Remi The ‘Cake’, Dom the ‘Thief’ and a 21 Year Old Chef (He is Wow)!

Please excuse the title of this post, Sunday at ‘The French House Party’ was a another day to remember, filled with excitement, history, intrigue and lots of fantastic food and flavour experiences, typical really and why I love coming here.tR%v+B01TRyuP9Z9BYDNVQThe morning started with the communal breakfast outside as the weather has been fabulous, with fresh everything, Fruit, Bread, Jams, Cheese, Ham, Tomatoes, Croissant, Tea or Coffee and always needed to set you up for a very busy day!

This morning we were delighted to have ‘Remi’ Touja as our tutor, holder of the French Sucre D’or, a national award for outstanding Patisserie as shown by the placard adorning his shop front, this guy was seriously good. IMG_0248So, what about Chocolate Brownies and Coconut Panacotta, what’s that all about, taking what seems very simple and elevating It was the order of the day.C24DE086-B424-4839-9100-E772B2843D46As is usual with my reviews of personal trips on cooking vacations and the like, I won’t divulge the complete experience as it really will not do justice to what goes on and what you experience, suffice to say we all learnt lots about presentation, flavour mixing and how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and it was enlightening to say the least! This is my 3rd trip to the French House Party and I will definitely be back for more.IMG_0361After lunch and a brief rest we headed out for the town of Limoux.

Limoux is a commune and sub-prefecture in the Aude department, a part of the ancient Languedoc province and the present-day Occitane region in southern France. It lies on the river Aude about 30 km (19 miles) due south of Carcassonne. Its vineyards are famous for being first to produce sparkling wine known as Blanquette de Limoux, that’s what WIKI says!

I’ve been to Limoux before and really enjoyed it, and this time was no different. Didier was our guide at Maison GUINOTthe oldest producer of Blanquettes and Cremants since 1875. These fine sparkling wines predate Champagne and it was Dom Perignon that came to Limoux, saw the technique (aka nicked it), and took it back to the Champagne region, the rest is a lesson in marketing!fullsizeoutput_b2fThe tour of the cellars and its history are great fun and really interesting, the produce is exceptional and awesome value, you cannot get it in the U.K. except by mail order as they limit production. The other stuff in U.K. supermarkets marketed as Crémante and Blanquette is mass produced by other local ‘Maison’ and they do not use the same old traditional methods which you will find about if you come and visit. Guess what, my suitcase is a bit heavier, oops.

After the trip to Maison Guinot, we headed across country to the restaurant for our evening meal, it was a delightful drive, the sun was a stunning colour lighting up the countryside, filled with grape vines and we all chatted about the trip to the ‘Guinot bubble factory’, which was fab!

Our final stop of the day was Domaine Michaud, in the hilly village of Roullens. (www.domainemichaud.eu). 

The location is stunning with views out to Carcassonne and the surrounding countryside which was stunning as you can see in the heading picture.8D6BC63B-83F7-4E2F-8799-6F5B17938ECBDomaine Michaud is a “gastronomical’ B&B set near the base of the Pyrenees, and close to  Carcassonne. The owners are Dutch; Jolanda, Fred, Naomi and Sandor the exceptional 21 year old chef who provided us with the most amazing meal.

Service was delightful, each dish being explained. There is no menu, you just book and they ask if you have any dislikes and allergies, the food was just stunning, stunning, yep, STUNNING.

I have eaten in a few restaurants, with the odd star or two, honestly, this is THE BEST so far, beyond doubt. What an amazing chef Sandor is, age 21!

Oh my god, what a meal. If was to have a ‘bucket list’ for last meals this HAS to be it, it was F&%$@£? (expletive) amazing!

There was a moment when Moira (our host) and I shared eyes (not that way 🙂 as the wine choice was based on the two vineyards we had tasted on my last trip to the French House Party in 2017, Domaine Le Fort and Domaine Gayda, both exceptional for their own reasons. Naomi did an excellent job of explaining why the wines had been paired with the food we were eating.

That’s it for tonight, its well after midnight, and I am sadly travelling back to the U.K tomorrow, but the review is not finished yet, hopefully  I will get the rest finished in the morning.

 

…………………Until Next Time………………L8ers……………

 

 

 

 

 

Excuse the Picture, The Pasta was STUNNING!

I’m watching Heston Blumenthal stuff a Cod’s head with Veal Mince at the moment, a recipe from Charles Elmé Francatelli a famous chef from the 1800’s and Queen Victoria’s favourite dish apparently!

Whilst in New York recently a number of meals had been organised to ‘feed the troops’, along with some Rooftop Bars to enjoy the Manhattan Skyline and soak in the atmosphere of the city that never sleeps, it was an amazing experience.P1030939New York has strong ties to Italy (amongst other countries) and that was very evident from some of the restaurants we ate in, although one of the stand out dishes came from Tao, a Pan Asian establishment with attached Night Club.LKwmP6YITLOkh4Bk00BFCQThe menu seemed endless, Hot Endamame, Chefs’ Sushi, Chicken Gyozas, Pan Roasted Halibut, Dry Aged Sirloin and Broccoli Drunken Vegetable Pad Thai the flow of food just didn’t seem to stop. It was all beautifully presented and very tasty indeed. The restaurant was huge, and floor walkers with radio communications kept in contact with the Chef’s to ensure the food was cooked at the right time and that no table was left waiting for the next course.Photo 30-05-2018, 10 47 36All the food was good but one dish was just amazing, the ‘Satay of Chilean Sea Bass with Miso Dressing’. It does not look much but the texture and flavour was sublime, perfectly cooked fish (to the point as Rick Stein might say), it was silky, moist and packed with flavour, my favourite of the whole evening and in the top three of the trip.428rK9AOS42cIKw99DmkdwThe following night we were at Cecconi’s in DUMBO! That’s Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a restaurant that looks over at Manhattan from Brooklyn, the other side of the river, we were to follow dinner with another rooftop bar but it was raining so it was not quite rooftop!VIW0Zgo0Q8ev5ObyMwBsGQThis was Saturday evening and I had spent the day eating on the Brooklyn Culture and Food Tour, the location of Cecconi’s was our last stop on the tour and over the road was the Chocolate Shop I had been in a few hours earlier with my foodie chum!

I was going to face a new challenge over the next couple of days, I had run out of my Metformin, used to help the Insulin I inject every morning get absorbed by the body so less carbs was the order of the day, and hopefully I had enough in me to get home (I did)!G2%X5mLsR52W5TGXioTk9ACecconi’s was a typical Italian restaurant, homely, cosy and carb heavy with Risotto and Gnocchetti but luckily there was Chicken on the menu so I was sorted, the starters included Calamari Fritti with Lemon Aioli and Chilli which was very tasty.

The stand out dish for me is in the previous picture, Burrata, Heirloom Beetroot and Aged Balsamic Vinegar, simple but the flavours just sung.fullsizeoutput_78e.jpegNow onto Il Cortile situated in Little Italy, right next to Chinatown! Over 11 dishes on the menu for our group at this 40 year old traditional restaurant which has a reputation for amazing Italian food cooked exceptionally well. Everyone commented on the Antipasti, the Baked Clams and Fried Prawns were really good, the Roasted Italian Loaf was something new, never heard of that before!ulhzrx1oqpmsuckipidgg.jpgI went for the Veal Scaloppini for mains, it was very tasty but I think the Veal could have been cooked less, it was a bit to over for my liking but still nice.poritib1rwmlwbaypql6bq1.jpgThe stand out dish was definitely the Capellini with Peas and Prosciutto, it was amazing, absolutely stunning and the picture is the featured image of this post, you have to visit just for this dish, its that good.s8BgBI3TTf6U0737ZOQfVAI did gain a few ounces over the 4 or so days and had the chance to taste some great food. New York is mad, manic and full-on, but you do slowly get used to it, the range of cuisine is enormous and you can get fed for not a lot if you know where to look.

 

………………………………….Until next time……………………L8ers………………….

 

 

 

 

 

A Michelin Masterclass with Angela Hartnett MBE (Plus a look at the Michelin starred Woodspeen Restaurant)

I was sitting in Cafe Lucca in Bath and my heart was pumping for a couple of reasons, I had just walked up the hill from the station which is something not attempted before, and I was going to be spending a day learning from a food hero Angela Hartnett MBE, who also happens to have a Michelin Star, no mean feat!

Cafe Lucca was also a new experience, my trip to Bath has previously landed me at the station with just enough time to get a taxi to the cookery school, this time the timetable had changed and I was over an hour early, enough time to grab a bite to eat.It was a really tasty plateful, Pancetta, Boiled Eggs that had been coated in Parmesan and stuck under the grill, Roasted Tomatoes, Toast and Marmalade with a pot of Assam Tea, it was all very tasty.

I’d been looking at twitter that morning and Richard Bertinet, the owner of the School had been posting the odd picture of food that we would be using that day. A massive crate of wild Mushrooms including Trompette and Girolles, it was going to be a great day. I’d booked this course in May as a Birthday present so it was a long time coming.So the menu for the day included Pumpkin Tortelli, Partridge with Turnip and Mushrooms and Plums with Ricotta, seasonal dishes that as we found out, would require a lot of skill and technique to prepare, no ready made Pasta, that was to be done by hand along with preparing the Partridges, they were whole, Heads, Wings and Guts!!Angela is an absolute delight, taking the 12 of us students through the process of making the pasta by hand, understanding the  look and feel once it was ready to roll, cut and shape as required, imparting lots of tips on the way it was great fun. We were grouped into fours and encouraged to interact our group starting chatting away sharing experiences as we went on.I have made Pasta by hand before in Italy, but it was over four years ago (sorry, my food experiences have meant that I am never trying a particular country or region for that long)! It was a really good session, I had never used a Pasta Machine before similar to others in the group so it was interesting to see the difference not having enough Flour in the mix made, it was slightly too wet and produced interesting results when put through the Pasta machine.I’d never heard of Tortelli before, they are like a rectangular Raviolli, where you place the stuffing close to the edge nearest you, flip over, egg or milk wash the front and sides, and in between the covered filling and flip over the other side like a blanket, mine were by no means perfect but the looked ok once finished.Before preparing the Pasta, we had quartered a Pumpkin, seasoned and placed on oiled baking trays for a session in the oven to soften.  Angela encouraged us to answer questions and shared many of the experiences working with the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing which was really interesting and very amusing indeed !!I LOVE Partridge, in fact our 11 year old son loves Partridge too, and cooks it himself when available (with parental assistance of course). We were each given one to prep after being shown how to do it by Angela, removing the legs in the right place, (you can go further down the joint towards the body which makes for an unstable cooking experience as it wobbles in the pan)!

Then the Wings, the Head was removed close to the Head, rather than close to the body and the Neck was to be used in the game sauce we were to make. The next bit was interesting, food digestion is a slow process and the cavity between the Neck and the Body contained all sorts of Seeds, bits of food that the Partridge was still ‘processing’. Next the Guts, Heart, Lungs etc. We kept the Heart and Kidney to add to the Game sauce towards the end to add extra richness and flavour.We were prepping and cooking for several hours, it was hard work but really good fun. One of the students had come all the way from Norway to attend the 1 day course, she owned a Bakery and had been to the school before to learn advanced bread making techniques which the owner Richard Bertinet is a master at, this is an awesome cookery school and Richard attracts some seriously good chefs to come along and share their knowledge and experience.We worked tirelessly from about 10:00 till 12:30, then a break for refreshments, and a quick snack of Cheese and Ham Toasties with Bechamel using Richards famous Bread, they were very tasty indeed. The ‘Baker Girls’ or Bertinet Backstage are the great team that assist, wash up, clean and generally help things go smoothly and as usual, they did an exceptional job.Earlier, we had removed the legs from the Partridge ready for a bath in Duck Fat, Garlic and Thyme, we were going to confit the legs and add to a Salad with Pickled Walnuts. Before the ‘Duck Fat Bath’, the legs were fried in Olive Oil to colour, there was lots going on during the course, loads of different cooking techniques were learnt on the way it was excellent value for money and everyone was sweating in the heat of the kitchen.The Partridge Crowns got the Pan treatment, in LOADS of Butter and Thyme, a few minutes before hitting the oven for finishing off.Angela was more than happy for us to video, take pictures, selfies and was a real joy to spend time with, her knowledge and experience is just something  you don’t often get the chance to access, I need to practise my photography from a selfie perspective although we were right by the hob, and everything was hot in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, due to train timetable changes I had to leave earlier than expected and only managed to sit down for the Pumpkin Tortelli starter which was really tasty, I was given some Partridge Breast, some of the Mushrooms, and the Turnip dish we prepared and had them in the evening for tea, very tasty indeed. I really can’t wait to book my next session at Richards Cookery School, its ‘Bloody Brilliant’.

This is the eighth course I have completed at Richard Bertinet’s Cookery School, each of them have had their own qualities, this was equally as enjoyable as the previous seven, but made more special but being taught by such an iconic chef, full of energy, passion and Angela is just a lovely person, thank-you Angela. If you get the chance, just book and your will be guaranteed an amazing time.

A Birthday Treat At the WoodSpeen Nr Newbury

Where to go to celebrate my Birthday? It took less than 10 seconds to reach a decision and a booking at the local Michelin starred restaurant, ‘The WoodSpeen’ was completed online. I’ve eaten here before with a good friend, but only for lunch and we had their lunchtime special which was very good, this time it was to be the ‘Full Monty’ a la carte.Sat at our table an Amuse Bouche arrived, Courgette Soup with Black Olive. I am not sure about Courgettes, I eat them a lot but they tend to be part of a dish and not going solo, the soup was really very tasty, quite a surprise but a good one. We had been given some lovely home made bread and polished off the dish before more bread arrived, very good attentive service.For starters I opted for the Roasted Scallops, with Chicken Thigh, Cauliflower and Hazelnut, OMG it was so very tasty. The Scallop was perfectly cooked, the Chicken tender as it could be and really rich the whole dish just sung ‘eat me’.My partner in crime opted for the Woodspeen Smoked Salmon, Beetroot, Goats Curd and Apple which was apparently delicious and was demolished quite effortlessly, with a big smile of satisfaction to finish.We were then surprised with another Amuse Bouche, Buratta with Heritage Tomatoes and Olive Crumb, another exceptional taste bomb that really cleansed the taste buds, this was going really very well indeed.I adore fish and the Bass did not disappoint, with Clams, Squid Ink Gnocchi, Fennel and Champagne Sauce. Everything was cooked perfectly and the Champagne Sauce is THE best I have ever had, seriously tasty and moorish, I could have drunk it out of a cup it was that tasty.Steak was the choice for Mrs R, with Garlic Mushrooms, Onion Ring, Triple Cooked Chips and Bearnaise. We usually find steaks are ‘OK’, either the meat is not the best or the cooking is not quite right, this was spot on perfect, and the chips, oh my we thought we had found the best chips locally and they are very good, but these WERE the best, praise indeed.It was my birthday so I WAS having a dessert, the Pina Colada sounded really nice. Coconut Parfait, Macadamia Crumble, Pineapple and Lemongrass Sorbet. I was in heaven, it was yum yum yum the tastes and textures dancing around on the tongue it was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

The Woodspeen is highly recommended, the food is excellent, the service is excellent un-fussy but very attentive, we will be definitely going back very soon.  I think it’s great value for money considering the quality of the service, ingredients and cooking.

Thanks you to the team at The WoodSpeen for making my birthday very special.

 

……………………………Until next time……………..L8ers………………….

 

 

It’s Tough, Really Very Tough – A Night of 2 Michelin Starred Gastronomie in Carcassonne!

2017-05-23 17.09.35I’ve been to Carcassonne before, a couple of years ago when I was last a guest at The French House Party. It’s a magical place Carcassonne, having a similar feel to Tallin in Estonia (highly recommended too, had a day trip there on a cruise a few years back). Narrow cobbled streets, Coffee shops to sit outside and watch the world go by, we arrived late in the afternoon when the majority of the crowds had gone home, it gets very busy here!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 50 30How can I describe La Table De Franck Putelat…………Bloody Brilliant!  The whole experience is just so different.

I have had the pleasure of eating here before, a restaurant with 2 Michelin Stars you expect it to be good, but it’s the theatre as well as the food that takes it to the next level. From the Flame in the Glass Cabinet, that warms the Bread Basket placed on top it’s an amazing experience that, given the chance I would recommend to anyone.Photo 23-05-2017, 19 56 17Hmmmm,  a little Appetizer was passed to each of us the waiter then described what was in our hands…………..Duck Foie Gras Lollipops with a Grapefruit Emulsion….. Gulp! How they made the Emulsion stick in such a uniform way was mind-blowing, it tasted pretty damn good too!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 58 41Ah, I am sure I didn’t have these the other day!…… Tapioca Crisps perfumed with Aioli, Tapenade and Mushroom Cream, crispy and very very tasty, my mouth was already salivating after the previous tastes and textures. The others in our group were also amazed at these little tasty delights.photo-23-05-2017-20-02-29.jpg‘What’s this’ we all declared as a bowl of ‘Smoking Something’ was placed before us! Dry Ice used to great effect, the delights were Cromesquis of Pig Feet (errkk)! Crispy Morsels that had a lovely light crunchy coating they are like a Croquette, and a soft melting pork centre with some lemon jelly they were so so good, and this was just another appetiser!Photo 23-05-2017, 20 25 51Bread is the life blood of France, just ask my occasional Tutor and owner of Bertinet’s Cookery School in Bath Richard Bertinet, I am sure he will agree. There was a great choice of Bread, all homemade and displayed on the ‘Fire Cabinet’, with the waiter cutting on demand as we all tried to decide what to pick!photo-23-05-2017-20-27-45.jpgMy Choice was the Spelt Bread which had a great crust, and the Thyme Bread which was like a Croissant but shaped like a traditional Beehive they were both really delicious. There are little ‘nods’ to the surroundings and very obvious was the ‘chain mail’ place mat, and wooden butter knife being linked to the Knights that used to occupy the City.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 28 44The ‘Theatre’ carried on, not a dish with a block of butter, or the usual ‘curls’ they have a paddle like wooden butter dish, with ordinary and one laced with Seaweed to provide the salt component, very tasty on the home-made bread.photo-23-05-2017-20-29-53.jpgThe last delight before the 1st course was ready, came in a beautifully designed porcelain Chicken Foot,  a perfectly cooked Egg, covered in a rich and decadent Mushroom Cream with a bit of Truffle for added decadence! Boy it was so tasty, and we had only completed the appetisers, that set the bar high for the remainder of the meal.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 39 57So onto the starter, let’s see if the food was as good as last time. Duck Foie Gras Rougié, Palourdes Cranquettes de Méditerranée, Pistils de Safran à Gégé. It was a full (and I mean FULL) flavoured broth with seared Foie Gras, beautiful Clams and an assortment of vegetable brunois (chopped really small)!

The comments around the table sort of went like, ‘this is amazing’, ‘this is sooo delicious’, ‘oh my god, how do they get so much flavour into this’, ‘Jeez this is really very good’……. We sort of knew ho they got so much flavour into things as the 1st two days of our cooking course had been just that, spending hours frying, boiling, reducing, adding more flavours, reducing etc… The starter was a hit with everyone. Photo 23-05-2017, 21 04 51The main course soon arrived and was equally as tasty. I don’t think I have EVER had a fillet of Cod so perfectly cooked! It fell apart, melted in the mouth, was so light and flaky, no rough or slighty stringy edges it was PERFECT. The flavour of the vegetables and broth were perfect with subtle flavours and did not overpower the fish, it was just fab, and all of us had come to pretty much the same conclusion (until the next day, more of that later)!photo-23-05-2017-21-49-25.jpgIt maybe a personal thing but the thing most people rememeber about a restaurant is the dessert, it’s the last thing they eat before departing and will have (In good restaurants), a significant visual impact as we knew from our own efforts over the last couple of days. Our dessert had visual impact, lots of it! Pavlova ananas, infusé aux bais sancho, sorbet céleri branche. It was a Pineapple Pavola (deconstructed), infused with Sancho Berries (Japanese pepper) and Celery Sorbet (and some White Chocolate).

This dish divided the group, it was the Celery Sorbet that was the bone of contention. The thing was, if you had a bit of each element the Sorbet worked a treat, cleaning the palate especially with the sweet White Chocolate. The textures were great too, soft, crunchy, smooth melting I personally loved it, a lot. So that was it, multiple courses all great and we had a fantastic time, and experience. But there was a bit more to come yet!!photo-23-05-2017-22-10-51.jpgThe service had been exemplary all night, each dish being described as it was delivered to the table, the final little teaser being little crisp tarts with a fresh Raspberry filling, and some light jelly delights, I cannot remember what they were but I think coconut from memory, we had eaten so many tasty flavours it was still delicious.photo-23-05-2017-22-13-04-e1495818627716.jpgAll of a sudden, our waiter came to the table, picked up the flower pot which the delights were resting and threw it onto the table, more theatre the pot was made of Chocolate smashed into pieces and threw more hand made delights all over the table, we all burst into laughter not having experienced such fun as the Chocolate cracked, and various delights were exposed…….!!

That’s it for now, I landed back in the U.K. last night and only have one more post to write, the final day and another restaurant review, that of 1 Michelin starred Chef (and our tutor for 2 days), Jean-Marc Boyer.

…………………………Until next time………………L8ers……………..

 

 

 

Kouign Amann, well Breton Kouignettes, and a couple of restaurant reviews

WP_20150201_19_33_46_ProTwitter is an interesting tool that can inspire cooking at a instant. A case in point happened to me recently when a very good cook I ‘follow’ Sabrina Ghayour, tweeted a picture from a trip to Paris. The picture was of a variant of Kouign Amann, a Breton pastry from Northern France.

Photo 08-02-2015 10 40 27The sticky buttery rich pastry just looked amazing, and as I had a team meeting coming up after the weekend, an excuse to do some research and find a suitable recipe set me going online and attacking the keyboard. My initial concern was time, having made puff pastry by hand before it was a lengthy process taking up to 3 days (allowing plenty of rest time makes it very special), and this was based on a similar process.

I found the answer here; http://eatthelove.com/2014/03/kouign-amann/

A ‘speedy’ way to make a version of the pastry, I set about gathering the ingredients and digging out the food processor from under the cupboard.

The basic premise of this recipe is to incorporate loads of salty Breton Butter (readily available from Waitrose and probably larger Tesco’s) into flour using the method described on the web link above. Once it has had some time to rest and cool down in the fridge, a series of folds to create the layers that puff up and expand when cooking. This is a yeast based dough so the final result is croissant like in its texture.

WP_20150201_17_56_23_ProThe last stage requires dusting your work top with sugar instead of flour, which will create the lovely sticky, crispy, caramelised outside after cooking is completed. It was surprisingly straightforward to do, following the steps carefully. I changed one element of the recipe, which was to use vanilla infused sugar to add an extra dimension to the dish.

WP_20150201_18_05_44_ProI couldn’t work out a way to easily get the shape from the original ‘tweeted’ picture so continued to follow the instructions on the website which requires you to cut the final dough into squares, and bring together from the centre, placing into a well oiled muffin tray as above.

They need about 40 – 45 minutes, I had some extra dough left, had some placed on an oven tray beneath the one above and a couple of them went to far! Keep and eye on them for the last 10 or so minutes as you want them dark and sticky, but they can soon burn.

Give them a go, they were bloomin’ delicious!

This week involved a lot of travelling, Newbury to Solihull, then Leeds, then Norwich, then back to Newbury so a couple of overnights would be needed.

My stomach dictates when away from home and gives me the chance to experience new food and restaurants, this week it was to be Tharavadu in Leeds and The House of Thai in Norwich.

Tharavadu is a Kerelan restaurant, a style of cuisine I had not tried before, rich in coconut and spices, and absolutely delicious.

Photo 04-02-2015 20 37 09The starter I chose was Adipose Chemmeen, marinated Prawns served with a Lemon Chutney it was amazing, tingling the palate with lots of flavour, it set the scene quite nicely.

Mains were Kerala Khozi Curry, Mambazha Pulisshery, and a Paratha. I was too busy eating this delicious meal to take a picture, but it was very very tasty indeed.

Photo 04-02-2015 21 43 20Desert was a Semolina based dish, Pineapple Kesari, studded with raisins and cashew nuts it finished the meal nicely.

The wine choice was very good and reasonably priced, I went for a Trimbach Gerwurztraminer which countered the spicy meal perfectly. The service was excellent, attentive but not overbearing, and the restaurant was busy, busy busy, so book ahead if you fancy a culinary trip to Kerala, well recommended, please give it a go.

After Kerala, my next stop was Thailand, via House of Thai in Norwich!

I had been late arriving at both restaurants as traffic had been particular bad, but have to say VERY impressed at how accommodating both places were.

Starters at House of Thai were Tung Tong, or Golden Parcels, again an amazing starter, getting the taste buds ready for the main course.

Photo 05-02-2015 20 51 11The parcels are filled with a herb marinaded chicken and vegetable mixture, wrapped in a thin pastry and fried until crispy. Great starter…….yumm

Photo 05-02-2015 21 03 59I struggled picking a main, I have eaten Thai a few times and wanted to try and find something a bit different, so Pla Kra Pao was my choice of crispy Sea Bass with stir fried oyster sauce, served with fresh Thai Red Chillies, Coriander and Basil leaves. Thai Jasmine Rice worked with the Bass nicely it was very good value for money.

Desert was interesting as an iPad was used to show pictures of each of the dishes, a really good idea. Photo 05-02-2015 21 38 43Dessert was Banana based, and studded with Coconut, not too sweet but something I had not eaten before, very tasty and I forgot the write down the name. Wine to accompany was a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

The whole meal was very tasty, service was very good and unhurried (considering I was 45 minutes late!), another cracking experience, well worth a look out if you are venturing to Norwich add this to your must do list.

Thats it for now, until next time……….L8ers……..

 

Fragrant Gnocchi, Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Chocolate Mousse, More Courses & Glasgow’s Finest!

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The weeks are flying by at the moment, the trip to France is booked, a week at the Gascony Cookery School in early June is something to look forward too. Being impatient and keen to add to my culinary knowledge I spent another day in London with the ‘Pukka Paki’, Sumayya and what an event it was! I had recommended the school to a colleague at work and by sheer coincidence he decided to pick the same day as me to attend. Glad you enjoyed it Tom.

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You HAVE to attend the cookery school to appreciate the subtle techniques involved in cooking Pakistani food, its mostly hands-on and you would not get anywhere near the same from reading a book. There were four of us on the course, all keen foodies (and blokes!!) and we had great fun learning new skills and understanding the differences between Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cooking.

On the menu was Beetroot & Beef Curry – Chaukandar Gosht, fragranced with Cardamom and Cinnamon, Green Masala Chicken Biryani – infused with Mint, Coriander, Lemon and Green Chilli’s and whole garam masalas, Channa Daal with Takra of Curry leaves, red Chilli, Cumin and topped with Tamarind, Homemade Naan breads with Poppy Seeds & Qawami Seviyan – sweet Vermicelli with Cardamom, Saffron, Cloves and Pistachios.

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After time spent learning and cooking we all sat down to a hearty (and very tasty) lunch. I cannot recommend Sumayya enough, her courses are also available through the Divertimenti Cookery School in London, if you want to learn some new skills her courses are money well invested and great fun.

Moving away from the exotic spices of Pakistan, last weekend saw my 1st attempt at Gnocchi which were surprisingly straight forward.

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The potatoes were boiled in their skins from cold, about 30 minutes and then peeled with the back of a knife, SIFTED flour to keep things light was added after the potatoes had been through a ricer. If you are careful, you end up with soft pillowy (if there is such as word) Gnocchi, which are rolled on the back of a fork to create furrows for the sauce to stick.

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As you can see the final presentation needs some more practise. they are very soft so might benefit from some time in the fridge before finishing off. Unlike the usual sauces that accompany such delights, I went for a more unusual (in my mind) combination to go with the Gnocci, Slow roasted Tomatoes, Feta & Middle Eastern Flavours!

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This element needs starting early, the Tomato’s are going to be SLOW roasted for about 8 hours at 100 degrees. Take about 10 Tomatoes, cut them in half and place on a baking tray that has had some half decent Olive Oil spread on the surface. Sprinkle with some Sea Salt and make sure they are well coated in the Oil, they should be CUT face down. Add to the tray a halved head of Garlic, a chopped Onion and sprinkle everything with some Thyme, Coriander Seeds, Sumac and Pepper! Stick them in the oven and wait for the aroma’s to fill the kitchen, this does take a while (8 hours of course). Keep an eye on them as ovens do vary.

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To add to the interest, a vegetable medley was prepared consisting of Onions, Peppers, Garlic, Aleppo Pepper, Thyme and some more Sumac. The Gnocchi was put into boiling water (but not moving, so they don’t risk breaking up), until they popped to the surface and then drained briefly on some kitchen paper.

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The Gnocchi were then lightly fried in some Butter and Ras Al Hanout sprinkled on top , ensuring an even coating and imparting the ‘exotic’ element of the dish. The presentation could do with  a bit more work but I was preparing for a trip to Glasgow so rushed. Place a bed of the vegetables on the plate, then surround with the roasted Tomato’s and place the Gnocchi on top. The final flourish is some Feta Cheese, broken up and distributed around the plate. Finish off with some cracked black pepper it was really tasty.

The Shandon Belles – A taste of Glasgow

I had a couple of days in Glasgow last week, and a couple to come this week so an excuse to try some new restaurants. Looking at Trip Advisor there were a few that caught my eye, the 1st being The Shandon Belles, in Argyle Street, WHAT a find. The place is steeped in history and sits below another famous landmark, The Buttery where Two Fat Ladies is situated.

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Dishes on the Menu included Whole grilled Sardines, dressed leaves, soft herb dressing, pink Prawns, sweet Chilli & Coriander Mayonnaise for starters and mains, Pepper filled with vegetable Cous Cous & smoked Mozzarella, dressed leaves (v), Meat loaf, Chive Mash, Tomato Jus.

I decided to go for the Fish of the day special, which was Ling, with cheesy Mash and Soft herbs. Never had Ling before, will certainly order it in the future, cooked to perfection and utterly delicious, the fish was served with roasted vegetables and certainly hit the spot. To be honest I was that tired I only managed the one course but plan to re-visit at at later date.

The service was impeccable, the place is steeped in history and when I was chatting with the waiter and talking about the blog, he presented me with a folder to look at, with pictures from the past and menu’s going back to the 70’s which was fascinating. Imagine Steak Tartare being more expensive than Lobster, and Tongue and Sweetbreads on the menu, delish!

Highly recommended, great value and well worth a visit.

The Tiki Bar & Kitsch Inn – Another taste of Glasgow!

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The following night I was in a different part of Glasgow, my own fault and due to some confusion with hotels! I am really lucky to have some great technology at my disposal, which includes several smartphones with integrated GPS and some useful software. I use them to good effect when away, searching for places to eat that are within walking distance, but also linking to Trip Advisor to get a view of quality.

The Tiki Bar and Kitsch Inn was one such find, a 15 minute walk from the hotel it promised some interesting Thai flavours, freshly cooked and no bottled sauces in sight (as stated on the menu!).

While I was choosing what to eat the lovely waitress bought me some water, and delicious Spicy Crackers with a Sweet Chilli dip to munch on, a really nice touch. They were very crisp and  not at all greasy like some of the Prawn Crackers you usually get served in oriental establishments, they certainly got the taste buds dancing.

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I was pretty hungry so thought I would go for a starter, the divine (and spicy) Crying Tiger Beef Salad, Grilled marinated beef, served cold with a Thai style green salad (beef is cooked medium rare). YUMMMMMMMMMMM, the beef was cooked perfectly and the starter really set the evening off beautifully.

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Mains were Pla Tod Yum, Crispy fillet of Coley dressed with fresh Mango and Cashew Nuts in roasted Chilli, Lime and Lemongrass sauce with Jasmine Rice, another stunning dish and another 1st as I had not had Coley before either. Dessert, yes I WAS hungry, was a delicious Coconut & Mango Panna Cotta, which slipped down and did a great palate cleansing job.

Like The Shandon Belles, I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough, awesome food, fantastic service and another lovely evening. Give it a try if you are in the area.

Back to the kitchen for one final flurry, Chocolate Mousse. Never made it before so onto the Internet to look for some guidance and another well known chef and food blogger, David Leibovitz came to the rescue. David is a Pastry Chef originally from the USA but now living in Paris,  has written a number of books and also has a fantastic blog, (click on his name above to take a look).

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The recipe I went for is originally from Julia Childs, details can be found HERE. My version added some Mandarin segments, I like the fruity tang against chocolate, and I did not add the alcohol (didn’t have anything appropriate in the cupboard at the time).

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The process is like making a Sabayon, whisking Egg Yolks and Sugar over hot water to create a light and airy mixture, just follow the instructions in the link above and you shouldn’t go wrong, I went technical and used an electric whisk rather than the hand method.

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The chocolate is melted over a ‘Bain Marie’, hot not boiling water with a bowl over the top (NOT touching the water as the chocolate will burn), with the butter. Use the best you can get, my preference is Willi’s Cacao, you can get it online or in Waitrose. In this recipe I used the Rio Caribe 72% Chocolate Drops, really tasty, rich and sublime.

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The final process is to whisk the Egg Whites to soft peaks and gently combine with the Chocolate/Butter mixture, folding gently combining the two and loosing as little air as possible.

I placed the Mandarin Segments in the bottom of Martini glasses and spooned the Mousse on top, then popped into the fridge for a few hours to set.

The feature image for this post shows the results, to find out what they taste like have a go yourself, they were Mmmmmmmmmm.

That’s it for now, flying back to Glasgow tomorrow for a couple of days so looking forward to trying another eatery. I am hoping to get some time to test a Danish Pastry, Kringles in the near future.

I stumbled across them on a Twitter post by Yotam Ottolenghi, so have been researching recipes so I can have a go. They take a few days to make and the diary has been pretty full recently but look really interesting as there does not seem to be a huge amount written about them.

Till next time, L8ers……………….

 

Dont’ be so cheeky, Evuna & Sapporo

Another manic week has flown by and went something like; Drive to London, get replacement laptop, drive to Manchester, eat in nice restaurant, next day all day team meeting (made them my chocolate and raspberry special, went down very well!), fly to Glasgow, attend breakfast meeting, have update session with colleagues, fly back to Manchester, eat in another nice restaurant, next day present to decision makers with colleague, drive back home……..!

I had a clean out in the herb/spice cupboard a couple of weeks back and placed an order on my favourite specialist supplier Steenbergs, luckily they arrived in time for last weekends cookery experiment and I was looking forward to trying something a little different.

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What I love about Steenbergs is that you know where the contents originate from, unlike the anonymous brands in the supermarkets. Amongst the regular well known products I also ordered some more unusual spices, you may notice Kala Namak (Black Salt)Ajwain (Bishops Weed) and Blue Mallow (Creeping Charlie) this is in readiness for a cookery course I am attending in November run by Sumayya Jamil, known as the Pukka Paki if you are on twitter.

I have recently become a ‘cheek’ fan, after being blown away by one of the Tapas dishes I cooked for our Silver Wedding Anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  I remember having an Ox Cheek in the freezer that I bought a couple of months back, it was ideal for a slow cooking experiment I wanted to have a go at.

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This is an asian inspired dish, with a hint of mexico thrown in for good measure and embraced by the french love of red wine!

Cooking Ox cheeks is a Long, Slow process. It took about 7 hours to complete this particular culinary delight but blimey, it was really worth it, and with new spices to add depth and flavour, lets get started.

You will need; Onions, Carrot, Celery, Tomatoes, Chipotle Chilli’s, Red Wine, Beef Stock, Red Wine Vinegar, Tomato Puree,  Star Anise (I ending up using 2), Black Peppercorns (I used 10 Lampung Indonesian), Clove (about 2-3) Cinnamon Stick (a quarter of a stick), Parsley and Thyme and some Maldon Sea Salt. You will also need some seasoned plain flour to dredge the Ox Cheek in prior to cooking.

Before starting, put the kettle so you can soak the Chipotle Chillis (2) for 20 minutes, and get the Beef Stock ready, fresh is fab but I used a Low Salt Organic Kallo stock cube which you can get in most supermarkets, you need 1/2 pint. Also, set you oven to 125 degrees (fan).

First, cut the cheek into approximately 1 inch cubes and dredge with the seasoned salt. Take a large casserole or dutch oven and fry the cheeks in butter and olive oil until browned, and remove from the pan.

Chop the Onion, Carrot and Celery into small chunks and add to the pan, cooking on a lowish heat for 5 -10 minutes until soft. Add the peppercorns (crushed), 2 Star Anise, 2 – 3 Cloves, a quarter length of Cinnamon stick and cook for  a couple of minutes, the aroma’s will delight your senses.  Add the Thyme and Parsley next, and a tablespoon of Tomato Puree cooking for a further 2 – 3 minutes.

Now put the cheeks back into the pan, chop the chipotle chilli’s in half and add them too,  half a bottle of Red Wine goes in and simmer, reducing by half, then add the Beef Stock and about 2 tablespoons of Red Wine Vinegar.

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At this stage it should look something like the picture above, and be filling the kitchen with fantastic aroma’s. You now need to make a ‘Cartouche’ out of greaseproof or baking parchment. Take a square of paper larger than the pan and scrumple it up, then un-scrumple and put into the pan so the paper is touching the total surface of the liquid, and it should also come up the sides, a bit like a lid. The cartouche prevents a skin forming on the surface of the liquid. Finally,  put the lid on the pan and place in the oven for 5 – 6 hours, I checked mine at the 3 hour level to see how the sauce was reducing.

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To accompany this very rich dish I decided on Saffron and Garlic Infused Mash Potato, and French Beans wrapped in Panchetta. Take a quarter cup of Full Cream Milk, and add a pinch of Saffron and a couple of lightly crushed Garlic Cloves, I prepared mine when the Ox Cheeks went into the Oven, and stuck the jug in the fridge to infuse for several hours.

After 5 – 6 hours, take the Cheeks out of the oven, put back on the hob on a low heat and remove the lid and cartouche. Its now a judgement on how thick you want your sauce to be, I cooked slowly whilst the potatoes were boiling so approximately 30 minutes.

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I like James Martin’s approach to Mash Potato, adding loads of butter not forgetting the infused Milk from the fridge, passing through a tea strainer to remove the Garlic and Saffron Stems. Served with a decent bottle of Red Wine this dish is outstanding, the boss, who was not keen on the idea of eating Ox Cheeks loved it, as did I.  Its a long slow cook but the results are fantastic, I shall be revisiting this one in the winter months for sure.

Evuna – A Little Taste Of Spain

The 1st stop during my manic week was Evuna in Manchester. After a busy day the thought of some light Spanish Tapas was very appealing, so a table reserved for 7:45 was just what the Doctor ordered. Evuna is located in Deansgate, Manchester and was a 15 minute walk from the hotel.  Spanish waiters and waitresses make this place special, they know what they are talking about and provide fantastic service. Evuna is quite unique as they also specialise in importing excellent wines from Spain, which you can purchase to take away, as well as drink with your meal.

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Gallego Merluza (Galacian Style Hake), and Albondigas were delightful. The Hake was coated in a very light batter and served with a delicious Vegetable stew, very very tasty, the Albondigas (Pork & Beef), served in a Wine and Tomato sauce were equally delish. The restaurant style is very homely, with shelves of wine acting as a atmospheric backdrop. Evuna has Wine events throughout the year, and specials on the menu each week, I had a very tasty red to go with my food.

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 To accompany the Hake and Albondigas I had ‘Las mejillas de cerdo’ (guess what, Pork Cheeks), I just had to try them after cooking my own, and the Ox version the previous day. These were downright fantastic, light, soft and jam packed with flavour i had made a good choice. The Patatas (Evuna’s style chips) were served with a mayonnaise which worked very well.

All in all, a fantastic evening with great food. Well recommended and worth a second visit, maybe a third and fourth!

Sapporo – Teppanyaki Done Well

I landed back in Manchester on Wednesday evening, and was looking forward to trying Sapporo, a Teppanyaki Restaurant 10 minutes taxi from the hotel. Teppanyaki is a Japanese style of show cooking that is done on a hot plate like the one below at Sapporo. All the guests sit around the outside whilst the Chef prepares the food in front of you.

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For my starter, it was really difficult to choose as there is so much on offer. Hiyashi Wakame (seaweed in a sesame dressing), Gyoza (Grilled dumplings served with soy dipping sauce), Ebi Tempura (King Prawn in a very light and crispy batter), in the end I opted for Nigiri Sushi (in my case fried Soft Shell Crab, Rice and Nori Seaweed, topped with spicy Tobiko sauce), Tobiko is Flying Fish Roe!

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OMG, It’s impossible to describe how tasty they were just mind blowingly fantastic and the presentation was stunning as you can see in the picture above.

On to the mains and this was where the fun really started. Our Chef had done his ‘mise en place’ whilst we were devouring our starters, and as we finished we were all asked how we liked our food cooked (where needed), and he started to cook the saute potatoes which was part of the show.

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Lightly seasoned, the Chef beckoned us in turn, to open our mouths as he flipped portions of Saute Potato into the air, what a laugh that was, some missed, eventually hit the spot with a couple of people catching with their hands, It was great fun. The Chef served each of us with the Potato’s which we started to eat as he prepared Stir Fried Vegetable.

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We were warned to stand back as he turned the overhead light out and flamed the hot plate, whoosh and the flames licked the ceiling!

We were the served the Vegetable’s which we also started to eat, this is the way they do it Teppanyaki Style, as each element is served you start to eat, like Chinese Cuisine, Meat is a small part of a healthy vegetable ensemble. The Chef then prepared egg fried rice, juggling eggs from a bowl, into his Chef’s hat and then finally onto a cook slide which broke the egg almost in two as he layed yolk onto the hot plate in the shape of a heart…!

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The protein element of my main was Yakitori Chicken dressed with  Tare Sauce (which is generally made up of Mirin, Sake, Soy sauce and Sugar). Again another winner, beautiful tender grilled skewered Chicken, interlaced with Spring Onion delicately dressed with the sweet sharp pungent sauce.

Having never been to a Japanese Restaurant, this experience is one I am definitely going to have again and have already suggested a team night out, at the earliest opportunity. 10/10.

Next time, I will update you on the Ribs & Barbecue Sauce from Scratch….. Have a great week Peeps.

Polpo – A little bit of Venice in London

A business meeting was an excuse to try a restaurant I have been meaning to visit for some time. Polpo, a cookery book on Venetian food has been an inspiration for cooking and amongst the many interesting recipes contained within, the Cicheti (small plates) are not unlike Tapas and feature heavily.

We decided to choose the selection for the starter, the Cicheti Plate which consisted of 1 each of Arancini, Potato & Parmesan Crocchette, Summer Pea & Speck Crostini, Melon, Prosciutto & Basil, Baccala Mantecato Crostini and Caprese.

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It all tasted beautiful, and was washed down with a non-alcoholic cocktail the ‘Rock Shandy’, a mix of Lemonade, Fresh Lime and Angostura Bitters.

For mains I went for the Wild Mushroom Pizzette, a small Venetian Pizza loaded with Garlic, Mushrooms and Parsley, whilst my colleague went for Grilled Lamb, Caponata and Basil, just delicious.

Polpo is definitely worth a visit, as is the book worth investing in, a bit different but amazing food……

Burgers in Brighton – Lucky Beach Cafe

Another week of exploring flavours, both from a cooking perspective but also the chance to tuck into a 35 day aged burger, care of ‘The Lucky Beach Cafe’ on the Promenade in Brighton. I had looked at Trip Advisor over the weekend and ‘The Trolls Pantry’, another highly rated specialist Burger Cafe was closed mondays so the choice was made for us.

We were in Brighton a few months ago on a day trip, and as we were walking towards Palace Pier I noticed the words, ’35 Day Aged Beef’ above a Cafe sign. On that trip we had set our hearts on ‘good ol’ Fish and Chips’ so continued to walk along the promenade, not even stopping for a gaze at the menu.

Back in Brighton over the bank holiday and as we wandered along the seafront, Junior playing on the Big Slide, Bumper Boats and other amusements I suggested it was time for a break and something to drink.

Aha, there was that sign again, 35 Day Aged so we grabbed a table and got some drinks ordered, knowing full well this was going to be our lunch stop!

2013-08-19 12.33.18The ‘funky’ menus listed some interesting choices, I opted for the ‘LB Royale’ whilst ‘the boss’ went for the ‘Green Chilli’ Burger, both with ‘Skin-on Chips’. The tables were also funky in that a ‘single wine bottle box’ was used to hold Napkins, Salt ‘n Pepper, refined Golden Sugar and Sarsons Vinegar. The service was fantastic too, friendly and welcoming which is what you would expect from a hip seafront cafe.

Freshly cooked to order the burgers arrived in good time and my god, it was worth the wait. The 35 Day Aged Beef was Longhorn and perfectly cooked, succulent and juicy, the Brioche style buns the perfect size to match the burgers (its a pet hate of mine where the buns are too big or the burgers too small), the ratio here was spot on.

I have had some decent burgers in my time, mostly in London at ‘Meat Liquor’, which started life as a ‘pop-up’ in a van until the van was stolen, and Dollars who serve amazing Wagyu Burgers, the Lucky Beach was up there with them. The Lucky Beach has been voted one of the top six burger cafes in the UK in ‘Red Online’, I know why and I will be back again.

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I also like the food presentation, enamel bowl with simple paper…. You gotta eat here

Bacchus – Prestbury, Cheshire

A meeting in Macclesfield was an excuse for an overnight and some good food.

Prestbury is a quaint little village in Cheshire and the location for Bacchus, a delightful restaurant in the village centre. Their website quotes modern english with a hint of european influence.

The midweek special is very good value for money, 2 course’s for £16 or 3 for £18, including coffee and petit fours, and I arrived with a good friend who I had not not seen for about 8 years so the night was particularly special.

First course was Tempura Hake, with beautiful Chips, home made Tartare Sauce, the dessert was quite delicious, Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Lavender Ice Cream.

Service was unfussy but attentive, the food superb and ambience was perfect.

If ever you find yourself in the neighbourhood, book a table, you won’t be disappointed.