Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Bill's Everyday Asian Cookbook Review

If you read some of my other entries in this blog you will see how much I love Bill Granger! So when there's a new Bill book, I'm there with my order. Doesn't mean I use the book straight away though! I got this for my birthday in September and have looked at it lovingly from time to time and then put it away again. I can't explain why I get all these books and then not cook from them straight away! But the time finally came when I gave this book some love. Bill often has Asian influenced recipes in his books so it's great to see a whole collection of them, and you know that if it's a Bill recipe then it will (hopefully) easy enough to make. There are 10 chapters including Starters, Soups, Seafood and Noodles and Rice, and a nice dessert section which might not all be authentic but would complement an Asian meal extremely well.

The photography is absolutely beautiful and most recipes are illustrated. Every dish looks very colourful and inviting, you can almost taste all the dishes just by looking at them. The recipes are very well laid out and although some ingredient lists are quite long, most of those needed are herbs and spices you probably already have, if your cupboards are anything like mine! There's a useful pantry guide at the start of the book for those wanting to stock, items such as mirin, star anise and dashi powder.

The first dish I made was the Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns. I made this as a quick and healthy tea one evening. The recipe was really easy to follow and it was made in 10 minutes so a great one to keep to hand. I added rice noodles for the soup to be more filling as I wasn't having anything else, it did the trick. It was pretty spicy but the lime juice balanced it nicely. I love fresh and spicy soups so this was perfect. Tick one.

The other dish I made was Barbecued Pork Fillet with Vietnamese Caramel Sauce. The ingredient list is pretty short and we had some pork fillet we'd just bought on offer so thought it was a perfect time to try this dish. The pork was marinated for only 10 minutes in fish sauce, sugar and garlic and then fried. I have to admit it smelt rather off-putting, fish sauce never smells that great but it's usually mixed in with other things, this was pretty much just pure fish sauce. Somewhat worried! While the pork was cooking I made the caramel sauce, just as you would for a sweet dish but then adding chilli, lime, more fish sauce (!) and oil. It sounded like the dish would be a little too sweet with a caramel sauce but it was absolutely delicious and luckily the fish sauce scent waned a little. The dish was a big hit with those eating and I'd definitely make it again. Yum!

Looking forward to the next Bill book now but in the meantime I'd like to make the Beef Rendang and the Sticky Pork Chops with Peach Chutney. And I'm sorry that I didn't go to Bill's new restaurant in Notting Hill, I'm afraid I was put off by the reviews I found online about waiting times and prices. Not a very good super-fan am I?! Maybe next time Bill!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

London Visit - February 2012

Freezing fountain in Trafalgar Square - brrrr! It was pretty cold but what better reason to indulge in some tasty food?

And to start with we finally went to The Diner in Soho, just off Carnaby Street. They have 5 different sites across London but this was ideally located near the shops of Regent Street (mostly Uniqlo!). Since I'm somewhat obsessed with diners I've wanted to come here for ages. It wasn't a disappointment. Above is a Spicy Shrimp Po Boy which was absolutely delicious. The bread was really light and the spicy remoulade wasn't too overpowering.

I plumped for the Monte Cristo Sandwich, how could I not?! Doesn't look like much on the plate but it was yummy. Cinnamon French Toast filled with ham, cheese and grilled chicken breast, strangely served with a blueberry compote but hey, I was game and it was great! We also had fries which were glorious and finished off with a Cherry Coke so I could pretend I was a 50s teenager in America! Check out the brilliant menu for yourself here: I've got my eye on the Lumberjack Breakfast for next time!

As always most evening meals consisted of amazing assortments of sushi before heading off to the theatre, managed 4 shows this time and a little BAFTA ceremony glance! This sushi was from Wasabi, such great value.

Another place on my list was the Scandinavian Kitchen. Not a huge amount of seating so it's lucky we arrived quite easily for lunch as it seemed really popular, plus they have a range of Scandinavian products to buy. Cue a large amount of salted liquorice heading home with us for La Mama. For lunch we had their Open Sandwich Smorgasboard, 5 sandwiches for £8.95 and a good range to choose from, including salads too. We had cheese; meatballs and beetroot; gravadlax, rare roast beef with crispy onions and smoked salmon. All really lovely.

Our visit to The Diner came later than planned as our day shopping on Oxford Street went on longer than we thought and I'd forgotten my street map and my phone app wasn't working! No! I wanted diner food! But instead we found this gem in Selfridges. The Brass Rail specialises in salt beef and that's about it, but what a revelation it is. Incredibly tender, it just melts in the mouth, served by weight on rye with nose-clearing mustard! Plus a great big pickle for an extra 75p which was sweet and obviously quite freshly pickled. Delicious. Not the cheapest of options but I was so glad we stopped here.

A flying visit to the Southbank Real Food Festival resulted in some gorgeous churros and chocolate sauce, a huge portion, from Churros Garcia. They're a 2-person job as someone needs to hold the churros while you get dipping and eating! So worth it! No food trucks this time though and nothing spectacularly exciting to try which was a shame, I guess it's better in the summer.

And then on to the cakes! But before that I also ate at Byron Burger when a friend was also visiting London for work. There are quite a few dotted about now, we went to the St Giles restuarant. Staff were really lovely and there was a rather nice selection of Bourbon whiskey. The burger itself (I had the Byron burger with bacon) was gorgeous, cooked medium and really moist. Had courgette fries too which were a little limp really but a nice alternative. Also ate at Wahaca in Covent Garden on our last day but the tables were so squished together I felt a bit conspicuous taking photos! The guacamole with pork scratchings was scrummy and we had a nice selection of tacos, tostadas and a Mexican fondue with cactus. All yummy but it is quite nice to have a bit more breathing space when eating, quite a queue waiting to get a table too.

Back to the cakes! My favourite road, Wardour Street in Soho, has a new bakery - Gail's Artisan Bakery. Again it's a chain with a little cafe but the staff were lovely and the bread selection was incredible. I was after some cake action after a play and the carrot cake caught my eye. It was little dry on one side which makes me question how old the cake was, but the flavour was good and I liked the layers of cream cheese frosting.

Our Selfridges visit also provided this wondrous Salted Caramel Religieuse which was completely delicious. Everything is called salted caramel these days and this didn't taste particularly salty but caramel is good enough for me!

Another Wardour Street beauty, brioche from Princi with loads of orange flower water. Made a great breakfast.

Plus a very fattening doughnut with tons of rich custard inside. Mmmmmm! The grease! Didn't have it for breakfast I might add!

And then cupcake time! I have to say I wasn't actually in the mood for cupcakes this time and the Hummingbird Bakery specials were all based on chocolate for Valentine's Day and I'm not overly fond of choccy cake. This was Sunday's special, a chocolate and caramel cake. It was actually gorgeous, the caramel tasted like condensed milk and there was plenty of it in the centre. Again the texture of the cake was better than most bakeries.

And the other cupcake I chose was Monday's chocolate and rose cupcake. I was afraid it would be way too chocolately but it was really light and had a rose fondant centre. I love rose turkish delight so this was a good option for me.

Also, in other cake news, I discovered that Cox, Cookies and Cakes, the Soho shop launched by Eric Lanlard and Patrick Cox which I reviewed last year, has closed down. Didn't look like it was their choice either as there was a sign on the window saying that no-one was allowed on the premises. Oooo, drama. All the fittings were still in there and the notice was from the end of January. Eric Lanlard has a new series starting on Channel 4 next month and he still has his Cake Boy shop so I'm hoping he's ok and didn't lose a huge amount of money in the process.

Our last hurrah to take home were cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery in Covent Garden. A rose one and a lime and coconut lime cake. Their flavours are more exciting than Hummingbird and seem to be made with more love but they're not a patch on the light texture of Hummingbird. I'm guessing it's because they're made with butter, in the more British-style, but the cake is definitely a lot denser. Flavour was good in both though.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Nutmeg and Custard Cookbook Review

After a couple of months off I thought it was time to come back to my blog. My library cookbook habit never abated so it was time to actually make use of them again!

A book I've wanted to try for a while is Marcus Wareing's Nutmeg & Custard. The recipes are really unusual but most look possible to make without having restaurant standard equipment and skills. There are a lot of recipes, sorted into chapters such as Weekends, Orient, Bakery, Popcorn and Ice Cream Parlour. The mix between sweet and savoury recipes I'd say is about half and half which is great, I do like my dessert chapters! There aren't photos for all recipes but what is there is well presented and looks delicious. I checked out the reviews on Amazon before I started to use the book myself and was actually put off a little. Quite a few people thought the book was poorly tested and the recipes were quite hit and miss. I had to admit this put me off a little but as there were so many things I fancied making I carried on regardless!

The first dish I tried was the Blackened Chilli Belly of Pork. The list of ingredients was pretty small which is always inviting. It was easy to prepare and had a really lovely flavour. So far, so good.
I served the pork with fried shredded sprouts and braised baby gem lettuce which I'd never tried before but thought it was lovely.

The second recipe which was calling out to be made was the Turkish Delight Cheesecake. There is a recipe to make your own turkish delight in the book but I cheated and bought some. I made individual portions as I knew I was going to be the only person eating it in the house. Again, the ingredients list was pretty reasonable and it didn't take too long to make. I added more butter to the base as there was no way it was combining otherwise. The topping I have to say was very strange and I ended up throwing away most of what I'd made. There was just too much gelatine and it was more like a cream cheese jelly that a cheesecake, not really want you want for a cheesecake. I was looking forward to a rich, soft mixture. So not a great success, I was starting to see what the Amazon reviewers were on about. It's actually put me off cheesecake for a bit, my waistline is probably thanking me!

The recipe I tried was the Lemon Shortbread. I'm not used to making shortbread with icing sugar but after researching a little I found that a few recipes do. This mixture however was a complete nightmare to work with. Yes it was very short and crumbly, but even after letting the mixture firm up in the fridge it just could not be rolled out. So we had to make tiny, bite-sized biscuits which looked pretty cute but I wasn't happy with them. I think they lacked a little flavour too, I'll stick with a recipe that uses caster sugar next time.

So all in all I agree that the book perhaps hasn't been properly tested and the results just aren't impressive enough for such a competent chef. It's such a shame as the recipes are so inviting: Nutmeg and Custard Cream Yo-Yo biscuits, Chinese Spiced Pork Buns, Black Forest Fudge and Chorizo-Stuffed French Toast all sound great but I don't think I'd dare make anything time consuming or anything with expensive ingredients just in case it didn't turn out. Ah well, on to the next book! Luckily I didn't buy this one and can return it to the library with a happy (but disappointed) heart.

Though it feels like months ago here is what our Christmas lunch looked like. There is trukey hiding out underneath! The sweet potato and carrot mash was a really nice way of eating carrots, I'm not too keen on just slices of carrot. It was the first year I'd actually enjoyed eating parsnips too, with a good glug of maple syrup.

It was the first time I'd made my own cranberry sauce too, and wow, if I'd known how ruddy easy it was to make I'd have abandoned shop-bought jars years ago! Fresh cranberries, sugar, a little water and some orange juice - done! It's cool to see it thicken as it cools too. Will have to make sure I have some frozen cranberries in the freezer now for a quick, cranberry sauce fix.

And here was is what we ate for days and days on end! And I never got bored of it! Pickles, selection of cheeses, stuffing, a few crisps, mini sausages and the star of the show - cold meats. We got a really lovely reduced beef joint from Marks and Spencer which cooked beautifully and made the most amazing beef, horseradish and watercress sandwiches. We also had 3 hams!! We just roasted a pork loin, then boiled one ham in cola and one ham in ginger beer. I think I liked the ginger ham the best, it was a subtle flavour but absolutely delicious. And we could not have done without our Lakeland slicer, made the thinest slices and I felt like I was working on a deli counter!! Not a machine you'd use everyday but you'll definitely be glad you own it when you need it.