Wednesday 29 August 2007

Harriet's Amazing Lasagne

Harriet is an amazing cook. Cowie and I popped over to dinner with Harriet and Nick last year where Harriet cooked us a delicious pheasant and mango curry. One day I'd love to prise that recipe out of Harriet's possession... just like I'm hoping she'll give me her mother's lasagne recipe.

Whilst up in the Welsh mountains at Harriet's grandparent's fabulous cottage we gobbled up the best lasagne any of us have ever had. We demolished it. Helped no doubt by plenty of walking and even more booze. It had been ticking over in the oven for quite a while developing more and more flavour by the minute. The key to the depth of flavour is that Harriet throws a bunch of bacon, some celery and crucially some liver into the mince and tops it off with aubergine.

The results taste stunning. This may not be the most visually stunning picture. I just wish my camera could capture taste and smell...

Here's Harriet's amazing lasagne recipe:

Serves 8



Approx 750 grams of mince meat
200 grams of chicken liver
4 rashers of smoked bacon
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
a good few squirts of tomato puree
a dash of Lea and Perins
1 large onion
1/4 pint of red wine
2 garlic cloves
good two handfuls of basil leaves (fresh)
two celery sticks
salt and pepper

1 large aubergine

lasagne pasta sheets


1/2 pint single cream
150 grams of butter
100 - 150 grams of flour (use judgement)
3 pints of milk
salt and pepper
grated chedder cheese - a large block of it!

Oven: fan = 50 min at 170 degrees - or until very hot in the middle!



Fry onion and garlic until soft and clear
Add chopped bacon and liver to fry until looks cooked on outside - then
Add mince meat to fry - again until looks brown and not red
Add chopped up celery sticks
then after all the above has been cooking for 5-10 min..
Add tin tomatoes, tomato puree, Lea and Perins, red wine, salt and pepper and chopped basil - cook for approx 30 min until
reduced (don't want it to be too liquidy!)

Mean while:

Chop aubergine into 1/2 cm slices and fry gentle in pan until 3/4 cooked - take off heat


A typical white source with grated cheese added - see any good cook book (Delia!) for instructions)

Putting it together:

Get a large casserole pot or dish:
Add a layer of meat
Add a layer of pasta sheets
add a layer of aubergine
add a layer of white cheesey sauce
add a layer of meat
add a layer of pasta sheets
etc etc etc until all full

On the top - must finish off with layer of white cheesey sauce and then top with grated cheese.

Pop in oven.

Cheese can brown - if getting too brown - cover top with tin foil.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Beer Can Chicken

I've read a whole bunch of articles on how to cook a chicken with a beer can wedged inside it. I first saw it in Fergus Henderson's Observer supplement about how to make the most of summer. It's just a shame that summer has almost entirely bypassed us this year.

I loved the idea of ramming a beer can up the ass of a chicken that we gave it a go whilst half way up a mountain in Wales. Harriet's Grandparent's gorgeous cottage in the Welsh mountains is a 20 minute walk directly up a hill. We arrived on a Friday night in pitch darkness carrying our heavy rucksacks full of supplies to keep us slaked and sated. In other words loads of booze and tonnes of food!

I'd been getting excited about doing the beer can chicken all weekend... Harriet was egging me on to cook it after we had gone for a walk on Sunday. So before we went on our hike Nick and I lit a fire in the dry stone wall to drive off the moisture that had accumulated. The beauty of the fire was that it warmed the stone up and fitted perfectly into the scenery. There's something special about lighting a pre-barbecue fire. It's a great warm up to a special event.

I found loads of instructions of how to cook Beer Can Chicken scattered around the internet from the Surreal Gourmet to the more informative About's is particularly good, if a little too detailed. All you need to do is...

Find a can of beer. Chop the top of with some scissors and pour away the liquid so the can is half full... fuller than this and the beer doesn't have a chance to boil and steam... it just gets hot.

Rub salt and smoked paprika into the skin of the chicken. I separated the skin from the flesh and seasoned under the skin as well just for good measure... but I guess this is optional. I just like the wearing chicken gloves! Then, very carefully, ram the half full beer can inside the cavity of the chicken so the bird is balanced on the can. Have a look below.

If you knock it over like I did, then just pour some more beer in from the top. Not too much though... you want to get the beer boiling and not just warm.

Then pop wrap the base of the chicken in some tin foil to stop the legs catching fire and balance the base of the can carefully on the grill. Now arrange the coals in such a way that there is intense heat either side of the chicken and build a small mound of coals directly under the can so that the beer in the can is encouraged to boil. Now leave the chicken on the grill for around 2 and a half hours whilst the bird steams from the inside and smokes from the outside. Monitor the chicken every now and again to see if steam is puffing out of the neck. When the meat around the top of the bird is cooked your ready to carefully take the succulent bird off the grill and tear it apart.

With any luck the flesh should fall apart and taste deliciously of smoke and beer! It's such a great party piece. I'm keen to develop the recipe and steam a chicken with red win and garlic...

Winners and Anna seemed to enjoy the show too!

Monday 27 August 2007

Fifteen, Cornwall

A while ago Cowie promised that we would write a review of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in Watergate Bay near Newquay in Cornwall. Well, some fortuitous booking, a very well organised girlfriend and a well timed camping trip to Devon saw us zooming down from Somerset to have dinner overlooking the Atlantic.

The closer we got to Cornwall the sunnier it became, a world away from the gloom and smog of London. Cares tumpled away as Cowie overtook caravans and moorland sheep, her Jeep gobbling up the tarmac like the plump green olives from Puglia that were on the menu at Fifteen.

We popped into Newquay, which was my fault entirely. I'd heard people talk about Newquay and wanted to see what all the fuss was about... I don't know why I was expecting good things. It was like the a scene out of John Locke's dystopic comment: "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable".

We left quickly because we'd got bored of seeing shops selling rock, the smell of fish and chips and the sight of beer bellies covered in tattoes. Oh... and Cowie thought she had her wallet stolen, but it turned out she left it in our unlocked car! Whoops!

We headed North from Newquay to Watergate Bay twisting and climbing around the headland before we arrived in a fairly non descript car park with huge pink flags and a sign saying "for Fifteen please go to the far side of the car park". Really informal. Laid back. Well thought out and a quite brilliant location. We loved the pink branding and flags. In fact I wish more restaurants had flags. Not to mention sea views!

We spent a while taking in the view and the menu on display. We licked our lips at the thought of Jamie's seafood risotto and crispy John Dory. Cowie even begged me to not let her tuck into too much of Ken's freshly made bread!

Having checked into our fantastic little B&B, we returned back glammed up and ready for dinner. I'd even starved myself especially in preparation... by not eating all the free biscuits in our bedroom! It was only when we got to the car park again that I realised that I was wearing jeans, a shirt, jacket and flip flops! Whoops... luckily I managed to dig out some boaters from the back seat.

We found our way into the restaurant, feeling like Big Brother stars entering the Endemol house as we walked down the decking to the glorified beach hut... we arrived a little bit too late to see the sunset which looked amazing as we drove along. The table in the corner must have an incredible view for the first sitting.

We were seated on some high dark wooden stools surrounded by copies of Jamie's books with a great view of the view that the guests had. A kind of Godly meta view from up high. The busy kitchen is exposed to the rest of the restaurant; open for guests to see how the 15 apprentices are getting along. Before we had had enough time to take in the menu we were whisked off to our table in the far corner of the restautant. An hour or two earlier it would have been the best table in the British Isles with a 270' view of the sun setting with a blaze of glory over the Atlantic. But at 9 o'clock it was out on a limb and too far away from the action. It just didn't feel right so we asked to move. Ever since a previous girlfriend made us leave a Thai restaurant 10 minutes after sitting down I've always felt a bit British about sitting where I'm told to. It doesn't seem right to be too demanding when you are a guest in someone's restaurant! But when I took Cowie to le Poule au Pot for our 2 year anniversary we were seated disastrously close to the ever swinging kitchen doors... after a few minutes of dithering we plucked up courage to ask to move and it worked! We were very politely moved to a brilliant table in a romantic nook... At Fifteen the collection of waiters looking after us were more than happy to move us where we wanted to go, so long as we didn't mind waiting for them to set the table.

So far so good. The staff were attentive, enthusiastic and pretty glamourous.

For dinner you are forced to eat from the tasting menu, which is fine because the food is very good. But it's pretty expensive at £50 a head. It's also nice to have the option to choose the tasting menu. And it isn't really a proper tasting menu. I guess its just a tarted up set menu. And for this much money the kitchen have to be on top form to justify it. At least they only have to cook from a limited range of dishes.

And just while I'm being critical, if you're going to put a new menu up outside the restaurant daily, you've got to make sure it matches up with the one you are handed when you sit down at your table. The look of disappointment on Cowie's face when she couldn't find her cherished seafood risotto was painful to see. She'd literlly talked about it non stop for the previous 2 hours since reading it in the car park and had really got her hopes up. Anyway, it's just a little thing. But sometimes the little things are important...

Our meal started with a bowlful of the plumpest green olives I've ever seen and some freshly baked bread. Gorgeously juicy and so salty they were almost sweet. The perfect olives. If you were to find Plato's form of the finest olive the ones we ate at Fifteen would be pretty close. We greedily gobbled up the bread, smearing it in thick, green olive oil. Unfortunately the bread was a little bit past its best... a bit of a shame but we got over it.

Good start. But not perfect.

Then came a couple of amuse bouches. One, a golden beetroot compote and the other... was not bad, but let's say it was forgetable! Maybe this sounds harsh. How can 2 little spoonfuls of colourful vegetables ever live up to the hype of an enthusiastic waitress?

Then something brilliant happened. We were served a stunning mozerella, palma ham, melon and aged balsamic vinegar salad topped with orange and purple flowers. I'm not really a salady kind of person but this was delicious on so many levels. The crunch of the lettuce complemented the texture of the mozerella and the coolness of the melon, whilst the saltiness of the ham offset the sweetness of the fruit. All of this was balanced out by the sweet acidity of the 12 year old balsamic vinegar. What a salad! Cowie was in a state of bliss.

After such a light salad we moved onto a delicious ricotta gnocchi in a rich, deep mushroom sauce. 4 puffs of gnocchi isn't exactly generous, but what they lacked in number they made up for in taste. The mushroom and truffle sauce was overwhelming. Really deep. Almost as good as some of the mushroom sauces we had at Villa Anette in Croatia. High praise indeed.

We were then given the choice of crispy John Dory or slow roasted pork on a bed of lentils. I had the pork and Cowie had the fish. I won. My pork was deliciously succulent falling apart like pulled pork and bolstered by the depth from the lentils and red wine. Very tasty. But a bit unadventurous and not really what you expect from a tasting menu. I liked it. But I'm still a bit uncomfortable about it. I would never have chosen this from a full a la carte menu. Now this is where I struggle. If you are going to only offer a tasting menu, you've got to serve up grub that really stretches your boundaries and surprises you with stuff you haven't thought about trying before. My pork was good. But I was forced to eat it and it didn't surprise me.

By this time my tooth, which I chipped last week, was beginning to hurt so I opted for cheese over the sinful white chocolate Tiramisu. I'm a big fan of cheese and Jamie didn't disappoint. It was brilliant... testament to this was the sight of our table at the end of the meal. Cowie's tiramisu lay half eaten and my cheese board lay demolished, no thanks to Cowie who got bored of her desert and tucked into my cheese!

To finish things off we were faced with a vast array of coffees and teas. Not quite knowing what I was doing I ordered a ristretto... and I loved it. It's a quarter of a shot of espresso where you get the first flush of the coffee, rich with crema. I guess it's a bit like having the cream from the top of the milk, or a small slug of extra virgin olive oil. It was so strong it was almost like caramel and so smooth. I'm ordering them from now on! Well done Jamie. Great start to the meal with the olives and a sensational end!

We loved the atmosphere. We loved the decor and the flashes of pink. We loved the refined graffiti. We loved the staff and the fact they gave me 80p to get out of the car park rather than give me change for a Twenty. We loved the newsletter on the back side of the menu full of upcoming events. We liked the food. We adored the Dyson Air Blade hand drier. Giles Coren would love it for this reason alone.

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Trusted Places Beta Test

Walid very kindly invited me along to his Trusted Places beta testing evening last week where a group of keen Trusted Places enthusiasts put the new and updated site through its paces. You can see from the pictures below that this quickly moved onto eating enormous (and very tasty) pizzas in Exmouth Market outside of Moro.

It was great to meet such interesting and like minded people and to catch up with Helen who's now working at Waitrose / John Lewis as a foodie... what a job!

Also bumped into Amelia who writes a blog called Life Moves Pretty Fast who was sitting opposite Helen and me... really nice to meet someone whose blog you read on a regular basis.

So we're all pretty excited about seeing how Trusted Places develops and keen to get involved in any activity that can help the community grow and develop.

Thank you Walid for the invitation and look forward to joining in again soon.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Enak Enak Oriental Restaurant , Lavander Hill

Welcome to Mama Nancy's Enak Enak.....
This was a spontaneous choice by Browny. For us, this place was close to home, cosy, offering Thai yummy food... perfect for a random Wednesday when you can't be bothered to cook!

This is what they have to say for themselves on their website:

"It seems like only yesterday that Nancy Lam opened her small restaurant Enak Enak 18 years ago to introduce Londoners to her unique brand of family-style, Indonesian-inspired cooking - laced with a whole lot of Nancy's trademark personal spice!

Yes, Nancy Lam's Enak Enak has come a long way since it first put the
Indonesian words for "yummy yummy" into the English foodie vocabulary. Nancy prepares her famous satay, barbecued prawns, rendang and other homely dishes just the way her late grandmother taught her, so you won't find her style of cooking anywhere else.

This is, after all, a family-run restaurant where you get honest-to-goodness cooking. And as many people would agree: food is best when it comes straight from the heart."

From the outside you could be mistaken that this restaurant has featured in one of Gordan Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmare episodes; quite dingie looking, dark, a big painted picture of Mama Nancy immediately catches you eye.... however once you walk in you realise why locals continually go back for more.

The interior is pretty basic but the atmosphere is intimate and cosy, the service was attentive, and the food was extremely tasty. The only slight let down was the rather greasy fish cakes to start. However, this was followed by delicious sizzling beef and a fantastic spicy number: Treasure Hunt chicken with rice and pak choi. A majority of the food was well presented and oozed flavour.

Enak Enka produces simple food which is cooked from the heart..... And cooked very well at that!

Having polished off a bottle of white and put the world to rights, we came to the conclusion that we liked this local eatery. A little pricey? .....Yes. But worth it?....... I think so.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Restaurant reviews coming to you soon....

Here are some of the places Browny and I are hoping to try out during August and September. These are either restaurants we've wanted to try for ages as a special treat, local haunts or we are going for just plain curiosity!

So here we go:

1) Tsunami - A highly recommended Japanese just off Clapham High Street.

2) Thomosina Mier's Wahaca - The 2005 winner of Master Chef Goes Large brand new and 1st restaurant - a Mexican street food theme and style. Chandos Place

3) Roka - Superb Japanese eatery on Charlotte street.

4) Barrafina - The cool, hip and ever so Spanish bar/ tapas/ restaurant owned and run by the talented Hart brothers. Soho Square.

5) Fifteen Cornwall - Jamie Oliver's West Country kitchen at Watergate Bay, nr Newquay.

We promise to write up our experiences on the blog when we return with baggy bellies!

Sunday 5 August 2007

Tea Smoked Duck

I pottered down to the Northcotte Road this morning to get some stuff for breakfast and landed up buying a couple of duck breasts for supper. Wondering what to do with them I remembered that Hannah smoked some duck breasts with lavender on Master Chef to great effect and did a bit of sofa research.

There are loads of recipes for smoking duck. There are 730,000 entries on Google all with different instructions! I read quite a few of them before deciding that I would base my strategy on the simplest suggestion from Wino Sapien.

So. I started by coating the slashed duck breasts in Fleur de Mer salt, smoked paprika, freshly ground pepper and ginger. I left these to develop in the fridge for half an hour or so before rinsing them off and patting dry.

In the meantime I threw a variety of tea leaves into a foil lined wok. White Monkey tea, Earl Grey Creme from Moby's Teany, a bit of Lap and my Blends for Friends concoction. A drizzle of honey and a scattering of dried shitake mushrooms finished things off. I fired up the gas and got the tea to smoking point before popping the duck breasts in a suitably sized colander and sealing with a lid.

Around 8 minutes of smoking did the trick. You've got to make sure the lid is secured tightly and any gaps are plugged otherwise you're going to be airing your house for the rest of the week!

After smoking for 8 minutes take the wok off the heat and let it rest with the lid still on. You want to get as much smoke into the duck as possible. Then remove the duck breasts and rub a bit of salt into the now golden skin before lobbing skin side down into a scorching hot griddle pan. Sear until the skin is crisp before turning over dabbing with butter and then shove it under the grill for a few minutes to cook through.

Spoon over the juice in the pan, leave to rest for a moment or two and then slice. Delicious and far better than I had hoped for!

Well done Wino Sapien. Great recipe. I added a couple of dabs of lime marmalade and apricot jam to the plate to give the plate a bit of colour and some sweetness.

Bob Blumer the Surreal Gourmet

I've just stumbled across Bob Blumer on Treehugger whilst researching how to cook salmon in the dishwasher and have been bowled over by his site and innovative ideas.

I've read about Beer Can chicken before which is cool...

But I absolutely loved his take on "Bed of Polenta"... inspired.

Here is a fragment from an interview with Bob from Gremolata

"Bob Blumer published The Surreal Gourmet: Real Food for Pretend Chefs in 1992 and hasn't looked back since. Formerly Jane Siberry's manager, Blumer combined his skills for living well with little money , his artistic talent and his playful interest in surrealism to produce one of the most influential cookbooks of the 90s. The book was a hit and he has been inspiring cooks since with three more volumes. Ever looking for interesting ways to present food, earlier this year, Blumer brought his unique outlook to Paris, where he opened a "temporary restaurant" for a week."

I'm going to have to get myself a few of his books and try his ideas out.

Dishwasher Salmon

A while ago someone mentioned that you can cook salmon in the dishwasher... so I've been looking into how to go about doing it. I found an article on Treehugger about it:

"If you’re going to waste energy and water using your dishwasher, you might as well make double use of the debit and cook up some dinner in the hot suds while you’re at it. What? It sounds nuts, and granted, it is, but Bob Blumer, the Surreal Gourmet, has perfected the technique, so you might as well use it.

It seems an odd way to save energy, and granted, that was never really his point. But it is ours.

The classic dishwasher recipe is poached and Blumer’s instructions, along with a much needed Q&A, are featured on and more discussion (because this is a subject that cries out for heavy discussion) can be found on the ever entertaining J-walk Blog along with some novel dishwasher cooking ideas and a link to a recipe for Dishwasher Carrots With Butter and Dill.

Cooking times vary with dishwasher model. [by Tamara Holt]"

And here are some comments from Bob Bulmer the surreal gourmet...

"Poaching salmon in a dishwasher is one of those great urbane legends that has circulated for years. I think I first heard that someone made it on the Johnny Carson show back in the sixties. In my never-ending search for new recipes to add to my surreal bag of tricks, I decided to see if the method really worked. Much to my surprise, my first experiment yielded a moist and perfectly cooked salmon fillet. Since then, I’ve poached salmon in more than 100 dishwashers on 3 continents. There’s never been a dull party.


Dishwasher Salmon with a Piquant Dill Sauce

4 6-ounce salmon fillets
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
heavy duty aluminum foil


1 Cut two 12-inch square sheets of aluminum foil.
2 Place two fillets side by side on each square and fold up the outer edges.
3 Drizzle 1 tablespoon lemon juice over each fillet. Season with salt and pepper.
4 Fold and pinch the aluminum foil extra tightly to create a watertight seal around each pair of fillets. Make sure the packet is airtight by pressing down on it gently with your hand. If air escapes easily, rewrap.
5 Place foil packets on the top rack of the dishwasher. Run dishwasher for the entire "normal" cycle.
6 When cycle is complete, take out salmon, discard foil, place one fillet on each plate, and spoon a generous serving of dill sauce overtop."

So it seems not only is it pretty cool and healthy but it's also good for the environment! Brilliant.

So here's a video I found on YouTube of the end results!

I am going to do this soon and will share the results... any advice would be most welcome if you've been crazy enough to do this yourself!

Thursday 2 August 2007

Condiments to the Chef

I love the idea of using used (and washed) red L'Oreal shampoo bottles for ketchup dispensers. Likewise I've tried to turn Dove moisturising shower gel into mayonaise squirty dispensers! Colman's mustard is well catered for by popping it in a yellow fake tan tube.

The only problem is no matter how many times I wash the used cosmetics bottles out their's always a residual taste. I need to find a stronger cleaning solution.

Wednesday 1 August 2007

The Red Lion, Brayfield-on-the-Green, Northamptonshire

If you are in need of some really good quality food and the middle of the country, you can't go too far wrong with this excellent gastro pub near Northampton.

After a long, hard week in the office, Browny and I headed to Stevington for a lovely weekend and to help out at Kathy's garden opening. As a celebration and good excuse not to cook, we decided to go to this local haunt at Brayfield-on-the-Green. Conveniently located, The Red Lion offers a country pub with a large garden, delicious food, all in a relaxed but a highly professional environment. The service was slick, knowledgeable and discreet.

The head chef produced some excellent dishes; Starters - a sumptuous smoked and poached salmon with fennel terrine, crispy crab fish cakes, smooth asparagus moose and tangy tiger chili prawns - All beautifully presented, flavoursome and moreish. Of these, the terrine deserves extra praise.. it really was fresh, light and first class.

Mains included a roast lobster with mango salsa, rack of lamb with roasted veggies, sirloin steak with all the trimmings, poached cod with creamy mash and simple fillet of salmon. Again, it was hard to fault the presentation and taste of the dishes, but only a chef of true talent can cook juicy, succulent fish of the this quality.

Despite feeling of the verge of explosion, it was hard to resist the puds. I was somewhat disappointed but my treacle and raspberry tart.. far too much pastry and not enough goo. However, the greedy ones who chose banoffee cheesecake and chocolate fondant certainly hard a smile on their faces!

It was an excellent find that has to be highly recommended. If your in need of something a bit special while trundling up the M1, this could be just the place!


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