Thursday, December 29, 2011

Easy smoked mackerel pate - recipe

Merry Christmas all.  Hope Father Christmas brought you everything you wanted and you enjoyed some quality time with friends, family and several boxes of mince pies.

With the festive season not quite over yet (phew!), lots of people this year seem to be planning to celebrate New Year's Eve with a party at home.  So, for those of you who need some ideas for nibbles or a buffet, I thought I'd share my smoked mackerel pate recipe.

This couldn't be easier; it's ready in about two minutes and tastes delicious.  Ideal served with crusty bread for a starter, on mini crackers as a canape, or with crudites for a buffet.

1 packet smoked mackerel fillets
1 tablespoon soured cream**
1 tablespoon double cream
1 dessert spoon creamed horseradish (from a jar)
Juice of half a lemon
Black pepper to season

Remove the skins from the smoked mackerel fillets.  These peel off really easily.

Put mackerel, soured cream, double cream and horseradish into a blender.  Blitz for 30 seconds to a minute - the consistency is up to you but I prefer mine with a little bit of texture, not completely smooth.

Taste and add lemon juice and pepper as required.

The pate will keep for a couple of days covered in the fridge, so you make well in advance of your party.

*If you have any spring onions or parsley that need using up, you can add them when you blend the ingredients.

**This recipe is fairly foolproof and you don't need to be exact with ingredients.  If you prefer you could use Greek yoghurt instead of sour cream.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oysters with Japanese dressing - recipe

They might not be very traditional but I think oysters make the perfect starter over Christmas.  When you're eating so much rich food, oysters provide a welcome change.  Not only that but they're surprisingly affordable (around 70p per oyster) and most fishmongers will even open them for you - so very little effort is required.

You can serve them au natural with just a squeeze of lemon, or with a simple shallot and red wine vinegar dressing, or if you fancy, you can add a few more flavours.

One of my favourites is a Japanese twist.  I made these yesterday for Marc with a dressing made of soy sauce, sushi vinegar and grated ginger.  I also topped them with a touch of very finely chopped cucumber and spring onion and a little dot of wasabi.  Perfection.

A couple of months ago, we went to an oyster tasting event at Wrights Bros, Soho.  Have a look here for some more oyster inspiration.

Oysters with Japanese dressing

Monday, December 19, 2011

Canapés from the East at Hashi Cooking

One of the best things about Christmas is party food (also known as canapés!).  I love drooling over the supermarket ads showcasing their festive offerings but have to admit that, if you can find the time, homemade canapés always taste better.

With my love of the bite-sized treat, the Canapes from the East class at Hashi Cooking sounded like the perfect pre-Christmas night out.

The class is just one evening, during which you learn how to make six different Asian canapés.  Reiko demonstrates first, then you get the chance to make them yourself.  Most importantly, you get to enjoy them all with a glass of fizz at the end!

My three favourites are below.  You also take away all the recipes, making it easy to recreate them at home.  Hope they give you some festive inspiration.

Watercress, calamari and prawn tempura

Little gem lettuce with chestnuts and sweetcorn

Prawn noodle salad with sesame dressing

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends #7 - cookery courses

One of the best things I've done this year is Japanese cookery lessons at Hashi Cooking.  I think a cookery course is an ideal present for any foodie friends or family.

The added bonus is that they can try out their new skills on you!

Here's my top three suggestions:

Billingsgate Seafood School
They offer a variety of different one and half day courses, some of which include a guided tour of the World famous fish market.

The Ginger Pig Butchery classes
Not one I'd be keen to do (due to my non-meat eating ways!) but I've heard good things about these classes.  Maybe one for the man in your life?

Hashi Cooking
I think the one day sushi/sashimi making class would make a great present.

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends:

#1 For Japanese food lovers:

#2  For those who like an unusual tipple:

#3  For those who like the finer things in life:

#4 For the chilli-heads:
#5 For pizza addicts

#6 For cheese chompers
Slate cheese board

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends #6 - slate cheese board

This slate cheese board is a brilliant idea, as you can write the name of the cheeses directly on it with a piece of chalk.  I recommend doing this before you start dinner, whilst you can still remember what they all are!

The Handpicked Collection stocks them here 

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends:

#1 For Japanese food lovers:

#2  For those who like an unusual tipple:

#3  For those who like the finer things in life:

#4 For the chilli-heads:
#5 For pizza addicts
Pizza stone

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends #5

I'm a huge pizza fan but rarely make it at home.  Perhaps I would if I had my own pizza stone though, this is definitely on my Christmas list!

The idea is that you place your pizza on the stone in the oven.  The stone heats up, giving you a super crispy base.  My local pizza delivery outlet might just find themselves out of business.  Sorry guys!

You can find them in most kitchen shops and there are loads online, for example this one on Amazon

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends:

#1 For Japanese food lovers:

#2  For those who like an unusual tipple:

#3  For those who like the finer things in life:
White Alba truffle

#4 For the chilli-heads:
Chilli presents

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends #4 - For the chilli-heads

You probably know someone who loves hot food.  The hotter the better.  They order the hottest curry on the menu and insist on adding extra chillies to anything you make them.

Marc is one of these people.  I used to get offended when he immediately tipped a pile of chilli flakes over any of my creations, without trying it first but these days I just accept it.  In fact, I think I like my food spicier as a result of living with a chilli-head!

There are loads of chilli related presents out there, so this Christmas present suggestion is actually three-in-one.

1.  First up, chilli chocolate.  Yes, it's becoming ubiquitous among artisan producers but it really is good and makes a great stocking filler.  One of my faves is Montezuma's  They do chilli chocolate by the bar, in various flavour combinations.  It's an independent British company, so worth supporting.  There are a few shops in London and the South-East but they also do mail-order.

2.  I grew chillies for the first time this year and can vouch for the fact that it's pretty fool-proof and actually quite rewarding.  For someone who loves chilli, I think a grow-your-own-chillies kit is a fab pressie.  There's plenty of them around, try Amazon.

Some good tips on growing them in this article

3.  Now, the only problem with growing your own is that it does take aaaagges.  So, if you're looking for a more instant hit, check out Capsicana  This online shop sells all manner of dried chillies, including the World's hottest chilli, Bhut Jolokia - guaranteed to spice up your Christmas dinner!  My favourite is the chipotle, which has a lovely smoky flavour.  I've used it to make patatas bravas very successfully in the past.  Prices at Capsicana are reasonable, so why not put together a selection pack.  Guaranteed to be more popular than your standard chocolate one!

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends:

#1 For Japanese food lovers:
Hashi: A Japanese Cookery Course

#2  For those who like an unusual tipple:
Violet liqueur

#3  For those who like the finer things in life:
White Alba truffle

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends #3

Truffles might seem like an obvious Christmas present but I'm not talking about a box of chocolates.  How about snuffling out some truffles and arranging for a White Alba truffle to be be delivered to your loved one in time for Christmas?

Earlier this year I bought a truffle from Mister Truffle and had a very decadent weekend making all sorts of truffle-y delights - check out my post on Truffle Fest 2011 for more information.

Mister Truffle is arranging deliveries for Christmas, so get in touch with the lovely people there for a present guaranteed to be more popular than a box of chocolates!
Present ideas:
#1 Hashi: A Japanese Cookery Course
#2 Violet liqueur
#3 A White Alba Truffle

Friday, December 2, 2011

Best Christmas Presents for foodie friends #2 - violet liqueur

If you're thinking a bottle of something naughty might be in order, why not make it something a little bit different?

This violet liqueur comes in a gorgeous bottle - it almost looks like it belongs on a dressing table in fact - and is the most stunning colour. It puts me in mind of an old fashioned apothecary but there's nothing medicinal about the taste: this is Parma violets in a bottle. Divine.

Pour a little into a champagne flute and top with champagne or prosecco to make a Parma violet Princess. Perfick.

It's not easy to get hold of but I found it on Amazon 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Best Christmas presents for foodie friends #1

Love it or hate it, it's most definitely that time of year again (and for the record I LOVE it!).  So, it's chocolate for breakfast, mince pies for elevenses and mulled wine whenever I can get my mitts on it.  Ace.

Along with all the eating and drinking I'll be trying to get my Christmas shopping done in plenty of time this year.  There's always a few people who are difficult to buy for, so, being a generous sort of person, I thought I'd help you out with some pressie ideas.

And I'm starting you off with a cracker(!).  Even if your loved one's bookcase is already groaning with cookbooks, I can guarantee they'll make room for this one.  Shiny, spanking brand new: Hashi: A Japanese Cookery Course, by Reiko Hashimoto.

As you might remember, I've done Reiko's Beginners course and am currently doing the Gourmet course, so I'm familiar with a fair few of the recipes and I can reliably inform you that they're all delicious.  In the book, they are throughly explained step-by-step, with useful cook's tips throughout.

This book does what Reiko does so well in person: it demystifies Japanese cookery and makes it accessible.  A reference section at the front gives you all the information you need on equipment and utensils, as well as lots of interesting facts about the cuisine itself.  Reiko's down-to-earth approach comes across well in the text and there's plenty to learn, without it being overfacing.

The book is beautifully styled and the photography is stunning.  I bought my copy yesterday and I'm over the moon with it.  I'm sure anyone you buy it for will be too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sweetcorn fritters - recipe

These golden sweetcorn fritters are a real crowd-pleaser and are the recipe most often requested by Marc!  The crispy batter, juicy sweetcorn and hit of chilli is a match made in heaven.

They're also really easy to make and work well for canapes, starters or even breakfasts.

Sold yet?  Go on, give them a go.  Guarantee you'll love them, or your money back (except not the second part).

Ingredients (Serves four for starters):
125g self-raising flour
1 egg
100ml milk
340g tin of sweetcorn, well drained
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 red chilli finely chopped (more or less, to your taste)
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to season
Vegetable oil to fry

Sift the flour into a bowl.

Make a well and add the egg.

Gradually beat together, adding the milk a little at a time, until you have a lovely smooth batter.

Add the sweetcorn, spring onions and chilli and a good pinch of salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan.  Drop in spoonfuls of the batter and press down gently to form fritters.

Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden and crispy.

Serve with a simple salsa, or chilli sauce to dip.

Eat, enjoy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chestnut, mushroom and red onion pie - recipe

You just can't beat a pie on cold winter's evening.  This one is particularly seasonal, with chestnuts and mushrooms making up the filling.  It's also quite hearty and I guarantee it will appeal to veggies and carnivores alike (the Committed Carnivore said he'd like to eat it every day!).

I recommend using ready-made puff pastry - apparently even chefs don't bother making their own at home, as it's so fiddly, so don't feel guilty!

Ingredients (makes 2 substantial pies):

1 pack chestnuts 350g
1 red onion
Knob of butter or glug of oil
Glug of balsamic
150g shiitake mushrooms
200g chestnut mushrooms
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
100ml red wine
Handful fresh herbs (parsley and thyme)

1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry


Pre-heat the oven to 200c

Using a small, sharp knife, cut a cross into the round side of each chestnut.  Place cross-side up in a baking tray and roast for 25-30 mins.  Peel tough outer shell and inner skin and roughly chop. **You can use ready cooked chestnuts if you prefer**

Whilst the chestnuts are cooking, slice the onion and gently fry in a little butter or oil for 5-7 minutes.  Add a good glug of balsamic vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes over a low heat.

Add the garlic.  Cook for a further minute.  Add the mushrooms and chestnuts and stir to coat with onion mixture.

Pour in the red wine.  Simmer for 5-10 mins, until the wine has reduced down.

Season with salt and pepper and add the herbs.

Pour the mixture into individual pie dishes and top with puff pastry, cut to fit your pie dishes and crimped at the edges to seal.

Cook in oven at 200c for 25-30 mins, until the pastry has risen and is golden brown.


Roasted chestnuts ready to peel

Ready to tuck in

Monday, November 21, 2011

Franco Manca - review

I eat a lot of pizza (an awful lot in fact!) but it occurred to me that I rarely talk it about it here.  I think there's some really great pizza places in London - not necessarily hidden gems but I thought I'd share some of my favourites with you.

First up, Franco Manca in Chiswick.  The original restaurant is in Brixton Market but, mainly due to limited opening hours, I've never made it over there.  The new-ish branch in Chiswick is bigger, takes bookings and is open every day until 11pm.

The restaurant has a casual, rustic feel to it, with wooden tables and benches, a tiled floor and hanging ham legs.  The menu is short, apparently showcasing seasonal ingredients, although I was a little surprised to see they were still offering the summer menu in mid-November...

But no matter, the food we had was excellent.  We started with beautiful, rich burrata (Italian cheese made with mozarella and cream) and panouzzi (flame grilled bread) topped with ricotta, roasted cherry tomato and truffle oil.  Both starters were delicious and just served to whet our appetites for the main event.

Oft cited as London's best pizza, I have to say it really does live up to the hype.  The pizza base is made from slow rising sourdough and cooked in a wood burning oven.  The result is a base slightly charred and crispy on the edges and soft and chewy in the middle.  I'm sure it would be delicious with just a drizzle of olive oil but of course, it's even better with additional toppings.  I went for the veg special: caramelised red onion, gorgonzola and spinach.  Marc went for a similar pizza with the addition of Serrano ham.

Full and happy, the bill was a pleasant end to the meal.  At just over £40, including three glasses of wine and three beers, this is extremely good value - particularly when you take into account the quality of the ingredients.

I will most definitely be going back.  As often as possible!


Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A neglected blog and a Japanese cookery lesson

As most of you know, I recently decided to quit the rat race and go back to University to study Psychology.  I thought making the decision was the hard part but I definitely underestimated just how much work would be involved.  For the last few weeks, I've found myself with my nose in a book (yup, they still do use those!), or with my head so swimming with statistics that stringing a sentence together has been a challenge (let alone a blog post).

But I've decided it's time to rejoin the real, albeit online, world, give my blog a bit of TLC and tell you about my latest Japanese cookery adventures.

My sister and I are back at Hashi Cooking to do Reiko's gourmet course (check out the lovely new website).  As ever the food was fantastic and we met some great people.  Reiko is, of course, the star of the show though - she is a fantastic teacher and a very talented chef.

Some pictures below.  I'm planning on recreating some of the dishes at the weekend, so I'll post my efforts and recipes then.

Reiko's signature dish being prepared

Ready for the oven

Et voila: scallops with spicy sauce and
 sushi rice (the best scallop dish I've ever had)

Tofu steak with wild mushrooms

Mackerel with apple and ginger sauce 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Bingham - restaurant review

As I've been working so hard at Uni (trust me, my brain aches), Marc took me to The Bingham, in Richmond, for lunch.  Sooo much better than a gold star!

The Bingham is a boutique hotel, in a Georgian townhouse, overlooking the river.  It's also home to Shay Cooper's restaurant.  Sadly, the restaurant has lost it's Michelin star in the 2012 guide.  All I can say is the inspector must've visited on a bad day, as the meal and service we had were absolutely top notch.

Like many other fine-dining establishments, The Bingham offers a very good value lunch menu.  This is also available on a Saturday, which is extremely accommodating!  The set menu is £22.50 for two courses or £26.00 for three.  Remarkably, there is no surcharge for cheese - and a mighty fine cheese selection it is too.

The dining room itself is bedecked in gold hues; luxurious but modern.  The full length windows offer views over the river.  Perfect on a sunny day, when you can watch boats passing by.

Cute lightbulb vase

We started with an absolutely delicious amuse bouche: rich, earthy cep mousse beautifully complemented by a cauliflower truffle foam.  I could've eaten buckets of it.  Truly delicious.

The freshly baked bread selection was almost too tempting.  I really wanted to ask for one of each (potato and rosemary, foccacia, seed and white baguette).  I settled on the potato and rosemary.  With lashings of salted butter.
Amuse bouche
The menu is a cacophony of seasonal goodies and the starter was a perfect example: truffle spatzle (a sort of German pasta), with mushroom puree, girolles, confit egg yolk and shaved chestnuts.  This was exceptional.  In fact the lady on the table next to us actually came over when she saw it arrive on our table to tell us it was the best starter she'd ever had.  It really was that good; beautifully cooked and with the flavours and textures in perfect harmony.
Truffle spatzle
My main was sea bream fillet, with glazed chicory, sauteed squid and bitter orange vinaigrette.  This was  picture perfect and I particularly liked the effect shredded squid.
Sea bream with glazed chicory
Marc's poussin was served with honey glazed root vegetables, crisp bacon and smoked pearl barley.  The poussin had been de-boned and Marc said he enjoyed it all the more for being 'unfiddly'.
Poussin with honey glazed root vegetables
The cheese selection is impressive, all the more so for being included on the set lunch menu.  Our waitress was happy to explain what each of the cheeses was (and put up with our indecisiveness in choosing!).
The cheese selection
The chocolate tart was the best I've had.  Served warm with a chocolate biscuit crust and a filling like a chocolate fondant.  It was rich, satisfying and did exactly what a chocolate pud should.
Bitter chocolate tart

Raisin bread, crackers and fig chutney
This was our final cheese selection.  Unfortunately I didn't note down what they were (could've been the wine!) but we both agreed we'd chosen well!
Our cheese selection
A fancy meal is never complete without a plate of petits fours and The Bingham didn't disappoint.
Petits fours
And, the piece de resistance: a cocktail enjoyed on the terrace in the afternoon sun.  Perfect end to an extremely good lunch.  Star or no star, I'd highly recommend the restaurant at The Bingham.
Rose fantasia

Bingham on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mussels, clams and an Italian island hideaway - recipe

Last week's gorgeously hot weather made me wish I was on a beach somewhere eating fresh seafood and sipping chilled wine.  I couldn't do anything about the beach but I did manage to rustle up a pot of clams and mussels (and maybe a cheeky glass of wine or two!).

Last year, after going to an amazing wedding in Rome, we spent a few days on a tiny island called Ventotene.  It's a beautiful island, with crystal clear blue seas and picture-perfect pastel buildings.  The pace of life is leisurely, with days spent sunbathing, or wandering round the little village square and evenings enjoying the freshest seafood, washed down with carafes of house wine.  One of our favourite dishes was 'cozze e vongole' - mussels and clams.  My version below.

Ingredients (serves two for main, four for starter):
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Good glug of olive oil
1 glass of white wine
1.5kg (total weight) clams and mussels
Handful of fresh parsley

Clean the mussels and clams by running under cold water.  Remove the beards from the mussels.  Discard any that do not close when run under cold water, or tapped firmly.

In a large saucepan, gently heat the olive oil.  Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the white wine and turn the heat up a little.

Add the clams and mussels.  Put a lid over the pan and allow them to steam, shaking the pan occasionally.

After 4-5 minutes they should be cooked.  They're ready when the shells are open.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some crusty bread.  And some sunshine if you can!

'Cozze e vongole'

Delicious served with some fresh bread

The view from our hotel in Ventotene

The local supermarket!

Ancient Roman harbour

Back in Rome, everyone travels by scooter!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tea for two and two for tea: Espelette at The Connaught review

I have been pondering what makes afternoon tea so blimmin fantastic.  Is it because it's so quintessentially British?  Is it because it's reminiscent of a bygone era?  Perhaps because it feels so civilised to sip tea whilst nibbling on dainty sandwiches?

And then it struck me: afternoon tea adds a whole extra meal to the day's proceedings.  Amazing.
None of this messing around with squashing two meals together (you know who you are, brunch).  Just an extra, cake filled, meal.  What's not to love?

I'd be quite happy to reinstate afternoon tea as a daily affair but sadly it is but an occasional treat.  Most recently enjoyed at Espelette at The Connaught

This is a very 'proper' afternoon tea, with the usual selection of finger sandwiches, scones and delicate cakes all done to an extremely high standard, all graciously replenished if you wish (we did!).  The service is top class and you're well looked after from the moment you enter the door to the moment you're rolled out.

I particularly enjoyed the jam menu.

Yes, you heard me right, a menu.  For jam.  You're able to pick two jams for the table from a selection of 16.  After much deliberation, we plumped for raspberry & violet and rhubarb & vanilla.   The rhubarb jam was exceptional and, somewhat surprisingly to me, went perfectly with the scones and clotted cream.  And those scones - yum, yum, yum.  Plain and ginger scones are served straight from the oven and they were perfect specimens.

The cakes tasted as good as they looked.  The maple syrup and blackcurrant jelly 'religieuse' and the strawberry jelly cheesecake were particularly good.

By the time the final cakes, a raspberry and rose and chocolate loaf cake, were served we were can't-eat-another-mouthful stuffed.  After the beautiful delicacies from the cake stand, these seemed rather plain and probably a little bit superfluous but just a minor quibble.

All this food is washed down with an excellent selection of loose-leaf teas.  Silver needles was my favourite and we were given a complimentary sachet to take home, which was a very nice touch.

All in all, this is a fabulous afternoon tea.  As you might expect, it's not cheap (£35 a head without champagne) but it is an experience.  And one I'd definitely like to repeat in the not too distant future.

Afternoon tea: my favourite of all the meals.

Before we got stuck in

The maple syrup religieuse on the left.  Strawberry cheesecake in the middle.

The first plate of sandwiches.

Perfect scones
Rhubarb jam on the left

Which one will you choose?

The cake that defeated us.

Tea to take away

Espelette at The Connaught  on Urbanspoon