Monday, September 28, 2009

The Hind's Head

We had a long and dull drive down the M4 to Bristol on Saturday, and what better way to break the journey than by stopping for lunch in Bray?

The Hind's Head is a pub. Heston Blumenthal's pub to be precise. An expensive pub, but still just a pub. It is charming and quaint, with beams and smiley waitresses and awkward family gatherings and Japanese tourists and screaming babies. We were seated upstairs where we had a great view of the Range Rovers pulling up outside, the smart people coming inside and the slightly smarter people heading down the road to the Fat Duck.

Hind's Head blade of Scotch beef

We skipped starters as we had accidentally gone out for an impromptu tasting menu at the Dining Room the night before. Instead we dived straight in to mains of grouse (me) and blade of Scotch beef (him). We also ordered sides of the legendary triple cooked chips and the broccoli with anchovies and almonds.

Hind's Head grouse

The chips were divinely crunchy on the outside and velvety on the inside. I could have happily eaten the whole bowlful, but was forced to share. The broccoli was more bog standard, but being an anchovy freak, I still enjoyed it. My grouse was savoury and pink. I was particularly excited to find myself chewing on some real shot, proving that my bird was indeed a wild beast who had been gunned down in his prime.

Hind's Head treacle tart

Puddings were equally top notch pub fare. I tucked into treacle tart with a silky milk ice cream, while hubby tried his luck with quaking pudding, a quivering jelly/custard hybrid speckled with nutmeg and cinnamon.

Hind's Head quaking pudding

It's not the Fat Duck, but that's not really the point. It's great pub grub, service with a smile and well worth a detour if you're on the M4.

The Hind's Head, High Street, Bray SL6 2AB
Telephone: 01628 626151
Hinds Head on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Come Dine with Miele

Remember the Miele steam oven, which I raved about back in March after trying it out at their test centre in Oxfordshire? Well, it's now sitting proudly in my kitchen and helping me turn out dish after dish of perfect rice and veges.

In order to test the oven to the max, Miele asked me to host a dinner party. A sort of steamy Come Dine With Me, without the snippy comments and £1000 prize money. I chose our pals Nick and Sal as our victims, Sal having a few food allergies that meant the meal had to be nut-free, meat-free and cheese-free. This was an interesting challenge for me as often when cooking for vegetarians I tend to fall back on the old cheese-on-everything-to-make-it-tasty trick.

Asian rice salad

We started with an Asian rice salad - simple but zingy, with courgette, fresh herbs, soy, garlic and honey dressing. The rice was of course steamed in the oven, but you could easily boil it instead. The Miele oven proved perfect for the task as I simply set the timer and left it to do its work while I got on with the rest of the preparation.

Next up was a mediterranean vegetable gratin - kind of a ratatouille with extra beans and a crunchy breadcrumb topping. The veg were all to be steamed in the Miele oven and the topping blasted under the grill at the end, but calamity! The dish I had prepared the gratin in was too big for the steam oven. So, I cheated and added some extra wine, put foil on the top and bunged it in my conventional oven. Sorry Miele, I had run out of dishes!

Mediterranean veg gratin

I also made a cheeky dish of potatoes dauphinoise baked in the regular oven for a crispy top.

Finally, several glasses of wine later, we tucked into the piece de resistance - a steamed syrup pudding with clementines and whiskey. This was a big hit - nice and stodgy, with the citrus flavour cutting through the sweet syrupy sauce. Again, I just had to put the dishes in the oven, set the timer and leave it to do its thing, perfect for a dinner party when you want to spend time with your guests rather than being stuck in the kitchen.

Clementine pud

So, what do I think of the steam oven? I still love the way it cooks vegetables and rice, but I've also discovered it's very versatile and can reheat meals beautifully without drying them out, sterilise jam jars, prove dough, melt chocolate and even "boil" eggs.

My only gripes are that the door sometimes swings shut when you are trying to get things out and, for my kitchen, it is just a bit too big to have on the worktop. It's not a replacement for a conventional oven, but it's a very useful, and healthy, addition to a foodie kitchen.

Individual Clementine and Syrup Sponge Puddings (makes 6)

15g butter
6 teaspns golden syrup
1 clementine

150g butter
150 g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
75g SR flour
75g brioche crumbs
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Finely grated zest of 1 clementine
75g sultanas
75g dried apricots
1 tbspn whiskey

4 tbspns golden syrup
juice of 1 clementine

1. Melt the butter and use to lightly grease the inside of 6 individual pudding tins. Place a teaspoonful of golden syrup in the base of each pudding tin. Thinly slice the clementine into six rounds and put a slice into the base of each tin.

2. To make the sponge; cream together the butter and soft brown sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs. Gently fold in the flour, brioche crumbs, cinnamon and clementine zest. Finally stir in the sultanas, chopped apricots and whiskey.

3. Divide the mixture equally between the pudding tins and cover each tin with a small piece of foil. Place the tins on to a shallow, perforated steam tray. Cook in the Miele steam oven at 100ÂșC for 45 minutes. Alternatively, steam them in a pan of simmering water.

4. To make the sauce; place the golden syrup, clementine juice and whiskey in the base of a shallow solid container. Cover the container and place in the steam oven for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time to allow the ingredients to melt together. Alternatively, microwave for a couple of minutes until hot and the ingredients have combined.

5. To serve; turn out the cooked puddings on to a serving dish and drizzle with a little of the sauce. Serve the rest of the sauce separately. I also served this with creme fraiche.

The Princess

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Julie & Julia & Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf bourgignon
I was lucky enough to be invited to a pre-screening of Julie & Julia last week, along with heaps of other food bloggers. I really enjoyed the film, it's a combination of the book-from-a-blog "Julie and Julia" and Julia Child's autobiography "My Life in France". While Julie is a bit of a whingey, self-obsessed loser who doesn't deserve her angelic husband, the story of Julia and her lifelong love affair with food, France and her husband Paul is truly beautiful. Meryl Streep's performance is just uttter genius. I can see this one ending up on my DVD shelf with Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman!

I'm now reading My Life in France on the commute into London and have almost finished it in a matter of days. Julia's energy and zest for life really comes through in her writing. Of course now I want to go and live in Paris...

Being British, I wasn't as familiar with Julia's work as those across the pond seem to be, so I decided to try one of her recipes for myself. As luck would have it, Julia's publisher has the recipe for her signature Boeuf Bourguignon on its website. I haven't replicated it here as you really need to read it in Julia's words to get the full effect! If you would like to have a go yourself you can find the pdfs here:

The recipe was quite a bit of work, but the little tips and tricks Julia gives help you achieve a truly delicious result. Even the method of sauteeing mushrooms was a revelation to me. I know which cookbook I will be buying next....

So, in summary

Julia - yes! yes! yes!
Julie - not so much