Wednesday 30 January 2008

Can you believe it?

From Slashfood but originally from Trekking Mahlzeiten

"This makes as much sense as "hot dog in a straw" or "soup in a bag," but it's real and it's ready to order: cheeseburgers in a can!

Yeah, I don't know what the hell to think about this. First off, I don't know if food like this is supposed to be in a can, and second, that cheeseburger couldn't have come from that can. It's bigger than the can is, and too put together and too neat. Then again, McDonald's burgers never look like they do in the ads either."

I've got a feeling this is for backpackers who couldn't possible cope without a cheese burger.

Monday 28 January 2008

Hannah's Epic Afternoon Tea

What better way to catch up on Master Chef gossip than to spend the afternoon with Hannah over at her wonderful cottage. The Brown and Cowie team descended on poor Hannah on Sunday afternoon having starved ourselves in expectation!

Hannah was completely bamboozled by Cowie trying to park Mum's car as she shot backwards and forwards like a child on a swing... only to then park the car neatly by Hannah's garrage. I arrived with Mum and Dad bearing a few goodies of our own. Rococo do some lovely mushroom shaped chocolates on Marylebone High Street that make really nice pressies. Or at least I like going into their shop and trying things out. But I always come out with the same thing! Must be my fascination with mushrooms!

Hannah showed us her hens which she's had to keep couped up because an evil fox destroyed her last lot of cluckers. They are incredibly lively girls. All pecking away at their porrige and seeds. I imagine there can be few happier chickens than those that are lucky enough to live with Hannah. They're great layers apparently.

We were greeted in Hannah's kitchen by the most friendly, comforting smell in the world. Baking. That sweet smell of being at home. Of cookies. Of naughty roulades. Of suger and sinful deserts. Hannah and her lovely friend Maren from Germany had enjoyed themselves by cooking up an absolute feast.

The star of the show and by far the most unusual cake was a poppie seed cake made with curd with a star shapes instead of lattice. They were soft, squidgy and unusual in a way that made you keep nibbling to see if you could closer to working out what made them taste so good! Mum and Hannah started dreaming up ways to grow poppies commercially without being arrested for opium related crimes! If the guys in Afganistan can get away with it I'm sure Mum and Hannah can!

Dad was then given a huge slice of roulade that oozed cream and plum compote. The sharpness of the plums was sensational when combined with the cinamon icing sugar! Hannah is so clever with her flavours. Everything exudes flair and creativity... not to mention edible glitter!

I have fallen in love with Hannah's peanut and chocolate cookies. Craggy little chaps with enough illicit temptation inside them to have had them banned by Oliver Cromwell back in his time! I've taken a few back to work and they were wolfed down by Oli who claims they are a miracle cure for migraines! Quick Hannah... call Pfizer immediately!

Mum and Hannah both have an unhealhy obsession with violets. Mum even managed to get them into our tagine on Saturday. And she turned up with violet ice cubes for Hannah! It's a little bit lost on me, but Hannah's chocolate cup cakes with violet icing looked divine.

But the star of the show for me were these incredibly dainty lemon cup cakes with rose icing. I doubt anyone will ever see a prettier cup cake! Or at least not until Hannah opens the world's best tea rooms!

Hannah also made some very dainty cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches with the crusts neatly trimmed off which brought back fond memories for Dad of his childhood. I wolfed down my welsh rarebit crumpet and have resolved to make them myself soon. They are brilliant. And give you just the savoury kick you need when enjoying so much sugar.

We had the most wonderful time with Hannah and can't wait to repay the invitation. Hannah, thank you so much for an unforgettable afternoon!

Love from the Browns and two very chirpy Cowie girls.


Sunday 27 January 2008

Lamb and Pear Tagine with Pinenut and Preserved Lemon Couscous

One of my new year resolutions was to enter more competitions and to generally get involved in more online communities. I've been keen to enter the "In the Bag" competition on A Slice of Cherry Pie for some time now and have finally got around to following it through to completion.

The brief was straightforward. Create a meal involving:

A lemon
Some nuts

Being more of a meat and savoury man rather than a Greg Wallace sweet tooth merchant I decided to go off piste with a meal inspired by our trip to Marrakech. The thing I like most about Moroccan food is the way they cleverly blend layers of flavour and taste together as well as their ability to create dishes using meat and fruit. There's something really special about pears, quince, apricots, prunes etc. when cooked long and slow in a tagine with lamb or chicken.

I decided that the thing I really wanted to cook was a comforting, deep and exotic lamb and pear tagine with apricots and chopped almonds. To go with this I created some zingy couscous tossed with pinenuts and coriander. Preserved lemons are a traditional staple found in cuisines all around the Med, but principally in Morocco. Having formed a plan in my head I then could hardly wait to find a moment to cook it.

I bought a shoulder of lamb and two shanks from a man called Kevin on the meat counter at Sainsbury's. My plan was to bone the shoulder and cube it whilst leaving the shank in tact to do what shanks do best - namely thickening the sauce and giving it that lovely unctuous gloss. I used the shoulder bone to make the stock for the sauce.

To create the authentic ethnic spiciness of the tagine I ground up a large quantity of cumin, ginger, coriander seeds, nutmeg, pepper, salt, turmeric and some special Moroccan spice mix Mum had bought by chance in Borough Market the day before. The aroma of the spices made me feel like I was back in the Souks. Nostrils flaring. Alive with the smell of adventure.

Having disected the shoulder and stripped a bit of meat from the shanks I then marinaded the lamb in the spice mixture with a good slurp of olive oil, crushed almonds and a few cloves of finely chopped garlic. Technically I should probably have used argan oil. But I couldn't lay my hands on any! I let this fester for an hour or so whilst the shoulder bone turned the water in the boiling pan into lamby stock.

At this stage my sister walked into the kitchen and couldn't believe the smell. A head mix of dusty adventure in North Africa translocated into Bedfordshire!

I sliced up a lot of onions and sweated them off in a large Le Crueset pan using the excess oil that the meat had been marinading in as the base. The onions quickly transformed from their boring former lives into a syrupy mass of translucent tastiness.

Once they were soft and ready I lobbed in the meat and let it brown on the hob for a while.

Once this was up to heat I then addded the lamb stock that had been patiently bubbling away on the other hob.

I popped in a handful of dried apricots and some sultanas to add the first layer of fruit. I hoped this would give the tagine a base note of stewed fruit and that it would help to thicken the sauce... which it did. I also squirted in a carton of chopped tomatoes to add a bit of colour and flavour.

On went the lid and into the bottom oven it went for a couple of hours whilst I had a drink or two.

After the tagine had been cooking for two hours I inspected it. Removing the lid almost knocked me out. A plume of spiced steam and jumping juices spat out at me as some soft lamb meat dropped off the lamb shank bone. Success!

The sprint to the finish line saw me cook it on the slow hob with the lid off for the final half an hour to reduce the sauce down. I added the beautiful pears which looked so tasty they got their own still life shot! It's important to add the fresh fruit towards the end so it doesn't all fall apart.

Cowie set about making the preserved lemon, pinenut and coriander couscous. Sainsbury's stock Belazu's excellent range of Moroccan and Mediterranean products which were perfectly suited to our task.

Simply slice up a couple of preserved lemons until they are really fine. They smell amazingly of lemon squash. Really intense. Perfect to give the combination of flavours a much needed high note. The barley cous cous fluffed up nicely and was mixed up with sultanas, chopped coriander and toasted pinenuts.

Mum got quite excited at this point... she ran into the kitchen clutching a bunch of violets she had just picked from the garden. She wanted us to use them to add some colour to the food. Mum's written books on flowers and cooking before now... so she's not the kind of person to argue with in these situations. Plus the photo might prove useful for future publications. Here it is!

It looks delicious and indeed did find its way into our couscous!

Having reduced the sauce down to a beautiful glossy liqur we added some freshly chopped pear segments, a sprinkling of toasted pinenuts and a handful of coriander.

Once plated up with the couscous, some roasted peppers and some brocoli it looked gorgeous. More importantly it tasted delicious. A wonderful memory of Morocco brought to life in one mouthful. It was so authentic it tasted, smelled and felt like something you might be served at Tobsil.

If you want to see more photos from this labour of love have a look at the slide show below.

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else cooks up for this month's "In the Bag" competition. It was great fun from start to finish. Roll on February's challenge!

Sentimental Chocolates

I saw these on Coolhunting and thought how awesome they are. Would make a great little valentine's day pressie.

The only downside is that the only place that sells them seems to be in Austrailia called BaskaJon.

Friday 25 January 2008

Restaurant reviews coming soon...

Thank the lord the dreaded January is finally over! Which means we can now have some fun food and even go out for dinner. I still can 't beleive we've managed not to eat out since 2007!

I think Browny might have already given a list, but just incase, here is what is in store for us over the coming 6 - 8 weeks:

1. Tom Ilic, Battersea
2. Ditto, Wandsworth
3. Riverford Farm, Devon
4. La Trompette Chiswick
5. Arbitus, London
6. Tsumani, Clapham
7, Dehesa, Kingly Street, London
8. Clover Brown, Balham

Can't wait

Thursday 24 January 2008

Scrabble Chocolate

This is brilliant. I really want this. Nerdy and tasty. Could it get any better? You can get it from Mary and Matt's General Store.

I guess they'd better watch out that they don't get sued like the guys who invented Scrabulous on Facebook. For more on the scandal read the Guardian aticle here.

Eat, Chicken Pot Soup

Feeling a bit bored of tinned soups now... so I went for Eat's "Big Bold" option of the day... a chicken pot soup.

It was a slurry of chicken stock and root vegetables with a little bit of soggy pastry on top. Definitely not worth the £3 they charged me for it. It's all about tins...

Heinz Farmers' Market Lamb and Vegetable Soup

Tall thin can. Supposed to make you think it's classy and therefore pay a bit more for it. Do the ingredients come from farmers' markets? I doubt it. But I bought the lamb version anyway because it was the most intersting tinned soup on the shelf.

In fairness it was very tasty. Full of meat. Good depth of flavour. And was helped by giving it a healthy amount of seasoning. What I will say is that it is very explosive in the microwave. I spent several minutes wiping it clean which gave the soup a chance to cool down to a temperature that only just burnt my mouth.

Would I buy it again? Only infrequently.

Wahaca Chile Seeds

When we went to Wahaca in Covent Garden we filled our pockedts with what we thought were prettily coloured boxes of matches. But joy of joys they turned out to be little cardboard sticks with chile seeds attached to them.

I didn't take a picture of the seed book from Wahaca but I have found a website called Matchstick Garden which does them. They make a great alternative for restaurants and businesses instead of making boxes of matches.

So we planted our chile seeds about 2 weeks ago in some vague hope that they might sprout. And shock of shocks... they've only gone and sprouted! Our office is rapidly developing into a tropical garden with a bird of paradise, 2 Sauza agave plants, a small succulent and 8 nubile chile plants. In only a matter of months we'll be harvesting our crop of chiles!

Well done Wahaca. What a great example of new marketing. Essentially they have given away something surprising, interesting, relevant, good and talkworthy. On object of sociability that gives Wahaca a feeling of authenticity, goodness and engagement. Keep an eye out for updates on how the little chaps are getting on.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Nerdy Cup Cakes

Amazing cup cakes from Hello Naomi on Flickr via Boing Boing.

Here are some choice cup cakes from Clapham
. Not quite up to the sheer style and quirkyness of Pacman and Mario, but good nonetheless.

Isn't cooking exhausting sometimes?

I saw this and got really excited given my new found interest in cooking using a car! This design for an exhaust pipe modification that cooks things won an award for the best idea that we could all be using come 2015! This extract is from Inventor Spot.

"Designed by an Iranian team, the "Exhaust Burger" transforms the tailpipe of your car into a mobile grill of sorts. Wow. Now that's creative, and also a little disturbing. The idea is that you stop the car when you are hungry, install the device (and pack some ground round into it - so hygenic) and you're on your way to a delicious hamburger, ready for you at your next destination."

The site also features some other brilliant ideas such as...

Wallet Cutlery

"Italian designer Alberto Ghiradello has come up with a creative solution to carting around cutlery. I don't know about you, but somehow I tend to find spoons hanging out in my bag all the time, and it can get quite annoying, especially when there's none in the kitchen drawer. This "Cutlery in a Wallet" set can be assembled whenever you need them, and then can be reinserted into the flat mold and housed in your wallet again, hopefully after a cleaning."

Bubble Wrap Tableware

"I always like when everyday objects take on new life with a different function, such as this unique crystal "china" modelled after bubble wrap. "Bubble" is made of cast polyester resin and looks like it would be a real pain in the butt to clean. This was a collaborative effort by U.S. artists."

And Musical Dining

"This piece, entitled "Musical Dining" was envisioned by Fumiaki Goto from the Netherlands and promises to bring some musical entertainment to your dining experience. It's made like a marimba, so when you place plates, glasses or different items on it at various points, different tones will emerge, transforming dinnertime into a jam session."

If you want to see even more weird and wonderful culinary inventions have a look here.

Shoredtich House

Shoredich House
is the latest incarnation of Nick Jones' chain of private members clubs for young, trendy, media types. Tucked away in deepest darkest Shoreditch it is almost impossible to find. Deliberately tucked away behind hot shop ad agency Mother you are know you are there because the graffiti starts to get more artistic rather than just vandalism.

When, you've managed to find the way in you are greeted with a Damien Hirst print of a sign prohibiting people from wearing suits from entering. The Carlton Club this is not!

We were here for a creative workshop in one of their private rooms. It makes a great place to generate ideas in a communual environment. Much better than being stuck in an office all day. The room was great. Adorned with a huge Sony screen, bar, and oval table for 14 it couldn't have suited our needs any better.

Our waiter was charming, attentive and more discreet than an old fashioned Royal butler, as opposed to that weirdo Paul Burrell! He popped in and out of our room serving us the best coffee I have had this year. Creamy froth and deep powerful coffee. We spent the morning presenting mood boards and ideas before breaking for lunch.

My scallops with pancetta were stunningly good. Expertly cooked and stylishly presented. Simple but delicious. I followed this up with a bold bowl of Italian sausage papardelle with wild mushrooms. It was exactly what I wanted it to be. Big, friendly and the kind of dish that gives you a big warm hug. The rest of the team had things like roast suckling pig, lamb hot pot, thin crust pizza, beef carpaccio, risotto etc. Everything looked stunning and was sent back on plates that would have been licked clean had we not all been behaving ourselves!

We really liked the irregular crockery from South Africa which just added to the Wabi Sabi style that you feel wherever you go in the building. Everything is carefully thought out and has been designed by a team with flair, style, class and a sense of fun.

We went on a little tour after lunch to walk off all the goodies we'd just eaten. I was bowled over by their kitchen. They've got an awesome set up which has the informality of home kitchen but the always open nature of a canteen. The indoor BBQ and wood fired pizza oven caught my eye before it fell upon a steak cabinet! Basically it's a glass fronted chiller cabinet full of aged ribs of beef and prime cuts of steak! The kind of thing that I want to have in my house once I'm a millionaire!

The restaurant area is an informal set up with long refectory tables and chairs for people to spread out and join in together. Another nice touch is the way that they have a bowl of lemons wrapped in muslin on hand in case you fancy a squirt of lemon. This would be great on their incredible bowls of crispy fried cougettes. They've also got a constant supply of char-grilled burgers ready for you. Is there anything they haven't thought of? O... and they've got a roof top swimming pool. Who hasn't?

I'd love for them to open a Wandsworth House with all the frills they've got in Shoreditch. It's the kind of place that batchelors dream of. If Carlsberg did private members clubs, Shoreditch House wouldn't be far off!

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Gilly's thoughts on M&S Tinned Soup

"the chorizo and tomato soup from M&S (tinned) needs alot of attention...far too bland ...shed loads of salt/pepper and some tabasco help...but my advice is don't buy it
so dissapointing as it sounds delicious". Robert Gillon.

Sounds like a case of over promising and under-delivering. Which has been the opposite experience for me over the past few weeks of soup eating.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Roast Chicken followed by White Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

Mum and Suz cooked a delicious roast chicken for Sunday dinner. Stuffed with lemon and thyme it was tender, moist and beautifully brown. A joy to carve and very obviously free range/organic. You could tell by the taste and also by the texture of the skin. It just seemed like a bird with more integrity. Not like the battery chickens on Hugh's programme a week or so again.

Suz said that she has noticed a change in her local Tesco. Whereas there used to be a preference in store for cheap, battery chicken. Now people are shying away from the poor quality birds and are trading up to the free range option. This can be seen by the number of battery birds left on the shelf and the amount of space now given to free range chickens. I just hope this is the start of a movement that will be with us to stay and not just a flash in the pan.

We followed our chicken up with a similarly coloured dessert - a white chocolate brioche pudding with figs and orange which was stunning. There's something very special about these kind of meals. It's great to spend time as a family catching up and relaxing.

Salad: The Silent Killer

Cowie... you're not going to like this. But we aren't allowed any more salad. Apparently it's deadly because it is full of toxins. From Serious Eats.

Steaks and kebabs it is. Norris will be delighted!

Baxter's French Onion Soup

Having lived off soup at work 2 weeks now I am becoming a bit of a Soupaphile. And I love the tinned stuff. It's cheaper. Doesn't need a fridge and tastes great. Cartons of soup seem a bit of a waste of time.

My Baxter's French Onion soup was good. But not in the same league as its Waitrose cousin which was sweeter, smoother and less harsh. The Baxter's version was fine, but had a slightly artificial taste.

Would I have it again? Yes. But I'd always grab the Waitrose version if I could.

Store Cupboard Challenge No. 1 - Hot Chocalate Fondant

It was a gloomy Sunday afternoon outside so I decided it was time to do a spot of cooking.

One of Browny and my New Year Resolutions is to cook something out of one of our many many recipe books. As since we are somehow still struggling through January, I gave myself the added task of cooking something using only what is currently in my fridge or cupboards.

So here's what I came up with.

Cookery Book - Gordon Ramsay's EASY
Recipe - Hot Chocolate Fondant

The chocolate fondant is such a classic pud and something that I, well Browny, would only ever order in a restaurant. However, it really is much easier than it looks and everyone should have a go to impress your loved ones!

So here are the ingredients..

Chocolate, butter, caster sugar, cocoa, flour, 1 egg and 1 extra yoke.

Weigh, whiz, bake and most importantly eat!

And here are the mouth watering results. Go for it.. As Gordan says it is easy as pie!



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