Sunday, 28 February 2010

Eggs Benedict - The Ultimate Breakfast

I think breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. It's worth taking time over and enjoying, however I'm definitely guilty of inhaling whatever I can lay my hands on when I'm in a rush, barely having time to blink let alone savour and what I'm eating, and enjoy the most important meal of the day. It's a strange meal, because it's the only one that we think nothing of having the same thing every day, we hardly prioritise, and that we demolish in seconds before rushing out of the house. On top of this, unlike an evening meal, I certainly don't spend time wondering what to have, reading recipe books, looking forward to... but sometimes it's necessary to give priority to the first food that we gobble up in the morning, and really revel in the luxury of a lazy breakfast with the papers and a calmness on the weekend which we are rarely afforded during the week. Eggs are a given really when it comes to breakfast, and there's no dish more indulgent than Eggs Benedict in my opinion. Soft toasted muffin, topped with crispy bacon, poached egg and creamy hollandaise sauce - and some wilted spinach in there too if you fancy it. The last time I had this delight was at the Wolseley last August, which I wrote about here, so I was slightly daunted at the prospect of trying it myself - let's be honest, it was never going to be as good as it was there!

It didn't quite measure up to The Wolseley's standards, but I don't think I did too shoddy a job. It's pretty easy really, it's just about timing and being able to do a good poached egg. I made the hollandaise sauce first, using Rachel Allen's recipe. Her books are beautiful and I've used a couple of her recipes before, including butternut squash gratin, which is included here. First place a bowl over a pan of simmering water and put two egg yolks and a tablespoon of water into the bowl. whisk for a few minutes, then gradually add cold diced butter (110g), one cube at a time, whisking until it has all melted and emulsified. Then add seasoning and a little lemon juice. I found it a little thick, so loosened it up with a little more water. Leave to one side, covered with cling film, over the pan of water (no longer over heat) to keep warm until you need it. Then toast the muffin, grill the bacon and poach the egg. Try to get the freshest eggs you can, as the whites will hold together better the fresher they are. A tip I have found really helpful when poaching eggs is to crack the egg into a mug or shallow tumbler first, then when your water is nearly simmering, swirl it a little so that it creates a whirlpool, and drop the egg in, pouring it out of the tumbler as low and close to the water as you can without burning your fingers! Poach for about 3 minutes, and remove with a slotted spoon. I poached my eggs a little to early, so took them out about 30 seconds before they were done, then replaced them into the simmering water just before I was ready to serve so that they were warm and right on time! Build your tower of deliciousness - muffin first, then bacon, then egg, and pour over lashings of your creamy hollandaise sauce and dig in!

Not a breakfast for everyday obviously, or I'd end up rolling out of the house rather than rushing! But it is worth taking the time once in a while and indulging...what are weekends for after all?!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Bibendum and then some...

Bibendum, South Kensington

I have a list in my head that consistently grows longer and longer and I'm fairly confident that you have a similar list in your head, because you probably wouldn't be such a foodie if you didn''s a list of all the restaurants I want to go to, and honestly, it never gets shorter. For every restaurant that I tick off, I think of about four more that find their way on to the list and make themselves comfortable. The usual suspects are there...The Fat Duck, Royal Hospital Road, River Cottage HQ (this is going to be for a very special occasion I think!!) The Harwood Arms is a new one, and up until this weekend, Bibendum was on there. I was spoilt rotten for Valentine's Day this year, because a very clever young man surprised me with a long luxurious lunch at Bibendum, knowing that I'd been yearning to go there for at least a year now. Obviously, you can't fail to notice the stunning building as you walk along Fulham Road, and the inside doesn't disappoint. Magnificent stained glass windows with Bibendum the Michelin man striking a pose frame the room, and grasp your attention as soon as you walk in. The layout of the room is spacious yet buzzing, there is plenty of room between the tables, without it feeling sparse. There are comfortable, almost sofa-like armchairs at many tables, and the waiting staff just glide around, seamlessly making your dining experience as perfect as possible, without being too conspicuous. It's a real art to be a good waiter or waitress, there's a fine line between attentive and annoying...I think the mark of a good waiting staff is at the end of the meal everything has gone smoothly and you've barely noticed anybody working around you. You sort of think 'Wow, everything worked so well, but I'm sure we hardly saw the waiter!'. The entire team at Bibendum were like this, they seemed effortless in their service, but attentive at the same time. Brilliant.

However, the reason I was taken there in the first place was of course the food. He started with lamb sweetbreads, with a Bearnaise sauce and puff pastry, all of which was utterly melt in the mouth, and an envy-inducing starter! I had rabbit rillettes, which was beautiful, with an onion chutney alongside it, a fine bean and hazelnut salad and some toasted brioche. The rillete was obviously quite fatty, but not unpleasantly so, the chutney cut through it and the bean salad lightened up the dish. For mains he had roasted guinea fowl, and I had the very delicate and feminine lamb shank. The bird was tender and juicy, cooked to perfection, with a buttery garlicky sauce seeping from it when it was pierced. The lamb though, was really special. I barely had to touch it with my fork before the meat yielded and fell off, leaving an almost pristine white bone behind. It sat in a dish of deep and meaty sauce, served alongside mustard pearl barley. This felt indulgent and creamy, with a lovely kick to it, without being so spicy that it took over the rich flavour from the lamb. For dessert we shared a vanilla pannacotta, and then had a plate of Brie de Meaux. Usually I'm a little apprehensive of Pannacotta as it can so easily be a disappointment - it can become rubbery, flavourless, too stiff...but I had the utmost faith in Bibendum, especially going by the first two courses, and I wasn't let down. The pannacotta was soft and wobbly, made with the perfect amount of gelatine, speckled with tiny black vanilla seeds that delicately flavoured the creamy dome. Elegant and simple, it was served with poached rhubarb, which although sweet, had a tang to it which was the perfect accompaniment to lift the heavy cream flavour and texture. Petit fours were served with coffee, of apricot pate de fruits, and the richest dark chocolate truffles I've ever tasted!! One was definitely enough to curb any chocolate desire for the next week!

All in all, it was the perfect lunch. We had beautiful, well cooked food, served by brilliant waiters in a breath taking environment. What more could a girl ask for for Valentine's Day??

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cupcakes...and some Chocolate and Banana ones too!

Have you ever had a craving to just spend the day in the kitchen and cook all day long, or is that just me? Last week I ordered three new cookery books through no fault of my own...I had these three books in my Amazon basket, pondering which one - yes, just one - to buy, when someone (who shall remain nameless!) clicked on 'place order' when I wasn't looking. Unbeknownst to him, my card details were saved on Amazon, and the order was placed without asking me for payment or shipping details. So, now I have three shiny new books with zero guilt - because I didn't order them!! I can't be too grumpy really can I?! Anyway, They arrived last Monday, and all week I've been poring over them all week, desperately waiting for a free day to try out some of the recipes. I imagine you're interested in which books I actually bought, and if you aren't you should be...they're all beautiful books, brimming with delicious recipes.

The first was Rachel Allen's Home Cooking, an absolute gem of a book, just a delight to sit and read, whether or not you get around to cooking anything from it! Now, because I am the height of cool, I got my Post-Its out and started noting which recipes I really really really wanted to make (because I really really want to try them all, but short term this is clearly not feasible!!) and before I knew it, the book had little pink feathers peeking out from pretty much every other page, if not more!! The book is just jam packed with delicious ideas for breakfast, Sunday Lunch, Suppers, Puddings, Treats, Snacks...even Baby Purees!! You could just have this one cook book in your life and I doubt you'd ever get bored of the recipes - if only because of the sheer volume of them! Before I get completely carried away, I'll stop myself from waxing lyrical anymore, and just tell you that I ended up making one of her Stuffing recipes (because it was Sunday when I spent the day in the kitchen, and Sundays demand roast chicken), which was utterly delicious - I just wish I'd had the foresight to double the recipe - as well as her Butternut Squash Gratin. I'm actually salivating as I think about that gratin. It was so delicious, and so simple! Just bring some cream with a finely chopped clove of garlic in it to the boil, then pour over thinly sliced squash, sprinkle with parmesan, and bake for 45 minutes or so. The cream and the cheese, of course, made it a winner, but I definitely prefer it to potato gratin for the velvety texture of the squash. The orange flesh just melts in the mouth, and the sweetness from it works beautifully with the fairly subtle flavoured cream sauce and bubbly cheese topping. Five stars for that recipe!

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're wondering 'Why is she banging on about stuffing and gratin when all I can see are pictures of cupcakes?!'. Well, that is because the second book in my basket was Cupcakes from the Primrose Hill Bakery. I have about a thousand cupcake books now...I'm going to need a whole room dedicated to cupcake books one day, but they're so pretty! This is another example of a well put together book, the pictures are mouth-wateringly beautiful, and make you want to drop everything and spend hours in the kitchen whipping up batch after batch of cupcakes! (This, incidentally is what I did on Sunday...I ended up with 36 cupcakes...and only 4 people in the house). I couldn't decide on one type to make, so I settled on Raspberry and White Chocolate, and Banana and Chocolate. One word: Yum. I thought I'd found the Holy Grail of cupcakes with the Hummingbird Bakery book, I made some utterly delicious cupcakes from that book, including the Black Bottom recipe, and I'm not saying they've been beaten - but they've definitely got a run for their money!

The first batch I made were these delights - Raspberry and White Chocolate cupcakes. The batter is pretty basic - cream the butter and sugar until pale, combine the egg, milk and vanilla essence in a separate jug, and sieve flours into a separate bowl, then add the flour and liquid alternately a third at a time until everything is incorporated. This is then marbled with raspberry jam. When the cakes are cooked and cooled, you then hollow out a little well in the centre of them, and fill with even more jam!! Then cover with the ivory white chocolate buttercream icing...generously!!

Raspberry Jam Cupcakes
110g unsalted butter
180 caster sugar
2 eggs
125g self raising flour
120g plain flour
125ml semi-skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tblsp raspberry jam

White Chocolate Buttercream
Make up a batch of Vanilla Buttercream by combining the following ingredients, then add 100g of melted white chocolate to four tablespoons of the mix.

110g unsalted butter
60ml semi-skimmed milk
500g icing sugar

These were certainly popular, I'd say they outdid the Banana and Chocolate batch, but this was really a question of 'which delicious cake is more delicious than the other?!!' The other delicious cake was just are irresistible - underneath a thick blanket of chocolate buttercream hid a deliciously soft sponge, laden with slightly bitter dark chocolate chunks and soft, sweet swirls of banana.

Banana and Chocolate Cupcakes
125g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 ripe bananas, mashed
175g dark chocolate, chopped

As usual, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and vanilla extract, before adding the siefted flour and baking powder. When the batter comes together, gently fold in the bananas and chocolate. These, and the Raspberry cupcakes took about 10-12 minutes at 180 degrees, test with a skewer, if it comes out clean they're ready to take out of the oven.

Chocolate Buttercream
175g dark chocolate
225g unsalted butter
1 tblsp semi-skimmed milk
250g icing sugar

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water, then set a side to cool slightly. Beat the remaining ingredients together, and when smooth, add the melted chocolate to create a delightfully decadent and sinful bowl full of glossy goodness!! When cooled and iced, sprinkle a few chopped walnuts on top if you like (for the healthy element you see...)

I've well and truly got the cupcake bug again...I'm just warning you, it could result in an inordinate amount of posts on these little beauties, not that you'd complain I'm sure!! There's something so dainty and civilised, yet greedy and naughty about cupcakes, that they are completely irresitible. I can't think of anything I'd rather have as a treat, or what I'd rather give as a home made gift, or offer to guests...they fit every occasion, and everyone gets so excited by them!! There's nothing better than making someone smile with something you've made, and cupcakes seem to win every time. They're perfection in a paper case!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Chocolate Centered Biscuits

January is a bit of a difficult month really isn't it? What with the post Christmas blues, the long gap between paydays and the gloomy weather, it's not the most cheery of months, and this year I've finished it off with a monster cold. Typical. However, just before I got the lurgy, I'd made a batch of these biscuits from Jamie Oliver's website, which let me tell you, have made feeling groggy a whole lot more bearable!! Between cups of Lemsip and tea, I've been sneakily eating these little delights which are a tasty treat and really easy to whip up.

They are definitely a biscuit rather than a cookie, the dough is rather dry to work with, which doesn't cause any problems, but results in a crunchier biscuit, especially when it has cooled. However, when warm and fresh from the oven it still has a bit of give - and as usual I take mine out of the oven a little early to keep them slightly soft - and the inside is a mouth-watering delight of melted chocolate. The recipe is to make a batch of chocolate dough and leave to chill, then cutting out two sets of circles, one about 4cm diameter and the other about 5cm diameter. You then place a chunk of chocolate, any type you like, on the small circle, and lay the bigger circle over the top, pressing the edges down to stop any chocolate escaping when they bake.

The first batch I baked were a little overdone for my liking, and they came out a little cracked on the top and crunchier than I would have liked. Jamie admits in this recipe that the dough produces a cracked and rustic look, so the first batch weren't necessarily worse than the second, it was merely personal taste. I took the second lot out a minute or two earlier and they had a much smoother surface, delicate to the touch, and completely divine when I broke into them.

These weren't quite as sinfully decadent as the Hummingbird Double Chocolate Cookies, but definitely a delicious treat, perfect with a cup of tea and a good book on a weekend afternoon...or curled up in bed watching films waiting for the sneezes to stop!! As much as it pains me, I think it's time I move on from my chocolate biscuit phase now, or I might have trouble getting my skinny jeans on...ah well, it was fun while it lasted, something with vegetables next time I think.