Thursday, 31 December 2009

Christmas Goodies

Today I had planned to bake some bread, and prepare some food for a small gathering we were planning on having here tonight. Unfortunately, I've been rendered impotent by some kind of stomach bug - I figured food preparation wasn't the best idea. So, here's a post all about the goodies I got for Christmas instead.

Being something of a fan of Nigel Slater, I made it fairly obvious to my fiancé that a copy of this for Christmas would be very much appreciated. It's a rather large tome, but a beautiful one. It is filled with the most stunning photography and contains really useful information on growing vegetables and how to use them in the kitchen as well as some lovely-looking recipes. I've been dipping into it almost every day since I got it and am still not even half-way through! It's going to be particularly useful now we are getting a veg box and I look forward to trying some of the recipes once the Christmas/New Year madness is over! Get yourself a copy!

I also got a copy of The Hairy Biker's Food Tour of Britain, but foolishly left it at my parents' house. Some wonderful recipes in there though, celebrating the rich variety of regional British food. I'll just have to wait a month or two until I get my copy back!

With my book vouchers I purchased a copy of Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley. I have read most of this book already - it is very readable as well as informative. I've known for some time that I don't want to buy supermarket bread anymore because of all the unnecessary ingredients they contain and this book is great for explaining exactly what those ingredients are and the supposed benefits and disadvantages of each one. It also contains plenty of recipes for lots of different types of bread including Sourdough and sweet breads. I'd definitely recommend this for anyone interested in baking their own bread.

Other presents included:

A recipe file - always handy!

Set of different oils. Particularly intrigued by the chilli-infused one!

And, finally, we were given some money with the specific instructions to buy some kitchen equipment we were after, so we also got a pizza/bread stone, a new set of digital scales, a proper chef's knife and sharpening steel and a new set of saucepans, half-price in Debenhams!

These are not the most expensive, nor probably the best saucepans in the world, but they're a darn sight better than what I was working with before and were within our price range. (While I like the look of the hard-anodized pans, I fear that once filled with food, they'll be too heavy for me - even with our old pans, once they had food in, I often had to lift them with two hands! I'm only 5ft tall!) They're from the Maxima Debenhams range and the set of four was £37.50 marked down from £75. I also bought a large stock pot from the same range, so we are now pretty well-equipped! I just need a decent food processor and all will be right with the world!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Chocolate Brownie Cake

Yesterday, I made my very first cake. Ok, I had made some banana and walnut muffins at school once and I used to help my mum make fairy cakes and rock cakes occasionally, but I'd never made one big cake on my own. So, I tried to find an easy recipe suitable for a beginner and I came across this recipe for a chocolate brownie cake, which I thought I might be able to handle.

Seeing as I'd never even lined a cake tin before, I found this video really useful. I was really worried about putting too much butter in when greasing the tin, and I think I might have done because the cake went a bit hard round the edges (or I possibly overcooked it a little because I was also really worried about it being underdone!).

It took forever to melt the chocolate, sugars, butter etc. together. I did what it said and did it on a really low heat - I think it took a little over 20 minutes in total to get it into a smooth paste. Still, once that was done and I'd mixed it with all the other ingredients, it began to look rather more cake-mixture-y.

I duly poured the cake mixture into my beautifully lined cake-tin, and 30 minutes later this was the result!

I'm not sure if it was supposed to rise more than this or if the cake tin I used was big, as it was flatter than I was expecting. However, it still tastes very good - just like chocolate brownie, in fact! - and it's very rich so you don't actually need very much (as I found out after cutting myself a huge slice, while it was still a bit warm, mmmmm).

Not too shabby for a first attempt! I really enjoyed the whole process of cake-making too. I think it's the very concept of taking lots of raw ingredients, mixing them all together and then the finished product looking completely different to what you started with, which makes baking interesting and exciting to me. It makes me feel a bit like an alchemist.

Chocolate Brownie Cake on Foodista

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Purple carrots

In my veg box this week, I was delighted to find some purple carrots! This got me thinking about the history of the carrot, as I was sure I'd heard somewhere that carrots used to be purple like this. That's when I discovered this fabulous website called the World Carrot Museum. There's an awful lot of carrot history on there, although my favourite quote from the website is, "The Carrot has a somewhat obscure history, surrounded by doubt and enigma". So, there you go: the humble carrot has something of a shady past. The wonderful thing I learnt from this website is that carrots also come in yellow, white and red varieties.

It seems a shame that now the only carrots we can buy in the shops are orange: surely, children would love these, and according to the Carrot Museum: "Purple carrots (usually orange inside) have even more beta carotene than their orange cousins, and get their pigment from an entirely different class, the anthocyanins, these pigments act as powerful antioxidants, grabbing and holding on to harmful free radicals in the body. Anthocyanins also help prevent heart disease by slowing blood clotting and and are good anti inflammatory agents." (

In 2002 it looks as if Sainsbury's tried to revive the purple carrot, but I doubt if this was successful considering I don't remember ever seeing purple carrots in the supermarkets.There's a little more information about growing purple carrots in the UK back at the carrot museum. Apparently, we just aren't ready for purple vegetables in this country.

I used some of my carrots in a casserole - they lost their colour a bit in the long cooking time, but still tasted good. I used the rest in a duck stir fry, and the colour they added was great. Taste-wise, I don't think there's much, if any, discernable difference to orange carrots, but I do think they look really quite beautiful and there are apparently greater health benefits too.

And there are more purple vegetables to be had out there. I had some wonderful purple beans from a work colleague's allotment earlier this year (although they turn green when you cook them!), and I recently read about red sprouts on Butcher, Baker's blog. I think we should all embrace our purple vegetables a little more!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Chinese Mini Mart - Market Way, Coventry

 I noticed recently that a new Chinese supermarket had opened in Coventry City Centre and today I actually had time to go in, now that I'm off work for Christmas (hurrah!). It really is a fantastic little shop, stocking a really good range of stuff in quite a small space.

I nearly bought some quail's eggs. I didn't, because I don't need to, but I think I'm going to have to think of an excuse to need them so I can buy some.

They sell small bunches of beansprouts for 25p or larger ones for 50p, which beats the supermarket and I find the supermarket packets far too big and always end up throwing some out. I also spied some giant bottles of soy sauce for £1.50 and if I wasn't walking home, I would have bought some.

I don't normally buy ready-prepared sauces anymore, but I did buy some sukiyaki sauce for dinner tonight, because it sounded good and thought it would be interesting to try.

The staff are really friendly and helpful. If you live locally and like oriental food, it is definitely worth checking out (the shop is located next to Blue Banana and opposite Tesco Express on Market Way).

Sunday, 20 December 2009

My Top 6 Christmas Cookery Shows

Now, I don't usually watch much TV and the TV I do watch is usually all on BBC iPlayer; but in order to bring you my pick of the Christmas Cookery Shows, I've been watching a fair bit of TV the last few days and even fired up 4 on Demand to see what was on offer over there. See how dedicated I am! Anyway, enough preamble, on with the show(s)!

6) Nigella's Christmas Kitchen
 I probably can't legitimately judge this one: I only watched 15 minutes of one episode and gave up. I know this is most likely an unpopular opinion, but I can't stand Nigella. I mean, I'm sure she's a lovely person, but I find her insufferable to watch on the telly. She just looks far too pleased with herself the whole time. But I mainly switched off because the 'Puddini' she was making were making me feel nauseous, both from the name and the ingredients: surely, Christmas pudding, chocolate and treacle would be enough to send anybody into a diabetic coma? Someone also needs to point out to her that not everyone has a dishwasher - when she was telling the viewer how to sterilise jars, she didn't offer an alternative to using a dishwasher. My fiancé pointed out that most people have dishwashers and we are in the minority not having one, but that's not the point. But if that's your kind of thing, then fair enough: happy viewing!

5) Delia's Classic Christmas
I know plenty of people think Delia is past it now and that Nigella has taken the baton of definitive Christmas cooking, but I'm rating her programme above Nigella's because I actually found it compelling enough to watch all of it. It has it's flaws: there were far too many shots of Delia wandering round her GIANT house, and I personally found it unnecessary to hear about Delia's religious views. But some of the food looked like the kind of thing I might want to try cooking at some point, such as the Beef en Creoute, although I did get frustrated with the lack of information about some things - maybe some suggestions on where one can source panforte would have been useful.

4) Jamie's Family Christmas
I haven't always enjoyed cooking from Jamie Oliver's cookbooks in the past, so I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. I've watched 2 episodes so far, but may go back and watch the rest of the episodes on 4 on Demand when I get time. I like how down to earth it is and that he makes the recipes look really quite simple. My only major problem is that he seems to go so fast with everything, that I did find it hard to keep up with what was happening at some points. The party food episode was great, chock full of great ideas if you're thinking of entertaining over the Christmas period.

3) Rick Stein's Christmas Odyssey
This is really an extension of Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey and an advert for it. But I enjoyed it because it was a bit different from all the other Christmas cookery programmes, offering far Eastern recipes ideal for using up left-over turkey. The scenes from his travels were wonderful because they showed the connection between the food he was cooking and the people and background it comes from. I also liked that Rick Stein confessed he was filming it in June. I was surprised that he didn't know the trick of rolling a lime before cutting it to get more juice out, but at least he admitted it, and it does show as that as cooks we are learning things all the time.

2) Heston Blumenthal's Christmas Feast
Technically, this isn't a cookery show - or at least not one where you can reproduce the recipes at home. I am including it here for sheer watchability. I have had a lot of respect for Heston Blumenthal ever since I saw his series Big Chef takes on Little Chef. I think he does some amazing things with food and it is never boring to watch! It was great to see the diners' reactions to the foodstuffs he provided - it amused me that some of them weren't ok eating a dormouse, but were fine with eating venison after being presented with a pageant of a hung deer skin being shot by an archer, complete with oozing blood. Ironically, I think the thing I would have had most trouble eating would have been the pudding at the end, because it was so beautiful, it almost seemed a shame to eat it! This show certainly isn't for the faint at heart!

1) The Hairy Bikers' Twelve Days of Christmas
And so, the award goes to the hairy bikers! I love watching the hairy bikers - they make tasty-looking food, they make it for people to eat rather than just demonstrating it, they travel around and cook out in the open, and they're funny and silly and down to earth. So, yes, I'm a bit of a fan. The premise of this show was to make dishes related to the items in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. Some of them were inspired (a partridge served with pickled pears for "a partridge in a pear tree"), others had slightly tenuous links with the song (5 giant pretzels for "five gold rings"). It was a wonderful idea though and made for some interesting dishes, most of them a bit different from your typical Christmas fare. I will most definitely be downloading some of the recipes from the BBC website!

So, there you have it - my top 6 of the Christmas Cookery Shows. No doubt you disagree with all of them - feel free to tell me in the comments.

Finally, please find a picture of some Christmas cookery from my work colleague Vicki: she made each of us at work one of these giant snowflake biscuits for Christmas - I'm glad I got a picture, because it is now no more!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Stuffat tal-Laham (Maltese Meat Stew)

It's perfect stew weather at the moment, so this evening I made my very first stew. (Yes, that's right, I hadn't even made a stew before - who says being a food blogger means you have to be an expert?!) I decided to make something out of the Maltese cookbook I borrowed from my mum (I am half-Maltese).

On browsing this book, I commented to my other half that it suddenly struck me how rustic all the food in it seemed. "Ah, peasant food!" he exclaimed. I'll be diplomatic and stick with rustic, but there is a certain simplicity to the food in the book, which is surely not a bad thing: sometimes, I crave simple food. And this particular recipe is simple, but damn tasty.

Stuffat tal-Laham means 'meat stew'- this particular version is made with beef. I have actually found a link to a recipe very similar to the one in my book - so similar in fact, that I suspect the owner of the website has the same book. The only discernable difference is that in my book it gives the very precise measurement of "some red wine" rather than a glass of red wine. When I'm cooking a recipe for the first time I like to follow instructions fairly carefully, then subsequently I might tweak the recipe here and there to suit my own tastes; thus, I duly put "some red wine" into the pot. The recipe doesn't involve any vegetables so I served them on the side, but next time I think I might throw some carrots in as well. The meat was a still a little tough after cooking for only an hour, so I think I'll increase the cooking time (and perhaps buy a better cut of meat) and increase the amount of stock (and possibly wine!) so it doesn't dry out to nothing; I used about 440g of stewing beef because that's all I had, and I was only cooking this for two, but I stuck to the rest of the recipe and found the liquid reduced just about enough within the suggested cooking time of 1 hour (the photo above was taken during cooking not at the end).

I haven't often fried meat in butter, but I did so as the recipe requested and the smell was amazing. The aroma of the whole thing cooking was just wonderful: I'm sure I can't begin to describe it accurately but imagine a mixture of butter, beef, tomato and wine smells all mingling harmoniously and you'll be on your way there. It tasted pretty good too. A simple, but effective recipe!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Victorian Christmas shopping at Kendall's of Earlsdon

We went along to Earlsdon Street on Thursday evening for late night Victorian Christmas Shopping hosted by Kendall's of Earlsdon. It was very festive and really started to get us in the Christmassy mood! We stopped in a few gift shops and I bought a present for my mum (it was wonderful to see some people dressed up as well; I was boring and went in my jeans!). Of course we had a look in Kendall's, which was fab! They had a brass band outside, were giving out free mulled wine and small samples of Christmas cake and plum pudding. I bought a few items: some panforte, some stollen and some Warwickshire Truckle cheese with black cracked pepper.

Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the cheese, as I only bought a small piece and, um, well, there's not much left now.

I was really impressed by the range of local and continental produce at Kendall's - I think I'm going to have the best foodie Christmas yet!

Late night Victorian Christmas shopping is being held again next Thursday (17th December) from 5.30pm - 8.30pm.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Saxon Mill restaurant review

This review has also been published at

It was with some trepidation that I entered the Saxon Mill on Friday night: I’d been there to eat on one previous occasion and found the food rather mediocre. But perhaps I just ordered the wrong thing. Having checked out the menu online ( shortly before leaving home, I suspected I was in for a treat this time.

The Saxon Mill has an open kitchen, and you can see meat cooking on the rotisserie from your table if sitting in the right place, which gives it a wonderfully rustic atmosphere.

The food was delivered to us promptly and before our starters arrived we were given an appetiser of bread and some olive oil, which at first was a little confusing as my fiancé had ordered the Rustic Bread + Roast Garlic Bulb + Olives + Extra Virgin Olive Oil + Aged Balsamic at £3.95 (which is supposed to be a sharing plate, but I didn’t get much of a chance to share any with him). He was relieved when his real starter arrived. My starter was a little more expensive at £5.95, but it was worth it for the Mushrooms + Dolcellate + Sourdough + Blistered Tomatoes + Ruccola. Being served sourdough in a pub restaurant was a delight and the mushrooms oozed juice as I cut into them and the rich cheese was perfectly complemented by the wonderfully seasoned tomatoes –it was just enough to whet my appetite for my main dish.

£12.95 may sound a lot for a pork dish (Spit Pork Loin + Truffle Mash + Black Pudding + Roasted Pears + Jus), but it was without a doubt the best pork dish I had ever had, and the best-presented plate I have ever seen in a pub restaurant. The pork was served on a generous bed of truffle mash, topped with black pudding and a roasted pear (a very minor error on the menu there, as it only came with one – although one was enough), and surrounded by the jus. Each element of the meal on its own was tasty, but together the flavours mingled and merged in such a way as to create a kind of euphoria in my mouth. My stomach was grateful too.

My fiancé had the Classic Burger at £9.95 – this was an enormously thick burger and apparently was very good, as were the chips it was served with. It’s good to note that there’s a good range of food and there’s a fair few dishes for those who prefer more traditional pub fare, including steak, and beer battered haddock.
I can’t remember which wine I had other than it was a small glass of Shiraz and cost £4.75 (the cheapest glass was £4.25) and it was pretty good - very warm and fruity.

The dessert menu was a slight disappointment in that there was nothing on there which felt stunning enough to tempt me after such a flavoursome meal. I was half-tempted by the treacle pudding (desserts ranged from about £4 to about £7), but being already quite full I decided to quit while I was ahead – I wanted to leave with the glorious flavours of the Spit Pork Loin still reverberating in my mouth.

The service is generally very good. The staff are polite, helpful and attentive. It’s quite an informal affair, however, which sits slightly at odds with the quality and grandeur of the food. Then again, it is a pub restaurant.

I do see a slight problem with the menu and that is the choice: there is so much tempting food on there that I found it really hard to make a decision. A perfect excuse for a return visit, though! Although the menu gives the impression of some kind of demonic maths lesson with all those plus symbols, this is highly refined food in a warm, homely pub setting, and that to me is a perfectly balanced equation.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Dinner fit for a queen

So, the venison was very good. As you can tell from the picture, I fried it in some oil with some mushrooms. It was extremely tender, full of flavour and all-round generally delicious, and is possibly now my favourite kind of meat. Quote of the evening comes from my ever-lovely fiancé during a discussion about the benefits of local meat: "And what's great about this coming from Charlecote Park is that we may have seen the deer it came from!"

To accompany the steaks, I cooked a sauce from English Food by Jane Grigson called, quite aptly, Venison Sauce, described as, "a simple version of the many varieties of port wine sauce for venison. It was invented by Queen Victoria's chef, Francatelli." There's something quite satisfying about cooking something with such a strong regal history. I wonder if Queen Victoria enjoyed it as much as we did. I bet she didn't have hers served with Aunt Bessie's oven chips (yes, part of me does feel guilty for whacking some chips in the oven when I had fresh, organic, local potatoes in the cupboard, but I really fancied some oven chips. And we have used all the potatoes now, anyway).

It's a simple recipe, with only four ingredients: 2 tbsp port wine, 250g redcurrant jelly, a bruised small stick of cinnamon (cue me trying to work out how to bruise a cinnamon stick: what, do I hit it? Do I physically bruise it or just bruise its ego?), thinly pared rind of lemon. You put them all together and then simmer for about 5 minutes, and stir. The stirring is supposed to break down the redcurrant jelly, which it did (apparently, if you use commercially made redcurrant jelly you might need to add some water, which I did), although there were still some fine lumps left at the end, and I really have no idea if that's how it's supposed to be; you couldn't distinguish these when it was in your mouth and it tasted pretty good, so really, who cares. The recipe does say "strain into a hot sauce-boat". Give me a break, Jane, I don't own a sauce-boat, nevermind the wherewhithal to heat it. And I was hungry for venison and couldn't be bothered to 'strain' it (presuming this means sieve?). Nevertheless, I was pretty pleased with it, but please note this recipe could probably easily serve 4 and I don't recommend pouring the lot over just 2 venison steaks. Just as an aside.

For pudding we had two homemade mincepies and some port, having bought a bottle to use in the sauce. This is when I discovered that I really like port (my fiancé claims I've tried it before and said I didn't like it, but I don't remember). Perhaps I liked the port a little too much that evening.

Venison on Foodista