Wednesday, 31 December 2008

another year over... and here's to 2009!

Wow! Where did that one go?

Well, wherever it went, I'm certainly looking forward to the next one. 2008 hasn't seen a great deal of kitchen action from me (having it rebuilt for half of the year didn't exactly help, while family and personal illness occupied far too much of the rest of the year), so I'm ready and raring to go in 2009. Whether I can get myself sufficiently organised to take pictures at the same time remains to be seen. You never know.

I will read more, write more, and eat more. I will try not to drink more unless it's non-alcoholic. Which seems unlikely.

And what else can I promise you?

Ah, yes. There will be a lot more of this:


chocolate


Chocolate is the new wine. Yes, really. Just you wait. And then remember where you heard it first.

So there you are. That's me.

And you? Well, whatever you're doing, and whatever your hopes, dreams and resolutions for 2009, I hope you have a wonderful, all-star, food- and fun-filled time.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

AFoS xx

Monday, 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Yep, it's that time again!

So sorry for not having blogged recently - I've been struck down with the horrible winter vomiting virus (the norovirus), and am only now beginning to feel half-human again. On the upside, I'm a few pounds lighter, so have more room to pack away a hearty Christmas feast if I can face food again by then...

Anyway, enough of that. As well as being frustrated at not being able to post anything here recently, I've missed you all, and have missed being able to read your wonderfully entertaining and engaging blogs. I look forward to doing much better in 2009!

So, until then - a very merry Christmas, and a fantastic New Year to everyone!

AFoS
xx

Saturday, 6 December 2008

*waves*

Oooooeeeeeee! I'm back...

... and off out again straightaway. Going back this afternoon to the delectable Rococo store to learn how to temper chocolate by hand. Heh. Methinks it could all get a bit messy...

Anyway, more soon...

AFoS x

Saturday, 15 November 2008

there will now be a short interlude...

... while I go on holiday for a couple of weeks.

See you later!

AFoS

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

a load of fuss about muffin: peanut butter and chocolate muffins

Oh dear. It's been a while again, hasn't it?

I seem to be perpetually buried under a pile of papers, emerging from time to time only to take the cat for emergency visits to the vet (he's not been a well chappie), or for other incredibly exciting domestic tasks such as shopping, going to the bank, etc.

And this week is no exception, not least because I'll be off and away for 2 weeks from Friday. Wa-hey! But in the meantime, I've got stacks of work to send out and bill, holiday stuff to sort out, etc, etc, etc. Bleurgh.

But.

But. A couple of weekends ago I had a quick go at making some muffins, the recipe for which had rather grabbed me. It said chocolate. It said peanut butter. It said muffins. You get my drift?

Let me make one thing clear. I am not much of a muffin fan. I love English (savoury) muffins, but US-style muffins - well, I just don't see the point. Give me a good old-fashioned slice of cake, preferably crammed with a buttercream filling and slathered with more of the same on top, anytime.

But I don't want to be excused of closing my mind to things. No, not me. I am bold, bloody, and resolute. So here, possibly for the first and last time, I bring you muffins, US-stylee.


peanut butter and chocolate muffins


Were they any good?

Well, yes, actually. Plenty of peanut flavour and plenty of chocolate (always a good thing, obviously). And moist. So, as muffins go, a definite thumbs-up.

And here, so that you can share the love, is the recipe I used, taken from Baking Bites:

Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (or smooth)
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (low fat or skim is fine)
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
Divide batter into your paper-lined muffin tin. Each cup should be filled to the top, not just half way up, to ensure you get a nice dome on the muffin.
Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the top of the muffin springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12.

I'll confess to having used buttermilk instead of ordinary milk, and dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate chips. The buttermilk worked (giving the muffins more of a scone look on top), but I think milk chocolate would have been marginally preferable to dark chocolate. Whatevah. Do your own thing.

Next time (if there is a next time), I'll add bananas, too. Because I can. I know no bounds.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

I should cocoa.... a workshop at Rococo

rococo bag

OK, OK, I hear you. I've been meaning to post about this since the day itself, but have been stupidly busy with work. Anyway, here - finally - goes... Oh, and sorry, but there are very few photos - simply didn't have the opportunity. Busy making chocolates, believe it or not.

First, the shop. What a beautiful place. Located on gorgeous Motcomb Street in poshest London (Belgravia, for the uninitiated), and opposite another fabulous foodie destination, Ottolenghi, Rococo is an oasis of all things chocolate and... well, Rococo. It was warm, inviting, visually appealing in every way, and wonderfully spacious. A real browser’s delight.

And it doesn’t just sell chocolates. It sells a range of teas, coffees, and hot chocolate (well, of course) – all with the option of truffles in accompaniment. Mmmmm.....

The workshop itself was divided in half: one half devoted to actually making the ganache, and the other half an introduction to chocolate and a tutored tasting by Chantal Coady, the woman who started Rococo back in the eighties, straight out of art school. Talk about having vision.

I opted to start in the group making the ganache – a fortunate decision, as it turned out, as we overran... So we got the benefit of even more time with the chocolatier, the lovely Laurent, than planned.

Not a moment of that time was wasted. Laurent was an excellent tutor – engaging, amusing, but absolutely dedicated to the process of making perfect chocolates. This wasn’t just a ‘play’ session – this was for real. Gulp.

We learnt about the chemistry of making the perfect ganache, and then learnt how to look for the signs of it all going right or wrong at every stage. And it requires a fine and experienced eye. The tiniest amount of graininess (imperceptible to all of us except for beady-eyed Laurent) to the chocolate/cream/butter mixture indicates trouble – with the patience of a saint on a very generous retainer, Laurent showed us how to use a hand blender and the microwave to rescue it.

Finally, after much beating and cajoling, the mixture turns from being slick and shiny to something more ‘fulsome’, for want of a better word, and with more of a sheen than a shine. And this is the perfect ganache – not a stodgy mix of the ingredients, like the truffles I’ve made before using a Nigel Slater ‘recipe’, but a smoother-than-smooth liquid emulsion. A perfect blend of fat and water. Genuine magic. Alchemy, even.

We each then poured our glossy ganaches into plastic cartons for chilling in the fridge (so that the ganache could firm up) before going back upstairs to the shop for the second part of the afternoon.


chocolate ganache

in that there container is a minor fortune's worth of ganache. The couverture alone that went into it was about seven quids' worth. And yes, I am going to eat it all. And no, I don't need any help.

Chantal gave us a fascinating talk and slide show of chocolate production using her slides taken at the Grenada Chocolate Company – in which Rococo has considerable investment. All an eye-opening experience for me, as a self-confessed novice in all things cocoa. I didn’t know, for example (the shame, the shame), that cocoa pods grew straight out of the tree branches/trunks. Or that the raw cocoa bean has a colour and texture much like lychee. Perhaps most amazing, though, was learning that the whole harvest-to-bar process at the GCC is undertaken by hand, with the help of a few tinpot (usually secondhand, from the US) machines. It really is a cottage enterprise, and it’s little wonder that Chantal is so passionate about it. It’s also no surprise that the resulting chocolate bars aren’t cheap at £4.95 a (100g) throw.

And then, the tasting. For Chantal, it’s all about ‘character’. Invariably, she said, she thinks of different types of bars as having their own distinct personality, and this is how she remembers them. The case in point here was Rococo’s Manjari bar, a feisty, lively ‘lady in red’ (her words, not mine) head-turning bar – the Penelope Cruz of chocolate bars. And so it was. We tried about 4 others in addition, including a typical English ‘gent’ bar (I wish I could remember which that was – her point was that it was quite traditional in taste, like a good claret, but without a particular punch or spiciness), as well as the GCC’s own bar – a delicious, very ‘pure’ tasting bar.

And then she proved to us that darker isn't always better – something that many people believe, apparently – by having us taste an 85% cocoa dark chocolate. Perhaps we would have believed anything she said, being in the presence of someone so knowledgeable and impressive, but I don’t think so. The chocolate lacked ‘roundness’: it was very blunt in its taste, and the taste didn’t really develop in the mouth on melting. At the same time, the texture was less smooth than others we tried, being almost muddy.

And finally, a shock. She gave us one more chocolate bar to taste, and asked us what we thought it tasted of. For me, it tasted just like a bar (the producer of which shall remain nameless) I'd tasted a couple of weeks ago or so – mouldy. And that’s what it was. Apparently, lesser producers are will use even mouldy cocoa beans in their production, and then hope to mask the taste with cranking up the proportion of other ingredients such as vanilla, or worse, vanillin. This tasting – and the one I did earlier - was proof that it’s a strategy that doesn’t work. One mouldy bean, said Chantal, wrecks the whole batch of chocolate, and should never be allowed to past muster. Evidently, not all chocolatiers are as scrupulous as she is.

The day finished with a go at making truffles from our ganache – by scooping them out with a melon baller (harder than it looks - the scooping is fine, but it's the getting them off the baller that's the tricky part) and then rolling them in cocoa or tiny flakes of chocolate.

my rococo truffles

my truffles. Which sadly didn't survive the journey home too well.

And our reward at the end of it all? A carton of our handmade ganache (80-100 truffles’ worth, according to Laurent) to take home, plus a glass of champagne and a tasting of our freshly rolled creations. A great way to finish the day. I couldn’t resist buying a GCC bar plus a Penelope Cruz bar to take home, too, as appropriate reminders of the experience.

rococo chocolate bars

the best chocolate bars in town

The whole event was more inspiring and interesting than I’d even imagined. I’m not sure what I expected, to be honest, but it was everything and more than I was after. I went in as a complete beginner, and emerged a chocophile with a modicum of knowledge. I definitely want to make my own chocolates now, and the sooner the better. And, of course, I certainly want to return to Rococo again. Very soon.

But now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a mouthful of Penelope Cruz...

Saturday, 18 October 2008

where I'm going today...

rococo letter


I think we're going to be too busy to take photos, but I promise I'll tell you all about it.

Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, I didn't sign up for this course because of the champagne at the end. At all. Not me. Definitely not.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

things I saw in Cork...

Cafe Paradiso exterior

I think you've probably gathered by now that Cafe Paradiso featured largely


Cafe Paradiso orange tree

inside Cafe Paradiso... pretty, innit?


tripe and drisheen

heh. Not so pretty. Tripe, and drisheen - the eviller version of black pudding


buttered eggs

like it says - buttered eggs. Never seen these before. Apparently, they're eggs dipped in butter (no, really?) straight after they've been laid. They then keep for about 6 months, and give the eggs a rich, buttery taste. Sadly, I didn't get to try any. I'd be interested to know if this is just a Cork thing, or an Irish-wide thing - anyone?


crubeens and pigs head

corned crubeens. Cork-speak for trotters, obviously.


oysters

fabulous local oysters


samphire and fish

fabulous local samphire and fish....


O'Connell's fish stall

... all from O'Connell's huge fish stall in the covered market...


covered market view

... which looks like this.


mango and coconut cake at Joup

if you don't like fish, you can have cake. This was superb - moist and tangy and luscious. From the Joup stall, should you ever be wandering through


Fishy Fishy Cafe exterior

But back to the fish. Fishy Fishy Cafe, in nearby Kinsale.


al fresco dining Fishy Fishy Cafe

al fresco dining at Fishy Fishy. These guys are hard. It wasn't warm. It wasn't even sunny.


Fishy Fishy oysters


Fishy Fishy oysters. Cr*p photo due to low light. Sorry. But they were the best oysters I've ever eaten. And I've had a few. Oysters, that is.


Fishy Fishy clams

Fishy Fishy oh-s0-delicious clams in ginger, lemongrass, and chilli. Same excuse for poor photo.


Fishy Fishy pannacotta with plums

The Other Diner made it through to dessert. Not fish pannacotta, but vanilla pannacotta with plums.


victualler, Kinsale

I can't ever remember seeing a 'victualler's' shop before. Wonderful.


Kinsale cat

The hardest cat in Kinsale. Do not mess with him. He may only have one eye, but he's a born killer.


Kinsale cappuccino

in Kinsale, it was impossible to walk more than ten yards without coming across more yummy things. And eating/drinking them.* (*delete as appropriate)


Kinsale harbour

the views weren't bad, either...


Kinsale view

see what I mean?


Kinsale street

they don't worry about colour co-ordination in Kinsale. Strangely, though, it 'works'


Cork old and new

back in Cork. Old and new - St Finbar's cathedral behind the River Lee, and Jury's Hotel



University College Cork entrance

the entrance to University College, Cork. How pretty is that?


wedding University College Cork

a wedding in the grounds of University College


University College Cork grounds

serene statue in University College grounds.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

that breakfast at Cafe Paradiso...

... is not for the faint-hearted. If you're the kind of person who can only face a cup of coffee first thing, look away now. Everyone else, please take a deep breath.

OK, first up, how about some porridge? With whiskey-soaked sultanas? And brown sugar? And lashings of fresh-as-a-daisy cream for that added cardiac-inducing effect? And more cream on the side? OK. You got it:


Cafe Paradiso porridge

Actually, I think the whole lot was whiskey soaked, never mind the sultanas. Oh, and for the record, that bowl was the size of King Kong's dinner plate. Heh, but I was on holiday, you know?

And precisely because I was on holiday, it seemed pointless to stop at the porridge. Surely I could manage a mere 'scrambled eggs with lovage on toasted sourdough with roasted tomato and potato hash'? I mean, I'd be a wimp to turn it down, right?

Ahem.


Cafe Paradiso scrambled eggs

To give you a sense of the dimensions involved, that plate was a foot long. The two pieces of sourdough were an inch thick. The potato hash was probably the tallest building in Cork.*

(*This might be a slight exaggeration. Then again, it might not.)

Still, remembering my duty to you all, I was undaunted. Undaunted, I tell you.

Those scrambled eggs were amongst the most delicious I've ever tasted. Just golden, rich-yolked eggs, butter, and a smattering of lovage leaves. The lovage - think of a taste somewhere between sage, celery, and parsley - was inspired. It cut through the richness of the egg with an earthy, faintly peppery and gently savoury note. Fabulous. If you've never had scrambled eggs with lovage before, make them this way FROM. NOW. ON.

Not that The Other Diner was missing a trick, either. No, this is what was being swiftly devoured and oohed and aahed over across the other side of the table...


Cafe Paradiso oyster mushrooms

... 'pan-fried oyster mushrooms with chives and soured cream, grilled bread and rosemary aioli', no less. I must admit, I nicked the odd mushroom here and there. And they were very, very good indeed. I would have nicked more, but I wanted to live to see the rest of my holiday. The Other Diner can be vicious when provoked.

The great thing about these breakfasts is that you really don't need to eat anything more until the evening. Except you do, because this is Ireland. But more of that in another post.

I have to say, I was a little less gung-ho the next morning. Instead of the full-blown breakfast, I managed a few oatcakes, Knockalara cheese, gooseberry chutney and rocket and tomato salad. I don't know why I didn't photograph them for you, because it was just the most gorgeous, zingy plate of yummy stuff. I think it's something to do with being mesmerised by The Other Diner's considerably more valiant effort at demolishing this:

Cafe Paradiso poached eggs 1


... 'poached eggs with spinach on toasted sourdough* with warm cherry tomato and avocado salsa' (*opted for in place of the poppyseed bagel. We absolutely fell in love with the sourdough over there).

Those eggs? Yep, perfectly cooked, thanks:


Cafe Paradiso poached eggs 2

The rest? Really rather lovely, apparently, as well as being an absolute picture to look at. The tomatoes were, like mine, small, sweet, and bursting with juiciness; the spinach was earthy, meaty, and melting; and the rest, I am told, couldn't be faulted. Except, that is, if you're a fan of small portions, in which case you might have had due cause to complain.

But like I say, this is Ireland. Small portions simply don't exist. What are you - a wimp or something?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Cafe Paradiso... a first taste

Just to keep you going while I get the rest of my photos sorted out...

Fancy any of this for breakfast?


Cafe Paradiso breakfast menu

Hmm?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Where chefs go on their days off....

Yes, I know I should be writing about Cork. And I will, I promise. Just got to get my photos sorted out.

But anyway, as I was saying. Iwas out for dinner last night at my favourite local, The Fat Delicatessen.

And who else was there?

Hmm?

Well?

Give up?

None other than Jason Atherton, he of Maze and Maze Grill, with his wife and daughter. So that's where chefs go on their days off. Apparently he's in there about once a week - and is the model customer, no attitude, no drama, no 'don't you know who I am?'. Which is, of course, a huge compliment to the guys at The Fat Deli, and says more about their food than I ever can.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Off to paradise...

... also known as Cafe Paradiso, in Cork. Run by Dennis Cotter - he of 'Wild garlic, gooseberries, and me', Cafe Paradiso has been on my 'must go to asap' list since Spring, and all the more so since I've tried out some of Cotter's fabulous recipes. And now I'm going. Hurrah!

Much is expected... But will it deliver?

Ooooh, the tension, the tension....

I'll let you know. Back on Monday.

Ciao.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Mmmm..... Murano

I know. I've been away. I've let you all down. I disappeared without trace, without warning, and hid behind an 'invitation only' sign. Truth is, nobody was invited. I just needed some time. Things have not been fun around here lately, and I didn't want to bore you all with it. It's just not me.

Sadly, things are still not that great. A couple of close family members are pretty sick, and one of my cats has been very poorly for the last month or so. And on top of that, I'm really busy with work stuff - in a good way, but on top of everything else that's been going on this year, I'm just mentally and physically cream-crackered.

So I decided to put the blog on hold.

But then... Then I went and had a meal at Angela Hartnett's long-awaited new restaurant, Murano. And I couldn't resist taking my camera. And then I thought I might as well share the photos. So here they are. (Apologies for the overall standard - the lighting wasn't that great for a point-and-shoot, plus I took the photos in a bit of a hurry, because it really wasn't the kind of place to be taking snaps, and I didn't want to incur the wrath of fellow diners.)

If you want the words, I suggest you read a review here. It says everything I would have said. I'm actually wondering if the reviewer stole my brain.

Murano ham and bread

carta da musica, focaccia, wonderful ham, and fine olive oil

Murano Swiss chard tortelli

Swiss chard and sairass ricotta tortelli, sage and butter emulsion



Murano prawn raviolo

ravioli of king prawn with pickled fennel, raisin purée

Murano lamb

roasted Welsh lamb rump, white bean ragout, smoked pancetta



Murano red mullet

grilled Cornish red mullet, crushed peas and mint, fresh almond and white grape vinaigrette

Murano sorbets

dazzling pre-dessert sorbets incl. basil (the star), blood orange, blackcurrant, mango, banana, strawberry, chocolate


Murano posset

lemon posset, raspberry salad, fromage frais sorbet


Murano roasted peach

vanilla parfait, chocolate cream, roasted white peach

Murano post-desserts

post-dessert desserts: tiramisu with coffee granita; sugar tuiles, salted pralines, dark truffles, and cherry bombes


Murano chandelier

the interior - with spectacular, specially-commissioned chandelier


Murano interior 1

the lovely interior


Murano interior 2

the lovely interior again

I hope that gives you something to be going on with. I'll try to be back soon, but I can't promise anything, ok? Be good in the meantime, and take care of yourselves.

AFoS x




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