Steak take 2 – Cau

Steak take 2 – Cau

This is a little belated given this jumps all the way back to the parents visit, but what can I say, I’ve been busy. Cau has got to be one of my best recent eating out experiences. Not only is the food really good (especially the traditional argentinian dishes, we tried the flatbreads which were nice but didn’t blow pizza express away), but the argentinian wine is worth remembering. The only issue here is that I forgot to take pictures, we were a little too busy enjoying the food.

We started with Empanandas, like little cornish pasties with slightly more exciting flavours. We ended up trying all three, through a slight communicative error with our waitress but it was good to try all three. The first, spicy ground beef and onion, was actually my least favourite, ironically probably the most similar to a cornish pasty but it lacked interesting flavour, better for the less adventurous. The next, spanish chorizo and cream cheese was my favourite, spicy and creamy at the same time, good flavour/texture balance. Finally the spinach, ricotta and date which was also really good, the date adding a sweet edge to an otherwise classic combination. We found half of each of these and a chicken skewer was perfect for a starter. We went for the chicken with guacamole (you may be noticing an avocado trend in this blog) which had some of the best guacamole I’ve had in a while, so creamy and delicious – even my dad (who is generally spice phobic) enjoyed the balanced flavours in the guacamole, and very well cooked chicken,  not over or under done.

For mains we all went for steak (why not?) My dad and sister (the mother was off doing her job back in Oxford) both had the thinly sliced tapa de cuadril which was apparently very good and suited both of them perfectly, they aren’t generally so keen on the bloody steak. My sisters salsa style chimchurri sauce was ok but my dad’s garlic and herb aioli fought off stiff competition of any aioli I’ve had before. Likewise dad’s chunky chips were good but my thinly sliced ones were better, and definitely much better than McDonalds while retaining that addictive tendency. I enjoyed the red juices oozing from my perfectly cooked medallions and they were complimented by the creamy and salty mustard sauce which I am ashamed to say I wiped off my plate with the chips, it was that good.

After such a feast we were all quite stuffed, no matter how valiantly I tried to fit dessert in. Luckily my dad had the answer, sharing the Dulce de leche pancakes. I am so glad he forced this on both his daughters as I haven’t had such amazing caramel sauce, really ever. I may just go back for these pancakes they were that good.

I think the picture below speaks for itself, that is a satisfied table – while Cau will never be cheap cheap, it is better value for money given the quality of the produce and wine then most places. Ive never tasted Argentinian food before but I will definitely be trying it again (maybe just at Cau).

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If you go down to the woods today…

If you go down to the woods today…

So as you may have realised from this blog I am generally not very good at spontaneity. Of course this is a benefit when it comes to cooking elaborate 5 course dinners…. but generally as a student I am learning to juggle everything with a tight schedule and a bit of spontaneity every now and then is a welcome stress release. Of course spontaneity can vary from taking a long cycle ride, heading to the museum or in my case soaking gummy bears in gin….
It was one of those weird afternoons following brunch when I wanted a snack because I can’t cope with only having two meals a day, so stopped off for a healthy cereal bar. Of course I met my friend who suggested tangfastics were a more juvenile approach and I should probably start acting like the kid I feel like inside rather than the mature soon to be graduate I actually am. Upon spotting the gummy bears I mused that I had always wanted to try gummy bears in vodka having read they grow to about 4 times in size, he suggested we actually try it. Of course I only had gin (being more a g and t girl than a vodka coke) so we used that instead. A few days later and all I can say is that half a packet of gummy bears engorged to the size of a key with gin, makes for rather good pre-drinking.

Same friend, different experiment. Following on from the successful gin gummy bears, we decided to try the much talked about skittle vodka. Deciding that skittles wouldn’t make our final vodka enough like sours, we used skittle sours. Trying not to eat too many we skilfully divided all the skittles into colours, this was the fun part, brought out the ocd in us, I think all Cambridge students have it a little. We then downed 5 bottles of fizzy water and filled up with vodka, I’ll keep you updated on the results

In another note, same friend and I headed to chophouse again (I am not normally this decadent) and had the exciting sharing plate. I have been wanting to try this for a while but this plate is rather difficult to share between four…much better between two.

 Venison Pate with sweetcorn relish and brown sourdough, possibly my favourite part of the dish , meaty and chunky, balanced by the tangy relish. Then there was the pork crackling, crunchy and salty – not quite up their with the maypole’s but then the maypole is specifically tailored for drunken munchies. The cheese, I was assured, was very good cheddar, as detailed many times, I am not a cheese fan. Likewise personally I wasn’t such a fan of the gammon although that is more personal taste as it was smokey and I’m sure hit the spots for more of a gammon lover. I am always a big fan of cured salmon, especially beetroot cured and this was good, although I think it was sliced a little thinly, I think cured salmon tastes better a little thicker so you can taste how much meatier it is than smoked salmon and not so salty but they still did well, plus good value for money, we were stuffed.

Juicy Times

Juicy Times

In some sort of crazy plan to try and actually stay healthy this year, I have decided to start juicing for breakfast. Well that and also wanting to constantly use my shiny new blender which works so fast the bigger stress about making this juice is washing up and it works out a lot cheaper than the pret a manger   version. Having tried and failed a almost totally veg juice ( U7 as my faithful taste tester informed me it was a little lacking in flavour…)
The great thing about this juice is that it is tasty but also makes you glow.

Makes about 6 servings
1 avocado
1 banana
400g blueberries
250g spinach
400ml orange juice (according to taste)
water

Blitz all the ingredients in a blender, adjust orange juice and water to taste and texture, pour into bottles and chill. Hey presto healthy breakfast on the run for a week

St John’s Chophouse

St John’s Chophouse

It might be only me, but when anyone offers me an all expenses trip to a restaurant all I can think about is STEAK. So the inevitable termly visit from the parents is centred around a decadent 3 course meal at none other than the St John’s Chophouse. Not only is this probably the best steak I have ever had, every time I go, but they also play Blackadder in the loos, what more could you want. This time round it was especially exciting as my aunt was up (she’d treated me to a romantic meal at Pizza Express on Valentine’s day – giving me something to do, couldn’t have spent it better) and even my busy london-lifestyle sister was gracing us with her presence. Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks the chophouse is an excellent choice as the whole place was packed, probably a good thing we’d booked on a saturday night…
Since I’m not very good at spontaneity (I’m working on it) , I had of course already perused the menu and was set on starting with some of their interesting sounding Three Squirrels English Sparkling Wine. This turned out to be only one of a set of excellent choices I’d already made before I sat down – yes I had looked at the menu that much. While sipping a glass of the bubbly stuff with distinctive notes of elderflower, we ordered a diverse range of starters much to my internal blogger’s delight. My aunt and mum went for the special, a salmon gateaux, layered with creme fraiche, beetroot cured salmon and smoked salmon. My dad, the quirkily retro prawn cocktail, with slightly more flavour and less acidity than its namesake but still served in a cocktail class. My sister had the cured pigeon and beetroot salad, which indulged every meat lovers dream, the pigeon melting in the mouth due to the curing process, while still maintaining the flavour of a piece cooked rare.

I opted for the poached egg on toast with mushroom/ mustard sauce – tempted by the similarity to my favourite breakfast treat, eggs benedict – the intense flavour and saltiness of the sauce was balanced by a perfectly cooked poached egg, the yellow yolk oozing lusciously from the centre.

We accompanied our main course with a lovely red wine served in big goblet glasses, something I can’t wait own when I have a full set of glassware for dinner parties (although the crystal glasses from Oxfam given to me by my parents for my birthday do look rather good on my cupboard shelf).

 Of course for me this course was what I had been looking forward to pretty much all term, a sirloin steak, brandy and pepper sauce, bashed butternut squash and chunky chips. As any foodie should, I like my steak rare and bloody, and the chophouse didn’t fail me. Likewise the chips crispy and fluffy at the same time as expected, which I used to soak up the deliciously savoury brandy sauce. However the pleasantly surprising highlight of the dish was the butternut squash, it worked so well bursting with sage, I only wish I got more than one spoonful. They say all great women turn into their mothers, and that must be the case as my mum and I unwittingly chose exactly the same main course.

While regaling us with tales of her business course in London, my sister tucked into the market fish, a pan fired sea bream, kale and crushed new potatoes. While I was assured the fish was delicious, she was slightly underwhelmed with the crushed potatoes which appeared to lack buttery flavour and was slightly overwhelmed by mint.

My dad went for the supreme of the menu, the beef wellington. I’m trying not to hear the cries of outrage as I admit that I have actually never tried Beef wellington. The truth is that I’m scared of making it (it is one of the hardest dishes to make without over cooking/ soggy pastry etc) and I’m scared if I have it at restaurant it will be better than I could ever make it. Dad’s did not disappoint. I hardly had a chance to take a picture of it before it disappeared off the plate…. but I was assured it was delicious.

 My aunt was clearly enticed by the specials again as she went with the seasonal duck with haggis hash and roasted carrots and parsnips. Again it hit the spot, crispy skin and melting meat.

I’ve never been one to turn down pudding, despite feeling both well fed, watered and intellectually stimulated by this point, having filled everyone in on my latest work and social highlights and being treated to equally exciting tales, mostly of my parents having gone out to free work dinners and invites to the opera (not that I’m jealous or anything..) The choice isn’t large, and certainly not exotic at the chophouse, but they certainly do Great British Menu incredibly well. I made my third good choice of the evening with the chocolate bread and butter pudding with marmalade sauce. The bitter chocolate was off set by the creamy and sweet marmalade custard, as if you were eating sophisticated chocolate covered orange peel while simultaneously indulging in your mothers most comforting stodgy sponge.

My mother enjoyed her creme brûlée or more geographically correct ‘Cambridge Burnt Cream’, which of course Trinity college take credit for oner french paste chefs… http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1298534/Which-came-Cr-br-l-e-burnt-cream-UK-claims-French-classic-own.html

Yet again the only disappointment was slight, in this case my aunt’s dessert was too large. No-one can eat quite that much chocolate pot (a very thick and rich chocolate mousse), I personally would’ve upped the shortbread and cut a little of the chocolate stuff, but I tried a little and the orange and ginger came through nicely , meaning it wasn’t too sweet.
Being the hugely organised family that we are, we spent most of the dessert discussing where our next meal out was – watch this space. Meanwhile check out the Chophouse website http://www.cambscuisine.com/st-johns-chop-house

Burns Night

Burns Night

The celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns which I only came across in Cambridge, England…..  It is the sort of occasion where the menu reads like a witches chant from Macbeth, the men wear skirts and everyone toasts a sheep’s stomach with what some consider to be the nectar of gods and what others (me) consider to be absolutely disgusting. I’m not entirely sure why this English institution feels like it should celebrate such a scottish tradition but I am very glad we do, I love haggis. If someone had told me at the age of 6 that I would love to eat sheep’s offal minced with oatmeal and boiled in a stomach I probably would have thrown up, but ever since I tasted offal for the first time at 16 (a black pudding stuffed pork loin) I absolutely loved it. (The exception being Tripe which I tried once and never again…) Offal tends to lift a dish with its’ rich, earthy flavour and  works well in small doses such as the lovely offal risotto The Fat Duck serves with its’ lamb dish, or a slice of black pudding pan fried with brunch or even pan fried liver with caramelised onions (lots of iron – good for you). Offal should really be on people’s menus more often, plus just think how sophisticated you’ll look with deep fried sweetbreads on your menu.

We started off as usual scrambling for places on the tables, decorated with topical tartan tablecloths. Settling down with warm rolls and butter and a glass of wine we awaited the first course eagerly; the enigmatic Cullen Skink espuma, home made haddock and oat rumbledethumps. Roughly translated what this actually means is foamy potato and fish soup with haddock and oat fishcake/dumplings. Tasty stuff. I especially applaud the Scottish for their love of strong flavours, it makes a dish so much better. I found dipping the oaty dumplings into the light soup was particularly gratifying. The man with the colourful hair’s vegetarian option was incredibly good (I’ve mentioned my aversion to king’s vegetarian options in the past – a whole slab of goats cheese….) He had a colourful green leek and potato soup along with his own cheddar cheese ‘rumpledethumps’.

Having satiated rumbling stomachs for a little while we were treated to what some might call the main entertainment. The first I heard about the traditional ‘Address to the Haggis’ was about 12pm that afternoon, when I was asked. as a music student, if I knew anyone who played the Bagpipes……I wish I did. Luckily they managed to find some Bagpiper who played the haggis in as it was paraded around the hall in procession. At the top of the hall came the traditional poem spoken to the Haggis (to read the full thing http://www.robertburns.org.uk/Assets/Poems_Songs/toahaggis.htm) which is brilliant when seen alongside the Anglicised translation. The haggis was then pierced and we all raised a toast to the haggis with a shot of whisky. Whisky is possibly the only thing that the Scottish and I disagree on. Then again whisky appears to be the marmite of alcoholic drinks. I have never met anyone who merely likes whisky, generally there are the devotees and those who find it hard to stomach and unfortunately I fall in the latter. Having said this as this was burns night (and egged on by friends around the table) I did finish my whole shot. I don’t know whether it was because I hadn’t really had whisky before or because it was strong but it did slightly knock me for 6. Therefore I was incredibly grateful to have the main arrive. MacSween Haggis, neeps, tatties, giroles, curly kale and Glayva sauce. Translation: Offal minced with oats boiled in a sheep’s stomach, turnips, potatoes, kale, mushrooms and whisky sauce. It was wonderful. The Haggis was peppery and rich, the potatoes were mashed, buttery with a hint of mustard and the sauce was thick and savoury, complimented well by the less strong turnips. It all went together perfectly and was warming and filling. I particularly liked the combination of the mustard and pepperiness. The man with the colourful hair is also allergic to nuts so couldn’t unfortunately have the vegetarian alternative Haggis. However his mushroom risotto was filling and warming if a little disappointing (a bit carb heavy).

Dessert came and I was very pleased. It had a wonderful combination of textures and a lovely strong honey flavour. Honey and Oat Parfait with soft chocolate and Drambuie Celtic layer. I particularly liked the parfait, although perhaps the dark chocolate fondant was a little rich considering such a rich main, I would have preferred just the ice cream or maybe more of the wonderful parfait. The best part about the Scottish is after such a rich meal they know exactly what to do, dance. Great fun, although admittedly Kings scottish dancing following a large consumption of wine was possibly a little more slap hazard than the Scottish. Having said that it probably depends how much whisky they drink…

The Student 3-course meal

The Student 3-course meal

You know those days when you feel like celebrating (in my case recovering from the flu) but have no money and have left it a little too late to organise stuff with friends? Or perhaps you have just finished an essay and are only just realising that you want food and celebratory food? (or perhaps to speed the essay on its way?) Or maybe you forgot it was your anniversary, but the budget is limited….

Poor mans G+T
so you have no ice, the college accommodation you’re in only provides a paltry fridge the size of a shoebox which of course you have stuffed half of with beverages rather than food… In my case I’ve chosen to refrigerate the tonic, but refrigerating the gin works just as well, especially if your G+Ts tend to be Gin with a dash of tonic…..
I like using Sainsbury’s ‘London Gin’, one above the basics so it tastes slightly better (or if you have parents visiting stock your cupboard with something nice, my personal favourite being Tanqueray, don’t mean to sound like an advert but I can really taste the difference – can’t wait till their visit in two weeks….)
Tonic wise, the basics is fine, but again if you can afford it schweppes is nicer – slimline for the calorie conscious.
To really pimp up this drink, i like to use a dash of lemon juice, one of the squeezable lemons will do, I find my G+Ts are so far and few between any lemons I buy tend to turn a nasty shade of green before I get round to including them in my drink…..
Not quite Gourmet but highly passable.

Starter from the Cupboard
A starter made from a student store cupboard is tricky… but i managed to create one with virtually no prep as well.
Starting point, some sainsbury’s basics chopped tomatoes and some crisp bread.

Chopped tomatoes
1 chopped onion
2 chopped cloves garlic
vinaigrette made with 1/2 oil, 1/2 vinegar (balsamic if possible)
salt and pepper
(if you have basil even better)

Mix altogether and top the crisp bread

In pizza express they would charge you £4.80 for that (and this serves a lot more than one)

Main Course
I always tend to have cooked chicken (mostly because I don’t trust my fridge to not give me food poisoning if I keep raw meat in there constantly), and I try and keep onions, carrots and sweet potatoes in my cupboard because they always come in useful.
So Supper today is…Mashed Sweet Potato Balsamic roast and ricotta cheese

Chop onions and carrots, toss in oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Place in a microwave proof dish and cover with cling film, pierced in various places. Cook on high for 7-10mins. Remove. Prick a sweet potato and place in the microwave for 6mins on high. Remove and replace carrots and onions in uncovered, cook for 2mins, then stir in chicken and cook for a further 2mins. Meanwhile scoop the mash out of the sweet potato skin, season with salt and pepper and butter (sometimes I add a spoonful of pesto but it’s fine without)
Serve all with a dollop of ricotta cheese on the side.

Dessert
Ok so it would be really easy to buy a pot of Gu and heat that up in the microwave and all that but this is cheap and chocolatey and easy, and you can even call it molecular gastronomy because it has an element of science….

Dark Chocolate and water. Melt over a pan of water in a bowl without stirring. Cool. Once Cool whisk together. To pimp it up add a little orange zest and top with creme fraiche.

A cheap and easy 3 course meal, using mostly store cupboard ingredients. Add a large glass of red wine for real celebration.