Monday, 24 December 2012

Duck with lentils and cranberries

I've been having a break from blogging, largely because I've not been cooking anything out of the ordinary recently. And, as an amateur, I was beginning to wonder whether anyone trusts recipes from people who aren't well known chefs. I know I don't always trust them.

Having said that, sometimes I want to cook something that I've thought of without referring to a set recipe. I like the creative process of thinking about a dish and how I could make it work. When I'm in that mood I'll Google the combinations I'm thinking off to see if they've been done before, just to confirm I'm not going to cook something stupid.

So yesterday I ended up googling lentils with cranberries. We had some mini duck fillets in the freezer and some lentils in the cupboard and I wanted to combine the two. Turns out lentils with cranberries isn't ground-breaking so I felt confident enough to give it a crack.

The basic idea was to cook some lentils with some dried cranberries, and to serve the little duck fillets on top. But I was worried about that being a bit dry and needed a sauce to bring it all together. Luckily we had some brandy left over from when the missus made mince pies and Christmas puds!

This cooks enough for two and is ready in about half an hour, including prep:

160g Puy Lentils
half a finely chopped carrot
a finely chopped large shallot or small onion
celery salt
cranberry sauce
duck fillets / duck breasts
a good slug of brandy
olive oil
2 tablespoons of dried cranberries, chopped
dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

Start with the lentils as everything else can be done whilst they're cooking. Soften the carrot and shallot in a mixture of butter and olive oil. We've started cooking a lot more with butter, what a difference it makes to the taste of food! Add the dried thyme and bay leaves. After they've had about 5-6 minutes add the dried cranberries and continue to soften for 3-4 minutes. Then add the lentils and follow the pack instructions for cooking them.

When your lentils are about 5 minutes away from being ready, get a frying pan hot and fry the mini duck fillets in butter and olive oil. Cook them over a high heat so they get a little bit crispy but stay moist in the middle. If you're using duck breast just slice it thinly and fry.

When the duck is cooked, remove from the pan and drain on kitchen towel. If your lentils are cooked take them off the heat, check for seasoning and put them to one side.

Now you can make the sauce. De-glaze the frying pan with a good slug of brandy. Before all the brandy evaporates add some water. Then add the cranberry sauce, about a dessert-spoonful. Stir to get a smooth sauce, add more water if you need to. You're not after a lot of sauce, just a fine jus that'll keep the duck and lentil dish from being too dry. Season to taste.

When the sauce is ready, serve. Put the duck on top of the lentils and spoon over the brandy and cranberry sauce.

This dish started as something I reckoned would be ok, and turned out to be quite delicious. Even worth blogging about! We'll be cooking it again.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The simple things

Sometimes it's the simple things in life which give us our greatest pleasure.

Take eggs and bread. I've been converted to Burford Browns as I've never had a better tasting egg. The yolk is so rich, creamy and satisfying. It is perfect for poaching and superb when scrambled.

And then there's bread. We're lucky that there's been a revival of proper bread and that sourdough is so available.

There's a great edition of the Food Programme on Radio 4 all about sourdough. It really is worth a listen, as Sheila Dillon takes a couple of different sourdough starters into a lab for testing, to see what's going on with the bacteria. She finds out that there is a real difference between starters that can have a pronounced effect on the taste.

We've tried a few different sourdoughs. The Polish Bread Bakery in Avonmouth makes a sourdough that is light, slightly acidic and quite creamy. It makes a great slice of toast.

Mark's Bread in Southville make a range of sourdoughs, but I'm in danger of becoming addicted to his seven seed sourdough. The slow prove and the mix of seeds produces a heady scent and has a rich, nutty almost raisin-like flavour. It is magnificent.

So tonight's tea was simple. Scrambled eggs (Burfords) on a slice of sourdough toast with lots of salt and pepper. It was bloody lovely.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Atomic Burger

We ate at Atomic Burger on Friday. It's the second time we've been. I think it's pretty close to the perfect sort of place for a Friday night.

They have really gone to town with the decor. I have to remind myself that Star Wars wallpaper wouldn't look quite as good in my flat! That, and the missus wouldn't go for it anyway. She definitely wouldn't go for the large USS Enterprise mobiles and a scalectrix on the ceiling! Shame.

All that decor sets the tone for Atomic Burger, which continues with a US themed menu. The choice of burgers is really extensive and should offer something for everyone. If not Atomic Burger are happy for you to do swapsies on your toppings so you can tailor something more to your taste.

The first time we went, 3-4 weeks ago, we were hankering for big juicy burgers. The place was crammed so we ended up sitting on stools at a bench in the window being served by the owners. We couldn't have been looked after better. I went for Smokey & The Bandit, like my old Old Orleans favourite from years ago, the Sloppy Joe. Proper dirty amounts of BBQ sauce, cheese and Cajun spices. Spot on. The missus went for the Johnny Cash, overflowing with re-fried beans, hot sauce, American cheese and jalapenos. Close to perfection.

It was never going to be a long time between visits, and we ended up going again on Friday.

We booked this time to make sure we got a proper table. And it's just as well we did 'cos they were fully booked - again.

I'd been looking at the online menu all week trying to decide what I wanted, my eye kept being drawn to the Dirty Dog. A US style hot dog covered in beef chilli, cheese and fried onions.  I did consider going for a burger, but stuck to my guns. I'm glad I did, the dog delivered. The beef chilli on it was one of the best chillis I've tasted. This time the missus went for Cheech & Chong - a burger covered in beef chilli, nachos and cheese. Another hit.

The staff were really attentive and service was quick without us feeling rushed. We were going to linger over a pudding but the brownie I fancied had nuts in and had to be avoided, so instead we both had a coffee. The coffee was very nearly the tastiest thing we had in there! Apparently it's a bottomless coffee, that could be an expensive promise to keep with coffee that tasty.

Atomic Burger don't claim to make the best burgers in Bristol, but they're aren't many better.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Glorious Oyster

This time last week we were starting our holiday. Bags packed, tickets checked and passports ready we were getting very excited about our trip to Sicily.

We thought we'd start things off with a nice little foodie treat, oysters and Champagne.

We hadn't really been into oysters all that much before we went to the Streat Food Collective event at Arnos Vale Cemetery. However, the highlights of that event for us were the BBQ & Jerk stall and the oysters from The Glorious Oyster.

The missus really went for the oysters and came up with the idea of starting our holiday with oysters and champagne, and luckily The Glorious Oyster deliver oysters! So we ordered 12 and a shucking knife. Is there a cooler kind of knife than a shucking knife?

Up until this point I had never shucked oysters. I've seen it on tele a couple of times and thought I'd be able to give it a go, but I was some way short of confident. But that's where the magic of oysters delivered by The Glorious Oyster really comes into its own.

Lyndsay delivers the oysters personally, and luckily for me she popped in to give me a shucking demonstration. I'm so glad she did, getting into an oyster must rank as one of the most dangerous bits of food preparation. I could just see myself at A&E with a shucking knife in my arm without the proper guidance, which goes something like firm hold, flat side up, knife into hinge, wriggle, twist, pop!

We chose to make our own dressings, which may have been a small mistake as Lyndsay's dressings are great, but we did have a sample sachet of Chipotle Tabasco which went really well. Sweet, smokey heat was a great match for the oysters, which were themselves succulent, creamy and delicious. I've never had oysters so good before, and when they are this good it's easy to see what all the fuss is about. Especially when accompanied by a nice glass of fizz.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Confit Duck Hash

This has been the last meal made with the confit duck we bought. I really can't stress what a bargain the £10 tin was. We got 5 pieces of duck, which has made 3 gorgeous meals - cassoulet, duck confit with white beans - and this hash. And we're still left with a good amount of duck fat for some proper roasters as we head into Sunday Lunch season.

As there's two of us and we got 5 pieces of duck we were scratching our heads for what to do with the last piece. Thinking about it now we could have made Michel Roux's duck and mushroom pudding, which will be on the menu when we next have some confit duck. Instead we chose to make a hash, it seemed like a good excuse to cook some spuds in duck fat.

That's how we started things. Peeled potatoes, enough for two, chopped and par-boiled. As they steamed dry I got the confit duck into the frying pan with some chopped shallot. The gorgeous fat soon renders and the meat begins to fry. As it's tender already it only takes a few minutes before it starts to fall apart which means you can remove the bones.

With the duck and shallots sizzling away I added the potatoes to give them a chance to get brown and crispy.

As it is, those 3 ingredients would make a very nice meal. But I really wanted to try and produce a really balanced dish and I thought that I needed to add something to cut through all the richness, so I added a couple of dessert-spoonfuls of chopped capers. That just about did it. A generous squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped parsley did the rest.

It was a lovely meal, the only thing missing was poached egg, duck egg ideally, but other than that it was a fine way to use the last piece of duck confit. I can't wait to buy some more!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Streat Food Collective at Arnos Vale Cemetery

On the face of it it doesn't sound like your ideal setting for any kind of festival, a cemetery. But we're talking here about Arnos Vale Cemetery.

The street food scene in Bristol isn't big, but with quality like the stalls on offer here it's bound to grow.

After a bit of a stroll around to check out the stalls we opted to kick things off with some oysters from The Glorious Oyster.

These are delivered fresh from Cornwall and served with a choice of dressings. The missus went for Bloody Mary which she loved, I went for Thai which worked very well with the raw oyster.

In fact, we enjoyed them so much we went back for more after we'd finished working our way around the other stalls. Second time round we kept it classic. The missus went for the shallot dressing, delicious by all accounts.

I loaded up with a few shakes of Tabasco, a squeeze of lemon and a hint of black pepper. For all that oysters have a delicate taste, it's surprising what they can match with.

It would be impossible for me to go to a street food festival and not eat meat. Luckily I had 2 great options at the Streat UK food festival at Arnos Vale Cemetery.

The sounds and smells of meat cooking over coals meant I was compelled to go to the BBQ & Jerk Stop stall.

We shared some BBQ Rum wings which were delicious, and a bargain at £3.50. Even the missus thought they were delicious and she has a weird thing against wings.

More meat satisfaction came Bagel Boy.

I am simply a sucker for salt beef so I went for the New York Boy. Salt beef, American mustard, sauerkraut and gherkins on a sesame bagel. Very good, and at £4, another bargain.

It's a lovely place, Arnos Vale Cemetery, and all the better for being restored. Hopefully events like this will help bring people into the place, aside from those that inevitably end up here that is!

If you want know more have a look at the websites of Streat Food Collective and Arnos Vale Cemetery.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Duck confit, white bean mash and blackberry sauce with Pinotage

Despite the poncy title this little number was actually created out of leftovers.

We had some beans and some duck confit leftover from making the Cassoulet. Rather than make another cassoulet (and put on another stone!) I thought I'd try something a bit lighter.

So, the beans. Dead easy really. The beans had already been soaked so all I needed to do was cook them. An hour and a half or so at a steady simmer did that. After they cooled a little I blitzed them in a blender until they formed a smooth, creamy mash.

The bean mash was a bit bland, so I seasoned with a good bit of salt and pepper and some nice olive oil. However, it still wasn't quite what I was after. It needed something extra which had me reaching for the spice cupboard. I toasted some fennel seed and caraway seed, ground them in a pestle and mortar and added them to the bean mash. Much better.

The duck confit is very easy to cook. It's simply added to a frying pan over a medium heat and allowed to heat through. It's so tender it nearly falls off the bone as it cooks and the smell does wonders for stimulating the appetite.

When I was thinking about this dish I knew that it was going to need a fruity sauce to give it a lift. We have some cherry trees growing down by the river near where we live and I was really tempted to make a sauce with some of the cherries. But, we also have some blackberries growing in our garden which are really tasty and I thought a blackberry sauce would go nicely. Thankfully I wasn't wrong.

As is usual when I've thought of something to do but I'm not certain it'll work, I googled it to see if it had already been done. Yes it has. It's handy to get some hints and it helped to make sure I made the sauce savoury rather than sweet like a bramble jelly.

For the sauce I sweated off some finely chopped shallot in a little duck fat - I find it hard to now to consider frying with anything else - and a couple of bay leaves. After a few minutes I added some freshly picked blackberries, about a cereal bowl full, and a fair bit of black pepper. The blackberries broke down in a few minutes after which I added a splash of the Pinotage we'd be drinking with the meal. It seems the done thing really.

The final result was one very satisfying meal. The Pinotage went really nicely with it. I'd say it was medium to full-bodied so texturally it matched the meat and beans. There's a spicy note, which comes from the Pinot Noir in its heritage I guess and which matched the black pepper and other spices. It's also quite fruity and that marries with the blackberry sauce. It wasn't bad at all.

Monday, 13 August 2012


I thought French cooking was difficult, but with the right ingredients we achieved an authentic tasting cassoulet without any hassle.

Right or wrong, I think the success of the cassoulet depends two things. The confit duck and the beans. Admittedly there aren't too many other ingredients in a cassoulet.

For the confit duck we used Succes Gourmand tinned duck confit. At £10 for the tin it seemed like a bargain as it contained 4 pieces - which turned out to be 5 when we opened the tin! Using tinned makes life a lot easier than having to make your own confit duck, and means you get a lot of the all important duck fat. Cassoulet starts with a generous portion of duck fat.

This recipe cooked a cassoulet that fed the two of us very well. You'll need:

2 pieces confit duck
Duck fat
2 handfuls or dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight (it might seem like a pain to use dried beans which need soaking, but the taste is much better than tinned)
1 chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic,chopped
2 sausages - use what you like, straight pork, Lincolnshire or Cumberland will work fine
Pork - you could use 4 rashers of bacon, but we used some pre-cooked ham hock, about 170g
Herbs - we used dried bay, thyme and sage.

Put the oven onto 180c, and on the hob melt a generous amount duck fat in a big pan that can go in the oven, or a casserole. Add the chopped onion and garlic and soften over a medium heat, you don't want them to brown. 

When the onions and garlic are soft add the soaked beans and herbs, cover with water and bring to the boil Boil for 10 minutes or so, skim off any scum. After 10 minutes put the pan in the oven for an hour.

Just before the hour is up melt some more duck fat and brown your sausages. Fry the bacon as well, if that's what you're using.

Remove the pan from the oven. Add the sausage, bacon or ham and the confit duck. Put the pan back in the oven for another 45 minutes or so. You want the beans soft and you might get a golden crust as well.

I thought cassoulet was going to be a lot harder than this. The hardest part is probably getting hold of duck confit, but you can buy that from Amazon! I think this is going to be one of those dishes that we end up cooking again and again.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Tapas and Rosè

If summer won't come to England we're just going to have to pretend, and what better way to pretend than to eat tapas and drink chilled rosè?

It has been a dreadful summer so far. Grey skies, low light levels, floods and only a brief break in the clouds once in a while. I almost hold myself responsible. I bought a barbeque back in early June and I think it's rained ever since.

Well, we finally had enough and decided to just pretend that it's summer and decided to go Spanish with a few tapas inspired dishes.

Patatas Bravas - simple but effective. The missus (A) found a great recipe from the 'perfect' Felicity Cloake. The potatoes are roasted rather than fried. We've been having a lot of roasted new potatoes recently, by themselves with a gargantuan amount of salt they are insanely delicious. With a smoky tomato sauce and a creamy garlic mayo they are equally moreish and more suited to a tapas style tea. They were tremendous.

Another tapas staple - Padron Peppers. There can't be many things easier to cook. Put padron peppers into hot oil, cook until they blister, sprinkle over sea salt in obscene amounts, eat.

Squid is another favourite. We had some delicious cuttlefish recently at Bravas, a cool little tapas bar just off Whiteladies Road but which would not look out of place in Barcelona's back streets. The Spanish waiter lending it an even more authentic feel. We couldn't get our hands on cuttlefish, but did get some baby squid from the fishmongers on Gloucester Road. Simple seems to be the way with tapas so we just fried the squid and then squeezed over a load of lemon juice.

Our fourth dish wasn't strictly speaking tapas, but we simply had to include chorizo in some way and this chorizo and chicken liver salad from Tom Parker-Bowles seemed like a very nice way to do that. We get great chorizos rosario from Murray's on Gloucester Road. They release a fabulous oil when fried in a hot pan. When cooked, remove the sliced chorizos and add the chicken livers which have been dusted in seasoned flour. 3-4 minutes in the pan and the livers are done, crispy on the outside, smooth in the middle. We added them, the chorizos and some chopped mange tout to some salad leaves. The salad alone would make a great meal.

To complete the meal we went for a spanish rosè or rosado - Marques des Rojas from Averys. Made from Syrah (Shiraz) grapes it has a hint of spice which goes nicely with the chorizo. It's a deep pink, and could probably pass for a Pinot Noir in colour, and retains plenty of body so it pairs nicely with a range of food. It complemented all of our dishes - patatas bravas, squid, padron peppers and the chorizo salad. Versatility like that is really unusual, and would be hard to find in anything other than a rosado.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony

With his clever and audacious ceremony Danny Boyle has created a new image of Great Britain.

I'm sure we were all nervous, "Please don't let it be shit", was my over-riding thought. With the world watching I would have hated it had we embarrassed ourselves. And for the first 15 minutes I thought that was going to happen.

The rural idyll, the peasants, the farmers and the pipes. Everything seemed to be leading towards some thoughtless, lazy, typical view of Britain as a green and pleasant land populated by gurning simpletons. Although I liked the sequence which showed us Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales nevertheless I began to cringe.

But then it all started to change. The dramatic transformation from countryside to industrial landscape completed by a stunningly staged sequence of the forging of the Olympic rings, rising slowly and steadily into the sky. No CGI manipulation here, very clever. At this point I began to think we could be in for something special.

And we were. Bond. And The Queen! The completely staggering inclusion of our Monarch may have been lost on anyone not British. But it can't have been lost on us. This is The Queen! I find it hard to believe that they managed to get her involved like that. The audacity and the cheekiness of it was perfect. This was a ceremony for us Britons. I was now beginning to feel quite proud.

What followed with the sequences devoted to the NHS, our literary history, music and technology showcased a diverse range of talent and industry of which we can be proud. This is what we do and we do it well. There is much more to us than fields and farming.

The ceremony was the most inclusive I can remember. From The Queen to volunteers from the working class areas of London and the four corners of Great Britain. Top to bottom, left to right, everyone was given not just a chance to join in, but a starring role.

All this within a brand new stadium built in a previously run-down area of London. Completed on time and full of promise of better things continuing for some of the poorest boroughs of our capital.

The entrance of the athletes was underpinned with a thoughtful intelligence and set to a terrific soundtrack which seemed to fan the flames of the excitement felt by the young competitors. Accompanying athletes of each country was their flag, naturally, and an unexplained copper petal, which led to the crowning glory of a terrific ceremony.

Britain's previous gold medal winners put their egos to the side and let the next generation of hopefuls parade the flame around the stadium and then light the copper petals of a large flaming flower. The petals then rose to create one giant fire containing a flame for each competing country. What a perfect message to give. Hats of to Thomas Heatherwick for that one.

Come, all of you, to London, to Britain, and join in this celebration of sport and endeavour.

And there we have it, our new message for the World. This is Britain, and it's Great.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Barbequed lamb with Cabernet Sauvignon

At last. AT LAST! Summer, finally. After weeks and weeks of grey skies, downpours and floods we finally get to Summer. And that means barbeque.

There's nothing finer on the barbeque than lamb, and to make sure the first one of the season set the right standard I asked Al from Wine Chateau to suggest the right wine,

"It has to be Cabernet Sauvignon", said Al. "There's some great wines around, but Chile in particular is producing some fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon right now. Try the Los Vascos, produced by Rothschild".

Barbequeing lamb doesn't require much of a recipe really. Get a barbeque hot, put some lamb on it (we used chops) and cook. Lamb always seems to respond really well to the heat and smoke of the barbeque, taking on a lovely red tinge in places, and the fat crisps up nicely and becomes very,very tasty.

Lamb is also very versatile, you can go so many different directions with it. We stuck to the Med, pairing it with some roasted and stuffed peppers, spiced spinach and chickpeas and hummus.

Al's recommendation of Cabernet Sauvignon is spot on. The wine at first is very fruity with a taste of lots of red berries and cherries. But after some time to breathe the tannins develop to deliver a dry finish. It's a great match with the lamb, which is quite a sweet meat. The sweet fruit of the wine matches nicely. There's also a hint of smoke and spice which complements the char-grill from the barbeque.

What a perfect start to Summer. The grey skies seem a long time ago, and the future seems rich with the promise of more great food and wine.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Gnocchi and cheese sauce with Pinot Gris

Simple but effective, this Italian dish with an Italian inspired wine is an unassuming yet elegant meal.

Al runs We've been tweeting about food and wine matches. After all, who better to ask what wine to drink with your meal than a guy who runs a wine company?

Al's first suggestion, Roast Chicken with Napa Valley Chardonnay, was a winner. So I asked him what he'd put with something simple like gnocchi with a cheese sauce,

"Pinot Grigio would be a nice match", said Al, "but if you want something a bit special, try a Pinot Gris from Oregon."

My only experience of American wine until now had been red from California. Some of it is excellent, Zinfandel in particular. And Chardonnay clearly does well in the vineyards around Napa. But I wasn't familiar with wine from Oregon.

"The Wine by Joe Pinot Gris is an excellent wine, I'm sure you'll enjoy it", said Al. How right he was.

We cooked for 2, using the following recipe.

500g pack of ready made gnocchi
3 small shallots, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
splash of white wine
2-3 tbsp mascarpone
1-2 tbsp creme fraiche
150g Taleggio, chopped into small chunks
splash of olive oil
Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Get a pan warm over a medium heat, add a good splash of olive oil and soften the shallots and garlic. After 3-4 minutes add a small glass of white wine, around 150ml. We used the Pinot Gris we were going to drink with the meal.

Reduce the wine by half. Add the mascarpone and creme fraiche and stir until melted.

At this point, start your gnocchi. It depends on what it says on the packet, but it should just be a case of adding it to boiling water and cooking it for a few minutes.

Add the taleggio to the sauce and stir until melted and combined. Season with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. You probably won't need to add any salt, but it depends on your taste.

When the gnocchi is cooked, drain it and add it to the cheese sauce. Serve with some freshly chopped parsley.

Obviously the cheese sauce is rich, but the creme fraiche keeps it from being too rich, and the soft, doughy balls of gnocchi make the dish simple and comforting. However, the classy Pinot Gris transforms the dish, like Cinderella going to the ball.

I'm not normally one for appreciating white wine, certainly not the colour of it, but this Wine by Joe Pinot Gris is beautiful, like the flesh of a freshly cut apple, and there is a hint of green apple in the taste. Its clean lines cut through the richness of the cheese sauce and give it lift. It also opens up and enhances the aromas of the dish, so you get a real experience of it from your olfactory senses. 

There is also a very enjoyable contrast of hot, creamy sauce with cool, crisp wine. However, the fruit of the wine stops short of being dry so the contrast doesn't go too far. It is a wonderful combination.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The best cheese for burgers

I found it tonight - the best cheese for burgers. Taleggio.

It's got a tang a bit like blue cheese, but nowhere near a Stilton or Roquefort. It's creamy and buttery a bit like good mayonnaise. And it's kind of nutty. Burger cheese perfection.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Roast chicken with braised lettuce and peas and Napa Valley Chardonnay

It's funny what can happen when you use Twitter. I've been in touch with a range of people I simply would not come across in my normal day-to-day life.

I've been in touch with a guy who makes handmade pasta in Shepton Mallet, the chef at my favourite local restaurant, a blogger who lives in Australia and Al. Al runs, a wine merchants in New Jersey.

I'd been tweeting about my latest cooking and eating experiences, posting links to my blog, and Al got in touch to say he liked it. We exchanged a few tweets and then conversation (is it conversation on Twitter?) turned to a subject close to both our hearts - food and wine.

Most of the time my posts are just about food, either what I've cooked or what I've eaten out somewhere. Rarely do I blog about food and wine together, which seems odd when I often make a point of seeking out a nice bottle to go with what I'm cooking.

This seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Surely Al could give me some guidance on what wine to put with food. Thankfully he obliged.

His first suggestion was for roast chicken with a Napa Valley Chardonnay - like this one (available from So that's what we tried.

For 2 people we used the following:

4 chicken thighs
1 lemon, chopped into wedges
4 cloves of garlic
splash of olive oil
salt and pepper

2 little gem lettuce cut into quarters
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 good handfuls of peas
1 small onion, or large shallot, finely chopped
200ml good chicken stock
4 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 small knob of butter
splash of olive oil

Put the chicken thighs in a roasting pan, drizzle over some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place around them the wedges of lemon and cloves of garlic. Roast in the oven at 180c for about 30 minutes or until the juices run clear when you skewer the chicken.

Whilst the chicken is roasting, get going with the lettuce. Put a small knob of butter in a pan with a splash of olive oil and soften the chopped onion or shallot over a medium heat. Then put the lettuce quarters on top, cut side down, and cook for a couple of minutes. Then, pour over the stock, put the lid on the pan and lightly simmer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes lift out the lettuce quarters with a slotted spoon, leave to stand whilst you reduce the cooking liquor over a high heat. When it's reduced by half, add the creme fraiche, mustard and peas. Turn the heat down and warm the peas for a minute or 2.

Plate the lettuce and chicken and spoon the pea, cream and mustard sauce around them.

The wine, of course, is a great match. The maturation in oak means it's full-bodied, which compliments the meat and the rich sauce. The natural chardonnay flavours of citrus and crisp apple work nicely with the lemon the chicken has been roasted with. And there's a  minerality which goes well with the lettuce.

So, thanks Al. Just goes to show what Twitter can do.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Eat a Pitta

I think St. Nicholas Markets in Bristol is seeing the birth of a new food success story - Eat a Pitta.

The Glass Arcade at St. Nicholas Markets is a consistently popular place for Bristolians to eat, with good reason. Caribbean, Italian, Portuguese, Moroccan and English food is on offer.

And now the latest addition, Eat a Pitta. Who's success seems to rest on a 75 year old Algerian recipe for falafel. Dan Levy, owner of Eat a Pitta explains,

"The falafels are my grandmas recipe which she has held for 75 years. She is originally from Algeria but now resides in France. The recipe has always been in the family so it was natural for me as a chef, to go back to my roots as this is the kind of food I grew up eating. I do think this kind of food is street food so when the stall became free in St nicks I jumped at the chance."

Taking a chance like that is a big step, and one that Dan receives help with from The Princes Trust. I asked Dan how they support him,

"The Princes Trust were able to help me get my business off the ground early in 2011. I was unemployed at the time. They gave me advice and a lot of help with my business plan, although their help is not financial. I have a business mentor through the trust with whom I meet every couple of months for advice and support."

It is definitely a successful combination. Eat a Pitta seems to have the longest queue in the food court on any day of the week and Dan is pretty pleased with that,

"The business has got of to a great start. A lot better than I foresaw in fact. I would like to grow the business, perhaps even into a franchise, I feel it has the potential to achieve that."

It is hard to argue with that. Eat a Pitta seems to be the right thing at the right time. Although if you're Dan the right time would seem to be being at Grandma's for tea,

"As good as mine are, she somehow seems to always make them that little bit better than me. That's grandma's touch I guess."

And so, to the falafels themselves. They're constantly frying them so they're perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside and moist and light in the middle. To make sure that the falafels are as fresh as possible, Dan and his team give away free samples to anyone who wants one. 

To go with the falafels there's a choice of freshly prepared salads. Huge platters of colourful carrots, red and white cabbage and onions. Dishes of hummus and tabbouleh, and a selection of pickles and chillies. And on top of that a choice of tahini, chilli and olive oil and lemon dressings. There's also the extra chilli jam for the brave.

It's a delicious and satisfying meal that is completely guilt free.

When you listen to the news or read a newspaper it seems like there's nothing but bad news at the minute, so it's great to see a new business start so successfully. I hope the success continues. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A salad of nectarine, feta, mint and seeds

Talk about hot off the press, I'm writing this straight after having eaten this fantastic salad, whilst waiting for my missus to cook our main course of gnocchi with sage butter. We're keeping things simple tonight!

This salad is very, very tasty and can be made in minutes. For 2 people I used:

2 Nectarines
A bit less than half a block of feta (DOP of course)
A few leaves of fresh mint, finely chopped
Some freshly toasted sunflower seeds
A good drizzle of lemon juice
Same again of olive oil

Take the flesh off the nectarine as neatly as possible, if you want to plate up something that looks attractive at least. Arrange the slices on a small plate. Sprinkle over a little freshly chopped mint. Crumble over some feta, don't be shy, the dish needs the salty taste for balance.

Then drizzle over some lemon juice and olive oil, I'd use more olive oil to help make things savoury. If your nectarines are really ripe they're going to be very sharp and sweet so the feta and olive oil are really important.

Finally, scatter over some toasted sunflower seeds, hopefully whilst they're still warm, and serve.

The mint works really nicely with the nectarine and seems to calm any flavours which might be too sharp. Both the mint and the nectarine contrast nicely with the feta and olive oil. The seeds give a satisfying nutty crunch.

There we go, job done. Just in time as well - dinner is served!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

HK Diner - Bristol

I've been getting itchy feet again. The missus and I spent most of this morning talking about getting away again and almost craving to be in Malaysia. During our travels of 2010-2011 we ended up spending a lot of time in Malaysia as we used Air Asia for getting around which has Kuala Lumpur as its hub.

I was initially quite worried about eating in Malaysia and South East Asia generally. I've got a really bad nut allergy and have been hospitalised with a severe reaction before. I've had to jam an inch long needle into my thigh after unexpectedly eating nuts at a wedding in Castle Combe which is a few miles away from ambulances based in either Chippenham or Bath. Having a similar experience abroad would not be pleasant.

I found the first couple of days in KL quite stressful and became convinced that I was going to eat nuts, if for no other reason than most of the food would be cooked in nut oil. Eating in normal restaurants felt impossible. However, we got very lucky with the staff at our hostel who spoke excellent English and understood the whole nut allergy thing. They explained that most places now use palm oil for cooking, as a result of Malaysia being the prime producer of palm oil. They also wrote me a note to give to waiters to explain my allergy. This opened up a whole new world.

After getting a bit more relaxed I dove right in, eating from hawker stalls and nasi kandar places with confidence and great satisfaction. The food in Malaysia is fantastic. There's searing hot curries from the Tamil Indians, rich and varied regional cuisine from the Chinese population and the deeply satisfying dishes of Malaysian cuisine including Nyonya dishes from around Melaka. I was in heaven. If it didn't have nuts in it, I ate it. There were times in some kampung buffet restaurants where we had no idea what we were eating, revelling in strong new tastes, eye-watering sambal, rice cooked with coconut and pandang leaves and jungle greens.

It was a struggle to come home when we did and we have both yearned to return ever since.

And so it was that today we spent most of the morning today getting very excited at the thought of heading back to Malaysia, if only for a couple of weeks, in the new year.Which, naturally, led to a huge craving for the sharp, sour, sweet and hot taste tastes of Asian food.

We decided to walk into town as today the Portway was closed for Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride. It seemed like a non-event but it did mean we could walk in to town with loads of traffic noise.

We couldn't decide where to go and eat and ran through the options as we strolled along. We considered the Vietnamese place on Gloucester Road but didn't think it would be open. We thought about eating at a Thai place but that wasn't really what we were after. And then we remembered the place on Park Street that does Malaysian food - which turned out to be the HK Diner.

My missus loves Nasi Lemak so her mind was made up pretty much before we even sat down. I took a bit longer to decide. Until I get familiar with a place I need to be careful because of my nut allergy and so didn't feel I could be as adventurous as I would like. What did immediately spring out at me as Achar Awak - pickled spicy vegetables which are a Nyonya cuisine staple. To go with that I went plain and simple - rice with 3 meats.

Although my first serving of Achar had been sprinkled with peanuts it was swiftly changed to one without. And it was delicious. The missus was transported by her generous portion of Nasi Lemak, with authentic tasting coconut rice.

My meat with rice was very good. The duck was the most tender duck I've ever had and melted in the mouth. To say I was pleased by getting a whole duck breast would be an understatement, and it went really well with the spicy, sour pineapple from the Achar. The BBQ pork was moist and tender and delicious, and the crispy belly pork was really rather good as well. The portion was quite literally more than enough.

The sounds, smells, tastes and sights took us right away from Bristol, back to Malaysia. 20 quid on lunch seemed well spent for such a journey.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Do Ottolenghi recipes work?

Like most people who like cooking I've ended up with an Ottolenghi cookbook. I'm very happy about this. The recipes sound enticing, the pictures look great and the heritage is all there. But actually cooking the recipes, that's a different story.

My first venture was marinated turkey breast with cumin, coriander and white wine. In the little bit of blurb that goes with the recipe it suggests that the same sauce would work very well with lamb. The first clue that all may not be as it seems is that sentence, "would work very well with lamb", not 'does work very well with lamb'.

And it didn't. The marinade hadn't penetrated the meat at all despite the recommended 24 hour marinading time. In fact, the marinade seemed to have diminished the taste of the lamb. Heating and reducing the marinade to achieve a sauce wasn't successful either.

Maybe my mistake was to try this with lamb rather than turkey, but the recipe did say it would go well with either. Perhaps I'll try it with turkey one of these days, but turkey just isn't a meat I think about eating very often.

Undeterred I had a crack at another Ottolenghi recipe from the same book (Plenty) - Puy lentils with sour cherries, bacon and Gorgonzola. It's not an everyday sounding dish, but not one which demands the use of unusual ingredients that are hard to get a hold of.

Again, the write-up is rich with promise - "the sweet, sour and salty flavour...make a heady starter". All very enticing, and simple enough to make. But the end result just doesn't deliver. Interestingly this dish does not receive the glossy photograph treatment, perhaps because it doesn't look great - essentially a bowl of lentils with some blue cheese on top. The flavour? What you'd expect, sort of. You can taste everything, the lentils, the bacon, the sour cherries and the cheese. But I'm not convinced that they work together as a dish. I wouldn't cook it again, let's put it that way. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Madhur Jaffrey's Sri Lankan Beef Smore

The subtitle for this could be "When recipes go wrong!". Or maybe, "When recipes aren't tested", or even "Make sure you proof read".

We got this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Easy book. It's well presented with pictures that just make you want to cook the recipes. And the titles of the recipes are pretty good as well. Sri Lankan Beef Smore - sounds exotic, unusual and right up my street.

The recipe:

Braising beef - chuck, blade or brisket
Salt and pepper
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds - we used ground as we didn't have the seeds
4 tablespoons oil
5 cm stick of cinnamon
1 large onion - chopped
5 cm piece of ginger - grated
4 cloves garlic - chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
350ml stock - beef or chicken
1 teaspoon cayenne
250ml coconut milk

All good so far, as long as you've got a decent store cupboard. The problem lies with the instructions. The recipe calls for the toasting and grinding of the seeds. No problem. But then it doesn't tell you what to do with them! A bit of an oversight.

So we decided to treat it like the Jamie Oliver brisket chili recipe, and rubbed the ground seeds into the meat. Then it's into the pan to brown. Whilst that's doing fry the onion, ginger and garlic with the cinnamon.

After a few minutes and the vinegar, stock, cayenne, salt (lots of salt) and then the beef. Bring to the boil, cover and put in a low oven until the meat is tender - which will depend on how much you're cooking. For 2, about 2 and a half hours, for 4 more like 3 and a half. Add the coconut milk 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

In the end it turned out ok. Not great, not fantastic and not really very hot. But ok. If I did it again I'd have to throw some chillies in there. Hot ones. But there's other things I'd do before doing this again - no doubt the subject of my next blog posts!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Rummer Hotel - Bristol

As I get older (and this weekend I got whole year older in just 1 day!) I find that my taste in drinks and places to drink is changing. I find myself less and less inclined to drink pint after pint in some crowded pub and favour something a bit more...cultured.

Cocktails. When it comes to a spot of cultured drinking there really isn't anything quite like cocktails. I guess their cost puts younger drinkers off, and you need a good few years drinking under your belt to really appreciate a vodka martini or a proper (raw egg whites included) whisky sour.

The Rummer Hotel in Bristol was the perfect place for me to start celebrating my birthday with a few cocktails. If you don't know it is an unassuming little place on the edge of St. Nicholas' Market. And if you know the market you know it's not the first place you'd expect to find a smart, slate-floored, laid-back cocktail bar which also offers great food, courtesy of chef Greg McHugh.

We started with the current house special, a Japanese inspired mix that I can't actually remember the name of! What I do remember is the drink which was perfumed, slightly sweet with a fruity, lingering dry finish. Excellent on its own it would have enhanced some good sushi.

To follow we chose from the food menu. Not necessarily the first place you'd look for a cocktail, but The Rummer have done a very cool drink matching menu where every dish of every course has a suggested drink match.

I had been wanting to try the intriguing starter of Cornish Scallops & Braised Pig Cheek with Passionfruit, with the suggested Pink Spritzer cocktail. Meat and seafood isn't an unusual pairing, but the passionfruit had piqued my interest and I was keen to see how good the match was.

Individually, everything on the plate was great. The pig cheek had been braised and pulled apart then formed into a sort of terrine with some fresh tarragon. The deep, meaty taste of the cheek set off nicely against the aromatic herb. The scallops were as sweet a taste of the sea as you'll get and cooked with care and consideration. However, eaten with the pork the meat dominated and the scallop got a bit lost. And unfortunately the Passionfruit proved to be too difficult a trick to pull off. Passionfruit has a heady, powerful taste and to compensate the chef has put very little on the dish, to the point where it was barely worth having on there.

The drink match was not a success. The Passionfruit was completely out of focus in the background somewhere so all I got was a rose wine spritzer. Nice enough, but never a drink that was going to complement a braised pig cheek. As unexciting as it sounds, some sherry would have worked well here. The salty, sweet and dry flavours of a good fino would have been ideal.

The missus chose the Twice Baked Butternut Squash Souffle with Black Pepper & Hazelnut Tuile, Red Peppers, served with its suggested drink match - a cocktail of Tezon Reposado (Tequila), Crème de Noisette and Prosecco. It was a similar story to my starter. The souffle was excellent. The peppers were okay. The tuile was not - almost saccharine in sweetness it did the dish no favours at all. The sweet souffle and sweet peppers really needed a counterpoint, something savoury to round things out. The drink match was not a success either.

Which really is a bit of a shame because I really like The Rummer.

After our starters we left and headed down to The Glassboat which was a real disappointment. It was the idea of smoked eel which had tempted us to go, but the eel was a let down, the Primitivo I had was tasteless and the staff were politely indifferent. We didn't linger and instead headed back to The Rummer for another great cocktail.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Kedgeree and Riesling

It just sounds like something you want to eat doesn't it, Kedgeree? If I didn't know what it was I'd want to find out.

We'd had the house to ourselves for the weekend and the opportunity to cook a curry really could not be missed. We decided on fish curry but couldn't decide on exactly what kind of fish curry. But then we remembered that we'd bought some smoked haddock for a risotto in the week and decided to use a bit in this Kedgeree, which if you don't know, is a dry curry, like a biryani or a pilaf.

It's a dish that came back to England with the colonialists and historically used to be a breakfast or brunch dish. And it does make a good breakfast/brunch, particularly if you like curry, and even more so if you've just been for a swim at Portishead Lido.

It is simple to make, it could be a one pot dish if you didn't have the boiled eggs. But you should have the boiled eggs, cos the boiled eggs are good. Here's what you'll need for a dish that will feed two handsomely, with leftovers:

2 fillets of smoked haddock
2 boiled eggs, quartered (or more if you like)
A finely chopped onion
A finely chopped chilli (or more depending on your appetite for heat)
A thumb sized piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped
A generous teaspoon of black mustard seeds
Garam masala (you know, curry powder, heat to your liking)
2 bay leaves
Some chopped, fresh coriander
A good squeeze of lemon or lime juice
15 fl oz of basmati rice

There's a couple of stages to the cooking, but a sensible place to start is boiling your eggs. For good boiled eggs, put them into a pan of cold water. Bring the water to a boil and then boil the eggs for 6 minutes. Once done, stick them into some iced water and set aside.

Next, cook the haddock. Simply add the whole fillets to a large, high-sided frying pan and cover with about 650ml of boiling water. Throw in the bay leaves, cover, and simmer for 10-15 mins.

When the haddock is cooked, remove it from the water, wrap in foil and put in a low oven to keep warm. Don't pour away the water! You need it for the rice.

Rinse and dry the frying pan then get it back on a medium heat. Add a good knob of butter and then and your curry powder and black mustard seeds. Allow them a couple of minutes, stirring all the time, then add the  chopped onion, chilli and ginger. Let them soften for a while.

After a few minutes add the rice and give that a stir to coat it in the spice/onion mix. After a minute or so add the water that the haddock was cooked in. Stir again, get it back up to a boil and let it boil for a minute. Then turn the heat down as low as possible, cover and leave to simmer 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid. After 15 minutes take off the lid, take the pan from the heat and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave for 5 minutes. After that time flake the rice with a fork for perfect, fluffy grains that don't stick.

Before the rice is done, shell your boiled eggs and either halve or quarter them. Also, remove the fish from the oven.

When the rice is cooked, flake in the haddock, stir through the chopped coriander, squeeze over a bit of lemon or lime juice and add the eggs.

We served ours with a bit of mango chutney as it's is virtually impossible for us to have a curry without mango chutney. Our wine choice was a very nice Riesling, recommended to us by Corks of Cotham. It was a superb match. The wine heightened the spice and seemed to take the taste all around my mouth. The aftertaste left an almost sherbertty tingle right in the middle of my tongue along with a satisfying bite of chilli heat.

As I wrote at the top, the quantities given are enough for two with leftovers. Which polished off for brunch today after another swim at the Lido. Any weekend with two curries in it is a good weekend.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Friska - how restaurants should deal with feedback

Friska, for those of you who don't know it, is a popular cafe in Bristol. In fact, there's two of them. One on Victoria Street and one in Emerson's Green.

They're a great example of how cafes and restaurants should deal with customer feedback.

I'd been looking at their menu online (a real menu, not a pointless sample menu) and noticed that they do a Malaysian Fish Laksa on a Thursday. I really like Malaysian food, having spent a couple of months there on and off whilst travelling. Malaysian Laksa is powerfully flavoured soup, made with stock, anchovies and/or fish sauce, chillies and fresh herbs.

So, seeing it on Friska's menu I got all excited and went along last Thursday to have some.

It wasn't what I was expecting. All the strong flavours and lively spicing had been toned down and what I got was a bowl of sweetish, reasonably tasty soup. It had obviously been made with care and the veg was fresh, but in my mind it just wasn't Laksa.

And that's just what I told them. They have a feedback form on their website which makes the whole process easy and avoids any of the embarrassment. As it happens, I also told them via Twitter. They responded, quickly and helpfully, by email and Twitter.

They explained that they'd tried selling a more authentic Laksa, but it just didn't work. The vast majority of people just didn't like the strong flavours. Which, I guess, is fair enough. There's not a lot of point making something that no-one is going to buy. They also sent me a voucher for free lunch. Simple and straightforward.

It's dealing with feedback like that that leaves customers like me with a really positive impression of a place. I appreciate that all the food might not be to my taste, but the majority of it is. And I'll always go back to places where the food and service are good.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Mussels with Chorizo

Mussels must be one of the cheapest, easiest and most satisfying ways of eating fish. I love them. They're so versatile you can put almost anything with them, and for a fiver you can usually buy at least a kilo and half that makes a good portion for 1 person.

This dish of Mussels with Chorizo is a simple variation on the classic Moules Marinieres. I served this as a starter for 4 but it would make a fine main course for 2. You'll need:

A kilo of mussels - cleaned
2 good chorizos - I use chorizo rosario from T & P.A. Murrays on Gloucester Road in Bristol. They're the best I've been able to find in Bristol. If you know any better, please tell me.
1 shallot - finely chopped
1/2 a carrot - finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
1 glass of white wine at room temperature - given the slightly Spanish nature of this dish I'm sure you could use a fino or light sherry
Splash of olive oil
1 handful of chopped parsley

This is easy, so you're going to have it ready in minutes. Perfect for after work cooking.

Heat a high-sided saucepan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. When that's hot add chopped chorizo and give it a 4-5 minutes so that it releases some of it's oil. The add the shallot, carrot and garlic. The carrot isn't strictly necessary so don't worry if you don't have one. Let the chopped vegetables soften for a few minutes.

Put the lid on the pan for about a minute or so to allow some steam to build up. Throw in your white wine or sherry and the mussels, give everything a good stir then put the lid back on. The mussels will take about 5 minutes to cook. Give everything another stir after a couple of minutes to make sure everything gets coated in the cooking liquor.

When the mussels are open, you're done. Stir in the chopped parsley and then serve the mussels in bowls along with the cooking liquor. Some bread for soaking up juices, a glass of cold white wine and you've got a very satisfying tea.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Obento - Bristol

Why is it so bloody hard to get good sushi in the UK? We're an island! We have some great fish so why doesn't some of it make it into Japanese restaurants and end up as great sushi? We have Scallops, Crab, Clams, Eel, Sea bass, Salmon, Haddock, Sole, Trout, Monkfish, Langoustines, Shrimps and Mackerel. If it wasn't 10.00pm at night and if I hadn't already had a rather strong cocktail (at The Rummer) and a rather large bourbon (Heaven Hill from Grape and Grind) I'm sure I could name more. Maybe. 1 or 2.

So I don't get it. I don't get why sushi restaurants don't get their hands on some great raw ingredients and use them to make some great, er, raw, stuff. Sushi, sashimi, you know.

Obento in Bristol has been around for ages and I assume that any restaurant that's survived the last few years must be doing something right. Maybe they are, but it's not making good sushi. Our temaki were far, far below average. Chewing on the nori wrapping was like trying to eat clingfilm. Not exactly pleasant. And really, Salmon, Avocado and mayonnaise do not sushi make.

It's so frustrating because it's not cheap either. Why a slither of fish on a thumb size bit of a rice costs a quid is beyond me. And iced green tea really should not be over 2 quid.

That's not to say that we didn't eat anything nice. The miso was tasty and the Eel was very nice. But still, for £40 I want it all to be nice.

To be honest, we've been eating out a lot recently and this meal may well be the last for a while. For £40 we can get some nice ingredients and cook ourselves a nice meal, and wash it down with a very good bottle of wine. I'm happy paying for stuff I can't do or think of (like at Souk Kitchen), and more than happy to take advantage of the deals on offer (like The Riverstation and Cowshed) but I'm not happy paying good money for average meals which seems to happen too often.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing - it'll mean I can write about some of my own cooking for a change.

The Riverstation - Bristol

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that The Riverstation Cafe Menu is the best eating deal in Bristol. £9 gets you a really good meal and either a glass of wine or a beer. The idea is, obviously, that you try the deal and become impressed and go back and eat a la carte. The thing is, the cafe deal is so good it's hard to bring yourself to go back an pay more!

Me and the missus ate there a couple of weeks ago. The weather was nice and we fancied a nice meal in a nice place. The Riverstation ticks both boxes. The situation of it, right on the river, gives it a relaxed feel. On a evening with the right weather sitting out on either the upstairs or downstairs terraces is a treat, watching the swans roam around the boats as the sun goes down slowly over the boats and cranes of the docks.

The menu at the time offered Confit duck leg with Potatoes and Kale, which was a about as far as I got. The missus considered things a bit more and went for the Smoked haddock risotto with poached egg. It's fair to say that both were excellent. It would be easy to worry about the portion with duck leg, but of course this the restaurant's way of enticing you in, so they have to be generous. Thick, dark meat, fall-off-the-bone tender with crispy, juicy skin. Great stuff. And the duck remained the star off the dish, with the potatoes, kale and red wine jus all playing their supporting roles very well.

The Smoked haddock risotto was similarly satisfying. Rich, creamy and smoky with good chunks of fish and perfectly poached egg, the yolk yielding a delicious sauce, enriching the risotto further. I've seen some places serve a risotto that has been little more than a smear across the bottom of a bowl, but The Riverstation don't do that.

And they're clever. When the food is this good it is very hard to resist when they offer the dessert menu. But resist we did. As it was the meal provided a sharp contrast to our meal at The Pumphouse. For £18 we'd both eaten really well at The Riverstation. £18 at The Pumphouse paid for a pretty disappointing sea bass dish. You pays your money and you takes your choice - my choice would be The Riverstation.

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

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Pumphouse - Bristol

We ate at The Pumphouse on Saturday night. I like the place. It's in a great spot in Hotwells, right on the river which gives it a nice feel, and inside enough original features exist to remind you of how it got its name.

We had been really excited by the menu and thought we'd treat ourselves to the a la carte menu rather than going for the deal, 3 courses for £20. If it wasn't for my main of Mendip Fallow Deer that could almost be seen as a mistake.

Things did not get off to a good start. I ordered Mackerel with Rhubarb. I got mackerel and rhubarb. Very well presented, but a tiny, meagre, stingy portion. It seemed a confused little dish really. 2 slim pieces of cold sashimi style mackerel, which tasted like it had been soused, sat along-side a marginally bigger piece of  freshly cooked mackerel. If the menu had described it as that, I would never have ordered it. And, worse, it clashed with the generously portioned and very well cooked Wood Pigeon that my missus chose. I felt a bit cheated.

And so I didn't know whether to be excited about my main course or not. As it turned out I had no need to worry. I ordered the Rare Saddle of Mendip Fallow Deer which, according to the menu came with Venison sausage, spiced red cabbage and new season wild garlic. The menu didn't mention the gorgeous pieces of marrow, nor the ridiculously tasty Mirabelle Plum sauce and it didn't say that it would be a sauce of new season wild garlic. I like to know what I'm getting, especially when it's all of that!

Ok, so I had to remind the waiting staff about the red cabbage, but that was a small distraction. This was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. The wild garlic sauce was insanely good. That sauce, and the Mirabelle Plum sauce created mouthful after mouthful of rewardingly complex tastes - sweet, rich, smoky, iron-rich and meaty. Superb. My disappointing starter soon became a distant memory.

To be honest it seemed like whoever was doing the fish courses was having an off night. My missus went for the Butter Roast Cornish Sea Bass which, although not as underwhelming as my starter, was not a patch on the pigeon she'd enjoyed beforehand. It lacked imagination, and, it has to be said, taste. For the most expensive dish on the menu it failed badly to live up to its status.

We were, however, both very happy with our choice of desserts. We both ordered a freshly cooked option. My missus went for the Bitter Chocolate Fondant and I chose the Apple Tart Tatin which came with some very moreish cinnamon ice cream (and sadly some forgettable, weakly-flavoured Calvados custard). The dish was a winner without the custard, especially with the nice touch of the waiter serving out of the hot pan for me. My partner's chocolate fondant was another treat and showed some real skill. The accompanying gingerbread mousse and burned butter ice cream worked nicely with the rich and bitter chocolate.

If I'd been disappointed at the start of the meal my partner was left offended at the end of it. I think it's a basic requirement for waiting staff to say thank you when the bill is paid. A pity then that our waiter couldn't bring himself to do so, instead waving my partners credit card rather dismissively in her direction after taking payment. Rude. And please, please don't add a tip to my bill before I've decided I want to pay one. Why do places assume you'll tip? It's infuriating.

Would I recommend The Pumphouse? There's a lot that's good about it. Some of the food is very, very good. But some of it isn't. Some of the staff are very nice, sadly some aren't. Some of the prices reflect very good value and others don't. So, would I recommend The Pumphouse? I don't know. Which isn't exactly a yes.

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

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Baked Vanilla Cheesecake with Stem Ginger and Fresh Passionfruit

Vanilla and stem ginger cheesecake with fresh passionfruit
I don't know why but I'd been hankering for a cheesecake. I wanted to make one to see how hard it was, and I wanted to eat one to enjoy that rich, sweet, satisfying taste that is baked cheesecake. It's a simple recipe. The quantities given make a cheesecake that will feed 8-10 people. Use a 24cm/9in cake tin. You could use 50g less biscuits for a thinner base if you want.

For the base
150g melted butter
250g (1 pack) of digestives, thoroughly crushed

Heat your oven to 180c/350f, grease the bottom and sides of a springform or loose bottom cake tin. Add the melted butter to the crushed biscuits and cook in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool.

For the cheesecake
115g caster sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour (yes, tablespoons)
900g full-fat cream cheese at room temp
2 large eggs
115ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed (use a pod, I used essence and it just didn't have enough vanilla taste)
zest of 1 lemon and zest of 1 orange (I don't know if this is strictly necessary)

Heat your oven to 200c/400f. Then you basically mix everything together in a big bowl. Start with the sugar and cornflour, then add the cream cheese. You'll save yourself an aching arm if you do this with an electric whisk. When that's all mixed add the eggs and beat well. Gradually add the cream, and then add the vanilla, and zest if using. I also added a whole heap of chopped stem ginger and its syrup. Turn your oven up to 200c/400f. Pour the cheese mixture over the cooled biscuit base, smooth it a bit then stick it in the oven for 40-45 minutes.

When you take it out stand it somewhere cool for 2-3 hours to give it time to set. It gets firmer the colder it is so stick in the fridge for another hour after its cooled to room temperature if you want to.

I served my cheesecake with some fresh passionfruit. I thought ginger and passionfruit would work nicely together. Which they did, but the stem ginger had lost some flavour during the cooking. Next time I think I'll use ginger nuts for the base to get the ginger taste in there. Still, it was very, very nice.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Steak and Gidleigh

That's Gidleigh Park, of course, Michael Caines' restaurant in Devon -

Apparently Ruby and White - - supply the beef to Gidleigh Park. Which must mean that the diners there really enjoy their steaks because the ones we ate tonight were very, very good. As they should be, 2 8oz rib-eyes and a 6oz sirloin cost little shy of £20. This is not supermarket meat.

And that's a good thing. A very good thing.

It's been a long time since I've eaten steak as tasty. I'm not one for basting in half a pound of butter, which would do a lot to give even the most meagre steak a nice taste. I simply seasoned and griddled mine over a high heat and gave it a few minutes to rest afterwards. This made for a really tender steak with a surprisingly intense, robust meaty taste which was supremely satisfying.

When eating as simply as this - we had some potato wedges and mushrooms with our steaks - it seems to make so much more sense to spend this kind of money on good ingredients to cook at home rather than go and spend the same amount or more at a restaurant where you couldn't guarantee getting the same quality.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Thali Cafe - Easton

Well, the times they are a-changing. It used to be that a visit to a curry house involved flock wallpaper, luminous mango chutney and piped ravi shankar. But no longer, at least, not at the Thali Cafe in Easton. It definitely has more of the cafe about it in terms of appearance than it does an Indian restaurant. There are even sofas.

The menu, which makes me smile just by looking at it, doesn't go in for the standards. You won't find a tikka masala here. What you will find is an evening menu which offers a range of thalis which focus on regional Indian cooking and meat and vegetarian options.

The lunch menu offers a different range of curries, and luckily we went with a couple of friends so it meant we got to try quite a few of them!

Lamb Kofta
I chose the Lamb Kofta, which wasn't really a kofta because I didn't get meatballs, but it was all the better for that. What I did get was a very nice lamb curry which was a lot tastier than your average bhuna, with a thick, rich gravy spiced with cinnamon and clove. I would suggest though that in future they remove the big lumps of cinnamon before serving, bark isn't high on my list of eating pleasures. But I couldn't fault the taste.

The missus went for the Masala Fish Fry with some Bombay Potato Chips. As enticing as it sounds this was probably the weakest dish on the table. It just didn't live up to the promise. There wasn't enough spice in the batter and the chips were lukewarm. It seemed to lack a bit of effort.

But then things improved. One of our friends chose the Saag Paneer which was very tasty with a thick, luscious sauce and generous chunks of paneer. Apparently it's their favourite in the tiffin box that they regularly get from the Thali Cafe, and it's easy to see why.

Goan Fish Curry
The best dish of the day though was the Goan Fish Curry. It was easy to see the spicing that had been put into the curry, lots of mustard seeds and turmeric, which gave it real authentic flavour. If I hadn't had my lamb curry I might have been just a little bit jealous.

One notable thing about all the curries we had was that none were swimming in oil, which can often be the case.And the portions are generous. The menu might describe the curries as light lunches, but you won't leave wanting more. Which I mean in a good way! Everything costs less than a tenner as well, so you can have a really satisfying lunch and still have a couple of pints afterwards without breaking the bank. Which is what we did, and it capped off a very nice Saturday afternoon. Curry first and then the pints? The times really are a-changing.

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

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Souk Kitchen - delivers every time

Chef @soukkitchen
 I'll come clean now, the Souk Kitchen is my favourite restaurant in Bristol. I get excited at the thought of eating there. Even when I'm actually eating there I'm excited about visiting again.

Me and the missus ate there on Friday. We had booked early, 6.30pm, as we were going straight from work but we weren't the first there. That's a good sign. We'd booked in the expectation of ordering from the specials board, but then we got the menu and choices on there were just too tempting.

We started, as we do, with dips and flatbreads. We had these the last time we went and would have been happy having the same again. But clearly the kitchen like to make sure they keep offering something new. These little plates are so moreish. We had white bean and feta which was soothing and pleasingly salty, split pea and chermoula which tasted like a fine indian dhal and carrot and rosewater topped with pomegranate seeds - their sour sweetness accentuating the savoury carrot and balancing out the heady rosewater. To be honest, they're worth the trip themselves.

And so to mains. This is where I get greedy. There's too much on offer on the mezze menu for it to be possible for me to choose one main dish. I love being able to order 3 or 4 dishes which can offer a wide range of tastes and textures. And, in this instance, a very, very pleasant surprise.

Fried cauliflower with almonds
 First up, Fried cauliflower with almonds, sweet onions, sultanas and tahini. I would never, never normally order a dish of cauliflower. Ever. I'm so glad I did. It becomes a completely new experience here. The almonds, onions, sultana and tahini all seem to accentuate the nutty, sweet and slightly sour notes tastes of the cauliflower, elevating it to heights completely unexpected of a vegetable grown in the flatlands of Lincolnshire.

Lambs liver
 Next, Pan fried lambs liver with cumin salt and pomegranate onions. That instantly sounds appealing. I'm a fan of offal, but would never think to serve it like this. Which is obviously the reason I enjoy going to Souk Kitchen so much. Again it's easy to see the chef's working with sweet, sour and salty tastes to work with the main ingredient. Very tasty.

Pumpkin kibbeh with zhoug
 Now we start getting into unfamiliar and exciting territory. Pumpkin kibbeh with zhoug yoghurt. If you've ever watched Masterchef, and given that you'll only read this blog if you're into food so I'll take it that you have, then you'll have heard Gregg Wallace describe food as being 'like a cuddle'. That's the first thing that sprung to my mind when I tasted this. It was full of comforting, reassuring warmth. Like being tucked up on the settee under a duvet when you're 7 years old and have a cold. Like a father's arm around your shoulders. This dish just says "Everything's going to be alright". There's some food ponce creeping in here, isn't there?

Haloumi and quince
 The Char-grilled haloumi, roast quince and honey turned me into a complete food ponce. I might even have said to the missus that eating this made me feel humble. I'm not rolling in cash (certainly not now my offer on a flat has been accepted - woohoo!) but I've eaten occassionally in 'starred' places: Michael Caines' Priory in Bath; The Pony and Trap at Chew Magna. This haloumi dish would not be out of place in either, in my opinion.

This is what I love about eating out. Being able to sit down in a restaurant and confidently pick things that are unfamiliar safe in the knowledge that whatever you order is going to be good.

The missus did the complete opposite to me. She ordered a chicken tagine. To be precise it was Chicken, preserved lemon, chestnut and apricot tagine with rose couscous and onion confit. It was presented in a topped tagine which allowed a waft of wonderful aromas before being revealed by the waiter.

Chicken tagine
 A hearty, wholesome dish. Well spiced so that we could taste all the individual ingredients but which delivered a taste greater than the sum of its parts. Clever cooking. The rose couscous which came with it was some of the nicest couscous I've had.

When we evetually left and headed home I didn't mind that it would take us about an hour and half to get home. Or that some of the time was spent walking in the freezing cold. I'd make the same journey time and time again, and can only suggest that you make the effort to go there as well.

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

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Stuffed Squid Sicilian style with Couscous

Stuffed squid - Sicilian style - with couscous
  And so our Saturday of very satisfying eating continued.

A while back I wrote up a recipe for Mackerel with Minted Potato Salad. Cheap, quick and easy. Well, this recipe for Stuffed Squid Sicilian Style has just replaced it in the number 1 spot for easy fish dishes. Apart from the squid the ingredients are things that you're likely to have already, and what you don't have isn't expensive to buy.

The ingredients below are given for stuffing 4 squid, but I was only cooking for 2 so I put the rest of the stuffing through the couscous that I served with the squid.

100g breadcrumbs
1 heaped tbsp raisins (we used some sultanas we had, and soaked them beforehand)
1 heaped tbsp pine kernels (we used sunflower seeds)
1 tbsp grated Parmesan (we get ours from Aldi, very nice and half the price of anywhere else)
6 anchovy fillets
pinch of chilli flakes
Olive oil
splash of white wine (we used the Macon Village from Aldi, it went very, very nicely)
small handful chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

We started with 2 fresh squid from, cleaned an prepared by them. I chopped up the tentacles and fried them quickly in some olive oil and added them to a bowl contained the rest of the stuffing ingredients. Then you simply stuff the squid bodies. It can be messy, but it isn't difficult. Then seal up the ends with a cocktail stick.

Put the stuffed squid onto a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and a splash of white wine, then put them into a pre-heated oven (180c) for 10-12 minutes.

Whilst the squid is cooking prepared your couscous. I generally soak couscous in chicken stock (made from a cube) to give it extra flavour. When it has soaked up the water, drag a fork over it until it has separated into large grains. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice and season. I also added some of the stuffing I had left over.

When the squid is done, take it out the oven, place on top of the couscous, dress with a little more olive oil and a light dusting of paprika and serve.

Squid - stuffed
We were transported. It might have -4c and snowing outside, but round the dining table it was in the high 20s and we were overlooking a calm, blue sea with the smell of ozone in the air. It's a fantastic little dish this, and really, really worth a go. The reward and satisfaction you get is in stark contrast to the effort and the amount of cooking involved. It could be scaled up easily for a dinner party, and can just as easily serve 2 people in need of a bit of Mediterranean sunshine.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Reuben - the perfect sandwich

Messy but perfect
 Saturday. A very precious day when you work Monday to Friday. Me and the missus like to really indulge our food passions on a Saturday. Today that meant hunting down the ingredients for a Reuben.

First, bread. We often stop off in Shirehampton first. There's a great butchers in Shirehampton run by Tubbs and Paul. Their ham is tremendous, and the new cider ham is a knockout. We weren't heading into Shire for ham, but when we tasted it we had to get some.

What we were going to Shire for was some sourdough bread for our Reubens. The village bakery in Shire is supplied by the Redland Village Bakery and is always excellent. The sourdough we had today is some of the best bread I've tasted. Gorgeous!

Next, pastrami. Bristol isn't short on delis, but we favour the deli counter at Murray's butchers (T & P.A. Murray) on Gloucester Road. Or is it Cheltenham Road? I dunno, I don't know where one ends and the other begins. They stock the best salamis, chorizos, cheeses and pies in town. The pastrami we bought was great and very good value.

And so back home. The kitchen almost immediately looked like a bomb site as we undid packages for tasting and got cracking with the Reubens.

I sliced some sourdough, drizzled it with olive oil and put it in a hot griddle pan. I then busied myself doing very little whilst the missus made the all-important Russian dressing, using a recipe from Tom Oldroyd of Mishkins (winner of best menu item award - All pork Big Apple dog, dragged through the garden)!

Place an egg, juice of 1/2 a lemon, pinch of salt and one of pepper and 2 tsp of Dijon into a processor. Add 2 tsp of jarred horseradish, 3 tbsp ketchup, a few drops of Tabasco and a few of Worcestershire sauce and 1 tsp of paprika. Sounds like a lot I know, but it is all stuff that you'll probably have. Blitz. Then stir in a some chopped gherkin and a couple of chopped spring onions. Pow! A totally knockout dressing, and vital for the perfect Reuben.

With the bread toasting nicely in the pan I grated some cheddar. Ideally we'd have had some emmenthal or other Swiss cheese. Not to worry, it's hard to beat a good cheddar.

And so to the Reuben. A piece of toasted sourdough is given a generous spread of Russian dressing. Then follows a generous portion of pastrami, a small mountain of sauerkraut and a reasonably sized hill of cheddar. Top that with another slice of toasted sourdough which has been liberally covered with Russian dressing.

Sandwich perfection
And there you have it. The Reuben. The monumental mother of all sandwiches. And a very good way of spending a Saturday.