Cheese and Wine Festival, London April 2012

It was cold, wet, and miserable. I was completely inappropriately dressed having come straight from my running group (via post-run brunch). Yet I still made my way to the Cheese and Wine Festival outside the Southbank Centre. The lure of sampling cheese was just too great.

I’d purposefully not eaten after my run in anticipation of this event, so my first objective was lunch. While there were a number of options available it was Le Marmotte that won my custom. Or more specifically, it was Le diot patate raclette that was available at this stall. This was saucisson cooked in a red wine and onions gravy served on boiled potatoes with mixed pickles and topped with melted raclette cheese. The pickles were baby pickled onions and cornichons, which suited me well as I have a bit of a thing for cornichons at the moment. The gravy was rich and sweet and these flavours had permeated the saucisson well. I was particularly impressed with the quality of the potatoes which, without any additional seasoning, had a really strong flavour. In sum, the saucisson was delicious, so was the traditional raclette. However the combination of the two in one dish didn’t work for me. It would have worked better as a main and a side.

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I reluctantly left some of the potatoes in order to leave room for further sampling. Also I’d spotted Arancini Brothers, which claimed to produce the best risotto balls. They were available in wraps, with ratatouille or as a number of balls with chutney or garlic mayonnaise. I showed restraint and chose two arancini with garlic mayonnaise. I didn’t like the sauce, too much mayonnaise, not enough garlic. However the arancini were delicious. I bit through a beautiful crisp golden exterior to a perfectly soft risotto strongly seasoned with herbs, stock and a little cheese, I believe. I need a broader basis of comparison before declaring them the best, but I will confirm that they were really good!

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My hunger satiated, I moved on to sampling the wares available. The Bath Soft Cheese Company had some lovely cheeses available. The blue cheese was good, but not the best that I had the good fortune to same. The Wyfe of Bath was very good. Really lovely texture and taste. However the soft cheese was the star. It’s developed in accordance with a rediscovered 19th century recipe. I expected it to be quite subtle so was surprised by how strong the flavour was. It’s so soft that the texture is like that of a very ripe Brie. Absolutely delicious!

Speaking of brie, there was one that I tried and it gave me a particular moment of delight. It was perfectly ripe and oozy, despite the horrendous weather. Placing it on my tongue I first registered the fantastic rich taste. Then I had this little nigglling sense of familiarity. The vendor was La Fromagerie, and I quickly realised that I was for a while a regular customer at their shop in Islington and so was already highly familiar with the delights of their Brie!

Flavours of Spain had some interesting offerings available. I didn’t like the manchego, of which I am usually such a fan. I think I’ve been ruined by my experience at Divisa Blanca Taberna. However, I had an incredibly intriguing experience in sampling the chocolate and olive pesto by Belluga. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It was a savoury chocolate, or perhaps it just used unsweetened cocoa. There wasn’t a distinct olive taste, but the texture was that of finely chopped olives. Very unusual.

Now I’ve never been a fan of Comte. I’ve always found that the texture is too rubbery and the flavour unpleasantly tangy. However the Borough Cheese Company won me over with it’s Comte which had been aged for 13 months. It had a medium hard texture and an undertone of almost sweetness to it. Really nice. One of the vended explained that it’s only the younger comtes that have the rubberiness, and from about six months ageing the texture changes. Really good to talk to someone who clearly understands their product.

This contrasted greatly with the staff at The Flour Station, where they were unable to tell me which type of flour a bread was made with and instead directed me to a booklet on the table (happily, I correctly guessed that it was rye). Still the bread was good. More than good. I love the fruit bread made with apricots and raisins. The bread was soft flavoursome and full of fruit.it was this bread that I’d been trying to learn more about. Might have to try a rye adaptation with my own recipe. There was also a really interesting olive levain. What I found unusual was the extent to which the flavour of he olives had permeated the bread. Personally I think I prefer a stronger bread taste to contrast with the olives. Still it was an impressive feat to have been able to create such uniformity of taste.

Mootown offered a really lovely Stilton. I loved the way the flavour came in layers. I was offered my first try of Caerphilly. For me it was a bit too acidic to be pleasant, but this is probably a reflection of this type of cheese rather than its quality. I was intrigued by the welsh cakes on sale and actually bought some of these to try later. I realise that they are not traditionally eaten with cheese but I was encouraged to do so.

Happily, I’d also succumbed to the delice de bourguinon at The Cheese-board. This was an incredibly soft and oozy cheese that had a surprisingly but incredibly enjoyable saltiness too it. That night for dinner I spread my welsh cakes with the delice do bourguinon and went to a very happy place. The richness of the cheese and the particular saltiness contrasted perfectly with the sweetness of the swollen sultanas. Might have to make some welsh cakes for myself so I can have that again.

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The StockMKT

I heard about The StockMKT via Twitter and was instantly intrigued. A pop up market with lots of street food-style stalls sounded very much my sort of thing. So great was my resolve to explore this event that I battled a heavy cold in order to attend. Thank goodness the weather held out.

Today The StockMKT took place in Bermondsey square, to which it will be returning in the coming months as well as popping up in other locations around London. I’d done my research before attending and had a shortlist of vendors I wanted to sample. However, I went there open to there possibility of being tempted by other’s wares.

My first stop was Pom Pom for delicious takoyaki. I’d previously sampled these at The London Foodie’s supperclub in January and was delighted to have the opportunity to indulge in them again. There were three varieties on offer:
• Octopus with spring onion, ginger, and tenkasu,
• Teriyaki chicken, and
• Curried potato cheese and peas

Fortunately they were being sold as three for £2.50, so I was easily able to partake in one of each. Regular readers will be in no way surprised that the octopus was my favourite. I also really liked the way that vegetarian takoyaki emphasised the taste of the potato, with the curry becoming a subtle background flavour that brought a level of complexity to the dish. The chicken teriyaki was good too, but outdone by the other two in my opinion.

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My next stop was Horn Ok Please. I was drawn in by the opportunity to sample the bhel puri. All sorts of yummy wonderfulness went into this gorgeous salad. A fabulous combination of different contrasting flavours and textures and yet the overall experience was entirely refreshing. While the temptation to try a full portion was great I instead opted for the samosa chaat. This consisted of a samosa filled with spiced potato with a chickpea side (which was actually served on top of the squished samosa) with chutney, yoghurt, some sort of mint and coriander sauce, pomegranate seeds, red onion and sev. It was fantastic! Again a beautiful contrast between the richly spiced chickpeas the freshness of the coriander, the sweetness of the pomegranate and the crunchiness of the sev. I really liked that the samosa was not in the least bit greasy. It left me wanting to taste everything Horn Ok Please had to offer. Another time, I’m sure.

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There was one more place I wanted to try and that was Egg Boss. I know, I don’t eat eggs. However, having read about his diverse range of scotch eggs I thought if anyone could convert me, this would be the man. His offerings today included lime pickle, spicey creole, and black pudding to name a few. I even heard rumours of a dessert scotch egg made with ferrero rocher. However, my challenge was eggs, real eggs. From the options available I selected the St George, which was peppered with chilli. The eggs were served halved with a delicious sauce on the side. Bravely I gave it a try. Unfortunately this is the point at which my cold got in the way. Unlike everything else I ate today it was served cold, so I just couldn’t taste it properly. However,what I could taste was good, so much so that I ate half and saved the other half for tomorrow. I’m going to try and heating it up in the oven to see if this can convince my taste buds to work properly. So frustrating, but I’m looking forward to giving it a proper try. The fact that Egg Boss has succeeded in getting me that far, is no mean feat!

I’m just going to add a little update here because it’s breakfast time the next day and I’ve just tried my re-heated half scotch egg. I wish I’d saved the whole thing! Nice hit of chilli without being too overpowering. Good meaty flavour and I have to admit I even enjoyed the combination of the meat with the egg centre. Egg Boss, congratulations!

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At this point I was ready to go home, but decided to peruse the cakes on my way out. I had no intention whatsoever of buying anything, honestly. Then I got to Bea’s of Bloomsbury and discovered decadence on a stick in a cardboard food container. Read it and and begin salivating: deep fried chocolate brownies. There was a choice between the plain chocolate “valherona” brownie and the “killer” brownie which was made with peanut butter, coconut, pecans and praline. The brownie was coated in a light doughnut batter and deep fried until golden. Interestingly, the batter stayed soft and the brownie melted slightly and becomes warm and slightly fudgey in texture. The brownie was served with warm maple caramel sauce and and optional (but why wouldn’t you?) dollop of vanilla ice-cream. It was just too decadent to resist! Upon recommendation I opted for the plain brownie. Words cannot describe how delicious this was. I think I might have actually scared people nearby with my near-orgasmic cries of “Oh my god! Oh my god! That is fantastic!” after the first bite. To think, they came up with the idea for this event! Although I still feel stuffed three hours later even after having exercised for an hour in between out of sheer guilt and concern at the number of calories I must have consumed, it was still totally and utterly worth it!

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What a way to spend a Friday evening! Can’t wait until the next The StockMKT event!

Spiced apricot and sultana bread

I was feeling the urge to make bread, having failed to exercise my kneading muscles for almost two months. Following is a recipe derived from one for currant bread. I’ve adapted it to my own tastes (not a big fan of currants), and because the original recipe was just plain wrong! This recipe makes two loaves and toasts really well for a delicious start to the day.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons of malt extract
2 tablespoons of golden syrup (honey is fine to use instead)
50 grams of butter
450 grams of white bread flour
0.25 teaspoon of ground cloves
0.25 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
0.5 teaspoon of ground ginger
(spices can be substituted with 1 teaspoon of mixed spice, if preferred)
10 grams fast acting dried yeast
250ml lukewarm milk
125 grams dried apricots
50 grams sultanas
2 tablespoons of milk
2 tablespoons of castor sugar

Method
1. Grease loaf tins an set aside.

2. Gently melt butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Mix in the honey. Remove saucepan from the heat and gradually add the malt extract, quickly stirring it into the mixture as you do so. You need to be really careful because the malt can form hard lumps rather than a anion paste. If this happens, make sure to remove these before using this mixture otherwise you’ll end up with unpleasant crunchy bits of malt throughout your bread. When these ingredients are fully combined, set aside the mixture to cool.

3. Sift flour and spices together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix the yeast into the milk, then stir this into the cooled malt mixture. Pour the liquid into the well and gradually combine to form a dough.

4. Turn out the dough and knead for about 10 minutes. I’m experimenting with not flouring my kneading surface at the moment. The way I see it, this is just adding an unknown amount of flour to the dough, bringing an element of unpredictability to the final product.

5. Once the dough is the right consistency, place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.

6. Meanwhile roughly chop the apricots until they are about the same size as the sultanas. When the dough has risen sufficiently turn it out and knock it back, then knead in the apricots and sultanas. Divide the dough in half and shape into two loaves, then place one in each of the tins. Cover with cling film and leave to proof in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours, or until the dough rises to the top of the tins.

7. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 200˚C. When the dough has risen sufficiently, place the tins in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.

8. Meanwhile mix the milk and sugar into a thin paste to form a glaze. When the bread is cooked turn it out on a wire rack, place them the right way up and brush on the glaze immediately. Allow to cool sufficiently for the glaze to harden, then slice and serve warm spread with butter.

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Hush Brasserie

I recently made a commitment to myself to eat better, not only in terms of healthiness but also with respect to the standard of food I eat. Choosing quality over quantity, which also helps the health aspect in preventing me from eating twice as much pasta as I normally would at home simply because it’s been served to me in a restaurant. Of course, there are two challenges in realising this resolution. The first is the quality of the food i cook. Well that’s ok, I’m already working hard to become a really good cook. The second is my salary. Working for a charity means that regular patronage of high end restaurants is an unrealistic goal. So I am exploring a range compromises. Groupon vouchers, Toptable discounts and the like. Even Michelin starred restaurants offer set lunch menus at a significantly reduced rate. Will I experience the same quality as the full price clientele? There’s only one way to find out.

I began my investigation last weekend at Hush Brasserie. The restaurant offers a 50% discounted set menu, not including drinks. Diners can choose to have two or three courses, and there are three options per course.

I’d made an early reservation as I had plans later that evening, so the restaurant was relatively quiet when I arrived. I was quickly presented with the wine list and the set menu. I opted for a glass of minervois, chateau montoulier, languedoc, France 2010. Food I’m good at, wine I’m not, so it was red and yummy and that’s about as much as I can say about it.

I decided to choose a starter and a main, reasoning that I could always change my mind later and treat myself to a dessert if I so wished. As an entrée the leek and gruyère tart with rocket was a must. It was also impossible for me to resist the pork belly with spring greens an apple sauce for my main course. I will admit to eying off the sticky toffee pudding to finish my meal…just in case I felt I needed it, of course.

My first course was not as I anticipated. I assumed that the filling of the tart would be set. Instead it was more of a case of the leeks having been cooked in or mixed with a gruyère sauce and place in the pastry case. I also expected the gruyère to be quite prominent. However there was an abundance of leeks that had been perfectly softened and were so full of flavour that they were very much the dominant aspect of the dish. Also, while the sauce was beautifully rich and creamy the gruyère had been added sparingly, so was more an essence than a genuine flavour. The pastry was thin and crisp and had a rich buttery taste. It was a nice dish and a good start to the meal.

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I was pleased that upon finishing my starter I was asked whether I would like my main immediately or to have a break between courses. In general I have to say that the service I received was excellent. I chose to have a little break to focus on enjoying my glass of wine.

After about 15 minutes my second course arrived. The first thing that struck me was the presentation. While it looked pretty, it was a little impractical in terms of being able to access the sauces to use with the different elements on the plate (which disappointingly was chipped in two places). Still, the food was really good. The spring greens had clearly been cooked in butter. They were vibrantly coloured and cooked to the perfect consistency, soft but still terai if a slight resistances. The gravy was heavily seasoned with rosemary, which had been a little too roughy chopped. Unfortunately the restaurant was quite cool, which meant the gravy lost its heat too quickly and became increasingly congealed as it did so. The apple sauce was fascinating. Far more savoury than any I’ve had before (generally I don’t like apple sauce because I find it too sweet an accompaniment) and I’m certain the recipe included pears, bringing a really unusual but delicious dimension to this condiment. The pork belly was mouthwateringly succulent and had a robust flavour which was enhanced by the infusion of fennel. I was a little pleased with myself for being able to correctly identify this seasoning before finding the fennel seeds embedded within the flesh. The crackling in the pork was golden and crisp and so perfect looking that I saved it until the very end.

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Having finished my two courses my thoughts turned to dessert. The sticky toffee pudding was calling to me. Besides, I still had wine in my glass. When placing my order I was given the choice between vanilla ice-cream and crème fraiche to accompany my pudding. Unable to decide I asked for a recommendation, and was offered servings of both. As I said, excellent service. The vanilla ice-cream was beautifully richly flavoured. You know it’s going to be good when you can see the vanilla seeds dispersed throughout the ice-cream. The crème fraiche brought a really interesting contrast in flavours, and in and of itself was really lovely. However it was just too powerful to compliment the pudding effectively. The pudding itself was lovely, soft, and moist, although personally I like my sticky toffee puddings a little gooier.

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I thought that this was the end of my meal, but no. As there was still time left on my booking I was offered a complimentary coffee or glass of champagne. Naturally I took the champagne. Did I mention the excellent service?!

Despite a few minor hiccups I had a really lovely meal at Hush Brasserie, and would definitely go there again.

Ermita catedral 530

On my final day on Granada I was determined to eat somewhere other than Calle Navas. It sounds like it should have been an easy task but it actually took me some time to achieve. Not that Granada is lacking in restaurants in any way, it was just a matter of finding one that was consistent with my mood. Eventually I happened upon Ermita Catedral 530. I was really pleased to see that most dishes could be ordered in three differently sized portions. Always easier for a lone traveller wishing to try an array of cuisine. The restaurant had outdoor seating and since it was a nice day I decided to indulge in a little sunshine.

Shortly after being seated I was served with a portion of olives and a selection of breads. The olives were very powerful and had almost a meaty flavour to them. I’m not sure if this was a reflection of the type of olive or the concoction in which it had been marinated. Either way, it was highly unusual, but not unpleasant in small quantities. However, they were so intense that I couldn’t eat the entire serving.

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Still, it was nice to have something to munch on as I contemplated the menu. Eventually I selected three tapa-sized dishes:

• Pulpo a la gallega con pimenton de la Vera cristal decsal

• Secreto iberico asado con salsa de setas y almendras

• Lomo de Bacalao al pil pil

Unusually, the octopus was served warm. This was no more or less pleasant than a cold serving, just different. I was delighted that the tentacles around the flesh, and therefore the fat between the two had been retained. It was probably the best octopus I had the entire trip. The texture of the flesh was perfectly soft with the overall flavour enhanced by sweet richness of the fat. A particularly strong and delicious olive oil had been drizzled over the meat, which had also been sprinkled with large salt crystals and paprika.

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The shoulder of pork was served next. I could see the remanent grains of fat lining the chunks of meat. Not surprisingly, the meat was incredibly flavoursome. The accompanying sauce was unfortunately under-seasoned. However with a little salt the flavour was enhanced sufficiently to subtly compliment the rest of the dish. As for the chips…well who could resist such perfectly golden morsels of enticement?! Certainly not me!

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The cod fillet was a little disappointing. It was served covered with a gratinated aioli sauce topped with slices of fried garlic. I found the fish to be slightly overcooked, although I had no qualms about the flavour. Also, while the sauce was delicious, I didn’t feel that it was the right accompaniment for the fish. The flavours just didn’t blend into a cohesive meal.

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Still, overall I was very happy with and well satiated by my meal. It was also nice that for the first time in Granada I didn’t leave the table feeling guilty about the quantity of food I’d just consumed!

Roasted red pepper soup

Skyping with my brother on the weekend he specifically requested that I put more recipes on my blog. Far be it for a big sister to refuse her little brother such a reasonable request. So here is the recipe for the scrumptious roasted red pepper soup I made yesterday.

Ingredients
1kg red peppers
1 red onion
2 small carrots
2 sticks of celery
Oil
1 teaspoon of (sweet) paprika
1 tin of tomatoes
750ml of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Roast the peppers either against the flame of a gas hob or in an oven. (Regular readers will know that I use the hob method. However this time, because of the large quantity of peppers I tried roasting them in the oven. It was a disaster! Hob method is definitely best). When the skins are sufficiently charred, allow the peppers to cool in a plastic bag before removing the skins, stems, and seeds.

2. Meanwhile roughly chop the onion, carrots, and celery and fry in a large pot with the paprika for a couple of minutes to develop the flavours. You need to stir it as it cooks to prevent the paprika from burning.

3. Add the tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about 20 minutes.

4. Add peppers to the pot and using an electric blender, blitz until smooth. Gradually add the yoghurt, stirring as you pour to prevent the yoghurt from splitting. If you’re really worried about this, allow the soup to cool before adding the yoghurt, then gently reheat.

5. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and paprika. Ready to serve.

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Kind of Bourride of Chicken and Squid

Many years ago a friend of mine gave me a cookbook called Cooking at the Merchant House. At the time, it was too sophisticated for my level of cooking, and frankly required ingredients beyond my budget (ah the joys of student life). However, I recently rediscovered this cookbook and the wonderful recipes it contains. One of the first recipes I tried was for a Bourride of Chicken. Not something I’d ever eaten before, let alone tried to cook. It is fully acknowledged in the cookbook that this is a quick version of a more involved traditional recipe. I made a few adaptations as I went along on the basis of learning from other recipes and was quite happy with the resulting meal. Still, I had some ideas about variations that could enhance the final product. This is the recipe I came up with.

Ingredients
500g of chicken thighs and legs
1 red pepper
1/2 a red chilli, deseeded
1 shallot, peeled
350-400g of new potatoes (peeling optional)
1 heaped teaspoon of saffron
1 pinch of cumin
6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
2 egg yolks
50ml of olive oil
50ml of sunflower oil
Salt, pepper and paprika to taste
1 chicken breasts, diced
2-3 small squid (enough to be 1:1 with the chicken), sliced
2 leeks, chunkily sliced.
1 bulb of fennel, sliced

Method
1. Roughly chop half of the red pepper and fry with the chicken thighs and drumsticks and the shallot in a large saucepan until all elements are lightly browned.

2. Add the potato, saffron and cumin, then add enough water to cover all ingredients. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and cover and allow to simmer until chicken and potatoes are cooked through. This should take about half an hour, but do check and allow to cook longer if needed.

3. Meanwhile, make the aïoli that will flavour the base of the sauce. Crush the garlic and whisk into the mustard, vinegar, and egg yolks. Gradually whisk in the oil, adding a few drops at a time. Don’t rush this, it needs to be done slowly for the consistency to be right.

4. When the chicken and potatoes are cooked remove these elements from the pot. Bring to the boil and reduce the remaining liquid by about a quarter.

5. Remove meat from bones. Return the flesh to the pot and blend all ingredients until smooth. Gradually blend in the aïoli, adding and blending a little bit at a time to avoid cooking the egg before it’s integrated into the sauce. Season to taste and keep warm. As there’s no stock in this dish you are likely to need a good helping of salt to make sure there is sufficient depth of flavour.

6. Slice the remaining half of red pepper. Pan fry with chicken, fennel, leeks and squid. It may be easier to fry each component separately as cooking times vary considerably for the different ingredients.

7. Either throw pan fried ingredients in a pot and mix or if you want it to look pretty, pour some sauce on plates and arrange the other ingredients attractively on top.

As you can see, I went for the mix in the pot approach. If the potatoes are peeled they will turn a gorgeous golden colour as they cook in the saffron. However, there’s a lot of nutrition in potato skin, so it’s up to you what’s more important.

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