Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The National Cookbook Review

This week I'm reviewing The National Cookbook: Recipes from the National Dining Rooms at The National Gallery by Oliver Peyton.

Quite excitingly this one is signed! I bought it from the National Gallery gift shop last year but it wasn't until this February that I ate there - and it inspired me actually pick my copy up and cook from it. There are quite a few dishes I recognised from the menu and it is all hearty, British food. The book is split into the four seasons and each season contains recipes for starters, mains, desserts and drinks. There are pictures for each recipe but not always of the food, there is a lot of the art work from the National Gallery which ties it in well with the museum. Ok, I like a photo of the food but I also appreciate the paintings and the small description included. Who says you can't be cultured while you're cooking?!

The book is really nice quality and is a good size. The recipes aren't intimidating and there an awful lot of recipes I'd want to make. That's why I've made a few more dishes than usual from this book, which in itself is a good sign!

The first I made was the Manx Kipper Pate from the summer starters. I didn't find Manx Kippers in the supermarket so I got ordinary smoked kippers. This recipe was a revelation and I will be making it again and again. I didn't have any clear whiskey so I just left it out but it had enough punch from the tabasco, cayenne pepper and plenty of lemon juice. It doesn't look particularly exciting but it is completely delicious. I made it with mackerel for my Mother's Day Afternoon Tea last week and I'll be trying it with salmon, and then trout, and anything else I can mush up with butter!

Next up was the Pork Belly with Black Pudding and Apple. Pork belly is really good value and very tasty, plus I was up for the challenge of making my first lot of crackling! The instructions were spot on and the meat cooked beautifully, though I did put it under the grill a little at the end to really crisp up the top but that's because our oven is rubbish!

The black pudding and apple was easy to fry together and made a lovely accompaniment. I was highly impressed by this recipe, it would be great to serve to guests as it looks impressive but requires no stress!

The Pumpkin, Spinach and Mushroom Wellington was the trickiest dish for me to make, and also the most disappointing which was a shame. I've never made a beef wellington before but liked the combination of flavours in this version. I made my pancakes, roasted the butternut squash as I didn't have pumpkin, blanched the spinach and cooked the mushrooms and onions. I was already a bit fed up with the dish!

It was ok but a little bland, even with everything in it. If it hadn't been the goats cheese I don't think there would have been enough flavour. I think it would have been ok without the pastry - not quite the point of a Wellington but perfectly acceptable. My pancakes certainly weren't fine enough but it was all ok, but just ok.

Lastly I made the Beetroot and Red Onion Tart with Wensleydale Cheese. I cheated and used ready cooked beetroot, allowed I'm sure! The tart itself was quick to make, I just made the onion jam in advance. It was really nice and the cheese counteracted the sweetness really well, with the beetroot balancing everything out. Again, I think this would be great food for friends with a nice salad.

All in all I was really happy with everything I'd made (bar the faff of the Wellington!) and I'm very glad I own the book and it's a great representative of the National Dining Rooms.

I won't be blogging for a couple of weeks as I'm off on my holidays, going to visit my Grandparents in France. I'm really hoping it'll stay sunny but it'll probably do what it alway s does and we'll be told by everyone "oh, it was lovely last week!"

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Mother's Day Afternoon Tea

Like last year I thought I'd make La Mama an afternoon tea for Mother's Day this year, as well as a few lovely presents. A model child! I scoured my books to see what I fancied making a few weeks in advance. I'm prone to stressing out and with a few elements to make I needed to be organised! I think it turned out pretty well, it's a great excuse to get my nice cake stand out! I wish we had room so I could keep it out but alas it only comes out on special occasions! Keeps it safe I suppose. It went down extremely well and there were enough leftovers to feed us for a few days - what a shame it meant eating cakes and scones for days!!
My savoury section was a Smoked Mackerel Pate, an adapted recipe from the National Cookbook by Oliver Peyton (review to come next week). The original recipe was a kipper pate which I made and was completely delicious so I decided to make it with mackerel. It's super easy, completely ridiculously easy so I thought it would be a good choice when I had other things to make. Certainly a lot simplier than a ham terrine like I made last year. The recipe is just smoked fish, softened butter (though not half the amount stated - no need if the fish is moist), cayenne pepper, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and plenty of lemon juice. I will make this pate again and again, delicious. Served on toasted ciabatta with cornichons - the king of all pickles!

The next element was Hazelnut Blondies from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I made some peanut butter blondies the week before from Eric Lanlard's Home Bake (again, review to come soon) and the result was quite different but both very tasty. I changed the pecans stated to hazelnuts and made only half the amount. They ended up pretty thin but this wasn't a problem. The white chocolate was melted in with the butter so it made the blondies pretty sweet and squidgy which was a nice contrast with the crushed, crunchy hazelnuts. I'd had hazelnut blondies from Marks and Spencer in their Valentine's meal deal this year and they came with some salted caramel so I decided to do the same thing. Really added another dimension to the flavour. I didn't make the caramel - it came in a jar from Marks. It's very tempting just to grab a spoonful of it every time you're in the kitchen!
My rosewater choux buns. These started out in my head as rosewater eclairs with pretty pink icing, things didn't quite go to plan. I knew I had to buy rosewater but I could have sworn we had red food colouring in the house. It was too late when I found out we didn't! Then it turned out we didn't have the right nozzle on the piping bag so I decided to make choux buns instead. Oh well! My icing had rosewater in it, it was a little too liquid but it kept my coloured sugars, heart and glitter on the top so it was fine. I also put rosewater in the whipped cream. It was quite a subtle flavour - I didn't want it to taste like perfume - but it worked well. Not as impressive as I had imagined it but still quite nice. I had to add glitter to something!

I used Raymond Blanc's recipe from his new Kitchen Secrets book. The recipe was great and made lovely choux pastry. They were a little bit greasy but they had a good flavour.

Lastly I made the Brown Sugar and Mascarpone Scones from Lorraine Pascale's Baking Made Easy which I reviewed last week. I was so happy with this scones. They were really light and rose beautifully. They weren't overly sweet as I thought they might be and they were the perfect foil for some jam and cream.

They were simple to make, I did it by hand rather than in a food processor and the mixture was made in about 5 minutes. I have lots of mascarpone left so I think I'll make a pasta dish with the remainder but I think I'll have to start buying mascarpone regularly as these scones were so yummy.
The food was all washed down with some jasmine tea. I love my Celia Birtwell mug, a great find from TK Maxx. Roll on the next afternoon tea! I have many more recipes that can be tried out!

After all those cakes I feel I need this gorgeous domed cake stand in my life. So pretty and an amazing price. A trip to Ikea is now on the cards! I don't actually cook big cakes but that's not the point! If not I could get this mini cake stand instead. Aw!