Monday, 31 December 2007


We've just spent 9 days in Switzerland. Stunning weather - 7 of those days were clear blue skies and sunshine, beaming down on snow and ice - but not really a high point on my culinary calendar. Had a few memorable meals: the bratwurst and rosti in the picture was everything you want from bratwurst and rosti; had a really delicious cheese fondue with slices of porcini mushroom in it in Geneva; had an extraordinary garlic and white wine soup followed by an enormous steak cooked on a hot stone in Wengen. But generally it has to be said that the food was pedestrian.

We were on half-board at the hotel, and I think that was a mistake. It meant we felt like we were wasting money to eat elsewhere, but the food at the hotel wasn't all that good. The "Gala Christmas Banquet" on Christmas Eve was a case in point.

Amuse Bouche
This was created by someone who doesn't understand the point of an amuse bouche. It is supposed to be a tiny, delicate mouthful to excite the palate and give an indication of the virtuoso cooking to come. In this case, it was a large triangle of soggy white toast, piled with pale green "avocado" puree that tasted of cream cheese and onion powder, surmounted by half a wrinkled cherry tomato.

Beef Carpaccio
The carpaccio had been plated so long before that it had fused to the plate, and could hardly be scraped up.

Carrot-ginger soup
A reasonable soup. Couldn't taste the carrot for the maggi seasoning and cream, but it was a pleasant enough puree.

Fishrolls with salmon on white sauce
A slab of white fish, a slice of smoked salmon, rolled up and served, as they say, on white sauce. Also prepared long enough in advance to give nice, withered edges to the fish.

Plum sorbet
Really good, although I think serving a sorbet in between courses numbs the palate and ruins your wine.

Back of calf with cepecreamsauce beside Williampotatoes and filled tomatoes
OK, so English was not the first language of the person who wrote the menus. A very small piece of tender, slow-cooked meat - possibly veal - smothered in a mushroom sauce that tasted like Heinz cream of mushroom soup and had no obvious porcini flavour. Williampotatoes turned out to be pear-shaped nuggets of reconstituted powdered potatoes, crumbed and fried. The half tomato was filled with mealy, mushy peas.

Filled roasted apple beside warm vanillasauce with marzipan, raisin, vanilla pudding
Baked apple on Christmas-appropriate lumpy custard. Filled with half a teaspoon more custard. No sign of marzipan, raisin or vanilla pudding.

Still, it was better than our final meal of vealbreast stuffed with a block of spam.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

New Year's Eve

Clearly, I am jumping the gun. All the magazines are featuring Christmas cooking and I am sidestepping that and heading straight to New Year's Eve. You see, we are going away for Christmas, so I will have little or no say in what we eat for Christmas. But we are back late on the 29th and intend to stay home and eat something delicious to celebrate the New Year.

The tricky thing is, of course, that we will be left with very little time to shop for ingredients. So my feeling is that I order something fab over the internet and have it delivered before we go away, stick it in the deepfreeze and come home with nothing to worry about other than fresh veg and post-holiday laundry. My husband thinks that we will discover an amazing specialty on our holiday and will want to reproduce it for NYE, but I am not convinced.

Someone was telling me about smoked swordfish carpaccio, that they had in Venice. I think that would make a heavenly starter, simply with lemon and olive oil and maybe a little rocket. You can get smoked swordfish from Derimon Smokery in Wales, which would be quite an easy option. On the other hand, they also do smoked goose breasts, so I could replicate the smoked goose carpaccio I had in Florence... but I think seafood in some form would be a better starter. I'd love potted shrimps of course, but bizarrely my husband doesn't adore them the way I do. Either swordfish or shrimps would be lovely with champagne.

As the main event, I was vacillating between the Heal Farm multiple gamebird roast and a stuffed whole pheasant from Donald Russell, but I seem to have wavered for too long and the game bird roast is no longer on the Heal Farm site. So pheasant it will be! I think with puy lentils and chestnuts, and buttered cabbage on the side. My husband put in a vote for a roast rack of venison, so I might order one of them as well, to leave options open.

For pudding I am in no real doubt. The December Delicious magazine contains the recipe for the gorgeous muscat caramel custard I had at 32 Great Queen St a couple of months ago, so I intend to make that, with whatever pudding wine we intend to have with it. I might buy one of the intense Australian liqueur muscats, which would really sing with the dark caramel. As a slightly lighter option though, I am toying with the idea of making a muscat pannacotta using the method I learned in Florence instead. But the texture of the caramel custard was so good it would be a shame to miss it.

Friday, 7 December 2007

The trouble with texture

This is not a review of the new restaurant, Texture. It is just a pathetic whimper about how texture is no substitute for taste!

Last night, we went to a French wine tasting dinner at our local pub. Interestingly, all 4 wines on offer were red. Unfortunately, I have a heavy cold and couldn't actually pick wine from water by smell.

As a first course we could either have baked camembert in a box with crusty bread shared between 2 people, or a classic French onion soup. The cheese had a lovely creamy texture, and my husband said it was very pungent. The bread let it down - white and fluffy, not a bit crusty or countrified. The wine was a Chinon, quite thin and a very light red colour. Apparently it is quite good chilled as an aperitif.

Then there was beef bourguinonne with mash and veg. The beef was lovely - very tender and quite juicy - but there was no bacon or little onions in the sauce (so I think my way is better). The mash had just enough texture to it to be reassuring that it wasn't Deb (which I think is called Smash in this country); the veg (mange tout) were perfectly balanced between crisp and floppy. The wine was made from 100% pinot noir. A little more substantial on the palate than the previous one, but I was still getting nothing from it. My husband was diving into it, which leads me to believe that it was a very delicate wine. It certainly wasn't puckering my mouth the way the massive tannin-y shiraz I like does.

I think the kitchen made an error of judgement now, and decided to serve the pudding before the cheese. So out came what they called a pear tarte tatin and I would have called a fine tart. It really wasn't caramelly enough to be a tarte renverse; the pears were only lightly cooked and showed no sign of being upside down. But the pastry was short and flakey and the creme anglais on the side was the thickest custard I've ever seen without the aid of cornflour. There was a definite change in the wine served with this. I could feel much more of a syrupy texture and a blunt sugar hit on my tongue.

Going back to cheese was a bit odd. What I would have judged to be quite a young, chalky goats cheese tasted as mild as butter and I decided there was no point even trying the others. The wine felt thin again after the dessert wine and had a definitely acid edge. Since sauternes is so nice with blue cheese, I would have thought staying with sweet wines and maybe bringing out a fortified for the last course would have been a better move.

So, a very pleasant evening of textures with no flavour at all. Makes me wonder what on earth the pleasantly spicy kofta I'd had for lunch tasted like!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Game Pie

In Mark Hix's column yesterday, there was a remarkably easy -looking recipe for a cold game pie. The thing I really liked about it was the way he used redcurrant jelly to pour in at the end instead of messing about making jellied stock from scratch, which is usually the thing that puts me off cold pies.

I didn't follow the recipe to the letter - I had a pack of game casserole mix that I'd bought from a farm shop last weekend, so I diced that into smaller pieces rather than boning rabbits and pheasants. And I used sherry instead of port. And I used half wholemeal, half white flour for the pastry and I had a jar of apple, chilli and lime jelly in the fridge, so I used that instead of redcurrant.

It's a qualified success. And I made so many changes that I can't blame the recipe at all! Using the casserole mix I ended up with a much higher proportion of lean meat to fat, so it's a little dry and the meat isn't nicely glued together. For some reason the meat didn't separate from the pastry around the hole in the top, so I couldn't get any jelly into the spaces either, which adds to the dryness a bit. But the flavour is fantastic and it really was so little effort that I can keep practicing!

Leftover Scallops

So, I bought too many scallops for the chicchi salad. And being what they are, I really needed to use them the following day. I'd been craving cauliflower soup (it's been soup weather for a couple of weeks now!) so I decided to combine the two.

Some of the best meals I have ever had involved cauliflower and seafood: my New Years' Eve dinner of a few years ago where I served cauliflower puree with toast and Yarra Valley salmon roe; the birthday cocktails of the year before that where Chinese soup spoons of cauliflower skordalia were topped with scallops and pink grapefruit; lunch at le Manoir in September. So I know it is a combination that works.

I sauteed a diced onion, chucked in a cauliflower, broken into florets, added water to not quite cover with a slurp of Touch of Taste veg stock and put a lid on it. About 10 minutes later, I crumbled in some fairly basic stilton cheese, attacked the pot with a stick blender and added some cream. The scallops went into a hot pan and there it was. And it looked horrible. The soup had turned a pale green from the stilton and the whole thing was pale and unappetising. It was too dark out to get parsley, so I added a spoonful of lumpfish caviar, just to add some visual appeal. I think it worked.


In September, during Judy Witt's fabulous cooking class, we made Chicchi - an amazing warm, truffled salad. It was the thing I most wanted to come home and cook for my husband because the truffle flavour was so amazing and just so sexy.

It has also been the hardest thing to shop for in ages! The firm I found that sell the black rice we used are "in a period of transition" and, while happy to take my money, have been unable to provide me with the goods or a refund. Then I couldn't find the sliced truffles.

So it took until last week to get the bits (or an approximation - I've used Camargue red rice instead of venere nero black rice) in order to make it. At the cooking class we made it as a starter (gluten free and vegan - always useful to have a few recipes like that) but my mum said that when she made it, she put seared scallops on top, and I thought that was a good idea!

Huge success! The nutty rice with the earthy, creamy chickpeas and the little sweet acid hits of cherry tomato, overlaid with the indescribable aroma of truffles and then topped off with salty sweet scallops. Sensory overload. I've even been told I can make it again.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Sainsburys Pheasant

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness etc etc etc; the exciting thing about a European autumn for me is getting to try all this game that I've heard about. My partridge effort last month was pretty good, and left me wanting more. Our not-very-local supermarket is a Sainsbury, who quite often have some of your more interesting meat, more free range, more organic than the actual local supermarket. So the other week we grabbed pigeon breasts, bambi burgers (one of our regular meals) and a "stuffed easy-carve pheasant".

The pigeon has been stowed in the freezer, because we ended up having quite a disrupted sort of fortnight, but there was no space for the pheasant, which we ended up cooking last night. It was a couple of days past the best-before, but it smelled OK and it looked fine, so thought it was worth risking. Gave it a fairly hard roast at 200C for about 40 minutes. I figured that with a pork-based stuffing (the stuffing was prune, port, liver and mushroom, I think) it needed to be really thoroughly cooked through. Deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine, served it with roast baby carrots, celeriac and caper mash and steamed cabbage with nutmeg and butter.

Yum! The skin was beautifully crispy, the meat moist and flavoursome, and the stuffing meant that one bird was a really good meal for 2 people. Hope they've got more of them in this week!

Monday, 29 October 2007

The Mango Tree

My brief was relatively simple: a restaurant a short walk from Victoria station. I don't know the area at all so I asked around and got some slightly depressing suggestions - ASK or Pizza Express right over the road from the station. I have nothing against ASK or Pizza Express, I just wanted something a little, well, better.

Finally my work foody friend came to the rescue with the suggestion of The Mango Tree. She has a friend who married a Thai girl and that is where they celebrated their marriage. I got there a bit early, so settled in with the menu and the best gosh darn prawn crackers I have ever tried. And some fizzy water, because I have a cold and thought too much booze was a bad idea. The decor is interesting - it's your standard big light room with wood panelled feature walls etc, but they seem to have gone gung-ho for Halloween and the lovely strelitzia and lily flower arrangements were draped with cobwebs, there were axes and spiders on all the walls and a row of jack o'lanterns twinkled with tealights in the window.

I'd already been horrified by the prices and made a partial recovery by the time my friends arrived. I think putting all of the expensive wines at the front is a novel way to go - I suspect many people order the first half-way reasonable one they clock, rather than combing through to the back for the house wines. Fortunately they were happy to let me order for the table, because I had already spotted several things I wanted to eat, and I wasn't much bothered by their tastes.

We started with Thai fishcakes. They had the pleasing bouncy texture I like, but I felt they were a little bland, or there was something missing in the flavouring. Could have been because of my cold though. A starter from the specials menu I thought was more successful - a chicken liver salad. The dressing was vibrant, the livers were flavoursome, it was a very good dish.

For mains, we shared a red duck curry - which was delicious and allowed me to show off a bit explaining that the little round green things are in fact a type of aubergine. The belly pork with Chinese broccoli and oyster sauce could have been more succulent, but was very well-flavoured, and the seafood with black bean sauce was just wonderful. So many big, fat scallops and prawns! Complemented but not padded out by fish and calamari. The glutinous rice was much stickier than I have had it before - plain steamed would have been a better choice.

We braved pudding. Some very interesting icecream flavours, but my friends both had a layered banana and coconut pudding, and I had lemongrass infused custard. Independent verification agreed with me that my custard had not the slightest hint of lemongrass flavour, but the vanilla in it was nice and the texture was lovely.

Fortunately when I completed the online booking form I ticked the "yes please" special offers box, which gave a 50% discount on the food bill. A very good thing, as with the discount (and a few bottles of fizzy water, 2 glasses of wine and a couple of coffees, service included) the bill cleared 70 quid. Definitely worth going back - but only on a mealdeal!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

New discovery!

I'm not a huge chocolate fan. I like it OK, but I don't eat it very often - maybe a couple of times a month - and I very seldom crave it. I think chocolate has very little place in a dessert course, because it is too rich and heavy after almost anything. The best place for chocolate is as a little treat at teatime. Maybe a piece of chocolate tart. Maybe a chocolate roulade filled with mascarpone and berries. Maybe a square of millionaire shortbread. Maybe just a chocolate digestive.

But I have to say, I made an impulsive purchase at the supermarket yesterday, and I think I have embarked on a whole new life-stage of chocolate binging. Marks and Spencer organic fairtrade milk chocolate with nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. Heaven! Like a chocolatey chai. It set me to fantasising about using it to make chocolate mousse, and hot chocolate, and infusing those flavours in dark chocolate to make truffles for Christmas. I fear it is a limited edition line, so I will have to stock up before they take it away from me!

Monday, 22 October 2007

The Gate

We're house hunting at the moment. Not fun "We've saved for our dream home and we can do up the bathroom" house hunting but "They are selling our rental with 22 months to run on the lease" house hunting. Very tedious, as rental prices seem to have doubled in the last 14 months. Anyway, tonight after work we shot out to drive past a house that looks very promising. It's in a village a few miles away from here and seems very remote, although it is only 2 stations down the line.

So, it was 7.30 and I was hungry and getting whingey, so we stopped at The Gate; a pub we've been meaning to go to for ages. I had a margarita pizza; it is one of my tests. We used to go to a pizza place in Sydney called Napoli in Bocca, which made the most divine margarita (they called it something else, but it was tomato, mozzarella and basil) which has become my benchmark for pizza. This margarita was a journeyman's effort. Perfectly serviceable, and without doubt the best pizza I have had in England, but still not what I mean when I say pizza. I want a thin, perfectly cooked but still pliable, base, with wood-ash clinging to it. I want a smear of the most flavoursome tomato sauce. I want fior de latte mozzarella oozing milk as much as it melts. I want basil giving up its own essential oils to the mozzarella. I want a last minute anointing with peppery olice oil.

What I got was nice, thin and reasonably flavoursome, but without amazing ingredients and genius of production. And honestly, I didn't expect it. My husband had skate and salad, which he enjoyed. All in all, it was reasonable food made memorable by the worst menu spelling mistake I have seen in years. The roast cod on the specials menu was served with grilled aborigines.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Partridge in a Pear Tree

Ever since I was a little girl, my mother's Marks and Spencer cookbook has been an object of fascination for me. Not at all the sort of food we ate in Australia regularly, but the pictures of boning and stuffing a turkey, and filleting a sole kept me mesmerised.

One of the recipes was for Partridge in a Pear Tree - partridges casseroled with red wine and pears. As soon as I moved to England I asked my mum to send me that recipe, in the hope that partridge would come my way. And today they did.

We are very lucky that we have a proper butcher just up the road. He stocks lovely beef, really proper pork pies and award winning pickles and jellies. And he sells game. Apparently he uses a dealer just up in Chorleywood, so really close to us, and it is all locally shot. So I seized my opportunity to finally try the mystical Partridge in a Pear Tree.

And it was very nice really. Sweeter than I would have liked, I think if I do it again I will dispense with the spoon of jelly (was supposed to be redcurrant, I had apple & chilli in the fridge) although it did make for a delicious, glossy sauce. I also ditched the thickening with a beurre manie and just reduced the sauce while the meat rested. I also think serving it with carrot and swede mash was a mistake, too much sweetness. Celeriac would have been better. Still, for a first go at cooking and eating partridge, it was pretty darn good.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Great Queen St

I know nothing about the Masons. I once worked at a banqueting hall where we had to serve the Masons their trifle at the same time as everything else so that we couldn't eavesdrop on their secrets, but that is as close as I have come. Still, I am favourably disposed towards them because the Freemason's Hall on Great Queen St is a very useful landmark when you are meeting people for dinner at 32 Great Queen St.

I am also favourably disposed towards 32 Great Queen St because on my previous visit I had the best potted shrimps of my life. But even that is a negative in a place where they do a daily menu and there is no chance at all that the potted shrimps will be on the menu again.

As it happens, my luck was in and the potted shrimps were on the menu! So I didn't even have to think twice about the crab on toast or the middlewhite terrine. And again they were wonderful. The perfect amount (a small duralex glassful), the perfect quantity of mace and seasonings and just the perfect temperature that the clarified butter melted instantly on contact with the warm, thick toast.

Fortunately my friend eats proper food, so it didn't take much persuading to get her to share the venison pie for two. A delicious, large oval dishful, with a slightly strange, very thin, crisp but unusually tough pastry, draped over a goodly chunk of marrowbone instead of a pie funnel. Since the waitress was kind enough to wrap the marrowbone in foil, I suspect my friend's dog is even now enjoying a little treat.

I was a bit reluctant to look at the dessert menu. A pie that large and rich really needs nothing to follow, but my reluctance was overcome in a nanosecond by muscat caramel custard. What a brilliant idea, what magnificent execution! The most superbly velvety vanillabean custard, smothered in a lovely, bitter, dark caramel heady with boozy muscat. Heaven. Pity it won't be on the menu the next time!

Mushroom Soup

There is a new outpost of the Carluccio empire round the corner from where I work. It is restaurant/deli/takeaway all in a pretty blue and white package but I confess that I hate the layout of the takeaway section. Paninis, cakes and pastries lie on open benches at EXACTLY the right height for small children to paw, and although there are tongs and things as if for self-service, every time I have approached the tongs one of the staff members has bustled up, relieved me of them and served me. So I find it a little confusing to know whether I am supposed to help myself or if moving towards the tongs is just a signal to the staff that I am ready to order. But I keep going back because the food is good.

Today I was about to have the red pepper soup that was on the hot food counter, when the very helpful member of staff mentioned that I could have one of the soups from the restaurant instead. At the mention of mushroom and pancetta I was sold. And a good choice it was too! A broth, filled with lots of different flavours and textures of mushrooms, lovely salty, soft cubes of pancetta and cubes of potato just crumbling into fuzz to thicken the broth. And instead of bread - which may have been the healthy option - I had a handful of little gorgonzola and walnut biscuits instead. A lovely lunch on a rainy day.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Old Lady Food

This week I had the privilege of staying with my Aunty Vera for a couple of days, to celebrate her 86th birthday. Aunty Vera isn't as active as she was (she blames the tablets the doctor gives her, I'd say it has more to do with being 86) but she does rather enjoy a visit and relishes the chance to bring out some of her party-pieces. I felt like I was in a time-warp, or maybe stuck in Australian Women's Weekly Dinner Party Cookbook - it was wonderful!

I don't know how the pundits can claim that Britain doesn't really have a wine culture - it certainly flows wherever my aunts settle. Before getting to Aunty Vera's we'd been to Aunty Phyll's, where one has champagne before lunch and wine (red and white) with lunch. And on arrival at Aunty Vera's the sherry bottle comes out. A decent oloroso too, not your Harvey's Bristol Cream.

The vegetables for dinner were already on the stove when we arrived at 1730 - we didn't eat until 1900. And she still thought the purple sprouting broccoli was underdone.

Dinner was in the dining room, of course. Aunty Vera doesn't like eating in the kitchen, she feels a separate dining room is "more gracious living". We began with prawn cocktail, served as you would hope in a wide goblet on a bed of shredded lettuce. Then chicken breasts stuffed with Paxo sage and onion and wrapped in bacon with the aforementioned vegetables (fantastically crispy roasties and unimaginably soggy carrots). The wine was a Californian rose. And a hostess-trolley arrived with pudding - a choice of oranges in Grand Marnier or tinned pears in lime jelly, both with lashings of double cream. After we washed up, we were offered coffee and liqueurs with petits fours: tiny cups of decaf instant, a choice of Grand Marnier, Advocaat or Creme de Menthe, and slabs of marzipan with crystallised violets on top, in little gold foil cases. Clearly I had enough booze inside me to forgo the need for either a hot water bottle or the hot whisky I was offered to go to bed on.

As we were out for lunch the following day, dinner the second night was a lighter affair. Hot whisky when we got in from outdoors, of course, then more sherry, but just a light 3 courses for dinner. I'd been wondering about the champagne saucers with sugar-frosted rims and pink ribbons tied to the stems that had been on the kitchen counter when we arrived - turns out that was for the starter. Balls of gallia and honeydew melon marinated in Stone's Green Ginger Wine. Then salmon fillets baked in foil and cooled, with lettuce, boiled potatoes, tinned beetroot, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise. And another bottle of rose. For pudding the hostess trolley again had the oranges and pears, but supplemented with a huge bowl of strawberries, and M&S meringue nests.

The remaining strawbs, oranges and pears made another appearance at breakfast. I've never started a day on oranges in Grand Marnier before, but a gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

No pictures for this one, I was far too shy!

On Sunday we took my mum to Raymond Blanc's Oxfordshire restaurant Le Manoir. I was in a filthy temper because our inconsiderate neighbours let someone park across our garage - so we couldn't get the car out and had a mad panic to get a minicab; then the driver turned out to be a complete lunatic who swerved all over the road and certainly couldn't interpret the SatNav. When we arrived I was stressed, anxious and not at all the sophisticated elegant creature that would complement Le Manoir's surroundings.

I've never been to a Michelin starred restaurant before. I was a bit apprehensive that it wouldn't be that much better than the usual places we go to. But being shown to a luxurious lounge and handed the menu made those fears subside. The glass of champagne (not sure what their house champagne was, but it was beautifully toasty and yeasty and just what I needed) continued the cure.

I found it slightly odd that we were given 2 rectangular, slate slabs of canapes between the 3 of us - so my mum got hers to herself and my husband and I shared. The spoonful of tuna tartare wrapped in some sort of fishy elastic aspic was good, but the aspic was too strongly flavoured. The parmesan crisp was just astonishing - it tasted like straight, melted parmesan but somehow it had been extruded into a flat ribbon so it looked like a bundle of tagliatelle. The melon and proscuitto skewer was a melon and proscuitto skewer. My husband had something with a little foie gras parfait on the end, and something with a bit of goats cheese mousse, but he was far too engrossed in the winelist to actually tell me what they tasted like and what the other elements were.

The idea of ordering from a comfy chair and reclining with a drink, and only being led to the dining room when they are almost ready to serve really is the essence of civilisation, I think. The dining room that we were in was quite a contrast to the lounge. I wouldn't say "rustic", because that really is not the word for any aspect of this operation, but certainly "country-style". Naive art pastoral paintings and shelves of preserves (more artlessly arranged than the ones in the produce tent at the Royal Easter Show) line the walls.

If I hadn't been aware of the 5 courses to follow, I would have made an entire meal from the bread. As it was, I settled for one mashed potato sourdough roll. We'd ordered a half bottle of Hugel et Fils riesling to go with the early courses, and it was a good choice, though I say it myself.

As tempting as the Menu Decouverte sounded, my husband isn't much of a dessert fan and really couldn't face up to 4 courses of pudding so we felt that the Les Classiques du Manoir aux Quat'Saisons was a more balanced option.

Firstly, carpaccio and terrine of beetroot. This was such an elegant plate! A tiny triangle of beetroot layers pressed into a terrine, a little curl of pale pink raw beetroot, a pair of baby beet leaves, a smear of horseradish cream and a couple of toasted hazelnuts. It was all so pretty and all very cleanly flavoured, even my non-beetroot-loving husband seemed to enjoy it.

At about this point the shrieking baby in the corner finally penetrated his parents' lack of consideration for fellow diners and was taken out for the first of many soothing walks by his mother, leaving his father and the rest of us to eat in blissful quiet.

Summer vegetable risotto didn't suggest anything exciting to me, but when the dishes were uncovered at the table it both looked and smelled amazing. A scoop of curd cheese was melting into the creaminess and some slivers of black olive provided a sharp counterpoint.

The baby was brought back into the room and again shrieked like an air-raid siren.

Cornish seabass with Orkney scallops and cauliflower puree were dressed at the table with what I think the waiter said was a madeira jus. An unexpected addition but very good. By this time we'd finished the riesling and opened a bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion Graves, and the dark jus went very well with the red wine. My only complaint was that the smear of cauliflower puree wasn't quite big enough - it is one of my favourite things with scallops.

The large group at the table next to us asked if they could have their dessert elsewhere so as to be away from the air-raid siren, who was working himself to fever pitch while his parents bounced, cajoled and ultimately ignored.

Our wine came into its own with the squab. Served on a bed of savoy cabbage with a dark sauce and a trail of fat, creamy white beans, it was tender and pink; entirely savoury and delicious. I thought the menu and the waiter said they were Coca beans but since the only references I can find on the net to coca beans involve cash crops in Columbia, I don't think that can be what it was.

The cheese is offered before the dessert, and we asked the waiter to choose us a selection. The Pont l'Eveque really didn't deserve to be called a "very pungent" cheese, but it was delicious. The Roquefort was as delicious as ever. The Brillat-Savarin was unbelievably rich and creamy. The goat cheese wasn't strongly goaty, but was creamy and very pleasant, and the Beaufort was like a very good Emmental, but better. All accompanied by wonderful husky oatcakes and grapes. Totally unnecessary to have the extra course in such a rich meal, but some times indulgence is required.

The pudding course was poached William pears, encased in the most delicate layer of brioche paste, and served with scoops of cinnamon and vanilla icecream. Very clever in the context of the meal - I think a lesser restaurant would have gone for the cheap thrill and produced something chocolatey - the textures and flavours were just what was wanted. With the dessert my mother and I had glasses of muscat de lunel, which was perfect for it. My husband had a sauternes, which I would have thought was too sweet, but he enjoyed it.

Finally we were able to escape the still-screaming baby and returned to the lounge for coffee and petits fours. I was too full to do more than admire most of the beautiful little cakes, but I did have a tiny little lemon macaroon and a square of delectable bitter dark chocolate truffle.

Along with the bill we were given a card advertising the Christmas celebrations at Le Manoir. I am commencing my campaign ASAP.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Divina Cucina

On Tuesday, I went to one of Judy Witt's classes. What a day, what a woman! We met in her studio overlooking Mercato Centrale at 11am, then it was off to the market. We stopped for coffee and pastries; Judy introduced us to a couple of local specialties (one of which, the aragosto, looks like a little lobster tail and I'd already snaffled a couple for my breakfast the day before) - then into Mercato Centrale.

First stop in was Conti, where they had an amazing array of fresh fruit and veg, along with olive oils and more delicious things than I had imagined. One of their staff took us in hand for a tasting of balsamic vinegars, olive oils etc. Fact for the day, real balsamic vinegar apparently has no vinegar in it. The most amazing flavour was from a piece of pecorino cheese dipped into honey filled with sliced white truffles. More stalls, more tastes, more smells. As we walked, Judy threw out ideas for things that we could make with the ingredients and had her eyes out for a few special ingredients for things that she thought we could make. I was feeling punch-drunk from seeing so much amazing stuff - but fortunately the Italians do have a taste for kitsch so the penis pasta and tacky "birth of Venus" aprons stopped me from actually dying of delight.

Then to the wine shop for a glass of prosecco while Judy discussed with the owner what we should drink with the menu we'd decided. The prosecco was delicious; unfortunately I didn't see what type it was because it was light and dry and lovely and not at all like the horrible syrupy stuff I've often had before.

Back at the studio, Judy's assistant (Sana? I think that was her name and I am so sorry if it is wrong!) had finished the shopping and arranged the amazing still life of the produce. We sat at the table with beautiful cheeses and glasses of wine to talk through the menu and then started cooking.

First, pannacotta. Much, much easier than other recipes I have seen, this was just cream, a little sugar and some leaf gelatine. No vanilla, nothing else, just the pure flavour of really fresh good cream. That went in the fridge while we had lessons in trimming artichokes for fritters, using a mezzaluna to make a Tuscan herb blend and making veal saltimbocca.

I got a bit of a feeling that some of the people (there were 6 in the class) weren't so interested in the hands-on stuff! But I loved it. I've done marinated artichokes before but they didn't go very well because I didn't trim them enough. The saltimbocca was a revelation too - although I did think the wine we deglazed with was too sweet for my taste - it is just a pity that I don't think I will ever find veal that good in the UK. It was milk fed, but not crated, and as delicate as chicken breast, and trimmed so beautifully!

As a starter we made the salad on Judy's blog - called Chicchi, it is a heavenly combination of this amazing black rice, chickpeas, chilli, tomato and garlic, lifted to extraordinary heights by a jar of sliced truffles. Now, I have bought bottled truffles before and they had no flavour at all, so I was a bit sceptical, but the solid punch of pheromones from those sliced truffles made it slightly indecent to eat this salad around strangers. I've spent the morning trying to source the rice - Italian Gourmet have it - and now I have to try and get some good truffles!


Just back from 5 days in Florence - my first time. What a beautiful city and what beautiful food! Everything so nicely presented. I couldn't find the gelato bar I was told about with 70 flavours, I had to settle for about 12. Lunch one day was just gelato - a scoop of coffee, a scoop of pannacotta and a scoop of coconut. Delicious! And so filling.

I'd been looking forward to the famous bistecca ala fiorentina - a thick t-bone grilled over a wood fire - but when I saw them there was no possible way. On Monday there were 3 people at the table next to us struggling to finish one. And since my mum, who I was travelling with, had her heart set on veal I had to settle for a smaller, but very delicious, steak.

Food highlights - smoked goose carpaccio, pappardelle with wild boar ragu, pappa al pomodoro (bread and tomato soup) and a lovely, lovely day of cooking classes with Judy Witt at Divina Cucina (but that gets a whole post to itself).

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Bento II

I've just finished compiling my bento box for tomorrow. It's not very pretty - I am thinking of going back to the kitchen and doing something cute with carrots to add some colour - but it should be tasty.

This one is a sort of pan-Asian yum cha box: the top layer is 4 prawn shao mai dumplings (courtesy of M&S) and 4 tiny wee Thai fish cakes (courtesy of my last big trip to Wing Yip) and a little squeezy bottle of dipping sauce. I tend to be a bit cavalier with the dipping sauce. It always contains red vinegar, soy, chilli and sesame oil, but the proportions do vary. This time it's about 1:1 red vinegar and soy, with a good shake of tabasco and a good shake of sesame oil. The bottom layer is 2 tortilla wraps filled with crispy pork (leftover pork roast cut into chips, marinated in soy and shaoxing, dusted with cornflour and shallow-fried), hoi sin sauce, cucumber and spring onion. I would have liked to use mandarin pancakes, but I was reduced to an Uncle Ben's Wrap Kit. I'll zap the top layer and have the bottom layer cold.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Sugar Loaf Inn

Last night some friends were able to get a babysitter for their hurricane, so we went to the Sugar Loaf Inn for dinner. We were 40 minutes late due to a combination of bad planning and a late taxi, but that didn't phase them at all. The main dining room is a dark wood panelled room - very cosy - but we were out in the conservatory, which I think was much nicer for a pleasant autumn evening.

My husband and I have been there several times, so we knew the food was going to be lovely. It's one of the restaurants we have discovered through reviews in the local magazine Optima. We are so lucky to have a decent local mag, even if they do only review places that advertise (but it wouldn't be a local mag if they didn't favour the advertisers).

We ordered champagne and were asked twice what we were celebrating; unfortunate that there is such a strong perception that you can't have champagne just because it is Friday and champagne is delicious. We were sort of celebrating - but it was more about having a nice treat.

I had a charcuterie platter, which was just lovely, with a range of pork loin, chorizo and proscuitto and nicely toasted ciabatta slices, cornichon and olive to accompany. I thought the grain mustard was a slightly odd addition - something fruity would have been better to my mind. I was very tempted by the foie gras parfait, but since I was planning a rich main and hoping to have room for pudding I didn't go there. My husband did, so I got to taste. It was served a bit too cold, so it was a little stiff, but as it melted on the palate the flavour was just wonderful.

For main, I had mussels in a wine and cream sauce with chips. The sauce was so thick and rich - I couldn't figure out if it was just reduced cream or if they'd thickened it with something - that, with all the determination of a sweet tooth, I couldn't fit in pudding, and I couldn't even finish the sauce. I did manage to snaffle some of my friend's crackling, from the Amersham belly pork with smoked black pudding (one of the dishes I have had before, best black pudding ever). A good piece of crackling is a joy forever.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

My first bento

A friend of mine recently had the brilliant inspiration of portion control at lunchtime via a bento box. Such a good idea and it lets me accessorise! So with a visit to JBOX - offbeat source of all things cool and Japanese - I became the possessor of a bento box just yesterday.

I am not a patient woman, but I do get a bit obsessive, so I have been spending a lot of time reading about bento boxes and what goes into them. I don't aspire to ever produce works of art like Cooking Cute does (I will never be making pig-shaped spam nigiri), I just want to make well-balanced lunches that are aesthetically pleasing and tasty. And provide myself with a bit of entertainment.

So for my first bento box, I have gone off-piste with recipes similar to those found in Japanese food, but in this case more French. My foundation of mushroom rice was just intended to be rice cooked with chicken broth and garlic with some mushrooms added - but then I found that the only rice we've got is arborio, so I made it using more of a risotto technique (not French, not Japanese, but the rice will be easier to pick up with chopsticks). I also found that the mushrooms I had in the freezer were a combination of shiitake, nameko and shimeji so I accidentally went more Japanese than I meant to.

For my okazu - the things you have with rice - I made crumbed chicken pieces marinated in lemon and garlic, added some celeriac remoulade, separated the celeriac from the chicken with curls of bresaola and topped it off with a couple of pieces of pickled tangerine which is a beautiful accompaniment to charcuterie. I think the most beautiful thing though is my little squeezy bottle of lemon juice to squirt over the chicken come lunch time.

So there you have it. A fairly classic French hors d'oeuvre with posh chicken nuggets and rice. I am quite proud of that for a first attempt!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Seafood & Chorizo Salad

A month or so ago, the Telegraph published some of Rick Stein's recipes to go along with the new book & series. The squid and chorizo salad has become a firm favourite. With some variations... We've not been able to buy fresh squid, so we buy a bag of Sainsbury's frozen seafood mix (which is prawns, squid and mussels) and I could rarely be bothered with soaking chickpeas, so we use a can. And we've varied the method a bit. Basically we make a salad of the drained chickpeas, a bag of rocket and tomatoes, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, cook the sliced chorizo (often a tub of diced chorizo, tonight some really nice Brindisa stuff) with garlic and chilli and add the seafood and some chopped parsley or coriander and chuck on top of the salad. It really just means that the chilli and garlic are cooked a bit in the seafood and chorizo instead of just raw through the salad. It's lovely - the flavours are so fresh and vibrant.

Monday, 27 August 2007

The Rose and Crown

It's bank holiday Monday - bless this country's random holidays - so we held off on doing the grocery run until today. Since it is a very bad idea to shop hungry (is my excuse and I am sticking to it) we dropped by the Rose and Crown, half way between us and Sainsbury. It is a great pub. Lovely setting on a hilltop with views across a horse-inhabited field, great food, good beer, nice staff. Just what you want as a local, even if it is a teensy bit far to walk. The restaurant was absolutely heaving.

We'd just planned to have a steak sandwich (they do the most gorgeous steak sandwiches: sliced, perfectly cooked ribeye with fried onions and mushrooms, on granary or ciabatta) but discovered that they were running the Sunday menu. And before they seated us we were warned that they were out of the fish & chips, the fish of the day and the other fish dish, but we could have one of the roasts. Fine by me. I had beef, my husband had lamb.

We had to wait a bit longer than I would like in a perfect world but that was OK because they were clearly frantic. At one point we could see the waitresses hand-washing teaspoons because they'd run out. We also got to watch some jumped-up, small-penised, wannabe hardman getting stuck into the poor girls and shrieking through the pass that he had to see the chef because his tuna was raw. And when they tried to make amends in an appropriate way, he turned into a martyr and did the big sighs and "No, I'll go without". There is an art to complaining about food and he clearly doesn't understand it. Fine, he wasn't happy about his food but sticking his head through the pass (over someone else's food) to bitch about it and refusing reparations is no way to behave. I would say, based on A.A Gill's theory of British complaining, that he hasn't complained about anything for a long time and it is suddenly all too much. Hope he doesn't go back. I don't need people like that at pubs I like.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Mon Plaisir

In May 2006, we arrived in London. First night, my husband took me for a walk around Soho and Covent Garden. I was horrified. There were people spilling onto footpaths from all the pubs, drunken women in tears sitting in the gutter surrounded by broken glass, police attending to men with blood pouring down their faces. It looked like a Hogarth painting, but was a normal spring Friday evening in the nation's capital.

To stop me from running shrieking back to the airport, my husband distracted me with food. He led me to a promising-looking French place, where we had a magnificent meal. I can't remember what we had, but I know we watched the people at the table next to us order the cheese for pudding, and I'd never seen anything like it. Visible from the moon, the waitress staggered under its weight and cut generous portions of the 5 or 6 cheeses the couple selected. Just what a cheeseboard should be!

It turned out that the restaurant was Mon Plaisir. We've been back several times since and have never been disappointed. It's the sort of food I have fantasised about when reading Elizabeth David's books since I was a child, but had never found before. Just wonderful.

So last night - partly because we've been too disorganised to plan anything for the bank holiday weekend - we went to see Spamalot and had dinner back at Mon Plaisir. To be honest, it wasn't the best meal we've had there, but it was still the best food you'll find in a long day's ride. I started with Ravioles de Royans au Jus de Moules et au Safran, which I was told was a cheese ravioli. I was expecting a portion of 2 or 3 big ravioli on a plate with a polite portion of sauce. I should have remembered that Mon Plaisir don't do things like that. I was served a hefty portion of delicious, tiny cheese ravioli, bathed in thick, slightly saffrony cream studded with fat mussels. Too delicious not to eat all of it, but way too much for someone who hopes to nail 3 courses. I had to borrow my husband's soup spoon to grab the last bit of sauce.

After that I didn't really need to eat anything else, but greed got me through a fair amount of the cote de boeuf. Such a lovely piece of meat! The bearnaise sauce was lacking a bit of punch - not enough shallot, not enough tarragon, but still a wonderful accompaniment to the meat. Fortunately we'd just ordered some green beans to go along with it. I couldn't have faced anything starchy.

With the best will in the world I couldn't have eaten pudding. I enjoyed watching the pretentious theatrefolk at the next table being upsold their puddings - the perky young waiter sold a bottle of pudding wine and 4 desserts even though they'd initially said they'd have 2 desserts and a glass of sticky. But I am made of sterner stuff and couldn't be moved. So I had a glass of mirabelle and called it a night.

Sunday, 19 August 2007


It's a cold, rainy day. Far too cold for August. Having been raised with a certain spirit of frugality, I point blank refuse to put the central heating on before the end of October, but I had to keep myself active to stay warm. Sorting the wardrobe for the charity shop occupied some time. Doing some laundry likewise. But cooking gave me the excuse to be in the nice warm kitchen AND make something to stoke the internal fires.

A pot of Delia's Fennel Gazpacho will provide me with lunch for a couple of days. Such a flavoursome soup, if it's too cold to eat it chilled it'll be lovely reheated too. A batch of chorizo and rocket muffins from one of Julie le Clerc's books turned out unexpectedly well too. And to round out the day, some health muffins.

I'm really quite proud of the health muffins - I think they are the only cake that I have successfully developed:

150g wholemeal S.R flour
60g oatmeal
1tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
90g soft dark brown sugar
1 large carrot, grated (I leave skin on)
40g dates, roughly chopped
80g dried apricots, roughly chopped (the important thing is 120g total dried fruit - this is the best combination so far but sometimes sour dried cherries are good instead of the apricots. The dates make them moister and more luscious, so I hardly ever leave them out)
120g walnuts, roughly chopped (again, it can be any combination of nuts, but the walnuts work really well but my husband prefers a combination of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds)
1 large green apple, grated (I quarter it, it core it, but leave the skin on - it ends up with some green skin in, but it sort of grates off the skin and is quicker than peeling first, I think bramleys are the best for this because they are so juicy when you grate them)
2 medium eggs
60g butter, melted (you can use veg oil if you prefer)
1tsp vanilla extract

Makes somewhere between 9-15 muffins, depending on your tin. I use a friand tin because I find they are the perfect size to just have one for breakfast.

Use a brush dipped in the melted butter to grease your muffin tins.

Preheat oven to 180C. Put the flour, oatmeal, cinnamon & salt into a large bowl. Add the sugar (which clumps together, so stir it well into the flour), carrot, dried fruit & nuts & apple and mix until combined. Add eggs, the rest of the melted butter and vanilla and mix until combined. These are quite forgiving, you can mix them harder than average muffins and they don't go leathery.

Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes (depending on size), or until risen and browned. They don't rise that much because there is so much stuff in them!

From these basic proportions you can vary it quite a lot. Today's batch only had 60g dried fruit (sultanas and cranberries) because I added a mashed banana, and instead of the nuts I used 60g sunflower seeds and 60g pumpkin seeds. They look quite virtuous, but they taste wonderful!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Night Markets

I met up with a friend this afternoon to hit Covent Garden's Night Market. At 5pm, it really doesn't have the atmosphere I was expecting, but there was some great stuff there. A lot of favs from Borough Market have pared down stalls there, but the great trade was being done by the eateries. Afterall, a hogroast roll followed by a pastel de nata really does wipe the floor with the Cornish-ish pasties that are Covent Garden's usual street food. I sidestepped the Ginger Pig - despite the beautiful cote de boeuf they had on offer, I figured that it'd be quite some time before I got home and I didn't think it would travel well - and bought a wild boar and a venison terrine from a French stall, an artizan chorizo from an olive seller and some Thuringer Bratwurst from the German guys. All to placate my husband who hadn't realised I was going out...

After we'd shopped and tasted as much as we could at the stalls, we headed up towards Holborn for some proper food. Really wanted to go to 32 Great Queen St, but even at 6pm on a Thursday you don't get a table without booking, so we retraced our steps to Le Deuxieme. Despite what it says, that isn't the current menu! Similar, but different. I had wonderful seared scallops with pink grapefruit and sweet chilli dressing, followed by roast lamb rump with ratatouille and aioli. The lamb was perfect, the ratatouille seemed to have cinnamon in it (which was nice, I just didn't expect it) and the aioli didn't have any obvious garlic in it. It's such a nice restaurant though - really lovely atmosphere. Had a glass of banyuls for pudding. Delicious! That is what I want when I have a pudding wine.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Goats' cheese salad

One of our local Italian places does this really lovely starter of grilled goats' cheese and proscuitto salad. It's really too big a portion to be a starter, but I thought it'd make a lovely quick supper. And so it did. A couple of little cheeses (labelled Somerset goats' cheese - mild creamy ones, not really butch goaty ones, not that anything will convince the anti-goat brigade), each wrapped in 3 slices of proscuitto - not a really expensive one - and placed on silicon paper to bake in a 200C oven for 20 minutes. Flipped onto a deep bed of mixed leaves dressed with olive oil, a dollop of M&S caramelised onion chutney on the side (if I was less hungry/had more time I would have made my own caramelised onions) and then drizzled with balsamic reduced to sticky. Very successful. The well-wrapped cheese was beautifully oozy inside the salty ham, the balsamic and onion chutney were just the right sweet/tangy counterpoints. Happy with that, will definitely do that again.

Gaucho Grill

There's been a bunch of family in town for a wedding, and they fly out today, so we had a bit of a celebratory dinner. Gaucho in Hampstead is always a crowd-pleaser - for the meat-eater - so it was a natural choice. Particularly since the wedding was vegetarian and we've all been overcompensating since.

My love of Gaucho is tempered by my attempts to eat ethically. It seems absurd to patronise an establishment that makes a virtue out of the food miles on their beef. And it's even worse with the current foot and mouth outbreak limiting the transport of British meat. So eating Argentinian steaks seems to be rubbing it in a bit.

Of course the other reason for going to Gaucho is the cheese bread they serve at the beginning. Gorgeous, elasticky, cheesy balls of bread. It took a while, but I eventually figured out that they are called Pao de Queijo and found a recipe. The next difficult thing was finding the manioc starch - ended up getting it in Wing Yip, where they call it tapioca starch. I think their tapioca starch is the equivalent of sweet manioc starch. Anyway, the dough comes together like a sticky choux paste, but the finished cheese puffs are heaven. Better than at Gaucho!

So, in solidarity with British beef farmers I had a seafood stew, which I think was called Zarzuela de Marisco. It was delicious - monk fish, mussels, calamari rings and big fat prawns with tiny new potatoes, asparagus and cherry tomatoes in a beautifully flavoured creamy saffron broth, with a couple of pieces of sourdough toast on the side. A very good choice, I thought!

Couldn't face pudding - my experience with Gaucho is that the good desserts are too filling and the light desserts are disappointing. But I did have a glass of pudding wine. It was a South American moscato, which I found a bit too sweet and one-dimensional. Never mind - still a lovely meal!

Monday, 13 August 2007


Last week I went to Wahaca, Thomasina Meirs' place in Covent Garden. Now, I really didn't like Tommy on Masterchef Goes Large, and I don't like her writing that I have read, but my god is Wahaca a good idea (if not perfect in execution)! She deserves to do really, really well with it.

I was so taken by the Mexican street food thing last week, that I persuaded a work colleague (a woman with rubber arms when it comes to food) to come back with me today to see if it was really as good as I thought. And it was.

The waiter we've had both times really gives me the shits. He sits down next to you, doesn't listen and invades the personal space. I think some people like that sort of informal kookiness. I don't like things that can be labelled kooky. Anyway, we eventually convinced him that we wanted a citrus Belu each - Belu mineral water with lime and mint (delicious, nonalcoholic, environmentally sound, so virtuous) and off he went. Not to be seen again for 20 minutes...

When he came back, we ordered some chorizo quesadillas and chicken tortilla soup. I was a little dubious about the quesadillas, because they looked like they were stuffed with mashed potato, but in between the mash were chunks of juicy chorizo and melted cheese. Heaven. Possibly more than I needed as a starter at lunch time, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The soup decision was based on presentation - the girls at the next table ordered it - and as odd as it sounds, it was delicious. You get a big white bowl, filled with chunks of avocado, a generous mound of shredded chicken and a pile of tortilla chips, and a jug of thick, spiced tomato soup. They pour half of the soup over the chicken and leave the jug with you. Ever so slightly underseasoned (I added salt) and absolutely not what your Montezuma's chains would have you think is Mexican, but heaven. Really, really delicious and satisfying.

Meanwhile, the weather has turned to crap again, so I can't BBQ my brined duck. It's in the oven - over a rack this time! And the spices I put in the brine (cassia, anise, cloves, garlic) smell wonderful. We'll be having it with a tub of M&S edamame salad with sweet chilli dressing.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Sunday dinner

Last weekend my husband came home with a mad Pole and a pair of duck crowns. It was far too late to cook, so we took the mad Pole to the Sugar Loaf Inn for dinner and the ducks have languished in the fridge for a week - thank god they had a good long best before date! But I hate wasting food and we were pushing it a bit, so we had to have one of them tonight.

Really simply roasted, seasoned with salt & pepper. Did some celeriac mash with olive paste, because I read someone saying this week that they only like celeriac that way. Rocket salad, and some home-grown mange tout. The duck was good - I should have roasted it on a rack though. I usually do, completely forgot. Such a pity I don't need any duck fat, I've got a good cupful rendered out.

The mash was OK, although the olive paste turns it a terrible colour; the mange tout were gorgeous. It's hard to believe that some vegetables can be so much better fresh-picked. I tried to think of a sauce for the duck, but there was too much going on already, so the little bit of vinaigrette on the rocket was all, and it was enough. I'm going back to my normal celeriac mash though - which is just plain and buttery with a spoonful of capers stirred through. In total, the meal for the two of us cost about 6 quid - not including the wine. Pretty reasonable, I thought!

Of course, we still have a duck crown to get through. Hoping tomorrow will be good barbecue weather, because I think the smokey flavour from cooking it in the Weber will do excellent things for duck. And, because I have been meaning to try it for a while, I've got the duck in a brine in the fridge. I keep reading how much flavour and moisture brining adds. We'll see how it goes!

First blog

Having done the odd bit of food writing in the distant past, I've been feeling a bit rusty since I re-located to the UK about 18 months ago. So much food eaten with so little thought since then!

So I want to return to the glory days - of really thinking about what I eat, planning meals, appreciating restaurants, exploring ingredients and, occasionally, eating something good enough to take a picture of. The meal I made for New Years Eve 2004 was probably the best I have ever made - we started with cauliflower puree and unpasteurised salmon roe, and oysters, with a bottle of champagne. Then duck breasts with a port and fig sauce, served with sauteed wild mushrooms and a bottle of Pauillac. To finish we had a half bottle of sauternes with Butter'd Orange. Perfection in a meal. Completely romantic and a much better way to spend NYE than packing around the Harbour with the sweaty hoardes.


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