Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why we should all be drinking beer

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to an event at Young's Brewery pub The Orange Tree in Richmond.  This event was a beer and food matching event for the ladies, hosted by beer expert (and lady) Melissa Cole.

Melissa took us through a potted history of beer and brewing methods before we moved on to the important business of tasting some beers with appropriately matched foods.

Now, although I studiously took notes all evening, I have managed to misplace them.  Idiot.  Fortunately for us all, the lovely Jassy has written up the evening on her blog Gin and Crumpets and done a much better job than I would've done.  Please check it out.  I'll be testing you.

Just to prove I was paying attention, I thought I'd share with you a few of the things that I found really interesting.

1.  The term 'beer' covers ales and lagers.  What we were introduced to was Artisan beers - rather than mass produced, commercial beers.  I was amazed by the differences in taste.  Beers vary just as much as wines.  I can almost guarantee that with a bit of experimentation you'll find one that you love.  My personal favourite from the evening was the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, from California (amber coloured with a fragrant bouquet and notes of orange blossom, don't you know!).

2.  Some of the best Artisan produced beers are now coming from the States, as the Sierra Nevada proves.  So, for those of you that think that our American friends don't know their beer, think again.

3. Beer and food matching is far from a gimmick.  Melissa paired the food with beers that were designed to either complement or cut through the foods.  Check out Gin and Crumpets for some examples.  It was amazing to experience how the various beers transformed.  Something I'm keen to replicate at home.

4. You should taste beers in a very similar way to how you taste wines:
  • Hold the beer to the light to check the colour
  • Hold your hand over the glass and swirl
  • Keep your hand over the glass until you have the glass up to your nose.  Sniff and identify the different aromas
  • Take a large mouthful and ensure your whole mouth is covered
  • Now, the good news, in contrast to wine tasting, you need to swallow the beer.  Bonus!

I, for one, am a convert and think I may just become a beer nerd.  At the very least, I'll be on the lookout for new and interesting beers when I'm out and about.  Step away from the wife-beater and give it a go yourself!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Goats cheese and red onion tart - recipe

Would you think I'd totally lost it if I told you I'd got this recipe from a goat?

Well, I 'kid' you not (sorry!).  I met the lovely people from Capricorn goat's cheese at the recent Tech 'n' Taste blogger event.  It's quite possible that these people are certifiable: they have created blogs and Twitter accounts for their goats and are currently running a recipe competition between Beryl and Ethel - check it out, it's pretty funny.

This cheese is tasty stuff, very creamy and mild, so I jumped at the chance to recreate one of Beryl's recipes at home.  My version below, which makes six tartlets.  One is enough for a starter, served with a bit of peppery watercress.  Yum, yum, yum.

Ingredients (makes six tartlets):
2 x 100g packs of Capricorn goats cheese, each pack cut into three slices
1 jar ready-made red onion marmalade/chutney
1 packet ready rolled shortcrust pastry
A few sprigs of thyme (optional)

Watercress to serve

Pre-heat oven to 180c and grease a muffin tin.

Using a pastry cutter, cut six circles out of the ready rolled pastry.  Carefully place the rounds into the muffin tray, prick the pastry, line with baking parchment and place baking beads in them.  Bake 'blind' for 8-10 minutes.  Remove the beads and baking parchment, return to the oven and bake for a further ten minutes.

Half fill the pastry cases with red onion marmalade, whilst still in the tin.  Top each with a round of goats cheese and put them back in the oven.

Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the goats cheese is bubbling and golden brown.

Top with a sprig of fresh thyme and serve with a little dressed watercress on the side.

Goats cheese tartlet

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Texture - restaurant review

Chef Agnar Sverrisson, joined forces with Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons Head Sommelier, Xavier Rousset, to launch Texture in September 2007.  The restaurant won a Michelin star in 2010, with Agnar being the first Icelandic chef ever to be awarded one.

I have to admit, I hadn't really heard much about Texture before we went.  Little B, my fine dining chum, found a lunchtime special offer (and we all know how much I like a special offer!) and a quick bit of research showed that people actually thought rather highly of it, so we duly booked.

Maybe the lack of buzz is just down to the fact that it's been knocking around for a little while?  I guess the blogosphere tends to favour the shiny and new.

We were a little underwhelmed by the venue itself, which is (strangely) attached to the Best Western Hotel, on Bryanston Street.  The decor in the high-ceilinged restaurant is pretty unremarkable and seems to be lacking a consistent theme.  It could really do with an injection of Scandi-style.

But anything lacking in the decor is quickly made up for by the food, which is super stylish.  From the presentation to the crisp, clean flavours and interesting (um) textures, this was a memorable meal.

We started with a plate of paper-thin wafers, served with a yoghurt and barley dip.  The cod skin was the most interesting, feather light with a delicate tang of fishiness. 

Bread was served alongside a faux pas.  When I asked the (head) waiter what the bread was, he informed us that it was 'just plain bread'.  Maybe something was lost in translation there.  Nonetheless, it was very tasty and the accompanying butter, flecked with Icelandic seaweed, was delicious.

An amuse bouche of tomato gazpacho with tomato 'snow' was flavoursome and refreshing.

We both had the Icelandic prawns to start.  Served with sorrel, cucumber and crisps of rye bread, this was a beautifully fresh and light starter.  The constituent flavours and textures worked perfectly together, ensuring that, although the dish was complex, it wasn't overly complicated.  I also loved the bold crockery used throughout, a welcome change from a plain white plate.

For the main course we had pollock with leeks, 'soil' and girolles.  The fish was perfectly cooked, although it isn't one of my favourites.  We weren't able to identify what the 'soil' actually was.  I really should've asked but I was far too busy eating.  The highlight of this dish was the leek, which was smoked and really added another dimension flavour-wise.

Our pudding was divine.  It had us oohing and aahing like kids at a fireworks display.  The cool, crisp cucumber cut through the rich Valrhona white chocolate mousse and ice cream perfectly and the sparks of dill added another layer of flavour.   

The food at Texture is inventive and exciting.  And £24 for three courses at lunchtime is an absolute steal.  Because the chef doesn't use cream or butter in his savoury dishes, the food is light enough to scoff 3 courses at lunchtime and not need to lie down for the rest of the afternoon.  I'm keen to go back of an evening and have a proper look at the extensive wine and champagne lists!

Texture on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A weekend in Guernsey

The freshest crab, rich yellow butter, punchy cider and the sweetest tomatoes are just some of the things I associate with Guernsey.  As an island (one of the eight inhabited Channel Islands) Guernsey naturally has access to some amazing seafood but the warm climate also allows people (both commercially and personally) to grow an abundance of fruit and veg.  My parents moved to Guernsey eleven years ago, so I’ve spent quite a lot of time there.  The food is always a highlight.

The waters around Guernsey offer an amazing variety of seafood, including oysters, lobster, crab and sea bass.  The best place to buy crab from is the Crab Cabin, in the parish of Vale, where you can buy pots of freshly picked local crab.  Seafresh Fishmongers, on the fishing quay in St Peter Port, sells high-quality, local fish and shell fish, supplied straight from the fishing boats.  It’s also possible to hire fishing equipment locally, if catching your own appeals.

Classic 'Hedge veg' box.  I love the sign at the top.
If you visit Guernsey, you’ll quickly notice the ‘Hedge Veg’ boxes – these are boxes that people put out in the hedges in front of their houses, to sell the excess produce from their gardens.  Payment is made via an honesty box.   I love this system.  It really is the best place to buy fruit and veg for extremely reasonable prices.  Can’t see it catching on in London though!

The farmers market , held very Saturday at Sausmarez Manor, is a great place to pick up local produce, including jams, cheeses, bread and eggs.  When we were there last, there was also a French food market in St Peter Port.

Lovely garlic display at the French food market

One of my favourite things about Guernsey is the stunning coastline.  The dramatic cliffs give way to clear, blue waters and more than 20 beaches.  Several offer long stretches of white sand, others have rock pools to play in at low tide.  Many are easily accessible by car, others take a little more effort to reach on foot.  I love Fermain Bay: a ten minute walk through some very pleasant cliff-side woodland and you’re rewarded with a pretty little bay and a very popular cafe.  If you can bag yourself a seat, the best thing on the menu is the crab sandwich – packed full of locally caught, sweet crab.

It's that way

Fermain Bay

Fermain Bay Cafe

Cobo Bay, on the West coast, is the best spot to catch the sunset and people queue up for fish and chips, to eat whilst the sun goes down.  Vazon is Guernsey’s surfing beach and you’ll see people out all year round. 

Pembroke beach is another of my favourite spots – with its long sweep of white sand. 

Pembroke beach

Lancresse Common golf club overlooks the beach, so watch out for flying golf balls.  One of the reasons our dog, Molly, loves this walk is because she can steal them! 

Molly hunting for golf balls

There are a few cafes on the beach, including The Beach House, which is a gorgeous spot to take in the view over a glass of wine.    When you're on the coast, it’s worth hunting out proper Guernsey ice cream.  Disappointingly, many of the cafes now only seem to serve standard packaged ice creams or Mr Whippy-esque cornets.  Persevere, Guernsey ice cream is delicious and unbelievably creamy.

Cafe at Pembroke

As you make your way around the coast, you can’t help but notice the scale of the German fortifications – bunkers and towers pepper the coastline.  The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be invaded, and occupied, by German forces during World War Two.  Liberated on the 9th May 1945, the islands celebrate a national holiday each year on this day.  If you fancy a bit of a history lesson, there are plenty of places to learn more about the German occupation, including Castle Cornet, The Underground Museum and The German Occupation Museum.
I think Guernsey is a great place to visit for the weekend, or even longer.  It’s also possible to do day trips to some of the other islands, including Herm, Sark and Jersey.  Sark is my favourite and i’ll put up a blog post soon on our recent day trip to the island.
Eating out:
Stunning cliff-top location with views across St Peter Port and the other islands.  Contemporary restaurant, serving seasonal food, including seafood and excellent steaks.  Service can be very hit and miss.
Located in St Peter Port, with great views of the harbour and Castle Cornet.  Good selection of fish and seafood.
A traditional restaurant, with a wide selection of fish and seafood.  Ask for a window table, for views over the harbour.  It's best to eat quite early here, as service can be slow when the restaurant gets busy.
A brasserie that makes great use of local produce.  Fantastic puds.
There are numerous options for self-catering.  Otherwise, Fermain Valley Hotel and The Old Government House Hotel get consistently good reviews.  I understand that the Bella Luce has also been refurbished, although I haven't visited it myself.
Getting there:
Three airlines fly to Guernsey:
Prices tend to be broadly similar.  Flybe charges extra for hold luggage.
Condor Ferries offer regular services to Guernsey

Good sources of information:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shiny new name: Eats the world

As you've probably noticed, I've decided to change the name of my blog to: 'Eats the World'.  Don't worry, I'll still be posting the same content but I think this name better describes what appears here: recipes and restaurant reviews of many different cuisines and a trip abroad here and there.  Hope you like it!

Oh and I have a new twitter name too: @eats_world

Eats The World - Blogged

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sort-of-vegetable bhajis (Indian vegetable fritters) - recipe

I don't know about you but I find a curry always hits the spot on a Sunday night - particularly when the rest of the weekend has been a little on the boozy side!

If I make the curry myself, I like to make these Indian-spiced vegetable fritters to go with it.  Although it sounds like quite a lot of ingredients they're actually really easy to make, as everything is grated straight into one bowl.

Ingredients (makes 4):
1 medium carrot
1 small courgette
Half an onion
3cm finger of fresh ginger
1 red chilli
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of salt
50g self raising flour
Sunflower oil for frying

Grate the carrot, courgette, onion, ginger and chilli into a bowl.  Add the chopped coriander, mustard seeds, cumin and salt.  Use your hands to scrunch all the ingredients together. 

Add half the flour and mix again.  If the mixture is thick enough to form patties, you don't need to add any more.  If the mixture is still a little wet, add the rest of the flour.

Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan, over a medium heat.  The oil should be about 1cm depth.  Drop in a tiny bit of the mixture to check the temperature; if it sizzles and rises to the top, the temperature is right.

Form the mixture into patties - this recipe should make about four.  Fry for around 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy.

Serve with curry, or as a starter - they're really good with mango chutney.

Simple to make in one bowl

The beautiful colours of the ingredients

Friday, September 16, 2011

Grand Imperial - restaurant review

The Grand Imperial Cantonese restaurant opened earlier this year in The Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria.

There isn't a wealth of good eateries in the area, so I was keen to try it out, particularly when I heard they had a dim sum set lunch.

Entering the restaurant from the hustle and bustle of Victoria station, you find yourself in an altogether more serene environment.  The room itself is, fittingly, grand.  High ceilings, marble pillars, dark wood furniture and crisp white table cloths are the order of the day. It's the sort of place where you almost feel the need to whisper - although this may have been because the restaurant was almost empty on a Friday lunchtime.

The express dim sum lunch is £20 for two people and allows you to choose five dishes to share, from a fairly standard selection.  We enjoyed all the dishes we ordered but only one was particularly memorable; the deep fried whisker black cod, which was served with a delicious creamy, fruity dipping sauce.

Unfortunately, although the deal is reasonably priced, it really isn't enough food for two and we left slightly hungry.  If we were to go again, I'd definitely order a bowl of noodles on the side.

Grand Imperial on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zucca - restaurant review

Taking an Italian to an Italian restaurant is always a risky business.  Particularly when the Italian in question isn't shy about expressing his opinions.  Nonetheless, we'd heard great things about Zucca, so thought we'd be on safe ground.

Zucca opened last year on Bermondsey Street, London Bridge (also home to Jose, Village East and a number of other good pubs, bars and cafes).  It's had rave reviews from critics and bloggers alike, praised for reasonable prices, use of seasonal ingredients and consistently good food.

After a delicious cocktail in Village East, (some of the best in London in my opinion, well worth stopping off here for an aperitif), we headed across the road to Zucca.

The restaurant is a Daz-doorstep-challenge-white, contemporary space largely reminiscent of an art gallery.  Flashes of orange are a reference to the name - zucca means pumpkin in Italian. 

The complimentary bread selection went down a treat, served with grassy olive oil.  My favourite was the salty focaccia.  We were also treated to a small plate of a sort of potato and chilli omelette/tortilla.
The food at Zucca is extremely reasonable, a refreshing change in London.  Starters ranged from £3.95 to £4.75.

First on the list was a generous chunk of creamy mozzarella, with a sort of courgette stew, spiked with capers and liberally dressed with olive oil.  Delicious with the bread and could be shared between two.
Mozarella with courgette and sorrel
Buttery seabass carpaccio came with flecks of mild red chilli and more of that olive oil.  At £4.75, this was extremely good value and is a regular on the menu.
Seabass carpaccio
The two pasta dishes on the menu: papardelle with veal ragu and ricotto and taglierini with chanterelles and parmesan were a resounding success and got a big thumbs up from the Italian (who knows his pasta!).

On to the mains.  There are six choices, priced from £14.25 to £14.95, with no real need to pay for extra sides (which, by the way, is a pet peeve of mine, as it often pushes prices up to ridiculous levels)

I went for the grilled sea bream with cannellini, potato and romanesco.  This was a flavoursome, substantial, rustic dish.  The fish was perfectly cooked, with a lovely crispy skin.

Sea bream
Zucca's signature dish is the veal chop, served with spinach and lemon.  This is an almost obscenely large portion - guaranteed to make the day of any carnivore.  Perfectly chargrilled on the outside, pink in the middle.  And apparently 'bouncy' in texture (no, I'm not sure what that means either.  You'd have to ask my dining companion himself).  Funnily enough, I didn't hear much about the accompanying spinach...
The star of the show: veal chop
Although we were already full, the food had been so good that we couldn't resist trying the puddings.  The panna cotta with poached plum was the lightest option and a perfect example of its kind.

The pistachio tart, although lighter than it appeared, was still something of a heavyweight choice.  Lovely flavour with a delicious short, buttery crust.  Definitely best shared.

Pistachio tart
The food was fantastic from start to finish and I just had two little niggles.  Firstly, the open kitchen isn't ventilated well enough; although we sat right by the window, when we left all our clothes had taken on the smell of cooking meat fat.  Secondly, whilst the food is very well priced, the wine is less of a bargain.  There's just one bottle at £18 with the rest priced at £23 plus.  It would be nice to see a small selection of house wines for under £20 a bottle.

All in all, Zucca is a fantastic restaurant and I'm highly jealous of anyone who can call this their local.  And it was a resounding success with the Italian, which is high praise indeed.

**Sorry the photos are a bit rubbish.  Camera phone, dim lighting blah.

Zucca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Truffle Fest 2011

I absolutely love truffles (the super-expensive fungus variety, although I am also rather partial to the chocolates) but had never really considered buying a whole truffle, as I always thought it would be too pricey.

Thanks to the joy of Twitter, I recently came across a website that specialises in truffles:  According to Missus Truffle, English truffles (no, I didn't know they grew here either) were in season and, even better, you could order your truffle by the gram to be delivered to your home.

The English summer truffles come from a wood in deepest, darkest, Dorset.  They're vacuum packed and last up to five days in the fridge.  The flavour of Summer truffles is much more subtle than winter black or white truffles and you do need to use a little more to get a similar effect. 

Admittedly truffles aren't cheap but being able to buy as much, or as little, as you like by the gram makes it much more economical.  Also, as the flavour works well with very simple ingredients, you don't need to spend a fortune on other items.  And, the cost of the truffle, wine and all the other ingredients was far less than a meal out.  Hence, Truffle Fest 2011 began.

The menu:
Posh cheese on toast
Toasted ciabatta, rubbed with garlic and topped with melted gruyere.  Sprinkled with shavings of fresh truffle

Asparagus, poached egg and fresh truffle
Spears of lightly griddled asparagus, topped with a poached egg, flakes of fresh parmesan and a generous grating of fresh truffle

Linguine with parmesan and fresh truffle
Fresh linguine tossed in butter and a drop of cream, topped liberally with shaved parmesan and fresh truffle

Chocolate and home-grown mint mousse

Our deliciously decadent meal was washed down with a chilled Rousanne (thanks to a recommendation from the lovely people at Hello Vino )

I will definitely be buying a Winter truffle from Mister Truffle (or Missus) when they're in season.  They offer a fantastic service and I highly recommend reenacting your own Truffle Fest!

**Update** if you love truffles as much as I do, you'll enjoy drooling over Greedy Diva's truffle & wine weekend in Provence.  Jealous much?!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Watercress soup - recipe

There's something extremely soothing about a steaming bowl of homemade soup, particularly when the  the days start to get a little chilly around the edges. Soup is one of the easiest things you can make and you can use just about any old veg you have lying around.

Watercress, with its punch, peppery flavour, is great in salads but also makes a delicious soup, whizzed up with a bit of potato, onion and stock.  I particularly love the colour of this soup - a really intense, deep green.

Ingredients (serves 2):
Half an onion, finely chopped
1 small potato, cut into small cubes
Large knob of butter
500ml vegetable stock
1 bunch watercress, roughly chopped (including stalks)

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the onion and potato and cook over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until softened. (Keep stirring to avoid sticking).

Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.

Add the watercress and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Using a hand blender (my absolute favourite piece of kitchen equipment!), blend until smooth.

Serve topped with a little dollop of creme fraiche.

Watercress soup

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's in season: September

September is a great month for fruit and veg.  I'm still clinging on to hopes for an Indian summer, so I might make some strawberry tarts to coax the sunshine out!  There's no denying that the nights are starting to draw in though, so I think the time might've come to start making satisfying homemade soups.

Vegetables: Artichokes, aubergines, beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, chard, chillies, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, wild mushrooms, onions, spring onions, peas, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, sorrel, spinach, squash, swede, sweetcorn, turnips, watercress.

Fruit: Apples, apricots, blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, chestnuts, cobnuts, crab apples, damsons, elderberries, figs, gooseberries, loganberries, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries, tomatoes, walnuts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Perfect patatas bravas - easy recipe

Patatas bravas appear on the menu in most tapas bars and restaurants. At best, the potatoes are crisp and golden, topped with a punchy tomato sauce and a garlic spiked aioli. At worst, they're just a soggy, bland disappointment.

On a mission to use up bits and pieces, I decided to make myself a little tapas feast, including my version of patatas bravas. I was really pleased with the results. Well worth a try.

I used new potatoes but using normal potatoes cut into approximately 2cm x 2cm chunks would be more traditional.

Ingredients (Makes enough for four good size tapas portions):
750g new potatoes (with larger ones cut in half)
Sunflower oil
Sea salt

For the brava sauce:
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 chipotle chilli, rehydrated and finely chopped)**
400g chopped tinned tomatoes

For the aioli:
4 tablespoons ready made mayonnaise
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Pre-heat the oven to 200c

Par boil the potatoes for around 5 minutes, until starting to soften.  Drain well.

Heat a few good glugs of sunflower oil in a roasting tray.  Add the potatoes, giving them a good shake to coat in oil, and return to the oven.  Roast for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are crispy and golden.

In the meantime, make the brava sauce.  Gently fry the onions until soft.  Add the garlic and chilli and cook over a medium heat for a further 2-3 minutes (being careful not to burn the garlic).  Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

To make the aioli, mix the olive oil, mayonnaise and garlic together.

To serve, sprinkle the cooked potatoes with sea salt and top with brava sauce and aioli.

**You can substitute 1 teaspoon of hot smoked paprika instead