Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Baking Made Easy - Lorraine Pascale Cookbook Review

This week I was testing out Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale. Having enjoyed her television series I went to borrow the book from my local library. After leafing through I promptly went out to buy my own copy! I thought she came over really well on BBC2 and that her recipes truly looked easy. She made it look like I could actually bake a decent loaf of bread or perfect a cake. But who am I kidding, I'm a sucker for a baking book and if it promises to make things simpler then all the better. That said, Ms Pascale had some making up to do, I didn't enjoy her cupcakes from Ella's Bakehouse in Covent Garden in the least. http://cookbookgoodness.blogspot.com/2010/08/london-town.html Heavy and boring and really not worth the price. I didn't return on my last London trip

The book itself has 100 recipes, everything that was featured on the show and more. The chapters are straightforward: breads, cakes, savoury baking, desserts and patisserie, dinner party, sweet treats and basics. There is a nice, laid-back introduction and a few baking tips, including a great one about lemons - wash ordinary lemons in hot, soapy water and ta-da - you have unwaxed lemons! Probably isn't a revelation to many of you foodies but I was impressed!

The first recipe in the book is for croissants, probably not the first item I'd start with in an easy baking book. It might have also been nice to have step-by-step photos for such a (relatively) complex recipe. The finished articles do look delicious but I have to say they're not something I'm sure I'd tackle. It gets better though and so many of the recipes sound gorgeous, I'd say I'd attempt 70% of the book which isn't bad at all. Same old, same old but where are all the photos? The ones that are there make the food look very inviting but there aren't nearly enough, especially for the cakes. I bet a lot of us buy certain cake books to delve into and admire the photographs then stick it back on the shelf! Well, when someone is making something as complex as a three-tiered red velvet cake I want to see a photo of it, not just a very attractice lady smiling over a bowl! We did see the finished product on the show but I do think it's a major downfall in a book. Photos aside, in tradition with Lorraine herself I had to take some photos of my food and share them with friends! Though they weren't taken with my phone and I'm afraid I've already eaten everything so there's no point coming round! I also don't deliver things on a moped, shame! I chose to make her pizza dough, mostly to try out my new pizza stone. I'm very scared of dropping it! Lorraine's was topped with prosciutto, mozzarella and fig but mine was ham and pineapple to keep La Mama happy. As you can see my tomato puree caught a little but it was fine. The stone made the edges really crispy and light but the middle of the pizza was still pretty doughy. Disappointing. Maybe the dough didn't rise enough, it was hard to find a warm place in the house at the time. The recipe was easy to follow though and it's nice to be able to make just 1 batch of dough. So not great but I'll try it again and see if it works better next time. Rachel Allen's recipe works better for me so far. http://cookbookgoodness.blogspot.com/2010/09/rachel-allen-bake-cookbook-review.html

The next I tried were the big fat breadsticks, I tweaked these so they were more like bread rolls as we'd run out of bread that day and were too lazy to go and buy some! Like a complete dunderhead I halved the recipe but I went ahead and put the bigger amount of yeast and salt. Oops! Strangely I think the bigger amount of yeast actually worked as these rose really nicely and the texture was great. Unfortunately the salt was a bit too much! But I was still really happy with these and would definitely make these again and again. I thought they looked really nice too. Finally, a bread that works, and I think I'll increase the amount of yeast again. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/big_fat_salt_and_pepper_59413

Last of all I made the hazelnut and lemon madeleines. These went down extremely well in our house, La Mama is fanatical about these little cakes. I liked that the eggs were whisked first to get in as much air as possible into the mixture. Mine look a little anemic as I cooked them in a silicone madeleine dish and the bottom didn't get a chance to colour. I'm going to look into getting a proper tin as I think silicone bakeware really messes with the texture of a cake. It's great for ease of use but I can't help feeling that my cakes sweat in the silicone. But these were still really good and I'm looking forward to trying out new variations.

So all in all I'm pretty happy with this book and am excited to try out other recipes to see if they are successful. I'm trying out her mascarpone and brown sugar scones for my Mother's Day afternoon tea this sunday, fingers crossed they are delicious - not sure what they are meant to turn out like as there is no photo! Grrrr!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Mexican Food Made Simple Cookbook Review

After my visit to Wahaca in London, I was inspired to pick up my copy of Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. It's been on my shelf for a while, probably due to the kinds of chillies you need to make a lot of the recipes. So I got online and ..... ta da!:
I am now the proud owner of four kinds of Mexican chillies - mulato, chipotle, ancho and pasilla chillies. Thomasina gives her tried and tested favourites in the first chapter in the book which is really useful, as is the supplier details at the back which is very comprehensive. I bought my chillies from http://www.casamexico.co.uk/ and they were posted really quickly. The smell was really nice as I opened the packet, almost chocolately. It boded well!

The book has a great introduction, how Thomasina came to love Mexican food and all about the basics of Mexican cooking. There are 5 pages about Mexican ingredients, most of which you can find in supermarkets now, bar maybe corn tortillas.

The chapters are really nicely set out and include Salsas, Sauces and Relishes, Soups, Street Food and Slow-Cooked Main Courses. For some recipes such as the Simple Roast Chilli Salsa and the Chipotles en Adobo (which seems to be the basis of a lot of dishes in the book) there are step-by-step photos so you know how things should be looking. I like this, especially with a whole new type of cooking. There is also a guide on how to fold a burrito and how to eat a taco. The photography is vibrant and attractive, there just isn't enough of it. I want to know what the Citrusy Chickpea Salad looks like, or the Mexican Sponge Cake with Strawberry Jam. I think it's even more important to have images of desserts to refer to. This is a shame. The titles all sound delicious though.

The first things I tried were the Ham and Cheese Empanadas. These were really simple to put together and the recipe was easy to follow. We had ham left over from a big roast ham we had cooked over the weekend so the leftovers were perfect. The mustard added a gorgeous background flavour and the cheese and mayonnaise made a gooey sauce. There was no photo of this dish but I think I got the look kind-of right! They made a really nice lunch with some salad. I'd be happy to make these again.
Next was the Barbacoa, a slow cooked meat dish. Lamb or mutton was suggested but I used pork as I don't eat lamb, I think beef would work just as well. This was made in 2 stages; first I had to make Diana's Delicious Meat Marinade with my newly obtained ancho chillies and some dark chocolate as well as various herbs. The dried chillies had to be soaked first but this was very straight forward and it was just a case of whizzing all the ingredients together into a paste and marinading the meat overnight. This marinade smelt gorgeous, a really rich scent. Stage 2 involved red wine and tomatoes and cooking the dish for 4 hours. After all that was it worth it? Disappointingly it was a little bitter, probably because of the chocolate. It wasn't inedible but it wasn't the amazing taste I was expecting. We had enough for 2 servings so the 2nd day I mixed in a little tomato ketchup to try and sweeten the sauce a little. This worked quite well and I enjoyed it a lot more. I would make it again but I'd put a lot less chocolate. Again, no photo of this dish - I'm guessing she couldn't make it look very attractive, neither could I!
I couldn't pass up making some churros, though I was terribly lazy and just put dollops of the mixture into the oil instead! It didn't results in the lightest of churros but they eased my churros cravings with some cinnamon and vanilla sugar. Flour, oil and water = deep fried goodness. Maybe I'll make some slightly more refined ones next time!

All in all I think I was happy with this book! It's a great shame about the lack of photos for an awful lot of the recipes and my Barbacoa wasn't brilliant after all that effort. But now I have such a variety of chillies I'll have to test out more recipes!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

London Trip - Food Roundup

Last week I had a great time away in London. It seems to be a 6-monthly visit now which is great, it involves lots of plays, shopping and eating. Lovely! I saw 5 plays in 4 days so needed plenty of delicious food inbetween.

I finally made it to a few places I've wanted to try for ages, and it was interesting to see how the menus compared to their cookbooks if they exist. I tried Leon for the first time http://www.leonrestaurants.co.uk/ at their Great Marlborough Street opposite Liberty. It's a pretty small branch but we were only after a quick lunch. I recognised quite a few things from their cookbooks, including their meatballs and salads. We went for a couple of wraps, the Grilled Chicken with Aioli and the Slow-Cooked Shredded Pork. They were both delicious with lots of raw cabbage and lemon juice. I was worried there would be too much garlic in the aioli but I couldn't really taste it which was a little bit disappointing but it was much better for those around me! I'd definitely grab one of these again.
For one evening before the theatre we grabbed a bento box and a sushi selection from the huge range at The Japan Centre on Regent Street. It's an amazing places with the biggest choice of soy sauce I've ever seen. Miso soup paste is so cheap here compared to normal supermarkets. The bento box was sadly quite lacklustre though, lots of dry rice underneath the goodies which is healthy but pretty boring. The salmon was delicious as were the strips of veg but the potato tempura was just blah. Really affordable though so it was well worth trying something new. You can't go far wrong with fresh sushi though, our other choice was delicious.

These beautiful cakes are from L'Eto Caffee on Wardour Street - my new gourmet food street! Amazing! They have so many gorgeous looking desserts in the window, all very tempting. We went for a Raspberry and Rosemary tart and a piece of Honey Cake. The tart was very interesting. I was afraid the rosemary would overpower the raspberry but it was a really nice combination which I'd like to try myself. The guy serving us told me it was a very good choice indeed! The Honey Cake was equally delicious, like a giant piece of baklava. Mmm! It was a very generous portion but there were certainly no leftovers! There was also a Blueberry Cake in a similar layered fashion in the window. Next time, next time!

More sushi, this time from Wasabi on Oxford Street. Such a gorgeous selection and very affordable. We always seem to end up here after a day of shopping. Their soups are delicious and I feel all virtuous and healthy after eating something from there. I'd really love something like this in Manchester close to my work, it would make lunchtimes much more fun and would keep me away from the biscuits on offer! Well, maybe...

A trip to London is not complete without visiting a branch of Paul, usually the Covent Garden branch as it's close to one of my favourite shops - the Betsey Johnson shop. If I had a ton of money I would stock up on all the garish Betsey clothes and anything that had a skull on it! I had to make do with some leopard print gloves instead.
This time in Paul they had some gorgeous looking choux buns for a limited time, The Grand Choux Collection. We went for a Raspberry and Violet Choux. There was also a banoffe, chocolate and a strawberry and cream one. This sounded the most unusual, plus it was the prettiest. It had raspberry puree at the bottom and then lots of chantilly cream. Wonderful and light. Lovely.

Plus it's just not a Paul visit without bringing back some Bacon Fougasse. I haven't made fougasse in a while, I think I'm going to try the recipe in Lorraine Pascale's book.

Discovered another Hummingbird Bakery on Wardour Street too which was great as we weren't heading towards the V&A Museum this time. I wasn't quite as excited this time round, not quite sure why. There just didn't seem to be that much choice. I thought the little boxes were really cute though.

La Mama chose a Chocolate Malt Cupcake, one of their daily specials. Not quite sure why she chose it as she doesn't like chocolate cake! But it was very light and wasn't too sickly.

I however decided against a cupcake and went for a Frosted Brownie instead. I was very much hoping for the Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie I've seen in their book but despite me popping in everyday they never had them :-( Maybe it's a seasonal thing. This brownie did the trick though. Just the right amount of chocolate and the perfect brownie texture.

Another Wardour Street find was the Princi Bakery http://www.princi.co.uk/ Stunning, simple sandwiches of parma ham and foccacia plus a big selection of freshly baked pizza slices, Italian hot dishes and lots and lots of desserts. I went back twice for a custard filled deep fried pastry, I can't remember now what it was called but it was desperately fattening and delicious, as pictured above!

We discovered a new cupcakery however on the way back from spending up at the TKTS box office - Sweet Couture. A tiny shop as cupcakeries usually are. Service was pretty rubbish but the cakes were great and light. The girl serving was on the phone giving directions to a friend for ages and just blanked us. Almost gave up but there was only one Red Velvet cupcake left! The other one was Peanut Butter. http://www.sweetcouture.co.uk/

To finish off our cupcake trials we got a selection of mini cupcakes from Lola's in Selfridges. So, so cute. From left to right we got Peanut Butter, Rocky Road, Red Velvet and their February special Black Forest. Gone in an instant but all well made.

Even though they're mini you still get all the features of the normal-sized cakes which I was really impressed by. A nice way to try several flavours and not appear too greedy!

I didn't take photos but we also ate at Wahaca in Westfield shopping centre http://www.wahaca.co.uk/ , Thomasina Miers' small chain of Mexican restaurants. I've had her Mexican Food Made Simple cookbook for a good while now but have never had the right chillies to make things, but no more! I have made an online order and I am now the proud owner of 4 kinds of Mexican chillies! I was obviously inspired by my Wahaca visit. The restaurant had a nice atmosphere about it, it was lunchtime and wasn't too busy, plus there were colourful skulls on the wall - brilliant! We chose 4 street food dishes, you don't get a huge amount but it was great to be able to taste 4 different things. We chose 2 taco plates - Pork Pibil and Chicken Mole, and 2 tostadas - Mackerel and the Chicken Guajillo. I did mean to order a taquito plate instead for forgot! It was nice to have 2 hot servings and 2 cold, the dishes come out as they're ready rather than all together which worked fine. The pork dish was really fiery but delicious and the mole sauce was deep and rich. Both tostado plates were light with loads of lime juice, I particularly enjoyed the mackerel one. And to finish - churros! Mmmmm! Some of the best I've eaten. Loads of cinnamon sugar and completely delicious chocolate sauce which I'm not ashamed I tried to drink when I'd run out of churros to dip!! It was so thick that it took a while though! Luckily I was sitting in a corner! The Hibiscus Water was also a gorgeous, refreshing drink and the service was excellent. Very glad I made it here.

Also no photos but we had lunch at the National Dining Rooms at the National Gallery. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/eat-and-drink/eat-and-drink/*/viewPage/2 I bought the cookbook by Oliver Peyton a year ago but yet again have never used it (so addicted to buying books!) but it compares very well to what they serve in the resturant. There was about a 15 minute wait as it was very busy but once we sat down we weren't bothered by anyone and people could take their time. We chose from the Bakery menu, I had a slice of chicken and ham pie served with a green salad, it had massive chunks of chicken and ham hock and it was lovely. La Mama had a hot salmon and smoked haddock pie, also with a green salad. The dishes came with 2 side salads of your choice but our waiter asked if we wanted a mixture of everything which we said yes to. We were a little disappointed with our green salads - didn't seem much like a mixed salad to us - until our waiter apologised and brought us a massive plate full of delicious looking salad items!! It suddenly felt much better value! There were massive chunks of charred butternut squash with goji berries, stir-fried cabbage with red onion, chargrilled fennel and grated celeriac. Great to be able to try everything. We would definitely eat there again and I'll have to test my book out soon.

Had a lovely meal in Belgo in Seven Dials. Again, somewhere I've wanted to try for a couple of years but it was never a meal time as we were going by! It's opposite the Cath Kidston shop, only bought a cowboy plate this time, quite impressed with my self-discipline! Great menu here and an amazing range of Belgian beers, I would have partaken had it not been lunchtime. I'm not a big drinker but I love all the fruit beers on offer. We went for their Lunchtime Menu, great that it's offered at the weekend too. I had the Spit-Roasted Chicken with Chili and Ginger and Frites. Couldn't taste the ginger but the chicken was beautifully tender and the sauce was fiery. A huge portion too. The chips were great. My mum had the Beef Carbonnade which went down incredibly well. So much so that we had to recreate it when we got home. I think we did a pretty good job.

Recreation of my mum's Carbonnade from Belgo:

1 bottle of Lindemans Kriek Fruit Beer. Could be any darker beer but I think the cherry beer adds such a nice flavour.

8 dried prunes

800g of braising steak

1 onion (we used diced shallot)

a touch of flour to coat the steak when frying

300ml of beef stock

1 bay leaf and some dried thyme

Fry the diced onion in a little oil until translucent. Add the flour coated beef and fry until browned. Then add the rest of the ingredients and cook, cook, cook on a low heat until the meat falls apart. You could also cook it in the oven. As with most casseroles it tastes much better the next day, we cooked it again for another hour. Delicious with rice or mash.

Phew, epic post - I'm off for a rest!