Al fresco with Ristorante Tuesday, Jul 26 2016 

ristorante-pizza-mozzarella-pizza-und-snacksFerret Food and Wines was kindly sent two FREE (count em! FREE!) pizzas by Ristorante’s PR – perfect for al fresco dining now that the weather has warmed up a shade. Whether you choose to eat them with your hands or a knife and fork, you can enjoy them under the sun, whether sat around a table on your classy decking, or casually stood up in the garden – even the kids could eat them with their hands while playing.

So firstly I tested the classic Mozzarella pizza: an acid test in anyone’s book. Nowhere to hide with this one! Happily the crust stays nice and crunchy, meaning it won’t cover your hands with melted cheese while you’re stood up admiring the garden’s flowers, and just in general makes for a nicer eating experience. However, the topping stays moist, making for a win-win situation (not to mention the fact that it takes a mere 10-12 minutes to cook). This combination also makes for a good thickness: not brittle, while not being overly doughy or chewy. This also adds to the sophistication factor. There’s plenty of flavour in this one too – not just thanks to the tomatoes, pesto (even if this could be more evenly distributed across the pizza) and mozzarella cheese, but also thanks to the extra (albeit nontraditional) Edam that’s also been sneaked in there.

risto-calzonepngDepth, variation or subtlety of flavour was arguably something that was lacking, though, in the brand’s new Calzone, even though it combines ham, salami, cheese, and tomato. The overriding flavour was the tomato sauce, which is comforting and present in decent quantities – but this is perhaps not evenly distributed throughout the calzone (which we divided into 3), with other diners reporting greater amounts of cheese. The salami also dominates over the ham, as it just generally has a stronger flavour. Again, however, the crust remained crunchy, offering pleasant contrast to the gooier filling, and the handy size means that you could forsake cutlery easily. It does take longer to cook though (more like 30-35 minutes) – so some patience is required!

However, despite these minor criticisms, at £1.66 each, they’re excellent value for money, offering texture, flavour, comfort, and sophistication – perfect for al fresco dining this summer.

Spice up your summer Thursday, Jul 11 2013 

Following my recent posts on Pimm’s and the virtues of ginger, this next post (a fusion of the two) is probably no real surprise.

I love ginger and need no excuse to consume it. Now I’ve found a new way in which to do so – and it’s a perfect non-alcoholic summer alternative to the Pimm’s.

This, my friends, is ginger juice, and it’s a Chinese classic. My continued love affair with the food of Ching-He Huang means I unceremoniously have swiped the (very simple) recipe below from her book. She serves it warm with a chilli and lime crab noodle dish, but I thought that as it was summer, an iced version would be more appropriate (as in the picture above – which sadly was not taken by me).

All you need to do is chop a 2-centimetre piece of ginger and bring up to boiling point in a saucepan of 500ml of water and two dessertspoons of brown sugar. Once you’ve reached boiling point, turn the heat right down and simmer for 5 minutes. Ching then serves it warm at this point, but I strained it and left it to cool before putting it in the fridge. A couple of hours’ refrigeration is fine, but overnight is even better. Goes brilliantly with food or just with itself – it’s refreshing, spicy, sweet and deliciously different.

I suppose you could jazz it up further with other flavours, such as lemon, lime, or coriander, but I decided to leave well alone and just stick with the classic recipe. Gan bei!*

*(“Cheers!” in Mandarin. My uncle, who’s lived in China for three years now, reliably informs me that “gan bei” is the most important phrase anyone going to do business in China can know.)

Pimm’s o’clock Tuesday, Jul 9 2013 

For many from the UK, the signal of a British summer is something like this:

pimms

While perhaps nothing can replace the original Pimm’s N°1, they have come out with another blend that could be approaching genius status this summer:

At £16 for a 75cl bottle, it’s only marginally more expensive than the normal Pimm’s (perhaps thanks to its ‘special edition’ status). Sadly, they haven’t sent me a free bottle (yet…Pimm’s PR, are you reading this?! :-p ). Premixed cans (Pimms Blackberry and Elderflower with lemonade) in a 250ml size are also reportedly available, although I haven’t spotted any yet. I tried some of my bottle as a pre-lunch apéritif with some ice-cold lemonade and fresh blackberries, and can happily confirm its deliciousness. I just fear that my supplies of it may go down even more quickly than my supplies of normal Pimm’s, as it’s even easier to prepare: rather than messing around with all that chopping, you just throw in a few blackberries and some ice cubes and you’re away.

Pimm’s o’clock may have just made itself an even more frequent occurrence in my life this summer. Oh dear…

Picnic provisions Sunday, Jun 9 2013 

So the sun finally came out yesterday, and we decided this would be a perfect occasion for a picnic (good job too, because it’s gone in again today).

But what to eat? That question was answered by The Vintage Party Year, whose writer, Angel Adoree, you may remember from an episode of Dragons’ Den a few years ago, and whose recipes are easily adapted for the purposes of the casual picnicker.

We therefore made the following. Cheats’ directions are underneath!

Shallot tartes tatin:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABasically, fry off some shallots with thyme, then leave them to simmer in some balsamic vinegar, red wine and sugar for 10-15 minutes until caramelized. Season, and dump the mixture on some circles of puff pastry (just draw round a mug, it’s fine). Bake for 10-15 minutes at 180°C.

Lamb kofte:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMix about 200g of minced lamb with chopped shallots, garlic, mixed spice, parsley, mint, and dried rose petals if you can get them. Fry in oil until cooked. Simples 🙂

Rarebit scones:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStill working on this one, as I adapted it to make it more suitable for travelling. Make a basic savoury scone mix (substituting some milk – but not too much – for an ale of your choice) and flavour it with Worcester sauce, Dijon mustard, and grated Cheddar cheese. Cook for about 15 minutes at 180°C. We served it with this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe know it’s just posh Branstons. But whatever.

We also intended to bring cheese and pickle sandwiches, but forgot. Oops.

For desserts, we managed to give a good home to the following:

Lemon ‘butterfly’ cakes:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMake a basic sponge cake mix, adding lemon zest. Bake until done. When cool, mix together equal amounts of icing sugar and butter until you have the amount you want. Add lemon zest to this and then spread it on the cakes. Note that these were initially supposed to be butterfly cakes, and orange and lemon flavoured, not just lemon. In response to a) I couldn’t be bothered and b) we didn’t have orange, only lemon. So shoot me.

Mini rhubarb cobbler:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStew rhubarb with honey and orange juice until mushy, but still with some shape. Make the cobbler by combining flour and butter (rubbed into breadcrumbs), polenta, and some other stuff that I forgot. Spoon the cobbler onto the top of the rhubarb and bake until golden.

We also ate strawberries:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou all know what strawberries look like of course. But these ones are pretty.

And drank freshly squeezed orange juice from the carts selling it near where we picnicked:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADitto. We had intended to bring Pimms iced tea, but I forgot the vital ingredient…ice. Doh.

So now we’re full of memories and inspiration for next time. What are your favourite picnic dishes? Inquiring minds want to know!

Summer lovin’? Sunday, Aug 19 2012 

Definitely NOT having a blast over here with all this heat. I’m currently suffering from that peculiarly British compunction whereby now that it’s actually sunny, I’m complaining that it’s too hot. I wouldn’t mind. Really, I wouldn’t. I love swimming and barbecues and ice-cream. BUT I have no garden, my tiny fridge freezer is full to bursting with boring stuff (leaving no room for ice cream) and it’s too hot to turn on the oven to bake anything. Boo hiss.

So how can we compulsive bakists satisfy our baking urges without actually going near the oven? Here are my top 5 summer no-bake desserts and treats:

1) TIRAMISU. Super-easy, can be adapted for those who are paranoid about raw eggs, always delicious, and has the added bonus of our good friend alcohol (and can be adapted for those avoiding the stuff).

2) SUMMER PUDDING. Only the British could have invented a dessert that can only be eaten on a very limited number of days in the year. Again it’s incredibly easy, always refreshing, and even gives you one of your five a day.

3) CHEESECAKE. I was seriously considering this as an option for this afternoon, only to realise we had no biscuits 😦  (Yeah, I know…somebody pinch me!) Endless in its variety, it can be as healthy or as decadent as you choose and is simple to prepare as well.

4) RICE KRISPIE/CORNFLAKE CAKES. A great afternoon snack, these can be done with basically whatever cereal you have in the house and can be further jazzed up with dried fruit and nuts, taking you even closer to that elusive five a day (you only need 30g of dried fruit to meet that target).

5) CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. While slightly more complex to make than the above suggestions, it is still quite difficult to mess up and is always melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous. (I would run with this – I do have all the ingredients – but only made it the other day, so…)

So what do you need in order to avoid my currently supremely unorganised state? Here are some things to always have in your cupboards (or fridge) so that you are primed for dessert-making at any time – rain or shine:

Milk

Butter

Flour

Sugar

Eggs

(just call me Captain Obvious)

Cooking chocolate (dark, milk and white)

Long-life cream

Sponge fingers

Basic supermarket biscuits (shortbreads, digestives and Rich Tea biscuits are good ones to have on standby. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to keep them under lock and key…then leave the key with someone else.)

Grape-Nuts cereal (you’d be surprised how many cheesecake bases use them. Delia Smith is also a big fan and uses this cereal a lot in her dessert recipes)

Jumbo oats

Cornflakes

A selection of dried fruits and nuts (I suggest hazelnuts, peanuts, dried apricots, raisins, dried berries, dates, coconut, and walnuts)

A bottle of rum or brandy

Golden syrup, honey, and treacle

Cocoa powder

Peanut butter

Nutella (you can’t go wrong in life with a jar of Nutella in your cupboard. If all else fails and you really can’t make anything because you’ve forgotten to buy all of the above ingredients, you can always eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon. WIN.)

Now, unless something goes horribly wrong in the interim, you’ll find me in the kitchen making these to nibble on after dinner. Om nom nom.

I scream, you scream… Thursday, Jul 26 2012 

Due to spending part of my summer in the south of France, I have been eating ice cream and sorbet pretty much twice a day at the moment (well, wouldn’t you in 40°C heat?! Diet’s on the cards for September, promise…).

I love ice cream anyway and could pretty much eat it constantly (twice a day? Pah. I’ve been known to send off whole tubs of Carte d’Or, Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs in one sitting). The main thing for me now, though, is branching out into trying weirder and more wonderful flavours. Just recently I’ve sampled nougat ice cream, lavender ice cream, and poppy ice cream, as well as marvelling at the presence of (but not actually trying) nut ice cream and marshmallow ice cream. (For the record, the nougat ice cream tasted relatively little like nougat, the varieties of lavender ice cream I’ve tried range from the luridly purple to the strictly natural, and the poppy ice cream tasted surprisingly fruity.)

But what of my favourite classic flavours? I have loved stracciatella ever since I first visited Italy at age 12, and mint chocolate chip is another long-standing favourite of mine. Coffee and caramel variants are also weaknesses of mine, but to be honest I’ve not yet met an ice cream I don’t like.

EXCEPT…chocolate. Yep, you heard me right. This stems from a summer holiday as a child where all the meals were included, and so, being eight and five years old at the time, my sister and I did the only thing that any normal child would do: we had chocolate ice cream for dessert every night for two weeks. That about did me for life and even now I would eat chocolate ice cream if given it, but would never deliberately choose it. (Strangely, chocolate-covered ice creams, such as Magnums, are OK – but only those which aren’t chocolate on the inside too.) For this reason, I’m also not that fond of Neapolitan ice cream, despite not having anything specific against the strawberry and vanilla flavours.

In addition, you will never see me eating any ice cream containing banana (I really, really hate banana).

In terms of more ‘modern’ ice cream flavours, Ben and Jerry’s has to be the king here (although I’ve not yet tasted Heston Blumenthal’s famous bacon and egg variant), and I’m very partial to their cookie dough flavour. Many people probably think it’s disgusting, but I just love it for its sweetness, variation in texture, and its combination of two things I love – cookies and ice cream – in one single pot. I’ve not yet spotted their Cake Batter flavour, but suspect I would adore it for the same reasons. Ben and Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake flavour is also highly palatable, and in spite of the saccharine variety of flavours, it’s actually (believe it or not) very good quality ice cream: while many other manufacturers (Carte d’Or and Nestlé to name but a few) are known to pump loads of air into their ice cream so that you get as little as 500g of ice cream per litre, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream comes from milk and cream from family farms, uses Fairtrade ingredients, and is certainly not pimped using extra air. (Remember to always check the bottom of the pack! The gram and millilitre content is always clearly listed and the closer the numbers are to each other, the better.)

So all that remains, it seems, is flavours I’d like to try but haven’t yet. I’ve already listed a few above in my paragraph of Ben and Jerry’s worship. And luckily, thanks to spending part of my summer in an artisanal ice cream and sorbet hotspot (the Ardèche region of France is full of small firms making their own premium ices), there’s probably some out there that I haven’t even thought of yet. But I also have a few ideas of my own. For instance, I have a recipe for pine nut ice cream I’ve never used (husband needs to buy me an ice cream maker, hint). I’ve also heard of yam and coconut ice cream being sold in Singapore that sounds strangely appealing. Los Angeles (perhaps unsurprisingly) seems to have a wide variety of wacky ice cream bars, serving flavours like coffee and Guinness and chocolate & wasabi, which I’d do a lot to get my furry little mitts on. And, of course, there’s a raft of mileage in fresh herbs and spices…basil ice cream, rosemary ice cream, cardamom and ginger ice cream…

JESUS I really need an ice cream maker.