This year hasn’t been a great one in the garden or allotment but we did have a few small harvests in July. Alongside some summer berries (more of which to come soon) we harvested some yellow mange tout from the back garden. Not as vivid in colour as the seed catalogue promised (the variety is called Golden Sweet), but that’s probably a factor of the variable weather, they were nonetheless pretty and tasty.

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For the July BSFIC challenge, I drew you away from the more familiar and prevalent custard-based ice creams and asked you to use sweetened condensed milk as your base instead.

To my delight, you loved condensed milk ice cream recipes as much as I did; Not only are they quick and easy, but also perfect for those who don’t have ice cream machines.

As always, you’ve risen to the challenge and shared a fantastic variety of recipes:

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First to pick up the gauntlet this month was Kate from The Little Loaf. Her Alfajores-Inspired Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Sandwiches look phenomenal! Inspired by the alfajores she enjoyed during a recent trip to Barcelona, she decided to switch the normal dulce de leche filling for an ice cream version instead. Not only does her post include recipes for the biscuits and ice cream filling, but her recommendation of some great bakeries to visit in Barcelona, should you fancy going direct to the source of inspiration!

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My Honeycomb Ice Cream Slice was made as a house warming gift for a friend, after I learned it was one of his favourite flavours. The ice cream base is made from just two ingredients – condensed milk and double cream, and needs just a few minutes to whip and combine both before folding in the chosen flavouring, in this case, home made cinder toffee. The base is poured into a tub and frozen, with no need to repeatedly remix it during freezing, as is the case for most no-machine recipes. The result is rich, creamy and delicious and I know we’ll be using the base recipe for many years to come!

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Ren from Fabulicious Food shared her beautifully summery White Chocolate & Blackcurrant No Churn Easy Ice Cream, which looks so pretty presented in cup cones with wafer tubes. Ren started by making a blackcurrrant puree (but points out you could use the fruit of your choice); created her ice cream base, adding vanilla for extra flavour; then folded in grated white chocolate for texture and flavour, and finally added her coulis. Poured into a container and frozen overnight, it was done!

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Carina from Multi Layer Mummy submitted her Chocolate Vanilla Caramel Ice Cream. As she doesn’t have an ice cream machine, her usual ice cream recipe involves whipping cream, adding flavours and freezing – literally ice cream. This time, she’s added condensed milk, and says she’ll definitely be doing so again. Her recipe is for a chocolate layer and a vanilla one, both with a generous volume of chocolate buttons stirred through.

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Jo from Comfort Bites is very right to remind us that we too “often pass vanilla ice cream off as something to go with apple pie or in a milkshake but we often don’t refer to it to be enjoyed in its own right, as we do say, chocolate or strawberry ice cream.” So her entry to this month’s challenge is a simple and satisfying Condensed Milk Vanilla Ice. If you need reasons to give condensed milk ice cream a go, read this post.

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The first time Julia from Something Missing tried a condensed milk ice cream recipe, she was left with a “big frozen block of chewy fudgyness“. So I’m very pleased she had another go for BSFIC and posted about her Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream recipe. Julia made a mint syrup from fresh mint to flavour the ice cream and also added chopped after eights, as I did in my triple mint choc chip ice cream a couple of months ago. This time, I’m happy to say, her ice cream turned out great!

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The next entry was also a No Churn Mint Chip Ice Cream, from Inger of Art Of Natural Living. Until now, Inger didn’t realise you could make easy and fluffy home made ice cream without churning, but she deemed the result delicious. She used a combination of vanilla and peppermint extracts to flavour her cream and condensed milk base, and added a splash of colouring to give her finished ice cream a pretty colour.

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Laura from How To Cook Good Food had already been thinking about making chai spiced cookies, and that lead to her idea of Tea Ice Cream and Biscuits. She infused the cream for her ice cream with earl grey and then sandwiched the finished ice cream between earl grey biscuits. Best of all, she discovered that not only does the ice cream taste great from the freezer, the biscuits do too!

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Back to me, as I posted a second condensed milk ice cream recipe this month, with this Rich, Bitter Chocolate Ice Cream. This one is nothing like the others, in which whipping the cream incorporates enough air to make the result light and fluffy. It’s a dense, intense hit of bitter chocolate, with a dash of coffee to add further depth of flavour. I used mostly 100% cocoa chocolate, with a little 85% to tone it down a touch (!) and was very pleased with the finished ice cream. Imagine dark, dark chocolate fudge, frozen!

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Wendy, who writes the Chez Chloe blog, starts her post by painting a lovely image of the sights and sounds of Charleston, which she visited on a trip to see her mum – or should I say mom, as Wendy is in the US? Then she shared her Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Ice Cream recipe, making home made raspberry coulis, which she swirled into her ice cream base – a mixture of cream cheese, condensed milk, cream and milk. She also added graham crackers, a little like digestive biscuits, to represent a cheesecake base.

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Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog said of her Blackcurrant, Rose and White Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream that it was a delicious revelation. Having set a theme of blackcurrants for this month’s We Should Cocoa, they were forefront in her mind. Figuring that rose works well with rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries, she banked that it would be lovely with blackcurrants too. And of course, white chocolate because, you know, she is all about the chocolate! She was very happy with the smooth, unctuous, well-balanced result.

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Millionaire’s Shortbread Semifreddo? Hello! Yes please! Hannah from Corner Cottage Bakery came up with an inspired recipe combining the popular pimped shortbread snack with condensed milk ice cream! First she made the shortbread, baked in the same loaf tin she later used for the semifreddo. Next came the ice cream, flavoured with caramel syrup. And lastly, a thick layer of chocolate topping. Frozen, then turned out and sliced to serve; genius!

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Who can resist the idea of Banoffee Pie Ice Cream? Not me and not Claire from Under The Blue Gum Tree, who took inspiration from this classic dessert to create her ice cream. She used a David Lebovitz recipe for roasting the bananas, which she mixed into a condensed milk and cream base, adding crushed biscuits to represent the base. The finished result really does look delicious.

Vanesther writes Bangers and Mash, a blog about cooking good food and eating well on a budget. For her entry, she’s made a Raspberry, Lemon and Mint Semifreddo for which she added lemon juice and zest, fresh mint and plumb fresh raspberries to the condensed milk and cream base. It looks so pretty when sliced, and the flavour combination sounds wonderfully refreshing.

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Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes is no stranger to blog events, providing a monthly round up of all the open challenges she can find, on her other site The Food Blog Diary. She was inspired to enter this month after seeing Ren’s white chocolate and blackcurrant entry earlier in the month. For her Raspberry Ripple and White Chocolate Ice Cream, Jacqueline made the basic condensed milk, cream and vanilla base, then added a fresh raspberry ripple and smooth white chocolate buttons.

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Bree from the Goldtoast Supper Club has taken a stroll down memory lane by sharing a Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream she first made as a child. It used to be the favourite of an old friend, and Bree thought she’d revive the tradition and remind her friend what they’d been missing. To a standard base of condensed milk and cream, she added hazelnuts, nougat and nutella.

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Jennie at Things I Eat has, once again, made me seriously consider whether I should turn up at her place with begging bowl (and spoon) in the hope of being granted a taste of her latest ice cream concoction. This month, she’s made Dead Elvis, featuring a condensed milk and cream base loaded with crunchy peanut butter, crisped streaky bacon, salted caramel sauce and chopped bananas cooked in the caramel sauce.

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And one last entry, a late one sent in after the round up was already posted: this lovely Blackcurrant Icecream from Lucy at The Kitchen Maid. With half a jar of blackcurrant jam in the fridge, not to mention a large bottle of cream (and nothing for the babysitter to eat that evening), she quickly picked up a tin of condensed milk and some white chocolate chips and whipped up a delicious ice cream.

 

For Pinterest users, I’ll be pinning entries to my BSFIC Entries board, so if you’d like to repin any to your own boards, do check that out.

August’s theme will be up on the 1st of the month!

Jul 282012
 

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Having had an excellent vegetarian meal at sister restaurant Cinnamon Kitchen recently, Cinnamon Soho seemed a good choice when my sister and I were looking for somewhere nice to take our pescetarian mum for a celebratory meal.

We needed somewhere that would cater for a late lunch, and were pleased that Cinnamon Soho offer a (newish) Sunday brunch menu that runs into the afternoon. We arrived at 3, knowing that last orders to the kitchen are at 4. We were not at all rushed, and left almost two hours later.

The restaurant is located at the Western edge of Soho, close to Carnaby Street and Liberty. A handy location for a nice day out but the pavements and shops are somewhat overrun with tourists at the moment!

The Sunday brunch set menu is really good value at £20 for two courses and £24 for three, though you could describe it as three / four courses, since you also choose a side dish alongside your main.

As there were 6 starters and 6 mains and we were a group of five, we were able to taste most of the menu. For our sides, we did likewise.

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Cumin and coriander crusted mushroom on toast with fried egg may not have looked particularly elegant on the plate but tasted great.

The tandoori chicken and chilli Delhi sandwich was excellent, with great texture and taste contrasts.

The grilled fat chilli with paneer was another winner, with soft cubes of stir fried paneer stuffed into a sweet chilli. Beautiful on plate and palate.

The Coorgi pork stir fry was another of the favourites, and something quite new for us in terms of Indian cuisine. Soft, fatty pork that reminded us of Chinese flavours yet had a distinctly Indian spicing.

Upma is a South Indian breakfast dish usually made with semolina or rice. But the quinoa & curry leaf ‘upma’, coconut chutney version, substituting the quinoa seeds, worked well. The flavours were right, and the presentation pretty.

We also ended up with a chilli chicken dish which was accidentally served instead of the chilli and paneer. They immediately suggested we keep it whilst waiting for the missing dish. Another good dish with lots of flavour.

We skipped curried cullen skink, the 6th starter on the menu.

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Our mains didn’t disappoint either.

The stir fried baby aubergine in Chettinad spices, pilau rice were small, tender and beautifully spiced, and served over a rich sauce.

The marrow steak with bitter gourd and lentil sauce was an unusual dish but a particular favourite of mum’s. The thick slices of courgette worked well over the bitter gourd and lentil stir fry beneath and the green leaves gave a nice freshness.

The seared sea bass fillet with aubergine-potato crush was pleasant, though our taste buds were hit hard by some very fiery green chillis in the herb and pea sauce. We liked the mustard flavour in the aubergine and potato mash.

I’m not usually a fan of khichri, which is a much plainer affair in North India, often served when you’re poorly or have an upset stomach. However the rich buttery version in the hot-sweet shrimp ‘kichri’  was a completely different dish and I liked it very much.

My favourite, out of a strong selection, was the Hyderabadi style Cumbrian mountain lamb biryani. The lamb was soft, the rice perfectly cooked and there was a fabulous smoky flavour throughout. Really loved this and would come back for this alone, although there’s much on the menu I enjoyed.

We skipped Syrian chicken ‘ishtew’ with south Indian rice pancake, the other available main.

With the mains were served our chosen sides.

The tandoor roasted aubergine crush was somewhat like mum’s aubergine mush, as we call it and a tasty side dish.

The black lentils were good; not the best I’ve had but decent.

The masala mash was one of the few items none of us thought much of. Bland, a bit dry and not very appealing.

We ordered two bread sides, a potato paratha, which was the second poor show and a garlic naan, which was excellent.

We added 2 more plain naans to our order during the meal, also excellent.

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We were so full that we only two of us ordered desserts, with extra spoons for the others, of course.

Lassi panna cotta with tamarind glazed strawberries was not popular. The tart tangy flavour of yoghurt didn’t work well in this format and was not offset by enough sweetness, either in the panna cotta mix or the accompanying strawberries. Really not pleasant at all.

Luckily, the date pancake with ginger ice cream was excellent. Two thin filo pastry triangles filled with a thin layer of sticky sweet dates, and a lovely ginger ice cream that was not overly sweet. The biscuit that came with the dish wasn’t great, but the key components were excellent.

 

So, overall, the food was excellent with just a few misses amongst a lot of hits.

Service wasn’t poor – the staff were friendly and available – but it wasn’t great either, I found it rather inconsistent. It seems to be a weakness with the group, judging by my recent review visit to Cinnamon Kitchen and I wonder if they need to give recruitment and training of staff a little more attention.

That said, I’d definitely return here, especially for this Sunday brunch deal, which is really great value.

Cinnamon Soho on Urbanspoon

Jul 272012
 

Although we’ve been putting the loan Thermomix through its paces making basil tagliatelle and ragu and a quick guacamole, we’ve also found it a great help for other kitchen tasks.

Last year, Pete grew his own wheat, and has been grinding it as and when he wanted to use some in home made bread. Grinding with a small electric burr grinder is effective but slow as one has to batch it through bit by bit. But tipping the rest into the Thermomix in one go and letting those sharp blades have free rein for just a few moments reduced the whole lot to a fine flour in no time at all.

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When I made avocado ice cream recently, we threw all the ingredients into the Thermomix rather than our usual jug blender. It did a very quick job blending a large volume of avocado flesh, sugar, cream, milk, lemon juice and vanilla extract which we then churned in our ice cream machine.

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We’ve also used it to finely grate parmesan and chop onions and garlic, all of which it does very quickly and chop and combine ingredients for a meatloaf, which it handled much better than the disintegrating Magimix.

We didn’t manage to test the steamer functionality; we ran out of time, though we had the machine a while so all our fault.

 

Kavey Eats received a loan machine courtesy of Thermomix. (This is not a sponsored post).

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25 Jul 2012  2 Responses »
Jul 252012
 

Another day another visit to another Indian restaurant in Soho! This time it’s the turn of Imli, which describes itself as offering a “funky, relaxed setting” and claims its speciality as “authentic Indian street food“, served “‘tapas-style’ for sharing“.

I shudder a little when the word tapas is used outside of Spanish tapas joints, though I understand the idea of using it as shorthand for smaller sharing dishes. Since Indian meals are most commonly served family-style – all the dishes in the centre of the table for everyone to help themselves – there’s not really a handy term that springs to mind. One could equally well use meze, which is still not right, but at least a few hundreds miles closer, geographically…

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In any case, the menu is confusing, with Cold and Hot tapas sections followed by Tandoor grilled tapas (which, we are told, are actually mains) and then more tapas sections labelled New tradition, Classic Imli and Vegetarian. I can see no rhyme nor reason in the divisions and we’re unable to order without some guidance from our waitress.

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While I’m waiting for my friend, poppadoms and chutneys are brought out – something tomato-ey, a mango chutney and a sharp thick beetroot one. I order a sweet lassi, which is delicious made from a lovely tangy yoghurt.

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Our waitress suggests a main each from the grills and a couple of tapas dishes.

From the Tandoor grills we choose the Tandoor mixed grill (minimum 2 people) which includes chicken tikka, tandoori fish, lamb chop and paneer tikka and is served with dal makhani and naan bread. We also choose a Seafood Malabar and an Aubergine masala. On the side we have a pulau rice and a cucumber raita.

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The Tandoor mixed grill is very tasty. The lamb chop is robustly spiced and wonderfully soft. The chicken tikka is fantastically moist, the herby marinade is fresh and delicious. The paneer tikka is lovely, with a pleasant texture – soft with a hint of a crust. And the fish, Nile perch, is nicely cooked, its lime leaf, mint and fresh coriander flavourings refreshing. The dal is thick and rich. The naans are soft and fluffy with a lovely smoky taste from the tandoor.

It’s all great but at £15.50 per person, i.e. £31 for this plate, it’s hugely expensive for what it is.

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The Seafood Malabar (£9.95) is delicious. Full of soft, plump morsels of white fish, squid rings and 4 generously-sized prawns cooked in a coconut and tomato sauce, it’s rich and tasty.

Both of us absolutely love the Aubergine masala (£6.50) and it might be our favourite dish of the meal. Soft, soft aubergine full of smokiness and spices, this is very good indeed. A touch oily, as you can see, but neither of us mind that at all.

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Pulao rice (£3.50) is such a simple dish but it’s lifted here by the use of good quality Basmati and deft flavouring.

The Cucumber raita (£1.85) has a great natural yoghurt taste, but is thicker than both of us would prefer, and slightly light on cucumber. Flavours, however, are spot on.

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We initially turn down desserts but our waitress is keen for us to try something and insists we could just have a bite each, if we share one. We succumb and order the Gulab jamon with fig and ginger ice cream (£4.65). It’s so good we do manage more than a bite each, though we don’t quite manage to finish it. The gulab jamon is a sweet, syrup-soaked sponge that the Tooth Fairy must surely be a fan of. It’s balanced nicely by the simple fig and ginger ice cream, which holds back on the sweetness.

I’m so full that my stomach probably resembles a giant gulab jamon!

We end the meal with masala tea (£1.95) and an espresso £2.25).

 

I’m not really convinced by the presentation of the menu as Indian tapas. What we ordered was no different to any other Indian restaurant, where you choose a few starters, mains and sides and share them between the group. The concept makes the restaurant seem gimmicky, which is a shame, as the food is not.

Most of it, with the exception of the Tandoori mixed grill, is reasonably priced.

Service is friendly and attentive, though I’d hope so as we are there for a pre-arranged review visit. That said, it seems good for the neighbouring tables too, with one of the waiters taking a lot of time to translate and describe menu items to a group of French tourists with limited English.

 

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Imli Restaurant.

Imli on Urbanspoon

 

This no-churn ice cream recipe makes a fantastically dense, rich and creamy chocolate ice cream.

I used very dark chocolate indeed to achieve a deliciously bitter result, but you could use a 70% chocolate to dial it back a little, if you prefer. Although it’s not much, the quarter teaspoon of coffee granules definitely comes through, adding extra depth of flavour without turning this into a mocha ice cream. The condensed milk adds a lighter, caramel note.

The recipe I based mine on is one I found via Pinterest on a blog called A Cup of Jo. It’s a guest post by Cenk from Cafe Fernando and he adapted his recipe from one by Jeni Britton Bauer. And I adapted it again. Such is the round robin nature of international recipe blogging!

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As with the previous condensed milk recipe, this one is also made without the use of an ice cream machine; in fact the ice cream mixture is far too dense to be churned by a machine.

 

Rich, Bitter Chocolate Ice Cream (No Churn Recipe)

Ingredients
200 grams sweetened condensed milk
90 grams whole milk
90 grams double cream
100 grams very dark chocolate, grated or finely chopped
0.25 teaspoon instant coffee granules or powder
0.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
Small pinch fine sea salt
2.5 teaspoons plain flour
1 tablespoon cold water

Note: I used 70 grams of Willie’s Caranero 100% Superior Venezuelan Black and 30 grams of Divine’s 85% dark chocolate.
Note: I halved the amounts in Cenk’s recipe to make approximately half a litre of ice cream. I also replaced the cocoa powder with additional chocolate and switched cornstarch to plain flour. Double the amounts above to make a litre.

Method

  • In a large heavy-bottomed pan, whisk the condensed milk, whole milk and double cream until combined. Bring to the boil on a medium-high heat.

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  • Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, instant coffee, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk until the chocolate melts and is fully mixed into the cream and milk.

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  • Mix the flour and cold water in a bowl with a fork until completely dissolved, then add to the ice cream base. Whisk until combined.
  • Place the pan back on a medium-high heat and cook until thickened, whisking constantly and scraping the sides and the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. This will take several minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • We were short on time, so we speeded up the cooling process by immersing the pan in shallow sink of cold water, taking care not to let any water splash into the mixture.

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  • Transfer to a heatproof container and set aside, uncovered, to cool for half an hour. Don’t worry if a skin forms on top.

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  • When the container is cool enough to handle, cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours, or overnight.
  • Before transferring the chilled ice cream to the freezer, stir with a fork to mix the skin on top into the rest of the mixture.

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  • Cover with cling film, pressing it against the surface of the ice cream to create an airtight seal. Cover and freeze until firm.
This recipe creates a really dense ice cream. You may need to take it out of the freezer 10-20 minutes before serving, or use a mug of boiling water to dunk your ice cream scoop between curving scoops.

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This is another entry for July’s Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream.

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Jul 222012
 

Ever since Dom launched it, I’ve really enjoyed Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipes challenge, where he invites fellow bloggers to use various techniques of random selection to choose a recipe from their collection of cookbooks and blog it. It often results in some rather unusual recipes, the ones you probably wouldn’t choose to make if you were flicking through the book and choosing normally. It’s a crapshoot, and I love it!

But I’ve never managed to take part, not least because I often have a pile of books waiting to be reviewed in order, and when I have the time and inclination to try a new recipe, I turn to that pile.

So when he posted this month’s challenge – to share some photos of our cookery books – I knew it was time to participate.

I adore books and I particularly adore cookery books. “Food porn” is an overused term, but it’s still good shorthand to describe the almost visceral feeling of satisfaction to be found in flicking through page after page of recipes that make your mouth water with anticipation. Isn’t that pretty much what porn does?

Having amassed far too many cookery books already, a couple of years back I agreed a moratorium on buying any more for at least a year. Of course, this coincided with the (lovely) situation of having publishers offer me review copies via the blog. So the collection continues to expand at vastly increased rate. I did send two large boxes of cookery books to two charity fundraising projects last year, but it’s definitely time for another round of thinning the cookery book shelf!

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So here are my cookery book shelves, nooks and crannies.

The main unit (above) has books two deep. I have no idea what’s in there any more…

That hideous cushion is one I found in a samples sale at previous job, when I needed something for my back. Hey, it’s ugly but it only cost me 50p! I love the chair though, with it’s corduroy cover. We inherited it with the house…

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Plus I have two other small collections of more recent additions – the one on the right is the “to review” set – which were both piles on the floor until our recent spate of de-cluttering and tidying.

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Are you a book addict? Which are the favourites in your collection?

 

Whilst Bea Vo is most strongly associated with the delicious sweet creations she sells in her Bea”s of Bloomsbury shops, she is also a talented professional chef. Born to a Vietnamese family in Washington D.C., married to an Austrian and living in London, she spent holidays visiting family in Louisiana.

There are so many diverse influences on her cooking. But her latest offeringa Summer Crawfish Boil – is 100% Louisiana!

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On Thursday evenings throughout summer a hundred or so eager customers take their places at long rows of bench tables in Bea’s Maltby Street Diner.

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The menu is short and sweet: garlic bread to start and then as much as you can eat of spiced crawfish, potatoes, sweet corn and Polish smoked sausage served with cocktail sauce, salsa and Bea’s special Cajun butter sauce. Dessert, if you have room, is a refreshing ice lolly – I went for raspberry margarita flavour.

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The bar menu includes local London beers, pitchers or glasses of margaritas or lemonade and a short list of wines.

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Some diners were done within an hour but our table ploughed through 8 enormous buckets full before we finally admitted defeat. You won’t be rushed out and Bea will keep serving until you’ve had your fill.

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Cherry and I having craw claw fights

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Cherry and Jason celebrating another tall pile of empty shells

At just £24 per person, this is a great value evening and the perfect outing for a bunch of greedy friends. Bibs and copious paper towel provided!

(More dates to be added soon).

 

With thanks to Fran, Jools and Jason for photos.

 

En route to our recent seafood holiday in Cornwall, we paused for a visit to Riverford Organic during the day, and stayed overnight in nearby Scoriton. For dinner, we visited a local recommendation, Agaric in Ashburton.

Our trip was organised by (and courtesy of) The Food Travel Company.

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Agaric is a small restaurant with bed and breakfast guest rooms above and a kitchen shop next door. It’s run by husband and wife team Nick and Sophie Coiley, with Nick in charge of menu and kitchen and Sophie overseeing the day to day running of the business.

Unusually (or perhaps not for the area) the restaurant serves morning coffee / late breakfasts, lunch and dinner, though I guess if you’re running a B&B anyway, it’s not a huge step to offer breakfast to more than one’s overnight guests. For all three meals, the Coileys make as much themselves as they can, from home made bread and preserves to smoked fish and cured meats to ice creams and sorbets, not to mention home grown produce, where possible – behind the restaurant is a courtyard garden, a greenhouse and a kitchen garden; the Coiley’s grow most of their own salads and herbs and also some of the soft fruit, flowers and chillies they use too. For the rest, they source locally and quality.

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Inside is small and welcoming, though the sheer volume of preserves on sale is slightly unnerving, filling shelving by the door, nooks within the walls and a dresser nearer the bar towards the back.

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Initially, we take a seat at the bar, where we also make our choices for the meal and are served an amuse bouche. Skewers of very tender beef have been doused in an Asian-inspired marinade and lightly seared. Tender and tasty. The plump olives stuffed with pickled chillies are great too. After nibbles, we are shown to our table.

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The bread, served warm out of the oven, is truly some of the best I’ve ever had. Brown, feather light, soft, with a light crust… it tastes so good I have to concentrate not to make happy noises and shock the elderly fellow patrons.

I ask for more info, but am told only that Nick has fine tuned his recipe over the years and bakes it in the wood fired pizza ovens he had installed in the kitchen. Later though, our waitress comes back and tells me that Nick combines Shipton Mill brown flour with Marriage’s white and uses live yeast. A start, if I’m to persuade Pete to try and recreate it…!

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Pete starts with baked goats cheese with rosemary & paprika on toasted brioche with wood oven roasted peppers (£8.95). He is very happy with the soft mild goats cheese, a nicely dressed salad and sweet peppers.

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I choose a fish plate of kiln roast salmon and smoked salmon with a lobster cake, buckwheat pancakes, organic green salad & lime mayonnaise (£9.50). The smoked salmon is thick cut and with nice flavour, not the most flavoursome I’ve had, but decent. The hot smoked salmon, on the other hand, is spectacularly good – succulent, full of flavour and a nice portion too. It’s lovely with that lime mayo. The lobster cake is pleasant, and the taste and texture of lobster chunks do come through, with a lemony back note, but it doesn’t blow me away, being a little too dry.

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Pete’s main is an enormous panfried fillet of Devon beef with a shallot and red wine stuffed mushroom served with parsnip puree and horseradish cream (£22.50). As you’d expect from a fillet, the meat is wonderfully soft. Less of a given is how good it tastes, with real beefy punch. The pepper adds texture and a little fire, but without masking the meat. Parnsip puree is fabulous with all the sweet, earthiness of this undersung root vegetable. The only let down is the gravy which is somewhat bland and not particularly attractive either, with all the floating dark matter. Still, overall a great dish.

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My roast breast of duck with a honey and rosemary glaze served with a warm beetroot mousse, onion and orange confit and spinach (£19.50) is mixed. The duck is super soft, cooked just right and with excellent flavour again. It’s a generous portion too. The beetroot mousse tastes alright but the grainy texture is off-putting. I’m given a small dollop of that same parsnip puree, and it’s so good I wish I had more instead of the beetroot. The onion and orange confit is superb, with caramelised onion cut by tangy citrus, but this time the portion is far too big. It’s strong stuff, and a little goes a long way. I like my gravy better than Pete’s – thick and glossy with a decent flavour of rosemary too.

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Pete enjoys his vanilla and ginger baked cheesecake with poached gooseberries (£6.95) well enough though says the ginger is virtually undetectable and the gooseberries are under ripe.

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The hot chocolate soufflé (£6.95) was meant to come with jersey double cream, but I asked instead for a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, listed as part of one of the other desserts. The souffle is decent but it’s the salted caramel ice cream that wins me over more, with it’s generous measure of salt in a properly browned caramel base.

It’s a good meal served by friendly faces, in a simple and cosy setting. The ingredients are clearly of excellent quality, and the dishes attractive and with many good flavours. Not perfect, by any means, but very enjoyable and a restaurant I’d be happy to visit again.

 

Our visit to Agaric was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company. They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available. Our trip included a night near Buckfastliegh, four nights in Cornwall where we enjoyed a number of seafood-oriented activities, and another night in Bristol on the way home, allowing us to visit some great breweries and restaurants. I’ll be posting about several more of our experiences in coming weeks.

 

The Betjeman Arms is located in one of my very favourite buildings in London.

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St Pancras Station

St Pancras station is an eye-catchingly extravagant Victorian edifice designed by prominent ecclesiastical architect of the era, George Gilbert Scott.

During this era, there were a number of competing private railway companies in Great Britain, including Midlands Railway.  A company based in the industrial heartlands, when Midland ran routes into London, it shared tracks belonging to other companies, coming into Euston or King’s Cross stations. However, increased traffic lead to clashes with the owners of those lines and Midland decided to create their own line instead.

In preparation, Midland began purchasing large parcels of land in the parish of St Pancras, which was then a poor district with notorious slums. For their new station, they chose a site directly between Euston and King’s Cross.

Midland’s directors, keen to impress, were determined to outclass the ornateness of Lewis Cubitt’s Euston, Brunel’s innovative iron and glass design at Paddington and John Hawkshaw’s single-span roof designs at Charing Cross. They chose William Barlow’s spectacular single-span structure for the trainshed and George Gilbert Scott’s grand Gothic revival designs for the St Pancras station buildings. Even with some financial squeezing, Gilbert Scott’s plans were implemented in suitably majestic form.

Despite problems with a sloping site, residential areas to be cleared, a graveyard containing coffined remains, the complication of dealing with local gasworks and even a city-wide cholera outbreak that lead to some major works on the subterranean River Fleet, St Pancras opened in 1868.

The extravagant Midland Grand Hotel, also designed by Gilbert Scott, opened between 1873 and 1876, amid some contention about spiralling costs. Not only incredibly luxurious and well appointed, the Midland Grand was also ahead of its time: it was the first hotel in the world to offer an alternative to stairs by way of “hydraulic ascending chambers”; guests could summon service using a unique electric bell calling system; rooms had flush toilets rather than the more common chamber pots and the hotel put minds at ease by boasting of a fireproof concrete floor construction.

The 20th century was not kind to St Pancras station. The Railways Act of 1921 forced the merger of Midland Railway and London and North Western into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) which chose Euston as it’s principal London terminus. The Midland Grand Hotel, once so ahead of the times but now far behind new competitors, closed in 1935, and became known as St Pancras Chambers when it was used for a period as railway offices. The station was bombed three times during the Second World War, but its robust construction meant it survived almost unscathed. A Manchester London Pullman briefly ran into St Pancras in the 1960s but was consolidated into Euston services when the station was rebuilt in the same decade.

By the end of the 1960s, St Pancras was seen as redundant and there was calls to have it demolished completely. A strong (and successful) opposition was led by John Betjeman, who later became Poet Laureate and he secured a Grade 1 listing for the building in 1967.

Over the next few decades, changes to the sectorisation of nationalised rail and then privatisation resulted in changes to routing and services, and the creation of new services such as Thameslink, which also came through St Pancras.

However, the old hotel was abandoned by British Rail in 1985 and stood empty and neglected for almost two decades after, used occasionally as a location for TV and film shoots.

The original plan for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link envisaged a King’s Cross St Pancras area terminus, however, the service launched with its terminus at Waterloo in 1994. It wasn’t until 2007 that Eurostar’s service finally switched into St Pancras, after a complex and expensive 7 year redevelopment project.

The old MIdland Grand Hotel was redeveloped into a new hotel and opened as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in 2011. Within it is the Gilbert Scott Restaurant and Bar, named for architect.

 

Sir John Betjeman

Poet, writer and broadcaster John Betjeman was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture.

In 1972 he wrote “London’s Historic Railway Stations” in which he defended the beauty of twelve London stations. About St Pancras he wrote, “What [the Londoner] sees in his mind’s eye is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow’s train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street.”

He led a number of campaigns to save threatened buildings in London, some of which failed and others which succeeded. He called the plan to demolish St Pancras a “criminal folly” and campaigned strongly until plans for demolition were dropped and the building was listed with coveted Grade 1 status.

When the station re-opened after the Eurostar redevelopment, Betjeman’s role was commemorated with a statue of Betjeman created by artist Martin Jennings. The 7 foot tall bronze statue includes a slate roundel featuring selections of Betjeman’s writings.

 

The Betjeman Arms

Part of the Geronimo Inns group, The Betjeman Arms is located within the main St Pancras building, with external entrances to Euston Road/ Pancras Road and internal ones directly onto the station concourse, close to colossal bronze statue, “The Meeting Place”.

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Inside, the pub is much bigger than I’d imagined, though the space is divided into a number of areas including the main bar with seating area, two regular dining room areas, a boardroom (for business meetings and lunches) and the terrace, on the open concourse out back.

We’re in one of the dining rooms, decorated with a travel theme, as befits the location. It’s contrived, yes, but nicely done with displays of luggage and the normal selection of Old Things that are used to decorate new pubs. I particularly love the enormous arched windows which flood the rooms with light.

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The menu separates Starters and Nibbles, though some of the nibbles work well as starters. Mains are divided between full priced Mains, Sandwiches and a recently added section called The Great British Lunch (priced at £8).

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A word on the beers: the pub prides itself on offering a range of real ales but seems to sell only three – Sam Brooks Wandle, Sharp’s Atlantic IPA and a third labelled as Betjeman’s Ale, which is allegedly a rebadge of Sharp’s Cornish Coaster.

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For my starter, I order the black pudding scotch egg (£4.95) from the nibbles menu. When it arrives, it looks beautiful, sat on a wooden board with dressed salad and a pot of brown sauce. And it’s enormous. However it’s served cold, which robs it hugely of flavour. The black pudding has some taste, but the egg has none and the whole thing would be lifted immeasurably if cooked to order and served hot.

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Pete’s starter of smoked chicken, avocado, pepper and cherry tomato salad in lemon mayo dressing (£6.95) is the best dish of our meal. Super balance of textures and flavours and visually very appealing too.

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I order from The Great British Lunch section, choosing baked aubergine stuffed with minted lamb (£8). What I’m served is tasty – nicely spiced lamb and peas in a soft aubergine half on a bed of tomatoes – but it’s very oily. When we speak to the manager after our meal, I suggest it might be nice to serve a green salad or side vegetable alongside.

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Pete cannot resist the Betjeman beef burger with brioche bun, mature cheddar cheese, bacon and chips (£12.50) with onion rings (£1 extra). When it comes, it looks impressive, presented with steak knife upright holding the onion rings above the burger. However, it suffers from two flaws – it’s way too large to be eaten as a burger and the beef patty is very dry indeed, not to mention lacking in flavour. A shame because the bun is one of the nicest we’ve come across and the chips and condiments are also good. And the onion rings are excellent.

 

After our lunch, we sit and chat to pub manager Gary Digby.

Of course, we discuss our thoughts, good and bad, about the dishes we ordered for lunch; always refreshing to do so with a restaurateur open to constructive feedback.

Gary also tells us that he’s just signed off plans for a refurbishment of the pub, scheduled for September.

But his main focus at the moment is on preparing for the Olympics. Located at a major transport hub, he knows they’ll be very busy indeed, and has been working towards this period for several months. The Javelin train service between King’s Cross and Stratford will depart from the platform right by the pub’s concourse terrace, so he’s been working with the various station authorities, not to mention his staff and suppliers, to ensure they can serve the long queues expected to pass through – he’s been given figures of 1000 passengers every 10 minutes. The provision of drinks and snacks via ice cream carts and usherette trays has already been signed off, as has a Moet and Chandon bar in the terrace area. Gary’s still hoping he might get permission for a small stall selling hot food too. The pub is also extending its opening hours, trading between 6.30 am and 1 am from Sunday to Wednesday and 6.30 am to 3 am from Thursday to Saturday. The pub have signed up to the Fair Pricing Charter, and will not be raising their prices at all.

Although the pub gets a lot of business from passing travellers, Gary is proud that over 35% of their business is from regulars, most of whom live or work locally.

 

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of The Betjeman Arms.

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