Monday, 30 January 2012

Brunch at the Riding House Cafe, Fitzrovia

Us Brits have never really been very good at 'doing brunch'. Maybe its because our climate makes al fresco dining seem more like a punishment for ten months of the year, maybe it's because a late breakfast clashes with the traditional Sunday lunch, or maybe it's just down to our deep distrust of combing two meals into a solitary one (as a small child I was known to be reduced to tears on occasion at the thought of  'missing out' on one of my three meals a day).

What ever our reservations to this mid-morning meal mash up we seem to be slowly coming round to the idea that breakfast isn't just for, well, breakfast. Many cafes, restaurants and pubs now offer full, extended all day menus that run the whole gamut from the traditional fry up and egg dishes via bucks fizz, granola, french toast and flat whites. And lucky for me that the tide is turning, as I had somehow agreed to brave Oxford Street's mad weekend rush with the Ewing and I needed some proper sustenance to help me on the way.

A pleasant Sunday morning stroll through the streets of Marylebone bought us to Fitzrovia's Riding House Cafe, an all day brasserie serving a selection of grills, sharing plates, salads and roasts on a Sunday as well as a breakfast/brunch selection that features as one of Time Out's top choices. It was pretty lively when we arrived at midday, and I was glad we had reservations that bought us straight in from the cold into the cosy dining area.

I kicked things off with a well made, and very welcome, flat white, while the Ewing enjoyed a cappuccino, while we perused the rest of the breakfast menu. Really, I didn't actually need to look at the menu, having spent Saturday browsing at it online. It pretty much had me a 'buttermilk pancakes' but I read it several more times just to make sure I wasn't missing out on anything else...

The pancakes were good, if slightly too thick, which made them a bit doughy in the middle. The accompanying maple syrup was warm and delicious and you can't really improve upon fresh raspberries and vanilla clotted cream. Actually, I lie, a side of smoked streaky bacon would improve almost anything, and here was no exception; the salty smoky pork (although, again a little underdone for my tastes) complementing every bite of syrup drenched and cream laden pancake. A delightful combination.

Despite my 'gentle' attempts to persuade the Ewing to pick the chorizo hash browns with poached eggs (the hash browns are, unfortunately, not listed as available the side) she stood firm with her choice of the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough. Despite there only being half a slice of the, very good, bread she described it as excellent; light and refined with just the right amount of richness from the smoked fish and soft eggs.

We finished proceedings with two of their smoothies, served in old fashioned milk bottles. Initially I was tempted by the rather healthy sounding 'rickshaw' featuring strawberry, pineapple and lime, but in the end went for the more substantial 'sunshine'; a shake of orange, yogurt, oats banana and cinnamon. Quite lovely, both refreshing and creamy with a little jolt from the spice. The Ewing gave up any pretence of health with the 'racer', a decadent and delightful chocolate, espresso and banana number.

The place continued to fill up as we enjoyed our brunch, and despite the roast beef crowd moving in as we slowly sipped our smoothies there was never any pressure to slurp up and ship out. Feeling just on the right side of too full we paid our (very reasonable) bill and made our way through the refined streets of Fitzrovia, feeling fully sated and ready to deal with the chaos of Selfridges on a Sunday afternoon.

The Riding House Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

(A Sort of) Tayberry and Honey Cranachan

The 25th January, as all Scots know, is time to celebrate the great Robbie Burns and his paean to the glorious haggis puddin'; despite the Ewing's Scottish heritage the event is usually celebrated in our house with a Rob Roy and the Taggart box set. This year I decided to push the boast out and make a Scottish themed (if untraditional) supper of Scotch salmon with mashed neeps and kale, and riff on the old favourite cranachan.

Cranachan is a classic Scottish desert, traditionally served at harvest time, but now seen pretty much all year round. As well as generous amounts of Scotch whisky, heather honey and cream (or crowdie, a fresh, Scottish cream cheese, often used in the past) the recipe uses raspberries. As raspberries are at their peak in late Summer what can you do when you get a fancy for it when the mercury dips below zero?

In the past the answer would probably have been not much. But living in the refrigerated age we were lucky to have bagfuls of berries squirrelled in the freezer, just perfect for cravings like these. The remains of our haul gathered on busy afternoons at the local PYO last year, and while all the raspberries had been eaten almost as soon as they had been picked, we did have some tayberries left. 

The Tayberry is a cross between a blackberry and raspberry, which is (whisper it) even better than either in my opinion. Slightly firmer, with a flavour balanced perfectly between sharp and floral the tayberry is seldom seen for sale, as they are almost impossible to harvest successfully on a commercial scale, but they are well worth looking out for, or even growing your own.

Although the flavour of soft fruit is preserved well by freezing, the berries do become pretty soft when thawed. Although this won't effect the taste of the finished cranachan, it does tend to hamper any chance of building up pretty layers of fruit, cream and oats (I gently mixed the fruit and the cream together for my version). Next step was the pinhead (or steel cut) oatmeal used for crunch. Of course I only had the rolled kind, normally used for porridge, in the cupboard. No matter, into a frying pan to toast anyway. I then whipped some cream, added a good glug of Scotch - the one ingredient I did have -and stirred through the toasted oats, local Home Counties honey and the berries.

A slightly unconventional Southern spin on a North of the border classic perhaps, but certainly very tasty and a welcome splash of colour in the winter gloom. (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall makes a very good version of this with new season forced rhubarb and orange liqueur that's well worth a try too.) Whatever the flavour combination serve with a wee dram, and some Scottish shortbread if you're feeling fancy.

Tayberry and Honey Cranachan

Serves 4-6

500g tayberries or raspberries (frozen are fine)
2 tbsp caster sugar
100g oats, rolled or pinhead.
500ml double cream
4 tbsp whisky
3 tbsp runny honey, plus extra for serving

Defrost berries if using frozen, or pick through, rinse and thoroughly dry fresh ones.
Put the oats and sugar in a dry frying pan. Toast gently, (stirring frequently to prevent burning) until the sugar has melted and the oats are golden. Leave to cool.
Whisk the cream into soft peaks, then carefully fold in honey and whiskey.
To serve mix the toasted oats (reserving a few for decoration) and the berries into the cream, and then spoon into glasses (Alternatively you can spoon the fruit, oats and cream into separate layers).
Whichever way top with a sprinkling of oats and a trickle of honey, and serve.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Cake Batter Ice Cream with Sprinkles

So here we are, the blog is one! It's been an eventful year, featuring name changes, guest posts, fine dining, street food, foreign adventures and local grub. I've eaten oysters in Whitstable, pasties in Cornwall, currywurst in Berlin, jamon in Madrid and fish'n'chips in Whitby. I've foraged for wild garlic, borage and sloes; grown my own fruit and veg; cooked a roast turkey in mid June; subjected the Ewing to endless versions of rice pudding and pasta bake; and finally given up trying to make my own mayonnaise.

Through out all this fun and excitement I think one of the best moments was finally getting a big enough kitchen/freezer to house an ice cream maker. Although that may not seem terribly exciting to most suddenly a sea of sorbets, gelatos, granitas and icy treats awaited us. Dime bars, dulce de leche, tomatoes, mandarins, almond milk, Oreo cookies and blackberries are just some of the things that have been churned up in my kitchen in recent months.

Making ice cream is fun, easy, exciting and satisfying; I love the fact that I can go from pondering crazy flavour combinations in my head to actually trying them out for myself. (A strange alchemy seems to occur when things are frozen together that means all but the very oddest ideas seem to taste great.) And there is nothing like the feeling of turning a pile of freshly picked fruit, local milk, cream and eggs, or those random things at the back of the cupboard your not quite sure what to do with, into a frozen feast.

As there's no better way to celebrate a birthday than a cake with sprinkles and ice cream why not combine them all together into a bowl of sugary, creamy deliciousness? I first tried this flavour at the Manly branch of Cold Rock, while in over Australia, and have been wanting to recreate it ever since. (Their cinnamon mini donut with chocolate M&M's is also high up the to do list.)

Although this recipe may not qualify as my most grown up or refined it is pretty yummy. If you really want to go to town add some broken up chunks of sponge cake or choc chips to the mixture after churning. You could even, like the Ben and Jerry's version, stir a chocolate buttercream frosting swirl through the finished ice cream. I just happen to like a bowl of sweet, rum-spiked, vanillery goodness just as it is, candle optional.

Cake Batter Ice Cream with Sprinkles

1 cup semi-skimmed milk
2 cups double cream
1 1/2 cups packaged dry cake mix
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp rum/brandy (optional)
Sugar sprinkles to serve

Place milk, cream, vanilla and rum into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until sugar has dissolved.
Add cake mix and whisk again until fully incorporated. If the mixture seems lumpy then sieve into a clean bowl.
Thoroughly chill mixture in the fridge.
Whisk mixture again, then churn according to your ice cream maker's instructions.
Serve immediately or place into a freezer-proof container and freeze until required.
Serve with plenty of sprinkles.

Finally a big thank you to everyone who's read, commented, contributed or retweeted the blog. Thanks to all those who've eaten, drank, explored and patiently put up with my photo-taking with me. And much love to the wonderful Ewing; fellow glutton, partner in crime, gin-drinker, chocoholic, chauffeur and guinea pig for all my crazy ideas.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mole and Chicken, Easington, Bucks

New Years Day, and judicious amounts of drinking the night before had left us in a decent enough condition to jump in to the car for a drive to the Mole and Chicken, set deep in Midsomer Murder's country on the Bucks/Oxon border. This place is a perennial Good Pub Guide favourite, and despite picking an inauspicious day to test a kitchen's mettle I had heard some good things and was looking forward to eating lunch.

First impressions boded well. The interior is traditional, old style pub, with a lovely, dark wooden bar and low ceilings. There is also an light and open extension at the back, with glorious views across the rolling countryside. We were shown to our table, in a cosy alcove and got stuck in to a couple of pints of Red Kite Ale, a chestnut red, malty bitter from the nearby Brill Brewery.

The Ewing's crab cakes, the biggest disappointment of our meal. These had been made with an unholy amount of mashed potato which, when covered in breadcrumbs and fried, completely obliterated any of the sweet and delicate crab flavour.

Far better was my squid with lemon and chilli. Although served in a fairly modest portion this was simple, great seafood, lightly battered and pepped up with a heavy dose of chilli and garlic. Lovely.

The Ewing's Oxfordshire lamb shank with mash and roasted roots. Proper comfort food, the meat was fall-off-the-bone (or would have been if the bone hadn't already been removed) tender, although a little fatty. The mash was fluffy and soft and the roots provided sweetness and crunch. The only thing a rich plate of food like this seemed to be missing was a few greens to lighten up proceedings.

My roast beef with all the trimmings; good, traditional grub. Beef was still pink, roasties were above average and yorkie both soft and crisp. Purple sprouting broccoli, one of my favourites, gave an iron-rich green note to proceedings. The standout element on the dish was the artichoke puree; the first mouthful of this rich, nutty, unctuously creamy stuff had me in raptures.

My decimated dinner. I wouldn't normally subject you to a photo of my half eaten roast, but I just wanted to include a shot of the ephemeral Jerusalem artichoke puree. It may look a lot like Polyfilla, but this cloud-like accompaniment is truly the stuff Sunday dinner dreams are made of.

The Ewing chose, surprise surprise, the chocolate option for pud; a fondant with honeycomb ice cream and poached pear. The fondant was nicely gooey in the centre with the ice cream providing a cold and crunchy contrast. Although the Ewing remained slightly troubled by the pear's inclusion on the plate I though it worked rather well.

Apple tart with cinnamon ice cream was solid if unspectacular. The tart was decent enough, if a little soggy-bottomed and lacklustre, but the cinnamon ice cream was every nice, perfectly spiced, velvety- rich and smooth.

So, a bit of a mixed bag. At £70 pounds this wasn't a particularly cheap lunch, and while the food was solid, none (bar perhaps the heavenly artichoke puree) was spectacular. That said it was comforting and cosy, perfect for a drizzly Sunday afternoon. There is also a lighter time and a value set menu available during the week.

What ever the time of year there is no doubt that the Mole and Chicken is a lovely, old-fashioned pub, set in glorious countryside. The terrace at the back would make a beautiful summer drinking spot, while the open log fire inside the perfect winter bolt hole, making it a year round place to enjoy an local ale or two.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Foresters, Farnham Common, Bucks

On a filthy winter afternoon where better to be than holed up in front of a log fire eating burgers? Luckily the Ewing shared my sentiments, and so we headed over to a (very old) sometime haunt of mine, the Foresters in Farnham Common.

Inside is certainly far fancier than I remember it, way back in my sixth form days, with the space divided into a bar area, with aforementioned fire and big leather sofas, and a more formal dining room with large, dark wood tables and high backed, comfy black chairs. Although it was a miserable Monday there was a steady crowd of people coming in for food and drinks, giving it a nice buzz.

Despite being tempted by almost everything on the menu (especially the crab risotto and the pork belly with pears and black pudding) we both fancied some proper comfort grub; meaning the fish and chips for the Ewing and the bacon cheeseburger for me.

The Ewing's Duo of Haddock; beer battered pieces of smoked and unsmoked haddock served with 'proper' chips and tartare sauce. These were two decent-sized, crispy and tasty pieces of fish; the smoked haddock was an unusual touch, and worked surprisingly well with the batter treatment. The chips were pretty good, fluffy within but quickly becoming a bit soggy.

The Foresters beefburger with bacon, smoked cheese and onion jam served with shoestring fries. I was a little worried the 'swish' surroundings would also mean micro-portions of grub. As you can see there were no problems on that front; this was a monster burger served in a traditional, sesame seed-studded bun accompanied by a tasty looking pail of fries. The fries were really very good. A little thick to be properly 'shoestring' they were none the less fresh, crispy and well seasoned.

The burger was, literally, a dish of two halves; the top half saw cheese - billed as 'smoked', but tasting like a more like a good old, claggy burger cheese - paired with back (sadly not streaky) bacon and a decent, sweet red onion jam. The bottom featured fresh tomato, shredded iceberg lettuce and good old burger sauce (a piquant mix of tomato ketchup and mayo). Individually the flavours were good, but combined it was a little overwhelming, especially for the bun which disintegrated mid-bite.

The patty itself was coarsely ground, cooked nicely pink and very juicy. Although aggressively seasoned with black pepper it could have done with a touch more salt, especially as the bacon was a rather mild-mannered. Despite being very messy to eat, and a little muddled flavour-wise, this was a decent and enjoyable burger.

'Pudding tapas' is a phrase that is either going to make you jump for joy, or die a little inside. At first I was unconvinced, but realising it was a good opportunity to really have my cake and eat it, I embraced the theme and picked several items from the menu. The Ewing, with her notorious sweet tooth and indecisive mind, needed no such convincing, and was in her element at not being confined to making one choice.

From bottom to top we picked; blood orange sorbet; chocolate brownie; profiteroles with chocolate and chestnut cream; sherry trifle and egg nog ice cream. All were solid, without being outstanding. I particularly liked the shot of boozy, raspberry trifle and the profiteroles. Egg nog ice cream tasted a lot like fudge, but was no worse for that, and while the sorbet was a little sweet for me the Ewing made light work of it. I would comment on the brownie, but as I only got a few remaining crumbs so I'll have to wait for a return visit to properly pass judgement.

Despite being firmly on the wagon, following much Christmas indulgence, I had a very merry lunch at the Foresters. While the formal dining area feels pretty refined, the open fire and 'pubby' touches give it a lived-in and relaxed feel. The calibre of cooking is obviously good, and I would like to revisit to try some of the more ambitious-looking mains, as well as ticking off the rest of that pudding menu!

Monday, 2 January 2012

2011: The Best of the Rest

A rather unconventional round-up of 2011. This post doesn't feature any haute cuisine, exciting revelations or a lists of my favourite restaurants/meals. Instead here are a select few of the random nibbles, morsels and unblogged high points, often shared with family and friends, that have brightened up my table this year.

As is always the way plenty of great food and drink was missed through forgetfulness, inebriation, poor lighting or politeness (although, as I found out through writing my blog, people became offended when I didn't bring my camera and write about my dinner with them!). But most of what I did capture was pretty great. Here are a few of the many, tasty highlights:

An unconventional Shrove Tuesday treat: dorayaki, or custard pancakes, from fabulous Japan Centre in Piccadilly. As well as picking up a few of these each visit I also love browsing the aisles in search of the weird and wonderful. Recent hauls include dried, smoked squid; fizzy grape candies; chestnut-filled chocolate and industrial quantities of panko breadcrumbs and Bull-Dog sauce. The fresh food counter at the front is also good - the eel nigiri and okonomiyaki make a great, quick lunch.

Lunch at the Sun Inn in Faversham, Kent. Although the food here is simple fare I really like the way they used the local produce. I enjoyed a ham, cheese and Masterbrew rarebit, followed by a Kentish hop-pickers cake with gypsy tart ice cream. Our visit coincided with St Patrick's Day, and were lucky to find they had the special Shepherd Neame stout, brewed for the occasion at the brewery less than half a mile away, available on tap. 

Fry Tucks, Zealand Road, Canterbury. Included here for the solely sentimental reason that I could see this chippy from my bedroom window at uni. A favourite Friday night treat after a hard week studying was cod, chips and a pickled onion. Even as the only fried fish purveyor in the street it struggled to be the best, but I had to bring the Ewing here to experience the delights of the soggy batter and saveloys, still served up by the same lady who used to patiently let us count out handfuls of pocket change in exchange for our fish supper.

Easter trip to Yorkshire and the ice cream van at the end of the world (or the beach at Robin Hood's Bay). There's nothing quite like a Mr Whippy and strawberry sauce, with the cold North wind blowing sand onto every mouthful. Proper British treat.

All the aerated fat and sugar was followed by a very civilised weekend at my aunt and uncle's in Leeds. Not only did we enjoy a beer festival, a monster rib of beef and a boule tournament, but my uncle made some excellent oysters Rockefeller. Enjoyed al fresco, with a glass of white wine, while basking in the unseasonably warm spring sunshine.

A pint of Rebellion Smuggler supped in an sunny pub garden, one of the true joys of an English summer. This was enjoyed, along with a lovely lamb burger, at the Whip in Lacey Green.You also get a lovely view across the fields to the oldest smock windmill in England too. Bonus.

The bacon cheeseburger at the Doghouse Kennington. A favourite Sunday haunt just down the road from our good friends in Elephant and Castle. This behemoth was desperately needed the morning after a rather lively 30th birthday party. I can't remember too much about its culinary merits, despite being on the lime and soda by that point, but I can attest it contained healing properties hidden amongst all the gooey cheese and crispy (streaky!) bacon.

A bocadillo mixto and a cold caƱa at the Museo del Jamon. Although I wrote about this fabulous shrine to the porcine in my Madrid blog earlier in the year, I just couldn't leave this ham and cheese sandwich out. In the half dozen visits I have made to the Spanish capital this is always my first stop. I even booked a hotel within striking distance of the Carrera san Jeronimo so we could call in here everyday for breakfast.

The Ewing's Wimbledon Roll. I always know I'm going to be in for a treat when the Ewing barricades herself in the kitchen and goes very quiet. This gorgeous, squidgy, creamy beauty was the result of her labours; based on an Edd Kimber recipe this contained a great strawberry filling, laced with large amounts of Pimms. Game, set, snooze on the sofa.

The contents of our fridge, amassed while on a trip to Berlin. A girl of simple tastes, one of my very favourite things is visiting foreign supermarkets. Luckily the Ewing is both very patient, and a complete chocholic. As long as every trip to Kaiser, Norma, Aldi and Lidl included a big bag of sugary treats (and maybe some cheap German beers) then she was happy too. I enjoy most Ritter chocolate, somehow the square shape of the bar seems to make it taste even better, but the stand outs were the Olympia (a yogurt honey nut combo), rum, fruit and nut, and the good old dark chocolate peppermint cream.

A double scoop of Purbeck's chocolate and Chili Red ice cream. This was served up at Millets Farm Shop, near Abingdon, to celebrate Their August Bank Holiday Chili Festival. Chili and chocolate make good bedfellows, but I was unsure how the ice cream element would work; the answer was rather brilliantly. The combination managed to be deliciously cold and creamy, with a deep fruitiness and real kick at the end from the large flecks of red chili blended into the mixture.

Another Ewing special: This time a version Konditor's Curley Whirley chocolate cake, made for my birthday. This was pimped up with Violet Crumble honeycomb chocolate bars (carted all the way back from Oz) crumbled all over the heavenly vanilla bean icing. Thanks to @Aoafoodie on Twitter for turning me on to this one. When I tweeted a while ago that I was feeling a bit down in the dumps he suggested that this could be the cure. And it did a mighty fine job.

Birthday booze: a lovely treat from the lovely Ewing. We supped this with new season wet walnuts and local blue cheese whilst sitting amongst the palm trees in our little Cornish cottage. The hangover the next morning wasn't quite so lovely.

Terrible photos, but some of the very best food I have eaten this year. This was part of my birthday meal at Paul Ainsworth's Number 6 in Padstow. To start a delicious champagne cocktails, then the Jimmy Butler crispy pigs head with smoked eel and salad cream. Just check out those catherine wheels of crackling nestling amongst cubes of porky goodness. If all of that wasn't exciting enough the main was the equally fab Wings Land and Sea; a rolled skate wing served with boned chicken wings, a fabulous carrot puree (I never knew the humble root veg could taste so fabulous) and incredible chicken gravy.  And we had the Taste of the Fairground, the winning pud seen on The Great British Menu, for pudding. Awesome.

No visit to my Nan's in Norfolk would be complete without a trip to John's Rock Shop, down on the seafront in Wells-Next-the-Sea. As a child we would be allow to run amok in the penny arcade and children's play centre, and would then make ourselves sick scoffing pineapple rock and vanilla fudge on the way home. Despite being older, I'm still no wiser and struggled to find room for my roast dinner after the big bag of candy floss I had eaten. An e number-filled delight, and the beach is rather nice too.

Unlike cracker jokes and bad jumpers this is Christmas cheese I'm always pleased to see. My Mum always picks one of these up from her local butchers in Wiltshire for the holidays; while it's great with oatcakes, pickles and a little glass of white wine, my favourite approach is spooning it straight out of the box and into my mouth. As an extra treat my lovely friend, Beth, bought a new season cheese round for dinner a few weeks ago. It didn't last long.

So, rather a tasty year. And with plenty of cooking, eating and travelling already planned for 2012 bon appetit to all!