“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lunch At The Vine

Today Laura and I went up to the town (or as we say around here 'up town' as in 'I am going up town'), ostensibly to go to Tesco and get a few essentials, but when we got to the High Street we decided to perhaps go for a quick drinkiepoo. We settled on The Vine Inn, which used to be a bit on the rough side when I was in my teens and early twenties. These days, though, it's been completely gutted and remodelled on the inside and is quite posh. Leather armchairs abound.

The Vine in Summer.
We were only going for a drink, but we were both a bit peckish and it was around 1 pm or so, and the beautifully written chalkboard menu sitting on a mini-easel at the bar had such delicious-sounding selections on it that we decided to eat.
We ordered our drinks and chatted awhile to the young Scots fella behind the bar. He was the chap that was dressed in his kilt on New Year's Eve. I asked him if he was being put in charge of the Vine's Burns Night Supper this coming Tuesday. He said yes he was, and that he would be in his full regalia, not just the kilt, but the whole outfit. I kinda wish I had made a reservation for that, it's £27.50 per person but it is a 5-course meal that includes Haggis, Finnan Haddie, and Cranachan, a traditional Scots dessert that involves fresh whipped cream into which is stirred some honey, whisky, toasted oatmeal and sometimes crushed raspberries. Wow.

Anyhoo, we ordered from the bar and went and sat at a nice table over by the window. We were enjoying our drinks (Laura had a Di Saronno with lemonade and mine was a pint of Amber Ale) and after a few minutes the food arrived. Laura had ordered a 'Lightly Spicy Chicken Burger' (that's what it said on the menu, but when I looked at the receipt it said Cajun Burger). It looked like this:

It was quite mildly spiced, but they were definitely Cajun spices. Quite moist and juicy with beautiful seasoning. Justin Wilson would have been proud.
I had ordered a Mushroom and Stilton Burger, which looked like this:

Beautiful, juicy, medium rare, big mushroom on top with a lovely bit of melted Stilton. The ciabatta buns on both were just perfect and I have to agree with Laura's contention that The Vine wins out over Cafe Rouge. We've eaten at The Vine before (I experienced their Ribeye Steak Ciabatta before, and their Duck and Pistachio Terrine) and I would say that their presentation is top-notch and clearly whoever's in the kitchen knows more than just their onions. If you are ever in Tenterden and need a good place to nosh, consider The Vine. Oh... and don't forget to invite me along. It'll be worth it, I guar-on-tee.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Steaks Catalina

I told you earlier that I would let you all know how my steak sauce turned out. Wanna see?

 I invented this sauce many years ago when I didn't have the exact ingredients for the sauce I wanted to make. I actually forget what the original recipe was for... but this one turned out so good, I was asked to make it again and again.

Every time I made it, it was slightly different, but three things remained constant...

1) It needed a beefy element, whether it be a bouillon cube, a can of Beef Consomme or Beefy Mushroom soup, or a gravy mix, perhaps;
2) It had to have a peppery/herby element, whether it be thyme and black pepper, mixed herbs and paprika, or what have you; and
3) It had to have a bottle of Kraft Catalina dressing in it.
Possibly the greatest salad dressing ever.
Now, it doesn't have  to be Catalina. It can be Honey Catalina or Honey French at a pinch. But it does have to be a tangy tomato-based dressing. Catalina is hard to come by here in the UK. Dressings are completely different. French dressing in the USA is a bright red affair, whereas here it is more of an oil-and-vinegar deal.
Usually my sauce has a glass or two of red wine, a small bottle of the dressing, a couple tablespoons of pepper and herbs, a can of beefy soup of a couple of cubes (or equivalent) of beefy stock or gravy mix, and some canned tomatoes. Put all that together in a pan and let it combine, simmer and reduce for a good while - at least 45 minutes on a low heat. Today I didn't have any red wine, so I put in a splash of Pimm's just for grins.
I had three nice pieces of rump steak. Rump steak is otherwise known as Round Steak, and is cut from the rump of the animal. Duh.
I had thawed these from frozen and helped them along with a little balsamic vinegar marinade. Then I ladled some of the reduced sauce onto them and placed them in a skillet on a medium heat.

As I cooked the steaks I slowly added more of the sauce every time I turned them, so that they stayed moist and started to braise a little.

I also had some cabbage with bacon and pine nuts which I had purchased already frozen from my place of employment, Cook.

Along with those I added some Dauphinoise Potatoes.

Here's what it looked like on the dish.


In The Name Of Cod

That was the answer to my last Name This Food! poser - Cod. Let's find out a little more about our fishy friends, shall we?

Here's what Wikipedia, the fount of all human knowledge, has to say:

"Cod is the common name for genus Gadus, belonging to the family Gadidae, and is also used in the common name for various other fishes. Cod is a popular food with a mild flavor, low fat content and a dense, flaky white flesh. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, an important source of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). The North-East Arctic cod which is traditionally fished when approaching the coast during spawning are sometimes called skrei. Young Atlantic cod or haddock prepared in strips for cooking is called scrod.
The Atlantic cod, which can change color at certain water depths, has two distinct color phases: gray-green and reddish brown. Its average mass is 5–12 kilograms (11–26 lb), but specimens weighing up to 100 kilograms (220 lb) have been recorded. Cod feed on molluscs, crabs, starfish, worms, squid, and small fish. Some migrate to warm water in winter to spawn. A large female lays up to five million eggs in mid ocean, a very small number of which survive. Pacific or saltwater cod are also found around the coast of British Columbia, Canada and the Northwestern US coastal areas. These fish are three times the size of their eastern counterparts and are darker in color.
Cod meat is moist and flaky when cooked and is white in color. In the United Kingdom, Atlantic cod is one of the most common ingredients in fish and chips, along with haddock and plaice. It is also frequently consumed in Portugal and Spain.
Cod are currently at risk from overfishing in the UK, Canada and most other Atlantic countries."

Apparently there is a lot of cod out there that isn't actually true cod. Among them are some members of the Gadidae family, including Ling Cod, Polar Cod and Rock Cod, but others are completely unrelated, such as Blue Cod, Mary River Cod, and Black Cod. To further confuse the issue, severely shrunken Atlantic cod stocks have led to the marketing of cod replacements using names of the form "x cod", purely because they taste similar rather than having any genetic relation. Even some fish such as whiting and haddock, both members of the family Gadidae, have been marketed as Cod.

The cod has been placed on a number of Endangered Species lists by respected authorities such as the WWF and Greenpeace. For this reason I feel it is only right that I do not give you a recipe with this posting. Chances are, when you get your Cod & chips from the chip shop, you're not eating true Atlantic Cod anyway, but any one of a number of other, not dissimilar, fish. Cod have a hard enough time of things, what with overfishing and a nasty little parasite called the cod worm.This animal starts life as a small free swimming larva that is undoubtedly a crustacean. Its first host is the lumpsucker which it captures with grasping hooks at the front of its body. It penetrates the lumpsucker with a thin filament that it uses to suck blood. Cod worms mate on the lumpsucker and the female takes her fertilized eggs to a cod and clinging to its gills, metamorphoses into something that looks scarcely animal. Her crustacean features give way to a plump, s-shaped, worm-like body. Nestled against the rear of her body is a coiled mass of egg strings. The front part of her body penetrates the body of the fish and enters the rear bulb of the host's heart. Firmly rooted in the cod's circulatory system, the front part of the female parasite grows like the branches of a tree, reaching down into the main artery. The worm extracts nutrients from the cod's blood and remains there, safely tucked beneath the cod's gill cover, eventually releasing her offspring into the water. Eww, nasty.

So folks, what started out as a little fun contest every once in a while has gotten all serious. The next food in our lineup is going to be something organic and not on anyone's endangered list.

Name This Food!

The Weekly Digest

Oh, what a terrible pun.
Well, let's see - what's new in Jeff's world o'chow this week?

 Went to Waitrose the other night, looking for a bargain. That's really the best thing to do in Waitrose. I think I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Waitrose is a lovely supermarket (curiously, however, it does not have a restroom - I find this to be very strange for an upmarket grocery, especially in this day and age, and especially since its main competitor in the town - Tesco - has really nice restrooms that are scrupulously clean), but Waitrose's main problem is that it is bloody pricey. The best thing to do, as I say, is look for the red-tagged items. The best time to go is about 2 to 3 hours before closing, when they are slashing prices on already-reduced stuff just to get it off the shelves. I picked up a large 12" pepperoni pizza the other day for 99p - and it wasn't just any old pizza, it was a Pizza Express pizza - i.e. high-end pizza.

Well, as I said, I went to Waitrose in search of inspiration and bargains, and found 2 tubs of Chicken Miso soup reduced from over £2 a tub to 79p each. Dinner for Laura and myself - sorted. Very nice soup indeed.

 Those among you with long memories will recall that last year I wrote a piece about The William Harvey Hospital's Spice Of Life Restaurant - but just in case you have forgotten, here's a link to it.  

We had occasion to journey there yesterday and ate lunch in the gleaming shiny glorified staff canteen that is The Spice Of Life. While the food is pretty good for a hospital, it's pretty basic, but not super-expensive, which is a plus. The staff are nice and pleasant although you get the impression that some of them don't seem to know what they are supposed to be doing most of the time, and there was a bit of confusion between the two people manning the tills. Trouble is, one till is over at the end of the food line, and the other is located at the beverage station, so I went and paid for my food and then headed to the beverage station to get a coffee, and the guy asked me if I'd already paid for my food. I said yes, I just wanted a coffee. He got me a coffee and then I went to pay him, and he said oh, I thought you'd paid. No, I said, I've paid for the food. Evidently I could have paid for the coffee at the other till and then retrieved it at the end, but this was not made abundantly clear. Oh well, no matter. I had a very nice baked potato and veggies, and that was good.

This sign was standing in the corner of the restaurant and I was a little bit disturbed by it, for two reasons. 1) The guy's grin seems excessively cheesy, and 2)  the sign reads "Try one of our delicious chef-inspired freshly prepared salads today." What does "chef-inspired" actually mean? 'Well, we looked at a picture of Jamie Oliver, and we were inspired to throw some veggies in a bowl'.

Today after I had promised (threatened) to make some American biscuits many, many times, I finally got around to it. Here's the recipe I used:

2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/3 cup shortening (I used marg)
3/4 cup milk (originally the recipe called for buttermilk, but I had none on hand. I can get it over here but it's not something a lot of people use).

In a bowl, I combined all the dry ingredients and then worked the margarine into the mixture as I would for crumble, until it becomes breadcrumbish, and then added the milk and stirred it in until it becomes a dough, but not over mixing. I then took the ball of dough, and lightly patted it into a circle, then taking a knife I cut it into 8 triangles. These I then placed on the baking tray. I already had the oven turned to 200C at this point.

OK, so one of them is round.
I baked them until just golden brown, about 12 - 15 minutes.

When they are still very warm, slap some butter on them puppies. 

Butter and Golden Syrup, even better. Nom nom nom.
Tonight I am cooking some steaks and doing a version of my famous Catalina Sauce. It's been slowly reducing on the stove for an hour or so. I'll let you know if it works out, and I may even give you the recipe... later.

Kooshti Sante!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cafe Rouge, Encore

Today we revisited Cafe Rouge in the High Street. My sis had received a 'get 50% off the entire bill' coupon as part of her Tesco Clubcard rewards and needed to use it before the end of the month. We were more than happy to accompany her.

So there we were, the four of us, Sis, Laura, my mum and myself, perusing the menu and pondering our selections.
I've always enjoyed Cafe Rouge, even in spite of its turbulent history. I just like that they care enough in their restaurants to make it seem authentically French, even though we know it isn't and they know we know it isn't. It's like some sort of unspoken agreement between the public and the company that we'll just play along with it. It shows in the nice touches in their decor. Even one of the waitresses had a French accent. Whether she was actually French or maybe just Belgian or even from Luxembourg, I have no idea, but the fact she was distinctly foreign just sort of added to the general atmos.

Well, drinkies first. Mum and Sis both got into the spirit of things by ordering Diet Cokes. Ooh la la!

Of course, I had to have a coffee. A nice strong one.

Laura had a nice tall latte. You'll see it later.
Then time came to order food, and Laura kicked things off with the Baguette Rouge, a chargrilled rib-eye steak baguette with oregano Dijon mayonnaise, French fries and salad garnish.

Sis had the Demi Poulet... half a garlic & thyme infused roast chicken, finished on the chargrill, with French fries and melted garlic beurre maison.

And there's Laura's latte on the left.
Mum went for the Quiche Lorraine, which came with fries and a celeriac remoulade which she was initially unsure about, but after she tried it, she quite enjoyed it.

I ordered the eight-ounce Bavette, a traditional French cut of steak marinated in rosemary & garlic, best enjoyed rare, with French fries and melted garlic beurre maison. It was an item I had tried to order on my previous visit, but they had sold out and I had had the Moules Thailandaise. This time I wanted to try again and was successful. It was worth the wait. It was very very tender and juicy.

After all that the waitress asked if we wanted dessert. These are, of course, fatal words to utter. We had to go for it. The dessert menu looked just too good to pass up. On the menu there is an item entitled  Glaces et Sorbets  whereby you can order two scoops of ice cream (various flavours) or sorbets (ditto) in a little wafer basket, set on a plate in a drizzle of raspberry coulis. We asked the waitress what all the flavours were and then Sis, Laura and I made our choices. I was trying to behave after that steak, so I chose the sorbet option. The flavour I chose was Cassis, which the knowledgeable boozers among you will know is blackcurrant. It was divine...

Laura went the ice cream route (and why not?) and she chose two scoops of the most heavenly pistachio.

Sis went for Chocolate and White Chocolate.

Mum, on the other hand, chose the Pot Au Chocolat,  which comes with a sablé biscuit on the side as well as a blueberry in the top and a sprig of mint. For an extra £1 you can get it with a shot of Sauternes wine on the side. She didn't want the wine, but the chocolate (we all shared) was terrific.

All in all, another great experience at Café Rouge. Becoming one of my favourite places to dine. Definitely four and a half yums out of 5, and for 50% off, well worth it. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bacon, Beanz, Chocs and Burgers

Today we headed off for the big metrollops of Maidstone again for a wee bit of alone time, or should I say 'alone-together time'. As well as checking out the likes of House Of Fraser, the Game shop, Lush and Poundland, we also looked in our fair share of food-related environments, so I thought it prudent to take a few pictures and report back to you lot on my findings.

Our first port of call once we had been to Lush was Chiappini's for a giant latte. It was still not quite noon and all I'd had this morning was a cuppa and an Activia yogurt. I was about to fall asleep. I needed coffee, stat!

Laura had herself a small one.
We also got some delightful nibbles...

I am not sure if you can see, but these are hazelnut wafers. Mmmm.

I had a cinnamon danish pastry...

Laura's was this amazing huge almond croissant.
After trolling round the Mall (The Chequers Centre) for a bit we went down to the 2nd floor, where we discovered an amazing thing - a butcher's shop, right there in the mall! It is rare enough to find a real butcher's shop anywhere these days since the big supermarkets have forced most of them into liquidation, but here in a big shopping centre was this amazing butcher, J.C. Rook & Sons.

I will just let the pictures speak for themselves!

Look at those gorgeous pies.

Not sure that you can really see the sign saying "Faggots wrapped in Caul Fat". Made me wonder, as I'd never heard that phrase before. So I shall tell you, now that I know. Caul fat is the fatty membrane which surrounds internal organs of some animals, such as cows, sheep, and pigs, also known as the greater omentum. It is often used as a natural sausage casing and to encase fegatelli (Italian), faggots (English), or pâté (French). Caul fat is also known as Lace Fat. So now you know.

Och aye, Jimmy! A nice wee haggis!

Bacon... mmm.

Couldn't agree more.

Makes you...

I'm not a pheasant plucker...
As we exited the wondrous shop what should we see but a fresh fruit and veg stall right slap in the middle of the mall. Weird, but lovely nonetheless.

Lovely carrots.

No fruit and veg stand is complete without a barmy old white-haired lady nearby.
We then trotted further and I entered the 99p store, always good for a laugh, where I encountered this, and had to record it for posterity.

Later, after Laura had gone into Dr. Spafish and had her toes nibbled by little fishies (not kidding about this)...

and after looking around some more shops and finding probably the most un-PC thing I've ever seen (but when you think about it, it's a pun that's been crying out to be used for ages)...

...and of course stopping by Hotel Chocolat to take advantage of their post-Christmas sale (all their Christmas chocs were 70% off!) we finally found ourselves at one of our favourite places, The Muggleton Inn, where we had a beverage and some nosh.

Laura's Gourmet Burger, replete with bacon and onion rings. I had the veggie burger version.

Guinness and a special bottle of Beck's with a free download thingy on the label.
All in all, a nice way to spend a cold, windy Saturday.

Kooshti sante!


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