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Archive for November, 2010

November has been a month of two foodie firsts for us. Our first underground supper club experience a couple of weekends ago and, last night, our first dinner at a pop up restaurant.

The pop up phenomenon hit London some time ago and has been going strong with restaurants appearing for one night only on barges, in warehouses and disused buildings. You name it, someone is sure to have the skills, the foresight and the contacts to be able to turn it into a chic and exclusive dining venue.

Last night was, as far as we’re aware, the first pop up to hit Bristol. Our chef for the evening was Alexis, by day a chef at Papadeli, and front of house was run by Kristjan, formerly manager of the Riverstation and now teacher at the Bordeaux Quay cookery school. The surprising venue was a scout hut on the waterside, the Benjamin Perry Boathouse at Phoenix Wharf, where we joined around 40 other guests for a Spanish-themed meal.

The team of three girls in the kitchen and two guys front of house must have been working like trojans to pull off the meal and service with such high quality and class. Hampered by traffic delays because of the bad weather and starting late, you’d have never have known they were so far behind schedule getting ready for service.

As guests arrived, the buzz in the room grew louder and the Spanish guitarist began to play and sing. The atmosphere was in warm contrast to the freezing weather outside.

The dining experience was communal – we were sat on long tables and the food arrived on boards and in large bowls to be passed around and shared, with neighbours helping to serve each other.

Our four course meal consisted:

  • Tapa of aubergine caviar with flatbread, piquillo peppers stuffed with goats cheese and pine nuts, braised squid with potato
  • Cocido of chicken, beef and chorizo with a romesco sauce, chick peas, savoy cabbage and butternut squash, fennel and orange salad
  • Seville orange cake with Pedro Ximenez soaked raisins and cream
  • Manchego and membrillo

The aubergine was heady with garlic and silky smooth, the sweet Spanish peppers, which are charred over wood and peeled by hand, were delicious with the tangy goats cheese and the squid, which had been braising for hours, was deliciously tender and fragrant with orange.

Cocido is a national Spanish dish with many regional variations. It is a rustic stew with a light stock, simmered for a long time until the meat falls off the bones. This version happily transported me back to my time living in Northern Spain.

                               

The cake was moist and topped with caramelised Seville orange zest and the plump raisins were bursting with sherry as you bit into them. The cheese and quince jelly were the perfect end to this sumptuous Latino banquet.

The evening drew to a close with guests writing comments and leaving contact details for the hosts on a large makeshift board with a view to being invited to the next Bristol pop up in the, hopefully, not too distant future.

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We had friends staying with us for the weekend and I kicked off their visit with a curry – any excuse to cook one!

I decided to make one of my favourites from Atul Kochhar’s book Simple Indian – achari murg, which he translates as Rajasthani pickled chicken curry. It is so-called because it contains pickling (achari) spices common to Northern India. 

It’s a rare find on a curry house menu, although you can get it at the Jubo Raj on Cotham Hill, which I highly recommend you do if you don’t fancy trying it yourself at home.

I didn’t follow Atul’s recipe to the letter. Having made the dish several times before, there were elements I wanted to tweak and make my own. After all, I firmly believe a recipe is there for inspiration and guidance and not something you need to religiously follow. It got me thinking though, how would chef feel about me changing a recipe he’s worked hard to perfect and at what point does the recipe become my own? Am I within my rights to post a recipe for my own version of the dish here on my blog without causing offense or breaching any laws?

Perhaps I’ll just start by telling you what I changed and why so if you get your hands on the recipe you can decide what you’d like to do!

  • I use chicken thighs with the bone in – partly because I can’t be bothered to bone them and partly because I love the extra flavour they impart when cooking
  • I like to use dried red chillies instead of fresh ones as I think they provide a much deeper flavour and warmth which works well in this dish
  • I add a little cornflour to the yoghurt before adding it to the curry since I have found that the yoghurt I buy from the supermarket can split when added to the hot sauce and the cornflour helps to stabilise it
  • I think that a mixture of lemon and lime juice rather than lemon juice alone enhances the flavour of the dish
  • For extra tanginess I love to add a teaspoon of lime pickle to the sauce (I use Patak’s although I really ought to make my own sometime!)

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Working my way through the Moro Cookbook I came across a recipe for pollo al ajillo, a favourite from my six month stay in Northern Spain, a now scary number of years ago when I was at University. It’s such a simple and amazingly tasty dish – I don’t understand why I haven’t been cooking it regularly ever since I first tasted it. I’m going to rectify that by adding it to our list of trusty quick weeknight suppers. Note to self: check if either of us has a meeting the next day before freely adding to the pan the bulb (not clove!) or two of garlic the recipe calls for!

Pollo al ajillo is a classic Spanish way of cooking chicken pieces. It uses very few ingredients – chicken, garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, white wine, water, salt and pepper. The trick is to emulsify the chicken juices, wine, water and olive oil to create a silky sauce.

And to go with the chicken – to be honest some crusty bread or roast potatoes along with a little green salad would be perfect – I chose another classic dish, moros y cristianos. Moros y cristianos is often served on its own when being frugal but works equally well as an accompaniment to chicken, duck and other meats as well as fish.

Translated to English, the name is Moors and Christians. This rice and bean dish originates from the time when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. The black beans represent the Moors and the white rice represents the Christians. It’s still a popular dish today. There are many variations of this recipe, some with a Cuban spicy twist, others, like the one in the Moro cookbook, quite simply flavoured with cinnamon, garlic, onion and bay.

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Last night we were on the guest list for dinner at the third Montpelier Basement Supper Club where we joined 13 other Bristol foodies who’d all caught wind of this new phenomenon to hit Bristol via Twitter.

Our hosts Dan and Elly are keen cooks who have bravely decided to open their dining room to food lovers looking for a new kind of dining experience which offers restaurant quality food at a very reasonable price (a suggested donation is requested) in intimate surroundings with the ability to meet and talk to like-minded people.

The wood stove was roaring and jazz music set the tone for a relaxed evening. We were welcomed with an arrival aperitif of La Gitana Manzanilla sherry and an appetiser of sage and pumpkin gougere. A gougere is simply a savoury cheese choux pastry. These were as soft as a pillow and so very morish!

Bertinet sourdough and spelt loaf were served ahead of the starter; a parsnip, apple and chestnut soup with bitter croutons and parsnip crisp. A surprising combination of savoury and sweet with a crunch and a crisp to offset the thick velvety soup.

Our fish course was Cornish haddock with a pumpkin crust, leeks and a white wine sauce. The pumpkin was an unusual seasonal twist to this quite classic dish, the sweetness really complimenting the firm fish, leeks and rich sauce. Elly gave away her secret for the crunch atop the pumpkin crust after many of the guests had left – I’ll be making use of it myself! Thanks Elly!

Try as I might, and I have tried plenty recently, I don’t get on with steak. The texture and flavour just don’t do it for me. So I was a little hesitant about the main course but there was no way I was passing up the accompanying triple cooked chips and béarnaise sauce! The bavette, which comes from the skirt or flank is a rare cut of meat in this country but popular in France, was served rare with a good seared outer crust. I have to share with you my utter pride in having polished the lot off! Dan, that’s the first whole serving of steak I’ve eaten, well done!

Dessert was an unusual masala chai chocolate tart with medjool date and PX ice cream and a syrup of reduced PX. The tart was not to my taste but the ice cream was sublime. Given that Dan had been up most of the night before churning it by hand after the ice cream machine had given up the ghost, the result was impressive.

This was an incredible effort to simultaneously serve 15 people such high quality food from a small domestic kitchen whilst creating a lovely atmosphere and environment where online contacts but otherwise complete strangers could meet, chat and spend a most enjoyable evening. We look forward to dining with you all again.

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This month’s Cookery Book Supper Club book is Moro: The Cookbook. To kick off proceedings I made charcoal-grilled quail with pomegranate molasses.

OK, so I improvised a little with chicken thighs instead of quail and a domestic grill instead of a barbecue (the book does say that quail is an alternative to chicken and being unable to get hold of any of the wee birds and it being almost winter I felt justified in my substitutions) but I think it still counts as a recipe test in preparation for book club!

It’s a Lebanese recipe in which the bird is marinated in sticky pomegranate molasses and fragrant spices then slowly grilled. It is tangy, succulent and absolutely delicious.

The recipe says to serve the meat with a watercress and pomegranate seed salad and a pomegranate molasses dressing. The salad and dressing were amazing but served with the marinated meat, we really did get a good old slap around the taste buds, even with my own delicate herby couscous to calm things down! I’ll definitely make them again but I think I might hold off on the double whammy next time!

In case you’re up for giving your taste buds a wake up call and are wondering where you can get your hands on pomegranate molasses, try Souk Kitchen on North Street, where they have a small shop area, recipe cards, as well as a wonderful restaurant. For those not local to Bristol or who’d rather buy online you can find it at Maroque. Be warned you may well spend a fortune on ingredients, cookware and bits and pieces for around the home!

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We spent the weekend with friends who had rented a cottage for a week near Radstock. We arrived famished on Friday evening in the pitch black and pouring rain after having lost our bearings twisting and turning our way through the narrow lanes. We’d have to wait until morning to see the idyllic surroundings in which we found ourselves, and so with the promise of a glass of red and food warming in the oven, we quickly unpacked the car.

Our friends had spent the day visiting local farm shops and had picked up tonight’s dinner along the way. We tucked in to hand-made Scotch eggs, giant herby pork sausage rolls, deep-filled and chunky chicken and bacon pie, fresh baked bread and salad from White Row Country Foods in Beckington. If ever there’s a need to defend Great British produce and cooking, farm shops like White Row come to the rescue. This one is definitely worth a day trip for the sausage rolls alone!

On Saturday we awoke to see a stream running past the front of the house, goats and sheep grazing in the back garden and a view across luscious green fields. We set ourselves up for a walk to the public house in the village (not much effort involved with it only being a five minute walk!) with brunch of American pancakes with maple syrup. With local ales and ciders on tap we could have stayed all afternoon but returned instead to our temporary homestead to watch the rugby joined by two more friends (Wales v Australia and Wales lost, in case you’re interested!). After the torments of the match we refueled with that Great British classic cottage pie.

Before heading our separate ways today we stopped in the next village, Lower Vobster, for lunch at the Vobster Inn. This 16th century inn for travellers has a menu which shows off the best of British produce – cheese, seafood and game were highlights on today’s specials board.

 

We had starters of crab soup, creamy with a deep, rich flavour from both the white and brown crab meat; terrine of wild mallard, beautiful layers of duck and duck liver bound in a fresh herb jelly and served with a home-made brioche; and scallops, seared to perfection, served with white and black pudding and bubble and squeak.

For main course we had roast pheasant breast with pheasant boudin wrapped in proscuitto, saute potatoes and spinach; home-made beef burger with chunky chips and tomato salsa; and slow roast lamb with potatoes and vegetables.

We finished with a trio of fruit sorbet, warm chocolate brownie with ice cream and sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce and ice cream.

                                    

This isn’t a modern gastropub, it’s a good old-fashioned pub which champions great British produce, simply but very well cooked. All jaunts in the countryside should end at a pub like this!

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One of the joys of working from home is being able to tuck into leftovers from the night before without worrying about stinking out the office or causing workmates to drool whilst watching you demolish a tasty lunchtime treat when all they had to feast on was salad leaves or a dull sandwich! Today was one such day where I was pleased to be wfh.

So, I mentioned yesterday that the pork vindaloo was good but didn’t quite pack the flavour punch I was expecting, but cooking for an army as I usually do meant there were leftovers to be had this lunchtime.

I am pleased to report that a night sitting in the fridge did my vindaloo the world of good. It came out tasting an altogether different dish. So there we go folks, do try Anjum’s recipe at home but make it the day before you want to eat it!

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