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Archive for April, 2011

This book by the revered chef, Simon Hopkinson, has been regarded, since its original publication in 1995, as one of the must have cookery books, even rated ‘most useful cookery book’ by the Waitrose Food Illustrated panel.

At this month’s Cookery Book Supper Club we decided to take a look at what all the fuss is about.

There’s something to be said for heaps of amazing photography in a cookery book but the inimitable style of prose used throughout more than made up for the lack of photographs in this book.

As the intriguing title of the book would suggest, Roast Chicken and Other Stories is unlike any other recipe book we’ve read. It’s a cross between a novel, reference book, historical journal, autobiography and cookery book.

The book is highly personal; a collection of 40 of Simon’s favourite ingredients, divided into chapters in alphabetical order. Asparagus, chicken, eggs, garlic, hake, smoked haddock and veal, to name a few.

Each chapter starts by setting the scene; there may be an interesting fact, an autobiographical anecdote, a story about the restaurants which shaped Britain or a short ‘fanfare’ about a favourite chef to whet your appetite. The handful of recipes which follow have been chosen because they allow the ingredient to be the protagonist in the story.

There’s an interesting selection of recipes; a combination of his own creations, interpretations of classic dishes as well as unabridged recipes from Elizabeth David, Margaret Costa, Alice Waters, Joyce Molyneux and others who influenced his career and love of food. On the whole the recipes are homely and simple, requiring just a few ingredients, and Simon’s love of food and cooking really shines through.

With just one exception (the lemon surprise pudding), the recipes worked well and were delicious. The baked new season garlic with creamed goats cheese would be fitting as a dinner party starter, the oriental salad was a treat for the taste buds and the  leftovers made a great packed lunch the next day, the onion tart with a green salad would be lovely for a light al fresco tea and the lamb breast was an excellent Sunday lunch alternative.

Whether Roast Chicken and Other Stories truly is ‘the most useful cookery book’ is debatable but we did, in general, enjoy the book and certainly ate well this month.

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Inspired by recent reads from the Quadrille Classic Voices in Food series and having spotted a few old recipes in Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories whilst doing my Cookery Book Supper Club ‘homework’, I decided to give a couple a go yesterday for our Easter Sunday lunch.

For our main course, breast of lamb Ste- Ménéhould,  the recipe for which appears in the book exactly as it was written in Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, including a reference to the cost of the meat in Harrods (8d a pound).

Breast of lamb is a cheap and often overlooked cut of meat which has seen something of a revival in recent times with many a chef extolling its virtues on cookery shows and in food mags. I’ve come to appreciate the meat again after eating it over the last few months at Flinty Red, the Mi Casa pop up and Abode Manchester, my experiences far removed from my memories of very fatty, stuffed and rolled roast breast of lamb as a child.

The two-part cooking process of this recipe appealed to me since it would surely result in a succulent and tasty piece of meat and ample opportunity to render most of the fat. The lamb is first braised in water with carrot, onion and herbs for a couple of hours (I chose parsley stalks, a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf as it’s what I had to hand and threw in some peppercorns for extra punch). The bones are removed and the meat is left to cool under a weight, after which it’s easy to trim off some of the remaining skin and fat if you wish. The lamb is then sliced, brushed with mustard before being egg and breadcrumbed and cooked for a second time.

Served with a sharp mustard vinaigrette with plenty of parsley, it was a lovely Easter treat. Breast of lamb Ste- Ménéhould is one of those fantastic dishes which shows that a little can go a long way and that, with a little time and imagination, it’s more than possible to eat like a king on a budget.

For dessert I chose to make lemon surprise pudding. This pudding, of which Simon says he never tires, comes from the Four Seasons Cookery Book by Margaret Costa, once owner of a restaurant called Lacy’s in London. This being a recipe for a self-saucing pudding, the surprise for my unsuspecting dinner guest would be found when digging the spoon into the pudding; under the sponge there’d be a delicious creamy lemon sauce.

As the cook, I received two surprises! Firstly, the raw mixture is nothing like anything I’ve come across before and as I was combining the ingredients I was incredulous that this ‘slop’ could turn into a delicious dessert. I would surely need a miracle to deliver the final surprise but I kept my faith in the recipe!

The zesty wafts coming from the oven were encouraging. I was hopeful that we’d have a refreshing dessert to finish the meal. 

SURPRISE!

The surprise was jaw-dropping! Underneath the lemon scented curdled mess was a pool of lemon flavoured water. The pudding was an unmitigated disaster and it was time to raid the fridge for chocolate!

Disappointed and annoyed at the results, I questioned myself and the recipe. I’m not a regular pudding maker so perhaps it was my inexperience showing through? Had I mis-read something? Had I mixed the ingredients in the wrong way? No, I had followed the short and simple recipe to the letter.

A quick Google this morning to see if there was perhaps a typo in the recipe (15g of flour couldn’t be right?) led to this amusing Simply Clare blog post on the subject of lemon surprise pudding. I’m not alone. Her experience and those of the numerous people posting comments reflected my own. If only I’d found this before attempting the recipe!

There’s a lesson to be learnt from my homework. Breathing a new lease of life into old recipes so that we can continue to enjoy our culinary past for generations to come should be encouraged but it’s vitally important to thoroughly test a recipe before it’s published.  

Never one to be defeated, I’m going to try to rectify the recipe and return it’s true element of surprise. Until that time, lemon surprise pudding is a heritage recipe I won’t be passing onto my children and grandchildren!

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We’ve been to the Victoria Park many, many times since it opened in September; for a quiet drink, a lazy weekend breakfast, Sunday lunch and evening meals, so it is high time I wrote about this local (to us) treasure.

Until just a few years ago we didn’t have a really good local pub around Victoria Park. Yes, we had the Shakespeare, pleasant enough but a little rough around the edges, and a little further afield, the Windmill, but nothing on our doorstep. There was a time even that we’d cross the road so as not to have to walk past the front door of the Cumberland and the Raymend Hotel wasn’t exactly inviting. The area was crying out for a decent local pub and if it is was going to serve good, home-made, locally sourced food then all the better.

This arrived in the form of the Star and Dove. It had its teething problems since the owner was a chef, not a publican or business man and this showed, but the food was great and the atmosphere welcoming. We could finally pop round the corner for a pint and a bite to eat and know we’d get some good food at a fair price.

The pub changed hands, the ethos remained for a while but the teething problems never went away. We became disillusioned with the place and again started wishing for something better to come along. Maybe our fairy godmother waved her magic wand or perhaps the stars were aligned in our favour, or luck would just have it, I don’t know, but early last summer the now closed Raymend was showing signs of life.

The builders were in, posters appeared in the windows advertising for a chef. It was all looking positive. Several weeks and walks past later, I was caught with my nose up against the window trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside! The father of one of the new owners was helping out with the renovations and was only too pleased to tell me all. A group of friends, local lads, had seen the premises on the market and knowing the area was in need of a good pub decided to embark on a new venture.

Hopeful opening dates came and went as the extent of the work needed on the old, neglected building became clear but the door finally flung open to customers last September. We haven’t looked back. The pub has everything we had wanted and more.

The staff are friendly and go out of their way to accommodate your every request, so much so they were more than happy, though slightly bemused, to serve me deep-fried smoked paprika squid for dessert (well, I’m not a pudding person, am I?!).

The food, from a monthly changing menu, is cooked by head chef, Steve Gale, formerly of Harvey Nicks 2nd Floor restaurant. This is his first job as a head chef and he couldn’t be doing better. The food is seasonal, it’s local where possible, it’s value for money. It’s a well thought out combination of pub food staples, revived classic British dishes and influences from the chef’s travels around the world. The range of influences could spell disaster but the kitchen always produces a melting pot of great dishes.

The beer garden is massive, a lovely green space amongst the Victorian houses with an uninterrupted view across to Dundry. Glorious on a sunny day and soon to be enhanced with an outdoor kitchen.

Get in early for Sunday lunch to avoid disappointment and stay late into the afternoon to relax with the papers. There’s a book group meeting monthly, a Stitch and Bitch group, a mum’s and toddlers group and a quiz night. Open for coffee and cake in the mornings, sandwiches at lunch and a full menu in the evening. Three real ales on tap, local ciders, an interesting range of soft drinks and a good wine list.

Living south of the river has never been better. The Victoria Park is one more in an ever-expanding list of excellent local businesses to support.  I love it and want to shout about it…though not too loudly…I’d hate for us to have waited so long for somewhere like this to arrive and for the word to so spread quickly that we don’t get chance to really savour it!

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