Saturday, 21 July 2012

Saffron Millefeuille with Pistachio and Lime Icing...

Sounds impressive, no?

But it ended up looking like this...

Rather messy!

It did taste good though, I just need to work on presentation. This is the first recipe attempt in my 'using ingredients I likes while teaching myself cooking good' project, and the ingredient in question was the saffron. I love it's sweet, warm, exotic-ness and especially how well it works in in creamy dessert dishes.

The decision to make millefeuille (which I still struggle to even say) was partly because I have never made it before and it would involve my first attempt at rough puff pastry. Also, though, those creamy stacks of sin are always what I am drawn to in a bakery or patisserie - custard rules.

Anyway, the rough puff recipe and the creme patissiere recipes both came from Michel Roux's Pastry book (which is a brilliant book by the way, if you are into making pastry you should check it out). The rough puff is pretty easy to make and it was fun to try, but I don't know if I would always make this instead of buying a good one in the shop - try it though, even if it is just to see first hand HOW MUCH BUTTER is actually in puff pastry :-)

At the same point Michel tells you to infuse the milk with the vanilla pod, I also added the saffron - 

Mistake number 1 - too much saffron! I got a bit over excited an probably added about a teaspoons worth and in the end I think it wasn't as delicate as I was imagining. Maybe go for a small pinch next time.

I then had to kind of guess about cooking the pastry - I got a couple of internet tips, rolled it out and cooked flat on a baking tray weighed down with another baking tray for 10 mins, then removed the tray and cooked for another 15 but - 

Mistake number 2 - I hadn't rolled the pastry out thin enough and I found myself cooking it longer than I thought I would need to, and it still wasn't cooked enough. Next time, I think I will roll to half a centimetre and 25 mins total cooking time then should be plenty, but keeping an eye on it to make sure!

This is what inevitably led to my messy end result, the pastry was too heavy and it was difficult to stack, the creme kept squidging out the sides! They improved after being in the fridge for a bit, firmed up like, but again in my head they looked quite different. The icing was tasty, if not a very attractive colour, made very simply with icing sugar, lime juice and pistachios whizzed up. I was pretty chuffed with how these flavours complemented the saffron-y custard, that at least was a winner!

I have pastry and icing left so I will try these again and try to improve them now I have learnt my lessons. Test, test! And once I have it down, I will document the recipe for ya'll.

As for saffron, I'm not done with you yet! I'd like to try it in some savoury recipes, cakes, and more Eastern inspired desserts as well.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Madrid and the purchase of an ingredient...

This weekend, I went to Madrid with my friend Hannah for a short girly getaway. It's a really fantastic city, so brilliant that we were able to get over the scam that cost Hannah 100 Euro, and the girl I found with her hand in my bag, and the strange man who tried to grope us in the main square - we are pretty sure he was drunk.

Seriously, don't let that put you off, these were our personal unlucky moments and make for good anecdotal tidbits, it really is a great place for a short city break. For a start it's historic centre in particular is beautiful, with bendy streets and tall town houses, it has wonderful galleries and museums (we went to see Guernica, 'twas super) and above all, INCREDIBLE food. Yes caps, you see them! So good.

We were staying at an apartment round the corner from the Mercado de San Miguel, which is an absolute must if you like cheese, meat, wine, fish, sangria, cake, ice cream, fresh fruit, beer, especially if you like croquettes, coffee, bread...need I go on? You just go in, it is a re-furbed old building done out all nice like, and there are counters and tables in the middle and round the sides. You buy a drink, then wander contentedly ordering bits of tapas until you fall over from fullness, too much sangria, or sheer pleasure.

As well as this, there is Calle Cava Baja which is a street full of lively tapas bars (as long as you go after 10pm!) filled with locals and tourists alike, and generally you go into any of them across the city and order a drink you will be handed a little plate of deliciousness along with it. In the Chueca neighbourhood (which also has a great market, San Anton) there is a bar called El Tigre - it was packed and you don't just get a little taster with your drinks, you get an enormous plate! It's not the best tapas, but there is loads of it and they do huge cups of sangria :-)

Here are some links, if you are thinking of going

 Giant Sangria!

 Hangover saving chorizo sandwich
 Inside and outside the Mercado   
                                                                                           de San Miguel

And so, you will see on my saffron on my ingredient list which I picked up from a lovely little deli just off the square - it's a bit cheaper if you buy it in Spain - and this will be what I use in my first recipe this weekend!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Ideas and Breakfast

So, after some deliberating it looks like I have a project! I juggled for a while the idea of a 'Julie & Julia' type of affair where I cook my way through a certain book but while this would satisfy my yearning for learning, it wouldn't necessarily allow me to be creative.

My inspiration came from a book I have called 'My Favourite Ingredients' by Skye Gyngell, which is a beautiful book filled with stunning photos by Jason Lowe. I am going to get together a list of ingredients and push myself to find new ways to use them. This could be by trying to come up with a recipe myself, or taking the framework of a classic and making it my own. I am also going to start making more effort with the photography (this is a general thing as well, I have been neglecting it recently!)

The next step then is the list. I shall have a think about this over the weekend and post again, after this I plan to do a recipe a week, maybe two. I have just started (another) new job so I have to see how my hours pan out.

But what is this about breakfast? This is simply the fact that I could eat breakfast any time of the day, (I'm all about brinner) and I made a pretty epic one for my boyfriend's 30th last weekend. I was particularly chuffed as I made croissants and so wanted to stick up a couple of pics - homemade, it turns out, is a winner :-) Yay.

PS. As I write this I am listening to Agnes Obel, she's lovely, check her out.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Lazy Bones

I recently read this post and it got me thinking. What the hell have I been doing with myself? 

I haven't blogged for a while, I have been out of work and you would think that with all the free time I would have been cooking instead of feeling sorry for myself and watching Dr Who on iPlayer (I have been doing job applications as well, promise). But something has been holding me back - I have hardly been cooking, and definitely haven't been blogging.

There are a lot of food bloggers out there, and a lot of amazing amateur cooks and currently I am feeling less than confident and more than a little uninspired, especially as money is tight. AND I am trying to lose weight so the 'I fancy baking' whims are being ignored otherwise Ricky and I end up eating 3/4 of cheesecake by ourselves. Something is definitely off, the blog currently just feels too random, like it is missing the point - why did I start it and who is it for?

Well, it was meant to be a release as I said in my first post. Secretly however, I wanted it to be popular - I am incredibly impatient and want anything I try to be pretty much immediately successful, or I think I have failed. My neurotic side tells me I'm not good enough, that there are too many people better than me. My logical side knows these things take time and that I am still learning.

So when I read the above post, I felt better. It made me realise that writing this blog for me, as I set out to do, is how it should be and that I needn't feel intimidated. This is easier said than done, granted, but this post is me starting again, looking at it from a different angle. I can't afford cookery classes, or to drop everything and live in Paris learning how to make the perfect croissant, it just isn't realistic. But I do have great inspiration in my parents, a host of food loving friends (also known as willing taste testers), and access to some of the best food in the world on my doorstep. I love food, I love cooking. I think I'm good at it. I would like to write about it, because I would like to expand my repertoire and learn. And like this post, make some space in my head by getting rid of some thoughts :-) That will be enough.

So, the plan is to turn this into more of a project - I find a bit of focus helps me get on with things and it will push me to learn as well. What the project is, well I'm not sure yet but I shall make a decision soon. If it gets read and people like it, bonus.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Health Kick

I am trying (and not massively succeeding, yet) to lose some weight. The trouble is, you may guess, that I like food. It is a bit of a dilemma but I am trying to persevere as I have a couple of weddings and that in the summer.

Doing it under my own steam wasn't working so I had to bite the bullet - I joined Weight Watchers. I'm not going to advertise it, different things work for different people, but it has brought home that perhaps the spoonfuls of peanut butter do add up and that I needed to really look at what I was eating.

So this brings me to what I am calling my Epic Potato Salad. I am trying to think up new healthy dinners, mostly veggie (as this keeps my points down) but that don't make me feel sad that I'm not eating bacon sandwiches with a chocolate chaser. And, I suppose, this is my first recipe! So here goes:

Serves 2
330g new potatoes (roughly, judge it on how hungry you are!)
3 carrots
2 sundried tomatoes
2 spring onions
1 clove garlic, raw (or more depending how you like it)
1 tablespoon light cream cheese
1 tablespoon parmesan
Juice of half a lemon
Big handful of fresh herbs (I used basil, parsley and mint)
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the taters on to boil. In the mean time, chop up the spring onions, garlic and sundried tomatoes and put in a big bowl. Top and tail and peel the carrots, then grate into the bowl with the other ingredients. Roughly chop your herbs altogether and chuck them in too, along with a tablespoon of grated parmesan. Squeeze over the lemon juice, season a little and mix it all up.

Drain the potatoes, leave to air dry for a minute. Put them back in the saucepan, season, and mix in the cream cheese. Add the potatoes to the rest of the salad, mix it all up and Bob's your uncle! Or your Grandad, in my case. Healthy, tasty, herby, lemony yumminess. I am struggling not to eat the half left for my lunch tomorrow!

So we'll see how this goes, but I have to admit, just a couple of weeks of making the extra effort and I do feel better so I'll try and keep it up, at least until the summer's over :-)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Trial and Error

I'm back! I feel bad that I haven't done anything for a bit but had a crazy couple of weeks, moving house and job hunting, and we finally have the internet up and running, yay!

I decided we needed a night out with a bit of a boogie and a little too much booze, so got a couple of people over beforehand to eat and have a glass o' vino. There are a some things I have fancied cooking for a while (I keep a list on Evernote, oh how I love a list), and 2 of these were pulled pork with coleslaw, and lemon tart, yum yum.

So the pork and coleslaw recipe I found here

But I added a little honey to it as well, and used Dijon mustard instead of wholegrain (just because I didn't have any). I think the beauty of this is that there are loads of different marinades/rubs to try - I'd like to try something sweet and sour, with lime, black treacle and soy maybe, AND pork shoulder is cheap cheap so it's great for feeding a group of friends (I got a huge bit at Brixton Market for £5.99). The coleslaw was as per the recipe, very tasty, and I made a BBQ sauce with ketchup, soy, mustard, brown sugar, and a little lemon juice. All this was piled on a soft white bun, which is ideal for this - it's a little bit filthy :-) but it works. 

So it seemed to go down well, just the right amount of food for getting something on the belly without making you bloated. It is a classic combination, the juicy pork, some subtle spice, coleslaw crunch and sweet BBQ. I urge you to try it and you can afford to mess around with it which I like. The only thing I found was that the 4 hours suggested was a little long and some of it was a touch dry, but my fault really for not checking enough.

I blame the lemon tart for this though! I was following a Heston recipe which was quite involved, I think I created a bit too much work for myself. So, I took a risk...hmmm...not always the best idea with desserts I realise, but luckily it worked. I made the pastry as per the recipe, but I skipped the stage where you gently heat the filling over a pan of water to 60 degrees, I just didn't have time. So, after I blind baked the pastry, I just filled it and chucked it in the oven hoping for the best. I baked it for about half an hour to 40 mins, and it was scrummy (thank goodness), not perfect but not a bad first go!

I like experimenting in the kitchen and I often think I play it a bit safe, but really trial and error is the best way to learn. I will do the pork again, but next time I will make up my own marinade and trust my instincts. As for the tart, I was probably lucky! But I know what mistakes I made with timing so I can be more careful next time.  

Friday, 16 March 2012

Bistrot Birthday

Oh my GOD. I am still coming out of the food coma induced by my birthday dinner at Bistrot Bruno Loubet last night. Damn. 

It was just so very very good. Right from the off, the staff were attentive and knowledgeable, and seemed passionate about the food they were serving. We each started with a delightful aperitif, mine a Lillet Blanc, Ricky's a Rouge as recommended - super tasty, sweet and fruity served over ice with a slice of lemon (or orange if having the rouge). I'd never had it before but it was refreshing and delicious, a good start.

We each went for specials for starters - duck charcuterie, and padron peppers with ricotta and a basket of warm crusty bread came with it. The charcuterie was heavenly, a rustic wooden board with a sweet spiced chutney, smoked breast, terrine, foie gras, a jelly, and what I think was a coarse pate. Not sure, but it was all flipping amazing anyway and I had to try really hard not to eat Ricky's half. So rich and naughty! The peppers by comparison were fresh and light, and the bitterness of them with the ricotta and tiny weeny toasts was a perfect balance.

It took us a long time to choose our mains, the choice available was just ridiculous. In the end I went with my gut first choice, salmon and scallop quenelles and Ricky went with a beef bourguignon from the specials. There was a lovely bit of theatre when two waiters revealed the dishes at the same time, as both came in black pots, like wee mini le creuset casserole dishes. 

And bloody hell was it good. My quenelles were beautiful; smooth and melt in the mouth, delightfully fishy and served in a langoustine bisque - both elements with such fine depth of flavour and masterfully brought together. I won't deny it was rich, but hey, it was my birthday, so screw it. I am actually salivating thinking about it. I only had a mouthful of Ricky's beef, but it was literally good enough to make his eyes water. The beef fell apart at the touch it was so tender, the mash velvety soft and creamy all brought together by the sticky, dark and rich sauce. Just one mouthful I could feel it sticking gleefully to the ribs! Slow cooked incredibleness....

I wasn't still hungry but of course I had dessert. An apple tart to die for. My comment at the time was that it had to be a crack dusted apple tart it was that good, and I stick by that. I can't remember the flavour of the ice cream on top, but it is some of the best I have ever had. Ricky's lemon and olive oil panna cotta had a strangely medicinal taste, but was lovely and light and creamy. 

I realise I have somewhat waxed lyrical about this place, but considering that we had 3 courses each, plenty of good wine (expertly recommended) and an aperitif each, it was just about £120 inc service for both of us, which I don't think is bad for a special occasion. And, above all, it really was that tasty. If I had one complaint it was that the new potatoes with my main were a bit unimaginative, but the rest of it was so stand out, I don't care. 

Anyway, I got a bit excited about it all and as it had been a while since we went out for a fancy dinner, I thought I would write it up! They do set lunches too, very reasonable. 

Omnomnomnomnom!!! Perfect birthday pressie, thanks Richard!!

This is the website, go see:

Photo not mine, BTW. I didn't have my camera!