Cake Mixes, Pie Mixes and Custard

Growing up, my Mum, cooked. She cooked every day, and on Sundays she really did cook, she cooked and baked more or less the whole day. She was no different from all the other Mums, that I knew. It is what Mums did. Did she like cooking? Actually, I have no idea. She was fairly creative, especially at Christmas, when she would spend weeks making very fancy cakes, all shapes and sizes. She certainly would have knocked spots off, of Lolas Cup Cakes. But, on a daily basis, well, she was not of Monday it is cold meat Tuesday  shepherds pie, ilk, but she did overcook cabbage ( yuck the smell of overcooked cabbage).

My Aunt, ( Mums younger sister) loved to cook, but in the same mode as Mum, but I assume that , that was the way it was in Post War Britain, the luxury of having fresh foods after years of deprivation.

So on Sundays, we often had for dessert, Lemon Meringue Pie, and for years ( until I went to college) I assumed that Lemon Meringue pie could only be made with a packet mix! And even today, I am sure that many people still use a packet mix, because it is still available ( Tesco ( 45p) Sainsbury ( 50p) but not in Waitrose or Asda.)Screenshot 2019-05-05 at 18.29.58

Which brings me on to Pie and cake mixes in general. Other products that I assumed were always made using a packet, were gravy ( Bisto), I hated gravy, and Custard ( Birds custard powder) I hated custard. And cake mixes, I have to admit that my Mum, NEVER used a cake mix, she always made them from scratch, even way before she had any kind of mixer, she would cream the butter and sugar, by hand etc. etc.

The history of these products is interesting.  Alfred Bird developed this product apparently because his wife was allergic to eggs in 1837. He formed the company and diversified into baking powder, blancmange, jelly powder and other egg substitutes. The custard was so popular that it was given to troops during WW 1. The company was bought after the second world war by the American giant  general Foods, which was then bought by Philip Morris then onto Kraft foods and then that bit was sold to Premier foods and today it is just part of a larger company, just keeping the brand name.

Cake mixes were developed in the USA, in the 1920’s. In the 1950’s both General Mills and Pillsburys were trying to market their cake mixes with only a modicum of success. For the average stay at home American housewife, her cakes needed to be perfect, but the cake mixes did not quite reach that standard. They contained powdered egg and tasted as such. Then along came Ernest Dichter, an American Psychologist and one of the first  to apply to advertising a really scientific psychology.  His work was central to the development of the idea of brand image. For example he worked with Exxon/Mobil and came up with the idea of ” Put a tiger in your tank”. So thanks to Ernest, cake mixes became foolproof ( well almost) by simply excluding the egg powder and saying on the packet “Add An Egg”. And that was it, the birth or rebirth of the cake mix. Today in British supermarkets there are numerous types of cake mixes., Waitrose has a mere 28, whereas Asda, 57, Sainsbury 62 and Tesco 65!!IMG_0519

On to Custard Lemon flavoured, or Crème Anglaise ( as the French call it).

  1. 12 ml Fresh cream
  2. 75 grms caster sugar
  3. juice from a lemon
  4. 3 egg yolks

As I am basically a bit of a lazy cook, I tend to make this with the help of a food processor and a microwave.But failing that an egg whisk and a  saucepan will suffice.

Beat the egg yolks with the 1/2 of the sugar until it is think and pale in colour. Boil the cream and the rest of the sugar and the lemon juice together and pour it over the eggs stirring or whisking all the time. Return to the pan and and cook gently until the mixture thickens, and I say gently, DO NOT LET the mixture boil as it will curdle. This is the part that I resort to the Microwave. I would have boiled the cream etc in the Microwave , mixed together as above and then return to the Microwave and on high in one minute bursts, I heat and stir.

If by any chance it does curdle, then pass through a sieve. When thickened, cover with cling film touching the surface, this will prevent any skin forming. The sauce can be served hot or cold. If too thick when re-heated it can be diluted with some more cream.

Dai Tai Fung ( Mark Two) and do slurp your food !

I’m sure like me, your mother, said things like” Sit up straight, use your knife and fork AND Don’t slurp!” However, I’m sure that in many Asian countries, that this is not the case, no knife and fork ( only chop sticks or fingers) and slurping is the only way to eat your slippery noodles!

Going on from my previous Blog, we were at a loose end on Saturday night and so ventured into Covent Garden, a quick couple of stops on the tube or bus. A visit to the London version of Din Tai Fung was called for.

We found it easily enough a short walk from Rules ( London’s oldest restaurant) near the Covent Garden Piazza. There were a few people waiting outside, but the booking process is easy ( there isn’t one) but give your name to the hostess ( she who is wrapped in layers of clothing standing outside), she will take your name and mobile number, inform you of the approximate wait, and she will text when the table is ready! Therefore, one can decamp to a local bar OR just go inside to their bar! London is only the 2nd Din Tai Fung that has a bar and according to Himself the prices were very reasonable ( much more so than in any of the surrounding theatres)!

So, we sat in the bar area, where could half see part of the kitchen and all of the comings and goings, a great people watching place ! Before we had finished our glass of wine we were being summoned, Table was ready.

The interior of the London Din Tai Fung, was slightly less functional or cafeteria style than the Hong Kong branch but the general idea was the same. A pictorial menu, a menu ordering sheet complete with pen and a drinks menu. The wait staff who were very efficient, were on the whole, Asian but not necessarily Chinese.

Time out in Hong Kong

It had been many years since I was last in Hong Kong, 20, to be precise, and although I love the hustle and bustle, not sure if I could live here, just too many people. Over 7 million, almost twice as many who live in the whole of New Zealand.IMG_1488

Himself and I were here as part of our Far East trip, using it more or less as a base, to go to Mission Hills, China, ( for golf) and then onto Vietnam and Cambodia and used the hotel as storage for golf clubs. Our dining experience, hotel wise ( it was close to the airport, as lugging golf clubs around was something to be avoided) was pretty much a disaster, under cooked chicken as well as an interminable wait for it. But Hey Ho, in Hong Kong one is truly spoilt for choice and as such we only ventured into the  hotel restaurant  once, and that was only because we were a bit late to eat elsewhere. It seems that Hong Kongers eat early !

So the hotel options should be quickly forgotten as the rest was excellent.

There is in Hong Kong a Branch of  Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung, is to be found in London, New York, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia and China and of course the original , Taiwan ( Taipei). The company was founded as a cooking oil company in 1958, but diversified in 1972 as a dumpling and noodle restaurant, and today the Hong Kong branch, which is basically a cafeteria has a Michelin Star.


I think we went to the Taipei version back in  1995, but can’t be sure, but I have now been to the Hong Kong branch twice, and this the second visit with himself and was not disappointed. ( I did warn him, that I was taking him to a Michelin Starred cafeteria, he was dubious!) However, I have to try the London branch which is to be found in Covent Garden. Both Giles Coren and Tom Parker Bowles (renowned food critics) are both smitten.

Unfortunately, there are no reservations, so be prepared to queue, or they will give you a queueing time update if you give them a call. But I can assure you the wait is worthwhile.

For our Hong Kong visit, we did not have to wait, as we were early, having a pre late night , 12 hour flight dinner. Just as on my previous visit, we walked past the kitchen where all were gainfully employed and in harmony. There did not seem to be any shouting or histrionics ( à la Gordon Ramsey).

We were seated quickly and given a table number and a menu. We then had to give the waitress our order, which was also in number form, rather than saying the name of the dish, and with that she disappeared before re-appearing with a pot of Chinese tea.

There is no order to how and when the food arrives, as it is all cooked to order, and it depends on the preparation/cooking time as to when it is served.

We ordered,

  1. Beans with Pork
  2. Spicy Peppered Pork
  3. Saucy Noodles with peanut sauce, Taiwan Style
  4. Dumplings with Beans and Pork
  5. Dumplings with Shrimps

So all that remains is for me to head on down to China town, ( or to Hoo Hing at Hanger Lane, West London) to buy supplies or maybe even better go to Covent Garden and try out the London version of this Iconic restaurant chain!!

Indian Accents, and not a curry in sight!

Once upon a time Himself had a favourite restaurant, the only trouble was it, was in New Delhi. Not exactly a round the corner. But help was at hand as eldest daughter lived in New Delhi, which is exactly how we came to love Indian Accents.

It was located in a hotel called the Lhodi in a suburb of New Delhi. I hesitate to call it a smart suburb, as Delhi has smart suburbs surrounded by squalor and homelessness and in the midst of all of this chaos is Indian Accents, an oasis of calm. Consequently for several years on each of our visits this was a treat to which we looked forward to . And now there is an out post, well two actually, one in New York and one in London. And so it was recently that we ventured forth with some friends to see if it lived up to the Indian Accents of our memories .

And it did! Our friends, being of the outward going types, took it upon themselves to inform the restaurant that we were VIP’s of a sort and were hopping for the same standards of food and service that we had come to expect in New Delhi. And they lived up to expectations, both in food and service.

We all opted for the tasting menu ( there goes the diet for another week)!

We declined the wine pairings however, but to give rough translation of the menu is as follows.

5 waters, we were told to eat/ drink these in the correct order, from right to left. We think they were tamarind, mint, pumpkin, coconut sherbet, pineapple with maybe allspice and ginger, but whatever they were, they were delicious. I think I might write that word several times.

These were followed by tandoori salmon and chicken in a cornet along with pork ribs

The service was exemplary throughout and our dining experience made our taste buds think again, as to what were we’re eating.

After our 5 waters, spicy drink/soup, tandoori salmon, chicken in a cornet and pork ribs, we were treated to an Indian version of Trous Normande ( a Norman hole, which is a sorbet made with calvados). This was Anaar Chuski translated roughly as Pomegranate sorbet!

It was then that we had a choice, the boys chose the lamb chops and the girls the sea bass. In hindsight the lamb chops were by far the better choice, the sea bass was absolutely fine BUT the lamb chops were outstanding! Next time I will definitely have those. Both of these were served with ( I think) blue cheese Naan, black dal and a raita.

And so onto dessert, to be honest I’m not a big dessert fan and even less so Indian and Never Middle Eastern ! But I have to say, I did eat this dessert and enjoyed it!

After all what can be wrong with a treacle tart and ice cream ? Does it live up to our hype? Yes! Will we go back? Yes and Yes again ! Can’t wait!

Orrery (a clockwork model of the solar system)

This week saw us dining in The Orrery, at the top end of Marylebone High Street, London, with an old friend who was in town for a few days. Himself and said friend had eaten there previously, albeit for lunch and being rather lazy we could walk there.

Our friend had already been seated, when we arrived, but I declined to join him on what appeared to be an over stuffed, bouncy sofa, but chose a chair opposite instead ( much more comfortable). He was already not happy with the menu, not so much as to what was on the menu, but, it stated, A la Carte, which it was not. It was either two course £54 or three for £59! And on top of that, the Dorset Crab was a £10 supplement, Steak another £10; Vegetables a £4.50 and Cheese another £10!

Having perused the Menu, Friend, asked me ” what is Soulard Duck”? Not a clue was my reply, a quick Google found it to be a tho of duck from the Vendée in France, either fatty or not fatty, I assume a bit like Gressingham Duck Of UK origins. The menu stated only Soulard Duck, no mention if it was breast or leg or confit ( it turned out to be breast). However, when the Maitre D was asked about Soulard Duck , he looked down from great height ( he was even taller than himself) rather snootily and told us. So we ordered , me the green asparagus, Himself the caramelised onion tart and Friend carpaccio of fish, followed by the Duck, Himself, Lamb Wellington and myself the Cod, ( with more asparagus but this time white.

Actually the food was very nice, well cooked and well presented. Himself found that the caramelised onion tart a bit tough to cut ( too much caramel perhaps ) but I had no such problems, not with my starter nor my main, the Cod was just lovely. Himself declared that the Lamb Wellington was really good ( must include that in my repertoire) but I thought the pea accompaniment looked rather odd, a bit spotty as was the beetroot with the duck. Friend announced that the duck was perfect, but no comment on the beetroot. Himself commented that the peas were on a bed of lettuce and subsequently fairly difficult to eat.

Marks out of ten,

Food 9

Value for money 5 ( too expensive especially for a Monday night) we did not have, dessert or wine or crab or cheese or steak!

Service 3 , the Maitre D was snooty and the waiter not that good either, so sorry Orrery !

Return again , well no not really !

Oh and the meaning of Orrey? something to do with a clockwork model of the Solar System? Beats Me !

A Flashback to St. Valentine’s Day

Abandoning all thing Far Eastern and street food for a short while, I am going back to another Michelin Starred restaurant. In London where I live, these abound, some come and some go, but never are we far from great restaurants, and if in walking distance , even better.

Flowers or Chocolates are forbidden on Valentine’s day ( they can be given at any other time, even Diamonds are acceptable !!) and so it was we walked more or less down the road to ROGANIC.  A play on words as the Owner/Chef or should that be Chef/Patron is Simon Rogan. He has another restaurant in the Lake District called Enclume ( French for Anvil, apparently there is one in the restaurant, somewhere.) The Daily Telegraph was not over impressed with the location ( somewhere north of Oxford Street,) of Roganic, nor its Interior. I would say it is in the heart of Marylebone and the interior simple and the place itself is small. If it were to be full , then maybe it would be noisy. Restaurants these days, like the spartan look, but of course that means that there is nothing to deaden the noise. I liked the simplicity and immediately recognised their choice of lampshades as number one daughter has them, good choice, I would say.

So, we went for lunch, they have three choices, a set menu at £45, three courses, no choice, a short tasting menu at £80 and the long tasting menu at £115. We opted for the short tasting menu.

The menu actually tells you absolutely NOTHING!, But that is ok by us, as we will eat or at least try EVERYTHING.IMG_1545

But thanks to the Notes section on my phone, I have everything recorded, well more or less as it is interesting what is noted when spoken to the phone!

The menu translates as

  1. Blackberry tart, which was very pretty and a beautiful colour along with a green drink which was made from Apples and Aniseed
  2. Fermented mushrooms with yeast oil and cream cheese
  3. Artichoke with quail egg and rosemary
  4. Salt baked celeriac and a celeriac crisp
  5. Monkfish with Prosecco and a brown butter and seaweed sauce
  6. Filet of beef with sweet onion, green onion and garlic sauce and a mini shepherds pie
  7. Tunworth cheese ice-cream with hazelnut crumbs and cranberries
  8. Yorkshire rhubarb with early grey and buttermilk ice-cream

For both of us it was a great dining experience, the place was not overcrowded ( it was lunch time) and the food and service excellent.  Sometimes wait staff ( and they are only doing their job) interrupt just once too often, but as the menu gives nothing away, it is prehaps an evil necessity for them to interrupt. Just don’t go there thinking you might be able to have a serious Tête à Tête !!

For me the Pièce de Résistance was the cheese ice-cream. Actually a revelation. It is made with an English cheese called Tunworth. It is a brie/camembert equivalent and in fact won Supreme Champion at the British Cheese awards in 2013. And I found it in Waitrose! and a superb cheese it is and so I produced my own version of this wonderful ice-cream . To make the ice cream, I used my basic recipe which is

  1. 600 ml Double cream
  2. 4 oz fine sugar
  3. 3 eggs beaten
  4. 1/2 a Tunworth cheese

Pour the cream into a food processor , and  then with the engine running add the sugar and the eggs, along with the cheese which has been cut into chunks. Process for a couple of minutes until smooth.  If you have an ice cream machine follow the instructions or pour into a plastic container and place into the fast freeze section of the Freezer, stir eery half hour until it is pretty much set. Puree some frozen raspberries and put a spoonful into the bottom of ramekins dishes ( try to find small dishes as this is rather rich). Smooth on top the ice cream mixture and some grated or crumbled nuts , fine almonds, ( finely chopped ginger nuts would also work). Keep frozen until 15 minutes before serving, decorate. and eat.


Floating down the Mekong with food created for Colonel Bland!

On leaving Ho Chi Minh City ( still Saigon to the locals) we joined a river cruise, which was lovely. Just 28 cabins which were just what Agatha Christy would have expected. Slatted wooden doors sliding open onto the teak deck passage way, with deck chairs awaiting. All very much of ” Death on the Nile” ilk, but less formal than in days of old. No dressing for dinner, though maybe some of the guests had thought it might be required. Himself and I shared one large case,( shared being the operative word, Him 5/8ths and me 3/8ths) whereas I overheard another couple telling the cabin boy, that they had 4! Where would they store them, I asked myself! Another did dress for dinner, in her floaty pretty dresses with kitten heels, not good for going up the steep gangways to the top deck for G&T’s, let alone on the teak decking! Ah well I guess we all learn!

Breakfast Lunch and Dinner which were served in the dining room by smiling Vietnamese staff and announced by Jimmy ( the purser) banging a gong! All were a leisurely affair, especially Dinner, as we were going nowhere. But after breakfast and lunch there were trips, either on shore, on water or in a local limos , namely a horse and cart! We had our own Sampans attached to the boat but we also transferred to smaller ones, to navigate the shallow waterways.

We were fortunate to have as our guide the main man, who was extremely knowledgeable. I’m not one normally for guided tours, but sometimes, one just has to succumb and on this trip at least, without it, we would not have seen anything near, of Vietnamese rural and local life.

We visited Ben Tre for look at a coconut workshop, bees and honey and fruit orchards, tasting the fruit and all things coconut., off after lunch to see traditional pot making and a cooking class, on how to make Vietnamese Pancakes. ( According to Rick Stein, these are difficult to make but I will give it a go). Also on our list were visits to a bird Sanctuary, Magrove swamps ,Eucalyptus forests, Con Phuoc Island where the local industry is basket making ( made by a lady who was well into her 90’s and squatting), Local villages, farms ,nurseries, cabinet makers, fish farms, temples, brick works and paddy fields We also went to a primary school. Education is not free and most children go to school morning or afternoon , but not all day. Most of the villages we visited with cottage industries, were family affairs, note the 7-year-old girl, doing intricate inlay work on the furniture that her parents are making.

All of our side trips were extremely interesting and gave us a feel for local life. We did not see anything of local life however once we hit Cambodia, ( river life that is) and the difference between the two was incredible. It was as if someone had placed an invisible fence across the river, one side was hustle bustle, boats, working boats full of sand, or Rice, small fishing boats, Sampans and the like, but once the Cambodian officials came on board, and we were allowed to pass, quiet another story, almost no-one! Weird.


So onto food, you might have noticed that I have not mentioned food, ( apart from the Vietnamese Pancakes), well actually although the trip itself was amazing, in what we saw and what we did ( and I have not even got to Cambodia yet ) the food on the boat was disappointing. There was nothing WRONG with it, perfectly edible, but just not very exciting, BLAND is the word that springs to mind. Which brings me to my title, floating down the Mekong with food for Colonel Bland. Breakfast was pretty nondescript,  I think on most days there was a noodle station, which was by far the best option. At breakfast we were given a menu for lunch and there was always a choice, but even when choosing the  in principle Local option, it was just not exciting, and knowing what we had eaten on our Street food tour, it was disappointing .

Just one last thought, Cock fighting is Huge in rural Vietnam, so subsequently in each village that we visited, fighting cock in wooden cages were to be seen. And of course there is big money to be made or lost!

Nex Stop: Cambodia !