Silsden part II

The morning after the night before for Bonapartes...and an interesting interview with Gordon Ramsay, who is getting a fearsome amount of publicity at the moment.

Shepherd's pie with a twist for tea yesterday. In fact several twists. Turkey mince (not ideal, but all that was left in the freezer), onion, leek, celery, carrots, thyme, rosemary and stock simmered for a while, and then topped with sliced par-boiled new potatoes sprinkled with parmesan and baked in the oven for half an hour. Not very traditional, and would have been better with lamb mince, but not bad at all for a Wednesday night in front of ER.


The stuff kitchen nightmares are made of...

If you're ever happen to be visiting Silsden, West Yorkshire, I'm not sure I'd ever recommend eating in Bonapartes. Watch Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and you'll see what I'm talking about. Basic premise - take a failing restaurant and give Gordon Ramsay a week to turn it round and propose some sort of solution. Cue lots of swearing...in this case well deserved, as the 21-year-old "head chef" and former dishwasher was a complete and utter disaster, and unhygienic to boot. Absolutely unmissable telly. I'll be there next week, waiting to see who the next victim is...



Summer was shortlived. After sunshine all morning, there was a massive thunderstorm, and it rained for the rest of the afternoon. So to cheer myself up, I may have to go and buy some candy necklaces, rainbow drops and some fizzy cola bottles. I was never allowed sweets that often as a kid, but every so often me and my brother would scrape together some pennies from down the back of the sofa and our piggy banks and sneak off to the village newsagent for one of those little white paper bags full of goodies. We "drank" cola bottles and "smoked" candy cigarettes, making our stash last for ages.

The only sweets I can remember getting were the tubes of Jelly Tots and Dolly Mixtures that used to make an appearance in my Christmas stocking. Mind, we did have chocolate, so we weren't exactly deprived. Gold coins and smiling Santas on the tree at Christmas. Hollow Easter eggs with goodies inside. And boxes and boxes of chocolates from the kids in Mum's class at school every Christmas, depending on what was on special offer at Woolworths. We've never forgotten the year every gift wrapped box turned out to be Ferrero Rocher.

Smoke gets in your eyes

The first bbq of the summer! In fact, the first bbq ever at this house, despite the fact we've lived there for nearly a year and a half. In our defence, we did have to knock down the sheds first - I say we, but it was really Rob and Mog who did all the demolition, while I got on with the shopping for the bbq. Pork and leek, Old English and Northumberland sausages, from the butcher's shop on Chillingham Road. Bread buns and rolls. Assorted condiments, pickles and chutneys. Salad. Crisps and peanuts. Some biccies for the kiddies. Beer. Your standard bbq fare, in fact. It would all be fairly mundane if eaten indoors, but outside, on a sunny Newcastle evening it took on another taste altogether. In fact, with the amazing burgers that Pippa and Jane made, it turned into a fantastic feast. Now all we need is the weather to stay like that for the rest of the summer (faint hope), and we can have some more lazy evenings putting the world to rights over some beers.


A mere baguette

Inspired by the news that there are now two rival guides to bakeries in Paris, I got out Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery to try and find some great English breads to bake. At the moment, I'm slightly obsessed by fruit bread (the sort that has raisins or dried fruit in), as it makes a fantastic snack when I'm hungry at work. And as luck would have it, there's a whole section on fruit and tea breads. I might try baking Welsh bara brith, Cornish saffron bread, or even Northumberland fruit bread - the recipes all sound fantastic. Will report back and let you know. Not that much baking is likely to get done this weekend, I suspect, as shed demolition is the order of the day.


Top marks go to...

Heston Blumenthal, who has been named as the second best restaurateur in the world. I'd love to go and eat at his place in Bray down in the south, just to see what all the fuss is about. He's written a column in the Guardian on Saturday for the last few years, with recipes, and his approach is just astoundingly complex and longwinded (you should see the precision of the man's recipe for chips). And if you want egg and bacon icecream, then he's your man - he puts unusual flavours together in places you wouldn't expect, so it would be interesting to see if it all works. Let's face it, it's not something you'd want every day, or even every month, but it would be fun to try it out. I'd best go save up the £85 for the tasting menu then...

Although tonight was a hurried homemade pizza, yesterday I baked properly, and made a chicken, celery, leek and mushroom pie, with rosemary pastry. I made enough for four, and planned to freeze the rest, but we were just too greedy and ate the lot. Ah well. Where pies are concerned, there's just no holding back. It's a good job I don't make them every week, or we'd be the size of houses...


Are motorway service stations ever good places to eat?

Apparently not. But I did once have a pretty good tuna sandwich at the Westmorland Services on the M6 in Cumbria. It's the only motorway service station owned by a small local company, and prides itself on its local food, and views over the duck pond. You can tell the difference...we stopped at Gretna Green this weekend, and aside from the very sinister giant stuffed rabbits at the newsagents and the boxes of obligatory Scottish shortbread, what stood out most prominently was the delights of Burger King. Don't get me wrong, one of the highlights of travelling is to occasionally stop for some junk food (hence the bizarre pink shrimp sweets currently lurking in the Smart car glovebox), but some real choice is hard to find.

Speaking of travelling, we've decided our pie-man.com challenge for this year is to always take a pie with us when we're travelling, or find one en route. So far, lamb oggys in Usk (Wales) very good, Aberdeen Angus scotch pie in Glasgow not bad either. Pics and reviews to follow on the pie site soon.


It rained a lot in Glasgow

But the food was good. Boy was it good.

Having driven three hours in the pouring rain, starving and brain-dead from wrestling with maps and Glasgow's one-way system we headed off into the unknown on Saturday in search of an afternoon snack, and came across Oko, a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. I've never been to the Yo!Sushi places in London that some of my friends have raved about, so this was a bit of a novelty for me. One chef rolling beautiful sushi. Lots of plates with coloured edges. One conveyor belt. Sushi goes on plate which goes on conveyor belt. You pick a plate from the belt, and eat in delight. The bill is totted up according to how many plates you had and of which colour. Marvellous. Still not the best sushi I've ever had (that honour's reserved for a small restaurant somewhere in the far reaches of Vancouver city) but a great attempt.

How could we top that? By dinner at Quigley's that's how. Apparently John Quigley's a well-known celebrity chef - justified, I'd say, judging by the food we had. Clam chowder, packed with clams. Ham hock with cabbage and bubble and squeak mash. The best fish cakes I've ever eaten, with spinach and frites. And coffee mousse with donuts. All topped off by a really nice bottle of Australian white. Doesn't get any better than that. And not bad for a grand total of £50 for both of us.

To top off the gastronomic adventure, breakfast this morning at Malmaison was a treat, especially as I got to have Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, something I've always wanted to try. Not sure I'd have it again in a hurry - it was a bit too rich for me - but utterly delicious.

Now it's back to beans on toast for tea...



I've just discovered that dried fruit counts as one of your five portions of fruit and veg a day. Cool! Seeing as I regularly snack my way through dried figs and dates while I'm sat at my desk, in a desperate attempt to avoid eating yet more iced gems, this is very good news. Most days, I think I'm on target.


Now here's an odd thing

Whipped butter. Josh says it makes butter slightly more spreadable, and it gives it a kind of crumbly texture. Definitely not found that one in Tescos yet. We've got value butter, unsalted butter, garlic butter, spreadable butter and I can't believe it's not butter. But nothing whipped apart from the cream.


And we're back east again...

Falafel for tea tonight. Sadly, I can't claim to have made the things...the lovely Cauldron Foods were responsible for them. But I did whip up a pretty fine baby spinach, sugar snap peas, spring onion and fresh coriander salad, topped off by a tarragon vinegar, olive oil and Dijon mustard vinaigrette to go with it. So I did make a bit of an effort...

I've probably wittered on about this before, but the best falafel I've ever had came from a slighly surreal place in Paris, L'As du Falafel, which apparently is beloved of Lenny Kravitz and Vanessa Paradis (Joe le taxi, 80s pop pickers). Despite the celebrity nonsense, the falafel was cheap and marvellous. I want to go back there - not necessarily to L'As, but to try the other equally inviting places on offer in the same street. Hell, I just really want to go back to Paris full stop - I've got withdrawal symptoms for café au lait in the sunshine at sidestreet bars, jazz concerts in Le Bois de Boulogne, the views from the escalators on the Centre Pompidou, sausage de Toulouse from the food markets in the streets around Les Halles and the smell of bread from the bakery on rue Saint-Honoré.


Typically British...

After the delights of Moroccan cookery on Saturday, to celebrate Easter we had that ridiculously colonial dish of kedgeree. Not for breakfast (being a cereal or toast kinda gal I don't think I could stomach curried rice with smoked haddock and eggs at that time in the morning), but as a lazy supper in front of the tv. Not exactly your roast Sunday dinner, but then we've never really gone in for the traditional British roast with potatoes and two veg (and Yorkshire pudding). I love it when we go home to see my parents, and we have Sunday lunch with them with all the trimmings. But it's just so much faf for just the two of us (it's not difficult to cook, but is probably one of the most tricky ensembles to get ready all at the same time) that we hardly ever bother.


Tagines are a wonderful thing

For those of you who've not come across them, a tagine is essentially a Moroccan/North African casserole dish. They're amazing, not just for the fact that the conical shape is so beautiful, but also for the way in which they allow you to slow-cook food in the oven to perfection. Mine's ceramic (I had to do the thing of filling it with water and baking it gently before I first cooked with it), not ridiculously heavy like some cast-iron ones (Le Creuset take note), and makes enough for about four people with a small appetite, or two very greedy ones.

We were very greedy yesterday - I made a tagine of Moroccan lemon chicken with olives (and chilli, saffron and turmeric) for dinner, which disappeared with absolutely no left-overs to put in the freezer for another time. No siree. We didn't waste any of it - even the soupy broth was mopped up with the Moroccan anise bread (which was surprisingly easy to make). Both recipes came from one of the best books on baking bread I've come across Flatbreads and Flavors: A Culinary Atlas which is part travelogue, part recipe book of flatbreads (and associated recipes) from around the world. If you ever have a yearning to make the traditional bread from say Kurdistan, this is the book for you - it'll probably have the recipe. The only problem I have with it, is that (a) all the ingredients are measured in American cups, which means a bit of mathematics, and (b) I suspect the flour you guys use in America is different to ours - certainly the ratios of water to flour I was using were completely different to what was specified. So it makes for interesting baking!


Watch out for those pesky olives!

Next time you're wandering down the supermarket aisle, or perusing the local deli shelves, keep an eye on the sell-by date of the olives. According to new research in Greece, only those packed in vacuum pouches could justify a claim to a shelf-life of almost two years - olives packed in air were only good for nine months. They won't kill you or anything...just won't taste as good.


Speed blog reading

If you've ever wondered what all the food blog writers are wittering on about, but don't have the time or the patience to trawl them all then this new food digest is just the thing for you. You can even set up your own - check out http://www.kinja.com/user/rachcolling for my choices.


All the news that's fit to eat

One of the best foodie websites I've read in years is The Food Section. If you want a view on what our friends across the pond are eating and drinking, it's bound to be here, in amongst a whole host of fascinating links and reviews. Go read.

And while you're at it, you could also check out the man crafts boat from discarded wine corks story featured on the side bar...astonishing!

Mmmm maybe not

This has to rank as one of the most unappealing drinks I've seen for a while....green tea soymilk. Apparently it's "a new, delicious taste innovation unlike anything you’ve ever tried before."


Confused about bottled water?

Well, prepare to be even more so...Pepsi are going to try and sell us empty bottles. Apparently, in countries where the water supply is a high enough standard, Pepsi will be marketing sterilised, hermitically sealed empty bottles to allow us to fill and refill them from our own taps as often as we wish - it'll be cheaper because it's cutting out the "bottling costs". No shit, sherlock.