Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Hotel Chocolat



What better way to finish off a day of sale shopping in the cold than a nice warming cup of cocoa? Well, that cocoa might be well and truly trumped by the enormous bowls of Liquid Chocolat on sale in Hotel Chocolat at Bristol's Cabot Circus. My sister and I had shopped until we'd dropped(£100 (100% silk!) top for less than £20? Check! Bargain half-price super ideal bag? Check! Yards of Butterfly bunting for a mere £1.60? Check!) and after a lot of walking (and browsing but no grabbing; we are ladies after all), we were in need of some sustenance. I had only heard about Hotel Chocolat by drooling over the goodies available on their website after I'd been lucky enough to receive a selection one Christmas. I must admit that the experience is even better in person (though I wasn't entirely sure that was possible). Now, these hot chocolates are cheap at £3 each but you do get a big cup for your pennies and it's exceedingly good quality! We had a Valentian Orange and a Caramel Kiss; both sublime and highly recommended!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Review: Cosmo, Bristol

viewBack in Bristol for Christmas and working in Clifton, I decided to go for a wander to see what had happened to the local area while I've been away. One of the restaurants that has popped up is Cosmo, a pan-asian all-you-can-eat. On closer inspection, I found the prices to be quite reasonable especially for their lunchtime service so with the promise of lunch on me (at such good prices, I was feeling generous!), I dragged my man along to try it out.

I often worry about attempting to eat out during a lunch break as the clock is ticking so bad service is especially frustrating. This didn't seem to be a problem when we visited. We entered at about 12:45, paid for our meals on entry and were then seated within minutes. The venue itself is vast and has a slightly glamorous feel to it if you like simple industrial; dark wood and soft lighting. They have kept things simple too with no extravagant place settings or table clothes which keeps the place looking slick and, of course, keeps turn around quick between customers. Now, the food. For £6.50 (12-3pm lunchtime deal), you have a whole selection of prepared foods to try and come back as many times as you like. There are several fresh food serveries, including a sushi bar (which wasn't open for lunchtime) and a Teppanyaki bar (which was). All of the food seemed fresh, of a fair quality and replenished regularly. Drinks cost extra on top of your meal price and can be ordered from your table. There seemed to be a large team of serving staff who were diligent and very helpful. Although drinks weren't overly expensive, we asked for tap water which was provided without a quibble. For pudding, there is a separate bar. It was a little disappointing in selection and quality but seemed fresh.

Cosmo have branches all over the South of England. All in all, you get what you pay for. The food is plentiful and of fair quality overall. The service is great and we were in and out within the hour.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Easy Party Snacks

We - by that I mean myself and my darling man (who categorically does not like being called "the boy"...) - receive an invite to an evening in the company of good friends with the condition that we should bring some snacky starters in return for a home-cooked main course and pudding. Fair enough, I think but can't find myself inspired into my usual cooking frenzy. You see, some members of our party have slightly particular tastes (no fish, nothing spicy, etc). Add to this conundrum that the main course is curry and my mind is stuck in a stale rut. The answer, of course, comes from my boyfriend's mother brandishing some ever faithful Delia. What we produced went down very well and without having to venture outside the warmth of her home.

Easy Cheesy Pinwheels

Ingredients:
Puff Pastry (from frozen, fresh or handmade)
Plain flour for dusting
Cheddar Cheese
Soft Cheese
Grilled Smoked Bacon (finely chopped)
Olives (finely chopped)
...or whatever goodies you fancy/have!

- Preheat oven to 220C
- Roll out pastry. It doesn't matter how much you have so long as it is about 5mm thick when you've finished
- Sprinkle half of the pastry with cheddar cheese and spread the other half with a thin but even covering of soft cheese
- Spread out the bacon across the cheddar cheese and the olives across the soft cheese. You should aim to have an even covering so you will get a little of the filling in each pinwheel but not so much that the cheese is completely covered otherwise they might not stick together.
- Fold the opposite outer edges into the middle of the pastry (across the two fillings). This can be tricky if you have a large area of pastry. Get some help from someone useful or use a spatula.
- Fold the outer edges (of the folded sides) into the middle again. This sounds like a complicated process and is a bit difficult to explain but is actually really easy when you're doing it.
- Cut 5mm slices across the folds to form each pinwheel and lay on a greesed tray or onto a tray lined with reuseable baking paper.
- Bake for ten to fifteen minutes until golden.

Use whatever you have - different cheese work well. Indeed, you could simply do a "Four Cheese" version with cheddar, parmesan, stilton and mozzarella. We found that the pinwheels with soft cheese baked differently and didn't rise like the cheddar ones which was strange but they were just as tasty. Other ideas are:
>Goats cheese with pinenuts and pesto
>Mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes
>Cheddar cheese and anchovy

Oh and we also made some Tiny Cheese, Onion and Olive Scones served warm, filled with blue or soft cheese. I'll leave Delia to tell you how it's done!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

In the age of fast food, I fear the humble burger has had a bad wrap. The dreaded poor quality of the American chains and the greasy produce on offer from hosts of street side vans have contributed to a feeling that burgers have to be slimy, fatty, mass-produced, bad for you or a combination of all four!

This is not the case at Gourmet Burger Kitchen or GBK as it's affectionately known. After an evening of giggling and falling our way around an ice rink in Oxford, we were in need of some sustenance. According to their website, GBK don't take bookings (though in truth, I've only ever visited on the spur of the moment anyway) and although it wasn't quiet, there was a free table for my party of three. You can choose a burger from the vast and great-tasting menu. I'm a fan of their bacon and avocado burgers but just go along and choose; don't be shy! Their fries are amazing but with the huge burgers, should be rationed one between two even if you're hungry (you can always order more!). Highly recommended are their milkshakes. Yum! They also have a great selection of beers, which makes it popular with my male friends.

The price is pretty good - a burger, chips and a beer will set you back about £15 depending on which burger you choose. They have branches all over the country having started out in London. A great venue for a meal with friends.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Cheesecake Shop

My other half found this very exciting place while looking for somewhere to take me as a treat. A treat it was indeed! As the name suggests, they have a wide selection of cheesecakes and cream cakes as well as a savory menu (but lets face it, who wants a sandwich when you can have cheesecake?!). The prices are quite reasonable and definitely affordable as a treat. We had a hot chocolate each, which were fantastic and while he had a tasty slice of Strawberry Continental Cheesecake, I had a piece of tiramisu. Very satisfying!

The Cheesecake Shop can be found at 33 Devonshire Square, Town Centre, Loughborough, LE11 3DW.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Spike Island Canteen

(Image from Spike Island website)


In the company of my dear mother, we ventured to the bank of the Avon to a creative haven called Spike Island. Housed in a converted tea packing factory, it provides 80'000 square foot of exhibition and studio space. We wanted to take in the latest Richard Long and Simon Starling exhibition (incidentally, it was a little weird but very interesting with ideas about site and reflecting on journeys) and worked up quite an appetite.

Spike Island have their own Canteen/Bar which seems to have artistic souls floating about, sketching and drinking coffee. It's a light and airy space with great homemade food and friendly staff. We indulged in thai green vegetable curry all round, which was very tasty and not too harsh on an artist's pocket.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Quail

"Oh, what's this?" he says, delving into the often unusual selection of over ripe and tired-looking produce that make up the 'Reductions' section of the supermarket aisles. It was a pair of cute little quails for a laughable price with the condition that they needed to be eaten that day. Having not cooked quail before (I wasn't aware it could be bought from your average Tesco or Sainsbury's), I didn't do anything ambitious. I roasted them on a bed of onions and rosemary trying to baste them as often as possible. I served them up like I would a traditional chicken roast, making gravy from the juice-soaked onions and plating our find with roasted potatoes and vegetables. The meat itself was predictably rich, dense and gamey. After we'd enjoyed our feast, I boiled down the carcases and produced the most extraordinary stock; it was rich, dark and rather creamy but without the layer of fat you get from chicken stock. It looked so tasty, I simply boiled some brocolli in the broth and had it like that!

For any other first time quail-cookers, they don't take long to cook at all due to their size but they have very little fat on them so they need to be basted often. Another option is to put a few rashers of bacon on each quail to roast, which will add more fat and moisture to the meat. The bacon can then either be left on the quail when served or peeled off, chopped and added to the gravy but remember to lay off the salt if this is the case! You can also use the metalic wrapper from a block of butter gently wrapped around the meat while it roasts to infuse it with butteryness. They generally only need twenty to twenty-five minutes in a hot oven (220C/Gas Mark 7).

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Loughborough Market


A cold morning in a weekend away from my home turf and it was decided that we'd pay a visit to the local market in the centre of town. It boasts a real variety of stalls; not just food but everything from freshly ground coffee beans to fancy dress! I always thought of towns and cities like Loughborough as market dwellings and it was great to see it come to life around the hustle and bustle of temporary stalls.

The market runs on a Saturday (and a Thursday if the websites are to be believed) from early until about 4pm. There are lots of stalls and it was pretty busy so I'd recommend keeping your wits about you. Stalls provide plastic bags but it's always a good idea to bring your own - I find fabric ones are kinder to your hands if you have a bit of a walk. Selection is good and the prices are competitive, differing on the stall so check about before buying. We bought:

- Some pork and tomato sausages and bacon
- Aubergines (three for £1)
- A bunch of fresh beetroot (£1)
- Carrots and parsnips
- Purple sprouting brocolli (£1.79 for 1lb)
- A dozen freerange XL eggs (£1.90)

Friday, 31 October 2008

Nash's Bakery

They say a way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I would hesitate before agreeing whole-heartedly but I do think culinary skills can be helpful when winning a man's affections. It seems to be important to find the right flavours to tickle his fancy affectively. Hence, I am gifting my man with his vice. He's a lover of sticky toffee pudding so when I heard that Nash's Bakery, an Oxford chain, made a sticky toffee sponge cake, it seemed like a must. They aren't cheap - £3.20 a loaf but it seems worth it. A definite hit with the boy and a great treat!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Roasted Onion Squash Pasta


Having selected a very cute looking Onion Squash from my local farmers market, I decided to cook up something rich and hearty. This would work equally well with butternut squash or something similar...

Roasted Onion Squash Pasta

(Not the most appetitising of photo's, sorry!)

Ingredients:
One onion squash or half a large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
Two deseeded red peppers, chopped
One (red) onion, finely chopped
Garlic, to taste
Smoked Bacon, cubed
Creme Fraíche
Tagliatelle

- Roast squash and peppers in an oiled tray, preheated oven (190C) for about twenty minutes or until softened and golden. Set aside.
- Put pasta on to boil in lightly salted water
- Heat a medium sized pan with a little oil then gently fry onion and garlic.
- Add bacon and brown all over.
- Add the roasted vegetables and fry enough to warm through
- Drain pasta. Stir about a tablespoon of creme fraiche into mixture to coat everything but not so everything is swimming in liquid. Add more if required.
- Add drained pasta, stir well and serve.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Headington Farmers Market

The sunshine scooped me out of bed this morning in time for the Headington Farmers Market, a meer half an hours walk from where I live in Oxford. It's situated on Kennett Road and takes place on the final Friday of each month between 8.30am and midday. It's only a small market consisting of about ten stalls but the atmosphere was great and the quality of the produce seemed fantastic and not all that expensive. A friend and I treated ourselves to fresh bacon rolls (£2.70) from one of the butchers who was also selling a variety of pork meat and game. There was also a large bakery stall selling bread and cakes from which I bought a small loaf of locally milled wholemeal bread (95p) and a yummy Belgian bun (80p). I bought a pound of home grown tomatoes for just 80p and an onion squash for 70p. There was also a flower stand selling lots of flowers in pretty autumnal shades, one selling organic mushrooms, another butchers stall selling beef and a cider and apple juice stall. Well worth a visit if you're in the Oxfordshire area!

Friday, 19 September 2008

Treasures of Borough Market

I have been lucky enough to find a handful of lovely things at Borough Market, including:
- fresh sausage baguettes in good company
- a plant which I thought grew peppers but turned out to be chilli's...
- a beautiful colourful flourist
- a truly fantastic greengrocer selling three avocadoes for £1

Having spent a month in and around SE1, Borough Market has become something of a bolt-hole. I walk past it day-to-day and pop into it's warm, shadowy depths to browse, buy or just become inspired.
I wonder if people today think that markets are reserved for highly strung chefs and pretentious foodies? Or maybe that they are intimidated by the range of products and services available? Or maybe supermarkets have spoilt the public, making shopping a sterile, pre-packed, plastic fest. Either way, I would encourage anyone to pay their nearest market a visit from time-to-time. The people are friendly, the produce is often very good and the whole experience has so much more character than a stress-filled sprint through Tesco. Jump in!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Konditor & Cook

While spending time at a course in London, I happened across a wonderful bakery on the edge of Borough Market. With the unusual name of Konditor & Cook and the illuring smell of freshly baking pastries wafting in the smokey breeze, I just had to check it out. Although they're by no means the cheapest outlet in London, they are good for a treat and it definitely will be a treat no matter what you choose. I would, however, recommend the Boston Brownie (dark chocolate with cranberries) and the Black Ginger Bread.
Their website seems quite good and they provide a full .pdf of their retail list online into the bargain. They have five outlets in London.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Teapod

"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea."
Bernard-Paul Heroux

Having raved previously about my love of coffee, it must be said that I'm an equal fan of tea. I usually have the obligatory cup of Breakfast tea with milk (appropriately) at breakfast time often followed by a cup of Earl Grey with friends later in the day. I originially happened across a lovely contemporary café called Teapod when I was on work experience near London Bridge when I was fifteen. It's a fresh and friendly place, only a stones throw from Tower Bridge. You can choose from more than twenty different kinds of loose tea which they serve to you in a small, Japanese teapot. I've only really tried their Earl Grey as from the first cup, I was addicted, but I hear their selection is very good quality. Their food is also quite good (their soup particularly) and isn't too bad price-wise for the London area.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Old Bulls Head, Woodhouse Eaves

I was promised a great pub meal in a swish setting and I wasn't disappointed. I must admit, my boyfriend knows a little bit about good food and dining. We drove the short distance from Loughborough to Woodhouse Eaves in search of the Old Bulls Head public house. We arrived for an early dinner and were seated promptly by young, friendly staff. The menu, as promised, was rather sumptuous in the style of a typical gastropub. Once we ordered, I was able to sit back and admire our surroundings; muted but rich palette of colours on the walls which were hung with ornate carved wooden panels. This was set off by soft spot lighting on tables while the rest of the room was kept darker and with a mix of modern music quietly playing in the background. We were served bread with oil and balsamic vinegar to whet our appetites before our starter arrived. Maybe we'd over ordered slightly... Our seafood platter was huge, especially for the price of around £14. There were roll mops, gravalax, shell-on prawns, smoked mackerel as well as piles of thickly sliced bread, salad leaves and horse radish mayonnaise. The quality was impeccable and everything was very tasty.


Main course was a roasted root vegetable salad with goats cheese for me and moroccan lamb with couscous for him. My salad was a great mix of flavours and textures but, to be honest, I love goats cheese so they couldn't really go wrong. The boy's lamb was beautifully cooked and spiced though it was a touch spicy for his liking as he generally doesn't go for things with an abundence of chilli. Needless to say, we were far too stuffed for pudding which was a shame as the menu looked equally delicious! I think another trip will be in order some time in the future.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Brindisa

I found Brindisa while wandering around Borough Market soaking up the atmosphere on a Friday afternoon and absent-mindedly picking treats to take with me on a visit to see my boyfriend. I went into their dark shop out of curiosity and found two men stood at a counter in one corner carving paper-thin slices of cured meat from large joints in metal stands. They kindly offered me samples of various cures, explaining the different flavours and tastes. It was something of an awakening for me as I fell in love with the sweet, woody flavours and soft textures. Of course, I then had to buy some - 50g of their Teruel ham (£3.50). We devoured it only a day (and one hundred miles or so) later with fresh, sweet tomatoes and plenty of salt and pepper. Divine!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Monmouth Coffee Company

I love coffee. I didn't always. In fact, as a wide-eyed pup I used to stare in amazement as adults supped this hot beverage, certain that it was quite impossible for anyone to actually enjoy* a mug of the bitter-smelling, foul-tasting, murky liquid. Now, of course, my tastes have changed but I tend to save coffee for best - it isn't cheap and tends to leave me a little dehydrated. Saying that, I like nothing more than a hot cup of milky sweet coffee to warm my hands and my tummy while I people watch with a sketchbook or newspaper.

I discovered the Monmouth Coffee Company while perusing Borough Market. It has an honest aesthetic - various coffee beans in tantalising heaps awaiting customers to make their choice and take them home in paper bags for their own private delectation and a large scrubbed wooden dining table to sit around. In the mornings, a breakfast of bread and jam (£2.50 per person) is laid out with a variety of jams (and marmite -yuck- if you're that way inclined). A little pricey for a meer student like myself but their coffee is good and you'll often hear murmurs of appreciation about a particular jam or another around the table so maybe one day I'll have to bite the bullet, open my wallet and give it a try. (All in the name of research, of course...)

*Maybe they're just pretending to like it because grown ups can, I reasoned with myself, like they do with wine, football and kissing.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Flour Power

Can anyone resist a tower of freshly baked, aromatic chocolate brownies? I don't think I've met anyone yet who realistically can. While walking through Borough Market one morning, I laid eyes on a deliciously arranged market stall complete with rich-looking chocolate brownies. It belonged to a friendly company called Flour Power. And they don't just have a clever name... They sell all sorts of baked goodies from crusty loaves to cake, all with an organic ethos. I dutifully bought a slab of brownie for my morning tea break and wasn't disappointed, though I must admit, it wasn't mindblowing; I have had better, made better myself but it wasn't half bad. Since then, however, I've also sampled their Carrot Cake, which is a definite winner.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Borough Market

I've headed off to the Big Smoke for a month long course about architecture. I'm looking to expand my horizons and challenge myself while discovering the confidence I once had. London is a fantastically busy place and I tend to relish it for that fact; I can be anonymous and carried along with the crowd.
I have been prompted, however, to pause in some places and take in the sites, sounds and smells. Borough Market in SE1 is one of those places. A vibrant, bustling energy fills it up to the rafters from Thursday to Saturday each week while some traders hold permenant positions among the fray during the week too. It's only a two minute walk from our studios so it's perfect for a break. I'll keep you posted during my journey of discovery and, in the meantime, why not do some exploring yourselves?

Monday, 14 July 2008

Review: Fishworks, Bristol

Bristol's Fishworks was the venue for a small birthday gathering for my boyfriend, who rather loves his fresh seafood. I wasn't in charge of organising the booking but was suitably impressed (kudos to his family) and thought it was worth a mention. We all shared starter platers and some large bowls of houmous with bread to start. The platers were a fantastic way to start our meal and whet our appetites with a little sample of everything - a glug of fish soup (served in an espresso cup, very cute), smoked salmon, a baked oyster and potted shrimp. They were fine between two but would be better for one if you're ravenous! Our orders were hindered by the fact that, it being a Monday, there was little fish about (as fishing boats don't go out on a Sunday). Saying that, the quality was very good and the flavours superb so we shouldn't complain. They also have a fish counter which means you can choose some nice fresh fish to take home to enjoy.

In short, Fishworks is a great choice if you enjoy seafood. There are a few things to keep in mind though: Don't book for Monday if you want their full selection (it was a bit of a case of "Okay, so can you tell us what we can have, please?") and it's a little pricey.
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