Saturday, 13 November 2010

tea & scones

scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve
s&r came over for tea to thirty-two today. i had wanted to bake a small cake and make it somewhat of a birthday tea as it was s' birthday last week. but a rather acute case of tendinitis meant i couldn't really do much more than make sandwiches and scones (a fair bit of which s helped with) including buying the clotted cream and cream of tartar. i used my mum's foolproof recipe which is very very close to national trust recipe that felicity cloake decided was the best in her quest on 'how to make the perfect scone'.  so here is the recipe my mum passed down after scoffing at me for wanting to try delia's version which includes an egg. i was told in no uncertain terms that adding an egg to my scone mix would most definitely mean i am not making a british classic. 

Thursday, 11 November 2010

barley pilaf with mushrooms and dill

i love cooking different kinds of grains because to me, it is about experiencing different textures and flavours. i also love the process of watching how liquid transforms the grains swelling their slim shapes. rice lengthens and fluffs up but something like barley or farrow or israeli cous cous expand through the centre of their bellies, shortening and growing roundish in shape. i especially love farrow and spelt and wheat-berries. cous-cous and bulghur are common favourites and i often make them as a side to chick pea stew or roast chicken. so when i saw hugh-fearnley whittingstall's pearl barley pilaf with mushrooms and dill i knew i had to make it.

fearnley-whittingstall describes his recipe as a pilaf with the texture of a risotto. i was a bit confused about that description partly because pearl barley is quite a robust grain. it doesn't soften the way rice does and it most certainly isn't starchy which is the element that brings together the fats and the stock in risotto to give a lovely creamy texture. so here are my notes of the making of the barley pilaf with mushrooms and dill

it takes about an hour or so to get the pilaf cooked and it is a lot more forgiving than a risotto purely because it needs less attending too. barley takes its good time to give way to tenderness and i personally found that it was easier to cook it by including all of the stock, bringing it to a rolling boil and then letting it simmer. this was because i realised after half an hour through cooking that it would just save me trouble. i would also make sure to follow the advice on having a mixture of fresh and cultivated mushrooms. i unfortunately had to make do without the porcini as i had none but i can see how the porcini broth would add a stronger flavour. i would also reduce the creme fraiche as the pilaf itself is quite rich with the mushrooms and the butter. but that i suppose is a personal preference. 

i loved making it as much as o and i loved eating it. this is serious winter comfort food. it is very hearty, very moreish and very filling. the mushrooms add a meatiness, the creme fraiche a slight sharpness and the dill, aside from adding some brightness also adds texture. 
if you likely barley, or would like to try a fusion pilaf made on the lines of a risotto, this is a recipe for you to try out.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

wholemeal french toast with orange & apricot brandy syrup

i made french toast today, mostly because i was nostalgic and missing home. my mum used to make us french toast on the weekends. slices of dawn bread ( i hadn't discovered wholemeal then) soaked briefly in a mixture of eggs whisked with milk and a bit of sugar. she'd fry it in her non-stick pan that she had reserved specifically for 'our' frying. the cook didn't get to use non-stick pans simply because he couldn't grasp that metal spoons scratch away the teflon. she was generous with the butter and would let the toast shallow fry until the edges would go a dark brown and caramelise slightly. i woke up dreaming the taste of mum's french toast and decided to make my own.

the problem is though, that i rarely ever have white bread around. what would have been really nice is a creamy coloured buttery brioche but neither o nor i were inclined to go buy some. so wholemeal bread it had to be. i was pretty secure in my ability to jazz up wholemeal bread. and jazz it up i did.

here is what you will need to make the french toast - two eggs, a hundred ml of milk, a couple of drops of vanilla and a tablespoon of caster sugar. whisk all of them together. slice the bread very thick and soak briefly in the egg mixture on both sides. meanwhile heat a pan with a walnut sized knob of butter. slide in the toast when the butter froths slightly. do watch the heat as butter burns very quickly. let the toast fry for at least three to four minutes or until the edges are deep brown and caramelising. flip over to the other side to do the same.

meanwhile in another small sauce pan put in the juice of one orange, some orange zest, two tablespoons of sugar and a shot glass full of apricot brandy (or contrieau). bring to a boil and simmer till it thickens slightly. 

to serve, put the french toast on a plate, drizzle liberally with the orange and apricot brandy syrup and dust with icing sugar. i have to say that the wholemeal toast added nuttiness and a rather robust texture which white toast doesn't. and the orange and zest added a freshness and welcome sharpness.

Monday, 1 November 2010

acorn house restaurant

the acorn house restaurant took the runners up spot for best ethical restaurant in 2010 (observer food monthly awards 2010). it has been on my list of places to eat at for a while and my tastecard gave me a wonderful 50% of for the first visit. i decided that s and i would lunch there today and it was a decision well taken.