Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Broad Chare, Quayside, Newcastle, Restaurant Review

So yes, I may have written a brief little something on the scotch eggs The Broad Chare does here and rhapsodised about how great a pub it was but I went back for food somewhat accidentally and of course have to write about it again, and I promise they aren't even paying me (although hey if you wanna give me a free dinner I think I could be ok with that)

And you will be pleased to note that the burger hunt has continued.

As I said before The Broad Chare is the first pub in Terry Laybourne's successful string of ventures. I had spent the day writing about pork scratchings for work and I had a craving for some - the other half's office is just by The Broad Chare so we thought we'd go for a quick after work drink. Whilst supping on my pint of Trashy Blonde the man next to us violently attacked a homely looking steak and kidney pie with the sort of dead stare an account must have after a hard day of looking at sums and I knew at that point I wasn't going home for potatoes and chorizo as planned.

Luckily for us we managed to book in for a table in half an hours time. In the mean time I snacked on a few pieces of their Pork Crackling with Bramley Apple Sauce, £2.50. I say a few not for a vague casual description but because we literally got about 4 pieces of scratching. Yes a bar snack and yes obviously made fresh and with high quality pork but I did however expect a larger portion for my £2.50, the brambly apple sauce they were served with was delicious but we ran out of crackling before we could eat most of it.

The upstairs dining area was larger than I was expecting and didn't feel cramped, we got a cute little wooden table by one of the deep set windows (it's a shame The Broad Chare faces the way it does as we got a lovely few of the back end of a Travelodge) and ordered a bottle of red (cheapest on the menu at £16 a bottle) and surveyed the nicely limited menu.


This was half cause I quite fancied a good burger, a quarter because I wanted to continue my quest for a good burger and the last quarter was me refusing to get the most expensive thing on the menu (steak at £18.50). I was very pleased I did get it as The Broad Chare's Ground Rib Steak Burger with Northumberland Cheese, £10.50, its a thing of bloody beauty - bloody because I got it medium rare and was sufficiently juicy and red in the middle. Even better the meat had such a wonderful flavour as it was made with freshly ground rib steak and had a delicious chargrilled edging to it. And I actually let out a squeal when I saw a glazed brioche bun, something severely lacking on the north east burger scene. The other half was embarrassed at this point because the refined middle aged clientele around us gave me a 'look'.

So if I had a little gripe about this it was that it could have been a bit bigger, it had a nice thickness but could have had a wider diameter (although this is the factually correct word to use I'm finding it slightly odd). The chips filled me up sufficiently however and meant I couldn't order pudding/cheese. By far the best burger i've had in Newcastle by a juicy, meaty mile, no question about it. I'm not even sure where to try next because I can't think of where will do it better.

The other half got the Calves Liver, Bacon and Crispy Onions, £14.50 which was cooked so it was pink in the middle, the mash was wonderfully creamy, bacon crunch but not dry and the scattering of fried onions added a great contrast of texture to the tender liver. There was also savoy cabbage and lovely rich gravy (his knowledgeable guess is it was made with port?). Again a nice sized portion and he was content, although moaned I didn't let him try my burger. 

Calves Liver, Bacon and Crispy Onions, The Broad Chare, £14.50

As with anywhere in the 21 Group the service was impeccable, friendly, well timed and unintrusive. The dining room was about 3/4 full when we arrived, mostly middle aged, most looking like they had come straight from work or after a day christmas shopping. Hint for any students reading, if your parents are visiting any time soon, take them to The Broad Chare.

Our bill at the end came to £45.60 including wine and service meaning The Broad Chare isn't somewhere you can afford to go every time the feeling takes you, but makes for a wonderful treat every now and then. For a spontaneous after work dinner it was above and beyond what I was expecting on a Thursday night and lived up to all the expectations their scotch eggs had given me. 

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Town Wall, Pink Lane Newcastle - Review

My quest for the best burger in Newcastle has continued and I can certainly say you aren't going to find it in The Town Wall. You also won't find good service or matching furniture. This is the sort of place that exists by proxy - a lack of competition for what I have delightfully titled a 'yuppie pub', it's central location and its generous floor space.

The Town Wall, Pink Lane, Newcastle
My office is just around the corner from here, in fact I can see it out of the window, and when the window is open I get the combined smell of the kitchen efforts from here and The Forth which is just across the street from it. The Forth has been established much longer (I don't know exactly but was there 4 years ago when I first came to Newcastle) and has a hip shabby feel to it which has been worn in over the years and feels genuine. The Town Wall tries to emulate this laid back modern pub feel and with its mis matched furniture and leather booths but it is such an obviously self conscious effort to do so, like someone who buys pre distressed jeans and tells people 'i've lived in these jeans for years'.

Take for example the fake book case wallpaper, firstly it is fucking hideous, and why if the owners wanted to create that effect would they not go to the lengths of putting in actual bookshelf's - I mean if the Weatherspoons just down the road can muster up some second hand books, you'd think someone charging twice the price and trying to get its paws on the cool 30 somethings moneys would go to the same effort.

Try-hard decor aside, the staff are completely inept and incredibly rude. And this isn't from my one experience of the place, this is happened pretty much every time i've visited. A sense of smug self worth and a cooler-than-thou attitude isn't really what I want from my bartender, I just want you to pour me my bloody drink. I had to wait 20 minutes longer than the rest of my table to get my lunch whilst in the mean time they started serving the table behind us, and there wasn't even the faintest hint of an apology.
Now what was I saying about this place only getting trade because as of yet no one in the centre is trying to do it better.

And I haven't even got to the burger yet. This was 'friday work pub lunch' (courtesy of my very lovely boss - I have a great job, but I don't like to gloat) and as a break from emails, phone calls and continuous orders on a very hectic friday this lunch was very welcome and when it eventually arrived filled a hole. Aside from satisfying my basic needs, it did little for me.

The Town Wall, Burger with Cheese & Bacon, £7.85

The first thing that irritates me about this is the stupid little basket the chips come in, awkward and unnecessary and again all about an attempt at a modern aesthetic. The chips themselves are chunky, and taste freshly cooked but no where near crisp enough, with some bordering on the soggy. The burger was smothered in cheese, which actually had a lovely mature taste and had melted well, the bacon again wasn't fatty and undercooked like it all too often can be but these seemed to be optimised to disguise how awfully overcooked and dry the patty was - grey and crumbly and lacking seasoning.

A dreadfully grey burger but lots of melted cheese
The mis matched shape of the burgers was a good sign, very obviously hand made, but the untoasted, measly little buns were another let down. Perhaps I am being a tad harsh on the food, because the general atmosphere and staff of this place get on my goat so much but compared with the delicious burger at The Fat Hippo it doesn't really compare.

The one thing this place has in it's favour and is a reason I imagine it will continue to survive is its space - large tables are harder to find that you think, and perhaps why The Forth has lost some of its trade to The Town Wall. It does also have some nice ales on (being a friday afternoon and desiring not to fall asleep at my desk i opted out from drinking this time) from local breweries, and anywhere that has Gold Tankard as a regular feature is never all bad in my opinion

Even though i've slated this place, there isn't any doubt I'll probably continue to go to The Town Wall, and why? Because it's central, next to my office, has large tables and right now I can't find anywhere else.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cowboy Style Chilli Con Carne & The Best Service Station Ever

I have been wanting to try out making a proper chilli con carne for ages and had been on the hunt for a slow cooker to do it in - firstly because I've never used one before and wanted to try it out, and secondly so I could have lovely, tender meat and not have to eat really late at night. As I didn't find/borrow/buy one in time, this meal was eaten in the post 10 o'clock hours and I couldn't sleep on my front that night because of my swollen beef filled belly.

In the uni years chilli with tons of beans thrown in is a staple of cheap and easy cooking, especially when your flat mates are sniffing around for any leftovers. This I think was my first 'proper' chilli and I categorise it as 'proper' because of two factors - I didn't use mince and I didn't use beans. After seeing a recipe on the wonderful Hollow Legs blog which quoted that 'only poor people and vegetarians put beans in their chilli' I thought I'd try to stay clear of those categories. After all no one wants to be wrongly labelled a vegetarian.

Of course the meat I used was as ever from the reduced section. The reduced section in a service station.

I can feel you recoiling in horror, but this isn't what it seems. I think I have found the most magical service station in the entire country, ney perhaps the entire continent. I was coming back from a weekend with the other halves family, and when I say family I mean the whole darn lot - aunts, uncles, grandparents, and numerous children whose names I couldn't remember. We pulled in to Tebay Services and I couldn't believe my tiny little half asleep eyes, there was a pond with ducks, hills on every side, a cafe full of amazing home cooked food and a farm shop with butchers, deli counter and all sorts of wonderful jars, teas, biscuits and pies. In the meat section we found some tender looking braising steak with a gorgeous marbling and reduced to £1.65. We also got some of the most incredible brownies I've ever eaten but I don't know who the producer was. So if you are ever going through Cumbria,  Tebay services are my tip to you. I might not do fancy London restaurant reviews but I can now recommend on great service stations. And I can't even drive.

Back to the chilli, the meat was beautiful, a nice layer of fat for some flavour and with a nice spring to it. Much better than mince if that needed clarifying. As I don't like my food too spicy so I used two whole chipotles and let them give the sauce a wonderful smokey flavour through the slow cooking. For some this recipe will seem like a tame house cat amongst potential ferocious lions ready to rip your tongue off but that's the way I eat and I still needed a couple of glasses of water to wash it down. Home made corn chips are a nice touch and when I say home made I mean shallow frying some flour tortillas to make them all crisp and crunchy.

Even though I ate after 10 this was totally worth it even though the 3 hours waiting for it to cook proved pretty testing with some stale baguette being dipped in the sauce to starve off the hunger.

O and I am back to my rubbish blackberry camera until I eventually get round to buying an SLR, I apologise but at least i'm not using the ugly plates this time.

Cowboy Style Chilli Con Carne

Cowboy Style Chilli Con Carne

Enough for 2

Ingredients For the Chilli
- Braising Steak
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Red Pepper
- 1 Onion
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 2 Chipotles
- A Cinnamon Stick
- Oregano
- Ground Cumin
- Ground Ginger
- Half a Can of Tomatoes
- Beef Stock
- Salt and Pepper

1. I started by heating oil in a large pan and frying the steak until it was brown on all sides. Then remove from the pan
2. Chop and peel the onions and carrot and slice the pepper, add to the oil and meat juices and fry until golden and soft, add the meat back in and add in the diced garlic, the ground ginger and cumin (more cumin than ginger, that's as specific as I will be), oregano. Make sure everything is covered.
3. Add the chipotle, cinnamon stick, beef stock and half a can of tomatoes - everything should be completely covered. Put the lid on the pot and leave on a low heat for 2.5 hours.
4. For my personal tastes I took the cinnamon stick out after 45 minutes as I'm not too keen on a strong cinnamon flavour but if you do leave it in.
5. After 2.5 hours take the lid off the pot and let the sauce reduce down.
6. Heat a frying pan with oil in it, cut a flour tortilla into triangles and fry a few pieces at once until brown and crisp, place on a drying rack to get rid of any excess oil + means they won't get soggy.
7. When the sauce has reduced, remove the 2 chipotles from the sauce then take a fork and pull it through the meat - it should easily fall apart and be beautifully tender.

Serve with a tomato salsa, the fresh tomatoes complimenting the deep, smokey flavour of the chilli. Scoop it all up onto a tortilla and try to fit it into your mouth.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Really Very Good Rabbit Ragu

I made this ages ago and completely forgot to blog about it. This was probably because I was mardy about the pictures as my kitchen was full of people so I couldn't take nice pictures, I had to use the ugly plates and then I got a bit pissed and sort of don't remember eating it. But I did have it again a couple of days later and it was utterly gorgeous, rich and gamey and the slow cooking of the tomato sauce meant it had an incredible depth of flavour.

The bunny in question has been a long time in coming, I decided I must eat a rabbit about a month before I made this and had since then been on a hunt for one, however without a good butcher near by I wasn't quite sure where I would be able to get one from. A Saturday trip out to Tynemouth market solved this issue. Something like the 3rd Sunday of every month they have a farmers market on, it had a pretty small selection of fresh produce and the stalls were mixed in with all the strange men selling odd electrical appliances but I stumbled across a great Northumbrian company selling fresh game and sea food and also these very large carrots.

Whole Rabbits + Saddles, we came back 5 minutes later and they had all gone!
For a whole rabbit it was £5 which worked out far more cost effective than getting it diced or just the saddle, however this did leave us with the issue of having a whole rabbit and not knowing entirely what to do with it. After lots of conflicting advice and a perusal of a few recipe books,  I settled on a Hugh recipe and managed to vaguely follow his advice.

Poor Little Bald Bunny
There were however few tips on how to butcher the rabbit and we didn't have a pot to fit it in whole thus this lead to some very debatable knife skills taking place and the back legs being snapped off. I doubt I am looking at a future career in butchery after this effort. The kitchen had by this point also started to fill up with people I didn't know who seemed very confused with my sunday night pursuit.

When the smells started coming off the slowly cooking stew they didn't seem confused for much longer (although a lot drunker for sure) as it made the entire house smell delicious, and the house normally has that welcoming smell of damp walls and unwashed clothes. When I took some left overs in for lunch later in the week a man told me I was the first person he has seen in England eat rabbit. Whilst this doesn't surprise me particularly, it is a shame because it is not only tasty it gives me a lovely quintessentially British feeling, especially when I know the rabbit has been locally caught.

After making the ragu, I made a stock from the carcass and joked about how I was now literally a bunny boiler. The other half looked awkward.

Rabbit Ragu with Pasta, apologises for the hideous plate

To Make Rabbit Ragu - Enough for 4 Large portions

- A Rabbit
- 4 Rashers of Smoked Bacon
- 2 Carrots
- A Stick of Celery
- 1 Onion, diced
- 2 Bay Leaves
- A Few Sprigs of Thyme
- Black Peppercorns
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 2 Tins of Chopped Tomatoes
- Chicken Stock
- Salt and Pepper to Season

1. Heat some olive oil and brown the bacon and rabbit in a deep sided pan, making sure to turn the rabbit so it gets colour on every side.

2. Add the diced onions and chopped celery and carrots and let them fry a little before adding in the bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, garlic, chopped tomatoes and stock so that everything is submerged. Leave to cook away for about an hour and a half, you want your rabbit nice and tender after all

3. Sit in the kitchen and get drunk for an hour and a half before proceeding with the recipe.

4. Once it has sufficiently sorted take out the bay leaves and thyme stalks and throw away, take the rabbit pieces out and definitely do not throw away. The recipe said to strain the sauce to make the ragu, I said balls to that and blended it.

5. The rabbit meat has to be taken off the bones before being added back into the ragu. I then let it cook for another 20 minutes so the sauce thickened up nicely and served with pasta.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Fat Hippo, Jesmond, Newcastle - Review

There aren't many things which would draw me back to Jesmond. I don't mean this harshly, I spent 2 long, rather erratic years there as a student and sampled all the delights that Osbourne Road and its infamous happy hour had to offer, but since I have moved all the way over to Heaton (for people who don't know Newcastle it's all of a 20 minute walk away) I find very few reasons to go back.

The Fat Hippo has for a long time in my mind been that reason, opening last year it served up gorgeous chunky burgers, sharing platters and posh club sandwiches with chips (and you know how I am a sucker for chips). With the student crowd the place seems to have been an instant hit, it is what Jesmond has always needed, somewhat similar to the ever popular Butterfly Cabinet in Heaton, a place doing hangover breakfasts and proper lunches in a relaxed and stylishly laid back environment.

It has always been busy on previous visits so arriving at 2.30 on a Saturday I expected to have to wait, the floor space is tiny. After waiting for around 10 minutes we were shown to a table, we weren't asked if we wanted any drinks when being seated so when our order was eventually taken we opted for tap water. I do know from previous visits that drinks are very reasonably priced and The Fat Hippo has a full license, I spied a cocktail list on the wall out of my eye but thought lunch time might not be the best time to sample these.

As I had had burger cravings all week (but really I don't know when I don't have burger cravings - see here for further evidence) I opted for the Classic with Cheese at £7.50, the other half went for the Texas BBQ, strangely without any of the BBQ sauce but with melted cheese, bacon and onion rings for £7.95. Each burger comes on one of those in fashion but actually very practical wooden serving boards with chips, home made coleslaw and a small salad perfect for inserting in your bun, there's even a gherkin - the other half got that, I loathe anything pickled.

The Fat Hippo, Classic with Cheese, £7.50

The Fat Hippo, Texas BBQ, £7.95

These are very tasty burgers, they are thick, juicy and meaty and taste just as home made as they claim to be. The coleslaw again is a great addition, creamy and crunchy in equal parts. I got a little surprise on seeing the chips, skinny fries. They used to be big hunky chunky chips to match the size of the rugby boys who regularly come through the door. I wonder if the change was made because its a struggle to finish your portion even with skinny fries. I warn those who have not been, do not undertake eating one of these burgers unless you are very hungry, or horribly greedy. I didn't eat for the rest of the day.

But there was a standard to live up to, and unfortunately this time there were a few weak points. The first time I ate at The Fat Hippo I remember a gorgeously red meat, properly dense and full of flavour. Although still juicy and a good inch and a half thick, this burger didn't have that beautiful medium rare middle and the mince was more thinly ground making me suspect they have changed the sort of meat they use. It had a touch of pink but was cooked too much for my liking.

The Fat Hippo used to have home made mayonnaise, the distinctive warm and buttery yellow colour gave it away and was such a nice, homely touch appears to have been replaced with a generic white bought in substance. These are probably changes that have to be made as the business grows and finds its feet and understandably not all standards are cost effective. A small suggestion would also be toasting the buns as the bread (which is really lovely) did fall apart slightly as I ate.

I sound like I am all full of criticisms but this picture will demonstrate how well the food went down.

Finished at The Fat Hippo 

At The Fat Hippo two burgers without drinks the bill came to £15.40, the service was a little slow but being a Saturday afternoon and busy I won't grumble too much and the regular cliental of students have lots of time for lazy lunches. Our waitress was also very polite and friendly, the same can also be said for the owner and all of the staff actually.

In my mind The Fat Hippo still has the best burgers in Newcastle, I just really hope it stays that way.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Panis Cafe, Newcastle Review

The other half has been coming to Newcastle long before venturing up here for University, and therefore has always had some good tips on local eateries and places to go to. Panis Cafe has long been one of our favourites, and has been recommended and become the staple go-to place for all our friends. We had our first date, 1 year anniversary here, been for numerous friends birthdays, and family get togethers, so last Monday when it was my friends birthday, and she had somehow forgotten to plan anything, we all knew where we were going to end up.

As soon as you step inside you can tell this isn't the run of the mill business like Italian, the inside is cave like and looks like a literal interpretation of the inside of Gaudi's head. Think terracotta swirling paint, and ornamental alcoves. The food here has always been good, however on this trip the menu had changed slightly, and I had a worry by favourite dish might have been taken off - that's the issue when you know a place so well and it starts change.

I had a lovely evening celebrating my friends birthday but there were definitely some faults with this place. The food was as good as ever but portion sizes seemed to have been slimmed down like the menu, and the room was also uncomfortably warm, and having ordered a sausage casserole the heat almost made me regret my choice.

I am a major stickler for good service, in a place such as Panis where the atmosphere is supposed to be that of a friendly, family run independent restaurant, you would expect the service to match up. Here it faltered on many occasions, one woman who served us was efficient but somewhat short, the male waiter was sullen and moody looking. The other half and I arrived after the rest of our group but at no point were we asked if we wanted drinks until our food order was taken, there was no complimentary bread offered although other tables appeared to have it and I know it is usually the policy, and to top it off whilst most of us had our dinners the other half waited 10 minutes after everyone else, ask numerous people before his dinner was brought without so much as an apology.

But the food was up to standard, as we have all been before favourite dishes appear to have emerged and I wasn't the only one who had pre decided on the Casserole Salsicee.
Panis Casserole Salsicce

This is a proper Italian sausage casserole, I come back to it time and time again, it was perfect for the wintery, rainy Monday night we were out on providing my ultimate comfort food. The sausages are a cross between a cured meat sausage like a large chorizo and a english sausage. I want to know where I can buy sausages like this so I can recreate it at home, it comes with potatoes, polenta, onions, borlotti beans, and peppers in a hearty tomato sauce. At £8.20, it's very reasonably priced. That is one of the plus points at Panis, even with the shrink in meal sizes, it has never seemed overpriced.

A few others got my other favourite dish, the ravioli all'aragosta, ravioli pasta parcels filled with ricotta and lobster with a creamy tomato and prawn sauce. This sounds like it would be very rich, but it is balanced beautifully, velvety smooth and always met with pleasure. Again £8.20, very good.

Panis Ravioli all'aragosta

The other half thought he'd try something new, and we have been quite fixated with rabbit and the like recently so went for the Game Ragu and once it finally arrived he admitted it looked less that appealing, but I have his word it was rustic and peppery although perhaps a bit dry (it does look it doesn't it). It's served on a traditional Sicilian type of pasta, malloreddus which is slightly denser than other types of pasta.

Panis is still somewhere I would return to, even with my grumbles about the service because food like this, which tastes authentically Italian is hard to find in Newcastle, which is awash with frankly awful Italians (I went to Sale Pepe to meet some friends the other night, prime example of this bargain brand of bad food) but then so is every city. For over £10 you can get sea bass fillets on squid ink pasta and rump steak with prawns in garlic, parsley butter. They also do fantastic chips, my attempt at a diet meant I resisted the option. 

The main thing I find so surprising about this place, is that so few people have been or even know it exists. Tucked up a side street near the Theatre Royal, it isn't even out of the way - make a lunch trip and perhaps ignore the service. No tip was left. 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Cafe 21 Fenwicks Review

It seems quite a feat to be a lover of fine dining in the North East and not to have been to one of Terry Laybourne's numerous and very successful ventures. His 21 Hospitality group has long been behind some of the best restaurants in the area, and more notably for me, all of the ones on my 'too hit list'.

I remedied this recently by going to his latest hotspot The Broad Chare, and wrote about their charming take on rustic British pub ambiance and delicious scotch eggs here, but it was hardly the full dining experience. Yesterday, I made it to Cafe 21 in Fenwicks - the most stylish lunch destination in the city it would appear.

I was with the other halves family who are all big fans of Cafe 21 and I had been told to expect very good things. Arriving on a heaving Saturday afternoon, we were greeted by a long queue and the polite suggestion that  hopefully we wouldn't mind waiting a long time - the issue being there was 6 of us, and in the small space it is difficult to put that many tables together. We debated going elsewhere, I had an inner panic but we hung on and were seated within 10 minutes. So much for the long wait. The decor is sleek and modern, so sleek and modern in fact you forget you are in a department store, even if it is a posh one, and definitely forget that you are on Northumberland Street.

I had been chatting away and by the time the waitress came to take our order, I had another inner panic as I hadn't really considered the menu and opted for the haddock fish fingers with tartar sauce. A slightly unexciting option especially as the other half also opted for this which meant no sharing, but I wasn't in the mood for a salad or soufflé. I also had that well known dilemma of being out with someone else's family and taking liberties with the menu (there was a steak on there which I ignored on these grounds).

Haddock 'Fish Fingers' with Tartare Sauce
3 gorgeously moist and thick pieces of haddock greeted me, with a very light coating of crumbs which let the flavour of the fish fully come through. I have a soft spot for chips and an especially soft spot for skinny fries and these ones were perfect, crisp on the outside, not to thin so you still got a good amount of potato inside and the tartare was freshly blended and chunky - always a good sign. It was £11.45 which perhaps seemed a little steep on the menu as it was one of the most expensive options, but for the amount and quality of the fish it didn't seem like that once I began eating. A nice glass of Pinot Grigio accompanied this - v.swanky saturday lunch for me.

Other lunches on the table includes a Thai Salmon, Asian Salad, and Minute Steak. Each was presented beautifully, we also had the side salad (£3) and was lightly dressed but perhaps a little too much onion.

This was easily a filling lunch, and I could have left it at that but on the way in they tempt you by having you walk past a platter of incredibly looking cakes and patisseries and in the sweet department they are my number one weakness. 

I chose the Sachertorte (i'll admit I had a hankering for this after seeing them being made on Great British Bake off), and thought I would be greeted with a thin slither, given its rich denseness and the fact this was a fine dining experience. I should have learnt from the generous lunch portion - I got a wedge of a slice and sneaked my left overs out in my handbag. It was incredibly rich, with a sumptuous dark chocolate flavour and an orangey stickiness in the centre. This was off the specials, if it's on when you visit I highly recommend it. 

Sachertorte, Cafe 21 Fenwicks
Others on the table opted for the Ice Cream Coupes from the menu. I did get a slight pang of jealousy when these came out, as they looked decadent and wholly unhealthy in the most glorious sort of way. The Liegeoise was a heady mix of coffee ice cream, granita, almond macaroons and mascarpone. 

Choco-Banana Ice Cream Coupe, £5.95

Liegeoise Ice Cream Coupe, £5.95
This isn't your every Saturday sort of affair, and we went as a pre match birthday lunch - a very strange cultural juxtaposition - and it fitted the occasion perfectly. Whilst making delicious food, it keeps an air of breezy informality with superb and efficient service which is just what you want when dining at lunch. I'll certainly be going back, maybe to sample the afternoon tea next time.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Coq au Riesling (without the riesling)

Coq au Riesling 

I am going to start by saying, this is one of the tastiest things i've made in a while (the rabbit on sunday which I haven't got round to blogging yet was amazing, but I had expected that to taste as good as it did, this was a pleasant surprise). Even with the exclusion of the all important title ingredient, it had a depth of flavour and warming creamy wholesomeness.

From the name this would seem to be an appropriate dish to try and impress someone with or to be saved for a special occasion, but it didn't even cost that much to make. £1.50 for 4 chicken thighs, some smoked bacon which I had had to use earlier in the week anyway, and some mushrooms are all the main ingredients involved. I especially love it when something seems special, but can be so everyday if you are willing to put the effort in. It felt impressive without being pretentious.

It also gave me an excuse to stand by the cooker for a long time, which given that my house is arctic and walking into my room is like hitting a wall of icy cold air, this was somewhat of a luxury. Again, as I make small complaints about my house, i remember the ludicrously low price that I pay for it, £45 a week, i kid you not. I guess that's one reason I can afford to eat so well.

Anyway if i attempt to write this in some basic form of a proper recipe, here's the ingredients you need to make it for 2 people

- 4 chicken thighs
- 2 rashers of smoked bacon
- 8 mushrooms
- an onion
- a few sprigs of thyme
- stock
- creme fraiche
- butter

I feel ridiculous writing a recipe out like that, why 8 mushrooms? It would work just as well if you only had 6, and if you wanted to add more it wouldn't hurt either. some mushrooms, you must include some mushrooms, that is all i will say.

Perhaps a reason this tasted so good was the stock I used, made from the carcass of the rabbit we cooked on Sunday. Yes, I am now an actual bunny boiler. Gave it a marvellous extra meaty flavour, and more authentic tasting rather than the all to obvious taste of an ox cube.

First you have to brown the chicken and the bacon in the butter, then set aside. Use the same pan to fry the onions and the mushrooms, then add back in the chicken and bacon. (IMO I don't really see what the point is in doing this, but for once I was trying to accurately follow a recipe, given how good it tasted I think I should maybe do that more regularly).

You should then add in the stock and thyme sprigs and water if you need a bit more liquid, and leave covered to simmer for 30 minutes. That's what the recipe said,  I got impatient and started the next stage after 25 and it didn't kill me. Now you have to remove the chicken and turn the heat up and reduce the stock down - i also picked out the thyme stalks, now the recipe didn't say to do that, and it definitely improved the meal - before adding in the creme fraiche some chopped parsley and adding the chicken back in. 

I can see how the riesling, or even a regular white wine would have added another layer of flavour to this, but honestly, it was good how it was. I will admit maybe it would have been even better with the wine, but I got pissed drinking it on sunday night, so enjoyed it in a more fulfilling way I feel. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

How to Make Candied Fruit

Candied Orange and Lemon Peel
I thought I would try something new this weekend and attempt to make candied fruit. It isn't the sort of thing I would usually go for, and I'm not that big on sweets either, but it looked to cute and I fancied having something around the house I could nibble on occasionally. After making them, it will have to be occasionally as there is so much sugar in them, I think if you ate more than 1 or 2 pieces you teeth would rot right then and there. Even if you don't want to eat it, it makes a really pretty decoration around the house, and could potentially be a lovely present if you wrapped it up in nice cellophane with a ribbon. Although maybe getting a little of arts and crafty for my usual sentiments.

This isn't a difficult recipe, its incredibly simple, and it doesn't even take any hard work, its just a slow process. Slower than I thought when I started as I had wanted to go out and enjoy the late afternoon sun, instead i drank a whole cafetiere and read the observer online and waited for fruit peel to boil. My flatmates must think I get my kicks from some very strange activities.

It all starts with an orange and a lemon (sort of like that nursery rhyme)

First you have to peel your fruit (i still have a peeled orange and a peeled lemon in my fridge), it is easiest to take the top and bottom off then score the surface of the fruit in 1cm strips then peel the sections down.

This should then be boiled for 10 minutes and rinsed 3 times. You should use clean water each time as it takes away the nasty taste of peel. After this you have to cook it in a mixture of sugar and water, I think I used too much as I had lots of syrup left at the end. It should be brought to the boil, then left to simmer with the peel in. It was this bit that was the killer, I hadn't realised how long it would take the peel to absorb all the sugary liquid. A long time apparently. It will go sort of crystallised and develop a sticky texture when you poke it, and thats how you know its done. 

Now for the 'fun' part, at this point my flatmates were out drinking rum on the roof and found what I was doing even odder. Take each piece of peel and roll it in sugar then leave it to dry out on a rack. 

If you haven't messed up, then you should be left with something that looks like this. At least I was and I didn't put a great deal of care into my rolling. 

I made mine on Sunday afternoon, and left it out to dry till today, which is tuesday and it tastes delicious, and very, very sweet which really is unsurprising for how much sugar went into it. 
At the moment I'm keeping mine in a wine glass, but think it will need to go in a jar otherwise it might go a bit bad. I am also definitely going to want a glass of wine before I manage to eat all the peel.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Pesto for a Saturday

The other half and I were going to go out for dinner last night, after a lovely day walking around Tynemouth market + the sea front and not being able to get fish and chips because of an hour long queue. We were going to go out for dinner, and then we sat down on the sofa, time passed and before we knew it, I just couldn't be bothered.

One of our favourite quick fix meals, and for many people I imagine, is good old pasta and pesto. It feels very comforting, so simple and I have to say I am a fan of the stuff in jars. Jarred sauces are normally the lowest denominator, home made is always superior, but the jar stuff is never that bad, making it perfect for when you can't be bothered. This time however I felt like doing it properly so set about making a quick pesto sauce, but thought making the pasta was perhaps a little too ambitious on a saturday night

Basil, Parmesan, Garlic, Pine Nuts
If you have the ingredients in, then you could make beautiful home made pesto in the time it would take to pop down to your local shop to buy a jar.

For this recipe which made enough for a meal for four, you need
- 25g fresh basil
- 25g of pine notes
- 25g of Parmesan
- A clove of Garlic
- A good glug of Olive Oil
- A lump of butter
- Salt & Pepper

I am not one for writing out recipes properly, but I thought on this occasion, for such an easy recipe I would make the effort. The basil, parmesan and garlic should first be blended into a paste, the pine nuts, olive oil and butter should then be added, then season with the salt and pepper. The clever tip I read was to leave it to stand before seasoning as the flavours alter slightly as it settles. good tip.

This *is* a very stress free recipe, but some how the other half and I managed to have a domestic half way through. We wondered if it comes to that when making pesto, what on earth is going to happen when we attempt to butcher the rabbit we have in the fridge? There's even sharp knives involved then.

Domestics aside, our pesto turned out this very vibrant green colour.

Home made traditional Pesto
With a sauce this full of flavour, we didn't really feel the need to add lots of ingredients to it, so we served it simply with spaghetti and green beans. All made, including the domestic, in less than 25 minutes, allowing us to sink back into the sofa for the rest of the evening.

Pasta, Pesto and Green Beans - simple, delicious

Saturday, 15 October 2011

What came first, the egg or the scotch egg? + A trip to The Broad Chare

I was reading The Sunday Times Style Magazine the other week (normally I am a regular Guardian/Observer reader but i fancied an overwhelming amount of supplements) and as i flicked casually to the style metre, the whats what of hotness, what did I see there in the upper echelons, to my amazement the humble scotch egg. Apparently they're sexy now. I think they might have been reinvented by some London types, you know the sort.

I can't say I had ever actually eaten a scotch egg before, but me and the other half have a joke about how they are the food of choice for dole scum, who sit around in their dirty string vests, scratching their balls, eating beetroot straight from the jar. I can joke about this because at the time the other half was a member of this illustrious full time club. It would appear this image of the scotch egg is (sadly) no more, now being served up as bar snacks and starters in the best of gastro pubs.

I had an experience at such gastro pub just last night, after popping into The Broad Chare for a swift pint and was tempted to try out their much acclaimed bar snacks, we were originally tempted by the pork crackling but as they were out of those we thought we'd go for the scotch egg. Lovely it was too, still soft in the middle, fresh from the fryer, a lovely peppery taste in the bread crumbs, and a thick layer of meat.

The Broad Chares Scotch Egg

We had thought the pub would have more draught ales but the 4 or 5 they did have were well chosen, local favourites, and there were plenty of bottles too after I had surveyed the extensive menu. What's better I have now found out where the yuppies of Newcastle hang out after work, and this is amazing people watching. The decor was also lovingly put together, flag stone floors and painted wood, frosted glass and leather snugs. The toilets also got major thumbs up. I will definitely be attempting to get a proper meal there some time soon.  

So whilst I have had a bit of a slightly off topic from the humble egg with all this talk of posh pubs, The Broad Chare's was the second scotch egg I have ever eaten. The first was of my own creation, deep fried by my own slightly paranoid hands. 

First you have to boil the eggs for around 5-6 minutes depending on the size of your egg and how runny you want it. They should then be immediately plunged into cold water, so the yolk stops cooking. The next step is peeling (very important, not to be missed unless you like a crunch) then each egg should be dusted with flour, coated with a layer of sausage meat, then coated in flour, egg and then breadcrumbs. 

That sounds pretty arduous but was actually very easy to do, then the last stage is the deep frying. Heat the oil in a tall sided pan to 180 degrees, and place the eggs in for 7 minutes.

When they come out, cut in half and you should have something utterly beautiful like this. Very runny yolks, perfect when they are being eaten pipping hot.

One of the tastiest things I had eaten in a long time. My cravings for deep fried foods has certainly been awoken. 

Maybe i'll deal with them with a few more trips to The Broad Chare. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Ms Marmite's Aubergines

Aubergine Parmesan - Healthy Comfort Food

So the Ms Marmite Supper Club cookery book recently ended up in my grubby mitts and I have been pouring over the delightful recipes + meal ideas, and getting far too tempted to try my own supper club, as the book also comes with lots of helpful and practical information and advice on how to do one yourself.

Note to the previous post about living in a some what dismal shared flat is one of the main reasons against attempting this, the other would be the fact I have no living room, so me flailing about trying to make gourmet food would be in full view of all my guests.

Anyway, dreams of supper clubs aside, I thought I'd try out what appeared to be one of the less impressive but more hearty and still delicious meals from the book, Aubergine Parmesan. Since making this I have seen various versions of the recipe in numerous publications, so people with more culinary knowledge than me must also agree with my opinion that it's more impressive than it initially looks.

It's strange I have taken so strongly to this recipe as for years and years I have simply refused to eat aubergine, now I see I was in the folly of youth and am setting about correcting the error of my ways. However as I was unacquainted with aubergine when I started making this dish after looking at the pretty picture and ingredients list I hadn't quite realised how long it was going to take, therefore plans to have drinks out that evening sadly had to be cancelled.

You first have to sweat the aubergines (this is pretty ironic as really its going to be you sweating after you've fried all of them). They must be sliced thinly and covered in salt to release their excess water content. I layered mine in a colander with kitchen towel.
It says to leave them for half an hour to an hour, I quickly got bored and patted them with kitchen towel to get them as dry as possible. I was AMAZED however at how much water had come out of them.
They must then be floured and seasoned before frying in hot oil. (this is the bit where you get sweaty)

I have to toot my own trumpet here, and say I make a pretty neat tomato sauce, which is the only other essential part of this meal. well apart from the excessive amounts of cheese.
A chunky tomato sauce is layered, fried aubergine slices, and then another layer of tomato sauce. Partly for flavour reasons, partly because I had fried too much aubergine and didn't know what else to do with it, i included a top layer of aubergine before a (not so) healthy dose of cheese - parmesan and I used *cough* cheddar *cough* because I couldn't afford anything else.

It bakes in the over for about 45 minutes and comes out bubbling, all glorious melted cheese and bright reds oozing underneath. Whilst cheese isn't top of most diet lists, the lack of carbs in the meal win points for me and thus i'll class it as healthy eating. Wintery food too often includes mounds and mounds of carbs and heavy food, but this was heathy and delicious without seeming stodgy.

Recommended. Perhaps i'll serve it at my first supper club.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

i cook in a flatshare

Some food bloggers have issues with small kitchens. Some may cook out of caravans. Some might have to deal with screaming kids whilst getting their culinary kicks.

My predicament is far worse than all of these - the complicated curse of the shared kitchen. You may have planned to cook something sumptuous and think all the way home about it planning your preparations down to the smallest detail. You then enter your house and realise your flatmate doesn't live by the same cleanliness standards as you and their are dirty plates/cups/pans (enter appropriate crockery item) all over the kitchen and debris of cat food on the floor (we don't even own a cat). And to make matters worse someones eaten all your butter and used the posh olive oil. All your plans go out the window and you curl up in your room dreaming of gleaming surfaces and fully stocked cupboards.

My flatmates aren't the worst, I haven't actually seen 2 of the 3 of them ever eat, and i mean ever. And i've lived there for almost 2 months now. But as well as the challenge of a shared kitchen, there is the challenge I have of being a very unprepared cook. I only own a frying pan and a wok, a set of knives and a chopping board (it's one of those really fun foldy ones from Joseph Joseph). If i were to set my kitchen up to fulfil all my culinary desires, well firstly there just wouldn't be room, and secondly i'd break my bank balance - this would include things like pasta makers which aren't necessarily essential but every day items like whisks, baking tins and a decent cast iron casserole dish are all missing from our kitchen.

With items like this missing, it makes certain recipes slightly more difficult, a sort of make shift cooking has been born, where what you have has to do, and thats not normally the case in cook books.

So whilst other cooking blogs might take their photos against hand varnished dining tables on cutest plates and bowls, I will make do with my £1.25 ikea plates and cook my creations in my nasty flat share kitchen.  in the north. on a budget.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Eating on a Week Night

After that long hot spell we had last week, autumn has officially returned in proper again,hurrah. Which means I can get back to eating hearty food and wrapping myself in blankets with cups of tea, all the things i do best really. in the heat i just get irritable, uncomfortable and grouchy at being too hot.
After a relaxing weekend, and a bit too much to drink I didn't quite manage a sunday roast, rather a monday night roast was called for. This has its plus points and also some major disadvantages. Starting the week with a big plate of pork belly + crispy crackling was certainly a good thing, however getting in from work at half 6 and having to make a roast was a bit too much after a stressful start to the week. Eating at 9 left me face down in my food by the end of it - there should be laws against consuming that much pork that late at night.

Exceeding my allocated meat quota on a monday night meant that I had to be a little more inventive for the rest of the week. Fishcakes are one of my favourite things to make and although you might not think so, fit in perfectly to the pov diet. The pork belly roast also does - a cut of meat big enough to fed two people and have left overs for only 3 pounds, the fish cakes had a grand total of 2 pounds and were fresh, healthy and very very tasty.
My only problem with the fishcakes was my own impatient. Sometimes during work I will give in to all my cravings and snack constantly on biscuits and whatever treats I can sniff out in the office. Other days I will come home ravenous and want to eat that second. Sadly for making fish cakes this isn't ideal as after boiling and mashing the potatoes and mixing all your other ingredients together and making neat little patties they should sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so they keep their shape when cooking.
Can you see where this is going? Yes my fish cakes became fish flakes and I was left with a frying pan of potato-fish mix - still delicious but less aesthetically pleasing. When I have made these fish cakes before I have only coated them in flour, however this time I decided to give them a crispy breadcrumb coating. This would have worked slightly better and possibly (definitely) contributed to the failings of the cakes by trying to bind them with milk as we were out of eggs.
Either way, i used cod trimmings from the market (only a pound for a big bag) and potatoes then to flavour, a red chilli, lemon, coriander, ginger & garlic, this was served with a tomato salsa (tomatoes, garlic, chilli, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice). A lighter option for an evening, and didn't result in eating past half 8 (in other words, past my bed time)

Yes, i took the picture of the only fish cake to remain fully formed and pretending they all turned out perfectly.
After rushing about all week - work and various other commitments, it was a lovely treat to come home to the other half preparing a very naughty, very comforting meal of crispy sautéed potatoes and home made chicken kievs. I will save the details of this for another occasion but its safe to say I felt like I had had a circular food journey during the week and returned back to massive plates of meat. the salad was the only saving grace for my arteries.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A Special (Easy) Dinner

There is always a meal you associate with one person, it can be for many reasons - like my good friend Jack, he is forever in my head linked with mince in its various guises, because well whenever he has cooked for me its been made from mince. This meal is mine and the boyfriends 'thing', if i were to ever eat it in the future i'd more than likely think of him (lets hope fondly)
On friday night, the heat had all got a little bit too much, and I wanted something light and fresh and summery to see the summer off in style. I entered our local market to buy some pork belly, realising this was an unwise choice on a very stuffy day and being slightly distracted by the fish counter, i left with two very reasonably priced and pleasingly sized fillets of sea bass (£4.20 for those who want to know). I bought these on a whim, but I instantly knew what I was going to make with them.
The boyfriend and i first made this dish together what seems like a very long time ago now, but in reality it isn't even a year ago (freak out) and is a beautiful italian dish of classical flavours but that are all so easy to pick up - I mean really basic fridge and cupboard staples.
You throw some tomatoes, basil, garlic, rocket, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil together - all diced very finely the boyfriend has to constantly remind me, pan fry the sea bass fillets in butter seasoned with salt and pepper, and serve with fresh linguine. All in all this meal can take 10 minutes to make - perfect for those occasions and days when cooking in a tiny, filthy kitchen is the last thing you want to do.

And I cleverly made the most of the left over ingredients the next day with a rocket, tomato, basil and feta (used for roast veg and cous cous on thursday evening) to make a tasty little salad number - we have some amazing balsamic reductions in the cupboard currently so they finished it all off perfectly.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

HEY, give ME a cooking show!

"Dear BBC Executives,
I think you should give me a cooking show. I am somewhat lacking in professional cooking experience or training, but I have come to notice that this isn't necessarily an issue with your commissioning team. I do however have a repertoire which extends beyond covering ice cream with swiss rolls and calling it cooking. You'll be pleased to know I have a passable smile, my skin is fairly clear and I can enunciate to an acceptable level. I know these are all things that are important to you.
Please let me know when you'd like to schedule me in
Your Sincerely,"

The above is a sample of a letter I would debate sending to the BBC after seeing Home Cooking Made Easy. I understand many people have never been educated in cooking, and perhaps need a few pointers along the way, but ice cream covered swiss rolls is hardly the way to go about this. Jamie, for all his sins, seems to have effectively covered the bases when it comes to basic cooking, and he does so very well - the recipes are good and although flavoursome are still easy to make for a novice in the kitchen. As someone who classes themselves as perhaps being above par on the cooking front (not bragging or anything) his shows still hold my interest as the recipes he includes are things I would genuinely want to cook and provide a point of inspiration for other meals I might make.
But this isn't necessarily the foodies cooking show. For me the best cooking show i've seen in a long time was Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, an exquisite guide to french cooking. Starting with something relatively basic that everyone could make (if you can source/afford the ingredients) but progressing to a masterpiece that simply makes you want to be a better cook so you too can eat like that in your own home. Even if you never have any intention of making some of his classical interpretations, there is an enjoyment in seeing a master at work that you cannot get from someone making a butternut squash soup. This series also taught me Raymond Blanc is a very very funny man.
And from looking at Raymond, you can tell he actually eats his food. and enjoys it.
the proof is always in the pudding, not in the smile that made it.   

Friday, 16 September 2011

September Issues

I am sat in my room, cup of tea in hand and i can see the trees blowing outside, dappled in sunlight and in the process of turning that golden brown colour, all reds and warmth.
Autumn is most definitely here and it is always so beautiful, opaque tights can once again return and layering is essential, which means investing in coats, digging out cable knit sweaters and if there's time getting the knitting needles out to quickly whip up a scarf.
Fashion aside, food takes a turn at the start of september, all the attention that was paid to summer salads and light fresh flavours is replaced by a longing for anything warming, bowls of steaming soup which can still be enjoyed outside so long as you're wrapped up in a scarf, baked dishes and pies all seem like favourites at this time of year.
I am a self confessed soup lover, and this week have been enjoying bowls and bowls of leek and potato soup. This has been for two reasons, whilst is fulfils my longing for something homely, it also fits in to the long running battle between my culinary desires vs my monetary possibilities. If i could it would be likely i'd be making a recipe out of my newly acquire Bocca cook book, however lavish cuts of meat don't exactly fit into my current budget and would also not do wonders for my waist line. So every few weeks I go on something I am ashamed to call the 'pov diet' - cheap food with healthy results. Thus with some stock left over from a roast dinner my flatmate very kindly cooked last sunday, I sweated off some onions and leeks threw in some potatoes and stock and left to simmer away for a while. The £2 that I spent on veg (I have the most amazing + cheap grocery shop at the end of my street) fed 2 hungry and tired workers after dinner AND lunch for the next 3 days.
Now I'm not dietician expert but I don't have leek and potato soup down in my list of foods to eat infrequently. Even with the large amounts of butter I used to cook the leeks in, it was a healthy option and I am trying to fight the hopeless battle against my own body that as the weather gets colder my body must respond by getting bigger.
My bank balance could work the effects out for itself, and responded by buying a new coat. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Dinner at Mine, We're Eating Out

I just read an article in The Sunday Times Style Magazine reporting on the launch of a new site - Housebites, which lets restaurant chefs home deliver their delicacies to your door, apparently the 'etsy of cuisine' and reels off lists of the ivy, fifteen and le caprice as restaurants the chefs you can buy from have previously worked at.
so far so appealing, but locality is always going to be an issue. unlike etsy where one off prints and hand made vases can be delivered all over the country, the internet isn't making this concept any more accessible for those outside the M25 barrier. You would think it is the people who live so far away from these famed restaurants, but still have the money and taste that location cannot take away that would really utilise this service. And for those inside it, whats the appeal?
Attention is drawn in the article to the cheaper prices this home service offers - charging as little as a third of the price of the dine in experience. My first issue with this would be, i wouldn't expect any less. Should i thank you gracefully for charging me less, to eat from my own plates, in my own home, and use my own fairy liquid to clean the stains from my plates?
And secondly, whilst i am obviously not the target audience for such a service (poor, under 25, a good 300 miles north of the culinary haven of london), any one who would use this service i imagine is likely to be able to afford the real deal - if you can afford the real deal, why would you settle for less? because i think under all the ease and comfort of eating haute cuisine from your own home, restaurant quality food is meant to offer an escape, a luxury not obtainable in the confines of your own 4 walls, and an experience that goes beyond the consumed calories.
The food is only one part of a restaurant experience, and whilst i may enjoy some lovely food, the taste might be some what lacking, a little bit of the sweetness taken away in it being a take away.