Monday 30 June 2014

Lily's scones revisited

The thing that triggered my latest attempt at scone-making was strawberry jam. Not just any strawberry jam - jam made by my friend Penny from her own homegrown strawberries. It would have been rude not to.

I used Nigella's Lily's Scones recipe again, substituting buttermilk for the milk. I also kneaded the dough for a couple of minutes: you are always told not to overwork scone dough, but I think my previous attempts were underworked, which is why they were so crumbly.

These were definitely my best yet.

Friday 27 June 2014

Guildford Arms, Greenwich

A couple of weeks ago I went to the launch of Mimi's wonderful book Noodle! (regrettable exclamation mark is correct) - which will get a whole post of its own one of these days. It was loads of fun, got to put several faces to twitter names and I think it is safe to say that a jolly good time was had by all. One of the people I met was the lovely woman who does PR for one of the launch party sponsors (SeeWoo supermarkets). She very sweetly followed up our meeting with an invitation to try out The Guildford Arms, in Greenwich.

Now, normally an invitation to go to Greenwich would be declined with thanks due to the relative inaccessibility from my North Western neck of the woods, but this happened to coincide with a long-standing date to meet up with a couple of friends at the Fan Museum. Clearly, it was Meant To Be.

The Fan Museum didn't hold our attention for quite as long as we'd planned for (only 37 minutes, including reading the guidebook cover to cover), so we had some time to kill before our lunch booking. We wandered about the market and quite by accident I bought a very pretty dress. Then, fortunately, it was time to head towards the pub, before I spent any more money.

The Guildford Arms is a little bit out of the way, a very pleasant stroll downhill from the main bits of Greenwich. When we arrived I thought for a moment that we were going to have the whole pub to ourselves, but of course as it was a beautiful day the action was all outside on the terrace and in the garden. Sophia had completely misinterpreted the weather forecast and was wearing Melbourne autumn drag, and Ellen wasn't wearing sunscreen, so we took a comfortably shaded table on the terrace.
The weather was crying out for a jug of Pimms, but Ellen was driving and I wanted to be moderately respectable, so I ordered a glass of the house white. Once supplied with water, wine and menus, I realised there was likely to be a slight space problem - there wasn't really enough room left for plates, let alone any sort of side dishes. But that really was the only flaw in a superb demonstration of what pub food can be like.
 Sophia's cheeseburger had just tomato relish and cheese on it, much to her relief (she is a vocal opponent of lettuce on a burger). The salad garnish stayed unmolested, but the whole burger and a decent proportion of the chips disappeared, which was pretty impressive given that she generally has quite a dainty appetite. 
 Ellen and I both had cod and chips. And very good it was too. I am such a sucker for the muslin-wrapped lemon. I know it must be a pain in the backside for the kitchen to tie the lemons up in their little nappies, but I think it makes the plate look so polished and it is so much nicer than having bits of seed flying about. The pea puree tasted more like proper marrowfat mushy peas than most of the peas fraudulently called mushy, but I still appreciated the accuracy of the title. The fish was well-cooked and fresh-tasting, the batter light and not too greasy. I think this was the best fish and chips I have had this year.

We saw several plates of food being taken to other tables, and they all looked similarly good.
With the weather being so lovely (it really is - I can't help banging on about it because it is such a treat) and the fact that this was the first time in six months we'd managed to catch up, our lunch was feeling very festive. And a festive lunch calls for dessert (and another glass of wine).

Sophia's brownie was delicious - very moist and nutty but not dense.
 But my pannacotta was absolutely the dish of the day. Very light, subtly flavoured with lemon verbena, the raspberries dressed with just a drop of grappa, it had the most perfect wobble (video below).

Would I go back to the Guildford Arms if I was paying myself? Absolutely yes I would, without hesitation. It's definitely worth the visit even if you don't have a date at the Fan Museum.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Fried prawn salad

I haven't deep-fried anything in ages, so I thought topping a big meal-in-a-bowl salad with marinated fried prawns would be a good Friday night treat. And it was.

There are a couple of new-to-me features about this salad - one ingredient and one technique. The ingredient is this avocado oil flavoured with chipotle, which recently sent me to try. It has a lovely buttery flavour with a good chipotle warm smokiness. Apparently you can cook with it, but so far I have just used it in salad dressings. And the technique is this - you marinate the prawns in lemon and bicarbonate of soda before dredging in flour and frying. It works extremely well although I am not entirely sure why...

This takes a couple of minutes preparation an hour before you want to eat, and then there is a 5 minute flurry of activity just before serving. Nothing too challenging.

Fried prawn salad (makes 2 Friday-night-treat sized meals)

250g prawns, peeled
juice of half a lemon
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tbs gambas pil pil seasoning (a mixture of smoked paprika, garlic flakes, chilli and parsley that friends bring us from Spain - it's lovely, but any of your favourite seasonings will do!)
1 egg yolk (you could use a whole egg of course but I wanted the white for making a batch of spiced nuts)
cornflour for dredging
oil for deep frying
Half a small red onion/1 large shallot
juice of the other half of the lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1tbs mayonnaise
1tbs chipotle-infused oil (or olive oil and a knife-tip of chipotle paste)
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large ripe avocado, diced
2 little gem lettuces, shredded
1 handful coriander leaves

Mix the prawns with the lemon, bicarb (it fizzes, which is pretty funny), seasoning and the egg yolk, cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Dice the onion or shallot and combine with the rest of the lemon juice and salt in a salad bowl for an hour to soften.

After an hour, mix the mayonnaise with the oniony lemon juice to a smooth emulsion, then gradually mix in the chipotle oil. Add the tomatoes, lettuce, avocado and coriander leaves and toss well.

Dredge the prawns in cornflour and deep fry in batches - should only take about a minute per batch - and drain well on kitchen paper.

Divide the salad between two deep bowls and top with the crunchy prawns. If you happen to have an extra half lemon lying about, a squeeze of extra lemon on top is a good thing. Eat immediately.

I am sending this to Deb for Souper (soup, salad and sammies) Sunday - I usually forget that salads are a part of this event! SouperSundays

Friday 20 June 2014

Peach melba bombe: BSFIC

IceCreamChallenge miniI got a bit excited when Kavey announced that this month's Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream challenge was fruit-based. Paul maintains that I will eat anything as long as it is ice cream, and I do love caramelly/toffee/butterscotchy flavours, but I have a distinct preference for fruity flavours in ice cream and gelato. And of course, all the summer fruits are coming into the shops. At the moment they are mostly from Spain and warmer climes, but there is the promise of the British soft fruit season to come.

I'd also been looking for an excuse to try out Mimi's cream cheese ice cream base, or a version thereof, which I thought would go very well with fruit. Because of the high water content of the fruit, the texture was a bit more crystalline than the ideal, which I had anticipated but I couldn't be bothered trying to find peach schnapps just to use a couple of tablespoons full. Or to stir the ice cream as it froze to break up the crystals. This is an involved enough process for the lazy ice cream maker without adding to it!

For this ice cream bombe, you need to start a day ahead. You'll also need 2 freezer-proof bowls or containers, one that fits inside the other (I used a metal pudding basin with a small plastic bowl that fits inside it).

Peach melba bombe (serves loads - maybe 10?)

340g raspberries
1T caster sugar
4T chambord
4 eggyolks
75g caster sugar
300g cream cheese
170ml double cream
1T vanilla
2 peaches (freestone to make life easier, preferably yellow, which will give a prettier colour than the white ones I used), peeled, sliced and pureed.

Put the raspberries, caster sugar and chambord in a plastic tub, cover and allow to macerate overnight, stirring from time to time (or turning it over if you are confident of the box's seal).

Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar over a saucepan of simmering water for 5-10 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and they have more than doubled in volume to a fluffy mousse. 

In another bowl, whisk the cream cheese, cream and vanilla together until smooth and light, then fold through the egg mousse. Divide the mixture in half-ish (doesn't need to be too accurate). Fold the peach puree through one half of the cream cheese mixture.

Line your larger bowl or pudding basin with cling film. Scrape the peach-flavoured mixture into it. Push your other bowl down into it (might need to weight it with a ramekin or something so it doesn't float). Cover it with cling film (or the pudding basin's lid) and freeze overnight. Also cover the plain vanilla mixture and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, remove the inner bowl (you might need to fill it with hot water briefly to get it to release). Pack the macerated raspberries into the cavity, then cover over with the chilled plain mixture. Cover and freeze for several hours until firm before turning out and slicing.
The juices from the raspberries drain through and form a cap on top of the bombe.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Stax Diner

Well look at me being all finger-on-the-pulse. Last night we went to Stax Diner for their soft opening - 50% off food. I loved Bea's crawfish boils, I love her duffins and I was very keen to support her latest venture.

I hadn't seen their tweet that they were changing their opening hours for the soft launch, so my heart sank a bit when we arrived at about 6.20pm to see a considerable queue. I did a rapid calculation of how long it was likely to take them to turn the tables and was about to propose going elsewhere when a lady (I assumed restaurant manager) in a funky leopard print dress and excellent red lipstick told us they hadn't opened yet and offered us a drink. Having obsessively combed the menu on the website, I knew I was having a mint julep, but Paul was a bit dithery so I ordered an IPA on his behalf.

Before our drinks arrived, we were shown to a table. It was right next to the pass, so a great position for me to watch a flour-smeared Bea doing her thing, but sub-optimal for Paul as every single person trying to get to the loos, go to their seat or deliver food to tables shoved past him. Which got a bit wearying.

Having all the tables filled immediately meant the kitchen was really stretched, so we had a pretty long time to contemplate the menu before ordering and then an even longer time before our food was delivered. But Paul's Meantime IPA and my delicious mint julep kept us thoroughly fortified, so that was no big deal.

I ordered the Gilded Chickadee - buttermilk marinated fried chicken breast on a Balthazar brioche bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles (apparently - I don't remember them), mild cheddar, apple poppyseed coleslaw and honey mustard aioli. It was very good. The chicken was absolutely perfect and the bun the right thing for the job, although it wasn't quite up to the moisture of the filling and pretty well disintegrated. It had us reminiscing about the trough for bathing crabby hands and faces at Jumbo Seafood. Even a KFC moist towelette would have been welcome. I didn't really think the mild cheddar brought anything to the party, although smoked cheese would have worked well. Really, I'd just have liked three or four pieces of that chicken with a bowl of coleslaw, but the only non-sandwich chicken option was with waffles, and while I know that is a real thing, it doesn't appeal to me at all.
Gilded Chickadee
Paul ordered the Blues Burger - 28-day dry aged pedigree Sussex beef on Balthazar brioche with lettuce, tomato, mayo, caramelised onions and stilton. His suffered even more from structural instability than mine had, because the filling itself was unstable. Stax describe their burgers as "loosely packed", which in this case translated to "browned mince" - or not so browned mince, since there were parts that were almost raw. Homage to Roseanne's loosemeat sandwich? Anyway, he said the onions were absolutely superb (he is a connoisseur of caramelised onions) and the stilton was well judged but the meat let it down. Of course, the last couple of burgers we've had have been gorgeous Turner & George ones, cooked at home over charcoal, so we have been somewhat spoilt.
The Blues Burger
We ordered sides of boardwalk fries and battered fried pickles with ranch dressing. Both very good, although the fries could have been cooked just a little longer. The ranch dressing was fantastic (I have said before I don't really know what ranch dressing is, and I still don't but it was delicious), we ended up dunking the chips in it too.
Battered pickles
Obviously there are some issues to be ironed out - that is the point of a soft launch. The restaurant manager and one of the waitresses seemed to be totally on the ball, but the other waitress seemed to be struggling a bit. Having a menu almost totally dependent on the deepfryer put a lot of pressure on the fryer - I suspect that our fries were rushed through a little bit because we'd been waiting so long. There also seemed to be a bit of confusion with additional people joining tables and adding orders to tickets, which can muck things up for the kitchen on the best of days.

We didn't order dessert because Paul was tired of being bumped into, so the bill came to £29. Stonking value, but we'll gladly head back in a couple of months once they are bedded in and pay full price. And tip more if we can have a different table.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Seven bone steak

I don't want to jinx it, but I think summer is here. Yesterday, I went out in the evening without socks and I didn't even take a cardigan with me. I have a slight tan line from walking around the Aquadrome on Sunday and several hours of gardening. We've got summer-weight duvets on the bed and even that is a bit much. It's warm and it's lovely.

This is, however, a bit of a blow for a food blogger. I'm not really cooking, as such, very much. Most nights it's just a question of lighting a bag of charcoal and sticking some protein on the fire. It's delicious but not really post-worthy.

On the other hand, it has led to some new discoveries.

Chuck steak is a cut that I have only ever thought of as a braising cut - quite a lot of fat and connective tissue from the solidly-worked shoulder muscle make it sub-optimal as a grilling cut. Or so I thought. But then I saw it marketed as Seven Bone Steak by Turner & George, who have never steered me wrong on meat, so I decided to give it a go (they don't pay me for this stuff, I just absolutely love what they are doing and if you are in their delivery area you should definitely check them out).

The piece below was a chunky ingot of 250g (from a herd of Highland cows on the Isle of Mull, in case you were wondering), which was salted a few minutes before it hit a hot charcoal fire. It had 5 minutes a side, next to an indulgently large bundle of asparagus. The asparagus season is waning, so I am eating as much as I can while it lasts. Then the steak rested for a few minutes while I dolloped a spoonful of aioli onto the asparagus and poured wine into glasses.

It was superb. A proper crust on the outside, long beefy flavour, juicy and incredibly tender.

Paul had another one of the steaks last night (I was out) cooked in a pan, and reported that it wasn't quite as good, that it needed the intense heat of the charcoal to render out the fat and connective tissue. Obviously further experimentation is in order. I am OK with that.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Barbecue potato dish

Potato dish, as any fule kno, is essential for an Australian-style barbecue. Much anticipated, and often unsuccessful (like most elements of an Australian barbecue...) it's basically a potato gratin cooked slowly in the oven, long before the meat hits the grill.

Or so I thought.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I had a pre-made supermarket potato gratin and a lovely rib of beef for our Sunday lunch, and decided to cook the whole lot in the barbecue. It was magnificent. The potatoes took on a delicious subtle smokiness and were meltingly tender.
First attempt, with supermarket potato gratin
So we decided to do it from scratch the following week. For the two of us, I used two medium baking potatoes, two cloves of garlic and 125ml of goats double cream, seasoned with a little salt, a lot of pepper and a grating of nutmeg. I layered it up in a little foil baking dish, and it merrily bubbled away on the barbecue (indirect heat, lid closed) for just under an hour, along with a chicken. Again, the potatoes were perfectly melting with a beautiful smoky flavour. This will definitely be our go-to method for potatoes, although next time I may use my wine and stock recipe - make it slightly lighter!
From scratch

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Roasted garlic soup with nduja swirl

For the last couple of months, ever since the weather started to warm up and the foody universe started to bring forth a multitude of wild garlic recipes, I have had something in mind. Another attempt at garlic soup, but this one given a springtime lift with a swirl of fresh wild garlic puree and the contrasting porky chilli kick of nduja.

Alas, it was not to be.

I had planned an assignation with a garlic pusher, but through a miscommunication didn't manage to meet up with him. Then I bought, at terrible price, a small plastic punnet of the precious leaves. When I opened the punnet to make the puree I discovered that the gastropods on board had taken full advantage of their situation - there was more slug than leaf and what leaves were there were too damaged to use.

My springtime garlic soup became an anytime garlic soup.

Aside from the nduja, the only ingredient that may be a little hard to find is the goats double cream. This is a new discovery for me, and if you are a goats cheese naysayer then you will not like it but for those of us who love that goaty tang, this cream adds a little extra savour and complexity to the mellow garlic soup.

Roasted garlic soup with nduja swirl (serves 2-4 - it's very rich)

3 large garlic bulbs
1 onion, chopped
A knob of butter
4 small potatoes, peeled and diced
250ml dry white wine
250ml chicken stock
100ml goats double cream
salt, pepper and nutmeg
50g nduja

Preheat the oven to 180C. Wrap the heads of garlic in foil and bake for 45–50 minutes, then leave to cool.

Saute the onion in the butter in a medium saucepan until translucent. Squeeze the flesh out of the garlic cloves into the pan. Add the potatoes, wine and stock, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Once the potatoes are soft, blend the soup until smooth before adding the cream and seasoning with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Warm the nduja until it is soft and runny (I do this in the microwave). Pour the soup into bowls, add blobs of the nduja and give it a bit of a swirl.
 My soup is going to Deb for Souper (soup, salad & sammie) Sunday - she has a good year-round appreciation for soups! SouperSundays


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