Sunday, 24 November 2013

Stir in Sunday

It's that time of year again. The day people traditionally make their Christmas pudding. I no longer make my own since 1994 when I  discovered a guy from Devon who at the tender age of 18 spotted a gap in the market and started to make Christmas Puddings for sale at food fairs. Georgie Porgie'sPuddings  (  are a dream. No longer restricted to Christmas puddings his company produces a variety of excellent puddings all year round. This is why, on stir up Sunday, there is no pudding making in our house.

That does not, of course, mean that there is no stirring. Today, I made my Christmas cake ready for eating with a good bit of Stilton cheese on the big day. I decided on a traditional fruit cake recipe:

225g currents
225g sultanas
225g seedles raisins
150g cut peel
100g glace cherries
150g blanched almonds
225g slightly salted butter
225g dark brown soft sugar
300g plain flour
1 nutmeg freshly grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
zest of one lemon
4 eggs
1 tbsp milk
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp golden syrup
200 ml brandy

The cake takes 5 hours to bake so to avoid over cooking the outside I wrapped an 8", round, deep cake tin in two layers of brown paper and lined the tin with baking parchment.

Firstly, mix all of the fruit and peel in a bowl and add the brandy. Leave this for at least an hour to soak. After soaking, pour off any remaining brandy and keep to one side.

Warm the oven to 150C.

Cream the softened butter and sugar together well. Lightly beat the eggs, syrup and lemon zest together. Slowly add the beaten mixture into the butter and sugar until it is all incorporated into a smooth consistency.

Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the cinnamon and the grated nutmeg and mix together. Add 4 tablespoons of this flour mix to the fruit and stir that.

Now it is time to bring the ingredients together. Add around a quarter of the flour to the egg and butter mixture and stir well. Next add around a quarter of the fruit mixture and stir that in. A final quarter of the remaining brandy and stir. Repeat this three more times until all of the ingredients with the exception of the milk and bicarbonate of soda are combined.

Take the milk and dissolve the bicarbonate of soda into it before adding this to the mixture. Stir well and then spoon into the baking tin. Form a hollow at the centre of the tin to allow for the cake to rise. They always rise more in the middle so the hollow helps to level the cake off.

Place in the warm oven on a newspaper to help prevent the bottom of the cake over cooking. After 90 minutes reduce the temperature to 140C for the remainder of the cooking time.

Friday, 22 November 2013

It works

Well with the Wales v Tonga match on in a few hours, it being a Friday and therefore a need to visit the pub, wanting to try the method for peeling garlic that I posted earlier in the week and finally a desire for a bit of a feast tonight there was only one thing to do.

Out with the bulb of garlic.,crushed under hand to break the bulb up into individual cloves and the cloves popped into one of the two matching steel bowls I have. Next, I shook the bowls for a minute or two and, shock horror, it works like a dream. Now what to do with a dozen or so cloves of peeled garlic.

Out came the Bamix. In went the cloves, a pinch of salt, some basil oil, a handful of parsley and the leaves from a small bunch of lemon thyme. A few minutes later I had a beautiful green paste.Then I rubbed the paste across the entire surface of an organic chicken. I popped a lemon into the cavity and then sealed the chicken into a roasting tin with foil. This then went into the oven at 170C for an hour and a half while I dealt with the visiting of the pub on a Friday night. In the meantime I had prepared some batter for herb Æbleskiver to accompany the pungent garlic and lemon chicken.

Back from the pub and I toasted off the  Æbleskiver  in the oven: served them with the chicken, some baked new potato and some corn. Served off with a nice gravy made with the jus and some blackberry butter and a little blackberry coulis. A nice rounding off of the evening.

The cooked and roasted  Æbleskiver  were good. but I want a lighter bite. I can see a little chemistry with tempura style batter and a few post cooking techniques emerging. Watch this space ;)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Just Desserts

I've been off the boil a little on the cooking front. I'm looking forward to the weekend and a little creativity but tonight I reaped the rewards of the new sous vide. I'll drop a line on  a review of the machine over the next few days but it's first outing was to cook off some asparagus and to create the perfect addition to ice cream (not the same dish :) ).

You will remember the cherry glut following the bargain prices at the local supermarket I mentioned. Well a few of the punnets ended their days stoned and drowned in a hot bath of French Brandy for 3 hours at 60C. A little simple sugar syrup and I now have a good supply of Cherry Brandy for the festive season. I used 1.3 litres of Brandy to about a kilo of cherries. The cherries now bask in the cool of the fridge in the 0.3 litres of brandy ready for gifts and, at the suggestion of my wife, as the core of some Æbleskiver (possibly dipped in chocolate).

Protestations from my wife saw two of the punnets cooked off in the new sous vide for 30 minutes at 80C in a cup of strong chamomile tea. Cooled off in the fridge and served with a good vanilla ice cream.... Delicious.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Bit of a Break

We decided to take ourselves away for the weekend. We didn't want to go far, just far enough to forget the housework so on Friday night we packed a bag and headed off to Winchester. We have a favourite haunt there called the Old Vine (
This 18th century Inn has everything we need for a weekend away. Shops, a great Saturday market, plenty of pubs serving good ale and food, lovely walks around the city that used to be the capital of England and has a history going back to about 150 BC. It reeks of history to the extent that stores like W H Smiths are located in beautiful listed buildings, in their case in the aptly named Parchment Street.
To add to the draw of this particular weekend, they hold an art and craft market in the main streets on the third Sunday of the month.
Having arrived. We took a quick trip down through the town before dinner to pick up a few Christmas gifts. returning to the Vine we were ready for a well kept pint of real ale before we popped up to our room (Zoffany) to get ready for dinner. The rooms here are wonderful. Each we have stayed in has a comfortable bed, a good TV, great coffee machine and so many extras (water, juice, fresh milk, ear plugs) that you just wish a few 4 and 5 star owners would try the place out to see what they are missing in their accommodation.
Refreshed and changed, we proceeded down to the restaurant for our evening meal. I tucked into a simple blue cheese and pear salad for a starter followed by perfectly cooked calves liver.A delicious winter berry pudding (a twist on summer pudding). Finally a platter of artisan cheeses topped off a very satisfying meal.
Now to the real reason for the Old Vine. Lunch and dinner are great here but there is nothing nicer than waking up. Opening the shutters to take in the view of the cathedral prior to sitting down, in your room, to a sumptuous breakfast served at table provided. A perfectly splendid way to start a day.
Fully relaxed, we returned home today to reality. Bulbs to be planted, cherry brandy to be made (more about this later) and dinner to be prepared. I did have the foresight to place a joint of beef in the sous vide on Friday at 49C to cook through ready for tonight. Perfectly rare and in need of just a sear in the skillet to finish it off before serving with a platter of roasted vegetables and sous vide asparagus made in the new sous vide (review later in the week when I have had a chance to put it through it's paces). I'll tell you about the dessert later in the week too :)
As to a photograph to jazz up the page. How about the beverage enjoyed during the bulb planting. There was a good fire in the fire pit so it seemed a shame not to throw a cast iron pan on the fire and warm through some mulled wine. A dash of Kirsch was all that was required to finish off this comforting little tipple. Well, why have winter drawing in if you can't enjoy the pleasures fire can bring :)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Wow - I have got to try this

Very quick one tonight. Saw this and just have to try it

I will let you know how it goes. All I need now is a chicken :)

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Making the most of what you have

We had guests due round for a meal on Friday. The main course was already sorted out. I was going to serve the Tuna with fennel and coriander rub I mentioned a few blogs back ( . I was a little stuck for a first course.

Every Friday my vegetable box turns up from Able and Cole ( . It always adds to the weekend fun not knowing what I am going to have to work with. In this weeks box were some beetroot. I knew I had a small piece of pork belly in the fridge so a simple starter of pork and beetroot came to mind. In order to spice things up a little I grabbed some mixed pepper corns, fresh ginger, garlic, some sugar and some balsamic vinegar.

Once the spices had met with the Bamix they formed a good looking paste to marinade the pork in for an hour or two prior to a long hot bath in the sous vide at 85C for 5 hours.

Now to deal with the beetroot. It could also be cooked for about 3 hours at the same temperature as the pork. First I had to spruce them up a bit. I managed to pick up a great pair of scrubbing gloves that are perfect for root or potatoes if you want to leave the skin intact.

Scrubbed up. Topped and tailed. Skin scored with a sharp knife to let the flavour in. They were ready to take a hot bath with some ginger and balsamic vinegar too.

Just in time for dinner I took the pork out of the sous vide and cut off small portions for the starter. I crisped the skin in a very hot skillet. While this took form, I toasted some sesame seeds off. Sliced the beetroot and got ready to plate up. I glazed the pork with a little crab apple jelly. A few fresh baby beetroot leaves for garnish and the dish looked sufficiently impressive.

I followed this dish with the tuna served with some sweet potato chips and asparagus. They were sufficiently photogenic.

The same cannot be said for the Æbleskiver. This time I used buttermilk and placed a kirsch pickled black cherry at the centre of each. Served with some cassis and a good vanilla ice cream they tasted great but more practice is needed to get an even colour fit for the camera.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

And Finally..... The Æbleskiver pan has arrived

Those of you who have been following for a while will remember I ordered an Æbleskiver pan. Well, after a very long wait it arrived today. I got home from work with this very heavy cast iron pan. Washed it in warm soapy water. Coated it in vegetable oil. Baked it for an hour at 180C (and did a couple of baked potatoes for supper too). Re coated and baked it again to season it well. Having eaten our supper it was time for the first adventure.

I tried my local stores for buttermilk but it is an acquired taste so it was a fruitless search. I will get some at the weekend but I couldn't wait until then to try this out so I tried it with ordinary milk.

 beat the whites of two eggs in a clean stainless steel bowl (It might be my imagination but nothing lifts cream or eggs faster than stainless steel). Soon I had soft peaks and moved my attention to the yolks, a tablespoon of sugar, a cup of semi skimmed milk, a cup of plain flour and two teaspoons of baking powder. The power of Bamix means I can throw these into a jug and just blitz them. I poured this mixture into a fresh stainless steel bowl and added the egg whites. Folding them in gently I soon achieved a foamy batter.

The Æbleskiver pan had been on the heat for a while. Recipes talk of anything from two teaspoons to a tablespoon of oil/butter in each dish. I am trying to keep the weight off so I tried a teaspoon of butter in each first. I let this melt then added a tablespoon of the batter to each cell of the pan. As this bubbled to a set I added a half teaspoon of strawberry jam to each cell and topped them up to the rim. Using two metal skewers I started to free and turn each of the 'cakes' until they had been completely turned over to form golden balls. I removed these and placed them in a pre-heated oven at 200C to keep hot.

I repeated the exercise with a half teaspoon of almond oil in each cell. This time I added a half teaspoon of chocolate spread. The finished Æbleskiver were added to those in the oven.

There was enough for two more so I experimented with some St Agur cheese. These savoury version were cooked off in olive oil and once completed, served first. The sweet versions were dusted with a little sugar and brought in for dessert. 

The results were not photogenic but were very tasty. Now I have had a play and have the hang of the heat required in the pan I will go ahead and play with a few ideas. Once these are fit for public consumption then I will publish the results here. In the meantime I will enjoy the experiments to myself (though my wife may have to get a few :) )

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Short Break in West Wales

Sorry there have been no posts for a few days. We had tickets to see Eddi Reader in concert in Cardiff on Saturday ( so took advantage of a few days break to travel down to see my Mum on the Wild West Wales coast before stopping in Cardiff on the way back. This did mean that I had the chance to visit the hidden gem I mentioned a few posts back (,Hammet House.

I dropped them a message on Facebook ( and made a reservation for Friday night. Four and a half hours of tedious driving down to the coast was lightly spiced with the thoughts of what pleasures Andy Beaumont would present on the dinner menu. Friday night soon came around and we jumped into a taxi (well the beer and the wine are good so the additional cost would be worth it).

We arrived at Hammet House and, after working our way through a delightful crowd celebrating a 40th or 50th Wedding Anniversary and a surprise engagement we made our way to the bar for some pre-dinner refreshment. My eyes were drawn to the clipboards on the bar presenting the bar and dinner menu. You are free to chose items from both. I hurriedly ordered drinks before reaching across to read the dinner menu:

Dinner menu November 2013

To begin

Lobster ravioli, slow cooked pork belly, pickled baby vegetables, lobster bisque

Scallops, razor clams, larva bread risotto, toasted hazel nuts

Pea panna cotta, raisin puree, wasabi, mint (v)

Foie gras, smoked duck, black truffle, apple

Cannelloni of Pembrokeshire crab & pickled cucumber, caviar, peach

Tart fine of chicken livers, caramelized wings, girolles, crab apples, sherry vinegar

 Main event

Steamed lemon sole, salsa verde, tomato gnocchi, black olive, brown crab, kaffir lime veloute

Fillet of Celtic pride beef, braised ox tongue, shallot & thyme puree, pak choi, globe artichoke

Guinea fowl, braised leg pithivier, fine beans, baby beetroot

Lamb rack, sweet breads, peas, smoked tomato, runner beans, black olive, crispy anchovies

Cod, bulgur wheat, courgette linguine, cauliflower, crispy cockles

Grouse, braised cabbage, bread sauce, game chips & blackberries

Wild mushroom risotto, truffle oil, rocket (v)

To finish

Set coconut cream, cinnamon beignet, honeycomb, berry sorbet

Chocolate textures

Rhubarb & custard; poached rhubarb, baked vanilla custard, rhubarb sorbet

3 counties cheeseboard, handmade crackers, chutney
5 or 8 cheeses as pre or post dessert
5 cheeses
8 cheeses (3.00 supplement)

It was going to take some serious decisions as to which of these exciting sounding selections I was going to make. After some deliberation my guests and I chose our starter and main course and some wine. We then waited to be called through for the feast.

Finally seated at our table, we were presented with the amuse bouche. A delightful bacon jelly encasing a pickled shimeji mushroom and a foam made from the same delicious mushroom.

 The salt jelly married well with the high notes of the pickled mushroom. I now knew the chef was on form and a few hours of pleasure had begun.

Soon the starters arrived. The pea panna cotta for my mother (I did get a small taste of this. It was stunning. Light and full of fresh, summer, pea flavour. )

Pea panna cotta, raisin puree, wasabi, mint (v)

The crab cannelloni for my wife

Cannelloni of Pembrokeshire crab & pickled cucumber, caviar, peach

and, finally, my foie gras. The duck added texture to a light mousse of foie gras that had the taste complimented with the black truffle . The Brioche and the apple sticks added the sweetness to lift the dish and punctuate the smooth and savory with sharp, sweet stabs of taste.

Foie gras, smoked duck, black truffle, apple

Stunned into silence by the starters we slowly recovered the conversation and awaited the entrance of the main courses. After much soul searching I had chosen the lamb. I am not as squeamish as some men and love the taste of sweetbreads. The thoughts of lamb complimented by the salt of anchovies (I love using 'Gentleman's Relish' on the skin of a nice roast shoulder of lamb) was the deciding matter. I was not to be disappointed when perfectly cooked and seasoned lamb arrived accompanied with runner beans to remind me of the summer that had just left the building.

Lamb rack, sweet breads, peas, smoked tomato, runner beans, black olive, crispy anchovies

My guests chose the venison not mentioned on the menu 

The unmentioned venison

and the grouse (I cannot comment of the taste as we each defended our dish from invading forks)

Grouse, braised cabbage, bread sauce, game chips & blackberries

Much as I love the main course and starters here, the desserts are the 'cherry on the cake'. Again the choice was a difficult one. I had experienced the rhubarb on my last visit but managed to resist. My wife had liked the look of the dish when I had it but was forbidden  a taste so she chose this.

Rhubarb & custard; poached rhubarb, baked vanilla custard, rhubarb sorbet

My mother chose the  coconut cream. 

Set coconut cream, cinnamon beignet, honeycomb, berry sorbet

Though I was envious. The true skill of a good pastry chef is always in the chocolate. A wonderful ingredient so easily spoiled. True to form, I was not disappointed. Perfect texture and taste (shame the wine caused the  photograph to blur a little. I'll have to go back and try again :) ).

Chocolate textures

My poor expanding waist was in for one more challenge. When trying to order dessert I happened to spot this:

I couldn't resist and so soon after the desserts had left the table, three plates and a cheese board to share came in to complete the meal. A wonderful night with the promise of many more visits to come ..