Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Actual Recipe: Duck Terrine with Pineapple Innuendo

By: Mr Robot
Duck terrine wrapped in bacon decorated with holly as a christmas starter
Not just any Duck Terrine: this is Robot Duck Terrine

We're not really in the business of posting recipes but as Christmas is looming I thought I'd offer up one of our festive staples, which I made up my very own self: my duck terrine with a pineapple relish type thing which Mrs R calls Slutney (salsa / chutney) and which her brother - admittedly a tad under the influence - christened Sexual Marmalade: a name I love though figured is probably sub-optimal as a title for search engine purposes.

Anyway, this is meaty, rich and fragrant and makes a jolly good starter. You will need:

For the terrine
Serves 6-8 as a starter, or 2 with no shame
  • 2 duck breast
  • 3 top quality sausages
  • 1 slice white bread, crumbed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • About 8 rashers streaky bacon
  • 2 tbps port
  • 2 tbps brandy
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 5 cloves
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • Pinch salt (edit: actually a pinch OF salt. Don't steal salt, kids)

Finely chop the duck breast – I like to do one in tiny pieces and other about 3-5mm chunks: partly for the varied texture but also because all that chopping gets to be a pain in the arse, frankly.

A note on the sausages: you want the best you can get, fairly traditional but not overly flavoured or herbed. You don't want Cumberland for this. Lincolnshire maybe, at a push. I know which ones I want from my local butcher (Walter Rose & Son Old English, if you care) and at worst you can intend to make this terrine purely as an excuse to try all the sausages. I know I would.

Terrine filling: finely chopped duck with sausage meat and orange zest
Duck, sausage, orange, brandy, port, optional dribble

Take the skin off the sausages and break the meat up. Put in a large bowl with the duck meat, breadcrumbs, port, brandy, orange zest & egg. 

Blitz the spices in a blender or coffee grinder to a fine power and add to the meat mix. Squidge it all really well until all the liquid is fully incorporated.

Pepper, coriander, clove and juniper in a spice blender.
Gratuitous spice shot

Rub the terrine dish with butter. Use the back of a knife to stretch the bacon, and use it to line the terrine with plenty hanging over the edges.

Pile the mix in, and wrap the bacon ends over the top. Doesn't have to be that pretty because this will be on the bottom when you serve.

Full terrine dish with bacon wrapped across the filling
Ducks in blankets

Cover with lid or foil, and put in a roasting tin or oven-proof dish. Pour hot water into the tin to come about halfway up the terrine dish. Put your bain-marie (for it is she) in preheated low oven, about gas 3, for an hour and a half.

Once it's cooked, press the terrine overnight: make a flat lid of thin wood / double thickness cardboard covered with foil. Weight it down with heavy books, tins etc. MAKE SURE you’ve still got it inside a roasting tin or something – lots of juice will get squished out.

Terrine being pressed under two tins and a large cookbook
Other unruly-haired chefs are available. Probably.

Remove from the terrine dish and gently scrape off any excess jelly with the back of a knife.

Serve with crusty bread, leaf salad, and chutney or Sexual Marmalade.

For the Sexual Marmalade
(by which I think my dear brother-in-law meant "sexy" but as I say he was somewhat tired and emotional)
Diced pineapple, cinnamon stick, coriander seed, chilli
Fruity... Hot... Juicy... Stick(y)... Seed.... What???

  • 1 big / 2 little tin(s) in of pineapple rings or chunks in juice
  • White wine vinegar
  • Caster sugar
  • Salt & pepper
  • 6-10 Coriander seeds
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Small chilli (optional)

This is all about getting a balance through tasting and tweaking so calling it a recipe is a bit of a lie but anyway.

Chop the pineapple into about 1/2cm dice and set aside.

Mix the pineapple juice with a tablespoon or so of vinegar and have a taste. You’re looking for a sweet/sour tang. Too sweet? Add a touch more vinegar. Gone too far? Balance it with a bit of caster sugar. Keep going in small dabs ‘til you’re happy. Don't forget to season with salt & pepper too.

Once you're happy with the basic flavour, put into a small pan with the pineapple and spices. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a lively simmer. Cook through until the liquid has reduced to nearly (but not quite) a glaze. You’re looking for a sort of loose chutney consistency. Keep tasting as it reduces though, since the flavour profile may change a bit. If the chilli is coming through too much, counter it with a bit more sugar.

Pineapple simmering in a pan with juice, cinnamon and chilli

Set aside to cool and remove the chilli and cinnamon stick – you can pick out the coriander seed too if you like, but I prefer to leave it in for little taste explosions.

These are ideal to make a day or two ahead since they'll only get better for maturing. Serve up a good slab or two of terrine and a dollop of you-know-what, crack open the fino and don a paper hat. It's Christmas after all....

Duck terrine, pineapple chutney, served on a wooden board

All images (c) PP Gettins

Friday, 7 November 2014

Tricky treat

Tasty, tasty Martians
By: Mrs Robot

When I first moved onto the publication I worked for, it was near Halloween, and I made a cake. Last year our holiday to Burma was quite late and I was ill when we got back, so there was no cake. This year, I decided, I'd do something special. Over the summer it had occurred to me to make a sea creature cake, but as the day drew close I kept the overall idea of tentacles but changed everything else. I was going to make Mars, complete with Martians poking out of craters (I know, I know, Mars has canals not craters!) and a three-legged walker.

The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, eh?

My fallback cake is the Sunday Best Chocolate Fudge Cake from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book. It always goes down an absolute storm. However, I didn't want to do that yet again. As a variation I made two cake mixtures, a chocolate one and an orange one, and marbled them together. They planned to sandwich them with chocolate fudge icing and the cover the whole thing in orange-flavoured buttercream, dyed a deeper colour to make the surface of the red planet.

The cake worked perfectly, and the fudge filling is always reliable. Before covering the cake roughly with the orange icing, I made two rings of orange fondant to support the craters. After that, I dotted it with extra red food colouring (applied with the dryish tips of a pastry brush) and sprinkled over metallic 'rocks'. I got those in a tub in Tesco.

How could you resist that little face?
Halloween is the only time I make decorated cakes, so although I'm pretty good with my hands, I'm not great at making edible decorations. I hadn't been sure whether to make the rest of the decorations with fondant or marzipan, but the fondant went really sloppy when I made the craters, so I went for marzipan for the rest of the decorations. The tentacles were easy: roll a sausage from green marzipan, make it thinner at one end, then make graduated balls of red marzipan and press them into shape on the tentacle with a cake decorator's ball tool.

The walker was a disaster. I'd planned to make three legs, supported internally with cocktail sticks, then put a saucer on top. All would be made of grey fondant sprayed with edible iridescence. It just didn't work. The pieces had too much texture to look like real metal but not enough detail to be interesting, and they didn't hold together well. On top of that, next to the tentacles it just looked inty and puny. In the end I made extra tentacles. Something was missing though... there was a gaping hole at the centre of the tentacles... Eyeballs! And, you know, once I'd made a couple of marzipan eyeballs and added those, it all looked fine.

That's foiled your plans for global domination!
The workmates seemed to enjoy the cake, though there was a little to bring home. I would say that was a shame, but it kept Mr Robot happy. And I really loved sharing it with everyone and seeing their reactions. I love Halloween!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Fruitful Mellowness

By: Mr Robot

There's a fair amount of misery involved in the English Autumn: it's cold, it's soggy, it's grey, it's dark... whatever all-too-brief summer we actually had disappears practically overnight and before you know it you're looking at six months of chilly rain before the slightly warmer rain comes round again.

But there are upsides: warm fires, dark beer, cosy pubs on a chilly day, bonfire night, that bite in the air that makes you glad to have a fur-lined nose, misty mornings and leaves turning and, of course, the food.

This is the season to make soups and stews, puddings and pies, and many things rich and dark and gloopy. It's my favourite time for cooking, plus it's game season.

So the other weekend I decided to indulge myself with a long Sunday in the kitchen, a brace of pheasant the butcher had talked me into, and Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food to keep me company.

Pheasant, hiding in a hedge of bacon

Actually I started off by knocking up a very fudged Onion Soup that would get me banned from la belle France if I dared call it French - but you know whereof I speak. Yes, it involved an Oxo cube and, yes, the wine was cheap Spanish, but hey, at least it had wine and the cheese was a rather nice Gruyere even if it was on top of toasted Generic White Sliced. We enjoyed it anyway. It was that kind of weather.

My deepest apologies to France

But that was merely a precursor to the pheasant, which I prepared in the Kerridge style with many well-browned carrots along with garlic, orange, stock and I can't remember what else. Everyone's favourite setting of gas bugger-all for, ooh ages, enabled me to knock up the prescribed game chips and bread sauce (Generic White Sliced sauce, to be precise), and turn my mind to pud.

Never mind the presentation, here's the dog's, er, pistols

Now, I've done the pheasant before so know it to be worth treasuring, but I'd never tried these steamed ginger puddings. It was a fair bet though, because Kerridge's book has never let me down and his little date & toffee puds would entice me under a moving bus.

In any case it's enough, I submit, just to note the key ingredients of ginger, syrup, vanilla, puddingness and custard. There's a bit of jazzing around with lemon and ginger wine but really, if that doesn't get you I don't know what will.

Honestly, what more do you want?

Happily the recipe makes six puddings, which works perfectly for the two of us.

Creaking already from the immensely rich & savoury pheasant, and a startlingly good bread sauce (I know - I've avoided it for years on the assumption that, well it's bread... made into a sauce. Idiot), we actually ate only one each.

Serves two, eventually

Remarkable isn't it? We experimented with freezing the others and it's worked pretty well - just reheated by very gently steaming. If anything, freezing brings out the ginger more. But I digress.

We were sated and then some, and insanely happy. This is food that makes you really appreciate the grotty, wet, miserable weather just the other side of the window. To celebrate we finished with a glass of mulled cider, and then a whole load more. Doesn't get much better, to be honest.

All images (c) PP Gettins

We don't give away other folk's recipes. Buy the book instead - you'll never regret it. You can probably get it cheap on Amazon, or better yet pay full whack for a copy signed by the great man himself.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Tales of Caceres: Lost in Translation

By: Mr Robot

When we first approached the Carlos V asador (roasterie, basically) in Plaza Mayor they had the generosity and forethought to offer us a menu in our own language. We rewarded them by running away.

Why do such a mean and heartless thing? Well, there are two reasons really. For one thing we fear a polyglot menu denotes a godawful tourist trap that really doesn't give a stuff if they never see you again. A step, perhaps, towards the lurid-pictures-of-a-fry-up-joint with explanations in more languages (marked with little national flags of course) than there are dishes. Delicious, in short, is a word unlikely to apply.

On a more positive note, there's the joy of being slightly adrift in Foreign. Within reason of course: in Burma we hadn't the faintest idea how to read the script, let alone translate it, so managed either by pointing, or relying on precisely this sort of kindness.

THAT please

But a little knowledge is an entertaining thing and our Spanish is good (bad) enough that we have a fair idea of what we're ordering, but often with a zing of uncertainty.

On our honeymoon in Seville my new wife, desirous of fillet of hake, accidentally ordered "throat of hake", aka gills. She was supremely dignified about it.

On a return visit to Seville I didn't know what "choco" meant on the albondigas. Consequently, instead of meatballs, I got cuttlefishballs. Quite.

Most exciting was a tapas menu in Segovia which prompted, "That's pigs ears isn't it? Or is it eyes? I can never remember. No I'm sure it's ears. Shall we try?" Turned out it was ears, though to be honest eyes may have been a mercy, and while I may never ever order it again, I've rarely anticipated a dish quite so keenly.

Anyway, we felt bad about spurning the Carlos V so went back, insisting on the Spanish menu. And, with the inevitability of Greek gods punishing hubris, utterly failed.

The starter of scrambled eggs, asparagus (again) and jamon was remarkably expensive but I thought, "to hell with it - it must be really amazingly amazing at that price" and ordered it anyway. I may possibly have been drinking.

Completely unrelated, random image

Mrs R chose a much cheaper starter of local sausage. These, I thought, followed by a sharing plate of various roast meats between us. All good.

My revueltos, when it came, was ENORMOUS. Since madame was still waiting on her sausage I begged her to help, which is just as well. The eggs, of course, were meant for two: something I'd totally failed to notice. Mim never had a starter.

My starter? All for me? Really?

The staff had concluded (reasonably enough) that she was having a small main course and (equally reasonably) that the sharing dish of meats - which I'd also failed to notice had the very same sausage as her "starter" - was entirely for the fat bastard sat opposite.

So while Madame made do with three forks of egg and a sausage, I essentially ate for four.

I did my best to fight through roughly eight eggs (plus asparagus, plus ham), a black pudding, a chorizo, a bratwurst-type thing, and four slabs of meat that - due to shame and vino - I will never properly identify. Oh, and a potato.

Surely there must be some mistake

Naturally I failed and did the only thing an Englishman can do in such circumstances: I tried to hide the meat under my cutlery, and left an enormous tip.

"But surely," I sense you thinking, "all this just shows you should get the English menu." Well really, where's the fun in that?

All images (c) PP Gettins

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tales of Caceres: El Pato

By: Mr Robot

Leaving Old Caceres on the western side, one passes through the Puerta de Estrella, gleefully translated by nerds everywhere as The Stargate.

Stepping through with an appropriate vwooosh sound, the childish traveller finds himself in Plaza Mayor: a fine colonnaded square (ok, rectangle) and the site of numerous restaurants that are probably the most tourist-trappy you'll find in the city, but also often crammed with locals so can't be that bad.

Plaza Mayor, Cacares. Not shot through The Stargate because physics

Thus we reasoned anyway, and resolved to try a few.

We originally headed towards a roasting house but were pounced on by a waitress seeking to drag us in (worrying sign) and who proudly held out a menu in (gasp!) English.

At this point Mrs R gently wigged out and we scurried next door: she has a morbid fear of translated menus believing them to be a step down the slippery slope that ends in El Breakfast Ingles.

Next door turns out to be El Pato (The Duck - no idea why) where we're greeted by a genial silver-haired gent and presented with, um, a translated menu. Oh well.

El Pato

We'd already sampled El Pato a day or two earlier when we'd spent some happy time propping up the bar and been pleased with both beer and tapas, so we cast aside any concerns and set to.

Tapas of light, soft cheese and paprika. Free with beer.

In any case, we were already seated and far too English to run away a second time.

The light of my life opted to start with Migas: fried breadcrumbs normally made using just a very little meat and veg for flavour rather than substance. It's quite a favourite here - no surprise since it's a humble dish of the rural poor and Extremadura, like much of central Spain, is a pretty humble rural area.

A fried slice by any other name...

She deemed it very tasty, though the salt pork they'd used was both a tad salty (duh) and served in whacking great chunks with unrendered fat that was just the wrong side of grim. Still, trimming that off was no great burden.

I went for revueltos: scrambled eggs. Quite how we came to lose our respect for scrambled eggs is beyond me, but the Spanish still revere them and have taught me to do the same so I get them at every opportunity. You will rarely go wrong, I submit, in any Spanish eatery that offers more than three varieties of revueltos.

Revueltos con Trigueros y Setas, or, Eggs a la Smelly Wee

These came with mushrooms and tiny but intense asparagus stalks, and were delicious. If anything there was a little too much asparagus but that is such a petulant complaint I won't demean myself to make it.

From there Mrs R went for rabbit stew and I believe enjoyed it greatly, but honestly I can't tell you anything more because I had this to contend with:

Cochinillo - roasted fat piglet

Yes, a whole leg of roast suckling pig, and it was immense - in every sense of the word.

Skin so crisp it was practically brulee and meat so soft it was, well ok, not creme but you get my drift. Simply served with fries and a comedy salad of half an iceberg and five quarters of tomato. But frankly with that pig headlining, who gives a damn about the support acts?

Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside . . .

It shames me to say we declined puddings. Instead, as clouds started to roll in over the square (ok, rectangle) we girded our tums and waddled off to a much-needed siesta. I doubt El Pato will ever be accused of Fine Dining, but there's some mighty fine lunching to be had.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hot dog supper

By: Mrs Robot

We're back from munching our way around Caceres in Spain, and we have a load of delicious things to talk about and photos to share with you. However, all that travelling gets tiring and the Mr is still editing pictures. After so much good eating, sometimes all you really want is fast food.

I love fast food - the good sort, not rubbish chickenesque nuggets or miserable floppy pizza. In its way, that's what tapas is, good fast food. Last night we nipped to one of our locals, the Rose and Crown in Trowbridge, for tea. They've got a good menu, including some excellent burgers, and it's recently been revamped. Now it includes a 'Posh Hot Dog'. Mmm, hot dog. I couldn't resist - so here it is, in all its glory, with Mr Robot's steak visible in the background.  (It's a big steak, but the extreme angle makes his dinner look much smaller than mine.)

For just under £7 I got a large hotdog in what seems to be a brioche roll, though it's not as buttery as I'd expect, topped with mustard and ketchup. Delicious! The sausage was larger than most hotdogs, and had a good texture. Plus I had cheese on mine because I'm greedy like that. There were so many chips I struggled to get through them all. The home-made red cabbage coleslaw and the chopped peppers and tomato on top of the lettuce were all pleasingly crunchy and fresh, and really lifted the whole thing - it might've been a bit heavy without them. I'd definitely order it again.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Remembering Thadingyut

By: Mr Robot 

Thadingyut: the festival of light at the October full moon.

M-O-O-N spells Thadingyut
We were in Maymyo (now Pyin Oo Lwin) last time around, digging into Mrs R's heritage, and it was a wonderful experience.

We walked around the town as the sun set, and areas that were unprepossessing by day - and any other time - became magical this night. There were streets of wooden houses surrounded by irrigation ditches, with little wooden bridges across and balustrades around - all lined with dozens and dozens of candles.  Clearly there was precious little in the way of plumbing or electricity. It was dreadfully picturesque. Yet small children excitedly ran out to greet us, and everyone was smiles and goodwill.

It's the closest thing to a Dickens Christmas I've ever seen.

From our hotel. We bought our own candle elephant to remember this night

Amazing to think that was a year ago, but the moon says it must be. So we decided to mark this Thadingyut in our own small way, with some Burmese food and, of course, candles.

Since it's a 3-day festival we've had a couple of nights to play (sadly the third night - the big celebration - is logistically compromised) and turned as ever to MiMi Aye.

For the first night we returned to one of the first Burmese dishes we made: Mogok pork curry. This is a deep, dark, savoury dish, rich with soy and ginger, and soft, sticky pig. It's extremely simple to make and demands only the patience to let it simmer for an hour or so.

We're never entirely sure how runny to make it: it starts off very liquid - intuitively, too liquid - but I suspect my love of massively intense reductions pushes me a bit too far. Certainly all the curries we had in Burma were quite saucy (ooh!), no doubt to spread flavour across the customary ton or two of rice.

Mogok Pork Curry

Mind you, we hardly pretend to great authenticity but merely fudge our way through as best (and respectfully) we can. It's always jolly good anyway.

For the second night we picked up the first of MiMi's recipes we ever saw (Mrs R found it - big up her), and one of the funniest pieces of food writing I've ever read. Honestly - it's right up there with Jerome K Jerome's pineapple tin. Note, however, that this is probably not the moment to get the children involved in the kitchen.

Anyway, once you've got past the evisceration scene, there's the recipe for Gahlar-thar Hin, or Bachelors' Curry: a chicken dish presumably so called because the chances of a snog afterwards are exactly zero. It's VERY garlicky.

Actually that's unfair because I did a big fail: the recipe calls for a shed-load of garlic, onion, tomato, chilli etc to be blitzed into a paste and then cooked off. Guess who got impatient and, therefore, a load of raw garlic...

Bachelors' Curry. Enjoy it - it's the only hot chick you'll get tonight

So if you make this - and I urge you to - be sure to give it a good long time to cook the paste through properly. I mean, there's a lot of paste there. A LOT. It'll take longer than you (or at least I) think.

Happily I was making it a day ahead so was able to give it a good long time to cook most of that rawness out, and let the whole thing mature overnight to boot. This is, as MiMi says, quite a soupy dish with "rice swimming in rich gravy" which turns out to be an excellent idea. It's unusually spicy for Burmese food (in my tiny experience), not bonkers but with a decent hit, and extremely satisfying.

Oh, and if you have a stinking cold ignore all the cooking out stuff and keep the garlic nice and punchy: clears the tubes out a treat.

Happy Thadingyut everybody.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Pig Guide relaunches

We love party food!
By: Mrs Robot

On Monday we went to a party for The Pig Guide, the independent guide to all things foodie in Bath, which has got new funding and expanded what it does. There are all sorts of guides to Bath, but this is the best if you're visiting the city and want to find somewhere to eat, or you're a local and want to keep up with what supper clubs and events are happening. To be honest, we got invited as the result of a conversation the day before and felt very lucky and a little fraudulent as we only have a little blog! But it was a chance for two greedy people to get more of a feel for the city's food scene, and perhaps discover new and interesting places to eat, so we jumped at the chance.

The party was held at Gascoyne Place - if you don't know Bath, head for the theatre and you can't miss it. I had an excellent Christmas meal there with work one year, and the wine and canapés at the party on Monday were very good too. Among the people we met were Noya from Noya's Kitchen (a couple of Mr Robot's workmates have been to Noya's cookery classes and loved them, and we're hoping to visit her supper club at some point though she's already booked up well into 2015), Kev and Maya from Java Coffee House (VERY good cake there!) and a lady from StreetSmart, a charity that uses donations from restaurant diners to raise money for homeless people.

We'd both been a bit poorly so couldn't stay very long, hence the lack of photos of people, but we had a lovely time. Thanks to Melissa and Mike for inviting us!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Wright Brothers, Spitalfields, London

One of the restaurant's two entrances.
By: Mrs Robot

London, where the streets are paved with gold!

Or rather, London, where the streets are lined with restaurants and I never have the slightest idea which ones are going to be good and which bad. Luckily, when I went to the Big Smoke on Wednesday for the press preview of the British Library's 'Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination' exhibition (full review on Crinoline Robot) I was meeting Mi Mi Aye for lunch, and she picked the restaurant. I'd anticipated a trip to City Caphe but she suggested Wright Brothers - somewhere I'd probably never venture in on my own. I accepted.

Now, I have a love/hate relationship with seafood. I'm not a fan of massively fishy flavours. In fact, after broccoli cooked in a sauce that was roughly 50% chillies and 50% catbreath in Burma, I couldn't bear anything fishy for days, which was a bit of a sod in a country that uses fish sauce as a basic condiment. However, I do like sushi and sea fish, and figured if I was going to go to a fish restaurant, it might as well be in the company of someone who really knows their fish. Plus, if you never try anything new you'll be eating baby food for your whole life, and there'll be enough time for that when I'm 103 and toothless.

My first impressions were that the restaurant - we met at the Spitalfields branch - felt really welcoming. Probably because it had a bar, and that's always a good start where Mr Robot and I are concerned. In fact, the whole place, with its wooden floor, wide marble bar, brick floors and cool atmosphere, had a pleasingly informal, publike feel, though most pubs don't have tanks full of lobsters and crabs swimming around.

Mi Mi's fish platter - lots of whelks and cockles as well as oysters.

Mi Mi and I decided to eat at the bar, perched on leather-topped stools. You could have different sorts of dishes - giant seafood platters, portions of individual types of seafood, smaller plates, and things from the specials board. It's a great way of doing things as fish can be expensive, and this way if a group of people goes everyone can find something to suit their budget.

Fried baby squid, brown shrimp and prawns.
Mi Mi made up her own seafood platter as she likes oysters. I opted for one dish with fried baby squid, prawns and brown shrimps, and one of mojama. I always love the puntillitas (baby squid) when we have it in Spain, so it was a treat to get it over here, and I'd never tried brown shrimps or mojama but had always wanted to. To be honest I wasn't taken with the texture of the shrimps, which you eat shell and all, though I'd known that might be a problem for me when I ordered them. When you order something completely new, there's always a risk it might not be quite to your taste. Certainly they seemed extremely fresh and were beautifully cooked. Dipped in the garlic mayonnaise, they were jolly tasty, and I ate the lot anyway. The squidlets and prawns disappeared fairly rapidly too...

Mojama - Spanish air-dried tuna. Tuna ham, if you like

The mojama was lovely, not too soft or too chewy, and perfectly complimented by tomato, caperberries and flat-leaf parsley.

There was a really nice pudding selection, but both of us opted to have stichelton cheese and grapes instead. I am a fiend for cheese, and it was really good, with plenty of blue and a good, earthy rind.

I really enjoyed my trip to Wright Brothers. It's not the sort of place I'd have chosen, and it can be refreshing to step away from the norm and try something very different. I'd go there again, but I'd probably keep it as a lunchtime place. It'd be perfect on a hot summer day. I don't really appreciate seafood enough to luxuriate over a costly seafood platter on an evening out, though if shellfish and finnyfish are your thing, you'd probably adore it.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

In need of comfort

by: Mr Robot

I've been feeling pretty rubbish for a while. Mrs R passed on some ghastly virus and no amount of rebooting or applying the HotToddy_3.0 patch seems to shift it. Hopefully the week of planned system downtime in a couple of weeks will sort things out.

In the meantime I've been turning, as I'm sure we all do, to food of consolation.

Happily we've had a decent summer this year which has given probably our best ever crop of tomatoes. So a homemade tomato soup has been high on the agenda.

Ruddy marvellous

Two full trays of the ruddy beauties roasted with a bit of olive oil, seasoning, basil on the tray of mainly-cherry and thyme on the one of mainly-big (no science behind that, btw - it just seemed a nice idea). Oh, and some garlic of course.

Then just simmered awhile with a light vegetable stock and perhaps a dash of Worcerster sauce if you're feeling flamboyant. Blitzed up, seeds n' all - I considered passing through a sieve but was feeling too crappy to be bothered.

You don't have to be poorly to enjoy this, but it helps

Inspired by Tony Nayor's excellent How to Eat series on the Guardian's Word of Mouth, I've had monstrous cravings for a good beef stew. So I made one. The key ingredient here being half a pint of Bishop's Finger.

Beef. Beer. Bread. All that's missing is More.

Finding some short-rib of beef at the butcher I was driven back to my beloved Proper Pub Food by St Tom of Kerridge. His recipe calls for about a week of marinading but I fudged it with just a day of veeeery slow cooking. Vital to any Kerridge dish is a damned good stock - not least for the texture it gives.

Naturally I should've used beef but couldn't find any bones (bloody chefs nick 'em all don't they) so resorted to an excellently splidgy pork stock instead with a beef boullion cube tossed in. Worked remarkably well.

Shiny shiny.... Shiny beef of Kerridge

His glazed carrots are a must (if a tad reflective!) and I was quite pleased with my tower of crushed potato and not-crushed cabbage.

The sauce is amazing. It really is. Buy the book just for that.

We've already talked about Bun bo Hue but it's so good I just wanted another look. We've still got about 2 pints of in the freezer you know - it really is a very generous recipe indeed.

Finally, with the air picking up that certain autumnal feel, thoughts turn to Toad in the Hole, regarding which all must bow before Nigel Slater. A batter livened up with mustard (Ringwood brewery's excellent Old Thumper mix in this case) and the finest sausages you can find wrapped in streaky bacon. That is all.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Recipe Review: Bun bo Hue

From Noodle! by MiMi Aye

by: Mr Robot

For some reason I got it into my head that this beef & lemongrass delight was called Bun ho Hue rather than Bun bo Hue so I fear I've been saying something absolutely dreadful for the last fortnight. So in the finest tradition of men everywhere - I'm deeply sorry for whatever it was I said. 

I wouldn't have persisted with my error quite so long were it not such an involved dish: I'd planned to cook it last week but given the vast array of meat needed, I had to put a special order in with the butcher (who did us proud as always) and try to control my impatience.

selection of meat before cooking. Pork bones, pork hock, shin of beef, oxtail
Crucial to any good recipe: vast amounts of MEAT

Pork bones, shin of beef, pork hock and oxtail all get simmered together for about 3 hours to make a wondrously rich broth served over noodles. Simple eh?

Well kind of, but there's plenty of other stuff going on - not least 12 stalks of lemongrass (basically clearing out Asda's supply for the week) - along with onion, ginger, garlic and pineapple. Supposedly rock sugar too but all I could find was palm so that had to do.

ingredients lemongrass, palm sugar, shrimp paste, onion, ginger, pineapple
Lemongrass, and lots of it. Also pineapple, onion, ginger, sugar and shrimp paste
One thing that gave me some concern was the shrimp paste. Four tablespoons of the stuff. It's an ingredient I treat with something between caution and terror being so very pungent and frankly waaaay too fishy for comfort. But if I've learned anything from MiMi's recipes it's to shut the fuck up and do as you're told. So I did.

And of course I needn't have worried. Not only is the shrimp paste distributed in several litres of liquid (I'd kind of over-ordered on the meat!) but the hours of simmering cooked out the fishiness to leave an intense savouriness. A bit like people say anchovies will, only they lie.

In fact it was a fascinating process. Early on the smell (and an unwise tasting) was pretty grim and I feared we'd end up with a horrible waste, in every sense. But as the afternoon wore on it just smelled better and better.

This is a recipe that demands faith of its followers, yea verily and they shalt be rewarded.

A big pot o' love
So after a considerable period of lounging on the sofa saying things like, "Gosh that's starting to smell good" and, "Ooh I just got a big whiff of lemongrass" and, "Bollocks - I've just remembered I meant to save half that oxtail for something else" we eventually haul ourselves up to see what we've got.

Sorry but it actually was pulled
The recipe says to slice up the pork and beef but so very tender was it that I just gave it a Paddington hard stare and it basically dismantled itself. Perhaps that meant I'd overcooked it but it was so delicious I couldn't give a monkeys.

At this stage I did take the opportunity to remove the bigger lumps of fat and strip the oxtail from the bones. I've no doubt this would give any self-respecting Vietnamese person the shudders but I'm still dealing with the trauma of my Grandmother's cookery so believe me, it was for the best.

From there it's very simple - pile noodles, meat, broth and garnishes in a bowl and start grunting.

Do not forget the trimmings
As with so many of these recipes though, the garnish isn't some optional extra - it's vital to the overall balance of the dish. So far we have a bowl of complexity but huge - in fact challenging - richness. You need something to balance that out: in this case lime, blanched onion, chilies and coriander leaves give acidity an freshness and take the whole thing up a level. 

In fact Mrs R commented that my laying thin slices of lime on top of the warm broth caused the lime scent to rise above the bowl making the whole thing more aromatic. Naturally I feel quite smug about that even though I'd only done it to look pretty. Remember that then.

I should also have had beansprouts on there but due to the delay getting my meat in, they'd gone a bit manky, which was a shame because they would have given a nice textural difference. As it was the only crunch was from the onions and of course I didn't want to overdo those.

Overall this is a lengthy operation - a good four hours start to finish - but it's quite undemanding and most of that time is your own. Given the quantity and variety of meats I'd consider this an Occasion dish, for which a 4-hour simmering one-pot is ideal, and could see it making a great alternative for those jaded by the Christmas turkey. Because what you get after all that time and very little effort is something rich, fragrant, complex and comforting - it felt like a real treat on a miserable grey weekend.

Update: Mercifully the recipe makes a HUGE quantity and after accidentally losing a whole day to the pub, I can testify that it's a wonderful restorative for the filthily hungover...
As ever, if you were hoping to blag a free recipe here you’ll be disappointed – we don’t do that. These cooks need to make a living just like anyone else. However you can buy a signed copy of the book direct from MiMi's website, and isn't that much better really?

All images (c) PP Gettins