Friday, June 17, 2011

Edinburgh love (a short snippet)

We popped in to Edinburgh last weekend whilst taking a much deserved break from teaching chocolate making workshops. The task? A tasty but cheapish spot of dinner. Twitter of course, came to the rescue and suggested The Dog restaurant.

I love it when a plan comes together. While I've been to Edinburgh before, its normally been to write an article so I've had very little time to play with recretionally. Perhaps that explains why I've never come across The Dog before but I'll tell you one thing. Once you have found it you won't be forgetting it in a hurry. Mark my words.


Let me see...

Does that explain things a bit?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Taste of Summer

Few things signal the beginning of the summer than the short-lived but much-loved elderflower season. Over the course of just a few weeks, the elder tree bursts into blossom with huge frothy heads of creamy white blossoms. That’s why every single opportunity over the last few weeks (amidst the hell of revision), I’ve been scampering off into the neighbouring fields and plucking a head here, a head there and turning it into some rather delicious things.

Of course, now the exams are over the weather is being rather temperamental, so what better thing to do than hole up with some choice ingredients and make some jars/ bottles of good stuff? Well, apart from indulge my newly found love of Mad Men (why did no one tell me how utterly brilliant this programme is, I’ve devoted the whole day to its enjoyment and I don’t feel it’s a day much wasted).

The first – a classic but a winner. The deceptively simple and eminently quaffable elderflower champagne. I love a bit of booze, especially when you can make it for almost free. Seasoned foodies will almost definitely have had a shot at making their own – those that haven’t will probably have to wait until next year now (although there was some excellent elderflowers lingering on in Scotland last weekend) but I thought I’d include the recipe anyway....

The golden caster sugar gives the final product a beautiful amber colour and I love the muskier taste it infuses the liquid with but normal sugar will do just fine and dandy.

The second was my favourite, elderflower and gooseberry jam, bringing together the magical pairing of flavours in one delicious conserve. The elderflower heads are torn into smaller pieces and then left in the jam for a beautiful effect once it’s set.

Unfortunately in my excitement I didn’t get to take pictures of the finished product but considering it’s got a thumbs up from Jon who rather detests gooseberries, I don’t think it’s half bad. The pungent taste of the elderflower is offset by the slight tartness of the gooseberry and the tonne of sugar you put in. Now all I need is to bake a load of bread to enjoy it with.

And tonight? We’ll be trying our hands at John Wright’s Elderflower and Gooseberry Wine – today’s part sounds interesting. Mashing the gooseberries with a rolling pin and trying to stop them from ending up on the kitchen ceiling... I’ll let you know how that one goes.

Elderflower champagne
10 large heads of elder flowers - make sure that they are fully open, preferably facing the Sun
1kg of golden caster sugar
4 tablespoons of wine vinegar
2 lemons
10 litres of cold water

Wash the lemons and use the potato-peeler to peel the lemon rind off as thinly as possible. Remove any insects, leaves or other unwanted objects from the elder flowers.
Squeeze the lemons and put the juice into the ten-litre vessel along with the lemon rind and flowers.
Add the sugar and the vinegar. Be careful not to crush the flower heads too much with the sugar.
Pour on the water. Put a lid or cover over the top of the vessel and leave to stand for 24 hours. Stir gently every six hours.
Sterilise the bottles either using sterilising chemical tablets or boiling water. If you use chemical tablets, rinse the bottles afterwards so that the chemicals don't kill the yeast in the champagne mixture.
Take the lid off the vessel and remove any large flower heads or bits of rind.
Use the small jug to bail some of the mixture through the sieve and into the large jug. When the large jug becomes full, place the funnel in the top of a bottle. Pour the mixture through the strainer into the funnel.
Once all the bottles are full, put the caps (or corks) on firmly and place somewhere not too warm or too cold. A garage shelf is ideal
Leave the bottles for at least two weeks... after that, it’s a game of whether you can keep your grubby mitts of the bottles or not...

Gooseberry and elderflower jam (from Joanna Farrow’s Seasonal Preserves)
1kg gooseberries topped and tailed
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
900g preserving / granulated sugar
6-8 elderflower heads chopped into smallish pieces
Tip the gooseberries into a preserving pan with lemon zest and juice plus 150ml water. Cook gently for about 15 minutes until the gooseberries are tender and pulpy.
Stir in the sugar and stir gently until the sugar dissolves
Stir in the elderflower heads and bring to the boil – boil for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached. Ladle into sterilized jars and cover.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A compendium of fun

I have also been doing some schtuff over the last few months - it would take too many blog posts to cover them in detail but I thought a little photo compendium might just be the trick... enjoy!

Chilli and parsley hot smoked salmon. Inspired by Lindy Wildsmith's wonderful book Cured

A trip to Dumfries and Galloway - possibly my favourite British Hotel Knockinaam Lodge - no photos of the food but with it holding one of the few stars to be found outside of Edinburgh, it's certainly something special.

And the surrounding scenery is fairly impressive - cliff walks, gorse and heather

Not forgetting Hix Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis. I shiver. Yes shiver, when I think of that meal...

Aloka – Brighton

I’ll be the first one to put my hand up to say that I am a dedicated meat-eater, as you’ve probably guessed from previous entries. But what I just don’t understand is the attitude I encounter from so many other carnivores – I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. If it’s not meat and two veg, it’s not worth looking at. What is the point in that? No, I’m a meat eater but I’m not a numbnuts, so when I heard about vegan restaurant Aloka in Brighton I thought I’d go along and try it.

The restaurant is part of a wellness centre just off of the seafront – there’s a spa on site too for those who are looking to cleanse more than their dinner’s worth from their bodies. Alas, I was too concerned with eating and eating alone on this mission, but having checked out the treatment list, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be rocking down there for a massage at some point in the not too distant future.

Anyway, back to business. The restaurant itself is nicely laid out; the bright surroundings and large windows make for a pleasant backdrop to the stellar food the kitchen puts out. This isn’t vegan stodge, Aloka presents well thought out and presented dishes containing some very imaginative ingredients.

My starter for one was fairly impressive – a trio of mushroom dishes: forest grilled oyster mushroom ceviche with mulberries, sea-black rice and shitake mushroom with cashew, miso paste and dakon radish plus country chestnut mushrooms with tarragon, spelt and pearl barley base. Of the three, the black rice and dakon with shitake was my favourite, and quite unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. A definite thumbs up.
The mains were equally imaginative – my ‘chef’s special’ was good but nothing extraordinary – a round courgette filled with cannelloni bean, celeriac and cherry tomato white wine stew, smoked creamy polenta and grilled fennel and orange bruschetta. Most parts of the meal worked and worked well – the creamy polenta was excellent as was the courgette but the celeriac and cherry tomato could have done with more flavour.

Jon’s seasonal risotto worked with many of the ingredients from the mushroom trio but even so, tasted fresh. Again, there was a spelt and parsley base with oyster mushrooms, cashew sour cream and tarragon. It was very tasty but did feel like a slight repeat of the earlier dish.

Although there’s no dessert list as such, diners can pop downstairs and choose one of the tempting cakes from the counter – my banana cheesecake was wonderful dense enough to have substance and with just the right amount of banana coming through – I would give anything to know how they could make a cheesecake with no cheese?! How do they do that? If you know, do spill...

While vegetarian and vegan restaurants are ten to a dozen in Brighton, Aloka brings something completely new to the table. No mean feat considering this is pretty much the city that puts the V in vegetarian. If you want to try something different, mosey on down there – bring your meat and two veg friend too, who knows, they might just find that they enjoy it!

Waiting rating: Excellent. Even the chef popped out to say hi
Scoffing potential: High, the menu is small but varied.
Wallet buddy: Mains between £11-14
The crowd: Brighton's best

14 East Street
Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1HP
01273 823 178