Thursday, 21 May 2015

Hatches, Matches and (Mummy P's Cake) Dispatches

Despite the potential for unwelcome denouements, drunken confessions and the appearance of strange half cousins with wandering hands, family celebrations are great fun. And even more so when there not your own. So when the invite to the christening of Stealth's nephew Louis, and the subsequent garden party, dropped through the letterbox, the Ewing and I were already on our very best behaviour.

Despite the predictable bank holiday traffic, we somehow contrived to arrive in the chocolate box village of Chiddingstone a little early for the christening service, meaning there was only one thing for it - to the Castle Inn for a restorative snifter or two.

As well as the local Larkin's ale, of which I enjoyed a nicely kept pint, they were also advertising bottles of sparkling Chiddingstone cider. How could we resist, although at over seven percent you can see the effect it quickly had on Stealth and I. 

The ceremony was perfect, with Louis being impeccably behaved which is more than could be said for his aunt, who became rather teary at the surprise announcement of Ben and Kate's recent nuptials. All of us, fortified by fermented apple, sang the hymns with the sort of gusto not seen since an E number overload in the second year of infants. 

Formalities out of the way, we headed back to Ben and Kate's beautiful converted oast house, a quintessential glimpse of the Kent of yore. After a welcome glass of cold rose (or two) we made our way to the bar in the assembled yurt on the lawn for tops ups. A barrel of Larkin's beer, a solid English choice, was joined by a giant jug of refreshingly tequila heavy margarita.

To eat was a veritable feast, straight out of the pages of Enid Blyton. Stealth had told us that her sister made the best sandwiches, and whilst Mummy R will always hold that mantle in my mind, the chicken and cucumber on tiger bread (the secret ingredient, when we asked Kate later, butter you can leave teeth marks in) demanded repeated sampling. Little brown bread triangles stuffed with shredded ham hock were equally glorious and dainty cucumber bought decorum to the proceedings (although not the way the Ewing was inhaling them).

There were chicken legs, and quails eggs and two giant gala pies, Kate's favourite, that saw me luck out with a piece that was almost eggless, whilst Stealth felt equally fortunate to grab a slice shot through with hard boiled ovum. Best of all was cheese and pineapple on sticks, protruding from goggle-eyed fruity hedgehogs, who still managed to look far saner than my wife.

For those with a sweet tooth, tiered cake stands in the marquee groaned under the weight of slices of battenburg, cupcakes, delicious turkish delight scented meringues and chocolate crispie cakes. A huge platter of local cheese was also quickly demolished; a lemony, mousse-like goat being the highlight.

There was even a ice cream truck, popular with both children and the Ewing, who ate both her chocolate cone with chocolate sauce and my mint choc chip with chocolate sprinkles. Strong work.

A visit to the countryside wouldn't be complete without a trip to see the micro pigs (Big Pig and Little Pig) who were chilling out in the sun - at least until you stroked their snouts, to which they responded in a frenzied porcine fashion. On a further recce around the place - Stealth in her brogues, the Ewing in her heels, fitting in just like locals - we also made acquaintance with a brace of very friendly sheep in the lower field.

It wouldn't be a party without cake, and Louis' christening cake (whilst being without a layer of Kate's favourite marzipan) was a buttercream-stuffed spongy delight that went particularly well with a glass of port and a toast to the happy family. 

As if that wasn't enough, a fabulous day was crowned with Mummy P opening a tin to reveal a glorious chocolate cake, baked by her own fair hand. It was quickly dispatched - mostly with the help of the Ewing, who was particularly smitten (with both the baked goods and Mummy P).

As one of my most loyal (only) readers, I was delighted when she allowed me to share both the recipe and this lovely photograph here.

Mummy P’s Chocolate Cake (adapted from The Hotel Inspectors Five Star Classic)

250 g - 70 % good quality dark chocolate broken and gently melted in a large bowl in either a microwave or bain-marie
170 g - unsalted butter
170 g - ground almonds
170 g - golden castor sugar
6 - large eggs
2 tbsp - dark rum
3 tbsp - extra strong coffee
3 – 4 - cardamom pods with seeds extracted and finely ground.

To finish:  
Glazed violet or rose petals (optional) and, if used, gently pressed in to surface when the cake is out of the oven and still slightly very slightly warm

To Serve:
Bowl of whipped cream or crème fraiche (optional)

Generously grease one, deep spring-form cake tin - approx. 24 cm
Place on heavy baking sheet
Heat oven to gas mark 2, electric 150 C, fan oven 130 C
Beat the butter, ground almonds and sugar into the melted chocolate to form a paste
Add the lightly beaten egg yolks, rum, coffee and ground cardamom 
Whisk egg whites until firm
Beat about a quarter of them into the chocolate mix, then add remaining egg whites with a metal spoon keeping the mixture as airy as possible
Pour mixture into the cake tin
Depending on your oven bake from 50 – 80 minutes.  The mixture needs to be risen and soft but firm to touch when pressed in the middle
Leave to cool 

Cooking time depends a little on whether you are serving as a pudding or as a cake.  A shorter cooking time will render a more mousse-like effect, which is lovely served with cream.  A slightly longer cooking time will give a more traditional cake texture.  Both are scrumptious and are so rich that 8 -12 people can have a generous helping - depending on greed quotient. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

64 Degrees and Tilly Gingerbread

Last week saw the Ewing's birthday and after taking her wine tasting, when she had to drive, giving her a t-shirt emblazoned with cats which, even as a avowed feline lover, she has vowed never to wear in public, and then spending the rest of the bank holiday in a caravan in 50 mph winds I thought it only proper to take her out for a belated celebratory meal.

The venue of choice was 64 Degrees in Brighton chef Michael Bremner's small plate pean to dehydrators, blow torches and water baths (the restaurants name coming from the temperature that they cook their hen's eggs). Sat at the snazzy space age counter, a perfect vantage point to watch the chefs work, makes quite a change from the previous week's fish and chips on the beach and pints of bitter in front of the log fire (gas fire).

The menu has three short sections labelled 'Fish,Veg and Meat', obviously we wanted everything. To help while deliberating I enjoyed a Spirit pale Ale, a worryingly new ageish sounding beer from Hug Brewing whose tasty tropical hoppiness belied its low ABV. The Ewing got stuck into a spritzy white from Sussex, served in strange IKEA like tumblers that I nearly accidently topped up from the water carafe several times.

We started with new season's asparagus served with pink grapefruit, hollandaise and almond. Any shred of decorum left went out the window as we attacked this with fingers, harder than it looks when your sitting on a stool and sharing a plate; luckily both shirt fronts and dignity were left intact. A dish with a real spring in it's step, both literally and figuratively.

Next up was tuna, seared and sliced and served with a passion fruit emulsion, pomegranate, radish and micro coriander. Again a plate of fresh simplicity, the clean, sweet fish holding up well to the funky, sharp notes of the fruit.

Croquettes of sticky shreds of compressed pork cheek encased in breadcrumbs, came hot and crisp from the fryer and were served with a mushroom ketchup of deep fungal depth, even if it wasn't much of a looker. Alongside was yet more fruit, this time in the form of charred lime, and a tangle of pickled onions which both cut through the richness admirably.

The final savoury plate of smoked chicken, peas and whelks was a late switch that saw us jettisoning a lamb rump and seaweed dish. The Ewing was scared by the whelks, after being scarred several times previously - most notably during a 'romantic' meal in Paris that saw us grimacing over blubbery pigs trotters and rubbery fruit de mer - but thankfully it turned out to be a very sound move.

It may not have been the best looking thing we ate, but I think the pea mousse/foam, as Exorcist like as it appeared, was the highlight of our whole meal (it was divine!- TE). The sweet whelks were chopped finely enough to avoid being their usual briny choking hazard and the gentle smokiness of chicken rounded out proceedings. 

The rum jelly bear has already become a bit of cult choice for pud; it's boozy, jellied deliciousness only improved by a Tony Montana-esque pile of citric sherbet served alongside it. Proving that you can still have fun as a grown up.

There was also espresso and, very good, chocolate truffles for the the more adult amongst us, although I think the Ewing felt a little pang of jealousy when she saw the impressive looking chocolate malt desert make its way to an adjacent table (looked amazing-had serious pudding envy - TE).

As we were paying the bill one of the charming team of staff asked us what our plans were for after lunch. After being so well fed, even we felt a little embarrassed to say 'going for an ice cream', so we cited the less greedy sunding option of 'going for a walk' instead. Before then feeling obliged to valiantly stretch our legs along the seafront, so we could at least try and blame the sea air for sharpening our appetites so quickly.

Fortuitously Boho Gelato, a experimental micro ice cream parlour renowned for it's quirky flavours such as bourbon and bourbon (biscuit and whiskey), beer sorbet and cucumber and rose. The Ewing surpassed herself with a triple scoop of licorice, chocolate cherry pavlova and Small Batch coffee sorbet, and easily dispatched the towering mountain of ice cream.

Rex & Mariano on Urbanspoon

When I came to pick my flavour, there could only be one choice. The blackberry, gingerbread and white chocolate (with a scoop of cinnamon and fig on top) as, after an impatient nine months of baking, we had heard the exciting news that the Gingerbread baby - nicknamed after my brother-in-law's 'strawberry blonde' hair - had been born in Sydney the day before. A very memorable way to mark my sister's first (Australian) Mother's Day.

Obviously, being the loveliest baby that you ever did see, I'm obliged to share at least one picture of little Matilda Rose. And this one, with a very proud Grandad Tom, is a favourite. I'm already looking forward to sharing a few bottles (milk to start with, of course) with her.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Sunday Bunday

So, it finally looks like Grandad's on the move. After nearly 89 years in Harrow and it's surrounds (discounting the 'lost' teenage years spent working in a shoe shop in Leigh-on-Sea and a stint serving in Germany during WW2), he's moved down to Wimborne for some southern sun and sea air.

While, hopefully, this change of scenery is going to be a good thing for him it means that we won't have the need to chug up the A40 come the weekend. Deciding to fit in one last hoorah we headed to the inauspicious surroundings of the East Pan Asian restaurant, found above the Loon Fung supermarket in Alperton before a Sunday visit for tea at Grandad's.

While it doesn't look like much from the outside, upstairs is a large and modern restaurant that was teeming with Chinese faces and empty dishes. Always a promising sign. Daytime dining means the choice of large dim sum menu, while they also offer a decent selection of sushi rolls sashimi and tempura (with fresh fish from the supermarket below), alongside rice dishes, soup and noodles.

One of the delights of eating dim sum is filling in the menu yourself. Who would have thought being given a stubby pencil and a sheet full of unintelligible squiggles would be so much fun - and while most the dishes have translations, a few don't. Probably, I'm guessing, as they contain some variety of internal organs. Worth a try if you're feeling lucky...

To drink was an endless pot of jasmine tea, another source of amusement for our simple minds as the Ewing and I always insist of serving each other and tapping the table in some ham fisted attempt at Chinese decorum. 

Also, unlike most meals, dim sum doesn't seem to miss an alcoholic accompaniment. Yes, a cold lager will always do nicely alsongside, but the tannin in the tea does a very fine job of washing away all the salt and fat and doesn't make you feel quite as much of a lush. And without those 'essential' bloody marys and bucks fizz, it also makes it the most affordable of brunch options.

Cheung fun stuffed with beef and water Chestnut Steamed and Pork & Prawn Bean Curd Roll were the first out. Both solid were choices; the slithery rice dough of the cheung fun that I found so strange the first time I tried it (on a failed date in Chinatown, the lack of romantic spark not down to my table manners) has become one of my favourite dim sum picks.

Next was a tower of steamed goodies. Lurid wasabi infused dumpling wrappers encased a juicy prawn filling, although the Japanese horseradish kick was notably absent. Steamed pork buns, a must with the Ewing around, did the job without too much fanfare and the scallop dumpling were delicate and sweet - although our over-eager waiter whisked away the third one away unbidden, causing some divisional consternation (always try and eat dim sum in multiples of three people, unless you want arguments).

Best of all, from the weekend specials, was a plate of mixed roast meats that included the distinctive red-edged char sui tenderloin, slow cooked belly pork with its creamy frill of fat and a magnificent duck breast, with a crisp bronzed and lacquered skin that wouldn't have looked out of place on TOWIE.

Alongside - following the only bit of advise I have ever heeded from Giles Coren, a self-confessed expert in eating Chinese food - we chose a dish of greens to add a modicum of fibre to proceedings. This time it was stir fried gai lan, or Chinese broccoli, with a touch of oyster sauce and plenty of garlic and ginger.

We finished with little fried custard buns (only at the weekends, although you can get the steamed version all week) which were like a superior fairgound doughnut - the puffy and crisp outer casing giving way to a dense, sweet eggy filling. Better than jam and caster sugar, any day of the week.

Grandad may have moved south, but we'll be back soon to enjoy this piece of the East in West London - especially when the supermarket below sells such delights as the Lonely God vegetable flavoured maize snack. Befriending a packet of these after a bun feast sure beats church on Sunday.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

King John the Second

Being both greedy and lazy I don't usually write about things twice (I would have also said it's because I avoid repeating myself, but some of you know me in real life...). But a recent weekend at my Mum's, with two meals of beautiful simplicity from my Mum's local, The King John Inn, caused me to reconsider. Well, that and the fact I seem to have  gone home via the pub a lot recently, leading to a reasonable amount of Curry Club and Steak Night, which isn't nearly as photogenic.

The first meal of the weekend wasn't at the pub proper but the Old Cartshed (or village hall to any one not from these parts), a few hundred yards down the road. Pictured above during the Jubilee celebrations.

Once a month, on a Friday night, the locals convene here for fish and chips - pre-ordered and cooked at the King John before being carted down the lane by the locals - and enjoyed with BYO beer and wine and pots of tea, followed by a quiz and then a singalong around the old joanna (I may have made that last detail up). Before returning the pots and pans back to the pub and washing down dinner with a few more ales.

Our motor down was hampered somewhat by sheep in the road, and a little more by roadworks around Basingstoke, but Mum had popped our fish in the oven to stay warm. Despite it's tin foil incineration, the batter carapace on my monster cod fillet had stayed admirably crisp, the fish within firm and flaky.

Homemade tartare sauce - rich mayo studded with poky capers and gherkins - was spot on and the crushed garden peas, Sarsons and Heinz were all present and correct. The only grumble came with the chips. These are more rustling fries than familiar fat battens of potato that usually accompany this British staple, and are something of a bone of contention amongst the more old school villagers. True, they might not be traditional, but are still mighty good. To top things off we also won the quiz with our superior knowledge of the length of the M1 in the tie break (193.5 miles if you were interested)

The following night we made it back down the pub proper for dinner. Starting with, amongst others, my Mum's dish of choice when she dines here, the Portland crab on toast. It's hard to tire of spanking fresh Dorset seafood, mixed with a a lick of mayo and lemon and served on crisp toast made from their house baked bread - but at ten quid you might expect it to be pretty good.

I was nearly swayed by the pigeon salad with bacon and croutons but in the end the simplicity (and because it sounded so lovely) of the chalk stream trout sashimi won out. It was without superlative; fatty, sweet slices of beautifully fresh fish, with none of the dank muddy flavour that sometimes blights these river dwellers, and served Japanese style with soy and an eye watering blob of wasabi; a cracking plate to start.

Mains were equally noteworthy. A brace of pan fried baby Dover sole with hollandaise sauce, purple sprouting broccoli, spring greens and cute as a button (and not much bigger) Jersey Royals was simple seasonal cooking at its very finest. Last time I ate here a single (larger) fish cost a pony (in the Cockney vernacular, not a relic of livestock trading), but this came in at an entirely reasonable (if hardly cheap) 17 pounds.

My Mum's majestic looking pie with a proper suet crust pastry also deserves a mention. There is something wonderfully old fashioned about a suet crust, and this example was properly crisp on top and nicely soggy beneath, filled with simply braised local lamb and served with a pile of buttery mash and greens.

My pud was a white chocolate terrine (they also do a great dark chocolate one, served with a Seville coffee) with early English strawberries and cream. This had an admirably light texture while still being creamy and rich but, with the ripple of jammy berry compote swirled through, a touch too sweet for me.

Better were a plate of their signature beignets. On the left are apple-stuffed balls of freshly fried dough, served with a salted caramel sauced (and a spiced cider shot), that I enjoyed last time we ate here. On the right is the Ewing's lemon curd doughuts served with a sharp lemon posset. These were peerless as ever

The King John isn't a bargain (although my Mum reports a recent £20 prix fixe at lunchtime) but it does have a (very) local and seasonal menu of well cooked food. For those not wanting to eat the beer is well kept  - often featuring Sixpenny brews from a couple of miles up the road, alongside Ringwood and Badger - there's log fires in the winter, a leg of ham carved to order on the bar and plenty of corduroy, gun dogs and gin. Perfect for a proper weekend in the sticks.

King John Inn on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Winner, Winner

Once, long long ago and suffering from a hangover that Pot Noodles and Monster Munch were simply not going to shift, we were blacklisted from Pamir's Chicken in Bournemouth. True, we had commandeered Stealth - with her clipped Home Counties mumble - to order the grub for the ten or so beleaguered souls that were sprawled on my sister's living room floor, but having our order rudely terminated by a disbelieving Pamir dented my faith in fried food somewhat. We phoned out for pizza instead.

However deep the disappointment was, it couldn't dent my deep love of our feathered friends. And, back in my familiar London stomping ground of the Walworth Road, I was excited to see new opening, CheeMc, 'Korean Chicken Dish Specialist' - complete with a neon giant glowing chicken emerging from a beer glass on its sign. 

We kicked off with some gratis cubes of crunchy pickled radish and a plate of, pretty perfect, kimchi from the list of snacks/starters. Sadly the (flavourless but authentic - and cheap) Hite was out of stock, so we made do with a couple of - not quite cold enough - Asahi.

The menu is hugely comprehensive, with a dizzying variety of bimbap and stir fries and other weird and wonderful things, helpfully illustrated by a photo guide. One thing that was missing are any recognizable side dishes to go with the chicken. I quite fancied a few simple carbs to help with all the spice and fat, but the closest I could find were some taro chips with strange vegetable powder coating.

Thankfully the chicken was so good it didn't need anything to distract from it's majesty. We ordered a whole bird, one half sweet chilli and one half soy and something? (after my first two choices were off the menu I allowed the waitress chose, with the proviso it was spicy). When the dishes arrived, my half draped with fiery fresh chillies and glowing a menacing red colour, I knew she hadn't let me down.

This was hawt with a capital H. The kind of chilli heat that, as you gnaw the crisp-crusted chicken from its bone makes your lips start to tingle and puff up rather like Leslie Ash melded with the Bride of Wildenstein.

It's also incredibly messy, sticky fun. The whole bird is cleaved into pieces before being coated in the crackly carapace and freshly fried. If you don't like teasing flesh from the grisly bony bits (as the ungrateful Stealth proclaimed when we took her the leftovers) you probably need to go a few doors up for the KFC boneless box.

As it was, we had no issues divesting all the flesh from bones, and bloody good it was too. Whilst, blowing my own trumpet somewhat, my homemade Korean fried chicken gives it a run for its money, I've sacrificed my deep fat fryer for the Ewing's Nutri Bullet. So it looks like I'll be decamping to Stealth's even more frequently than I do now for a fried food fix. 

Whilst we may have been blackballed by Pamir, new pretenders Chicken Shack (now renamed Chicken and Blues) have opened in Bournemouth and the Ewing and I took a stroll to their Boscombe high street branch for a poultry-based dinner.

It's a tiny little gaff, with bench seating along the right side, a serving/takeaway hatch straight ahead and a menu that's pretty similar to another, rather well known, London chain with chicken in the title, even down to the apple pie for pud (although, sadly served with ice cream and not cream).

The beer was Red Stripe, standard gig lager from my teenage years, where my friends and I would spend the empty hours between the doors opening and the band finally making it on stage smoking ourselves into an early grave and swigging warm cans of Jamaica's finest yellow water. Here - just like at CheeMc - it was served at a little below room temperature, bringing back a few nostalgic memories (sadly I didn't have s packet of B&H in my top pocket to go with it).

The main draw was excellent; barbecued chicken served au naturel or with housemade sauces - including (very) spicy, sweet or smokey  - and served with a pleasingly comforting macaroni cheese and a very good avocado and butterhead lettuce salad with a honey mustard dressing. There was also a decent mixed cabbage coleslaw, with the only criticism being it was too mayo heavy, even for me.

My fried chicken love has been well documented here, I even chose it as this year's Valentine dinner (extra gravy obligatory). But with birds this good in the hood, the Ewing may have a rival for my affections.