Archive for February, 2012

Simple 3 course meal

Every now and then I like to have more than one course for dinner and Sundays are the perfect day to do this. I think the three courses I put together is an easy meal, nothing too technical and thought I’d share it. The concept of this meal was put together the day before, purely sitting down and thinking through what I had in the house. The only thing I needed to go out and buy was some duck breasts and whipping cream. So here it is.

Starter – Warm duck Salad with fennel pollen & cherry vinegar dressing.

This is a variation of something I’ve done before and recently posted. I do love this salad and it is so easy. I marinated the duck breasts overnight in some of the dressing which was made from lemon olive oil, cherry vinegar, a little fennel pollen, ground black pepper & salt. I quickly pan fired these over a medium heat. You need to add a little oil to the pan as the marinade will burn if you put this straight on the pan. I did feel the need to cut off the fat before serving as it had burnt a little. I took a bag of mixed peppery leaves and tossed these in the rest of the dressing. Once the duck was rested I simply placed it on the salad leaves.

Main  – Spanish influenced Chicken Stew

 The Friday before this dinner, we had a walk round Borough Market, London. Mainly to finally meet a twitter friend who has a stall there called Flavours of Spain. We had a great chat tried a selection of meats and of course bought a few too. Along with some Iberico Chorizo and Serrano ham I picked up a pack of Spanish seasoning. These are handy little sachet and as they were recommended by someone from Spain I thought they must be good and it’s something that’s good if you are new to a style of cooking. There was a recipe in the pack for a chicken stew so I took the basic recipe and used up some veg I had in the house.

Into the mix went chunks of chicken fillet, chopped white onions, sliced carrots, diced potatoes, courgettes, tomatoes, white wine and the spice mix. After softening the onions and browning the chicken, everything went in, topping up with water and bringing to the boil on the hob before adding the spices. Then I just let this slow cook in the oven on the lowest setting for about 3 hours.

 Dessert – Blueberry & Blackberry glasses

This dessert is so easy to make. First I made a blueberry sauce by placing most of the blueberries in a blender with caster sugar and a fruit balsamic I was given for Christmas. Set this aside and get the cream whipped until firm. I folded grated lemon & lime zest into the cream along with a little rose water.

Taking the cocktail glasses, I put some of the sauce at the bottom, added a few blackberries and them some cream, then a few more blackberries, blueberries and sauce. More cream with the remaining berries on top and a drizzle of sauce. No cooking needed for this at all and it’s so light and very moorish.

About the ingredients

There are a few ingredients here that I have to tell you about as they are so good and thought I’d let you know where they come from.

The Cherry Vinegar I have mentioned before on the blog and it from a company called Womersley Foods. The vinegar is very light, not too sharp and you can use it alone without needing an oil. www.womersleyfoods.co.uk

The Fennel Pollen I mentioned on my last post also and is from Global Harvest. I still have a pack of dill pollen to use now but the fennel has been used up which I’m very sad about so will have to get some more. www.globalharvestlimited.co.uk

The Spanish seasoning was from Flavours of Spain and are at Borough Market on Fridays. If you like Chorizo, you must try the Iberico chorizo they do, it’s so good. You can contact them on Twitter @FlavoursofSpain and speak with the lovely Anna. www.flavoursofspain.co.uk

The lemon olive oil and fruit balsamic are from my Brother and his partner, a brilliant Christmas present. Okay they don’t produce them and they are from Olio and Farina. A hamper of their products is a great gift for a food lover. www.olioefarina.com

I will make it clear I am not paid for this blog and I only every promote producers and suppliers when I really love their products. Okay, Olio & Farina are more corporate but I do think their products are very high quality and if you use Sicilian lemons in your olive oil you’re always on a winner with me. With the other three I have mentioned, their passion for their produce is clear and very infectious so please do get to know them and I am sure you will discover new ingredeients.


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A while ago I was sent a new ingredient, fennel pollen. Yep, you read that right, pollen. Just a small sachet of this was sent to me and when you open it the aroma is quite intense. I do love fennel but even I have been thinking “what the hell do I do with this?” I do experiment in the kitchen but that’s usually just mixing up things I already know and have used before. This was something completely new to me, never tasted it before.

I have to apologise to David, who sent me the pollen, as I was full of beans when we spoke about it and then my little mid-food crisis came along and the kitchen was abandoned for a few weeks. I’m sure David hasn’t been sat at home fretting about it but I just want to say sorry for the wait.

A few recent events have got my taste buds tingling again and the creative juices flowing (nothing like a good old cliché). The first was Raymond Blanc’s Hungry Frenchman program, I wanted to be there with him and would have given my left elbow to have replaced one of the chefs he took. A trip to a local farmer’s market and more recently Borough Market along with  a recent trip to Mark Sargeant’s Rocksalt, which reminded me that I don’t have to over complicate things and that good ingredients cooked simply can make for amazing dishes.

So it’s Sunday morning, I look at the pollen again. I remember making a carpaccio of venison with a star anise based coating before as I smell that aniseed aroma. It’s Sunday Simon, you’re in town, there’s no butcher, yeah Venison’s a great idea. I go to a certain supermarket, a small version of their usual superstores. I search the meat section and come across a very nice looking fillet of beef and off I pop home with it with the brain cells ticking over.

At home I look round the kitchen. The shape of the beef makes it a bit hard to roll it and do a carpaccio as I had first thought. I spy a bottle of cherry vinegar, hmmmmmmmmm, what’s in the spice rack? Mustard seeds, black onion seeds, black peppercorns. I glance at the coffee grinder (not used for coffee beans). I get a bowl and put a couple of table spoons of olive oil and cherry vinegar in, add the ground spices, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of fennel pollen. I taste, damn it’s good. Anyone thinking of a salad dressing, this will be just as good for that.

I coat the beef fillet, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge overnight. Monday night arrives, I now have fresh prawns, chilli, lime, chunky coleslaw, new pots and cherry tomatoes on the vine. It’s a pick & mix night as two of us are sharing this. The prawns are left to sit in chili and lime juice (forgot to pick up coriander) and then fried lightly. The new potatoes are steamed in a herb butter and the toms are left just as they are.

I pan fry the beef fillet on a medium heat so the coating doesn’t burn, it is to be seared only and then left to rest. My kitchen by this point smells fantastic and I smile. I’m enjoying cooking again and it feels great. I slice the beef fillet, very rare in the middle, and plate up with the prawns and toms. The pots and coleslaw are on the table to dig in.

The taste test. The beef is good. I was careful with this as I didn’t want to overpower it and I probably could have upped how much pollen I used. The cherry vinegar gives a freshness to it with the black peppercorns adding a slight heat. It’s good, not brilliant and can be worked on but it’s still damn tasty.

For a small fillet of beef I used the following:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 Tablespoons of Womersley Foods Cherry Vinegar

1 teaspoon of fennel pollen from Global Harvest

1 teaspoon each of ground black peppercorns, mustard seeds & black onion seeds.

Pinch of salt.

For more info on the ingredients please contact:

David at Global Harvest for all things pollen.

www.globalharvestlimited.com and follow on Twitter @Globalharvest01

Rupert at Womersley food for all things vinegar.

www.womersleyfoods.co.uk and follow on Twitter @WomersleyFoods

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Pancake day in pictures

Chicken, serrano ham & pineapple

The finished savoury pancake

Snowball ice cream with blueberry & balsamic sauce

The classic ready for topping

The classic with lemon juice & sugar and now we're stuffed.

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I have been trying to think of something different to say about Rocksalt. Everyone has spoken about the high expectations of one of Gordon Ramsey’s most talented chefs going it alone when Mark Sargeant announced his plans. There was a lot of hype and I have seen very mixed reviews. I do wonder what people were expecting though. When you look at Mark’s pedigree you would probably think his restaurant would be a fine dining experience with lavish and intricate menus.

I went to Rocksalt with one thought in my mind, it was going to be good, honest and simple food cooked exceptionally well. I wasn’t disappointed. We stayed in one of the rooms that Rocksalt own, just over their takeaway shop, The Smokehouse. A lovely room with high quality fixtures (almost took the wet room home with me, just didn’t quite fit in my case).

The staff at Rocksalt are very friendly and courteous as you would expect, apologetic that there were no oysters on the menu and we were given plenty of time to look at the menu which was needed. I did say the food is fairly simple but sometimes that makes it even harder to choose and I almost didn’t have a fish main. I mean, how unfair is it to put a great sounding venison dish on the specials when I’m in town. Sarge, that really isn’t nice to a meat eater like me.

I basically had to ignore the meat dishes, I came here for fish. We finally chose our starters and mains, well we’d actually chosen dessert as well but it’s always worth another look after the first two courses. My wife decided to go for the Jerusalem artichoke risotto with sherry caramel which did look and smell amazing. I went for the soused mackerel with beetroot, sour cream & chives. You know when you want to be able to get a dish, bottle it up and be able to eat it whenever your feel like it? That’s how I felt about this dish, it actually transported me to a sunny day, sitting in the garden, enjoying a nice cold glass of cider and snacking on pickled fish.

We were actually drinking Spitting Spider Chardonnay. Was a pretty good choice really, nice and light, easy to drink which was good as we concentrated so much on eating we still had a glass left each at the end.

Onto the mains and on the specials was a pork loin wellington which my wife went for. Yes she has a habit of going to fish restaurants with me and not having any fish. I have to say the loin looked like it had been cooked really well and was still pink in the middle. I carried on with the fish and plumped for the roast monkfish tail with “coq au vin” dressing. I love monkfish and when it’s cooked just right it is an amazing fish, and satisfies meat eaters like me. We shared a side of beef dripping fried chips (who went mmmmmmmmm and dribbled when I mentioned the chips?). We also had some sprouts with almonds and again, there is nothing I can say other than they were cooked to perfection.

The dessert menu is good and has a good selection of light dishes which I prefer. Our choices were Agen prune & Armagnac tart for my wife and I got nowhere near that! I went for the roasted spice pineapple with star anise ice cream. It was wolfed down and I almost considered ordering something else to eat. We didn’t have coffee as that’s for lightweights, we were heading upstairs to the bar for cocktails.

We had two cocktails each, all of Rocksalt’s own creation. The choices for my wife were Sargeant’s Mess first, a mix of cognac, poached plums, vanilla syrup, cardamom and sparkling wine, followed by a Martinez which is served like a classic martini with burdock infused gin, sweet vermouth and hints of sweet cherry. I started with the Dark ‘n Stormy, rum, spicy ginger beer, lime and aromatic bitters, and followed that up with an Eastern Winter which is a take on the classic mojito, winter spiced infused white rum, pressed apple and mint sweetened with their own homemade spicy ginger syrup. I was tempted to have the one they call Wibble, purely to stand there and say “wibble” to the barman. (Any Blackadder fans will know why I find that funny).

The final verdict of Rocksalt. I personally thought it was great, friendly service, good value for money. The star for me was the mackerel dish, I really could eat that by the bucket load. Cocktail bar staff were excellent and have a great taste in music, “they will, they will rock you”. Just a little clue as to what they were playing in the bar. Food bill including a bottle of wine was just under £100 for the two of us, including tip. The four cocktails were just under £30. I mentioned we stayed in the rooms there which was £100 for a night in a very comfy and spacious room with continental breakfast served in a very cool picnic basket.

For more information on Rocksalt, visit their website http://rocksaltfolkestone.co.uk

Or you can follow them on Twitter @Rocksalt_Kent

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