Friday, 20 March 2015

Cracking Easter Eggs 2015

Easter is around the corner. It's time to stock up and get our chocolate eggs ready to hide. As per usual Pebble Soup has been doing the hard work :) researching and tasting for you.
At first glance, Easter 2015 will be a year for fiction characters treats, weird and wonderful eggs from unlikely animals : Divine turned to Shaun the Sheep for their Easter egg! The 55g egg with novelty plush Shaun the Sheep ears will retail at £5.00  and Rococo collaborated with the Dahl family to hatch The Crocodile Egg and the Roly-Poly one too - 140g egg retails at £14.50 . 

From Green and Black's, two classic flavours : Organic Dark 70% and Milk Chocolate eggs. Two sizes are on offer Large at £10.99 Medium at £6.59.
They are part of a wider range. I've always found Green and Black's a reliable brand. This is not  all singing, all dancing, offerings but one which will not let you down.

Before presenting my favourite 2015 Easter Eggs. I'd like to express my disappointment at the iconic Lindt Bunny which is a let down. I always praised Lindt for the taste of their products. Not this time round though -dull - Despite the promise of the name, the chocolate doesn't deliver.
May be Bunny got distracted  by products such a real 18 carat gold Lindt bunny to add to your necklace or charm bracelet sold in  limited edition.
Pebble Soup Winner this year was M&S. Impressive looking and well thought confectionary. Take this Artist Egg retailed at £12.00 for 300g egg. At last, an Easter egg aimed at  teenagers  and adults. But kids don't worry it's one to share with its 5 chocolates squares nestled at the front of the box.

M&S Spring Garden of Chocolate Assorted Eggs, £12 delivers on many levels. Hand decorated milk, dark and white chocolate eggs with raspberry, pistachio and butterscotch.
I loved the variety offered here, the chocolate may not be supreme but it's certainly good. The little surprises lodged at the bottom of each egg: little crunch of flavours, unexpected and joyous - this says Easter - this is great fun and good value for money.

Disclaimer: some eggs were sent to me as samples, some I bought, all the words and opinions are mine.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Cheat of the Month: Pork Marinated in Whisky and Soy Sauce

Dear Delia, once, ran a TV series with an associated book called "Cheat". Not that I read the latter and possibly caught a few minutes of the series before dismissing it. What's the point of spending time reading a book to tell me how to save time. 
I thought it  all very silly, I couldn't understand the fuss. Aren't we all cook-cheats; I am not talking about producing a ready made meal and calling it our own; I am referring to shortcuts which make our lives easier by reducing the hard work. The idea is to pick fast but flagrant recipes and used already made prepared ingredients such as jars of chopped or crushed garlic, chillies and ginger.

This recipe should take no more than 30 minutes preparation and  cooking included. It needs marinating overnight but there is not need to oversee that part of the process!
Pork Marinated in Whisky and Soy Sauce
pack 28g coriander - chopped and tailed -
1 tsp grinded black peppercorns
6 to 8 tsp of Very Lazy chopped garlic
2 tbsp. light soya sauce
3 tbsp. whisky (the cheap kind)
1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. oil
350g pork steak sliced lengthways
5 tsp Very Lazy chopped garlic
5 to 10 tsp Very Lazy crushed chillies
4 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. light soy sauce or fish sauce ( if you prefer )
2 tbsp. sugar
in a large dish stir all the marinade ingredients in, add the pork cover with film and leave in the fridge overnight
When you are ready to cook, remove the dish from the fridge and grill using the oven, an electric grill or in a frying pan without oil - turn often for the pork not to catch and start producing juices which will caramelise.
In the meantime prepare the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together, taste if it's too salted add a little water
Pour the dressing over the pork when serving.

Disclosure: English Provender provided me with  complimentary Very Lazy garlic and chillies for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are my own.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Lemon and Thyme Cake

Lately, the common cliché, "you are only as good as...." has been flashing in front of my eyes on an imaginary card. Reassuringly, the phenomenon though occurring regularly, it tend not to happen at odd time. It only takes place when I pitch or tweak my bio or talk about my work which means that it happens a lot, indeed. It had me thinking, could it be that as writers what determines our self worth is the latest piece written?

 The brutal answer is, "Yes".

In April, my food column for The Greenwich Visitor, the much loved local paper, will be all about cakes and that will be the article by which my writing is assessed, at least for a blink. 
"Cake" I hear you say, "but you can't bake for toffee". How well you know me. Though being challenged in the cake baking department, I am a very good researcher and believe me I ate a lot of cakes for that article. One stood out. I loved how moist this lemon cake was. The addition of thyme was not greatly successful so I tweaked the recipe, still more would be required to cut through so my advice is don't be shy with the thyme.
◾200g butter
◾200g caster sugar
◾100g plain flour
◾1/2 teaspoon baking powder
◾100g ground almonds
◾4 large eggs
◾1 lemon
◾1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves - A reader suggested to use Lemon-Thyme to get more of the thyme flavour -

For the drizzle:
◾4 tablespoons caster sugar
◾2 large lemons
◾2 tablespoons water
◾1/2 teaspoon on thyme leaves
Line a 20cm loaf tin with baking parchment and set your oven at 160 degrees C / Gas 3. To add extra flavour put the thyme leaves reserved for the drizzle in a bowl and pour the equivalent of 2 tbsp. of boiling water on the top.

In a mixer (it can be done by hand as well but mixer here is best). Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the eggs one by one then the flower, the baking powder and the ground almonds. Keep mixing until you get a smooth mixture

Grate the zest from your lemon and put into a pestle with your thyme leaves and pound until you get a rough paste, then mix into your cake mix. Spoon in the prepared tin and bake. It normally takes 45 minutes but keep an eye on it and check near the end with a knife. You don't want it to dry up.

While the cake is in the oven, prepare the syrup. In a small saucepan dissolve the sugar, the juice of 2 lemons and add the thyme leaves with the water.

When the cake comes out of the oven prick it all over and drizzle the syrup all over. Leave it to cool and take out of the baking tin.

This recipe has been linked to  Cooking with Herbs a challenge set by Lavender & Lovage

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Sashimi Picture from Sticks'n'Sushi, Greenwich

There are dishes out there which are extraordinarily photogenic. This week I came across one of them at a new restaurant in Greenwich, Sticks 'n' Sushi.

A gorgeous plate of sashimi.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

What's New in the Kitchen #10: A Blast from the Past

Keeping a monthly "what's New in the Kitchen" post is almost impossible and may be it's a good thing. It would tend to demonstrate that Pebble Soup has not been taken over by advertising. Here are a couple of new products which has been sent for review.
The English Provender Co  has launched two new wholegrain mustards which at first glance looked very much like "moutarde a l'ancienne".
Looking a bit more carefully one mustard contains fig and honey, the other horseradish. We tried the former thanks to its  crème fraiche, the rainy mustard is very smooth. It's great with chicken. If I had a slight criticism and I do, it tends to separate but most wholegrain mustard do. don't they?
The new range is available from Waitrose stores priced at £1.49

I really liked BelVita breakfast option: Tops. It claims to, "Slowly release carbohydrates over four hours when eaten with a balanced breakfast" and no that does not entail Olympic size omelette and sausages more like an apple and a coffee. I tried, it works. The ingredients raise the blood glucose levels and a couple of biscuits keep you going from one meal to the next. the texture is slightly rough and reminded me of biscuits, I had as a kid, a real blast from the past.
RRP £2.79

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Upside-Down Caramelised Fig Cake

Regular readers will know about my passion for figs. When I wrote Fig Crumble and Trojan War it seemed at the time to be the ultimate fig recipe, it took a while to find a more delicious way of cooking figs. But another recipe came along and on Saturday I'll be making Upside-Down Caramelised Fig Cake for my neighbour who is moving out after 47 years living in the same street. As you can imagine, she has witnessed much change since the 60s.
Our street is named after the lowest deck on a boat, the deck where Nelson whispered his last words. In Victorian times this tiny street harboured people considered to be the lowest in society. Residents lived on what they could sale or scrap, 17 houses a few of them where brothels.
It had such a reputation that in the first part of the last century, Greenwichers forbid their children to step in the street. Though it had probably enough children of its own. When the 100th child was born it was celebrated with a big street party, yes still only 17 houses.
It was never been adopted by the council and often follows its own rules. Violence ruled for a while, when my neighbour moved in, it was said that if a women didn't have a black eye on Saturday morning then she was either single or her husband was inside.
 Nowadays it's much gentrified, still rough and mad at the edges, it has a huge heart and strong sense of community. I first met my neighbour over the "kale incident". When, we first moved in, I was hoping to grow vegetables in the  backyard and I planted kale.
A few month later, kale appeared and was duly cooked. Except that glancing at my neighbour's garden, hers was invaded by kale. It didn't take long to register: I had just fed him weeds in white sauce. Over dinner he had registered his dissatisfaction with the taste of the supposed-kale.
I proceeded to tell the tale to my neighbour, whose answer was, "What are you complaining about, it didn't kill you, did it?". A friendship was born. I will miss my neighbour very much, her no-nonsense approach to life, her strength, her ability to laugh in the face of adversity, her stories about her dancing days, her unconditional support to the people whom she calls "her own".
On Saturday, when the removal vans will take half a century of memories out of the street, I'll put a brave face on, make strong cups of tea and pass  slices of upside-down caramelised fig cake around.
Upside-Down Caramelised Fig Cake
For the fruit base
2tbsp butter
2tbsp Demerara sugar
2tsp mixed spice
8mini figs or 4 large ones
For the sponge
3whole eggs their weight in unsalted butter, caster sugar and plain flour
2 tbsp. milk

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. To prepare the fruit base, spread the butter all over the bottom of an ovenproof dish (25cm). Mix the sugar and the spices together and sprinkle over the butter. slice the figs horizontally for the large ones cut in halve for the mini figs, place them side up (open side on the sugar)

Make the sponge mix by mixing butter and sugar until pale and creamy. add the eggs one by one, last the flour.

Pour over the fruits and bake for 35 -45 minutes, do the knife of skewer trick to see if it is cooked in the middle

Take out of the oven, run a knife on the edge place a serving plate large enough to cover the cake dish and turn the latter over.

More recipes with figs
Gluten-free chocolate cookies with walnuts and figs at Franglais Kitchen
Rose syrup poached fig & pomegranate pavlova by Jeanne as in Cook-Sister

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Simple Cauliflower Soup

Vegetables have a fashion cycle like anything else and I recently noticed that cauliflower had gone out of fashion. Last year, this humble and plentiful veggie was having a revival for its association with pizza crust. Oh dear, you've missed the cauliflower crust pizza fade.

But back to reality. It's still very cold outside and heart-warming soups are here to stay for a little longer. At Pebble Soup, soupes épaisses are the only soups which will pass the test.

This recipe is rich and creamy without containing any cream. The thickness is provided by the whole of the cauliflower being used, cumin, coriander and cooked garlic cloves could be added for more flavours.

So bring the old cauli back into fashion with this solid, no nonsense recipe.
Simple Cauliflower Soup
1tsp oil
1 cauliflower
1 and a half pint of vegetable stock (pref organic)
chop the leaves and the stalks of a medium to large size cauliflower. leaving only the florets.
Pour stock in a large sauce pan, boil and simmer the leaves, the stalks for 15 minutes.
In a skillet or small frying pan, add the oil and fry the florets gently. When they are tender transfer to the simmering pot for another 15 to 20 minutes. season to taste.
At the end of the cooking a few table spoon of milk could be added but make sure, you don't boil the milk or it will separate.
Blitz in a blender, return to pan for a few minutes and serve with a choice of garnish.

Blog challenge: I like the idea of a vegetable palette following the seasons
so I enter this recipe in A2K vegetable challenge as white + winter


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Sopwell House Restaurants - Part 2 -

 Staying at Sopwell House gave me the opportunity to lunch ... dine....and breakfast in situs and in doing so, enjoying the full spectrum offered by the kitchens.

Sopwell House has known several re-incarnations; there is no better place to see the architectural evidence of the past than in the formal restaurant rooms. Take the bow window, it was once an outside wall and now a subtle part of the décor.
In September 2014, Gopi Chandran, international chef, was brought in, to challenge perfectly acceptable but a little too safe menus. Changes are subtle but make a whole lot of difference. The Sunday lunch menu is still  traditional British and European dishes but now with some arresting additions, the shaved Florence fennel, for example which pepped up my pan seared sea bass.
For Starters, he played safe choosing a gravadlax of salmon and I went for an adventurous king scallops with slow roasted belly of pork, citus oil, purple potato and paper thin bacon. Both were perfectly executed.

Gopi Chandran uses an abundance of fresh local produce and herbs grown on site. Since his arrival, he has challenged the house gardeners in several ways. Gopi's next project is to tie the produce with Georgian times and to make the kitchen as self sufficient as possible which will includes setting up beehives.

Pebble Soup's regular readers will know that neither he nor I are great fans of desserts. If I had my time here again I would definitely indulge in a Fresh fruit pavlova or a Bailey's cheesecake rather than selecting the cheese board which by the way was lovely but Sopwell House patisseries-chef and team are brilliant. No wonder that the afternoon teas are extremely popular.

The Brasserie is  far less formal, no white table cloth here. Still all decorum is not gone, table decorations and white napkins over black table set a certain tone. There is an open kitchen and a view of the swimming pool which is rather fun. Dishes are straight forward, burgers, salads. Breakfast is served here too.

We may not think of hotels as restaurants and that is probably because "the big boys" in the industry stay away from the trouble of sourcing, preparing and serving food, I am glad that Sopwell house management has not chosen to follow suite.

Other recent review
My stay at Sopwell house
Olive Magazine reviews the restaurant

disclaimer: I was a guest at Sopwell House- words are my own and I was not asked to write a positive review.
The Restaurant at Sopwell House on Urbanspoon


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