Friday, 28 August 2009

Snazzy Restaurant Afternoon

My sister took me to the Michael Caines restaurant (not Caine) in Manchester this afternoon. We had six dishes from the grazing menu, small portions of stuff.

I tried rabbit, wood pigeon, lobster, scallops and caviar for the first time. The rabbit tasted like intensely chickeny chicken; the lobster was kind of chunky prawny; the caviar garnish was minutely dotted on the lobster dish so I could hardly taste it; the scallops were delightfully fishy. I had a peach tart with creme fraiche sorbet and bitter lemonade for dessert. There was a coconut / pea palate cleanser in a shot glass. The dishes were beautifully garnished with things like buttery sauces, intensely flavourful mushrooms, pea puree, garlic puree, sundried tomato vinaigrette, broad bean halves, bitter lemon mousse, a cube of vanilla custard, potato croquettes and pea tendrils. I had a glass of Chardonnay in a proper Chardonnay glass. There were two other dishes; a salad of slivers of aubergine, courgette flower and artichoke with parmesan shavings and lamb. I do feel like I have had enough meat to last me the rest of the year, though.

This whimsical food and the afternoon at the restaurant seems ever so slightly wasted on me but I value the experience as this is the first I have had. It feels like a dream in a way; I'm not completely sure that it happened. I have written this to remember it and hopefully get some ideas. I pay so little attention to presentation of food and I should because it is not difficult to do. I'm not sure about eating at such a place again, although if the opportunity comes up I will probably take it.

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Seitanic Verses

If I can turn this into a sonnet or even rhyming couplets, I will. But for now:

There are, as far as I know, two ways of making seitan. One is a knead and rinse method, one is straight to simmer. (These are not official technical terms for seitan-making like "The Creaming Method" is for cakes). I used knead and rinse. The latter seems to be if you have wheat gluten at your disposal, which I do not (Aside: I wonder what else wheat gluten can be used for apart from making seitan? Perhaps you just stir it into your milkshakes if you are trying to beef up.)

So, here are my tips and observations.

- One recipe I found used wholemeal flour. Either sift out the bran before you make the flour into dough, or just use white flour; it's a lot easier. I can't believe I didn't have the common sense to realise that before the deed was done, but there you go.
- Strong flour (the stuff used for breadmaking) is the best type of flour. I also experimented with plain flour. The dough made from this is prone to falling apart when you soak it in water to rinse it out, but this isn't necessarily a big problem: all you need to do is put the disintegrated mess into a sieve, rinse off starch which has come off in the water and swirl the gluten mix round in the net. It will soon stick together.
- You will make a mess of your sink and work surfaces. It seems to be law. I clogged up my sink with starch. So, does anyone have any good uses for wheat starch? I don't have any shirt collars which particularly need stiffening.
- As many knead and rinse recipes will tell you, the final step is to simmer the seitan in your flavouring broth of choice. I used 2 lapsang souchong teabags; a marinade which I made from some leftover toffee dissolved down and made into marinade, boullion powder, and soy sauce.
- I have been left with a brown shiny lump of which looks rather disgusting. But hey; meat is a a red shiny lump which can look rather disgusting. Wow, I could dye the seitan in beetroot and carrot juice- would it look more like meat then?

I have eaten plenty of wheat gluten fake meat, and what is greatly lacks compared to animal is the flavour which the animal fat brings to it. I suppose if you don't really like the taste of meat, but just like its texture, then it's not a problem. However, I do like meat, and I'm curious as to how to recreate that taste without killing an animal. I'm not sure how to address this, apart from cooking it in (lots of) (well-flavoured) fat. How it will taste I will just have to see. I'll keep you posted.


If you are into that kind of thing.

Seitan rocks. Worship Seitan. Some may call the carving and serving of it a Seitanic Ritual. Please stop now, I beg of thee. Okay, I will. I am off to make some, meat-haters and texture fans. I will let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


No pictures I'm afraid, for it was too yummy, but made a slap up dinner because I felt guilty about having done very little all day. Also needed to use up butter (I'm not going to buy any more after this gets eaten because I know it has contributed to my burgeoning waistline) and some cream one day past its use-by date. I'm sure this recipe could be veganised. If you find vegan black pudding. The stuff I had was vegetarian.

I soaked some dried arame. Then steamed potatoes for mash, adding finely chopped Savoy Cabbage to the steamer later one. Meanwhile, I cored and sliced some apples, then shallow fried in butter, adding sugar. When the cabbage and potatoes were done, I mashed them with butter, single cream, salt, pepper and wholegrain mustard, then mashed the caramelised apples into the mixture.

I fried the slices of black pudding, keeping them on one side of the pan. On the other side of the pan I lightly fried the drained seaweed until it was crispy. Then I arranged some seaweed and black pudding slices onto a glorious heap of mash. It was so tasty that Clare didn't even add any cheese to the proceedings.

I've never had black pudding made with blood, and I imagine you could get a nicer crispiness to it when you fry it, something I have yet to achieve with the non-meat one. The non-meat one did not slice too well, and bits kept falling off it when I tried to slice it. Which wasn't too bad because I just pressed it back together. Also it tasted curiously minty- like the herb, not s intensely, as say, toothpaste. It was all right, but I'm not sure I'd buy it again.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Elderflower Champagne: an update

'Tis the end of the summer as far as I am concerned for my supply of elderflower champagne has now been depleted. I must say it was really rather boozy. Addition of yeast (rather than just leaving the flowers' natural yeasts responsible for fermentation) produces a drier champagne but a far boozier one with a much fainter taste of the flower than the sweeter, less alcoholic one. Not wanting to compromise the sweetness for booze content, I drank the drier champagne with a touch of elderflower cordial.


I ate a tawdry lunch of three readymade grilled-from-frozen hash browns with various dips; homemade pesto, some supermarket humous which Mike had left at our house, some Dutch garlic mayonnaise and an oversized slick of sweet chilli sauce. This left me hankering for more food and so I got worked up. I tried to go swimming at my local baths but instead stopped and drooled with my eyes at the cakes at the local deli-cafe. I was determined not to buy a piece, but to make something of my own. So I did, and here is the first proper recipe of this blog (almost).


6 oz plain white flour
3 oz butter / shortening
1 oz caster sugar
1 medium sized egg
flour for dusting

7oz of nuts / finely ground nuts e.g. almonds
2 or 3 oz sugar (rats! the only ingredient the quantity of which I did not note!)
2 medium sized eggs, beaten
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder, sieved
1 teaspoon good vanilla essence
2 tablespoons of butter / shortening
drop of milk (optional)
nut pieces, skins removed (optional)

1. Preheat oven to gas mark 4
2. Make pastry: rub sieved flour into fat, then add sugar. Beat the egg and then add to the mixture. Use your hands to bind into a dough, handling as little as possible. If the egg is not enough to bind it, add a teaspoon of cold water. Refrigerate the dough for half an hour, or ten minutes in the freezer.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling: if the the nuts are whole use a food processor to grind them down into a flour. Add the sugar, the fat, two eggs, cocoa powder and vanilla essence. The mixture should be a bit like a cake mix- dropping consistency- but look grainy rather than smooth. Add a splash of milk if the mix is too thick.
4. Remove pastry dough from fridge / freezer and roll out until about one eighth inch thick. I used this to line two 6-inch flan dishes, but one ten inch dish may suffice. Fill cases with mixture - here you can press nut halves into the mix if you wish-and bake for 40-45 minutes.

Serve warm with cream.

I'm sure you will have seen similar recipes. I am proud of this because I consulted no recipe book. However, I have discovered writing recipes which other people can follow requires care. Care which I am not sure I have the patience for.

Notes: I used a mixture of ground almonds and whizzed up some "chopped mixed nuts" I found in my cupboard which was mainly peanut I think. Walnut would give an exciting taste I reckon. Almond is a classic though. So is hazelnut. This was the first sweet pastry using an egg I had ever made.

Verdict: The pastry was not as soft as I thought it might be, perhaps more egg next time? But it was subtly sweet and this was good. The nut mixture worked very well. I didn't have any chocolate, so if I made it again, I might use that instead of cocoa.

I confess that I had an excess of pastry dough. I rolled it out into a thick circle, then placed a mix finely chopped hazelnuts (done in food processor) and soft dark brown sugar in the centre. I enclosed the nut and sugar mix with the dough and worked it in until it spread consistently into the dough. And I was left with cookie dough. I rolled them out and baked for 18-20 minutes and was left with some lovely hard little biscuits. The kind you might serve in a saucer at the side of a cup of coffee. Yum.

Monday, 10 August 2009


No, I haven't sampled all of the different rices I have yet to try, but I have had some Adventures in Rice over the past few weeks.

Rice Paper- Vietnamese Rice Sheets from the Thai grocery store in Chinatown. You soak them in water and they become pliable enough to make spring rolls and sticky enough to not have to glue them shut. I filled them with grated carrot, grated mooli, and avocado chunks and served with a dipping sauce of shoyu, sesame seeds, palm sugar and garlic. Couldn't find any vegetarian fish sauce. One day I will get both animal-derived and animal-free. Last week I deep fried a couple of these rolls and I LOVE RICE SHEET SPRING ROLLS!

Brown Rice- I had some excess washed uncooked rice from making a risotto- which takes aeons if you're using brown rice- which I didn't know how to use up. I ended running a bit of oil and salt through it, then roasting it in the oven until the grains went brown.

The day after, I tried to cook it as normal rice. It wasn't having any of it, so I turned off the gas and left it there. After leaving it there for 20 minutes or so strange thing had happened: the grains seemed to have burst open, so it looked a bit like crushed wheat. Didn't taste amazing but if you're looking for a change in texture, you might want to give it a go.