Cakey, Ramblings..., Recipes

Self-saucing chocolate pudding

As Christmas edges ever nearer, thoughts turn towards all the traditional tastes and smells associated with the Festive season – mince pies, mulled wine, roast meats, and spice.

This pudding is good at any time of the year but suits those dark winter nights when a change from seasonal treats is in order. It’s very easy and surprisingly un-calorific as it uses cocoa rather than chocolate pieces which is always good for the conscientious pudding fiend.

It’s NOT a health pudding though.

Oh no.

But it’s very good.

The recipe comes from an old National Trust collection of traditional English dishes and can easily be adapted for different numbers of scoffers – either bigger or smaller. This quantity roughly serves 4-5.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the pudding:

  • 110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 2 level tablespoons cocoa
  • A little milk if needed

For the sauce

  • 300ml water
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 3 level tablespoons cocoa

Method

Preheat your oven to 180c/Gas Mark 4.

Butter an ovenproof dish – roughly 10cm deep and about 20x23cm in diameter (exact shape isn’t too important but it does need the depth).

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy then beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with each one. Sift the remaining flour and the cocoa together and fold in, adding a bit of milk if it gets too stiff. It needs to be spreadable so use your own judgement to get the right consistency – I found a tablespoon or so milk was fine but you might need a bit more. When it is ready, spread the mixture into the prepared dish.

For the sauce, gently heat the water, brown sugar, and cocoa in a pan until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture turns into a thinnish sauce. Pour this chocolatey joy over the pudding mixture then put in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, until the top is crisp and brown and you can see the sauce beginning to peep around the edges. The pudding will rise through the sauce, creating a rich, moist base with a nice crisp top and a sea of warming, chocolate goodness hiding underneath.

Serve immediately with a scoop of ice cream or whatever indulgent adornment you see fit…

 

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Fishy, Recipes, Spicy

Prawns with a spiced cream sauce

Hello everyone! I am so sorry for my absence from the land of Butisittasty over the past few months – as well as recovering from my jaunt in hospital I have been finishing my MA (now done – YAY!) which took up a lot of my time and all of my energy. But I’m here now so all the tasties can be had!

Although I am still very tired.

Anyway…

One of the things about recovery is that little things really can make a difference, and I found myself looking for dishes that were not only simple (well, maybe with the exception of the Pigs Trotters on Toast!!!) but which were comforting. Old cookbooks were dug out and old favourites were re-discovered.

This dish is based on a brilliant Madhur Jaffrey recipe for spicy hard boiled eggs. My parents used to make a version of this every time we had a big party of friends over for a curry-fest and it was always the first to be gobbled up. Although it is good with eggs, the prawns add a wonderful flavour which, combined with the cream, create a decadent and almost bisque-like curry. You can substitute the cream for yoghurt if you like but you’ll be missing out – it’s totally worth the extra calories. You can use fresh prawns too if you prefer – just reduce the cooking time slightly.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1fresh green chilli, finely chopped
  • 125ml single cream
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • 75ml chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 200g frozen prawns
  • 1 tbsp (or more) finely chopped fresh green coriander

Method

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, non-stick frying pan then add the onions. Stir and fry until the pieces are just beginning to brown at the edges then add the ginger and chilli and stir fry for a minute or so.

Now add the cream, lemon juice, cumin, cayenne, garam masala, tomato paste and chicken stock. Stir to mix thoroughly and then bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary, then add the frozen prawns and stir the whole lot together.

Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes, spooning the sauce over the prawns until they are cooked through. By this time the sauce should be fairly thick. Garnish with the fresh coriander and serve with steamed rice and/or a load of flatbreads for dipping.

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Ramblings..., Reviews

The White Horse Inn, Woolstone, review

Creamy wild mushrooms on toast

Creamy wild mushrooms on toast at The White Horse Inn

Many apologies for my absence of late – I haven’t forgotten you nor indeed vanished in a BBQ-induced fug! Slow the recovery from pneumonia is…

Whenever we go camping we treat ourselves to a meal at one of the local pubs. Obviously my ability to get out and about into the countryside has been somewhat hampered of late but I was able to drop by an old favourite quite recently and was very glad I did.

The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire is certainly not lacking in idyllic village pubs that serve food. Almost every hamlet you pass will have a sign extolling the virtues of their particular local haunt and why you should stop and eat there immediately. Interestingly enough however, most of the claims in this area do appear to be pretty accurate – in a world where more and more pubs are putting the kitchen before the beer and generally resulting in more and more opportunities for terrible cooking, generic menus, and trend-chasing, this is worth taking note of.

The White Horse is located in the almost achingly beautiful village of Woolstone – a mixture of black and white timbered cottages, 18th century stone farmhouses, and a babbling brook that trickles through the centre. The pub takes its name from the Bronze-age chalk figure carved into the downs that rear above the village and over the last few years it has been carving a reputation as a serious contender for best eating pub in the area. And there is some seriously stiff competition – Helen Browning’s magnificent Royal Oak in Bishopstone and the Blowing Stone Inn in nearby Kingston Lisle to name but two.

The first time we ate at The White Horse we not particularly impressed – the food was fine but overly styled and underly flavoured as if the chef had been watching too many episodes of MasterChef and not bothered to taste the food before it was delicately arranged on the plate/slate/board. A lemon chicken that tasted too much of lemon and not enough of chicken but looked like it had come out of a food-styling manual, scampi and langoustines that cascaded out of a bucket of chips but tasted like they’d come from a supermarket – these were conundrums that were coming out of the kitchen. All style, no real substance. That, however, was in 2011 and things have since changed in a big way and now the careful and exact presentation is matched by flavours that sing and dance around the palate in happy harmony. Don’t get me wrong – there are no Michelin pretensions here, no foams, airs, sous-vides, or the like, but there is serious, straightforward cookery that takes pub staples and makes them deliver beyond expectations. A starter of wild mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce was rich and satisfying but still perfectly judged as a first course – a delicate parmesan crisp complimented the lovingly cooked fungi and added a nice bit of extra crunch. Likewise the duck pâté was beautifully smooth and served with a simple salad, chunky toast, and a zingy chutney that brought the whole dish together.

Roast chicken thighs with salsify and tarragon sauce

Roast chicken thighs with salsify and tarragon sauce

Mains also deliver – mushroom-stuffed chicken thighs served with salsify (a tricky root to get right), buttery mash, and a lick-the-plate-clean mustard and tarragon sauce was expertly cooked and consequently devoured in minutes. Lamb three ways (roasted rump, crispy belly, and slow-cooked shoulder wrapped in pancetta) on a bed of spring cabbage, beetroot, and sweet potato was brought together by a wonderful light minty sauce that also had us chasing the final dregs around the plate.

Lamb Three Ways

Lamb three ways

The lamb itself was delicious – the shoulder was so tender that the pancetta could barely keep it from falling apart on the plate and the crispy belly was a triumph. In a similar vein the Board of Piggy is also worth investigating with a lively combination of confit belly, smoky fritter, and black pudding served with crispy sautéed potatoes and a serious whack of braised red cabbage that will leave even the hedonistic pork-lover full and happy. There are also more traditional pub favourites like fish and chips, steaks, and a lunchtime menu offering burgers and sandwiches. And maybe next time we’ll give that scampi and langoustine dish a second chance – you never know. The vegetarian options are possibly a bit less imaginative – baked mushroom or a butternut squash ravioli – but if the meaty mains are anything to go by (or indeed, that mushroom starter) they should prove to be a cut above expectations.

Puddings-wise the selection is limited but not under-thought – the treacle tart with ice-cream was a true wonder with thin, short pastry and a generous filling, served hot with a toffee ice cream melting on the side. From the description it should have been far too sweet but was actually just right. There is also the inevitable cheese board or ice-cream selection but there is nothing wrong with that – I recently opted for the classic combo of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate and it was exactly what I wanted – nostalgic, simple, satisfying.

After a few years of visiting the area, The White Horse has definitely become a new favourite and is well worth seeking out. They recently installed a vast wood-burning pizza oven in the garden which is fired up twice a week (must try and time our next visit right so we can try it) and the Sunday roast is fantastic, a vast platter of lamb, beef, and pork, rich gravy, fluffy Yorkshire pudding, and seasonal vegetables plonked in the middle of the table for everyone to dive into. Again, the vegetarian options are a bit unimaginative and I have to say I’m not sure I’d choose a vegetable stir-fry as a Sunday main but perhaps I should be a bit more adventurous.

Or just stick to the meat and stop worrying…

The Board of Piggy

The Board of Piggy

All of this great food is served in a friendly pub environment with a decent selection of ale and cider and a pretty decent wine list. Prices are between £5 and £8 for starters and mains range from the mid-teens to early twenties (the fillet steak tops the list at £25.95) which is pretty representative of the area in general and with food cooked this well is certainly value for money.

So if you find yourself rambling the South Oxfordshire Downs or are looking for a new destination for a decent country dinner, find your way to Woolstone and visit The White Horse – you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

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Ramblings..., Reviews

Grillstock Smokehouse, Walthamstow – review

 

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There may be some (or indeed many) that view the opening of a new American BBQ joint in London as yet another example of lazy, greedy people trying to cash in on recent food trends. Another attempt to grab a few extra quid from the ‘dude-food’ obsessed crowd of bearded 20-somethings who slavishly follow every pop-up, food van, or ‘next big thing’ bricks-and-mortar establishment. And if the new branch of Grillstock in the heart of Walthamstow (alarms begin to sound as people realise they have to travel beyond the hipster haven of Hackney) was the result of cynical, soulless, cash-laden backers trying to make a quick buck then perhaps such suspicions would be justified.

But this, my good friends, is Grillstock.

And there’s a little bit more to it than that.

Starting life as a Bristol music and food festival way back in 2010, long before pulled pork featured on almost every pub and restaurant menu, Grillstock is a loud, meaty love-letter to the massive BBQ festivals and traditions of the US. We’re talking about groups of people who all get together over a weekend and sit around their blackened smokers, occasionally testing temperature and burn rate, to produce the ultimate in low and slow cooking, drinking ice cold beers, and generally being awesome. Grillstock (the festival, which this year is taking place at three different locations) puts meat at the centre of their celebrations and, like the US, features a genuine BBQ competition where everything from chicken to brisket to ribs is judged and rewarded with a variety of prizes and awards, alongside some great music, fine beer, BBQ demos, and some excellent places to chomp on various parts of porcine anatomy. And the chilli-eating competition is alarmingly entertaining to watch.

Following the success of the festival, a little smokehouse in Bristol’s St Nicholas market opened which was quickly followed by a larger site at Clifton Triangle and the lucky locals were thus able to feast on genuine, fabulous BBQ all year round. Having visited both on several occasions I can honestly say that the meat at Grillstock in Bristol seriously rivalled anything I’d had in London and, actually, made me rather jealous in the process. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some excellent BBQ in the capital – Miss P, Pitt Cue Co, The Joint – but we didn’t have Grillstock.

Until now.

Following the success of their first opening outside of Bristol (in the beautiful city of Bath), the owners turned their eyes toward London and, having carefully found the right site, opened their doors to the baying public on April 10th this year. I was lucky enough to get an table at the soft opening (which was by guest-list only) the day before and took a good friend along who also shares a penchant for smoked meats. This was my first proper expedition out of South London since being ill and I was personally very pleased I could just sit on a tube to the end of the line – thus saving more energy for meat.

On entering I have to say I was pretty bowled over by the place. The Clifton smokehouse is small – one large table down the middle of the room and that is it – but Grillstock E17 is spacious and filled with a huge variety of seating options. There are tables for two, a few booths, a big communal table with high stools, and a selection of customisable options for groups of anything from 5 to 10. Like Bristol (and I assume Bath too), once you’ve been seated you then order your food from the bar, collect your drink, and sit back and relax in anticipation of a huge meaty feast to come. The decor is pretty stripped back – the breeze block walls are adorned with posters from Grillstocks past and a bit of metal here and there – but the atmosphere and lighting is welcoming and hearty. It’s the kind of place that will be great on a hot summers day but also perfect to hide away and warm up in thedepths of winter. Also like Bristol, the staff are relaxed, friendly, and clearly enjoying themselves.

DSC_0982But what about the food?

Grillstock offer either a plate of one type of meat, a combo of three, a sharing platter of all four meats for two people, or the Grand Champion which is a selection so big I wouldn’t be surprised if it took more than one staff member to carry it (finish it in an hour and win a shirt and some hot sauce – maybe next time). They also do a range of burgers which includes the vast Lockjaw, consisting of two 5oz burgers, pulled pork, brisket, burnt ends, cheese, and fry-sauce which has to be seen to be believed, as well as hot dogs and a variety of sides and extras like BBQ beans and cornbread. This may make choosing your dinner rather difficult.

I’ve eaten my fair share of ribs, pulled pork, and wings in my time. Some have been good, others pretty poor. My combo platter of all three aforementioned meats at Grillstock was, quite simply, amazing. The ribs were soft and tender with a good ‘bark’ of smoked exterior that yielded to reveal perfectly cooked meat within. The wings had a nice zing and were succulent and delicious and the pulled pork was smoky, savoury, and incredibly more-ish. These marvels of smoked flesh were served with a huge fistful of fries, a well-balanced slaw, a lovely little brioche-style bun, and some house pickles which put many so-called ‘home-made’ pickles I’ve sampled in London to shame – crunchy, tangy, a bit of spice – everything a pickle should be.

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Ribs, wings, and pulled pork combo

My companion also had pulled pork but chose the smoked chicken and a slab of brisket to go with it. Brisket is a hard thing to get right – it is easy to dry out and turn into a leathery mess that needs a saw to hack through it – but the years of experience of low and slow cooking pay off here, producing a juicy, smoky, slab of wonder. The chicken was pretty special too.

Chicken, brisket, and pulled pork

Chicken, brisket, and pulled pork

All of this can be smothered in the house BBQ or hot sauces, which sit proudly on the table alongside traditional condiments like ketchup, American mustard (French’s of course!), and the classic Frank’s Hot Sauce.

And speaking of Franks – Frank Underwood would definitely come back for the ribs here, even though he has a favourite rib joint of his own.

Sorry, I may have been watching a bit too much ‘House of Cards’….

Back to Grillstock…

To go with our meats, we sampled the own-brand pale ale which was light and nicely hopped – perfect with BBQ – and were certainly tempted by the wall of bourbons and other boozy delights that shone from behind the bar. I can also recommend the Pistonhead lager or any of the Brooklyn beers they offer – all easy drinking and all perfect with the food. Or you can have cider, cocktails, iced tea, or root beer. You get the idea.

We were reluctant to leave – it was very tempting to sup on a few more beers, wait for the food to go down, and then start again but eventually we shuffled off, full and happy.

I cannot recommend Grillstock highly enough. Everything from the staff, the room, the food, the drink, the atmosphere – it’s all brilliant. And surprisingly well priced too. The combo platter (which filled me up enough so as not to need dinner) is £18 which is an absolute bargain, I have been to places where a single portion of (not so good) ribs cost more and certainly didn’t come with such a wide selection of sides. The beers were £3.80 each and you can get a Jack Daniels and Coke for £3.50! This is all good news.

So get on up to Walthamstow and try it. Or, if Bristol or Bath are nearer, head down there instead – you’ll find the same quality of food and service across the board. And once you’ve done that, buy a ticket to one of the festivals this year either in Bristol, Manchester, or London and take your experience further. Grillstock’s motto is Meat, Music, Mayhem – it could not be a more fitting description of this excellent enterprise.

Grillstock Walthamstow

198 Hoe St,

E17

www.grillstock.co.uk

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Meaty, Ramblings..., Recipes, Reviews

Pig’s Trotters on Sourdough toast – review & recipe

It may seem odd to be reviewing a recipe but sometimes a dish requires more than a list of ingredients and a method. Generally I always try to follow instructions as closely as possible on the first attempt of a new recipe, only making changes if something is not working properly i.e. burning. Which does sometimes happen. But every cook will tweak recipes as they go and I’m no different. However this recipe is so good that I find very little adjustment is required.
It is one I’d been wanting to try for a while but had never quite been brave enough to attempt – the ingredients alone fill one page of the recipe book and the process takes several hours. However it was the first dish I ever ate a fine dining restaurant (the excellent Trinity in Clapham) and has stayed with me ever since. I saw that it featured in Trinity chef Adam Byatt‘s book ‘How to Eat in’ and I managed to get hold a copy to ogle over. And there it was ‘Pig’s Trotters on toasted Sourdough’. Brilliant. But, as I said, complicated and time consuming. It also features a fair amount of meat and, as my wife is a vegetarian, it was never going to be something that I could present for a normal dinner at home. And it’s a starter anyway so there you go.

However, as she was away for a couple of weeks and I had a good friend coming to stay – one with whom I often cook over-the-top and ambitious dishes – it seemed like a good opportunity to give it a go. And the recipe says that the cooked trotter mix can be kept refrigerated for several days (ideal for making in advance) and also frozen so allowing me to make a full batch and only use what was required for two before storing the rest. Or scoffing it myself. However, in the end I decided to do a half batch as I wasn’t sure I’d get four trotters in my casserole.

As the title suggests, the main component is pig’s trotters which was not something I had ever cooked with but that never stopped me before. It also needs smoked ham hock along with stock vegetables, vinegar, and spices. I had decided to forgo the garnish of crackling – not because I dislike it but purely because as I was only cooking for two it seemed a bit excessive and crackling doesn’t exactly keep well. After ringing various butchers with no avail to enquire about the availability of trotters, I meandered into Brixton where, of course, I was soon in possession of two huge trotters and a good hunk of smoked hock. The recipe says that some trotters need to cleaned and soaked overnight to remove impurities before having any hairs removed but these were ready to go and so no fuss for me. Thankfully.

The cast iron casserole was dug out and my instinct about only doing a half quantity was proved wise – the two trotters I’d bought only just fitted in. Lucky me. I carefully prepared everything – chopped vegetables, measured oil and vinegar, found the right amounts of spice – then, after re-reading the recipe again, I began.

Trotters ready to go!

Trotters ready to go!

It is here I must tell you that although I said the recipe was complex, the processes involved are actually very straightforward – there are simply several of them. Vegetables and spices are browned in oil then quickly caramelised with honey, vinegar added and then reduced before the meat and stock are added. All very simple. This is where the time factor comes in. The trotters need to be simmered slowly to break down all the gelatinous tissue so the initial cooking-time is five hours with regular basting. Note that the trotters will curl up slightly (as if they are still alive) during this period – this may be slightly alarming the first time you open the lid to baste them. Well, I was alarmed.

After five hours in a low oven, the casserole is removed and the mixture allowed to cool (time factor again) then the meat and skin is separated and diced, the vegetables strained and discarded, before the stock is left to chill in the fridge (again, plan you day carefully to allow for this), skimmed of fat and then reduced. Not complicated stuff – just a series of processes.  I didn’t add all of the skin as the recipe suggests, opting for about two thirds as it seemed to be plenty.

While the stock reduces, more onions are fried in a pan and joined by the meat and stirred together before the rich coloured stock is added and everything is reduced to the consistency of a sticky, juicy and chunky pâté. At this point, the mixture can be cooled and stored for future reheating and this is what I did. Although I had a sneak preview first of course.

My sneak preview

My sneak preview

It was gloriously rich, almost overpoweringly so, but the finished dish features a sharp and creamy Sauce Gribiche and a fried quail’s egg to help counterbalance the richness so I wasn’t worried. The Sauce Gribiche was a recipe I’d used before so I didn’t use the same as Adam although the ingredients and flavours were the similar – hard-boiled egg, oil, vinegar, cornichons and capers, tarragon and parsley. Great with many things not just trotters.

I had got some quail’s eggs from the local butcher and, once the toast (my own sourdough of course) was on, the trotters reheating, we carefully cracked them into the pan and cooked for about one and a half minutes. The dish was assembled and looked, well, pretty damned impressive I must say. Almost professional standard in my own rather humble opinion. And it tasted utterly amazing with the richness being perfectly balanced out by the Gribiche and quail’s egg. A truly wonderful starter and one of the best dishes I have ever cooked.

The finished dish.

The finished dish.

So in conclusion, should you try this recipe out for yourself? Yes. Absolutely. Don’t be put off by the size of the ingredients list and the time involved – other things can be done while the trotters simmer and the advance preparation make it perfect if you’re planning a special dinner. Or just a greedy night in. Is it as good as the one in the restaurant? Well, that’s a matter of opinion isn’t it?

If you want to try it, here is the version that I used – it makes enough as a starter for 4-6 people.

Ingredients

  • 2 shank pig’s trotters (check with the butcher if they need cleaning and soaking)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • 1/4 head of garlic
  • 2 large white onions
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 small leek
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • 1/2 star anise
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 25ml red wine vinegar
  • 500g smoked ham hock
  • 1 litre Chicken Stock
  • 2 quail’s eggs

For the Sauce Gribiche

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 5 cornichons – finely chopped
  • 1 tsp capers – rinsed, dried, and finely chopped
  • Handful each of parsley and tarragon leaves, finely chopped

Method

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 3/170⁰c.

Peel and roughly chop the carrots, garlic cloves, and one of the onions.  Trim and roughly chop the celery and leek.  Peel and finely dice the remaining onion and keep separate (to add to the cooked trotter mix later).

Heat half the oil in a large cast iron casserole and colour the roughly chopped vegetables with the spices over a high heat.  Onceed brown, stir in the honey and boil for a few minutes and caramelise lightly, then add the vinegar and boil for a further 2 minutes until reduced by half.

Drain the trotters and place on top of the vegetable mix with the ham hock.  Pour in the stock, put the lid on the pan and bring to the boil, before transferring to the oven and cook for 5 hours, basting the trotters from time to time and turning them over at hourly intervals (and not being too freaked out by the movements of the toes!)

Remove the casserole from the oven and leave to cool, then lift out the trotters and ham hock and set aside.  Tip the contents of the pan into a fine sieve set over a bowl and let the stock strain through.  Chill the stock in the fridge so that the fat rises and sets on the top.

Carefully remove the meat and skin from the trotters, then dice both the meat and skin and place in a bowl.  Separate the meat from the skin and bones of the hock.  Dice the meat and add to the bowl.

While you wait for the stock to chill you can make the Sauce Gribiche (or whenever you need it to serve) by placing the egg in a pan of boiling water and simmering for 7-10 mins until hard boiled. Remove and run under cold water until cool then peel the egg and separate the white from the yolk (which should be a solid ball), reserving the white for later. Mash the yolk with the mustard in a bowl until you have a smooth paste.

Slowly dribble in the oil (as if making mayonnaise) and mix the paste – it will look like it has split or turned into a horrific mess at first but keep mixing until it turns into a smooth, silky mixture.

Chop the egg white into small cubes and stir in to the yolk-mix, along with the chopped capers and cornichons, then finally add the chopped herbs. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary and keep refrigerated until required.

Skim the fat off the chilled stock, then transfer the stock to a pan and reduce by half over a high heat.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan until hot and fry the diced onions until caramelised. Mix with the diced meats, and stir in the reduced sauce.  Season and keep warm until ready to serve – or cool and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 10 days.

Toast some sourdough bread and carefully fry the quail’s eggs for no more than one and a half minutes (any longer and you won’t get a runny yolk) then assemble your dish by spooning a generous amount of the trotter mix onto the toast, top with the fried egg and garnish with a dollop of Sauce Gribiche and a scattering of parsley.

Feel very pleased with yourself.

I’d like to thank Adam for not only creating this brilliant recipe but also giving me encouragement via Twitter as I made it!

 

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Ramblings..., Reviews

Boqueria, Acre Lane – Review

This was a piece I originally wrote for the Brixton Blog, however it transpired I’d totally misinterpreted the brief and reviewed the wrong site – Boqueria recently opened a second branch in Battersea and it was there that I was meant to go.

Ho hum.

However, as I’m not capable of much at the moment, I thought I’d post this here for anyone who has tapas cravings in South London.

Enjoy!

Tapas sneaks itself onto many menus – wine bars (how terribly 80s), posh pubs, not-so-posh pubs, and many restaurants will do a version of the snack-based selection. It is often used as an excuse for chefs to try and show how ‘multi-talented’ they are which resulted in varying quality which sadly, in my experience, tends to fall on the ‘rather rubbish’ side of the scale (although I have to say the British tapas in the Beer Emporium in Bristol is AMAZING – rare roast beef with horseradish on dripping toast? I think so!).

So what do you do? Well, if you’re in Brixton you actually have a fair amount of choice from Seven at Brixton in Market Row to Boqueria on Acre Lane or some of the other more diverse and Portuguese influenced eateries up towards Stockwell.

Chorizo in cider and Patatas Bravas

Chorizo in cider and Patatas Bravas

But as Boqueria has been on my list for a while, it was up to Acre Lane we went on a quiet, chilly night  .

On entering the first thing that struck me was how smart and clean the place is – sometimes in regional restaurants someone feels the need to plaster the walls with cliché in an attempt to make the diner ‘imagine’ themselves to be in the country of origin and it pretty much never works. Boqueria is minimalist, sharp, and high-end yet relaxed and inviting. The long bar stretches towards the door with stools and the odd tall table at one end and the doorway through to the dining room at the back. Immediately you realise that if you just fancied a quick drink and bite (which, after all, is what tapas is all about) you would be just as welcome as if you planned to spend an evening in the restaurant. The staff come out to greet you and very quickly it begins to feel like the beginning of a good time and that is a rare thing in a restaurant these days.

We were asked if we’d booked but as we were arriving at 6.30pm we hadn’t thought to, especially given the day of the week we visited, but this was no problem although we were warned they’d need the table by 8.30 (and looking at their booking sheet they were not lying). And anyway, if push came to shove and we were still there by that time, there would have been no issue with us heading to the bar to finish up.

After a bit of a debate with the waiter about where to sit (the original offering was in a rather, ahem, atmospherically dark corner) we had a good look at the menu and were pleased to see that there were 5-7 choices per section, suggesting a focus on flavour and quality rather than a myriad of disappointment. From the Entrantes we opted for Pan con tomate (bread with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil) and then a selection from both the Meat and the Traditionales parts of the menu – Patates bravas (the benchmark of any tapas), chorizo in cider, suckling pig (with apple sauce and lemon sorbet), and a soft, mild cheese with quince jelly and tomato jam. That seemed enough to be starting with and we had a fruity, crisp white Legaris wine to wash everything down with.

Cheesey delight

The first to arrive was the bread and although it didn’t look like much it packed one hell of a flavour punch – mashed raw tomatoes with a hit of garlic and salt, run through with delicate olive oil and served on soft, toasted bread. Sheer delight and gone within seconds.  The cheese (which came soon after) looked rather splendid – perfect triangles of pale dairy, dotted with quince cubes, raisins, and a side plate of the tomato jam – but was fridge cold which was a tad unappealing. Once it warmed up however it was a true delight – the mildness of the cheese worked wonderfully with both the quince and tomato which were sweet but not cloyingly so – and it was soon joined by the chorizo, patatas bravas, and an elegant dish of suckling pig balanced on parsnip crisps.

I have to say the patatas didn’t fill me with confidence. I was expecting a rich tomato sauce and a garlic aioli to go over the crispy potatoes but was presented with what looked a suspicious, beige burger sauce. I tried a mouthful and was immediately converted – the aioli/sauce was hot with garlic but sweet with a big whack of tomato and the potatoes themselves were perfectly cooked – lightly crisp on the outside and soft and delicious within, even the ones hiding at the bottom under a layer of sauce still retained their crunch. Fantastic.

Suckling pig

Suckling pig – truly wonderful

The chorizo was deep and smoky with the paprika oils oozing into the cider they had been braised in and was addictively moreish. But the star of show has to be the suckling pig – meat so tenderly soft that it almost fell into a thousand delicate pieces as my fork touched it. Velvety smooth, deeply porky, utterly brilliant – a shining example of slow-cooked perfection. The sauce and sorbet were excellent compliments and I would quite happily have eaten another 2 or 3 portions to myself. No need to order more though – we were quite full by the time our plates were empty.

I sampled a traditional Tarta de Santiago con helado de vainilla (almond cake with vanilla ice-cream) for dessert and was soothed into a very happy place with the moist almond mixture – like a cross between the top of a Bakewell tart and the lightest sponge – but mildly frustrated that my ice-cream was a frozen ball that threatened to jump onto the floor every time I tried to eat it. Patience not being my strong point when it comes to puddings. It melted soon enough and was pretty spot on however.

We had no idea how much we’d spent – Boqueria is listed as a top ‘Cheap Eats’ place but we hadn’t really been paying that much attention (another danger with tapas is the ease with which the cost can spiral when more and more dishes are ordered). We were very pleased to find our total bill coming in at under £60 including wine and service which, for the quality of not just the food but the service and venue, was pretty amazing. And more than enough encouragement to start planning a return visit.

So if you fancy good, confident Spanish cooking in a nice, relaxed, and smart surrounding – head up to Boqueria on Acre Lane (or their second branch in Battersea) – you will not be disappointed!

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Cakey, Recipes

Apple Charlotte

Apple Charlotte with brandy cream

As the weather slowly changes from Autumn towards Winter and the prospect of dark, cold evenings becomes a reality, sometimes a traditional pudding is the best thing to cheer you up. I love sticky tarts (ahem), apple pies, steamed puddings and all the gloriousness that goes with them but time isn’t always on my side when I’m in the mood to make them – many hours can be dedicated to a rich suet pudding and quite frankly I can’t always be bothered. The great thing about Apple Charlotte is that the puree can be made in advance and stored in the fridge until needed which certainly cuts down on overall cooking time and general kitchen tomfoolery.

This recipe is adapted from various traditional versions and, like all good culinary creations, ultimately came down to what was available at the time rather than an exact list of ingredients that were all bought in specially. I made it with my good friend and camping companion on a visit to his home in Bristol – we decided the weather wasn’t good enough for tent-based times so instead spent a fair amount of time stuffing our faces and drinking ale and prosecco. These puddings are often made with a mixture of cooking and eating apples but we found that a splash of cider helped to add a pleasing edge to the flavour and also added a bit of extra liquid. Eating apples don’t break down in the same way as a good Bramley so you will need to give it a good bashing as it cooks to achieve a smooth puree. Or keep it chunky. Your choice.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 250g cox apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon muscovado sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 50ml dry cider
  • 60g butter
  • A handful of raisins
  • 2-3 slices white bread, crusts removed

Method

First, make the puree. Melt half of the butter along with the sugar in a good-sized pan then add the chopped apples, raisins, and cinnamon. Mix everything together until coated in the glorious sticky goo then add the brandy and cider and stir, adding a bit more liquid if it looks in danger of drying out.

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Sugar, cinnamon, butter, brandy, apples. Everything about this is good.

Simmer gently until the apples have broken down to a pulp and your kitchen smells like a stand at a German Christmas market – spicy, sweet, and boozy – then set the puree aside to cool completely.

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200c

Depending on how deep your ramekins are, cut the slices of bread to line it completely – we used shallow ones so cut a disc for the lid, two strips to form the sides, and a second disc to form the bottom – make sure your layers are able to overlap and create a good seal. Melt the remaining butter and brush each side of your slices generously (we also greased the sides of the ramekin) and layer them up in the ramekin or pudding basin, making sure to overlap and press them down tightly.

Pour in the puree and squish it in as tightly as you dare then put the lids on and place a good weight on the top (butter this too or add a layer of non-stick paper) before putting on a baking tray leaving for about 30 minutes to firm up.

Bake for 25-30 minutes with the weight on then remove and return the Charlottes to the oven for a bit to crisp up the lids – 5-10 minutes. Remove and carefully upturn onto warmed plates and serve with cream. Maybe with a bit more brandy, vanilla, and sugar whipped through it…

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