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Cook Book Challenge 3: Nigella Express

27 Jan

Title: Nigella Express

Author: Nigella Lawson

Stats: paperback, pages 390

Blurb:  “The domestic goddess is back and this time it’s instant”, “Once you’ve seen what Nigella can do for you in 20 minutes, you’ll never want anything else”.

Cooked from it before? Yes, fewer than 5 times.

Recipe:  Lazy Loaf.

Nigella Express

This is Nigella’s first appearance here, I have several of her books so I’ll try and space them out a little. As you’d expect from the Domestic Goddess the book is a stylish affair with luscious photography, and Lawson’s trademark style of writing, which I personally really enjoy. Recipes are grouped into themes such as “retro rapido” for classic dishes and “on the run” for packed lunches.

Lazy Loaf 1

The majority of recipes don’t have long lists of ingredients which are easily available but for some reason this book just hasn’t grabbed me. This may be because although the ingredients are easily available they aren’t the sort of thing I have in the house, and don’t see the point of going out to buy them for a supposedly quick dinner. So, finding us low on bread and the shops closed I thought I’d try the lazy loaf recipe, which as well as promising fabulous bread with minimal effort also uses ingredients we actually had, yeast, muesli, bread flour and milk.

Lazy Loaf Ingredients

With no kneading, and no proving time the mixing stage is very simple; everything in a bowl and stir.

Lazy Loaf 4

The cooking is slightly more complex, needing a temperature change part way through but otherwise it does live up to its promised ease. Here is the finished loaf…

Lazy Loaf 2

The recipe does say the loaf will be dense and it is, but in a similar way to a non yeasted bread. Also despite containing yeast it doesn’t rise much. The loaf goes into a cold oven which I may be to give it a little time to rise but don’t expect a loaf with lots of oomph. The muesli gave added texture and the occasional nugget of dried fruit was a welcome addition. The loaf was really tasty, it lasted well and toasted nicely, we mainly ate it for breakfast but I think it would have gone well with cheese too making it a good all rounder too.

Cook it again? Yes but I’m still not sure anything else has caught my eye.

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Cook Book Challenge 2: Russian Polish and German Cooking

20 Jan

Title: Russian German and Polish Cooking

Author: various contributing editor Lesley Chamberlain

Stats: paperback, 256 pages

Blurb: “The first full-colour, truly comprehensive collection of Eastern European recipes”.

Cooked from it before? No

Recipe: Hungarian Goulash

Polish book

I’ll be honest I’m not sure why I bought this book! It was a random purchase from a garden centre. It may have been the promise of Romanian recipes, I taught English there for two summers and have very fond memories, but it turns out there are only really two recipes from Romania. The rest have very little information about their heritage, although it is spilt into chapters for each country or area. That said it is a book about cooking not culture, history or anthropology and a £4.99 maybe you get what you pay for.

Polish book inside

Disappointed, less than enamoured by the dated looking photography and falling into the trap of assuming everything would be heavy and potato based this book languished on the shelf. It has been cold this week and The Man said he would like something hearty and warming so this book finally had it’s chance to impress with Hungarian Goulash.

Goulash ingredients

The recipe has a simple list of ingredients, only specifying that beef should be used, Lamb makes it a different type of goulash and flour should not be used so the finished dish is a thin stew and any thickness coming from the potato breaking down. The recipe instructions were clear and simple but didn’t give too much guidance e.g chopped onions leaves a lot of room for interpretation but equally creativity and is in keeping with the no frills theme of the rest of the book.

The goulash was simple to cook, and didn’t require much attention or stirring etc; although I did fail to judge how much it would make and switched pans.

Given my initial scepticism about this book and it’s potential I was really surprised by how tasty this was.

Goulash Finished

Rich, warming and flavoursome, perfect in cold weather and I’d imagine very welcome in the depths of a Hungarian winter. The Man was surprised and impressed too. The only let down for me were the dumplings, yes that’s what you can see floating in there. I raised my eyebrows at these from the start as they only contain plain flour and egg, no seasoning or additional flavour. I found them chewy and gluey and lacking in flavour. Rib sticking? Yes, tasty ? No! Perhaps if I’d made them smaller, like very small pasta it would have been better but I’d leave them out next time.

Cook it again: Yes and there are a couple of puddings I’d like to make including sweet cheese dumplings but I have a feeling it will be a while before I do.

Cook Book Challenge 1: The Italian Cookery Course

13 Jan

Title: The Italian Cookery Course

caldesi book

Author: Katie Caldesi

Stats: hardback, 511 pages.

Blurb “the definitive guide to discovering and cooking Italy’s many gastronomic treasures”

Cooked from it before? Yes but fewer than 5 times.

Recipe: Ragu alla Bolognese

I picked this off the shelf because the first response I got from a friend on facebook was that I should cook Spag Bol and this seemed the most obvious choice from a number of contenders!*

I think this is a gorgeous book, very stylishly presented with beautiful photography but full of detail and quality recipes.

caldesi pages

Each recipe is prefaced with some background, tips about key ingredients or an anecdote giving the book a more conversational style and means you learn something extra as well as how to cook the dish.

Caldesi Bolognese

As you can see Caldesi’s recipe has a relatively small number of ingredients which are all easy to get hold of. It also includes chicken livers (the dark red mass to the right of the picture) and milk both more traditional ingredients in Bologna but which certainly weren’t in the versions of this my mum used to make!

I wouldn’t say the book as a whole it is aimed at completely novice cooks, the recipes do assume some knowledge and confidence especially for more technical procedures like butterflying a leg of lamb but Katie Caldesi takes you through everything in clear steps. This recipe would be a great way into the book as it is straight forward, but delivers a depth of flavour (I think thanks to the chicken livers and milk) which sets it apart from other versions.

caldesi meat

For offal-phobes the liver is chopped very finely cooks down so you can’t taste it as an individual element but it gives an underlying richness and deeper flavour to the dish as does the milk. It does take a while to cook, around 2 hours, but it doesn’t need to be watched closely so you aren’t tied to the hob keeping an eye on it.

This is the final result.

Caldesi Bolognese finishes

A lovely, rich ragu, impressive given the lack of herbs and garlic I would normally put in. The meat is really the star of this recipe which is relatively light on tomato which doesn’t dominate here as they can in other versions.

Would I cook from it again? Yes and then some. There’s a recipe for an Oxtail dish from Rome which I will be trying very soon.

*Further book choices will be made in a similarly random manner.

Introducing our local Community Bakery!

13 Nov

One of the exciting things about moving to a new area is exploring the local shops and businesses and I’ll be honest The Man and I are pretty lucky, having moved near to some very lovely shops we are getting a little spoiled. As I harbour the dream that one day food will play more of a central role in my work life too I’m always interested in finding out how other people are making this a reality and support small local producers.

When I discovered Blackbird Bread on Twitter, I as keen to find out more about Twickenhams Community Bakery, and not just because of the name! After a flurry of tweets we took delivery of a wonderful foccacia which was eaten to quickly for a decent photograph but does feature here with figs and dolcelatte.

Image

Our next order was a sourdough loaf and a lemon drizzle cake as a treat.

ImageImageI loved the flavour of the sourdough and like the focaccia it kept very well, refreshing nicely even after a few days and I found we were finding more creative ways to use the bread, not letting it go to waste. The lemon drizzle was great too and disappeared very quickly!

The Blackbird bakes three times a week from his home kitchen and I’m looking forward to trying more of the great range of loaves. You can have your bread delivered in the local area for a small charge but I really enjoyed the slightly covert feeling of picking my loves up from a house on a street not too far away.

When a lot a big supermarkets are stocking “artisan” bread and a local bakery can shift loaves without  price list seemingly regardless of where they are baked it feels nice supporting someone who is taking a different path; producing a small number of quality loaves for the local area. Sticking it to the big guys one loaf at a time!

If you live in Twickenham go and check out Blackbird Bread if not have a look around, the person next door might just be a a community baker…it could even be you!

The Hungry Sparrow goes to New York

1 Jan

The blog has been quite quiet in December partly because I’ve been very busy,  partly due to poor planning if I’m honest, and because The Man and I have been on holiday to New York. I don’t want to waffle on about it, apart from to say it was amazing, if slightly disconcerting to be in a city you have seen so often in films, on TV in books etc. However, it’s fair to say food featured pretty heavily in what we did so here is a quick canter through some of the highlights.

Lox Special on a pumpernickel bagel in Brooklyn; salmon, cream cheese, red onion and capers.

Fresh and tasty vegan sandwiches from Peace Food Cafe , spiky service though perhaps they were having a bad day.

Chippotle turkey at the trendy and packed  Westville East

A Kasha (buckwheat) Knish,  substantial Eastern European Jewish food designed to keep out the cold of a harsh winter. We also ate them from Yonah Schimmel Knishes, tasty pastry cannon balls; it’s a good job we did a lot of walking to burn them off.

Tacos from Brookly Taco Company, hot sauce mandatory!

Green mango chips with chili sugar salt at Fatty Crab, wow!

Moreish but lethal cocktails from Temple Bar, The Man and I got very merry on these.

So those are the highlights, a nod should also go to this fab food tour  of the Lower East Side that the Man found online which filled a damp afternoon with interesting sights, smells and tastes! We also managed to have brunch at Shopsins somewhere I’ve wanted to go since The Man bought me this book. I loved it and it was every thing I sort of hoped it would be, but there are no photos as we followed “the rules”. Some people hate it and I can see why that might be, a read of the Google Reviews sums up the two schools very well. For what it’s worth I loved the food and they were borderline friendly to us!

A bread masterclass with Warings Bakery

23 Oct

A post in which I learn to make a decent loaf of bread. The Man and I have had a bread maker since last Christmas and have really enjoyed “making” our own bread but I’ve become more interested in the hands on process of making bread. However, despite having a brilliant book about on the subject and my Mum being pretty good at making bread I’ve never really made a hand-made loaf (apart from soda bread) that resembles anything other than a house brick! That is until I went on a bread making masterclass with the lovely team at Warings Bakery in Reading.

I joined 6 other keen bakers for a four-hour masterclass which we were assured would leave us much more confident; as well as leaving with our own freshly made bread. Under the knowledgeable, funny and supportive guidance of two of the Warings family we worked our way through 5 types of dough, different shaped loaves and a variety of rolls. There is a lack of photos from the early stage because I very rapidly got flour and dough all over my hands. It was the first class they have run and if there were any teething problems or nerves it didn’t show.

This is the haul I went home with, glowing with pride that I’d made proper bread and it was all pretty darn successful!

Clockwise from the top, white coburg, seeded brown vienna loaf, my attempt at a four strand poppy seed plait (enriched dough) and a humble but very tasty brown tin loaf.

Rolls, loads of them! Cottage rolls, knots with poppy seeds and some cheese topped soft rolls; I had to share these with The Man something I was not entirely happy with, they were so lovely). My favorite bread was the focaccia we made we the enriched dough (we also used this to make the plait and some rolls)

I’ve made focaccia before but this one; made  with a rich dough, topped with rosemary, garlic oil, sea salt and olives and brushed with even more oil when it came out of the oven it was delicious.

I found the 4 hours going very quickly,  we had an introduction to the principles of making bread including stretching the gluten and  how yeast works and then began mixing and kneading, knocking back and shaping furiously, working on one dough at a time while others rose and proofed. Baking is hungry work, so while our creations baked we were treated to a cream tea using Warings bread and some cracking scones which apparently they don’t make very often ( but really should).

I have to admit, much to the amusement of my fellow bakers, it was very excited at the prospect of my bread coming out of the oven, it felt a bit like Christmas and I had a stupid grin on my face for most of the afternoon!

We had the opportunity to taste the bread as it came out of the oven and look at the texture and crumb. We went home loaded with what we had made, a Warings apron, recipe cards for everything we had made, the smell of fresh bread in my car was so powerful I had difficulty not tucking in on the way home and saving some for The Man, lucky I’d filled up on scones.

I really enjoyed myself, being taught in a small group by such enthusiastic knowledgable people was great fun and I’m pretty sure I got better as the course went on and I’ve made bread since and it’s much better than before so I must have remembered something! Warings are going to be running more masterclasses and covering different breads and pastry and if this first class was anything to go by they will be great. I’d recommend them as a great way for beginners or the baffled like me to develop your skills and confidence and have a great time doing it.

Reading Town Meal

16 Oct

Another weekend of eating but not cooking, basking in early October sunshine I spent a lovely afternoon in Readings Forbury Gardens and the first Reading Town Meal. The meal was the brain child of  Food4Families who work with schools and families across the borough to create a network of food growing spaces.

Bringing together allotment-holders, gardeners and producers with catering students from Reading College who prepared and cooked the meal the afternoon saw around 1000 meals served to a crowd who also enjoyed live music, cookery demonstrations and a host of other things in the glorious sunshine. The weather brought the community out in force, but the organisation went really smoothly and soon people were spreading out on the grass to enjoy the food.

A zingily dressed mixed salad with beetroot and some borlotti beans which were an interesting and welcome addition. The main was a mild curry which contained lots of squashes , impressive as it hasn’t been a particularly good year for growing them.

The service was staggered so those who ate early had time to look around the stalls or watch a demonstration like I did, picking up a nifty recipe for partridge, although I think it would work with other meats. Pudding was a Canterbury Tart, making the most of this years bumper crop of apples.

I found it a little too sharp for my liking, but that’s probably personal taste and when you take into consideration the huge amount of work involved in putting together the event it was really a minor quibble, and it didn’t stop me eating all of it. The sunshine helped create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere and despite the fact that I was in the minority coming on my own I felt perfectly at home. I thought the town meal was a great event, really well organised and an inspiring model of what can be achieved across a town like Reading. All in all it was a tasty and inspiring afternoon.


the great south bank food crawl part 2

22 Aug

Picking up where the last post left off; after eating such a silly amount of food, The Man and I decided to walk it off and take in a bit of culture on the way. We took in the Kenneth Grange exhibition at the Design Museum, the Blue Print Cafe has some good reviews and the museum cafe looks nice but we didn’t feel like eating anything quite yet. After the museum we waddled along the river to the South Bank Centre itself for more foodie treats. This summer there are all sorts of fun things going on and a lot if them are free so it’s a great place to people watch and spend a few hours.

Stop 6. Chorizo and a Fire Engine. We almost walked past Engine Food, parked outside The National theatre, but The Man was drawn to cute red fire engine and by the time we had taken some photos the smell of freshly cooked chorizo had drawn us in.

The combination of scrummy chorizo from The Bath Pig, roasted peppers, chilli jam and fiery rocket was a very tasty combination and would make a great lunch and show case just how good British produce can be. They also do a veggie option with halloumi from the High Weald Dairy in West Sussex

Stop 7. The Real Food Market tucked away behind the Royal Festival Hall celebrated UK food producers and street food. With a changing list of stalls you never know quite what is going to be on offer, but that’s part of the fun.

We indulged in “a bit of everything” from Ghanaian Food company Spinach and Agushi  ( you may remember them from the program (The Restaurant). We were curious not having had Ghanaian food before so went for a tasting plate of everything with a chilli sauce so hot it gave me hiccups but left The Man unscathed, to be fair I was warned by the guys on the stall.

We demolished our very tasty plate full and then went to cool down and stop the hiccups with some rose and watermelon sorbet from Sorbitum Ices, very refreshing and just the ticket.

We bumped into one of the guys from Spinach and Agushi in the queue who had a good laugh at my predicament.  We picked up some more Bath Pig Chorizo to take home and retired for a sit down and a drink at stop 8.

Stop 8. A beer with a view at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden. The roof has been transformed by a team from the Eden Project and is a great place to relax, sit on the grass watch the bees on the allotment or just grab a drink and take in a fabulous view of London, lovely stuff. We were starting to flag a little by this point so not photos as they all have our stuffed little faces in them. All I can say is it’s a good job the next stop was just down the stairs.

Stop 9. Chowpatti on Thames. Having been impressed by Dishoom I was keen to try out their summer pop up beach bar and had heared good things about it on the internet. It lived up to my expectations maintaining the buzz and quirkyness of the main cafe. We had light ish bites; bhel, tangy with pomegranate and chutney;

and a fried egg naan which was delicious but very messy to eat.

The green coconut in the background was a “naughty” version with added rum, it was pretty expensive but worth it as a treat and for the novelty. Chowpatty beach is open until the 4th of October so if you’re in the area give it a try, you can’t miss it sticking out like a multi coloured thumb amongst all the concrete. With only one stop left and some serious eating behind us we walked up river to the SIS more commonly know as the MI6 building in Vauxhall and back. After trying not to look so suspicious and resisting the urge to pull faces at CCTV cameras we headed back down river to Hungerford Bridge for out last stop.

Stop 10. Under the Bridge. The underside of Hungerford Bridge is the current home of Pitt Cue Co. Not the most glamorous setting, but I did enjoy the South Bank entertainment of a  grizzled punk blowing bubbles for a crowd of delighted kids. Based in a shiny trailer the American BBQ being served up here has been getting rave reviews since they opened. I have to say The Man and I were not disappointed. We shared a box of pulled pork, BBQ beans, excellent bread and pickles which was more than enough by this point.

We also had a well mixed Negroni each.

I’m a sucker for a Negroni, I love them and not too many places have them on their drinks menu so I was sold on PittCue while we stood chatting to the staff while they mixed our drinks. Settling down on yellow plastic stools I forgot how much I’d already eaten that day at sight of our very generous helping of top notch pulled pork, tender silk meat in a genuinely tasty and not at all cloying sauce. For £7 you could eat a lot worse in the area, The Man went back with his brother the next week and had a box to himself and confirmed that it is more than enough for one, and was just as good. The menu varies, and items are often sold out by 8.30 so get there early and go soon as PittCue is only around until early September go while you still can, although this isn’t one for vegetarians, sorry.

The last step was to stagger, tipsy but happy to Waterloo, collapse into a train seat and head home, stomachs bulging, waistbands straining and trying not to think how many calories and how many extra pounds were involved in the whole affair.

the great south bank food crawl part 1

14 Aug

Also know as the day The Man and I made piglets of ourselves for a whole day, but we did walk a lot so I’m sure we burned off the calories; well that’s what I’m telling myself any way!

In honour of The Man’s birthday we went on a walking and eating (mostly eating) tour or London’s South Bank, it was a great day out filled with wonderful food and a chance to track down some of the food, producers and places to eat I have been hearing about on other blogs and on twitter but can’t get to often as we don’t live or work in London

We started the day at Maltby Street in Bermondsey and the surrounding area.  Based around a set of railway arches, on Saturday morning producers, retailers and wholesalers throw open their doors to the public. There has been a lot written about Maltby Street and it’s relationship with Borough Market and some of the traders were understandably a little camera-shy but still very welcoming.

Stop 1 Doughnuts. The first thing we wanted to try were custard doughnuts from the St John Bakery, they seem to have gathered almost cult status among food bloggers in London.

They didn’t disappoint, categorically the best filled doughnut I have ever eaten; soft fluffy dough that still managed to hold its shape and structure. The custard, oh the custard! Vanilla flecked and incredibly light, each doughnut contains an improbable amount of it too, ready to escape over the hands, face and even hair of the eater; it’s a messy process. We practically inhaled ours and they were so good we went back later for seconds!

Stop 2 Staffordshire Oatcakes. Just down the road from those doughnuts we found an arch selling freshly made Staffordshire Oatcakes filled with cheese and onion. This appealed to my northern side, but The Man (very much from the south) thought they were delicious too and the stall holder was happy to share the basic recipe which was an added bonus.

Stop 3 La Grotta Ices. Next up award winning ice-cream from La Grotta, a cute set up selling ice-cream from the back of a tiny Italian van. Don’t let the cuteness fool you, these are serious ices. I haven’t eaten strawberry ice-cream for years as I hate the often synthetic taste but my Strawberry and Orange blossom cone was anything but, it actually tasted of strawberries, a whole bucket of them with a subtle orange blossom perfume. The Man’s Barbados custard got a big thumbs up too, plenty of rum in there!

Stop 4 Time for a beer! All that eating was proving thirsty work so we grabbed a bottle of IPA from The Kernel Brewery who were selling beer out of the arches they brew in with a couple of tables outside.

At 6.7% it isn’t a brew to be sniffed at, a golden colour with a bit of fruity sweetness with enough bitterness at the end to balance that it provided much-needed refreshment and a bit of tipsyness.

Stop 5 More Cheese! After a little walk, about 6 minutes we arrived at Kappacasein for one of the best cheese toasties I’ve every eaten (and I’ve eaten quite a few).

Polaine Sourdough, feisty montgomery cheddar and a mix of onion, leek and garlic. Toasted on a flat press type grill, it was crisped to perfection and the cheese melted but not mouth scaldingly hot or too runny. I wouldn’t even try to reproduce this at home, it’s a special occasion toasite only, but if you are in the area GO! While we were there we also managed to squeeze in an visit to The Ice Cream Union who had just moved in a few arches down. Dulce de leche ice-cream and mango sorbet were tip-top, but all the pictures have my mush in them and a large plastic ice-cream growing out of my head so I’ve ruled out posting them!

Ok that’s the first part of the food crawl; part two is coming soon, but to be honest I think this first bit could keep less greedy people happy for a long time without the need to eat your way back to Waterloo.

Copenhagen, amazing food, brilliant presentation!

29 Oct

As the Man is doing a PHD he has been able to attend conferences in some pretty amazing places and sometimes I get to tag along. Earlier this year he went to a conference in Copenhagen and I joined him afterwards for a few days. Whilst it isn’t a cheap destination, it is a really lovely city with a mixture of old and very modern. We ate out a lot and the food was almost without exception very good, and amazingly well presented.

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