Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Xmas and a polar bear cake

Polar bear Christmas cake


I have a huge blogging backlog, but thanks to the flu have got a bit behind on putting things up here. But in 2009 you can look forward to a review of Pearl restaurant and bar, a luscious Thai duck and green been curry, the bf attempting a credit crunching meal for two for 10 pounds and a write up of my forthcoming New Year trip to Istanbul.

In the mean time, feast your eyes on my not-too-artistic polar bear Christmas cake. The cake was a gift but it was the first time I had attempted marzipanning, royal icing or indeed fashioning polar bears out of sugar paste. The bf thinks the one on the right looks more like a mouse!

Merry Christmas and here's to 2009!

The Princess

Monday, December 1, 2008

Little Chef Blumenthal is a Big Success!

Little Chef in Popham

On my way down to Hampshire to visit the Princess family this weekend, I took the opportunity to have breakfast at Little Chef. And before you ask, this was not just any Little Chef. The Popham branch has been made over by none other than Mr Heston Blumenthal as part of a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary.

The shabby Little Chef of old has been refitted in a retro, fifties diner style in red and white. We made ourselves at home in one of the banquettes and ordered from the trial menu.

Beef cheeks and green tea looked very enticing, but it was early so we decided to test out the breakfast fare that Little Chef is more typically known for. And in fact breakfasts haven't changed a whole lot since Mr B came along. The bf plumped for an omelette filled with tasty farmhouse cheddar and I went for the bacon sarnie, on fluffy white bloomer and filled with two types of crispy bacon (Wiltshire back and crispy streaky).

Retro chic in the Little Chef

Whilst the breakfasts stick fairly closely to the Little Chef staple fry up, the quality and service is top notch. There's no snail porridge, but my bacon buttie was definitely one of the better ones I've had.

There were some nice little touches too, from the kitsch tomato ketchup dispenser and retro eighties board games, to the foodie wisdom on the loo walls and mini packet of Jelly Belly beans that came with the bill.

It remains to be seen whether this makeover will save the ailing chain, but from the comments on the board it seems to be going down well. An anonymous commenter said: "Very good ox cheeks", whilst A Govett "loved" the prawn cocktail & mussels.

I would love to hear what you think too!

The Princess

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sugar crusted salmon recipe

Sugar crusted salmon
It may not look like much, but I really love this strange fusion rub for salmon, courtesy of Nigella's How To Eat, who in turn took it from Neil Stuart's Pacifica Blue Plates.

Nigella adapted Neil's original recipe to remove the cocoa, but I put it back in and loved the outcome. It's sweet, spicy and hot all at the same time, and super-quick so perfect for after a hard day in the office.

Sugar spiced salmon - serves 1

Ingredients

1 fillet of salmon, skin on or off depending on your preference
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp cocoa

1. Heat a griddle or non-stick frying pan until hot
2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, then dust the salmon all over with the sugar-spice mixture
3. Pop the salmon into the frying pan until cooked through. Mine took about 5 minutes per side, but use your judgement as the timing will differ depending on the thickness of the fillet.

I ate this on a bed of soy-soaked sugar snap peas (the salmon that is, not me!).

Enjoy!

The Princess

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pompoko - a Japanese Brighton Bargain

Delicious Japanese food at Pompoko, Brighton
After a wild night out watching the Mighty Boosh in Brighton, the bf and I needed sustenance before our drive home. And we definitely found it at small-but-perfectly-formed Japanese restaurant Pompoko.

Pompoko is very cheap, very cheerful and very popular judging by the amount of people eating at 10.30pm. It's the perfect place for a quick late night bite to eat and also does takeaway. We squeezed ourselves into the last two seats in the 20 seat downstairs area and ordered our meals from the counter.

Delicious Japanese food at Pompoko, Brighton

The Ebi Fried prawns were crisp and delicate in their breadcrumbed coatings, and the Gyoza dumplings were light and fragrant with a deliciously soy-soaked chicken and vege filling.

Moving on to main courses, we were served with generous rice bowls topped with chicken in a sweet and sour sauce (Chicken Nanban Don) and beef strips in honey, ginger and soy (Beef Shouga Yaki Don). Neither us could finish our rice, and we left pretty stuffed.

At only £13 for two starters, two mains and two soft drinks, there's no need to flash the plastic at Pompoko. In fact you couldn't if you wanted to, as it's cash only. They're also unlicensed, so if you need some sake to wash down your donburi, just bring your booze with and stump up the very reasonable £1 glass charge.

Pompoko
110 Church Street, Brighton, 07747 703072

11am-10pm Tues to Thurs, 11am-11pm Fri and Sat, 11am-9pm Sun
Cash only

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Macaron class at L'Atelier des Chefs

Macaroons
Not to be confused with coconut macaroons…macarons are a sugary French delicacy, think little domed, almondy meringue biscuits sandwiched together with something sticky and decadent. They are a treat I'd tried in Parisian caf├ęs but never been brave enough to bake before. However with some encouragement from Niamh of Trusted Places, moral support from a whole host of fellow food bloggers (Lizzie, Su-Lin, Krista, Josh, Alice, Helen, Jonathan, Abi, Kang, Tom, Bron, Mark, Mia and Shuna) and expert instruction from our teacher Baldwin, on Saturday the impossible became possible.

We split into four teams, each of which was assigned a different flavour of macaron. My team was tasked with the Foie Gras & Porto variety, a sophisticated flavour combination in chic cement-grey. Another first for me was de-veining the foie gras, a messy job but very satisfying. Rather like walking barefoot in mud and letting it squidge between your toes, we plunged our fingers into the foie, squeezed and pulled it apart, ripping out the veins wherever we found them (much to the revulsion of our vegan videographer!). We then simply whizzed this up in the machine with some porto, butter and cream to make a super-rich and luxurious filling.


De-veining the foie gras

We then moved on to the basic recipe for the outer macaron shells, which was identical for all the teams save for the different lurid food colourings.

Basic Macaron recipe

350g icing sugar

250g ground almonds

215g egg whites

150g caster sugar

1) Preheat the oven to 160c. Whisk up the egg whites with a pinch of salt, add the caster sugar and beat until you have a stiff and glossy meringue mixture. Add food colouring of your choice.

2) Sift the almonds and icing sugar through a chinoise to get a fine powder.


Sieving the ground almonds

3) Mix the dry ingredients with the meringue mixture throroughly. There's none of the usual gentle folding, in fact you're intentionally knocking the air back out of the meringue mixture. We used a plastic spatula to cut and fold the mixture until it was smooth and shiny. It is ready when a cut in the mixture absorbs back in 9-12 seconds.

4) Use a piping bag to pipe macarons onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray. The trick is to let the tip of the piping bag rest on the greaseproof paper at a 45 degree angle and increase the pressure without moving the bag. This makes the macaroons perfectly circular.


Piping the macaroons

5) To get the air bubbles out of the macarons (and therefore stop them cracking open in the oven), drop the trays onto the worktop hard!

6) Let the macarons dry for 15 minutes at room temperature. They are ready to cook when they are just "touch dry".

7) Cook for about 15-20 minutes in the oven.

8) Leave to cool on the tray, then sandwich together with your choice of filling.

It is really up to you and your imagination as to what to fill your macarons with. Some great filling ideas from around the blogosphere can be found. How about chocolate ganache, passion fruit or cardomom, wattle seed and orange? Even Nutella would go down a treat I'm sure.

After almost two hours of slaving in the kitchen, we finally got our just desserts (literally). The foie gras teamed perfectly with the sweet, crunchy and slightly gooey macaron casings, rather as it does with a sticky dessert wine. I also adored the golden-brown salt caramel variety. The raspberry & rosewater were subtle and fragrant, belying their razzle-dazzle-red exterior, and the lime & ginger were zingy and refreshing in a zippy green. After trying one of each flavour, we picked up our doggie bags (haggling/bargaining/fighting for our favourite flavours where necessary) and tottered on our sugar-fuelled way.


Macaroons
Raspberry & rosewater macaroons

L'Atelier des Chefs was the perfect place to pick up a tricky new skill in a relaxed atmosphere. Of course if you're not willing or able to go to all that trouble you can pick up a few macarons from Laduree. However, all that labour comes at a price. And you wouldn't have half as much fun…

The Princess

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Gypsy's Bakery sign

I'm back from the wilderness, the arctic tundra to be precise, where I've been spotting polar bears, braving blizzards and, of course, finding all the best places to eat.

First, let me just say that Churchill, Manitoba, Canada is NOT a gourmet destination. With a population of around 900 people and no roads linking it to the rest of the country, Churchill has something of a captive audience. And in polar bear season, when the bears gather near Churchill in readiness to go north for seal hunting as soon as the sea freezes, it's pretty hard to get a table anywhere.

Gypsys is known as the "Place to be in Churchill" and is certainly a favourite with all the tour guides and drivers. It is always packed full of locals and tourists alike, staggering in from the sub-zero temperatures to tuck into something great.

And when the weather's like this....

The bear lift
Following mum
Play fighting
Churchill grain elevator

You need food like this...

A Gypsy's Bakery longjohn!

Ah yes, the Gypsys Bakery long john. It's a super-sized, super-sweet chocolate eclair. Quite simply the best foodie experience in Churchill. Unless you're a bear of course, in which case a nice bite of ring seal will go down nicely (don't watch if of a nervous / seal loving disposition!).

The Princess

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chocolate peanut fudge

Chocolate peanut butter fudge

It was officially Chocolate Week last week, so to celebrate I made a batch of this easy chocolate and peanut "fudge". It's very addictive and I ended up feeding it to my colleagues to stop myself eating the whole box!

Chocolate and Peanut Fudge

Ingredients

200g smooth peanut butter
250g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces (or buy chips)
Two large handfulls of marshmallows
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 can condensed milk

1. Grease and line a 9 x 9 inch baking tin.

2. Mix together the chocolate pieces, marshmallows and condensed milk in a large saucepan. Melt to a smooth, gooey mixture over a low to medium heat - keep stirring and be careful not to burn the chocolate.

3. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla and peanut butter until everything is well combined.

4. Spoon the mixture into the lined tin and spread with a palette knife so the mixture covers the tin evenly.

5. Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature, pop it into the fridge for at least an hour before cutting it into squares.

This will last 10 days in the fridge....if you let it!

Enjoy!

The Princess

Monday, October 6, 2008

Indoor East London markets

Brick lane
It was pouring this Sunday, but I still managed to find some tasty food and entertainment indoors at Spitalfields and the Brick Lane Upmarket...

Best foot forward
Lady in fur
Tasty treats
Bow tie
Bubbling pots
Pink ladies

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chocolate wedding cakes at the Barry Callebaut Academy

White chocolate wedding cake

I have been slaving away for three days this week on a Professional Chocolate Wedding Cakes course at the Barry Callebaut Academy in Banbury, Oxfordshire (courtesy of Squires Kitchen School). My classmates and I were ably instructed by the Academy's lovely UK head, Beverley Dunkley, who took us from complete novices on Monday morning to the proud parents of some very respectable two-tier chocolate wedding cakes by Wednesday evening. We baked, melted, tempered, curled, twirled, moulded, ruffled and primped our way to chocolatey perfection, and absorbed a good dollop of interesting theory along the way.

Day 1 was a pre-course and covered the basics of the history of chocolate, different cake and filling recipes, syrups and ganaches. We faced the arduous task of tasting seven different cake formulations, talked about shelf lives and alcohol syrups and baked our chocolate sponges.

On day 2 we were joined by some more experienced classmates and began to practice tempering the chocolate, plus fill and cover our cakes in ganache and sugarpaste. The trickiest part by far was tempering the chocolate, this is the process by which you get chocolate with a lovely shiny surface, that great “snap” and a silky mouthfeel. The basic idea is that by manipulating the temperature of the chocolate, the crystalline form is stabilised and the chocolate made ready to use. I think it's a case of practice makes perfect and I will be persevering some more until I get a feel for what is right and don't have to rely on a thermometer anymore...


Cocoform rose and chocolate butterflies

Finally, on day 3 we coated our covered cakes in chocolate glaze and produced all manner of fantastic decorations to finish off our designs. Particular highlights for me were the modelling paste roses and chocolate butterflies, which were surprisingly easy and very effective. Forming chocolate on a frozen granite slab a la the Hairy Bakers was also great fun.

Our class was a great mix, from those who had been decorating cakes for years and professional caterers to keen novices like me, and I was very impressed with what we came up with in the end.

The techniques could be easily used on birthday cakes or others, and the course was intensive (I even got a blister!) but great fun. I will definitely be putting what I've learnt to practice very soon.

Watch this space!

The Princess

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Trotter Gear - an adventure

Fergus Henderson gesticulating about trotters!


Ever since I saw Fergus Henderson demoing it at Covent Garden night market, I have wanted to have a go at making Trotter Gear. It's a simple recipe, just a traditional stew with trotters in, shredded, strained and cooled into a wobbly, gelatinous block of loveliness. It can then be used as an ingredient to intensify any slow cooked stew or casserole - if you're in need of inspiration, take a look at the St John website or, better still, buy Fergus's book Nose to Tail Eating.

My first challenge was to find some trotters, but luckily my local butcher Robert & Edwards was happy to oblige (much to the shock of my fellow customers). I also invested in some Bic razors as, according to Fergus (and I can confirm it is true), trotters can be a bit bristly between the toes!

Trotters


This is my own take on the recipe, based on the ingredients that I had around but reasonably faithful to the original. If you want the real thing then do buy the book (I strongly recommend it), or if you're feeling lazy you can buy Trotter Gear from Selfridges and various other locations.

Ingredients

2 trotters, shaved of any hairy bits (hence the Bic razors!)
A few onions (I used three shallots and a red onion), halved, skins on
1 carrot, split in half
1 leek, split in half
1 stick of celery
1/2 a head of garlic, cut horizontally
1 bottle of white wine
Vegetable stock
A couple of bay leaves
A bouquet garni, or some sprigs of thyme and sage

Ingredients for Trotter Gear

1. Preheat the oven to 150c / 300F

2. Put the trotters into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil for five minutes or so, until lots of horrible scum comes to the surface. Scoop off the scum, lift the trotters out into a large roasting tin and discard the water.

Trotter scum!

3. Tuck the vegetables and herbs around the trotters, then pour over the wine. Add stock to cover everything, and grind over a liberal helping of black pepper. If you prefer, you can use less wine and more stock.

Trotter gear ready to be cooked into unctuous potential

4. Put the tin into the oven and let it bubble away slowly for at least three hours, and up to five.

5. Drain off the cooking liquor through a sieve and set aside.

6. Remove the trotters to a bowl and shred off the meat, fat and skin using a couple of forks. Put the shredded meat into a container - perhaps a parfait jar, or I used a loaf tin lined with clingfilm. Top up with the cooking liquor. Compost the left over veges.

7. Let the Trotter Gear cool. It can then be stored in the fridge for a week or so, or you could do as I did and split it up into convenient sizes and pop into the freezer.

Mine was a bit more wobbly than Fergus's and not quite as photogenic!

I will be trying out some recipes using Trotter Gear as an ingredient very soon...in the meantime I am off on holiday for a week or so, learning to make chocolate wedding cakes. I'm sure the results will either be on here or on Cake Wrecks in the coming weeks!

Enjoy!

The Princess

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ludlow food festival 2008

I got up at a ridiculous time yesterday and made the 170 mile journey to Ludlow for the annual food festival. With 130 stalls, tastings galore and numerous other activities going on over the long weekend, it is a mecca for foodies all over the UK.

Highlight of the day was definitely the sausage trail - we tasted five sausages from different butchers scattered around the town square and rated them all out of ten. My favourite was a deliciously subtle pork, mustard and tarragon number from D W Wall & Son. We got to the end of the trail only to find that our reward for handing in our form was yet another sausage! We then had to sit down and have a rest...

We recovered in the sunshine with some butterscotch crunch ice cream from September Organics - sheer heaven in a tub! They also make some other interesting flavours like brown bread, blackberry & apple crumble and honey & ginger. Luckily they do mail order and are also stocked down South in Fresh & Wild.

Once we could eat no more, we spectated at the Waiters' Race. Six plucky waiters dashed around the square, collecting glasses of water from each of six pubs and racing back to the start with the drinks (hopefully) intact. There were some impressive performances, especially considering how busy the square was.
Waiter racing

Waiter2

Waiter3

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Moist plum cake with vanilla ripple

It's been a horrible, wet weekend in Surrey so there was only one thing to do - stay in and bake! I found this recipe on one of those free cards you get in the supermarket. I substituted yellow plums, although you could easily use the red variety, greengages or various other fruit (raspberries might go nicely).

Moist Plum Cake with Vanilla Ripple - makes 10 large pieces

400g plums, chopped roughly
200g self raising flour
175g unsalted butter
175g dark muscovado sugar
3 tbsp caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g cream cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 180c (gas 4). Grease and line a shallow baking tray with baking parchment. The parchment must come up above the sides of the tin to contain all the mixture.

2. In a bowl, beat the cream cheese with a wooden spoon until soft. Add the vanilla extract, caster sugar, one egg and beat until smooth. Mine separated slightly but it didn't seem to affect the end result.

3. In the KitchenAid, beat the butter, 3 remaining eggs, muscovado sugar and flour for a couple of minutes until creamy and pale brown.

4. Spread the creamed muscovado mixture into the lined pan. Swirl the cream cheese mixture on top and then sprinkle with the chopped plums.

5. Bake for 45 minutes until the cake is slightly firm and springy to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin.

The cake tastes great served hot or cold. It should be deliciously moist, with the creamy swirls of sweet cream cheese providing an instant-custard effect. Or you could just serve it with more custard...

Enjoy!

The Princess

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pea, broad bean and goat's cheese salad

Peas in a pod

It was rainy all day today (with a bit of thunder and lightning thrown in) so I skipped the Chilli Crab Festival in Brick Lane and stayed in for an indoor photo session instead. And, once I'd podded the peas I had to make something tasty with them so here is the result...

I have to admit to being terribly unhealthy and only really enjoying a salad if it contains bacon, cheese or chicken! This warm "salad" hits the jackpot with two out of three of my faves, plus delicious broad beans and peas which are both in season at the moment.

Pea, broad bean and goat's cheese salad

A couple of handfuls of freshly podded peas per person

A couple of handfuls of broad beans per person

1 round goat's cheese, cut into small pieces

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

100g Chorizo


1. Cook the broad beans and peas in some boiling water for a few minutes until tender.

2. Meanwhile, skin the chorizo, cut into chunks and fry in a dry pan until it's nicely golden brown on the outside and the vibrant red oils have been released.

3. Drain the beans and peas, and toss all the ingredients together. The cheese will start to go gorgeously gooey on contact with the hot ingredients.

4. Season to taste and serve, I just stuck to pepper because there was plenty of salt in the chorizo and cheese.

Enjoy!

The Princess

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What is....amchur?

It looks like sand and it tastes like...something fruity, sour and zingy. Sometimes substituted by lemon or lime juice, or even tamarind, amchur (or amchoor) is an ingredient made from dried mangoes and gives a delicious cheek-sucking tartness to North Indian curries and other dishes.

Inspired by The Second Pancake's Chana Masala, I dashed out to buy some amchur from Delhi India to top off this delicious curry. However, I ended up testing it out in a simple marinade instead.

Zingy Amchur Prawns (serves one greedy girl)

200g raw tiger prawns
1 tsp Maldon salt
1 tsp amchur
Pinch of chilli flakes
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

1. Mix all the ingredients together
2. Fry the prawns in a griddle pan until pink and juicy (approx 2 mins each side)
3. Toss with some ripped up coriander leaves

Enjoy!

The Princess

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blackberry fool

Blackberries

Tis the season for blackberries, and I was lucky enough to get to these beauties before the birds in my garden did! Sadly, I didn't have quite enough to feed both myself and the bf, so these foraged finds were bolstered with a punnet from Waitrose.

Blackberries

Blackberry fool (or any fool, for that matter) is incredibly easy - just whip up some double cream, mash the blackberries and a couple of dessertspoons of caster sugar lightly with a fork and fold through.

Blackberry fool - view from the KitchenAid

Don't forget to decorate with a couple of whole blackberries...

Blackberry fool

Enjoy!

The Princess

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gorgeous greengage sorbet - recipe

Don't these look delicious? I just love greengages, but they never seem to appear in the shops very often, so when I saw a big punnet in Waitrose last week I rushed home with them and turned them into a delicious greengage sorbet. Greengages are a particularly sweet and tasty variety of plum, originally from France and are in season from July until the end of September.

The recipe was inspired by Pim's recent post on greengage jam, with lime substituted for lemon as that was what I had around the place. For sorbet, you don't want them to get too jammy so make sure you cool the mixture before it gets to setting point. I found that this recipe didn't set hard, but was perfectly soft scoop when I got it out of the freezer (must be something to do with the pectin, or the quantity of sugar - can anyone enlighten me?).

Greengage sorbet

1kg greengages (or however many you can get your hands on)
500g caster sugar (or just scale down - you basically want half the weight of the greengages)
Juice of 1 lime

1. Wash the greengages, cut them into halves and discard the stones.
2. Put the greengages, sugar and lime juice into a large saucepan and leave to macerate for half an hour or so.
3. Put the saucepan on a medium heat until the greengages are nicely broken down. Don't let them get too jammy (see above), or you will have jam not sorbet!
4. Push the greengages through a sieve to get rid of the skins.
5. Cool the sieved liquid in the fridge, before churning it in an ice cream maker.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, why not try David Lebovitz's tips for making ice cream without a machine.

There you have it - Gorgeous Greengage Sorbet. Enjoy!

The Princess