Quick “Granola”

Weekend breakfasts are a big thing around here. However, trying to lose some weight – possibly gained through pancake eating on a recent trip to the US – means that breakfasts now need to involve a lot more fruit and a lot less bacon. Bah.

Almost made muffins this weekend, but even that seemed like a lot of effort. We had the ingredients for porridge, but no desire for it. A quick google for ‘quick granola‘, something else I’ve been craving since our recent trip, resulted in this. I also received some Kerrygold Honey Spread recently which I wanted to try.  As an Irish ex-pat, well, Kerrygold is butter in our house. Apparently this stuff is lower-fat than butter – yes, I know that’s all relative – but it has enough sweetness to lift the granola too. Of course, butter and honey, or agave, would work well too.  No, it’s possibly not the healthiest option in the world. But it meant I ate a lot more fruit than I would had alongside a bacon sandwich.

Ingredients

  • 40g butter or honey spread
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup jumbo oats
  • 1 apple
  • 3 tbsp organic low-fat yoghurt
  • fresh fruit to garnish
  • cinnamon, to taste

Method

  1. Peel and roughly chop the apple into a bowl, and spoon over the yoghurt to stop the apple from browning and pop it in the fridge.
  2. Melt the Kerrygold spread in a heavy frying pan, then add the oats, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds and coat well.
  3. Stir in the cranberries, then turn the mixture out on to a lined baking tray to cool for a few minutes.  Sprinkle with cinnamon (and perhaps some crunchy light brown sugar). If you’re doing the butter and honey route, you could pop the tray in a very low oven to let it crisp up even more.
  4. Assemble the ‘quick granola’ on top of the apple and yoghurt, and add whatever other fresh fruits you’ve got to hand.


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Charley Bigham’s “Ready Meals” and Berry Bros & Rudd Wines

I was seduced by the notion of Berry Bros & Rudd wines, plus the fact that the lovely WineSleuth would be matching those wines to Charlie Bigham’s food when accepting an invitation to what became hashtagged #Bighamsup – or Bigham’s Supper in Bermondsey.  When I realised that Charley Bigham – pictured above – makes “ready meals”, I admit I slightly rolled my eyeballs and thought to myself (again) “Read the invitation more carefully next time.”

:: Green Thai Chicken Curry ::

:: Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni ::

:: Fish Pie ::

Denise had chosen a fantastic selection, and we debated the matching dish by dish.  We concluded that neither the 2009 Gewurtztraminer or the Rioja Blanco were right for the punchy spice of the Thai Green Chicken Curry, but brought back the Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay we’d tasted with the Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, which was much more successful. So, to our surprise, was the food. The fish pie boasts chunks of salmon the size of your thumb, the Cannelloni is velvety smooth comfort food and the promsing spicy, peanut smell of the Indonesian Chicken Satay wafts gently up to you before  your fork gets anywhere near it.

One of the difficulties that Bigham’s encounters is that ready meals have a pretty poor reputation. Their products are currently stocked in Waitrose and via Ocado which boded well, but I shop there and had never heard of them – or thought I hadn’t. We don’t tend to click on that category on Ocado or wander down that aisle. Maybe I’m a bit of a food snob – and I like to cook, obviously – but what really put me off is that ready meals are generally rubbish. Let’s be honest here.  Whenever I’m desperate enough to resort to one, it almost always ends up in the bin in favour of toast or cereal.  It was only when we talked to George and Charlie and ramekins came up in discussions that I suddenly said “We’ve had your pies before.”

Casting my mind back to an utterly miserable day in November, I’d wandered into Waitrose in Marylebone and on the first aisle, spotted some pies and a lasagne that were on sale. After a rubbish day I just wanted something to put in the oven (the boy may have whispered lasagne too – and then I’m just a sucker for nice ramekins frankly. Sigh) The lasagne comes in a wooden tray like a Camembert box and was… really rather good? Tasted quite… what’s the word? Homemade. That’s what it tasted like.  The Chicken and Mushroom Pie was so moreish I seem to remember us arguing over who’d have the second one.  I didn’t find the packaging memorable at all which was why I hadn’t made the connection.  They need to brand their ramekins because I’ve kept and reused them which would have cemented their brand into my mind.

I loved the dishes we had on Tuesday, including their remarkably good Fish Pie. It’s certainly good enough to serve to guests, the kind of ‘I know you love me enough to not expect my kitchen to smell of fish for days just to make you a fish pie’ type of friends.  I’ve since tried some more dishes at home (Breton Chicken good, not so keen on the Catalan Chicken) and the various pies are in the freezer for the weekend. Charlie Bigham’s meals are a genuinely good alternative to cooking totally from scratch, particularly the oven dishes, when you’re pushed for time or just can’t be bothered. Comforting food made from good quality ingredients. The kind of thing you’d expect to make at home, really.

#bloggersxmaslunch at the Ship, Wandsworth

The idea behind a Christmas get-together for food bloggers came about after a slightly drunken night (ok, a rather drunken) night at an event hosted by Uyen.  We got to see lots of blogger pals there very briefly, as these things generally run, and thought it might be fun to have a lunch to round off the year.

The first place I thought of, and the first place I called, was The Ship in Wandsworth.  It’s not exactly local to me but from their tweets and knowing a little of them, I was pretty confident that the Ship ‘get’ bloggers. I reckoned they’d be game, wouldn’t be scared of curious diners arriving bearing DSLRs and bottomless stomachs, and would put up their “A game” to boot.

It’s always nice to be right.  Getting there and seeing that the hashtag #bloggersxmaslunch was on the menu amused me no end.

When I first rang Oisin, the manager of the Ship. he wasn’t in the least phased at the thought of 30 bloggers (I was a little wide-eyed every time I’d check in with the lovely Luiz LondonFoodie, my co-conspirator, and find it had grown again, and again, until the list numbered almost 50!), and immediately put together a varied and rich menu which he sent to me within twenty-four hours. Oh, and he mentioned that he could probably get Robin  Knapp and Sarah Joll from Cockburn and Campbell to sponsor some wine. He thoughtfully suggested that £3 of the £25 menu price could be donated to the Variety Club. We pre-ordered to streamline service on the day, hoping to have cleared the restaurant by 2:30 to allow them to do a second sitting. It was the last Sunday before Christmas so it was bound to be busy (I did wonder what the single non-blogger table in the restaurant made of us!) What actually happened was that the last of us bowled out of there about in the early evening, after finishing eating then sitting down with the brilliant staff to chew the conversational fat for a while, so that they might have a vague chance of doing it all again for dinner.

Because I took so few, horrendously bad photos, blogging about this lunch had disgracefully slipped my mind until I read this post about service this week. It just served to remind me how brilliant all of the staff at the Ship were, particularly Oisin and Emma. While they got us seated, with complimentary pints of London Porter and Bloody Marys in our hands, through serving up five courses of inspired fare with matched wines, to sitting around chatting with us afterwards. Such a fun afternoon, and I know we’ll be back – particularly in the summer. If you’re organising an event and want a great, relaxed setting, I’d highly recommend them.

And rather than bore you with some blurry shots of the beef and the amuse bouche (and the dessert wine – oh that orange muscat!) I’ll direct you some of the great write-ups instead; LondonFoodie, CookSister, From Chopsticks to Steakknives. A fab afternoon, got to meet some lovely new people though as ever, not enough time to chat!  Given the interest that #bloggersxmaslunch inspired on Twitter, there may well be some similar events this  year (do let me know if you’d be keen to descend as part of the next posse).  I’m off to come up with a list of establishments to approach!

Clarence Court Eggs and the Heston Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding

What could be better than having Mark Hix expound personally on why he recommends Clarence Court eggs at a select tasting in the private dining room at Hix Soho? Better than doing a blind comparison of three egg brands via steaming plates of creamy scrambled and perfectly presented boiled eggs? Better than the eggselent* three course eggy menu that was served up to us afterwards?
The answer is “Taking home 2 doz eggs in an Orla Kiely goodie bag”. BRING IT ON.

Mark Hix talked to us about why he’s a Clarence Court Ambassador (partly the vivid yellow colour of the egg yolks – as he said, you eat with your eyes too), chattered about the modern art (all of the art in the restaurant was specially commissioned) and we had Tonnix wine to drink (a collaboration between him and Mitch Tonks, conceived over a lunch at their mutual Portuguese wine merchant, label designed by their mate Tracey Emin) and tried different a trio of egg dishes.  I loved the posset which surprised me – usually not a fan of that type of dessert.

I’m already a fan of Clarence Court’s Burford Browns, and as it happened we’d just shopped so I was looking at a fridge containing 36 eggs. It’s not that big a fridge. First off, a luxurious Saturday breakfast of boiled duck egg and sourdough toast. (if only we’d had truffles too we could have tried to recreate our favourite Tristan Welch starter at Launceston Place) After 5:40 mins precisely as mandated by Delia, they were little pools of yolky sunshine and my only complaint was I hadn’t been offered two of them. The chef pointed out that they’re bigger than chicken eggs. I  tried to nick some of his and had to make do with purloining toast.

I’d contemplated making quail scotch eggs but on an evening when I knew I had to use up 500g of mince, the boyf had an inspired idea: thanks to his flicking through Nigella’s “Kitchen“, we ended up with Meatloaf.

Rather than the chicken eggs which she naturally suggests, I used one duck egg to bind it all admirably and nestled 10 hardboiled quail eggs into the centre of the meat. It works a treat as every slice has a reasonable allocation of egg throughout.

Finally I decided to attempt my grandmother’s custard to finish the eggs – I reckoned it would be the perfect accompaniment to something else in the fridge – the Heston from Waitrose Hidden Orange Pudding. I’d been thrilled when Waitrose sent me one and then hesitated to open it. My Dad *loves* Christmas pudding and I knew I’d be very popular if I brought it home.
Like “home”, home.
To Ireland, for Christmas. That was a month away at that stage.
Boo. Then Helen kindly said she had lots left over in her fridge and gave me some, and I get to be awarded the “Best Daughter” prize. Win!!

I have to admit, I really liked the pud. Mainly because it smelled just like the one my Mum makes, so it was going to be a winner, though Mum’s pud has certainly never strayed anywhere near an orange, and it’s honestly nothing like a Sussex Pond Pudding (one of my colleagues pointed out that that was where the inspiration probably came from) but I like the whole nuts and the sweetness – it was rather less stodgy than Christmas pud can regrettably be.  Famously, it sold out and there wouldn’t be any more on offer as they take too long to mature.  That makes feel almost churlish saying how well it went with proper egg custard, made with one of the last Burford Browns.

Ingredients

  • 1 Burford Brown egg yolk, at room temperature.
  • 10 g sugar
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 1 vanilla pod or vanilla essence to taste

Method

  1. Mix the milk and sugar in a saucepan
  2. Put the vanilla seeds or essence into the mixture to infuse and then bring it slowly to the boil
  3. Beat the egg yolk
  4. Slowly pour the hot mixture over the egg yolk , beating constantly so the yolk doesn’t curdle
  5. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly while heating gently until it coats the back of the spoon.

Now it’s on to a dry January, and a vast stacked of Post-It’d book marks.  Lots of new recipes to try this year.

Spaghetti Wars

It was only after I twirled the first forkful of pasta in Bar Semplice that I twigged exactly what I’d signed up to. “Carbonara cookoff, marvellous…compare dishes from x and y, yes” – with the chefs sitting there in front of us. Next off why don’t I just decide between your two children.

We started off with a Prosecco and Franciacorta comparison. I hadn’t been aware that Prosecco is barrel fermented where Franciacorta is bottle fermented (same as Cava and Champagne). The latter was a blanc de blanc, so entirely made from the Chardonnay grape. I’ll admit I liked them both, and was glad that this wasn’t in contention.  Both Mario and his business partner Giovanni Baldino are from Lombardy and strive to source ingredients there for both of their restaurants.

On to the battle. In the blue corner, the celebrity chef and Italian traditionalist, Marco Torri. Head Chef  and co-owner of Ristorante Semplice, and a fine goatee. Sporting chef’s whites and Birkenstocks. In the red corner, the challenger, Jane Hornby. Fighting fit even after spending six days (six!) at BBC Good Food in Birmingham. Author of What To Cook and How To Cook It. Wearing very fetching earrings and a lovely purple frock.

When the dishes arrived on identical platters, we were struck by how dissimilar they looked.


Dish 1 was startlingly well seasoned, evenly coated in finely ground black pepper. The jungle of pasta was perched in a lake of creamy sauce and lots of bacon peeked out from underneath.

Dish 2 looked comparatively dry. Specks of sauce clung to strands of spaghetti, again with generous  amounts of meat on show.

Time to dig in, and the chefs rejoined us from the kitchen. The restaurant’s Muzak errs gloriously on the side of 80s kitsch and had either “under pressure” or the Rocky theme tune popped up next, it would have worked.

Dish 1 was punchy and rich from the first mouthful. My scribbled notes say pecorino, egg yolk and speck, and ‘very yellow’. We debated whether it was cream or pasta water making up the sauce.  The liberal peppering added to the burst of flavour without overpowering as you might have expected.

Dish 2 was immediately sweeter. Certainly Parmesan and I thought maybe cheddar. The bacon tasted less smoked. Overall the effect was ‘comfort’. I could have eaten a trough of it.  We decided it had garlic – and revised that to garlic oil.

Then we had to give our verdict. Audible gulp. We dallied by first attempting to call who’d cooked each dish. Our side of the table assigned Dish 1 to Marco and thought Jane had created Dish 2 and it turned out we were right thought we didn’t get all of the ingredients right.

Marco’s dish was made in the most traditional way with pork cheeks, and pecorino from Rome, egg yolks and pasta water.  Jane’s used supermarket ingredients – a core principle of her book – including parmesan and whole eggs, and I think she said she put garlic in but left it whole (I’ll check when I get my mitts on the book again). Both of them were very tasty but it was interesting how different they were. Jane’s tasted like perfect comfort food from the cupboard, and Marco’s was more sharp and defined. I’d have a plate of either right now.

What made me decide which was which? Simple. Apart from the pecorino in Mario’s, it was the pepper.  Most non-professional chefs (by that I mean people who haven’t worked in a commercial kitchen) are more reticent about seasoning.  The pepper gave it away.

Trattoria Semplice, 22 Woodstock St, London W1C 2AR

What to Eat and How to Cook It is published by Phaidon.

Thanks to Sauce for inviting me.  I seem to also remember agreeing to do a stage in Marco’s kitchen at some point – more on that later…

Fernandez and Leluu + Unearthed = Action Against Hunger

Imagine being a small or artisan food producer – possibly a family firm, making a product you believe in, to what’s probably a tried and tested recipe. Something you’re passionate about and believe in, and want to be able to focus on perfecting.

Or a committed foodie, a consummate party-thrower, someone for whom “fun” is inviting thirty strangers over to your house three times a week and producing dish after dish of marvellous morsels to an unknown audience.

Simon Day created Unearthed Foods as a way to not only showcase but to distribute fantastic regional continental foods in the UK. With links into major retailers, they can get great exposure for smaller brands and allow the manufacturers to concentrate on production. Importantly, they also operate a robust supply chain so that the logistics make sense and they can import goods from a number of different locations in Europe efficiently. That makes more goods affordable for the consumer here too, and helps support the company’s aim of introducing regional specialties to this market. I guess that, technically, coordinated shipping reduces the carbon footprint too?

Fernandez and Leluu are long-time favourites of mine and they were a great pairing with Unearthed.  Simon  Fcame up with some fantastic combinations, using Unearthed products along with original dishes – sweetcorn soup with chorizo oil drizzle above. The first course included unctuous rillettes from Le Mans, not unlike the ones I had when I spent time in that city as a teenager. Nothing you could have told me as a seventeen year old would have convinced me that a couple of decades later I’d be wolfing them down, I loathed them then. But paired with oyster mushrooms cooked in wine and butter, and they were unbelievably moreish.  This was probably my favourite course of the evening – or was it the pears poached in champagne and vanilla? The broken rice was damn good too. As were the flamenquines.  We were also treated to Campo Viejo wines and both the Rioja and the cava went down really well.

There was such a buzzy crowd, the chatter was so loud we were on the verge of yodelling at each other, while cooing over each successive course as it appeared before us. Conversation and consumption aside, there was actually a more important reason for us all to be gathered together.

Action Against Hunger.  They’ve moved on from their ‘Fight Hunger Eat Out‘ campaign in September and October to focus on ‘Fight Hunger Eat In’. You see where they’re going with this.  I’ve had many fabulous meals in supperclubs for a donation of about £35. That’s roughly the amount of money that’s required to treat a child for malnutrition which is pretty sobering. Providing tools for a family costs around £20 (and if you donate online and are a UK taxpayer, boost your donation with Gift Aid).  Unearthed will donate 1p from all sales, and they’re aiming to support a project in Zambia for grandparent-headed families, where parents have died (mainly due to AIDS) and the children are now the responsibility of elderly relatives who may be unable to work or support them.

Check out Fernandez and Leluu’s great tips on entertaining, stock up on Unearthed tapas if you don’t want to cook and get some friends around.  Cook for them and ask them to make a donation to the charity as ‘payment’.  If you’re allergic to kitchens perhaps consider buying the charity lunch – donating the same amount as your next restaurant meal. It really is all in a good cause.

Thanks to Fernandez and Leluu, Unearthed, and Wildcard.

Dishoom Restaurant – London’s got it

I love Twitter. On Thursday night post-movie, we were struggling to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat and I quickly posted as much as we wandered around. Immediately a response from @dishoomLondon popped up: “Come on over, we can squeeze you in!”.  I don’t know if they connected work-me with Twitter-me but I’ve been aware of this Bombay Cafe’s imminent launch for some time as I did some work with them a few months back. It’s like when a good friend is pregnant and you’re anxiously waiting to see if all of the fingers and toes are intact and if they call it Moon Unit. There was an exceptionally clear vision behind this concept – would they pull it off?

When we walked in, I saw architect’s drawings come to life in front of me.  Dishoom‘s walls are lined with framed photographs and original ads from Bombay newspapers. Twisted black electrical cables loop from the light fittings across the room like long ropes of liquorice, between authentically wobbly ceiling fans.  On each marble-topped table sits a plate stand to stack up main course plates, and a canteen of sparkling cutlery for you to help yourself. Dishoom is modelled on Bombay institutions such as the Britannia Cafe and Leopold’s, some of the last outposts of an Iranian cafe culture that has all but disappeared. The detailing in the main dining room, from the glowing filament light bulbs through to the almost Escher-worthy tiling is perfect, the overall atmosphere calming and elegant during our evening visit but with a decided air of bustle coming from the open kitchen and sidealong bar. We watched as the barman made two deep pink Bollybellinis for us (rose, lychee and raspberry). Yeah yeah, you say. But what about the food?

Cafe Crisps with their traffic light system of dips, (I really liked the tamarind, the amber of the trio) and Dishoom Calamari to start. Some of the best, most succulent baby morsels of fresh squiddy goodness I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  The marinade is spiced and sweet, almost honey-like. Next up, Bombay Sausages, with shiny caramelised red onions, along with the excellent House Black Daal and the freshest roomali roti and garlic naan. Nom. I could easily see myself heading here for lunch on colder days for just sausages and daal. No, I wouldn’t share the daal, you’ll have to get your own.  Murgh Malai is an unusual cut of chicken with some fat, which is chargrilled and crisped (don’t expect solid cubes of breast) and the Biryani above was moist, spicy and had meat that fell apart throughout it.

To finish we polished off a Meantime Union – not only does its malty treacle notes hold up well to the meaty carb dishes (it was chosen in a blind trial) but the Grant Wood-esque label works too – and shared a passionfruit and ginger Gola Ice. If they do those for takeaway and this weather holds, they could not only clean up on the Indian food market this summer but could beat the hell out of all the local frozen yoghurt places for the perfect cool-down snack.

Young staff are enthusiastic and friendly. There’s details to admire everywhere, from the cabinets of authentic toiletries in the bathrooms to the house rules on the wall. I can imagine coming here for breakfasts or meetings, sitting in the banquets along the wall (wifi on from today, apparently) and downstairs boasts more tables, a full bar and deep leather-bench booths.  Service, food and atmosphere were great, and this was during soft launch.  They’re fully open from next week.  ‘Dishoom’ is the Bollywood equivalent of ‘Pow!’ or ‘Boom!’ and is also a quality, or self-confidence.  Does their food have that ‘dishoom’? Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d say yes. I know I’ll go back. And if they continue as they’ve started, it’s capable of becoming a London institution. Phew.  Dishoom has got all its fingers and toes.

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9FB