather spiffing artworks created for or about me and I’m thrilled with both.

The first is by the truly talented irkafirka – Nick Hilditch and Chris Bell. Irkafirka take inspiration from the millions and millions of wonderfully random utterings on twitter, choosing one a day to illustrate in the unique and much loved irkafirka way.

I’ve been a huge fan of irkafirka for the longest time and have been hoping and hoping and hoping and hoping to be firked for just as long. Finally, my waiting is over!

@KaveyF smaller

And because I am a demanding individual (yes, I know I am, it’s OK, you can say it), the magnificent men at irkafirka HQ have now put on sale these marvellous Tea Ninja mugs (with the text removed so it could be any Tea Ninja, even your own). And prints too!

irkafirka tea ninja mug

And second, I share a mind-boggling creation from Free Crappy Portraits. I discovered FCP via The Larder, a fellow food blogger based in Stirling, Scotland.

The idea is to send a picture of yourself, as well as some information about you – anything you like from a “list of your favorite cheeses, a tale about the ever-elusive Sasquatch, or a haiku about roller disco” – and FCP will assign one of their “terrible artists” to your commission and send you the result.

Here’s mine! Cute, no?

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Did these get your creative juices going? Don’t forget I’m still searching for a new look for Kavey Eats, with a fabulous foodie prize for the winner!

Oct 262011
 

Today is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Happy Diwali!

The name itself means “a row of lamps” and describes the traditional ghee-filled earthenware lamps which are traditionally lit in their hundreds and thousands. An unforgettably beautiful sight.

There are a number of different reasons and stories behind the festival which you can read about here and here.

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In our family, we light a candle in every single room of the house, and also place one at each external door. Mum cooks a wonderful Indian vegetarian meal for us to share.

My favourite dishes include mum’s simple potato curry with gravy served with fresh, hot, crispy pooris.

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image by Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons

This year, my personal Diwali celebrations started early, when I was invited to a Diwali-themed supper club hosted by Luiz (The London Foodie), catered by Maunika (Cook In A Curry) and sponsored by Tilda Basmati Rice.

This was a great coming together. Luiz is a consummate host and I’ve enjoyed many a wonderful evening in his beautiful home. The newly extended and refitted kitchen was even more envy-inducing than the old one, and is a fabulous venue for his regular cooking clubs and supper clubs.

I regularly find myself salivating when reading Maunika’s twitter stream, as she describes in loving detail the many fabulous Indian dishes she cooks on a regular basis, both at home and in her career as private chef, food writer and radio presenter. Born in Bombay, Maunika has researched and become an expert in the many varied cuisines of the Indian subcontinent and shared several of her favourites with us during the evening.

The unique properties of basmati rice – the magical flowery scent and woody undertones – are well known. Tilda is a brand that has been associated with sourcing and selling top quality basmati rice since the late 1960s, when it started a business importing and selling to the immigrant Asian community in the UK. Today Tilda’s rice is readily available in the UK and over 40 more countries worldwide. If you are of the mind set that “rice is rice” and surely all basmati rice is much of a muchness, I set you the challenge of buying a bag of Tilda and a bag of the cheapest value brand of basmati you can find. You will notice the difference!

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My favourite dishes of the evening were a Paneer Haraa Tikka for which Maunika marinaded cubes of paneer with garlic, chillies and sprinkled them with kala namak (dark Indian rock salt with a distinctive pungent taste from the dissolved sulhur), a fantastic Pineapple and Black Pepper Chutney, a flavour-packed Haraa Masala Chicken hailing from the Khoha community of India, full of coriander, mint and caramelised onions and a Keralan Fish Curry called Meen Moilee, consisting of moist fillets of sea bass in a rich coconutty gravy. Maunika’s Lamb Yakhni Pulao, made of course with Tilda Basmati, included succulent morsels of lamb mixed with rice that had been cooked in lamb stock and butter.

All delicious and very enjoyable. Thank you to Luiz, Maunika, Tilda and Wildcard for a wonderful evening. Happy Diwali!

Oct 252011
 

The 25th anniversary of a restaurant in the heart of Soho might be taken to signify that it’s a good restaurant. If that means attracting customers, serving them something edible and taking their money, then certainly Maison Touareg succeeds.

Unfortunately, based on our recent experience, it seems to rely almost entirely on the custom of tourists, which means it doesn’t need to make much effort to impress customers and win repeat business.

In truth, it’s not the kind of restaurant I’d normally choose to visit. But I was a little bemused to be sent photographs of a party celebrating it’s 25th anniversary. I expressed my surprise at being sent images and press information, with a view to my blogging, of an event I’d not been invited to, nor attended. I wasn’t offended, more amused, to be honest. The lovely PR agent assured me I had been on their invite list, and perhaps the original email had gone astray. These things certainly happen, as I know from experience, and I accepted her gracious suggestion to make a review visit to the restaurant on another occasion.

Why would I normally not choose to visit such a place? Mainly because of their decision to offer both Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine. Whilst the cooking from these two countries has a few flavours in common, the two cuisines are really quite distinct. I’d rather see a restaurant focus on one or the other, than to offer a mishmash of both.

Still, the offer to visit and enjoy was sincere, and I looked forward to the experience.

Arriving early, I had hoped to have a drink in the bar mentioned on their website, but there seemed to be no bar available, so was seated early instead.

I was initially offered a table for two amid two large group tables. The staff were surprised at my preference not to be surrounded by such groups, but did loosely wave me back towards the front of the restaurant, suggesting I choose any of the vacant tables for two.

The interior is attractive; a riot of rich colours and textures, predominantly dark reds, with light thrown in pretty patterns by the latticed Moroccan ceiling lanterns.

Settled in, we ordered drinks. I chose from their “virgin cocktails” list and asked for a Touareg Lemonade – fresh mint, lime juice, rose water and lemonade. This was a very delicious and refreshing thirst-quencher, though a little over-priced at £4.50.

We also asked for tap water, which was refilled without asking throughout the meal.

The wine list was off putting for one major reason. Both Moroccan and Lebanese wines were well represented but not a single one had the vintage provided. Since this makes quite a difference to taste, not to mention an ability to judge the price, I felt it to be a glaring omission.

With his main, Pete ordered a glass of Guerrouane Rouge, Morocco (£3.95). It was so rough he didn’t drink it, and when we asked about vintage, the waitress eventually returned to confirm that it was 2010.

The list of mezzes was appealing. There were more Moroccan dishes than Lebanese, but both countries were certainly represented.

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The pastilla of chicken (£5.25), described as savoury chicken baked in a thin pastry with almonds and cinnamon, was excellent. The portion was generous, the flavours and texture were certainly reminiscent of what we enjoyed in Morocco and the onion and sultana relish served with it was delicious.

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The kallaj (£5.25), by contrast, was not such a good deal. Although the Lebanese toasted bread filled with Halloumi cheese was tasty enough, it was a fairly small portion (with very thin slices of Halloumi within the bread), the price of its ingredients and simplicity of assembly did not merit the price tag and it was served with no relish alongside, like the pastilla.

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A Moroccan salad (£4.95) was exactly as described – finely diced cucumber, tomato, red onion with mint and olive oil dressing. Again, a little expensive given the ingredients, but fresh and tasty, and very nice with the pastilla.

With the mezze dishes, we were served a basket of bread. Like the bread used for the kallaj, this was clearly not fresh and had perhaps been reheated too many times. It cooled very quickly to a very unpleasant hard and chewy texture.

Thus far, whilst we’d occasionally struggled to get the attention of staff in a very busy restaurant, service had been friendly and the food mostly decent, if not the best of its kind.

Things took a down turn with the arrival of our mains.

The menu seemed almost completely Moroccan, if there were Lebanese dishes there, we didn’t recognise any from our recent trip to that country.

From the grilled dishes section, Pete ordered the kafta skewers of marinated minced lamb. Priced at £14.50, the minced lamb skewers were OK, though bland. The rice was dry. And the plate was topped with more of that shockingly stale flat bread.

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My meshwi samak, from the seafood section, consisted of pan-fried seabass, grilled prawns and deep fried squid served with rice and salad. My sympathy goes out to anyone who parts with the £17.50 charged for this sorry excuse of a dish. The squid were pale, limp, chewy rings with no redeeming features – I left all but the first one I ate. The prawns were so overcooked as to be mushy inside, which made shelling them quite the challenge. The fish was soft and had some flavour to it. The rice, like Pete’s, was dry and unappetising.

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Having eaten so well in and around London this past few years, I was surprised to suddenly be faced with the kind of dish that reminds me of why we still have that international reputation for poor quality, overpriced restaurants here. It was a bit of a shock to the system!

We shelved plans for dessert and called it a day.

On leaving, the manageress asked how our meal was. I’m a firm believer in being honest and politely explained that whilst we’d enjoyed the starters, the mains were not very good at all. “What did you have?” she asked me, and I told her. “Aah, you don’t like seafood!” was her surprising response. Er, yes, I do actually, which is why I ordered it. The problem was not the contents of the dish but that it was cooked very poorly! She asked about service, which we rated as friendly and helpful.

In retrospect, if we ever went again, which is probably not very likely, I’d order only a selection of mezze dishes. The menu offered a selection of any 4 for £18.95, 5 for £21.95 6 for £24.95 or 7 Mezze £27.95. Judged on the mezze alone, the food was OK. It was the mains that really let the place down.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Maison Touareg.

Maison Touareg on Urbanspoon

 

Guest post by Pete.

Last week saw me doing more baking than drinking, as I found myself entering the Great Chocolate Cake-Off taking place at Chocolate Unwrapped. Although I thoroughly enjoy baking, in recent years it’s tended to be more bread based, so the prospect of coming up with a chocolate cake worthy of being eaten by anyone other than my nearest and dearest – who are obviously honour-bound to tell me how delicious it is – was a little alarming. As a result, I was a little less than relaxed about the whole affair and even ended up making test cakes to make sure I wasn’t going to embarrass myself too much.

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I knew roughly what sort of cake I wanted to make from the start; something along the lines of a Devil’s Food Cake, which is wonderfully chocolaty and dense without being heavy. But I wanted to bring a little something extra to the party and given my day-blog, beer seemed the obvious thing to add. Everything tastes better with beer.

The next problem was the basic Devil’s Food; it turns out that there are more versions of this cake than there are recipe books, none of which quite matched up to how I remember my mum’s version. Having culled all the recipes that involved coffee – which would have been too much with beer as well – I did my normal trick of taking the easiest bits from various sources and normalising it to easier-to-measure quantities. I’m nothing if not a lazy cook.

Having settled on the base recipe, I had to pick my beer. It clearly had to be a dark sweet beer, which really meant a porter. Given that they make the best porters I know, I had initially planned on something from the Kernel Brewery but I have to travel across London to get hold of Kernel beer, so for my first test I made do with some Fuller’s London Porter. My chief taster confirmed that I was on the right path and demanded further cake. One trip to the Beer Boutique later and I had my small supply of Kernel’s Export India Porter. Despite being (in my opinion) a superior beer, it turned out to be less tasty in cake-form than the Fuller’s – sadly I was therefore forced to drink the Kernel instead. Life as a baker is sometimes hard.

When it came to the cake filling, I quickly realised that despite my personal addiction to butter icing, something lighter was required to avoid everything getting too heavy. Clearly it needed to be a bit sweet and beery, which pretty much meant the recipe wrote itself. Having the design talent of an aspidistra, I went for the traditional, village-fete look of ‘cream in the middle, cream on top’, which my less talentless wife suggested improving with some grated chocolate.

I set off to the show feeling pretty good; although the cake hadn’t risen quite as much as the test runs I knew it was tasty and it looked more like a ‘proper’ cake than most of my efforts.

Imagine my state of mind, then, when I walked into the kitchen and saw the other 15 cakes. They had spun sugar. They had frosting. They had tiers. They had cake stands for heaven’s sake. I had what looked like a naked chocolate victoria sponge on a bit of foil board left over from Kavey’s birthday party. I skulked off to wander around the show (well ok, I also popped over the road to The Rake for a swift half) and waited to pick up my 16th place prize.

The results were announce at 4:30 that afternoon, the top five being presented to the audience and discussed by the judges. I think it’s fair to say I was surprised when among the spectacularly crafted things of beauty that appeared on the judging table was my effort – looking, if truth be told, on the amateurish side in such company.

Still, from the kind comments of the judges it seemed my cynical attempt to get them drunk enough to vote me the winner almost paid off even if, in the end, I was beaten by someone who clearly knows how to make spun sugar rather than just how to eat it. Oh, and her sponge was (annoyingly) bloody tasty too.

So, if you want to know how to make my second-prize winning (ok, there wasn’t a second prize as such but you could tell they all secretly liked mine second best) Chocolate Porter Cake, here it is.

 

Pete’s Chocolate & Porter Cake

Ingredients

For the cake:
125 grams unsalted butter
150 grams granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
225 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
75 grams of very good very dark chocolate *
100 grams dark muscovado sugar
250 ml porter **

For the cream:
100 ml extra thick double cream
4 tablespoons icing sugar
3 tablespoons porter **

To decorate:
10-15 grams grated dark eating chocolate

* I used Willie Harcourt-Cooze Venezualan Black 100% Caranero Superior, which comes in block form.
** I used London Fuller’s Porter.


Method

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  • Cream together the butter and sugar.Recipes always tell you to use castor sugar. I never have castor sugar in the cupboard, so I always use granulated. It’s all going to end up in a liquid batter anyway, so it’ll probably dissolve and I can’t be messing about with stocking essentially the same product in slightly different crystal sizes.I actually did this bit by hand (you can see my cake-making fork there in the bowl); I am sure you could use a stand or hand mixer but I’ve always done this bit by hand. It’s part of the cake making ritual, right up there with licking the bowl.

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  • Once that’s done, beat in the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour each time.I think adding the flour a bit at a time is supposed to stop the mixture splitting or something, but I don’t really see why it matters. You’re about to beat the hell out of it anyway, which will mix it all back together again. Again though, it’s how my mum told me to make cakes so it’s what I do. By now I’d put down my cake-making fork and let Intergalactic Unicorn (our KitchenAid) do the heavy labour.
  • Add in the rest of the flour, the bicarb and the baking powder and turn the machine up to high power for a bit, to mix everything in properly.

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  • In a separate bowl, melt the chocolate.

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  • Once it’s all nicely liquid, mix the dark muscovado sugar into the melted chocolate.This seems to be the easiest way of evenly distributing the chocolate and breaking down the lumps you inevitably get in dark sugar; it also creates another bowl to lick clean.

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  • Add the chocolate sugar goo into the main mixture, along with the beer. Crank the machine back up to full power and give it a thorough whisking until it looks right.It’s tricky to describe quite what you’re looking for – the mixture goes a little lighter in colour, and just gets to this perfect, thick cake batter consistency. Or, if in doubt, just give it a couple of minutes.  
  • And that’s it. Scrape what you can bothered off the whisk, and lick it clean.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between two greased and lined 8” cake tins, and lick the bowl clean.
  • Pop the tins into a preheated oven at 170C for roughly 30 minutes. Don’t overcook them; the cakes want to be a little moist.
  • When you take them out, leave them in the tins for 10 minutes, then put them out on a cooling rack.
  • Wait for the cakes to be completely cool before messing about with the cream – otherwise the warmth just makes the cream melt and go everywhere.
  • Making the cream filling is properly easy. Chuck all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until good and thick; properly, almost buttery-thick otherwise it will shoot out of the side of the cake when you cut into it.
  • Use two thirds of the cream filling to sandwich the two halves of the cake together, and the remaining third to spread evenly(ish) over the top.
  • Finish it off with grated chocolate to look pretty.
  • Devour.

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above images courtesy of Paul Winch-Furness

When discussing the five finalists, famous pâtissierand chocolatier Paul A Young said of my cake “the porter in this cake was *absolutely* beautiful… really intense, really moist… a cup of tea and a slice of that, a very big slice of that and you’d be on your way.”

 

I can hardly believe it was well over a year ago when I first introduced Pete Drinks to Kavey Eats. Since then, Pete’s written fifty posts for the blog, mostly beer reviews such as Finchley Ales IPA, Marble Brewery Tour At Home and Kernel Brewery Tour At Home.

When he first started, he was tentative… not sure whether he’d keep it going very long, just like me when I started Kavey Eats… not sure whether he’d enjoy it or find much to write about. But now he’s definitely “found his voice”, as they say and, in my opinion, his writing gets better and better.

So it’s with very great pleasure that Kavey Eats waves goodbye to Pete Drinks… and introduces you to PeteDrinks.com, where Pete will be posting his content from now on.

As some of you know, we recently held a taste test of Alcoholic Ginger Beers, along the lines of the Christmas Pudding taste test and the Easter Egg Review.

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So, without further ado, Pete Drinks: The Great Alcoholic Ginger Beer Taste Test!

 

Although we’ve not achieved as much as we’d hoped over at the new allotment (which we took on this time last year) we have enjoyed harvesting fruits from the existing trees and bushes.

Our plum tree gave us a fair crop of juicy sweet fruit.

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I’m glad we picked nearly all of them on one day as, when we returned just a few days later to collect any remaining, we found they’d been shrivelled up by brown rot.

I had a hankering to make plum jelly just like my mum makes. When I was growing up, we had plum trees in the back garden, so she’d make some every year.

Plum Jelly

Ingredients
Plums
Sugar
Water
Pectin or lemon juice (optional)

Note: You won’t know how much sugar you need until you’ve cooked the plums down and strained the juices. For each litre of juice, you’ll need a kilo of sugar.

Note: If your plums are a little tart, or you include some slightly unripe ones in the mix, you probably won’t need to add extra pectin. However, if all the plums are very ripe, additional pectin may be needed. This can be added in powdered or liquid form, or via lemon juice, which is naturally high in pectin, or you can use jam sugar, which has extra pectin.

Method

  • Halve the plums. I find this quick and easy to do by drawing a sharp knife right around each plum and then twisting both halves in opposite directions; the halves come apart easily.

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  • Place halved plums into a large pan, leaving the skins on and stones in.
  • Add just enough water to cover most of the plums. (It’s better to be frugal with water and add more during the cooking down process – add too much and your resulting juice will be too thin).

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  • Cook down the plums until they disintegrate completely. Add more water only if the mixture is looking dry and might catch.

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  • Pour the cooked pulp into a muslin straining bag or cloth. Either tie closed and hang over a pan or, as I did, place into a colander inside a pan, so that the juices can easily run down. I left mine to strain overnight, with a clean towel loosely covering everything.

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  • To avoid cloudy jelly, resist the urge to squeeze the pulp to extract extra liquid.
  • Discard the pulp (on your compost heap or into your green bin).

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  • At this stage, if you think your juice may be too watered down, boil to reduce volume.
  • Do a pectin test if you think you might need to boost the pectin before making the jelly.
  • Measure the juice and put into a large pan, with caster sugar. Use a kilo of sugar per litre of juice, adjusting for your volume of juice.

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  • If you need to add pectin, add it now (or use jam sugar, which has extra pectin).
  • Boil the juice and sugar hard. I use a jam thermometer to make sure I reach 104 °C (219 °F).
  • Pour your hot jelly into hot sterilised jars. I sterilise my jars in the oven (and boil the lids at the same time, draining them onto a clean tea towel). Pouring the jelly into the jars while it and they are still hot minimises the risk of the glass cracking from a sudden and extreme change in temperature. Actually, I ask Pete to do the pouring as holding large jugs of very hot liquid scares me!

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My finished jelly is a soft set, as I chose not to add any extra pectin.

It’s delicious, and has such a gorgeous colour, tinged pink from the skins of the fruit.

I used some recently to glaze a home-made blackberry, raspberry and banana fruit tart. It worked beautifully. And of course, it’s lovely on toast or scones. And I bet it’d be nice between two layers of soft sponge cake…

Oct 162011
 

The Bull is now a proper brew pub.

It’s owned and managed by Dan Fox, a London pub veteran who ran the popular White Horse in Parsons Green for four years. And Steve Grey has stepped up from cellarman (at the White Horse) to head brewer, after picking up experience at Redemption and Ascot breweries.

Pete has been following their twitter account, reading about their fledgling London Brewing Company and decided it was time to pay a visit.

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The first time we popped in at the end of August, their first batch of beer wasn’t ready. The next time we went in, there it was, on tap fine and dandy.

On our first visit, we ordered lunch from the full menu.

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Head chef Raoul Whitaker, an American now based in the UK, cooks well. But some of his flavour and texture combinations don’t quite work, in my opinion.

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Wedge of lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, walnuts, onions and a garlic and herb dressing (£5.25) was just what it sounded like, simple and very generously dressed in the American fashion.

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My herb crusted sweet breads and chicken livers (£5.95) were deftly cooked so they were nice and soft inside, but the herb crust overpowered their flavours, they were served with an even more overpowering sweet sauce and some pickled vegetables, which should have restored the balance but just washed away the sweetbread and chicken liver even more.

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The pineapple and jalapeno pulled pork with sweet potato wedges, apple corn bread and coleslaw (£12.75) went down well with my friend, another American living in London. I forgot to taste it, so can’t comment further!

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I had mixed feelings about my strip loin steak with beer glazed onions, thin chips and a roast garlic and herb butter (£15.50). The steak was cooked medium-well rather than the requested medium-rare and was a bland piece of meat too. The beer glazed onions were delicious, which at least added flavour back. The thin straw chips were excellent. But the garlic butter was stingy – virtually undetectable.

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Grilled salmon with succotash and new potatoes (£12.50) was well cooked and simply presented. Succotash, so we discovered, is a traditional American side of cooked corn kernels and beans. Decent.

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At first, I was glad I didn’t order the warm chocolate gingerbread cake (£4.50) which came out some time before the other two desserts. The cake was rather dry. But the cream and chocolate sauce helped and both portions seemed to be enjoyed by those who ordered them.

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Both elements of my dessert of Kahlua milkshake with stuffed apricots (£4.50) were tasty individually (though I don’t think the apricots benefited from their crunchy crust) but I found the flavours a dreadful clash and didn’t feel they belonged on the same dish. This was not a well conceived pairing.

You might be surprised that we returned again a few weeks later, given the mixed review above, but I’m glad we did, as our second lunch was far more successful, not to mention more reasonably priced.

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This time, we ordered from the sandwiches and bar snacks menu, choosing three items between the two of us. Of course, two would have been plenty, but an inability to choose resulted in greediness.

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Beef sliders with tomatoes and cornichons (£5.50) were rather nice but I’d much rather have had one proper burger than two teeny tiny ones. The patties were moist and tasty, but not even big enough to fill the (small) buns. Oh, for the sliders trend to fade away as quickly as it came…

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These cylinders are described on the menu as potato tart with a Gruyere cheese sauce (£5.50) but what came out were five soft, mushy potato croquettes with a cheese dipping sauce. Tasty, but not at all what the description suggests.

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Pulled pork sandwich with jalapeños in a brioche bun (£4.95) was large and generously filled, for the price. I am not any kind of expert on American pulled pork, but I really enjoyed the soft, sticky, shredded meat in its slightly sweet sauce. I couldn’t spot any jalapeños but did detect a very gentle heat and flavour.

Personally, I recommend you stick to the bar snacks menu, which is definitely the best value.

One more thing to mention is the service, which was very helpful and friendly on both visits and is probably what will see us visiting again.

The Bull on Urbanspoon

 

Bravo! Ouais! Le Vacherin Mont d’Or est arrivé!

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In France, there’s quite a celebration when the season of availability for this fabulous cheese rolls around once again.

Officially known in France as Vacherin du Haut-Doubs this soft, unpasteurised cheese with a pale yellow salt-washed rind originated in the Jura mountains that cross France and Switzerland. French Vacherin, produced in the Franche-Comté region, has AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status – similar to PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) – ensuring that anything sold under this name is made in a specific geographical area according to strictly governed traditional methods.

Vacherin Mont d’Or was born in the 1700s. In the warm spring and summer months, when the cows produced high yields, farmers created a system of collective dairies, allowing them to pool their milk and produce very large wheels of cheese indeed; the enormous Comté and Emmental. However, not only did the cows produce less milk during the winter months, bad weather often closed the perilous mountain routes to the dairies, forcing farmers to make much smaller cheeses at home to use their milk.

The French AOC stipulates unpasteurised milk from Montbeliard cows bred and grazed at an altitude of at least 700 meters above sea level and fed on a diet of grass and hay. It also lays down much of the manufacturing and maturing process including the use of spruce bark to encircle the cheese, which imparts an additional flavour.

(Incidentally, the Swiss Vacherin Mont d’Or, which has a separate AOC, is not the same; one difference being that it’s made only with pasteurised milk.)

It’s probably no surprise to you that I adore this creamy, slightly nutty-tasting, pine-scented cheese!

I’ve bought many, many a Vacherin from my local Waitrose over the last few years (as well as from London cheese mongers), so was happy to accept their offer to send one over when the first of 2011 came into stock. Waitrose source their Vacherin from the Fromagerie Badoz, a family business in the French mountain town of Pontarlier.

Of course, this delicious cheese can absolutely be enjoyed as it is, but it is also very well suited to baking in a hot oven. On this occasion, we followed Henry Harris’ very simple recipe.

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  • Preheat the oven to 180 C. Leave the cheese in it’s wooden box. Remove the lid, cut a flap in the top of the cheese and pour in a tablespoon of dry white wine. Place the box into an oven dish in case the box collapses. Bake for 15 minutes.

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We served ours with nothing but fresh white baguette which we dunked in again and again and again…

Other recipes call for using a dessert wine instead of dry or adding a clove of garlic or a sprig of rosemary before baking.

How do you like yours?

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