Reviews, recipes, ramblings and other gourmet bites. A food blog of indulgence...

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Matt vs. lentils

Hi there,

Jen mentioned that we had puy lentils in the cupboard, tonight I cooked them.

If you'd asked me about eating lentils a couple of months ago I would have made wretching noises, but now I like them, a lot. This culinary U-turn was brought about through a visit to the Clifton Kitchen, where I was so hungry for the confit rabbit that I was prepared to overlook bunny sharing a plate with creamed puy lentils. In fact the rabbit was a bit dry and the least interesting component of what was otherwise a fantastic meal. The lentils were in a rich meat stock and had a hint of cream to them, like an earthy rich risotto. Since that meal, the last two restaurant visits have also had puy lentils prominently in the menu and they've been great.

So, how to cook them? The method below is adapted from the The Guardian, but, not having any grouse to hand, I used a griddle pan to crisp up some de-boned chicken thighs marinated in oil, lemon, chilli and coriander (de-boning chicken thighs is one of my favourite kitchen preparations, it makes me feel like a butcher). I was too rushed to buy any meat stock so I used Marigold.

Very nice, warming and filling, but perhaps lacking the richness of a chefy beef/veal reduction that we had been used to (or perhaps spoilt by). It was an easy preparation at ~30 minutes and made a nice change from the more standard carbohydrates. Definitely one to revisit! Chicken was tasty too...

Monday, 30 August 2010

Paris - Tu Me Manques. (In which Jen bakes lots of madeleines)

Today has been a bit of a wistful, thinky sort of a day. Probably it's because our holidays are over. I am actually quite looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow, but there's always that sadness of something ending - I feel the same on January 6th every year when the Christmas tree comes down and the room suddenly seems like it's just that little bit darker and emptier than it ever has been.

So, after a morning of fiendish flat cleaning, I shut myself away in the kitchen (which is looking lovely and organised, thank you Matt!) with Stacey Kent's stunning Raconte Moi album, and began Operation Madeleine.

Even thinking about madeleines makes me feel better. I first encountered them when I was a language assistant in a primary school near Nantes while I was studying for my A levels. I was there for 3 weeks, and remember being knocked sideways by homesickness. Every day after school, my host-mum had a cup of tea made with honey and a plate of madeleines waiting for me. These were shop bought, and a bit dry and cloying, but they nonetheless made me feel better.

When, a few years later, I moved to Paris for a year, I had to have serious words with my brain in order to keep me from flinging myself with gay abandon onto every tartelette, opera, religieuse and other cream-filled delight that I saw. Apologies for stating the bleeding obvious, but Paris does cake like no other. However, among all these marvels of the patisserie it was the humble, buttery little madeleine I turned to when I needed a pick-me-up.

My lovely friend and super chic Parisienne, Cat, bought me a book on madeleines for my birthday this year, and, unforgivably, it has languished on my bookshelf until today. I shall attempt to refrain from getting too Proustian on you with my madeleine inspired recollections, but after having consumed an alarming number of them today, my brain is soaked with Paris. I feel a list coming on ...

Mon Paris À Moi

Photo by the wonderful Robert Doisneau

  1. Eating ice cream from Berthillon in the pouring rain. Pomme verte and cacao - perfection in two scoops.
  2. That first view of the Eiffel Tower as you round a corner.
  3. The sun catching the stones of the Louvre in the middle of Autumn and making them gold against the silver of the river.
  4. Finally understanding why Monet's waterlilies are such a breathtakingly big deal at L'Orangerie.
  5. The market on the Rue Mouffetard - dithering happily over goats cheese, and being almost hypnotised by rotisserie chickens dripping their amber fat onto the crispy little potatoes underneath.
  6. Dancing at the Caveau de la Huchette with the only man I have ever seen wearing spats in a non ironic fashion.
  7. Candelit Chopin in the freezing cold Eglise de St Ephraim, then hot chocolates afterwards..
  8. Pizza in the office at midnight writing up the report on the first night of the Sarko/Sego election.
  9. People watching at Bastille with a demi-peche.
  10. Notre Dame's rose window. If I could have a tiny version to carry around with me and look at every day I would be a happy woman.

Blue Rhubarb And An Extravaganza Of Cake

We're now back from holiday, back in our little flat, and incredulous at the sheer amount of laundry there is to do. Huge, teetering PILES OF IT. Gah! So, to take my mind of the constant whirry grumble of the washing machine, not to mention the horror of going back to the office, which lurks around the corner, I shall tell you all about our foodie adventures of the past couple of days.

On Friday evening we were in Clifton, staying with Matt's parents in their lovely new flat. To say thank you for putting us up (and putting up with us) on several occasions, we took them out to a newish restaurant just round the corner called Blue Rhubarb. Apparently it used to be a garage, but they've made very good use of the space inside, so it doesn't feel cold or industrial. The deep blue and purple velvet curtains hanging in swags, and the enormous and really-very-swanky-indeed chandelier give it a little bit of sumptuous, almost theatrical flair.

When I was handed the menu, I at first thought it was a bit of an oddity. Packed with British classics, it's obviously trying to give customers a fine dining experience. However, the choice of some of the ingredients and accompaniments seemed to me to be a little too hearty, and more at home on a pub or, dare I say it, a school dinner menu (although that might have something to do with my deep seated dislike of beetroot, swede and their ilk). But as soon as the starters came out, I realised how wrong I had been.

Matt and I love going out to eat, and while we're not connoisseurs of fine dining by any stretch of the imagination, we do like to treat each other to the odd posh meal for birthdays/anniversaries/just-because-it's-a-wednesday. It's funny how easy it is to pigeonhole menus or types of restaurants before you've taken a bite. I suspect I had subconsciously decided that in order for a menu to constitute a 'fine dining' experience, things had to be served in tiny or odd-shaped dishes, with emulsions and foams and other Willy Wonka-esque bits of showmanship. While these things are all undeniably great fun, and very tasty too, I think I need to be less of a menu jackdaw, who's distracted by the shiny, glitzy faff, and focus on the foundations of the dishes themselves.

So, my Blue Rhubarb starter was a welcome eye opener. Buttery soft pigeon breast came served simply but beautifully on a bed on puy lentils (a packet of which is consequently lurking in our kitchen cupboard, watch this space for lentil experiments). The meat was lovely and rare and was complemented perfectly by the sticky and warming lentils. The main courses followed in a similarly delicious vein. My wild mushroom risotto was full of flavour, with the special treat of a truffled marscarpone ball sitting and oozing gorgeousness through the middle of it. Matt had slow roast lamb shoulder served with lamb hash and a carrot and swede mash (which couldn't have been further from my middle-school recollections of hideous lumpy 'yuck swede'). Also at our table, and eliciting many yummy noises was moist and tender chicken breast with creamed cabbage, salty pancetta and saffron, and duck breast with pureed beetroot (a non vinegary, deep and sweet revelation - oh beetroot, how cruelly I have misjudged you!)

The portion sizes were so well judged that although we'd had a lot of pretty rich food, we were all up for pudding. My blueberry and rhubarb cheescake hit all the right notes of bitter, creamy, fruity and sweet, and a blackberry creme brulee was subtle and delicate. All in all, a highly recommended restaurant, serving classic food simply but with real style, and without the bumper price tag that you might be afraid of. Yum!

So then it was back to the Big Smoke, and what better way to get back into London than with an exhibition devoted to cake?!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Profiteroles - Starting as we mean to go on...

Hi, Matt here.

This week we’ve been house-sitting in Axbridge, providing us with a nice big kitchen to play in and a number of exciting new cookbooks to leaf through. We’ve also had the spare time to devote to some slightly more involved recipes that we wouldn't normally attempt mid-week. (Chicken risotto with home-made chicken stock, french onion soup and profiteroles were the highlights, pigeon and mash with red wine reduction was also very good).

Looking through James Martin's Desserts book (beautifully presented but seems to have received mixed reviews in terms of ingredients measurements - not sure if I'll buy this one for myself or not) I spotted a profiterole recipe. Profiteroles have always been one of my favourite desserts, but - and this is essential - only when they have a set chocolate coating. To me the resistance offered by the thick chocolate makes a world of difference from the otherwise soggy homogenous, but admittedly tasty, mess that results from the standard hot sauce presentation. When they're cold you can pick them up and eat them like chocolate eclairs, with a challenging explosive cream element, which to me is very important.

The recipe below is adapted from James, the deviations are discussed in the method. He says to serve with hot chocolate sauce, like so many others he is of course wrong. It's not how my mum makes them.

If you are of a strong enough constitution, they make an excellent addition to breakfast.
Choux pastry is a funny beast and I'm still not sure that I've got it quite right, I will definitely try again soon though and have made a mental note to check what Harold McGee has to say on the matter.
Our guests were impressed with the presentation and the fact that I'd attempted choux pastry, which was nice. Personally, I thought that they were a reasonable success, some were a touch over cooked perhaps, but plenty of cream and chocolate helped to cover that. Next time, I would use more chocolate and consider drizzling white chocolate finely over the tops (to set) and provide a bit more contrast.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hi there...

Welcome to our blog. This will be the outpost for our culinary musings and we're both very excited about it. We promise to keep it updated as often as possible (I admit, I have been guilty of shameful neglect on a previous blog, as well as several diaries from my teenage years, but I'll do my damnedest to make sure that this one is a keeper!)

So...what's this blog all about? 

We both love to eat, and to cook, to talk about cooking and then to eat some more. If you're looking for a healthy eating blog, this may not be your spiritual cyber home (I'm new to this technological jargon, can you tell?!) That's not to say that we'll eschew salads, spinach and superfoods for the sake of it, but you're more likely to find buttery, sugary, cheesy, boozy recipes that care less about the calories and more about the grin that spreads across your face as you take that first forkful.

I guess the name of our little blog sums it up quite nicely. Take a hunk of veiny, nutty stilton (let's say Colston Bassett if we're going for supreme tastiness), and a ripe, juicy mango. Neither of these are too hard to come by, nor do they cost the earth, but they're a treat. They make you feel indulgent. They make you smile, and that's what this blog is about. (Granted, if you hate blue cheese it may make you run for the hills, but bear with me. As for mango, I don't believe there is anyone who could possibly hate mango - it's like a sunset in your mouth).  We want to write about what we love and what makes us smile, whether it's a tasty recipe, a gorgeous restaurant or a hilarious kitchen catastrophe. We hope you'll enjoy reading, and that some of our foodie scribblings will make you smile, too - or at least make you hungry. Tuck in!

Mango Man - William T Templeton