Thursday, 30 December 2010

Chicken Liver Pate and other Festive Food

After looking at all the ingredients of the full range of festive pates in the supermarket I was rather disappointed to see that only one contained no wheat or rusk and therefore was fine for me to eat. Huh!
So to satisfy the craving I turned to a Christmas recipe book that I've had for a while now.

The recipe is for Chicken Liver Pate, and in the past I have had trouble finding chicken livers. Perhaps it was because I wasn't looking in the freezer section, or maybe because they are only on the shelves near Christmas. I have tried it with lambs liver and pigs liver, but both were nowhere near as nice. So after finding a tub of frozen chicken livers in Morrisons for a few pence I was happy. Not only would this be gluten free but also far cheaper than pre-packed pates and actually far more tasty and luxurious.

Here is the recipe:
200g butter
225g trimmed chicken livers
2 tbsp Marsala or brandy
1.5 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
150ml double cream
Salt and pepper

1. Melt 40g of butter in a frying pan and fry the chicken livers over a medium heat for about 4 mins each side. They should be browned but still a bit pink in the middle.  Then chop finely in a food processor.
2. Stir the Marsala or brandy (brandy in our case) into the pan, mixing in any bits left over, then add this to the food processor. The recipe in the book didn't actually indicated if the alcohol should be cooked or not but I thought it was best to let it bubble a bit.
3. Add the sage, garlic and 100g of the butter and whizz until smooth.
4. Spoon the pate into ramekins and let it cool. Once completely cooled, melt the remaining butter and spoon it over the surface and garnish with a sage leaf if you want.

Chicken Liver Pate
This pate formed our late breakfast on Christmas day, together with a glass of chilled Camel Valley Sparkling Rose which we bought from the vineyard on our Cornwall trip last summer.

Camel Valley Sparkling Rose

We ate Christmas dinner around 4pm this year following Tim's night shift, but it did mean no early get-up to start the preparations. Plus it was just the two of us so no massive turkey to put in the oven at stupid o'clock.

Now anyone who knows me would know that to me, stuffing is the main event for Christmas dinner, closely followed by gravy. And for our Christmas dinner I made 4 different types of stuffing. All homemade, and all with gluten free breadcrumbs - made from the stale crusts of Genius bread and other rolls that I had saved up in the freezer. The star of the stuffing show is the lovely sausagemeat stuffing. This is based on a recipe that my Mum always makes from the fantastic Dairy Book of Home Cookery (1968 version!) and uses around 500g of sausagemeat, the same amount of breadcrumbs, "some" mixed dried herbs and an egg to bind. I like a lot of herbs, but my Mum would put her absolute maximum in of about one teaspoon. I use about 1-1.5 tablespoons! This was made with the sausagemeat from 500g of sausages that we had bought from a butcher on our trip to Ambleside.
The next stuffings were the classic Sage and Onion, and two lots of Chestnut stuffing. For the sage and onion, I used both dried and fresh sage, but added the dried to the pan as I was sweating the finely chopped onion. The quantities of breadcrumbs I use for  these stuffings is vague, and I apologise, but I just used enough until it looked right. Plus in the past I have followed recipes for these stuffings, but breadcrumbs from gluten free bread seem to act differently and dry the whole mixture out so I tend to use less than stated in recipes. This sage and onion, again, was bound with an egg.
The first lot of Chestnut stuffing came from the Dairy Book of Home Cookery again, and was their recipe for Chestnut cream stuffing. The mixture consisting off cooked (home roasted and peeled) chestnuts, parsley, nutmeg and cream to bind.
After a brief survey of facebook friends I decided that this year I should try a chestnut stuffing recipe with meat too and plus I had found this recipe which looked quite interesting (and didn't contain sausagemeat).

The rest of our Christmas dinner included a butter basted turkey breast joint, which was rather surprisingly moist and tasty, honey roasted parsnips (which were going to be Nigella's Maple  roasted parsnips, but after seeing the crazy price of maple syrup in Morrisons, we decided on honey), sprouts for me, carrots, broccoli, M&S chipolatas in bacon (we were going to make our own, but the novelty of finding gluten free sausages as standard was too much to pass up!), Delia's bread sauce (with extra cloves) and shop bought cranberry sauce. And gravy.

Christmas Dinner

In the past I have made Delia's giblet stock with the turkey giblets and I was going to try this again this year. However, after calling most of the butchers in the area, and further afield it seemed that this idea was doomed as no-one could guarantee they would have any giblets in. So, back to chicken livers again. I did make a stock for the gravy with chicken liver, thyme, rosemary, parsley, onion, carrot and celery which smelled divine bubbling away for a few hours on the stove. Alternatively I had bought in some Bisto Best gravy granules in case all had gone wrong, as they are surprisingly gluten free.

To start we had a classic prawn cocktail, and we do admit to buying the sauce. We had intended to make Simon Rimmer's sauce but after needing to buy practically everything on the ingredient list we just bought a jar of sauce! And we finished with homemade sherry trifle. This was made with gluten free cake bars, and the shortcut option of Birds instant custard powder again gluten free, and far easier than the constant stirring and pouring combination of making homemade custard.

P.S. The silver balls were only on half the trifle as it seems their main ingredient is somehow wheat flour. Odd.

It does seem that if you have to eat gluten free or cater for someone who needs gluten free, even Christmas dinner isn't that difficult. Especially if you enjoy cooking and are able to cook most parts of the meal. As described there are some standard branded items which are perfectly safe and are not found on the free from
shelf. To me it is not all about the products that are available for special diets, (as some are not that great anyway), but being able to make a few small adjustments to still enjoy my favourite Christmas foods.

Anyway, yes there is a lot of stuffing, and I say is, because there is still some in the fridge now, but what is Christmas dinner without the leftovers being eaten for so long afterwards?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Langdale Chase Hotel

Langdale Chase Hotel

On the rare occasion that was a night in December without the band having a concert or a caroling job, coinciding with it being a Friday, both of us being able to take it off work and also my birthday, we decided to go away for the night. The Langdale Chase Hotel is situated directly on the shores of Lake Windermere between Ambleside and Windermere in the beautiful Lake District. As a child I remember visiting the hotel for afternoon tea with my family and remember being completely in awe of the place. The wood panelled entrance hall with dramatic staircases (above), the drawing room complete with piano, and most of all its stunning location all stuck in my mind. We had booked the hotel via one of their special offers which gave us dinner, bed and breakfast, with a bottle of wine in the room for a very reasonable price. 

Wine in the room
After a hike around the village of Coniston - more like a heavy going trudge through the snow, we arrived and checked into our room (a room which had its own private balcony overlooking the lake!) and got ready for dinner.
We ordered a drink at the bar to sip while we looked at the menu. The menu was a reduced version of what was on offer on the full menu since we had booked with the offer, but still all the options looked delicious. Although I had rather hoped to be sampling the pheasant that was on the full menu. I had called ahead to say that I needed gluten free, and asked the waiter what were my options - at 2 choices per course I wasn't that hopeful! But he came back and said the chef could do all of it gluten free. I did wonder what they would do with the cous cous part of the fish dish though. 

Together we ordered the soup, the chicken liver parfait, the pork, the pavlova and the mulled wine jelly. And we finished the meal with a rather lovely 2009 Chablis in the bar.

The soup I thought needed a little salt was was good and a good texture, but the most notable thing for me was the fact that they had gone to the trouble in providing gluten free bread on the side and gluten free croutons! I have never seen that before. Normally I have found that places just leave out the bread, but not substitute it. I am told that the parfait was tasty and the plum chutney that came with it, fantastic. But Tim is a chutney fan generally!
The pork was very nice. A nice bit of crispy, salty crackling, along with the orange roast parsnip and cabbage gave enough variety on the plate to make it balanced, and for me, there was plenty of sauce - yes I am the sauce fan of us two!
I think the pavlova roulade wasn't quite what was expected as the meringue was soft throughout, but altogether was good. And the mulled wine jelly itself was great, it a little too much. It came with raspberry coulis which was divine and orange ice cream which I was a bit puzzled over as it didn't seem to match in my mind. But maybe that's because of the whole orange ice cream idea. Orange and cream mixed together, really?

Morning view of the gardens and lake from our balcony
The next morning at the buffet-style breakfast, I obviously steered clear from the sausage products to be safe, but I was presented with gluten free toast! Again, a first for me.

I suspect they bought in a loaf of Genius bread (which is the only gluten free bread worth eating in my opinion until maybe when the new Warburton's range comes out), which in itself is not a hard thing to do, but goes very much appreciated. And yes, I have told everyone I know about this!

We spent the morning wandering round Ambleside where we discovered the fantastic Lucy's of Ambleside where we bought a few goodies including gluten free quiche (yes fresh, home-made gluten free quiche!), gluten free baking powder and a massive slab of pork pie with piccalilli. We also found a local butcher who did gluten free sausages, and bought all his stock! All in all, Ambleside seems to be the place to be if you need gluten free food.

We will hopefully return to Langdale Chase as it truly is a beautiful hotel, and the service we received was excellent, and not just because of the bread! We were lucky enough to take advantage of a special offer, but would say that for a special occasion it would be well worth the money anyway.

The hotel

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Stuffed Peppers

I cooked this very simple dish recently as I fancied creating something with a bit of a Moroccan feel to it.  This was perhaps inspired by the large Tagine we have just bought my parents for Christmas.  I didn't go over the top with my ingredients, however but just subtly introduced some flavours.  This dish can be easily adapted and added to according to your taste but may provide a useful start point for your own creation.

Stuffed Peppers (before cooking)


4 medium peppers
1 small onion
100g minced lamb
100ml water
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp garlic salt
Rind of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Black pepper


I began by preparing the peppers.  I did this by slicing off the top and removing the seeds but also a took a small slice off the bottom to enable them to stand while cooking.

For the filling I fried the onion for 5 minutes then added the paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic salt and lemon rind.

I then added the lamb and fried on a medium heat till browned.

To this I added the tomato paste and water and simmered for 20 minutes till the lamb had cooked through.  I divided this filling equally into the peppers and drizzled with olive oil.  These were then baked in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 mins.

Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the finished article but we just had it with some leaves and a warm lemon dressing.

Lemon Dressing:

100ml gluten free chicken stock
50 ml olive oil
Juice of one lemon

Combine the ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes till thickened slightly.

The flavours in the peppers were great and quite zesty.  You could easily leave out the lemon, perhaps add a little chilli and/or toasted pine nuts.  Maybe even mix some chopped spring onions with the stuffing before baking? The possibilities are endless.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Malaysian Curry

Every now and again we like to get food from the Chinese Chippy, and when we do we often choose the Chicken Malaysian Curry.  Now I know it isn't Chinese and I don't even know if it is any way near authentic either as we have never really experimented with Malaysian food but it is delicious. But, disappointingly it is most likely that it is not Gluten-free from the takeaway.  From time to time it dawns on is to try and re-create the dish but we really didn't know where to start so we hoped to stumble over a ready made paste that really delivered the flavours we had come to love.

Well, we found it!! This is definitely a cheat recipe.  In fact it is even a recipe but it is so good we needed to share the discovery with you.  On a quest to make our Cambodian dishes more authentic we recently visited Wingyip in Manchester to buy shrimp paste etc.  While we were there we found a few ready made sauces and pastes that looked interesting which (thankfully) did not contain wheat flour or gluten.  One of the pastes we bought was A1 Malaysian Curry Instant Paste:

For about £1.30 I think, we seem to have found the closest thing to the dish we buy from the chippy.  In fact I wouldn't be surprised if it is the sauce they use.

Here is what we did with it:

First, we stir-fried some chopped chicken thighs for about 10 minutes. 

Then we added chopped onion and peppers. 

To this we added the paste and cooked for about 5 minutes longer.

Then we added 120ml of coconut milk and 200 ml of water and let this simmer for about half an hour till it thickened a little.  Before serving we stirred through some frozen peas and cooked for about 5 minutes.

Here it is (with peas) and served on a bed of egg fried rice.  I can honestly say that this instant paste is fantastic.  It would be great if it was available in general supermarkets but maybe that is the charm.  It packs quite a punch though so wouldn't be tempted into adding any extra chillies to it unless you really like hot food!  When you need a quick and easy solution for a great curry then this definitely hits the spot.  In fact, due to me working late on New Years Eve, I have decided to make a big vat of this for my friends to eat before going out, fantastic!!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Greek Oil and the Lamb Stifado

Now I couldn't decide whether to do a post specifically for Stifado or for the company that sold us the herb and spice mix that we used for the dish.  I suppose it is a bit of both really.  Now, we have made Stifado in the past and had no trouble with the ingredients as it is not a complicated dish but a few weeks ago we were at Marple Farmer's Market and were rather taken by a particular stall; Greek Oil Direct. 
If you have read our blog from the start you will know that following our trip to Crete in the summer we fell in love with Greek food and attempted a few of our favourites like Briam and Souvlaki.  We cooked a Beef Stifado back then but for some reason we didn't post about it on the blog.  Since the holiday we have always had Greek olive oil in the house, the 1st tub we bought ourselves, then a friend brought us some back (again from Crete) and when we approached this stall at the market our intention was to find a good supplier of Greek oil to buy in the future when ours ran out so picked up a card from a friendly chap who I think is called Craig.

So while enquiring about oil, Craig (we think) told us how he used to live and work in Greece and started his business as a way of retaining his links to the country and his love of Greek food.  This kind of sentiment impressed us greatly so felt compelled to buy some of his goodies.  On that occasion we picked up a bunch of dried oregano, a bag of dried Greek basil, a mix for fish and a Stifado mix.  Since then we have used the basil and oregano several times but the mixes had just in the cupboard.  Maybe this is because we enjoy cooking (surprised?) and don't usually use ready prepared mixes as you normally pay more and takes some of the fun out of preparing food.

We have used both mixes now, but I will save the fish for another post and just show you what we did with the Stifado mix.  The obvious spices (among others) were bay leaves, black peppercorns, dried garlic, oregano, a cinnamon stick and maybe allspice berries!  What was great though was they were all measured out and we took the opinion they should be used in one dish as the was only one cinnamon stick.

The next thing to decide was what meat to use.  I know Stifado is often made with Beef but I believe traditionally rabbit was used.   Just to be different we bought some lamb shoulder and it worked great.  It is quite fatty and needs plenty of cooking but that just helps blend the flavours anyway so this was no problem.

What we used (would serve 4):

Shoulder of lamb (750g with bone, 500g off the bone)
2 onions
300g small shallots, peeled (any large ones cut in 2)
6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 glass of red wine
2 chopped ripe tomatoes (skinned)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste/puree
125 ml olive oil
A little water
Salt and pepper
Stifado Mix from (or use spices as described above)


First brown the meat in a large oven proof dish such as a Le Creuset.

Then add the crushed garlic and onion.  Cook for a further 5 minutes or so.  Add the olive oil, a bit at a time till it is all in.

Then add the glass of red wine and 2 tbl of vinegar.  Use a good quality red wine vinegar such as the one shown here.

Add the spice mix and stir well before adding chopped tomatoes and tomato paste.  Add a little water to stop it drying out and put in the oven at 180 degrees for an hour.

While this is cooking, stir fry the shallots in a little olive oil.  After an hour, add the shallots and stir through.  Then cook for another 60-90 minutes.

We had it with some lemon infused potatoes and homemade tzatziki

Lamb Stifado

To make the potatoes, slice 1 potato and 1 sweet potato into wedges.  In a bowl prepare 100 ml of chicken stock with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, juice of 2 lemons and dried oregano. 

Mix the potato in the marinade and pour into a high sided roasting dish.  Cook for 40 minutes, remove and drain the sauce into a pan.  return the potatoes to the oven for a further hour.  Warm the sauce on the hob and pour a little over the potatoes when serving.

This meal was fantastic.  The lemon potatoes really complemented the Stifado too which was great.  This is the 1st time we have had Stifado made with lamb and we genuinely preferred it to beef.  Lamb isn't a meat we use too often but it was great in this dish. 

I know it is usually better to prepare all the spices yourself but it is well worth having a look at the spice mixes Greek Oil Direct have to offer.  Or visit their stall at Marple Farmers Market - Marple Garden Centre (formerly Wyevale) on the 4th Sunday of each month and tell em we sent ya!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Experimental desserts

This is a recipe, or combination of recipes that we made some time ago, when the parents came over for dinner. In fact, it was the same night as the Tomato Consomme.

Dinner with the parents
 The inspiration for this dish came from a very memorable meal that I had year ago at the stunning Three Chimneys restaurant on the Isle of Skye. I won't go on about the meal and experience there too much, as it was years ago, and in a previous life, but if anyone ever gets the chance to go, or even if you're on a visit to Skye, then seriously, really do try to get there.

The dessert that I had there was listed on the menu as "Marinated Fresh Pineapple with Passion fruit Jelly, Coconut Ice Cream, Rosemary Sorbet & Cardamom Biscuit". A real mix and explosion of flavours and it was the Rosemary sorbet that stuck out for me. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted, it was sweet yet had the fragrance, taste and almost the feeling of the rosemary which you would normally associate with savoury dishes. I had bought their recipe book from the restaurant itself, and was told by the waitress that if the recipe for the sorbet wasn't in there, just to email and they should be able to send it to me. The sorbet recipe wasn't in, and so I sent the email. I received a reply rather quickly from Sarah and the team at the restaurant thanking me for the visit and complimentary comments, and letting me know exactly how they made it. Hurrah!

Anyway, I decided to try and re-create elements of the dessert at home, and with the added bonus of having an ice cream maker, I was really looking forward to re-trying the rosemary sorbet.
To re-create the whole thing would be way to complex for me, so I decided on the coconut ice cream, marinated pineapple, a gluten-free experimental tuille biscuit and the rosemary sorbet.

I couldn't remember exactly what the pineapple was marinated in at the restaurant, apart from a small amount of fresh chilli, so I went with a mixture of Lime juice, orange juice and chilli. I used the juice of one lime, and one orange and a whole chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped.

Pineapple marinating
 The recipe for the coconut ice cream was adapted from here, mainly because a lot of other recipes had what seemed to be crazy ingredients. I used sweetened desiccated coconut rather than just grated coconut, and therefore adjusted the sugar accordingly. It wasn't as successful as I'd hoped as the recipe says to blend the coconut with milk until smooth to start, and this didn't actually work as the coconut and milk mixture just seemed to whizz round rather than blend. This gave a grainy consistency to the ice cream.

The tuille recipe was from another online source, which I can't find right now, and was almost successful, but by the time of serving they had gone soggy, and were rather more like super-thin cakes rather than biscuits. This could have been because I hadn't let them cool completely before putting them in a box, or maybe something to do with the gluten free flour, I don't know, but I am no pastry chef. Clearly.

Anyway, the main event. The sorbet.

The recipe is as follows

6 sticks of rosemary
Grated rind & juice of 1 lemon
500g sugar syrup (450g sugar+ 1pint water)
250ml water
250ml dry white wine

Bring syrup, water, rosemary & lemon rind to boil, remove from heat, add
white wine, cool, then add lemon to taste.
Strain, to remove rosemary then churn in an ice cream maker.
I thought this was great. Very reminiscent of my outing in Scotland. I think I perhaps used too much Rosemary as we do have a very well established Rosemary bush in the garden, and I did choose a couple of very bushy stalks. Next time I will use less for a more subtle flavour. This almost tasted like ginger, which seemed very odd, but when people didn't know what it was their first guess was ginger. Maybe this is a flavour combination or substitute we should consider further.

Experimental desserts
The dessert itself did seem a bit out-there for us, and more like a collection of ideas on a plate. At the Three Chimneys everything is clearly more refined and more thought out, and this was my rough attempt at something vaguely similar.  One thing we did think about the sorbet is that it needs to be with something, and not by itself. It is too much, and rather too odd to be eaten as a dessert alone. The pineapple and the coconut ice cream were both very good and went down really well, perhaps the sorbet should only be served in more refined places than our kitchen! It has inspired me to think about other experimental type ideas in the world of sorbets and ice creams.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sausage Pot

Sausage Pot with sweet potato mash and broccoli
We have been meaning to post about this dish for a while.  It is a classic simple dish for the slow cooker and has served us (Tim anyway) well for lunches.  It is also a very economical dish unless you have to use gluten-free sausages which on this occasion we did.
This recipe is taken from the instruction booklet we got with the slow-cooker itself and this recipe was the 1st thing we tried when we got it as a present last Christmas.  The booklet is quite old-fashioned and I wouldn't be surprised to see soup for instance listed as a single ingredient.  I suppose this should be frowned upon by the cooks among us but I think it is OK sometimes to cheat a little, especially when cooking comfort food like this.

Back then Fran wasn't eating gluten-free and it was quite easy to buy 750g of sausages as the recipe suggests.  These days however it isn't that easy.  We have had some sausages in the freezer for a few weeks after buying them at Marple Food and Drink Festival.  These were gluten-free and cost about £4 for 350g so we decided we would take a chance with the consistency on this occasion and keep all the other quantities the same except there was about half the meat.  This worked OK but we now have sauce left which we will try and incorporate into another dish at a later date.

Ingredients (as it should be)

750g of Sausages which is about 12.  (We used 350g of gluten-free)
2 Leeks (finely chopped)
2 Onions (finely chopped)
400ml Beef stock (We used Knorr gluten-free)
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce (We used gluten-free)
3 Tablespoons Chutney
3 Tablespoon of Plain Flour (We used gluten-free)
Salt and Pepper

What to do

In one large pan soften the onions and leeks on a medium heat in a little oil.  At the same time begin browning the sausages in a frying pan.   You may need to do this in batches if cooking the full 750g.

Then combine the sausages and veg in the large pan.  Add flour and stir until it has soaked up all the oil. 

Then gradually add the beef stock and keep stirring.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, chutney and season a little.  Transfer everything to the slow cooker and cook on low for about 8 hours.

As you can see from the (not very appetizing) picture at the start of the post we served it as a proper meal with sweet potato mash and broccoli.  This is a great dish for the freezer though and if you use the 750g of sausages as the recipe says you would make about 6 portions.  One lesson learned from previous attempts is not to use the cheapest sausages available as they tend to fall about in the slow-cook process.  We found own-brand but not value to be just about right.  To vary the dish slightly you could even experiment with different kinds of chutney.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Bacchanalia - Revisited

In our opinion Bacchanalia has not failed to impress on the occasions we have visited.  Wednesday night was our 3rd time at the restaurant since we discovered it thanks to Groupon and again we were not disappointed.  The important aspect of this trip was the fact that not only did we not have a voucher there wasn't even an early bird option.  This you would think would be a negative - and I suppose it was, however, we thought about it and having seen the menu many times before decided that it would still be well worth the money. 

There is a new menu out to run alongside the Christmas/Festive options in which there are a few extra dishes as well as little changes to the previous ones.  For instance, the Pork Wellington I had on our 1st visit now has stuffing too.  A friend we were with this time, had it and claims to have enjoyed it very much.

So were there any differences to the previous visits?  Well as I said, the menu has been updated which is great.  I do think it is important to keep regular customers (as we are becoming) interested and if the menu has only 5 or 6 main course options it is a good idea to change or develop the dishes over time.  Also this can help keep the menu seasonal too.

We really enjoyed the evening (and so did our friends that were there for the 1st time).  Personally, I found the meal to be a lot more relaxed than on previous visits, perhaps this was because there is no voucher offer at the moment.  The restaurant was certainly a little quieter but the service was superb and as there was no offer we were free to pick our own aperitifs before we were seated.

The evening began in the cocktail bar which already felt very festive.  We sat up the stairs in our own private cosy space and enjoyed cocktails including Thai Mojitos, Banana and Ginger Daiquiri, Strawberry and Rosemary Daiquiri, Ocean Breeze, Bloody Mary and a classic Cosmopolitan.  Drinks as ever were 2for1 on the cocktail menu between 5 and 8 - happy days.  Despite feeling like I had eaten a little after enjoying the Thai Mojito which contained mint leaves and chilli marmalade it was time to declare ourselves dinner-ready.

After being quickly seated and welcomed we browsed the wine list.  As we had already consumed rather a lot for a school night - we felt one bottle between 4 would suffice and opted for an Australian Chardonnay - the name of which escapes me.  I think we had this last time and was delicious (and only £16.95).

Chicken Sausage
I started with Homemade Chicken Sausage.  It was a little like a German White Sausage - in looks at least.  It was very tasty with a balsamic dressing.  Quite filling but that usually isn't a problem for me but if you are a lighter eater then you might find this a bit much.

Belly Pork
For my main I chose Belly Pork.  Now this was fantastic - but again not for the light eater.  The skin was amazingly crispy - perhaps a little too fatty but I suppose it is ok once in a while.  It was served with buttered veg and black pudding ravioli.  The ravioli was a new one on me but was great.  It was finished off with a red wine jus which was lovely, rich and sweet.

King Scallops and Belly Pork
Fran went with the King Scallops and Belly Pork, which (typically) was the most expensive starter on the menu at £7.95 I think.  She tells me the scallops were fantastic but the belly pork was a little too fatty.  We know Belly Pork is expected to be fatty - but there was not much meat below the fat this time.  It came served with a Celeriac Slaw which was beautiful.  The waitress even bought a little bowl of it claiming that it often causes interest and thought we might like an extra portion.  This was duly shared around the table and we all agreed it was great - I think Fran now may be a celeriac convert after previously her dislike (or maybe distrust) of this curious vegetable!

Lamb Rump and Squash
Over to Fran for her thoughts on the main:
The size of the piece of lamb rump was very generous. The meat was tender and tasty, and with a little fat still remaining. The sauce was lovely, as were the butternut squash fries. The tomato confit was the most notable as the herbed tomato flavour exploded in the mouth, very fresh and very flavoursome.

Other dishes of the night were, as previously mentioned, the Pork Wellington and the Duck Breast with Pear. Both of which were substantial and reportedly very tasty.

The only slight concern of the night was that when asking for the Coeliac menu, one item on there definitely was not suitable. Anyone needing to avoid gluten would know to avoid this dish, but it seemed the kitchen staff were concentrating on which dishes contained flour. They did, however, point out a few dishes that normally contain flour, but if we ordered them the chef would leave it out. This obviously proves that pretty much everything is cooked fresh and to order, which actually is rather sadly, a bit of a novelty in recent times.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Experimental Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Spring Roll
After re-cooking the Cambodian Aubergine Curry and Stir Fried Spinach with Nuoc Cham for friends on Friday night we'd got the taste for Oriental food again. We'd managed to source some Shrimp paste for the curry, as in the original recipe, but were not able to include it this time because of allergies, so this also fueled the inspiration for all things oriental.
We took a drive into Manchester and to Wing Yip so I could see the delights available - Tim was the one who'd been there for the Shrimp Paste.
It really was like an Aladdin's Cave. The shelves were full of everything you could possibly need to create a Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese etc etc dish, and even though I wanted to read every label of each exciting sauce and condiment we had to focus! We picked up a couple of different Malaysian curry pastes and concentrates which were wheat free to try, some exciting Shrimp Chilli, some rice sticks, (which seem to be noodles, but there were also rice noodles, hmmm?) some Prawns and the main thing we were after, some spring roll wrappers.

Vietnamese Spring Roll Wrappers
Vietnamese spring roll wrappers are different to Chinese it seems as they are rice, as opposed to wheat. They can be used for Vietnamese fresh rolls, or summer rolls, and also deep fried to create the crispy, crunchy spring rolls we normally first think of.

We'd got some pre-packed (I know, I know!) vegetable stir fry and together with the prawns we thought that would make a decent filling. Plus the veg was half eaten and needed finishing off. We'd also got quite a bit of Nuoc Cham left from Friday so we used this to season the mixture. We decided on the deep-fried version rather that fresh as one of the core flavours for fresh rolls is mint and coriander, and rather than go shopping again we decided to use what was in the fridge.

We cooked through the veg and added the Nuoc Cham and Prawns at the last minute to heat through. We then, as per the pack instructions, soaked the spring roll wrapper in warm water for about 5 seconds until pliable. A spoonful of the stir fry mixture was then placed on the wrapper - once we'd managed to spread it out ready to roll, and perhaps not in the neatest of ways, rolled it all up.

Spring Rolls ready to go.
We heated some sunflower oil in the wok and chucked them in. First mistake. They all joined together, stuck to the bottom, burst, and pretty much mangled themselves into one big lump of rice paper and small floating bits of now deep fried veg. We did not take a picture!
After looking up a recipe for Vietnamese Spring Rolls in Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey we saw where things had gone wrong. He specifies the temperature of the oil - not much use to us without a cooking thermometer, but also says to cook them so they do not touch. If we'd read that first we wouldn't have had to sacrifice the first 4 rolls. Actually we didn't really sacrifice them, as we did eat them! So we cooked the remainder very carefully. The higher temperature of the oil ensured that they didn't stick, plus we'd double wrapped a couple so as we turned them over the fragile rice wrapper didn't burst on us.
These were rather more successful.

The wrappers crisped up nicely and the Nuoc Cham dipping sauce added extra salty and hot seasoning. Lovely. The next couple we made we didn't pre-cook the filling - the prawns were cooked already, and they tasted just as good. Next time we get the Spring roll wrappers out I think we will try a recipe similar to the one in the Rick Stein book which includes minced pork as well as chopped prawns with veg and rice noodles. And also try the different option with the wrappers of the Fresh Rolls. Although we may need to practice the rolling up stage to perfect the look for Fresh Rolls really.

We will keep going back to Wing Yip for all our Oriental ingredients as everything seemed so cheap, not to mention exciting and inspirational. They also have an online store, but at first glance they don't seem to carry the full range of goods as the actual shops. Fresh produce was also notably cheap, their chillis, coriander, galangal etc all much cheaper than our normal supermarkets. The range of ingredients available will, no doubt, prompt us to being slightly more adventurous with our cooking, but I think we're a while off buying some frozen durian and some tinned abalone!