Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

Having abandoned this blog after a gruelling amount of essays and festive catch-ups, it is time for me to return to the world of food blogging and promise to maintain the blog for the rest of the year- my new year’s resolution.
This really shouldn't be very difficult, after presents like 'Larousse Gastronomique' (THE cooking bible), a shiny new wok and Chinese cook book, a selection of borough market treats such as a range of hand mixed Indian spice blends, white truffle oil and a tangy chimchurri sauce.

For now, I will tell you what I had for my new year’s dinner, fashioned up by my mum.
A traditional Russian celebration dish, 'Kurnik' is a complex combination of shredded roast chicken, rice, boiled eggs, wild mushrooms, onions, parsley and pastry. Layer by layer the ingredients come together before being wrapped up in some homemade pancakes (Russian blini) before being rolled up in a homemade soda-based pastry. The pancakes stop the pastry from getting soggy and add that extra bit of indulgence. Kurnik, I'm afraid to tell my south west based audience, blows Cornish pasties right out of the water!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Pan fried swordfish on a simple home-made fish stock risotto

Last weekend involved me buying some whole fresh dover sole from Borough Market. I was nervous and excited at the prospect of learning some new fish preperation skills but once I filleted and skinned the poor things, there really wasn’t a lot left to eat (I did manage to make a nice dover sole linguini dish in the end but I won't go into that in detail). Feeling rather guilty at how much of the fish might go to waste, I saved the discarded bones, heads and skin and vowed to make some fish stock, so I can get the most out of this thought-after fish.
Simple Fish Stock
·         Heads, bones and skin of 2 dover sole
·         1 leek
·         ½ an onion
·         1 Carrot
·         1 bulb of fennel
·         About 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley stalks
·         6 peppercorns
·         A pinch of salt
·         3 dried bay leaves

All you need to do is coarsely chop up all the veg, combine in a large pan with the peppercorns, parsley stalks, bay leaves and the fish bits and top with about 1 litre of cold water (although I ended up adding an extra 300ml). Bring to a simmer and keep it on low heat and simmering for 35 minutes, or longer for a more intense stock. Using a fine sieve, gradually ladle the liquid from the stock pan into a large bowl/another pan, pressing down on the solid items from the pan to squeeze out any juices before disposing of them. Do this until all liquid has been transported into the bowl/pan, and you will be left with some lightly golden, shimmering fish stock.

I chose to freeze half of the stock while putting the rest into a clean pan to simmer; this will go towards my fishy risotto!

Seeing as I wrote a recipe for risotto just a few posts ago, I will not bore you repeating the same thing. I will, however, tell you what I’ve changed so you can vary your recipe accordingly. (To refresh your memory, here is my previous risotto post

As earlier stated, I replaced the chicken stock with my own fish stock. As I was going down the simplicity route, I left out the saffron instead opting for a more fresh alternative by adding 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley (right at the end when the parmesan is added).  I bought 1 large swordfish steak, which I marinated in some freshly-squeezed lemon juice, chopped red chillies, salt and pepper. I cut this in half to reduce cooking time and pan-fried over high heat in 2 tbsp of olive oil for a few minutes on each side, serving on a bed of risotto!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Honeyed parsnip and celeriac soup

The roads are getting icy, snow is predicted and central heating is the only thing keeping me from turning into a human icicle. But I found another way to keep myself happy and warm, and it’s this soup.
Serves 2-3
·         2 parsnips
·         Half a celeriac root
·         Half a medium onion
·         3 tablespoons of butter
·         600ml of chicken/vegetable/ham stock
·         2 tablespoons of honey
·         3 garlic cloves
·         10g of root ginger
·         A pinch of nutmeg
·         Salt and pepper
·         Pancetta cubes to garnish
·         1 tablespoon of single cream to garnish
·         Croutons to garnish. I made my own by cubing some slightly stale bread then frying in some olive oil on all sides until golden and crisp.
(I also used some frozen chicken and saffron stock that I had leftover from my risotto, all that did was give the soup a slightly golden tint and a tiny hint of earthy saffron)
Start off by peeling and chopping the veg. Size doesn’t matter as it will all go into a blender anyway but nice 3cm cubes would be perfect. The onion should be finely chopped so it sweats and caramelizes more quickly. Heat a deep pan of 2 tablespoons of butter until melted and put in the onions. Leave on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the parsnips, celeriac, ginger and garlic and stir for a few minutes before adding the rest of the butter, coating the contents of the pan in it as it melts. The ginger will give off that delicate heat that we like to taste in a true winter warmer! After around 10 minutes, add the honey and stir to coat all the vegetables. This will also help the onions caramelize further. Reduce the heat slightly and cover with a lid for a further 5 minutes. Meanwhile you can prepare the stock (I use chicken concentrate mixed with boiled water for an intense brothy flavour), then add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Add this to the pan and leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes. Once the vegetables are soft and can easily be crushed with a fork, take off the heat and cool before putting in a blender and pulsing.

Serve with some crispy pancetta cubes along with home-made croutons and a drizzle of single cream.

Some left over? This is what I did with my leftover soup.
 Boil some pasta in hot water, once al dente, drain and return to the pan. Pour over 5 tablespoons of the soup, some grated cheese and single cream before mixing in some basil pesto. Add some cooked bacon or chicken for an easy lunch and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Saffron risotto with butternut squash, scallops and pancetta cubes.

Risotto has often been described as a tricky dish to master. I, for one, don’t see how occasionally ladling some stock into a pan of rice and stirring is particularly challenging. It really is what you choose to put in your risotto that can make it or break it. So in an attempt to live up to the complex and (somewhat pompous!) reputation of risotto, I chose to combine a range of diverse flavours and textures to create a beautiful dish, not just to taste but to look at, too!
Before you doubt me and think “there’s far too much going on!” there is something I would like for you to consider; the earthy aroma and golden glow of the saffron combined with the sweet taste and vivid colouring of the roasted squash to elevate the delicate scallops before topping with smoky and crunchy pancetta cubes. If that’s not a dish filled with complimentary flavours, textures and seasonal beauty, I don’t know what is!

For the base risotto
·         ¾ cups of Carnaroli rice (or Arborio if you cannot source Carnaroli)
·         1 litre if good chicken (or vegetable) stock. I was naughty and used 4 teaspoons of chicken concentrate and mixed with boiling water. I don’t regret it for a second!
·         ½ a cup of white wine
·         ½ a medium onion
·         1/3 a cup of parmesan
·         A pinch of saffron threads
·         Butter
·         2 tablespoons of olive oil
For the topping (feel free to improvise!)
·         ½ a butternut squash (approx. 400g)
·         Scallops (I used 1 pack of tesco’s scallops about 16)
·         Pancetta cubes
·         Olive oil

10 simple steps to risotto success!

1)      The first job is to preheat that oven to 200C, so we can get that squash roasting. To do that, prepare it by peeling and dicing it (about 3 centimetre cubes), before coating in olive oil then into a roasting tray- and into the oven.
2)      Peel and finely chop up half an onion, then gently sweat in a pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
3)      Meanwhile in a separate pan- prepare your stock by adding the saffron threads before simmering on a low heat.
4)      Once the onions are soft, add a further tablespoon of olive oil before pouring the rice into the pan, stirring to coat with the oil and onions, until translucent in colour (about 1 minute).
5)      Add the wine and simmer until the liquid has evaporated completely. Choosing a good quality wine is essential as it’s the first flavour your risotto is hit with! Reduce the heat to a low simmer then ladle by ladle, add the stock to the risotto, stirring occasionally. Don’t overwhelm your risotto, wait for most of the moisture to soak up before adding the next ladleful. This process should take around 25 minutes.

6)      While that’s simmering, fry your pancetta cubes in a hot pan until almost completely crispy and set aside.
7)      Check on your squash- take out of the oven and turn the cubes, basting with oil if necessary. Then top with the pancetta cubes and put back in the oven, this will keep the cubes warm and complete cooking them as well as infusing the squash with their smokiness!
8)      Once the risotto is oozy in appearance but still in rice form, taste it and if it tastes ready (soft with not even a slight crunch) take off the heat. Stir in some freshly grated parmesan and about 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.
9)      Meanwhile, use the frying pan used for the pancetta cubes (with all the juices still in the pan) and heat until very hot. Then, one by one (I choose to do this in concentric circles so I know which ones went in first so not to overcook) put the scallops into the pan and fry for 1-2 minutes on each side (follow the correct timings for your scallops size)
10)   Plate up your risotto then top with the squash, scallops and pancetta cubes. Season with a grinding of black pepper and an extra grating of parmesan, just for luck!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

New chef means new review! The Chancery- revisited.

If you’ve ever found out that your favourite restaurant has replaced their head chef, you may well understand my feelings of disappointment and loss when I found out that the Chancery’s executive chef Daniel Guerrero has been replaced with Steven Englefield. While I was a little nervous, I decided to revisit the Chancery but with a completely blank culinary canvas in mind! In a party of 6, consisting of me, my boyfriend and his family we arrived at the Chancery on a busy Friday evening.
The restaurant looked as welcoming as ever, with dim but warming lighting complimenting the slick black and white decor. Home-made bread and butter arrived at the table very quickly and we were pleased with a swift service at the start of what was panning out to be an impressive evening. The little touches were charming, like if you for any reason leave your seat you can expect to return with your napkin swiftly refolded! It was a lovely moment when an amuse bouche of a smooth wild mushroom soup arrived, which was when I realised that even if the chef was different, the restaurant has kept its values!
The creamy mushroom concoction glided in the mouth, leaving me with an intensely packed combination of rich mushroom and delicate crème fraiche flavours, pretty impressive for something arriving in a ceramic shot glass. The silky texture meant that even the mushroom-phobe of the group gave the soup a thumbs up! I selected a starter of ‘Foie gras, ham hock and white bean terrine’. The foie gras was at the centre of the terrine, which to me symbolised the highlight of the dish! The flavours of this velvety pate supplied the central character of decadence while the surrounding ham hock and white beans added weight to the terrine. The chef chose to pair this with a side of piccalilli, making the dish even more British (a good idea, as the terrine came with toasted brioche instead of the crispy country bread suggested on the menu!). I’m still uncertain as to whether the terrine and the piccalilli tied together. With something as delicate and refined as foie gras, you would expect a subtle yet sweet chutney to lift the dish so overpowering does not become an issue. However, I felt the acidity of the piccalilli slightly overpowered the foie gras, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t like it. I though the piccalilli on its own was pungent and tantalizing and combined well with the ham hock element which was meaty- and very British! Maybe I’ll never make up my mind! Our wine of choice was Momo 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, which had subtle acidity lifted by refined aromas of citrus and gooseberries.

The main course of monkfish, tiger prawns, peperonata and a banyules vinegar dressing was a tongue-tingling choice. Although the portion was on the small side, I enjoyed that the dish was light with a Spanish kick, made me wish it was summertime and I was chilling by the beach in costa blanca! Saffron potatoes were a cheeky addition that cut through the acidity of the vinegar dressing as well as adding certain opulence to the dish.

The palate cleanser that arrived at the table was a slightly controversial basil sorbet with sweet tomato granita. It agreed with my taste buds, but did it agree with my brain, that was in the process of preparing itself for something sweet and calorific?  I thought it was an interesting idea and certainly refreshing and flavourful, but some of the guests and I agreed that it would have been more appropriate between the starters and the main courses.
My dessert, a smooth rich and super-indulgent chocolate marquise, on the other hand, caused no doubts what so ever. Paired with crushed hazelnuts, a frangelico and coffee ice cream as well as a thin caramel bar for extra ‘crunch’ it was a sensational end to a meal. The chocolate was not as bitter as you might predict in a decadent dessert like a marquise. I was really pleased with this as the soft bitterness of the coffee ice cream gave the dessert just enough of a kick without taking away the sweetness, while the drizzle of cream was adequate in bringing together and calming the flavours.

The meal ended in a slightly slower and less efficient service with coffee and liqueurs taking some time to arrive; nonetheless it was a very pleasant meal. The petit fours we received with our coffees included mini coconut macaroons and melt in the mouth dark chocolate truffles.
So The Chancery remains a restaurant I would recommend to all Londoners. While my last review was suggesting the portions were slightly too big, I find myself eating my words. Now even though I’m not raving about the size of my monkfish fillet, I can’t help but wonder, if it had been bigger would I have been able to sample the delicious chocolate marquise? Probably not. Lesson learnt; stop being greedy and just enjoy every bite. You know it’s a good sign when you are left wanting more!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

London’s little gems...a quick look at my favourite North African, French, and Fusion restaurants.

I would love to share with you some of my favourite international restaurants in London but as I have limited time and a limited memory (most of these places I visited last year), I will just give you a quick overview and the rest you can see for yourself, should you act on my recommendations!
As you follow the rose petals towards the entrance of this exotic restaurant, you can’t help but feel transported into an entirely different continent. The light looks dimmer, the colours more vibrant and the atmosphere feels more intimate as soon as you step inside. The decor of the place was the predominant highlight for me, while belly dancers and Arabic music also added to the North African ambience and were thoroughly entertaining. We shared a range of ‘mezzes’ instead of your typical ‘a la carte’ arrangement which meant we got to try many authentic Lebanese and Moroccan dishes. The muhamara- a walnut, red pepper and pomegranate dip was a fantastic accompaniment to the home made flat breads. I have since attempted to recreate muhamara, but failed to achieve the sweet yet pungent nuttiness we found in Kenza’s version. Other dishes included a range of sambousek (warm Moroccan patties stuffed with a choice of meat, vegetables or seafood) Soujok (little spicy sausages from Lebanon) as well as halloumi, chicken livers, tiger prawns and sauté potatoes with a kick. We may have found ourselves over-ordering, but the menu was so vast and exciting we found it hard to say no! This place would be perfect for larger parties so you can feast on a wide variety of mezzes whilst enjoying the party atmosphere of this charming North African restaurant.
Village East
With a vibrant atmosphere and a unique menu, Village East did not fail to impress me! The chef combines good, British ingredients with a touch of the exotic. My starter of scallops and pork belly combined with carrot puree and caramelized in a teriyaki glaze worked brilliantly in an east meets west sort of way. Our less exotic main of an 18oz chateaubriand was of exceptional quality and came with crispy châteaux potatoes and béarnaise sauce. Everything was cooked perfectly, and the generous portions left us with no room for dessert! The service was pleasant but in no way over-powering and the restaurant as a whole had this trendy, fast-paced vibe about it that would be more suited for an after-work dinner rather than somewhere to celebrate a special occasion (although your taste buds will be doing plenty of celebrating for you!). Some other exciting food items on the menu that tempted me include a sauted foie gras burger, Moroccan inspiredChermoula spiced poussin” with tabouleh as well as an Asian-stlye “white miso skate wing” with sticky rice, bok choi and ginger. If you’re in one of those moods where you just don’t know what you fancy for dinner, give Village East a try where there will certainly be something on the menu to tempt you!
Le Chardon (Clapham)
A busy, neighbourhood bistro, Le Chardon specialises in modern French cuisine in the heart of Clapham. I was particularly impressed with the starter of foie gras with red onion marmalade and French brioche, which was the major influencing factor in my choice of a second visit. The sea bass, served whole was complimented perfectly by the wide range of herbs, and don’t get me started on their dauphinoise potatoes which arrived at the table still bubbling in cream! Perhaps not one for the weight-watchers amongst you...I would also recommend the duck breast in orange sauce, a classic combination that does wonders for the taste buds! The atmosphere is relaxed but retains its elegance with unique art displayed on the walls which you may even choose to purchase! This place would be perfect for a romantic yet an informal date.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Gazette, Battersea in under 500 words...

I chose this restaurant for a quiet evening to celebrate my mum’s birthday, even though it was in an inconvenient location, I read some great reviews about the place and thought I should give it a try! Situated within a residential area in Battersea, Gazette offers simple, rustic French food in a relaxed setting.
After spending a great deal of time trying to reach Gazette, we were a little disappointed that our reservation has somehow got ‘lost’ (despite booking a week in advance) but we were reassured very quickly and seated in a cosy area surrounded by quirky little items like old books, bottles and even a rustic accordion! It was an interesting concept, which was further played on by serving all their food in rustic pots and pans and even large slates of wood. The restaurant put a lot of effort into creating that authentic look and I was interested to see whether the food would have that authentic taste. My starter of moules mariniere was a delicious classic combination of white wine, shallots, parsley and mussels served in a huge, steaming pot. I was very impressed with the size of the dish and it took me almost half an hour to polish off! My mum’s starter of duck terrine was also a substantial, hearty portion of a simple but tasty country-style terrine. Our basket of fresh, warm bread and creamy butter was a fantastic addition to both our starters; I particularly enjoyed mopping up my white wine sauce with the crunchy country bread!

Our mains of sea bass were tender and fresh and came on a sharing pan of beautiful steamed vegetables.
The mains were uncomplicated but still full in flavour, and the side of simply-cooked vegetables left me feeling full but healthy, giving me an excuse to indulge in a calorie-packed dessert! I had initially chosen a praline soufflé which was ironically described on the menu as “cooked with patience”. However when it arrived I found it was completely undercooked, a real shame as it looked impressive in size and smelt so delicious! After spending quite some time in getting a waiter’s attention, I replaced my choice with a crème brulee instead. It was less dramatic in appearance but had the classic flavour and texture as expected from a crème brulee.

Overall, the service was pleasant but a little slow. The food was simple but authentic and despite the incident with the soufflé (which is notoriously difficult to get right!) very enjoyable. The other customers were enjoying some of the theatre involved in the presentation of the food, including a sea bream cooked in pastry which was presented to the customer whole before being uncovered by one of the waiters at the table. If Gazette was in a more central location, I would certainly give it another go.  As the menu changes on a daily basis, it would be interesting to see what the chef would serve up next!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ooh la yum! French Onion Soup!

Ok so I realise I've gone a bit soup mad but bear with me. This French classic is well worth a try, not only is it incredibly cheap to make but its super indulgent! If you're struggling to think of an elegant veggie dish for your ethical friends, this might be the one for you (but remember to substitute the beef stock for vegetable stock and check that the wine you use is suitable for vegetarians!).
This recipe makes enough for two big bowls, so remember to vary your recipe accordingly!
·         4 medium red onions (Obviously you are free to substitute for regular white ones but I find the red onions have a delicate sweetness about them as well as giving the soup that pretty, colourful look.)
·         1 garlic clove (plus extra for rubbing on the bread)
·         200ml red wine
·         1 pint of beef/vegetarian stock
·         50g butter
·         1 tbsp of Demerera/brown sugar
·         Fresh thyme leaves (a small handful)
·         2 bay leaves
·         A medium baguette
·         100g hard cheese i.e gruyere or cheddar
First, wash and peel the onions. Why wash, you ask? It reduces the risk of tears, and makes the chopping you are about to do a lot more bearable! I love variation of texture in my soup, so I choose to cube one onion, coarsely chop another and slice the last two into ring shapes. Making the soup your own is what makes it so special so try experimenting with various shapes and sizes! Put aside the chopped onions and melt the butter in a pan over a low-heat. Once melted and hot, drop in the onions and stir quickly to cover all onions in the butter juice. Crush and chop the garlic and coarsely cut the thyme leaves before adding into the pan along with the bay leaves. Stir for 5 minutes before adding the sugar. Cover with a lid and leave on a low heat to sweat for 20 minutes, stirring very occasionally.

 Warm up a grill (or oven to 220C). Turn up the heat on the hob to medium and pour in the wine and simmer and reduce for 15-20 minutes before adding the stock.

Simmer for a further 5-10 minutes while you grate the cheese, slice the baguette into individual slices, lightly toasting it before rubbing with a crushed garlic clove.
Once the grill/oven is hot enough, top the baguette slices with cheese and cook until crunchy and melted. Serve soup in warm bowls topped with the individual cheese ‘croutons’ and a garnish of fresh parsley.

 Tres Delicious!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fine Wine and British Seasonal Food at the White Swan: an evening to remember!

Every so often I come across a restaurant that I just have to rave about to everyone who is around long enough for me to say hello. The White Swan happens to be one of them. I discovered this little gem near chancery lane two years ago, when my boyfriend booked a valentines dinner there as a surprise. When I walked in, my initial reaction was “A pub? Really?” but as we were led upstairs, to a warm and contemporary dining room was when I started to appreciate the sheer simplicity, warmth and ambiance of the place. Two visits later, I sit here writing about my most recent visit to the one of the White Swan’s wine and food tasting evenings.
 5 delicious courses, 5 fantastic glasses of wine, carefully paired together to create an unforgettable dining experience. The stars of this evening were a wide variety of award winning ‘Hunter’s’ Marlborough wines, and we were privileged to learn so much about it as the founder of Hunter’s came all the way from New Zealand to promote her gorgeous wines. I would love to share some of the interesting facts and history of Hunter’s but as I have 5 different courses to discuss I will just direct you to their website
Citrus-cured Isle of Man king scallop, apple and fennel salad
This was the first dish to arrive at the table so I knew it would be the dish that would either heighten or lower the expectations of the evening. The dish was simply but gracefully presented as disks of cured (thus raw!) scallops were centred in a circle on a white plate with thin shavings of apple and fennel positioned on top. It tasted just as delicate as it looked, with a hint of citrus coming through the subtle taste of the scallops. The fennel and apple shavings contributed a fine tanginess to the dish, creating a palate-cleansing marriage! A starter like that does exactly what it’s supposed to do; tickle the taste-buds, refresh your senses and make you crave more. The wine accompanying the dish was a 2009 Sauvingon Blanc, winner of 13 wine awards, including a gold award in the global sauvignon blanc competition “Concours Mondial du Savignon Blanc 2010”. It really wasn’t difficult to see why it won so many privileges. The wine was preserved in a stainless steel container and lacked any oak quality, thus exposing fragrant tropical fruit aromas as well as some crisp characters of gooseberries. The wine had an acidic element which paired wonderfully with the citrus aspect of the dish.
(Picture unavailable due to impatience,hunger and an unreliable memory!)
Braised south coast brill, truffle crushed celeriac, oxtail beignet.
This dish was definitely one of the highlights for me (just brill-iant). The fillet of Brill was so tender and delicious, one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten. Matched with the celeriac, which was cleverly infused with truffle aromas to add a tantalizing flavour to the dish, the brill almost melted in my mouth while the oxtail beignet was a fantastic addition of texture and meatiness. The juxtaposition of the soft , silky brill paired with a multi-dimensional oxtail beignet, so crisp on the outside and meaty and rich on the inside is a true celebration of British food. The wine match was a barrel fermented Kaho Roa Sauvignon Blanc (2007), which had a more dry and oaky quality, a less fruity wine than the previous Sauvignon Blanc but more crisp with a lingering finish which worked particularly well with the oxtail part of the dish.

Pot roasted Yorkshire quail, quail sausage roll, chanterelle and artichoke ragout.
This dish was a complex combination of four different elements that went so brilliantly together! The quail, done in two ways, provided the hearty factor. The breast was pink and tender while the quail sausage roll put the seasonal aspect back into the evening- so warming and wholesome, just what I would expect on a chilly autumn evening! The chanterelles and artichokes also played on the seasons, as the vivid wild mushroom taste and the rooty grilled artichoke almost brought out an image of walking through a forest with all the fresh smells of mushrooms and earth. Hence why the wine, a Pinot Noir, was such a brilliant match as the rich red wine had a definite forest fruits overtone which really captured that woodland walk image for me! The wine was fragrant and light compared to your typical red, my first impression was “cherries!” which underpinned the forest floor aromas. Sensational!

The cheese and the dessert
The last two courses consisted of May Hill Green cheese with some grapes and toasted bread followed by tantalizing lemon parfait. May Hill Green cheese, despite its preconceptions of being a mature perhaps blue-type cheese, is a soft, pasteurised cow’s milk cheese with a somewhat pungent quality, not dissimilar to that of stinking bishop! It gets its colourful name from the green appearance of the rind, which is coated in nettles. While the previous course had transported me to a forest, this cheese course had no trouble in taking me to a farmland! The creamy and delicate texture of the cheese was cut through by the 2009 Hunter’s Gewurztraminer, a dry and weighty white wine. I always find that something as rich as cheese needs to be balanced out (perhaps a nice chutney could have helped) but luckily the crisp, almost zesty wine did just that, as well as prepare the taste buds for the final course!

The lemon parfait was a perfect finish to a perfect meal. Acting as a pudding as well as a palate cleanser, the parfait was cold and creamy and did not compromise on texture which was smooth yet riddled with strands of lemon zest to give the taste buds a refreshing kick! The pudding factor came in the form of three homemade honey madeleines. While rustic in appearance, these sweet, sugary treats really spruced up the dessert and gave me something to use as a dipping device once the parfait began to melt. To complete the dish, the raspberry sauce tied together the sweet and the sour and established a perfect balance for the palate. Now, I have never been a huge fan of dessert wine, I mean why have something even sweeter than the pudding? I normally choose to have a coffee or a tea to compliment my dessert but as this was not arriving until later with the petit fours, I had no choice but to sample the Riesling Hukapapa (2009). Good thing I’m not stubborn, as that wine was delicious with a capital d! A late harvest Riesling, Hukapapa is sweet and fruity wine, with subtle undertones of honeysuckle and caramel. The combination of the wine and the dessert created a sweet but sharp finish and left me (and all the other diners around me) perfectly satisfied!

If you are a lover of great food and great wine, hurry to one of the white swan’s tasting evenings! For a party of 2, expect a bill around the £100 mark (including service charge.) but when you think of just how much you will get for your money, you will leave with that ‘money well spent’ feeling. Fresh bread on arrival, five enticing taste sensations, five different wine tastings (expect your glass regularly topped up too!), coffee and petit fours, friendly customer service and a talk with a winemaker or sommelier; bring a good friend and you will have great company for a very special dining experience.
The White Swan on Urbanspoon

Monday, 25 October 2010

Toad in the hole on a sunday

This should be the dictionary definition of comfort food! It’s strange to think that not many people (including myself just a few days ago) realise just how easy it is to make! If you spent your Sunday afternoon out and about instead of slaving over a roast dinner, this could be the perfect replacement for you!

·         6-8 quality sausages (I used tesco’s finest pork and bramley apple)
·         1 medium onion
·         1 cup of plain flour
·         2 Eggs
·         ½ a pint of full fat milk
·         2 tbsp olive/sunflower oil and more to drizzle
·         2 bay leaves
·         1 teaspoon of nutmeg
·         Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 200C and coarsely chop your onions. Put your sausages snugly into a baking dish and throw in the onions and bay leaves, pour over a drizzle of oil and bake for 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, make the batter using the flour, eggs, milk and oil- the best way to do this is to sieve flour into a large bowl, make a well in the centre, smash the eggs into the well, followed by the milk and oil and mix by slowly bringing flour into the well until all lumps are gone! After the 12 minutes, take out the tray and turn the sausages, removing the bay leaves, then pour over the batter. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and put your tray back in the oven for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the batter is risen around the edges and nice and golden all around.

And if you're struggling for ideas on what to do on your sunday afternoon, why not visit kite hill in hampstead heath for some panoramic views over London!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Mischievous Chicken Pot Pie

My chicken pot pie started off very experimental and ended up a real hearty delight! My naughty additions of cream and ale make this traditional pie a real indulgent little treat!

My recipe makes 2-3 individual pies.
You will need:
·         1 or 2 puff pastry sheets and 1 whisked egg for egg wash
·         4 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
·         1 large carrot
·         2 celery stalks
·         2 handfuls of chestnut mushrooms (aprox. 6 medium mushrooms- I have small hands!)
·         Half an onion (I use red for vibrant colour!)
·         A handful of fresh, chopped parsley
·         3 garlic cloves
·         2 bay leaves
·         1 teaspoon of nutmeg
·         5 whole peppercorns
·         125ml of single cream
·         2 tablespoons of plain flour
·         100g of butter
·         Chicken concentrate/stock/broth (about 300ml)
·         75ml of good quality ale

First prepare the veg by chopping up the carrots, celery, mushrooms, onions and garlic. Set aside and prepare the chicken, cutting into bitesize chunks. Preheat the oven to 200C and put oil into one frying pan as well as a saucepan and heat. When hot, add chicken to the frying pan and fry for 5 minutes, stirring regularly and spice with the nutmeg (about a teaspoon). Meanwhile put onions and garlic in the saucepan and sweat for 5 minutes before adding the carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves and top with the chicken stock- simmer for 10 minutes. Add mushrooms to the frying pan and stir with the chicken regularly. Once the mushrooms have shrunk and browned, add and melt the butter in the pan before gradually adding 2 tablespoons of flour (to make a roux).

A roux is a mix of butter and flour which gives it that pie texture.

 Add the single cream and then pour all the contents into the saucepan. For the mischievous part, ladle 75ml of good quality ale (that’s about ¾ of a ladle) before simmering for 5 minutes.

Remember to taste your pie filling before seasoning accordingly! Cool for a few minutes before pouring into your oven-proof pots (or casserole dish) to avoid the steam from the filling wetting the pastry. Roll out your pastry so that there is enough to hang over the edges of the pot/dish. If you have some pastry left over, create some shapes for extra decoration! Place the pastry over the dish and egg wash before putting in the oven for 15-20 minutes (until the pastry rises and turns golden). I served this hearty dish with roasted baby new potatoes which were a great crispy addition to the meal!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Butcher and Grill- ditch your expectations and just experience it.

Hovering under the sign for the Butcher and Grill, I was confused at the lack of a restaurant before me. It wasn’t until I stepped inside what seemed like a regular butchers-come-delicatessen from the outside, that I noticed the dim lights and several tables nestled on a podium towards the back of the room. I was confused by the concept at first, my expectations had crashed but my curiosity was lifted. Looking around, black and white pictures of farm animals (particularly cows) stood out, the restaurant seemed cosy with warming but dim lighting and wooden tables. Having got over the element of surprise, I looked at the menu which too was not what I was expecting (different to what is advertised on their website). For a restaurant specialising in meat, many seafood dishes seemed to steal the show in the form of oysters (cooked and raw) as well as other sea catches like clams and tuna. From my previous experience of visiting specialist restaurants, I find that a lot of effort goes into their specialties but the standard drops when it comes to the rest of the menu. Like whenever I visit a seafood restaurant I find myself disappointed by the meat dishes, so when I chose an all seafood starter and main course, I was weary. As our starters arrived, I was not disappointed! My spaghetti with clams in the classic white wine sauce with parsley and shallots looked and tasted exactly how I wanted! At £6.50 (before discount) for a substantial bowl, I was impressed and craved even more. The sauce was light but still elevated the flavour of the clams, which had a gorgeous texture to add to the dish. I am pleased to say that the dish was worth all the fiddling around with shells and spaghetti! My boyfriend’s starter of tempura oysters looked beautiful nested back in their shells which were balancing on a bed of coarse sea salt, a feast for the eyes, no doubt. (Picture below)

Expectations raised, we awaited the main courses. That was when we noticed the music that was playing in the background (I tend to immerse myself so fully in the food when dining I don’t tend to notice anything else around me). A mix of the smiths and nirvana was contributing to the already-verging-on-odd atmosphere but it was actually kind of nice! Pondering the curiosity of our meal, my main arrived in the form of yet another surprise. It didn’t look like a main course at all, in fact it was served on the same rectangular slate the oysters had made an appearance in earlier and it looked a tad on the small side for the £14.50 price. 3 scallops were symmetrically positioned between spoonfuls of herby crushed potatoes and topped with small cuts of the red mullet I was expecting to arrive in full form. This was not a portion for a man and I was happy to see my boyfriend enjoying a 10 ounce rib-eye that came straight from the butchers downstairs. Putting the size aside, the dish did have some very nice flavours that may have occasionally been overpowered by the over-peppered red mullet. However, the potatoes did a good job of balancing out the flavours and I was thoroughly enjoying the whole plate, even if the sauce vierge didn’t have much to contribute. The scallops were nice and meaty and even filled me up enough to forget all about dessert. I enjoyed a nice 2007 Senorio Rose wine from the Navarra region, which was light, sweet and fruity and broke through the bitterness of the red mullet.

The Butcher and Grill has a concept, perhaps an unconventional one. I guess walking through a butchers to get to your table isn’t up to everyone’s standards but then you know exactly where the meat is coming from and if that doesn’t impress you, you even have the option to choose your cut, there and then. If that doesn't please those picky diners, I don't know what will!

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