Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Cornerhouse

If there's one thing I hate it is making a bad choice when I'm eating out. It was a shame, then, that I made a bad choice when eating out yesterday.

It was an all too rare occasion for us to eat out. We're both out of work so it has required a close eye on our finances to enable us to go out for something nice to eat.

We went to Cornerhouse in Manchester, home to the best pizzas in Manchester apparently. Perhaps that was my first mistake. I didn't have a pizza. But not many other people were choosing pizza so if they are the best in Manchester it must be a well kept secret.

The popular choices last night were the steak sandwich and the spanish meatball sandwich. I had the steak sandwich, the missus went for the spanish meatball - a wise choice it turned out.

On the face of there was nothing wrong with the steak sandwich. The steak was ok, it had some taste and eating it didn't turn out to be a fight with gristle. Although there was a couple of moments when I had to grab the meat and pull it away from my mouth. Never a good thing.

It was meant to come with mustard mayo, but instead it came with Hellman's. A good mayo can be the missing dimension in a good steak sandwich so the kitchen at Cornerhouse really missed a trick there. Hellman's is fine, even fantastic, with a chip. But a steak sarnie really demands better.

Although I was no longer hungry at the end of my meal, I was sated rather than satisfied. And at nearly 9 quid the steak sandwich really should have been better.

The spanish meatball sandwich, on the other hand, was closer to triumph than disaster. The amount of meatballs in the sandwich was more than generous, and the use of chorizo in the sauce meant it really had a lot of taste. In fact, it had almost too much taste and would have benefited from something sharp on the side to balance things out. But that's splitting hairs really. At less than 8 quid this felt like a much better choice than my steak sandwich.

I'll make sure I have a pizza next time.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Risotto with braised celery

The last risotto post I did seems to be popular, so I thought I'd do another. This time, however, I used a proper homemade stock and a good slug of decent wine because I wanted to try and get the best flavour possible.

I started with softening some finely chopped onion in butter. I used half a smallish onion for a risotto for two. After it had softened for a few minutes over a medium-high heat I added the risotto rice - in this instance Arborio. That got turned over for a couple of minutes to get well coated in the butter, then I added a small glass of dry white wine. I used Pinot Grigio, it seems apt to use a Italian wine.

This got stirred for a couple of minutes and then I started adding the stock.

I used the stock I'd kept from preparing a gammon. All this involved was boiling a gammon joint with stock veg - carrot, onion and celery - along with some bay leaf and a few black peppercorns. I finished the gammon off in the oven with a mustard and brown sugar glaze. It was delicious and was great in sandwiches for lunch. I simply strained the stock and froze it for future use.

After getting the risotto underway I started to braise the celery, using a method I got from Delia online. Very simply, just some softened onions, chopped celery, a hint of sugar and some of the gammon stock. Delia's recipe includes other veg and there's no reason why you couldn't use whatever you fancy. Fennel would be good.

The celery continued to braise whilst I kept adding stock to the risotto, stirring all the while.

Towards the end I added some frozen peas into the last of the stock, warming them through before adding them to the risotto. Adding frozen peas straight into the risotto would cool it down too much I think. Whilst there was still a little stock unabsorbed by the rice I added a good handful of grated parmesan and some chopped parsley. Then I put the lid on the pan and let the risotto settle for a couple of minutes.

All that I had to do then was serve. Risotto, then braised celery and some of the rich braising liquor. A little bit more parmesan and it was done. It seemed to go down well with the missus, and the braised celery went really nicely, especially with the braising juices which added a nice depth to the overall taste. The Pinot Grigio that hadn't gone into the risotto went nicely with it as well.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Homemade bread

This isn't something I can take the credit for. It's the missus. She's been trying to make decent homemade bread on and off for over a year, but just recently she's cracked it.

When she first started trying to make bread at home we were going through a bit of a farmhouse kitchen phase. We were even making butter from scratch. Which, by the way, is fairly easy and gives you some buttermilk as a by-product which you can use to make some tasty pancakes.

The first efforts were not a success. Small, dense loaves which refused to rise, regardless of the state of the dough. Thankfully she didn't force it on me so I could still enjoy stodgy white supermarket bread - as we all know, this makes the best toast.

However, we have plenty of time on our hands at the minute as we're out of work and the extra impetus of saving some money prompted a second go at making bread at home.

The key is strong bread flour. Previous attempts with normal flour were total flops. But the first go with strong bread flour produced a properly risen, recognisable loaf. Further tweaks to the technique mean that she now bakes a near perfect loaf of 'farmhouse white'. It bulges over the side of the bread tin before it's even gone in the oven.

To achieve perfection she first warms the flour. It's a Delia suggestion, and that can't be questioned. In fact, everything needs to be warm, including your kitchen. Cold kitchens do not make for good bread.

The only thing that doesn't need to be warm is the oven. That needs to be hot. About as hot as you can get it, and then work backwards from there. 230 degrees Celsius in our oven made the crust a touch overdone. 220 degrees seems to be much more like it.

At first I was reluctant to shift from supermarket bread. But now she's cracked how to make it at home I'm converted. Which is good, considering how much bread I'm eating at the moment. I don't think I've ate so much cheese on toast since I was a student. But it's a cheap and satisfying lunch option so I'm stuck with it for the moment. At least making bread at home means we're paying about 45p for a loaf, rather than £1 or more at a supermarket.

Update - 16.11.11

Well, things have gone full circle and the student is now the master. I have assumed pretty much all bread making duties. Baker's fingers, apparently. We've been really enjoying baking and eating half and half loaves. Half white flour and half wholemeal or rye. It feels a bit healthier and the flavour which rye flour adds is really nice, satisfying and nutty. There's nothing quite like the first slice cut from a still warm loaf, slathered in butter. That alone is worth the effort.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Pony & Trap - Chew Magna

Being unemployed places some pretty severe restrictions on eating out. The local chippy does a 2-4-1 deal which we've used a couple of times, but anything you might consider gastronomy is well out of reach. So I was over the moon when my Mum decided to take us out for lunch when we went to visit.

The venue was the Pony & Trap which has just received a Michelin star. The pub is in a small hamlet a couple of miles from Chew Magna.  The setting is great, with views across a valley of well groomed farmland. Inside, the owners have retained the look of a proper pub but also provide a marginally smarter dining room out the back, which makes the most of the views. It had been a long time since we'd been sat in such a nice place for a meal.

If I'm honest, the starters on offer were not particularly enticing. A couple of soups, a pate and a terrine, a salad and moules marniere. Nothing you wouldn't see on a good pub menu really. Perhaps that was the point. This was still pub grub, but very, very good pub grub.

I went for the Duck Liver Parfait with Smoked Duck Breast, Red Onion Jam and Toast. It came with some tiny cornichons that packed a piquant punch and a sliver of pickled carrot. The serving was generous, almost too generous really. The toast was two thick slices of farmhouse white rather than melba toast, which felt like a lot of bread for a starter. Having said that the contemporary and slightly pretentious black slate went back clean (is there any need to serve food on anything other than a plate?). Although I did give my smoked duck away - it was far too smokey and not nearly ducky enough.

Others in the party went for the same starter and we were all complementary and satisfied. My missus chose the Spicy Spider Crab Soup, displaying a clear yearning for our days of travelling in South-east Asia. It was a very nice soup, if unspectacular.

Mains, however, were a different matter.

I had Char-Grilled Pigeon Breast with Braised Pig Cheek, Puy Lentils, Cauliflower Puree and Caramelised Red Onion (which looked suspiciously like the Red Onion Jam of the starter). Fantastic. Rich and deep, with each flavour complementing the other. The star of the show was the pig cheek. I only wish the portion had been as generous as my starter.

Others in our party chose steak and were, understandably, very happy with their choices. A professional kitchen can produce the perfect temperatures for cooking and so can properly sear a steak to give it a crisp, nutty crust while retaining enough moisture to keep the middle soft, moist and pink. The chips were good as well.

My partner opted for the Cornish Cod with Pine Nut & Herb Crumb and Saffron Cream Sauce with clams. I love clams and was lucky enough to get a taste of one which was deliciously sweet. The cod was generously portioned and the cream sauce was well balanced and not at all cloying.

It was such a welcome treat to go out for such a nice meal. And one which will provide lasting enjoyment because my pigeon dish is definitely one which I'll have a go at doing at home. Although it's likely to be with just the pig cheek, or perhaps ox cheek, so that it isn't too expensive to make.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.