Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Plough - Ivy Hatch, Kent

On the pretence that I was up for a spot of post xmas sales shopping @ Bluewater, I managed to negotiate a 10 mile detour south to the tiny hamlet of Ivy Hatch to sample the delights of The Plough.  How many times have you walked into a pub to be met by the stench of a wall of chip fat? Well this was like entering your grannies cottage, warm, cosy and the waft of home cooked food. Like many gastropubs, the decor was a combination of old and new but everything was very homely, especially the beautiful fireplace and with the staff being so friendly I actually considered moving in.

The menu changes daily, hence is seasonal, mainly British and is well priced. The braised pigs cheeks starter was enough for two with the rich meat offset nicely by the sweet parsnip puree. After what seems like a life sentence of eating meat over xmas, the filo pastry basket filled with wild mushrooms, roasted beetroot, ricotta and spinach was a wise move. However, if you're like me and love a game bird, the confit leg and pan fried breast of pheasant with bubble & squeak, root veg and red wine jus simply kept the festive season rocking on. There was no room for dessert which was a shame as the pub also has a special pancake menu with several savoury and sweet offerings every day. With a couple of drinks each, approx £22 per head seemed very reasonable and it was good to see the pub using beer from the local Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewing Company.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Spicy Parsnip Soup

I love making my own soups particularly as you can control the flavouring, texture etc and each recipe is so adaptable. With it being the festive season, I thought I'd tinker with this one to make it more indulgent. The result being a dish that was described as liquid velvet! (Not by AA Gill, but they were right nonetheless) The recipe is for four people. The true star of the show is the cardamon.

Ingredients :  4 parsnips, chopped onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 25g butter, 1tsp olive oil, 1tsp each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamon pods, tsp turmeric, 100ml double cream, red chilli, coriander, seasoning, 750ml chicken stock

1. Dry fry the aromatics for about a minute until fragrant. Then grind in a pestle and mortar.
2. Peel parsnips. Using vegetable peeler, make 8 strips to be used as a garnish and set aside.
3. Cut parsnips into bite size pieces.
4. Fry onion and garlic in the butter over a medium heat. Once soft, add the parsnips and then the spices.
5. Coat the parsnips in the spices and then add the stock. Cover with lid and simmer until veg are soft.
6. Meanwhile, toss the parsnip strips in a little olive oil, season and roast in an over 200/gas mark 6 for about 10 minutes.
7. Pour the soup into a liquidiser and blend thoroughly. The soup should be of a custard like consistency.
8. Pour back into saucepan and warm gently. Finally add the cream and half of the finely chopped chilli and coriander and stir in.
9. To serve, pour soup into bowls. Sprinkle the remaining coriander and chilli around the outside and then place 2 of the parsnip crisps in the middle. Instead of a crusty roll, why not serve with warmed naan bread.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Chicken with Puy Lentil Dahl

Some people might regard this dish as a chicken curry, however I think that it's a little more sophisticated than that. I have to confess that I'm a thigh man as opposed to breast (with regards to cuts of chicken) and the succulent meat sits perfectly here with the rich dahl. It's a really good dinner party dish as it can be partly cooked in advance and finished off after the guests arrive. The recipe is for four people and costs around £2.25 per head.

Ingredients : 8 large chicken thighs, 4 tbs olive oil, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1tsp coriander seeds, finely chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, tbs grated fresh ginger, finely chopped red chili, tbs turmeric, 300g puy lentils, 100g passata, 800ml chicken stock, 150g natural yoghurt, bunch of coriander, seasoning

1. Heat oven to 200 / gas mark 6.
2. Roast off the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan for about a minute. Then grind down in a pestle and mortar.
3. Season the  thighs well with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in pan and cook chicken skin side down for 5 minutes on a medium heat or until brown. Transfer to a roasting tray and set aside.
3. Drain off some of the oil and gently fry the onion and garlic. Once soft, add the garlic, ginger and chili.
4. Add the turmeric and the grounded seeds and coat the onion mix. Cook out the turmeric, then add the washed lentils, passata and stock. Bring to boil (at this point, put the chicken into the oven) and then simmer for about 15-20 mins until lentils are al dente. 5. Once the dahl is cooked, remove from heat and stir in the yoghurt and half the coriander.
6. I like to serve this on one big plate and let people help themselves. Place the dahl on centre of plate and then top with the chicken and a sprinkling of coriander and some finely chopped chili.

On reflection, this is good gastropub food, not the sort of dish that you have after 14 pints of lager on a friday night!

Monday, 19 December 2011

A weekend in Germany

A few thoughts on Germany. The people are very pleasant, everywhere is very clean, everything is very efficient and the food although fairly basic is very good. Oh, and the war finished 66 years ago in case any of you are still harbouring a grudge! This was about my 8th trip to Germany, the 2nd to include the famous xmas markets. The country offers great value and is full of amazing history, architecture, scenery and pork!

Anyway, this is a food blog not a travel journal so let's get down to what Hannover / Germany has to offer. Most of the dishes are meat orientated with pork dominant. There are no fancy sauces, jus or emulsions nor any timbales, paves or confits. What you get is good, solid home cooked food and plenty of it. A main course is usually enough to feed an army (don't mention the war). Pork is served a million different ways, so if you're a vegetarian, jewish, muslim etc, maybe try France! A couple of classics are Schnitzel, pork escalopes that fill the plate coated in breadcrumbs with various toppings and the knuckle of pork (see below) which makes Mike Tyson's fists look small.

The meat is never dry, exudes flavour and is usually served with the infamous sauerkraut but also delicious saute potatoes, fried with onions and bacon. Another winner is the suckling pig served in a dark beer sauce. For a real cosy meal in a typical German setting, check this place out. Of course the beer is good too, I'm not a lager drinker by trade but the firewater here is pure, not full of fizzy chemicals and tastes great.

The other thing that the Germans love is kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake). The average bakery is strasses, sorry I mean streets above the English ones, everything is fresh and the choices are endless. The more salubrious places are full of style, mouthwatering gateaux and all sorts of coffees / hot chocolate drinks, invariably laced with alcohol. This little offering below is a gooseberry cake whereby the fruit is caramelized and sandwiched between a soft biscuit base and sponge and topped off with sweet meringue which perfectly offsets the sharpness of the berries.

Apart from the array of cafes and restaurants, the Xmas markets present an abundance of food stalls. Ok, it's not quite Borough Market but it's far from Romford Market too. The bratwurst (hot dog) which are almost a foot long are meaty and taste like how sausages should. The soups are thick and hearty and the hams/fish are smoked perfectly. To finish things off, there are waffles, crepes, gingerbread, fruit dipped in chocolate and barrels of gluhwein to wash it all down. So leave the diet at home, sample what a traditional Christmas feels like and give Germany a try one year.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Apple Tarte Tatin

One of my favourite all time desserts is the French classic Tarte Tatin. I love the story how it came about too. Apparently Stephanie Tatin, one half of the Tatin sisters who ran the Tatin hotel made a culinary faux pas one day in the kitchen when she burnt the caramelized apples in the pan. To literally cover up her mistake, she placed the pastry over the top and put the pie in the oven. After turning the dish over and presenting to her guests to much acclaim, a classic was born.

There are lots of variations about today whereby chefs add all sorts of booze, spices etc. I tend to lean towards the standard recipe, however the dish works very well with pears, apricots and I've even had an endive one served with duck in the excellent Foliage restaurant before Heston Blumenthal took over! One tip, buy a proper tarte tatin dish. You can get them online for about £12 and you cook the whole dish in it. I also use shop bought pastry (shock, horror) for convenience.

Ingredients - Sheet of puff pastry, 150g caster sugar, 25g butter, 6 Granny Smith apples peeled, cored and quartered, Cinnamon bark

1. Heat oven to 200 / gas mark 6.
2. Roll out pastry and using dish as a guide, cut out a circle that is slightly wider.
3. Put the sugar into the dish and heat gently. Do not stir. Once it has turned brown, remove from heat and stir in the butter and some finely grated cinnamon.
4. Carefully line the dish with the apple quarters, so that they interlock into a pattern.
5. Cover the apples with the pastry and tuck the edges down the side of the dish.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is crisp and brown.
7. Invert the tart onto a plate. Take care as the caramel will be very hot
8. Serve with either cream or vanilla ice cream

The smell and the taste is so evocative of France. It also exemplifies the fact that some of the best dishes are the simple ones. This recipe will serve 6 people, so works well for a dinner party. Bon appetit

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Afternoon Tea @ Palm Court, The Langham Hotel, London

Afternoon Tea is one of the few things that makes me proud to be British. We invented it and are still very good at it. The Palm Court is where it all began 140 years ago and thankfully the Scones are still fresh. If Michelin stars were awarded for such afternoon delicacies, this venue would have about 5 by now!!

The room is beautiful, however as I'm not Mr LLewelyn Bowen, I won't try and describe the furnishings, instead here's a pic.

The tea list was longer and more impressive than some restaurant's wine lists, they even have a tea sommelier! We opted for Earl Grey, Jasmine with Rose and Vanilla. All had very distinctive notes and just danced around your mouth.

The current offerings include a Christmas inspired selection of sandwiches and cakes as well the Stephen Webster designed bijoux tea which for an extra £7 is well worth sampling. Fillings such as foie gras and apple, duck egg mayonnaise with caviar and native lobster with piquillo peppers and flying fish roe were served up as well as some more traditional flavours. Here's the link to the site and menu anyway.

The scones were still warm and were so light, I was forced to have two, accompanied by lashings of strawberry jam and clotted cream of course. Meanwhile, the tea flowed and the pianist alternated between Rachmaninoff and Jonah Lewie!!

The cakes were amazing and looked liked they had been created by Willy Wonka. Each one was a kaleidoscope of colour, texture and flavour. The jasmine mousse with apricot was divine and the roasted pistachio chantilly topped sponge cake just took things to an even higher level.

Such decadence comes at a price, about £50 a head. Some may think that obscene for a few sarnies and a bit of cake! This is about the whole experience though, the setting, the ambiance, the service and the amazing creativity and expertise of the pastry chef. You won't come out hungry and what you can't eat, the staff box up for you in a dainty little doggy bag.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sausages with Lentils

As an alternative to the old classic Sausage and Mash, I often do a type of lentil dal. The dal is seasoned and spiced according to the type of sausages being used, although I do tend to use a spicy banger ie Cumberland, Toulouse, Merguez. The following recipe is very simple, very filling, very cheap and above all very tasty. This dish uses cumberland however if I were using merguez, I would probably add some chili, paprika and finish with a squeeze of lemon

Ingredients (for 2) : 6 sausages, onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 large carrot, 2 sticks of celery, 100g green lentils, chicken stock, thyme, olive oil, ex v olive oil

1. Dice the veg into equal size pieces. Rinse the lentils in a sieve.
2. On a medium to high heat, sweat the veg and the crushed garlic for 5 mins.
3. Add the lentils and thyme and stir.
4. Add the stock, stir and reduce to a medium heat. Cover pot and cook for 20 mins or until lentils are cooked but still retain a slight bite. Check seasoning and adjust where necessary.
5. Meanwhile, cook the sausages on a griddle pan
6. To serve, place a pile of the dal into the centre of a warm place. Arrange sausages on top and drizzle some ex virgin oil oil over the top.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

"May I join you for lunch?"

It wasn't my intention to use this blog to promote the business, but I thought that this little story was funny. On Thursday the CM had a job at a local training facility. It was just to provide lunch for fifteen officers, so we did baked ham, pasta with roasted veg, pomegranate salad (below), hotslaw (below), bread basket and a fruit basket. On laying up, I noticed the sumptuous fayre on offer in the adjacent room, obviously courtesy of the local council's catering arm. There was a lovely array of sandwiches, goujons, balls and anything else you can oven cook from frozen. All served on those lovely plastic trays. This made my food look like Michelin 3 star haute cuisine! Who says that you have to pay for advertising?

The feedback on the event was excellent with all of the food being mullered. Apparently one guy from next door smelt the CM food and asked if he could join the group for lunch as he wasn't impressed with what he'd paid for. Anyway he helped himself, took a business card so its CM 1 The Council 0 !!!!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Is this what you call fusion cusine?

When an Indian invites you over for dinner, you immediately think of home made curries, dals, breads and the smell of Brick Lane. On arrival I must have immediately contracted my friend's husband's man flu as I couldn't smell anything even remotely spicy. Instead I was told that I would be taken on a gastronomic cruise along the Mediterranean, although in what direction I still haven't quite fathomed out.

Canapes were Piquante peppers stuffed with Feta, a pleasant South African / Greek combination and Italian Bread sticks! The presentation was akin to exhibits in the Tate Modern which we are also led to believe are priceless exhibits.

The main course and dessert were based on two recipes from Lorraine Pascal's excellent book.

Cod baked with chorizo, tomatoes and lemon was something that the Moors would have been proud to eat. Everything is cooked together in the roasting tray which allows all of the aromatics to combine beautifully. Served with roasted herb potatoes and char grilled asparagus, this is a simple but tasty supper dish.

Dessert took us further East where we had poached pears in Sauternes with mascarpone, honey and toasted hazelnuts. If you can imagine the smell of Christmas with a touch of North Africa thrown in, this was it.

Whilst down that part of the med, some home made Turkish Mint tea was served up, a bit different to after dinner liqueurs but actually very refreshing on the palate. So overall, a very impressive meal despite the notable absence of any poppadoms!