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.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Magpie Cafe Cook Book Review

During my trip to Whitby in the summer we had lunch in the well-know Magpie Cafe which was absolutely lovely. While we were there we bought both of their cookery books, all containing gorgeous sounding fish dishes and equally yummy desserts. They were signed too so that added a nice little touch and a reason to buy them from the cafe itself.

I cooked from the 1st Magpie book which is a good size and contains plenty of recipes. The recipes are a good representative of the restaurant and I saw a lot of the dishes on offer when we were there. The seafood taster plate that I had is part of the starter recipes and the Magpie trio that my Grandmere had is included too. I like it when you can recreate something you've had somewhere and enjoyed.

The book also gives a nice introduction to Whitby, no need to buy a separate guidebook! It also offers a history of the restaurant. The ingredients are all available from a good fishmongers and there is nothing too out of the ordinary. Accompaniments and sauces are included too but the fish is the main star of all the recipes. There is a full-page photograph for each recipe which is brilliant. The only downside to the book is that the recipes don't say how many they serve which is quite annoying. You can work out some, for example the Squidgy Chocolate Puddings asks you to grease six pudding basins so I can only presume it's for 6! Not sure if that's the case for the starters and main dishes though. An oversight perhaps but it's pretty useful information to have.

The first dish I made was the Dover Sole with Brown Shrimp Butter, except instead of Dover Sole I used Pouting instead which I'd never had before but was a really tasty fish. It looks like it's quite a sustainable fish though no thorough studies have been done as it's not a very popular fish to eat. I think it should be though as it cooked really well, broke pretty easily but great to fry. I've only ever had potted shrimp so it was nice to use them as an accompaniment to another fish. The flavours were great together and the dish was simple to put together. I think that's a feature of the book, everything is simple and the flavours are always sympathetic to the fish.

I didn't get a chance to try a dessert at the cafe as I was so full after my platter so I had to try one of the desserts from the book, and how could I turn down the chance to make the Magpie Sticky Toffee Pudding?!

I couldn't find a skewer to I just stabbed the sponge with the end of a spoon - hence the rather fetching pattern! I'd never made a sticky toffee pudding before and assumed it would be much trickier than it was but it was really easy. It's just scary to see all the sugar and butter go into it!

The sponge was super light and the toffee sauce was really moreish. I halved the quantities and it still served 6 people of modest appetite. There was no mention of how big their ovenproof dish was so I thought it wiser to make less just in case I ended up with way too much mixture. There's a limit to my calories intake! But it was delicious and this is a recipe that will come out time and again now I know how simple it is to prepare.

So I'm glad I got the book as it's a nice souvenir of my trip and it also has some rather lovely recipes! The books can be found here on their website.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The American Diner Cookbook Review

I have an obsession with American diners. I've only ever been to a few in New York but I avidly watch Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network! I always end up craving burgers and massive plates of fatty foods - yummy! I've had this book from a while. It was on my Amazon wishlist for a long time but always seemed to be out of stock. I finally managed to nab it a couple of years ago and have only ever browsed through it, again feeling very hungry for having done so! The book was produced in America so all the measurements are in cups, pounds and quarts so the recipes take a little time to convert but it's very feasible.

A lot of the recipes come from different diners across America and there are black and white photos from many of them. There are no photos of any of the recipes which is a shame. A lot of dishes are familiar but it's a case of googling some of the recipes to see what they might look like, for example a Blackberry Slump or Chicken Tetrazzini. There are ocassionally some ingredients that a little mysterious such as Au Jus Mix (looks like it's beef stock mix) but I think most things can be worked out. There are over 450 recipes to choose from so there is always another dish to try and to be fair the book was produced for an American market so the recipes weren't catered towards British ingredients and measurements.

There's a great selection of recipes, chapters include Breakfast At The Counter, Sandwich Platters, Blue Plate Specials and What's For Dessert? There are pies galore as you would expect, as well as plenty of drink recipes like sodas and milkshakes.

I've wanted to make a Monte Cristo sandwich for ages as it sounded very wicked and fattening! There are in fact 2 Monet Cristo recipes in this book, I went for the 2nd one but I did vary it a little according to what I had in.

I didn't have any chicken so that was ommited and I didn't put any mayonnaise into the sandwich as I didn't really think it needed it. Also instead of sourdough I used the chollah bread we had left over from making French toast. It was completely yummy and I'd make it again. I'm a big French toast fan anyway and love combining savoury and sweet - I poured loads of maple syrup on these beauties! Yum!

Next up was a Sloppy Joe! It was a dish I'd heard of but I'd never tried it before so thought it was worth a go. The ingredient list wasn't too big and it was very easy to put together. I wasn't sure about the ketchup to mustard ratio but it was fine and it was actually delicious. The key is just to simmer the mixture for long enough for all the ingredients to meld together. Well worth a go. Jamie Oliver has made a version with a couple more ingredients (no kidney beans in mine) and this sounds a little spicier.

The last recipe I made was the Blue Cheese Burger. Not the most adventurous recipe but it had plenty of flavour and was still very moist. I liked all the melted blue cheese running through the burger.

So I'm pleased I finally made some use of this book and I'm really glad I have it. It's selling for a stupid price on Amazon Marketplace now but it is available of Kindle if you're super modern!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Peyton and Byrne British Baking Cookbook Review

This week I've been trying out the Peyton and Byrne British Baking. I've been to Oliver Peyton's restaurant at the National Gallery but I've never eaten in one of his cafes in London so I can't compare the flavour of the cakes but the recipes certainly seem to be a good representative of what is sold the Peyton and Byrne cafes. The recipes are very traditional, I love how all the fairy cakes are never once referred to as cupcakes! They are the sort of recipes that you hope would have been passed down from generation to generation, comforting cakes and pies you might have eaten at your grandparent's house. The design of the book is very simple which works really well with the theme of traditional British baking. The instructions are easy to follow and all the ingredients can be found in the supermarket. I like that dried yeast is used in the dough recipes - certainly makes life easier.

There are photos for most of the recipes which are full-page and I think they're really great. There are nice big close ups and most of the photos are of slices or the whole dessert with a piece taken out so you can really see what the cake/tart/pies etc looks like inside. It's really useful when you're baking to compare your efforts to someone elses. It also makes it looks like everything must be delicious as there is a bit missing with crumbs around the edges of plates!

The book has a short 4 page technique and equipment section at the start which would be very useful for the novice baker. The book is then split into 10 chapters including Biscuits, Fruity Cakes, Breakfast Goods and A Cup of Tea and a Bun! I'm pretty sure everyone would find something to make from each chapter.

I started with the Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe, but instead of making one big cake I made smaller loaves using a tin I'd bought a while back. They were really cute this way and I also think it meant they lasted longer. It would have been way too easy to devour the whole thing. The cake in the book actually looked quite brown and dense but this was the lightest sponge I'd ever made. The instructions were super simple to follow, I just reduced the cooking time and kept an eye on them in the oven. I halved the quantities so it made 3 smaller loaves but I still used a whole juiced lemon for the glaze as I love lots of lemon. They were just incredibly delicious, even if I do say so myself!! Every mouthful I was just going "oh my god this is yummy, mmmm, wow..."! I will definitely be keeping this recipe to hand whenever I want a pick-me-up cake. Amazing.

Then I thought I'd attempt the Black Forest Gateau. I'm not the biggest lover of chocolate cake, I think I've grown out of it a little. Don't get me wrong, I'd never turn down a piece of chocolate fudge cake but it would have to be warm with a considerable amount of cream poured over! But, add some cherries into the mix and I'm all for it. I made the cake a little differently, the cake in the book has been made as one whole sponge and then cut into 3 layers, but I won £15o of Lakeland vouchers a couple of weeks ago (woo-hoo!!) and bought myself the surprise cake tin they've been advertising in most cookery magazines. I thought this cake would work really well with the cream and cherries hidden in the middle.

Again, the recipe was easy to follow and everything turned out as it should. The cake obviously didn't take as long to cook but came out just as rich and dense. I had a little issue with the cake breaking up, even after leaving it to cool in the tin, but the one in the book was all cracked too so that was fine by me! That's what the cream on the top was for!! I used the Cake Release from Lakeland too which I will now have to make sure I have forever as it really works. I loved finding all that cream and loads of cherries in the centre and the syrup and liqueur mixture poured into the sponge added a lovely flavour. It wasn't too sickly as there was enough cream to balance the dark chocolate. I was proud of myself with this one, it was the first time I'd made a full cake, what my cake stand has been crying out for! But now I think I need to step away from the flour, eggs and sugar for a few weeks! Been eating way too much cake lately!!

As for the book, I can really recommend it if you're looking some traditional baking recipes that will turn out perfectly every time. I initially thought it would be too traditional for me but there are some great biscuit recipes and all the icings and frostings sound lovely, I think nearer Christmas the clementine icing will be used on something. I want to try out the pastry recipes too as I feel like anything I make from this book will be a success - fingers crossed!

Finally I just wanted to share the purple potato rapees La Mama made. Loved the dark colour though they didn't taste any different to normal ones!

I like the idea of having goth versions of food! When I can eventually have my own garden I'm going to try and grow lots of dark plants!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Cox, Cookies and Cakes Cookbook Review

During my cupcake filled visit to London last month I visted Cox, Cookies and Cakes which I wasn't too impressed with unfortunately. I've been sitting on the book for a while and it didn't fill me with confidence about the results. I love Eric Lanlard and the shows he does on Channel 4 so it was a shame that the cupcake I tried didn't live up to my expectations.

If you've ever been to the shop or seen it online then you'll know that the book design matches perfectly - very neon and camp. There are recipes for 'Cheeky Cupcakes' and 'Titty Cupcakes' which are slightly disturbing! These sit side by side quite uncomfortably with 'Hedgehog Cupcakes' and 'Bunny Cupcakes'. Not sure why you'd include children's cupcakes into such a book, they might as well stick with their theme rather than sticking something in the book for everyone.

The book is split into 7 chapters including 'Nutty and Chocolatey Cupcakes', 'Rich and Spicy Cupcakes' and 'Styling Cupcakes'. There are some really tempting flavours and there are full page photos for most recipes. One thing that drives me mad about this book is that a lot of the pages are black. Looks really stylish until you start using the books and you get greasy fingers marks everywhere! I like my books to stay quite prestine so this is an issue!! Must be a librarian thing!
The decorating section is informative and there are lots of little pictures showing you step by step instructions. This definitely makes some of the mould work and piping look more feasible, plus now I know where to get a skull and crossbone chocolate mould from! Woo! There's an effect I definitely want to try with bubble wrap and chocolate - impressive honeycomb patterns once the chocolate sets. Brilliant!

I've been meaning to make Lemon Meringue Cupcakes for a while so I thought I'd make them for my birthday as no-one else was going to :-( Woe is me!! I halved the recipe as I didn't want 12 but the mixture only made 5. The book specified muffins cases were used throughout and I don't think my cases were any bigger.

This was my attempt at recreating the spiky meringue that Eric did! Oh well! Still not very good with an icing bag and I don't think my meringue was solid enough despite much electric whisking!

So instead the rest of the cupcakes looked like this! Not too shabby for a lemon meringue cupcake though. I was very impressed with the recipe, the cake came out beautiful and light, just enough tang from the lemon zest and then the crunchy but fluffy-centred meringue. Really tasty! The lemon curd all fell to the bottom but that didn't matter too much. Am excited to make these again in the future - yum!

I had 2 egg whites in the freezer (which defrosted beautifully - I will never waste an egg white again!) and only needed 1 so I made the rest into meringues which disappeared in an instant! Thought I'd jazz them up a little with some food colouring, minimum effort and pretty results I think.

Now stupidly, I made some cookies from the book to take to work but I forgot to photograph them. Duh! I made the Orange & White Chocolate Chip Cookies which smelt incredible and tasted great too. They did come out very soft but they were supposed to be a softer cookie. One thing I would have liked was a size guide for the orange, they can really vary in size and I had a pretty big one but all the recipe said was "one orange". You could really taste the fresh orange though and they went down very well with my colleagues. They were successful at home too so I will certainly be making more of the cookie recipes - the Black Forest Soft Cookies are for me I think! The bar recipes sound good too, Maple Pecan Sticky Bars sound pretty amazing.

Overall I really liked the book. I was afraid it would be style over substance but I was much more impressed by the recipes than the design. I think the childish elements should be removed and maybe fewer black pages. I'll be interested to see if another cupcake recipe makes the same amount of cakes. The variation of flavours makes this a really great book for someone wanting to try something more interesting than a vanilla or chocolate cupcake. How about Apple Crumble, Pistachio & Praline or Liquorice? Yes please!