Thursday, 25 October 2012

I know it's been a long time.......

Hello, I'm still alive!

I've sort of lost a bit of momentum with my blog (huge under-statement!) However I am going to throw myself back in and will hopefully post something up within the next couple of days (if anyone is still interested).

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Theo Randall at The Intercontinental

So, how did we come to find oursleves trolling round Harrod's Christmas decorations in early August? We were keeping out of the rain, that's how.

Mr Ample Cook and myself were having an amble around Knightsbridge (as one does dahling) before makng our way to Theo Randall's restauarant at The Intercontinental Hotel.

Weather wise, it was one of those days that was blazing sunshine one minute and coming down in stair rods the next. So, to stop my sling-backs getting completely water logged, we bundled ourselves into Harrods.

Whilst wandering aimlessly around the store, I spotted that their Chritmas shop was open, much to Mr AC's complete and utter delight. He indicated his displeasure in a silent but sarcastic way.

I took the hint and after a very brief look at the pretty shining stuff and a whizz through the food hall, we headed back out to a rather nice pub for a quick 'snifter' before arrivng at the restaurant.

We had already decided to try the pre-theatre menu, which at £23 for 2 courses and £27 for 3,  it seemed a great bargain and made even more so by a free glass of prosecco, for booking through Top Table.

Whilst we were making our choices and sipping on our prosecco (which by the way arrived completely unprompted) we were presented with some very good sour dough bread which had been rubbed with very ripe, sweet tomatoes and the lightest focaccia I have ever eaten. It was salty and oily and utterly delcious.

To start, Mr AC chose the smoked eel with beetroots, dandelion and fresh horseradish. Whilst I ordered the bresaola, with parmesan and rocket. Both dishes were delicious, in parrticular, the smoked eel was soft and not over smoked.

On to the main course. I don't know if you do this, but we always try not to order the same thing, so that we can taste each other's food. However on this occasion we both wanted the guinea fowl and neither was budging. Thank goodness I didn't give in, because I would have seriously missed out.

The breasts of guinea fowl had been stuffed with prosciutto di Parma, mascarpone and thyme, wood roasted and were served on pagnotta bruschetta with Swiss chard and roasted datterini tomatoes (to be precise).

It was dreamy. The bird was perfectly cooked, crispy skin outside and moist and succulent inside. The sauce was creamy, rich and deeply flavoured.

With hindsight I think the zucchini fritters were a dish too far. A rocket salad would have been the sensible choice. Having said that, they were gorgeous, light, crispy and very moreish. They were like that bowl of chips that you order with your pub lunch to share, you don't need them, but you can't stop yourself keep digging in.

Feeling fairly stuffed at this point, naturally the only course of action was to order dessert. We plumped for the tiramisu and the Amalfi lemon tart.

The tiramisu had a lot to live up to because Mr AC makes a truly amazing one (don't tell him I admitted to that) We are tiramisu 'purists' – snobs even.

This one was good, if a little too refined. They had used sponge cake rather than boudoir biscuits and the bottom layer was chocolate sponge – tsk. I'm being hypercritical though, it was still very enjoyable.

The tart was excellent. The pastry was crisp, the filling silky and it was bursting with lemons.

Even though we couldn't manage to push down a coffee, our waitress still brought us some petit fours: almond tuiles and dark, rich chocolate truffles. Excellent they were too.

We were deeply impressed with our visit here. The food and the service were excellent and the bill at £80, for 3 courses, 2 glasses of prosecco, a large glass of wine each and 12.5% service, I think you'll agree is a complete bargain.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

From pergola to plate

We have had a vine in our garden for about 10 years. It branches out under our pergola, making a lovely shady spot to eat outside when the temperature rises.

Being lovers of Greek food, we have often made dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) but never using the leaves from our vine. Stupid I know. I can only think that I was always under the misapprehension that they had to be brined first, but no, they can be used fresh.

I got Tiny to pick quite a few (as he doesn't need to get the step ladders out) making sure he avoided the ones that been, ahem, 'blessed' by the birds.

These were thoroughly washed and boiled for 10 minutes until they were soft, but still whole.

I then made a stuffing of ground lamb, arborio rice, spring onions, chopped dill, mint and plenty of salt and pepper.

When all of the leaves were stuffed and rolled up, I added a little chicken stock and put them in the oven for about 50 minutes.

As I'd only used 250g of the lamb and I'd bought half a kilo, with the rest I made little koftas with chunks of feta.

We ate the vine leaves with home made tzatziki and rice-stuffed courgettes and tomatoes and a salad. Oh and the kofta, some bread and a few potatoes (well, my motto is 'never knowingly under-catered').

Even if I say so myself, they were delicious. The contrast of the warm, soft, well flavoured, wrapped lamb, dipped into the cold garlicky tzatziki was bliss.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Busy, busy, busy

Apparently, according to my loyal fans (yes, both of you) I don't blog enough.

The main reason for this,is that most of the time I'm really busy, but also I usually only post something that I feel will be interesting.

Anyway, point taken and I will try and post more frequently.
In the meanwhile, here is a photo of a pan of fried onions and potatoes that I thought looked particularly tasty. These were destined to accompany some sausages for my Dad. Frozen down in dinner-sized portions.

Every couple of weeks I make a few dinners for his freezer to ensure he eats something other than egg and bacon and Mr Kipling Viennese whirls. He is a little lazy in the kitchen department and if he can get by on cornflakes and Benson & Hedges he will.

Anyway, I hope to blog a bit faster and thank you for your feedback.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Here's one I grew earlier

We have enjoyed the fruits of my sister's allotment for quite a few years now. Both she and my brother-in-law work very hard to produce the most amazing vegetables. There really is nothing like growing your own for flavour and freshness.

As Lynne has got a rather large allotment she suggested that we might like to take on a couple of plots and have a go at growing our own too. "You'll enjoy it" she said. "It will be fun" Mmmm.

So, a couple of weeks ago, having bribed Tiny with a post-digging pint or two of foaming ale, we dug, weeded and prepared two plots and planted carrots, spring onions, beetroots and three types of beans: runner, climbing and dwarf.

Three of my babies still in the nursery

I have to say, that harvesting our first beetroots and spring onions has been quite exciting (I don't get out much).

Along with some of Lynne's broad beans, we decided to have our 'first born's' in a warm goats cheese salad.

I roasted the beets and blanched and peeled the broad beans. I then fried up a few smoked bacon lardons, made a mustardy dressing and toasted some walnuts. Finally, I warmed the goats cheese in the oven until it was a bit oozy, then assembled the salad.

It was delicious. The beetroots were sweet, the cheese unctuous and the bacon, well, there's nothing that bacon doesn't improve in my opinion.

Lynne was right, the allotment is worth all the hard work. In fact going over on a sunny evening to water and weed is the perfect way to unwind. All you can hear are the birds singing, the other allotmenteers always smile and say hello and you go home with some really fresh veg for your dinner.

I think I'm hooked.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Black, Belly & Bubble

Skinny people or those afraid of fat look away now. There's nothing for you here.

To explain the title: Black pudding, pork belly and bubble squeak. Three of my favourite things to eat. They are of course all low fat and form part of your 'five-a-day'..

The stuffed pork really kicked off the other two dishes. We were having a couple of friends round for dinner and I'd already got the belly in mind for main course, but wanted to do something a bit different. So, having got some Gloucester Old Spot sausage meat in the freezer, along with a large wodge of black pudding, it set me thinking that the combination of all three would be a winner.

So, I made a stuffing by sauteing an onion in butter, added it to the sausage meat with seasoning, bit of sage and then crumbled in some of the black pudding. My trusty kitchen slave Tiny then stuffed the belly and neatly tied it up ready for the oven.

It worked brilliantly. The stuffing was deeply savoury and matched really well with the soft, moist pig meat. It was porktastic.

Our porkiness knowing no limits, the next morning our thoughts turned to breakfast (well, brunch actually) and the left over stuffing.

Fried up with a couple of eggs it was shall we say 'hearty' or more accurately 'heart damaging'. But none the less extremley tasty.

The porkfest doesn't exactly stop there, as there was the leftover stuffed belly to eat up. We didn't have it that night, as that would be too much wouldn't it? Would it? YES it would.

So, the next day, with cholesterol withdrawl, I topped us both up by making a nice big pan of bubble and squeak to accompany lovely thick slices of the pork. Even when cold, the pork and the stuffing was really good.

Right, back to the crispbreads and cottage cheese........

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Would you like to see my buns?

I have never made hot cross buns before. Strange but true. I suppose it's because there are such good quality ones out there. There are also, it has to be said some nasty, cheap ones which are doughy and contain very little fruit.

Anyway, I thought it was time to have a go myself and obviously Easter was the time to make them. Well actually I made these a week before Easter and then made some more actually on Good Friday.

For me, they have to be really fruity and full of spice, otherwise they're just buns, or small teacakes. They're basically bread dough enriched with an egg and some butter and obviously lots of mixed spice, cinnamon and dried fruit.

The 'cross' is very simple, it's just flour and water piped onto the risen buns before baking.

After baking, a brushing of sugar syrup and hey presto, shiny, spicy, fruity buns.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Sausage Surprise

I love a good sausage. I'm a bit of a plain sausage girl - really good pork and a bit of herbage, leek if you must. None of your 'duck and cranberry' or 'lamb and apricot' thank you very much. This obviously doesn't include Toulouse or the lovely Italian sausages. I'm talking about a British banger.

So, on a trip to the farm shop I surprised Tiny by arriving home with some venison sausages. They were big, plump and looked very meaty and I knew that it wasn't going to do them justice just having them with mash and fried onions. No, that would be wrong. I thought how about doing a sort of sausage bourguignon? lardons of smoked bacon, garlic, time, red wine, bit of chicken stock, garlic and finishing off with some sauteed mushrooms (couldn't be arsed to do the baby onions)

With a big pile of mash they were superb. Big meaty sausages in a rich, garlicy, red wine gravy. Tiny's verdict? Apparently I can surprise him with a sausage any time I like.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

An Ample Christmas

December is a busy time for me and this year was no exception. Although 'kitchen fatigue' can set in, it doesn't diminish my enthusiasm for cooking our Christmas goodies.

I'd already made the Christmas puddings, sloe gin and mincemeat a few months before, so it was time to do the fresh things.

First up was a batch of fudge. This went down particularly well with my nieces. I don't think it made it past Christmas day evening actually.

Then some cheesy feet! They're quite amusing to serve with drinks. The recipe is from Nigella's 'Feast' book. Sad person that I am, I have in the past pressed sesame seeds into each foot for toenails. I can't believe I've just admitted to that. Oh well.

Then, it was time to prepare 'The Pie'. It's a tradition started by Tiny's family, to have a slice of this, with a glass of champagne on Christmas morning when you're opening your pressies. It's usually a combination of chicken, rabbit & pork, but I used some lovely free range turkey thighs instead of the chicken this year.

As we were obviously going to be tucking in to a fair amount of meat over the next few days we decided to have some fish on Christmas eve. We started with smoked salmon on crostini and then a warm salad of scallops wrapped in bacon.

Christmas day was spent at my sister's, where we had roast turkey and all the trimmings. She also made a fantastic beef wellington as her Mother-in-law doesn't eat white meat (no trouble!) This was all rounded off with Christmas pud and then later on, although still full, we had some Christmas cake.

Lynne's beautiful cake

It was our turn to have the family over on the Sunday and it was to be a cold meat and pickle meal. I think we enjoy the cold meat meal over Christmas as much as we enjoy the roast on Christmas day.

We didn't want to do just cold turkey or chicken so we planned to cook a sort of two-bird roast. I set my trusty kitchen Boy (Tiny) the task of preparing the wonderful beastie. He boned out a large free range chicken and then added a layer of pork, apricot & walnut stuffing, then added some boned turkey thigh and finished with a final layer of pork, bacon & chestnut stuffing.
To go with it, I made a huge pan of bubble and squeak, some creamy mash, roast carrots and parsnips and braised red cabbage and apple. My sister is a vegetarian, so I made her a leek, cheddar & garlic mushroom tart.
We finished off the meal with a choice of almond and toffee puddings with toffee sauce or apple & mincemeat crumble. Mr Creosote had nothing on us.

After a very long walk on the Monday we sat down to a much simpler meal of veg and lentil soup with chipolata sprinkles. I also made some poppy seed rolls.

Christmas over, it was like we blinked and suddenly it was New Year. Now, both being the grumpy 50 somethings that we are, we tend to stay in on New Year's eve. If you stay at home you don't have to try and get a taxi at 2am in the morning, you get something decent to eat and the booze is cheap. Told you we were grumpy.

We decided to have a 'grazing' evening to make coarse pork terrine a couple of days before NYE to enable it to develop its wonderful flavours. We also had some smoked salmon and a couple of cheeses and some fruit. Oh and copious amounts of fizz and wine.

So, any ideas why my jeans are feeling tight? I've tried convincing my self that they've shrunk in the wash and the sad thing is, I'm almost believing it.

Happy New Year everyone, from Ample Cook Towers.