Food cooking and eating – stories and ideas from a passionate foodie

Posts tagged ‘food’

Molecular Gastronomy

Don’t worry.  This will not be  a Heston Blumenthal ride on the dark side.  Not a piece of dry ice or liquid nitrogen in sight.  I just want to know why a casserole tastes better on day two, after being treated abysmally (heat, cool, fridge, reheat – how it has suffered, poor thing!)

It was exciting.  A new slow cooker.  A dark and dank Sunday.  Comfort food was needed.  Beef stew with dumplings, served with mashed creamed potatoes (King Edwards, of course) and mashed carrot with parsnip. Made up a large portion so Monday night’s dinner was a easy as – well, easy as, really.

Look – everything smelt beautiful and warm as we re-entered the house 4 hours after setting the cooker going.  I had added a few lightly cooked diced carrots and Swede (they never seem to cook so well in a stew as they do when you boil them hard – or is it just me?)  Fried off some finely chopped onion and roughly chopped mushroom, and browned the meat (coated in a bit of flour to thicken).  So the basic stew (oh, and a teaspoon of ginger, a dash of mixed herbs, some honey, white pepper and salt, and Guinness to wash out the lovely bits from the frying pan into the slow cooker…) was splendid, and the dumplings (see website) were great and cooked in an hour even in the slow cooker.

Beef in Beer with Dumplings

So why, still was it even better reheated on Monday?  I can make educated guesses.  I suppose it could be any of the following:

1. This is the ultimate in marinading?  Heat it so all the flavours mix well.  let it mature overnight, so the flavours develop even more?

2. The cooling time enables the meat to break down even more – the sinews soften, the gristly bits break down more?

3. The liquid reduces a bit more because it has been boiled twice, and so concentrates the flavours more?

It’s probably a mixture of all three.  Or something else?  Anyone any ideas, or shall we just live with the fact it works well?


A B&B in a different class – The Ashton, Lancaster

I was running a workshop in Lancaster this week, so needed to stay away.  I asked the company to recommend a suitable hotel – and they suggested a B&B.  This always sounds like a second best alternative, doesn’t it?  The Ashton could not have been further from this supposition.  I think it is one of the best home from home places I have stayed in for a long time.  It felt nearer to being a house guest at someone you have know for a long time.

It is the little things.  The front door is shut, and locked.  You have a key to get back in.  That makes it different from ‘Reception’ doesn’t it? And James asks you if there is anything you don’t like to eat.  That’s because, like going to a dinner party, you will be presented with your dinner – no faffing around with a menu (But there is a wine list…)

Doesn’t that make it feel calmer already?  It got better.  I arrived about 3, so was greeted with tea and cake.  How civilised!  Apparently, if it was later the choice extends to wine.

The building is Georgian in style (I’m not clever enough to know if it is real or not – but it felt so).  The rooms are darkly decorated – in the style of those times – and it makes it feel very cosy and different to our light addiction.

I had two dinners and two breakfasts (Not at the same time).  First night – Moroccan chicken in couscous with a tangy vibe, and lots of little tasty morsels involved.  The salad was substantial, with grilled Haloumi cheese on top.  Healthy and tasty at the same time.  Spoilt the health kick with a sticky toffee pudding – oh well!

The Ashton

Breakfast>  A proper sideboard groaning with goodies.  Yes, I started healthy again, with mixed fruit and yoghurt.  But then I couldn’t resist the Eggs Benedict.  I should have realised as egg was plural that two poached eggs and two pieces of muffin and three pieces of smoked back bacon would make the hollandaise sauce a molten addition of loveliness – and all a bit much!  (Look, I managed it, OK)

Night two – moving to Italy or Spain – pork meat balls (finely herbed, hint of garlic, loads of pepper), in a fine sauce.  Less substantial salad, but again healthy – and I ruined it again with treacle sponge and ice cream!

I’d learnt my lesson on morning one, and asked for a half Egg Benedict.  It really was just as good, and I waddled happily to my car…

It is multi award winning – and definitely worth a try to see if you can get in.  Be warned, I may be ahead of you in the queue!

The birthday Progress – more food!

The Birthday Progress – more food!

Yes Jane’s big birthday was a real food and people pleasure ride.  Let me take you through the rest of it.

It all started in our hometown, with after work drinks and nibbles with work colleagues.  The nuts and olives just make you drink more.  The rather splendid Tapas at Claytons lounge in Marlow did keep us enticed.  I don’t know about you, but this is one of my favourite ways of eating.  Lots of different taste sensations, some naughtier than others (some feeling almost healthy…), but it just makes sure you don’t get bored.  It feels like the antithesis of pizza.  I do like a bit of pizza, but like small ones that you can share bits of each others.  Otherwise that last slice of a giant one just feels too much like hard work to me!

Hail, hail the gang’s all here!

We had lunch on the way to Devon.  The Cross House Inn at Doynton (Gloucestershire borders with Avon and Somerset – near Bath) had a really splendid lunch delight.  We knew we were in for loads of food over the next week or so, and the menu looked a little on the heavy side.  Then we noticed “ Hot Belly Pork Roll with Apple Sauce and a handful of chips”.  This was £2.50.  What a tasty bargain!

Next day we met up with Jane’s sister, brother-in-law, and their brother and sister in-laws. They are party animals.  We were all booked into The Lazy Toad in Brampford Speke, near Exeter.  I have blogged about the wonder of their food before, and even gone as far as recommending on Trip Advisor.  We had always been there just for lunch, but this time we were going the whole hog (which they have on the menu occasionally…) by having the full evening menu and collapsing to bed after.

After pressies (great excitement) we moved on.  The menu is sort of fine British cooking with a modern twist.  You can see that from the starters:

Ham Hock Terrine

And the mains: (below)

Creedy Craver Organic Roast Chicken – like chicken used to be

And what fine puds!  You’ll have to go to sample them…

We had assumed we would not need breakfast.  But you know how it is – you manage somehow.  No lunch after our walk – because we really didn’t need that.  Mike and Judy, our old neighbours from Cheltenham days, joined us in the evening in Bovey.  I cooked a light dinner of steamed salmon (just stick a lid on the frying pan after adding lemon juice), with crushed potatoes and green beans.

Gidleigh park – last blog – was reserved for the day itself.  Go back if you missed that one!

After one night of food abstinence, we set off for St Enodoc hotel in Rock, North Cornwall.  This place was very modern, lovely views – and has a Michelin starred restaurant.  (Can you feel a theme coming on?)  The restaurant has a full fish tasting menu with the potential to have a flight of wine with it – different wine to enhance each course.  We wanted simpler – and Nathan Outlaw is most famous for sea food.  I had the same starter, which we shared a bit, both nights.  Queenie Scallops.  Six gorgeously tasty little melting moments of succulent delight.  It seemed wrong to eat them.  Bread was absolutely essential to mop up the quite marvellous sauce.  We did fish (bream and plaice) on the bone on night one, then fillet (grilled Brill and Haddock) on the second evening.  Look, the stuff is really kept immensely simple.  Finest possible ingredients not played about with too much at all.  Sometimes simple just is best.  The veggies were simple and fine (would have preferred the leaks to be 2 minutes longer, but minor detail based on wanting less crunch than many prefer).

Light breakfast the next morning, because we were meeting our friends Gus and Wendy from Gweek area of Cornwall at The Lost Gardens of Heligan.  Thank goodness they did a simple light lunch, or we might have gone off “pop”!

We had managed to spread it out a bit – both the friends and the food – but it still meant we were overwhelmed both with smiling happily and with high level food.  The beans on toast was such a down to earth delight for supper that evening.  And I never know if a nice Rioja is the best wine with this, but it certainly finished us off!

The Birthday Progress – The Day itself

Gidleigh Park

We had a lot of people and things to fit into Jane’s big birthday (no need to ask which – it had a zero, and that’s all you need to know)!  The day itself we shared with our friends and old neighbours from Cheltenham times, Mike and Judy.  We had shared another celebration with them – our 25th wedding anniversary coincided with their 40th.  So Silver and Rubies combined!  We joined them in a foodie holiday in Italy then.  This time we lunched at Gidleigh Park

Gidleigh Park was voted No. 1 in Sunday Times top 100 restaurants.  A birthday lunch not to be missed?  Well, let me share some of it with you (not physically of course…).  Two Michelin stars have been awarded to the place.  Chef is Michael Caines (he is the guy you have seen on TV – the only 1 armed chef that I know of…)

So here’s what we had from the new Autumn Menu – which was launched on that day.  Auspicious or what?

Pigeon Breast was a great start.  But I’m forgetting, we had ‘canapés’  to start, with drinks in the lounge.  I’ve put inverted commas because they weren’t the usual bits of quite enticing stuff on a bit of toast – they were mini starters in disguise.  This is why your lunch takes 4 hours.  They do this at the end too – Coffee and Petit Fours does not do justice to the 3 mini puddings that arrive, sumptuously, back in the lounge with your coffee.  Getting ahead of myself here…

As you can see, there is a lot more going on than the pigeon breasts! It was just gorgeous.  The other starter was of the vegetarian sort – and was as good looking as this one, and just as exciting. It doesn’t sound so when it says ‘medley of roast Mediterranean vegetables’.  But there you go – it was far more than it’s description.

Pigeon Breast starter

And so to the main course.  Dartmoor leg of lamb.  Three of us went for pink, but they don’t get all prissy if you want it cooked through.  Some places seem to.  That’s the way service was here.  So many staff, all smiley and feeling like they were enjoying it as much as you, to be honest.  I don’t know if you just rush out and have beans or a hamburger when you are surrounded by such joyous smells and perfect presentation all day – but they all enjoyed the setting down and your reaction to the revelation.

We had chosen one bottle of red to go with, but one of our party prefers white.  Now, the glass was brought out with the bottle it was coming from, then transferred to a small carafe for you to take what you wanted.  All you guys who are trained in these fine sommelier arts will recognise this, I’m sure, but blimey it just made me smile and think “that’s why we are here”.  It just takes it up to a different level, really.

Look, I probably don’t need to say how good the main course was.  Just look at it.  if I could arrange scratch and sniff panels on this blog, then I would.  I’m going to let the photos do the rest of the talking.  Plate of apple – wow – Tarte Tatin, mousse, ice cream and a cider coulis.  Yes, but just look at it!  And then the petits fours, and the Happy Birthday sign.  Just how nice is that?  Final picture is Jane and myself out for a walk after the event.  The grounds are stunning.  No, you don’t want to eat every day like this, for sure, but if an occasion needs to be made special, then Gidleigh ticks many, many boxes.

Dartmoor Lamb

Apple Plate

The Petit Fours

Birthday girl, and me

a 65th Birthday treat

OK – not me – my Brother In Law, Vic.  His absolute favourite is a full on Roast Dinner.  We had it last night at Vic’s Sister In Law.

It was all rather splendid.  Far too much in the way of wine and beer (still some lovely local IPA from rebellion brewery in Marlow left over).  And the pork – stunning crackling (loads of salt and dried beforehand – makes all the difference).  Clever bit of chilli in the ratatoullie, which was a bit of a shock, but a nice one.  All the other bits – roast potatoes, carrots and beans, apple sauce, lashings of gravy, were there too.

And then we had a proper pudding – Bakewell Tart.  I know there is no real need for pouring cream all over this too – but hey, it was a birthday party.

Great pressies, a bit of a quite moved Vic (Sue, his wife, had put together a lovely photo collage), and then the wine helping us sort the world out.  What’s more to want?

The gang is all here…

What would you choose for a special birthday?  I know Jay (see previous guest blog) really did want a great steak with boiled potatoes as the core of his meal – and managed to both cook it and eat it outside as he prefers.  Not sure for me.  Probably Scallops followed by Beef Stroganoff.  But the company would be more important.


Guest Blog – Jay’s Special birthday

Phil made a public promise that there would be an occasional guest blog from me – so here it is – the ramblings of a virgin blogger!

A few weeks ago I had a significant birthday – one of those ones that ends in zero, and having got over the disappointment that I have to wait another 3 years to get my bus pass, I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday walking and camping in the sunshine in the Pyrenees.

A birthday bridge?

If you ever get the chance to go to Andorra – jump at it, it’s beautiful, clean and peaceful and while very few people speak English, they seemed content to let me rabbit on in sentences that mixed my vocabulary from my schoolboy French, German, Spanish and English. So with the help of arm waving and speaking slowly and loudly I assembled the ingredients for my birthday dinner – a superb piece of wild boar Serrano ham, a sheep’s milk hard cheese, some olives, and a few pickles for a starter, and a beautiful piece of steak, some new potatoes and selection of fresh vegetables. Yes you can imagine the gestures and noises to establish that the ham was from a wild boar, and the cheese from a sheep.

On B day minus 1, I found the perfect spot for the special dinner – about 30 minute’s walk from the head of the valley road, fantastic views, a small bridge over a babbling stream of snow melt water, space for a wild camp site and a barbecue base for an open fire – just the party I had imagined.

B day turned into the biggest low pressure system stuck over Andorra, with thunder, lightning and torrential rain – the vision was no longer realistic, the location at least would have to be changed – more arm waving and jumbled languages established that the sun was shining further south and east in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. So to a camp site run by Frau Grumpy – more of her special brand of customer service in another guest blog.

And to begin…

Well the location had changed but I still had the wild mint and thyme picked the day before, and I had my trusty Primus Eta Express – the best lightweight camp stove I’ve ever owned – boils enough water for a pint mug of tea in less than 2 minutes. But could I still recreate the vision, with a single burner stove and a one litre pot? Or should I take the easy but disappointing option of a one pot stew, or the even easier or more disappointing option from Frau Grumpy’ s camp site “restaurant” of sausage und salat. How did a miserable German end up running a camp site in a beautiful part of Spain?

I can still be a petulant 60 year old child – I had dreamed of steak, minted new potatoes, and roasted vegetables – and Frau Grumpy helped reinforce that desire.

Could the Eta Express deliver – well why would you ever doubt it, just a bit of creative thought required. First almost cook the potatoes with the fresh mountain mint, drain, plate up wrap in a T towel and stuff in the sleeping bag to finish cooking and keep warm. Then with an excellent Spanish olive oil blast the chopped onions, courgette, peppers and mushrooms with some fresh mountain thyme – crunchy and bronzed, and while they keep warm in the cooking pot use the lid to quickly fry off the perfect rare steak.

The main event

Now I was pretty pleased, but of course the 2004 Gran Reserva Rioja may have had something to do with that.

Beans on toast

The evening after the extravaganza that was Old Bull and Bush training day was a tired but happy occasion.  A beer, then thinking about food for us at home.  The cooking team had not used the venison steaks, so they were available.  But I really couldn’t face any more cooking or fine dining after the spread created by the team.  It’s a bit like when you have been on holidays and had meals out a lot, or been on one of my training courses at a hotel – which tend to be eat-athons.

You just want something simple.  And quick.  And tasty.

And in that situation nothing gets close to beans on toast.  Nothing compares or competes.

Naturally, I faff about a bit, adding some lemon juice to the already fine Branston Low Sugar and Low Fat beans (with no added sweeteners – which just seems daft to add fake sweet instead of sugar).

RANT:  When you buy ‘low fat’ anything, just check the labels.  You will often find the tasty and quite healthy fat has been replaced with corn syrup or other sugar.  I firmly believe that sugar and sugar addiction makes us more obese than dietary fat.  Cheap groundnut oil, often grown in plantations that used to be Amazonian rain forests not only contribute to global warming, but also make us more likely to be fat.  The easiest thing to do is buy less convenience stuff – which they can adulterate – and make more of your dinners from scratch.  You then have control.  You can find a lot of advice in my book, “Can Men Cook?”  You will also find stories and jokes.  I think it may be the first cook book you can read like a novel!

But beans are good.  Three minutes from tin-opener to gob.  What’s not to love?

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