Archive for December, 2011

Snowballs, no not the ones you throw or the difference between a snowman and a snowwoman, the drink. Very simply made from Advocaat, lemonade and a twist of lime if you like and don’t forget a glacé cherry. A Christmas classic, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever drunk one at any other time of the year. My wife particularly likes snowballs so I thought I would make her a little treat this year which resulted in snowball ice cream or quite simply, Advocaat ice cream.

I didn’t think this through completely so bear with me and please do have a play with the recipe and share any tips. I am sure together we can perfect this. I took a basic vanilla ice cream recipe and just adapted the liquid and eggs content. I used fewer eggs than normal, thinking that Advocaat is really just egg. I also used cream as well as milk as I do prefer a more creamy ice cream. So here it is, the recipe I used.

For one litre

200 ml semi skimmed milk (okay I picked this up by mistake, you might want to use full fat)

500 ml double cream (made up for the cream missing from the milk)

300 ml Advocaat

8 egg yolks (instead of 12 in the vanilla ice cream recipe I had)

250 g caster sugar

Zest of one lime and one lemon

Nutmeg to your preference

I started by bringing the milk and cream to the boil while beating the sugar and egg yolks together. Taking the milk/cream mixture off the heat I whisked in the eggs and sugar before returning to a low/medium heat being careful not to curdle the mixture or cook the eggs too much. Just keep stirring. I added half the zest while continuing to stir the mixture. Once the mixture covers the back of spoon take it off the heat and allow to cool. At this point I added the rest of the zest and some grated nutmeg.

Once cool, strain the mixture into a bowl to get rid of the skin that forms on top and any lumps. The zest goes too but this is to flavour, not to be part of the final ice cream. I have one of those freezer bowl ice cream makers, they don’t work on this as the mixture doesn’t freeze like normal ice creams. I did let it churn away for an hour to let it mix well and thicken up. I then just put it into to two half litre containers and put in the freezer. I gave the mixture a stir after two hours and again in another hour then left it overnight. Not an ice cream to make on the day you intend to eat it.

It has now frozen and it does taste pretty fantastic, if a little sweet so the sugar content might need adjusting. It’s thick, so creamy and has that taste of a snowball we all know and love. I am thinking of presenting this in cocktail glasses with some cherries. I think it would go well with Christmas pudding too. I have also had the idea of making a lemonade float with this ice cream too.

Photos will follow as I wanted to get the recipe on here before Christmas so I haven’t served this up yet. If you do try this, please let me know how it goes and feel free to send any photos to my blog email simonlovesfood@live.co.uk letting me know if you mind them going on the blog.

In the words of Shakin’ Stevens “Merry Christmas Everyone”


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This is my latest recipe for local Essex free publication Inspired. Look out for it around Essex. Locally to me I know it’s available at Tesco & Sainsburys in Chelmsford as well as Chelmsford train station.

Christmas is a time of celebration, so why not start the day off in style with my Prosecco pancakes. They are based on the more thicker American style pancakes  with an added fluffiness from the Prosecco.  The great thing with them is that you can then put what you like on top. Go for the traditional maple syrup or they go just as well with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (my personal favourite).


135g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

65 ml milk

65 mil Prosecco (Cava or Champagne will work just as well)

1 large egg

2 tbsp olive oil.


Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl beat the egg, milk and olive oil together. Pour the egg and milk into the flour and mix in before adding the Prosecco. Continue to beat the mixture until all the lumps have gone. This will be quite a thick batter and then leave it aside for a few minutes. You will see a few bubbles form which is what you want.

Heat a pan over medium with some butter or oil and pour one ladle of the batter into the pan. Try to use a small pan or don’t let the batter spread out too much. The top of the pancake will start to bubble, check underneath and you should find it is golden brown. Turn it over and cook the other side. You can put the pancakes on a baking tray and keep in a warm oven while you cook the rest.

I topped mine with some scrambled eggs made with soured cream (instead of adding milk), chives and a dash of Prosecco just to add to the occasion. I then added some crispy streaky bacon and chestnut smoked salmon. Serve with a glass of Prosecco mixed with cranberry juice, cassis or your preferred fruit juice. Cheers and happy Christmas.

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It’s funny how things come about sometimes. We were in having dinner in The Oriental at the Sofitel, Gatwick, the night before flying out to Sicily. It was a superb meal and afterwards, the head Chef went from table to table seeing if everything was okay. As usual I kept the chef a lot longer than anyone else as I rambled on about food and cooking. The Chef, David Woods, was very pleasant and took a keen interest when we said we dine out in London quite a lot. He recommended a restaurant called Northbank where his son, Peter Woods, just happens to be head chef. I noticed that there was a little more than fatherly pride here, you could tell David thought very highly of the food that is produced there.

I found myself drawn to Northbank quite strongly before even visiting as, being an Arsenal fan, I couldn’t help but sing “We are Northbank Highbury” every time I thought of the restaurant. Then just over a week ago I received a comment on my blog from Tracey Howes from Northbank about my Cottage Pie recipe on this blog so I thought it’s about time we got ourselves over there. So after a bit of tweeting with Northbank and head Chef Peter, we had a booking for lunch on Friday. The Friday we also had dinner in The Berkeley arranged for (yeah not my brightest idea ever).

To be honest, I did have second thoughts after and wondered if I had let my stomach talk before my brain engaged but I hate cancelling bookings so went ahead thinking, one course and that will do us, I just can’t let them down now. Remember I said one course.

Northbank is situated, as you may have guessed, on the north bank of The Thames. It’s just by the Millennium Bridge so very easy to find. We had a drink at the bar first before being shown to our table, best seat in the house we are told, and one look out the window tells you why. Opposite is Shakespeare’s Globe, from my angle I could also see the Tate Modern and my Wife looking the other way could see the Shard. An impressive view, especially on a clear crisp day and with the sun low in the sky silhouetting the Tate Modern.

I guess I should tell you about the food. We decided to just have a main course (at first as we would be dining later) and I went for the pheasant while my wife went for the lamb rump. We didn’t order any sides, again thinking of our large meal coming up that evening. Peter had other plans and I wonder if he realised what confusion he caused to his waiting staff. Our starter cutlery was removed by one waitress to then be replaced by another. I was fairly sure we were going to be treated to something extra and when the original waitress returned to top up our wine and water glasses, she noted the cutlery and went to remove them again. I sort of wish I had thought of this and had a stash of cutlery under the table so every time she took a set, another would suddenly appear. Believe me, I could have played that game all day.

Our surprise starter arrived, scallop with black pudding. The biggest, juiciest, plumpest scallop I have ever seen and what made it even better is that my wife does not like black pudding so I just had to help her out, she loved the scallop though which was perfectly cooked. It was a great combination and I think Peter has taken time to source a good black pudding there, a hint of spice and not too salty.

When we got the mains, I sort of wish I had gone for the lamb dish as well, it looked so well cooked and my wife’s comment was “If everyone cooked lamb like this I’d eat it more often”. Luckily for me she was saving room for a pudding and for our meal alter so I got to try some anyway. I tell you, if you like extra portions when dining out, take my wife, you normally get to try something from her plate, well except for the pudding.

My main of roast pheasant came with a braised red cabbage which was light and not too vinegary, just how I like it really. The pheasant was cooked well and was still moist. Despite my brain trying to remind me I was dining out later and having had some of my wife’s lunch, I finished this off and could have licked the plate clean.

We decided to go for dessert and my wife had spied a chocolate mousse with cherries in kirsch. Damn you Northbank for putting this on the menu when we’re supposed to be having a light lunch. Even me, the man who doesn’t really do desserts, could not resist this. This is definitely a dessert that calls you over to the dark side. It’s a more dense mousse but it becomes apparent why when you see how much kirsch is on top, a light fluffy mouse would dissolve in that. Again it isn’t a stingy portion and I reluctantly pushed it aside about half way through, had another bit and then pushed it aside. I may have done this a couple of more times before finally giving up and listening to my brain rather than my stomach.

We had a couple of glasses of wine with lunch and the bill was quite reasonable  I thought, considering the obvious quality of the food and the portions, at £50 a head including tip. The service is great, friendly, unhurried and welcoming from the moment you walk in. Partner that with excellent food and a great view, it really is a lovely place and one I am sure we will be visiting again. Just to go full circle, don’t forget that Peter’s Dad, David, is also a great chef and if you find yourself needing an overnight stay at Gatwick, head to The Oriental at the Sofitel, you won’t regret it.

For more information on Northbank, visit their website www.northbankrestaurant.com

Alternatively you can call them on 0207 329 9299 or email info@northbankrestaurant.com

You can also follow then on Twitter @NorthbankLondon

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In 2010 I met a certain wine expert, Olly Smith at a book signing. We were talking about food as well as drink and Olly said we must try a place called Café A Vin. We took Olly on his word and headed over to Old Spitalfields, found Café a Vin and settled down on a warm night for some al fresco dining. We weren’t sure what to have to start so it was recommended we have the Tarte Flambe which just had to be accompanied with a glass of Galvin Champagne (which we said to just bring us a bottle). It’s an amazing match and at that moment, I would never have guessed as to what would come of this first time at Café A Vin.

I went back there about four times over the next month, not bad considering I don’t actually work in London and spend most time in the West End when we visit. I have had some amazing meals there, especially the fish dishes and a purely phenomenal lemon tart. Phenomenal because  it’s the first lemon tart I have ever managed to finish (and had I not been stuffed, I would have asked for seconds).

Obviously we had to try the other side, Galvin La Chapelle, which was another memorable meal which I have blogged about before. We had the pleasure of meeting Sara Galvin and also having Chris and Jeff Galvin sign my Obsession book. There then followed an evening at Selfridges with Fergus Henderson, Nigel Haworth, Brian Turner and, of course, Chris & Jeff Galvin. Quite a troop of Chefs to have cook up a four course meal for you.

At Selfridges, with a little alcohol to boost my confidence, I strolled up to Chris and Jeff and asked if there was any chance of some time in the kitchen. Jeff welcomed the idea and we arranged something for the New Year as Christmas was quickly approaching and I’m sure the last thing they would have wanted was me in their way. So I arrange a day and two weeks before the day arrives, La Chapelle gains its first Michelin Star. I have blogged about this day so I won’t go into detail again here except to tell you about the chat I had with Jeff at the end of my shift. Jeff gave me a bit of history about the restaurant, his career and sharing a few anecdotes. He also told me about a book, a Galvin cookbook. No title was decided yet and the book was still being put together, I don’t think there were any photos at this point.

So since about February this year, I have been waiting for this one cookbook. Yes there are others I wanted (still want) but for me, having had an insight as to what is going in the book and having known about it for so long, this is the one book I wanted above all else. It was on my Christmas list and after a tweet from Matt Inwood from Absolute Press, every member of my family were told not to buy me the book as it was winging its way to me.

When the book arrived I was like a kid on Christmas morning, tearing open the packet and then holding the book like it was the holy grail.  I don’t think I have ever been so excited about a book before. I had actually just returned from a weekend in London so was tired, hungover and still had my coat on, that’s how much I wanted to see this book. The first thing I done was look through the recipes and there it was, the Tarte Flambe. How excited am I to now have the recipe for this. I will try to make this at home, I have no doubt it will never taste as good as it does at Café a Vin but I will give it a go none the less.

Now you may think I am not exactly the right person to give an unbiased view of this book, you could be right or you could think that I may be more critical than others as I expect so much from the book. This book has to be perfect. I have been waiting for it most of the year, it cannot let me down. For a while I just stood there looking at it, I don’t think a book has ever had this sort of effect on me. I finally settled down and read through Chris and Jeff’s stories, a quick potted history of how they became chefs, how the restaurants came into being and a few anecdotes and all of it is thoroughly entertaining. I prefer cookbooks like this, I like to understand where the chef is coming from. I then flicked back to read the foreword by Raymond Blanc, he’s almost a bigger fan of the brothers than me.

The recipes on the whole are not the kind that you can say “I’ll knock that up when I get home tonight” I think these are more for impressing your friends at a dinner party or just treating the family to a great meal. There are handy tips on how to approach the recipes too, prepping the day before, running through the recipe in your head so you make a mental note of what you will need, thinking about timings. It does feel like this is Chris and Jeff giving you the advice and, for me, I can hear Jeff’s voice which makes it a little more personal.

The recipes are very clear though, there is a little note before each one with a tip on what cut of meat, possible replaces or an explanation of a term used. It also includes the basics such as stocks, sauces, pastry, oven dried tomatoes and preserved lemons and there are clear sections on starters, mains and desserts. There are many classic Galvin recipes, dishes that, when you cook, you should feel proud that Chris and Jeff have allowed you to know the secret of some of their best loved and most popular dishes. My wife would tell you that you must try to recreate the rum babas with crème Chantilly, the best rum babas she has ever had. (Get down to Café a Vin and try it, they’re not stingy with the rum).

Some of the ingredients may not all be found in your local supermarket and may take a bit of sourcing and whilst many dishes are classically French, you will notice a lot of British ingredients. I would look at it like this, imagine where those trips and searches for ingredients will take you. What other delights will you discover whilst you try to put together your own Galvin dish. From truffles to grey-leg partridge to veal brains. This book really encourages you to get out there and try something new.

There are a few additional touches such as the Bar Stories that are dotted throughout the book. These are a great read and give a wonderful insight to the life of hospitality, the side us diners don’t usually see. My favourite has to be about the duck and the handbag but you will need to read the book to know what I’m going on about. The other thing I noticed is that nothing seems out of place, everything has a reason for being there, the image on the cover, every photo, every story, every ingredient. It has been very cleverly thought out and as much care taken over the book as Chris & Jeff take over their food.

I have only had this book a week and I already know this will take pride of place with my other cook books. In fact, I have found it hard to put it down, even taking it to work to read during lunch. It is not a book I will be taking into the kitchen, with its hardbound walnut cover, which is an image of the walnut burl veneer from Les Halles in Lyons and glossy pages which I do not want to dirty. For me, this is a book I will use for inspiration, for pushing myself a little further in the kitchen and, no doubt, for planning a whole dinner around for family and friends in the new year. So who’s coming for dinner?

Galvin a Cookbook de Luxe is published by Absolute Press, ISBN number 9781906650568

11/01/12: I have just picked up my book after having it signed by Chris & Jeff. I was lucky enought o be treated to a beer and their wonderful Tarte Flambée. This is what book signings should be like.

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This is a quick update on Project Obsession. As we were in London this weekend and staying in Mayfair, I had to try and add to the Obsession book. I had tweeted Pierre Koffmann before we went and he replied saying to pop in. We did and I was lucky enough to be invited into the kitchens to meet this legend of the kitchen. I was a little embarrassed as we weren’t even eating at Peirre Koffmann’s. We did have a lovely lunch though earlier at the Northbank where the head chef, Peter Woods, had worked with Chef Koffmann in the past.

I think this is the most nervous I have been when meeting any chef. I can’t even remember what I said to Pierre except apologising that I wasn’t eating there and that we would definitely go there in the new year (better tell me wife about that I guess). So here it is, number 12 of 54 signed.

This is a photo of the signed page from Nigel Haworth’s Obsession Cookbook.

To find out how this all started, please read here http://wp.me/pIw7m-5G

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My journey through food never fails to make me realise how little I knew about the industry and the people in it. I mean, I had heard of a place called Petrus, and it was probably only when Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsey parted ways that I even knew it was a Ramsey restaurant. I knew even less about Marcus Wareing, which now even I find hard to believe. My Wife, Michala, has been an advocate of Marcus’ food for some time, well she is the qualified chef. I really only knew about chefs on the TV before I met her so it’s not only food I’ve learnt about over the last few years, but also the people behind the food. So for our annual trip into London for our pre-Christmas and, more importantly, Michala’s birthday treat it was quite easy to pick The Berkeley as our venue for this year. It also helped that I had met Nic Monks via Twitter, who works for Marcus Wareing, and I knew we would be treated very well.

I actually started writing this blog post on in my head on train as we made our way home on Sunday. The thoughts that came into my head make it seem like I’ve fallen in love for the first time and I could spend my time gushing over the food we ate. This experience is one of the hardest for me to explain as I did become lost in my own food fantasy and forgot to make any mental notes of the evening. It was just that good, I forgot I was going to be writing about it after. I also continued my habit of not taking photos of the food. To be honest, do I really need to show you how good the food looked? This is Marcus Wareing after all and I am sure you will find images of his food all over the internet. Also, what I want to get across is that if you want to know how good the food is, you should go and find out.

We were sat at the back of the restaurant, facing the kitchen so we could watch the art of service being performed. I am fairly certain they would have classed our table as the best in the house. We were treated to a complimentary glass of champagne and left to peruse the menu. Well my wife perused it and I tried my best to convince here we should have the eight course tasting menu. I was more convincing than I realised and also added in the wine to go with it. This was possibly a bad idea on my part as we had drunk during the day and were already a bit tipsy.

We were presented with amuse bouche and then the menu started, a menu that really became ten courses with Marcus adding in a couple of surprises. So this is what we had:


Foie gras, sorbe, walnut, date, milk tuile

Crab, chestnut, agnolotti

Quail, goat’s curd, girolles, squash, caper butter

Scallop pappardelle

Scottish Lobster, broccoli

Cumbrian lamb, sweetbread, quince, leek for Michala

Anjou pigeon, celeriac, radicchio, sorrel for me

White chocolate ice, redcurrant

Custard tart

Moelleux, orange, Cointreau for Michala

Horlicks, honey, whisky for me

Valrhona “Macae” Chocolate


The wine with each went very well with a couple, which on first taste we both found not to our immediate liking, completely transforming when paired with the food. I have never had the wine with a tasting menu before so this was something new for me and one day I may even take notes or maybe ask the sommelier to give me a list of the wines we had.

The highlight for me was the foie gras course, a light mousse made from the foie gras, oh and the milk tuille was heavenly. The highlight for my wife was, as ever, one of the desserts. I am fairly certain it was the custard tart, yes that custard tart, the custard tart, the one that won Great British Menu. I have to say, for a custard tart, it is pretty spectacular. Then there was the chocolate, a Valrhona “Macae” chocolate to be precise. If you have this, you need to be a chocoholic of the highest order. Michala loved it, I had one small bite and that was like my chocolate intake for a whole year in one hit. I am sorry Marcus that I couldn’t eat any more than that, I did try it at least and I cannot deny that the flavour is mind blowing, it was just too intense for me.

The whole dining experience here is great. Service is impeccable, friendly and attentive without you really even realising. A few jokes were shared between us and the staff and people still say fine dining is stuffy. The one thing that did surprise me was how loud the dining room is, there is no talking in hushed tones here, every diner seemed to be enjoying themselves. One of the best moments was when Marcus Wareing left the kitchen to walk across the room to the private dining room, everyone just stopped and watched and as he disappeared, we all went back to enjoying our dinner. It was like a scene from a western when the stranger walks into the saloon and the piano player stops. I couldn’t help but chuckle at how everyone reacted, then realised I had done exactly the same.

We did get to meet the man himself and, after having met some of the countries best chefs, I was surprised at how nervous I get every time. I have said this before, I am just like the teenager meeting their favourite pop star or film idol. Marcus put us at ease instantly though and we were soon chatting away, well I say we, I think we let Marcus get a word in between us praising him and his staff.

As we settled our bill we were presented with a print out of our menus, including the extras and two copies as my wife had a dessert changed. This is also the first time in quite a while that a signed cookbook has been handed to Michala instead of me and I look forward to her cooking a great meal from this one day soon. Oh, the size of that bill? We’ll just say it was quite high so really something you might like to save up for and I will tell you know, it is worth every single penny.

More information on Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley can be found at http://www.the-berkeley.co.uk/marcus_wareing.aspx

You can follow the Berkeley  on twitter @TheBerkeley

Special thanks to Nic who took our booking and arranged this for us. I can strongly recommend following Nic on twitter as well @nicmonks

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For those that haven’t heard yet, I started writing for a local Essex magazine called Inspired in November. It’s a free monthly, glossy publication filled with inspiring articles on food, fashion and life in general. You can pick it up from Chelmsford Rail Station , Tescos and The Meadows in Chelmsford among other places in Essex so keep an eye out for it. Next edition is out early December and features a special Christmas recipe from me.

Here’s a link to their blog with my first ever published recipe. Hope you enjoy it.

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