Tuesday, 31 May 2011

In The Dead Zone

Hello everyone! Over dramatic title for this blog perhaps. Allow me to explain...

The internet at Ardeonaig is very slow and sometimes unavailable altogether. Long working days also mean that I might not be cooking as often as I have been at home - all our meals are provided here.

As such, I may update a bit less than I have been, but I will still be trying to put something on here at least a couple of times a month.

Be reassured, there is a proper blog in the pipeline, and when I manage to get out to the local shop (8 miles away...) I'll be getting some of the ingredients I need. Hopefully by the end of this week the next blog will be up.

Hang tight!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Tarte Tatin

With the move imminent, most of my kitchen stuff has been packed away now. However that hasn't given me any less of an inclination to cook... so I had a wee go at an improv Tarte Tatin with the limited equipment I still have out.

Because of the lack of equipment, I didn't make my own puff pastry (sorry!) and I was trying to keep things as simple as possible. I'll make some up at some point for another recipe I'm sure.

I also didn't take a lot of pictures - only really of the finished article - as I wasn't intending to blog this. But now I am. So there.


To make one nine inch tart you will need:

- 120g caster sugar
- 50ml water
- 50g unsalted butter
- 1kg apples
- 300g puff pastry

Not having a Tarte Tatin dish, I used a nine inch cake tin with fairly shallow sides. This seemed to work just fine, though it does mean that the caramel has to be made up in a separate pot. 

Start by peeling the apples, coring them and then slicing them into segments. Put these to the side while you turn your attention to the caramel. To stop the apples browning while they wait, apply lemon juice to the blade of the knife you're cutting with - the reaction of the acid in the lemon keeps the flesh of the apple that contacted the blade fresh. 

For the caramel, put the water and sugar into a pan and allow the water to absorb the sugar before putting it on the hob. Then gently heat the mixture until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. 

Pour your caramel into the Tatin dish or cake tin and allow it to settle before arranging the apple slices. Make sure that there are no gaps between the apples and press them down to wedge them into place.

Melt a little extra butter and brush this onto the apples before putting the tin into the oven for half an hour at 180°C.

While the apples cook, turn your attention to the puff pastry. If you decide to make your own, prepare it well in advance. Otherwise, just roll out the dough and cut yourself a circle that is only slightly bigger than the size of your cake tin (or Tatin dish).

Once the apples have been in for half an hour, take them out and put the pastry disc over the top of your tin. Tuck the overhanging pastry down the side of the apples to form a lip round the outside of the filling. Put this back into the oven for about 40 minutes - until the pastry has risen, crisped and browned.

It is now ready to turn out and serve - pretty good with a dollop of crème fraiche. 


Coming up:
- With a few more days before I move, I'm sure I'll cook something else... we'll see.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Black Forest Yoghurt Cake

**Edit: Since posting this, I have managed to salvage a picture of the cake - only one - but hey. It's something.**

So I've had my first David Disaster for a little while. Thankfully it's not so much to do with the food I've made this time... More just that I dropped my camera on my way through to the PC and it formatted the memory card. So I have no pictures of my cake to share!

Anyway, on to the cake...


Yoghurt cake is one of the recipes that I've used a few times - one of the first ones that I remember mum showing me how to make. Mum tends to make orange or toffee flavour.

Having passed on the recipe to me, I then passed it on to a colleague at work a couple of years ago. She experimented with it by using cherry yoghurt instead of orange or toffee and also added cocoa powder to the ingredients to make a chocolate and cherry cake.

After a wee chat with Heather from work today, talking about how the recipe could be furthered again, I decided to have a crack at a sort of faux black forest gâteau. Here's how...


You will need:

- 3 cups self raising flour
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 egg
- 1 pot cherry yoghurt
- 1 cup oil
- 1 tin cherries in syrup
- 300ml double cream

Yoghurt cake is a spectacularly easy cake to put together - one of my favourites as you can do everything in practically one bowl.

With the modifications for the 'black forest' version, it needs a little more work, but still very easy.

First, grease a 1lb loaf tin and preheat the oven to 180°C.

Then grab a large mixing bowl and mix all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar and cocoa powder) into it, making a well in the middle. This is where a picture might be handy, but I'm sure you see what I'm saying.

Add the yoghurt, oil and egg into the well and fold the dry ingredients into the middle from the outside, combining everything together. Start to work the mixture faster once the batter starts to come together. Make sure that no lumps are present when you've finished beating the mixture.

Pour the cake batter into your loaf tin and put it in the oven for about half an hour or so.

While the cake is baking, whisk the cream in a bowl until it's very thick. Set this in the fridge until you're ready to use it later.

Once the cake is baked, take it out the oven and leave it to cool for a while in the loaf tin. Once the cake has cooled completely, turn it out of the tin and slice it in half lengthways, leaving you with two layers.

Take your cream from the fridge and put it into an icing bag. Pipe half the cream onto the bottom layer of the cake.

Take a spoon and dig a trench into the top layer of the cake, making sure to leave enough of a wall round the edge to contain a reasonable amount of filling. Once carved, set the top layer onto the bottom layer before spooning your cherry filling into the cavity.

You could use fresh cherries, cooking them down with sugar, water and a little lemon juice, but for the sake of economy I used a tinned version.

Finally, pipe the rest of the cream onto the top of the cake, covering the cherries completely.

And serve...


Below is the picture I managed to salvage. It's the cake before the cream has been piped over the cherries. Not a brilliant picture, but the best I can do!


My apologies again for the lack of pictures here, but for those of you from work who read this you'll get a chance to see it tomorrow anyway.

I will admit just now that I was a little over enthusiastic when carving the top of the cake and it's collapsed somewhat. Currently being held together with tinfoil... We'll see how it's doing in the morning.


Coming up:
- Who knows...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Pistachio Soufflé

Having been inspired by the wonderful culinary works of Raymond Blanc the other day, I thought I should have a go at the pistachio soufflé which was by far the showpiece of the Brasserie. I had a couple of able accomplices in my good friends Deon and Alta. Though Deon turned out to be a bit useless. Not really. Well, a little bit.


I couldn't find a recipe I liked for the dish. I was looking to at least vaguely recreate Raymond's soufflé, but none of the pistachio recipes seemed to be quite right. In the end I modified a chocolate soufflé recipe to suit.

You will need (3 soufflés):

- 150ml double cream
- 75ml milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 90g caster sugar
- 3/4tbsp cornflour
- 3 egg whites
- 45g pistachios
- Icing sugar to dust
- Butter to grease the ramekins
- Cocoa powder to dust

Start by preheating the oven to 220°C. Then grease your ramekins with the butter before coating them with cocoa powder. Shake out any excess powder. I'm fairly sure this is what Raymond will have done with the ones we ate in the restaurant - there was a thin coating of chocolate round the outside of the soufflé when it had risen, and I'm sure this is how he did it.

The next step is to boil up the milk and cream. While they're heating together, whisk up the egg yolks and half the sugar until they're pale and well combined. No lumps!

Once the cream and milk has boiled, whisk in your egg yolk mixture and then lower the heat on the pan.

Stir well and then add in the cornflour, again stirring well to ensure there are no lumps. Let this thicken a little and you have the custard base for your soufflé!

We set Deon to work grinding up the pistachios. Raymond's soufflé didn't seem to have any pieces of pistachio in at all, and to be perfectly honest I'm not sure how he got the flavour and colour so perfect without adding any pieces to the mixture. Perhaps extract from the nuts. Unfortunately this is something I don't have access to, so instead I just used my cocoa bean grinder to get the nuts as small as possible. Almost to a praline type paste.

Deon was working so hard that he even had time for a coffee. And managed to spill the pistachio everywhere. But that's okay - mine is a forgiving kitchen.

While the pistachios were being ground and spilled, Alta whisked up the egg whites, adding the rest of the sugar and whisking again once stiff peaks formed when the whisk was removed.

With the custard off the heat, fold in the egg whites, mixing the two together well without losing any air or volume from the mixture. Fold in the ground pistachios too and spoon the mixture into the ramekins before putting them into the oven.

After ten minutes, the soufflés should have risen well and browned at the top. The chocolate around the sides will have melted and risen with the soufflé giving it a sticky, chocolatey coating round the outside.

Quickly move the ramekins onto plates and dust the top of the soufflés with icing sugar before they start to collapse. Serve immediately!

I certainly didn't attain the standard of dessert that we got from Brasserie Blanc, but for a first attempt it certainly wasn't bad. Even though the pistachios were ground very finely there was still a little crunch that took away from the overall texture. I perhaps should have left them in the oven a little longer as well, but overall not too bad. I got a good green colour to the centre of the soufflé and the chocolate worked very well.

A few minor tweaks and I'll be in business.

Thanks again to Deon, Alta and Josh for another lovely evening. I haven't mentioned Josh 'til now, but he was there.


Just wanted to share a few of the little blessings I've received from some of my lovely friends as going away presents recently to show my appreciation for these wonderful people. All culinary themed gifts... you'd think I was going to do a job in cooking or something...

A Scottish slang apron from Lynda, bearing more than just the word numpty. Honest. Something to wear in the home kitchen up north as I'm sure they won't allow it at work...

Also a little Moleskine recipe journal from Kym-Marie. A beautiful little book for taking notes on food, recipes, all the stuff I'll want to be taking notes on.

And finally Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets recipe book from Liz. A fantastic recipe book and a wee reminder of a great night out with some of my best friends.

Thank you everyone for all the love and support you've shown me before the move!


Coming up:
- Back to not sure. No plans at the moment - see how the next week pans out...
- I think this blog is going to go through with no formatting issues. Hooray.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Luke's Microwave Corner: Potato Bake

NB: My apologies for the odd formatting on the last couple of blogs. Especially concerning the picture spacing. Blogger has had some technical issues recently and this seems to be one of the side effects. I could go and edit the HTML, but that would require copious amounts of work on my part as the coding is horrible for a start, and I'm also not the best at that sort of work anyway. So please bear with me in the meantime...

Avid readers (are there any?) might remember that I mentioned the possibility of a remote contributor to the blog. And if you don't remember, you can see for yourself by having a look at the 'Coming up' section of this blog.

Remote is probably the wrong word to use right at the moment as I'm still living in Witney, however once I move away it will definitely be a remote contribution!

All that to say that Luke is occasionally going to pop a recipe on here when he gets his act together (and more regularly when he gets better - get well soon pal!). You may have seen Luke in previous blogs. I think he's been on at least two others.

He has a bit of a reputation for only cooking things he can put in the microwave. Which is not good. To pander to this though, we've decided that he should come up with a recipe that can be cooked in the microwave and would still make a decent(ish) meal. So without further ado, please enjoy Luke's Microwave Corner, Episode 1...


For your microwaveable potato bake you will need:
- 1kg potatoes
- 4 onions
- 4 slices bacon
- 300g mozzarella cheese
- 1pt milk
- 25g flour
- 25g butter

Start by peeling the potatoes and slicing them very very thinly - the thinner the better. The thinner they are the quicker they'll cook, which is exactly what you want.

Do the same with the onions, and then dice up the slices of bacon. Start to layer this up in a microwaveable dish, starting with the potato, then the onion, then the bacon, and repeat. Finish with a layer of potato on top.

The next step is to make a white sauce. I couldn't think of a way of doing this in the microwave, so unfortunately this part has to break the rules slightly. It's just a standard white sauce recipe - melt the butter and flour together and then whisk in the pint of milk a bit at a time until you get a reasonably thick sauce. Crack in some pepper and salt for flavour.

Once your sauce has thickened up, throw in the cheese and give it a good whisk to ensure that it's all melted and evenly distributed throughout. Take the sauce off the heat and pour it over the top of your layered potatoes.

Into the microwave it goes for about twenty minutes...

Remove carefully...

And serve. To complete the Luke effect, you must pour on lashings of tomato ketchup and more salt.

Not a bad start for the microwave blog - but I'm sure we can do better! Let me know if you have any ideas and I'll pass them on to Luke.


Coming up:
- Soufflé tomorrow... probably try pistachio and cheese.
- Still got a few bits and pieces that I can upload. I'll try to find some time to turn them into a coherent blog.

Restaurant: Brasserie Blanc, Oxford

My apologies for the length of time in between blogs recently, but with the move to Scotland imminent and trying to sort out selling my house and so on, it's rather slipped down the priority list.

Having visited Brasserie Blanc last night as a little 'leaving do', I thought it must be time for a blog...


The Brasserie is a more affordable, homely version of Raymond Blanc's Manoir. This is not to say that the food is any less though. In fact it really was fantastic. Let me share a little with you.

As the restaurant is not particularly exclusive, I was able to get a table for four by booking only one day in advance - it is well worth booking though. We went midweek and the place was absolutely packed.

Upon arriving you are greeted by a plethora of authentic French staff - and this is one of the touches I found particularly pleasing about the place. As a French restaurant, it makes sense to have French staff front of house. The accents, the ability to pronounce the options on the menu... these things make a difference - help to add to the illusion that you might be eating in France. It's part of the show. 

I must also share my appreciation for our particular waiter, ably assisting us in deciding what to choose, what drinks to pair with what food, and put up with a little humour at his and our expense. Especially Deon taking so long to choose...

And choose we did. Having been shown to the table (right in the middle of the restaurant - fantastic for people watching - especially the lady who was obviously a critic, taking notes on her iPad), we made our choices for the evening.

Kicking off with the starters, Liz and Alta both settled for the snails in garlic butter, while Deon chose mussels and I went for Comté cheese soufflé. I had decided against mussels as they are something I have prepared before myself, and when eating out I like to go for something I wouldn't normally cook. The soufflé was delicious - the light pastry giving way to a melted cheese centre, all sitting on a bed of apple, apricot and walnuts. Not dazzling by any means, but certainly a good taster for the rest of the evening. I did have to taste the snails, never having had them before, but I found them to be not too dissimilar from mussels, perhaps having a slightly less distinct flavour (though they were buried in garlic) and a little tougher too.

The main dishes blew away any fears of a less than excellent dining experience however. With Deon, Liz and I all plumping for Barbary duck breast, it was Alta walking alone with the beef stroganoff. I didn't try the beef, but Alta assures me it was the best she's ever had. I'd have to say that the duck was definitely the best duck dish I've eaten in my time as well. It was such a well balanced dish, with the sweet of the carrots and fatty flavour from the duck being expertly cut through by the sharp orange and lime sauce that topped them. The potato and turnip accompaniment was divine, being layered through with some sort of cheese.  

As with all good restaurants though, the puddings are always the flagship. And Brasserie Blanc is certainly no exception. Deon and I chose the steamed lemon sponge, which was absolutely fantastic. The sponge was deliciously light, and the lemon sauce was a perfect balance of sweet and sour with the crème fraiche acting as the perfect foil, stopping the lemon becoming too cloying on the pallet. 

It was the girls's choice of dessert that absolutely stole the show though. Having ordered soufflé for starter, I'd avoided ordering the sweet version for afters, but I think that was possibly a mistake - even though etiquette tells me better. If God has a flavour, it is most definitely the pistachio soufflé served up in Brasserie Blanc. This monstrously sized pudding is so light on the inside, falling away as you dig into it, and the fresh pistachio flavour coming through the eggy centre was just to die for. Who cares about the chocolate ice cream on the side? That was nothing on this wonderful creation. If you go to the restaurant for one dish - make it this one. Though it must be said that Liz is a little odd and did not like it. For shame.

And to finish, we ordered a chocolate fondue for the table. Again, perfectly poised between sweet and bitter - the dark chocolate against the freshly baked pastries.

And it is this balance which typifies the dishes on the restaurant's menu. Be it the gherkins in the rice for the stroganoff to give extra crunch and a piquant flavour, or the aforementioned cream with the lemon pudding, there is always a nod to the refined pallet. 

Pound for pound, the restaurant is more than reasonable, and the staff are flawless. All round an excellent evening as can be seen from the smiling, demon eyed faces in the badly taken photograph below...

From left to right: Liz, Deon, Alta and myself. The man that took this photo was rather bemused... I can't say I'm surprised. Jericho at 11pm. A curious place for a group photo indeed.


You may have noticed a little change to the blog - I'm now running a twitter feed down the right hand side, so even if I don't blog so much, there'll always be a wee taster to keep you going. Make sure to follow me and keep yourself up to date with the happenings in my culinary world.

Once things are sorted with the house and my evenings are less packed I'll try to get a few more recipe based blogs on the go again. 


Coming up:
- Alta and I are going to try to make a soufflé at some point. Wish us luck!
- I have a couple of other little blog ideas that should make their way to this page soon. Eyes peeled...