Italian in the Isle of Man
If I told you that the traditional dish of the Isle of Man was the grand choice between herring and boiled potatoes and chips with gravy and cheese you might get the idea that this place isn’t perhaps known for its grand haute cuisine. However that wasn’t why we were there, it was no Italy. But luckily we were provided with the most lovely selection of home cooked meals (particularly a melt in the mouth lamb shank, fluffy trifle and copious wine on the last night) and a few of us were impressed with the traditional kipper roll (gutted I missed this), manx beer (NOT me), goats milk strawberry cheesecake ice cream (definitely me), and of course the Manx Knobs (humbug like sweets). In fact we were given so much food, tea, cake and sandwiches here there and everywhere, that a walk up the ‘mountain’ was definitely well received.
One thing I can definitely attest to is the quality of the food in the Italian restaurant La Piazza in Douglas. Lovely and filling, the highlight was unfortunately dessert by which point I was really full, any other time I would have just eaten several portions of that! More later.
The choice of starters was unfortunately limited due to the lateness of the hour, but the newbie and I shared between us a rather disappointing Caprese salad (literally just mozzarella and tomato, no dressing or pesto or nothing) and retro vol au vents (two the size of a pie each) with a lovely creamy mushroom sauce, possibly again could have a done with a touch more seasoning. However I’m glad we shared because one of them alongside the considerably lighter salad was a better size for a starter than two giant puff pastries. Im likewise pleased I didn’t opt for the garlic bread as it was literally a pizza size, if I’d have had that alongside a second pizza…..
Talking of which I opted for the house specialty, classic margarita base with garlic butter and parma ham. It was very tasty, the garlic butter added an extra layer of flavour and the parma ham was very good quality, added at just the right moment. The main issue was again finishing my plate. I have always been the good little girl that finishes everything on my plate as my mother told me to…. in this case it was possibly a mistake. Likewise the newbie had a large plate of carbonara which she couldn’t finish but the historian next to me made solid work of the volcanic looking calzone. The best moment of the night was when the northerner got confused about the sea bass dish believing that bass couldn’t possibly be a fish, but rather a manxian assortment of seafood, I believe she was rather surprised when the dish arrived.
At this point the meal deteriorated as only choir tours can and a game of pass the string bean mouth to mouth. It was probably a good thing we were basically the only people left in the restaurant at this point, although I believe one unsuspecting customer was treated to possibly the loudest, most overly harmonised and operatic Happy Birthday she had ever heard…What happens when you mix a choir and wine.
Then came the grand finale, dessert. I wisely passed on the profiteroles (I believe a good profiterole is one in a million and as expected they were soggy and too much plain cream) and grudgingly passed on the pannacotta which ran out, although I was mainly excited by the jam smiley face, and was rewarded with one of the best tiramisu’s I have ever had. Rather than a disappointing mountain of plain whipped cream, soggy lady fingers and bitter cocoa powder, we were treated to a sweet boozy zabaglione (sort of custardy but sweeter and thicker) layered with spongy lady fingers, strong coffee and dark chocolate shavings. I could have eaten another couple. La Piazza I salute you
I’ve tweaked the menu a bit – and of course added some canapé ideas and dietary alternatives for my weird gluten free, nut allergy, veggie friends.
Beetroot Macaroons, Creamy goats cheese filling (gf) (v) (n)
Crispy Salmon skin, Seaweed cone, seaweed salad, soy dressing, sesame seeds (gf) (n)
Crab, Pink Grapefruit and dill mayonnaise, blinis, caviar (n)
Ras el Hanout seared lamb, pistachio crust, mint and cilantro, harissa sauce, lemon yogurt
Palm heart and avocado ceviche with soy, ginger and lime (v)(gf)(n)
Wild Garlic scrambled eggs, toasted sunflower seeds, crispy toast discs, Bloody mary coulis (v)(n)
– Gluten free toast alternative option
Wild truffle and mushroom ravioli, spinach foam, creamed white wine and tarragon sauce, tarragon crisps, butter toasted walnut pieces (v)
– Gluten free pasta alternative
– nut allergy, replace nuts with sunflower seeds
Butternut, spinach and ricotta Wellingtons, three cheese potato gratin, caramelised onions, maple pecans (v)
Milk chocolate bubbly Mousse, bubble wrap dark chocolate, marmalade, salted popcorn (n)
Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel
Tomato and Basil Praline
No Bread Pizza – for healthy days
It is one of those days where you’ve spent the past weekend being inundated with free food and drink (in my case choir tour) and consequently eat a lot of cake because it’s free and you’re a student so your brain is always programmed to stock up with free food wherever you go. On top of that you are exhausted so end up buying a lot of chocolate on top of this because chocolate (while bad for your voice) is the best thing to sustain you through a long day. Finally you are also a food blogger so can’t possibly say no to eating three courses when you have already obliged yourself (and promised those around you) that you will blog about it. (see the Italian Isle of Man post.) Right about now you are where I am now, feeling like I’ve eaten an elephant over the weekend, caffeine withdrawal headache, hangover and sleep deprivation. In order to counteract this I have decided to have a day of abstinence/early night/detox, but abstinence doesn’t mean it can’t be tasty!
Here is the recipe for what I cooked myself for dinner, admittedly I have just gone and taken one of the best bits out of a pizza, BUT trust me it is still very filling, low calorie, nutrient rich etc, plus I woke up after this day feeling healthier, happier and ready to get back to the rich foods that normally fill up this blog.
3 tomatoes, chopped in to quarters
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 small courgette, cut into circles
150g Portobello mushrooms (ideal) or chestnut (chea
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
(NB If you like you could also add red onion or aubergine or sweet potato to bulk it up)
pepper lemon juice
basil (ideally fresh but I used dried and it was fine)
(I added smoked paprika to this the other day as well and trust me mind was blown!)
1/2 ball low-fat mozzarella
Place the veg and garlic in a flat dish and sprinkle liberally with salt, a dash of lemon juice, some black pepper and LOTS of Basil. Now I’m not sure how long to cook this in the oven (I only have a microwave), but feel free to experiment, I expect you are looking about 15mins at 180oC. In the microwave, cook the veg on high for about 7-8mins. Scatter with torn bits of mozzarella and put back in the microwave or oven for about 2mins, until melted, enjoy…..
Of course this isn’t an exclusively healthy dish. You could add more mozzarella, add goats cheese, serve with garlic bread, drizzle with olive oil or pesto, add pepperoni or chicken or even for extra decadence try four cheeses and bacon….
Confusing the Palate
Once again I have been possibly slightly unwittingly coerced by my friends to cook for them in what can only be described as basic cooking conditions. This time it was marginally easier, only 4 to cook for, no dietary restrictions and a more free day leading up to it. Plus I had further enticement as the three dinner guests agreed to match my menu with wines for each course. As per usual the menu was possibly a little obsessively planned – excel, timetable, price itemised shopping list….. If only I gave my degree this much attention.
Unfortunately that day the time I had allotted to finishing my coursework so I felt slightly better about jet setting to the Isle of Man on choir tour ( yes we did fly and it was a very exciting tour) was spent trying in Vain to save my degree, I accidentally wiped my computer hard drive, hopefully this can be remedied – watch this space. Most people in this circumstance would most likely be in hysterics, alleviating anger by throwing heavy objects at the wall, or immediately degrading from their degree and moving to anguished exile in Siberia to escape the pain of the disappearance of half a years worth of coursework. I’m afraid I did none of these things. The excitement of cooking a dinner party made up if my favourite foods, with some of my favourite people and a copious amount of good wine somehow managed to inspire such a cloud of optimism – I am still living in the sphere of it and am still convinced this will be ok- my mother on the other hand is despairing, possibly mostly at my casual attitude….
Anyway back to dinner – if anything can distract me from a possible career ending mistake it would be confit chicken, truffle jus, peanut butter parfait…. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We began with prosecco and walkers crisps. However these wakers crisps tasted especially good because I’d stolen them from the snack basket of the current bane of my life, the college fundraising campaign. If you have ever had to persuade people to give you money when they are trying it tell you that they’ve just been made redundant/had a baby/ bought a house so can’t afford it right now you will understand the soul draining experience that is telephone campaign. (Disclaimer – the crisps were meant for workers like me so it wasn’t so much stealing)
I wanted to challenge our taste buds by starting with a sweet course and ending with a savoury while still trying maintain some sort of style and complexity within my ‘having to reboot the oven every 15mins’ limitations. So we began with a Roasted tomato and caramelised onion Tarte Tatin with Ricotta quenelle. This is a surprisingly easy dish, particularly with the aid of Lakeland disposable foil pudding dishes – effectively the basis of this meal.
2 large tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tbsp sugar + 2tbsp sugar
Drop vanilla essence
White wine vinegar (I shamefully had to use fish and chip vinegar)
Ready rolled puff pastry
Roast the tomatoes, cut in half and garlic still in its skin with a drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt and thyme leaves for about 10-15mins at 180oC.
Meanwhile chop the onions and then sweat over a medium heat in the butter with a good sprinkling of salt (add water if the onions look like they will burn).
When translucent add the bay leaf, a splash of vinegar, pepper, drop of vanilla and half the sugar. When sticky and caramelised, set aside.
Finally melt the remaining sugar with 2tbsp water till a golden amber colour .
Place 1tsp caramel in the base of 4 foil pudding pots. Top with the tomatoes, flat side down and a garlic clove, squeezed out of its skin. Then add a spoonful of onions. Finally top with a disk of puff pastry.
Bake in the oven for 15 min or until golden – turn over – make a quenelle with a spoon of ricotta and serve.
The main used one of my favourite ingredients. I can’t stress enough how amazing a few drops of truffle oil is in most dishes! Some of the best examples include in mash potatoes, mushroom risotto, in butter for steak or even (if you’re feeling adventurous) white truffle and black pepper ice cream with strawberries. It is most definitely worth the £3.99 I paid for it – this bottle is going to last me for about a year, even the smell of it is pretty satisfying.
Other than the truffle oil, all the ingredients in this main are pretty cheap which just goes to show that you don’t need to spend a lot to throw a great dinner party (this is one of the many tips I tend to shout at the TV screen when watching Come Dine with Me, along with why do you start cooking when your guests arrive???). I do agree that you can taste a great cut of organic meat, especially with steak where the better the quality the less you have to do to it, I barely cook mine, BUT I used sainsbury’s basics chicken leg pieces for this dish, at the grand total of 4 for £2.69, and it came out absolutely beautifully.
So here it is Confit Chicken leg, buttered cabbage with nutmeg, butternut squash dauphinoise, toasted hazelnuts and truffle jus. Again relatively easy, just prep the hazelnuts, chicken, dauphinoise and chop the cabbage in advance and you can pretty much just leave it to cook while you can go and drink with your guests (take notes Come dine with me contestants).
For the Chicken
4 chicken legs
2l sunflower/vegetable oil
1tsp truffle oil
8-10 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
few sprigs of thyme
50g sea salt flakes
For the Cabbage
1 savoy cabbage
50g salted butter
pinch of nutmeg
For the Jus
1-2tsp truffle oil
1 stock cube
small knob of butter
2 garlic cloves
splash lemon juice
For the Dauphinoise
1 butternut squash
8 cloves or so garlic
sea salt flakes
For the Hazlenuts
100g blanched hazlenuts finely chopped (or bashed)
Rub the chicken with the salt, crushed garlic cloves, pepper and herbs, set aside for about an hour or so. Meanwhile toast the hazelnuts in a dry saucepan over a medium heat NB keep tossing to try and prevent burning, set aside.
Chop the squash into slices and layer in a shallow dish, studding every couple of layers with garlic cloves, a good sprinkling of salt and some pepper and the herbs. Pour over the cream, you may need a bit of milk to bring the cream/milk to the same level as the top layer of the squash, alternatively you can top this up with cream, the dish will be more stodgy but richer and really delicious.
Chop the cabbage into strips (the best way to do this is cut out the centre and chop all the sides into strips). Place into a saucepan with the butter, water, nutmeg and pepper, set aside.
Wash most of the salt off the chicken, reserving the herbs, half of the garlic and about 5-10g of the salt (this is approximate, the idea is you need a bit left). Place in a shallow dish and cover the chicken and herbs etc with the oils.
Put the chicken in the oven at 150oC for about an hour and a half. Forty minutes before you want to eat put the squash in the oven, when ready the squash should be starting to brown on top.
Meanwhile for the jus, chop the garlic and place in a small saucepan with the butter and sauté for 2-3mins. Pour over the lemon juice and add the herbs and 250ml water. Add the stock cube and stir to dissolve over a medium heat. Reduce to about half then add the truffle oil. Remove from the heat.
5mins before you want to eat, put the cabbage on the heat and cover, cook for 5mins and then remove from the heat.
To serve, place a handful of cabbage in the middle of the plate, top with a chicken leg and sprinkle with hazelnuts, finally spoon over some jus. Serve the dauphinoise separately, trust me a normal sized portion may not be enough for each person.
Now since I had done a sweet starter I decided to counter expectations with a salty dessert based on the american classic snack, a PBJ sandwich. My sister will tell you how obsessed I am with peanut butter, so much so that she promised to make me a giant peanut butter cup in lieu of a cake for my 18th birthday (if you’re reading this it’s 3 years down the line and I’m still waiting on that). When we went to America the excitement of every single chocolate bar having a version in peanut butter not to mention every restaurant meal. While in San Francisco last year I remember having a peanut butter cheesecake slice for lunch rather than the more nutritious savoury burritos my friends have. I do try and limit my addiction as too much of a good thing (at least in this case) would make me end up morbidly obese, but since I got to choose the menu for this party, it was inevitably included. This isn’t for everyone (my haribo addicted dinner partner would’ve preferred a sweeter dessert) but for me it encapsulates heaven
Peanut butter parfait, cookie crumbs, chocolate squares and homemade strawberry jam
For the parfait
200g peanut butter
300g cream cheese
3/4 sachet powdered gelatine
1 packet chocolate chip cookies
For the chocolate squares
dark chocolate (60% or more)
For the jam
1 sachet powdered gelatine
Beat together the peanut butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the sugar, beat, then whisk together the gelatine and cream to combine before adding to the mix and beating further. Meanwhile make the cookies into crumbs, best done in a food processor. grease 6 pudding dishes (see above) well and then cover in cookie crumbs. (the best way to do this is place a large spoonful in the bottom and then pour out, turning as you do to cover all the sides). Fill the moulds with parfait and leave to set in the fridge. Reserve the remaining cookie crumbs
Meanwhile make a grid on a parchment lined tray with the masking tape. Melt the chocolate and spread over the grid, leave at room temperature to set, when still soft but not liquid, peel off the masking tape carefully, you should be left with perfect chocolate squares, place in the fridge to set.
Macerate (cover) the chopped strawberries in the sugar and black pepper. After about 30mins, place over a medium heat and liquids using a hand held blender. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-5mins. Add the gelatine and stir to dissolve, leave to cool. Ideally you would then put this in a piping bag, I didn’t have one 😦
To serve, place a chocolate square on the plate, release the parfait and place on top, finish with a second chocolate square. Use the piping bag to pipe dots of jam around this (again I couldn’t do this) and scatter with cookie crumbs.
For finishing touches to the perfect evening, add wine and good company.
Under the Sea
I have recently been spending a small fortune on Seaweed salad from Yo Sushi. In a similar way to the juice addiction I tend to have small time addictions with food where I eat certain things for months on end, every day at some time or other, and then suddenly decide I don’t want them again and stop eating it altogether. Previous fads have gone from the healthy, Pret’s avocado juice, Sainsbury’s melon snack packs, to the unhealthy, curlywurly’s, coconut and vanilla popcorn, to the plain strange, Bird’s custard with cocoa powder to make chocolate custard…. The main issue with the seaweed salad addiction is the fact it costs £2.50 a pop, which as a poor student I immediately knew was unsustainable. So as the juice before it, I am striving to make this at home.
The first step was research. I clocked the list of ingredients in the Yo Sushi version and shaved it down to the basics. As far as I could tell all I needed was; dried seaweed, soy sauce, sugar, rive vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds. I took one of those fairly dangerous gambles and ordered my dried seaweed off Amazon and managed to get four hefty bags for about £10 (I’ve used half so far). When they came, they neither looked nor smelt particularly appetising. When shredded and soaked in water they smelt even worse, but I persevered. I rinsed the slimy seaweed several times and drained it well.
Then I liberally seasoned it with the afore mentioned ingredients (to taste) and I was amazed. Like magic my slimy, smelly seaweed had transformed into a immensely tasty salad, incredibly reminiscent of the Yo Sushi version (although admittedly carrot would have livened up the colour.) In fact the only thing I would do differently was maybe use red Gamma seaweed or something instead of Konbu as it was a little more chewy than I expected, but otherwise I am feeling possibly a little too proud of my recent procrastination.
The Lobster Quadrille: The Yorkshireman part 2 – Brown’s Brasserie
In my last post I described the beer cake. It had one of the best responses to a cake I’ve had, simply because I walked in the room for the sparkling wine drinks, the birthday boy and gathered assembly were drinking large pints. However following the drinks we all headed over to Browns to continue the celebrations.
It was a little surreal approaching the restaurant for their weekly lobster night to walk through a throng of hand horns and placards being thrust in our plates by protestors protesting against lobster killing, but luckily once you got in the restaurant the regular blasts of horns and shouting dispersed into vague background noise.
I was quite hungry at this point and there was just one starter calling out to me and my neighbour, the sharing plate. This I would strongly recommend! I particularly enjoyed the calamari which were crisp but not chewy inside and went well with lime and chilli mayonnaise, which lacked heat but was tasty nonetheless. The honey mustard chicken again lacked a huge hit of the promised flavour but was still tasty and very well cooked. I really liked the prawn cocktail, chunky prawns and a hit of marie rose sauce which didn’t try to pretend it was anything other than what it should be, mayonnaise, worcester sauce and ketchup (it may have been more fancy then this but I loved it’s lack of pretentiousness). Again I really enjoyed the duck crispy chilli duck which was full of flavour but perhaps should’ve been described as hop-sin duck because that is what it was in reality. The chorizo sausage roll was very good and definitely lived up to its description, as did the lavish breadsticks which were so much more than breadsticks, more like morish buttery pastry sticks (this was not one for the figure conscious) which went so well with the rich lime and chilli mayonnaise for absolute decadence, carried the actually quite spicy harissa houmous and were complimented by the more plain and light aubergine caviar. Altogether perhaps browns could do with rewriting their description, but the finished product was delicious, although most definitely for sharing, perhaps we were a bit ambitious only sharing between the two of us…
For the main I was told that I absolutely had to have the lobster surf and turf and was even offered sponsorship to order it (which of course I gratefully accepted -don’t judge, food lover+student – all donations accepted). The problem I had with the main was that having advertised this as a dish for lobster lovers, the lobster was significantly smaller than others I’ve had in the past (see dubai and Brussels) and was slightly overcooked and lacked flavour. For £25 you would have thought they could at least have run to a sauce for either the steak or lobster. Having had my rant the turf bit of my meal was lovely. I do like my steaks virtually mooing on the plate and I know a minute steak is quite hard to cook medium rare so I really should’ve asked for rare. Despite this they managed a good medium rare which I was impressed with and the fluffy thin chips were really good especially when dipped in Brown’s homemade ketchup, which I have had before and absolutely adore, it is so much better than Heinz (which for the record I love on brunch – this just goes the extra mile!) The steak doesn’t quite beat Cau, but at the moment that is a tough act to follow.
The Yorkshireman’s birthday approaches. I am invited to a lavish champagne (okay prosecco) drinks reception followed by a meal at Brown’s. So what to give him….. When I have time (unfortunately this is not the case for all of my friend’s birthdays so I apologise – if any of my friends are reading this I promise you, your time will come soon – ) I like to make a cake and/or chocolates. The Yorkshireman is another one of my keen organist friends but since I have already made the organ cake, I turned to the Yorkshireman’s other love, Beer. I made a sheet plain sponge, first time using the brand new bright red kitchen aid!
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
225g self raising flour
This Inmate’s Last Meal
Three years of pretentious, over-priced but very special 3 course meals and it all came down to a St Paddy’s day feast for my last formal ever at Kings. We’ve had hits, THAT venison steak, and spectacular misses, coffee in the starter…. but Kings has at least kept a consistency of too many things on the plate and geometric shapes, a level of pretentiousness far above any other in a Cambridge. However it is certainly an event every week, nowhere else is black tie virtually the norm for a weekly student dinner, nowhere else is there such a paradox within the generally perceived message of the organisation (nb communist flag in the bar), nowhere else would weekly dinners stop 8 weeks before they should. Lets not lie, I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s more exclusive. I even splashed the boat out on wine – seriously rewarded, smooth balanced taste that was light but robust.
I wasn’t necessarily thrilled that our last ever formal was St Patrick’s day themed but I was pleasantly surprised in some areas, quite disappointed in others.
The menu read as follows
Haddock, cauliflower, squid chowder, smoked bread foam, dehydrated Irish moss and soda bread
Guinness braised beef flank stew, with caramelised shallots, thyme, champ, kale, baby turnip and blackened leeks
Irish chocolate coffee cake, vanilla and white chocolate malt, Baileys ice cream and raspberry glass
The first course had my favourite and least favourite parts. It was generally decided that the moss was possibly the most disgusting thing many of us had ever tasted, sort of like swallowing a mouth of sea water, a dehydrated mouth of sea water. We also believe that that is the reason the soda bread had an after taste of earwax (too harsh?). However the black guinness looking soup with potato foaming topping was delicious. The squid added a savoury element that lifted an other wise delicious but basic haddock and potato chowder to an morish soup that I could’ve kept eating for the whole meal (in some cases maybe I should’ve).
The second course was slightly deceivingly small on the plate – it had body, a huge body of supposedly melt in the mouth meat, it was alright but it was quite stringy all in all although the caramelised shallots complimented it as did the buttery mash. Plus I love blackened leeks, but once again Kings decided sauce wasn’t necessary, they were wrong.
I didn’t realise how full I was going to be by this point and couldn’t finish the rich chocolate ganache they had called a cake.. It did go well with the delicious Baileys Ice cream and the raspberry glass was for once a welcome novelty, but ration of ice cream to ganache probably should’ve been the other way around….
It was a lovely night with my friends but I feel they should’ve let me redesign the dessert, oh and actually the main and why not the starter as well for good measure…