Food Glorious Food!

Having spent the past 18 months or so being confined to quarters, it all changed this last week. We seemed to have dined out on a more or less continuous basis. And not just a trip to the local hangout ( some have closed anyway) but to some really good places. Himself said, there goes our dining budget for the next 6 months !

We started off at a Mexican restaurant, here in Marylebone. Mexican food often gets a bad rap, because the average person associates it with TexMex, which it certainly is not. TexMex obviously has its roots deep in Mexican cuisine, and in the UK we have our own version of Tex Mex in a chain called Wahaca. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Wahaca, and the founder fell in love with Mexican food, but eldest daughter who lived in Mexico City for 5 years would probably dispute its authenticity.

Our visit to KOL was superb ( except maybe the ££££) the basic menu of 6 courses was not over the top expensive, it was just the add ons or more likely the Mescal which Himself and son-in-law drank. ( they could have had the Mescal pairing, but did not!)

Fermented beetroot, arbol chilli and mezcal broth
Enoki and Cornish crab chalupa, pistachio, fermented gooseberries
Squid, cashew mole, cauliflower, beach herbs
Lobster, smoked chilli, cucumber limes
MOLE (supplement course)
Purple carrot cecina, fermented blackcurrant truffle – black +£25 white +£65
Chalk stream trout, pasilla Oaxaca, courgette, berries, pine
Served with condiments and fresh tortillas to share for the table
Carnitas – Confit pork cheek, cabbage leaves,
gooseberry and pear salsa, black beans
Sunflower seed ice cream, flowers, mezcal cajeta
Pulpo – Whole grilled octopus, bone marrow, potato, seaweed macha
Menu 70.
Drinks pairing 55.
Mezcal pairing 85

This wonderful meal was quickly followed by another in Nottingham ! Nottingham is the home of Sat Bains ( Satwant Bains, whose parents were Sikhs who had recently migrated to the UK)

He has won two Michelin Stars with his restaurant RSB which is housed in an old farm house on the edge of a small industrial estate on the outskirts of Nottingham. On our first visit several years ago we did wonder where we were going, but after eating at the chefs table in the kitchen we have rated the whole thing highly. It has 8 rooms and although obviously not necessary to stay over, if dining at night it is well worthwhile as the breakfast is equally good as the dinner. More recently one of his chefs won the Master Chefs the professionals and his during the pandemic, he teamed up with his mother to cook Vegan Indian takeaways !

And if you decided to visit, be it for lunch or an overnighter, take the train! ( travelling from London that is!)

And finally, we ate at Din Tai Fung in Covent Garden London. Din Tai Fung, was started in Taiwan, where we ate many years ago, not realising that it was iconic. Fast forward to 2017 and whilst in Hong Kong I discovered that there was a branch, which indeed held a Michelin star. It is absolutely nothing to look at and is more like a cafeteria, but the dumplings are what makes it extra special. Indeed I was so impressed that on a more recent visit ( pre-pandemic) to Hong Kong I dragged himself along . Since back in London we sampled the establishment in Covent Garden, maybe a little smarter in appearance but food equally good. And so it was that we went there again, this time for our grandson, who had just turned 14. The highlights of his day was a visit to Daunts books to order his years supply of books ( his annual present from us), a visit to Foyles bookshop and then to Din Tai Fung, where he took charge of ordering as he is very much a fan of Dim Sum, and noodles.

It is the dumplings that are the best, the xiaolongbao that are the piece de resistance. Delicate with 18 folds and in fact there seems to be an army of cooks making them.

Chicken Salad.

Sometimes the old ones are the good ones. I have recently Culled some of my cook books. I may live to regret it, but went on the principle of, “ if I haven’t ever used that book, or it’s been a very long time since I used that book, or simply it has really gone out of style” then it was time for them to go! Especially as I had several new ones ready to take their place. But as I have said before, I also have a filing system on a totally separate iPad just for recipes, ideas and information. Today, I needed to have dinner/ supper ready before we went out. And so it was on one of my very rare trips to a very small supermarket that I spied green grapes! Bingo! Chicken salad with grapes.

I was given this basic recipe many years ago from a dear friend, who has since died. She made it one day for me for lunch and at times it is the perfect, lunch or supper dish. Make ahead, chill, serve, eat and leftovers for lunch the following day! I’m sure that you have made a variation of this as with Coronation Chicken was popular several years ago, but in case you have forgotten, just like I did, then here it is, one more time.

For 4+ servings

  • 3 cooked skinless chicken breasts, cooked, I cooked mine in some chicken stock, as that way they are juicier. Leave to cool and either shred or cut into chunks
  • 2/3 cup ready made mayonnaise
  • 2/3 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
  • Small bunch green grapes cut into halves
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1tablespoon French mustard
  • A teaspoon or so of prepared English mustard ( according to taste
  • A splashed or two of Worcestershire sauce.

Very simply mix together the sauce ingredients, then carefully add the chicken, grapes and nuts. TASTE, add sal and pepper to taste.

This keeps well boxed until ready to use , serve on a bed of lettuce.

Healthy Chocolate Cake? Well Gluten free at least!

I have to admit that I am not a baker. I love to cook but baking is not my forté. However, as a Mom, I did always turn out birthday cakes be it for the kids or for Himself.

A chocolate train for my youngest first birthday, a Barbie doll or an igloo. But my go to cake for all such occasions was a chocolate cake, almost bordering on a Saccher Torte from Vienna. Rich to say the least covered in chocolate Ganache. And as such, it was in demand from my eldest for her wedding cake and 8 years later by my son for his.

This actually was a real conundrum, multiplying up the quantities, in huge amounts and how to stop layer upon layer sinking into each other. Masters of invention, stiff plastic discs were imported from Houston, holes drilled and metal rods inserted along with washers to keep them in place. A Herculean task to transport cake from home to reception, but succeeded we did.

The recipe which was used without fail over several decades was from from Elizabeth David in her 1960 publication of French Provincial Cooking. Hers was always the “Go to” book for she was the authority on French cooking, no pictures or photographs but somehow she inspired a generation, me included.

However, this year I have sinned, I have deviated from my self imposed routine and made a different cake. My mind was elsewhere but had seen a recipe which I thought was rather nice and so proceeded to make the cake ( chocolate of course). It was perfect, it rose some but not too much, when tested, the skewer came out clean. But when I released the spring form pan, DISASTER, the cake became cracked as in a crevasse ! OH No! To remove the cake from the base of the spring form also proved to be challenge, fortunately I have a large flat kind of pizza pell and this came in very useful. I cut a circle of cardboard and managed to manoeuvre cake onto it. Fast forward enough chocolate ganache was made, chilled and whipped to save the cake from total disaster. After all, when covered with chocolate, crackes and crevasses could no longer be seen!

The basic recipe for this is:-

  • 150 grams ground almonds
  • 225 grams of good dark chocolate ( 75% cocoa)
  • 225 grams soft unsalted butter
  • 200 grams fine caster sugar
  • 6 large eggs, separated

Method is simple:-

  • Heat oven to 300F/150C, slightly less for fan ovens
  • Grease a 9” round spring form pan
  • In a food processor or with an electric whisk beat the eggs and sugar until pale and light, add the egg yolks and marry well
  • Gently melt the chocolate, this can be done in a microwave, one quick burst at a time
  • Beat the egg whites until stiff
  • Pour the molten chocolate into the egg/ butter/ sugar mix and again, marry well
  • Then carefully fold in the egg white, until there are no white peaks.
  • Pour into the prepared pan and bake for +/- 45 minutes. A skewer will come out clean when the cake is cooked.

Leave to cool before attempting to remove the spring form and care must be taken. This is where I came a cropper as I didn’t expect the cake to be so fragile, but it is!

Do not despair as melting good dark chocolate in equal quantities of double cream, mixing well, leave to cool and refrigerate, beating until a thick chocolate coating that can be piped/ spread onto the cake, will come to the rescue !