Thursday, 3 September 2015

Le Deux Salons

This is my thousandth published post. I can't help but think that with a bit of planning I could have published my thousandth post the other week on my eighth blogoversary. That would have been good. But that kind of strategy isn't really how I roll...

When I last went to Le Deux Salons, in 2011, I was a bit concerned that I was the last person to go and everyone else had moved on. Well, it wasn't as bad as that, but rumour has it that by the time it was sold to Prescott & Conran last year it was looking a bit wilted.
Reserve de Gassac Rosé
Then, suddenly, a couple of months ago I started to be bombarded by emails from Le Deux Salons and the other Prescott & Conran properties. I have to say things must have got pretty dire if my details from one lunchtime meal deal all those years ago were considered part of the goodwill of the business. I was on the point of getting really annoyed when one email caught my attention - a "Best of the French Riviera" menu, of a starter, bouillabaise, dessert and a half bottle of Rosé for £32. Not quite the three courses for £15.50 of my last visit but it still sounded like good value. And fortunately my lunch partner of the last visit was on her long school holidays, so we made a date for a holiday treat.
Crudités, fromage blanc
I don't remember an enormous amount about the décor from the last visit, but it's now looking just how you want a French restaurant to look. We were seated upstairs in the more formal restauranty bit where the tables are capacious and the tablecloths are crisply white. Lovely. Jude had the crudités with a herbed fromage blanc dip, which looked incredibly pretty. I had a platter of lovely jambon Noir de Bigorre, which I think is the French equivalent of Spanish pata negra. It was simply and generously served with some little cornichons. I do think the Spanish version, with the acorn sweetness of the fat is slightly better though.
Jambon Noir de Bigorre
I wasn't sure what to expect from the bouillabaisse. Most articles I've read about it make it sound quite rustic - Elizabeth David includes an account of an enormous cauldron boiling on a wood fire on the beach, full of a broth yellow from saffron and all the fish they could catch. What we got was not that. But was refined and delicious.
Three types of fish, fennel and potato
I do love a dish in multiple parts, so the sight of waiters coming towards us with many different dishes was very pleasing. We each got a copper dish with three types of fish (red mullet was one, not sure of the others), fennel and potato, a plate of toasted bread slices with a pot of aioli (I don't think it was red, spicy or saffrony enough to be the traditional rouille) and grated parmesan. The waiter then ladelled a couple of dainty spoonfuls of rich seafood broth over the fish and left each of us with a little tureen of the remaining broth.
Bread, aioli and parmesan
We ate the succulent, delicate fish with a little more of the broth, then I made a big delicious mess with the rest of the broth, thickening and seasoning it with the aioli and dunking in the toasted bread. Just wonderful. The white tshirt I was wearing was very much an error.
The waiter ladled on broth
For dessert we both had Brillat-Savarin cheesecake. The cheesecake I had back in 2011 was one of the finest I've ever had, and this was equally as good. The raspberries on the side weren't the best-flavoured fruit I've ever had, but they were just right to punctuate the rich, smooth cheese. All in all, it was an excellent lunch and I think well worth going back for. And it's very conveniently located right near Charing Cross station, so I might have to drag Paul in for a date night some time.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Other blogger's dishes

Blogging's a funny thing really. Obviously I've been doing this for long enough to see a few changes. It used to be that if you read a blogpost, you'd probably leave a comment, and the blogger would almost certainly reciprocate. It was how blogging relationships were formed. The interactions now are quite different. I can see that people are pinning my posts on Pinterest, but few of those people have commented on the recipes they have pinned. I don't pay an enormous amount of attention to the statistics but as far as I can tell the number of views each post gets is pretty consistent, but I get fewer comments than I ever had before. Even if I've entered a post for a blog event, it's unusual for the other participants to leave comments - except for the I Heart Cooking Clubs crew - they are excellent at commenting. Or people will comment on twitter or facebook but not actually on the blog. Which can make it feel a bit like shouting into the wind sometimes.
Mince pie flapjacks
Of course, I am guilty of it myself. I don't leave nearly as many comments as I used to. But I still like to acknowledge the blogs I read and the bloggers whose recipes I follow. I've been meaning to do this post for ages - some of the dishes go back to last November - but I couldn't find most of the pictures. I knew I'd taken them, but turns out the pictures were all on Paul's computer. I found them last week, so finally here we are.
Leaning tower of mince pie flapjacks
Firstly and most tardily, mince pie flapjacks from Dom at Belleau Kitchen. I used homemade cherry mincemeat, and some desiccated coconut instead of ground almonds. Because I had a fresh and extremely aromatic bag of ground cinnamon I halved the quantity, but I have to say it was still a bit too cinnamony for me. Not the recipe's fault; that bag of cinnamon was lethal.
Nutty sour cherry flapjacks from Mainly Baking's recipe
Looking almost identical but honestly quite different were these flapjacks from Sue at Mainly Baking. It's her basic but very adaptable flapjack recipe and it's extremely good. I used a mix of 100g dark muscovado and 50g caster sugar and added 110g mixed hazelnuts, pistachios and sour cherries. I thought there were more sour cherries in the bag but somebody had apparently been snacking. If you like your flapjacks chewy and a bit sticky rather than crisp and crunchy, and I most certainly do, this is a very good recipe.

I only made the baked bean component of Helen Graves' pulled pork, boston baked beans and pickled fennel, although all the bits looked delicious. We just had them with sausages. Really fabulous - definitely one to make again.

Boston baked beans and sausages
I'm still not 100% happy with my chapati making, although some friends have reassured me that it's totally normal to play "what country does this look like?" with wonky chapati. And Paul seems to like them. Which is good, because I still have about 4kg of chapati flour left from the 5kgs I bought by mistake. I'd been planning to make plain chapati to accompany a keema mattar, and then I saw Brian tweet his recipe for chapati with cumin seeds so I made them instead. They were very good! And almost round.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Seville orange Madeira cake for a blogoversary

On this day in 2007 I started this blog. I think eight years of blogging is deserving of a piece of cake! Unfortunately I have grave doubts as to whether I will get a piece of this one. You see, Great British Bake Off is back. Last year I made a couple of the bakes featured on the show, and sent them in to Paul's office. They went down well! And he said that if I wanted to do any baking this year, they would also find it acceptable. The first week's "signature bake" was a Madeira cake, which is absolutely in Paul's cake wheelhouse - quite dense and plain with a bit of citrus, good with a cup of tea.

I've posted my great grandmother's first prize certificate for Madeira cake before, but I've never actually made one that I can remember. Some other bloggers that I know and love have made GBBO-inspired Madeira cakes (Miss Whiplash got hers out the day after the show aired, which was impressively speedy) and they all looked wonderfully inspiring. Jassy at Gin & Crumpets based her lemon and fennel flavoured cake on Nigella Lawson's mother-in-law's Madeira cake - which seemed like a good pattern to follow.  

My "twist", because the signature bake always needs a twist, was to use the zest and juice of two Seville oranges instead of the traditional lemon. "But wait", I hear observant readers cry, "it's August!". Well yes, these oranges are part of a stash in my freezer from January when the lovely bitter oranges are in season. The microplane zests them beautifully while they are still rock-hard, and then when they thaw the cells have broken down enough to get maximum juice out of them. The smell of the grated zest filled the whole house deliciously.

Based on the Bake Off judging last week, I now know that one of the things you have to look for in a Madeira cake is the long crack down the top. So even if I don't get to taste my cake, or get meaningful feedback from the gannets who eat it, I am still quite satisfied that this was a very successful bake. Worthy of an 8th blogoversary.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Lamb chops

A few days ago, I asked Paul a serious question. He was shocked. He couldn't believe I would spring something so momentous on him without prior warning. I asked whether he preferred lamb cutlets or lamb loin chops.

As he absolutely refused to answer, I decided - for science! - to get a pack of each and do a direct comparison. Now, I accept that two people's opinions aren't statistically significant, and to be a genuine comparison they'd need to have been cut from the same sheep, but I still thought it would be worthwhile. Delicious, and worthwhile.

Both the chops and the cutlets got the same treatment - brought to room temperature, rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic powder and grilled over charcoal.

And both were delicious. But we agreed that the loin chops just had the edge. Paul likened it to the difference between fillet and rump steaks - one has the edge on flavour and one has the edge on tenderness. The cutlets were very slightly more tender, the loin chops had a slightly more robust flavour. We might have to repeat the experiment to be on the safe side though.

Monday, 27 July 2015

My favourite: frying pan

Seen here awaiting washing up from breakfast omelettes
It's seen better days, and that sharp chunk broken from the handle makes it awkward to hold, but I love this frying pan. I've had it for 20+ years as far as I can remember and it's been washed so often the maker's name on the bottom is hardly legible any more. It makes the best fried eggs and omelettes in the world. They get beautifully golden and never stick. It's just perfect.

Friday, 24 July 2015


Growing root vegetables is more exciting than you'd think. Really, it is. All that effort, with the frisson that you have no idea what is going on beneath the surface. Is there bounty or have critters destroyed everything?

We're not actually growing much in the way of veg. Most horticultural effort is ploughed into the bonsai and we don't have space for much else aside from the usual couple of chilli plants. But Paul decided he wanted to have a crack at garlic. It was a little late in the season to make the decision, but we planted some Red Duke cloves in spring and several plants duly popped up.

We've spent a couple of weeks now dancing from foot to foot in anticipation, reading everything we could find and consulting noted garlic growers (i.e my mother and aunt) trying to decide when we should harvest. Eventually we had to bite the bullet and pull up a bulb to see where we were. It was plump and perfect.

I broke it into cloves. We tasted a little slice from a raw clove and it was wonderful - really bitey and hot. I tossed the rest in olive oil, salt and pepper with chunks of aubergine, courgette, red pepper and harlequin squash and baked it in a hot oven for 45 minutes, then pulled it out and added cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and crumbled feta and put it back in for another 15 minutes.

We had the vegetables with lamb loin fillets, simply pan-fried until pinkly tender. The garlic sang, but each element was delicious.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Fig, feta and almond salad

Paul loves salad - which is a good thing - but really, really loves "interesting" salad. Which tends to mean salads with nuts and seeds, bits of cheese and carefully considered dressings as well as the usual salad veg.

This one I made last night, to go with a roast rack of pork. It's very quick to put together and it's a delicious combination. It would go equally well with lamb or chicken I think. Or just in a bowl by itself as a solo meal.

Fig, feta and almond salad (serves 2)

1 handful flaked almonds
4 ripe figs
1 little gem lettuce
125g feta
2 spring onions
2 tsp honey
1 tsp grainy mustard
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs olive oil

Toast the flaked almonds and put them to cool in your salad bowl. Quarter the figs, wash the lettuce and tear the leaves, crumble the feta and slice the spring onions into the bowl.

In a small bowl or ramekin mix the honey, mustard, vinegar and olive oil to an emulsion. Taste it - my mustard is quite sharp so it needed 2 tsp of honey, but a mellower mustard needs less. Just before serving pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently.


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