Monday 28 September 2009

Snow Flakes and Schnapps - A Review.

Now that it's Autumn, with the nights drawing in and the weather getting a bit cooler, my foodie thought processes are slowly turning towards hearty winter grub, stews, casseroles and the like. The sort of food our distant cousins on the continent do so well in the more snow laden, fairytale parts of mainland Europe, so imagine how pleased I was to be sent 'Snow Flakes and Schnapps' by Jane Lawson to review.

So, first impressions....
This is an incredibly well made book, coffee table food porn of the highest order. Beautiful food photography, an obviously expensive tactile dustcover with raised 'bumps' on, which I can't stop running my fingertips over.....maddeningly addictive. Its heavy and luxurious - so much so, in fact, that if I'd paid for it I'd think twice about actually cooking from it. What a shame to cover it with the collateral damage of grease spatters and stains that my cookbooks normally succumb to.
So, we've established, it's an absolute looker of a cookbook.....and that's all well and good, but what are the recipes like?

There's a whole collection of recipes spanning Northern, Central and Eastern Europe including the traditional fare of Scandinavia, Germany and Russia, to name but a few. That's not to say the recipes themselves are traditional, the author freely admits to having experimented to obtain the 'finest versions of each'. But they're all here, your Stollen's, your fondue's, your schnitzel's...

Obviously you can't review a recipe book without actually cooking something from it, and after a flick through I decided on the suitably exotic sounding Meatballs with Vodka Dill Cream sauce. The recipe was well written and easy to follow, and the results were pretty nice. I'm not entirely convinced by the vodka dill cream sauce, it was extremely rich, but the meatballs were lovely. Here's the recipe so you can have a go at this yourself:-

Meatballs with vodka Dill Cream Sauce.
Serves 4-6

You'll Need:-
160g Fresh White Breadcrumbs
186ml whipping cream
350g Minced Beef
350g Minced Pork
1 Large Egg
1 Onion, finely chopped
1/4 Tsp freshly grated nutmeg
a pinch of ground allspice
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Oil
1 Tbs Plain Flour
435Ml Hot Beef Stock
1 1/2 Tbs chopped Dill (plus extra to garnish).
80ml Vodka
Lingonberry preserves to serve.

Combine the breadcrumbs and 125ml of the cream, and leave to sit until the breadcrumbs have absorbed all the liquid. Add the Beef and Pork mince, egg, onion, nutmeg, allspice, salt and white pepper and combine well. Roll the mixture into 3cm balls and place in a single layer on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours to allow the flavours to develop.

When ready to cook, heat half of the butter with the oil in a large heavy based frying pan over a medium-high heat (do not use a non-stick pan). Cook the meatballs in batches , for 4-6 minutes each, or until browned all over. Remove and set aside.
Add the remaining butter and the flour to the pan and stir. Gradually whisk in the hot stock and the remaining cream, scraping up any cooked-on bits. Add the dill and 3 tablespoons of the vodka, and bring to the boil, whisking continously until smooth and thickened slightly. Return the meatballs to the pan along with any resting juices, and cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Stir through the remaining Vodka and season to taste. Garnish with the fresh dill and serve with Lingonberry preserves as a condiment.

Tip: Serve the meatballs over some sauteed or mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, with the Lingonberry preserves on the side as a condiment. A shot of Vodka is a must!

(Just like to point out, I served with Cranberry standing in as a stunt double for Lingonberry which I had trouble sourcing at short notice, and I declined the suggested 'must have' vodka shot, reasoning that my poor liver gets a battering enough as it is, without startling it with an unexpected dousing of vodka at mealtimes).

So that's the good, what about the bad and the ugly?
Well - the chapter headings are incredibly 'camp' and I don't mean in an alpine yodellers tent kind of way. Particularly the chapter titled 'Diamonds and Fur', slightly tacky to say the least. The recipes, throughout, although for the most part excellent have no accompanying notes explaining where exactly the dishes originate from, which country or region eats this food, no sense of the history or tradition behind the cooking and I think it's a real glaring omission, because that's exactly the sort of thing I want to know and something that may draw me to a recipe - the knowledge that I'm eating Russian Peasant food or cooking a traditional meal cooked by farmers in Bavaria really appeals to me.

For all that, it's a beautiful book with some very intriguing recipes, ('Molten Black Forest Puddings with Cherry Compote and Kirsh Cream' I'm looking at you). I'm not sure I'd buy it at the full price competing as it is with my very full Amazon wishlist. It's good, but the previously mentioned lack of basic information concerning the origin of the dishes, for me stops it attaining 'must have' status.
But of course, this is just my opinion, so I suggest you peruse 'Snow Flakes and Schnapps' in a bookshop, if only to feel what a truly quality recipe book should feel like. Rub the tactile cover and groan to yourself quietly, then flick through the recipes, if it speaks to you buy it.

Many thanks to Murdoch Books for the review copy.

Snowflakes and Schnapps is available for £12.50 from Amazon

Thursday 17 September 2009

Paul A Young - Revisited

I've posted about London based artisan chocolatier, Paul A Young's offerings before, when I purchased some as a Valentines present for my Girlfriend. But, after recently attending a chocolate tasting session at Paul's Camden Passage shop I now realise how utterly lacking my knowledge was on the product I had helped the GF demolish back in February.
I knew they were good, that's why I bought them. But was oblivious to just quite how high the level of quality was. Blind to the effort, thought and sheer passion that goes into making them. The chocolate tasting evening really was an eye opening experience.

Paul's chocolates are completely handmade in the traditional sense, using the very finest quality natural ingredients. There are no preservatives or nasties used in their making at all, they are freshly made each day in the kitchen beneath the Islington shop and therefore have a shelf life of only 7 days. What became very clear to me as the evening progressed is that there is a yawning chasm between the quality of Paul's offerings, and the 'luxury' chocolate brands you may have sampled on the high street.

What also became clear was how much thought goes into their creation, I really was surprised to find that chocolate from Madagascar always has a fruity taste or that the defining characteristic of Ivory Coast chocolate was a tang of coconut.
I learnt that to eat fine chocolate, you should allow the chocolate to melt slowly on the tongue, breathing deeply which helps the flavours develop and after sampling a range of different chocolate I was amazed at what flavours became apparent:- Liquorice, brown sugar, maltiness, smokiness, even a not unpleasant musty taste.
Some chocolate hits the taste buds on the front of the tongue first, some the taste buds at the back, some suddenly floods your mouth with flavor and some are more subtle or long lasting. It's very like wine-tasting.

There are limitless possibilities available and what is truly amazing is that Paul takes all of this information, and then blends different types of chocolate and tastes together to create exactly the flavour needed. I was truly astounded by this, I had no idea so much thought and planning went into making his chocolates.

It also became apparent how passionate Paul and his business partner James are about what they're doing. It was stressed that they're making the very best chocolates money can buy, the hard way, no shortcuts no mass-production, no selling out. The quality and integrity of what they're doing is paramount to them and it was fantastic to hear. I came away impressed beyond measure. I should also add, that both Paul and James are very entertaining, friendly and humorous guys.

Paul stocks a selection of premium chocolate in bars from producers such as Amedei, Valrhona and Michel Cluizel these are serious bars of chocolate with serious prices to match. Among the best chocolate available to buy anywhere in the world.
Paul and James also unveiled that they are the first people anywhere in the world outside the US to stock a new artisan chocolate called 'Tcho' which is a real coup for them, they were extremely excited about it. The production methods involved being innovative and described by James as 'tearing up the rulebook'.

But what I really wanted to try were Paul's own handmade chocolates and was lucky enough to sample a selection of the more unusual and popular flavours, Stilton and Port chocolate (very nice, rich with, as expected a very pleasant Port and Stilton creaminess ), A Marmite chocolate (If anything, even better, a rich sweet hit of Marmite, quite subtle, not too extreme, surprising), and last but not least a multi award winning Salted Caramel (off the chart, incredible,full to the brim with an impossible amount of rich salted caramel filling - the mark of an excellent chocolate).
All the chocolates I sampled were seriously good, extremely rich and decadent, you couldn't eat more than a couple in one sitting.

How much do they cost?
Individual chocolates are priced at £1.75, and boxes start with a 4 piece box at £6, a 9 piece box at £13, an 18 piece box at £25 to a whopping 40 piece box at £50, none of which is actually that bad price wise when you consider the quality of the chocolate your purchasing.

So, in conclusion this was one of the best evenings I've attended as a food blogger, I learnt to really appreciate how to taste chocolate, and I also learned how much effort goes into making high quality products such as Paul's. I think it's fantastic that London has an artisan chocolatier of this quality working in the city and I can think of no better treat or present for a chocolate lover than a box of Paul's creations.

I will certainly be purchasing some again the first chance I get.

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates

Camden Passage,


N1 8EA

Tel: +44 (0)20 7424 5750

Sunday 13 September 2009

Oxtail with Rioja and Chorizo

I've admired a particular recipe in the second Moro cookbook, 'Casa Moro' for some time. I've studied the accompanying photograph of the finished dish more times than is probably healthy, and often wondered what it tastes like. But, I've just never got around to cooking it. The dish is 'Rabo De Toro con Rioja' or for those who donta speaka EspaƱol (Who me?) it's 'Oxtail with Rioja and Chorizo'.

The reason why so far I've only admired this dish from afar, but never actually cooked it is the fact that it involves two cooking sessions on subsequent days. Two hours in the pot stewing on day one, a night in the fridge to improve the flavours, and then another 30 mins cooking with the chorizo on the second day. Call me lazy, but it just seemed like too much effort.

But, for all that, I love Oxtail and the recipe is always there, lurking in the (admittedly) mostly empty recesses of my mind, just waiting for the chance to burst forth into my kitchen. That opportunity finally arrived last week when Abel & Cole sent me some Organic Oxtail to try.

The Oxtail, seemingly delivered at the crack of dawn (I noticed the box left outside the front door as I left for work) was as before (see Chicken) well protected in a polystyrene cool box with frozen gel packs to keep it cool. So far, so good. The actual Oxtail was a selection in a pre-packed plastic package, labelled with the farm which supplied it (Manor Farm, which the A&C website informs me is in Wiltshire).

Studying the contents, the major drawback about ordering something like this online became evident. Everyone likes nice meaty chunks of Oxtail, If I was buying it at the butchers - that's what I'd pick out. But the A&C package had a few large chunks but also some smaller pieces, which I certainly wouldn't have chosen at the butchers. I know it's probably a waste thing, and it's the whole tail - but, and this is the point, when ordering meat online through A&C or one of their competitors, until it arrives you have no idea what pieces your actually getting.

That small niggle aside, onto the actual recipe:-

Oxtail with Rioja and Chorizo
Serves 4-6

You'll Need:-

The Day Before....

3 Tbs Olive Oil
1.5Kg Oxtail sliced into 5cm chunks
1 Carrot, cut into chunks
1 Onion, quartered
1 Celery stick, cut into chunks
5 Black Peppercorns
2 Bay Leaves
4 Sprigs of fresh Thyme
4 Cloves
2 Garlic Cloves
1 Bottle red Rioja
10 Parsley Stalks
Sea salt and black pepper

On the Day of Eating....

2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, finely diced
1 Medium Carrot, finely diced
120g Cooking Chorizo, cut into 1cm rounds.
2 Tbs Plain Flour
1 Tsp Sweet Paprika
1/4 Tsp hot Paprika (or dried red chilli flakes).
1/4 Tsp Fennel Seeds, ground.
1-2 Tbs Tomato Puree

The day before, heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium to high heat. Season the Oxtail, and brown well on all sides. (You'll probably need to do this in batches).
Remove the Oxtail from the pan, putting to one side, and pour off the excess fat, before adding the carrot, onion and celery.
Fry for 5 minutes until starting to colour and then add the peppercorns, bay, thyme, cloves and garlic.
Fry for 2 minutes.
Return the Oxtail to the pan, add the Rioja and Parsley Stalks and cover with water.
Bring to a gentle simmer on a low heat and cook until tender (around 2 hours or possibly longer) adding water if the liquids boil down below the top of the meat.
The Oxtail is ready when the meat can easily be pulled from the bone, but not so soft it falls off on its own.
Transfer the Oxtail to a bowl, and strain the juices through a sieve over the meat. Cool and put in the fridge overnight.

On the day of eating, remove as much fat as possible from the chilled Oxtail (Don't throw it, put it in a container, freeze it and use it to roast potatoes in perhaps).
Heat the Olive Oil in a large saucepan over a medium to high heat. When hot, add the Onion and Carrot, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the Chorizo and fry for five more minutes. Stir in the flour, fry for a couple more minutes and then add the Paprika's, Fennel Seeds, and Tomato Puree.
Add the Oxtail with its stock to the pan and season with salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
Serve with Mash Potatoes, or as is usual in Spain, Fried Potatoes.

So, there's the recipe. What did it taste like?
Gorgeous. The ultimate comfort food served with Mash, the gravy was rich, the Oxtail extremely tender and falling from the bone. Perfect grub as the nights are getting colder and we start to move into Autumn.

But what was even better, although perhaps slightly risky was, having some cooked Oxtail and loads of the beautiful gravy leftover, pulling the meat from the bone, refrigerating and re-heating the next day. Serving it again with Mash.
I was in two minds about this, as it meant I'd be chilling and re-heating the Oxtail twice - which probably isn't the best idea.....but, and it's a big BUT, it tasted so good. I just couldn't waste it, and thought it was worth the risk. I'm so glad I did, because if anything it tasted even better the second day. The Gravy you get from Oxtail is like nothing else.

So in conclusion, the Moro Recipe is indeed the cracker I suspected, well worth the two day effort. Abel & Cole's Oxtail, was nice, no complaints but being within easy walking distance of two Butchers, It's not something I'd bother ordering online myself. But, if for some reason you don't live near a butchers, are already an A&C customer or are just unable to source Oxtail, then it could well be for you.

Thanks to Abel & Cole for providing the Oxtail.

Sunday 6 September 2009

The Eagle Cookbook - A Review.

Regular readers of my Blog may remember me mentioning The Eagle cookbook perhaps errr.....once or twice. It's been out of print for ages and it's probably one of the best recipe books I own. I've cooked from it a hell of a lot.
Well, it's recently been re-issued and updated. And, joy - I've been sent a copy to review.

Before I start- in case your not aware, The Eagle located in Farringdon Road, London is considered to be the pub that started the Gastro Pub revolution, I've eaten there quite a few times and the food is no-nonsense, Italian/Portugese/Spanish Peasant influenced type grub, very well cooked. The whole concept, including the interior, Victorian, battered, thrown together with mismatched furniture has been copied by countless gastro pubs all over the country. If your in the Farringdon area, it's well worth a visit - Their popular signature dish, the Bife Ana Steak Sandwich is incredibly good, it's the one item that's been on the menu every single day since the Pub opened, and I can highly recommend it. (Incidentally, the recipe for this is thankfully in the book, so you can have a go at re-creating it at home).

Which leads me nicely onto the recipe book...
It's all looking a bit slicker than my battered older edition.

The main difference between the New edition and the old, (apart from the original title 'Big Flavours and Rough Edges' being dropped), is a general slickness and tidying up, it looks beautiful and there's some fantastic food photography now (My old edition has lovely pencil drawings, and some photography, but strangely none of the actual food.... nice but a bit hard to interpret what the dishes are supposed to look like ). An equally important addition is some new recipes which, I've painstakingly tried to pick easy task - Not!. The recipes aren't listed in the same order, and the Index in the old book is incredibly hard to cross-reference against. Here's a list, of what I believe are new recipes...

Pork and Bean Soup
Spicy Mussel Soup
Pasta & Pesto alla Genovese
Risotto Nero
Charmoula Mackerel (Provided by Sam & Sam Clark of Moro fame)
Grilled Fennel Sausages, Lentils and Green Sauce.
Mutton Chop and Potato Hotpot
Braised Provencal vegetables
Sicilian Augergine Relish
Braised Puy Lentils
Celeriac Remoulade

So, I make that 12 new recipes in this edition - a couple of the dishes I actually cook regularly already (Pasta & Pesto Alla Genovese - my recipe
here and the Grilled Fennel Sausages, which you can actually buy in G. Gazzano & Sons, just a couple of doors up from The Eagle - I posted about these before here).
I've also noticed at least one recipe I think has been dropped between editions - unless I'm going blind and missed it.
'Patatas Rettenos -Braised Wild Boar with Potatoes'.

I was also slightly disappointed to see that there's still no Portuguese custard tart recipe - the only dessert that The Eagle actually sells, gorgeous at around a £1 a go - although, perhaps a dessert section in the book with only one dish was considered a bit strange!

The recipes, especially the pasta dishes are really good indeed, I've tried so many of them with excellent results, in fact it'd probably be easier to list dishes I hadn't cooked out of this book, than the dishes I have, here's a few examples...

Spaghetti with roasted Fennel, Lemon and Chilli
Egg Fettucine with Ricotta, Peas and Smoked Pancetta.
Tagliata - Cut Seared Beef Salad.

If you own a previous edition, I'm not entirely convinced that it's worth shelling out more money for the re-issue, even with the 12 new recipes. Although, saying that, the new layout is nicer being much easier to read and there's the addition of excellent food photography (In fact, I was convinced that the Peas with Chorizo and Poached Egg recipe was a new addition - until I found it in my old copy, simply overlooked due to no picture of the actual dish).

So, in conclusion. It's fairly simple, I have no problem whatsoever endorsing this book, (I've been doing it for ages!) I absolutely love it. If you don't already own a copy, it's a must have.

The Eagle
159 Farringdon Road,

Telephone: 0872 148 4071

Big Thanks to Absolute Press for the review copy.