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Sunday, 29 November 2009

A feast of a Wedding

A couple of blog posts back I told you about the making of cookies as favours for my neighbours Jo and Mick's wedding. Well the big day was yesterday and what a day it was! The bride looked gorgeous and the groom very handsome in his bestoke suit. I nearly blubbed as they said their vows but I held back my tears of joy in a very manly way. :0) I have never seen such a happy couple and I hope that you join me in wishing them all the best.

The reception was super, the food first class and the wine flowed at the Chequers Restaurant near Belvoir. Yours truly had brilliant time chatting to friends old and new.  The cookie favours were a hit!

I'm off to the NEC today for the BBC Good Food Show with my mate Janette. I've been awake since 5am so I hope that I stay awake for our trip.

French Fancy asked me to add something about about the food so here's a picture of my main and the ginger pudding.

This meal also came with french beans and al dente carrrots.

Ginger pudding.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Sixteen thousand hits!

I've just noticed that  this blog has passed the 16,000 hits mark and I think that deserves a drink. So pour yourselves a glass of what you fancy and I'll raise a glass of beer to my success so far and to you all out there for reading about my food and drink passions. Cheers! Prost! Sante! Bottoms Up!

I tend to talk mainly about food so as a celebration I thought that you might like to know what I like to drink in alcoholic drinks. Spirits are out of the question as they go straight to my head and have a dire effect on my tummy. I once made the foolish mistake of drinking a small bottle of vodka over an evening at home. Home style measurements you know - with a splash of lime. After four or five biggish glasses I tried to phone my mother and fell face down on the floor as my legs went from under me and the telephone shot up in the air. Embarrasing! I don't recall getting to bed but I do recall feeling hideously poisoned the next day. As for going into work - forget it.

Beer I do like as social drink: mainly bottled  beers from the Co-op store in the village. I tend to go for the Czech lager beers (cheap and taste ok) but do love a nice bottle of ale. They have some great names. Here are a few of my faves.

Ruddles County, Abbot Ale, Black Sheep Ale, Waggle Dance – made with honey, Marstons Old Empire,
Wychcraft – blonde beer ( I'm drinking a bottle as I type.)

Even my dinner today was made with Ruddles Best Ale. It was one of the Co-op's truely irresistiable ranges; an Aberdeen Angus steak and Ruddles Best Ale pie with a buttery shortcrust pastry. It was lovely with some simple vegetables and mustard.

As a self-professed Francophile you would suppose that I am knowlegable about wine. Not so - I know a bit from trips to Bordeaux and reading but I am no expert. I tend to like the French whites and quality reds and have a few favourites that I've enjoyed in the past. The average price for any of the ones listed below would be between five and seven pounds. I don't think I've ever paid any more. Neither am I exclusively biased towards wines from France. I have tried and enjoyed Spanish reds, light Italian whites and wines from California and Australia.

Red wines
La Chasse du Pape,
Chateau Laurençon – merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.
Chateau Pierrouselle – entre –deux-mers - a white wine from Bordeaux,
Les Jamelles Viognier
Sancerre blanc

I enjoy Champagne as a drink for a celebration but two flutes is plenty for me as it gives me a banging headache.

Occasionally I will drink cider and see it as a summer drink and great for cooking pork with. Likewise stout or Guinness can be great addition to a stew or drunk on it's own. Go to Dublin for the best Guinness!

Lastly, I sometimes go into La Tasca the tapas chain restaurant and enjoy a Spanish  San Miguel cerveza at the bar with some jamon serrano, olives and tomato bread. Hmm, hungry again now.

Disclaimer: All images in this blog post were taken responsibly and the products depicted tested without spillage by the photographer/writer who is over 21 years of age. Just.   :0)

Cheers everyone! Do tell me what you like to drink too.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Do me a favour...

My soon to be married neighbour, Jo, popped round to see me the other day and asked if I would be happy to help her make some ‘Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies’ from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Christmas recipe book. I said that I would love too, and we met up this morning and worked on them in her kitchen for a couple of hours. Mick, her husband to be, took some of the pictures and their cats Harris and Soufie did their best not to leap up on the side whilst we were creating the cookies. I could just imagine the cats suprised look as their  crash landing caused a baking tray full of wet cookie mix to be cat- a pulted across the kitchen. One of the pre-oven cookies did get ditched after Harris got sneakily over enthusiastic with his cat tongue though! Bad Harris! lol

I’m not going to copy the recipe out on the blog post today (page 208 if you have the book) but I would say that they were very easy to make and gave me the very first experience of ‘folding’ the mixture with the benefit of adding air to the mix. It makes your wrist ache but the final cookies were certainly worth it.

Pre-oven cookies.

Nigella recommends dried cranberries in the mix and chopped pecans as well as the white chocolate chips, egg, vanilla extract, flour,butter, sugars and rolled oats base.

The cookies are going to be used as favours for their wedding this weekend – if they last that long!

Thanks Mick for the photos of me and Jo in the kitchen – just wish I didn’t look quite so camp in this one below! The cat looking on is Soufie.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Christmas? Already? Stir up Sunday?

Apparently today, in the UK, is 'Stir up Sunday.' I have to admit that this is a new one on me. I heard this on the local radio and felt I should check it out on the internet asap. On doing so, I have since discovered that ‘Stir up Sunday’ refers to the day that, traditionally, the Christmas pudding is made, usually about five weeks before Christmas itself. From my own childhood, I recall my step mum, Marnie, making a larder (or pantry) full of these unctuous puddings. In my childhood and teens in the 1970s the delicious pudding aromas floated through our house like the Bisto gravy urchins cartoon-like depictions, as they steamed away in the much used pressure cooker on the stove. I think my step mum and my Dad paid a fair amount for that pressure cooker and used it to cook practically everything.

Traditionally, in England, the customs surrounding making the Christmas pudding brought the whole family together as each one took a turn to stir the mixture and make a wish combined with the adding of sixpenny bits or even the reckless extravagance of contributing one shilling coins to the mix. Nowadays this would be two and a half pence or five pence. Back in the 1970s, as young folk, we would have seen these coins as a small prize.

According to my internet research, the tradition (for those who still make their own home-made pudds) is still as essential to a British Christmas as it ever was. Traditionally, the Christmas pudding comes at the end of the largest dinner of the year and demands a huge appetite and a staunch constitution. And an ability to fall asleep in front of a James Bond film or a repeat of The Sound of Music or Ant & Dec ruin Christmas style programme.

Getting serious.

Historically, early Christmas puddings contained some meat, usually mutton or beef as well as onions, wine, spices and dried fruit. The tradition of Christmas pudding did not appear in England until introduced to the Victorians by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. By this time the pudding looked and tasted much as it does today. Dickens, in the writing of A Christmas Carol made much show of the excitement created in the poor Cratchitt household when the Christmas pudding was brought steaming to the table and flaming with brandy. Enough to make even the crippled Tiny Tim hop around with joy!

Flaming the pudding is another tradition, believed to represent the passion of Christ, and again is an essential part of the theatre of Christmas day. Eating Christmas pudding was banned by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century because he believed the ritual of flaming the pudding harked back to pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.

The perfect pudding should be dense, moist and oozing with the decadence of rich sugary fruits and brandy. Making one does take time with at least thirteen ingredients (to represent Christ and his disciples) also to weigh; time indeed, to marinate and the actual steaming which takes at least 7 hours. But, once made, and put away in a cool, dry place, needs only a further hour steaming on the day itself.

I recall my step mum using beef suet in her ingredients which makes for a heavier pudding but an altogether more satisfying Crimbo pudd experience.

Step Mum, Marnie, looking suprised in the kitchen.

Myself, my half brother and  step-sisters, were equally passionate about consuming the pudding and had an almost religious fervour in the attaining of the coins buried within the pudding!

A childhood Christmas from the early 1970s

Lastly, it has to be eaten with warm custard on the day – you can add your fancy splashes of brandy or cointreau but English custard is the very best!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Antipasto? Yummy. Bring on the dry cured meats!

Selection of antipasto served at the Broadway cinema

If anything tickles my tastebuds it's a selection of continental cured meats and a nice salad with olives and perhaps a glass of chilled white wine and some hunks of pain rustique. I have a particular craving for the french style saucisson sec and when I am fortunate enough to have it my larder I find it hard to leave alone. It's great  thinly sliced and nibbled on as a meaty snack for breakfast, lunch or supper.

Saucisson sec
The local supermarket does an antipasto pack by Fiorucci and it contains prosciutto (dry cured pork leg slices), salami Milano (dry cured pork salami) and slices of coppa (dry cured cuts of pork collar) all of which don't last long in my house.

They also stock a small range of cooked and smoked sausages from the French company Aoste including a rich red peppery spanish chorizo that personally I like to slice and put into a tomato based stew with butter beans and fresh herbs.

One of my other favourite cooked meats is pastrami- yummy in a big fat beef tomato filled ciabatta roll still warm from the oven.

Pastrami with herbs

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Sat Bains – Michelin star chef from Nottingham.

I met the chef Sat Bains briefly during the inaugural Nottingham Food Festival in September of this year and watched his cookery demonstration and that of his young chef who had just won Young Chef of the Year. Sat was very engaging and for a high end chef – very down to earth, charming and plain speaking.

I want to give you a flavour of the man and his restaurant even though I have never had the privilege of eating there yet. One of his exquisite meals would cost me more than a whole week’s dole money. One day, one day.

His restaurant with rooms has the reputation of being a bit difficult to find but well worth the journey once you get there. In order to take the photos of the building I went for a long walk through Wilford village – having got the bus from my village of Ruddington – via the Ferry pub and across the winding and flooded river Trent towards Lenton and a massive industrial estate. I had a rough idea of where I was heading to but asked a few people on the way for directions.

In the Ferry pub I had a half pint of Autumn Leaves bitter and asked the barmaid if she knew where Sat Bains’ place was. She had no idea who he was and asked an older member of staff who thought that he had a restaurant in town (Nottingham). As the Ferry pub do very nice food I assumed they would be aware of the local foodie, scene, but no. Refreshed from my quick drink I headed out again in the cold and wind across the river bridge and past the pungent Pork Farms factory and up to the edge of the big and complex motorway roundabout.

Having walked for three quarters of an hour already I wanted to find the most direct route to the restaurant. I knew that I was going in roughly the right direction and chose to take myself down a dodgy looking underpass as a quick way of getting safely across the other side of the busy traffic lanes. I stopped a woman in a fetching food stained pink tracksuit and asked her for directions. She too had no idea who Sat Bains was but suggested the cheap and cheerful Harry Ramsden’s Fish and Chip Emporium further back. ‘Maybe he works there’ she suggested. I tried not to laugh and thanked her for her help. We’ll come back to my journey in a minute. The following was written by a contributor to the online site Travel Advisor.

‘The finest cuisine in the former gastronomic wasteland of Nottingham is served in this dining room installed in a hotel at the end of a small lane, home to a number of low-slung Victorian houses near the River Trent. The setting on this quiet lane is elegant with stone floors, classy black-and-white photographs, and low ceilings. The chef, Sat Bains, continues to polish his classic repertoire by using rigorous, precise cooking techniques and flawless ingredients. He's known for his intriguing "marriages" of flavours such as roast scallops with braised oxtail or Dover sole with Hereford snails. One of our favourite dishes is poached and roasted wild duck accompanied by beans and hazelnuts with a Banyuls sauce. His winning dish from BBC Two’s Great British Menu, peas, pea and mint sorbet and Jabugo ham still appears on RSB’s tasting menu but it is a restaurant where they are constantly creating new and exciting menus.’

It was a blustery mid-afternoon when I took my long walk so I didn’t see any adventurous foodies beating a path to his door yesterday. I came out of the underpass and crossed another busy road. Knowing I was close I asked two Asian lads having a fag break outside Welcome Finance if they knew where the restaurant was. The taller of the two asked if it was ‘the posh place’ and enquired if I was a chef. I concurred that it was ‘the posh place’ and that I wanted to be food writer. Apparently I was still a long way away and if I went down a narrow lane over the road, alongside the motorway, I would be there in twenty minutes. I’d already walked for forty-five minutes and, thanking them, I attempted to cross the side road, dodging through a lane of impatient drivers. Twenty minutes huh?

Within two minutes I had reached the brown tourist sign and was alarmed by a golf ball slamming into said sign seconds after I had taken the picture. Before I became the Nottingham Evening Post headline of ‘local man killed by mad golfer on country lane’ I packed away my camera and headed down Old Lenton Lane. Within ten minutes I was photographing the exterior of Sat’s establishment for you lovely readers. The skies had started to bruise, threatening a downpour and I discovered an alternative route home that took me along the top of the motorway and was a mere fifteen minutes walking to my bus stop home! I know now, for next time.

So, after all that journey for my blog pictures I expect you would like to know a little more about Sat Bains, our Nottingham food hero and Michelin star holder. I have sourced the following information from the Olive Magazine, Sat and Amanda Bain’s own website and internet references.

The ‘restaurant with rooms’ website is definitely worth looking at and I loved the ambient chatter that forms the soundtrack of the main page.

‘Sat Bains, Michelin star chef redefining high end British food at his Lenton based restaurant mixing classical French rigour with a painstaking respect for produce (over 170 suppliers including his local postman who collects mushrooms for him!)’

Gordon Ramsey has quoted Sat as being the only Michelin star chef in Nottingham whose cooking continually pushes the boundaries of expectation.

Sat’s personal and culinary awards: Taken from the timeline on Sat Bains' website. There are many other awards and important food events on the timeline to peruse. These are just a selection.

1999 Roux Scholarship

2005 Represents Great Britain at Madrid Fusion showcasing dishes from his kitchen to over 400 gastronauts.

2006 The Times newspaper’s Top Ten restaurants with rooms award.

2006/07 Restaurant of the year England AA Restaurant Guide.

2007 Good Food Guide. Number 17 out of 40 best restaurants in the UK.

2009 January. Retains Michelin Star for 2009. Michelin Red Guide.

2009. May Olive Magazine. Gordon Ramsay Top 7 restaurants in the UK

The way home! Much shorter than the way there!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

I'm not that old - yet!

I fully admit I don't do as much exercise as perhaps I should at the tender age of 53 and I concour that exercise is as important as eating heathily (well almost) and  a vital part of staying healthy in one's middle years. So, having been under the weather of late and mixing socially and theatrically with of lovely bunch of younger folk in their twenties and thirties I think the male menopause has finally hit home and made me consider the,  'I'm not as young as I was', decision, to take some gentle excerise. 'Author swigs  greedily from glass of beer as he considers the next stage of writing this post.'

Thinks, "hmmm Gentle Fitness, huh?"

So dear reader, whilst shopping in the local supermarket the other day, I picked up (notice, weight training involved here) a dvd called Gentle Fitness and according to the reverse text it is designed to be followed in one's pyjamas in front of the telly. I don't wear pyjamas so I guess that naked in front of the TV will do just as well, should the need arise.In for a penny, in for a pound.

It only cost £3.99 and promised to make one more supple and benefit from an increase in general stamina. Sounded good. I always liked Tai Chi when I practised it in  the past. I enjoy being naked too and watching TV. Not always at the same time, but, naughty reader, such a confession would be giving too much away! lol

I put the dvd in the TV/DVD combo and pressed play. Admittedly, an effort in itself involving index finger dexterity and some concentrated eye co-ordination. An attractive, slim and grey-haired lady, appeared on my screen and I marvelled at her ability to sit with her legs folded under her torso without screaming with the nerve numbing pain of cramps. It too, was incredible that she was  able to maintain that position and then, actually be able to get up and walk without her knees cracking or, looking like she  had, very recently, suffered un accident terrible in the underpants department. Cooly, she demonstrated the soothing applications of self massage - steady Phil - and softly pummelled her downy chin, her facial cheeks, sensous earlobes etc; all accompanied with her husky old hippy voice un-self-consciously explaining each indulgent carressing stroke of Gentle Fitness bliss. Then, and only then, the camera revealled the class members behind her and their slavishly, chronically arthritic. attempts to follow their 'silver stroker' guruette.

It was a total shock! No smiling nubile or Amazonian  lycra clad devotees in this dvd, all bending over and toned, oh no. Just some ancient old chap called Norris wheeled in from the back room of the morgue and a dribbling and shaky old biddy galliantly struggling just to lift her No 9 knitting needles! As it says in my title - I'm not that old -yet!

That dvd is going to the village Help the Aged charity shop as soon as the doors open on Monday and I am getting my pristine bike out from its cobwebby semi-retirement in the coal shed. I am sure there are some weights under my bed too. Now where is that beer? Beer belly? What beer belly?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Phil at the local chippy

Over the last few days I was approached by the owner of the local fish and chip shop as he wanted me to take some photos of his business for him to create his own blog or website. His establishment do some great fish and chips and kebabs and his homemade fish cakes are to die for. Kevin Carlin- the owner in question- is a very pleasant chap and is amusingly camera shy. The last time I did a blog post about his shop he actually ran into the back room so I couldn't take his picture.

I enjoyed spending five minutes behind the counter photographing the pies and other hot food items in the cabinets and put them on a disc for him free of charge.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Chef Kim did good!

Just got back from the first night of Festen at The Lace Market Theatre and all went superbly. Fantastic show and fantastic cast, Fantastic director, set designer and backstage gang.

Kim the chef (yours truly) did great and was perfect as the semi-sozzled chef in the production. Yay! I helped serve that lobster soup! I brought on two dinner plates! I helped move tables and dress them! I helped serve the breakfast after the drama! I looked pissed and said my lines correctly.Go chef Kim!!!!  Bring on the Schnapps!!!

Picture courtesy of Mark James.

Festen (Celebration) continues at The Lace Market Theatre until Saturday evening.

See also previous post:

Images by Mark James for Festen

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Full English by Tom Parker Bowles - a review

Whilst hanging around the Nottingham branch of Waterstone’s bookshop I saw Tom Parker Bowles’ paperback book ‘Full English – a journey through the British and their food’ on sale. I couldn’t really justify buying the book with my wallet being as empty as it at the moment but had a flick through and decided that I would try and get it through my local library on loan for nothing.

The library service took about a week to get the book for me and I found it very entertainingly written, historically fascinating food-wise and pretty much un-put-downable. The book covers much more than this but I really enjoyed reading about the cooking standards of the best fish and chips, the author’s love of Bury prime black pudding, home cured Wiltshire bacon and the passionate makers of Jamie Montgomery’s unpasteurised Cheddar cheese.

Tom Parker Bowles covers The West, The North, The Midlands, The East, London and a finishes off with Full English. There are also regional recipes for: pigeons in cider with apples; brawn, cheese toast or English rabbit; apple and rhubarb crumble; Lancashire hotpot; potted shrimps; battered tripe; Winnie’s Eccles cakes; mutton and spinach; real pork scratchings; balti chicken and mushroom; dressed crab; Kentish huffkins; roast bone marrow and parsley salad’ steak and kidney and oyster pudding; eel pie; devilled kidneys; kedgeree and snipe on toast as well as others.

He also talks about the TV show where Heston Blumenthal went into the Little Chef at Popham to change the image and food fare for the better. I, upon reading this next bit, actually got teary when, after all the change of décor and complete revamp of menu, the waitress asked one couple as they left the premises, ‘Did you enjoy your lunch?’ Beaming, they replied ‘Can’t you see the satisfaction on our faces?’

I would say the same of this book. Highly recommended and a very full and satisfying read. I loved reading too about all the colourful characters that pepper his journey. Thank you

Friday, 6 November 2009

A scary secret revealed....

As my regular readers will be aware I am a member of the Lace Market Theatre, an amateur theatre in Nottingham. I act there ( Abigail's Party a few weeks ago) and have recently been complimented on my photography of the studio production of Kindertransport. The producer of the next main production, the very disturbing drama Festen, kindly asked me to take the photos for the production which is on next week. So last Sunday I went down to the theatre to check out the lighting situation in readiness for my opportunity to take photos at their dress rehearsals on Wednesday past and this Sunday. Got that? Good.

Plays at the theatre usually require three months rehearsal and people put in a tremendous amount of unpaid effort and their own spare time to create a very high standard of theatrical experience for the paying audiences. Imagine my suprise when Roger, the director asked me to step into a small role of 'Kim the chef' due to the previous actor being very unreliable. The previous actor got sacked and I stepped into his size nines and chef's whites. Within a period of just seven days I have had to learn four pages of tense dialogue and quite a bit of action on stage as well as understand the storyline of a family celebration and sibling allegations of former child abuse by the father of the family. The large cast have been very welcoming and I'm looking forward to performing again in a role so different from Lawrence in Abigail's Party.

Phil as Kim the chef - mean, moody and Danish.

I haven't mentioned this to some of my friends because I felt that I had enough to cope with learning the part properly in such a short period as well as have the added stress of them saying that they might come and see it.

As Kim the chef I also have to help move massive tables on stage with  fellow actors to create the family table scenes of the 60th birthday celebration (Festen is Danish for celebration) as well as deal with man-handling a dozen hot bowls of soup up a dark flight of stairs to a backstage trolley. Later I help set the same table with a full continental breakfast in the last scene. And then there's the very important lines to be confident with and deliver them in a subtle/drunken way. Pressure? Stress? Hmmm! Schnapps anyone?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Looking for work in the food industry - a short journey

In my efforts to find work in the food industry I walked around an area near to Nottingham called West Bridgford this morning and picked up a surprising amount of leads and information.

I took my camera and photographed all the food places I thought that I might be interested in working for. Those included some continental style café restaurants and a few delis like No8 (a nice venue covered in a previous blog post). Marks & Spencer have also got a Simply Food branch there on Albert Road and I quizzed one of the staff about recruitment. Sadly I had just missed one phase of their recent recruitment but was advised to keep my eye on the M&S website.

I had a quick coffee in No8 and then went down to another shopping street slightly off West Bridgford town centre. I had been informed that there was a fishmonger’s there (not so many left on our high streets these days). Mr Mordue the fishmonger is about to retire and the shop has been bought by another gent who showed me a magazine called Nottingham Flavours. It looked interesting and on a quick glance through I thought that it might get me some more leads to possible work. I’m going to phone them later and see if I can get hold of a copy of the magazine for myself.

I called into the Tall Frog Deli and picked up a very nice warm vegetable samosa to eat on the way home and as I strolled in the sunshine I caught sight of a fashion house called Signature -Steakhouse and Designer Boutique –Where Food and Fashion Meet at 100 Melton Road West Bridgford NG2 6ET.


Intrigued as to how that might work I crossed the busy road and ended up chatting to the warm and friendly owner, a gentleman called Ash Massadeh. He and his wife have previously successfully run the fashion side of their business at another venue in West Bridgford and have moved to the larger property to expand into the restaurant business too. Over a coffee he explained that they are excited about the restaurant starting business and have a great following of fashion clients who are keen to book for the restaurant. However, British Gas are causing them frustration and delay because they don’t currently have an active supply of gas to cook with! I thanked him for the coffee and wished them luck with the steakhouse.