Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Restaurant review - Fallowfields, near Oxford

Sometimes, having a blog really has its advantages! Last Saturday I was invited by EnergyPR to attend a blogger's lunch, where the PR ladies could pick the brains of bloggers to find out what we really want from PR companies. It turned out to be great fun and very interesting, and I met lots of lovely people who I hope to stay in touch with.

Happy free-range chooks

But best of all was that it took place in a gorgeous country house hotel in the Oxfordshire countryside, where we were thoroughly spoilt, and I had such a great time that I want to tell you all about it. But before I start I have to apologise for the awful iPhone photos, as my camera decided to die...

Our lovely host, tempting us with sweeties

Fallowfields is owned by Anthony Lloyd and his wife Peta, and over a number of years they have added a (very sympathetic) extension, built up a kitchen garden (lovingly tended by a very dedicated 87 year old gardener), orchard and farm filled with lovely beasties. Earlier this year, they took on a new chef with an impressive pedigree, Shaun Dickinson, who has worked at Le Manoir, Per Se in New York, and l'Ortolan, and Fallowfields is his first ever restaurant not to have at least one Michelin star. Together with Shaun and maitre d' and expert sommelier Benjamin Petit, Anthony hopes to turn Fallowfields into a culinary force to be reckoned with.


A guided tour around the grounds and farm would suggest that they are already on their way. The kitchen garden provides seasonal fruit and vegetables for the restaurant. Most of the meat comes from the farm - rare and unusual breeds such as Dexter cattle and Tamworth pigs (Anthony is currently mourning the death of his boar Thriller earlier this month, whom he adored), as well as quail and chickens. What doesn't come from the farm is shot or hunted locally. During the tour, Anthony's passion for his hotel, his land and especially for his animals is evident.
The kitchen garden

After brushing the mud from the old wellies and guzzling a glass of champagne with some tasty canapés, it's time for lunch, and this is where Shaun gets to show us what a chef with a Michelin background is really capable of. It was amazing, honestly the best meal I've had for ages. And it was all local - even the walnuts and figs came from Fallowfields' own kitchen garden.

Yummy home made bread

Jerusalem artichoke velouté with truffle creme fraiche

Venison with mash, roasted beetroot, chocolate tuile & sauce

Yoghurty palette cleanser with cinnamony strawberry jam

Honeycomb cheesecake with candied walnuts, figs, walnut ice cream

After lunch, Shaun treated us to a cookery demonstration where he prepared quail with fondant potatoes while telling us about how everything works in his kitchen (he's a big fan of sous vide, by the way). Finally we were treated to coffee with home made sweeties - chocolates and lime and elderflower jellies which were fabulous, but I wasn't brave enough to ask for the recipe. Perhaps if I ask nicely...

We were even given a goody bag with a little baby turnip which is far too cute to eat (can you keep a turnip as a pet?!), some yummy home made bread and a scotch egg which didn't last very long.

Fallowfields also has a falconry... what? Department? Section? They do falconry there. And you can stay over afterwards and spend the weekend exploring the lovely Oxfordshire countryside - I recommend a trip to Bicester village where you can get lots of lovely things for not very much money at all.

Thank you so much to Anthony and his staff for a fantastic afternoon, and to EnergyPR for inviting me along. I truly wish Fallowfields a very successful future, and this morning they were awarded two rosettes so it looks like they are well on their way!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Random Recipes/No Croutons Required - Leek & Potato Soup

This month, Dom from Belleau Kitchen and Jac from Tinned Tomatoes have teamed up for a joint challenge.

I sort of cheated a little bit, and only picked from my cookbooks that have "soup" in the title or that I definitely knew had a few soup recipes (because I have so many that don't involve soup at all). I ended up with Lindsay Bareham's A Celebration Of Soup, which I was rather pleased about as I've never even opened it - I acquired it as part of a set of books from the Book People, which I really only wanted for the Elizabeth David titles it contained.

Anyway, this is actually a lovely book. No pictures, but that's fine with me, and it contains a vast amount of recipes I actually want to make. Especially as I'm currently stuck in a mushroom soup rut and really need to break out of it. But I suppose that's what this challenge is about, right?

The random page I opened had a recipe for leek and potato soup, which strangely included bacon. As the challenge required a vegetarian soup and as I didn't actually have any bacon, I left it out, and ended up more or less ignoring the recipe and just going along with what I had and how I thought it should be done. Sorry Lindsay... but I promise I will cook one of your recipes very soon and actually follow your instructions.

Here's MY leek and potato soup recipe, in case you need something to warm you up during these winter evenings.

2 big leeks, sliced
2 medium white onions, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped
3 biggish spuds, peeled and quartered (I used Maris Pipers)
Marigold bouillon powder, or vegetable stock if you're feeling very keen
A kettle full of boiling water
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
Double cream

Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a cold saucepan (pick a good-sized one), add the onions, garlic and leeks, and cook over a medium/low heat for a few minutes until everything is softened and going translucent.

Add the spuds, and fill the saucepan up with boiling water from the kettle. Add two heaped teaspoons of bouillon powder (assuming you haven't made your own veggie stock). Simmer until the spuds are completely cooked and starting to fall apart.

I like my soup nice and thick!

Take off the heat and liquidise with a stick blender, food processor or whatever you have. Add a good slosh of double cream and liquidise again until it's all well mixed. Return to the heat and season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Eat with some buttered crusty bread for dipping in. Obviously.

Home made wholemeal bread - my favourite

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Boiled fruit cake - an oldie but a goodie

Lurpak recently got in touch to ask me to come up with a recipe for their website - they wanted an alternative to the traditional Christmas cake. So I thought of my favourite boiled fruit cake recipe - the recipe is years old (I think it was originally my mum's) and I've tinkered with it, and it's a great one for using up whatever you've got in your cupboards!

For the cake in the photo, I used glacé cherries, raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots and mixed peel. Best of all, it's incredibly easy and all you will have to wash up afterwards is one saucepan, one wooden spoon and the cake tin! So if you've left it to the last minute and haven't time to make a traditional rich fruit cake, or can't be bothered with the necessary care and feeding involved, this is the recipe for you. I used to make it regularly during my last chef job, and it was always a big seller.

Find it here, on the Lurpak website.

I don't know why boiled fruit cakes aren't more popular, but they really seem to have gone out of fashion, despite Nigella coming up with a chocolate version. They need a revival! Have you ever made one?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Spotted - pink cast iron at Sainsburys!

I've been meaning to post this ever since I saw them in store the other day, just in case someone might like it - Sainsburys are selling Le Creuset-style cast iron casseroles in various sizes in BABY PINK!! 10% of sales will go to Breakthrough Breast Cancer. They even have a 2.5L heart shaped one!

If only I could justify buying another cast iron casserole...

Monday, 7 November 2011

A gushing post about Danish pastry and Nick Malgieri

Disclaimer: This post is unsuitable for people on diets. If you are trying to lose weight, I accept no responsibility for the ruination of your diet and pounds you will not lose (or indeed that you may gain) if you act upon any of the information contained herein.

OK, small print over. This is a post about one of the most delicious and most unhealthy treats that has ever been invented. I am talking about the Danish pastry. That pretty little flaky bundle of buttery happiness, wrapped around some sort of equally lovely filling that might be lemony, or almondy, or fruity, or nutty, or just about anything you can wrap some dough around.


Prior to this past weekend I had only ever made Danish pastry a couple of times, back when I was at catering college, and I found it an incredible annoyance. All that battering out blocks of butter, enveloping it in dough, rolling out and folding and turning, wrapping in cling film and resting in the fridge and remembering how many folds and turns you’d done and so on and so on. Not for me, sorry. I’m just too lazy. I did notice that Nigella had some sort of food processor method in How To Be a Domestic Goddess, but never got around to trying it.

Then I acquired (by which I mean I bought - but don't tell my husband) a copy of Nick Malgieri’s latest book, Bake!, and his method for food-processor Danish pastry looked so quick and simple that I thought it would be rude not to try it. I wasn’t convinced it was going to work. There was hardly any folding and turning – where would all the flaky layers come from? And the butter I was using didn’t seem ideal. Normally I use Lurpak or Country Life, but I had some Welsh butter that had a high fat content and seemed extremely soft even straight out of the fridge, so I had visions of the pastries melting in the oven and turning into fatty little flat things.

All rolled out and folded and ready to go

They didn’t. They were fabulous. Nick Malgieri is the new love of my life, and his easy Danish dough will stop me going to Waitrose and buying them there, because my home made ones are far more fabulous. Even my husband liked them, and he’s not normally a fan.

I filled them with the ricotta and lemon filling Nigella provides in her Danish recipe (only because Nick’s uses cream cheese, and I didn’t have any) and it was perfect.

With the ubiquitous espresso, in my new vintage 1950s china cup :)

You’re not getting the recipe, because I want you go to and buy the book. (Currently it’s only £4.99 from the Book People website, and there’s usually a free delivery code to be found if you search online, so you have no excuse.) It’s a beautiful book, with step by step photographs for every baking technique you will ever need, followed by lots of variations for each so what you are actually getting is hundreds of recipes (that really work). And there really is something for everyone here; both the complete beginner and someone who’s been baking for years and knows their way round a professional kitchen will be delighted with Nick’s helpful tips and ideas and the variations on old-fashioned methods (I can’t wait to try his puff pastry).

Nick's pastries and my pastries!

This is a completely unsponsored post, by the way, I just love this book immensely and want to see a copy on everyone’s cookbook stand!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Maple pecan bread - just to prove I'm still alive

Yes, yet again my blog is sad and neglected. Somehow the days just ran away with me in October, and I didn't get done anything I had planned. We seemed to be doing something every weekend and I managed to miss all the blog events I had planned to take part in. I am even more out of touch with everyone else's blogs than usual; currently in Google Reader I have 742 unread items. Shocking.

Anyway, just to ease myself back in to blogging, here's a recipe I made recently and actually managed to photograph. It's a recipe I got from my patisserie teacher in catering college (I have no idea where he got it from so if you recognise it, let me know) and it's one I particularly like but don't make very often because it's not exactly what you'd call healthy...

Maple & Pecan Bread


100ml milk (I use semi skimmed)

140ml sour cream or double cream

1 egg

25g butter

5 tbsp maple syrup

½ tsp salt

450g strong white flour

1 ½ tsp dried yeast (a 7g sachet is perfect, if you use those)

100g chopped pecan nuts

My method is to throw the lot into the Kenwood Chef/Kitchenaid and let it do the work for me, but of course you can do it by hand, in which case you should rub the butter into the flour and add the yeast and salt, mix together the milk, cream and maple syrup, add this to the dry ingredients and bring it all together to form a dough. Knead until it feels smooth, springy and lovely, and then knead in the pecan nuts (I find it easier this way than to add them right at the start).

Either way, when you've got your dough, form it into a tight ball, place it in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, shower cap (top tip! Pinch them from hotel rooms), cling film or whatever, and leave to prove until it's doubled in size – roughly an hour.

When it's doubled, knock it back and divide the dough into six evenly sized lumps. Divide each of these lumps into three, roll them into thin sausages and plait/braid (depending on where you're from – in the UK we call it plait!) the sausages together. Place these on a baking tray, covered with a tea towel, and leave to prove again for around 40 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 200ºC.

When the little plaits/braids have almost doubled in size again, brush the tops with beaten egg and bake for around 20 minutes, by which time they should be a lovely golden brown and will sound hollow if you tap the undersides. Brush the tops with some more maple syrup while they're still warm.

You really need to eat these while they're fresh and preferably still warm as they do stale quickly, but a quick blast in the oven will freshen them up again the next day. Enjoy slathered with butter, obviously!

With a teeny tiny mug of espresso!

I do have some more posts planned for the near future, including showing off my Christmas cake, which I made a couple of days ago and have already fed with a generous amount of brandy, and some recipes for chutney which is my new obsession. Oh and I also want to show you my latest kitchen toy, which happens to be yet another way for me to get my caffeine fix...

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