Monday 27 July 2009

What I've been Cooking - July.

This post is a bit of an end of month roundup of the stuff I've been cooking the last few weeks, but haven't blogged.
July has seen me cook a disproportionate amount of recipes from the same book, that old favourite 'Big Flavours and Rough Edges' - recipes from The Eagle. There are so many good pasta recipes in it, and regular readers of Essex Eating will know I'm a big fan of pasta for midweek, apres work dining.

So, bearing that in mind, first up we have Penne with Artichoke Hearts & Greens. I really enjoyed this, first time I've cooked anything with Artichoke Hearts and I was quite shocked at the price - I had no idea they were so expensive. Garlic and Chilli are finely chopped and then left to sit in Olive Oil for 10 Min's, whilst the Pasta is cooking, the Chilli Oil is added to a hot frying pan, and then the chopped greens are added and stir fried for 5 Min's. The smell this generates is gorgeous, then finally the Artichoke Hearts are added and tossed in the oil. The Pasta is then combined with this and grated Parmesan. For the greens I used purple sprouting broccoli. A really nice, quick and fresh tasting meal - I'll be cooking this again.

Next we have Spaghetti with roasted Fennel, Lemon and Chilli. This was gorgeous, so much so that I've cooked it twice this month. The sliced Fennel is roasted in the oven cranked up to Max, with Olive Oil, Lemon zest and juice, 1/2 a finely chopped Chilli, Capers and Garlic - covered with foil for 20 Min's and then uncovered to colour for another 10 Min's. This is then tossed with the cooked Spaghetti, Parmesan and Parsley.
Lovely - so simple, but again really fresh and light tasting.

This is an interesting recipe - Pizzoccheri, apparently a speciality of Milan. It's Baked Buckwheat Pasta with Sage, Fontina & Cabbage.
I couldn't get buckwheat pasta, so the recipe suggested substituting for wholewheat Spaghetti. I also had a bit of trouble finding Fontina locally, so swapped this for Taleggio.
This is really a bit of a winter recipe - a real heavy meal of Potato, Cheese, Pasta and Savoy Cabbage. But it was very nice indeed. A couple of negatives, I'd say is that the recipe is a bit pan intensive - the Potatoes, Sage oil, Cabbage and Pasta need to be cooked in separate saucepans - so it generates a sink load of washing up. The other negative would be, this is so unhealthy - loads of cheese, loads of couldn't be eating this regularly if you want to live to a ripe old age.

Next we have Penne with Sausage, Tomato and Sage. I've cooked a very similar recipe from the River Cafe cookbook which also uses broken up sausages - this recipe is slightly different in that it's quicker to make, and the meaty tomato sauce, made up of plumb tomatoes is cooked in a frying pan with a lid on for 20 Min's (I don't have a lid so used a large plate) and breaks down into a thick sauce. Very nice indeed. My GF preferred this version to the River Cafe version, as it's "Less Spicy".

This recipe isn't from The Eagle cookbook, it's Nigel Slater and Graphic Foodie (mentioned in the same breath eh Fran!). I had leftover Taleggio cheese from the Pizzocheri dish, so cooked Slow-Fried Potatoes with Thyme and Taleggio from the excellent recipe book 'Appetite'. Again, another totally unhealthy dish, swimming in butter and cheese.....but wow, It's so good and to balance it out I cooked Graphic Foodies Italian Peasant style dressed Greens, of which I've said before and I'll say again are fantastic. One of the best veg dishes I've ever tasted.
Last but not least, we have a creation of my own, well sort's the Bastard love child of a Jamie Oliver warm salad recipe, combined with a Moro recipe. This was really nice actually. We have Pancetta and Red Onion fried off, with Pinenuts, then mixed with salad leaves, warm Pearl Barley to bulk it out a bit and a dressing of Olive Oil and Balsamic, finally shaved Parmesan slices are scattered over the top. Compared to everything else I've been eating lately, this was almost virtuous.

Looking back now, I think it's going to have to be more salads in August!

Thursday 23 July 2009

La Petite Petanque - Southend

Whenever I visit Southend, I often pass the forlorn, closed and boarded up Alexandra Bowling Green Pavilion in the lovely Victorian Clifftown Conservation area just on the edge of the town, and without fail say the same thing to my GF....."That would make a fantastic restaurant".

Well it seems the owners of San Fairie Ann, a successful restaurant just round the corner in Alexandra Road have been thinking the same thing.

La Petite Petanque, a Cafe-Bistro opened a few weeks ago, and the new owners have obviously refurbished the Victorian Pavilion building to an extremely high standard, which is lovely to see. I hate to see fantastic old buildings such as this one fall into disrepair. They have so much character and history, they deserve to be looked after.

I visited on a Sunday for lunch, a typical British summers day with the Sun making the odd appearance out from behind the clouds, but the threat of rain ever present. The lush emerald grass of the Bowling Green in the middle of the pretty Victorian Square with the Pavilion sitting at one end, large Union Jack fluttering in the breeze. People seated outside and sitting under the open terrace framed with ancient wisteria....It presented an almost timeless picture, and could have been anytime from the late 1800's to the 1950's.

We briefly passed through the restaurant which has been refurbished in the style of a French Bistro, a baby grand piano sitting at one end, and opted to sit outside on the terrace, to study the menu.
I went for the club sandwich which the menu told me consisted of Chicken, Red Onion, Tomato, Egg Mayonnaise, Avocado Cream and Bacon. This came with hand cooked vegetable chips and a green salad.
The GF ordered off the chalked specials board, a Mediterranean roast vegetable quiche with salad. We ordered a couple of bowls of chips as a side order.
The terrace area was busy, and service was brisk and efficient. The food arrived quickly and I'm pleased to say my Club Sandwich was pretty good. The GF had made the better choice, the quiche was delicious with a nice strong cheese taste and light pastry.

Onto the gripes, albeit minor ones. My vegetable chips were a bit lacklustre, they lacked bite and were a bit tasteless and soft. The Club Sandwich lacked Seasoning. the side orders of chips were OK, a bit soft perhaps- I think crisp frites would work much better and be more in keeping with the Bistro vibe. Also, the green salad could do with a bit more dressing.

As for the menu, I was extremely pleased to see that the Breakfast section, available till 12 is very homegrown- Full English, Porridge, Kippers....but the lunch choices appear to jump all over the Mediterranean.
Personally, In keeping with the sheer timeless British look of the place, I'd like to see the menu emphasis on a more seasonal, good standard British menu. Think Mark Hix but obviously quite a few notches down the scale. But It's early days yet, so perhaps some tweaking will follow.

But for all that, the food was good. The surroundings are about as pleasant as you can get. The terrace is an extremely nice place to sit and eat lunch. I could quite happily while away the hours sitting there, especially if the Sun puts in an appearance.
The refurbishment is cracking, so all credit to the owners for breathing life back into the old building. It's a pity that due to it's location in the conservation area that it's only open till 7pm, It would be lovely place to sit and eat on a summers evening.

Overall - La Petite Petanque is a credit to Southend, I'll certainly be visiting again.

La Petite Petanque
Alexandra Bowling Green Pavilion
Cambridge Road

Friday 17 July 2009

More Free Abel & Cole - Chicken

So, Abel & Cole sent me a free organic chicken to review following up from the Organic vegetable box I was sent a few weeks back.

Now, once again, before offering up my opinion - I'll state my position on freebies. I positively embrace them! The fact that someone values my opinion on a product, or thinks my endorsement on this blog may enhance it's visibility in some small way is thrilling to me. But.....just because it's free, doesn't mean that If if the product isn't upto scratch that I won't say so. I will. In spades. I owe that to the people who read my Blog. So, to potential freebie senders, you pays your money, and you takes your chances. Can't say fairer than that.

With that said, lets move onto the free Chicken.

It arrived early the other morning, a polystyrene insulated box....surprisingly excited - I pulled off the lid to be greeted by a large organic free range Chicken (Just under 2kg) with giblets. Credit where credit is due, Able and Cole's packaging is excellent. The Chicken was surrounded by frozen gel packs - and I imagine it could have sat happily for hours unattended outside the front door.

But how to cook it?
In the end, I decided to roast it using a recipe from The Eagle's 'Big flavours and Rough edges'. Simply cooked with tarragon, Lemon, black olives and garlic in the manner of South West France.

At the end of the allotted cooking time, the chicken was well cooked, glistening and roasted a deep brown. It smelt lovely.
After resting, onto the carving. (Which I'm rubbish at - sadly being more hacker than surgeon). The chicken was beautifully moist.
I served it up with roast potatoes and Samphire pan fried with shallot and finished with a squeeze of Lemon. Incredibly, considering I live near the sea. (errr....the Thames Estuary, but close enough), It's the first time I've ever cooked Samphire, and I was really impressed. Excellent stuff.
I served all this with a gravy made from the provided giblets.

All in All, a fantastic roast dinner. Pretty good going for a Monday evening.

After letting that lot go down, I proceeded to carve the rest of the meat off the chicken for dinner the following night (More about that in a minute), and threw what was left of the sorry looking carcass into a large pot with chopped vegetables and herbs (Onions, Carrots, Celery, Thyme etc) and proceeded to boil it up to make Stock. There's something very satisfying about getting the absolute maximum out of your ingredients, and I can't recommend making stock from the leftovers enough. It's easy, takes hardly any effort and you'll be rewarded with pints of beautiful stock which freezes for up to 3 months. Just the thing for risotto or soup....Oh, before I forget, big thanks to Oliver Tring and The Ordinary Chefs suggestions via Twitter of putting the stock in my oven to simmer overnight. Saved me a late night there guys, many thanks.

The next night I decided to use my leftover cuts of roast chicken, in a baguette (Brought back from Paris and frozen....I bemoan the fact we can't easily get similiar fantastic bread in the UK - it's available all over the place in France!) with allioli (Garlic Mayonnaise for those not familiar), and boiled new potatoes with Tarragon and olive oil. Simple stuff, but really very tasty.

So, One Chicken - Two nights Dinners for two people, and a load of stock.

The verdict on the Chicken? Well - I was quite impressed, it tasted great and cooked well, was extremely moist and tender. There's no doubt in my mind that you can tell the difference between a Free Range Organic Bird and your run of the mill supermarket job. That is my considered opinion.

But, in the interest of fairness, I'll give you the opinion of my co-diner (The Girlfriend) which was rather less enthusiastic, stating that she couldn't tell the difference between this chicken and it's brethren with somewhat less in the way of organic free range credentials.
So there you have it. Opinions, everyone's got one.

The price for a bird which weighed in at just under 2kg was £12.81 which isn't actually that bad for a Chicken of this quality....(unless of course your my Girlfriend, who it seems is just as happy gnawing on a two for a fiver Tesco jobby).

Abel & Cole Organic Free Range Chicken

Sunday 12 July 2009

Essex Eating in Paris - Pierre Hermé

Take a look at the Parisian shop frontage in the picture above. What do you think? High end luxury designer goods store? perhaps it sells outrageously expensive shoes or luggage?

Wrong, but you could be forgiven for thinking it.
This is the Left Bank, Rue Bonaparte outpost of Pierre Hermé, French Pâtisserie superstar. A chef the Guardian described as "The King of Modern Pâtisserie" and who Vogue described as "the Picasso of Pastry". The Vogue quote is interesting, a high fashion magazine offering an opinion on a pastry chef, but then in one obvious way, his creations mirror the fashion world, with seasonal "collections" and themes generating much excitement and long queues at his two small shops.

Whilst in Paris, I was determined to give his cakes a try, especially the macaron's which are held up as being particularly excellent. (Macaron being the traditional French meringue type domed pastry, not to be confused with Macaroon - the coconut based biscuit).

On our last morning in Paris I made my way to Pierre Hermé's left bank shop, and joined the pretty long queue at the counter whilst ogling the cakes under the glass. They looked utterly gorgeous, but had price tags to match - coming in at just under 7 Euros! per cake.
The macaron's come in two varieties, smaller bite size ones which you can purchase in an array of increasingly sized (and priced) gift boxes and larger individual versions at just under 4 Euros a macaron. (Roughly about the size of a beer mat to offer a crude comparison).

Decisions, decisions - left to my own devices I could have spent a fortune in there - but under my GF's watchful eye I eventually went for two of the larger macaron's.

On the left we have a Bitter Chocolate macaron, on the right cherry and pistachio. And I think you have to agree, they are beautiful to look at.
I was initially quite sceptical of how good these would actually be, partly due to the outrageous plaudits heaped on Hermé, partly based on the price, But this was before I'd taken a bite. Afterwards, I was completely sold and decided without a doubt they were well worth the money.

What did they taste like?
Both macaron's had the same light crisp meringue shell, but the filling in the case of the chocolate version was a cool, soft, slightly bitter chocolate cream, smooth and intense. Fantastic.

But the Cherry and Pistachio was my favourite, biting through the crisp exterior, cool soft pistachio cream sandwiched with a lighter cherry cream and slices of cherry layered throughout. Simply amazing - quite possibly the best cake I've ever sampled.

When your next in Paris, you have to visit Pierre Hermé and try these, expensive yes. Worth the money....yes.
I just wish they were available in London.

Pierre Hermé
72 rue Bonaparte

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Essex Eating in Paris - Terminus Nord

I'm quite a big fan of all things Art Deco, and on my recent trip to Paris I made sure to make a reservation at Terminus Nord, which is located more or less opposite the Gare Du Nord Station, where the Eurostar arrives.

Terminus Nord is an authentic Art Deco Brasserie, circa 1925. The interior is original and it's gorgeous. Wood panelling, Black Leather Booths, Brass Rails and fittings, mirrors everywhere -classically attired waiters, black tie, waistcoat and white apron flit purposefully from table to table, the service is impeccable.

Nowadays, the restaurant is more of a staging post for travellers at the station across the road, rather than a destination in it's own right. Evidenced by the waiters expertly maneuvering wheeled suitcases around, with well heeled businessmen in tow.

As for the food.
There's quite an extensive menu, but we opted to eat from the lunchtime set menu.
For starters, my GF and I both went for Foie Gras with toasted Poilane bread and rhubarb chutney. A simple enough starter, with quality ingredients - it was really very good, the Foie Gras was smooth and buttery, the toasted Poilane was suitably rustic and the rhubarb chutney added a nice tangy sweetness to cut through the other flavours. Great stuff.

For Mains, again we both went for the same choice - Grilled Rumpsteak, medium rare with Beurre maitre d'hotel (Parsley butter to me.) This was served with pommes frites and a grilled tomato. Again, it was really nicely done, the steak was nicely charred on the outside and suitable pink in the middle - the slab of parsley butter melting over the meat and pooling with the juices underneath is making my mouth water just thinking about it. The chips in particular were excellent, crisp and perfectly cooked.

Finally me moved onto dessert. I say 'we' but actually I mean 'I'. The Girlfriend declared herself stuffed and out of the game, and to be fair it was quite a big lunch really.
Myself being somewhat larger and a hell of a lot more greedy, decided a classic was in order so went for the Creme Brulee.

It was OK. But, this being Paris - and this being the epitome of your classic brasserie I was expecting creamy perfection. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it, but Ive eaten a lot of creme brulee's and this one wasn't great.

Despite the meal ending on a bit of a low note, overall I enjoyed myself. On the whole, the food was good- not cooked with the flair I found in the the other restaurants I ate at whilst in Paris, but Terminus Nord provided solid, classic Brasserie dishes cooked competently. Also, on the plus side, the service was excellent - brisk and efficient and that interior is amazing to look at, you really feel like your getting a glimpse of another, more glamorous age and that's worth the money alone.

Incidentally, the three course set menu came in at 31 Euros per person.

As a side note, If your interested in seeing a representation of the interior for yourself, but don't have the time, money or inclination to travel to Paris then head to the recently beautifully refurbished St Pancras station in London, where you'll find the
St Pancras Grand restaurant, which has been modelled on Terminus Nord.

Terminus Nord
23 rue de Dunkerque,

Essex Eating in Paris - L'Epi Dupin

Another night in Paris, another restaurant. This one I didn't research on the Internet and it wasn't in the guidebook, but it provided the best meal I ate in Paris by far. A fellow food blogger, Gastrogeek recommended it to me via Twitter for which I'm extremely grateful.

I successfully managed to make a reservation for this restaurant myself, which had less to do with my frankly extremely poor French skills and everything to do with the fact that the Manager speaks perfect English. (and Japanese, as I found to my amazement when he started explaining the menu to a table of Far Eastern tourists next to ours).

L'Epi Dupin is located in a side street on the Left Bank, not too far from Bon Marche, the venerable Parisian department store.
We arrived on yet another sweltering Friday evening, in a bit of a fluster, as per normal we'd cut things a bit 'fine' getting ready, and despite the restaurant only being a brisk 20min walk from our hotel - we hadn't left enough time, and then to top it all managed to get lost.
The Manager was all smiles, no mention of our tardiness at all, politely showed us to our table and suggesting a glass of wine whilst we studied the wine menu.

Wine ordered - the chalk written Menu board was brought over for us to study, and I was surprised to see it was a set menu, three courses for 33 Euros. The waiter, also speaking excellent English happily (and patiently) talked us through the whole menu.
I ordered Duck Leg confit Pastilla with honey and coriander sauce, My GF ordered a Thai type dish of shredded sesame Chicken, with noodles in a lemongrass broth. (Bit vague on exactly what this dish was - but it tasted fantastic).
Before our starters arrived, an amuse-bouche was placed on our table of what I can only describe as a layered soup of cucumber and sweet potato. The cucumber layer was light in consistency, the bottom sweet potato layer was thicker almost syrupy, I thought it worked pretty well and was an unusual combination. My GF on the other hand was less impressed, and I ended up finishing hers off as well. Her loss.
Onto the starters, and the presentation was great, my Duck confit pastilla being in an unusual conical shape. The pastry shell was crisp but light, the duck filling had a subtle almost smoky taste which worked beautifully dipped in the sweet honey and coriander sauce on the side. I finished this course off in pretty short order, it was delicious.

Our mains were brought out next, I had ordered (literally translated) Beef Cheeks of twenty hours with carrots and sesame. My GF had gone for Duck Breast with petit pois, carrots and onions.
I've never eaten Beef Cheeks before, and what can I say - amazing. The beef was so tender and moist it literally just fell to pieces at a touch, stunning combined with the carrots, some pomme puree and crispy puffs (I presume these were the sesame?, they provided an interesting crunchy texture opposed to the softness of the beef, I'd be interested to know how to make these, if anyone has any idea?)
Honestly, one of the best plates of food I've eaten anywhere.
My partner was pretty impressed with her Duck, which was perfectly cooked, but we both agreed that I'd been more fortunate in my choice of main course.
Our empty plates cleared, Dessert arrived I'd ordered a Pistachio Macaron with cream of rhubarb and raspberry coulis. The GF went for the Apricots with raspberries, ice-cream and praline.
Again, nicely presented and again, I'd picked the better dish. Believe me, It was so good, the lightest crispy pistachio macaron sitting on a heap of sweet rhubarb cream - utterly gorgeous.
Expresso finished, it was time to settle up - and amazingly for a meal of this quality, three courses with wine - 120 Euros.
Gastrogeek recommended it to me, and now I'm recommending it to you - if your ever in Paris and want an excellent meal at a bargain price - Eat here.

L'Epi Dupin
11 Rue Dupin


Monday 6 July 2009

Essex Eating in Paris - Le Baratin

It's said that time spent planning is never wasted. I take this sage piece of advice seriously when it comes to eating abroad. Your only there for a few days and life's too short for bad food. A couple of weeks before any trip you'll find me with my head in a guide book or on the computer reading review after review planning, plotting....and errr....pondering.

My recent trip to Paris threw a slightly new consideration into the planning process - cost. Paris is always expensive, and what with the Pound to Euro rate being so abysmal, it's currently eye wateringly so. Therefore, not only did I have to find quality dining options, but they couldn't cost an arm and a leg. Easier said than done.

My research flagged up Le Baratin, a small Bistro in the Belleville area of Paris. The Chef, Raquel Carena's style is French home cooking with an Argentinian twist. apparently Pierre Herme the pastry chef superstar eats here regularly, as do foodies from all over France. It's also considered to be a bit of a bargain, so reservations are advised.
My French is pretty abysmal, I tried to book - really I did, playing my trump card to the hilt
"Bonsoir. Parlez vous Anglais?"
Works a treat if the answer is "Oui".....but if it happens to be "Non" - I'm shafted.... I ended up asking a French work colleague to book the restaurant for me because I couldn't be sure they'd understood my mangling of their language (Thanks again Lucie).

So, last Thursday I climbed the Pyrenees Metro station steps, emerging into an extremely balmy Parisian evening and made my way down the street to Le Baratin with my girlfriend in tow.
I was pleased to find your absolute classic Bistro, battered and worn but with bundles of character, a small bar and chalked menu boards. At 7-30pm we were the first customers there, which was a bit disconcerting - as was the realisation that my abysmal French was to be met with some almost equally abysmal English, which is always fun when deciphering the nuances of the menu.
We were waved to a table, our wine order was taken (A rather excellent bottle of Mathieu Cosme vouvray), and a large chalk board was placed on a chair for us to study.
I decided to order Gazpacho as a starter, it was swelteringly hot and the idea of eating ice cold soup really appealed. The GF went for an aubergine and mozzarella Gateau.

Orders taken, a basket of excellent bread was brought over, and we noticed other customers starting to arrive in a steady stream.

The starters were placed on the table, and my Gazpacho was excellent - ice cold, with a quite smooth consistency it was really tasty. I ate the lot along with most of the bread. My partner was equally happy with her choice, although she was initially slightly worried that they'd got her order wrong, It arrived as a perfectly pressed cylinder of aubergine and mozzarella - she was imagining it to look a bit more rustic and thought she'd been proffered some kind of unidentified fish dish. No photos of the starter I'm afraid, to be honest I felt a bit intimidated at first taking photos, - but I loosened up a bit after necking a fair old quantity of the excellent wine.

Next we were onto the mains, I went for Oxtail a l'orange with haricots beans and herbs. My GF chose a Fish dish, the subtleties of which we couldn't quite grasp with our limited French skills.
The Bistro was really buzzing now, packed with people. The Bartender was taking his wine serving extremely seriously, decanting the wines into glass vessels, swirling and then taking a sniff before serving, something you don't often see in the UK.
The food arrived, and it looked pretty good. I got two portions of meltingly tender Oxtail, falling off the bone at the touch of my fork with a selection of vegetables which were cooked perfectly(supposedly not that common in France where overcooked soft veg is the norm). Again, I ate the lot and couldn't have been happier.

Finally onto Dessert, we both chose the Fondant au Chocolate, imagining it to be the hot, soft in the middle chocolate fondant we all know and love. Instead we got a slab of rich soft chocolate, falling somewhere in between mousse and chocolate proper in consistency. It was not quite what we expected but tasted gorgeous.
With an espresso drunk, the bill paid and feeling slightly worse for wear, we offered cheery au revoirs and spilled out into the street to get the Metro back to the center of town.
The verdict - Excellent. Your authentic Paris Bistro, seriously good food (Pierre Herme can't be wrong!) and the bill for two, with wine coming in at around 120 Euros, which for Paris, is very cheap.

Le Baratin
3 Rue Jouye-Rouve.
20th Arrondisment.